Falling hard for Japanese whisky
thedailybeast.com -- Nov 09
This is how my first-ever day in Japan went. Arrive at Tokyo’s Narita airport, sushi for lunch in the city, bullet train (shinkansen) to Kyoto, train to Yamazaki.

Before I quite knew what was happening, I was sitting alongside my old friend and mentor Michael Jackson while chief blender Seiichi Koshimizu was asking us to taste Suntory's whisky. It was reddish in color and had an aroma unlike anything we had encountered before. We hazarded guesses. He smiled his shy smile. 'It is mizunara. Japanese oak. We say it smells of temples.'

As I said, it was my first day in Japan. I hadn't had a chance to smell a temple. Now I wanted to. It was a lesson in the cultural aspect of aromas. Smell is not fixed by language, but open to interpretation and that interpretation is partly determined by upbringing. I might say that the smell of a smoky whisky is like the Glasgow underground c.1967. A Japanese colleague might interpret it as a specific medicine. Past and place dictate the terms we use to describe the smells around us. Part of the fascination of travel is discovering new tastes and flavors, comparing home with this new place. Later that evening I was sitting next to a maiko (Kyoto dialect for geisha). 'Do you eat many small potatoes in Scotland?' was her opening line.

This mizunara was different, though. It was resinous, slightly like sandalwood, with a little bit of coconut; but none of these terms are quite accurate. I could have mentally labelled it 'exotic' and moved on, but it had me. I was being led by the nose deeper into Japan. 'It smells of temples' was now a suggestion that I should seek out these places and inhale them. In time, that led me to learn about incense, an aromatic thread which led from Japan, to Vietnam, to Arabia, high-end perfumers, and back to Japan again.

News source: thedailybeast.com
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