The best-selling whisky from Nikka, who, along with Suntory, leads the burgeoning whisky market in Japan, just got a brother. Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky, the popular corn-based whisky sold in the US since 2013, will be joined this month by Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky, which is distilled from, as the name implies, malted barley.
While their names only differ by one word, and the “Grain” bottle carries a rose label (while “Malt” is more of an amber), their distinction is significant. For the past three years, “Coffey Malt” hasn’t been allowed on the US market by the Tax and Trade Bureau because there was no category for “malt” whisky distilled using a Coffey continuous-column still. It took three years, but the label has now been adapted to conform to both Japanese and US regulations.
The source of the problem, Nikka’s Coffey stills, were designed in 1830s. They are difficult to clean and maintain and have largely been phased out of whisky production by most distillers. However, Nikka, which has a reputation for doing things their own sometimes-less-convenient way (they still use coal to heat their stills), held on to the traditional method because they love the flavor, according to the distillery. The result is a delicate whisky, good for beginners or for use in cocktails, and forms the backbone of many of the blended whiskies coming from Nikka, including the Japan and Europe-exclusive Nikka All Malt.
Because Nikka only uses “refill, remake and re-char” casks, the influence of the cask is minimal on the two Coffey whiskies, according to the distillery, making the pair of whiskies a great case study for how Coffey stills interact with corn versus malt. The Coffey Grain is the sweeter, more floral and mellow of the two, while the Coffey Malt leads with more butter, sugar and fruit. Keep an eye out for the newest whisky to come stateside from Japan, which has cornered the market on some of the best whisky in the world.