Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Japanese whisky's small band of Western admirers

Not a lot of people know this but the great existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre was a fan of Japanese whisky.

David Drake's biography describes a visit to Japan in 1966 by the amphetamine and hard drink fueled French philosopher: "The trip was a great success, except for the food which Sartre found inedible, though he developed a great liking for Japanese whisky" (p. 119). Sartre`s partner, the feminist and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir was also impressed. She describes a drinking session in All Said and Done: "We sent for a bottle of Japanese whisky, which is very good" (p. 255).

The writer J.G Ballard
isn`t averse to a dram or two of the Japanese version (The Kindness of Women, p. 176) and Peggy Guggenheim, the art collector and patron, was known to decant cheap Japanese brands into Scotch bottles, though her motives for that seem to have been more parsimony than appreciation (Mistress of Modernism: The Life of Peggy Guggenheim, p. 271).

Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond books, seems also to have had an open mind. In You Only Live Twice, the Australian spy Dikko Henderson gets a steaming hangover on sake and Japanese whisky. Bond, more of a Martini man, comments, "I can't believe Japanese whisky makes a good foundation for anything." Dikko replies:
"You've got something there sport. I've got myself a proper futsukayoi - honourable hangover. Mouth like a vulture's crutch. Soon as we got home from that lousy cat house, I had to go for the big spit. But you're wrong about Suntory. It's a good enough brew. Stick to the cheapest, the White Label, at around fifteen bob a bottle. There are two smarter brands but the cheap one's the best. Went up to the distillery some whiles ago and met one of the family. Told me an interesting thing about whisky. He said you can only make good whisky where you can take good photographs. Ever heard that one? Said it was something to do with the effect of clear light on the alcohol" (p. 42).

Didn`t know they stored it in transparent casks! Must try that White Label some time.

The image of a drinking Sartre is from this website.

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