by Brian Ashcraft
Hardback, full colour, 144 pp
In recent years, Japanese whisky has won top international awards, and the impending shortage of Suntory’s flagship Hibiki 17-year-old blend, immortalized in the film Lost in Translation, attests to global demand for its most prestigious offerings. Once again, the Japanese have taken a Western icon and distilled their own excellent versions of it. In the first part of his spirited guide, Brian Ashcraft explores the history of distilling in Japan, beginning with the arrival of the first American whisky on Perry’s black ships in the mid-nineteenth century but focusing on the strong Scottish connection, in particular the role that Masataka Taketsuru (“Massan”) played in establishing Japan’s first distillery, Yamazaki, in Osaka. The second part of the book focuses on six main distilleries out of the sixteen mentioned, beginning of course with Suntory’s Yamazaki complex, which is lavishly illustrated, evoking, for example, the honeyed glow of the thousands of blendings sitting in bottles on the shelves of the ‘whisky library’ in their contact centre, among which one can sample dozens across a wide price range. Evocative yet approachable tasting notes cover the best offerings of each distillery. The highest rated appear to be Nikka’s 34- and 40-year-old limited editions (“a beautiful symphony”), at 98 out of 100 points, equalled only by Suntory’s “sublime” ‘Yamazaki 1999 The Owner’s Cask Mampei Hotel’. At the other end of the scale is Nikka’s ‘Yoichi Single Malt Peaty and Salty 12 Years Old’, 55/100: “It’s so smoky you’ve got to wonder if fumes aren’t wafting out of your nose after each taste”.
Excitement at the current state and future potential of the Japanese whisky industry exudes from every pore of this beautifully presented and meticulously researched guide. This is a book to be savoured rather than downed in one sitting.
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