It canna be!
November 25, 2003 2:13 PM   Subscribe

Scotland shamed: Japan wins whisky challenge. The Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre hosted a tasting in Toronto, and a 20-year-old Nikka Yoichi, distilled in Hokkaido, beat out a 16-year-old Lagavulin (my own favorite) and 12-year-old whiskies from Cragganmore and Balvenie (also excellent). This is reminiscent of the 1976 tasting in which California wines beat out French ones and put California on the map; can America someday produce a world-class scotch-type whisky (the preferred spelling in Scotland), or shall we simply continue to take pride in our bourbon and rye?
posted by languagehat (37 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Burbon and Rye are whiskeys, just different styles.

Scotch is made in Scotland, Irish Whiskey in Ireland, Burbon in the US, and Rye in Canada.
posted by CrazyJub at 2:24 PM on November 25, 2003

They just let the Japanese win out of fear that the losing distillers would commit seppuku.
posted by RavinDave at 2:32 PM on November 25, 2003

My approach to whiskey is the same as Dave Barry's approach to wine, which is basically to drink it and then look around for more. Time spent pontificating on the taste is time that could have been better spent imbibing.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:36 PM on November 25, 2003

I blame the scots for switching to continuous distillation methods, whereas the irish still do pot distillation by hand.

also, aren't the french vines of today almost all transplants from california?
posted by dorian at 2:39 PM on November 25, 2003

This comes as no suprise. BTW if you like Miso, another Japanese fermented food that typically ages 3 years, this place in MA has been makeing it for years and has beat out many native Japanese Misos.
posted by stbalbach at 3:20 PM on November 25, 2003

> also, aren't the french vines of today almost all transplants from california?

They are, as I understand it, French grafts onto California rootstock, which is resistant to a very bad grape disease of some kind.
posted by jfuller at 3:36 PM on November 25, 2003

> I blame the scots for switching to continuous distillation methods,
> whereas the irish still do pot distillation by hand.

Hey, that's the way great grand-uncle Louie made that stuff he put in Mason jars. I wonder did he realise he was making single-malt corn? It was aged a full forty five minutes, because that's how long it took to drive it into Knoxville.

> it is not a whisky for the timid but a tremendous find for those who
> enjoy a tidal wave of flavour in each sip.

Yep, that's the stuff. Don't smoke while drinking.
posted by jfuller at 3:44 PM on November 25, 2003

On my scorecard, the oldest Nikka Yoichi edged out the Lagavulin by two points. It was a tally echoed by the group, which placed Lagavulin second, the 12-year-old Yoichi third and the Balvenie fourth. The 10-year-old Yoichi came next with the Cragganmore in last place.

The 20-year-old Yoichi is an immense and powerful drink.
It retails for a steep $250. That drops considerably, to $87, for the 12-year-old and $56 for the 10. That compares to $90 for the Lagavulin and $55 for the Balvenie.

The Japanese offerings are not widely available in Canada.
That's quite the price jump over one of my favourites, 16 year old Lagavulin. Hopefully I'll see the 12 year old Nikka Yoichi sometime soon in Canada, just to compare, you understand. Let's just say I've already written to our overlord, LCBO [Liquor Control Board of Ontario]. [note figures in Cndn. $$]

Cheers! languagehat.
posted by alicesshoe at 4:10 PM on November 25, 2003

alicesshoe: You can get the LCBO to order you a case of just about anything if you've got that kind of pocket change...
posted by transient at 4:26 PM on November 25, 2003

this week has been a disaster for scotland and this is the icing on the cake , the cherry will be if ewan macgregor continues acting.
posted by sgt.serenity at 4:33 PM on November 25, 2003

My itamae, while cutting the sashimi, often asks me about Port. From now on, my trap will remain shut.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:03 PM on November 25, 2003

Huh. No "Santori time" jokes yet?
posted by muckster at 5:38 PM on November 25, 2003

I've been led to believe that not California, but Missouri was the source of France's replentishment stocks after a blight. Eastern MO is apparently has a very similar soil to the grape-bearing soil in France. No citations or nuthin', just somethign I've heard a number of times.
posted by notsnot at 5:54 PM on November 25, 2003

Thanks transient, I just wanted to taste it first. Even if I loved it, a case would be overkill.

I'll try some noteable bars that may have it.
posted by alicesshoe at 6:24 PM on November 25, 2003

They can always fall back on WMD production.
posted by homunculus at 7:29 PM on November 25, 2003

Interesting that they chose Lagavulin as the top competition in the taste-test. I love the stuff, which is unfortunately in low supply at the moment due to low production 16 years ago (expected to be available again in 2005, I believe).

I'd like to see how the Yoichi measures up against the Ladyburn in my cabinet.
posted by me3dia at 8:53 PM on November 25, 2003

Don't want to jump on my nationalist high horse here, but the judges were Japanese, the event was held in a Japanese cultural centre.

This is a marketing stunt posing as journalism; it doesn't take much to see through the agenda. All in all, a pretty shoddy link.

Aslo, I think we Scots need to defend the forlorn tatters of our national pride after that gubbing by the Dutch last week.
posted by johnny novak at 1:18 AM on November 26, 2003

Aslo, I think we Scots need to defend the forlorn tatters of our national pride after that gubbing by the Dutch last week

*grins and takes a sip of Laphroaig for breakfast*
posted by swordfishtrombones at 1:30 AM on November 26, 2003

If you're partial to Lagavulin, languagehat, you should try getting your hands on a bottle of an Islay whisky called 'Port Ellen', which I'd rate as the best scotch I ever had. Alas, all production of it ceased years before I even first tasted it (thus making the dwindling stocks of it ever more expensive).

I don't see why the Scotch style couldn't be emulated somewhere in North America with good water & a prevailing ocean breeze...
posted by misteraitch at 1:33 AM on November 26, 2003

> I blame the scots for switching to continuous distillation methods, whereas the irish still do pot distillation by hand.

I'm sorry, but this just isn't true. Yes, grain whisky is distilled in patent stills in Scotland. But all single malts on the market (except for the 1963 Scott's Selection North of Scotland, which in any case is marketed as a single grain despite its being technically a single malt) are distilled in pot stills. The vast majority are distilled twice, with the remainder (entirely lowland distilleries in recent years) distilled three times.
posted by quarantine at 1:34 AM on November 26, 2003

My Japanese father in law will cry tears of joy over this. Two of his favorite things are 1) Scotch and 2) talking about how much better Japan is than everywhere else.
posted by shoos at 1:39 AM on November 26, 2003 [1 favorite]

An anither thing, I cannae believe that Cragganmore wis last, it's a topper o' a dram...
posted by johnny novak at 2:42 AM on November 26, 2003

Don't want to jump on my nationalist high horse here, but the judges were Japanese, the event was held in a Japanese cultural centre.

I kind of assumed that it would be a double-blind kind of setup - people drinking from unlabelled glasses, judging, then matching up with the actual Whisky later on.
posted by Jimbob at 2:43 AM on November 26, 2003

I think it positively reeks of PR. How many people were involved? Who were they? What were they're credentials? Who wrote the press release etc...It's typical PR, prove black is white with some ill-defined puportedly objective "research" or test, and then shout about it from the roof tops, relying on lazy journalists to propagate the lie. Then bingo, it's in the paper or on the web, so therefore it must be true.

Edward L. Bernays has got a lot to answer for.

But then of course, I'm a Scot so I would say all of that, wouldn't I?
posted by johnny novak at 3:26 AM on November 26, 2003

There is one thing I love more than MeFi threads about whisky: the whiskys (and whiskeys) themsleves.

If you find yourself in Paris, a source for the aforementioned
The price, given its mythic status, seems quite reasonable: 165€ for the above bottle (from an issue of 9000) with others as little as 98€.
posted by Dick Paris at 3:51 AM on November 26, 2003

I'm sorry but this story is a total loada crap.

A Japanese teacher organizes a whisky tasting [with only 6 whiskys] at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto & a $250 20yo beats a $90 16yo. Well knock me down with a seagull's arse.

Then again...

'The Japanese offerings are not widely available in Canada.

"Logistically, we haven't been able to make it work yet," said Shotaro Ozawa, sales manager for Ozawa Canada, Inc., which represents the distillery here.

"We hope to see it available soon. I think it would sell well, especially on the coattails of the Japanese food boom," he said.'

How to Market Japanese Whisky 101. Wake up people...

posted by i_cola at 4:30 AM on November 26, 2003

To doubters of the validity of the tasting: don't be silly. Do you really think newspapers would pick it up if it were just a matter of some Japanese tasting a Lag and a Nikka Yoichi, then ostentatiously holding up the latter (label to the camera) and saying "Ah! The best!"? Let me insert the opening paragraph of the story, with the crucial words bolded:
After the skirl of bagpipes faded and the blind taste test of single-malt whiskies was over, the winning dram was clear—a 20-year-old Nikka Yoichi, distilled in Hokkaido, Japan.
Read jimbob's comment for a description of how blind tasting works. And as for the judges being Japanese, where do you get that from? The only one named is Adrian Humphreys, which doesn't sound that Japanese to me. Sorry about the gubbing by the Dutch, but don't take it out on Japanese whisk(e)y.

dorian: Yes, all French rootstock was pulled out because of a phylloxera infestation in the 1860s-1870s and French vines were grafted on to American roots (which had developed resistance). You can read about it here. For a long time it was taken for granted that pre-phylloxera wines were better, hoarding their bottles from the 1870s, and I see this is still believed in certain antiquarian quarters. Most people started changing their minds after the great twin vintages of 1899 and 1900.

misteraitch: I had some Port Ellen once (I used to go to Scotch tastings while I was unmarried and felt freer to throw my money around in great handfuls), and it was delicious. I think I've tried all the Islays; I love Ardbeg and Laphroaig, but Lag is still my honey. (Cheers, alicesshoe!)

johnny novak: Aye, Cragganmore is wonderful stuff—that's why they included it. Don't think of it as coming in last in a tasting, think of it as being so unquestionably good they picked it as one of the top six in the world!

i_cola: Of course the tasting was held as part of a marketing effort to raise the profile of Japanese whiskeys, just as the 1976 tasting did the same for California wines; that doesn't invalidate the results.

Dick Paris: Thanks! Yet another reason for me to get back to Paris. Nice to see all the fellow Scotch fanciers here! I think Misako Udo (from the linked article) speaks for all of us:
Asked which Scotch was her favourite, her voice quavered: "Can you ask a mother, 'Which of your children is your favourite?' Each whisky is my favourite. Each has its own character."
posted by languagehat at 7:11 AM on November 26, 2003

Well, if it's a PR stunt, it worked - I now want to try Japanese whisky.

It's taken 8 years of living in Scotland to develop a taste for the uisge beatha, as they call it, but I'm now a convert (would've been sooner, but I've been misled by the cheap stuff for years) - Port Ellen comes highly reccommended from me too, along with pretty much anything else from Islay.

And languagehat, surely the title should read 'It cannae be!'?
posted by jack_mo at 7:45 AM on November 26, 2003

Maybe it isn't "fair" [aye] to judge a 20 year old next to a 16 year old scotch, but look at that price point difference. So, for 2 points better, the difference in price...well, if you have the spare change I guess price is no difference.

I noticed a 40 year old Bowmore going for a paltry $10,987.99[Cndn.]! Not sure if this is a typo, but yoiks! [Even if it was $1,000.00...]

I've tried the $200.00+[Cndn] Johnny Walker blue label, which isn't a single malt, but there was no comparison to the Lagavulin. Fuhgeddouboudit.

Again, I didn't buy a case to check it out, just went to a good watering hole. Last case I did buy was a Zinfanfel from DeLoach. They're just so hard to come by after they're released.

I do agree with the article stating that the Japanese take a product from an outside culture and find ways of improving and adapting the original and producing something better. Look at cars, electronics...they are years ahead of N/A. Why not "scotch"? ok, whisky.
posted by alicesshoe at 10:25 AM on November 26, 2003


this is PR nonsense, and yes papers would pick it up, it's why PR agencies exist and no, because it appears in the paper does not make it in any way "true".

From Bernay's seminal work "Propaganda".

"Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested largely by men we have never heard of."

Read the link in the post above and see some of the examples of Bernay's work.
posted by johnny novak at 10:42 AM on November 26, 2003

johnny novak: You're starting to irritate me. I know about Bernays (not Bernay) and I know about PR. What does that have to do with it? I repeat: this was a blind tasting. If you don't understand what that means, I can't help you. And if you think everything that has any connection to publicity is "nonsense," don't read periodicals, watch TV, or go to the movies. Better to dwell in a cave, actually. You'll be safe there.

alicesshoe: I've tried Blue Label too, and I don't even like it as well as Black Label, let alone Lag. Talk about a PR ripoff!
posted by languagehat at 10:59 AM on November 26, 2003

language hat

sorry that you think I am silly and that I also irritate you.

But I would ask you to think about agenda here. Where does this story come from and what's the agenda? Japanese Cultural Centre - Japanese Whisky, see any possible connection?

If they were the Socttish whisky society and they put out a press release saying that they had a test and Scottish whisky came out as superior to all other known types of whisky then I'd say the same thing.

And if you will alow me one more chance to patronise you, think Pepsi's marketing tactics vis a vis Coke (adverts of people saying how much better it tastes).

Now I'm off to be silly and irritate people elsewhere.

p.s. sorry about missing the s on Bernays, you got me cold on that one.
posted by johnny novak at 11:46 AM on November 26, 2003

johnny novak,
What's wrong with the Japanese promoting their own. It's an importer who picked a niche market and has to drive around all kinds of stereotypes to boot, a tough call. He knows the language and the country of origin, why wouldn't he jump on a new market? Business 101.

Give credit where it's due, that being in the taste of the product. Don't be such an adbuster, McD's is popular because millions find it craaaap? If no one went, they'd be out of business. Period. Let the market decide, as it will, for good or bad. You don't seem to give much credit to individuals' choices. Why not? Why don't you think the public can't decide on their own and that they are brainwashed? At least that's the impression you're giving me.

On a different note, I have a friend who belongs to the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre and is always inviting me to see his kids perform in dance numbers, I'm miffed that he didn't hear about this one. What kind of a member in good standing is he?

My province's overlord, the LCBO, has replied to my email stating that Nikka Yoichi has applied to have its product listed with the LCBO and are awaiting approval. I'll have to rush down and give them my signature, obviously! [They don't know when this request will be processed.]
posted by alicesshoe at 1:01 PM on November 26, 2003


My objection is twofold:

1. This is Metafilter and I thought we didn't like Pepsi blue, even if it is better than Coke classic or whatever.

2. I'm a Scot.
posted by johnny novak at 1:25 PM on November 26, 2003

johnny novak: Sorry, I came down a little hard on you; I should have made allowances for your national feelings. But look, of course I realize the people setting it up had an agenda; it's not like they tried to hide it or anything. They were promoting Japanese whisky. But I could set up a testing to promote my bathtub brew, putting it up against the finest whiskeys around, and I guarantee it would come in dead last. The point isn't who promoted it, the point is who won it, and it sounds like a fair tasting to me. Don't worry, nobody's going to think true Scotch whiskey is crap because of this! Anybody who cares enough to read the story will be well aware of the glories of the real thing. It's parallel to the Japanese baseball players now playing in the American major leagues: an impressive achievement, but it doesn't diminish the American players.

alicesshoe: Let me know if/when you get a chance to taste it!
posted by languagehat at 7:49 PM on November 26, 2003

quarantine: thanks! now that my apparently irrational bias against scotch has been dispelled, I guess I will have to give the stuff a second try. good thing too, it's not exactly easy to find a large selection of irish whisky in the us... (heck, it's not even easy to find rye all the time)
posted by dorian at 9:30 PM on November 26, 2003

Shit, man, ah'm steamin'. Wish ah hudnae been oan the piss fur so long, cos ah widnae huv missed this thread n' that.

Pass the booze, big man, and let's get pished!

On preview: C'moan! Whur's the boooooze?
posted by bonaldi at 8:06 AM on November 29, 2003

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