Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The ‘Nikka Shock’: Nikka Radically Restructures their Whisky Line-up

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
Nikka has shocked whisky fans at home and abroad with their new whisky strategy. It has been in the news for a while now – even the mainstream media in Japan have reported on this (strangely enough always focusing on Yoichi, even though it applies to their other distillery, Miyagikyo, as well, and some of their blends, too) – but we got so many messages form readers asking for clarification, we'd better clarify the situation a bit. Here's a quick overview of what’s (been) happening.

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.

23 comments:

Mark @ Malt Review said...

Excellent post on some sad news indeed...

Stefan Van Eycken said...

Thanks, Mark. Yes, it's quite shocking news - although we have to applaud Nikka for being so open and frank about it. They could have just done what producers elsewhere are doing and stealthily phase out age-statements and replace them with NAS releases.

elskling said...

Thanks for the clarification Stefan, and yes, at least Nikka is being honest in their communication.

The only thing that surprises me, in the end, is that the information comes a bit at the last moment (maybe they did not have a choice), and that Nikka did not anticipate this stock problem far more in advance.

WhiskyRuby said...

Thank you Stefan for the information in this post.

Erik said...

Ah.. the ugly side of things becoming "fashionable"... at least I'm only 27, so by the time I'm 50 or so and have saved up some money hopefully the fine aged single malts will return and I can binge :)

Cavalier said...

Maybe it was announced in advance as a cynical ploy to be able to charge more for the remaining stock of age stated whiskies, knowing that people would snap them up at whatever price?

Anonymous said...

Is the Nikka Black 8yo also discontinued or is it still availabe in 700ml bottles ?

Nimesh Shah said...

Wow. Really wow. Their forthrightness is appreciated. But still a big disappointment. When I started collecting, I always thought the "regular stuff" would be available, to enjoy and drink (or to give as a gift) when one didn't want to break out the truly rare dram. Now my collection is just that.

Will J said...

The good thing about Suntory whiskies, although it may just be a hiccup, is that whiskies that were hard to find a few months ago seem to be popping up more and more in stores; I was able to find two bottles of Yamazaki 18 at Bic Camera along with several bottles of Hibiki 21 last week. In fact, I haven't seen any of my local bottle shops sell out of Yamazaki 12 in over a month. Likely it was the price increase. Maybe Asahi/Nikka should've raised prices a year ago...

Anonymous said...

How much were the Yamazaki 18 and Hibiki 21 at Bic Camera(and which location), I'm off to Tokyo in 2 weeks hoping to find some

Anonymous said...

Apparently their are still a lot of shipments globally for hibiki but wait until sept or Dec. Everything will be bone gone

Powerlifter said...

Am I to understand that the new iterations of Miyagikyo and Yoichi single malts, which are to retail at around Y4,000, are going to be YOUNGER than the ones that have heretofore sold, which go for around Y1,800?

Stefan Van Eycken said...

Well, no official source will either confirm or disconfirm that... and also it can be said "younger in what sense?" (and there are many possible answers to that question), but basically yes...

Propofol said...

I haven't actually tried yoichi and miyagikyo because i was pretty sure they were going to be always around. I am now suffering from the terminal aunt syndrome, desperately trying to find people to get duty free yoichi and miyagikyo from japan

Duncan Ross said...

This news has been known for quite some time and as a whisky retailer we have been affected by the increase in Japanese whisky sales over the past 7 months. We have a few 'age statement' malts left but nothing old, we are seeing NAS items increase and the move to blended malts has become more common. We have warned our customers about shortfalls and inevitable price increases, it isn't quite the 'terminal aunt syndrome' but the major producers lines are moving quickly. I do believe it will give the artisnal producer and some of the other Japanese whisky companies a real opportunity to market their wares on a global scene. We will still have Japanese Malt Whisky but you are going to have to dig deep to afford them.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick confirmation, what is happening to the All Malt - is this being removed as well? Or from your post is the larger 700ml size still going to be around?

whiskyjapan said...

It is not really the "terminal aunt syndrome" it is the "buy everything you can because you can make 3x profit on the auction sites syndrome"

espressophile said...

I was able to find plenty of Suntory Yamazaki 12 and Hakushu 12 at A.Mart in Taipei just a few days ago. Of course, that isn't Japan, although practically next door, at least in global terms.

OnPCH1 said...

I left Tokyo on July 28th. Tokyo is out of aged Japanese whiskies! Maybe you'll find some out in the countryside. Duty-free? Only NAS'. Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles area, there are quite a few available at local mom & pop stores...at a price. Yamazaki 18yo for $450US anyone?!
Luckily, I picked up a Yoichi 15yo for $140 including tax (last August it was $55 at Narita's duty-free).
Keep checking, because they seem to pop up here and there.
Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I was in Tokyo and Fukuoka recently, and made a mad dash for whisky purchases. Here's what I could find and where.

Yamazaki 18 - Bic Camera Tokyo. They had just got a few Nikka Blended 21's in and were selling cheap at 8,800 yen, but that was the only Yama 18 I saw in all of Japan, except at the Narita Duty Free where it was 3x the price. So I grabbed that instead.

White Oak Single Malt NAS - Hasegawa Liquors Tokyo.

Ichiro's Malt MWR - Bon Liquors, Fukuoka (last one, sorry)

Mars Komagatake The Revival 2011 (limited run of 6000 bottles) - Bon Liquors, Fukuoka (got 2)

White Oak Blended Malt NAS - Dirt Cheap (900 Yen = $7.00 USD) at a local Fukoka Supermarket. Only had one on the shelf.

Yamazaki Limited Edition 2015 - Daimaru Dept Store Fukoka (they had 6, I grabbed 3 of them).

Good luck for anyone searching.

Ethan Powell said...

The new NAS Yoichi is quite a step down, lighter body, little depth. Banana comes through in the nose and initial palate which is a bit nice but it can't hold much flavor beyond that. This would be fine EXCEPT they're still pricing it at the same level as the old 10y

Russell Hirschorn said...

I was in Tokyo end of August and first learned of japanese whiskey at Zoetrope bar in Shinjuku and boy was it delicious. I was lucky to grab a Tsuru 17 for $35 at Narita duty free, otherwise it was 21yo special airport addition for $500 (I'll pass). Upon arriving back in New York City (where I live), I searched all over for Nikka. Maybe 3 stores had Yoichi 15 ranging from 125-150, and Miyagikyo 12, which is a little more common, ranging from 100-150, I grabbed 3 bottles of each. The Tsuru 17 and 21 can be found, but is $175 and $200+ respectively. Suntory also can be found but the 12yo Yam and Hak recently hiked up to $100 to almost $250 in some stores where the 18 Hak is $300 and 18 Yam is $500. There are exceptions, but you have to look real hard in a city with liquor stores on almost every corner.

Anonymous said...

Stefan,

I just picked up a Taketsuru 25 in Japan for about 70,000 yen. I'm guessing this a new 25 year release you mentioned in your article above. But is there any way to tell it's from the new release, or the 2012 release? The box looks exactly the same as the 2012 release.

Thanks in advance.