AND SO IT BEGINS: Day 1 of the 2018 KWM Whisky Advent

by Andrew

Welcome to Kensington Wine Market 2018 Whisky Advent

For the 5th straight year, we have curated and assembled our own bespoke Whisky Advent Calendar. We hope you will follow our journey of whisky discovery over the next 25 days. Each and every day of Advent we will describe and publish our own tasting notes for the whisky in question. We will also give you a background on the distillery and producer. You can follow along with us each day on the Kensington Wine Market Blog, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. We encourage comments and feedback.

We are very proud of not just the contents of the 2018 Whisky Advent Calendar, but also its artwork and design. For that, we would like to thank Kensington Wine Market Alumni Jean-Paul Berube, who has created the artwork on all five annual editions of the Kensington Wine Market Whisky Advent Calendar. We will also introduce the Kensington Wine Market 2018 Whisky Advent Tree, which you’ll be seeing a lot of over the next few weeks!

I hope you enjoy the Kensington Wine Market 2018 Whisky Advent Calendar and agree that it is 25 Days of Dram Fine Whisky. Let the Whisky Advent-ure begin!

Picture courtesy of @frombarreltobottle

Day 1 – Super NikkaFor the first time in 5 years of curating and producing our own Whisky Advent Calendar, we are thrilled to be able to offer a Japanese whisky in the selection. Before we jump palate-first into the Super Nikka (and a discussion of Japanese whisky in general), let me first address why the whisky is in position 1. Primarily this is because we wanted to kick things off with something we have never been able to offer before. But that is not the only reason. The more technical reason is the bottle’s shape: it is not a great fit with the insert sizes of our physical calendar. We didn’t want you to struggle too hard getting it out, so we tucked it next to the glass in the largest opening!

If you are not familiar with Japanese whisky, it may come as a surprise to you that it is far from a new phenomenon. The Japanese have been producing whisky in the Scottish style (single malts, single grains, blends and blended malts) for nearly a century. But their love affair with whisky goes back even further than the opening of their first whisky distillery, Yamazaki, in 1923. The second distillery was opened in 1933 by Masataka Taketsuru, who was instrumental in the opening of Yamazaki. Masataka travelled to Scotland in 1919, where he studied chemistry and fell in love with, and married, a Scot named Rita Cowan. But most importantly he spent seven months immersed in the Scotch whisky industry, absorbing every detail he could. He took Rita and this hard-earned knowledge back to Japan and gave birth to the Japanese whisky industry.

Masataka and Rita

There are two major whisky companies in Japan: Suntory, the owners of Yamazaki and Hakushu, and Nikka, who own Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries. Masataka built his first distillery, as well as a home for he and Rita in Yoichi (also the distillery’s name), on the northern island of Hokkaido. The business thrived during and after WWII and was followed by a second distillery, Miyagikyo (founded in 1969), located at the confluence of two rivers in the mountains west of Sendai City. Both distilleries produced a wide variety of whisky styles in order to have varied components for the production of Blended Japanese whisky. Most Japanese whisky produced and consumed today is blended, as is the case in Scotland. Blenders rely on a selection of many components to add depth and complexity to their blends. In Scotland, the different whisky companies all get along well with each other and have developed longstanding trade relationships which allow them to swap stock with one another. In Japan, the two major whisky companies, Suntory and Nikka, can’t stand each other, so both firms need to produce a wide variety of styles in-house in order to create complex blends.

Yoichi Distillery

Miyagikyo Distillery

While Masataka is the brightest star in Nikka’s firmament, his wife Rita was beloved by the Japanese and has an important role in the firm’s early years. Masataka was devastated by her passing in 1962 and released the Super Nikka in her honour. The Super Nikka whisky might have faded into oblivion after Masataka’s own death in 1979, except for a 2014 Daily Drama series about Rita and Masataka which ran for over a year in Japan. Nikka released the limited edition Super Nikka Revival in 2015 to capitalize on the interest in the brand, and then, following its success, re-released the Super Nikka in 2016.

The whisky is a Blended Japanese whisky composed of malt from Yoichi and Miyagikyo, as well as Coffey Malt and Coffey Grain whiskies from their “Coffey Still” (column still) at Miyagikyo. It is also possible that there is some Scottish malt in the blend, as the rules around ‘Japanese whisky’ are quite flexible. Not to mention, Nikka owns a Scottish distillery, Ben Nevis, in the Western Highlands!

Picture courtesy of @frombarreltobottle

Super Nikka – 43%

Andrew’s Tasting Note:

Nose: silky, honeyed and soft; gentle peat tickles the nose with decadent spices and Russian caramel; floral with apricots, apples and stone fruits.

Palate: still soft and silky on the palate with building gentle peat, ashy smoke, chewy malt and bags of honey; more white fruits: ripe pear, cooked apples and apricots; late emerging darker fruits; the spices start light and decadent and darken; a touch of leather and chocolate.

Finish: long, elegant and coating with fading fruits, spices, and more ashy peat.

Comment: this is a classic example of the overriding Nikka house style, which is elegance; whether heavily peated, sherried or other, Nikkas whiskies are always elegant; I forgot how good this is; great start no? – $75 for the full-sized bottle. $10 for the mini / 50mL version while supplies last!

Playing catch-up on our 2018 Kensington Wine Market Whisky Advent Calendar?

You can find the rest of the blog posts here!


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