Book Review: Japanese Whisky by Brian Ashcraft

It is fair to say that Japanese whisky is in the ascendancy, in fact there is certainly no sign of its growth slowing down any time soon. Brands such as Hibiki, Hakushu, Chichibu and Yamazaki are fast becoming globally recognised. But how did Japanese whisky become the phenomenon that it is? We all know where it is now, but how did it get there?

With the imminent release of his new book on that very subject, entitled Japanese Whisky, The Ultimate Guide to the Worlds Most Desirable Spirit, I caught up with author Brian Ashcraft and asked him about the inspiration for his book and about his passion for Japanese culture.

With Japanese whisky more popular than ever, I feel that it’s essential to properly understand where it comes from. I’ve lived in Osaka a third of my life, and I wanted to explore how my adopted home gave birth to one of the world’s greatest whiskies.
I aimed to unearth new info and make new insights while showing the tangible and concrete ways Japanese whisky embodies Japanese culture.
Writing about Japan can be tricky, so my goal was to make connections I felt truly existed. I also wanted to move behind the PR spin to tell new and previously unheard stories. 
One of the first big articles I wrote was a feature on absinthe, which was then illegal in the US, for Wired Magazine. In a small way, the article helped the drink become legal once again in the States, so I’ve long been interested in drinks, how they are made, and their history. But my primary focus is Japan.
I’ve written articles and book about an array of Japanese topics–from tattoos to toys, politics to pop music, religion to robots. You name it. The central subject, though, is Japan. Writing about Japanese whisky, I hoped, would not only give me a better understanding of a drink I enjoy but the place I call home.
By approaching Japan from a variety of angles, I hope that I can better understand the country in which I live. I am acutely aware that fully understanding Japan will take much more than a lifetime.
During the late 19th century, a concept known as “wakon yosai” (和魂洋才) was born. It means “Japanese spirit, Western technology” or “Western learning,” depending on how you translate it. That’s what Japanese whisky reflects. This is one of many examples of how the country has adapted something from outside and infused its soul into it. The result has been new, exciting and, ultimately, Japanese. 
The book is a genuine pleasure to read. I’ll be the first to admit I only have a cursory knowledge of Japanese whisky but quickly found myself immersed in its history, culture and its future. Taking us through from the early pioneers such as Shinjiro Torii and Masataka Taketsuru to the newly emerging distilleries such as Akkeshi and Shizuoka.
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The second half of book is full of fantastically evocative distillery features, taking the reader inside many of Japans distilleries and helping us understand the ethos behind each one, with a particularly enjoyable chapter on Suntory’s Yamazaki Distillery and an incredibly interesting feature on Suntory’s blending process with an interview with their Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo.
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It is not too historically or factually heavy to put off the casual reader but remains in depth enough to satisfy the enthusiasts search for knowledge.
With some excellent tasting notes from Japanese whisky blogger Yuji Kawasaki and some truly stunning photography from Idzuhiko Ueda this book comes highly recommended.
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Japanese Whisky by Brian Ashcraft is released in the UK on the 29th May, you can already preorder your copy from Amazon.

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**Disclaimer: This was an advance copy of the book that was sent to me by the publisher, the direct link to Amazon does not earn me any commission**
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