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At the Paris launch of Hibiki 12.
At the Paris launch of Hibiki 12.
Clotilde Briard

PARIS – Using a three-pronged ice crusher, the bartender strikes the massive frozen block with practiced precision.

In no time at all, he is able to shape the ice block into a tiny ball – small enough to fit into a whisky glass. He pours the Hibiki 12, a 12-year-old whiskey, one of the prime products made by the Suntory alcoholic beverage group.

This “ice ball” is one of the ways Japanese people enjoy their whiskey. And now the trend is coming to France, where Japanese whiskeys are becoming hugely popular.

Japanese producer Nikka sold about 300,000 bottles of whiskey in France in 2012, and plans to sell 380,000 more this year. The main reason behind this enthusiasm is that people want to try new kinds of whiskeys, with new spices and flavors.

The other reason is that France has always had a certain fascination for Japanese culture – from its manga graphic novelsto its green tea. “Japan is a fascinating country. Its whiskies have a story to tell. And they are conquering a new younger, more feminine customer base,” says Thierry Benitah, CEO of La Maison du Whisky (The House of Whiskey), that distributes Nikka in France and Europe.

In France, Japanese whiskeys are considered as high-end products. That’s not necessarily the case in their home country, where the range and choice of whiskeys is very wide.

Japanese alcoholic beverages are often presented in a very recognizable bottle, like Nikka from the Barrel, the brand’s best-selling whiskey, which is sold in a very simple, minimalist, rectangular flask.

In Japan, gifts are very important, and Japanese whisky brands cater to this particular market. They sell gift boxes, particularly at the end of the year or for father’s day. The design of Nikka’s gift box is inspired by origami – the art of paper folding.

Suntory’s Hibiki 12 will be on the market in June in a wooden box, with a bottle is shaped like a diamond and a very fine tumbler. The box is wrapped in a cloth, furoshiki stylethe art of wrapping presents in cloth. The other whiskeys of the brand will also be wrapped in elaborate furoshikis.

To make its products a little more accessible, Suntory –which is celebrating this year its 90th anniversary – has launched a smaller, new 500ml format for its Hibiki 12. It is also mulling over launching a less expensive whiskey.

New ways to enjoy whiskey

To appeal to new customers, Japanese brands are diversifying. They are also working on whiskey and food matching. Suntory has partnered with famous chefs and bartenders in Paris luxury hotels and high-end restaurants. For instance chef Daniel Rose or the barman of the Plaza Athenee hotel Thierry Fernandez.

During the cherry blossom season, chef Sakura France, in Paris, prepared bentos – Japanese dishes served in boxes – with dishes cooked with Nikka whiskeys. Star butcher Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec and chocolate maker Jacques Genin had helped her to pair whiskeys with her dishes.

Whiskeys are not the only alcoholic beverages from Japan to have become popular in France. Sake, a beverage made from fermented rice, is also becoming very trendy. In June, there will even be a Sake Tasting Fair – the first of its kind in Paris – at the Bastille Design Center.

Many Japanese alcohols will be presented at this fair, where there will be conferences, tastings and workshops. And because Japanese culture is so popular, there will also be Japanese movies and food.

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Society

Single Parents In Portugal Turn "It Takes A Village" Into A Practical Reality

The death of a young child left alone at home while his single mother was out shocked a community. Now, single parents have banded together to offer support to each other. And they're succeeding in the face of overwhelming challenges.

Single Parents In Portugal Turn "It Takes A Village" Into A Practical Reality

Women from the association Jangada D'Emoções, which started Colo100Horas

Maíra Streit

SINTRA — The large and curious eyes of Gurnaaz Kaur reveal her desire to understand the world.

This four-year-old Indian girl doesn’t speak Portuguese yet. A few months have passed since she left her country on the family adventure across the European continent. She uses a few gestures to try to express herself and greets people with a “bom dia” (good morning), one of the few expressions he has learned.

Nahary Conniott, 8, is also looking for ways to interact. From Angola and on the autism spectrum disorder, she has already experienced difficult situations and was asked to leave the private school she attended. In the other schools in which the mother enrolled her, the refusal was always justified by the lack of vacancies.

Children with such different paths found the support they deserved in the Colo100Horas project. Started in 2021, it is a self-organized network of women who came together to help immigrants with their immense daily challenges in Sintra, in western Portugal.

The long list of problems meant they banded together to look for a solution: the strenuous routine of caring for children (still imposed in most homes as the responsibility of women), low salaries, the overcrowding of daycare centers, excessive work and the difficulty with shift schedules, which is common in jobs in the catering and cleaning industries.

A tragic case that occurred recently in the neighborhood that drew attention to the need for greater support for families: a six-year-old boy died after falling from the ninth floor of the building where he lived. He was at home with only his two little brothers, while his mother had left to go to the market, a few meters away.

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