Dave Broom is a most interesting gentleman whose deep Glasgow accent will put you at ease. A few sentences in, and you realize this is a demur man of humor and intellect. Serious intellect. Beverage intellect. An acclaimed writer on drinks and drinking, he has been a magazine editor and book author. His book portfolio includes a dozen items including the brilliant spirits collection:
I’ve reviewed all three here and you can follow the links to see the review of this important spirits guides. [Gee, spirit guides. I’ll go on.]
We all have passions if not obsessions. For Dave it is whisky and in particular Japanese whisky. He’s the foremost Western expert on Japanese whisky with a barrage of writing and many journeys to Japan. This book is not all like those manuals. This book is an homage to nine of the greatest Japanese whisky makers. And if the phrase “the way of whisky” sounds a touch zen-like, it should. The subtitle here is “a journey around Japanese whisky.” This book is a travelogue as Dave travels from one great firm to the other. In the past 17 years, Dave has been to Japan 30 times: touring, tasting, and trying to understand the intersection of Japanese culture and Japanese whisky making.
Culture is surely the central aspect of whisky making in Japan. Here’s an interior shot of one prominent firm:
I rather doubt that you will see quite that ambiance in any Kentucky distillery.
The Japanese whisky industry has had its ups and downs. Lately, things are up with demand outstripping supply. Price a bottle of Japanese whisky in a New York City liquor store and you will agree. The quality so evident in Japanese brands comes, not unsurprisingly, from a deep culture of respect for tradition and the terroir of land and water. Plus, there is a modern edge to the industry based on science applied to seasonality. One distiller told Dave about “copper conversation.” When distilling, “the longer the spirit vapor is in contact with the copper, the lighter it will be. Because the water coming into the condenser is colder in winter, the surface temperature is lower so the conversion back to liquid is quicker and the spirit is heavier.”
If that paragraph gives you pause, here’s translation. The daily environment impacts the distillation process and the whisky maker must be carefully aware. You can accept those daily differences and thus that one day’s product may differ from another. For some distillers, consistency is so important they spend their day tweaking temperature and alcohol level so that the bottle you open tonight will be so very close to the one from last year. Or ten years ago.
Dave is a superior writer and the covers each firm in detail, providing history, production of current whiskies and Dave’s own tasting notes. This book is, as I said, a travelogue and Dave delves into Japanese culture with insights into the cities, the food, the gardens and the importance of zen. His journey has been captured in words by Dave and in photos by Kohei Take, a photographer of remarkable ability. The photos here make this book, whisky aside, a coffee table tome to pick up, to browse, and to reflect on the beauty of Japan. Dave has long been in love with whisky and Japan. After seeing this book, you will be too.
The Way of Whisky was published late last fall. Do look for a copy and perhaps pair it with a good Japanese whisky.