The ‘Father of Japanese Whisky’ Masataka Taketsuru died in 1979 having changed the industry indelibly. One of the very last expressions he personally worked on was the Tsuru 17 year old blend. Whilst you might think that the bottle name derives from Masataka’s name, it actually has its own meaning, that of ‘Crane’ in Japanese.
The Tsuru 17 year old is a blend from Nikka. It’s constituent parts will therefore be drawn from Nikka’s two distilleries of Miyagikyo and Yoichi (though having tasting I’m going to posit it’s more the former in this particular bottling) as well as a grain element to complete the blend. It has now (like many of Nikka’s bottlings sadly) been discontinued, but was available in two forms – a heavy ships decanter and a fancy looking ceramic urn. There’s no reason to believe that beyond the materials used in the packaging that the liquid is in any way different however. But for the purposes of this review I will let you all know that my tasting comes from the glass decanter version. It’s bottled at 43%.
Nose: Pronounced woodiness from sandalwood and cedar and a touch of sawdust. Rich layer of honey throughout with candied orange peels, a touch of stem ginger and some immediate cask spicing. There’s an underlying leafiness here, somewhat musty and musky.
Taste: Good mouthfeel which brings forward spicing instantly – again with the ginger (this time fresh root) and now with some pepper. Fruits are present but a touch vague (a menagerie of dried berries and stone fruits). Vanilla is reasonable assertive, but marries well to some bitter and fairly astringent wood (again Sandalwood). Sweet grains are more discernible here than on the nose and provide more balance to the bitter notes.
Finish: Long, woody, peppery and somewhat bitter.
Everything about the Tsuru 17 year old feels quite luxuriant. From the heavy glass decanter, simple but striking branding through to the liquid itself – this firmly falls into the ‘precision’ whisky-making category. Not nearly as ‘engineered’ as some Japanese expressions, the Tsuru goes down a rich, but ultimately woody avenue, favouring oak and spicing over lighter florals and blossoms which one might find in its constituent parts. Well-made, tasty and worth your time if you can find it for a reasonable price.
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