Whisky Review #37: Nikka ‘Yoichi’ 15 Years Old

I’m quite happy to have gotten a chance to review this beauty, primarily because of two reasons:

#1: It is my first Japanese whisky review.
#2: It is a whisky that has become a victim of its own success and has been phased out due to a lack of supply and far too much demand.

For the most part, while we are all very familiar with the likes of Suntory’s Yamazaki and Nikka’s flagship Taketsuru and Pure Malt offerings, we tend to overlook the other brands in their respective stables: Hakushu (Suntory), Yoichi and Miyagikyo (Nikka).

However in recent years (and also partly due to the Yamazaki 2013 Sherry Cask being voted best whisky in the world), we have seen demand outstrip supply almost 3 to 1 and this has had the effect of quickly depleting supplies of most Japanese single malts that were up for sale.

As such, both Suntory and Nikka have had to re-evaluate their stocks of maturing whisky as well as production practices in order to ensure that supply could meet demand without affecting the quality of their whiskies by too much.

This has led to something that most of the whisky industry is very familiar with these days: The NAS Effect.

In order to keep up with demand, both Suntory and Nikka have announced that they would phase out the age statemented bottlings of Yamazaki, Hakushu, Yoichi and Miyagikyo and replace them with NAS versions so as to keep catering to demand while allowing for supply to slowly increase.

While it remains to be seen if customers take to these new offerings as well as the previous age statemented offerings, the distilleries have assured customers that their new products will retain their respective “house styles” in order to keep them as happy as possible.

While the NAS debate is one which will continue polarising people (and is something that I am currently looking at with a view to a future standalone article), it is up to the customer to decide if they prefer the old age statemented offerings or the new NAS offerings.

While part of the demand has been due to a genuine affection for the Japanese whiskies on offer, it has mostly been due to canny investors who have been speculating on the popularity of Japanese whiskies and snapping them up by the case at relatively cheap prices in order to capitalise on future profits.

I admit that I too am one of these speculators (having secured a bottle of Yoichi 15 Years Old and Miyagikyo 12 Years Old through a dear friend of mine at a great price. Cheers Erich!).

That being said, I believe that the current consumer behaviour surrounding Japanese whiskies has to be due to people taking the advise of so-called “experts” who have annointed one bottle or another from a particular brand, thus fuelling a mad rush to acquire everything in sight from said brand.

But I digress. Getting back to the review at hand, I was at a mate’s place earlier in the month and we were basically having a good ole drinking session when one of my mates brought over his bottle of Yoichi 15 Years Old.

130823Nikka_Wisky_Yoichi_Distillery_Hokkaido_Japan17s3
The picturesque Yoichi distillery in Hokkaido.

Now, this was my first time sampling a whisky from Yoichi and I had heard quite a bit about the different nuances. But I can definitely tell you that actually sampling it and hearing about it are two very different things.

The bottle was 3/4 full when my mate brought it over and he gave us his blessing to actually finish it on the night (which we duly did). I then took the empty bottle back with me as I felt it was a rather fitting addition to my collection of unconventional and rare empty bottles.

The same mate also allowed me the chance to sample another brilliant whisky later that same night, and it will be the focus of next week’s review so stay tuned for that!

With regard to the Yoichi 15 Years Old expression, it has been matured for at least 15 years (naturally) and has been bottled at a rather respectable 45% abv by the distillery. I find that the abv for this expression is just about right as it allows for the delicate nuances to filter through that might otherwise not be as apparent if it were bottled at 40% or even 43% abv.

Let’s get on with the review, shall we?

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Nikka ‘Yoichi’ 15 Years Old.

Nikka ‘Yoichi’ 15 Years Old (45% abv)

Colour: Deep gold

Nose: Initial entry presents some sophisticated fruitiness reminiscent of strawberries and some peach. The trademark floral elements emerge after, but are somewhat understated when compared to the likes of the Yamazaki.

With time, the oak tannins from the maturation regime and some wood spices (cinnamon and faint whisps of nutmeg) also emerge and there’s a wonderful vanilla note involved which helps to round off the spicy edges.

Ginger, dark chocolate shavings and an understated but definitely apparent cigar smoke note make this a very complex and enticing nose. Definitely one of the best whiskies I have nosed in a while! (24/25)

Palate: The sophistication continues with a creamy yet concentrated mouthfeel that contains a myriad of nuances. Gingerbread, cinnamon, nutmeg and some maltiness are the dominant notes initially, before some of the floral fruitiness emerges in the form of strawberries, peaches and some grape.

There’s a certain nuttiness to this dram, which makes it rather satisfying. With time, the smoke emerges but is rather understated, preferring to linger in the background and occasionally making an appearance. Dark chocolate shavings and just a hint of sea salt also make an appearance after some time. Very good stuff. (24/25)

Finish: Long and lingering finish, with the fruitiness and the spiciness trading punches while whisps of smoke make an appearance periodically. There’s a nice dollop of barley sugar towards the very end and it works well with the bitterness of the spices and dark chocolate shavings. (23/25)

Balance: Relatively well balanced considering the overall complexity of this dram and it is easy to understand why many people adore this particular house style. There’s a certain feel about this dram which makes it somewhat relatable to Scotch and yet one would definitely also identify this as Japanese. More please! (23/25)

Rating: 94/100

I would definitely love to sample more of this expression, but sadly demand dictates that I would probably not be able to do so unless I paid a rather exhorbitant (and bordering on outrageous) price for a dram.

I’m rather happy that I managed to secure a 50ml sample of this beauty for my collection and I will treasure it all the more as it is becoming rather clear that we will not see a release of this standard from Nikka for at least another 15-20 years while they slowly rebuild their whisky stocks.

That being said, prices are still relatively sane in some places and so if you do manage to find a bottle retailing for anything below SG$350, please definitely buy it (and if there are two, buy both and open one for your own drinking pleasure).

Until the next post, have a wonderful week ahead.

Slainte!

Brendan

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