Taste Review #139 – Nikka Coffey Malt / Nikka Coffey Grain
Like many millions of people the world over, I like to start my day with a coffee. My caffeinated drink of choice is very important to me; you can’t beat a slightly sweet and milky coffee.
People often make the mistake of trying to communicate with me in the morning before I’ve had any coffee. This can be hazardous to your health as I’m not able to issue much more than a grunt. Indeed, on the last day of an offshore trip where I was ambushed to sign off paperwork before I even made it to the mess room for breakfast, it was all a semi-conscious blur. I could have been signing death warrants, as being without liquid stimulation I wouldn’t have been able to tell. Thereupon I have decided for everybody’s safety, it has been necessary that I invest in a new t-shirt.
Of course I’ve been talking about the wrong coffee. I actually meant Coffey, which is a continuous running still, designed in the 19th century by Aeneas Coffey, normally being used to produce grain whisky. These are a lot more efficient in distilling spirit compared to a traditional pot still, easily capable of reaching over 90% alcoholic strength. Not that you’d want to be drinking that, as you’d possibly go blind, and nobody wants that.
This is the first Japanese whisky that I’ve reviewed. I’m not that adventurous with world whisky, although I have had some in the past. The last experience I had was Hibiki 17, long before the blog started. I can only dream of drinking that now, such has been the rise in secondary market prices since it was discontinued.
The Nikka company has two whisky distilleries in Japan, the Yoichi distillery in Yoichi, Hokkaido and the Miyagikyo distillery in the northern part of Honshu. While I’m not fully sure what distillery these whiskies were created in, the Yoichi distillery is capable of grain and malt production, so I’ll hedge my bets and say it originates there, as the latter only has pot stills. The Yoichi distillery is also the oldest of the pair, being founded in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru.
Masataka learnt his trade in Scotland, having studied in Glasgow, then obtaining an apprenticeship in Longmorn distillery near Elgin. Later that year he moved to the Lowlands to the Bo’ness distillery and onwards to Campbeltown’s Hazelburn distillery. He returned to Japan to work for Suntory and by 1934 had founded his own distillery in Yoichi.
You can find out more about Nikka and their brands at their website :-
Nikka Coffey Malt
Region – Japan Age – NAS Strength – 45% Colour – Yellow Gold (0.5) Cask Type – Not known Colouring – Not Stated Chill Filtered – Not Stated Nose – Initially I get fresh fruits, lemon zest, then moves on to Danish pastries, caramel, cocoa. There’s something solvent-like in there as well. Wood note is there too, and smells like freshly cut timber. Palate – medium body palate, with a pleasant mouth feel. Velvety. Quite timid on the arrival with more solvent, but less lemony and more caramel and vanilla. Sweet taste, like honey or foam banana candies. Quite light on the wood spice, there is a taste of chocolate and coffee going on there as well. Finish – bit of spice after swallowing leads on to a relatively short finish, with malty, coffee and chocolate notes, coupled with a hint of vanilla.
Nikka Coffey Grain
Region – Japan Age – NAS Strength – 45% Colour – Yellow Gold (0.5) Cask Type – Not known Colouring – Not Stated Chill Filtered – Not Stated Nose – very subtle. Slight solvent note, but vanilla ice cream, camomile tea, slightly floral, but because is so subtle I am struggling to sense much of a nose. A hint of grain perhaps. Palate – very light and dare I say delicate? Totally different to the Coffey malt. The mouthfeel and initial taste to me is like sugared water with a hint of almond. In fact; sugared almonds can also be sensed. It has a light, creamy and custardy taste, almost like the cream in a custard cream but I don’t get the biscuit component. If I get any grain influence, I’d say it’s unseasoned popcorn. While there are solvent notes on the nose, these hardly carry through to the palate, unlike most other grains that I have tried. Finish – very short. Bit of oak spice and fruit on the finish and a hint of dairy milk chocolate.
The Coffey malt wasn’t anything challenging and was quite easy to drink.
The Coffey grain was completely different; a lot lighter and delicate yet still very pleasant. I liked both drams but if I was to express a favourite of the two it would be the grain version. And then I change my mind, preferring the malt. It’s all so confusing.
Let’s just make it easy. Both are good and are worth a purchase. However the price is a bit salty, both being north of £50 unless you hunt about. At 45% I’d expect it a little cheaper, but you are going to get an subtly expressive drink that I think most people would enjoy.
These are often seen in travel retail and next time I see one, I may buy a bottle.
Yours In Spirits
All Photos – Authors Own