2016 Japanese Whisky of the Year

Yoichi Single Malt—45% ABV, $80

For the optimists out there, rejoice! U.S. liquor stores are stocking a greater variety of Japanese whiskies produced by a greater number of distillers than for many years. For the pessimists out there, disaster! We still get to grumble about the profusion of whiskies with young or no age statements to our hearts’ content, carp on about steep prices charged by producers relatively new to making whisky, and wallow in our reminiscences about tasting legendary Japanese whiskies. But wait; the global whisky community’s longing for quality Japanese whisky is not an entirely unrequited desire. The latter half of this decade may prove to be leaner years for Japanese whisky drinkers compared to the decade before, but the situation has provided a stimulus to spirits producers across Japan. New distilleries are being erected, and whiskies are being released by companies better known as brewers or sake and shōchū makers. Meanwhile, the major companies are trying to balance demand, expectations, quality, and creativity. Blenders love the freedom to work on a characterful whisky from their inventory, unencumbered by a minimum age.

Nikka Whisky’s Yoichi Single Malt is a new expression and a rare breed as the only surviving Yoichi in the U.S. market. This year’s award recipient typifies the classic maritime and peaty elements of the Hokkaido distillery. A compelling nose of black earthy peat, smoldering fires, a turned-out pocket of briny seashells, whole lime, lemon twist, sugared orange, ground ginger, and licorice. Silky smooth on the tongue, with light, fruity sweetness developing into tangy Spangles, kiwi, and lime juice. The smoky peat is the weft woven through the fruit structure’s warp. Menthol, peat, and leather go the distance. This Japanese whisky is delicious, elegant, and affordable; perfectly pitched for cogitative drinking by those loyal to the Japanese single malt scene.

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