Updated: Oct 31, 2021
It’s been a quiet few years for the Japanese whisky scene hasn’t it? Just a few years back Japanese whiskies were all the rage, and people were clamouring for Yamazaki’s and Hibiki’s like toilet paper, then suddenly zip. Production stopped, releases slowed and one by one the core ranges fell, as the Japanese distillers sought to rebuild their supply. And now we just don’t hear that much from them anymore.
It's a bit nostalgic to be holding a bottle of Taketsuru here, which happens to be a 2020 release. Which is funny considering it’s Japanese and NAS, which means they could’ve released it anytime, since they’re not subject to scotch whisky laws so meeting age statement requirements is not even a concern here.
Of course that's about to change. So enjoy it while it lasts.
Distillery: Nikka (Yoichi and Miyagikyo)
Region: Hokkaido/Sendai, Japan
Distributor: Original Bottling (OB)
Classification: Malt Whisky
Style: Blended Malt
Behind the Label
Short story long, Taketsuru, like the other Japanese malts from Nikka and Suntory, were culled as the Japanese whisky industry faced severe shortages from the apesh*t demand. Thus this 2020 release graces my lips as it is one of the few releases to have trickled out of these healing distilleries.
Suntory and Nikka, the two behemoths in the Japanese whisky scene. (Image Source: Conde Nast)
For those of you who might not be familiar with Taketsuru, I like to think of it as Hibiki’s cousin. By which I mean Hibiki hails from Suntory, and Taketsuru hails from Nikka, the alt-Suntory basically. Both Suntory and Nikka have their core single malt lines such as Yamazaki and Hakushu for Suntory, and Yoichi and Miyagikyo for Nikka. And then there’s the blends, which happens to be Hibiki for Suntory and Taketsuru for Nikka. Yes, yes, it’s like the the series 爱 that never ends and it’s just family lines.
Visually, a clear light straw yellow, not very viscous. But not atypical of Japanese whiskies either.
On the nose, it starts with a slight alcoholic tinge so I’m gonna just let it cool down a little and leave it to rest. A few minutes in, it’s certainly simmered down, the alcoholic twang is gone, thank god. It’s replaced by that characteristic musky mizunara that people like to say smells like wooden shrines. But yeah gotta give it to these marketers, it really do be smelling that way.
Hong Kong's Tin Hau Temple at Yau Ma Tei district. Japanese Oak is distinctive for it's sandalwood, agarwood flavors reminiscent of temples. (Image Source: Westend61)
A lot of honey as well, it’s also fruity, like green apples, apricot, blackberries. It’s very light, sweet and slightly tart buoyed by that oaky musk. Really such a great nose.
On the palate, it’s light bodied, but oh boy does it pack a punch. At first sip it’s sweet and delicate, you do taste the honey you got on the nose, alongside this fragrant vanilla and jasmine. It’s somewhat like Pokka’s green tea. Then it develops to becoming a lot spicier and that’s where the kick is at. It grows into this little fireball that warms your throat.
Ondeh Ondeh is a Singapore/Malaysian snack, comprising of gelatinous rice balls coated in desiccated coconut shavings with a gooey stuffing of gula melaka cane sugar. (Image Source: Rasa Malaysia)
After that fireball simmers down, there’s this really nice soft coconut shaving, much like Ondeh Ondeh, know that desiccated coconut that coats the surface. There’s BBQ tropical fruits as well, like pineapples and pears. What’s interesting is there’s also peat which caught me by surprise. It’s a very gentle smoke that stays on after you’re done and it’s alittle salty at that.
This is surprisingly very complex but so good. Like seriously, what?!
The finish is medium, it’s not too short but yet doesn’t overstay. It goes down so smooth but when that fireball is put out, all those really wonderful subtle layers come out, like that toasty coconut shavings and the grilled tropical fruits and let’s not forget that whiff of smoke that is just slightly salty.
Thai grilled pineapples, the perfect tropical garnish. (Image Source: Archana's Kitchen)
What gets you is that right after the fireball goes down and you think you’re done, man oh man, it was just intermission! There’s a full second half left!
This was really good, I must say during that whole Japanese whisky boom, I did get a little jaded especially with prices just climbing like Tesla shares. So when this came out, I was mildly hesitant, but for the price, what the hey. And that turned out to be such a good call. This was such a strong showing and I can’t rave about it enough.
Some people scoff at NAS bottlings but trust me, this just took the cake. Wonderfully complex with all the right notes, it didn’t feel forced or suffered at the hands of some accelerated maturation. Yet its Japanese profile was distinctive from the nose and so nostalgic.
(Image Source: Eat This)
This is a great daily sipper but I could see it in cocktails as well given how much I know it’s gonna tank (hard carry much?). You’ll love this if Japanese whiskies are not a distant fever dream or if you like Pokka green tea, anything tropical or summer-y, and especially if peat is not your thing.
If you caught the Japanese whisky bug too late and missed the train, this is it. It’s light, it’s sweet, it’s fruity, it’s floral! Go get it!
Bottomline, light yet complex, plays all the right notes, it hits the sweet spot for most Asian palate, price is great as well.
This quietly slipped into the market which was basically barren for the better of three years. And wow what a surprise how good it was. This surely gets a ⛅️ sunshine peaking out of the clouds.
Sidenote: I also read this was mostly comprised of Yoichi, which explains the peat. Yoichi was always the favorite being more full-bodied with a better structure. So a real gem here.