Showing posts with label Japan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Japan. Show all posts

Monday, July 12, 2021

Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky Review & Tasting Notes


Japanese whisky is an interesting category. Until very recently (meaning 2021), Japanese whisky could be pretty much anything. It just has to be sourced and bottled in Japan. The result was many brands were simply blending and bottling whiskies from other countries and slapping a label on them.

This year, the regulations changed. To be considered a Japanese whisky, it must be:

  • Malted from grains as the initial material, but additional grains can be added later
  • The water used in the entire process must be from Japan
  • The whisky must be mashed, fermented, and distilled in a Japanese distillery
  • 95% or less ABV
  • Stored in wooden barrels of no more than 700 liters for at least three years
  • Must be bottled at no less than 40% ABV
  • E150 caramel coloring is allowed

That takes care of many Japanese whisky brands. Nikka is one of the few brands that have consistently distilled, aged, and bottled in Japan. 

Today I'm reviewing Nikka Coffey Grain, which is a Japanese whisky created at the Miyagikyo Distillery. If you're looking at that name and thinking that coffee has something to do with it, you'd have guessed wrong. Coffey refers to the type of still used in the distillation process. The Coffey still was invented in 1830 by an engineer named Aenus Coffey. The Coffey still is a pot still that runs continuously versus batch distillation.

Nikka Coffey Grain starts with a mashbill of 95% corn and 5% malted barley. It carries no age statement, is packaged at 90° (45% ABV), and retails for about $64.99. It can sometimes be difficult to find but is not allocated and is available throughout the United States.

So, is it any good? The only way to know for sure is to #DrinkCurious.  For the record, I purchased my bottle back in 2019.

Appearance:  Served neat in my Glencairn glass, Coffey Grain was brilliant gold in color. It made a thin rim and heavy, watery legs that fell back into the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose:  Considering the mashbill, I was unsurprised when corn was the first thing I encountered. I found aromas of dried hay, caramel, and apples as well. When I took the vapor into my mouth, honey danced across my tongue.

Palate:  The mouthfeel was thick, full, and rich. It coated everywhere. Chocolate and English toffee were on the front, then on the middle, honey and caramel apple took over. The back offered smoked oak, clove, and creamy vanilla. 

Finish:  Medium-to-long in duration, the finish highlighted barrel char, oak, corn, and vanilla. It seemed well-balanced.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust: If you love Bourbon but want to explore things beyond the United States, Nikka Coffey Grain is an interesting alternative. You get many of the typical flavors you'll find in Bourbon, including the charred oak. The mouthfeel is luscious and gives the whole experience a lovely start. It may be a tad expensive for some, but in the end, I believe you'll find it a good investment. I crown Nikka Coffey Grain with a Bottle rating. Cheers!

My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System
  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It

Whiskeyfellow encourages you to enjoy your whiskey as you see fit but begs you do so responsibly.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Beginner's Guide to Whiskey Review

Sam Green holds the honor of being the first person to earn the title of Whiskey Sommelier in Southern California. Despite that, he's not spent decades dealing with whiskey. After all, he's only in his late twenties. But, don't let his age fool you - Sam is passionate about whiskey and spent his entire adult life studying it.  

As always, I'm big into disclosure. I've known Sam for a couple of years. We've never met face-to-face but we do converse from time to time. The circle of whiskey writers is smaller than you'd think and we tend to know one another. Saying all of that, friendships are irrelevant when it comes to my composing reviews. It is my reputation on the line, and for me, my reputation is everything.

Shortly after publishing my most recent book review, Sam approached me and asked if I'd be interested in reviewing his brand new book, Beginner's Guide to Whiskey: Traditions, Types & Tastes of the Ultimate Spirit. Like I tell everyone, I'm always interested in reviewing anything whiskey-related, so long as the person making the request is prepared for me to write an honest review. Sam agreed, and he sent me a copy of his book. 

With that, the necessary disclosure is done.

You can get your own copy from Amazon. It is a shorter read at 144 pages and will set you back $14.99. It is a smaller paperback and the font size is large enough to see without eye strain. There is a Kindle edition available as well for $9.99.  Spending $15 on a book isn't much, but what matters is, is it any good?

Here's the thing. I'm far from a beginner. I've been reading and writing about whiskey for several years. I was curious if this book would be interesting or bore me to tears. 

Sam's book is divided intuitively. It starts with a brief history of whiskey. He then talks about how whiskey is made, with the first half dealing with grain and fermentation, and the second with distillation, aging, and finishing. He then talks about the major whiskey categories:  Scotch, Irish, American, Canadian, and Japanese. Then, he finishes with proper nosing and tasting methods and pairing whiskey with food. There are a few cocktail recipes as well.

This is a primer for beginners. Sam does a good job of writing at a level where things are easy to understand without treating the reader like an idiot. That's much more difficult than you can imagine and, as someone who writes educational pieces myself, I know it requires rewrites and revisions as you wonder if it is insulting or over someone's head. At the same time, as an experienced reader, it flows easily and naturally.

He even managed to teach me a new way to explain Bourbon with his ABC's of Bourbon. I've never seen it put together like that but it made a ton of sense. 

The font used was the proper size and offered no eye strain. 

Bottle, Bar or BustI appreciate non-fiction books written in a conversational tone rather than instructional. I believe that's because I write similarly. I also find it to be a more effective writing style than the latter. If you write the way people talk, the flow is better and the mind is open.

If I was I a whiskey newbie or at least someone fresh to learning whiskey basics, Beginner's Guide to Whiskey is a very easy read. I finished it in three fairly short sessions. I don't fathom anyone is going to finish it and remain confused. Sam touches on all the important points and I was left with the impression someone will walk away with newfound, useful knowledge, able to communicate with experienced whiskey connoisseurs without feeling left out of the conversation. As such, I believe Sam accomplished his mission, and happily hand over my Bottle rating.  Cheers!

My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System:
  • Bottle = Buy it
  • Bar = Try it first
  • Bust = Leave it

Thursday, February 13, 2020

About Last Night...

Last night I hosted a massive whiskey event at Cask & Ale in Madison. When I say massive, I'm not fooling around:  48 different whiskeys were poured!

Now, I know what you're thinking... how could I be that irresponsible? Well, it isn't quite what you may be thinking. The 48 whiskeys were broken down into four flights of twelve half-ounce pours. Guests chose which of the four that appealed to them the most, both by what was offered and how it affected their wallets.

This was set up as a World Whiskey Tasting.  I love doing these in particular because, even for experienced whiskey drinkers, it offers guests an opportunity to stumble across something different and to #DrinkCurious. We had selections of Irish whiskey, Bourbon, American Rye, American whiskey, Japanese, French, and Indian whiskies, and then, to wrap things up, Scotch. The four flights went along the same lines to keep things logical and have various people at the same table relate to what someone else was enjoying.

As guests were enjoying their pours, I provided some historical trivia as well as background information on the various categories. There were a ton of questions for me to answer, which is one of my favorite aspects of these events. I love sharing knowledge and watching folks have an ah-ha! moment as they figure things out on their own. 

The three most-talked-about pours were Jack Daniel's Heritage Single Barrel, Brenne 10, and Stranahan's Diamond Peak. Folks who had Old No. 7 stuck in their minds were blown away by the Heritage Single Barrel and its night-and-day difference. The Brenne 10 was unusual as most guests never even knew French whisky was a thing. Finally, Diamond Peak opened up the eyes of those who had no idea how diverse American whiskey could be.

When all was said and done, everyone suggested they had a great time and many were asking about future whiskey tastings. 

To everyone who came out and braved the weather, thank you so much for attending!  Thank you, Cask & Ale, for partnering with me. And, for those of you who are curious, be on the lookout for future events so you can learn, laugh and enjoy great whiskey. Cheers!

Friday, November 15, 2019

Fukano Whisky Vault Reserve #1 Review & Tasting Notes

And then, sometimes something damned unusual just falls in your lap...

I've enjoyed discovering Japanese whiskies lately. It is an interesting category because there can be an almost level of perfection that goes into their single malts, but then there is the whole, Who really distilled this? factor. Many times, Japanese whiskies aren't even Japanese.  They can be distilled in Scotland (Canada is also a common source) and simply shipped over to Japan. It doesn't even have to be aged there! You see, Japan has the same issue that India has:  There really are no rules and it is a complete free-for-all.

On the other side of the coin, you have several legitimate distillers where everything is sourced, distilled and aged in Japan.  One such example is Fukano Distillery, located in Hitoyoshi City. This distillery was founded in 1823 and utilizes a pot still instead of a more efficient, higher capacity Coffey (column) still. They also use both malted and unmalted rice instead of barley as the mash. Fukano can also be considered a craft distiller of sorts. Everything they distill is barreled in only a handful of casks and each expression is different from the next, with the goal of Shigeruriku Fukano to never repeat them.

I have some amazing friends in the liquor business who are kind enough to let me sample their products. Good or bad, I'm always thankful for the opportunity. In this case, one of those friends let me try Fukano Vault Reserve #1. With this release, Fukano's mash came from polished rice. Polished rice is another term for white rice, where the outer, brown husk has been removed and stripped of much of its nutrients. It is also more difficult to distill. It is bottled at 40.5% ABV (or 91°), comes with a screw top closure, and retails for about $74.99.  There is no age statement, but it is a blend of whiskies ranging from three to eleven years old. 

I've given quite a bit of background, and as you and I know, all of that is really nice but the important question is how does it taste?  Let's get on with the show, shall we?

In my Glencairn glass, Vault Reserve #1 appears as a bright gold. It created a thin rim that left fat legs to race back to the pool of liquid sunshine. 

The first aromas to hit my nose were sherry and orchard fruits. But beneath those were a combination of toffee, caramel, and oak. When I inhaled through my lips, it was very starchy, exactly what you'd expect from white rice. 

The mouthfeel was very thick and coated my entire mouth. Dark cherries and plums danced across the front of my palate. Then, those fruits took on a chocolate coating mid-palate. On the back, there was a slightly astringent quality reminiscent of many Scotches. All of this led to a very long finish of oak and light spice.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  Fukano Vault Reserve #1 is absolutely different. I've never had a rice whisky before (or at least not that I'm aware of) and I was shocked as to what flavors were produced. This was a very enjoyable experience and in the realm of Japanese (including pseudo-Japanese) whiskies, $75 isn't out of line. As such, this one grabs my coveted Bottle rating.  Cheers!