Nikka’s Taketsuru lineup of whiskies are described as ‘pure malts’ – a descriptor which is entirely accurate, as these whiskies are blended, but only composed of single malts – pure in a sense. In the UK we’d call this a blended malt, and many of you might be old enough to remember when the term ‘vatted’ was used for such bottlings. As a pure malt, Taketsuru bottlings have only two constituents liquids: Miyagiyko and Yoichi. There are three expressions in the series – Takesuru NAS, a 17 year old and a 21 year old. Mercifully when Nikka culled many of their age-statement whiskies, the Taketsuru series was spared – but allocations of the age-stated bottles are still very small, whilst the company looks to replenish its stocks.
Taketsuru 21 year old has won a raft of industry awards, including being named ‘World’s Best Blended Malt Whisky’ award at the World Whisky Awards three times in succession – 2008, 2009 and 2010. Named after its creator (and the founding father of Japanese whisky) Masataka Taketsuru, the bottling is one of several that helped bring a consciousness of Japanese whisky to the wider world. It is now sought and fought over.
Nose: Rich, quite sweet and undeniably Japanese. Warm honey, cinnamon and apple turnovers join floor polish and incense in a fairly opulent opening. These aromas are supported by a hearty measure of vanilla and wood influence, along with chocolate, light brown sugars and some ginger spicing. A little resting in the glass brings out some more floral undertones here – blossoms – but also some slightly sweet/savoury notes and plums (umeshu obviously).
Taste: Excellent mouthfeel for 43%. Surprisingly tart and sour given the rich and sweet nose – this is quite a different experience in the mouth. Whole oranges and their peels, peaches and ginger merge with cinder toffee, vanilla and a noticeable saltiness running right through the heart of the whisky. Woodiness is quite high and composed of equal doses of sappy oak, old wood and furniture polish. After resting, fruitiness increases, bringing raspberries, and likewise nuttiness comes through, bringing hazelnuts.
Finish: Medium in length and expressing some pepperiness alongside drying oak and vanilla.
Taketsuru 21 year old is really lovely blended whisky, but it might not be for everyone. Whilst the elegant nose evokes both rich subtlety and Japan itself, the palate comes from different cloth – whilst fruity, it’s quite sour and packed full of wood – the oak adverse amongst you might find it too much so.
Then we come onto the thorny issue of price – this one is far from cheap. I picked up my bottle before the Japanese whisky boom had really reached its zenith, so I paid around £80. No such luck these days – the best I can find in the UK is £320, and many retailers are asking closer to £400, assuming of course that they’ve got any stock at all. Master of Malt’s Drinks by the Dram have got 3cl samples available (at £25 a pop), so until the world calms down this might be an option for you if trying the Taketsuru 21 year old is a must.