Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
Nikka is discontinuing their entire single-malt line-up, for both Yoichi and Miyagikyo. That means: no more 10yo, no more 12yo, no more 15yo, no more 20yo and no more NAS versions of these two as we know them. On September 1st, Nikka is replacing this entire line-up with two new NAS versions of Yoichi and Miyagikyo, which will differ slightly in profile (read: contain younger components) than the NAS versions hitherto available.
Nikka is also discontinuing their ‘White Label’ pure malt (i.e. vatted malt), and the following blended whiskies: Tsuru 17, G&G, Hakata, ‘The Blend’, Malt Club, Hi-Nikka (only available in 720ml bottles from now on, as opposed to the larger plastic bottles prevalent in supermarkets around the country – up to 4 litres in volume), All Malt (only available in 700ml bottles, no longer in the larger bottles), Black Nikka 8yo and Black Nikka SP (only available in 700ml bottles, no longer in the larger bottles).
So basically what remains – other than the aforementioned new Yoichi and Miyagikyo NAS that will come out in September – is: the Taketsuru line-up (NAS, 17, 21 and – soon to be released – a 25), the ‘Black’ and ‘Red Label’ pure malt, the Coffey Grain and Coffey Malt, The Nikka 12yo, From the Barrel, Super Nikka and the Rich Blend, Clear Blend and Deep Blend Black Nikka. The price of all these will be raised from September 1st – sometimes significantly so (Taketsuru 21 goes from about 10,000 yen to 15,000 yen… a 50% increase in price, to give but one example).
People have been bemoaning this new strategy from the day it leaked out on the net. Whisky fans in Japan started raiding stores immediately to the point where, already now, it is well nigh impossible to find any of the whiskies that will be discontinued from September onwards. An informal survey among whisky fans here revealed that most people who went out and bought all the Yoichi and Miyagikyo standard bottlings they could find, didn’t really buy any of those when they were readily available. We call this the ‘terminal aunt’ syndrome – you know, the aunt you never visit until she’s terminally ill.
The truth of the matter is, Nikka was forced to carry out this radical restructuring of their whisky portfolio because 15-20 years ago, people weren’t drinking much whisky in Japan, and there were years, at both Yoichi and Miyagikyo distillery, when the barrels laid down for maturation could be counted on the fingers of one hand. The ‘stock shortage’ is not an excuse or a PR stunt – it’s very real. Sources within Nikka have said that it is ‘likely’ that age-statement single malts will be brought back in 5 or 6 years’ time. No official statement to that effect has been made for the simple reason that doing so – in Japan – would be interpreted as a promise (which could come back to haunt them in 6 years’ time).
It will be interesting to see what happens over at Suntory. They haven’t officially discontinued their 12yo, 18yo, etc. single malts but ask anyone in Japan when was the last time they saw a bottle of Hakushu or Yamazaki with an age statement (or a Hibiki with an age statement, for that matter!) and you’ll know that things are headed in the same direction.
Smaller distillers are likely to benefit from the shortages of stock that the big dogs are struggling with, for the simple reason that – being small and ‘craft’ – people are willing to accept younger whiskies (we’re talking 3yo, 4yo, 5yo here) at higher price points (north of 10,000yen) more readily from producers like Mars and Chichibu than from Yoichi or Yamazaki. As we overheard someone say at a bar in Tokyo recently, the biggest selection of Japanese whiskies will soon be… the auction circuit. Time to apply for a new credit card … or find tasty alternatives elsewhere.