This month we travel to the Land of the Rising Sun and sample a whisky that Jim Murray named ‘Japanese whisky of the Year 2018’ and ‘Single Malt of the Year 2018 (multiple barrels)’. The Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky.

What I am expecting to taste from the Nikka Coffey Malt is a light whisky with no peat and little – if any – oilyness.. Much fruit and vanilla (ex-bourbon barrel ageing). Those who shy away from the peaty/smokey whiskies should love this one.

The originality of Nikka Coffey Malt  expression lies in its unique distillation method. Malted barley is distilled in a “Coffey still”, a traditional continuous still which is normally used to produce grain whisky. Discover this whisky’s extraordinary texture, which Nikka has specially developed for whisky aficionados.


ABV: 43%
Bottle Size: 700ml
Region: Japan
Peated: No

Review from Stephanie Moreno at

“The nose has darker aromas like pecan shells and a touch of char smoke. The palate is full of American whiskey flavors like vanilla, coconut, and maple, but the malt gives the whisky a balance that allows the whisky to not be oily and overly sweet. What also ties the room together is the spicy quality from the barrels that break up all of the sweet notes.”

Watkins Whisky Co


The Nikka company was founded by Masataka Taketsuru. The son of a long-established sake brewing family, he traveled alone to Scotland in 1918 . For two years he traveled the country – learning how to produce the whisky he loved. He attended the University of Glasgow to study chemistry and was the first person from Japan to study the art of whisky production – completing an apprenticeship in whisky production at Hazelburn Distillery. He also managed to marry a bonny wee Scottish lassie during this time – who accompanied him home in 1920. To say he embraced the Scottish culture seems a bit of an understatement. Once back in Japan – he set about perfecting his art and worked with Suntory for 10yrs. Whist there he helped build and run the Yamazaki distillery. In 1934 he set out in his own, established the Dainipponkaju Company and built the Yoichi distillery. In 1952 Dainipponkaju was renamed ‘Nikka Whisky Distilling Co.’

Now – technically – the Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky is not a single malt. Although it ticks nearly every box – distilled in one distillery (Miyagikyo Distillery), from malted barley and aged in oak, it cannot be called ‘Single Malt’ simply because it is not distilled in a copper pot still. Instead, Nikka use a ‘Coffey’ still which is more commonly used for producing grain alcohol. The Coffey still is a stainless steel, continuous batch still. Also known as a ‘Continuous Still’, ‘Patent Still’ or ‘Column Still’. Nikka’s Coffey still was imported form Scotland in 1968.

So what is the difference between the copper pot still and Coffey still?

Pot Still

The pot still is basically a big pot (made form copper) into which the fermented mash is placed. Heat is applied and as the temperature increases, alcohol vapour boils off and is condensed into liquid and collected.

Each distillation is done as a batch – new wash cannot be added to the still until the spent wash is removed.

Watkins Whisky Co
Watkins Whisky Co

Coffey Still

The Coffey (or Column) Still is a bit more complicated. Composed of two main parts – the Analyzer (A) and Rectifier (B).

The Wash (1) enters the Rectifier where it is heated. It then is fed into the top of the Analyzer where it is mixed with steam (2) which causes the alcohol in the wash to boil off into vapour. The wash trickles down through plates in the Analyzer and by the time it gets to the bottom, all the alcohol is extracted and only ‘spent wash’ (3) remains which is drained continuously.

As the alcohol boils off the Wash, the alcohol vapour is fed continuously into the Rectifier where it is cooled (by the incoming cold Wash) and thus condenses (7) and is collected (6). At the same time, the less volatile substances are collected (5) and re-fed into the Analyzer with the Wash (to ensure all the alcohol is collected).

So what does the Coffey still offer the Pot still cannot – well purity for one. The collected raw spirit from a pot still usually runs around 60-80% pure. The other 20% is made up of water and flavour compounds (esters and oils). The Coffey Still produces raw spirit at 90%. This normally means that the more robust spirits such as whisky and bourbon are produced in the pot stills specifically for these flavour compounds. The raw spirit is then aged in wood (oak) to eliminate the unpleasant flavours and impart new flavours to the whisky.

Due to the Coffey Stills much purer spirit – it is usually considered lacking in the flavour compounds so important to these spirits. The distillers at Nikka, however, have experimented over time to extract as much flavour as possible from the wash using the Coffey Still. And the proof of their success is there for the tasting. I believe the Nikka Coffey Malt is the biggest seller of the Nikka Range – and is set to become even more popular as they ramp up production for an eagerly awaiting world.