Type: Single grain Japanese whisky
Malt Mileage rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
I’ve eaten my fair share of Japanese food around Melbourne, from casual eateries to fancy restaurants. When we visit our favourite Japanese barbecue I either order a flight of Japanese sake or shochu to wash down morsel after morsel of perfectly charred marbled wagyu. For the uninitiated, shochu is a traditional Japanese spirit that is made from any number of raw ingredients such as rice, barley, sweet potato, pineapple, brown sugar, etc. I’ve tasted shochu which has been matured in clay pots, wood and stainless steel, but what strikes me most about the shochu I have tasted is just how much the mellow drinkable spirit smells and tastes like the raw ingredients they have each been made from.
Nikka’s Coffey Grain Whisky seems to follow this quintessentially Japanese respect for raw ingredients with its grain-forward and clean flavour profile that isn’t too heavily interrupted by the taste of oak.
Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky is made using a “coffey still”, which explains where the whisky gets its name. Named after Aeneas Coffey (the Irishman who patented the still’s design), these type of stills use long columns that are packed with different compartments which can each distill vapour. So, as vapour rises and passes through each compartment, it is distilled and its alcohol purity increases with each “distillation”. These type of stills can produce a high strength spirit in one go, so unlike when pot stills are used there is no need to distill a wash twice or three times on separate occasions.
Nikka imported its Coffey Still from Scotland back in 1963, the year of the rabbit according to the Japanese zodiac (Juunishi). These days, they make use of the still to distill spirit from a wash of grain. That spirit, after spending an unspecified amount of time in oak, becomes Nikka Coffey Grain whisky.
Nose: Winnie the Pooh would love this one – it smells like a pot of sweet and sugary golden honey with dried apricots, cinnamon sticks, char grilled corn cobs, brown sugar and soft waves of vanilla that sooth the nostril singing “heat” from the alcohol.
Taste: Sweet and easy-drinking, with a fiery spicy side that adds further personality and spark to a base layer of dense toffee and buoyant grain; there’s mandarin skins, lemon peel, brown sugar, raisin, dried fig and vanilla line dancing in a syrupy sweet American aged corn whiskey style; yet, the favours seem polished and ordered in a way you’d expect from a Japanese whisky.
Finish: Soft vanilla fudge and caramel with fading dried apricots, brandy soaked raisins and rummy molasses. In a nutshell, this is one sweet whisky!
Overall: A refined and sophisticated Japanese take on the syrupy American aged corn whiskey style with clean easy-drinking “bourbony” character defined by grain forward sweet and fruity flavours, minus over the top wood and char.