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When it comes to American whiskey, Irish whiskey, or Scotch, scribes have had centuries to tell their tales. But Japanese whisky, which was all but unknown to Western drinkers before the 21st century, presents a yawning information gap in desperate need of demystification.
Fortunately, English writer Dominic Roskrow has stepped up to the plate.
Roskrow’s Whisky Japan is a book worthy of its subtitle: “The Essential Guide to the World’s Most Exotic Whisky.” The tome weighs in at 281 pages pre-index, and while it contains some beautiful photos, it doesn’t skimp on the text. This isn’t a nicely illustrated book to toss on a coffee table and impress strangers with close-up shots of whisky staves: this is serious reading.
Whisky Japan has nine chapters. Three of these, arranged at the beginning, middle, and end of the book tell a chronological story: “The History of Japanese Whisky,” “The Rise of Japanese Whisky,” and the “Future of Japanese Whisky.” They are buttressed by a variety of whisky-related topics, ranging from an expected but satisfying “Tasting Notes,” the beautifully photographed “Whisky Cocktails and Food Pairings,” and the delightful “Bars Around the World,” which profiles bars with extensive Japanese whisky libraries in such diverse places as Singapore and Warsaw.
While Whisky Japan is written for the enthusiast, it doesn’t shut out those just beginning their whisky education. The chapter “Making Japanese Whisky” includes a comprehensive but accessible primer on the process of fermentation and distillation. However, there are a few points in the book where Roskrow’s focus moves to topics intended for the hardest of the hardcore: the same chapter spends five pages breaking down Japan’s climatological differences, which I struggled to get through without skimming.
One of the most rewarding aspects of Roskrow’s book is learning about the bottles you’ll likely never seen on a shelf—and if you do, should snatch up at any cost. The chapter “The Whisky Distilleries of Japan” includes not only the expected profiles of Yamazaki and Nikka, but also such dearly departed distilleries as Karuizawa and Hanyu, and domestic-only makers like Fuji Gotemba.
While this isn’t a small book, you’ll want to fit it in your luggage the next time you board a flight to Tokyo. I sorely wish I’d read the “Japanese Whisky Bars” chapter before my own visit to Japan last fall. The chapter on distilleries also includes visiting information for every distillery that is open to the public.
Following the climactic “Future of Japanese Whisky” chapter—which will have you frantically searching for every bottle of Yamazaki 12 in your state—there are a number of extras. A sort-of bonus chapter called “A Tourist’s Guide to Japan” offers a non-whisky-centric itinerary for visiting the regions of Japan. It feels somewhat unnecessary, but it’s researched and written with such high quality that it’s hard to complain. Of more immediate usefulness is an exhaustive directory of Japanese whiskies and a glossary of whisky terms.
There is a telling quote from the book’s penultimate chapter: “We have witnessed the end of an impressive beginning.” Whether you’re looking toward what the future has in store for Japanese whisky, or simply trying to get caught up with the story now, Whisky Japan is an essential, enjoyable read.
Ever wondered why some wines have a creamy or buttery taste? The process of Malolactic Fermentation is a winemaking process that gives both red and white wines a richer and creamier texture. Oddly enough, Malolactic Fermentation isn’t technically a fermentation at all.
What is Malolactic Fermentation?
Bacteria is responsible for releasing an impact compound called Diacetyl which gives wine buttery/creamy aromas.
Also called malo or MLF, malolactic fermentation is a process where tart malic acid in wine is converted to softer, creamier lactic acid (the same acid found in milk). The process reduces acidity in wine and also releases some carbon dioxide in the meantime.
MLF isn’t technically a fermentation because it doesn’t use yeast. Instead, a special kind of bacteria called Oenoccocus Oeni (along with a few other Lactobacillus strains) eat the malic acid in wine and poop out lactic acid. Yum! The result is a wine with a creamy, almost oil-like texture on the middle of your tongue, that adds a marvelous, velvety texture to the wine. Thank you, lil’ guys!
What Wines Undergo Malolactic Fermentation?
Nearly all red wines and some white wines (such as Chardonnay and Viognier) undergo malolactic fermentation.
One way to recognize MLF in a wine is to note if it has a creamy, oily mid-palate texture. This can indicate malo (or also lees aging). Another easy way to identify the malo is to see if the wine was aged in oak, since MLF typically occurs while wines age in oak barrels. It’s not uncommon for white wines to let only a small percentage of the wine have the malolactic conversion. This is a clever way of adding texture and body to the wine without losing too much of the positive floral and citrus aromas that waft off when white wines are aged in oak.
GMO Yeasts and Bacteria in Wine
Wine grapes are not genetically modified. However, to date there are both yeast strains and bacteria that have been genetically modified to help fermentations complete (and produce desirable aromas in wine). Oenoccocus oeni is one of the bacteria strains that is available as a genetically modified organism (GMO). Of course, this bacteria can also happen naturally in a winery so it’s really hard to tell whether or not a wine has been made with GMO yeast or bacteria (also, if anyone is using them, they’re not telling!).
What’s our take on this slippery topic? It’s tricky. On one hand, GM yeasts and bacterias produce better, more consistent wines that are more affordable. On the other hand, they remove the sense of terroir in wine, which has been shown more recently to be greatly affected by regional bacteria and yeast diversity.
If you want to read more about GMOs in wine, Wine Anorak pretty well sums it up here.
For the longest time, people were concerned that O. oeni caused an increase of histamines in wine (a health concern). Oenococcus Oeni vs. Histamines. This study clarifies that it’s not true.
Here’s a neat study that discusses the chemical changes that occur with MLF in Oregon Chardonnay and Pinot Noir Roles of yeast and lactic acid bacteria in malolactic fermentation of wines : a chemical and sensory study