Friday, 3 May 2013

The Oak Barrel - Nikka masterclass (#101drams)

Despite being a big fan of whisky and regular attendee at the various tastings around Sydney, I'd never managed to visit The Oak Barrel nor one of their tastings, so a few weeks ago I decided to fix that, and their Nikka Whisky Masterclass seemed like the perfect opportunity.

I'd never met a Japanese whisky I didn't like, and with the following lineup (including a #101drams whisky), it was hard to pass up:

Presented by Dave Withers (The Oak Barrel's fine spirits expert, author of upcoming Australian whisky blog Native Drop and all-round nice bloke), to a packed out tasting room, the tasting started with a background of Japanese whisky, going way back to the Scotch whisky roots of the 20s and 30s. I learnt a heap of interesting facts about Japanese whisky, such as despite Mizunara oak being specific to Japan, it's only used in around 5% of Japanese whiskies due to the immense cost (most are ex-Bourbon barrels, as they are in Scotland). We also learn that Japan has a 3 year rule (like Scotland), and that whisky must be aged in oak, and contain no colouring.

There were a number of whiskies to taste, and so after a bit more history (see here for more detail), it was on with the show. See below for my rough/brief tasting notes.

Miyagikyo 10 Year Old 45%
Floral, some very light peat smoke (up to 5ppm). Reasonably long finish that keeps coming back in waves. 89/100 on the very non-scientific scale of "how much I like it".

Takesturu 12 Year Old 40%
Sweet nose. Light, sweet stone fruit palate. Glazed pastries. Almost too light on the palate Pleasant finish but nothing that stands out. A very inoffensive Summer whisky! 88/100. 

Yoichi 10 Year Old 45%
Peated at 10ppm, evident on the nose. Palate shows some earthy, oaky characteristics. Light peat on finish - its key lingering characteristic. A few drops of water didn't change it much. 86/100.

Nikka Pure Malt ‘Black’ 43%
Light nose, but underlying complexity. Very smooth. Slightly muted palate? Very very light smoke at the end of the palate, with a nutmeg, lightly spiced finish. 88/100

Nikka from the Barrel 51.4%
Loved this. Nose - rich butterscotch, oily. Cinnamon. Palate - big, robust mouthfeel. Big hit of orange peel at the end, which continues through to the finish. Absolutely fantastic. 93/100 - my favourite of the night (and one of the cheapest on offer!)

Nikka Pure Malt ‘White’ 43%
An Islay/Japanese blend. Nose - no real peat elements. Palate - definite peat, not overpowering. Nutty complexity. The finish brought about waves of very pleasant, morish peat smoke, with a hint of iodine. Peat increased all over with a few drops of water.  88/100.


All up this was a great tasting, and I'll definitely be back at a future Oak Barrel event. Pretty sure I'm going to pick up a bottle of Nikka from the Barrel soon too - I'd tried it before, but now have a newfound appreciation for it (and that's what these tastings are all about - trying new and old whiskies, learning what you like)!

Check The Oak Barrel's events page for details of upcoming tastings (for both members and non-members).

 - Martin.


  1. Oak Barrel have been doing a great job the last couple of years and tastings are on the go all the time. They have really done Sydney a favor in their proactive approach to whisky and I always recommend them as a go to for newbies to whisky.

  2. Yeah, agreed. They just need to get their act together with promoting the events - like actually including the dates when they put tickets up for sale online!

    I was keen to attend the upcoming 'farclas one, but can't make it unfortunately.