By Jake Emen
Nikka’s Taketsuru line consists of several ages of pure malt whiskey — unlike with Scotch, Japanese whiskey is not prohibited from using the “pure malt” label — and Nikka simply uses the term to signify a vatted malt whiskey drawn from their Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries.
The Taketsuru Pure Malt 12 Year Old is the youngest of the bunch, all named for Nikka founder, “the father of Japanese whisky,” Masataka Taketsuru. Taketsuru studied whiskey-making at the University of Glasgow, and spent 10 years producing Yamakazi, Japan’s first whiskey. He then built the Yoichi distillery in Hokkaido and launched Nikka in 1934. The Miyagikyo distillery is located in the Miyagi prefecture, northern Honshu, and was established in 1969.
Out of the bottle, my first impression of the aroma was that it had a briny, ocean breeze tinge, almost reminiscent of an Islay Scotch. The Yoichi distillery is located just one kilometer from the sea, and utilizes water filtered through peat, providing such characteristics to the whiskies distilled and aged there. Additionally, Nikka directly heats their pot stills with powdered natural coal, utilizing a traditional Scotch methodology which has since been largely replaced in Scotland, but lives on here.
In the glass, Taketsuru 12 Years has a dark amber color, and its aroma shifts towards a caramel sweetness backed up by the sea salt — think a sea salt caramel desert you may indulge in.
Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 12 Year Old is incredibly smooth and easy drinking. It’s a bit chewy without losing an overall light, refreshing consistency, and showcases a wonderfully warm and lingering finish, with absolutely zero burn. You’ll get peat, some salt and light spice, and honey on the finish.
With ice, Taketsuru 12 Years turns chewier, and sweeter, with a shorter finish. The honey which was noted before gets an added fruity sweetness component, more akin to honeydew melon.
Enjoyed on a nasty, rainy 30 degree evening in the Washington D.C. suburbs, Taketsuru 12 Years was a perfect remedy. After never having experimented much with Japanese whisky, consider me converted if this is what I can expect to find.
Nikka Taketsuru 12 Years is bottled at 40% ABV and can be found online for about $70, making it an accessible splurge for something you can count on to truly impress. It is one of two Nikka whiskeys widely available stateside via Anchor Distilling Company.
Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 12 Year Old won gold at the 2008, 2009 and 2010 International Spirits Challenge, and Silver in 2012.