Whisky & Japan
Interview with Nicolas Rua
By Alexander Winter
Published Nov 2013
Japanese whisky has been popping up at bars all over San Francisco in the last few years, with only the connoisseurs taking notice of the quality it brings to the table. The story of Japanese whisky started over a hundred years ago with pioneers Shinjiro Torii and Masataka Taketsuru. Torii was a pharmaceutical wholesaler and founder of Port Wine brand Akadama, which started his venture in liquor. His dream to make whisky for the Japanese came to fruition with the help of Taketsuru, whom he hired as executive distiller. Taketsuru was trained in the art of whisky distilling in Scotland, and to this day, their ventures follow the Scottish way, hence the spelling of whisky versus whiskey—a letter that defines the style. The New Asterisk spoke with one of the world’s foremost Japanese whisky experts, Nicolas Rua of Japanese-Whisky.com, to explore the culture of Japanese whisky and its burgeoning global market share. “After Japan, the bigger consumer of Japanese whisky is France; then comes England and a few other European countries and a growing market in the USA and China,” shares Rua. How is Japanese whisky different from others? The whisky-making process is rather similar between Scottish and Japanese whisky. Both are made from malted barley brewed with yeast and water then distilled twice in pot stills. The difference is in the Japanese know-how and the ability of blending single malts, but also in the ingredients like water or yeast. A lot of different types of cask like mizunara [Japanese oak) cask are used for the aging, which provides to the Japanese whisky–specific flavor and aromas. Plus, Japanese whisky makers use quasi–100% Scottish barley, considered as the best barley to distill whisky, and that’s different from the Scottish, which import almost all the barley used for whisky from Poland, Germany, and the USA. What are your personal favorites? To be honest, I have four personal favorites, and I like to drink it all straight to experience all the flavors. Sometimes, I add a drop of water to lower the alcohol level for the cask-strength Whiskies. First choice is Yamazaki 25-year-old single malts: very precious and expensive but also good as heaven, and Yamazaki is my favorite distillery. Second is the Karuizawa International Barshow, a limited edition of one of the last cask of a now closed, very renowned distillery. It’s rare and very good. Third, the Chichibu Port Pipe, a young whisky from a young distillery created in 2007 but which produces very high-quality whiskies regarding his age—very surprising, whisky-sweet, and complex. Finally, the Akashi 15-year-old single malt, a limited edition of the small but old White Oak distillery. How does one drink whisky as a novice? Most people drink it straight, on the rocks, or in cocktails; it depends on the whisky you choose. There is a wide range of whiskies, from low, entry level to exceptional limited editions. In Japan, whisky is mostly consumed in mizuwari [mixed with ice and mineral water] or highball [mixed with ice and sparkling water], and it’s often consumed with meals. Learn more at japanese-whisky.com