The location of Miyagikyo was chosen by Masataka Taketsuru, who founded Nikka in 1933. The location was chosen for its unique micro climate, which combines access to high quality pure water with humidity, weather and temperatures. Taketsuru is a legend in the Japanese whisky industry having helped to set up the country's first single malt distillery of Yamazaki in 1923, before going out on his own, forming Nikka and building Yoichi.
The distillery has an annual production capacity of five million litres, which makes it one of the largest in Japan. Miyagikyo is unusual in that it produces both single malt and grain whiskies on the same site. It has eight pot stills to produce malt and two sets of Coffey stills to produce grain whisky. The Miyagikyo 12 years old has won a number of awards. It is bottled at 45% ABV and has been matured in ex-sherry casks. A bottle will cost in the region of £80/€98 from selected specialist whisky retailers.
Our tasting notes
The colour is golden yellow and the nose is immediately fresh and full of fruit and spices. The fruity aromas come across as a mix of fresh green apple, orange zest and dried fruit (especially sultanas). These aromas combine superbly with some cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger powder. There are notes present also, most notably honey, vanilla and sweet malted cereal grains. It is a very promising start.
On the palate, it is the sweet malty cereals that hit the taste buds first and they give the whisky a creamy, almost velvety feel in the mouth. The palate then follows the nose quite closely as the fruit begin to come through the graininess - there are notes of dried apple, juicy sultanas, candied orange peel and a hint of something tropical that is difficult to pin down, but most reminiscent of dried mango. The next wave of flavour is full of warming wood spices, especially cinnamon and nutmeg followed by a pinch of ginger and all-spice. Everything combines and works well around a foundation of vanilla and honey-like notes. A late hint of distant peat smoke adds even further depth.
The late peat smoke comes through more on the lengthy finish. The predominant notes are honey and sweet malty cereals. These are backed up by the dried fruit (especially the sultanas) and the wood spices, which add a pleasant dryness.
What's the verdict?
This is a delicious whisky. It may be more expensive and more difficult to find that some other Japanese whiskies of a similar age, but it is worth searching out and spending that little bit extra. This Miyagikyo 12 years old has a lovely nose and palate - it packs plenty of depth, flavour and character in and has a classy feel. One of the best and most complex Japanese whiskies that we have tried to date.
We are not going to pretend to be experts on Japanese whisky, however by far the best resource that we have found for information on the genre is the excellent Nonjatta blog - check it out if you don't know it already. We have learnt much of what we know from this and it is also great for keeping up-to-date with everything that is going on in the Japanese side of the industry.