Autumn Palette

Mont Blanc at sunset. All photos: PKR

Mont Blanc at sunset.
All photos: PKR

Completing my regular running loop these days takes forever.

Why? Because it’s so breathtakingly beautiful. I have to stop every now and then just to take it all in.

Fallen leaves under a village streetlamp.

Fallen leaves under a village streetlamp at the end of an evening run.


The bourbon-sweet scent of fallen leaves and late crops, the soft snik-snik-snik of leaves falling on other leaves, falling to the ground like a gentle dry rain, the intoxicating tapestry of yellows, reds, oranges and browns.

photo 4-2


My mood is made even brighter by a lovely autumnal palette of blended whiskies, a wedding anniversary gift given to celebrate more than two decades of blended lives.

Look at all those lovely hues.

photo 1-5

What a treat.

Some of them I know, some of them I don’t. The Johnnie Walker Blue Label turns out to be like a soft puff of sweet smoke, a perfect complement to the seasonal change outside.

I’ll update on the others as we try them.

Who says autumn is the melancholy season?

Not 2-5

An update on the Hibiki whisky here.

A Whisky Woman and a Spring Cordial

I finally bottled a batch of elderflower cordial yesterday, after letting the brew steep for a couple of days and then rest in the fridge until I got around to cooking it up.

One of the bottles I used – I’d actually saved it for use as a cordial bottle – reminded me of a whisky woman I’ve been meaning to mention for a long time.

Anyone who knows Japanese whisky has at least heard of Jessie Roberta Cowan, better known as Rita Taketsuru (1896-1961), or as the Mother of Japanese Whisky.

Born in Scotland, Miss Cowan met a young Japanese man named Masataka Taketsuru who had come to Glasgow to study chemistry and Scottish whisky-making. They married, and she went with him to Japan, where he dreamed of creating a real Japanese-made whisky.

Jessie Roberta Cowan and Masataka Taketsuru Source: K&L Wine

Jessie Roberta Cowan and Masataka Taketsuru
Source: K&L Wine

To make a long story short, they succeeded after overcoming many obstacles on the long road to achieving their goal, from prejudice in both their native countries against an interracial and international marriage to the task of establishing a whisky empire. The Nikka distillery in Yoichi, Japan was founded in 1934, and continues today as one of the world’s top whisky producers.

I’ve written previously about the kind of determination it must have taken for Masataka Taketsuru to leave Japan and study in Scotland, and to use traditional Scottish methods in Japan to make whisky.

But as a long-term expat myself, and as one who once worked in Japan in a town that boasted only one other foreigner at the time, I can only imagine how challenging it must have been for a young Scotswoman in the 1920s, when foreigners were a genuine rarity.

Rita Taketsuru Source: Japanese Whisky

Rita Taketsuru
Source: Japanese Whisky

The cultural divide must have been daunting, to say the least, especially once World War II was underway. However, the war had the effect of increasing domestic whisky business in the face of an import ban.

Rita helped keep the household afloat by teaching English and piano lessons, and some of her clients ended up becoming investors in the distillery.

There is a new Japanese television series about her life, and I wonder how much that series manages to convey the challenges and rewards of living in another culture over the course of decades.

The 'Mother of Japanese Whisky' Source: Matome

The ‘Mother of Japanese Whisky’
Source: Matome

One of the things I’ve learned during my long time as a foreigner in rural France, at least, is an appreciation of the seasonal joys of homemade jams and cordials. Sure, my grandmother was master of the art in Washington State, but I grew up in the supermarket Sixties and Seventies. I had to relearn everything for myself.

And so to the elderflower cordial.

It’s an easy enough process. Pick some fresh flower heads, shake out any bugs or debris and give them a quick rinse.

The elderflower heads.  All cordial photos: PK Read

The elderflower heads.
All cordial photos: PK Read

Put them into a bowl with lemon zest and orange rind. photo 2-1

Cover the lot in boiling water, and let it sit around for a few hours or a couple of days (in the fridge, ideally). Strain through a 4

Bring it to a gentle simmer with sugar and lemon juice, and funnel it into sterilised bottles or jars, cap them and store them cool.

I used brown sugar, which is why the cordial turned out a bit dark and hazy instead of a nice flowery yellow. If I make another batch this year, it’ll be with white 3-1

A couple of bottles to keep, a couple of bottles to give away.

Perfect in cold sparkling water with a sprig of fresh mint, or in a prosecco cocktail. Ready for summer.

It’s no whisky empire, but it’s not bad.

Toes Dipped

Yoichi Distillery Image via: Whisky Magazine

Last week I posted that I was ready to dive in to the world of Japanese whiskies, and to that end, I bought a couple of bottles at the recommendation of the knowledgeable staff at Besson in Lausanne, Switzerland. At 50cl, he bottles were smaller than the usual 75cl, but I wanted to be able to try more than one, and frankly, the larger bottles of fairly generous selection were at price levels I wasn’t ready to scale until I’d first had a try.

What I can say after my initial dip of a toe into the sea of Japanese whisky is this: My wallet is already cringing in fear of what is about to befall it. Because this is a world worth exploring.

I started with two samples of Nikka whisky – one blended, one pure malt – from the Yoichi distillery. nikka-pure-malt-black-whisky

The Yoichi distillery was founded in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru, the man who established Japan’s first distillery while working for Kotobukiya (the company that would go on to become Suntory).

Taketsuru, who came from an established family in the sake production business, studied in Glasgow, Scotland before going on to work at a number of Scottish distilleries. I can only imagine the kind of determined personality it took to leave Japan for Scotland in 1919, marry a Scottish woman over the objections of both families, and return to Japan to found a successful business in a completely new field.

According to Whisky Magazine, Taketsuru learned that “The distillery should be located in a cold climate with an appropriate humidity, there should be a high quality water source and an abundant supply of  herbaceous peat. Furthermore it should be close to an area where barley is grown and where there are forests to supply wood to make barrels and also the coal necessary to fire the stills.

Yoichi, to the north- west of Sapporo on the island of Hokkaido, satisfied all of these conditions and was chosen as the site of Taketsuru’s distillery. There they carry out traditional distillation, using coal to direct fire the stills, something which is no longer seen even in Scotland these days.”

nikka-from-the-barrel-whiskyMy first samples were Nikka Whisky from the Barrel, and Pure Malt Black. I loved the apothecary bottles, the simplicity of labeling, and the interesting bottle shapes.

Whisky from the Barrel is a blended whisky, which I found to be pleasantly light, floral, with a nice oak air. Light apricot flavors, bit of spice, and overall, just a lovely sipping experience.

The Pure Malt Black was a delight – delicious rounded fruit notes which I’ve read described as red gummy bears. For me, it was more like a combination of sugared quince and sweet rose. Just a hint of peat and oak, but all very light and balanced. I have a feeling that this is one I will be adding to our regular stock.

I was fortunate to find two shops in Lausanne that had an interesting and varied selection of Japanese whiskies, the Besson cigar and whisky shop, and the Caveau de Bacchus, both just around the corner from one another.

And now, onwards.