Continuing this month’s conversation about Nikka comes the news that Nikka will be discontinuing the Taketsuru 17, 21, and 25 Year old expressions as of March of 2020. While some stocks will remain under “heavy allocation” all three marks will no longer be listed by the company. The Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt, a Non-Age Statement (NAS) edition that replaced the 12 Year old Taketsuru several years ago, will also be discontinued.
While the loss of the age statements is lamentable, it falls neatly into the familiar story of aged stocks not being able to keep up with current demand for high end whisky. But the loss of the NAS Taketsuru Pure Malt comes as a bit of a shock. The NAS was originally released in late 2015 and was meant to address the supply issue. Then in 2019 it won Jim Murray’s Japanese Whiskey Of The Year. Add to this the discontinued Nikka Miyagikyo and Yoichi Single Malts in 2015 and the temporary interruption in supply of their Coffey Malt and Grain in early 2019 and the picture of a company struggling to match pace with demand while also seeking to define its core identity emerges.
So, what exactly is being lost with the Taketsuru’s?
The Taketsuru line was named after the company founder Masetaka Taketsuru. They have been the core of the Nikka line up for as long as I’ve been familiar with the brand. They’re also incredibly representative of the Japanese blending style. Every bottle is the Taketsuru line is a Pure Malt which is an old term for Blended Malts. Not to be confused with a Blended Whisky. A Blended Whisky is made up of both single malt and grain whiskey. A Blended Malt is comprised only of Single Malts. In this case the Taketsuru’s are made from a blend of malts distilled at the Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries.
Japanese Whisky makers often think of themselves more as blenders than distillers. They look to layer flavor by creating a blend of whiskies to create consistent and nuanced bottling. Take the Hibiki’s as a prime example. Suntory has repeatedly said that they consider the Hibiki to be the perfect representation of their art, both in terms of distillation but more as a blend. But while the Hibiki contains a fair amount of grain whiskey the Taketsuru line is comprised of big single malts.
One of the advantages of the centuries old whisky tradition in Scotland is 100s of distilleries that are relatively friendly with each other. This means that if a distiller wanted to make a Blended Malt with a style of malt they didn’t distill themselves there was always another distiller that did who would be willing to sell or trade. When Masataka founded Nikka in 1934 as the Dai Nippon Kaju, Co. there was no one to barter with so if he wanted different styles to create a blend he had to distill them himself.
This eventually lead to the creation of Nikka’s second distillery, Miyagikyo, outside on Sendai in 1969. This allowed for a greater depth of flavors for blending as well as over doubling the company’s production capability. Miyagikyo is much further south than its sibling Yoichi Distillery granting a different character as the whisky ages. We can expect to see more of this style of whisky from Nikka in the future as a planned expansion on Miyagikyo should be finished in 2021 with production expected to expand by 40%.
As for the present, the Nikka Taketsuru 17 Year Pure Malt. Award the Best Blended Malt Award by the World Whiskey Awards in 2014 it’s a blend of single malts from both the Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries. Aged for a minimum of 17 years this is a powerful whisky.
NOSE: Fresh fruit, Cedarwood, Honey
PALETTE: White Pepper, Dried Fruits, Oolong Tea, A hint of smoke
FINISH: Medium to long, rounded smoke and with dark chocolate and leather
The Taketsuru line represents NIkka’s history. It pays homage to its founding father as well as combining the art of both of the company’s distinct distilleries. The loss of the Taketsuru line is the loss of a piece of history but it does open a future. Whisky, and in particular Japanese Whisky, is having an incredibly large moment. Bit even if whisky distilled 25 years ago is being depleted left and right the world, and the flavor, that whisky represents is gone. The challenge now is to find the way to create the spirit that fills the barrel to be bottled in 25 years while still keeping the lights on in the years between.