I love sipping whiskies. I love the complexity, the different origins and history behind it. I appreciate its uniqueness and that its not everyone’s cup of drink (more for me to sip). However, I used to hate it. During my university days, I would go bar hopping or attend college parties with friends. We would drink the usual Jack Daniel & Coke or when I went Karaoke with friends, we would take whisky shots. That was the extend of my whisky experience. I never knew how to enjoy nor taste it. That is, until my friend, Soc introduced me to the world of whiskies.
Soc and I used to live together in Hong Kong several years back (more like I was living with him). We were, as his then fiancé, puts it, the perfect drinking partners. I remember one night, he came home from a business trip where he purchased many different whiskies for us to try. In his business trip to Paris, Soc received an invitation to eat at a friend’s house for dinner. After dinner, Soc’s friend brought out a whisky for him to try. The whisky was Nikka from the Barrel, a cask strength Japanese whisky from the brand Nikka.
According to Nikka’s website, Nikka from the Barrel is: “a blend of multiple types of malt and grain that Nikka reserves. Nikka From the Barrel was created to deliver full flavors and richness of whisky ‘from barrels’ which only blenders can sniff and taste. As the whisky contains so many characteristic components at a higher alcohol of 51.4%, it is essential to let the liquid ‘marriage’ in used casks for 3-6 months for it to stabilize and harmonize. The concept of the unique short squared bottle is ‘a small lump of whisky’, which perfectly visualizes the rich and strong taste of the whisky inside.”
Unavailable in the US and at a strong ABV of 51.4%, I became intrigued. After finishing his story, Soc went over to his bag and pulled out a bottle of Nikka from the Barrel. He also purchased few other whiskies to compare their taste. “Whisky time!” he exclaimed and so began, our whisky tasting. Nikka from the Barrel is a cask strength blended whisky bottled straight from the barrel (and thus no water dilution). Its ABV is higher than the norm of 40% (cask strength are usually more expensive to buy since it requires more concentrated whisky per bottle).
The Nikka was a shocker to my then-untrained palette and nose. I immediately smelled it after Soc poured me a glass. It was strong, like smelling an incoming punch to the gut (except without the pain). It felt like going on a journey the wild west. With fear, I began to slowly sip it. What came next was the sensation of being blown away by the sheer taste of the Nikka from the barrel. It’s one of those whiskies where you have to sip or it will massacre your taste-buds. With each sip of this concentrated whisky, you start to realize the magic of this spirit. You taste the ferocious blend of different whiskies, the tartness of different fruits which leaves the mouth wanting more and an aftertaste of bitter caramel oak. Soc then suggested we try it with a drop of water. Why a drop of water, I asked? We were already drinking it neat (without ice) and wouldn’t the water ruin the taste?
By adding a drop or two of room temperature water, you break apart the molecules and dilute the whisky. This chemical reaction results in an increase of aroma and taste. This works especially well with cask strength whiskies. Normal whiskies are already diluted to bring down the ABV and make it more palatable for regular consumption). I proceeded to add several drops of water, which immediately transformed the Nikka from the Barrel. The sensation felt like a wise and fiery dragon suddenly became a tame yet powerful stallion. Few water drops changed the whisky into an elegant drink with hints of vanilla, nuts and oranges.
It was then, that I understood what makes whiskies special. This transformative liquid was unlike anything I’ve tried in my short lifespan! Its characteristics and subtle elegance vibrated my drive that sophistication and enjoyment can be found here. We proceed to try out Soc’s other purchases; The Nikka Pure Malt 21 years, the Nikka Single Malt Yoichi 10 years, the Johnnie Walker Double Black, and the Chivas Regal 18 years (we had this at home) for comparison. Needless to say, neither of us went to bed sober.
- Johnnie Walker Double Black: blended scotch and a deeper twist from their black label. We liked this one. A very deep smoky taste. Would be great with BBQ food.
- Chivas Regal 18 years: it wasn’t my cup of whisky but Soc really likes it.
- Nikka Yoichi 10 years: not very memorable in my humble opinion. Its a single malt but doesn’t hold up to the Nikka from the Barrel.
- Nikka Pure Malt 21 years: I enjoyed this whisky. Not too sweet with a hint of coffee and dark chocolate (my two favorite taste).