Monday, December 17, 2012

Tastings at The Court - SMWS 2012 Nikka Expressions

The Court: a whisky bar of antiquity and as far as I know home to one of Kansai's largest collections of Nikka paraphernalia. The establishment, which has all the trimmings of a typical old Scottish watering hole is a Taketsuru ambassador and pays homage to the Nikka brand. Yoichi and Miyagikyo connoisseurs will be spoilt for choice at The Court. Not only does the bar offer an interesting selection of past and present bottlings of Nikka for you to savor in nostalgic and yesteryear surroundings, the establishment also have their own in-house mini Nikka museum one floor below the bar (a must see - by appointment only). The floor to ceiling historical and chunky, but petite bar counter also adorns an array of Nikka memorabilia, certainly an environment you could spend a lot of time in over a dram or two. It's not often you find a place with in modern Japan of such description that you can confidently call a home away from home. Whiskies R Us is happy to write the first English introduction on this hidden gem and recommends all readers in Osaka to pop in.

My time at The Court however was spent in the adjacent room that equally transcends you back in time. Wooden floor boards, white washed walls, lots more Nikka goodies, rustic interior, and a lovely old fashioned cast iron oil heater that radiated warmth for the evenings tastings: SMWS (Scotch Malt Whisky Society) Nikka bottlings. The gathering was certainly nothing formal, which I quite liked. Basically a bunch of down to earth guys and girls who share the enthusiasm of Japanese whisky and interest in the society bottles, which were sourced by one of the attendees for the tasting. The relaxed and casual evening was certainly appreciated as it gave unlimited time to spend on each of the three Nikka expressions, perhaps a bit too much time as my pen didn't make contact to paper as much as it should have as I was too carried away with talking about other things - purely conversing about whisky of course. My thoughts on the evenings single casks:

[124.3] Miyagikyo 13-years-old (1999) - ABV: 61.9 - refill butt: Great balance, fresh and creamy malt. Right of the bat pineapple life savers (pineapple lollies/candy) emerges on both the nose and palate. A hint of tatami mats, white compound chocolate and Arnott's milk coffee biscuits make their way to the surface. Fruit is certainly there: a home made fruit salad with banana and whiffs of kiwi fruit. With the addition of water the pineapple becomes extremely dominant but in an artificial form, again, a very pleasant attack of pineapple candy. This Miyakigyo carried an appreciative light body with some interesting hidden aromas and tastes: camembert cheese on the nose and a touch of dried kelp (Kombu).

[116.18] Yoichi 18-years-old (1994) - ABV: 64.4% - refill butt: Lovely stuff and my nomination out of the three siblings. On the nose sweet notes: old fashioned cologne and pipe tobacco automatically emerge followed by a burst of melon soda with a dollop of ice cream (creaming soda). Fruit is evident but not in a fresh form, banana yes, but in gum tablets. Complex stuff involving melted butter and glazed milk chocolate apricots. Water brings out pepper and whiffs of tyre smoke. The palate is bitter and tingling and takes a few traits from the nose but fruit is much more representative with mango tinges. This is handsome stuff.

[116.17] Yoichi 25-years-old (1987) - ABV: 59.2% - virgin oak butt: Possibly the best balance out of the three expressions, but in my opinion it lacks in character in comparison to its siblings. There were some lovely notes that came out of this but it was a hard malt to find any distinctive personality. Perhaps it was a factor of being the third in but I was hoping for a bit more. However, lovely homemade Japanese plum liqueur (Umeshu) rolled of the surface along with cream confectionary. There is a touch of glue on the nose: envelope glue, which transfers to the palate at a later stage. With water a salty, rich, caramel soft candy shows its face intertwining amongst some chamomile tea.

To conclude my favourite out of the three expressions was the Yoichi 18-year-old. Although all three expressions were beautiful in their own way the 18-yo won my vote on its expressive nose and palate. Exciting times for enthusiasts of Japanese whisky, let's all look forward to the flourish of new bottlings to come in 2013.

The Court
Shibakawa Bldg 101
3-3-3 Fushi-machi chuoku
Osaka 541-0044
(exit 11 - Yodoyabashi station - Midosuji line)

Update December 25: Cask detail information corrected.


  1. What a great report! This seems to be a place not to be missed. The tasting notes for the 18yo are mouth watering!

  2. Great report Clint and what a cool joint.

  3. Thanks for the kind words gentleman. The building the bar is situated in is world heritage material - although not official, so that in it self is worth the visit. I loved this place, has qualities big famed bars don't have such as that nostalgic home away from home atmosphere. Very old school commenwealth set-up.

  4. Wow! What a great looking place with such an incredible selection. We don't have anything like that in my part of Japan. I am envious. Go back and take more pictures. Great post, keep up the good work.

  5. Thanks for the encouragement Mike. It sounds like there may not be a lot of options your way regarding places for a dram but it certainly sounds like there is a smorgasbord of mum & pop stores to keep you busy? Perhaps when you are down this way you can pop in to the court.


  6. I know I'll be popping in next April : )

  7. Those three SMWS bottles are not from ex-sherry butts. They are quite simply refill butts, i.e. fresh oak butts that have been used for maturing whisky once, then emptied and refilled a second time. Nikka uses this procedure quite a bit. To many people in the whisky world, "butt" = "ex-sherry", but this is not necessarily the case, and certainly not at Nikka. Just wanted to clarify this.

    1. Quite simply fresh oak butts indeed. Besides the clarification above, thanks by the way, I further clarified this myself, for the simple reason the SMWS order form of these expressions, which I had in front of me on the day, stated 1st fill/refill-sherry butt. However, purely my mistake. If I'd done my homework a bit better and been up to scratch I would not have missed the "error announcement" ( that corrected this information, which appears to have been lost in translation on my behalf. These three expressions are made from scratch at Nikka's cooperage using virgin oak butt (116.17) and refill butts (116.18/124.3).