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Issue 86 - Heart of Oak

Whisky Magazine Issue 86
February 2010

 

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Heart of Oak

Chris Bunting visits Japan's most maritime distillery.

There was something unsettling about the seaside in front of the White Oak Distillery at Akashi. I have always romanticised the sounds of the sea – the seething of pebbles under retreating waves, the gurgling of the water at a sea wall, the clap and hiss of stormy surf - but at Akashi in March all this was drowned out by a mechanical drone: an incessant and intimidating sound that did not come from the land behind me but from the sea itself and not from one direction but from wherever there was water.

I didn't understand it at first, but after a few minutes inspection through a telephoto lens, I realised that the noise came from a fleet of motor boats working from about 50 metres to one km out to sea. There were many dozens of these craft, all repeating an utterly incomprehensible ritual: each boat would approach a net and then dive under it! Not beside it, or over it; the boat would actually pull up the net at its prow and dive under the ropes until it popped out on the other side. Then, with a great roar of its motor, it would turn 180 degrees and do exactly the same thing in the opposite direction. The boats never seemed to move on: just back and forth under the same net.

Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me. I approached a craggy faced old fisherman in a greasy baseball cap, who was casting a couple of lines from the shore: “What are they fishing for?” “Seaweed,” he grunted, allowing his cigarette to do a little jig in his mouth but never letting his ...

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