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Nikka Yoichi NAS Single Malt Review

Distiller: Nikka/Yoichi. ABV: 45%. No age statement. Price: 1,700 yen/$16 (500 ml)

No self-respecting North American whisk(e)y fan will miss the chance to try something new from Japan these days. Granted, that’s exactly the attitude that led to a worldwide shortage of Japanese whisky–to the point where the two giants of Japanese distilling, Suntory and Nikka, are swapping out many of their beloved age-statement whiskies for no-age-statement (NAS) substitutes.

The trend isn’t exclusive to Japanese whisky, of course–the same thing’s happening all over the world of bourbon and scotch. I’m not against the NAS trend per se. NAS whiskies have to be evaluated case-by-case for taste and value. It’s important to call out overpriced and overhyped BS. But I also try to avoid the grumpy-old-man grumbling of certain folks who rightly miss the days of 21-year-old single malts and Pappy and Buffalo Trace Antique Collection gathering dust in liquor stores at sub-$100 prices–but sometimes seem to be complaining that the party’s gotten too big to be cool anymore.

On to the new Yoichi. My chance to try this and several other new Japanese NAS releases came when some relatives attended a destination wedding in Tokyo. They were kind enough to lug half a suitcase’s worth of bottles back for me.

The Yoichi Distillery is one of Nikka’s two malt distilleries. It uses imported Scottish peat, and distills on old-school coal-fired stills. Nikka formerly sold 10-year-old to 20-year-old Yoichi, but has discontinued them all in favor of this 45% ABV NAS.

So what’s in the bottle? The nose has stewed apple, pear, and buttery shortbread. There’s just a subtle whiff of white smoke at first–think Benromach 10–but it evolves in the glass, expands, and merges with a pleasant spiciness. The spice expands further on the palate: ground ginger, nutmeg, and fresh cut vanilla bean. There’s a touch of rawness in the spirit from a fresh bottle, but it quickly dissipates in the glass, and is gone for good by the second dram. Late on the palate there’s vanilla toffee and sweet oily smoke, then the finish adds lemon pith and Chardonnay barrel.

Very satisfying, and an amazing value at under $20 for a 500ml bottle–if you’re visiting Japan. This has reached the EU and Scandanavia, but we’re still waiting for it here in the U.S.

Another fine NAS from Nikka. Now when can we get some Stateside without shaking down our world-traveler friends? – BO