Whiskey Wednesday: Nikka From The Barrel and to the US

 One of the best things about traveling is seeing what is out there in the world that can’t be seen from home.

When it comes to spirits traveling abroad often means encountering ex-pat style spirits; bottlings like Blanton’s Straight From The Barrel, an Early Times bottled at 37.1 Proof, or the Wild Turkey 13 Year. These are intriguing because they’re both familiar yet unattainable but they don’t fill a void or represent something new. Their appeal is mostly just that they can’t be had at home.

Despite what the name might imply, the whisky itself is not a single barrel expression.

More frustrating to me are those spirits that I discover but have no recourse to obtain at home. These are products that are fundamentally different from the familiar yet still incredibly appealing and often made by companies that already have products in the States. Products like the Giffard Melon, the Etter Apricot Eau-de Vie, and, until this past month, the Nikka From The Barrel Japanese Whisky numbered among them.

At this point it should be very apparent that Japanese whisky is the soup du jour of the whisky world, but instead of talking about the loss of an age statement or product line being discontinued for once we’re actually seeing an expansion of a product. And not a wholly new formulation specifically designed for a market, just an honest to god expansion of availability.

I first came across the Nikka From The Barrel when traveling to France a couple years ago. Not only was I struck but how incredibly flavorful it was but by how ubiquitous it was. I erroneously assumed it was a specialty release only to hear from the bartenders that it was their mixing Japanese whisky.  Keep in mind that this was pre-Toki when the prices were rising and stock plummeting and the ability to make cocktails with Japanese whisky was dwindling. Yet here was an over-proof, affordable, mixable Japanese whisky.  And I couldn’t have it.

Despite what the name might imply, the whisky itself is not a single barrel expression. It is instead a blend, remember the Japanese whisky makers consider themselves more blenders then distillers. This is Single Malts from Nikka’s Yoichi and Miyagikyo Distilleries, as well as grain whisky from Miyagikyo that has been rested and married in an oak barrel for 3-6 months. It is coming from the blending  barrel not a single barrel.

The extra aging allows the whiskies to marry and evolve together before being bottled at near cask strength, a powerful 102.8 proof. This power of proof and flavor is what made the whisky such an amazing value. There is just so much packed into its little bottle. And the bottle is little. Designed to be reminiscent of a “small lump of whisky” to visualize the concentrated power inside the bottle it is packed as 500ml. This is a bottle size so far outside the allowable norms for US production that I think this more than anything is what kept it from our shores for so long.

With its Stateside release, Nikka kept the same bottle design but simply scaled it to a 750ml size. Not quite as elegant and evocative but it’s always been what’s inside the bottle that counts.

So, what’s inside the bottle? The same blend of malt and grain married for 3-6

It’s also proof that global expansion and demand can be gracious and bring you new experiences and treasures, instead of putting up artificial boundaries.

months in oak casks. Still bottled at 51.4% alcohol this is a big hitter.

The Nose carries a hint of fresh, green fruit, with a baking spice overlay and of course a discernable oak note. The alcohol vapors can accidently overpower some of the more subtle notes if you inhale too deeply on the first sniff.

On the palate is a big, full bodied whiskey. The dark baking spice notes leap to the front. Brown sugar, caramel, and the fruit stays fresh and a touch more citrusy than expected from the nose. The distillate is incredibly clean and dry.

The finish is long, drawn out, and the oak lingers after the alcohol has burned off. A few drops of water really does help mellow this whisky and expand the range of flavor.

What’s truly great about this whisky to me is that it’s simultaneously an entry level whisky and yet not. It’s something the evolves over time, much like the person drinking it.

It’s also proof that global expansion and demand can be gracious and bring you new experiences and treasures, instead of putting up artificial boundaries.

Categories: History, Japanese, liquor, Malt, Nikka, Spirits, Whiskey, Whiskey WednesdayTags: , , , , , , , ,