A friend of a friend once said that she liked whisky because it was a spirit that tasted like other things. I think the Nikka Coffey Grain is a perfect example of that phenomenon in action.
That said, we should begin by noting that of all the wonderful things this tastes like, Coffee is most definitely not on the list. As in the bean that you grind up. The name of Nikka's whisky comes from the Coffey still, the brainchild of its unfortunately-named inventor, Aeneas Coffey. The still itself is a massive, almost H.R. Giger-like apparatus that is mainly used to produce a lighter style of whisky most distilleries choose to blend with other single malts in order to knock off the rough edges.
By conventional wisdom, you'd think this would be a losing proposition. Nikka's charging about $60 for the "inferior" part of a blended whisky, and everyone knows that blended whiskies play second fiddle to single malts as it is. But as my friend Gordon likes to say, "Bless their pointed little heads." God damn this whisky is a stunner, and I'm glad Nikka had the confidence to put it out on the shelves.
The nose is about as simple and refined as the bottle itself. Nothing fancy or ostentatious here: just a little bit of honey and straw, with maybe a hint of strawberry and pastry cream. You're primed for something sweet, enticing, and sophisticated, and that's exactly what you get when you take your first sip.
To me, the Nikka Coffey Grain positively explodes with wonderfully nutty, buttery flavors. There's sweet marzipan and hazelnuts in ample qualities, along with salty peanuts and buttered popcorn. If you liked eating packages of Cracker Jacks as a kid, the sweet-and savory combination in this bottle is going to be right up your alley.
If you want to mellow out the flavor just a little bit and increase the sweetness, add just a splash of water to get to some delightful toasted marshmallow flavors. You might also find a little bit of sticky bun and honey drinking it this way, as I did. At 45% ABV, the Coffey Grain has enough backbone to swim a bit, though it's hardly required given how genial the spirit is.
However you have it, that wonderful nuttiness goes well into the finish with just enough oak to keep things interesting and sophisticated. This is just a delightful pour from start to finish. It's so good, in fact, that it's become a favorite of just about everyone we've introduced it to—even people who don't normally drink whisky. Like, ever.
Share the Coffey grain with others, and both you and the whisky will create new friendships. I guarantee it. It's easily one of my top ten.