Rated 94 - For Nikka From the Barrel, it’s been a long road to Whisky of the Year. This Japanese blend made its U.S. debut in 2018, but its inception dates back more than 30 years. In 1985, Nikka Whisky Distilling Company’s blending team, led by Shigeo Sato, designed this whisky using both malt and grain whiskies produced at Nikka’s Yoichi and Miyagikyo Distilleries. When taking into account the full array of casks—bourbon barrels, sherry butts, refill hogsheads, and more—over 100 different constituent whiskies are enlisted.
“From the Barrel” suggests barrel proof, but that’s not the case. The blenders made a conscious decision to bottle at 51.4% (derived from 90 British Proof) to deliver maximum flavor impact. They succeeded.
Notably balanced and elegant, the colorful palette of whiskies combines for tremendous depth of flavor. Soft, sweet butterscotch and orange peel meet poached pears and stone fruits. Earthiness appears as dried autumn leaves, coffee, old oak, and tobacco. Among the tangle of spices, tasters identified chili pepper, allspice, cloves, and universally adored its ginger note. Finally, wisps of smoke and sea salt. Overall, it feels generously malty, with the grain whisky lending broad sweetness and supple mouthfeel across the long finish.
Beyond its delightful flavors, Nikka From the Barrel presents some paradoxes worthy of contemplation over a glass. It is a classic, yet new to the U.S. It is typically Japanese, yet singularly magnificent. It is delightful sipped neat and also blossoms with water. Even the simple, squat bottle is in contrast to the profound complexity within. (Fortunately, the 500 ml bottle offered in other markets received a supersizing for U.S. drinkers.)
The great majority of new Japanese whiskies now arriving to our shores are so rare and so expensive that they seem intended only for elite whisky lovers. Nikka From the Barrel is a consummate Japanese blend for anyone to enjoy. 2018 Whiskey of the Year
Japan has been producing their characteristic plum wine and sake, a rice wine, for many centuries, with the earliest written recordings of such drinks being enjoyed dating from the 3rd century. It has gradually become more and more popular in the western world, and high demand for such goods has seen a boom in plum wine and sake production all across Japan. High quality sake is especially in demand, and there are currently several AOC style designated appellations producing this aromatic and fascinating ancient beverage. In Japan, both sake and plum wine are usually served with food, or kept for ceremonial purposes and greeting guests, and the west's ever growing fascination with Japan and Japanese cultures means we can expect to see far more of this type of produce in the near future.