Friday, July 6, 2012

New writing on Japanese whisky

Post by Stefan of Tokyo Whisky Hub

As many have lamented, there's very little (good quality writing) in print on Japanese whisky, so it was a pleasure to spend a bit of time with two recent books featuring some very interesting sections on Japanese whisky. The first is the humongous "1001 Whiskies you must taste before you die", edited by Dominic Roskrow. It's not exactly a book you read in one sitting and it's certainly not for people with back problems. Thirty-two of the whiskies are Japanese, not a bad percentage considering the competition that's around. To give you an idea of the breakdown, these are the whiskies covered:

- Suntory: Hakushu 10, 12, 18 and 25; Yamazaki 10, 12, 18, 25, 1984 and Bourbon Barrel; Hibiki 12, 17 and 21; and Hokuto 12;

- Nikka: Yoichi 10, 20 and 1990; Miyagikyo 15; Single Coffey Malt; From the barrel; Taketsuru 12 and 21;

- Venture Whisky: 3 Hanyu single casks and Chichibu the First; - Number One Drinks: 5 Karuizawa single casks

- Eigashima 5

I think it would have been nice to include a Mars (Shinshu distillery) bottling, but there you go. I really enjoyed the Suntory and Karuizawa entries, most of them written by Marcin Miller. What makes the Suntory ones really fascinating are the many quotes from Mike Miyamoto, general manager of quality communications in the spirits division at Suntory. The Karuizawa entries offer a little glimpse behind the scenes of Number One Drinks, which - as most of you will know - Marcin Miller is one of the founding directors of. There may be a slight conflict of interests there but it's intriguing reading all the same, so why not.

The second book is "Gaz Regan's Annual Manual for Bartenders 2012". I'd been waiting impatiently for the follow-up to the first manual (published in the spring of 2011) - it was just love at first sight - and I'm thrilled to say this year's manual is even more engaging than the first one.

Imagine my delight when I discovered a short chapter towards the end of the book on Japanese whisky. It's part of the third section ("Bar Geekery", Ingredient Focus) and it's very short (a mere 9 pages). The first couple of pages are gaz's impressions of a trip to Japan in January of 2011, followed by the briefest - but possibly the clearest - explanation I've ever read of how whisky is made. After this virtuoso preamble, gaz turns over the chapter to Neyah White and Gardner Dunn, ex-bartenders who now work as ambassadors for Suntory. The chapter's title is more than a bit misleading - they don't talk about Japanese whisky, i.e. all of it, they talk about Suntory whisky - but I can't imagine anyone being unwilling to forgive them (or the editor(s)) for this little trick after reading their contribution. It really is required reading for anyone new to Japanese whisky. And for those who've been around the block a few times, it is refreshing to see it captured so well in a nutshell. It certainly is the best-written, concise explanation of what makes Japanese - sorry, make that: Suntory whisky unique. Check it out and be ready to swept off your feet not only by that little chapter but by everything gaz managed to put together in his new manual for bartenders.

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