The enigma that is the Pure Malt range from Nikka. What is in this whisky? It’s a secret and it epitomizes the Japanese philosophy on whisky production. There’s a bit more experimentation with blending, there’s a bit more hidden behind the label, there is a lack of sharing with others but a willingness to acquire Scottish gold. I’ll attempt to disperse a bit of the fog surrounding this particular expression as well as the line it comes from.
Nikka Pure Malt Black is probably the most widely available and commonly encountered expression from the Pure Malt range. The labeling of pure malt indicates that only malt whisky was used to produce these expressions. However, there may be a bit of a caveat to this since Nikka may have used their Coffey malt (using only malt but distilled in Coffey stills instead of pot stills). Under the Scotch Whisky Associations rules this would be called grain whisky. However, the use of the term Pure Malt is also forbidden for Scottish whiskies, which must use the term blended malt instead.
If you think that is confusing, get ready to fall deeper into this rabbit hole. While attending the Evening with the Blenders event at the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh, I spoke to the Master Blender for Nikka, Tadashi Sakuma. I asked him about the rumours that Scottish whisky was used in the Pure Malt series. He grinned slightly and nodded his head, then told me he could not say which ones. Seeing as how Nikka own Ben Nevis distillery, I think it is likely that they used whisky from Ben Nevis, however, by not telling me which distilleries were included he seemed to hint that there were more. Indeed the rumours suggest that the Pure Malt White expression contains a bit of Islay whiskies. How Nikka acquired these whiskies is truly perplexing and I can only assume they traded Ben Nevis spirit for it.
Anyway, enough of this whisky riddle, let’s talk about something more substantiated. There are three expressions in the Pure Malt series: Black, White, and Red. White is supposed to be the peaty one hence the rumours of Islay whiskies. Red is supposed to be the soft and easy drinking one. While Black lies somewhere in between perhaps representing the most balanced of the range. It’s hard not to see some like-ness in branding to the Johnnie Walker range but other than using colours and a sort of fuzzy matching of flavour profiles, these are a different type of whisky all together.
Type: Blend of malt whiskies but may not comply with Scottish standards for this category.
Distillery: Blend of whisky from Nikka owned malt distilleries. May contain whisky from Ben Nevis Distillery. Rumoured to also contain whisky from other Scottish distilleries. May also contain Coffey malt whisky from their Miyagikyo Coffey stills.
Cask: Unknown but most likely a blend of ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks
Canned peaches and pears. Cool menthol smoke. White grapes.
Fruit Syrup, vanilla, caramel, hint of peat, light red hot chili pepper candies. German Plum pastries. Cinnamon, anise. A bit spicy. Rich oak tartness.
Rich fruit Syrup and oak twang. Bit of smoke and slight herbal notes like a Chinese medicine shop.
A very well balanced dram. I feels like the blender really meticulously thought about how all the flavours should delicately go together. It feels old timey for some reason. It reminds me of some Whiskies I’ve had from bottlings in the 70s. While it’s quite a nice dram, I wanted just a bit more of something different. Something new. This feels really classic which is nice but that also means that it’s lacking that modern pizazz. Would definitely drink it anytime though. Seems fitting for any occasion.
Sweet syrup and citrus. Rhubarb and strawberry pie.
Fresh berries and vanilla icecream. Lingering oak notes.
The wood notes move to an astringent Bitter-sweet finish.
Really nice marriage between spirit and cask. Delightful dram!