The hot topic in the whisky industry at the moment is Asian whisky, so we thought it was high time for us to look again at this exciting region. So on Friday 28th April 2017 we welcomed Stefanie Holt of Speciality Brands to give us all the details on whiskies from Japan, Taiwan and India.
Japan – Nikka
Stefanie’s company are the UK importers for Nikka of Japan. There are two large distillers in Japan, Suntory and Nikka. Both of these companies owe their early success to the same man, Masataka Taketsuru, who in 1918 studied at Glasgow University and worked at Hazelburn distillery in Campbeltown and Longmorn on Speyside and learnt the art of distilling how the Scots do it. He also married a Glasgow lass, a war widow, Rita Cowan. On his return to Japan, Masataka now a distiller and passionate about Scotch and Scotland, worked for the company which grew into Suntory, and opened Japan’s first Malt Whisky Distillery, Yamazaki in 1923. When his contract finished in 1934 Masataka decided to go into business for himself. Like many Scottish distillers he decided the environment was very important to the quality so he moved North to Hokkaido, the north island of Japan where the climate is more like Scotland and opened Yoichi Distillery. This was the birth of the Nikka Company. In 1969 he founded Nikka’s other distillery Miyaikyo.
In Japan they tend to vary the way they set up the distilleries in order to get different styles of spirit from the same distillery. Nikka has 4 different peating levels, 7 yeast types, many different fermentation and distilling styles, and an infinite number of maturation styles. This means that they have a lot of very different whiskies, which is what they require as in Japan it’s all about the blend. When they prepare any bottling they use casks originating in either distillery whether they are using just malt whisky or a malt and grain.
Nikka Coffey Malt – 45% – This whisky is made on a Coffey Still, named after Angus Coffey who perfected, rather than invented it. This type of still (the one they use is from Glasgow) is usually used for making grain whisky, however Nikka have used malted Barley. This type of still makes a light gentle style of spirit, they have matured it in re-used American Oak casks that have held either Bourbon or other Japanese whisky. The outcome is a very light gentle, yet flavoursome dram.
Nikka Pure Black – 43% – Using casks from both distilleries, this whisky is a good solid peaty whisky. Yoichi distillery is the main producer of the peaty spirit so I suspect that it is heavy on whisky from this distillery. It has a lot of the flavour you expect from Islay, but there is a subtle difference, aromatic maybe, which gives it its own Japanese style. Buy
Taiwan – Yuan Shan Distillery – Kavalan Single Malt
The Taiwanese have no time for blends, for them it’s the individuality of Single Malt Whisky they crave, particularly Scottish. Up until 2002 all alcohol production in Taiwan was run by the Government. However in 2002 Taiwan joined the World Trade Organisation, which meant that the Government had to let others make alcohol. So in 2005 the owner of one of the largest companies in Taiwan, the King Car Company, founded the first Taiwanese Distillery – Yuan Shan – the single malt whisky is called Kavalan. With the help of the late Dr Jim Swan, a veteran Scottish distiller, the distillery was completed in 9 months. They only use the very best ingredients, barley from Scandinavia and Scotland, and new oak, as well as ex-sherry casks. Due to the high temperatures and humidity in Taiwan the whisky matures very quickly so it reaches its peak at four and a half to severn years old, the evaporation is 12-16% per year. They have been experimenting with wetting the flour which reduces the loss to 10-12%. Still very hungry Angels (the evaporation is known as the Angels Share).
Kavalan Classic – 40% – This expression is very well crafted – lots of tropical fruity flavour, I found pineapple, oranges, lemon and even coconut (very surprising as I don’t usually like coconut).
Kavalan Port Cask Finish – 40% – Again there was tropical fruit, but with that, berry rich flavours you get with a port finish. Heavier and longer finish.
Kavalan Sherry Oak – 46% – This expression was from a single sherry cask – fruit cake, raisin, sultanas, and dates.
Indian – Amrut
Whisky was made in India for the British during the Raj. They have continued to make whisky, as well as other spirits, not least because of the high tariffs on imported alcohol. A lot of what is called “whisky” in India would not be considered whisky in Europe, it can contain different ingredients including molasses or sugar. Indian whisky which is sold in this country is of the more refined variety. Amrut Distillery dates back to 1948, but they started making whisky in the 1980’s. They are based in Bangalore, quite high up so a little cooler and better for making whisky. Unlike the Japanese and Taiwanese they are very keen on using Indian ingredients, the barley, grown up in the Punjab, is six row smaller grain than we tend to use, which gives more flavour. They suffer with the same difficulties with high evaporation as Kavalan.
Amrut – 46% – a good round bodied malty dram.
Amrut Fusion – 50% – this is a “fusion” of Scottish and Indian Barley. 80% Indian Barley and 20% peated Scottish barley. They would have liked to use Indian peated barley but Indian peat is not suitable for smoking the malt. The spirit is matured in American oak ex-bourbon casks which lets the lightly peaty flavour shine through.
The best thing, from my point of view, about this tasting was that the whiskies had their own personalities, the three countries have their own style. I enjoyed drinking Indian, Taiwanese and Japanese whiskies, rather than Scotch made in these countries. Our great thanks goes to Stefanie for sharing with us. Buy Amrut