Nikka Coffey Plentiful

Nikka's Coffey still is so big I can't even fit it all in the frame

I hate being the guy giving you a panic attack about your whisky-purchasing options, but the availability of the Nikka single malt whiskies from Japan are about to go the way of Suntory; meaning you're going to come to K&L and find a big fat, gaping hole where your favorite bottle of Yoichi 15 used to be. The austerity measures are carrying over to Asahi. Their mature supplies can't keep up with demand, which means everything is going on lockdown and all of our purchasing will be done on allocation from this point on. Instead of full-time access to the 17 and 21 year old Pure Malts, we'll be on the standard "six bottles per week" while supplies last. That's bad news, of course, but it's no one's fault. It's just the inevitable fate of the whisky fashion tornado, moving its way from Scotland, through the American heartland, and now across the Pacific to Japan.

The good news, however, is that there's still plenty of Nikka's outstanding Coffey Grain whisky in stock. No, it's not made with coffee, but rather on a type of column still, originally designed by an Irishman named Aeneas Coffey (the gigantic piece of machinery from my photo above), located at Nikka's Miyagikyo distillery. Aged about ten years in refill Bourbon casks, the whisky is soft, mellow, and utterly enticing. While I love the Pure Malt series, as well as the single malts from Miyagikyo and Yoichi, I drink about three bottles of the Nikka Coffey for every half bottle I drink of the former expressions. It just goes down so fast, and so smoothly. How does it differ from Scottish grain whisky, or Canadian whisky? It doesn't really. It's made from corn, it's distilled through a monstrous piece of metal to an incredibly high proof, and it can be made on a large and economical scale. It's just that the Nikka version tastes so much better than anyone else's.

Because they can make a lot of column still whisky, there's still plenty of this stuff to go around (for the moment). The REALLY good news, however, is that Nikka's Coffey Malt is expected to hit the U.S. later this winter. That's right: they actually run a 100% malted barley mash through their column still (resulting in a two-story, sludgy mess that needs to be meticulously cleaned out by hand). While I'm sure some other distillery has tried this before, I've never heard of another column-distilled malt whisky being available on the general market. The Nikka version is absolutely ungodly. It's like a liquid biscuit, full of buttery shortbread with a cookie-like finish. I smuggled two bottles back from my trip to Japan last November. Later this year I'll be able to buy it at K&L.

In the meantime, I'll make do with the delicious grain version:

Nikka Coffey Still Japanese Grain Whisky $62.99- Grain whisky is one of the least understood components of the whisky world. When you sip a blended Scotch like Johnnie Walker or Suntory's Hibiki, you're drinking a blend of two types of whisky -- both single malt and grain -- hence the term "blend" (many people assume the "blend" refers to the blend of various distilleries). While we've gone out of our way here at K&L to help our customers understand 100% malted barley single malt whisky, we've never really talked very much about grain whisky -- mostly because there's very little of it available! Grain whisky is made from corn, wheat, and unmalted barley on a continuous still -- much like vodka is produced. The Coffey Still is a type of continuous still that can pump out grain whisky without having to alternate batches. Because of the efficiency and cheaper production cost, grain whisky has taken on a bit of a bad rap. This reputation is entirely undeserved, however, especially when delicious grain whisky like the new Nikka Coffey Still is available. This is classic grain whisky -- round vanilla, hints of caramel, and an herbaceous, spicy note that brings some pop on the finish. NOTE: while grain whisky can be enjoyed on its own, I find it's flavors are much more impressive on the rocks and when splashed with a bit of soda. The Nikka Coffey Still is perhaps the best grain whisky we've yet seen available on the American market. We need more whiskies like this! ASAP!

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll