If my two trips to Japan have taught me anything, it’s that minimalistic refinement is easy to come by there. Simple fish and rice combine to make luxuriant sushi. Michelin star restaurants simply festooned with light wood. Light and pleasent muzak playing on the public transit. This extends to Japanese whisky, where you’re way more likely to encounter a light, subtle, sweet whisky than you are a cask strength heavy-hitter. But, in the same way the classic Japanese minimalism coexists with flashing neon and towering Kaiju, so to does their whisky, and nowhere is this more apparent than the Nikka Whisky Miyagikyo Single Malt.

We had the pleasure of touring the original Nikka Distillery on our last trip, and one thing that struck me was the absolute dedication to tradition (right down to heating the copper stills with actual coal). But that tradition didn’t originate in Japan — the founder of Nikka, Masataka Taketsuru, lived and trained in distillery in Scotland. And much of the 100+ years of Nikka consistency pulls from the birthplace of Scotch. This, I believe, is preceisely what makes many Nikka whiskies so interesting, including the Miyagikyo.

Of all the whiskies we tried at Nikka (and there were a few) the one I enjoyed the most and picked to return home was the Miyagikyo, and it was by a wide margin. Here’s why:

Nikka Whisky Miyagikyo Single Malt Review

I just want to shout out the simple branding of many Japanese whiskies. You can basically determine the price of a bottle by measuring it on a scale of gaudy to minimalistic. The less is going on, the better the whisky (usually). And as for the age statement? Nothing at all going on, with Nikka sticking to its NAS guns.

Once I finished the satisfaction of looking at Miyagikyo, it was time to pour. A sniff tells you a few things: One, this whisky has seen some peat, and not just a kiss of it. Think more like a Talisker than a Lagavulin, but this is definiely for the smoke heads. Two: deeeeefinitely sherry casks were involved in the aging process. The nose had some tropical fruit vibes going on beneath the fumes, as well as some aniseed notes (I kept thinking Tarragon).

The sip has even more going on. Bunch of baking spices come right out of the gate, with a cinnamon and ginger kind of faux spiciness setting the stage. Then there’s a rich sweetness carried on the back of a nice, viscous body. The smoke joins the party and everyone mingles politely, before the finish which is extremely long, smoky, and the spices fading away into a pleasent roud nuttiness.

If that sounded like Christmas Eve in a bottle, that’s because it kind of is (note at those present shopping for whisky lovers in December). And it was complex, robust, and interesting without sacrificing refinement. Definitely a dram worth tracking down and sipping slow, regardless of the season.


Final Verdict

Nikka Whisky Miyagikyo brings a lot of character without losing its classic Japanese refinement.