Thursday, September 25, 2008

Not quite what it seems to be

These keep popping out of the woodwork: unheard of single malts from obscure corners of Japan's alcohol business not normally associated with whisky making. This "Sapporo Single Cask Malt Whisky" does not come from Yoichi, the only established whisky distillery on the island of Hokkaido, but from a quite separate alcohol making business about 25 miles away in Sapporo city. The company is called Sapporo Shusei and they are much better known for making neutral spirits. To make things simple, they call their distillery Sapporo.

But be careful! The bottle displayed above says nothing about the actual origins of the whisky. My best understanding, based on the expertise of Atsushi Horigami at the Zoetrope bar, is that this whisky was actually distilled in Scotland rather than Japan. This is not to say that the company are dishonest. I believe they released information about the country of origin of the whisky (though not the particular distillery) when the bottling hit the market. The label, however, is not at all informative on this point.

I believe that this whisky was distilled somewhere in Scotland in 1990, that it was aged in a Sherry cask and that a substantial period of that aging was done in Sapporo. Only 400 or so bottles were sold by Sapporo Shusei when it was released at the end of 2006/beginning 2007. It is not in Sapporo's current range of whiskies, which are all blended.

This is a bit of a lesson in the pitfalls of the more obscure corners of the Japanese whisky industry. The main Japanese producers are completely up to speed with contemporary labeling practice but we must see this single cask bottling as being part of the old yoshu (Western spirits) tradition, which has seen numerous smaller companies dabbling in whisky selling for nearly a century without ever making it more than a sideline. As you can see, after all these years, these companies are not always sufficiently informative with their labeling.

Somewhat improbably, this obscure single cask bottling came to Nonjatta's notice via Australia. The bottle pictured above is owned by Graham Wright, who runs a whisky mail order business and web operation, the Odd Whisky Coy, and has been kind enough to give permission for Nonjatta to publish these photos. The original version of this post fell for the idea that this was a Japanese whisky, but I am strangely delighted to find it came in disguise. There is something about the world of whisky fakery and mummery that fascinates me. Sometimes this sort of thing is downright fraudulent, but when it is in this more artful form it can be at least as interesting as the established whisky industry. After all, the whole of the Japanese whisky industry has its roots in the play acting inherent in the old yoshu industry. This is why I find the vagiaries of the current Chinese, Taiwanese etc. industries intriguing. I have no doubt that fully fledged, legitimate whisky production will eventually flower in those places too.

So, let's take a look at this survival of the old ways. Sapporo Shusei are best known for their neutral spirits, specifically a brand called Sapporo Soft. It is a neutral spirit and has an alcohol content of 20 per cent (ABV). You can buy 20 litres of the stuff for 12,000 yen, the sort of money you might shell out for an exported 720ml bottle of Japanese single malt. They have had some interesting advertising campaigns over the years. This one, from 1973, made me laugh:

The woman in the photo is saying: "When my buddy comes around, 3 or 4 bottles should do it. We are young, so it should be OK!.... Gotta make him pass out!"

Not sure what the story is there! If it is a crude romantic tactic, I can't help feeling that the man in question might suffer from troubles anticipated in the brand name. Anyway, in these days of "drink responsibly" advertising, it is a breath of fresh air. Sapporo Shusei was founded in 1933, at about the same time that Masataka Taketsuru was setting up down the road at Yoichi. The official company history says that there was a shortage of supply in the local alcohol market. A man called Sakutarou Kaneko hit upon the idea of using surplus local potatoes to make shochu.

The iconic "Sapporo Soft" line dates from much later: 1960. The brand can be seen as a bastard child of the Japanese whisky industry. At the time, whisky was becoming the drink of choice for the younger generation. Whisky mizuwaris were the rage. They stood for a new, international Japan. Shochu, by contrast, had dark associations with poverty and the war years. The company decided to hitch its cart to the coming thing. They made a relatively low alcohol shochu and began to sell it in a bottle that consciously aped the shape and Western lettering that was associated with whisky. It was a hit and many a man has passed out drinking "Soft" since then.

The launching of the "Soft" brand in 1960 coincided with the concentration of Sapporo's Shusei's operations at their current Sapporo site (below), which of course, as we now know, is not where the whisky was distilled but where it resided while it was being aged.

Other Sapporo Shusei whiskies

The following whiskies are also sold by Sapporo Shusei. My current understanding, based on a snatched conversation during an impromptu visit to the distillery last year, is that no whisky is currently being distilled by them. I also believe that the whisky in the drinks below is the same as that mentioned above, ie. made in Scotland not Japan (incidentally, this site agrees on the Scottish origin of the most expensive whisky in this range). From left to right, "Sapporo Whisky SS" (43 percent, 720 ml); Sapporo Whisky (40 per cent alcohol, 720 ml); Sapporo Whisky (37 per cent alcohol, 640 ml); Sapporo Whisky (37 per cent alcohol, 1800 ml). They are all blends.

Sapporo Distillery
10 Jou 1-1-1, Hassamu, Nishi-ku, Sapporo Shi, Hokkaido, Japan 063-0830.
Telephone: 011-661-1211
Fax: 011-663-6383
Address in Japanese characters
〒063-0830 札幌市西区発寒10条1丁目1番1号

Location on Nonjatta's map of "Other Japanese Distilleries":

View Other Japanese distilleries in a larger map

The photograph and news of the single cask bottling came from Graham Wright of Odd Whisky Coy. All the other photographs come from the Sapporo Shusei website. The information about the origins of this whisky comes from Atsushi Horigami's blog and is backed up on Katotomo's blog.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Karuizawa Single Cask 1992 (No. 1 Drinks Co.)

Karuizawa whiskies are rarely boring. This is one of the most interesting and courageous distilleries in Japan. Sometimes, you might add "uncompromising" to that description. I notice, looking down my sidebar, that I have not, until now, gone overboard in my ratings of Karuizawa`s products. Funny that, because I always look forward to pouring their whiskies. Perhaps I am just very boring in my whisky tastes?

Anyway, I loved this one (Number One Drinks Co. Bottling, Karuizawa Distillery, Cask 3330, Distilled 1992, Bottled 2007). A sample was sent to me a while back by the Number One Drinks Company but I held onto my notes because I was afraid of the post getting swamped by the flood of Yamazaki reviews that I have been publishing. So, without further ado:

Smell: At first,there are strong earthy and plastic notes. Sweeter tones emerged: nipped candle smoke, butterscotch hard sweets, honey in warm water. Taste: A big blast, very reminiscent of Karuizawa Single Cask 1986, which is also distributed by the Number One Drinks Co. Again, I was left reeling with the aggressive attack: like chewing green twigs. But this one seemed to be much more under control than its older sibling. There was a passing suggestion of rubber and petrol station forecourt but, when the sweetness came, It tasted of delicious dark chocolate and sweet cigarettes. I don't smoke but it was very moreish. At the end, a saline theme developed. Predictably, it stood up well to a fair dash of water - fizzy, dark chocolate tastes came early - but personally, despite its strength, I would take this one with barely a drop . This is the first Karuizawa I have really enthused over. It will not be the last.

Abv 61.5 per cent
Thanks to the Number One Drinks Company for sending the sample. Nonjatta tries to live up to the Drink Blog Code when reviewing samples sent free.

Friday, September 12, 2008

White Oak Whisky Distillery (Eigashima)

Eigashima, the sake and shochu maker who run the White Oak distillery, have been in the whisky business for a long time but only released their first single malt (of the modern era, at least) in 2007.

The company dates back to 1888 and they are supposed to have begun whisky selling in 1919. Those were the wild days of Japanese whisky making before Taketsuru had visited Scotland to find out how it was really done. Nobody knows what the whisky was like, whether it was made using orthodox Scotch techniques or indeed whether it was made at Eigashima at all or just resold by them. However, they carried some interesting labels:

An early Eigashima "Old Scotch" brand

I am not sure when exactly that bottle dates from. It is possible that it is much more recent. For me, though, it conjours up some of the spirit of those wild old days, when it was the done thing to proclaim your whisky "Old Scotch" and then proudly announce it had been "Distilled and bottled by Eigashima Shuzo Co. Ltd" on the same label . It is not so different from what some of our friends in China are doing right now.

The modern era of Eigashima whisky started in 1984, when the current distillery in Hyogo prefecture was built. According to Taylor Smisson and Hideo Yamaoka in the Malt Whisky Yearbook 2008, the White Horse distillery never really got into its stride: "The shochu boom of the mid 1980s, the revision of Japan's Liquor Tax Law in 1989 and the decline of prices of imports took their toll." In recent years, malt whisky has only been distilled on an occasional basis at the Hongo site (which also has sake making building facilities in separate buildings) and all of it had been going into their well established "White Oak" blended whisky brands. A lack of large amounts of lengthily aged malt whisky may be the reason why White Oak's first single malt, released in late 2007 under the "Akashi" label, was only available in a 8yo aged version with a surprisingly limited bottling of 4,500. (Update 20.06.2010: for the latest Akashi malts range and links to relevant reviews, see this post.)

This may be the start of something exciting. Eigashima has as long a history in the whisky business as any Japanese maker and at last is showing an interest in the premium single malt end of the market. The Malt Whisky Yearbook 2008 mentions that most of the whisky at White Horse is matured in sherry hogsheads previously used by Scotch distillers. However, It also mentions that they have malts aged for more than 10 years in sherry butts. Perhaps this will be used in future bottlings?

Identifying White Oak whisky bottles
Fortunately for foreigners, White Oak often uses the alphabet to label its whisky. Its "White Oak" brand is usually fairly easy to find. However, the Akashi single malt does use a hiragana to spell out its name. This is what it looks like:

In computer text, in case you want to search for these whiskies on the Japanese internet: あかし (Akashi), ホワイトオーク (White Oak), 江井ヶ嶋 (the company name, Eigashima), ウィスキー (whisky). (Can`t see it?)

Location on the Nonjatta map of Japanese distilleries.
919 Nishijima
Telephone: 078-946-1001
Address in Japanese characters
674-0065 兵庫県明石市大久保町西島919

The details of the early history of Eigashima come from Takeshi Mogi's site. Information about White Oak's recent history and its whisky stocks come from Malt Whisky Yearbook 2008. The photograph of the distillery was taken by the bicycling author of this rather wonderful blog. The photograph of Akashi was taken from the 7-11 shop.

Akashi 8yo (White Oak Distillery)

A new "Akashi" single malt from Eigashima

Changes are coming thick and fast to the Japanese whisky world. Last month, Nonjatta stuck another pin in the Japanese single malt distillery map with the announcement of an unofficial bottling (and rumours of an official one) from Monde distillery in Yamanashi prefecture. However, an official bottling from the White Oak Whisky Distillery in Hyogo-ken had slipped under our radar. They now have a single malt called "Akashi" on the market.

"Akashi", which takes its name from its hometown, is aged 8 years and 4,500 bottles have been released. It is 40 per cent ABV and costs 2,620 yen for 500ml (note that, not 700/720ml). This means that one of the longest established names in Japanese whisky has now joined the premium single malt tussle. I have ordered myself a bottle, so I will post my impressions as soon as possible.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Book Review: Japanese Whisky - Facts, Figures and Taste

A lovely shiny black volume of Ulf Buxrud`s "Japanese Whisky - Facts, Figures and Taste" arrived on my doorstep yesterday. I sat down with a glass of Karuizawa and read it in a single sitting.

The book is in a lavish hardback format on lovely thick glossy paper. Much of its photography is of the highest quality. The imagery for the main distilleries is particularly good and the spreads for the Fuji-Gotemba, Karuizawa and Yoichi distilleries are the best you are going to get anywhere. Some of the smaller, now defunct distilleries inevitably suffer from a scarcity of imagery and there are a couple of sections (Shirakawa and Hanyu) where the available photographs have been stretched to resolutions beyond their capabilities, resulting in a slightly off-putting pixelation. However, the overall design of the book is both beautiful and a joy to read.

The overall impression is of an extensively researched work which significantly expands the available information in English on its subject. Ulf Buxrud is formidably well informed about whisky and the real engine rooms of "Japanese Whisky - Facts, Figures and Taste" for me were the technical chapters "On Fermentation Practice", "On Distillation Practice", "On Filtration Practice" and "On Wood Policy". Specifically, I was fascinated by Ulf`s exploration of the Japanese distillers` highly controlled use yeasts and his comparisons with Scottish practice.

Predictably for such an experienced whisky aficionado, the whisky tasting is presented in a highly systematic and clearly explained way and the numerous whisky reviews are always interesting and sometimes mouth watering.

The entries on each distillery provide historical context as well as extensive technical information about the current facilities. I particularly enjoyed the "Other Things to do in the area" sections which give hints to prospective travellers on attractions beyond the whisky world. Many of these distilleries are set in really beautiful and interesting parts of Japan. It would be a pity to be wearing whisky blinkers when you visit them. The suggested itinerary for a whisky tour of Japan is also a very pleasant addition to the book. It is detailed and well researched.

This would not be Nonjatta if I didn't indulge in some nerdy quibbles over small factual issues. Overall, it is fair to say that Ulf's work would have benefited from a good proof read but there are some more substantive weaknesses. I have thought carefully about whether to include these issues in this review. It seems a little churlish to load down coverage on a book that I liked in this way. On the other hand there are passages which may mislead people trying to use the book as a guide, so I have come to a compromise by posting all my nit picking on a separate page.

There is one additional negative that I feel I need to mention in the main review and which puts me in a somewhat difficult position. There is wording in this book that is uncomfortably close to that on Nonjatta. I thought about letting this pass without comment but doing so would lay me open, perhaps more than the author of the book, to accusations of using someone else`s work. The normal assumption is that the content of a website is likely to have been lifted from a more "authoritative" looking printed book, rather than the other way around. I am a professional writer and that sort of impression would be highly damaging to me. So, I am going to briefly state the problem and move on.

Ulf has credited Nonjatta as a source of images in his book but in a number of places, especially in the history sections, he has, perfectly legitimately, leaned fairly heavily on Nonjatta for some of his content. I appreciate that it is difficult in a non-academic work to properly reference. (I don`t apply academic reference formats on Nonjatta either but I always, perhaps rather tediously, try to make my sources clear at the end of every post). However, I would ask readers to peruse the following passages:
Nonjatta (Published July 1, 2007), link here: "On Thursday April 17, 1919, Masataka Taketsuru walked into the ramshackle wooden buildings of Glasgow's Buchanan Street Station and boarded the Caledonian Railway train going north. ... He changed at Perth onto the North Highland railway and finally made it to Elgin at the heart of the famous Speyside whisky region. He put up at the Station Hotel."

Japanese Whisky - Facts, Figures and Taste (Published September 2008), page 19: "On Thursday April 17, 1919, Masataka Taketsuru walked into Glasgow's Buchanan Street Station and boarded the Caledonian Railway train going north. He changed at Perth onto the North Highland railway and finally made it to Elgin, at the heart of the famous Speyside whisky region. He put up at the Station Hotel."
The "..." in the Nonjatta passage indicates that there were some extra sentences in the middle of my original but I think you will agree there is an unreferenced echo bouncing around there somewhere. My own source for much of the information in those two sentences was Japanese Whisky, Scotch Blend by Olive Checkland (1998), which Nonjatta's format allowed me to reference at the bottom of my original post. Checkland in turn references Taketsuru's "Elgin Diary" in the Glasgow University Archives. Unfortunately, Ulf`s only referencing in his whole book is a seven entry bibliography on page 148, which lists Checkland and a three word mention of the "Nonjatta web site". However, the wording is so hauntingly similar to Nonjatta's here (and my phrasing and organisation of the information quite dissimilar to Checkland's) that I worry a little if Ulf has leaned similarly heavily on other sources in other parts of the book. There are other passages where (how shall I put it?) Nonjatta readers might feel a certain sense of "unreferenced déjà vu" and I comment in the factual correction post on similarities with some Wikipedia text at another point in the book. However, I have already spent too much space on this rather egotistical issue. Most readers probably do not give a monkeys about where the information/phrasing comes from.

Returning to the positives, Ulf's book, particularly the technical sections, taught me a great deal that I did not know about whisky in general and about Japanese whisky in particular. I thoroughly enjoyed reading "Japanese Whisky - Facts, Figures and Taste" and I think we all need to thank Ulf for the hard work that went into this significant addition to English information about Japanese whisky.

The hardback can be obtained via various sources listed on Ulf`s website for 60 Dollars/30 Pounds/40 Euros.

"Industrial processes are being abandoned for traditional craftsmanship"

To mark the publication of his pioneering new book on Japanese whisky, Nonjatta asked Ulf Buxrud to give us a quick overview of his view of the Japanese industry, the Scottish distilleries and the direction of global whisky. It is a stimulating and, in places, controversial read.

By Ulf Buxrud

Modern whisky production is a landscape that has changed significantly over the last decade. In Scotland, the move is to large units with a standardized approach throughout, from the means of production to the raw materials and maturation. Japan is going the other way by calibrating its once super large processing plants to favour small batches and individuality, thereby enabling the creation of multitudes of stern scented and flavour driven whiskies.

A changing economic climate during the early 90s paired with a tax reform knocked local as well as imported whisky from its 'luxury' pedestal. The local industry has lost some of its mass market share to cheap imported whiskies and has had to re-invent itself. They did that by taking a firm and sometimes unorthodox grip on the hardware used in the metamorphosis of converting cereals to the nectar.

Further, the role of microbiologist was put in the foreground and new strain of yeast and better understanding of the fermentation process because key elements in this, the 'third' coming of the Japanese whisky science and culture. The first was pre-WWII and the second post-WWII.

In Japan, we are seeing a return to the fundamentals of whisky making. Sadly, we have now arrived at a time in which the Scotch original is gradually losing its preeminence. Today, Japanese whisky is defeating its Scotch peer in head to head competitions remarkably frequently. Loads of comparative tastings have documented this. My guess is that 8 to 10 years down the road, the Japanese whiskies may be regarded as superior in terms of quality.

My rather long acquaintance with Japanese whisky is rooted in the distant 80s. From a simple curiosity for an exotic version of my beloved Scotch, an infatuation slowly grew. For years I followed the changes in the industry's paradigm. From monolithic, volume-based concoction plants to refined production sites where industrial processes are being abandoned in favour of traditional craftsmanship.

I had long nursed an urge to investigate and document this rapidly changing industry. So, in the Spring of 2007, when the opportunity knocked, in the shape of the knowledgeable and illustrious Hideo Yamaoka, to conduct a safari deep into the Japanese whisky jungle, I did not hesitate. Together, we criss-crossed Japan from Sapporo in the north to Kyoto in the south, and from Tokyo in the east to the Japanese Alps in the west, sampling tons of local whiskies (125+). Time also permitted us to make our own blends at Miyagikyo Distillery and to listen to colour-rich tales and insightful lectures. Several of our findings along the journey are the foundation for my guide to "Japanese Whisky - Facts, Figures and Taste."


Monday, September 8, 2008

A few factual points about Ulf Buxrud's "Japanese Whisky"

As I said in the main post, I thought twice before posting these quibbles. However, some of the factual issues pinpointed here are actually not that trivial and may affect people trying to use Ulf's book as a guide to Japanese whisky (most notably, the issues I raise about pronunciation and the problems with the addresses).

None of this is meant as damning criticism of Ulf's work. I have given my positive general impressions of his book in my review and God knows how many mistakes I have made on Nonjatta?! I would really have preferred to be raising these issues privately to Ulf on a draft sent before publication but we didn`t arrange that between us and, on reflection, I do think it is important to raise this stuff so that myths and misconceptions about Japanese whisky are nipped in the bud at an early stage.

Anyway, in the spirit of cooperative inquiry and having ignored the more trivial typos, here are the small number of factual points that I think need raising:

Pg 12. "The technique initially used was the single distillation method or kasutori, and it was practiced to the end of the Edo period..."
"Kasutori" does not mean "single distillation method". Kasutori means something like "taken from the lees of sake", ie. a waste product from sake production. A type of shochu which first became popular in the Edo period was made from these lees. Cheap forms of kasutori shochu were sold after World War II and actually gave their name to the decadent, depressed but somehow liberated "Kasutori culture" of defeat in immediate post-war Japan.
Pg 12. "... A third classification was later added as the honkaku (Grade C)..." I stand to be corrected here but it is my understanding that otsurui (Grade B or otsushu, as Ulf calls it) and honkaku shochu are effectively the same thing. It is true that a few "otsuruis" don`t, strictly speaking, qualify to be "honkakus" but to all intents and purposes the two categories are synonymous. On the general market, to my knowledge, virtually all of what used to be called "otsurui" shochus now refer to themselves as "honkaku" shochus. There are a few other issues I have with this section - such as Ulf`s categorisation of different types of shochus and his description of awamori as a type of shochu - but these are really matters of shading and opinion and probably best addressed positively in posts on Nonjatta about those topics.
Pg 14. "The usual story is that the pioneering work in the trade was done solely by Shinjiro Torii (born 1879) and Taketsuru Masatake (born 1894)..."
It is "Masataka Taketsuru" not "Taketsuru Masatake". Also, there is a little bit of confusion here about first names and last names. Torii and Taketsuru are the family names.
Pg 25. "The koji (Japanese: 麹, 麹菌, or koji-kin) or Aspergillus oryzae, is a filamentous fungus (a mold)..."
Strictly speaking, as I understand it, koji-kin and koji are different things. "Koji-kin" is the Aspergillus oryzae spore and the "koji" is the rice or other material that has been cultivated with the spore. Update made 17.9.2008: An interesting sidelight on this error is that Ulf seems to have written almost exactly the same text as a passage from the Wikipedia entry on aspergillus oryzae. Wikipedia also confuses koji and koji-kin. I have highlighted the Wikipedia text in red and Ulf's similar text in green:
The current Wikipedia article on Aspergillus Oryzae says this: "Aspergillus oryzae (Chinese: 麴菌, 麴霉菌, 曲霉菌, pinyin: qū meí jùn; Japanese: 麹, 麹菌 or kōji-kin, Korean: guk, 麹) is a filamentous fungus (a mold) used in Chinese and Japanese cuisine which ferments soybeans to produce soy sauce and miso. The fungus is also used by both cultures to saccharify rice, potatoes and grains for fermentation in the making of alcoholic beverages as huangjiu, sake, awamori and shōchū."
Ulf's text on page 25: "The koji (Japanese 麹, 麹菌 or koji-kin) or Aspergillus oryzae is a filamentous fungus (a mold) used in Japanese cuisine which ferments soybeans to produce soy sauce and miso. The fungus is also used to saccarify rice and other grains for fermentation in the making of other alcoholic beverages."
As I have implied in my main review, there is more than one point in Ulf's text where there is a resemblance with other sources. Where it relates to my work, I have exercised the right to comment on the borrowing. All I will say about this instance is that Wikipedia allows people to borrow their material but that the terms of the borrowing are that Wikipedia should be attributed as a source for the material and that any further distribution is under the same licence as Wikipedia (ie. other people can freely copy it too). "Japanese Whisky" does not mention Wikipedia as a source for its text.
On a broader point relating to pages 25 and 26, I think that it is important to underline that to my knowledge koji does not seem currently to be used by any of the mainstream Japanese whisky makers in making whisky. Ulf correctly introduces this as a "historical" issue, relating to the development of whisky in Japan, but an inattentive reader might have got the wrong end of the stick by the end of the discussion on page 26.
Page 41. The map.
The location of Yamazaki is wrong. It is much further to the north.
Page 43. "...Chichibu (tji-tjibu) Distillery..."
I am struggling a bit with Ulf's guides to the pronunciation of Japanese distillery names. Perhaps I am just ignorant of a perfectly good phonetic system or perhaps Ulf's transcriptions are going to work better for speakers of some other European languages, but I suspect there will be many English speaking readers who share my problem. This pronunciation issue is more important than all my factual quibbles because it might seed some incorrect pronunciations of what are actually fairly straight forward words to pronounce. For this reason, I am going to indulge in a little digression here to explain the very basics of Japanese pronunciation.
The point about standard Japanese pronounciation is that it is not very complicated (at least when you first start off). I am grossly oversimplifying here but there are five basic vowel sounds:
- "A" to rhyme with the first syllable of "cattle".
- "I" to rhyme with the first syllable of "fiddle".
- "U" to rhyme with "who", or "true" or the first syllable of "cruel".
- "E" as in "pen" or "red".
- "O" as in "ovulate" or "orange".
These are combined with consonants - "ka", "ki", "ku", "ke", "ko" or "na", "ni", "nu", "ne", "no" etc. etc. - but the pronunciation of the vowel component remains constant. There are, of course, plenty of complications that I could add here if you actually wanted to learn Japanese but the only ones I am going to mention are four additional long vowel sounds and their English transcriptions:
- "EI" as in "day"
- "AI" as in "lie"or "fly"
- "OU" to rhyme with "flow", or "hoe"
- "AU" as in "out", or "Ow!"
These long vowels are basically just combinations of the first set of vowels. That's it! It may seem like I have gone off on some abstruse linguistic tangent but, with all due respect to Ulf, it is actually a lot simpler than trying to pronounce "tji-tjibu". So, "Chichibu" distillery is pronounced something like "Chi-chi-boo", with the "chi" rhyming with the first syllable of fiddle and all the syllables having the same stress and length (so the "boo" is not the great rasping thing you might be tempted to make of it but more like a run-of-the-will "who?"). Ulf's "tji-tjibu" had my English born tongue in knots and definitely not coming out with the right sounds.
Page 47. "..Fuji (Fu-dji) Distillery..."
Again, not strictly a factual problem and Ulf's phonetic system may be perfectly legitimate, but Fuji is pronounced the way you have always pronounced it.
Page 53 "...Hakushu (Hack-shoo) Distillery..."
Hey! What happened to the "Ku"? Ha-ku-shoo". The "ha" rhyming with the first syllable of "cattle", the "ku" to rhyme with "who" and the "shu" a little bit longer (because of an added "u"). Keep the stress the same throughout, if you can (the tendency of English speakers is to put stress on a syllable). Update 26.9.08: Please refer to the comments on this post. There may actually be a case for Ulf's pronounciation guide here. Some Japanese teachers do teach the dropping of the "ku" as a way of counteracting the natural tendency of many English speakers to put excessive stress on the "ku". Saying "hack-shoo" would certainly sound more natural to a Japanese speaker than saying "ha-koooo-shoo".
Page 61 "... Hanyu (han-jo)..."
"Han-yu" with the Han like "man" and the "yu" like "you"
Page 69 "... Karuizawa (karu-zavva).."
"Ka-ru-i-za-wa". Equal stress. The "I"s and "A"s the same as you find in "Spaghetti". "Ru" to rhyme with "Wayne Rooney" or "who?". "W" as in "water", not "v" as in "vat".
Page 75 "Mars Shinshu (mars-tsinshoe)"
"Mars Shin-shoo" with the shoo rhyming with "who?"
Page 81 "Sendai (sen-DI)"
"Sen-dye" with the "dye" rhyming with "fly".
Page 81 "... well known by its nickname, The City of Trees (Mori no Miyao)"
Sendai is known as "Mori no Miyako"
Page 81 "Miyagikyo ("me-ja-gi-kjo") Distillery"
"Mi-ya-gi-kyo-u". Mi to rhyme with "me", as in oneself; "ya" as in "yak"; "gi"as in "git"; "kyo-u" is a bit more difficult but rhyme it with "hoe" or "flow" and you won't go too far wrong.
Page 89 "Shirakawa (tjira-kava)"
"Shi-ra-ka-wa". All the "A"s as in cattle and the "shi" as in the first syllable of "fiddle".
Page 99 "Yamazaki (jamma-sarki) distillery".
"Ya-ma-za-ki". All the "A"s of equal length and to rhyme with "cattle" and the "ki" to rhyme with "key".
Page 111 "Yoichi (joy-chi) Distillery"
"Yo-i-chi" with "yo" to rhyme with the first syllable of "orange" and the "I"s as in "spaghetti". All the syllables are given the same stress and length.
Page 120 "Togouchi Single Malt whisky 18 yo"I don't think this company currently produces a single malt. The company's website says this one contains grain and malt whisky.
Page 124 Address for Speyside Way:"...Meguro-key"
This should be "Meguro-ku". I have left out other obvious typos in the book, but I have included this one here because it alters the address of the bar. If someone were to go in search of "Meguro-key" they may have a long journey.
Page 125 Address of Single Malt Bar: " ...Fish Hiyashi's building, Four valleys..."
I don't know whether "Fish Hiyashi" is a local nickname but the name of the building given by Ulf in Japanese is "Shinkou Biru" (or Shinkou building). If you go in search of "Four Valleys" in Tokyo, you might have problems. "Yotsuya" is what you have to ask for. It is a major district of the city. Looking for "Four Valleys" is a bit like going to London and asking for the "Hunting cry place" instead of Soho.
Page 126 Address of Bar Nemoto: "Chuo ku etc...."
There are a number of problems with this address. The Japanese address given appears to have been cut off halfway and the floor given in English appears to be wrong. I think if you asked for "Bar Nemoto, Chuo ku, Minami Yon Jou Nishi Go Chome, Tsumugi Biru B1F" you might stand a better chance of getting there.
Page 126 Address of Bar Augusta Tarlogie: "..Turono-cho..."
Page 126 Address of Bar Baroque Shinsaibashi: "...Sinsai bridge..."
"Shinsai". There is a general problem through much of these addresses that Ulf sometimes translates words into English that actually would make them unrecognisable to Japanese people if you asked the way. Most readers are not going to be able to read the Japanese provided. In my opinion, it would have been better to have simply given an English spelling of the Japanese pronunciation. In this case, "Shinsaibashi".

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Two cards

There are two brand new Ichiro's Malt bottlings, all dressed up in funky new red and black labels.

The black labeled "Seven of Clubs" is aged 8 years and finished in refill American oak hogshead. 345 bottles of this. Its red elder brother, "Two of Diamonds" is 17 years oldand finished in a bourbon barrel (259 bottles).

I should mention two other interesting Ichiro bottlings that passed under the Nonjatta radar recently. They are both pure malts (vatted malts, blended malts... whatever you want to call them! 100 per cent malt whiskies from more than one Japanese distillery). These follow on from the pioneering Ginkgo pure malt last year. There is an 46 per cent bottling labeled "MWR" (797 bottles) and a 61 per cent cask strength bottling labeled "Mizunara Wood Reserve". Neither carries an age statement:

The photograph of the black and red label release, as well as the tip for the latest release, is from Katotomo. The Mizunara photos come from retailers' publicity materials.

List of Ichiro's Malts

The Ichiro's Malt brand has releases so many individual bottlings that it is sometimes difficult for Nonjatta to keep up. Below are a couple that I bumped into along the way and have not tasted. This page is really just an aide-memoire for myself.

Ichiro's Malts not yet reviewed on Nonjatta

Ichiro's Malt Three of Spades. New wood finish. Distilled 2000. Bottled 2007. 354 bottles. 57 per cent.

Ichiro's Malt, Aged 23 years. Bottled 2008. 58.8 per cent.This one won the best Japanese whisky in the over 21 age category at the World Whisky Awards this year. This was rather overshadowed by the headline grabbing success of the Hibikis and Yoichis in the overall grand prizes.

(Trading Cards)