Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub.
A few days before Christmas, we spent a bit of quality time with Nikka master blender Hidetoshi Yamashita, learning about wood management at Nikka – we’ll share some of these insights in a forthcoming post – as well as finally getting round to tasting two single casks that we signaled the release of a few months ago: a 1994 Yoichi and a 2002 Miyagikyo.
Both were drawn from refill butts. Let’s pause here for a few seconds. To most people “butt” equals “ex-sherry”, but Nikka’s “refill butts” have nothing to do with sherry whatsoever. There’s been a great deal of confusion about this – most recently, when SMWS releases 124.3 and 116.18 were mislabeled as being drawn from “ex-sherry butts”. To be clear, a “refill butt” (and they’re used quite extensively at Nikka’s two distilleries) is a butt that has been filled for the 2nd time, i.e. a virgin oak butt that has been filled with whisky once, then emptied and subsequently refilled.
Moving on to the liquid at hand: the 1994 Yoichi (a lightly-peated one, bottled at 62% abv) packs a massive punch on the nose – mainly wood and milk chocolate notes buried underneath the alcohol – but meets the palate very tenderly (papayas, crème brûlée, …) without any alcohol burn whatsoever. It has an incredibly creamy mouthfeel. That being said, it really does benefit from a splash of water. On the nose, you get milky, Yakult-like notes, then a bit of furniture polish, cut flower stems, and after a while a soft vanilla note (as in good-quality vanilla ice cream) and an equally soft, fragrant smoky note (wood smoke, incense) that grows stronger with time in the glass. The palate now offers a mild citrus note - orange peel, bergamot and iced yuzu tea – accompanied by lush notes of rose water, Turkish delights, chai and liquorice allsorts. The finish is long and intense, on candied ginger and mild spices (cloves, nutmeg, …)
I was asked which one I liked better. Well… when the whiskies are at this level, it’s a bit like being asked – and being asked mid-winter! – which is more to your liking: early-morning spring in an orchard, or late-night summer in a mountain forest (which, if one had to reduce the two whiskies discussed here (the Miyagikyo and Yoichi, resp.) to a single image – and I rarely go there –, wouldn’t betray their multiplicities too much). You get the point. Anyway, the good news is you don’t have to choose and they’re both still available but only in Japan, and only through Asahi’s online shop.