The Booze Blog Portal - Alcohol, Bars, Malaysia and Beyond.

25 September 2015

Launch: Nikka Coffey Series in Malaysia

If you're into whisky, I'm pretty sure you're aware about (and contribute to) the hype on the sudden and terrible shortage of Japanese aged whiskies.

Nikka has been in the limelight quite recently for this reason too. Hearts were broken as selected Taketsuru, Yoichi and Miyagikyo expressions were phased out (and prices increased by a gazillion percent). While these are stuff of legend, what really set Nikka apart from the rest of the clutter (for me at least) is not their aged single malts (because everyone and their grandmother makes single malts), but their NAS blended and grains.

If you follow me at all, you'll know that I've professed my love for the Nikka From the Barrel, Taketsuru 12 and Nikka Coffey Grain.

The Nikka Coffey Grain has quietly been around in Malaysia since early 2014. But it wasn't until Tong Woh (who are the official distributors of Nikka in Malaysia and owns that retail shop in Newtown, PJ selling very affordable wines) brought in the new Coffey Malt whisky did they decide to host an official launch of the Coffey series. Excellent timing too, as the publicity and awareness about Japanese whiskies is at its all-time high. :)

Before I proceed to share with you some background about Nikka and the Coffey series, please let me get this out of the way first:

There is NO COFFEE in the Coffey series.

I'm not sure how or why people have that weird notion that it's made with coffee beans and I've heard too many people saying that it tastes and smells like coffee, or was made to go well with coffee... lolwut? STAHP THE MISINFORMATION GAIS!

So if it didn't have any coffee in it, why does the label say Coffey?
Well, it's COFFEY ... with a Y, not double E. And no, the Japanese weren't trying to be cute by spelling coffee wrongly. :)

It's named so because the series uses column (aka continous or patent) stills in its distillation process. Column stills are also known as Coffey stills after its inventor, Aeneas Coffey, who patented the technology in 1830.

Coffey distillation generally produces cleaner tasting & purer (think rum and gin) spirits, while copper pot stills typically retain complex, rich flavours in spirits (think cognac and your usual single malts). I won't go into too much detail about Coffey Stills vs Copper Pot Stills, but if you would like a 101, this and this are pretty decent references to geek out at.

So Nikka operates two Coffey stills specifically for its grain whiskies and house blends. These stills are supposed to have been imported from Scotland in 1963!

While there have been quite a number of Grain whiskies in the market these days, I don't think there's any whisky that's made with column/Coffey stills. So unless I'm mistaken, this makes the Nikka Coffey series one of its kind.

Now that you got that out of your system, tell me how Nikka came about.
One can't tell the story about the brand without going into the rich background of its founder, because there wouldn't be a Nikka or even Japanese whisky today without Masataka Taketsuru, aka the father of Japanese whisky.

Masataka Taketsuru actually comes from a sake brewer family. He flew to Scotland to supposedly further his studies to help with the family business. Instead, he fell in love with whisky and decided to learn how to make it while apprenticing in the Hazelburn distillery in Campbeltown.

When he finally went back to Japan in 1923, he worked for Kotobukiya (now known as Suntory) to build the first whisky plant in Yamazaki.

Then he went on to open his 1st distillery in Yoichi in 1934, because the location mimicked Scotland's climate and he wanted to re-create Scotch just like the Scots did. Here, he founded the Dai Nippon Kaju company, which meant "great Japanese juice company". While waiting for his whisky to mature, he also produced apple juice products.

Nikka whisky came to be in 1952, which is basically a combination of the company's formal name: Nippon and Kaju.

Google pins mark the Nikka distilleries.

Where are Nikka's distilleries located? I might wanna pop by for a visit one day.

 Nikka has 2 distillery locations in Japan:
  • Yoichi in Hokkaido which uses small coal-fired stills (robust spirits are made here).
  • Miyagikyo (or known as Sendai then) in Honshu -  stills here are tall and powered by steam (resulting in a softer spirit). Nikka Coffey is made here. 
Nikka also owns Ben Nevis in Scotland, which they bought in 1989.

 "THERE IS NO COFFEE IN COFFEY GAIS!", Guest bartender, Angel Ng said. (Image:TWE)

Thanks for the lengthy history and geography lesson, but what the heck is the difference between the Coffey Grain vs Malt?

Coffey Grain is made from a spirits which are distilled mainly from corn.

Coffey Malt is made from 100% malt (like single malt) from a single distillery (like single malt) but can't be called a single malt because it's distilled using Coffey stills.

The similarity between both? 1) They are both NAS expressions and 2) are produced using Coffey stills.

Give me the official tasting notes so I can pretend like I know what I'm saying when I taste them.

Coffey Grain, 45% ABV:
rich texture with deep oaky notes, fruity and spicy with hints of pear, pepper and balsamic note.

Coffey Malt, 45% ABV:
mellow, fruity and its sweetness character brings to mind citrus, papaya, coconut and cinnamon notes.

It's interesting to note that the ABVs are a little higher than your usual 40% ABV for whisky.

Angel Ng also showcased the taste profiles of the 2 whiskies with a Dessert & Afternoon Tea Cocktail

Now for the important question: how would you drink them?
The Coffey Malt is light, flavourful and pleasing enough to be drunk neat. I wouldn't really want to add too much water or ice into it as it's so subtle, it may lose its character. However, 1-2 DROPS of water does open it up nicely.

The Coffey Grain is rougher than the Malt. You can taste the oakiness and the youthfulness of its spirit. Still, it makes for a palatable,  easy, afternoon-drinking mizuwari, highball or even a whisky cocktail. Remember that this type of spirit is usually used as an ingredient for blended whisky - so the fact that you're drinking this on its own (or raw, I guess) is really quite something.

But here's the caveat with the Grain, there's a stark difference between the Coffey Grain from today vs before the shortage crisis. I’m guessing that the newer bottling is likely produced with younger whisky. The first Coffey Grain I tasted (and raved about) prior to the official launch actually tasted closer to the Coffey Malt of today - sweeter & smoother. I'm a little sad about this but it's just the way it is, unfortunately.

You can find the Nikka Coffey Grain & Malt at TWE retailing at RM287 each. It's also available at selected bottle shops, bars, and Japanese eateries like Eau De Vie, Top Drop, Whisky Bar, 44 Bar, Hexa Lounge, Omakase & Appreciate, the Soul Society group, Hyde, Rills, Marini's, Mish Mash (Penang), Nobu, among many, many others. You can also find it at Hock Chun and Jaya Grocers.


An interview with the Master Blender about the Coffey series: