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Whisky Reviews

Reviewing Two Japanese Whisky Staples From Nikka Whisky: Yoichi Single Malt NAS & Miyagikyo Single Malt NAS

 

These two expressions form the core of the house of Nikka, the second largest whisky distiller in Japan, and also one whose contributions have proved extremely pivotal to bringing whisky making to Japan and arguably to Asia.

Established in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru, the same man famous for being the first Japanese person to set sail for Scotland to learn whiskymaking and whose return subsequently saw the building of Yamazaki Distillery, which was the start of Japan's whiskymaking journey, the Yoichi Distillery in Hokkaido was the result of a critical difference of opinion between Taketsuru and Shinjiro Torii of Suntory (at the time known as Kotobukiya).

 

Yoichi Distillery, located in snowy Hokkaido.

 

Taketsuru had held closely what he had learnt in Scotland, of a bold and muscular style of whisky, which at the time was not yet an acquired taste by the Japanese palate. Nonetheless, Toii was more focused on making whisky appealing to the local tastebuds, and thus the pair parted ways, with Taketsuru concluding that Hokkaido, in the north of Japan, had a climate most reminiscent of Scotland and thus the Yoichi Distillery was born.

| Read: The Story Of Yoichi Distillery: The Distillery That Turned Apple Juice Into Japanese Whisky

 

The distillery would go through a K-drama worth of rollercoaster ups and downs, but thankfully it persists till this day.

However, by 1967, with Yoichi an established player in the Japanese market, Nikka, the company behind Yoichi, would decide to establish the Miyagikyo Distillery in Sendai, a location with a completely different climate to Yoichi, and would also produce a whisky of a completely different style. Miyagikyo would be a whisky that was more gentle, floral and sweet, which would serve as the perfect contrast to Yoichi, and would thereby allow Nikka, whose name is taken from Dai Nippon Kaju (or the Great Japan Juice company), to create more complex blended whisky.

| Read: The Yin to Yoichi’s Yang – Miyagikyo Distillery

  

Miyagikyo Distillery in the more temperate Sendai Prefecture.

 

And ever since, the two malt whisky distilleries Yoichi and Miyagikyo have proved to be sturdy workhorses propelling Nikka's success in being the Japanese whisky giant that it is today.

Let's taste the two whiskies side by side today!

Yoichi Single Malt NAS, Nikka Whisky - Review

 

Tasting Notes

Color: Gold

Aroma: Big and bold - lots of vanilla cream, honey, orange blossoms, field flowers, and some orchard fruits too, with some green apples and yellow lemons. There’s a noticeable woodiness of alittle bit of wood polish and musty wooden cabinets, before a final wisp of coal smoke and sea mist.

Taste: Light caramel sweetness with some honeyed and spiced fruits of pears, red apples and apricots sprinkled with nutmeg and clove. There’s a good scoop of cold ash that packs some herbaceous bitterness that overlaps into some parsley. There’s a little bit of kombu and sugared nuts as well. Not particularly smoky actually. There’s some resemblance as well to honey soy glaze atop a medium-bodied texture.

Finish: More of a herbal eucalyptus quality here, also more prominently bitter with parsleys. Alittle short with that lingering bitterness.

   

My Thoughts

This takes on a more bitter, muscular style that is at times reminiscent of Islay Scotch whiskies sans the heavy salinity. The peat is not all that prominent, coming across more as bitter cold ash that leads into a parsley herbaceousness. To its credit there’s a good amount of nuance with some orchard fruits and spices that gave it more complexity than you’d expect.

It could pack more thickness on the palate and pound in more roundedness and silkiness - here it’s a little sharp at times, and also short on the finish with some harshness - but a decent whisky no less for the price and availability.

My Rating: 5/10 

Miyagikyo Single Malt NAS, Nikka Whisky - Review

 

Tasting Notes

Colour: Light Gold

Aroma: Brighter here, and certainly more saccharine and floral too. More vanilla, orange blossoms, red apples and banana candy. There’s a gentle waft of countryside fields of grass, also alittle herbal of cough drops. It flickers between bits of apricot Danish pastries and apple turnovers. This is really friendly and approachable, a mix of floral, fruits and herbal rounded notes here.

Taste: Lighter-bodied here, but still sweeter and brighter, with more honey and florals of frangipanis and lavender. This is backed up with fleshy fruits - custard apples and mangosteen, that laps into the same warm pastry flavours of apple pie filling, apricot danishes, tea cakes with the dusting of cinnamon and nutmeg. There’s still that herbal cough drops and a slightly more turned up grassiness, closer to wheat grass. Little bit of licorice too, with some cooked barley and oats.

Finish: The herbal and honey sweetness carries through to the finish, with a light oaky bitterness that’s more apparent and drying here. More of that wheatgrass too.

  

My Thoughts

This was more my style - sweeter, more approachable with the really easy to like combo of fruits, florals and herbal sweetness. There’s quite a bit of nuance here and a good amount of complexity to appreciate, that at the same time I felt I could lean into given how friendly it was.

That said, it ended somewhat short on the finish with an off note of oaky bitterness towards the end, and the body could do with more thickness and heftiness give the heavier, sweeter flavours, which felt at times like the textures were not keeping up with the herbal honey and florals.

But otherwise, a great entry point! 

My Rating: 6/10

 

Score/Rating Scale :

  • 9-10 : Exceptional, highly memorable, 10/10 would buy if I could.
  • 7-8 : Excellent, well above most in its category, worth considering buy-zone.
  • 4-6 : Good, okay, alright; a few flaws, but acceptable; not bad, but not my personal preference; still worth trying, could be a buy if the price is right.
  • 1-3 : Not good; really did not enjoy; wouldn't even recommend trying.
  • 0 : Un-scored, might be damaged, new make, or very unusual.

Overall

 

Now between the two, I preferred the Miyagikyo, which I found to be more friendly and approachable, definitely easier to get into that the Yoichi, which is more muscular and can come across as being comparatively more harsh with its smoky and bitter leaning profile. For me, the Miyagikyo was more rounded and I could lean in and tease out more nuance and feels like more of a crowdpleaser - most folks would either enjoy it (especially if they’re casual drinkers or just starting out) or at the least not dislike it.

The Yoichi is alittle more divisive given its more smoky and bitter profile, which is more of a love-it-or-hate-it sort of thing, but that said, if you’re looking for something stronger and more striking, the Yoichi is probably your go-to, else you might find the Miyagikyo alittle mild. To that end, I also really liked the musty wood that I only found in the Yoichi, which gave it this really enjoyable sense of antiquity that I associate with old Japanese temples - it’s more pronounced in older Yoichi expressions and something that Yoichi is well regarded for - here for a small price tag you get alittle taste of that, so definitely worth trying it.

Overall, both great starters! It is definitely worth considering their price point and all year round availability most anywhere, they’re definitely packing it above their weight class all things considered - and for that matter, these are both entry points for someone to get into Japanese whiskies from a great distilling house, Nikka. That means you’ve got pretty much the entire mountain ahead of you in terms of great expressions to move upwards into as you get deeper into the category - the 10 Year Old, 12 Year Old, 15 Year Old, 20 Year Old, single casks.

So really, a decent footing to start with for the price, considering the 10 Year Old is quite a jump up in price and only recently became more available, and even so is still really limited as Nikka rebuilds and re-establishes it core line up on the back of a severe draught and shortage of aged proper Japanese whiskies due to unexpectedly high demand the past half a decade.

If you’re just starting out and reading this, happy trails! 

    

Kanpai!

 

@111hotpot