Friday, September 2, 2011

Whisky, stirred not shaken -- 13 times

Good afternoon from the middle of a forest in Japan's Yamanashi Prefecture, just at the very tip that borders with Nagano Prefecture. The roads to Tokyo are closed due to a typhoon so I'm staying in a very nice hot spring ryokan.

Yesterday I was persuaded to join a group of friends who planned to play golf in one of the courses around Mount Fuji. I don't play golf but I thought I would go along anyway for the dinner and the hot springs. Plus, if you've been reading this blog, you'll know that an article in the Financial Times last weekend got me hankering for a trip away; so I thought an overnight stay to somewhere new in Yamanashi Prefecture would be a nice little trip before I return to Manila.

Well, yesterday morning, the news on TV was that a typhoon was coming and barreling through central Japan. Now this is quite a serious one, but few typhoons in Japan really have the ferocity of a signal no. 3 in the Philippines, but the news was enough for many people to take precautions. I thought we were canceling our trip, of course; but my group of hardy golfer friends seemed intent on heading for the links and so I was persuaded to join as well.

Some of us took cars to Yamanashi Prefecture, about two hours away from Tokyo. It's so much more convenient to take a car that I couldn't imagine taking the train to get here. But about half of the group had opted for the train, and when I asked them why on earth they'd opted for the train, they said it was so they could begin drinking as soon as the train left Tokyo's Shinjuku Station. Of course, you can't drink if you're driving.


Well, the typhoon came just as everyone was on the way to Yamanashi Prefecture. The winds were quite strong so our car kept almost slipping on the highway and the police put a 50 km per hour speed limit. However our friends who had decided to go by train were very unfortunate. The high-speed train from Tokyo to Yamanashi Prefecture stopped thrice -- 15 to 20 minutes each time for the first two times, and then completely on the third time. They had to get off the train and take a taxi the rest of the way, arriving at the ryokan at about 1030 pm instead of at the scheduled 7 pm.

We were all supposed to have dinner but those who had arrived earlier had feasted on mountain soba -- the local specialty -- and freshly-made tempura, and we'd all been fast asleep by the time the rest of the group had staggered in. The fresh mountain air and the very nice futon in the ryokan had all made us sleepy very quickly and we'd all slept soundly.


The next day, of course there was no golf. What were they thinking, deciding to play in a typhoon? I almost asked them. But I kept my mouth shut after seeing their disappointed faces.
Instead of playing golf, we'd all had breakfast at the golf club instead, in the wood-paneled formal dining room with a view of the course they weren't playing in. The saving grace was that breakfast was so good. We all had the Japanese breakfast and it consisted of a fillet of perfectly roasted salmon, a half-cooked egg which is called onsen tamago here, all kinds of pickled vegetables, and wonderful white rice.

Golf course breakfasts in Japan, by the way, are always very good because they cater to a regular clientele. This morning's breakfast was no different.

After breakfast, there was the question of what to do with golf out of the picture. Some decided to train it back to Tokyo but most -- including those who came by car -- stayed on because today the trains were working but the highways were closed! It baffles me no end why they close the highways in a typhoon that is not at all strong by Philippine standards. I'm assuming their highways are better built than ours. Anyway, the roads were closed so we were stuck where we were.


We decided to visit the Suntory whisky factory, which is always completely full because it's free, interesting and offers a drink-all-the-whisky-you-can-hold session afterwards. But today it was practically empty because of the typhoon.

Again, I'm not at all a whisky person but I decided to go along. The Suntory whisky factory is beautiful, located in a verdant and picturesque forest that is worth visiting for the greenery alone. We went through the motions of whisky making but the most interesting part of course was the drinking session afterwards. I just had a taste of the 10-year-old and 12-year-old whisky and both were incredibly good with Suntory's special soda water and lots of ice. Even I could imagine having a glass after dinner or a long day's work.

I also learned from the Suntory lady about how to make the perfect whisky, the Suntory way. If you mix it with soda water and ice, it's important to stir everything 13 times -- yes, 13 times -- as that makes it so much better, for some reason. Also, it's best to use big pieces of ice. Don't ask me why, but the Suntory people were very definite about the big difference in taste between using small pieces of ice vs. using large pieces of ice.

Join us in Italy this September 8.
Travelife Italy Night
with Margarita Fores

with Margarita Fores
and the Embassy of Italy & Bacchus Epicerie
September 8 at Whitespace

Please call TRAVELIFE at 8138400/ 8922620
to reserve a limited seat
For reservations and information, please contact:
Bernice or Rachel at TRAVELIFE
813-8400/ 892-2620


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