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Whisky Reviews

Nikka Grande's: Yoichi Grande and Miyagikyo Grande

“You put your right foot in
You put your right foot out
You put your right foot in
And you shake it all about
You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around
That's what it's all about!”

 

You might’ve heard of the song, it’s called the Hokey Pokey, a popular nursery rhyme most everywhere. 

Ironically, the jingle made a surprising reappearance as I saw that Nikka was releasing a pair of malt whiskies from their two flagship Japanese distilleries, Yoichi and Miyagikyo, titled “Nikka Grande”.

 

The fresh new Nikka Grande's - will they undo some of Nikka's past gaffes? 

 

Just last year (2021), Nikka laid out a pathway of annual releases, named the Discovery Series, leading up to their 90th Anniversary that will happen in 2024. The inaugural set of releases under the Nikka Discovery Series was curiously a non-peated Yoichi and a peated Miyagikyo – first reactions was “why?”. Wasn’t the whole philosophy behind Yoichi’s genesis, so much so that it necessitated founder Taketsuru leaving Suntory over such intense creative differences, that the whisky reflected a classic peaty, herbaceous, 1920’s Scotch-styled whisky? And then later Miyagikyo was created to be the Yin to Yoichi’s Yang – a fruitier, more mellow whisky, that would give balance to a blended whisky of the two (which was more financially essential given Japan’s love for Highballs that made use of blends as a key ingredient). 

If we’re on the topic of celebrating the company’s creation – wouldn’t it be fitting to create whiskies that harkened back to the company’s first principles? Well, that’s exactly what the Discovery Series had sought to do: it’s mission was simple – to give the loyal fans a peek at  Nikka’s behind-the-scenes experiments, each exploring a different aspect of Nikka’s whiskmaking; that is to say what makes Nikka, Nikka.

  

The Nikka Discovery. I suppose as Edison's famous advice goes "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." This was a Discovery of one of those ways. (Image Source: Boss Hunting)

 

So how did that pan out? It should be said that the RRP for this was multiples of the current core offering. The short answer is it didn’t. There was no fanfare from the fans, nor were there rave reviews – in fact, more curiously, there was not much talk about it whatsoever. Were there eager beavers who copped a couple? Certainly. And could they be blamed? Not at all, Japanese whiskies are a rarity these days. What was the adage? Oh right, harangue your local liquor store or call a cousin, squeeze a bottle out first at no matter the price, maybe pop it open, regret later. That is unfortunately the state of affairs when it comes to highly sought after whiskies these days, and with Japanese whiskies being a hot category in its entirety. 

From some underground whispers, I gathered that with the Discovery Series was yet another overpriced disappointment in a string of post-purchase regrets now synonymous with the once highly reputable Japanese whiskymaking giant. As they say, curiosity killed the cat, well, I’m not a cat and it only costed me $50 USD for a dram of each. So I tried it and I have to agree with the consensus here, it was not it. Thank god I didn’t call in that cousin I hadn’t spoken to in at least seven years.

 

Thankfully, it only costed me $50 USD for a dram each.

 

So long story short, that was a flop. Worse, it was a painfully predictable, say-it-isn’t-so flop that was a surprise to no one. 

Then 2022 rolls around, the world seemed to be emerging from the Covid tunnel and air travel began to cautiously resume. And obviously Global Travel Retail is core to the spirits business – take a 6-hour flight, find yourself again (it’s always on a damn motorbike), take a couple of pics with some local cuisine, come back and pick up 2 bottles of alcohol with the leftover travel-marked budget. 

Nikka had something in store – this time it was the Grande, yet again a pair of Yoichi and Miyagikyo, but this time they would embody “bigger is better”. The Yoichi would be a mega Yoichi and the Miyagikyo a mega Miyagikyo. 

 

 

Nikka officially says that the Yoichi Grande was crafted to enhance the peaty and woody notes (basically increasing the proportion of peated malt), while the Miyagikyo Grande was crafted to enhance the pleasant sherry notes and woodiness (with a greater use of Sherry malt). That is to say – more of the good stuff. 

*cue The Hokey Pokey* 

What was this back and forthing? One minute it was less is more and the next it was more is more? This felt like some sort of upside down alternate reality. Brand strategy? Screw that!

Yet, I wondered if just maybe, Nikka was quietly atoning for their past sins. Perhaps the almighty god Seɪlz, whose name is more commonly pronounced “Sales”, had spoken! Certainly a pulse check informed me that there weren’t too many people keen on picking one up whilst passing through the golden airport gates. A search online has also yielded some gloomy nothing.

So in the name of public good, I volunteer as tribute. Here’s my review of the Yoichi Grande and Miyagyiko Grande.

 

Yoichi Single Malt Grande, 48% ABV – Review

 

 

Color: Pale Straw, Chrysanthemum Tea

On the nose: Fresh, vibrant, quite aromatic. The peat while very obviously noticeable on the nose, isn’t sooty or grime-y as you might expect. In fact it noses like a smoked black tea leaves or akin to the effect you would get from cold smoking meats – wherein the meat is exposed to smoke sans the heat. Very soft, gentle, yet very present smoke is what I am trying to describe.

  

On the nose, really aromatic black tea leaves, cold smoke, Nashi pears and some honey candies. (Image Source: iStock, Lazada, Carrefour, Red Stick Spice)

  

There’s also honey drops, quite sweet, really. I also get yellow, fruity, yet crunchy Nashi pears. Some bright apple notes as well, not yet ripened. Overall, it is quite approachable on the nose, perfumery and promising. Ever so slightly herbal.

  

Early notes on the palate showcase a more sooty and herbaceous side, and at the same time malty biscuits and a touch of salted fish. (Image Source: Grills Reviewed, Foodie Underground, Lazada, Zolima Citymag) 

 

On the palate: Slightly acidic, quite hot and punchy initially, yet it calms down quite quickly to reveal a more sooty side of peat. It is medium-bodied by the way. There’s more bittersweetness here and is more herbaceous – of mints, crushed parsley, it is also more vegetal and is consistent with wheatgrass or a celery stem – that chlorophyll sort of note. Malty, Ovaltine biscuits also comes through with a touch of salted fish. Quite the pairing – yet it surprisingly works.

  

The palate also showcases honey, wood shavings, and car air fresheners. (Image Source: Jessica Gavin, Klassen Wood Co, Alibaba)

 

There’s some honey on the palate as well but not the amount that was evident on the nose. The Virgin oak’s freshness also comes through, with some fresh wood shavings, and a touch of vanilla, cedar and pine. Somehow reminiscent of a car’s wood-flavored air freshener. I’m not saying it tastes that way, but it certainly is evocative of that oddly specific memory.

 

The finish ends quite predictably with more herbs and woody astringency. (Image Source: Foodie Underground, Homely Ville) 

 

The finish: Short, clean, a more woody astringency appears, along with a chockful of mint and parsley again – the herbs make a final appearance before disappearing behind the stage.

  

My Rating

 

😒

This was alright, nothing to write home about, even if it is somewhat more refined than the core Yoichi NAS.

 

 

 

Miyagikyo Single Malt Grande, 48% ABV – Review

 

  

Color: Deeper Gold, Honey

 

On the nose: Noticeably sweeter, with more dark stone fruits – cranberries, cherries, raisins and prunes all showing up, all fresh, clean and bright. Very fruit-driven and forthcoming. There’s some pepperiness as well, but more in the ungrounded peppercorn format, so nothing prickly here.

  

Opens up with great fruity flavors of stone fruits, grapes, tannins, whole peppercorns and rosemary. (Image Source: Wide Open Eats, Better Homes and Gardens)

 

Underlying those brighter notes are some heavier grape notes -  very full bodied red grapes (even though Sherry is actually made from white grapes), as well as some liquorice. There’s grape juice, skins and some tannins. Alongside, honey and light molasses is to be found, with rosemary and clove herbs and chalk.

  

On the palate: Spiced or mulled wine, more dark stone fruits, with baking spices, namely cinnamon and anise. While rich, it has a slightly heavier texture and is more full-bodied. The grape notes I got on the nose, are still very evident on the palate – tannins and all. Here, there’s also more dried raisins and prunes – the saccharine notes here is more concentrated. The same dried herbs on the nose are also apparent on the palate.

 

On the palate, the Sherry cask reigns supreme, with notes of mulled wine, raisins, baking spices, milk chocolates and burnt peaches. (Image Source: Cookie and Kate, Mashed, Food Industry Executive, BBC Good Food, The Recipe Critic) 

 

There’s also poignant notes of espresso, milk chocolates and vanilla oats. It is quite honeyed as well, or maybe a touch of molasses. Some interesting notes of burnt peach and grilled pineapples also show up, but more gently. 

  

Alittle more Jamaican on the finish with olive brine, more mulled wine, some spicy chilli flakes and oaky notes make it a decently likeable finish. (Image Source: Organic Gardener, Anthony the Spice Maker, Cookie and Kate, Whisky Advocate) 

 

The finish: There’s an almost Jamaican note of olive brine here as it closes out with a nice, spicy, medium length finish. The same mulled wine and dried herbs carries through to the finish. Some oaky notes come through at the last minute, with a slight astringency.

 

My Rating

 

😚🎄

This one was pretty good! It was tasty, good complexity, likeable notes, aside from its only downside which is its lack of depth due to its youth. Would pick one up again.

   

  

My Take

 

  

A comeback? Somewhat.

The price point is certainly a “welcome home” sign from Earth, that is to say reasonable. The same of which cannot be said for the Nikka Discovery Series. But more crucially, its taste while nothing to write home about – is definitely again, closer to home, and in some ways an enhancement over Nikka’s core flagship Yoichi and Miyagikyo offerings. 

 

The Grande's were certainly a step up from the core NAS offerings, but not nearly enough to write home about. (Image Source: Nonjatta)

 

While it was apparent that more of the good stuff was employed in the making of the Nikka Grande's – more peated malt in the Yoichi Grande, and more sherry malt in the Miyagikyo Grande, it was also equally apparent that the better aged malts were spared in the making of these. The youth was still very noticeable and I would say, the main factor holding back the potential of this set of releases.

While the popular flavors that have come to be associated with both flagship malt whiskies were clearly there – and juiced up, they did not take on the depth and intensity as one would hope. But for the price, in today’s climate, could you really ask for more? The answer is yes, even if it would assuredly be faced with rejection – that is until the almighty god Seɪlz makes its thunderous appearance once again. Which I do believe will happen eventually across the entire category of Japanese whiskies.

 

Surely, a massive operation like Nikka can master up bravado and pony up a little something worth fanning over. (Image Source: Nikka)

 

To delve alittle deeper into the two – while I found the Yoichi Grande smoother and more drinkable than its core Yoichi Single Malt counterpart, the apple did not fall far from the tree, and its enhancements were quite mild. Without the age needed to harmonise the whisky better, I found the smoky and herbaceous top notes to split apart from the malty, honeyed base flavors, far too much for my liking. There wasn’t sufficient cohesiveness, even if there was a more peaty character.

The Miyagikyo Grande on the other hand was pleasantly richer and demonstrated more complexity, even if being much more Sherry-driven as opposed to distillate-driven. I found it again, very drinkable, approachable, with both nice brighter and darker fruity flavors that was more cohesive than the Yoichi. Yet, unfortunately despite its promise, fell short on taking on more depth and a heavier, creamier body, which I attribute to its youth.

 

The current Nikka offerings do the job, but for Nikka to regain its fanbase, it needs to knock a couple out of the park. (Image Source: Nikka)

 

Overall, they were an improvement for sure. The Miyagikyo Grande certainly did, in my books at least, and while the Yoichi Grande fell alittle more short for me, a couple of friends I shared samples with actually enjoyed it quite a fair bit (to their own surprise, even). If Nikka is to rebuild its fanbase, it needs to be consistently batting solid releases, this ain’t no amateur hour! For a whisky producer with as much resources as they do, there’s no excuse not to. And it isn’t too late to do so – the Japanese whisky market has never been hotter, if there was any time to stage a comeback, now is as good a time as possible. Or beware the wrath of the god Seɪlz.

 

Kanpai!

 

@111hotpot

 

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