Whisky has been going through a monumental boom lately and there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight. Bourbon might be the current bustling star, but it’s far from alone in attracting new, potential fans. As whisky continues to expand, so too do its drinkers, eager to find new and exciting expressions (to them). Excitement and stimulation go hand-in-hand with new experiences, and for some, a different branch of whisky can provide just that. Among the more recent trends is Japanese whisky. Scotch might have a bit of a reputation for being on the expensive side, especially compared to bourbon; but when Glenfarclas 25-year can be had for well south of $200 while Shibui 30-year goes for over $1K, well, let’s just say there’s perspective to be gained.
Enough perspective to make something like Nikka Whisky from the Barrel begin to look like a budget option. The expression is described as “a blended whisky created to deliver full flavors and richness of whiskey ‘from barrels’ which only blenders can sniff and taste.” At least, until being bottled. Otherwise, details are scant for this fairly popular expression. The sample used for review was provided by a fellow whisk(e)y enthusiast.
Nose: Slightly earthy and vegetal. Honey, golden raisins, citrus, apricot, and a mild oak underbelly.
Palate: Surprisingly viscous heading into the finish. Honey, pineapple, cantaloupe, white grape juice, and a delicate touch of oak with the slightest raw nut (cashew or walnut) essence. Maybe some chestnut.
Finish: Moderate. Toasty (not charred) oak comes more into its own. Honey, more fruit (pineapple, white grape and apple) juice.
To date this is only the second Japanese whisky I’ve had the opportunity to try. My first go was with Suntory Whisky Toki, a less expensive and lower proof blend. That tells you all you need to know about how much of a grasp I have on this growing (though still niche) whisky category. I will say that I think scotch fans will find a lot to like about Japanese whisky just based on my limited experience. The key takeaway I had with Toki and especially Nikka Whisky from the Barrel is curiosity. Despite being light in nature thanks to their blended composition, I found myself consistently intrigued with each sip. Even before I finished with my Nikka sample, I knew that I’d find myself longing for a full bottle to continue exploring proper.
This circles us back to the issue of cost. When Nikka Whisky from the Barrel can be found, don’t be surprised if the cost ends up well north of $70. As fascinated as I was by Nikka, I can’t say I’m ready to justify such a steep cost. Yet it’s also worth considering that price is an inherently inhibitive part of Japanese whiksy; Nikka’s Coffey Grain and Coffey Malt expressions also run for around $70, Yamazaki 12-Year runs well over $100, anything beyond Hibiki’s Harmony expression will likely cost more, I could go on. So what it currently comes down to is what side of the spectrum you fall on with regards to value in Japanese whisky: is $70+ for Nikka a good deal because it’s either in-line or less expensive than other options, or is it expensive because $70+ is still something you don’t just shrug aside? For my own money, I’m more comfortable exploring Irish and rye whiskey while saving more money per bottle.