Yoichi Non-Peated vs Miyagikyo Peated (Discovery Series)

In this tasting, I am looking at two rare expressions from the Nikka Discovery Series, 2021 Release. Both of these single malts come from distilleries owned by Nikka, which share a pretty complicated history of Japanese whisky-making. In fact, the more I tried to follow its various branching and somewhat friendly rivalry, the more I kept getting lost among all of its twists and turns. Not to mention the pretty loose definition of a recently overhauled regulation of what classifies as an authentic “Japanese whisky”. All this, while sipping on these two single malts, side by side, during the tasting at Milroy‘s in London Soho), and trying to keep up with the fascinating story. So let’s see where we land, but first, we need music! Now playing: bvdub – Violet Opposition.

Nikka’s history begins with its founder, Masataka Taketsuru, who is also credited with the birth of Japanese whisky. You can read all about him on Wikipedia or check out his story along with the timeline of Nikka whisky. In summary, after bringing the art of whisky-making from Scotland to Japan and partnering with Suntory to launch the Yamazaki distillery, Taketsuru split away and became an independent distiller by opening Yoichi in Hokkaidō in 1934. Since then, Taketsuru has focused on following the most traditional practices to make his ideal whisky under the name NIKKA. There are about nine different brands under the Nikka label, but only two Japanese distilleries (plus the Scottish Ben Nevis, which Nikka also owns). This Yoichi Non-Peated single malt is an “inverted” expression of the traditionally peated whisky from this first distillery opened by Taketsuru. This is incredibly aromatic, almost like a green meadow, full of dandelions and blooming clovers. A warm breeze brings some saltiness from the coast. Notes of citrus and fresh apple arrive on the palate with a lovely 47% ABV. It’s non-chill filtered (I don’t know about added colouring) and is a non-age statement single malt. Since this expression is part of the explorative Discovery Series for 2021, it’s already challenging to find this bottle on the market, even for its current price of £300.

For his second distillery, Masataka Taketsuru chose a valley in the Miyagi prefecture. “He aimed to make a complete contrast between the two distilleries, Miyagikyo and Yoichi, with different natural environments and production methods.” The pot stills are much larger at Miyagikyo, and this is also where he used the continuous Coffey stills to create grain whisky (see the Nikka Coffey brand). As you may have already guessed, the peated version of the Miyagikyo is the inverse of this distillery’s staple single malt. Here, the traditional image of Miyagikyo’s floral and fruity notes is cradled with a beautiful blanket of sweet and gentle smoke. It’s got a charming character, and it’s slightly unfair to compare side by side with the Yoichi since the peatiness is so fantastic and distinct. This expression is crafted solely from batches of peated malt [I’m not sure what type of wood it was aged in], and [just like the Yoichi] it meets all of the criteria of “Japanese whisky” as defined by the Japan Spirits & Liqueur Makers Association – so here’s your chance to experience its first official batch. It’s also difficult to find at its price of £300 and a slightly higher ABV of 48%. Like the Yoichi, it is non-chill filtered [probably with colour] and does not state the age of the single malt. In my tasting, I keep going back and forth between the two bottles but I must admit even before the conclusion of this writeup that the peated version simply takes away the prize. Is it because I’m partial to the peat? I think so!

So there you have it, folks. An easy choice [for me] to make between the two “experiments.” I think there’s only one last thing I want to say here. This is a very limited release of a Japanese single malt, bottled during the very first year of the new regulation. A good investment opportunity for those willing to hold on to the bottle for some time. And yes, I’m grabbing two of each for this purpose. You make your own decision, but I’ll finally proclaim that Miyagikyo Peated wins this round.

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