Friday, July 29, 2011

Review: Nikka Taketsuru 12 Year Pure Malt

Summertime is the time for light tasting, effervescent whisky.  To that end, I thought I would review such a pure malt from Japan: Nikka Taketsure 12 year Pure Malt.

Nose (undiluted)
Fresh out of the oven dinner rolls; cloves; malt.

Palate (undiluted)
Sweet malt, firm body, green tea, ginger and an overall flavor profile that is somehow reminiscent of  that soft drink Fresca with a bite of grapefruit.  Gives new meaning to 'citrus' flavors in whisky.

Finish (undiluted)
Spicy zing of pepper, toast with marmalade and mint jelly.

General Impressions
In general, I have a very high opinion of Japanese whisky.  Say "Japanese whisky" and Hibiki 17, Yamazaki 12 and 15 come to mind.  Those are great whiskies.  Accordingly, I had high hopes.  Unfortunately, Nikka Taketsuru 12 year Pure Malt disappoints.

Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Remember that college psychology course that you slept through?  Do you remember anything?  Does the name Abraham Maslow ring a bell?  Hello?  Anybody there?

Abraham Maslow
 Ahh, don't feel embarassed.  I, too, regret not paying more attention in university.  Particularly to psychology courses.  I quickly dismissed it as bunk and switched out.  What a mistake that was. 

Anyway, I do remember Abraham Maslow.  You see this scholar studied highly successful people like Albert Einstein, instead of highly dysfunctional people, and developed a great theory of what successful, happy people have that the rest of humanity does not. 

Maslow theorized that people have varying needs (aren't best theories the most obvious and trite ones?).  There were the basic needs like food, shelter, sex (not sure that last item should be at the bottom of the pyramid . . .) that had to be met to function.  Above that were non-essential to life needs: to feel safe, secure, ownership of property that sort of thing.  Moving up that pyramid there were more elusive needs like: love . . . And if you had all that stuff, you could become self-actualized at the pinnacle once you became creative, moral, solved problems, and did what you found personally fulfilling in life.  This is the dumbed down version of course.  Check out this link to Wikipedia for a more learned discussion than I am capable of delivering (click here).

Now, you are thinking, "Jason, what the hell does Maslow have to do with a review of Nikka Pure Malt 12 year old whisky?

Here's the pitch:  Nikka Whisky doesn't lead to self-actualization.  It will meet your basic needs of being a decent, ok whisky.  It tastes smooth, has no bite, and in general a very tame, refreshing, summertime dram.  Moving up the pyramid of needs of the whisky nut:  it does gives you warmth and shelter from the cold weather, relief from the heat with a little ice, etc.  Hop up to the next level of the pyramid and Nikka Pure Malt falls short.  I'm not feeling the love.  It doesn't seduce me.  This bottle and I don't have a lot of respect for eachother.  We are strangers in the night.  That's about it.  No follow up the next morning.  Just me leaning out of bed and turning that clock radio ahead about 4 hours, and saying "Shit! I gotta get to work, or I'll be late.  Gotta go.  Had a lot of fun, see ya!"

Great whisky "completes me!" (to steal a line from the film Jerry Maguire).   It makes me whole!  Gives my life meaning!  I undergo, albeit temporarily self-actualization!  Hibiki 17, Highland Park 15 and 25 yrs, Famous Grouse 30 years all take me to the top of the hierarchy of needs of me the scotch nut.  Nikka Malt does not.  It's ho-hum.  Predictable, not boring, but not much challenge, nor much going on upstairs other than some zing and pepper mid-palate on top of the big citrus flavors.  Too much citrus based flavors.  Is this whisky or Fresca infused with whisky?  I need more for the high price!  Not worth the money in my estimation.  A satisfying whisky when your needs aren't too high up that hierarchy.  And there's nothing wrong with that, so long as you know yourself or "know thy self" to borrow a phrase from another great thinker: Socrates.


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission.


  1. Unfortunately it is very difficult to buy Japanese Scotch in Canada. It seems that they (Japanese) only go for rich affluent markets, i.e. not Canada. I did buy a bottle in Rome for my father. Too bad really because it is quite good scotch.

  2. Hi Laurent, you are correct that very little Japanese whisky makes its way to Canada. Although fault does not lie exclusively with the Japanese drinks companies. Canadian liquor corporations have not made much effort to try and import the many great brands. In New Brunswick, heavy lobbying was needed to convince the New Brunswick Liquor Corporation to import some Yamazaki 12 and 18yrs. I suspect that the trouble is purchasing decisions are made by civil servants that have no passion for whisky.

    By the way, Laurent, I totally agree with your thoughts on "Food" in your most recent post. Great observations!


  3. Not entirely sure I'm sold on your Maslow argument, as I think it is a matter of perspective. My wife (and daughter) gave me a bottle of Taketsuru 12 for Father's Day, and it was astounding (paired with sushi and some Japanese/Chinese fusion), but part of that feeling is likely the memories that it evokes of the year or so that we spent in Japan.

    I do agree with you on the price though, at $69.95 (LCBO, June 2012) for a 66cl bottle, it is 1.5 times as expensive, per ml, as a 75cl bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label ($50.95, LCBO, June 2012).

    1. Whisky, like food, even a good movie, has a lot to do with the atmosphere in which it is consumed. If you are having a good time, well, odds are, the memories of the whisky are going to be positive. Just happens to be human nature.

      Thanks for commenting.

  4. I'm visiting relatives in Japan in July 2013.. any recommendations? I've tried this whisky and the Nikki Pure Malt black.. haven't tried the Hibiki or the Yamazaki 12, 15.. which is hilarious since I lived over there for 5 years!

    1. I certainly do have recommendations for you. Please try to locate Hibiki 17yrs and 21yrs. They are both tremendous, particularly the 17, which I understand is not available in North America.

      Another more widely available suggestion is Yamazaki 18yrs, which probably can be had for a better price than in the continental US.

      Also while in Japan, if you are in Tokyo, try out the various whisky bars. A very different and pleasing experience than anywhere else in the world.

  5. Hi Jason, just got back from my trip and took your recommendation about the Hibiki, got me a bottle of the 17. very nice. IIRC, cost me 10,000yen at the duty free shops at Narita (roughly $110 CDN which frightens me how much it would cost if they ever imported it here!) I also picked up a bottle of Hakushu 12 yr.. but haven't had a chance to open it yet

    1. Please post your impressions of these wonderful examples of Japanese whisky.

      $110 is well worth the Hibiki 17.

      Look forward to your impressions!

  6. I love this stuff but I didn't at first. Have you let it open up in the glass �� for a while? :) it gets better and better if you do - give it 45 minutes (and no water) and it will reveal much more than 'Fresca' to you!