Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mixing Japanese Whiskies: Dave Broom’s picks from “Whisky, The Manual”

Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo

About a year ago, Dave Broom told us he was working on a new book. It was going to be a “user’s manual” of whisky and it sounded very intriguing. But then, anything Dave commits to paper is a joy for the imagination. He’s one of the few true originals in the world of whisky writing – someone who’s not content with rehashing the same stuff you’ve read in countless other books and magazines or on blogs – and it’s no secret we’re big fans of his work.
Whisky - The Manual © Stefan Van Eycken
“Whisky – The Manual” has been out for a while now, but it took some time to reach Japanese shores. We finally got our mitts on a copy and spent some quality time with it. (We recommend you do the same – you won’t be disappointed!) The book is all about “enjoying whisky in ways you never thought possible”. It opens with a fascinating history of whisky written from the perspective of how it has been consumed over the centuries. Think you know your whisky history? Think again – there’s stuff here even the most ardent whisky historian will not have heard about and/or contemplated. (No, we’re not going to tell you exactly what; you’ll just have to buy the book.) The history chapter is followed by a brief discussion of the essentials of whisky.

The bulk of the book is dedicated to mixing whisky, with a focus on whiskies from all over the world (102 of them) and 5 mixers (soda, ginger ale, cola, coconut water and green tea). Broom did some serious research for this section, tasting all whiskies neat and with water as well as with the 5 mixers, the latter with mixer:whisky in equal parts and at 2:1 (always with ice). He gave each combination a score on a scale from N/A (cases in which mixing just doesn’t work) to 5* (must-try combinations – “the whisky transformed into a magnificent drink”).
Kakubin lanterns at an izakaya in Shikoku. © Stefan Van Eycken
As you read through this section, you’ll see a few patterns emerge. The mixer that doesn’t seem to complement whisky all that well is cola, with not a single whisky getting a 5* score in that combination. The best mixer seems to be ginger ale, with 7 whiskies – but no Japanese ones – getting a top score when mixed with ginger ale. Green tea works best with two whiskies (Dewar’s 12 and Canadian Club) and coconut water with three (one of those the Nikka Coffey Grain). Unsurprisingly, Kakubin was one of four whiskies deemed stellar with soda (the others being Cutty Sark, Great King Street and Kilchoman Machir Bay). There’s a reason why Kakubin has been a mainstay of bars and izakayas in Japan for over 70 years. It works like no other whisky… in a highball, that is.
Kakubin advertisement in Kanda station... featuring the new face of the Kaku-Highball, actress Haruka Igawa © Stefan Van Eycken
By coincidence, we happened to have the exact same coconut water used by Dave Broom (Vita-Coco) in our fridge while reading through the book… as well as a half-empty bottle of Nikka Coffey Grain (not in the fridge, that one). Spurred on by Dave’s top score for that combo, we threw them in a glass with some ice… and sure enough, it turned out to be a match made in heaven. With summer almost upon us here in Japan, this book couldn’t have arrived at a better time. But wherever you live and whatever the season, it’s always a good time to start experimenting with whisky and mixers. If you’re open to new sensations and experiences… well, Dave’s your man!

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