The Miyagikyo Distillery, founded in 1969, was the second Nikka distillery to be built by Japanese whisky legend Masataka Taketsuru, coming just over 30 years after its sister distillery, Yoichi.
While Yoichi was built on the island of Hokkaido in the far north of Japan, due to the climate conditions there being similar to Scotland, Miyagikyo was built on the mainland, sitting right next to two rivers that provide crystal clear and pure water to the distillery.
The fact that both distilleries experience different climates allows Nikka to produce a range of whiskies with greatly differing styles, alongside some really intriguing blends. This has helped them to create an extensive and delicious range of expressions that cater to a number of different palates and tastes.
This year, the distillery is celebrating its 50th anniversary – an achievement that seen them get through the serious lack of demand for Japanese whisky in much of the 20th century before shooting to popularity in the 21st. This is in no small part down to the quality of the whisky they produce.
The Miyagikyo Style
While Yoichi distillery makes a rich, peaty and often powerful whisky, Miyagikyo comes from the other end of the scale, with fruity, fresh and floral expressions.
Their whiskies are always smooth and refreshing and this is no doubt thanks to the masterful techniques and practices put in place by Taketsuru himself.
This giant of the Japanese whisky industry learned his trade in Scotland, touring a number of distilleries and picking up many of their secrets along the way. He brought these back to Japan and first implemented them at Yoichi, before bringing them to Miyagikyo too.
One of the most apparent things that he brought to his distilleries was a variety of still types. At Yoichi, he introduced a coal-fired pot still, similar to one he had learned with at Scotland’s Longmorn distillery.
At Miyagikyo he introduced the famous Coffey still, first created by Aeneas Coffey in 1830. Taketsuru loved these excellent whisky-making devices.
They help to retain the flavours of the malted barley and the fresh purity of the locally sourced water, meaning that each whisky created using them has a unique sense of character that can be easily identified. While many originally felt that the spirit produced in these stills was ‘bland or tasteless’, opinions changed when trained noses highlighted the qualities in the delicate, subtle and light bodied whiskies that the use of such equipment results in.
It is these stills that give Miyagikyo its distinct flavour profile and character, while also making it perfect for blending thanks to the consistency of the spirit they produce. As a result, Nikka has been able to create some truly exquisite blends with whisky from both of their distilleries.
The Best of Miyagikyo
So 50 years on from the creation of what has gone on to become one of Japan’s best distilleries, what bottles should you be looking to get your hands on?
Without a shadow of a doubt, the annual limited edition releases are the main ones to look out for. These are not only delicious, bringing an exquisite range of fruits and other notes to your nose and palate, but as they are limited in nature, they also hold significant investment value.
The Nikka Coffey Malt expressions are huge achievements when it comes to flavour profile and they have become incredibly popular around Japan and beyond. The sad fact that they were discontinued earlier this year is something lots of us are struggling to deal with (I know I am). However, remaining stocks will still be around for a while yet, and we’ll hopefully see this expression return to production lines in years to come, once Japanese whisky stocks are replenished.
The three “Wood Finish” expressions of 2018 were big hits and are well worth trying. Also limited in numbers, these were finished in manzanilla casks, sherry casks and bourbon casks respectively, allowing you to experience a varying range of flavours on top of that consistently delicious Miyagikyo spirit.
These are just some of my favourites, but to be quite honest, most of the whiskies produced at Nikka’s ‘second’ distillery are outstanding.
Celebrating 50 Years
With this wonderful distillery celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, we thought it was only right to honour their whisky and their achievements. Growing in popularity, with their distinctive expressions, Miyagikyo will no doubt be around for some time to come, and we can’t wait to try their new expressions in 2019.
Today however, we’ll be sitting back with a couple of drams of their single malts, with a sip of Coffey Malt thrown in for good measure, and toasting a wonderful distillery that everyone should try if given the chance.