Japan has always held a certain fascination for me. As a child, I would often be found sitting on my rocking horse, watching Studio Ghibli films or Sailor Moon. Into my adulthood, I have gathered an assortment of objects over the years that are heavily influenced by the Far East. Since I have found an enjoyment in whisky, I have learned that there are a lot of Japanese whiskies that are quite collectable. A recent example, widely publicised, was the sale of Hanyu Ichiro’s Malt Full Card Series. The complete “deck” was sold to an unnamed Asian female collector in an auction that took place in my motherland, Hong Kong. Alas, ’twas not I… or was it? Unfortunately, I have looked through my wallet, and I do not have a spare £755,000 lying around, nor the space in my home for 54 bottles. The mystery buyer obviously shares my enthusiasm for acquiring sets, though.
When I first started drinking whisky, I was very curious about Japanese malts. Their designs were often lovely, and I heard many good things about the liquids inside. However, as they have always been more expensive and harder to find, I haven’t had the pleasure to sample many. The first ever Japanese whisky to touch my lips was the Yoichi 10 Year Old, which I am reviewing today. The history behind this distillery is a good read, and if you don’t know it, I encourage you to have a look into it beyond my quick summary. The distillery company Dai Nippon Kaju K.K (now better known as Nikka) was founded in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru, a man who learned the techniques of whisky-making during an almost two-year stay in Scotland. Upon returning home, he decided to build his own distillery on Japan’s most northerly major island, Hokkaido, in the town of Yoichi, after which the distillery was named. The reason for this choice was because of the climate and surroundings; it is supposedly the closest to the beauty of Scotland. Many people I have spoken to have said that his whiskies are very similar to Scotch, and that is probably because of his ties there. Not only did he study in Scotland and work in its distilleries, but he also married a local lassie named Jessie Roberta Cowan, or Rita, as she was better known. She was born in Kirkintilloch, and there is even a display dedicated to “The Mother of Japanese Whiskies” at The Auld Kirk Museum in her hometown. There are many articles about this power couple, the whisky, and of the hardships they went through with the war that you can check out. Now, back to the whisky!
There was a time when the Yoichi 10yo would have been—if not cheap—at least far more affordable. Years ago, my partner had acquired a bottle for one of our anniversaries, probably to stop my constant noise about wanting to taste a Japanese whisky one day. It was before the insane price hikes of all aged stated Japanese malts, but I thought at £60 it was still pretty expensive for a ten-year-old foreign malt. Only a few months later, prices surged, if you could even find a bottle for sale at all. Taking that into consideration, I would say we got a pretty good deal. I was delighted when this present was opened, as I had coveted it for a while. It has remained one of those bottles we take out to toast a celebration, but recently it has been sitting in the back of the cupboard feeling ignored. Today I have brought it back out to revisit, and to see if I enjoy the Yoichi as much as I remember. As of this writing, it’s a couple of days before our anniversary. What perfect timing!
Yoichi 10-Year-Old – review
Colour: golden tan
On the nose: it is sweet with light honey and thin watery caramel. Resinous and waxy furniture polish comes out every so often. Imagine washing motor oil off of your hands with a lemony scented hand-wash; I get similar aromas. Orange zest and woody ashiness gives the nostrils a drying sensation. A bowlful of fleshy fruit akin to nectarines and peaches is present. There is also a subtle banana-like scent, maybe from jackfruit, that begins to become quite prominent. I detect a slight note of salty brine, bringing a coastal image to mind. Some berries appear, but only fleetingly, belonging to varieties such as raspberries and strawberries dusted with icing sugar. Malty and cereal notes come out as the whisky oxidises. Candied peels with a hint of menthol mingle quite pleasantly with the smell of morning grass and lemon thyme.
In the mouth: immediately sweet, with caramel, but that salty brine from the coast comes out, with a fun smoky beach bonfire giving a lightly charred aroma with spitting crackling driftwood. There is a chilli hot spice that is strong but mellows out, giving way to honeyed toasted oats. The mouthfeel is both waxy and oily; it dries out eventually, and the whisky becomes only just slightly bitter after some time. A little rubbery with a tannic sensation and the feeling of breathing in second hand smoke. Banana and jackfruit peppered with berries and freshly ground black pepper play on the tongue. Honey comb is present, flavoured with orange zest and lemon balm. The finish is medium with a slow chilli white pepper burn on the back of the throat. The fruitiness stays, but then that, brine takes over, giving my taste buds a little numbing tingle.
This is not the first time (and won’t be the last) that I have revisited a whisky after a break of a year or more. I did this recently when I reviewed the BenRiach 10yo; in that case, I was slightly disappointed and did not enjoy it as much as I had in the past. This Yoichi, however, is a very different story. I like it at least as much today as I did back when it was opened. There is something quite delicate about this Japanese malt; its almost tropical flavours and subtle smoke remind me of a summer BBQ. This is one I will carefully seal away and bring out for celebratory toasts in the future. I will be bitterly disappointed when the bottle is finished, since the huge price hike as compared with when I acquired it makes it super unlikely that I will replace it. I was recently chatting to a friend who was asking about Japanese whiskies, and when I told him about my Yoichi, he exclaimed, “You should have kept it and not opened it!”
If I had done that, I would not have been able to enjoy it. Sure, I could have made a sweet profit if I had flipped it, but for me, memories are priceless. This whisky has brought me good memories from our anniversaries, and I will always associate it with happy times; this probably makes me a bit biased. If I had bought this whisky at today’s prices, I reckon I would have docked a point, but as it stands—and taking everything into consideration, including the feels, the flavours and the fabulousness – it scores highly with me.
Lead image provided by the Whisky Exchange.