Every day some finance bro on an expense account discovers there’s something other to drink than Bud Light and Jägermeister and has to tell me about it. Yeah. Bro. Say “the angel’s share” again and order the table another round of $75 Pappy Van Winkle shots. Thanks. I’ve had more ounces of whiskey than days this 25-year-old Goldman Sachs account exec has been alive and there’s not enough of it in the world to tolerate listening to him saying “notes of leather” one more time. Would ordering a shot of Beam drive him away?
Bro. Forget Pappy. Japanese whisky (no “E”) is the new, although not new, thing and one Salt Lake bar is ahead of the curve. Post Office Place has always had Nipponese leanings, being the next-door sibling of Takashi. But POP General Manager Rich Romney and Beverage Director Crystal Daniels have taken that inclination to the next level and built out a full library of Japanese juice. They back it up with a deep knowledge of the intricacies of booze from a country 5,000 miles away.
Daniels found her passion for Japanese whisky and rice whisky (more on that in a minute) when, like all of us, her palate finally grew up. “When I was young I drank a lot of Scotch because I thought it was badass.” What she discovered with Japanese spirits, however, was a wide spectrum that ranges from delicate to intense. “I used to think I needed something that would punch me in the face, but now I enjoy spirits that whisper to me.”
Daniels didn’t stray that far from her youth, actually. See, the roots of Japanese whisky come from Scotland. In the 1920s, Japan was one of the biggest markets for Scotland’s famous spirits and two men, Shinjiro Torii and Masataka Taketsuru, set out to make Japanese whisky. Taketsuru traveled to Scotland to learn from the masters and brought back the knowledge that would meld Scottish technique with Japanese fastidiousness at Japan’s first distillery, the Yamazaki Distillery.
“Eventually, Japanese whisky would taste more in common with Irish whiskey than Scotch,” Romney says. “The Japanese like to consume whiskey with food and the early distillers learned to make their own spirits more nuanced, less aggressive.”
But wait, there is more. It’s called “rice whisky” and paradoxically you can only get it in the United States—Takashi even has its own label. Rice whisky is made from shochu, a distilled rice (or grain) spirit made in Japan, but in Japan, there are rules about what shochu can be and it can’t be whisky, even though it can. An enterprising importer saw that shochu makers were trying new things, aging the spirit in various casks for example, but couldn’t sell their variations in Japan, and thus “rice whisky” arrived in America as a whole new category of spirit.
And all of this, a new frontier of whisky, is waiting for you at Post Office Place. A good place to start is POP’s Japanese Whisky Wednesdays when every pour is 20% off. Daniels and Romney will be there as your guides.
“I always ask someone who hasn’t tried a lot of Japanese whiskys what their preference is from bourbon to Scotch, and can help them discover something familiar but entirely new,” Daniels says.