We are thrilled to have bagged a few minutes with one of the countries most published whisky experts, Dave Broom, for this months blog. Dave has written over a dozen books on whisk(e)y and to celebrate the release of his latest tome (The Way of Whisky), we grilled him on the book’s subject… Japanese whisky.
1.) Why have you chosen now to publish a book about Japanese whisky?
Well, I’ve been thinking about it for a while and it’s taken about three years to get this from proposal to publication. It seemed the right time. Interest in Japanese whisky continues to grow and yet there was very little which looked in depth at its history, production and what’s of most interest to me, the culture from which is springs.
I didn’t want to write a standard whisky book but one which (hopefully) tried to discover what makes Japanese whisky ‘Japanese’. That means looking at more than production and statistics and tasting notes and seeing how it fitted into a Japanese approach to craftsmanship.
It’s a road trip, a personal journey and includes interviews with craftspeople, bartenders, a tea producer, chefs as well as whisky makers.
So, it’s an attempt to look at ‘the whisky book’ in a new way and also throw some light (hopefully) on what’s going on in Japan.
2.) For drinkers new to Japanese whisky, what would you recommend as your go-to dram?
3.) Given Japanese culture has a focus on tradition and precision, how can whisky producers innovate to keep up with current market enthusiasm?
By focusing on tradition and precision! What wasfascinating to see is that at this point where stocks are tight (but slowly coming back into balance) producers aren’t simply making more, but thinking about how what they make now will fit with a market in eight to ten years time. This is a period of great optimism.
This isn’t unusual, it’s what has always happened in Japanese whisky. If you were to ask a Scottish distiller what was the most important element in whisky making they would likely reply consistency and maintaining quality and character. Ask the same question to a Japanese distiller and he would say “improving quality” It’s the kaizen mentality of incremental improvement and if things need to change they will be changed – sometimes dramatically (Suntory taking out steam and replacing in with direct fire on all its wash stills is a good example).
The subject of innovation came up when I was interviewing Eriko Horiki who makes architectural paper installations/sculptures/artworks. She said “tradition is the innovation of the past” In other words, if you don’t change tradition it will die.
What does that mean in a practical sense within whisky? Different grains, different strengths, different yeasts, different maturation locations. A new approach to grain whisky, local oak, native barley. It’s all being trialed.
4.) In your opinion, who or what is the one to watch in the whisky business in Japan?
Watch everyone! There’s exciting new distilleries opening: Shizuoka, and Akkeshi for example. Mars Shinshu is re-examining its character, Chichibu is a beacon for any smaller distiller in the world, but the majors are immensely forward thinking as well. Watch out for Fuji-Gotemba finally appearing in export, Nikka expanding its NAS range (seeing it as a way to demonstrate blending skills) and there are new developments at Suntory which will amaze.
The Way of Whisky by Dave Broom is published by Mitchell Beazley, £40 (octopusbooks.co.uk) Buy Here
Photo by Kohei Take
**COMPETITION** Want to get your hands on a copy of ‘The Way Of Whisky’? We’re giving one away to a lucky whisky fan! Simply read the interview above and answer the question on our Facebook page….. The winner will be drawn from all correct entries on Friday 13th October and informed….