Yamazaki is Japan’s oldest distillery, but Nikka’s Yoichi is the most “Scottish” distillery in Japan. It’s located near the sea on the west coast of the northern island of Hokkaido, in conditions that are close to those of the western coastal Highlands (think Oban or Adelphi’s new Ardnamurchan) or even Islay, and still use direct coal fire to heat the stills. The location was chosen by Masataka Taketsuru, of Yamazaki fame, after leaving Suntory to start Nikka in 1934.
By 1940, World War II in the east was in full blow, and Nikka (then named Dainipponkaju, which would never work on exports) was sitting pretty with defense contracts to supply whisky to the Imperial Navy, where officers had to have their whisky and Scotch wasn’t an option because of the war.
Yoichi has a core range of 5 single malts (NAS, 10, 12, 15 and 20 year old), with the bulk of the production going into Nikka’s Taketsuru vatted malts, the Nikka Pure Malt Black and the blends Nikka makes.
Yoichi is known for its coastal, even medicinal, qualities. The whisky is full bodied, even oily, with varying degrees of peatiness and smokiness, and the 10 showcases that character nicely.
Yoichi 10 (45% ABV)
Appearance: Gold, slow legs dripping from a long lasting ring.
Nose: First comes the peat. More highland than maritime, though. Under the peat is a layer of sherry sweetness. There’s also an oily-vegetal note which opens to floral notes and bread dough.
Palate: Peat, honey, peppery spice and zesty orange peel.
Linger: The spice lingers in the whole mouth, with light sweetness and smoke resolving into some metallic notes in a long lasting finish.
This is good stuff, not that we’d expect anything less from the Japanese whisky industry.
Again, price is a concern, as it is with all Japanese whisky, with Yoichi being in even more of a bind because it didn’t foresee the current boom, and didn’t lay down enough stock to age. Expect shortages, and price hikes on this front too.
The Yoichi 10 was tasted as part of the December meeting of the Malt Mongers Israel Whisky Club