Type: Single Malt Japanese Whisky
Added coloring: No
Owner: Asahi Breweries
Average price: € 79.00
Official website: www.nikka.com
Nikka’s Discovery Series was launched in 2021 with the intention of highlighting different aspects of the processing of their two iconic whiskies, Yoichi and Miyagikyo.
If last year the emphasis was on the variation of ingredients, reversing the use of peated malt between the two labels, this year the focus shifted to yeast, an often underestimated but fundamental component in the creation of whisky.
Not only different casks then, but also uncommon yeast strains alongside the usual ones used in fermentation, offering Nikka’s blenders a colourful and diverse aromatic palette from which to draw to create the two bottlings.
An arduous and complicated path, also using experimental distillates that originally didn’t seem to show great potential but which have blossomed after ageing, illustrated with precision by Emiko Kaji, the distillery’s International Business Development Manager, during a masterclass organised by Italian distributor Velier in which I had the pleasure of participating (albeit on a delayed basis).
Two samples of the new bottlings flanked by another three samples from some of the batches used to create them, a journey through evocations and flavours that hinted at the incredible work behind every dram we pour into the glass.
The series will conclude in 2024, when Nikka celebrates its 90th anniversary.
Yoichi Discovery Series 2022: Aromatic Yeast
Ageing casks: Ex-Sherry first fill, refill, re-charred and remade
Let’s start with the pair’s peated malt, the result of blending spirits made with direct fire distillation and from a long four-day fermentation, drawing from ex-Sherry casks at various ages (between six and eight years) in different proportions, with remade and first-fill having less impact.
A very fine thread of vegetable smoke runs through the aromas on the nose, veering sharply towards floral and fruity, with a palette that is at once decisive and delicate. Peach, apricot, pineapple and unripe plum intertwine with heather and a hint of lavender, with an undertone of propolis and honey giving thickness and depth. Traces of umami along the length. Elegant and rich.
The palate begins with a rather pronounced spicy vein of pepper and ginger, just as the peat finds greater volume, especially in the first sips, but it’s always the fruity part that dominates the flavours, taking up the declinations of the nose with an increase in the vegetable and umami component. Chocolate and vinous notes punctuate the dram, giving body and substance to a complex and layered whole.
The finish is long and dry, with bitterish tips on vegetal and fruity notes with a barely noticeable vein of smoke.
A whisky that is definitely not easy, requiring time and attention and certainly not suitable for distracted consumption. In this sense perhaps more technical than emotional, but the end result offers truly surprising traits.
Miyagikyo Discovery Series 2022: Aromatic Yeast
Ageing casks: Virgin, ex-Sherry first fill, refill, re-charred and remade
Similar composition in casks to the Yoichi, with the addition of virgin casks, born from a three-day fermentation always with unusual cultures alongside the yeasts generally used in the production of this whisky, and indirect steam distillation. Increased presence of refill and re-charred casks.
The nose is dominated by peach, accompanied to a lesser degree by apricot, plum and baked apple, with some red fruits (raspberry, wild strawberry) appearing at length. Caramel and vanilla notes in the background, and a fresh, mineral vein that closes the wave of aromas. Perhaps less rich than the Yoichi, but with a more persuasive character.
On the palate, the peach is infused with coffee and chocolate in a warm, enveloping mouthfeel, the red fruits grow in volume along with the caramel and vanilla with the mineral part maintaining the balance between flavours. Vegetable hints punctuate the length of the tasting, digging in among the sensations without ever settling into complacent opulence.
Long finish with points of astringency, between vegetal notes, caramel, coffee and red fruits.
Decidedly more approachable than the Yoichi, but no less complex, on the contrary: the balances appear more centred without sacrificing the swing of the evocations, which know how to play with sherried influences without being devoured by them.