Miyagikyo Distillery. Nikka's 2nd distillery making rich and fruity malts near Sendai.
Miyagikyo. Pronounced “Me-ah-gee-ho”, at least as far as I’m concerned. This would turn out to be one of my favorite brands and drams during my travels through Japan. In regards to Nikka/Asahi, you always hear about Yoichi in Sapporo. Miyagikyo is outside of Sendai on the mainland in Northern Japan. This is actually the area that was hit the hardest during their tsunami and apparently some of the devastation can still be clearly seen on the coast. Miyagikyo is Nikka’s 2nd distillery and is primarily making unpeated whisky. I was fortunate enough to be guided through the facility with a private guide, but English was still difficult. I got quite a bit of information though regarding the brand.
Masataka Taketsuru founded Miyagikyo Distillery in 1969 to produce a difference kind of whisky than its older sister Yoichi. If you haven’t heard of Taketsuru, you should really look him up. He studied whisky making in Scotland and came back to Japan to implement the same style. He even did a stint of work for Suntory building Yamazaki Distillery before opening his own distillery, Yoichi, in 1934. The local water Miyagikyo uses for production comes from the Nikkawa River. To get there I traveled by train for about one hour from downtown Sendai to the Kumagane station. From there I took a taxi. You drive through hills and forestry to get to the distillery and you know when you have arrived. All buildings are made of red brick and it is quite a contrast to the local forest and shrubbery. Masataka’s saying has always been “nature is the cradle of whisky”. This facility not only makes pot still whisky, but also column still grain whisky. Taketsuru wanted the flexibility to make both kinds of whisky for his blending needs. I will focus on the pot still production since that is what they let me see. As seen at any Nikka distillery, the process is deeply rooted in the Scottish style.
They do have a kiln facility on site with a pagoda, but they don’t do any malting or kilning here. That part of the process is outsourced. The mash tun is a stainless steel lauter tun. Like the rest of the facility, it is fully automated. The wort is then moved into one of the stainless steel fermentation vessels. They ferment for 70 hours. There were really too many washbacks to count, but they seemed endless. Unfortunately that was not one of the questions that was pertinent enough to make sure it was answered via Google translate. After fermentation the wash is moved to one of their four beautiful, tall, copper wash stills. There are four wash and four spirit stills. All of the copper seemed to be different ages since they all had different colors and patches. I am assuming maintenance work and the addition of stills has happened over the years to keep up with demand. Miyagikyo’s style was meant to be lighter and fruitier than Yoichi. You can see this in the pot stills. They are quite tall with long lyne arms for more copper/spirit contact and to keep the heavier characteristics from making it to the spirit tank. The new make spirit is filled into a variety of ex-bourbon and sherry butts. On site there are 25 warehouses, all red brick and all about 180,000 square meters in size. They have off site storage facilities as well.
Now in regards to their column still and grain capabilities. This of course is not the sexiest part of a single malt distiller’s facility, but it was mentioned on the tour and is worth noting. Blending is difficult in Japan because there aren’t many distilleries and not all of them share well. This means you had to make multiple styles of whisky to support different kinds of releases. Their column still is an imported Coffey still from Scotland. There are now two of these old-style stills at the distillery. They are old and difficult to operate, but are now a staple in the blended Nikka brands. He has truly earned the term that is seen throughout the distillery, “The King of Blenders”.
I tried two of their staple brands and both are blends. These included The Rare Old Super Blend and the Pure Malt. The Pure Malt is the most important to note because this is a commonly and easily found bottle from Nikka in the states right now. Miyagikyo as a single malt, whether non-age statement, 12 Year old or higher, are very difficult to come by. They also have a really cool range of single malts only sold at the distillery. I wish these would come to market because they are branded in an incredible way. I’ll list them after the Pure Malt.
Pure Malt- NAS Blended Whisky- Sherry Cask Finished
Holly’s Tasting Note..
Nose: Rich chocolate covered fruit, lighter oak, honey, lemongrass and pepper. An interesting nose.
Palate: Dark plum, fig, tobacco and a sharp oak finish.
A very rich dram, but too much of an oak, bite finish for me.
his is a combination of spirit from Yoichi and Miyagikyo.
Miyagikyo Distillery only - Single Malts include:
Sherry & Sweet
Fruity & Rich
Malty & Soft
Fruity & Sweet
Woody & Mellow
I think this is an awesome way to describe the brand to a consumer! Especially to new whisky drinkers and it is a clear, consistent message when the bottles are sitting next to each other on a shelf. All are cask strength and I have listed my notes for the Fruity & Rich.
Miyagikyo Fruity & Rich Nikka Whisky- Bottled at 55% ABV
Holly’s Tasting Note..
Nose: Figs, tangerines, some nuts, orange-creamsicle.
Palate: Citrus! Tangerine, oak, vanilla cream.