My third taste of Japanese whisky – another blend, like the Hibiki 12-year that I recently reviewed – is another home-run hit. This is some damn fine blended whisky. Honestly, I would have been unable to distinguish it from single-malt in a blind tasting. Nikka “From The Barrel” is a rather misleading name for a blend of Japanese single malts and Japanese grain whisky (no age statement given), which is married in oak casks (rather than in a giant stainless-steel vat) and then bottled at (or near) cask strength. That (I think) makes this the first time I’ve tasted a cask-strength blended whisky.
Asahi Breweries, which owns the Nikka brand, also owns whisky distilleries Yoichi and Miyagikyo. It’s a good bet those are heavily represented as components in Nikka blends.
Alas, this (along with most of the rest of the Japanese whisky on the global market) is unavailable in the USA, most likely because of the 500ml bottle size (US law allows only certain bottle sizes for retail spirits – 500ml is not on the list). This is a pity, especially because it makes it difficult to pin a price-value comparison on the product. If the bottle was repackaged at 750ml for the US market, its current UK price would predict a US retail of about $57. That’s a bit hefty for a blend, and would drop my recommendation down from a “Must Try” to a “Recommended”. Either way, this is equally as good as Hibiki 12 and offers a different array of flavors. Another win for Japanese whisky!
Nose: Pear drops, tropical fruits (kiwi or starfruit or something), and a lot of green banana. The aroma is, as expected, powerful and tends to crawl up your nose if you get too close. There is complexity to be had here – underneath that domineering banana note resides a nice depth of oaky sweetness and a hefty dose of malt.
Palate: Wow, take small sips of this. Concentrated and robust, with loads of tart fruits and brash, fiery alcohol. I wouldn’t call this particularly mellow, but the oakiness is in excellent balance with the fruit, and the high proof makes it dance on the tongue.
Finish: The dominant note turns to caramel. Very nice. Caramelized banana? A bit of barrel tannin – a hint of bitterness – creeps in at the end.
With Water: Water adds a bit of vanilla to the nose, has a bit of a taming effect on the tongue burn (a bit), and might amp up the tartness on the finish. Water certainly doesn’t hurt, here.
Overall: This is, I think, my first cask-strength blended whisky. The high proof seems to minimize the flavor of whatever grain whisky is present, for me. I get a ton of delectable fruits (most of which are tart, my favorite kind of fruit notes in whisky), excellent balance of wood and malt sweetness, and a proof that’s just the right amount of intensity straight-up, but can also handle some water. Nice stuff, even with the dominant banana notes.