Japan’s Nikka Whisky began its experimental Nikka Discovery series in 2021, with two special releases, one from each of its two main distilleries. Nikka followed suit with another pair in 2022, making one wonder if it would continue the theme going forward.
Well, here we are in 2023, and Nikka has announced that this will be the final release of the Discovery series, and rather than dropping multiple bottles, it’s releasing just one: Nikka the Grain Whisky, a blend of seven different whiskies from four Nikka distilleries; Miyagikyo, Nishinomiya, Moji, and Satsumatsukasa. The actual blend is complex and includes coffey and pot still distillates made variously from mixed grains (corn, rye, and/or barley), 100% malted barley, and even malted and unmalted barley blends — some made using techniques normally used for shochu (including a stainless steel still). There’s a little of everything in here, with distilling dates ranging from 1988 to 2019, all aged in different types of casks, too — though only various types of American oak. A finished profile that at least leans toward bourbon rather than Scotch was the ultimate goal.
“We are excited to introduce this very special expression for the final release of our ‘Nikka Discovery’ series, a celebration of the past and future of grain whisky,” says Emiko Kaji, Nikka Whisky Global Marketing & Sales General Manager. “This creation is achieved by both Nikka’s tradition and innovation. Our signature Coffey stills are great assets inherited from our founder Masataka Taketsuru, who learned how to distill Coffey grain whisky in Scotland and installed the 1st still in 1963. While accumulating know-how of Coffey distillation for 60 years, we have also developed distinctive new grain whiskies incorporating shochu techniques. For this special release, we even designed the label with a four-row pattern to highlight each of the four distilleries.”
Nikka sent samples of three of the seven component whiskies, plus its Coffey Grain and Coffey Malt releases, as part of a virtual Master Class with Emiko Kaji, Nikka’s international business manager, and they were dazzling; I particularly enjoyed the corn and rye whisky from the Satsumatsukasa distillery, which was rich, spicy, and more caramelized in its sweetness than Nikka’s Coffey Grain release.
As for Nikka the Grain, it is indeed bigger than the sum of its parts. The nose is toasty and nutty, but also rather beefy, as you might find with some more brutish bourbons. Brown butter and incense notes lead to a restrained umami quality that I didn’t really love but isn’t off-putting.
The palate is much different and far more immersive, kicking off with sweet notes of plum and nougat, then moving into more bourbon-like elements of peppery barrel char and barbecued beef. It’s a far cry from the usual delicacy and decided Scotch-like approach of the typical Japanese whisky, though the finish melds the two styles, showing off sesame seed, white pepper, and chewy roast beef. A recall of incense makes for an exotic, intriguing, and sometimes strange conclusion to what is without a doubt the most unexpected and curious whisky I’ve tasted this year. If you get a chance to try it, I’d love to hear your perspective on it.
96 proof. 2600 bottles available in the U.S.
B+ / $175 / nikka.com