While visiting Japan, I discovered that apartment store basements were combinations of mini-restaurants, islands where you could purchase an amazing variety of foods and liquor stores that sold beers (cans of Budweiser were the most popular), wine (mostly French and a very expensive American wines), Champagnes (French) and, of course, spirits. The most popular spirits were the famous French brands including Chivas Regal. Royal Crown (a Canadian product) was also popular, and some of the more known brands of American whiskeys were present.
Hidden in the corner, not an ideal marketing location, were the few Japanese whiskeys. These were whiskeys made by the distiller, Suntory, the most noticeable brand I spied while there. I remember thinking, “Japanese whiskeys? These folks make sake, not whiskey.”
Not too long ago, this marvelous book arrived in my mailbox: “Whisky . Japan – The Essential Guide To The World’s Most Exotic Whisky” by Dominic Roskrow and published by Kodansha USA. Diving into this amazing book, I quickly realized my perceptions of whiskey in Japan were out of date and needed to quick jump-start to present time. Roskrow, the author of eight books on whiskey and numerous articles that has focused attention on non-traditional whiskeys—meaning whiskeys not necessarily produced in Scotland or the United States.
The book is eye-opening especially when one discovers that Japan has a one hundred year old tradition of making whiskey. Japan’s romance with whiskey actually goes back to when Commodore Perry arrived and American whiskey that was given to the Emperor as a gift. The author writes that the history of whiskey making in Japan is based on what was learned from Scotland, but as the book explains again and again, what Japan is producing today is uniquely Japanese and is of an extraordinary high quality.
The book is fun to read and is lavishly illustrated with color photographs of the major whiskey producers and their products. There is a delightful chapter titled “Eyewitness” that interviews key players in the growth of the Japanese whiskey industry. Roskrow asks them each, “What are you drinking?” A great question. Another chapter is about Japanese whiskey bars followed by another chapter titled, “Bars Around the World.” And what would a book like this be without a chapter showing how food and whiskey cocktails can be paired.
There is such a cornucopia of information, interesting insights, places to put on your “To Do” list, it is simply a delight to pick up the book and randomly read what the book opens to. I continue to do this and find it difficult to not turn to the next page and then on to the next page again and again.
“WHISKY JAPAN – The Essential Guide to the World’s Most Exotic Whisky” by Dominic Roskrow, Published by Kodansha USA, Ltd., ISBN 978-1-56836-575, Hardcover, Suggested retail price: $34.95
Paul Rest lives in Sonoma County, California. He has been enjoying California wines and foods since arriving in California. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Paul Rest / Edited, Karie Engels Giffin