Head to Head #1

A.K.A. Dick’s Put it in Your Mouth Challenge!

(This is the first in a series of S&S whisky comparisons)

 Some of our longtime readers will have noted by now that there is a paradox amongst our contributors; we enjoy our women young, our sports Japanese, and our whisky anything but.

Across the pond(s), Japanese whisky seems to have garnered quite a formidable reputation and indeed most reviews of Japanese spirits seems to begin with some form of “Japanese whisky is so underrated. We at *publication of dubious quality* know our whiskys better than anyone else though, so we will give this Asian spirit the marks it deserves.” Now, since I have never read a particularly bad review of a Japanese whisky on any reputable site, I (and I feel I can speak for most of S&S when I say this) would like to tell the world that Japanese whisky is anything but underrated.

Having lived in Japan and survived more than our fair share of enkais which seems start with beer and then blur into a never ending haze of, “Oi! Whiski-rokku mitsu!” I feel that we are qualified to comment on the current state of the Japanese whisky industry. Our overall feeling is that the tanuki’s share of whiskys from our adopted country are stagnant, unimaginative, and not particular tasty.

But it was there I wondered, are my (not-inconsiderable) prejudices getting the better of me? Have I spent so much time amongst my J-whisky hating cohorts that I can no longer tell the true quality of a dram due to my whacism (whisky racism)? I set my self to figuring this out the only way I knew how: Science.

Well, I don’t honestly know how many mainstream scientists would consider getting blind drunk during a blind tasting science, but what do they know? Nerds.

For my first venture into the world of comparing Japanese spirits to those foreign made, I chose two rather easily-identifiable whiskys and one easily-identifiable, at least in Akita, Englishman: Leon Bertrum. The whiskys we started with were The Glenlivet Nadurra and Nikka Black Clear. I can already hear some of you whisky buffs moaning, “But that’s not even a contest! The Nadurra is a handcrafted cask strength single malt and the Nikka Black is a mass produced watered down monster of a blend!” Well that’s the flipping point. I want to take two clearly different spirits and see if our prejudices get the best of us. As we continue this series I promise we will do more between two spirits more similar in quality. In the meantime this supposed bloodbath will have to suffice.

Whilst Betrum was in the other room making himself lady-like I filled up two glasses with the spirits and marked them as #1 (Nikka Black Clear) and #2 (Glenlivet Nadurra). Berturm returned to the room in question and he gave each spirit individual marks on 1. Appearance 2. Nose. 3. Taste and 4. Overall package. His notes are as follows. (Remember he has no idea which is which)

#1. (Nikka Black Clear) Blended Japanese Whisky 37%
Appearance: Just from the color it’s clear that this is the superior whisky.
Nose: Not much to it, caramel, rubbing alcohol
Taste: Nothing to it, a hard to explain slight mealy taste. A burn that disappears quickly and leaves an aftertaste reminiscent of juice concentrate. In a word, water.
Overall: The best thing you can say about it is that it doesn’t stay around long enough to offend you. Although there is a slight burn, compared to the much higher alcohol percentage of the Nadurra, it is no contest to tell which is which.

#2. (Glenlivet Nadurra) Single Malt Highland Scotch Whisky 55.1%
Appearance: More colorful than #1, but looks less natural. This looks to be the inferior whisky. If given time it looks like this would naturally separate between water and alcohol.
Nose: Sweet, slight bacon notes, citrus, lemon, alcohol, juicy
Taste: Fruity, salty, hard to pin down. Very flavorful and complex.
Overall: The sheer complexity and high alcohol percentage of this dram set it worlds apart from the competition. How this bottle fares by itself is a different matter though. This whisky is so compact that you never know what you are going to get out of every sip. Although by no means a bad whisky, if I were to relax and enjoy a glass of whisky I would go with an Ardbeg or Talisker over this bruiser.

There you have it folks. Although our hero was momentarily fooled by appearances, the superior dram shone through. This just goes to show that color has no bearing on the flavor of any large commercially produced spirit. If untampered with, the color can give you some hints as to how a specific spirit was matured, but considering how much artificial coloring is being added to products these days it’s unwise to use color as a barometer of overall quality.

I, for one, am glad to see that this particular head to head turned out to be the bloodbath I had hoped for. Stay tuned for more in this this series where we put our taste-buds and reputations as whisky authorities to the test.

’till next time,

-Dick Montana.

4 responses to “Head to Head #1

  1. Montana, I like my woman as I like my whiskey: aged to perfection, and whatever age she happens to be, well… that defines perfection.

    Now, I will tell you something that doesn’t define perfection: Nikka Black. Nicely done, Bertrum.

    Good post.

  2. I for one love this idea. I hope you’ll have a little bit of Something Special for me at the Basho, Montanta.

  3. When you get up to it, you should test out Suntory’s 12 Year Hakushu in a blind taste test against a decent non-Japanese whiskey. I drank that once in Tokyo with De Gama, and it was a pretty smooth whiskey.

  4. Samuél de Gama

    Yeah, Hakushu is not bad at all. I remember I didn’t really appreciate it at Tokyo, but I do now :p. I also had it with some random dude at a bar in my town, haha

    @Creswell Don’t think they stock Something Special anymore… to all our dismay.

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