Sunday, December 22, 2013

2 New Books on Japanese Whisky

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
© Stefan Van Eycken
The holidays are always the perfect time to catch up on some reading and, as it happens, there are two interesting new books out on Japanese whisky. They’re both written by Suntory people and they are in Japanese, so you will need to be familiar with the language (or spend huge amounts of quality time with someone who is). They’re kind of complementary, as can be gleaned from the titles: ‘The Birth of Japanese Whisky’ and ‘Japanese Whisky’s Path to ‘Best in the World’’.

The former – 日本ウイスキーの誕生 [Nihon Whisky no Tanjou, 207pp, published by Shogakukan] – was written by Masaharu Minabe, who used to be production and quality control manager at Hakushu distillery. The book is a sort of industrial/technological history of what lead to whisky production in Japan and the bulk of the chapters actually look at what was going on in Scotland and other parts of Europe (France, in particular) prior to the birth of whisky making in Japan.

The second book – 日本ウイスキー 世界一への道 [Nihon Whisky Sekai Ichi no Michi, 256pp, published by Shueisha] – was co-written by two Suntory heavyweights: chief blender Seiichi Koshimizu (who we’ve featured before here on Nonjatta) and director Yukio Shimatani. The title is a bit misleading and it’s not unlikely that it was suggested by the publishing house as an attention-grabber. It does not tell the story of how Japanese whisky became ‘best in the world’ / plans on becoming the 'best in the world'. Instead, Koshimizu and Shimatani take you through the whisky production process from grain to glass. Each of the 14 chapters focuses on a particular aspect of the production process with many insights based on the way they do things at Suntory, of course.

Both books are invaluable additions to the small body of work on whisky and/in Japan and it’s a shame that these writings will not reach foreign shores. If only Suntory would set aside a bit of money to fund translations…

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