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.
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