Now what kind of a Japan high would I be in without reviewing a Japanese whisky?
I can already hear the boos and sounds of disappointments. Subarashi! I can imagine some readers thinking: “Who the hell still reviews Japanese whisky? It’s already too polarizing and overpriced.” or “Yeah yeah. Go flaunt your Japanese whisky. You have bottles and we don’t.”
I get it. Japanese whisky has become too stretched out. They didn’t prepare for the unexpected boom. They ditched the age statements to accommodate the demand. They gutted the main line ups the vanguard fans started with. But why is the disdain for Japanese whisky seemingly much louder than the disdain for whisky markets who suffer the same issues? I have a theory.
I think that the loudest criticism against Japanese whisky stems mainly from it being inaccessible. One camp mainly being the early crowd joined the party early. When there were still a lot of age statements. When those and the special releases were easier to get and a lot cheaper. I can remember the days when a Yamazaki 12 would cost like $60. The passionate drinker who did their research or listened to suggestions of more experienced drinkers. They probably feel that they’ve been wronged. Where is their reward for being early to the party? I belong to this camp. I know what they feel! Sadly, the world is unfair. Perhaps we should have bought more back then?
The other camp, being the envious types who were late to the party. The trend followers who only pay attention to popularity. Their mouths frothing for a taste of the expensive and world-renowned awarded drink. Because you know, popularity and price are the keys of quality indication. But, no, their fears come true and they are denied. These bandwagoners learn they can’t afford or have no access to Japanese whisky or both. These hurt souls are, I feel, the critics who simply show their disapproval because that’s all they can do.
Honestly, if it weren’t for them being overpriced, I would have no issues with Japanese whisky. They are fairly delicious. I am a fairly more knowledgeable and a more open-minded drinker. This results in me not easily being swayed by marketing and influencers. I know of the plethora of factors that go into spirit production. I am an eager learner. I have no issues with NAS whisky. The inaccessibility issue adds to the fun. I know what I like. I am a reasonable buyer. I’ve literally gone hunting. I like the hunt. For releases I haven’t tried, I like uncovering the mystery. Good or bad, I don’t mind. It all adds to the mind palace.
Don’t worry, this is a rather less known release from the 2nd most well-known Japanese whisky producer. Despite the sudden craze for Japanese whisky some years ago, this release pretty much stayed under the radar. I was lucky to be able to snag quite a few bottles. I am happy also. Because, frankly, I like Nikka more than Suntory.
This is the Nikka Tsuru 17. It came in this decanter bottle I am sharing and can also be bought in a ceramic bottle. Tsuru in Japanese means crane. That is the Japanese word on the label. It’s also part of the name of Taketsuru which means bamboo crane. At a time when I thought single malts were the absolute best, this blended whisky convinced me blends aren’t necessarily inferior to single malts. Yes, this is a blend (43%). Yes, I am saying this is better than some or even most single malt out in the market. This is said to be the last blend Masataka Taketsuru worked on. I don’t know when this initially came out. But this was discontinued sometime 2016 or 2017.
I have a few guesses why this flew under the radar. One is the very plain label. English readers will only be able to recognize “Nikka Whisky” and “aged 17 years”. The ceramic bottle is even harder to read. No mention of what kind of whisky. No mention of it being a single malt. With the whisky climate then, the hype beasts probably didn’t think a non-single malt was worth their attention. Second is Taketsuru and Tsuru can be confusing for non-Japanese readers. I was easily confused early on also. I am thankful for a Japanese friend who pointed out the differences to me. The third reason being, this product simply wasn’t pushed. The Nikka single malts, Coffey releases and the Taketsurus were given the spotlight.
Nikka Tsuru 17 – review
On the nose: Upfront scents of dates, light peat and smoke, liquorice and some atis/custard apples. Some hints of fruits like apples, strawberries and pears. Followed by some sherry, chocolate raisins, hazelnuts and orange peel.
In the mouth: A gentle wave of chocolate, dates and strawberries. A lingering layer of coffee, hazelnuts and sherry notes. Another wave of chocolates but with orange candy and some peat. The peat and nutty notes seem to keep coming together to form a combination of coffee, oak and chocolate notes.
This beauty has the complexity of a 46% whisky. Yet, has the delicateness of a 40% whisky. A rare whisky that will both enamor a beginner and satisfy a more distinguished drinker. I also like that despite having sherry influence, I did not get any hints of sulfur at all. Old sherry casks anyone?
Because Nikka is known for using Ben Nevis, which they own, in some of their blends, I wonder if it’s the same for this? I taste more Miyagikyo in this. There’s a lot less Yoichi in this blend but I can sense more of it in the nose. They all have this sweetness to them. I wonder if this has Nikka Coffey Malt also? It is technically a single malt due to being all malted barley. But because it’s not pot distillate, the SWA won’t recognize it as a single malt.
The reason I plan to steer clear of Japanese whisky for the foreseeable future is because it’s an unregulated hot mess. Bottles of “Japanese” whisky selling for a premium which do not contain a single drop of liquid distilled in Japan. Hardly any transparency on grains used or the source of whisky used.
How is it acceptable that in a review for even a well-regarded producer like Nikka, you can’t say if any / how much of the bottle comes from Ben Nevis?
If Japanese whisky craters again it will be because of lack of trust.
Say what you like about the SWA, at least they’ve keep Scotch more-or-less honest.
The Japanese single malts are most certainly distilled and aged in Japan. It’s been quite known for a while that Nikka has been using Ben Nevis even before GI issues came about. I didn’t say anything about Ben Nevis in this because I don’t think Masataka Taketsuru would use non-Japanese whisky in this.
If you want a producer that specifies grain, take a look at Chichibu. Their limited eds mention the type barley used. The few I’ve seen use optics. Brands like Hakushu mention they get the peated barley from Scotland. Though, it’s not clear if the barley comes from there and was peated there or if the barley was only peated there.
‘ It is technically a single malt due to being all malted barley. But because it’s not pot distillate, the SWA won’t recognize it as a single malt.’
Regardless if its pot distilled or not, it can’t be classified as single malt because it doesn’t come from a single distillery. Neither can it be classified as anything malt because it has a grain component in the mix. You’re confusing this Tsuru 17 with the Pure Malt Taketsuru 17.
I was referring to Nikka Coffey Malt for the pot distillate thing.
And nope. I know this Tsuru 17 is a blend.
I quote myself from above “At a time when I thought single malts were the absolute best, this blended whisky convinced me blends aren’t necessarily inferior to single malts. ”