Recently I’ve been trying to recall the exact year when Japanese whisky disappeared up its own ass and has yet to re-emerge. The hype, the demand, the lack of production all transpired to create the situation we have today, or did it?
When Japanese whisky is very good, it’s often exceptional. For a while we did have an extremely good thing going, then the relationship soured and shortcuts were taken. Age statements became scarce or removed entirely and a fleet of new names such a Distillers Reserve or Pure Malt were rolled out to the masses. Master blenders were given less to work with and a tighter level of control adopted in the pursuit of profit. Nowadays when you do see a Japanese whisky its likely to be one of these modern concoctions that a few years ago those at the distillery would have dismissed out of hand. Prices have also risen, meaning that you as the consumer are paying more for less of an experience. By all accounts for anything Nikka related, we have to wait until 2020 for the recovery to have taken place and then the core range may be revitalised.
The end result being that apart from Chichibu, the boat has sailed from Japanese whisky although some do still perceive it as being of the utmost quality. I rarely cover the new instalments here at Whisky Rover simply because the prices are too high for what will be delivered. Friends have followed suit, and unless you were wise enough to stockpile huge quantities of whisky from Japan during its golden era, then chances are you’re seeking out new delights elsewhere from global producers. Even if you were wise enough to stash a couple of bottles, auction prices on the secondary market would make anyone question the wisdom of opening a bottle currently.
Originally known as Sendai distillery after the nearby provincial capital, before changing its name to Miyagikyo in 2001. The site was selected by none other than Masataka Taketsuru who was taken with climate, nearby rivers and being encased by mountains. The distillery opened in 1969 and was expanded in 1976 which added a further 2 stills. Interestingly, according to the excellent Whisky Rising text, these 2 sets of stills are labelled Miyagikyo A and Miyagikyo B. The former are the originals whilst the new arrivals are larger in size and warrant their own categorisation.
In 1999 due to tax law changes, Nikka opened a grain distillery on site which replaced the previous producer at Nishinomiya that was closed in 1998. You may have seen its efforts as the Nikka Coffey Malt Whiskyand much of its output goes into the popular All Malt bottling. These rely on malted barley and predominantly maize imported from the United States. To keep up with demand the Coffey stills have been in operation continuously since September 1999 and produce a very high calibre spirit that forms the backbone of so many Nikka products.
A recent foray into the world of delights at the Dornoch Castle Hotel and its rather splendid whisky bar revealed a small but perfectly adequate selection of Japanese entries. I’ve already reviewed the Yamazaki 1998 Arima Izumiya 60th sherry cask monster; therefore, it seemed fitting that a whisky from their great rivals was also experienced. Hence this Miyagikyo single cask (number 300250) distilled in 2005 and bottled in 2015 at a strength of 55%, with a measure of this costing £12 at the bar. A decent price given the inflation around all things Japanese whisky orientated nowadays.
Miyagikyo 2005 10 year old Review
Colour: very golden
Nose: that distinctive sandalwood aspect with marzipan it’s almost grain-like initially. Beeswax and a gentle apricot follow and a buttery aspect that moves into sour cream. Returning there’s an evident oily honey, cracked black pepper and caramelised apples.
Taste: very oily and buttery initially that transcends into shortbread and oat cakes. A tinge of alcohol on the finish. Wood shavings, a little vanilla and more of that honey, ginger and oaky aspect. A little herbal tea and thyme towards the end as well.
The nose shows promise but I felt the palate was pretty disappointing given the expectation. Far from a massively impressive Japanese whisky, which takes us back to the introduction and the rarest whisky quality of all; patience.