Join with me for the next twenty-four days as we countdown to Christmas with the Drinks by the Dram Japanese Whisky Advent Calendar.  Each day will present a new whisky adventure ranging from Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky to hopefully the Hibiki 21 Year Old.  Check back every day for a brief review of each whisky tasted. I plan to give a quick overview of the nose, taste, finish, and general cost range, if I can find it, of the dram with an overall A, B, C type score. Since each sample is only an ounce, the letter grade system allows for a more generalized overview of the whisky.

The scoring scaleA+= 95 and higher, A= 94-93, A-= 92-90, B+= 89-87, B= 86-83, B-= 82-80, C+= 79-77, C= 76-73,  and hopefully there will not be any whiskies at these levels, but just in case C-= 72-70, D= 69-60, F= 59 and lower


DEC 1:  Nikka Coffey Malt     ABV: 45%.    Cost: $65-$80     Score:  lower B+

Nose:  very pleasant nose, rich honey sweetness, spun sugar, tropical fruits, lush

Taste:  touch of oak present at first, nice light tropical fruits remain, a toffee sweetness, some slight wood char and a dark chocolate coffee-esque end of palate

Finish: not as sweet as I remember the grain version, slight touch of bitterness at the end, the finish reduces the score slightly for me

Overall:  nice dram (as is the Coffey Grain variant), I like it (picked up a bottle)

DEC 2 – Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt     43%     Cost = $60-$75     Score:  high B

Nose:  honey maltiness, caramel green apple, touch of spice – nice

Taste:  toffee caramel spice, good mouthfeel, slight pepper oak char, apple skins, and slight coffee note at the end

Finish: medium finish on this blended malt from Nikka’s distilleries at Yoichi and Miyagikyo; nicely balanced

Overall: a solid dram – I already have an unopened bottle on the shelf and this sample does not make me disappointed in that decision

DEC 3 – The Kurayoshi Pure Malt     43%     Cost = $60-$80     Score:  lower B

Nose:  sweet candy, vanilla, syrupy butter rum lifesavers

Taste:  different – a thick mouthfeel initially with the sweetness continuing, a dark sugar toffee note with raisins

Finish:  medium in length with some initial spice

Overall:  not a lot of information on this dram from the Matsui Shuzo Distillery; would have to visit with this one again in a bar maybe, before ever considering a purchase

DEC 4 – Hibiki Japanese Harmony     43%    Cost = $70-$85     Score: solid B

Nose:  floral, perfume, spun sugar sweetness, ripe plum, juicy fruit gum, and apricot

Taste:  tingly orange spice with a lingering charred toffee note, an oak wood resin element

Finish:  good medium length with a touch of astringency and some dark chocolate

Overall:  this NAS replaced the Hibiki 12-Year Old, which I liked better

DEC 5 – Nikka All Malt     40%    Cost = $35-$45    Score: B-

Nose:  dark caramel sugars, ripe fruit – some banana, vanilla

Taste:  touch of spice and toffee sweetness, red apple skins, some oak, leather – less sweetness than expected from the nose

Finish:  shorter finish, wood tannins

Overall:  an entry level Japanese whisky that is a blend of Coffey still grain whiskey and pot still malted barley made at Nikka’s two major distilleries; I have not seen this on the shelf in any store in the U.S. so far – for the price not too bad, but would not be at the top of my list

DEC 6 – Hibiki 17 Year Old     43%    Cost = rare, difficult to price in U.S. $185+     Score:  low A

Nose:  rich honey malt, toffee brown sugar, floral honeysuckle note, plum, vanilla – really nice over

Taste:  elements from the nose continue on the palate, touch of toffee, coconut, vanilla cream, and slight spice

Finish:  mouthcoating, lingering finish – well balanced, excellent dram

Overall:  a really nice blended whiskey, wish this were more readily available in the U.S.

DEC 7 – Nikka Pure Malt Black     43%     Cost = not in US ($55-$75 w/o shipping from overseas)   Score:  A-

Nose:  some darker rich sweet notes, a mustiness, caramel, touch of smoke, a fruitiness – apple, raisin – really like what I get here

Taste:  a smoked dark caramel with a touch of ginger and wood spice, baking spices, dark chocolate – want to spend more time with this whisky

Finish:  excellent mouth coating, no off-putting notes in any way, lengthy finish

Overall:  a NAS blended Nikka malt, really nice dram that pleasantly surprised me; really nice, wish it were available in the U.S. – I’d buy (actually I’m going to look to buy via other outside of the U.S. distributors)

DEC 8 – Mars Maltage “Cosmo”    43%    Cost = $65-$85 without shipping    Score:  C+

Nose:  rich honey malt notes, toffee with some citrus underneath, raisins, pear, and nuts

Taste:  charred caramel toffee, not overly sweet, ginger spice with some pepper, a little astringent oak at the end

Finish:  medium – not the best part of this dram, the wood tannins drown out some of the other notes, bitter chocolate peeks through

Overall:  a blend of Japanese and Scottish malt whiskies – no percentages given; founded in 1985 the Mars Shinshu distillery claims the title of highest distillery in Japan at just over 2,600 feet; not one I’d seek out

DEC 9 – Kamiki     48%    Cost = $75-$90     Score: D+

Nose:  spice, wood – cedar, a solvent note; really different – unusual, touch of green apple tartness, sawdust, then balsa wood (imagining I’m a kid with a glider plane), white pepper

Taste:  tastes like my mom’s cedar chest smells, if it were a liquid – I know, weird; lingering woody peppery note which hides the other sweeter notes that try to push through

Finish:  medium-long, which is not a good thing; I like new and different whiskies – this is not one of them

Overall:  a blend of Japanese malt and “the finest” malt whiskies from the rest of the world (no other details given); the first whisky in the world finished in Yoshino Sugi (Japanese Cedar) casks; too much of the finishing wood note for me, must be an acquired taste – I’m just not there and I’ve had over 300 different whiskies this year – disappointing

DEC 10 – Nikka Coffey Grain    45%     Cost = $60-$70     Score:  low B+

Nose:  super sweet on the nose – cotton candy spun sugar, caramel, vanilla – very bourbon-esque sweet notes overall (but sweeter)

Taste:  caramel vanilla cream, a slight coconut peeks through, some nut elements– not overly complex, a syrupy sweetness gives way to a touch of oak char spice at the end

Finish:  pleasant – short to medium, due to the high corn content this is sweeter and more like a bourbon in some respects than your typical Japanese whisky

Overall:  a nice dram, I’d have a bottle on hand as one of those unique bridge whiskies – to share with those that only like one style, maybe bourbons and/or Irish whiskies – good to use to introduce people to some other styles of whisky

DEC 11 – Akashi White Oak Blended Whisky    40%     Cost = $40-$50     Score: C

Nose:  apple juice, slight spice – with some cinnamon, honey, tropical fruits, has a freshness – after finishing the tasting, the nose is the best about it

Taste:  thin on the mouthfeel, apple skins are at the fore, a tartness with some dark caramel sugars and pepperiness – not horrible but not a must have either

Finish:  shorter finish with a touch of oak and caramel at the end

Overall:  an entry level Japanese whisky – not overly expensive, something a bit different without breaking the bank, but not all that noteworthy either

DEC 12 – Kirin Fuji-Sanroku Blended Whisky    50%     Cost = wide range ~ $90-$135     Score: B

Nose:  classic malt notes, touch of smoke, earthiness, spice, apple, cinnamon, maybe some cherries and nougat

Taste:  spice to the fore – almost like an American rye, nice mouthfeel, dark sugars – toffee with oakiness at the end, apple skins, some dark chocolate, coffee, a touch astringent

Finish:  medium, mouth coating with some drying

Overall:  a blended whisky from Kirin’s Fuji Gotemba Distillery, located in the foothills of Mt. Fuji; solid dram with some character here

DEC 13 – The Kurayoshi Sherry Cask Blended Malt   43%   Cost = $75-$95    Score:  C

Nose:  sherry notes, raisins, caramel sugar, touch of cranberry tartness, a cider quality on the nose

Taste:  a woodiness on the palate, tingling spice, a bit bitter – difficult for the fruit to push forward, some chocolate, and a touch of sourness – as on the nose

Finish:  medium at best with lingering spice – ginger

Overall:  a bit disconnected between the nose and the palate, not very memorable; nose is the best element – uneven otherwise (and I typically like sherry finishes)

DEC 14 – Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve Single Malt   43%  Cost = $60-$70   Score: B+

Nose:  a freshness on the nose that is appealing, some malt notes, spearmint, walking in a garden, pear, grassiness, a tartness – like a not completely ripe plum

Taste:  nice mouthfeel, some honey toffee sweetness with a touch of spice, some smoke – decently balanced on the palate with a citrusy note

Finish:  nicely done, medium-long finish – would like to spend more time with this one, I’d pick up a bottle because it is pleasant and at the same time a bit different and unique

Overall:  from the Hakushu Distillery at the foothills of Mount Kaikomagatake; would like to see this on the shelf in the U.S. more often for the price

DEC 15 – Nikka Blended Whisky     40%     Cost = $35-45     Score: C/C+

Nose:  some dark sugar sweetness, caramel, vanilla, green fruit – apple, and touch of orange

Taste:  light on the palate – maybe due to lower ABV, slight touch of spice at the end, some honey and vanilla notes

Finish:  short, not much more to add

Overall:  nose is sweeter than the palate; nothing really jumps out either prominently or negatively in this whisky – an average dram

DEC 16 – Kaiyo Cask Strength Mizunara Oak     53%     Cost = $95-$115     Score:  B

Nose:  rich nose, caramel, honey, apricot, some fleshy fruits, tart cherry – overall nice

Taste:  thick viscous mouthfeel, citrus, honey, charred caramel, touch of wood – some baking spice and dark chocolate at the end

Finish:  lengthy medium finish with a decent aftertaste

Overall:  a unique casking – Mizunara oak (supposedly significantly more expensive than other casks) – that after maturing the casks go to out to sea for a 3-month long journey for a unique finishing touch; do not know if I’d pay $100 for it – but a worthy dram to try at a bar to sit if it fits your taste profile

DEC 17 – The Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve Single Malt    43%     Cost = ~$65-$75     Score:  B

Nose:  malty goodness, honey, pear, green apple, strawberry – nicely done

Taste:  honey with slight ginger spice, red apple skins, touch of tingling on the palate with some wood char and red fruits

Finish:  short-medium with some drying at the end

Overall:  some Mizunara oak used in this bottling, plus reportedly uses Bordaeux wine casks and sherry casks; a solid effort but personally, and I may be in the minority, I prefer the Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve over this Suntory release

DEC 18 – Nikka Taketsuru 21-Year Old     43%     Cost = $300-$500*     Score:  A-/B+

Nose:  a touch musty at the start – wet oak wood, lavender, honey, graham cracker, peach, many layers here with great depth – would love to spend more time with it

Taste:  very pleasant when it hits the palate with some smokiness, syrupy – ginger – honey – maltiness – with a wood underlying it all, mouth coating goodness, some chocolate with touches of tobacco and leather

Finish:  lengthy, drying spice

Overall:  *very difficult to track down, and if you can the prices usually vary greatly; crazily expensive – the most expensive yet tasted in this series – does not take the top spot at this point, but a dram that I could spend a lot of time with (on someone else’s dime)

DEC 19 – Nikka Pure Malt Red     43%     Cost = $50-$65     Score:  B/B-

Nose:  a malty sweetness, honey, apple, a crispness to the nose, slight dustiness from the oak

Taste:  fruit notes, a grassiness, some caramel sweetness with ginger spice – touch of oak

Finish:  short to medium (at best), finishes with a toasted toffee and spice element

Overall:  a blend of malts from Nikka distilleries of Yoichi and Miyagikyo; I prefer the Nikka Pure Malt Black to the Red version

DEC 20 – Yamazakura Blended Whisky    40%     Cost = $55-$65*     Score:  C/C-

Nose:  a touch of sour, almost metallic, then sweet, pear, floral – honeysuckle, fresh lin

Taste:  thin on the palate, pepper spice, apple skins, maybe a slight white grape sweetness, alcohol note evident

Finish: medium, touch of wood char, some bitterness, seems youthful, not the best aftertaste

Overall:  *very difficult to track down – pricing from overseas sites; would not seek this one out, a mixer if you want to spend that much on a mixer

DEC 21 – Kura The Whisky Pure Malt     40%     Cost = $65-$75     Score:  B-

Nose:  bolder nose, a bit of honey caramel sweetness, rum influence shows on the nose, a touch of tartness – maybe cranberry at the end of the nosing

Taste:  balanced toffee, nice spice with some smoke, vanilla creaminess, full mouthfeel, taste belies the ABV on this one, touch of bitterness at end of palate

Finish:  decent finish – medium, spice emerges and lingers

Overall:  from the Helios Distillery in Okinawa, Japan – finished in Japanese rum casks; mixed bag here, not much details available on this whisky

DEC 22 – The Nikka 12-Year Old     43%     Cost = $105-$120*     Score:  high B

Nose:  sweet pleasant nose, spun sugar, caramel, plum, luscious – really nice, touch of spice

Taste: initial spice, apple – apple skins, toasted toffee, cinnamon, baking spice, dark chocolate – coffee, less sweet than the nose

Finish:  nice lengthy finish, solid dram

Overall:  *prices from Europe (US cost); a blended whisky from Nikka (seems to be a LOT of those in Japan these days); would revisit if could find for a good price

DEC 23 – Nikka From the Barrel     51.4%     Cost = $65-$85     Score:  A-/B+

Nose:  caramel apple, dark sugar, toffee, touch of spice, balanced nose with some vanilla and pear underneath

Taste:  apple skin – dark caramel – spice, dark chocolate, banana, and maybe an almond note

Finish:  medium-long; nice dram – touch of oak spiciness at the end

Overall:  Whisky Advocate’s #1 whisky of 2018 – reportedly a blend of over a 100 different batches of malt whisky and grain whisky produced at Nikka’s Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries, and aged in multiple types of ex-Bourbon barrels, puncheons, sherry butts, refilled-recharred-remade hogsheads; for the price a definite buy to add to your collection

DEC 24 – Yamazaki 18-Year Old     43%     Cost = $500-$800     Score:  low A

Nose:  beautiful fruit, figs, apricot, raisin, cherry blossom, a bouquet of notes, want more time with this one; absolute best nose of the 24 in the series

Taste:  dark fruit – dark sugar – honey – caramel, spice kicks in with a charred oak note, tobacco, espresso

Finish:  lingering lengthy finish

Overall:  aged in sherry, bourbon, mizunara oak casks; a hard-to-find – crazily priced in the U.S. whisky; really glad I have a bottle from a few years back (in the $200+ range) set aside – a really nice dram, but I wouldn’t pay the exorbitant current prices – too many other Japanese whiskies you can get for the price of this one bottle – don’t get me wrong this is an amazingly, wonderful dram, but . . .

Thanks for sharing in an advent calendar journey with us once again this year.  If you’d like to review last year’s twenty-four whiskies from the Drinks by the Dram Premium Whiskey Advent Calendar just click on the name.  May you, your family, and friends have a wonderful holiday season.  Until the next advent calendar . . . cheers!

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About Author

Senior Staff Writer, Wes, was born and raised in Darlington, South Carolina and attended college at the United States Air Force Academy. After flying helicopters for the Air Force and teaching at the Air Force Academy, he retired in beautiful Colorado Springs, Colorado, after twenty years of military service. He now works in public school education, is married with three children, and leads the monthly Proper Pour Whisk(e)y Club. You can follow him on Twitter @WesModernThirst and e-mail him at

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