The knowledge

The knowledge

Misako Udo is the ultimate whisky enthusiast and her book The Scottish Whisky Distilleries is the most intensely researched book ever published.

People | 24 Jul 2009 | Issue 81 | By Rob Allanson

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To describe Misako Udo as a whisky enthusiast is a bit like saying that in the last year the British Labour Party has struggled a bit. Two years ago she published what is arguably the ultimate 'train spotter's guide' to the distilleries of Scotland, and she has had the industry talking about it ever since.

Want to know the exact capacity of every washback and still in Scotland? It's all Scotland's Whisky Distilleries. Information about fermentation and distillation times? No problem? The name of the old distillery cat? Probably.

Glance through it, with its pages of closed distilleries you've never even heard of long lost in the depths of time, and you can't help be stunned by the research, enthusiasm and effort that has gone into writing it. So who is Misako and how did she not only fall in love with Scotland and its distilleries, but marry into the country and its culture?

Originally born in Nagasaki in Japan and brought up in Tokyo, she is now 49 years old and living in Edinburgh where she is now a Scottish Tourist Guide Association member and makes her living from conducting tours for Japanese visitors.

It's the culmination of a love affair with Scotland, Scotch and distilleries that started more than 30 years ago.

"My very first Scotch was White Horse at a Japanese local bar in Nagasaki with my friends when we graduated from the high school age at 18,"she says. "We loved White Horse's label which stood out among Japanese whiskies on the shelf behind the bar counter, although it was more than three times more expensive than Japanese whisky.

"At first,we enjoyed it in the Japanese whisky drinking way (known as 'Mizu-wari'which adds loads of ice and water) , but we soon realised that this whisky was smoother and tastier than our usual Japanese whiskies, so decided to have it without ice and water, and realised it had deep flavour and rich taste. I wanted to know more about Scotch whisky." This meant coming to Scotland - and she ended up staying.

"When I came to Scotland, I visited Glenturret Distillery and still remember how I was so happy to visit there and loved the atmosphere," she says. "And as a cat lover I was impressed to find out about their world famous distillery mouser Towser. Originally, I came here to study whisky for my own interest. I only had limited money, so needed to earn some, and heard that Japanese speaking guides were in short supply.

"I thought it was a great job, visiting distilleries and getting paid. I collected any information about the distilleries for myself and kept it in my file binders."

There had never been plans for a book but a chance conversation with a Scottish writer at Glengoyne sparked off the chain of events that would lead to the most recent tome. It took a further two years, and unsurprisingly she had moments of doubt.

"I still believe if I didn't have conversation with the writer, I wouldn't have published the book," she says. "There were times when I thought I was doing the impossible. I had the problem of my English. My best Japanese friend married a Scot, Paul Tebble, and he helped me and spent a huge amount of his time checking through my manuscript"

The problem writing a book so factual and full of information is that it becomes dated immediately, and the major changes of recent years have created a dilemma. The book is sold out now and there are calls for a reprint, but she doesn't want to update the book until she can do it properly, but the speed of change in the industry has made it nigh impossible to keep up.

"I have agreed with a publisher to put out a soft cover version this year and we will publish a new edition after that." Is she excited by the changes? "I am very happy to see reopening of closed distilleries and the building of new distilleries, but on the other hand, I'm really sad to see some changes, such as the decrease of floor maltings and reduction in use of brewery yeasts to keep costs down."

If you haven't seen the book, grab a copy of the soft back. You'll amuse friends with trivia for years.

PROFILE


Home: Edinburgh, Scotland
Age: 49
Currently drinking: Springbank
Favourite whiskies: All Scottish and some Japanese whiskies (Yamazaki, Hakushu, Yoichi, Miyagikyo and Karuizawa). Scotch whiskies are like children to me and I can't choose between them!
Favourite working distilleries: Highland Park, Springbank, Balvenie, North British, Edradour, Loch Lomond, Glendronach, Mortlach, Daftmill and Longmorn Distilleries.
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