Monday 21 November 2011

Suntory Whisky - The Unbreakable Drink

One of the great things about Suntory Japanese Whisky is that it comes in a really strong bottle. I can attest to this because as I was doing my best to smuggle a (full) bottle of Suntory into our chi-chi ryokan so that we could have a quiet sundowner in our room, the thing fell out of my bag and fell quite a long way to the ground without breaking. I was standing next to our comedy rentacar at the time and the bottle didn't shatter on the hard stone at all, but instead bounced once and skidded under the car, where it lay, glinting in the shadows.

So I got down on my hands and knees and started grovelling underneath the comedy car, at which point our exquisitely charming and formal Japanese hostess came pattering out behind me to ask if everything was all right. I grabbed the bottle with an audible grunt, leaped to my feet, cramming the unbroken Suntory back into my bag in one seamless movement and said that everything was wonderful and what a lovely day we'd had, before slamming my coat negligently in the car door, from where I then had to remove it as if I'd meant to slam it in a car door all along. There was a look of frank alarm in the eyes of our hostess, but she nonetheless continued to smile graciously at me as I flapped and banged away in front of her, trying not to tear my coat or drop the Suntory again.

That's what you do if you're basically a bum on a budget and you can't afford to have a brimming whisky and soda brought to your elegant eight-tatami-mat room by a kimono-wearing servant and set respectfully on the table in front of you. In fact, I've lost count of the times we've had to smuggle drink in under the noses of different hotel managements, all over the world, our pockets bulging with contraband cashew nuts, our tote bags burdened by liquids, followed by the degradation of having to drink cheap whisky or gin or red wine out of a toothmug with the door locked.

Still. If that's where you're coming from, Suntory (the regular Kakubin variety, not one of the swankier versions) not only comes in a fantastically strong and grippable (square cross-sectioned) bottle, it tastes good, too, toothmug or not: rounder, smoother and with a sweeter finish than your mainstream Scotch, but uniformly satisfying and with a nice amber colour. They've been making the stuff since 1924 and it's good in a hotel room in the nervous dark and it's good when drunk without undue embarassment as a highball in a bar/eaterie, where there's a fair chance you'll get Suntory with Wilkinson Tansan soda, a column of crushed ice and possibly a twist of lemon peel to finish. Tokyo salarymen knock this stuff back as if every night were New Year's Eve. The consumption is prodigious.

How do I know? I came across a party of them, shitfaced, hitting each other over the head with bags of satsumas at half-past eleven at night, one friday. That's how I know.


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