Interview With The Author of Whisky Rising – The Definitive Guide to the Finest Whiskies and Distillers of Japan

Just over a month ago, to mark the coming of spring, one of the most well-researched, in-depth books on Japanese whisky to date was published.

On the 4th of April 2017, “Whisky Rising – The Definitive Guide to the Finest Whiskies and Distillers of Japan” hit online bookstores worldwide, easily purchasable from Amazon and other large retailers. It can also be find in bookstores in numerous locations worldwide.

The content was written by Stefan Van Eycken, a very well-known figure in the Japanese whisky world. Stefan grew up in Belgium and spent quite some time in Scotland, where he began to discover his love of whisky. Since 2000 he has lived and breathed Japan and its culture, and has built quite a reputation in the Japanese whisky world.

He is the head editor for Nonjatta, a great blog on Japanese whisky news, and the regional Japan editor of Whisky Magazine UK. He also contributes to Whisky Magazine Japan and France and has been a judge on the board of the World Whiskies Awards since 2012. Stefan is also the person behind the ongoing ‘Ghost Series’ bottlings of extremely rare Japanese whisky.

Needless to say, Stefan knows his stuff, and his new book really shows us just how deep his knowledge is on the industry. The book is 400 pages long, in English, and comprises of past and present distiller interviews and the methods they use for whisky production, distillery information, and a good amount of technical distillation and production information for the more die-hard whisky fans out there.

The brisk and readable narrative makes it easy to turn page after page, and the comprehensible writing style will make this book your go-to reference for anything you want to know on Japanese whisky history and distilleries.

The book is also illustrated in full colour and features artwork and inside knowledge which could only come from someone deeply involved in the whisky world of Japan. Last but not least, the book has a section dedicated to rare whisky tasting notes, bar recommendations in Japan, and some pretty cool whisky cocktail recipes.

What makes this particular book truly unique is that it may be the first of its kind. No other book that delves so deeply into the closed and undocumented world of Japanese whisky has ever been written. What’s more, it’s in English, so fans worldwide now have access to information they wouldn’t be able to find before.

Luckily, I had the chance to talk to Stefan about the project and ask him about the difficulties he faced while compiling the research for the book. Here is what he had to say.

What made you decide to start writing such an in-depth book on the Japanese whisky industry?

I had been asked to write a book about Japanese whisky several times before, but I have a full-time job (not in the field of whisky) and a family – and wanted to keep it that way! So, while I wanted to take on such a project – because there was no such book in existence – I just didn’t see how I could find the time. What made me tackle it, when Cider Mill Press asked me at the end of 2015, was the fact that they’re a fantastic publisher and really understand the drinks field, but also news I was hearing through the grapevine about a few people elsewhere in the world working on a book of their own on Japanese whisky. In some cases, these people had never even been to Japan! I was getting contacted by some of these people, asking for help with info and so on, and thought: well this is a bit absurd. First of all, it would be like me writing a book on Canadian whisky (I have never been to Canada!) – which I could do, but I don’t think I am the right person to do it. So friends said: isn’t it time you finally rolled up your sleeves and started writing your book, rather than keep saying “maybe one day”.

How would you describe the whole experience of writing this book?

It was an incredibly busy year – not just the actual writing, but all the traveling to make sure my book captured the latest “state of the nation” – but it’s a bit like climbing a mountain. You start without really knowing what you are in for. But you do it, and then afterwards, you look back and say “how did I manage to get through all that?” but you do. I have to say, I am relishing this year… which is much, much calmer. That said, I’ve got a couple of mountains looming in the distance – follow-up book projects. It’s a bit like raising a kid. You only remember the good times and forget all the blood, sweat and tears.

What would you say were the biggest challenges of writing Whisky Rising?

One of the things people abroad may not realize is that there is no support whatsoever – and I’m talking about “perks” here, like free samples, all-expenses paid trips, etc – for someone writing about the Japanese whisky scene. Producers welcome you, don’t get me wrong, but there are no perks whatsoever. This has an obvious negative side to it, the fact that all the expenses are covered out of my own pocket – and with Japanese whisky prices being what they are, people will understand we are talking about significant expenses! But the flipside is, that it allows me to remain completely independent. Nobody owns me – not even a little bit.
A more practical challenge I had was that new distillery projects kept popping up as I was writing the book… so you come out of a period where one new distillery was built after 20 years (I am talking about Chichibu) and then suddenly, and this happened to be the year I wrote the book (i.e. 2016) you’ve got distilleries popping up all over the place. I managed to get to all of them, but the actual day everything was going to the printer, another one was announced (Nagahama). I had just enough time to include it as a pinpoint on the Japanese distilleries map that is in the book, but it was too late to add a chapter. (I have visited them in the meantime and written about them in Japanese for Whisky Magazine Japan. It will also be included in a forthcoming Chinese translation.) But, as with all books dealing with a “boom” phenomenon, all you can hope is to capture the excitement of the moment. And obviously, the more change, the higher the chances of a revised 2nd edition in the future.

I ran into Stefan at the Tokyo International BarShow and after speaking to him I quickly understood what a busy time it had been for him. Balancing family and work, while writing a book and paying for every part of the research is no small feat. So, I think I speak for everyone when I say – Thank you, Stefan, for this amazing gift to the world of Japanese whisky and to all the fans of it across the globe.

Grab a copy and get educated!