The Tall & Short: An Introduction to Japanese Whisky
The Tall & Short is an ongoing series about the nooks and crannies in the world of unique, artisanal spirits and alcohol. Co-written by Raphael Holzer and Elliot Faber, both possess an extensive list of accolades and experiences that have translated into success within their roles at Yardbird, RONIN and Sunday’s Grocery in Hong Kong. Elliot has earned the respect of his peers for his love and understanding of sake, wine, and whisky while Raphael’s role as cocktail creator and general manager at Yardbird serves as the method to his partner in crime’s madness.
Both of us have a serious problem, Elliot and I love alcohol. And when I say we like alcohol we mean the good stuff made by some of the finest distilleries and artisans across the world. Collectively we help oversee the beverage program at Yardbird, RONIN and Sunday’s Grocery in Hong Kong so there’s often a blurred line between our work and our hobby.
We often look for small producers and people from around the world who truly care about their craft to source some of most unique and delicious fermented and distilled beverages. Much of our journeys take us to Japan and this suits Elliot quite well as he’s earned quite a bit of knowledge spanning sake, wine and whisky. His knowledge is incredible, sometimes leaning towards obscurity but it’s interesting to say the least and it will bring you much closer to understanding all these wonderful beverages. Throughout his career, he’s spent a lot of time in Japan, writing books and drinking his way through the country. Behind The Tall & Short, our purpose is to bring an easy to understand approach to all things alcoholic. Our inaugural piece however will focus on birth of Japanese whisky and the difference between Japanese whisky, Scottish whisky and bourbon. Japanese whisky would not be anywhere without Scottish whisky, and Elliot will explain why that’s the case.
“OUR PURPOSE IS TO BRING AN EASY TO UNDERSTAND APPROACH TO ALL THINGS ALCOHOLIC.”
When Masataka Taketsuru left Japan in the late 1910s for Scotland to study chemistry, he knew he would bring the craft of Scotch whisky back to Japan but he didn’t know he would fall in love with one of the Scottish women of the host family he stayed with! After a stint at Hazelburn Distillery, Taketsuru returned to Japan in 1920 to help pharmaceutical wholesaler and Western style alcohol lover Shinjiro Torii of Suntory fame open his first whisky Distillery in Yamazaki, Kyoto.
However, the whisky that Taketsuru produced was deemed “too Scottish” in its peat and punch; Taketsuru eventually parted ways with the Suntory distillery. Focusing on his “Scotch style” Japanese whisky, he moved north and established Yoichi distillery in the small surf town of the same name in 1934. Meanwhile, Shinjiro Torii took his Suntory brand the direction of a “Japanese” style whisky with all of the softness and elegance akin to the Japanese palate that perhaps he felt Taketsuru lacked. The result of all of this is two distinct camps of Japanese whisky at the forefront: the often more masculine and rustic styling of Taketsuru’s Nikka vs. the typically more voluptuous and feminine character that Suntory whisky has come to capture the heart of whisky lovers around the world. But what makes one whisky taste feminine or masculine? Stay tuned for our followup feature that details this relationship.