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Are These Two Expensive Japanese Whiskies Worth Tracking Down? Our Verdict.

The Nikka Discovery series just launched in the U.S. last fall with two killer bottles of Japanese whisky. The series — from one of the most beloved whisky makers in Japan — aims to celebrate the lead up to the brand’s 90th anniversary in 2024. The limited-edition releases will focus on the various components of the whisky-making process that make Nikka special, and kind of turn those on their head.

The first duo of the Nikka Discovery series looks at peated and unpeated malt, individually. The blenders at Nikka searched through their massive warehouses to find just the right barrels to create these distinct expressions. The idea was to find either an unexpected or quintessential blend, to highlight what a classic, smoky Nikka is and can be, allowing the rest of us to get to know the whisky in a new way, or maybe for the first time.

Granted, that “discovery” comes at a price. These whiskies are not cheap. So to help you decide whether to spend over $300 on a single bottle of whisky, I’m laying down my tasting notes and thoughts below, and you can take it from there. Let’s dig in.

Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Scotch Whisky Posts of The Last Six Months

Nikka Whisky Single Malt Miyagikyo Peated Bottled in 2021

Nikka Whisky Peated 2021
Asahi Group Holdings

ABV: 48%

Average Price: $365

The Whisky:

The brand is generally known for fruit-forward, yet fairly wild peated single malts and blends, and this is all about that tradition. The whisky is built from hand-selected barrels that highlight the nuance of Nikka’s nearly 100 years of making the stuff. Those select barrels are then masterfully blended without filtration and proofed before bottling.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a light woodiness on the nose that’s a little bit like a fresh No. 2 pencil right out of the pack with a little pink eraser nub next to a soft dusting of nutmeg, clove, and allspice with a maybe a hint of dried ginger, apple blossom water, dried apple chips that are just touched with nori flakes, and cold charcoal. The apple transforms on the palate toward apple stems and cores, tart apple skins, and a little applewood that’s just been singed on the edges as a touch of red chili sneaks into a salted caramel sauce with a distant hint of burnt digestive biscuit. The malts are there but more bittersweet than peaty. The finish takes its time and luxuriates in the spice mix, apple cores, and caramel as the barely smoldering applewood sneaks in on the very back end and is almost like burnt dried apple skin.

Bottom Line:

This is peated but that super smoky, earthy, briny, medicinal peat Islay is known for is nowhere to be found here. This is like an orchard after the harvest where someone set a burn pile of tree trimmings ablaze a couple of days ago. You kind of know instinctively that there was smoke there at some point but not right now. It’s complex is what I’m getting at. Moreover, it’s supple, interesting, and somehow familiar.

Ranking:

89/100 — This is a nice intro to the peated malts of Nikka. It is subtle though, and very “burnt apple” by the end.

Nikka Whisky Single Malt Yoichi Non-Peated Bottled in 2021

Nikka Whisky Un-Peated 2021
Asahi Group Holdings

ABV: 47%

Average Price: $360

The Whisky:

Traditionally, Yoichi is a peated malt. For this version, the single malt is an unpeated whisky that still carries a “smoky” flavor profile. That’s due to the coal-fired distillation process imbuing smoke into the whisky as it’s being made, instead of layering in smoke from the barley. The barrels of unpeated that had that vibe were put together by Nikka’s blenders to create this expression.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a note of orange oils that expands toward orange blossom water layered into light marzipan with malted oat scones piled up in an old wooden box with a jar of peach jam and cinnamon sticks nearby. The palate leans into the nose’s profile with wintry spices mingling with more zesty orange, a hint of stewed pear with saffron and allspice, some banana chips dusted with dark chocolate, and a hint of tart apple. A rush of honey arrives on the mid-palate with a floral edge that brings the whole sip back around to those orange oils, oaty scones, fruit jams, and winter spice with a hint of raisin, sweet oak, and maybe a whisper of smoked plums and more banana chips on the very backend.

Bottom Line:

This was pretty unexpected. I didn’t really get any of the “coal-fire-fed smokiness” but that’s okay. This was a delightfully soft fruit-forward treat. I feel like an ice cube really helps this bloom in the glass, allowing you to dig more into the honey, darker fruits, and maybe some tart apple too.

Ranking:

91/100 — This, like the peated above, was really good. It’s not mind-blowing but it’s very lovely to sip on after a long day.

Which One Should You Buy?

If you’re an investor, both. These are pretty rare and collectible. If you’re just looking for something fancy to drink, I’d go with the unpeated Yoichi. It’s the most unique and the most drinkable.

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