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Cigar Spirits: Nikka From The Barrel

17 Jul 2019

Bubble. Boom. Whatever you want to call it, whiskey has been on the upswing for years. And, recently, Japanese whiskey in particular has been a victim of the realities of supply and demand.

Some combination of branding, style, distribution, and long-overdue recognition has catapulted Japanese whiskey from an oddity to a sought-after luxury in recent years. That culminated last year when Nikka From the Barrel was designated 2018 Whiskey of the Year by Whiskey Advocate.

The 51.4% ABV spirit demonstrates many of the mysteries and anomalies of Japanese whiskey. The blended whiskey is produced by Nikka Whisky Distilling, but few details are available beyond that.

While all Japanese whiskey meets the legal definition of whiskey (distilled malt or grain aged in oak barrels), the fact is there are few requirements beyond some step in the process taking place in Japan. Japanese whiskey can be single malt, grain whiskey, or a blend, and it can even be aged or distilled in Japan or elsewhere. (Yes, that Japanese whiskey you are drinking may have started in Canada, Ireland, or Scotland.)

In short, it’s the wild west (or perhaps wild far east) of whiskey. The reputation of what’s in the bottle is far more dependent on the label than the region or Japanese designation. With supplies of Japanese-distilled whiskey dwindling, there is every reason for consumers to be skeptical of that new Japanese whiskey you come across.

However, Nikka From The Barrel doesn’t suffer any lack of reputation or pedigree, as detailed in Whiskey Advocate‘s write-up: “In 1985, Nikka Whisky Distilling Company’s blending team, led by Shigeo Sato, designed this whisky using both malt and grain whiskies produced at Nikka’s Yoichi and Miyagikyo Distilleries. When taking into account the full array of casks—bourbon barrels, sherry butts, refill hogsheads, and more—over 100 different constituent whiskies are enlisted.”

The result is an amber whiskey with a rich nose full of sherry and bourbon-y vanilla with hints of hints of seaweed and sulphur. On the palate you’ll find a balanced, complex combination of flavors with ginger, stonefruit, oak, tobacco, and red fruit. The finish is clean and balanced with lingering ginger and light wood spice.

It is without a doubt an enjoyable whiskey, and the price ($80) isn’t unwarranted given the hype of Japanese whiskey (though, at that price, there are quite a few scotch single malts I’d prefer). With this bottle being increasingly hard to find, you certainly shouldn’t be eager to pay more than that suggested retail price.

Pair it with a medium-bodied or even mild cigar if you want to appreciate all the nuanced flavors that Nikka From The Barrel can reveal. Some suggestions include: Aging Room Bin No. 1 B Minor, Cabaiguan, Cohiba Siglo, Illusione Epernay, Paul Garmirian Gourmet, and Warped Futuro.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

3 Responses to “Cigar Spirits: Nikka From The Barrel”

  1. Cigar Seeker Wednesday, July 17, 2019 at 5:11 am #

    “While all Japanese whiskey is produced in whiskey”

    Sorry, but what does this mean? Sounds to me like “whiskey is whiskey.”

    • The Stogie Guys Wednesday, July 17, 2019 at 7:51 am #

      It was a typo, but you are in effect correct. While Scotch, bourbon and most other types of whiskey have additional legal restrictions (such as on how long it most be aged, where it must be aged/distilled, types of barrels used) Japanese whiskey has none beyond just meeting the most basic legal definition of whisk(e)y.

      Check out this article (also linked in the piece) for more:

  2. Saturday, August 3, 2019 at 8:14 am #

    Try a few cigars. Start with more accessible, milder sticks—like the popular Macanudo Hyde Park and the great Gisbert Corona. Then slowly move on to stronger cigars, until you discover the flavor profile you enjoy most.