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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Nikka

Lifting the lid on bulk Scotch whisky sales to Japan

Today, we’re delighted to have a new writer for Master of Malt, industry veteran Dr Nick Morgan. Here he brings us a tale of greed, deception, and short-sighted business decisions,…

Today, we’re delighted to have a new writer for Master of Malt, industry veteran Dr Nick Morgan. Here he brings us a tale of greed, deception, and short-sighted business decisions, as he lifts the lid on the long and murky relationship between the Scotch and Japanese whisky industries.

Diligent readers may recall that in February the Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association acknowledged that there had been a longstanding practice of mixing Japanese spirits with distillates from other countries, which were then sold under the description of ‘Japanese whisky’.  

This was in a preamble to proposals for a new voluntary code (effective from 1 April 2021) to be followed by Japanese distillers and blenders which is intended to prevent this from happening in the future.  Disingenuously, and with not a word of contrition, the preamble explained that these practices were part of “the tradition, history, and culture of Japanese whisky-making” which “had enriched the Japanese drinking culture” and “were supported by many people around the world”.  The Association, it continued, “took pride in that fact and are grateful for the efforts of our predecessors”.

The Nightcap

Dave Broom was not happy

The dog that did not bark

Whilst one might have expected such an announcement to have been met with outrage, it was instead greeted either with a muted response by commentators, and a deafening silence from the Scotch whisky industry. Only Dave Broom (in the past a prominent cheerleader for all things Japanese) wrote frankly about the questions this statement raised, the consequences that this admission would have for the reputation of the Japanese whisky category, and the breach of trust it represented with those consumers (and for that matter writers) around the world who had helped to build it.  Otherwise, the dog did not bark. 

Can you imagine a similar announcement, from say the Scotch Whisky Association, confessing to decades of consumer deception by some of its members? Would it have been greeted with such equanimity?

Perhaps what is most shocking is that so many stakeholders, industry commentators, and even consumer groups were already aware of this practice of blending Japanese whiskies with those of other countries, and selling them under a misleading description. In many respects, it was hiding in plain sight.  

In recent years some CEOs of large Scotch businesses, enraged by the amount of love that whisky commentators and consumers have chosen to shower on Japanese whiskies at the expense of Scotch, pulled out their hair in frustration because no one would publicly call out Japanese producers for this practice. It was almost, you might think, as if there was a conspiracy of silence, with the foremost conspirators being the Scotch whisky companies.  Why? Because some had been happily selling bulk malt whisky to Japan since the 1960s. 

Master of Malt bucket list

Nikka’s Yoichi distillery

So how did we arrive at this situation?

First, some history. As the Japanese economy began to recover after the Second World war, leading Japanese distillers (Suntory and Nikka dominated the category, with Suntory having a market share in excess of 70%) had ambitions to build both domestic and global reputations for their brands as rivals to Scotch both in terms of craftsmanship and quality. But despite significant increases in whisky production in the early 1960s and again in the early 1970s, inventory and spirit quality lagged behind ambition. Japan’s whisky distilling tradition rested on Masataka Taketsuru’s much romanticised adventures in Scotland in the early twentieth century. As we shall see, some of his contemporaries in Scotland came to think of these as akin to industrial espionage. 

Meanwhile, Scotch whisky, considered to be the epitome of quality, was held in such high regard domestically and globally. However, the two whisky industries could not have been more different. In Scotland, a history of independent distilleries selling mostly new-make whisky either directly to blending houses or to brokers and speculators had created a commodity market where mature whiskies were bought and sold freely. Blenders might even trade or exchange casks with competitors. As a result, it was common practice for blenders to make use of a wide variety of the available makes in their blends. 

In Japan, on the other hand, production was concentrated in the hands of a small number of companies, and the tradition of using other distiller’s whisky was unknown. Over time this forced the large Japanese distillers to develop the skills to produce a variety of spirit characters and qualities from their stills. It also made the major Japanese brand-owners look outside Japan for whisky that would help meet their volume requirements, and more importantly their desire to match, or surpass, the reputation that Scotch whisky had for quality. And what better place to go in the first instance than Scotland?

What better place to buy whisky than Scotland?

In 1961, Japanese distillers were selling an estimated 2 million cases in the domestic market.  By 1975, this had increased to 25 million cases. In the early 1960s, bulk malt whisky from Scotland was being imported into Japan, largely through brokerage firms, in the tens of thousands of gallons. By 1975 it stood at over five million gallons, and by 1978 over six million. 

For tax purposes, Japanese whiskies were divided into three grades: Special Grade, First Grade, and Second Grade, a categorisation that remained in place until 1988.  These grades were also de facto designators of quality. Some writers have reassuringly yet inexplicably suggested that bulk Scotch malt whisky was being used principally to improve the quality of the cheaper First and Second Grade brands. These were typically blends of Japanese malt whisky, neutral grain spirit, and sometimes other flavourings.  

On the contrary, as Scotch whisky executives reported in the late ‘60s and ‘70s (and British newspapers and commentators also wrote), Scottish malt whisky was being used to bolster the quality of the Special Grade brands (like Suntory Old, ‘with a smoothness akin to fine Scotch’), which in the early 1960s had been available in only very limited quantities. The objective was to enhance the reputation of domestic whiskies with consumers and put them on an equal footing with Scotch.

Between 1963 and 1975 the per capita consumption of whisky in Japan had more than tripled. It was the Special Grade of domestic whiskies that were growing most rapidly, as the cheaper grades declined. The leading brands were Suntory Old and Nikka Super, and Suntory Royal and Nikka Kingsland, the last two priced between standard and deluxe blended Scotches such as Johnnie Walker Red Label and Black Label. By 1975 Special Grade accounted for almost 60% of Japanese whisky sales, and a graph showing its rapid growth in the early 1970s would almost correlate to one showing the equally dramatic rise in imports of bulk malt whisky from Scotland. 

‘You can’t tell the difference between Suntory Old and Scotch’

At the same time companies such as Suntory were promoting their brands with huge advertising budgets, with messaging to persuade consumers that Suntory brands were as good as, if not better, than Scotch whisky.  As one observer commented, the advertising message was “you can’t tell the difference between Suntory Old and Scotch”. By 1975, Suntory claimed that Suntory Old, which like Suntory Royal was thought to contain 20% Scotch malt whisky, was the largest selling brand of whisky in the world (8.5 million cases). The label read: ‘a blend of rare, selected whiskies, distilled and bottled by Suntory Ltd … Product of Japan’. Sean Connery drank it as James Bond in 1967’s You Only Live Twice and would go on to appear in advertisements for the brand in the 1990s.

Suntory Old, “with a smoothness akin to fine Scotch” was launched in the United States in 1962, at a time when the company had very limited inventory to support such a bold move. Suntory whiskies were being sold in European Duty Free in 1972.  In 1976, advertising agency Chiat Day launched a striking campaign for Suntory Royal in the United States with the strapline “From the bonnie, bonnie, banks of the Yamazaki” (“if Suntory Royal happens to taste like Scotch we wouldn’t be surprised”). “Just as Suntory Royal is similar to Scotch, but better” said an advert in the Los Angeles Times the following year. 

In 1977, Suntory opened a restaurant in London to showcase its brands alongside Japanese cuisine, “within a stones-throw” noted the Aberdeen Press and Journal, of the head offices of Johnnie Walker, Cutty Sark and Justerini & Brooks. Suntory Old was listed in luxury outlets such as Harrods. Whilst total exports remained small the global intent was very clear.

Helping the competition 

Scottish distillers, often with overseas owners or investors, had begun to get directly involved in the supply of these bulk malts, rather than leaving the business to brokers. Seagram entered into an alliance with Kirin, announcing in 1973 the launch of a new blend, Robert Brown.  The whisky, said the press release, would consist of malt whisky from Scotland imported from Chivas Bros. and local Japanese whisky which would eventually be produced at the new distillery planned by Kirin at Gotemba in the Shizuoka Prefecture. 

The industry, however, was divided on the issue. Some, like the giant Distillers Company, remained aloof from this business, despite being regularly courted by Suntory. DCL’s Robin Cater warned that bulk exports used to improve the quality of Japanese blends were in effect helping to create the reputation of a category that would soon compete with Scotch, while Adam Bergius of William Teacher’s described bulk exports as “short-sighted and against the long-term interests of the Scotch whisky industry”. 

Trades unions formed a pressure group, the Scotch Whisky Combine Committee in 1977. Its purpose was to lobby both the industry and the Scotch Whisky Association, and government, complaining of the long-term threat both to jobs, and the reputation of the category, that the export of both bulk malts and blends represented. The Scottish National Party supported the campaign. 

Reports were commissioned and reports were written, warning of the long-term damage that would result from the “self-interested and short-term policy” that some companies had adopted to the sale of bulk malt whisky, particularly to Japan. At the heart of this was a concern that the increasingly multi-national ownership of whisky companies in Scotland (and elsewhere) could lead to the commoditisation of Scotch and the development of a globalised trade in whisky generics, with a commensurate loss of distinctiveness for Scotch, and for that matter other types of whisky too. 

Masataka Taketsuru and Rita Cowan

Tartan-tinted spectacles 

The warnings went unheeded, allowing Japanese distillers to develop a very specific “tradition” and “culture” of Japanese whisky-making. It “enriched the Japanese drinking culture” at the expense of Scotch. In addition, it led to whisky consumers and collectors all over the world, in a category where provenance is everything, being sold products that were not, as one might say, exactly as described.

Of course, this part of the story wasn’t told when Japanese whiskies were taken to the world in the late 1980s. Producers persisted with a carefully-curated narrative, told through tartan tinted spectacles, of an auld alliance between the two distilling nations based on Masataka Taketsuru’s visits to Scotland, an alliance symbolically solemnized by his marriage to Scot Rita Cowan, sometimes described as “the mother of Japanese whisky”. The tale that is told is of long-standing respect shared with Scottish distillers for authenticity, craftsmanship, and traditional methods of production. 

Industrial espionage 

For the record, that’s not quite how the chaps at the DCL saw it. They had been outraged when the purpose of Taketsuru’s visits became clear following the release by Suntory of a ‘Scotch Whisky’ with an English language label in 1929, invoking both government and the law to try and prevent its distribution and sale. As late as 1982, they were still debating whether uninvited Japanese visitors should be allowed into their distilleries, so stung were they by the events of the past. Indeed, it’s quite possible that the extreme culture of secrecy that surrounded distillation in the DCL for so many years was one of the unintended consequences of Taketsuru’s time in Scotland.

Retailers, writers, and commentators were sucked in by the romance story and the ‘zenness’ of it all, and of course by the outstanding quality of many of the whiskies produced (whatever their origin). In a collective attack of cognitive dissonance, they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, see beyond it. Scotch producers, as the fortunes of their bottled products waxed and waned in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, came to rely on bulk malt sales as a way of maintaining revenue and managing excess inventory. As the global popularity of Japanese whisky increased, so did the sales of bulk malt Scotch.

Increasingly through either direct acquisition or developing shareholdings, Japanese companies have increased their presence in the Scotch whisky business, and their access to stocks. So complicit has the Scotch whisky industry been in the development of the deceptive practices finally acknowledged this year by their Japanese counterparts, that it’s hardly surprising that they have remained so tight-lipped on the subject. 

At the same time, Japanese interests in the world of Scotch (and for that matter American) whisky has increased its influence over writers and commentators. So the muted response to February’s announcement is hardly surprising. Say the wrong thing about Japanese whisky these days, and it could cost you a free trip to Islay. Or Speyside. Or Kentucky.  Let alone to the bonnie bonnie banks of the Yamazaki.

Biog

Nick Morgan’s career as a historian and writer was rudely interrupted by a thirty-year, award-winning spell in the Scotch whisky business. Beginning as archivist for United Distillers, he body-swerved his way into marketing, and managed the largest portfolio of single malt whiskies in the world for over ten years. Laterly he was a spokesman on Scotch whisky related issues, famously described as ‘Diageo’s human shield’. He has now returned to the relative sanity of the past, and recently published A Long Stride, the official history of Johnnie Walker. His new book, Everything you need to know about whisky (but are too afraid to ask) is published in August 2021.

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Top ten malt whiskies for Father’s Day

If your old man is a whisky fan, he’s going to love one of these bottles turning up on his doorstep on Sunday 20 June. In our top ten malt…

If your old man is a whisky fan, he’s going to love one of these bottles turning up on his doorstep on Sunday 20 June. In our top ten malt whiskies for Father’s Day, there’s a bottle for every dad, as long as he likes whisky. 

Father’s Day is coming, and it’s an especially big Father’s Day as some of us haven’t seen our dads for months. In some cases years. 

We know that it can be hard to find gifts for awkward dads. Now, you could send him some socks or a mug that says ‘world’s best dad’ on it. But what we reckon he’ll really enjoy is a nice bottle of whisky. So for all your Father’s Day gifting requirements we’ve picked some of our favourite malt whiskies. 

And we’re not just sticking to Scotland either, we’ve ventured to Ireland, Japan, and even south of the border, to England! Just remember, a whisky isn’t just for Father’s Day, it’s for life, or at least until you’ve finished the bottle.

Here are our to ten malt whiskies for Father’s Day

glenfiddich-15-year-old-solera-whisky

Glenfiddich 15 Solera

Hats off to Glenfiddich, it pretty much invented the modern market for single malt whiskies in the 1960s, when everyone else was betting on blends. It’s so ubiquitous that whisky aficionados often overlook it, which is a shame because the distillery produces some great bottlings. We’re particularly partial to this sherry-soaked 15 year old. 

What does it taste like?

Unmistakable sherry notes on the nose with fruitcake and orange peel, and then on the palate it’s all about candied fruit and raisins. 

balvenie-doublewood-12-year-old-whisky

Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Old

Balvenie is Glenffiddich’s shy sibling. While its brother is a global celebrity, Balvenie just gets on quietly turning out some of the best whiskies in Speyside. The DoubleWood is a long time favourite  of ours matured first in refill American oak casks before it was treated to a finish in first fill European oak Oloroso sherry butts for an additional nine months.

What does it taste like?

Perfect blend of bourbon and sherry. Vanilla and nutmeg notes mingle with dried fruit and nuts. A classic. 

bushmills-10-year-old-whiskey

Bushmills 10 Year Old 

Bushmills has been distilling a long time. Since 1784 to be precise though the site’s whiskey heritage stretches back to 1608. Along with Midleton in Cork, it kept the flame burning for Irish whiskey during the dark times turning out delicious triple-distilled single malts. The 10 year old is a great place to start. 

What does it taste like?

Sweet notes like banana and chocolate pudding with plenty of orangey and floral notes, and gorgeous creamy texture. 

caol-ila-12-year-old-that-boutiquey-whisky-company-whisky

Caol Ila 12 Year Old (That Boutique-y Whisky Company) 

We love the classic Caol Ila 12 year old but instead we’ve gone for something a bit different. It’s a special bottling from That Boutique-y Whisky Company, bottled at cask strength and with quite a bit of sherry character which mingles deliciously with the smoke from the whisky. Only 468 bottles have been filled of batch 20 of this whisky.

What does it taste like?

Jammy red berries and rich coffee, with a generous helping of phenolic smoke. Almonds, dates, and yet more sweet peat smokiness. 

cotswolds-single-malt-whisky

Cotswolds Single Malt Whisky

The late Jim Swan consulted for the Cotswold distillery and you can taste it in how they managed to get so much flavour into what is a young whisky. It’s aged ex-bourbon and STR (shaved, toasted and recharred) red wine casks.  Since it was released in 2018, this NAS expression just keeps getting better and better as the distillery builds up its mature blending stock.  

What does it taste like?

The first thing you notice are spicy cereal notes, then comes the fruit, orange peel and lemon. On the palate it’s creamy and round with sweet citrus fruit and black pepper.

highland-park-12-year-old-viking-honour-whisky

Highland Park 12 Year Old – Viking Honour

Once just known as Highland Park 12 Year Old, now it’s called Viking Honour. Fearsome! The whisky, happily, is the same as it ever was with that classic honey, floral and wood smoke profile. The Orkney distillery does things the time-honoured ways with floor maltings, peat, sherry casks and cool climate maturation. If it ain’t broke and all that. 

What does it taste like?

Honey and floral notes abound on the nose with some wood smoke. On the palate it’s peppery with notes of orange and wood shavings. 

seaweed-and-aeons-and-digging-and-fire-and-sherry-casks-and-cask-strength-10-year-old-whisky

Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire & Sherry Casks & Cask Strength 10 Year Old (Batch 01)

Yes, the name is a bit of a mouthful but it’s worth taking the time to pronounce because this is a very special whisky. It’s a 10 year old Islay from an undisclosed distillery, finished in sherry casks and bottled at cask strength. If you like your smoke sherried, then you’re in for a treat. 

What does it taste like?

Coffee beans, madeira cake and chocolate on the nose with seaweed and cigars. Sweet dried fruit on the palate lifted by a smoky sea breeze. 

nikka-coffey-malt-whisky

Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky

In Scotland this would not be allowed to be called a single malt because though it is made from 100% malted barley, it’s distilled  in a Coffey still rather than a pot. A technique usually used for grain whisky. Happily, it’s made in Japan not Scotland at Nikka’s Miyagikyo distillery. It was launched in 2014 and has proved a firm favourite ever since.  

What does it taste like?

There’s toffee, fruitcake, orange and milk chocolate on the nose, and the palate is sweet and spicy with that citrus note keeping it fresh.

masthouse-single-malt-whisky

Masthouse Single Malt

We were very excited to try this first single malt from the Copper Rivet Distillery in Chatham, Kent as we’d tasted some aged new make. It’s fair to say that we were more than impressed as it manages to be vibrant, smooth and packed full of flavour despite only being three years old. It’s made only from Kentish barley, distilled and aged in ex-bourbon and virgin American white oak barrels.

What does it taste like?

The fruit on the nose jumps out of the glass with apple and peaches followed by creamy cereal, sweet spices and vanilla. 

bruichladdich-scottish-barley-the-classic-laddie-whisky

Bruichladdich Scottish Barley – The Classic Laddie

If you think Islay is all about smoke and TCP, then you must try the Classic Laddie. It was created by the great Jim McEwan when Bruichladdich was brought back from the dead in 2001 to showcase the distillery’s unique unpeated style. It’s made from 100% Scottish barley and aged in American oak casks. For those who crave smoke, the distillery also makes peated whisky under the Port Charlotte (quite peaty) and Octomore (very extremely peaty) labels.

What does it taste like?

This is all about elegance with honey, barley and orange blossom joined on the palate by apples with a dusting of cinnamon and brown sugar, all with a faint sea breeze lurking in the background. 

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Nikka from the Barrel not a ‘Japanese whisky’ say new regulations

Big news just in! The Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association has announced new tighter Japanese whisky regulations. That means some of our favourite Japanese whiskies will no longer be…

Big news just in! The Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association has announced new tighter Japanese whisky regulations. That means some of our favourite Japanese whiskies will no longer be classed as ‘Japanese whisky.’ Confused? Read on.

It’s something of an open secret in the drinks business that much whisky that is labelled Japanese contains spirits from other countries, mainly Scotland and Canada. At Scotch whisky distilleries, it’s common to see huge plastic containers full of whisky to be exported to Japan where it’s blended and then exported back as Japanese whisky. As Japanese whisky as a category has boomed, bulk imports from Scotland have increased four-fold between 2013 and 2018 according to the SWA.

Japanese whisky must be distilled in Japan

There’s been a lot of rumours attached to which blends contained non-Japanese whisky. Now and not before time, the Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association has announced what can and can’t be defined as Japanese whisky. The rules don’t have legal powers but will apply to all the association’s members which include the country’s main producers such as Nikka and Suntory (full list here). 

You can read the full standards here but the crucial part is: “saccharification, fermentation, and distillation must be carried out at a distillery in Japan” in order to be labelled as ‘Japanese whisky.’ Furthermore, the resulting spirit should be no higher than 95% ABV and must be aged for a minimum of three years in wooden casks no bigger than 700 litres and bottled with a minimum ABV of 40%.

Brian Ashcraft, author of Japanese Whisky: The Ultimate Guide to the World’s Most Desirable Spirit, commented: “They’re a good step in the right direction. It’s important to have some rules of the road. The concern for me, though, is there is still some wiggle room and that unscrupulous people are going to continue to be unscrupulous. It would be good if this was covered by laws to be honest.” He went on to say: “For instance, the wiggle room I’m talking about is that they cannot prevent people from slapping a kanji character on a bottle or, if it’s sold in Japan, labeling the whole thing in Japanese”.

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Yoichi distillery, real Japanese whisky made here

Statement from Nikka

The deadline to follow the rules is 31 March 2024 so at the moment labels don’t reflect the new ruling. Nikka, however, has updated its site to make it clear which whiskies are now technically ‘Japanese whisky.’ In a statement, the company announced: 

“We have decided to provide further information for individual products on our website to clearly distinguish between products in Nikka Whisky’s line-up, which contains both whiskies that are defined as ‘Japanese whisky’ according to the labeling standards, and those that do not meet all the criteria. We feel this is an important step towards ensuring customers’ clarity so as that they can reasonably decide which products to buy and information will be updated if the status changes.”

Looking at the Nikka website, you can see that Yoichi and Miyagikyo single malts, Coffey Grain and Taketsuru Pure Malt pass the new rules, whereas popular blends like Nikka Days, the Nikka and our favourite, Nikka from the Barrel have the following disclaimer: “This product does not meet all the criteria of ‘Japanese whisky ‘ defined by the Japan Spirits & Liqueur Makers Association.” It doesn’t state where they stray from the rules but we are sure that Master of Malt customers will be able to work it out.

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New Arrival of the Week: Nikka Tailored

When a brand new Japanese whisky lands at MoM Towers in the midst of a global Japanese whisky shortage, it’s pretty special. But learning a second is soon to follow?…

When a brand new Japanese whisky lands at MoM Towers in the midst of a global Japanese whisky shortage, it’s pretty special. But learning a second is soon to follow? Well, that’s cause for celebration. Here, we toast the arrival of brand spanking new blend, Nikka Tailored – and share details of a follow-up bottling you may be familiar with…

Cast your mind back to the good old days (February 2020), when times were precedented*, hand sanitiser was reasonably-priced, and you could hug your grandmother without risk of repercussions. The same month, we shared word of the sudden – although sadly unsurprising, given the Japanese whisky shortage – discontinuation of Nikka 12 Year Old and Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt.

Unbeknown to us, Nikka’s whisky blending team were busy tinkering away, conjuring up replacement bottlings to meet ongoing demand for Japanese nectar without draining their stocks. And now, like a tasty phoenix rising from the ashes, two new whiskies – permanent bottlings, we might add – are emerging in their place. The first is Nikka Tailored, now available on MoM, closely followed by Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt (okay fine, it has the same name. But it’s a new recipe).

Miyagikyo Distillery

Before we get into the nitty gritty of the blends, let’s take a look at the distilleries that make them. Nikka Whisky Distilling Company was founded in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru, often referred to as ‘the father of Japanese whisky’, after a two-year trip to Scotland spent working at a number of distilleries. His business started out with the Yoichi distillery in Yoichi, Hokkaidō. Taketsuru’s aim? To make as many styles of whisky as possible for his blends.

Using four different peat levels – unpeated, lightly peated, medium peated, and heavily peated barley – five different yeast strains, and a huge variety of casks, Taketsuru could make more than 600 different whiskies, explains Stef Holt, head of education and whisky ambassador at Speciality Brands (Nikka’s UK distributor). However, Yoichi’s coastal location lent its own influence to the whiskies, so three decades later, in 1969, the company built Miyagikyo distillery in Miyagi Prefecture, Northern Honshu.

Like Yoichi, the inland distillery uses non-peated, lightly peated and medium peated barley (no heavily peated here, though) and five yeast strains to create its whiskies. Miyagikyo is also home to two Coffey stills, which are used to distil the grain whisky according to a recipe of 95% corn, 5% malted barley, before ageing the distillate in used American oak barrels. Speaking of, not only do both distilleries have their own cooperages, but they also share a third cooperage halfway between the two, which makes brand new casks from virgin American oak.

The cask programme follows Scottish tradition – American oak and sherry casks – but with plenty of different options to maximise flavour. Once an ex-bourbon cask has been used a couple of times, the coopers will remove the ends and replace them with new oak, says Holt. “That’s called a remade cask,” she says. “So you get a combination of old and new casks. And then what they’ll also do is re-char casks – scrape the insides out and re-char them.” When it comes to sherry, Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez reign supreme. Occasionally, Nikka will create finishes with Japanese oak (Mizunara) though none have made it to the UK.

While production is now a 24-hour operation at both Nikka distilleries, there still remains a huge shortage of matured whisky in both warehouses, which is why so many blends – particularly those with age statements – have been culled in recent years. Like the 12 Year Old that came before it, Nikka Tailored is mostly made up of Miyagikyo and Yoichi malts aged in re-made American oak and sherry casks, Holt says, with a touch of grain whisky to bring the recipe together. Flavour-wise, it has “a very similar flavour profile that the 12 used to have, but using whiskies from a much wider variety of ages,” she says.

Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt, meanwhile, sees re-made American oak casks from Miyagikyo blended with sherry cask-aged liquid from both Miyagikyo and Yoichi. “So it’s still predominantly Miyagikyo, but they’ve upped the Yoichi quantity to add a bit more body and smoke,” Holt says. The sherry cask influence is also a little lower than the previous recipe. “The last Taketsuru was quite heavily sherried, and it didn’t have much Yoichi in it,” she explains. “The Yoichi was almost like seasoning, just a tiny hint of salty oiliness. They felt that that was a bit of a departure from the original Taketsuru flavour profiles, which were a little bit more equally balanced.”

Enough chit chat. Let’s taste them!

*Here in the UK, at least.

Tasting notes for Nikka Tailored (you can buy it here)

Nose: Thick syrupy honey, stewed apple and candied orange, with warming cinnamon and nutmeg.

Palate: Creamy and buttery, with toasted barrel char and bittersweet plum. More honey and raisin.

Finish: Fades into soft malt and vanilla oak, with a slight nuttiness.

Tasting notes for Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt (you can buy it here)

Nose: Lemon tart, honeysuckle and peppermint up front. A second whiff reveals mellow peat, ginger, dried twig and walnut. 

Palate: Incredibly soft and delicate. Milky chocolate develops into lightly toasted cereal notes and fresh grapefruit and cardamom, all underlined with light smoke.

Finish: Menthol and alpine herbs, with lingering smoke. A touch of salt and sandalwood.

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Our super Summer Sale is here!

Roll, up, roll up! It’s time to give the at-home bar a bit of a boost. Our Summer Sale is here, and it’s filled to the brim with all things…

Roll, up, roll up! It’s time to give the at-home bar a bit of a boost. Our Summer Sale is here, and it’s filled to the brim with all things delicious! 

Ok, we know that summer 2020 isn’t shaping up to be what we would have wanted. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have delicious things in our tasting glasses! Our epic Summer Sale is now on, which means you can save a bargain on a whole host of whiskies, gins, rums, tequilas and oodles more. Boozes that please your palate as much as your wallet? Consider summer back on!

As well as the lush load of delectable spirits we’ve got at amazing prices until Sunday 16 August, our Weekly Deals and Daily Deals are back by popular demand! Every day we’ve chosen some of our favourite bottlings available with even more dosh off. Keep your eyes peeled – and head over to our Summer Sale page now to see the whole lot!

Can’t be bothered to sift through all the bottlings and just want the highlights? Here are some of our top bottlings to star in the Summer Sale, some in the first week (3-9 August). Happy sipping, folks!

 

Summer Sale

Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky – was £53.90 NOW £44.90

Right here we have really rather delicious single grain whisky from Japan’s Miyagikyo distillery! Coffey stills changed the whisky game, and now you can enjoy this expression’s syrupy, bourbon-like vanilla, vibrant fruit and fresh biscuit notes for an absolute bargain price!

 Summer Sale

Jaffa Cake Gin – was £27.95 NOW £24.95

A gin that does exactly what it says on the tin: a boozy treat that takes just like Jaffa cakes! It’s divinely defined by a jammy orangeness, cocoa deliciousness and a junipery oiliness. The perfect summer treat, ideal over ice, and especially delectable in a Negroni. 

 

Summer Sale

Tomintoul 23 Year Old 1996 (cask 103) – Celebration Of The Cask (Càrn Mòr) – was £128.95 NOW £88.95

Single cask Scotch fans, listen up! We’ve got an absolute treat for you right here. This beaut was aged in one single hogshead from November 1996 to January 2020 – and it is a cask-strength delight. Single casks are always the happy home of fun flavour experiences, and this one doesn’t disappoint. 

Summer Sale

El Dorado 15 Year Old – was £52.95 NOW £47.95

If you adore boldly beautiful Caribbean rums, then you need El Dorado 15 Year Old in your life. It was rated best rum in the world at the IWSC for four years on the bounce, for goodness’ sake! It brings together spirit from the Enmore and Diamond Coffey stills, the Port Mourant double wooden pot still, and the Versailles single wooden pot still, and it is delightful indeed. 

Kyrö Dark Gin – was £35.95 NOW £29.95

Fan of cask-aged gins? Then you need to check out this expression from Finnish distillery, Kyrö. The rye base contributes a lively warmth, while 17 (yes 17!) botanicals add both complexity and intrigue. Then the whole lot spends 12 months in American oak barrels! It’s zingy and delicious – and wonderful with apple juice.

Snapped up a bargain? Let us know what you got and what you think of it over on social! We’re @masterofmalt on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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World spirits: fabulous flavours from far off lands

This week, we’re gathering a whole host of delicious spirits from all over the globe, so you can get a taste of far flung lands and intriguing botanicals wherever you…

This week, we’re gathering a whole host of delicious spirits from all over the globe, so you can get a taste of far flung lands and intriguing botanicals wherever you are!

Travelling the world is fun. This is something we generally all agree on. However, quite frankly we just don’t have time to visit each and every continent and try the local boozy delicacies, however much we’d like to. Enter our fabulous compilation of spirits from many lands, including gin, rum and whisk(e)y! We’ve gathered this wonderful selection to tickle your tastebuds and transport you to all corners of the globe, all without leaving the safety of your sofa. Because sofas are nice, and sometimes they have cats on them, and cats are always a good thing. Anyhow, we digress. Onto the spirits!

Angostura 7 Year Old

Where’s it from?

Trinidad and Tobago

What is it?

A classic, tasty molasses-based rum from the Angostura company, produced in a continuous still. The liquid is aged in bourbon barrels for seven years before it’s filtered. The ideal dark rum for whacking into a cocktail, be it a Mai Tai, Daiquiri or even a Rum Old Fashioned! If you fancy it neat, definitely serve this one with a good wedge of juicy orange to balance the richer creamy notes.

What does it taste like?

Bittersweet dark chocolate balanced by cinnamon, burnt caramel, mocha, creamy crème brûlée, vanilla fudge and a hit of spice on the finish.

St Germain Elderflower Liqueur

Where’s it from?

France

What is it?

An iconic elderflower liqueur made with fresh elderflowers hand-harvested only once a year, for a few weeks in the late spring. Each bottle contains around 1,000 elderflower blossoms! The flowers are macerated, and the infusion is then strained and blended with eau-de-vie de vin, water, sugar, and neutral grain spirit. Splash it in a glass of Prosecco for a floral fizzy treat.

What does it taste like?

Sweet and floral notes of elderflower (of course), supported by lychee, tart lemon, a hint of buttery sweetness and a lengthy elderflower-filled finish.

Nikka Whisky From The Barrel

Where’s it from?

Japan

What is it?

An incredibly delicious, award-winning blended whisky from Nikka! It marries single malt and grain whiskies from the Miyagikyo and coastal Yoichi distilleries. The liquid is aged in a massive range of casks, including bourbon barrels, sherry butts and refill hogsheads.

What does it taste like?

Full of chai spice, buttery caramel and vanilla cream, with sweet cereal notes, raspberry, orange peel and drying oak spice alongside a spicy, warming finish.

Basil Hayden’s

Where’s it from?

Kentucky, America

What is it?

Distilled in Clermont, Kentucky, Basil Hayden’s Bourbon really was created by master distiller Basil Hayden himself, all the way back in 1796. He added rye into a traditional corn-based mashbill, and this innovative risk certainly paid off. The sweetness of corn balances brilliantly with the spiciness of rye, making for a brilliant Whiskey Bramble.

What does it taste like?

Fairly light and spicy, with vanilla and honey balanced by pepper and peppermint, with corn and dark berries on the finish.

Le Tribute Gin

Where’s it from?

Barcelona, Spain

What is it?

From the family-run distillery in Vilanova, a tiny fishing village close to Barcelona comes Le Tribute Gin. It’s a tribute (shocker) to the pioneers, processes and the heritage behind the spirit, and is inspired by the distillery’s history. There are seven botanicals, all distilled separately: juniper, lime, kumquat, lemon, pink and green grapefruit, tangerine, cardamom, bitter and sweet oranges and lemons, and the seventh is lemongrass. Wow, that was a lot. All are distilled in wheat spirit except lemongrass, where water is used in place of spirit to maintain freshness. 

What does it taste like?

Citrus and sherbet sweets, with an amalgamation of vibrant and loud fresh fruity notes. Juniper takes something of a backseat, but still plays a major role here.

Konik’s Tail Vodka

Where’s it from?

Poland

What is it?

It’s 20 years in the making and the vision of one man, Pleurat Shabani, who single-handedly harvests and bottles the vodka himself. Inspired by the elusive Polish Konik horses which, if they are spotted, will promise a good harvest (according to Polish superstition). Shabani had plenty of setbacks and harsh nights sleeping rough, but found a sense of purpose after buying a one-way ticket to escape the conflicts back home in Croatia. Determined to create something people would appreciate, he chose three grains to create this delicious vodka, Spelt (the happy grain), Rye (the dancing grain) and wheat (the smiling grain) – suggesting that the aim in life is to laugh, dance and smile.

What does it taste like?

Nutty, with burnt black pepper, spice and a sweet finish.

Lot 40 Rye Whisky

Where’s it from?

Canada

What is it?

A no-age statement rye whisky from Lot 40. The expression is in fact a revival of a whisky from the 1990s, and is named for the plot of land which used to belong to Joshua Booth, grandfather of the now-retired master distiller, Mike Booth, who created the whisky. In the 2000s, the expression was discontinued, but luckily it returned to us! The mashbill is 90% rye and 10% malted rye, so you can be sure this is sufficiently spicy.

What does it taste like?

A gentle floral start builds into all of those warming spicy notes, with black pepper, cardamom and oak spice, followed by roasted coffee bean and brown sugar on a finish of cigar box. 

 

Dancing Sands Dry Gin

Where’s it from?

Takaka, New Zealand

What is it?

This is the flagship gin from the Dancing Sands Distillery! The brainchild of husband and wife duo Ben and Sarah Bonoma, the gin takes eight hand-crushed botanicals, including manuka, almond, cardamom and liquorice, which are vapour infused. After it’s blended with water sourced from the Dancing Sands Spring over in Golden Bay, which the founders refer to as the ninth botanical, the spirit is bottled. The colours on the bottle represent each of the different botanicals. It also just looks amazing. 

What does it taste like?

Juniper straight away, followed by delicately floral manuka, warming cardamom and a subtle hint of chocolate, creamy nuttiness and a spicy peppery finish. 

Westerhall No.10 

Where’s it from?

Grenada, Caribbean

What is it?

Westerhall No.10 is, would you believe it, a 10 year old rum from the Westerhall Estate! We did not see that one coming. The estate is located on what’s called the ‘Spice Isle’ of Grenada, and this is certainly reflected in its flavour profile. If you happen to get your hands on any, try it with fresh coconut juice for a more local serve.

What does it taste like?

Spiced apple, waxy honey and rich maple syrup, creamy oak and fudge. 

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Top-notch new releases!

Love being in the loop with all things new and delightful in the drinks world? We’re here to help! Eagle-eyed MoM users may have noticed that on our site we…

Love being in the loop with all things new and delightful in the drinks world? We’re here to help!

Eagle-eyed MoM users may have noticed that on our site we have a New Arrivals page, where we list all the shiny new booze that comes to MoM Towers. From beer, Cognac, gin, rum, Tequila, vodka, whisky and more, it’s the place to be to find the latest and greatest drinks.

Fans of our blog will also have seen that we’ve started a weekly series: New Arrival of the Week, where we take an in-depth look at an interesting and tasty new products from the previous week that caught our eye. On Monday we talked all things HYKE Gin, for example.

But we decided that this week, just to make things even easier on you, we’d round-up some of the most intriguing, original and downright delicious drinks to be released recently. So whether you want to see what’s new in the world of gin, whisky, liqueur or rum, we’re sure you’ll find something in this list to suit your needs. Enjoy!

Listoke 1777 Gin

Irish whiskey isn’t the only spirit category on the Emerald Isle that’s enjoying a boom in popularity, Irish gin is making its mark also. Listoke 1777 Gin, one of the most recent additions to the bourgeing scene, was distilled at what is said to be Ireland’s largest gin distillery with a botanical selection including juniper, rowan berries, cardamom and orange. Try this in a G&T with a sprig of rosemary and you’ll soon see what all the fuss is about.

What does it taste like?:

Pronounced piney juniper, bursts of citrus throughout and herbaceous notes, with warming spice lingering on the finish.

Nikka Days

It would appear that legendary Japanese whisky producer Nikka has created another winner here in Nikka Days. A blended whisky featuring spirits from the Miyagikyo and Yoichi distilleries, this dram is fruity, bright, slightly peated and thoroughly tasty.

What does it taste like?:

Fresh and fruity apples, pears, honeydew melon and strawberry, orange oil, malt sweetness, roasted nuts, toffee apple, vanilla fudge alongside a hint of barrel char.

Big Peat 10 Year Old

A celebration of Big Peat’s 10th birthday, this limited 10-year-old expression of Douglas Laing’s tribute to the feisty Ileach fisherman is a very welcome new addition to MoM Towers. Bottled at 46% ABV without chill filtration or colouring, this popular Islay blended malt Scotch whisky packs plenty of those classic smoky flavours the brand’s followers love. It’s the perfect way to toast the familiar face on the bottle’s label.

What does it taste like?:

Roasted peanuts, petrichor, fresh pear, meaty malt, BBQ char, toffee, new leather, tobacco, honey on toast and plenty of peat smoke.

Milk & Honey Levantine Gin

Milk & Honey may have stolen the headlines as Israel’s first whisky distillery, but the brand has certainly demonstrated it knows its way around all things juniper. Milk & Honey Levantine Gin was distilled with a base spirit made from 100% malted barley and locally-sourced botanicals such as cinnamon, chamomile, black pepper, lemon peel, verbena, coriander and hyssop. The botanicals were macerated for 24 hours before a third distillation in order to create a smooth profile. Anyone for Martinis?

What does it taste like?:

Prominent juniper and lemon citrus, with herbaceous notes and soft spices in the background.

Tamdhu 15 Year Old

Anybody who has followed Tamdhu since its welcome comeback knows that the Speyside distillery is all about sublime sherried whisky. The limited edition 15 Year Old is no exception. Matured in American and European oloroso-seasoned casks and bottled at 46% ABV without any chill-filtration or additional colouring, Tamdhu 15 Year Old makes for an intense, rich and rewarding dram.

What does it taste like?:

Strawberry boiled sweeties, heavy dried fruit notes, a hearty slice of dense fruitcake, toasty oak warmth, orange oil, earthy vanilla, waxy peels, clove, chocolate ice-cream and walnut.

Bimber Classic Rum

Making delicious rum that’s value for money is not an easy balance to strike, but that’s exactly what west London distillery Bimber has achieved here. Crafted using local ingredients, Bimber Classic Rum was distilled from molasses in both copper pot and column stills before it was also bottled and labelled on site. We recommend you put the fruits of Bimber’s labour to good use in a nice Daiquiri.

What does it taste like?:

Dried grass, caramel, vanilla, soft stone fruit, cracked black pepper, dark chocolate, banana foam sweets, more grassy malt and dark Muscovado sugar.

Cambridge Elderflower Liqueur

If you’re going to make a gin-based liqueur, you’ll want to make sure you at least start with a quality gin. That’s exactly what Cambridge Distillery did with this Elderflower Liqueur, which was distilled using its award-winning Cambridge Dry Gin. Made to be enjoyed over ice, splashed in a glass of fizz or in any number of cocktails, this liqueur should prove as versatile as it is terrifically tasty.

What does it taste like?:

Heady floral notes, wonderfully fragrant elderflower against a backdrop of juniper and herby botanicals.

Glengoyne The Legacy Series Chapter One

An expression that celebrates Cochrane Cartwright, the distillery manager in 1869 who famously introduced sherry casks to Glengoyne, Chapter One of The Legacy Series was fittingly matured in first fill European oak Oloroso sherry casks as well as refill casks. For those who enjoy the sherried and the sublime, this is one for you.

What does it taste like?:

Luxurious sticky toffee pudding, dried fruit, Christmas spices, vanilla custard, gentle oak, stewed pear and cinnamon spice.

Smoked Rosemary Gin (That Boutique-y Gin Company)

Smoked rosemary is no longer just a fixture in distinctively delicious cocktails thanks to That Boutique-y Gin Company and its latest release: Smoked Rosemary Gin. Evocative, intriguing and bold, I can only imagine the raucously good Red Snappers you could make with this gin.

What does it taste like?:

Strong herbal notes, plenty of juniper, saline seashore smells, smoked bacon, lemon, a big hit of rosemary and cracked black pepper.

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10 genuinely epic single grains from across the globe

If you’re of the opinion that single grain whisky is ‘all mouth, no trousers’ – as in, multiple cereals but zero flavour – you’re very sadly mistaken. Here, we’ve picked…

If you’re of the opinion that single grain whisky is ‘all mouth, no trousers’ – as in, multiple cereals but zero flavour – you’re very sadly mistaken. Here, we’ve picked out 10 of the most sumptuous single grains the world has to offer. Tasting glasses at the ready…

It’s quaffable, affordable, and forms the backbone of many a blended whisky: could it be time to cut single grain some slack? David Beckham obviously thinks so, and we’re inclined to agree (though this list is, we assure you, Haig-free).

In reality, the things that many would consider to be grain whisky’s biggest weaknesses – light in character, industrial, no grain off-limits – have been transformed into the category’s greatest strengths by diligent distillers.

Now, I’m pretty nosy, so I wanted to find out a little bit more about the kinds of grains you can expect to find in each bottling. Easier said than done, because this information generally isn’t readily available.

So, where possible I’ve included the variety of grain each distillery primarily dabbles in (or dabbled, should it now be silent), so you can draw your own conclusions if you so wish…

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Whisky Advent 2018 Day #9: Nikka Whisky From The Barrel

The ninth day of Advent is here – and Drinks by the Dram is looking to Japan for today’s Whisky Advent Calendar dram! It just wouldn’t be the same if…

The ninth day of Advent is here – and Drinks by the Dram is looking to Japan for today’s Whisky Advent Calendar dram!

It just wouldn’t be the same if the Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar didn’t feature a Japanese whisky, would it? Thankfully there’s one waiting behind window #9. And what a Christmas cracker it is. Not literally, obviously. Please don’t try and pull this dram apart after Christmas dinner. You’ll want to savour this one. It’s a whisky with history, personality and the kind of rich, full-bodied flavour that we’ve come to love from Nikka. Today’s dram is…

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Q&A: Brian Ashcraft, author of Japanese Whisky: The Ultimate Guide to the World’s Most Desirable Spirit

Fancy finding out about Japanese whisky but don’t know where to start? ‘Japanese Whisky: The Ultimate Guide to the World’s Most Desirable Spirit’ certainly sounds like a good place to…

Fancy finding out about Japanese whisky but don’t know where to start? ‘Japanese Whisky: The Ultimate Guide to the World’s Most Desirable Spirit’ certainly sounds like a good place to start. We chat to the author, Brian Ashcraft…

On the blog today we are delighted to have Brian Ashcraft, author of a beautiful book called Japanese Whisky: The Ultimate Guide to the World’s Most Desirable Spirit. It’s a brilliant introduction to a complicated subject and, just to make your life even easier, at the end Brian has picked his favourite Japanese whiskies from the Master of Malt range.

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