Nikka produces the whisky at their Miyagikyo distillery in Sendai, Japan. The "Coffey" part in the name refers to the two-column stills used to distill the whisky. They were imported from Scotland back in 1963.
Since using those vintage stills is rare and they have traveled a long way, it is worth mentioning, what Nikka proudly does by including the term "Coffey" in their product's names and sometimes as a piece of additional information on bottles like for Nikka Gold and Gold. -But there's more that makes this Japanese whisky stand out.
Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky Review Summary
- Produced By: Nikka
- Owned By: Asahi
- Product Website: Product Website
- Production Location: Sendai, Japan
- Classification: Japanese Whisky
- Ingredients: 100% Malted barley
- Aging: 8-12 years
- Color: Amber
- ABV: 45% ABV
- Proof: 90
- Price: $60 / 750 ml
- Overall Rating: 4/5
Nikka Coffey Grain is often nicknamed Japanese Bourbon. Yet, In my opinion, the comparison does not do justice to the product because this Coffey Grain Whisky is more than a Japanese variant of the American corn whiskey.
It, indeed, does showcase the characteristic sweetness of vanilla and corn. However, the flavor profile also contains hints of peaches, honey wine, cinnamon, and candy. In the nose, you'll get classic bourbon aromas like vanilla, corn, and also hints of chamomile.
Once you take the first sip, you'll get even more vanilla flavors with elegant fruity sweetness. I can taste quite a variety of fruity flavors that remind me of peaches, melon, and grapefruit, yet there are also candy notes.
The finish and aftertaste again show lots of corn notes. That still doesn't make it a Bourbon, yet Bourbon lovers probably find this drop highly agreeable.
This whisky definitely tastes better without ice. After chilling it with a large ice cube, the sweet, delicately fruity, and spicy flavors are muted, making the sweet vanilla notes stand out even more.
This shift in the flavor profile makes the Coffey Grain Whisky more one-dimensional than it actually is.
Simply put, Nikka Coffey Grain works excellently in an Old Fashioned cocktail. The smooth and delicate flavors highly benefit from the extra amount of sugar and aromatic flavors from Angostura bitters.
Garnished with an orange peel and served over a large ice cube, this Coffey Grain Old Fashioned is sweet, slightly fruity, and contains subtle spicy flavors that complement the sweeter flavors remarkably well.
I wasn't sure about this one at first, as the flavors in the whisky are so light and delicate. However, I found the Whisk(e)y Sour exceptionally good. The whisky brings in an unexpected richness and an ideal amount of honey-like sweetness that worked well with the other ingredients.
We made our sour with slightly aged yuzu juice (for a more mellow flavor), simple syrup, and egg white. An additional dry shake before the wet shake helped to get an even silkier texture and a nice frothy top.
This Nikka Manhattan was the best cocktail we tried. No wonder the recipe for the Perfect Nikka Manhattan won the award for the best cocktail at Cocktails & Spirits bar show in Paris back in 2013.
To mix it, you need two ounces of Coffey Grain Whisky, half an ounce of Dolin Dry, half an ounce of Dolin Red, and two dashes of bitters. Essential oils of an orange peel and a rich and sweet Maraschino cherry round off the taste of the drink.
The bottle design is clean and minimalistic. A cylindrical brown bottle with a subtle red label containing only the most basic information about the product. However, it's this simplicity and understatement that makes this bottle so beautiful. It's all about the product inside rather than a fancy label or flashy bottle shape.
Pros & Cons
- Subtle and sweet flavors
- Light and crisp
- The flavors can be too subtle when paired with intensely aromatic ingredients like fresh lemon juice, ginger beer, etc.
What makes Nikka Coffey Grain special?
As mentioned, the first thing about Nikka Coffey Grain is the use of old Scottish Coffey stills. Those particular two-column stills feature a distinct and patented design for stills developed by Aeneas Coffey in 1830.
Also, grain whisky is often blended. That means most producers would mix whiskies from different distilleries to create a more balanced whisky.
But Nikka decided otherwise and produced an exquisite single-grain whisky. And the unusual approach and unique taste make this product quite successful.
Looking closer at the mash bill of Nikka Coffey Grain, you'll see that, like bourbon, it predominantly contains corn. But Nikka also added just a bit of malted barley to create a unique flavor profile.
The Coffey stills used to distill this whisky also add a special touch to the whiskey that is hard to put into words. It tastes purer and also has a lighter body.
Why does Nikka use a Coffey still?
Nikka uses an imported vintage Coffey still (a specific type of continuous still) because it maintains more of the characteristic aromas, notes, and flavors in the whisky. Modern continuous stills are way more efficient. But at the same time, they also strip out much flavor out of the spirit.
The founder of Nikka, Masataka Taketsuru, is married to a Scottish woman and decided to bring Scottish stills to Japan to produce high-quality whisky according to Scottish standards.
This attention to detail also shows in the choice of barrels used for the aging process of the whisky. All casks are made on-site from fresh oak.
The result of this decision is a spirit full of character which might, however, not be for everyone. Yet, those who appreciate it will be pleasantly surprised by its sweet, light, and complex flavors.
Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky is a high-quality spirit with a complex and unusual flavor profile. It is smooth, with a bit of sweetness, comparable to a Bourbon, but with a more intense, sweet, and lasting aftertaste. It's hard not to like it because it has no discernible weakness.
However, for me, that's where it falls short of other high-quality Whisk(e)ys. I prefer more pronounced flavors, richer flavor profiles, and full-bodied spirits. If you prefer light and subtle grain whiskey though, this bottle is a must-try.