Tag Archives: 21yo

Storas 21 Year Old Blended Scotch – William Grant & Sons Rare Cask Reserves

William Grant and Sons is an independent, family-owned Scottish spirits company that controls a number of scotch whisky distilleries. The company was established in 1887, and is currently run by descendants of the founder, William Grant.  Indeed, it is the largest of the independent Scottish whisky businesses still owned and operated by a  founding family (i.e., most of the other distillers are owned by large, international spirit conglomerates).

Their core scotch malt whisky brands are Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie. They also own the grain distiller Girvan, used for a number of popular scotch blends (presumably including the eponymous “Grant’s” blended whisky line). They also own a number of international brands, including Tullamore Dew in Ireland, and Gibson’s in Canada.

W. Grant & Sons has a lot of experience in scotch whisky distilling and blending.  As part of their Rare Cask Reserves series, they have released a number of specific blends (e.g., Ghosted Reserve, Cruinnich).  The LCBO here in Canada received one of these, the 21 year old Stòras (Gaelic for resource – or more simply, store). Only 4,600 bottles of this blended whisky were produced (exclusively for LCBO, as far as I know). It is labelled as batch 15/0408, selected on 13.03.2015, and bottled at 46% ABV.

The LCBO is currently out of inventory, but I managed to pick up a bottle when they were heavily discounted. I thought it would be worthwhile reviewing anyway, as it may give you an idea of what to expect from other Rare Cask Reserves whiskies in the future. A tasting sample also comes from Redditor WDMC-905.

Here’s how some of the core William Grant & Sons scotches fare in my database:

Balvenie 17yo Doublewood: 8.72 ± 0.24 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Balvenie 21yo Port Wood: 8.73 ± 0.39 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenfiddich 18yo: 8.55 ± 0.40 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenfiddich 19yo Age of Discovery (Bourbon Cask): 8.74 ± 0.31 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenfiddich 19yo Age of Discovery (Madeira Cask): 8.33 ± 0.43 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenfiddich 21yo Gran Reserva: 8.66 ± 0.34 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Grant’s Blended Sherry Cask: 8.00 ± 0.21 on 5 reviews ($)
Grant’s Family Reserve Blended: 7.61 ± 0.63 on 13 reviews ($)
Kininvie 17yo: 8.82 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kininvie 23yo: 8.62 ± 0.29 on 7 reviews ($$$$$+)
Monkey Shoulder 8.29: ± 0.41 on 16 reviews ($$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass for the Storas 21 yo blended scotch:

Nose: Sweet, with lighter fruits (green apple, pear, and plum) and some golden raisins and sultanas. Grape nuts. A good amount of vanilla. Something a bit dusty, like dried barley. Some classic grain notes come through as well, along with a bit of smoke. No solvent smells or off-notes. Definitely seems somewhat Glenfiddich-like overall, but with a touch of a sherry cask finishing.

Palate: Sweet, but tends more toward the dried fruits than fresh ones. More spicy kick than I was expecting, with cinnamon and cloves leading the way. Caramel joins the vanilla, plus some milk chocolate. A bit more oaky now, reminiscent of some common Balvenie editions. Smooth mouthfeel, great balance with the grain. Easy drinking, and perfectly sippable – a good blend, tangy and tasty.

Finish: Medium length. The oaky bitterness builds a little, but its well balanced to the dominant sweet caramel/vanilla.  No new notes here – just a slow fade of the light fruitiness.  Actually pretty decent.

storas-21Not an overly complex whisky, but easily sippable.  The nose doesn’t really do justice to the caramel/vanilla backbone that dominates the palate and finish. I suppose you could say it blends some of the best characteristics of Glenfiddich and Balvenie. Overall, it also reminds me of some of the similarly aged vintage Glenrothes. Perhaps a bit overpriced at the original $190 CAD, but a good deal at the current $90 CAD clearance price, if you ask me.

Personally, I’d give it a 8.7 on my calibrated Meta-Critic rating scale. The only review I’ve seen online from among my Meta-Critic database of reviewers is Devoz on Reddit.  Properly normalized, his score comes to basically the same as mine (8.69).  It is difficult to draw conclusions from just two reviewers, but that average 8.7 score from the two of us puts it very well in-line with the the single malt offerings of comparable age from Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie described above. May be worth keeping your eye out for other Rare Cask Reserves in the future!

 

 

Redbreast 21 Year Old

The oldest member of the Redbreast family, this 21 year old expression is currently the highest ranking Irish whisky in my Meta-Critic database.

As I previously introduced in my review of the popular Redbreast 12 year old, the classic Irish pot still style involves a mix of malted and unmalted barley that is triple-distilled in single large copper pot stills. This method introduces a distinctive sticky mouthfeel in the whisky (sometimes referred to as “greasiness”), while still producing great malt complexity.

Like others of the line, Redbreast 21 yo is matured in a mixture of ex-bourbon barrels and first-fill oloroso casks, resulting in a complex whiskey. Jim Murray has just declared the 21yo his Irish whiskey of the year in the 2017 edition of his popular “whisky bible”.

So I thought it was time to crack open my bottle and give it a proper review here. It retails for $250 CAD at the LCBO, and is bottled at 46% ABV.

Here is how it compares to other highly-ranked Irish whiskies in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Bushmills 16yo Single Malt: 8.48 ± 0.49 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Bushmills 21yo Single Malt: 8.92 ± 0.35 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Knappogue Castle 16yo Twin Wood: 8.77 ± 0.47 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Midleton Dair Ghaelach: 9.10 ± 0.32 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Very Rare Irish Whiskey: 8.78 ± 0.50 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Powers 12yo John’s Lane: 8.82 ± 0.41 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.77 ± 0.42 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 12yo Cask Strength: 9.01 ± 0.32 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 15yo: 8.72 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 21yo: 9.20 ± 0.35 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Teeling Silver Reserve 21yo Sauternes Finish: 8.89 ± 0.36 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)

While I discourage directly comparing scores across different classes of whiskies, the Redbreast 21 yo does rank in the top 20 of the >900 whiskies tracked on my site.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, with tropical fruits (pineapple, mango, and guava) and lighter fruits (pear, golden delicious apple). Faint hints of concentrated fruits, like prunes and sultanas.  More tropical than I remember the 12yo being. Fair amount of honey. Wood spice and a bit of vanilla (but surprisingly not overly oaky). Peanuts. A touch of eucalyptus and some heather.  More alcohol singe than expected for the low ABV, but no real solvent smells.

Palate: Rich fruits, tending more towards plums and prunes now. Brown sugar joins the vanilla, and gives it a fudge-like taste and mouth feel (very rich and creamy). Eucalyptus even more noticeable now, as are the spices, with black pepper joining the wood spices (cinnamon and cloves in particular). Some crushed coconut adds to the nutty effect. The woodiness is also enhanced now, but still not overwhelming. The heather notes pick up as well. There’s relatively little burn here, although the spicy kick can linger.

Finish: Long. Juicy fruits linger the longest, with a cola taste and some sweet honey. Spiciness contributes to a mild burn (which is pleasurable).  No real bitterness from the wood, which is very impressive for the age. Leaves a sticky residue on the lips and gums (which is a classic single pot still characteristic).

rebreast-21As expected, this is an amped-up experience from the 12 yo – although it hits many of the same notes.  The extra time in wood has helped mellow some of the harsher characteristics still present in the 12 yo, and enhances the “tropical” and sweet notes. The slow burn of spices at the end of the finish is also in keeping with its ripe old age, but surprisingly it has avoided being “over-oaked” and bitter.

I agree with the critics – this is a top-notch Irish pot still whisky. Aside from Jim Murray’s top score, Josh of the Whiskey Jug and Dominic of Whisky Advocate both rave about this whisky. Similarly, Oliver of Dramming/Pour Me Another One and Serge of Whisky Fun both give this one top marks. André and Patrick of Quebec Whisky give it the lowest scores I’ve seen.

Old Pulteney 21 Year Old

The Pulteney (PULT-nay) distillery is the most northerly mainland distillery in Scotland, and they certainly make great use of sea imagery on all their products. Indeed, a general “maritime air” is believe to infuse their whisky, with subtle notes of sea salt/brine.

The 21 yo expression of Old Pulteney is a mix of whisky from Fino sherry and refill bourbon casks. It sits at the top of their core expression range, above the 12 yo and 17 yo expressions (which I have yet to review).

Of note, Jim Murray is a big fan of this whisky – he once rated it whisky of the year in his annual Whisky Bible (2012).  But let’s see how it fares among all critics in my Meta-Critic database, relative to other similarly aged expressions.

Aberfeldy 21yo: 8.77 ± 0.22 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Balvenie 21yo Port Wood: 8.75 ± 0.40 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenfiddich 18yo: 8.57 ± 0.41 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenfiddich 21yo Gran Reserva: 8.68 ± 0.33 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenlivet 18yo: 8.58 ± 0.19 on 19 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenlivet 21yo Archive: 8.83 ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenmorangie 18yo Extremely Rare: 8.69 ± 0.23 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Highland Park 18yo: 9.12 ± 0.25 on 22 reviews ($$$$$)
Highland Park 21yo: 8.86 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$$$$+)
Old Pulteney 17yo: 8.85 ± 0.28 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Old Pulteney 21yo: 8.77 ± 0.50 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)

The overall average score is in keeping with many in this age class, but there is an unusually high degree of variance for this whisky. This indicates significant discordance among reviewers.

Let’s see what I find in the glass. This was sampled recently at Bar le Grincheux in Strasbourg, for 21€. It is bottled at 46% ABV.

Nose: Sherry influence is unmistakable, with definite chocolate notes. The fruit is secondary, and pretty much all apple, pear and a bit of banana – I am not getting any of the typical dark sherry fruits. Their is a sweet and salty maritime air, like salted caramel. No real alcohol burn or any off notes. This is a nice nose, with a fair amount of complexity under the surface. A pleasure to return to.

Palate: Sweet and lightly smokey is the initial impression.  The salted caramel and chocolate notes continue (especially creamy milk chocolate), joined by some oak vanilla. A hint of pralines and nougat. Effect reminds me of some of those higher-end Belgian chocolatiers (but not too sweet). Not very fruity, but the light fruits from the nose persist (especially apple), with again no dark fruits. There is some alcohol burn now, definitely feels like 46% ABV. Mouthfeel is a bit syrupy, and some soft spices enter the picture eventually. A touch of bitterness comes in at the very end.

Old.Pulteney.21Finish: Not particularly sweet, more slightly savoury – like the lingering finish of some south asian dishes. Astringent mouthfeel (with that “maritime air” again). Moderate finish, could be longer.

Certainly a very drinkable expression. Overall impression is that that of hidden spice and salt, having been muted by the more extensive barrel aging.  While I enjoyed the initial presentation, this one looses some marks from me on the way out – it just sort of fizzles, when you would expect a more substantial exit. As such, I think the overall Meta-Critic score is fair here.

For additional reviews of this whisky, generally positive ones can be found from Thomas of Whisky Saga and most of the members of Quebec Whisky (although André is quite negative). Another relatively negative review comes for John Hansell of Whisky Advocate (although that is an older bottling). For a more middle-of-the-pack review, you could see Ruben of Whisky Notes. And of course, there is Jim Murray for the most positive review of this whisky I’ve ever seen.

Century Reserve 21 Year Old

Century Reserve is another Canadian whisky brand produced by Highwood Distillers in Alberta.

While the label calls this is a “Canadian Rye Whisky”, there is in fact no rye in here. Unusually for a Canadian whisky, this is actually a single grain whisky made from 100% corn. While it may shock some in other jurisdictions, the long use of high-proof rye for flavouring in Canadian whisky blends has allowed the term “rye whisky” to become synonymous with “Canadian whisky”. In essence, this is now a historic term to describe our whisky, and one protected in Canadian law for all whiskies that meet general Canadian whisky production standards (whether or not rye is present).

The source of this particular whisky is a bit mysterious. While Highwood distills their own whisky, they acknowledge that the corn whisky base of Century Reserve 21 yo is sourced from elsewhere (but don’t say from where). There is some speculation online that the distillate might be from Potters Distilleries in BC (who were acquired by Highwood in 2005), although this has been disputed. Whatever the source, I suppose it is possible that some of the Highwood-own make has now entered into the mix – but I don’t have any specific information one way or the other.

Whatever the source of the distillate, this whisky was barrelled, aged, and bottled by Highwood. They consider it to be an example of a premium, single grain, small batch whisky. This puts Century Reserve 21 yo in the same category as Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky from South Africa and Nikka Coffey Grain from Japan – although aged much longer here.

Century.Reserve.21.375No longer available in Ontario, I picked up a 375mL bottle of this 40% ABV whisky during recent travels in BC (for only ~$25 CAD, taxes-in). I was surprised to see a row of these half-sized bottles of Century Reserve 21 yo on the shelf at the BC Liquors store in Westbrook Village, as this item is not currently listed on their website (in any size). An image of the actual 375mL bottle is shown on the right (see the stock photo at the bottom of this page for what the 750mL bottle looks like).

The design of this half bottle is interesting. While the body of the bottle looks similar to full-size 750mL standard bottle, thee half-size bottles have a fancy decanter-style glass stopper with a thin ridge of cork around the internal rim. This makes it much more of a presentation item (i.e., looks like a fancy perfume bottle).

Century.Research.21.375.corkI was even more surprised when I turned the bottle over, looking for potential batch codes. I didn’t find any, but here is what is embossed onto the base of the glass bottle:

Century.Reserve.21.375.bottom

In case that isn’t coming through clearly, it says:

LIQUOR BOTTLE / JAPAN / THE NIKKA WHISKY / DIST. CO. LTD

I have never seen bottles of any Nikka product that look like this one (most are very plain, in comparison). And I can find no record online of a relationship between Nikka and Highwood. So I have no idea how Highwood managed to acquire Nikka bottles for this 375mL bottling of Century Reserve.  Frankly, this one is a mystery to me – if anyone knows more, please leave a comment below.

In terms of the what is actually inside the bottle, I will provide my tasting notes below. 😉 Note that I have previously reviewed two of their rye whisky blends, the Highwood Ninety 5 yo and 20 yo.

But first, here is what the Meta-Critic database reports for this whisky, relative to other aged Canadian whiskies, and some single-grain corn whiskies:

Canadian Club 20yo: 8.68 ± 0.34 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Canadian Rockies 21yo: 9.11 ± 0.35 on 5 reviews ($$)
Century Reserve 21yo: 8.76 ± 0.21 on 10 reviews ($$)
Century Reserve Lot 15/25: 8.36 ± 0.91 on 5 reviews ($)
Gibson’s Finest Rare 18yo: 9.11 ± 0.38 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Highwood Ninety Rye 20yo: 8.94 ± 0.22 on 9 reviews ($$)
Wiser’s 18yo: 8.70 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($$$)

Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky: 8.19 ± 0.53 on 7 reviews ($$)
Kilbeggan 8yo Single Grain: 8.13 ± 0.40 on 11 reviews ($$)
Nikka Coffey Grain: 8.65 ± 0.50 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Teeling Single Grain (Wine Cask Finish): 8.53 ± 0.36 on 9 reviews ($$$)

And now, what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet light corn syrup, with a touch of maple. Notes of apple, cherries and citrus. a fair amount of vanilla, likely from the oak aging. As expected, no rye notes. Detectable solvent smell (mainly glue), with some dry rubbing alcohol thrown in. Not as bad as it sounds, and much better than typical entry level Canadian whiskies. Gives the overall impression of being rich while still being light (i.e., maybe more buttery than creamy).

Palate: Rich sweetness. Somewhat cereal as well – makes me think of creamed wheat. I can detect something similar in the best Canadian blends, like Crown Royal Monarch and Gibson’s 18 yo – I guess that was coming from the corn. In fact, buttered corn also comes to mind here. Otherwise, I get mixed berries, some citrus, and more definite vanilla now.  Silky mouthfeel, very rich and satisfying. I also get what tastes like mild rye spices (e.g., cinnamon and nutmeg), which must be coming from the oak aging. This is followed by a slight woody bitterness. Not as complex as most Canadian whiskies of this age, but with some interesting subtle notes.

Finish: The simple sweetness lingers the longest – and for medium length. Not particularly flavourful on the way out, but certainly not offensive. Slight traces of some rye-like spice, but faint and hard to pin down. All in all, it just sort of slowly fades away.

Century.Reserve.21The official tasting notes mention honey a lot, but I really don’t find that here – it’s a much lighter sweetness, combined with buttery and creamy overtones. Comparing it to the Highwood Ninety 20 yo, the Century Reserve 21 yo is less complex on the palate – but it also less objectionable on the nose.

The Century Reserve 21 reminds me of some other single grain corn whiskies, but with more rich and creamy flavours.  Like the consolidated Meta-Critic scores, I too would rate it as far superior to Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky, and a slight notch up from Nikka Coffey Grain (which is more delicate and less creamy).

Two of the most positive reviews of this whisky come from Jason of In Search of Elegance and Chip the RumHowler. Davin of Whisky Advocate/Canadian Whisky is also quite positive, as are the guys from Quebec Whisky.

Collingwood 21 Year Old Rye

It is a little odd to be reviewing a limited-run whisky that came out over 2 years ago, as you are unlikely to be able to find this whisky anymore.  But I recently had the opportunity to taste and review this whisky blind, which led to some interesting observations (to me, at any rate).

It sesms that few reviewers want to publicly reveal the results of blind taste testing (possibly because the results are likely not to put them in a good light). 😉  The experience of the Scotch Noob on this front is revealing. I personally have a lot respect for reviewers who are willing to put themselves out there with blind tasting notes.

The Collingwood 21yo was a bit of an unusual experiment for this Canadian distiller. Some 50 oak barrels of malted rye were set aside to age at the distillery. In 2013, these were married in a vat with toasted maplewood (just like regular Collingwood whisky), and released in time for Christmas 2013 (where it was ~$60 at the LCBO, I believe).

I received a blind sample of this whisky from Redditor Devoz. All I knew was that it was a Canadian whisky, bottled at 40% ABV. Here is what I found in the glass, as posted in my blind review on Reddit:

Blind Tasting Notes:

Nose:  Very sweet, with some corn syrup-like characteristics. Lighter fruits, like pear and green apple, and darker fruits like red plums and raisins.  There is a rich creaminess as well, with a slight chocolate note. Not getting much in terms of classic rye notes. No apparent solvent smells, which is a definite bonus. A nice nose, distinctive for a Canadian rye.

Palate:  Brown sugar sweetness up front, with the traditional rye baking spices following immediately after (cinnamon and nutmeg in particular). Not too spicy, but more than I expected from the nose. Very sweet and creamy – I can imagine people calling this “smooth”. Darker fruits show up more now (especially figs and raisins).  Slightly oaky. Sweet syrup returns at the end.

Finish:  Medium length. No bitterness, but not much going on here. Basically, somewhat bland and gentle, but in a good way (if that is possible).  Light sweetness and a touch of cinnamon persist to the end.

Interestingly, I mistakenly believed that this blind sample was a traditional Canadian rye blend, given that the rye spices weren’t very strong (i.e., I felt it didn’t have enough kick to be a straight rye). There was also a definite sweetness here that I found reminiscent of corn whisky, reinforcing the idea that this was a blended Canadian whisky. Quality-wise, I gave it a slightly below average score, as I didn’t find it particularly complex or interesting for its flavour characteristics.

Given the reveal, I suspect the extended barrel aging (and marrying in toasted Maplewood) introduced greater barrel sweetness, and softened the rye expression. This would be consistent with my “smooth” observation above, as well as the lack of any off notes (which can commonly occur on younger Canadian whiskies). I note that Davin of Canadian Whisky particularly emphasized the “smoothness” of this whisky in his review.

Here is how the Collingwood 21yo compares to other aged Canadian whiskies in the Meta-Critic database:

Canadian Rockies 21yo: 8.97 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$)
Century Reserve 21yo: 8.78 ± 0.21 on 9 reviews ($$)
Collingwood 21yo: 8.66 ± 0.45 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Danfield’s 21yo: 8.68 ± 0.51 on 11 reviews ($$)
Gibson’s Finest Rare 18yo: 9.11 ± 0.38 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Highwood Ninety Rye 20yo: 8.94 ± 0.22 on 9 reviews ($$)
Wiser’s 18yo: 8.71 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($$$)

The Collingwood 21yo is clearly at the lower end of the score range for aged Canadian whiskies.

Having re-sampled it after the reveal, I’m not inclined to change my score or overall flavour assessment. I believe this particular expression may be a bit over-aged, as it is soft in flavour overall, and rather gentle on the way out. The relatively low 40% ABV doesn’t help either – this is one Canadian whisky that likely would have benefited from being bottled at higher strength. All that said, it does have a very nice nose.

Personally, I still think its flavour characteristics and overall quality place it more in-line with the following budget-minded ($) whiskies:

Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve: 8.71 ± 0.41 on 12 reviews ($)
Forty Creek Barrel Select: 8.59 ± 0.41 on 13 reviews ($)
Hiram Walker Special Old Rye: 8.23 ± 0.41 on 9 reviews ($)
Wiser’s Small Batch: 8.57 ± 0.27 on 11 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.54 ± 0.42 on 9 reviews ($)

Collingwood.21For additional reviews of this whisky, you could check out Jason of In Search of Elegance, and André and Patrick of Quebec Whisky. I certainly concur with them on how soft this rye is – although I don’t personally find it as strongly floral.  I am surprised to note that some reviewers find a lot of rye here, like Davin of Canadian Whisky and Michael of Diving for Pearls. But Beppi of the Globe and Mail experiences it as more Cognac-like, which I think is a better relative fit for this whisky.

While it was certainly an interesting experience to taste and review blind, I don’t think this whisky is necessarily worth seeking out, except for its uniqueness. There are higher quality aged expressions currently available at comparable or lower prices.

 

Nikka Taketsuru 12 yo and 21 yo

Nikka is one of the best-known makers of Japanese whisky – although its availability is quite limited in North America and Europe.

When you can find it, you are typically limited to a couple of the pure malt “colour” series, or the excellent Nikka From the Barrel. I plan to post commentaries on a number of those whiskies eventually, but would like to start with a couple of examples from the popular Taketsuru line – the 12 yo and 21 yo.

Named after Masataka Taketsuru – the founding father of Japanese whisky – these whiskies are examples of what is known in Japan as “pure malts” (often called “vatted malts” or “blended malts” elsewhere).

As I explained on my Single Malts vs Blends page, virtually all “single malts” are blends of different barrels of malt whisky – from the same distillery – vatted together. The only exception are limited specific cask releases (although even there, most of these are combinations of individual casks). The “blended malt” term (or its equivalent “vatted malt”) was developed to describe whiskies where the malt came from different distilleries – thus differentiating from “single” distillery malt blends. Technically speaking, these blended malts could consist of malt whisky produced by competing makers.

In Japan, the major makers typically have multiple distilleries under their own control – with each distillery specializing in different styles. Vatted Japanese whiskies from one producer’s set of distilleries are generally called “pure malts” there, to differentiate from the less specific “blended malt” moniker. Simply put, “pure malts” are just like “single malts”, except they come from a single producer instead of a single distillery.

As it turns out, the Taketsuru 21 yo is one of the whiskies that helped put Nikka (and Japanese whisky more generally) on the world map. Since it was first introduced into international whisky competitions, it has racked up an impressive number of gold medals and best-in-class awards and trophies. Most notably, it has won World’s Best Blended Malt Whisky at the World Whiskies Awards four times since 2007.

There has been a bit of a craze these last few years to obtain almost any Japanese whisky at reasonable prices. I actually managed to snag the Taketsuru 12yo a year-and-a-half ago at the LCBO for ~$70.  Unfortunately, I had to pay a lot more for the 21yo on a recent trip to Asia.

Part of the reason for this is that Nikka announced earlier this year a massive restructuring of their whisky brands – and the discontinuation of a lot of distillery-specific expressions. While the Taketsuru line will persist, there were immediate price increases (up to 50%, in the case of the 21 yo). And of course, given the relative scarcity, panicked demand buying drove up prices even further across the board. For the foreseeable future, I think you will find it hard to pick of either of these Taketsuru expressions at reasonable prices.

Which is a shame, because they are both quite nice for their respective age levels. Here’s how the Taketsuru line compares in my whisky database (recalling the overall average of ~8.5)

Taketsuru 12yo: 8.32 ± 0.35 on 11 reviews
Taketsuru 17yo: 8.82 ± 0.29 on 10 reviews
Taketsuru 21yo: 9.00 ± 0.34 on 8 reviews

These relative scores track very well with my experience.

Nikka Taketsuru pure malt 12yo bottleThe 12 yo has a nice and clean nose, with no off-putting aromas. The palate reminds me of a classic, floral-style Highland/Speyside Scottish single malt – although with the faintest touch of smoke here. I find it a little more complex than the common Glenlivet/Glenfiddich 12 yo, for example. The main problem is the finish – it disappears too quickly, and turns slightly bitter on the way out (so maybe that isn’t such a bad thing after all). If it weren’t for this unsatisfying end, I would have expected it to score higher for its respective age and flavour class.

The 21 yo in contrast is fairly sublime across the board. It has a much richer and fruity nose, with definite plum/prune notes (I’d swear there was sherry wood in there). Nicely caramelized body with excellent mouthfeel – a good mix of spicier notes on the palate, well balanced with the oak. The finish is long and lingering, with definite sweetness that is not cloying (and again, well balanced to the spiciness). This is a very easy to drink whisky!

For detailed reviews of these two whiskies, I suggest you check out the Nikka blended malt pages of the Quebec Whisky boys and Dramtastic. Jason of In Search of Elegance has recently reviewed both the 12 yo and 21 yo expressions (from samples of my bottles).