Nikka was started in 1934 by a man determined to bring a little slice of Scotland back to Japan. A “little slice” turned out to be “reproducing their whisky industry almost brick-for-brick”, giving birth to the entire Japanese whisky business. So really, we have him to thank for this mind-blowing little blend. But don’t let the tiny bottle fool you – this stuff packs a punch.
Nikka’s Whisky From The Barrel is special. A blend consisting of grain and malt whiskies from only 2 distilleries is then given a second maturation in first-fill ex-Bourbon barrels, and finally bottled at a high strength. The cherry on top would be knowing if it’s been tampered with – at this strength we can reliably assume it’s non-chill filtered, but with no official word from Nikka I have to assume it’s got bucketloads of caramel colouring. Nevertheless, let’s dive in:
As expected, Nikka From The Barrel delivers a cask-strength punch right in the olfactories. Smells older than it probably is and slightly grainy – but expertly blended. Nutty (almonds?), dark chocolate and a little smoke. Right at the back you’ll find cinnamon, fruit (apples, bananas) and a faintly floral earthiness.
One of those “uncontrolled smile” moments! This is deep and rich, incredibly complex. I found myself automatically closing my eyes when taking a sip, presumably my brain trying to avoid sensory overload. Unlike the smell, it took a while to find individual flavours – a characteristic I find common in older blends (Johnnie Walker’s 18s, Chivas, some Compass box blends). But most prominently: citrus, spices and smoke, with the cinnamon and fruit carrying through from the nose. The only downside might be a feisty, young sharpness. But I’m not complaining! The finish is bitter (bordering on overpowering) but rescued by a pleasant sherbet taste on the palate.
Now you CAN of course add a hefty amount of water to this 51.4% ABV little beauty without fear of dragging it under. That being said, trying it in various configurations (from a few drops to a few teaspoons to a few blocks of ice) I found much of the balance and complexity was lost when adding water. Yes, the individual flavours are easier to pick out. And yes, it makes it a much easier whisky to drink. But Nikka From The Barrel is perfect straight From the Teeny-Tiny Bottle.
Despite the little bottle’s high price it has a prominent spot on my permanent To-Buy list. A brilliant whisky, to be drunk slowly and appreciated while its high ABV creeps up on you and renders you incapable of driving. Better drink it at home! Home is also a more controlled environment, where you can better resist having to share it with anyone.