If you’re currently looking for a whisky from Japan’s Yoichi distillery, your available options are virtually limited to just one. The Yoichi Single Malt was introduced in 2016 as the sole replacement for the distillery’s entire range of age statement malts (10,12,15 & 20 year olds). Built in 1934, and located in the northern coastal town (of the same name) on the island of Hokkaido, the distillery was Nikka’s first. The located was selected by the legendary Masataka Taketsuru for its setting, which brought with it both climate and terroir features which he felt were closer to that of Scotland than any other area of Japan, and a whisky style that is inherently coastal.
Nikka’s 2015 discontinuation of their entire age-statement range impacted across their entire portfolio (which also includes Miyagikyo distillery). As well as long-standing bottlings (some of which were multi-award-winning), the shake-up also kicked out a forerunner of this bottling – the 50cl NAS Yoichi. The 50cl NAS bottling was introduced as an entry-point to the Yoichi range, but in reality felt more like a stopgap - being delivered in a smaller bottle size and with markedly different branding to the rest of Nikka’s single malt range – it was also unfortunately a bit ‘meh’ – so no one should really mourn its passing too much . The 2016 version is presented in a similar styling to the withdrawn range – and you best get used to it, as there’s no sign that any of Nikka’s aged single malt expressions will be returning any time soon.
Nose: Pronounced and expressive. Toffee apples, tangy citrus peels and oily/earthy peat smoke. Wet soils and greenery (herbs, leaves and mosses) and joined by sweet orange juice and slight nuttiness. Smoke levels are higher than I expected and rather pleasant at the same time - a combination of salty coastal smoke and seaweed with elements drawn further inland – woody, earthy and vegetal. Dry fires meets wet fires. A few drops of water heightens sweetness and adds a touch of orange peels alongside some homemade lemonade.
Taste: Slightly oily and nicely fulsome in the mouth – starting with lemons, salty water and barley, peating is gentle, but pervasive across the whole mouth – mineral and nicely balanced with the fruitier elements. In the mid-palate, earthiness once more – soils, mosses and some well-defined maltiness. Sourness is delivered by grapefruit and sits alongside some cask influence – ginger and leather. The addition of water adds some juiciness to the fruits, a touch more sugar and really emphasises the minerality of the smoke.
Finish: Medium, with tangy citrus and some salinity in the tail.
Whilst Yoichi Single Malt is quite a straight-forward whisky, it’s a well-made one that demonstrates good balance and is evocatively coastal. It’s arguably better than the 50cl NAS that is has in effect replaced, but at the same time, not quite in the same league as the discontinued age-statement Yoichi range. It also doesn’t to my palate taste particularly Japanese – whilst that’s no big issue by itself assuming the underlying quality it good (which is is), it does start to beg questions when one looks at the price point – around £75 here in the UK. Expensive NAS’s are nothing new, but does this one offer anything over and above similarly priced competitors? Hard to say. But, as replacement that is hopefully only temporary for a few years, it’s certainly better than I expected it to be.