LONDON – When delegates at a whisky fair in Paris prepared to meet the author of an exhaustive study of Scotland’s distilleries, they expected to be greeted by a mature Scotsman.
Imagine their surprise, then, when they learned the writer was Misako Udo, who originally hails from Nagasaki Prefecture.
“They couldn’t believe that I was the author,” Udo, 47, said. “They thought ‘Misako Udo’ was in fact a cover for a middle-aged Scotsman who wanted to get more publicity.”
Indeed, many Scots have been surprised that a woman, let alone one from Japan, was capable of producing “The Scottish Whisky Distilleries” — a 610-page guide to more than 700 distilleries.
First published in 2005, the book has proved popular with both those in the industry and Scotch aficionados.
It lists distilleries still functioning and those that have since closed down. It details the various processes at each distillery, ranging from the different kinds of grain, water and yeast employed, to the pot stills for distillation.
Udo’s love of Scotch began at the age of 18, when she still lived in Japan.
“It changed my life,” she said. “I drank some White Horse blended whisky and it was so smooth. It was so drinkable compared to Japanese whisky, which can be very harsh when drunk neat, and often requires ice and water.”
“The Scotch had a natural sweetness and the flavor came back through the nose. It also doesn’t give me hangovers like Japanese whisky and ‘shochu’ ” distilled spirits.
Udo then graduated to her first single malt Scotch, made from 100 percent malted barley from one distillery and considered superior to the popular blended variety, which is a mixture of single malt whisky and grain whisky, usually from several distilleries.
However, she could not really find out anything about malts in Japan and decided to head to Scotland to pursue her interest. She realized that to learn more about Scotch, she would need to learn English, so she embarked on lessons in Edinburgh in 1988.
Udo then studied to become a tour guide for Japanese visitors to Scotland. One of the big draws was that she would visit many distilleries. Scotch is very popular with the Japanese.
During her many visits, she found those she was leading were always asking similar questions, so she started to make notes when she returned to the same place. Udo would write down the information she gleaned from the distillery staff as well as from other written sources.
“Sometimes the staff didn’t want to tell me some information. They asked me, ‘are you a spy?’ But they all know the truth now that my book has come out and willingly provide me with new details,” she said.
Udo’s Japanese clients are often surprised when they find out she knows so much about what is seen in Britain as an old man’s drink.
On her passion, Udo explains: “If you fall in love with someone you want to know everything about that person. It’s the same with whisky.”
Tourists and those involved in the Scotch industry were intrigued by the wealth of information Udo held and started to ask her for copies.
It was at this point that she decided to collate her information for a book.
She published the book herself first in July 2005 and, within two weeks, had orders for 300 copies, with a lot of interest from Scotch stores.
Despite her book’s success, Udo isn’t resting on her laurels.
She thinks there are around 100 other distilleries not in the book and she is looking through archives to find out more for an updated version, perhaps one in Japanese.
There are only around 96 distilleries still operating in Scotland and Udo thinks one of the reasons for the decline is excessive government taxation on Scotch.