Big in Japan


I have never washed my clothes in Comfort.  Nor have I washed my dishes with Persil liquid.  I am aware of the existence of such products, but only just. Recently I was shocked to realise how wide the range of products for cleaning clothes is. In my eyes, there are only Ariel and Fairy, with Lenor to add a little softness. The reason for this is my grandfather’s pension, or rather, my small contribution to it.

For a little over 28 years, my grandfather (Ken Hammond, or Grandpa) worked for Proctor and Gamble. He started as a sales rep, carrying the samples, and worked his way up to Sales Services Division Manager. Part of his role in that position was selling to the Royal households. (P&G is a holder of a royal warrant, a requirement of which is that products are purchased by, rather than donated to, the Royal households.) He sold nappies to Charles and Diana and Fairy Liquid to wash the Queen Mother’s gin glasses.

During his time there, Grandpa also worked in Japan for four years as “Fukuhombucho” (Deputy Sales Director for Japan) to his immediate boss, the ex-Japanese military Sales Director.  While he was there, Grandpa had some exposure to the Japanese whisky culture, although he does not drink. His most abiding memory of it was taking Johnnie Walker Black Label to Japan every time he had visited home. Between the two of them, my Grandparents could bring back four bottles through Duty Free – there was no prize greater for encouraging his reps, nothing he could buy in Japan that would carry more kudos, yet it cost his prize budget next to nothing.

He also talked about the drinking culture that existed in Japan in the 70’s, although I cannot claim to know if it still does; Japanese businessmen were very reticent to go home after the days work and so would, more frequently than not, head to the bar for a drink. Instead of ordering individual drinks, above the barman’s head were stored seventy or eighty bottles of whisky, each individually labelled with the owner’s name. When the owner arrived for the day, his bottle would be claimed and taken to the table. Once the day’s drinking was done, the bottle would return to the bar.

He is now retired, but the entire family is still utterly blind to the presence of any Lever Bros products, since every P&G purchase adds a fraction of a penny to the pension pot. It also goes to show how limited my knowledge is that I still refer to them as Lever Bros. I do this because that is how he has always referred to the old enemy. They have been known as Unilever since 1930.


The Yamazaki 12 Year Old

Colour: light amber
Nose: apples, pear drops,
Body: light, very light
Palate: slightly lacking, simple, honey, apples
Finish: heat, honey at the back of the throat, short.
Overall: slightly disappointing, thin, potentially a good summer aperitif, if not for slightly ketonic pear drop background note.

The Yamazaki Bourbon Barrel, 12 Years Old

Colour – light toffee
Nose- molasses, malt, sugar
Body- smooth and strong – pure bourbon
Palate – sweet, straw, toffee, nuts
Finish – drying, sweet,
Overall: more interesting than the standard offering, but still feels like it needs a little more development, pear drop smell gone.

Nikka Whisky from the barrel

Colour: amber
Nose: cereal, surprisingly little alcohol for 53%, molasses, malt, oak
Body: spicy and strong
Palate (with a little water): spices, molasses, malt
Finish: short, no notable development
Overall: tastes like essence of whisky, nothing outstanding or notable, but tasty none the less.

The Japanese tend to drink their whisky in the Mizuwari style, which has developed from their own distilled spirits and sake culture – roughly one part whisky is mixed with three parts water and ice, enjoyed as a long drink. This tends to bring out different flavours in the whiskies, which often leads the Japanese whiskies to aim for different flavours from their whiskies at the point of origin. After knowing so much about something that I had tasted so little of, I finally thought it appropriate to try some. I had sampled a 12 year old Yamazaki Bourbon Barrel at Albannach a few weeks ago, which I enjoyed a lot, so I felt it only appropriate to order a small selection of samples from Master of Malt. The Yamazaki and Hakushu were chosen for their origin from the same owner, Hakushu being peated, Yamazaki unpeated. Nikka Whisky from the barrel was chosen as a blend and partly for the name, although, despite my efforts so far, I still haven’t found the origin of it.

Hakushu 12 Year Old

Colour: orange gold
Nose: peat, iodine smoke, burning leaves, fruit – apples in particular.
Body: fizzy, light
Palate: toffee, spices, apple, pepper
Finish: long and warm, very peppery , fades to sugary notes, eventually leaves with apples and custard, oddly.
overall: utterly different palate to nose, though interesting, and very drinkable. A good summer whisky, since it’s far lighter than many peated offerings; it is also an excellent conversation starter.