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Nikka Whisky From the Barrel

Review: Nikka Whisky From the Barrel  (80/100)
a review By Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on May 15, 2011

Nikka is the second largest distiller of whisky in Japan owning two distilleries at Yoichi and Miyagikyo. The Yoichi distillery is located on Hokkaido which is Japan’s Northernmost Island where the climate is apparently very similar to Scotland. The Miyagikyo distillery is located on Honshu island in central Japan.  Information on this blend is a little hard for me to decipher from the bottle but the whisky apparently includes Malt whiskies from each of the Nikka distilleries as well as grain whisky from Miyagikyo. The label says the whisky is double matured, and I believe that the final maturation was in a first run bourbon barrel. I taste a sherry influence as well making me believe that at least some of the whiskies which comprise the blend have seen time in Sherry casks.

In the Bottle  2.5/5

Somehow, Nikka Whisky has come up with a bottle presentation which has received the lowest score I have ever given. (Right now, you’re looking at the picture going, “What the heck is Arctic talking about, that square little bottle looks kind of funky.”)  However, if you look closely at the picture you will notice an incredibly small neck on the bottle which makes this whisky an absolute nightmare when trying to pour the first few drams without spilling. As a whisky lover I really do not want to spill anything; but I did, and so did my friend Dennis when I asked him to try to pour a little. When two grown men who are well used to pouring whisky are forced to waste some…..

Did no one in Marketing even attempt to pour a dram from a full bottle?

In the Glass  8.5/10

When I finally was able to get some of the whisky into my glass I had a good look at it. The Nikka Whisky is a nice mahogany/bronze colour, and when I tilt my glass it displays a light sheen on the inside which releases long slender trickling legs.

The nose is bitter-sweet with astringent oak tannin and honey-like caramel jumping out of the glass quickly. Deeper and richer sherry-like scents follow with dates and prunes being the more dominant aspects of the sherry scents. The oak builds in the breezes as the glass decants, and I begin to receive some nice baking spices. However, the astringent notes of the oaky tannin still lurk in those breezes muting my enjoyment. The caramel turns to treacle, and although I find the nose extremely complex and inviting, I also sense that my nostrils are giving me a mild warning that all is not necessarily well.

In the Mouth  49.5/60

There is quite a wallop of flavour associated with the Nikka Whisky as one would expect from a cask strength offering. Rich burnt caramel, woody tannins and rich baking spices all mingle together. I taste a whisper of Apricot Brandy winding through the flavour profile. Raisins, dates and prunes add to the complexity which should be making this whisky a treat for the mouth….

But…(isn’t that a dreadful word)…alongside the richness and complexity of the whisky lies an unmistakable accent of something which is slightly sour and pungent (perhaps this is a hint of sulphur). This sour and pungent accent throws everything askance and brings the party of flavour in my mouth to a crashing halt. I know now what my nose was trying to tell me. What a Pity!

In the Throat  11.5/15

The whisky finishes bitter in the mouth and somewhat harsh in the throat. I can forgive the harshness as at cask strength the whisky is meant to pack a punch. But the bitterness is offsetting, and my enjoyment has been quashed.

The Afterburn   8/10

The Nikka Whisky From the Barrel could have survived the poor bottle presentation and still posted a fine score based on the awesome complexity and the richness of the flavour I found. However, an offsetting accent to the flavour and a bitter finish has diminished the whisky, and I find myself returning only on seldom occasions to the bottle.

You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74   Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79   You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84   We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89   Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94   Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+        I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)


11 Responses to “Nikka Whisky From the Barrel”

  1. Bryan Harper said

    Great review! This bottle is so ugly; I don’t even display it with my collection. I do enjoy it neat though. The sour pungentness was different in a good way for me. I just can’t get past the bottle.

    Nikka also makes a bottom shelf whisky named “Boston Club.” I would love to read your review of this. It was an awful experience.

    Japanese whisky is improving every year though!

  2. I was surprised to learn of your less than stellar experience with Nikka. I have never had it, but I have had several other Japanese whiskies, which I have to be excellent. One in particular is the Hibiki 17yrs, gotta an all time favorite for me. If you can locate it, its worth a go, mind u, its expensive.

    • My experiences with Japanese whiskies have been a bit of a mixed bag. I have read a few other reviews of the Nikka which seemed to indicate that it was far better than my review would indicate, but I have to remain true to my own experiences. (Besides some of those other reviews appeared to be just regurgitations of marketing releases.)

      • I have since learned that the “Nikka Whisky in a Barrel” has had at least two different batches produced. In his 2011, Whisky Bible(TM) Jim Murray has separate reviews for two different bottlings. The scores are quite different but his low score is very similar to mine.

  3. I’m kind of curious whether you’ve tried any other Japanese whisky (like the Yamazaki 12 yr old, for example) to provide you with a second opinion of Japanese whiskies as a whole – I don’t see one on the site, but maybe you’ve nipped a dram or two elsewhere?

    • I have tasted both the Yamazaki 12 and the Yamazaki 18. I prefer the Yamazaki 12 to the 18 (and to the Nikka From the Barrel). Mind you, if I had not encountered that peculiar pungent sourness, I would have rated the Nikka much higher.

      It is my aim to review more Japanese Whisky but there always seems to be more whisky and rum to review than I have time for.

  4. Mike said

    Hey Chip, I’m wondering if you have noticed that sour/pungent flavour in many other whiskies. I have been noticing it lately and I wonder how much of it I can attribute to sulphur. Most notably I found it it Springbank Cask Strength and Glenfarclas 15.

    • I have not noticed this flavour very often, and I am not sure whether it is sulphur or not. I mentioned that it might be because it seemed to fit the profile of sulphur that I have read about. I haven’t tried the Springbank Cask strength or the Glenfarclas 15 so I can’t help you there.

      • Mike said

        Does the flavour strike you as rubbery at all?

        • No I wouldn’t call it rubbery, but it has that taste you get when you bite into a bruised apple; its kind of sour, kind of pungent, not rancid, but definitely just a little off.

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