How France Fell In Love With Japanese Whiskey

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 novels to 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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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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