Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt Review [In Depth]

Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt

Alex author


Founder, writer
nikka taketsuru pure malt review header

Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt Details

Distillery: Nikka (blend of Miyagikyo and Yoichi)

Type & Region: Japanese whisky, Japan

Alcohol: 43%

Composition: 100% malted barley

Aged: At least 3 years

Color: 1.0/2.0 on the color scale (deep copper)

Price: $70-100

From the company website:

This is a signature label in honor of Nikka’s founder Masataka Taketsuru, the first Japanese who mastered whisky-making in Scotland and brought this expertise back to Japan. While being a disciplined craftsman, he was also a person of curiosity and open-mindedness. This is a tribute to Masataka from his successors, highlighting a perfect balance with complexity achieved by precise blending inherited from the founder.

Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt overview

The first Nikka whiskey I ever reviewed was Nikka 21 Year Pure Malt, a super duper ultra premium Japanese Whisky that my dad acquired from Duty Free during a business trip to Japan in the early 2010’s. It wasn’t cheap per-se, but it also wasn’t a big deal. Bear with me (I have a reason) because this review is about its non age stated sibling: Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt.
To help you more accurately pronounce Taketsuru, try to slowly say it as Tah-Ket-Sue-Ru, with equal emphasis on each part.
In the years since my dad bought whiskey gold and didn’t have to try hard at all to do it, Japanese Whisky (whiskey? I can never tell) has skyrocketed in popularity. And with greater demand comes the eventual shortages and skyrocketing prices that are terribly challenging to address.
It’s to the point that getting any aged-stated Japanese whiskey (completely made in Japan, not just a bottle of Scotch with a Japanese name) is challenging and pricey. It’s become a big deal.
For Nikka and every other distillery, it meant severely limiting the sale of age-stated whiskey, discontinuing some, and shifting the focus to non age stated versions like this Taketsuru Pure Malt. It also meant that the incredible 21 year Japanese whisky became outrageously limited and heavily marked-up with no relief in sight – a Japanese unicorn.
Now for a brief history lesson. Nikka was founded by Masataka Taketsuru (this whiskey is named after him) in the early 1930’s. Prior to that, he spent years in Scotland learning about Scotch and eventually brought that knowledge back to Japan.
He worked for Suntory and helped build the Yamazaki Distillery (yes that Yamazaki), and later left to start his own company, first building Yoichi (in Hokkaido) and Miyagikyo (in Sendai) 35 years after that. Taketsuru is “the guy” when it comes to Japanese Whiskey.
nikka history
Nikka’s history, as provided in a brochure for the Yoichi distillery tour
So what we have with Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt is likely a blend of malts from Miyagikyo (bourbon and sherry cask aged) and Yoichi (peated and predominantly bourbon cask), marrying the magic of both distilleries he created. Let’s find out more about the fruits of all that time and hard work in Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt whisky review.
nikka taketsuru pure malt review front label
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Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt smell

Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt leads with creamy honey and vanilla, bright pear / pineapple / starfruit, toasted biscuit and roasted oak, a very faint hint of smoke, and subtle dark fruit that’s easy to miss. It’s generally a bright, sweet, and vibrantly fruity malt whisky that smell-wise reminds me most of Miyagikyo.
After swirling there’s a mix of creamy honey, vanilla, and roasted grains, followed by pear, starfruit, grapefruit, roasted oak, cinnamon, and hints of coffee grounds. None of that is surprising because Miyagikyo and Yoichi are exactly the same way.
And just like Yoichi, there’s just gentle hint of smoke that I expect to be stronger. Like Miyagikyo, the dark fruit / date is easy to miss. I’m surprised that the heat has a bigger presence than it should.
All I can really say is that Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt Whisky smells nice, but lacks richness and depth because it’s probably pretty young.
nikka taketsuru pure malt back label

Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt taste and aftertaste

My first sip gives me to honey, pear, starfruit, roasted oak and toasted grains, vanilla, cinnamon, and a gentle touch of smoke. The smoke has a slightly stronger presence here than in the flavors, which is similar to what I experienced with Yoichi. The fruit and honey have some pop and life, but don’t have much heft or depth, like a drop into a pool instead of a cannonball.
After “chewing”, the smoky peat rushes to the front, just like it does in Yoichi. Now I taste smoky honey, vanilla, pear, starfruit, this vegetal and earthy thing (descriptive I know), and roasted oak and grains.
Although I have no idea why Nikka decided to go with 43% ABV while Yoichi and Miyagikyo are 45%, I honestly can’t taste the 2% difference so it doesn’t actually matter.
Honey, toasted grains, roasted oak, pear, pineapple, and peaty smoke linger after the first sip. After a few seconds, it actually becomes slightly more roasty, smoky, and bitter, as if the peat finally decided to wake up.
After “chewing”, I’m left with smoky sweetness and fruitiness – smoke, vegetal greens, honey, pear, starfruit, roasted oak, and cinnamon. The peat builds with every sip, so although this is a blend, the smoky Yoichi takes the lead here.
Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt is easy enough to enjoy with the vibrant, fruity, smoky, and roasty flavors, but again and again it lacks low end, richness, or impact.

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Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt Rating

Mid shelf+
I’ve mentioned this over and over already with Miyagikyo and Yoichi – Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt is an enjoyable blended malt whisky that brings a lot of nice fruitiness to the senses, but also feels fairly shallow. It’s likely from the combination of age (younger) and ABV (lower) that unfortunately is tough to blend away or hide.
Since we more or less know that Nikka Whisky Pure Malt is blended from Miyagikyo and Yoichi malts, this blend feels like it’s slightly skewed towards Yoichi. I say that primarily given how the peatiness smells and tastes – subtle in the scents and more forward in the flavors and aftertaste.
Both malts are grapefruit, starfruit, and pear-forward because of the bourbon cask maturation, and that continues to shine through as I expect. So if someone told me I was drinking Yoichi and not Taketsuru Pure Malt, I’d totally believe it.
Since I reviewed Nikka 21 Year Pure Malt a while back, I think it’s interesting to compare what I wrote in that review to what I’ve experienced here. The point is not to say that Nikka 21 Year is better (it is), but to get an idea of how it was blended differently, like Yamazaki 18 Year is blended differently than Yamazaki 12 Year.
Referring back to my old review, I mentioned that the 21 Year has an incredible blend of dense dark fruit (from the sherry) and moderate peat, backed by grapefruit and cherry (from the bourbon cask).
This mainly tells me that the 21 Year primarily used sherry cask-aged malt (my guess from Miyagikyo), while the non age stated one likely uses very little. Sherry-matured malt is more expensive, so it makes sense to save it for the more expensive and less abundant stuff.
The final verdict, as I’ve mentioned multiple times already, is that Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt Whisky is good the way it currently is, but doesn’t have enough for me to recommend in the US and Japan. Especially at a premium $70-100 price, the experience itself isn’t premium enough to justify it, but you’ll still enjoy it.
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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