The Way of Whisky by Dave Broom | A Journey Around Japanese Whisky

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Review by Pete Favelle.

There are whisky books which seek to list every whisky in a given category, or give you a tick-list of X whiskies that you must “try before you die”. This is not such a book.

Instead, The Way of Whisky by Dave Broom is a large and detailed exploration of nine Japanese distilleries and while it certainly provides some notes on the major bottlings they produce, it doesn’t attempt to be a comprehensive list of everything that leaves the warehouse. Rather, whisky expert, journalist and long-time Japanophile Broom takes you by the hand on a personal tour of each distillery.

Book cover for The Way of Whisky Dave Broom

The book is spread across nine main chapters, each of which visits a different distillery. Most of these are clustered close to Tokyo or Kyoto, but it includes a trip far up north to the Yoichi distillery outside Sapporo and down to White Oak, west of Osaka. These chapters are interspersed with short sections – three or four pages at most – exploring different aspects of Japan; from craft makers (such as paper, glass and ceramic) to food and drink (such as tea, umami and kaiseki) and of course matters more directly whisky-related; wood and water, blends and cocktails.

These asides take you deeper into Broom’s exploration of the soul of Japan, while Kohei Take’s photography really takes this book to another level; beautiful details of distilleries that could be anywhere in the world, next to evocative images of life and nature that couldn’t be more Japanese.

There are copious pictures around the distilleries, which bring home how similar such places are the world over – from the mash tuns and the stills, through to the barrels in the warehouse and the pagoda rooftops of the maltings, you could easily be in Scotland. The contrast with the rest of the imagery throughout the book – pure Japanese street scenes, food and nature – is beautiful.

Image collage from book: The Way of Whisky Dave Broom | on Kavey Eats

Images by Kohei Take, used with permission

Each distillery chapter starts with a journey – from the previous distillery, or from the city in which we ended the previous chapter; a brief glimpse into Japan travel as our narrator and photographer hop from shinkansen to twisty (and often rainy) mountain road, seeking out distilleries that often seem to be if not actively hiding then at least off the beaten track.

What follows is an in-depth tour, taking us through the history of distilling – and often other alcohol production, such as sake – on the site, before getting into obsessive detail about production. As with Scotch whisky, every distillery in Japan seems to have their own way of doing things, and it’s fascinating reading so much detail – it’s like going on a distillery tour yourself.

While there is a short page of tasting notes toward the end of each chapter, they tend to be brief and limited in range – Broom wisely doesn’t try to cover everything that emerges from the distillery, but instead gives you more of a feel for the house style.

And then we’re back into travelogue, on to the next town and an opportunity to reflect on what we’ve learned together.

Broom’s book is quite rightly subtitled “a journey around Japanese whisky”; although whisky and the distilleries are very much at the core, it’s as much a travelogue as it is a whisky book.

Dave observes in the introduction that this is above all a story of the country that makes the whisky, and how the fundamental characteristics of Japanese craft – precise, detailed and thoughtful – create a unique spirit that reflects the culture that creates it.

As such, he’s created a book that’s for lovers of whisky and lovers of Japan alike. And he’s left me with a thirst and a yearning to jump on a plane back to Japan.

Giveaway

We have a copy of The Way of Whisky to giveaway to one Kavey Eats reader. The prizes include delivery to a UK address. Please click here to enter and for terms and conditions.

Kavey Eats received a review copy of The Way of Whisky: A Journey Around Japanese Whisky by Dave Broom. Published by Mitchell Beazley (Octopus books), RRP £40, The Way of Whisky is currently available on Amazon UK for £26 (at time of review).

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40 Comments to "The Way of Whisky by Dave Broom | A Journey Around Japanese Whisky"

  1. Abhinav Singh

    I never thought about the whiskey trail in Japan. It sounds interesting. I am glad someone wrote a book on this. Kohei Take’s images are amazing. What makes the book interesting is that it is also part travelogue.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Yes, Japanese whisky is absolutely fantastic, easily competing with top Scottish distilleries these days.

    Reply
  2. Owen Cummerata

    Whisky is a world famous drink. I taste it many time in many different place. But I never tasted in Japan but now I think I should. I love to drink some unique flavours.

    Reply
  3. NOEL

    That looks like a fun way to travel and enjoy the unique flavors of Japanese whisky which I had no idea about distilleries in that country.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Yes, there are many, and Japanese whisky is very much considered a peer for the best in the world.

    Reply
  4. Nathan Aguilera

    I’m not much of a whisky drinker but I may have to check this out. I would be interested because I enjoy touring distilleries, vineyards and the like. It sounds really interesting!

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    It’s such a pleasure. We visited Yamazaki Distillery during our first trip to Japan in 2012 and loved the experience. And the whisky!

    Reply
  5. Susan R

    I’ve just come back from Japan but I didn’t realize they had their own whisky distilleries there! Must have been fascinating to visit them all

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Yeah we’ve only been to once, during our first trip to Japan, we went to Yamazaki. But I’d love to visit more!

    Reply
  6. Tanvi

    i never really associated Japan with whisky but after reading the review I surely am doing that now.. After reading it, I too want to hop on a plane to Japan just like you 🙂

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    The whiskies of Japan are world class, they really can and do compete with the best from Scotland, Ireland, the USA… worth trying for sure. As for Japan, it’s pretty much a constant for me wanting to get on a plane to go back!

    Reply
  7. Nathalie Caty

    Well I just learned something new. I had new idea that Japan had whiskey distilleries. This is very fascinating and I would love to take a tour and learn more.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Yeah, many of them and the whisky Japan makes truly is world class, some of the best in the world.

    Reply
  8. Thảo Nhi

    It has just suddenly dawned on me that Japan does have whiskies apart from other traditional alcohols like sake and so on ;;__;; Your post really fascinates me by providing such detailed information! Thanks a lot for sharing – I can’t wait to take a trip to Japan and give them a try!

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Yes, not traditionally but certainly for many many decades now, based on Scotch whisky originally though now many distilleries develop their own styles.

    Reply
  9. Divyakshi Gupta

    Wow! Travel through Japan and be whisked away to distilleries! What a unique idea. Though a teetotaller, such a niche book is a great gifting idea to those who travel and have a unique preference for whiskies! I particularly liked the fact that the author provides a personal tour of each distillery.

    Reply
  10. Choclette

    I’m fascinated by the concept of Japanese whiskies. Who’d have thought it? If ever I get to Japan, I’d love to take a tour of one of the distilleries. This looks like a must have book for any whisky lover.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    It is very interesting, how the tradition was learned from Scotland’s whisky tradition and has now spread in Japan.

    Reply
  11. TJ

    I’ve not made it to Japan yet, but it’s on my list. I would never have thought whiskey when I think of Japan, but I’ll definitely keep this in mind when I go. I love the pictures.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    I adore Japan and it’s well worth making an effort to seek out some of their wonderful whiskies when you visit.

    Reply
  12. Sisley White

    I love your reviews they always make me want the books or products. I’ve started liking whisky a bit more so maybe I will put it on my wishlist.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Aaw, thanks Sisley, though this one is written by my lovely Pete. It’s such a pleasure for us to share really beautiful books like this one!

    Reply
  13. Julie

    I’ve never thought of whiskey and Japan together but it’s very interesting to hear how universal whiskey really is. I’m not much into whiskey but my father in law is and this might be a great gift idea for him! Still hoping to make it to Japan one day soon!

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Yes, it was not a traditional Japanese drink but deliberately learned from Scottish distillers and then brought to Japan last century. Wonderful!

    Reply
  14. Dorene

    I’m seriously intrigued and impressed at this 9 distillery novel about Japanese Whisky. My past life was a marketer of Scotch Whiskies, and it was hard for us to swallow the idea that Japanese spirits have taken top bill of whiskies in the world. I love the pictures, featuring the people behind the spirits… I may have to pick up a copy…

    Reply
  15. Carol Perehudoff

    I’ve always wanted to do a hot springs tour of Japan but clearly I need to switch gears. I usually think of saki when I think Japan, but with this book as a guide a whole new world awaits me.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Do both! I love sake and have really come to appreciate it in recent years but love hot springs too!

    Reply
  16. Evelyne CulturEatz

    What a beautiful book. I am more of a Scotch drinker than whisky but like it too. And yes the pics are gorgeous. When I do make it to Japan will have to hit some distilleries 🙂

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Scotch is short for Scotch whisky, I think? And Japanese whisky is very much learned from the Scottish tradition, so good chance if you love Scotch you’ll love it too.

    Reply
  17. Sandy N Vyjay

    Though a teetotaler, this book looks really interesting. The distilleries are an interesting topic and the fact that this is also like a travelogue steps up the interest quotient. Again Japan and whiskey is a relatively lesser discussed combination.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    If you travel with anyone who does drink, or you have friends who travel and drink, it’s a great book for them. A wonderful facet to a visit to Japan.

    Reply
  18. Ami Bhat

    Interesting considering that i never associated Whiskey with Japan. I only related it to Sake. Or is that also a form of Whiskey? Should do some more research on this.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Yes, sake is certainly more traditional, in that it’s been made for many many centuries. It’s made from rice and rice mould, almost a brewing process rather than distillation, so quite different from whisky production. Whisky was not a traditional Japanese drink but deliberately learned from Scottish distillers and then brought to Japan last century. Wonderful!

    Reply
  19. Jennifer (aka Dr. J)

    We were on the lookout for Japanese whisky when we visited Japan. Public Service Announcement: if you want to bring whisky home, don’t wait until you get to the duty free in Narita Airport. They don’t stock the sealed duty free bags and so if you have a connection on the way home, you will lose your whisky.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Uh oh, what a nightmare! We’ve only taken direct flights home before and we usually buy ahead and pack within our hold luggage, but good to know for anyone with a transfer that you can’t buy at Narita or will be confiscated ahead of your second flight. That must have been upsetting!

    Reply

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