I’m utterly obsessed by glasses, and how their shape affects the taste of the drink. It amazes and upsets me that bartenders will serve shots that cost more than ¥10,000 and pour them into a glass that will bury the character. And I know that very few people believe it matters, so a few years ago I wrote a piece for the Japan Times trying to convince people. And for the latest edition of Whisky Magazine Japan, I investigated whisky glass shapes. Here’s the English translation. Breath in, it’s gonna get obsessive.
(Photos by Julen Estebal-Pretel)
Earlier this year I took Anthony Wills of Islay’s new(ish) craft distillery Kilchoman to Chichibu to chat with Ichiro Akuto and poke his nose around Japan’s newest distillery.
I wanted to eavesdrop on a conversation between Wills and Akuto because, for me, these men have built the two most exciting new distilleries and are producing exceptional young drinks (Kilchoman had yet to release a 4-year-old, and Chichibu was still offering new make).
The article is out, in Japanese, in the latest issue of Whisky Magazine Japan, but here’s an English translation.
I’ve drunk some pricey drinks in my time. I tried a shot of Sunny Brook Rye from 1892 for ¥20,000, and last week I drank my first ¥7,000 cocktail (a highball made with Hakushu 25 Years Old, which is sure to raise the ire of any self-respecting whisky fan, but a shot of that stuff was ¥16,000, so the highball was the cheapest way to taste it. No, it wasn’t worth it.)
But I set what I expect to be a long-serving record tonight. Not in price terms – I believe I paid a little under ¥9,000 – but in yen per millilitre.
Check the picture. That’s how much I got. The price for a regular shot of Yamazaki 50 Years Old is ¥90,000 at Wodka Tonic in Nishi Azabu. Details »
There’s only one bar in Tokyo that’s been unaffected by the recent highball fever: Rockfish in Ginza. Before the Kaku highball campaign was even a twinkle in Suntory’s marketing schedule, Kazunari Maguchi of Rockfish was turning out an almost uninterrupted stream of whisky & sodas, and while every other bartender in the country is reporting a huge spike in highball orders, Maguchi says it’s just business as usual at Rockfish, where highballs have always accounted for over 90% of the orders.
There is something uniquely refreshing about a Rockfish highball. Maguchi makes his without ice, so you can take a proper thrist-quenching swig of the drink. He also makes a drink that tastes of whisky, which is a nice departure from the ice-filled Kaku highballs that most places are turning out, which have just a twinkle of whisky taste.
Last Saturday Maguchi taught me his highball technique for a Whisky Magazine Japan feature. Here’s how it goes: