Nikka From The Barrel Review [In Depth]

Nikka From The Barrel

by: ALEX WANG, Founder, writer
nikka from the barrel review

Nikka From The Barrel Details

Distillery: Nikka (blend of Japanese whiskeys and Scotch)

Type & Region: World Whiskey, Japan

Alcohol: 51.4%

Composition: Blend of single malt and single grains whiskeys

Aged: NAS

Color: 1.2/2.0 on the color scale (chestnut, oloroso sherry)

Price: $70-80 MSRP

From the Nikka website:

“Nikka From The Barrel is a blended whisky created to deliver full flavors and richness of whisky “from barrels” which only blenders can sniff and taste. The iconic bottle is designed to reflect “a small block of whisky” – embodying the rich, strong taste of the whisky within. From The Barrel is an extremely complex blended whisky bottled at 51.4% ABV. In order to deliver its richness and full flavors, the blended liquid goes into used barrels for another few months for “marriage” before it is bottled.”

Company Website

Nikka From The Barrel overview

If you haven’t heard, Japanese whiskey is more popular than ever before. Nikka, owned by Asahi, is one of the leaders, creating a variety of whiskeys at its Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries. Some are sold as single malts with the distillery name on it, and the rest are blended together in various ways under the Nikka label (e.g., Nikka Taketsuru).
As much as many fawn over Japanese whiskey, I personally have a love/hate relationship with it because I think it can be incredible, but it’s too frequently drowned in water.
In my time drinking Japanese whiskey, I’ve been completely blown away by Nikka Pure Malt 21 Year, impressed by Yamazaki 18 Year (but not the price), generally impressed with Hakushu 12 Year, not particularly impressed with Yamazaki 12 or Nikka Coffey Grain, and completely turned-off by Ohishi Sherry Cask. This time I’m drinking Nikka From the Barrel, Nikka’s highest proof offering at 51.4%, a jump from the standard 43%. 
Nikka From the Barrel, Whisky Advocate’s 2018 Whisky of the Year, is a blend of single malt and single grain whiskeys, made in the same way that Blended Scotch Whiskeys are (except not made in Scotland). Over 100 whiskeys are blended together, aged in various bourbon barrels, sherry butts, and more to create this Japanese whiskey. 

Well actually, effective April 1, 2021, Nikka From The Barrel ceased to be Japanese whiskey. Rules were finally put in place that more or less stated that Japanese whiskey had to be distilled and aged in Japan, and use Japanese water. Since this has Scotch in it, it cannot be considered Japanese whiskey anymore.

Oddly, “From the barrel” does not mean cask strength, it actually is equivalent to 90 British Proof. Regardless, I’m excited to get to know this whiskey, so let’s get exploring in this Nikka From the Barrel review.
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As an FYI, I bought and use these Glencairn glasses for my reviews and comparisons (because they’re the best): Glencairn Crystal Whiskey Glass, Set of 6, Clear, 6 Pack. Full transparency, this is an affiliate link, so I may earn a commission if you buy this or something else from Amazon.

Nikka From The Barrel smell

While Nikka From the Barrel is a blend of bourbon and sherry-aged whiskeys, the bolder sherry notes explode out of the glass with blueberries and strawberries, honey-drizzled dates, dark orange syrup, and a few drops of vanilla cream. Hints of cocoa powder and milk chocolate bubble to the top now and then, reminding me of the malted barley and lighter oak and spice influences.
Buried under the wave of spiced sweetness is a subtle peat note that infuses some smoke and earth, but it’s far from Laphroaig-level. Compared to other Japanese whiskeys, Nikka From the Barrel has a stronger alcohol presence, but it mostly stays out of the way to let me appreciate the core fruit, vanilla, and spice scents.
Swirling gives off more of the same scents. I smell a lot of sweet and floral honey, berries, and candied cherries with a dollop of cream. It’s almost berry parfait-like.
Underneath the sweetness and alcohol are some subtle oak and spice that counterbalance the sweetness and provide darkness and mustiness. Additional swirling coaxes out a little more floral character and just a bit of horseradish, which is strange, but I swear it’s there.
Nikka From the Barrel smells so rich and deep, overall an incredible smelling whiskey. I’m getting ahead of myself, but it’s one of the best smelling whiskeys between $50 and $100.

Nikka From The Barrel taste & aftertaste

Nikka From the Barrel is packed with sweet honey, caramel, vanilla cream, and fruits including berries, plums, dates, and oranges. The vanilla cream reinforces the grain whiskey’s presence, providing slightly buttery flavors that add wonderful richness and mouthfeel.
Noticeable cinnamon and nutmeg spiced chocolate flavors make their way into every corner of my palate as well. The oak and peat are sedate, letting the sweetness take the lead, while the alcohol, sometimes punchy, is generally controlled. All these rich spiced berry and cream flavors are incredibly similar to sherry-aged Scotch, but that’s likely by design.
With “chewing”, I taste honey, vanilla, berries, cherries, roasted chocolate, and baked bread. It’s a very fruity sweetness with a hint of floral character. That same blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove also appears, followed by a small dose of oak and peat that provide contrasting darkness and earthiness. The alcohol thankfully isn’t punishingly hot, but still leaves a nice tingle in my mouth.
The finish is sweet and dry with honey, berries, oak, cinnamon, bread, and just a little mint. I’m guessing that there’s just enough older stock in Nikka From the Barrel to add that minty freshness without any rye. 
After “chewing”, I still get honey, berries, and oak, but now I also get a few drops of cantaloupe. Oak bitterness primarily controls the finish after a minute or so, but it’s still very pleasant. This is just a spectacular tasting whiskey with so much to discover.

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Nikka From The Barrel Rating

Top Shelf
Wow, Nikka From the Barrel is awesome. The stronger sherry character really shines through, supplemented with the bourbon-aged, grain, and peaty whiskey components to create an incredibly pungent, rich, flavorful, and interesting whiskey.
It’s a masterful blend that’s nearly on par with Ben Nevis 18 and Ben Nevis Old Malt 21 (both single barrel and single malt Scotch), some of the best sherried Scotches I’ve had in the past few years. Nikka From the Barrel also smells and tastes exceedingly better than Macallan Classic Cut 2018 Edition, one of Macallan’s higher proof releases that ended up being fairly disappointing.
My main, albeit minor, critique is that the scents and flavors aren’t quite as clearly defined as they are in the great Ben Nevis Scotches, which have the pop, clarity, and definition of the first bite of fruit at the peak of freshness. All of that may come from from the older age statement and single barrel nature, but it’s something that prevents Nikka from getting to “Top Shelf+” status.
Overall though, Nikka From the Barrel is worth buying for your own shelf. If you’re looking for amazing Japanese-inspired whiskey or whiskey in general, this is one to strongly consider for yourself, or as a gift to someone else.
Alex author
Meet the Author: Alex

I have far too much fun writing about whiskey and singlehandedly running The Whiskey Shelf to bring you independent, honest, and useful reviews, comparisons, and more. I’m proudly Asian American and can speak Cantonese, Mandarin, and some Japanese.

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If you’re on the move, this Glencairn-like stainless steel snifter glass should survive your travels. Shattered glass Glencairn’s really suck. Full transparency, this is an Amazon affiliate link, so I may earn a commission if you buy this or something else from Amazon.

BrüMate NOS’R, Double-Wall Stainless Steel Whiskey Nosing Glass – 7oz (Matte Black)

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