As of the end of November 2012, Nikka is finally being imported into the USA by Anchor. Up until then, Suntory was the only Japanese whisky being imported into the USA. Anchor is initially bringing in two expressions: Yoichi 15 (msrp $130) and Nikka Taketsuru 12 (msrp $70). Nikka Taketsuru is named for Nikka's founder - the father of whisky distilling in Japan back in the 1920s. In Europe and the far East the Taketsuru 17 and 21 have garnered a ton of praise. The 12 has been a little more ambiguously received (for example it was initially panned on Nonjatta (but was recently upgraded by Serge Valentin to an 80). But there has been plenty of praise too, as Anchor's press release is delighted to explain:
"Taketsuru Pure Malt 12-year-old (SRP $69.99) is composed of pure malt whisky blended in vats from the Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries. ... Ripe, sweet aromas such as apple and pear combined with a silky smooth texture on the palate makes Taketsuru a perfect introduction to the Japanese whisky style. In 2007, it received Best Japanese Single Malt Whisky honors at the World Whiskies Awards. In 2008, this pure-malt whisky was named Gold Medal Winner at the
International Spirits Challenge."
So, let's be clear: this is a blended malt (a vatting of single malt whiskies). Personally, I've been quietly exploring a range of single cask expressions from Yoichi, Miyagikyo, and a number of other Japanese distilleries and my love affair that started with Suntory has deepened considerably. I've been fortunate enough to taste Taketsuru 17 and 21 (reviews to follow - thanks David Alcock) and was quite ready to be extremely happy with the 12. In NYC this is available at Park Ave. Liquors and Astor Wines (Astor also has the Yoichi 15).
Nikka Taketsuru 12 40% abv OB 750ml 2013
Color: light golden honey amber
Nose: A rich and unctuous nose of floral rose and lilly, cloves, tropical fruits, and rich brown sugar cooking in a pan in bubbling butter. Deeper nosing detects traces of sherry and a distant whiff of smoke. I love this nose. Floral and fruit ester forward, but with bags of demerara caramel Brown Betty. It's a classically Japanese whisky aroma. It smells like the old 1970s Suntory Old (but richer). It has a lot of the aromas of the more mature and expensive members of its line: Taketsuru 17 and 21 - but lighter and more estery.
The aroma is rich right after the pour, but the palate is much less so. Early sips are sweet, but disappointingly light in the flavor density area. Extensive airing (30 minutes, plus) helps:
Demerara (richly flavored turbinado sugar) on entry. The mouth feel is rich; almost thick. A profusion of rosy florals, sherry cocoa notes, and some spicy heat on the mid-palate expansion. Then waxy fruity glow, expanding spice heat and a encroaching oaky bitter mark the turn. The finish is moderately short, but malty, lingeringly spicy, and gently sweet with cherry chocolate herbal bitters. Lingering august notes of cacao, cane sugar juice, and old oak bring a special majesty to the after taste.
The flavors are wonderful. The only issues are that the flavor density can't quite do justice to the extraordinary nose. This is probably the number one issue with 12 year old malts generally. But the palate here waxes nicely with time.
A drop of water takes things immediately in too light a direction. My conclusion is that this is bottled a touch too dilute at 40%. I would imagine that at 46% or even 43% this would be superb - and have room for the expansion of mouth feel and sugar a drop of water can bring. But at 40% it is borderline too light as it is and can't accept the addition of any more without becoming thin and losing intensity. My advice is to buy this when you see it (and lets pray they start bottling the 17 and 21 in 750ml for import by the US) and allow it a good half hour of breathing time to open fully - but don't add any water at all. There is more sherry and oak clove/cinnamon spice here than with Yamazaki 12 or Hibiki 12 (but a less floral sweetness). It's a lovely, rich, and beguiling flavor profile that is uniquely Nikka Taketsuru and classically Japanese. Its presence in the US market is water in the desert for fans of this wonderful flavor profile.