There’s been a deluge of updated Scottish single malt core ranges announced over the last couple of weeks – Mortlach, Fettercairn and Pulteney to name but a few. In most cases (we’re still awaiting the full Pulteney line-up reveal) there appears to be a move back towards age-statement bottlings. Despite decades of education suggesting that age statements matter, and then years of information completely to the contrary, we’re now coming around full circle to some degree. What probably (and indeed should) matter the most is the consumer. Over in Japan, the current situation with regards to age statements is to some degree more clear cut – there’s simply not enough stock to even contemplate it.
If you take a look at the English language version of Nikka’s website, at present, you’ll only find a single bottle possessing an age-statement – The Nikka 12 year old. The bottling was first introduced in 2014 as part of the company’s 80th anniversary – before being rolling out into Europe and beyond in early 2015. Surprisingly, despite canning their entire age-statement range of single malts and virtually all of their age-statement blends (at least outside of Japan) in the same year, Nikka have managed to keep this blended whisky in production and on the shelves. Perhaps the reason for this is the cost – here in the UK, this 12 year old blended whisky costs a frankly staggering £95.
The Nikka 12 year old as a blended whisky draws its components from both Miyagikyo (malt and grain) and Yoichi (malt). Whilst there has been admissions from Nikka that they’d used peated whisky from Islay in their blends in the past (early bottlings of Nikka Pure Malt White for instance), this newish release is 100% Japanese in origin. Perhaps that shouldn’t make a different, but when every man and their Shochu producer is importing whisky and rebottling it as ‘Japanese’ – I personally find that to be reassuring. The Nikka 12 year old is delivered in a heavy decanter bottle - apparently modelled on the neck-line of a Kimono - *no one* would guess this – but it certainly looks smart enough. It is surprisingly widely available (see earlier comment) and is bottled at 43% ABV.
Nose: Expressive fruitiness – green apples with stone fruits (peach and apricot). The grain element is quite perceptible here (though fades with time in the glass) – it’s a combination of aromatic acetone and grainy polish – honestly, I find it quite pleasant and whilst not 100% integrated, it is at least complementary. Throughout is a buttery sweetness – toffee popcorn and rolled puff pastry. There’s just a hint of Yoichi in here – it comes across similar to the burnt edges of a pasty case – blackened and charred, but still inherently sweet. Delicate orange blossom florals and ginger give provide additional depth and lend the nose a sense of ‘Japaneseness’. Reduced (this doesn’t take a lot), this is both more grain-forward and cask-forward – as such, lightly toasted cereals and a touch of vanilla.
Taste: A reasonably arrival in terms of mouthfeel – not exactly viscous, but slightly syrupy certainly. There’s more initial impact than the nose suggests – fizzing lemon sherbet, and heightened tropical fruits – pineapple and mango. In the mid-palate, demi-sweet pastries – buns and ginger dusted swirls gives way to a sharper and sourer flavours – part berries, part grain. Throughout, milky chocolate, orange blossom and gentle vanilla oak. The addition of water softens the fruits – heading more towards orchard and away from tropical – it also expresses some sherry casks in the composition – reduced red berries and almond marzipan.
Finish: Medium in length, slightly dry and the where the grain whisky really starts to exert itself – vanilla, a touch of lemon-infused glue and dusty ginger spicing.
I like the Nikka 12 year old more than I actually rate it. Whilst there’s a problem of integration (of grain and malt), the overall product is highly competent, flavourful and in some ways belying of its 12 year old age statement. Then, there’s the cost – whilst I had a colleague obtain a bottle in Japan for me, in the UK at least, the going rate is twice that price. Whilst of course there’s import and duties to consider, these do not a 100% mark-up make – I can’t help but feel that the retailers are pushing the boat as far out as it will go with this one.