The Nikka Taketsuru range is a good example of the problem Japanese whisky is facing. And I mean the true Japanese whisky, the one distilled in Japan, not the “bottle whatever and slap some Japanese kanji” fake Japanese whisky crap. As you’ve read a thousand times, there is a shortage of old Japanese whisky stocks, that is here for a long time (you can’t accelerate years, even though, and especially with 2020, you’d sometimes want to). And the demand for Japanese whisky is so high that the current production is not even enough to cover the needs. Thus, Nikka announced last year expansions for its Miyagikyo and Yoichi distilleries to fight shortage. But since whisky takes time to mature, the shortage will probably stay at least until 2030… And earlier this year, they sadly announced the total discontinuation of the 17, 21 and 25-year-old Nikka Taketsuru, their pure malt blend of Yoichi and Miyagikyo juices, named after the founder of the Nikka group. I won’t go into the history of Nikka and Masataka Taketsuru as I’ve briefly covered that previously on the Yoichi blind tasting I organized with friends. They also announced they would renew their NAS edition of Taketsuru, and thus today we’re going to review the old and new Nikka Taketsuru NAS, as well as the discontinued Taketsuru 21-year-old.
Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt NAS (old release, bottled around 2018)
I still had an unopened bottle of what is now the “old” (or more exactly, previous) release of Nikka Taketsuru. As I said, Taketsuru is a pure malt blend of Yoichi single malt, from their first distillery located on Hokkaido, and Miyagikyo single malt, from their second distillery located in Sendai. This edition features mostly single malt from Miyagikyo, the rest coming from Yoichi. It is supposed to be aged on average for around 10 years in a variety of cask types, combining youthful whiskies and older ones, aged primarily in ex-sherry casks. This edition has just been discontinued for the new one I’ll review just after. Bottled at 43% abv, it is unchill-filtered but with colouring (Nikka confirmed it to me by mail). I bought several bottles like this one around €35 in local supermarkets in France. You can still find it in the UK at BI wine for a reasonable £40, at MoM for £55 (ouch) or even worse, £74.95 at The Whisky Exchange!
Russet muscat, though it’s coloured with a bit of caramel.
The nose is immediately rich with a nice red fruit tart served with a glass of sherry, while there’s still a light smoke coming out of a drying fire in the fireplace. Pressed orange juice and a cup of camomile tea. Hints of vanilla and nutmeg to add another layer to this wonderful nose.
A little light mouthfeel at first, with a burst of pepper and burnt oak immediately. Strong black espresso and liquorice, extinct cigar, and quite a bit of wood spices. There’s a sourness I cannot pinpoint, something between oak and very sour grapefruit (good luck seeing what I mean). A light smoke develops over time.
Medium in length, with the oakiness staying present, but there’s also a very light touch of peppermint and liquorice in the background.
Cheap and delicious, this is a no-brainer for the price I get it in France (about €35 – 32 of Her Majesty’s quid). And that’s why I’ve downed quite a few bottles of this. Real Japanese whisky, cheap, delicious, rich and complex, there’s not much to add except it’s time to see how the new one compares.
Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt NAS (Fall 2020 new release)
As its older sister, this new Taketsuru is bottled at 43%, unchill-filtered but coloured. No RRP in the UK nor Europe yet and in France it will be released on the 1st of October. Not much more to say for now, we’ll have to wait for more information to appear. I’ve read that the recipe has a bigger part of Yoichi than previously. We’ll see if it shows right now.
Fresher nose than the old Taketsuru. More on stone fruits and citrus, the nose is a wee bit prickly, letting you think the abv may be slightly higher than the old release, though it’s not (same 43% abv). There is still a tartness side to it, but maybe more on stone fruits here, plums? The sherry notes almost disappeared, letting me wondering if sherry casks are still part of the recipe.
Definitely more Yoichi now than the previous release. Smokier, more on citrus, quite a lot of citrus in fact. There is a quick sweetness appearing but immediately taken over by a citrusy spiciness (light touch of ginger), then back to fruits with fruit salad syrup. After some time some notes I associate with sherry finally appear, with dark chocolate, even loads of it. The mouthfeel getting a bit creamy, I really have the feeling of eating some chocolate pudding.
Long finish, hot, spicy, with smoked chocolate (I’m sure that exists somewhere… okay, it really does). The chocolate stays quite long on the tongue, I still have it after a few minutes.
I was at first a bit disappointed as the old one seemed a bit richer, probably because of more sherry casks than this new one in the composition of the vatting. But it grows on you, the richness being replaced by a welcomed freshness. A bit more smoke too thanks to the bigger part taken by Yoichi in this one compared to the previous edition. No idea yet about the recommended retail price in Europe or even in UK, but for your information the RRP is ￥4000 before taxes in Japan, about €32 or a tad under £30. Probably €40-50 in France and £35-45 in the UK once it’ll be available I guess. Now do I like it more than the old one? No. Do I like it less? Neither. I’d say I would probably sip the new one in the summer and the old one in the winter.
Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 21-years-old
Taketsuru 21-years-old is like its younger siblings a pure malt blend of Miyagikyo and Yoichi. It got quite famous for winning the title of best blended malt for times since 2010 at the World Whisky Awards (its younger edition, Taketsuru 17-years-old, also winning the blended malt category several times). As the non-age statement editions, it is bottled at 43%, unchill-filtered but coloured, and is unfortunately discontinued to the shortage of old whisky stock in Japan. You can still find it on some shops for at least €425 in France and a hefty £523 in the UK at Delivery-wine. Ouch. Discontinuation is definitely the best way to dramatically raise the price of whisky. And regarding the sample coming from the open bottle of my father (I still have an unopened bottle at home), the bottle was bought for 48€ in Japan back in 2013. You’ll understand why I’m not ready to open my last bottle of it as I won’t be able to replace it any time soon.
Tawny but unfortunately thanks to E150 colouring.
So many flavours! Citrus, dried fruits (dark berries mostly), then some roasted malt shines through. Lots of fruits, plums, peaches, apricots, all mixed together in a delicious fruit salad. There are also some winey notes, cloves, sandalwood, adding yet another layer to this wonderful nose.
Sweet and creamy arrival, then spices arrive very gently, unhurried, delicately, providing a light warmth. Pinch of pepper, chilli in even smaller quantity. Dark fruits, walnuts, dark chocolate pudding, very slight mint notes, with a buttery or waxy feeling now. On a second sip, the spices are a bit more present without being ever overpowering. Tropical fruits now. Light smokiness, like a very distant extinguished fireplace and fresh tar being made a few streets away. Then wood polish and wood itself, quickly eclipsed by salt and pepper dancing around with the wood.
Not long enough unfortunately. Wood, dark fruits marmalade, chocolate pudding, but I would want this to last for hours and it doesn’t. Let’s be honest, the finish is still long. But you don’t want it to disappear ever.
I have one last closed bottle of this, but I don’t want to open it. I mean I really, really do, but then I won’t be able to replace it without selling a kidney. To think that I’ve paid this €48 back in 2013 at Tokyo Airport, you can imagine I stuffed my luggage, and my wife’s, with this. It’s such a wonderful whisky. So full of flavour, of complexity, you can spend hours nosing it before wanting to sip it, and once you do, you won’t want to drink it too quickly to appreciate the many layers and try to discover all the flavours it holds. Just brilliant.