Last summer, Nikka Whisky Distilling unveiled Nikka Days, a new offering made for “everyday drinking occasions.” The smooth whisky immediately became one of the most drinkable on the market, perfect for everything from cocktails to sipping straight or on the rocks. As Emiko Kaji, Nikka Whisky International Business Development Manager, Asahi Breweries, Ltd, says, it’s a “whisky for every day.”
A subtle blend of non-peated and light peated malt whiskies, as well as Coffey grain whisky, the formula for Nikka Days consists of roughly 100 different batches and the recipe is constantly updated. Refilled, remade and re-charred casks, which are originally made from American oak, are mainly used, along with ex-sherry, ex-bourbon, and new American oak.
In this week’s Bottle Breakdown, we sat down with Emiko Kaji to learn more about the thought process behind Nikka Days, what goes into each bottle, and what’s next for Nikka.
Spirited Zine: Just to start, can you tell us about your first experience drinking whisky? And how that experience impacts the way you view Nikka Days?
Emiko Kaji: When I tried whisky for the first time many years ago, I did not enjoy it so much because it was very harsh and smoky (I do not remember what it was). Although my experience did not directly affect the way to develop Nikka Days, we wanted to create a very smooth and drinkable whisky that everybody can enjoy.
SZ: Nikka Days was created to be a “whisky for every day.” After coming up with that concept, what was the first step taken to beginning creating the whisky?
EK: We teamed up with our blenders and first developed the formula to realize the concept. We tried many samples arranged by the blenders and finally achieved a satisfactory taste.
SZ: Japanese whisky is getting more and more popular across the United States, but also has somewhat of a mystery around it for the everyday consumer. What kind of obstacles did you run into when creating a Japanese whisky for the masses?
EK: We believe that the success of Nikka has been built around tangible and intangible assets inherited from our founder Masataka Taketsuru since the foundation in 1934 such as the superior distilling and blending techniques, and that whisky fans are buying our products based on their taste profiles.
We developed Nikka Days with the consumer in mind. Our priority was to realize the concept of “Nikka Days” creating a refined taste with Nikka’s style of flavor which is often described as well-balanced, rather than just being Japanese. As you may know, the “Standards for labeling Japanese whisky” recently established by the Japan Spirits ＆ Liqueurs Makers Association have set out to create better transparency for the consumer, and Nikka has proactively provided the status of each product to clarify to consumers whether it can be defined as “Japanese whisky” or not on the brand website. Indeed, Nikka Days does not meet all the criteria of “Japanese whisky” defined by the new regulation. The formula contains some imported whiskies, though the core components are from Nikka’s own distilleries in Japan. Using imported whiskies allows Nikka’s blenders a great deal of freedom and flexibility to create a unique product by selecting whiskies from the vast variety. Including a small amount of whisky from overseas not only helps to secure consistency in the taste profiles created by our blenders, but also allows for more products in the market to meet consumer demand. While intended to be an everyday whisky, roughly 100 different batches are carefully selected, and the recipe is constantly updated.
We also spent a lot of time developing the package design to visualize the concept of a “whisky for every day.”
SZ: What kind of grains are used to make the whisky and where do you get the water from? How do they influence the flavors and aromas found in the whisky?
EK: Nikka Days is a subtle blend of non-peated and light peated malt whiskies, Coffey grain whisky which is predominantly made from corn and a touch of Coffey malt. Soft water locally sourced at our two distilleries and bottling facility embraces delicate mellowness.
SZ: What kind of yeast do you use for fermentation and how does that impact the end product?
EK: We are using distillery yeasts. In addition to around 10 strains which are regularly used, we have hundreds of strains cultivated in-house for many experiments to widen the variety of taste profiles and make our blends more complex.
SZ: How long is Nikka Days aged for and what kind of barrels do you use?
EK: Nikka Days is a NAS expression, a blend of whiskies of various age. As the formula consists of roughly 100 different batches and the recipe is constantly updated, it is not easy to tell even the average age.
Like other expressions from Nikka, Nikka Days is a blend of whiskies from different casks. Refilled, remade and re-charred casks which are originally made from American oak are mainly used, along with ex-sherry, ex-bourbon and new American oak.
SZ: How do you recommend enjoying the whisky (Nikka Days)? Are there any cocktails that we should be making with it?
EK: Nikka Days can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks and in a simple cocktail such as a highball, sonic (soda + tonic) and old-fashioned.
SZ: When is the best time to enjoy Nikka Days and is there anything we should be pairing with it?
EK: As the name implies, Nikka Days can be enjoyed anytime, even in the morning. When we first introduced Nikka Days at a tasting event, a customer said, “it is like a breakfast whisky which can be enjoyed with pancakes”. We really liked the idea.
We once tried various pairings with simple snacks which are available at supermarkets such as nuts, cheese, chocolate, etc. Here is our recommendation.
Cashew nuts: Light and creamy cashew nuts go best with this whisky.
Roquefort: Beautiful chemistry of a distinctive cheese and mild whisky
Prosciutto: The delicate mouthfeel of prosciutto goes well with Nikka Days.
Ruby chocolate: Made from ruby cacao beans, “ruby chocolate” is becoming a trend as a new category. The sweet-sour taste with fruity berry notes is perfect for the delicate Nikka Days.
SZ: What’s next for Nikka? Will we be seeing any additions to the core range or limited edition releases in the near future?
EK: While concentrating to penetrate more into the market with the current core range, we are now working on the development of limited editions which will be released in autumn.
For more information, check out Nikka’s official website.