Age: No age statement
When Aeneas Coffey took his first steps in the distilling world as an exciseman in 1800, he could not have guessed that his name would one day be linked to a range of Japanese spirits. Yet such was the impact of Coffey’s inventions that he is now considered one of the most influential figures in whisky history. Traditionally, distilling took place in pot stills, which have to be cleaned out after each run. To increase efficiency, Coffey designed a column still, which could operate continuously. His patented Coffey still would go on to become the standard for distilling grain whisky, at a time when blending became increasingly popular. Although his patent has since expired, modern column stills are very similar to Coffey’s invention back then, and continue to be named Coffey stills.
So, let’s fast-forward two centuries. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of Coffey stills operational around the world, so what makes Nikka Coffey Malt so special? Well, according to the Scotch Whisky Regulations, malt whisky must be distilled in a pot still. This means that even if you were to put malted barley through a Coffey still, you could only label it as a grain whisky. Frugal as they are, no Scotchman would waste money and effort on this. Japan of course isn’t bound by any Scottish regulations, and can label as they please. This is where Coffey Malt comes in. Nikka owns a pair of Coffey stills at their Miyagikyo distillery, which churn out grain whisky, vodka and gin. For Coffey Malt though, 100% malted barley was used, creating a product that is unique. Nowhere else in the world will you find a malt whisky that’s been produced in a Coffey still. Nikka claims that this results in extraordinary flavours and texture, so let’s put this to the test.
Colour: Pale gold
Nose: Bursting with sweet, almost rum-like aromas. The perfume of caramel and fudge is hard to miss, but eventually gives way to molasses and marzipan. Underneath there’s the scent of hazelnut ice cream, as well as some faintly fruity aromas, reminiscent of blood oranges and nectarines. Promising stuff!
Palate: Full-bodied, with a nice creamy texture. Nutty flavours unfold, with pecans and macadamia taking centre stage. Dark chocolate custard combines with freshly baked brioche to create a rich, malty bouquet of flavours. Then Coffey Malt turns up the spice with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Very enjoyable!
Finish: Reasonably long, as the explosion of flavours continues. The aftertaste is pleasant, offering cocoa nibs and a slight hint of smoke.
Verdict: I really like this whisky. Nikka Coffey Malt is positively bursting with flavour, but somehow manages to maintain a good balance. The result is a lavishly rich dram that’s easy drinking but rewarding, moreish yet still satisfying. In many ways, Coffey Malt reminds me of the excellent Miyagikyo Single Malt. Given the origins of this whisky, that’s perhaps not surprising. Coffey Malt has a more luxurious texture though, and I can only guess this is the influence of the continuous stills. For reasons mentioned in the intro, I don’t expect any Scottish distillers to take a leaf out of Nikka’s book, but I can’t help but wonder what kind of results this would produce. Coffey Malt at least is a delightful dram, a curious challenge of convention that’s firmly earned its spot in Nikka’s range.