Type: Single Malt Japanese Whisky
Ageing barrels: Virgin, ex-Sherry, ex-Bourbon
Added coloring: No
Owner: Asahi Breweries
Average price: € 75.00
Official website: www.nikka.com
Initially there was great astonishment in the whisky world when, in 2016, Nikka was forced to replace all its historic bottlings of declared vintages with NAS versions, due to the sales boom that had dangerously reduced stocks (and it is, after all, recent news that even the legendary Taketsuru Pure Malts will no longer be produced).
After almost four years, however, Nikka’s new line continues to reap market success, and even enthusiasts must now take note of the company’s controversial choice.
Yoichi is named after the town in Hokkaido where legendary founder Masakata Taketsuru built the first distillery of what would later become Nikka in 1934.
Born into a family of sake masters in 1894, Taketsuru was exposed to the world of spirits from an early age, but his life changed dramatically when in 1918 he was sent by his then employer to study organic chemistry and distillation at Glasgow University. In Scotland, Taketsuru not only found a new vocation in whisky, but also the love of Rita Cowan.
After a series of ups and downs, in 1934 the couple finally realised their dream of setting up a Japanese whisky distillery in Yoichi, in Hokkaido, where they felt the soil and climate reminded them so much of Scotland.
The first Nikka came out in 1940, the company took on its current name in 1952, and the property was sold to Asahi in 1954 in order to undertake a courageous commercial expansion.
Well, that’s the end of the historical note and let’s move on to talk about this whisky.
This Yoichi is the heir to the old peated Nikkas of 10, 12, 15, and 20 years.
The peat comes from the Ishikari River basin, the largest in Hokkaido.
Distilled in a discontinuous pot still, Yoichi is matured in an unspecified combination of virgin casks, ex-Sherry, ex-Bourbon, and others.
The colour is a deep golden yellow.
The nose could be very young, dominated by sweet cereal scents, but airing it out reveals a greater elegance: fruity (candied citrus), spicy (liquorice, nutmeg), all infused with a very light peat with smoky and salty tones reminiscent of some Campbeltowns. There’s also a floral hint of geranium that lingers even in the empty glass.
In the mouth, the peat takes on more character and stimulates the taste buds with a discreet oceanic savouriness and the return of liquorice to which rhubarb is also added. The taste is nonetheless smooth, with a fundamentally sweet flavour thanks to the presence of citrus, white fruit and milk chocolate notes.
The finish is medium, dominated by peat in oceanic and earthy tones: marine freshness, menthol, liquorice roots, and a darker malt aftertaste.
Yoichi is an excellent whisky, but unfortunately the comparison with the old age-declared expressions is unequal. The character is undeniably the same, but in a depowered and softened version. The company’s decision must obviously be acknowledged, but it is hard not to regret what has been lost. After all, the sudden increase in prices would have made the older expressions untouchable anyway, just as is happening with other Japanese manufacturers. In the end, it is always sales that judge the goodness of decisions, and given the pleasantness of drinking, it’s unlikely to imagine that there will be a sudden change in public taste.
But if that enjoyment once came from a masterful Japanese interpretation of the maturation of spirits, this is now a mass-produced version, stripped of its soul.
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