The news that the Nikka 12 and a number of other Japanese whiskies have been discontinued will probably come as no surprise to many of you. Over the past year or so, it’s almost become the norm to wake to news that another one of our beloved expressions has been cut from the production lines.
The shortage is real and distilleries are taking immediate action to preserve whatever older stock they have left, while working to create tasty alternatives to the staples that we’ve become accustomed to drinking.
The most notable victims in this most recent batch of terminations are the Nikka 12 and Suntory’s Kakubin White Label, along with suspensions to the production of the Kakubin Yellow Label, Nikka Coffey Grain, Nikka Coffey Malt and the 350ml Chita grain whisky.
If you’re a glass half empty type of person, then the Japanese whisky landscape may be looking a little bit bleak right now, but it’s somewhat comforting to know that the master distillers and blenders around the country are doing their best to create worthy replacements.
The release of the Suntory Ao World Blend was timely and could signal the direction that the Japanese whisky industry has to take while a lot of the younger stock matures. Distilleries around the country have seriously ramped up production in the face of the shortage, but you simply cannot speed up the maturation process, and world blends have found some success in recent years. They offer a wide-range of possibilities, and buy much needed time for distillers in Japan.
With the end of their 12 Year Old, Nikka have also announced a new whisky, the non-age-statement Nikka Tailored, set to be released in April. Little is known about this blend as yet, but if the Hibiki Blender’s Choice (the replacement for the 17 Year Old) is anything to go by, we have nothing to worry about – it may contain younger liquid but it will still be balanced and flavourful.
As stocks mature, and pressure from the Japanese whisky shortage is hopefully relieved, we may see the return of some age statement whiskies. Whether or not they’ll live up to the standard set by our older, cherished expressions remains to be seen. In the meantime, it could be that we will be enjoying NAS and world blended whiskies a little more frequently, and that’s not necessarily all that bad.
We will no doubt miss age-statement Japanese whiskies, but exploring other branches of whisky in greater depth will only allow for new developments in production and maturation and ultimately new flavour compounds that simply weren’t possible before. The more time and dedication that is put into making quality expressions, in both the world blend and NAS categories, will only lead to an overall improvement in the array of interesting products on offer, as well as improving our overall understanding of whisky.
Discontinuations are rarely welcomed, but Japanese distilleries are taking action to preserve their legacy, their lifespan and, in the long run, Japanese whisky. Some of these new expressions promise a lot and we have our fingers crossed that they deliver, but only time will tell.
In the meantime, let’s have a dram of Nikka 12 and savour it while we can.