Just landed at MoM, a Japanese single malt whisky from Yoichi distillery part-aged in an apple brandy cask. It celebrates the 100th anniversary of the marriage of Nikka’s founder Masataka Taketsuru and Rita Cowan, and pays tribute to the early days of the company. To find out more, read on…

At Yoichi, the distillery workers  still use a technique that has long since disappeared in Scotland: coal-fired stills. They are very hard to manage, it’s a skilled job feeding the flames and a moment’s negligence can burn the still. Gas is much more controllable which is why it’s taken over in Scotch whisky. But the team at Yoichi think it’s worth it, producing rich roasty flavours in the new make.

The happy couple: Masataka Taketsuru and Rita Cowan

The distillery was built in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru. It’s on the island of Hokkaido. Damp and cold, apparently it reminded him of Campbeltown where he had worked at Hazelburn and lived with his Scottish wife Rita. Though the winters are very cold, summers are hot so casks mature very differently to the more steady climate of Scotland. Hokkaido is also rich in fresh water and peat (though the onsite maltings are no longer used and Yoichi buys in most of  its malt from Scotland). At first the distillery had only one still which was used for both wash and spirit but it expanded in 1966 and now has six. A much more modern distillery at Miyagikyo, in the north eastern part of Japan’s main island Honshu, was set up in 1969. A wide variety of whiskies are made here in pot and continuous stills including a Coffey malt whisky, something that would not be allowed in Scotland. 

It’s not just the coal-fired stills, Yoichi is traditional in other ways. Ferments, usually with a brewers yeast, are long, up to five days and the distillery uses worm tub condensers. These combined with steeply-sloping lyne arms on the stills, resulting in less copper contact, create a heavy oily spirit. The classic Yoichi taste combines the heavy and smoky with a fruity lift. In common with most Japanese distilleries, a wide variety of spirits are made in the one distillery by playing with the wort (it’s usually clear but they do make occasional batches with cloudy), yeasts, peat, cut points etc. And that’s before you get onto the wide variety of oak at the blender’s command.

Our new arrival celebrates the 100th anniversary, on 8 January 1920, of the marriage between Masataka Taketsuru and Rita Cowan which did more than join two people together but linked Japan and Scotland together in shared love of whisky. Originally he worked for Suntory on his return for Japan. When he set up on his own in 1934, his main business wasn’t just whisky. Hokkaido is famous for its apples and so he also made fruit juice. In fact the original name of  the company was Dai Nippon Kaju: the Great Japanese Juice Company, which was later abbreviated in the 1950s to Nikka.

So this new release also pays homage to the early days of Nikka by being part-aged in a cask that formerly held apple brandy. The primary ageing took place largely in new American oak plus some ex-sherry casks. Like all Yoichi releases, it’s a blend of different styles produced at this one distillery. It’s bottled at 47% and released with no age statement. It’s a fitting tribute to the marriage that founded Japanese whisky.

But that’s not all, in addition to this special Yoichi (click here to buy), Nikka has also released a special apple brandy cask single malt from Miyagikyo and, naturally, it’s also available (here) from Master of Malt. 

Tasting notes from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Baked apples initially and then the peat comes in strongly with wood fires, Havana cigars and salty seaside notes. It’s rich and full-flavoured.

Palate: Deliciously fruity, apple pie and pears, with smoky lingering in the background, grassy and aromatic notes come in. The texture is oily and full.

Finish: Citrus fruits combine with dates and other dried fruits with spicy liquorice, vanilla, roasted nuts and toasted brioche. Long and harmonious.