Suntory and Nikka remain the sole Japanese distillers exporting their whisky for American consumption, but there are a number of new bottlings on the market in the US.
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This vodka from Suntory is made from 100% Japanese rice and water sourced from the island of Kyushu. The rice mash is distilled in small pot stills and clarified through a bamboo filtration process.
Watching top bartenders in Tokyo, I think of the Japanese tea ceremony, with its elaborate details and rules. Both reflect what Japanese call kodawari, which translates roughly to a striving for unreachable perfection achieved through relentless practice, repetition, and extreme attention to detail.
Until 1994, Japanese tax laws, enacted to protect domestic brewing, set minimum production limits that instead ensured the dominance of the big four breweries Kirin, Asahi, Sapporo and Suntory. However, when those minimums were lowered from two million liters/year to 60,000 liters/year, it opened the door for craft brewing to emerge in the land of the rising sun. Since then, a fledgling, but vibrant scene has developed, and Yo-Ho Brewing in Nagano is a leading player.
This is a coffee shop for coffee purists.
During my recent visit to Japan, watching my food and drinks being prepared was just as much a pleasure as actually tasting them. People often talk about how the pursuit of perfection is ingrained in Japanese culture and I found this to be very true. Even the most seemingly mundane activities like pouring tea are afforded a meticulous attention to detail. I was fascinated to find this reverence for method and craft embodied in the drinks I had in Tokyo.
Sake may be the first drink that comes to mind, but despite its foreign origins, beer is the most popular beverage in Japan by some margin. First introduced as a specialty import by Dutch merchants in the 17th century, some local production began in the early19th century—Hendrik Doeff, the Dutch commissioner in Dejima, saw his supply from Europe interrupted by the Napoleonic wars, so he commissioned a local operation to ensure his own supply. Commercial beer production began in Japan later in the century, also thanks to an outsider; Norwegian-American William Copeland opened the Spring Valley Brewery in Yokohama in 1870.
In honor of Mr. Niizawa, the sake brewer at Niizawa Shuzo, and many others who are trying to get back on their feet in Japan, I'd like to take a break from Sake School today and offer instead a list of food and drink events around the country that are raising money for relief in Japan.
Until recently, discussions of whisk(e)y largely centered on the spirits from two places: Scotland and Kentucky. Now, with Japanese whiskies expanding their U.S. distribution, and with a whisky from India now on the market, the whisky landscape is changing.