Last week I posted that I was ready to dive in to the world of Japanese whiskies, and to that end, I bought a couple of bottles at the recommendation of the knowledgeable staff at Besson in Lausanne, Switzerland. At 50cl, he bottles were smaller than the usual 75cl, but I wanted to be able to try more than one, and frankly, the larger bottles of fairly generous selection were at price levels I wasn’t ready to scale until I’d first had a try.
What I can say after my initial dip of a toe into the sea of Japanese whisky is this: My wallet is already cringing in fear of what is about to befall it. Because this is a world worth exploring.
I started with two samples of Nikka whisky – one blended, one pure malt – from the Yoichi distillery.
The Yoichi distillery was founded in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru, the man who established Japan’s first distillery while working for Kotobukiya (the company that would go on to become Suntory).
Taketsuru, who came from an established family in the sake production business, studied in Glasgow, Scotland before going on to work at a number of Scottish distilleries. I can only imagine the kind of determined personality it took to leave Japan for Scotland in 1919, marry a Scottish woman over the objections of both families, and return to Japan to found a successful business in a completely new field.
According to Whisky Magazine, Taketsuru learned that “The distillery should be located in a cold climate with an appropriate humidity, there should be a high quality water source and an abundant supply of herbaceous peat. Furthermore it should be close to an area where barley is grown and where there are forests to supply wood to make barrels and also the coal necessary to fire the stills.
Yoichi, to the north- west of Sapporo on the island of Hokkaido, satisfied all of these conditions and was chosen as the site of Taketsuru’s distillery. There they carry out traditional distillation, using coal to direct fire the stills, something which is no longer seen even in Scotland these days.”
My first samples were Nikka Whisky from the Barrel, and Pure Malt Black. I loved the apothecary bottles, the simplicity of labeling, and the interesting bottle shapes.
Whisky from the Barrel is a blended whisky, which I found to be pleasantly light, floral, with a nice oak air. Light apricot flavors, bit of spice, and overall, just a lovely sipping experience.
The Pure Malt Black was a delight – delicious rounded fruit notes which I’ve read described as red gummy bears. For me, it was more like a combination of sugared quince and sweet rose. Just a hint of peat and oak, but all very light and balanced. I have a feeling that this is one I will be adding to our regular stock.
I was fortunate to find two shops in Lausanne that had an interesting and varied selection of Japanese whiskies, the Besson cigar and whisky shop, and the Caveau de Bacchus, both just around the corner from one another.
And now, onwards.