ONE of the most expensive cocktails in New York can be found at Ryu, the Japanese-inspired restaurant that opened last spring in the meatpacking district. It’s a Sazerac variation called Shogun’s Grip and it’s ticketed like a four-star entree: $35. Adam Schuman, then the beverage director, had a good excuse for the stiff tariff. Its base is 18-year-old Yamazaki, the Japanese single malt made by Suntory that can cost $140 a bottle.
春天在肉库区(meatpacking district)新开张的日本餐馆“Ryu”里有种鸡尾酒可以跻身全纽约最昂贵的鸡尾酒之列。它由萨泽拉克鸡尾酒(Sazerac)演变而来，名叫“将军的权柄”(Shogun’s Grip)，价位定在35美元，完全是高级主菜的价格。餐厅当时的饮品总监亚当·舍曼(Adam Schuman)把价格定这么高是非常有理由的。因为它的基酒是山崎(Yamazaki)18年威士忌，这种麦芽威士忌酒由日本三得利公司(Suntory)出品，一瓶就要140美元。
The Shogun’s Grip’s price means Ryu doesn’t sell more than one or two a night. But it doesn’t keep bottles of the Yamazaki from disappearing off liquor-store shelves. Quite the contrary.
After decades as an also-ran in the American whiskey market, Japanese whiskey is on the ascent. Last year, Suntory’s sales in the United States rose 44 percent, according to the company, which found it difficult to keep up with demand. So it increased prices of the Yamazaki 12- and 18-year-olds by 10 percent last year and this year. “We like the consumer to recognize Japanese whiskey as very high end,” said Yoshihiro Morita, Suntory’s executive manager for American sales and marketing.
Japanese whiskey has been produced commercially since the 1920s, when the Yamazaki distillery was built. Compared with Scotch, Irish whiskey and bourbon, it is still the new kid on the block.
But now that those other categories have been thoroughly rediscovered by Americans over the last 30 years, it’s Japan’s turn. The embrace has been nudged along by the fact that you can finally buy Japanese whiskey here.
Suntory quietly introduced the Yamazaki 12-year-old in 1990, and that was the only option until 2005, when the 18-year-old arrived. By 2010, the United States had its first Japanese blended whiskey, Suntory’s Hibiki. And last year, the Hakushu 12-year-old made its debut. The company’s domination of the American market will be challenged later this year when its archrival, Nikka, sends in the Single Malt Yoichi 15-year-old and Taketsuru Pure Malt 12-year-old.
1990年，三得利公司不声不响地推出了山崎12年威士忌，长期以来，它都是山崎威士忌品牌唯一的一个品种，直到2005年，公司又推出了山崎18年威士忌。2010年，美国市场上有了第一款日本调和威士忌——三得利的“响”(Hibiki)。去年，白州（Hakushu，三得利旗下的另一大酿酒厂——译注）12年威士忌也在美国初次登场亮相。今年下半年，三得利公司在美国市场上的统治地位受到它的主要竞争对手日果(Nikka)公司的挑战，该公司在美国推出了自己的余市单一麦芽(Single Malt Yoichi)15年威士忌和竹鹤纯麦(Taketsuru Pure Malt)12年威士忌。
“Up until two years ago, if one in 20 customers had tasted Japanese whiskey, we were lucky,” said Flavien Desoblin, owner of Brandy Library, the TriBeCa spirits emporium. “Now, out of 20, a good 5 know that it exists and they’ve had it. That’s quite a lot for the land of bourbon.”
“两年前，假如20个消费者里有一个曾经品尝过日本威士忌，那就算走运的了，”坐落在翠贝卡(TriBeCa)的烈性酒大卖场 “白兰地图书馆”(Brandy Library)的老板弗拉文·德索布林(Flavien Desoblin)说：“现在，每20个消费者里起码有5个知道日本也出产威士忌，而且还买过。要知道美国是波旁威士忌的天下，这样的数字已经相当惊人了。”
Sales have grown enough that Suntory has seen fit to draft two brand ambassadors in the United States, first the New York mixologist Gardner Dunn and then the San Francisco bartender Neyah White. At the time of his hiring two years ago, Mr. White was no great devotee of Japanese whiskey. “I respected it, but I wasn’t swinging that flag around too heavily,” he said. “I was a little dismissive of it, to be honest. The world of whiskey was so big.”
三得利威士忌在美国的销售额有了显著增长，于是公司在美国任命了两位品牌形象大使，先是纽约调酒师加德纳·丹恩(Gardner Dunn)，后来又任命了旧金山的酒保尼亚·怀特(Neyah White)。怀特先生两年前上任时并不是日本威士忌的狂热爱好者。“我尊敬它，但我可不愿意过分为它摇旗呐喊，”他说：“老实说，我对它还有点看不起。威士忌酒的世界实在太大了。”
For much of the 20th century, Japanese distillers were perceived as little more than Scotch makers manqué. Masataka Taketsuru, Suntory’s first master distiller and Nikka’s founder, studied his art in Scotland and chose distillery sites that resembled its terrain and climate. Producers even spelled whiskey the Scottish way, without the “e.” While there’s no denying that Japanese whiskeys taste more like Scotch than, say, bourbon, connoisseurs now focus more on what sets them apart.
20世纪的大部分时间里，日本酒厂都只是被当作失败的苏格兰威士忌酒生产者。当年三得利的第一位酿酒大师与日果公司的创始人竹鹤政孝(Masataka Taketsuru) 在苏格兰学会了酿酒技艺，又在日本按照苏格兰的地貌和天气找到了适宜的地点，建立起酿酒厂。这些生产者们甚至模仿苏格兰人对威士忌的发音，不把“whiskey”里的那个“e”拼写出来。不能否认，日本威士忌品尝起来不太像波旁威士忌之类，确实更像苏格兰威士忌，不过品酒家们现在更加注意欣赏日本威士忌的与众不同之处。
“The founder of Suntory wanted to create an authentic Japanese whiskey that appealed to the delicate palate of the Japanese: subtle, refined, yet complex,” said Mike Miyamoto, who was Suntory’s master distiller for 10 years. “To make such a subtle taste, you need a lot of whiskeys to blend. If you have one or two colors, how good a picture are you going to make?”
But finding all those blending elements is not easy. Unlike Scotch makers, who swap liquid back and forth to build their blended whiskeys, the Japanese distillers do not trade. Instead, they create countless in-house variations, using various yeasts, species of barley and peat levels.
They send the distillates through an array of stills of different shapes and sizes, then age them in a wide variety of barrels: virgin American oak, used American barrels from various suppliers, former sherry butts and wine barrels. Adding a distinctive native flavor to some of the whiskeys are barrels of expensive Japanese oak (called mizunara), which is thought to lend aromas of incense, and used plum-liqueur barrels.
With all those treatments on hand, distillers can let their passion for blending run wild. And there lies another difference. In Scotland, the single malts are the fair-haired tots, while the blends are the moneymaking, sometimes uninspired workhorses. The Japanese take their single malts seriously, too, but their blends never take a back seat.
“The Japanese blend for completely different reasons,” Mr. White said. “Blending for them is not an efficiency thing. They make all these different whiskeys so they can pull them all in, in a way that will perform well in a Japanese drink, which is almost always a sort of highball.”
Hibiki, which is composed of more than 20 different whiskeys, “shows best when you water it down,” Mr. White said. “It’s subtle and complex at the same time. It’s hard to define.”
Mr. Desoblin had no trouble defining the appeal. “Japanese whiskeys are very much the fine-wine-drinker’s take on whiskey,” he said. “There is more attention paid to the body and the texture in Japan than in many other countries. They are looking for that delicate, suave, mouth-coating feel, but never really aggressive. They seem to be powerful, but it’s all silky.”
Because of the high price points, aside from the Yamazaki 12-year-old, the Suntory products are not often used in cocktails. In fact, when Suntory’s chief blender, Shinji Fukuyo, first heard about Mr. Schuman’s Shogun’s Grip, he was not happy. He thought it a desecration of his masterpiece. So Mr. Dunn took him to Ryu to sample the offending drink. “After a moment,” Mr. Schuman said, “he gave a nod of approval.”