Gazing out of the classroom window at pouring rain last Thursday, I never imagined the depressing forecast would lead to my learning a little about Japanese whisky.

While my students were happily dozing off, I stopped to check the weather on my telephone to see if there were any chance of the rain clearing for the weekend and got the following forecast:

Full of promise, isn't it?

This was clearly information the world couldn’t live without so I immediately put it on to Twitter along with a sarcastic comment that Saturday was the best chance of a ride. Usually my tweets have the same impact on the world as my grammar explanations have on my class*, so I expected it to slip quietly and unnoticed into the ether. Instead, I got a sympathetic reply from James in Montreal followed by a message from Kazuko suggesting I ought to be teaching and finally an enthusiastic one from Mr Kon that we had better go for a ride on Saturday. What could I do but agree?

*Except once when I flippantly tweeted that as an All Blacks fan it was my duty to be unbearable until we inevitably fail to win the next world cup, which was re-tweeted by All Blacks prop Neemia Tialata. I was mortified.

By Friday evening, the Team Attic email system was running hot and Mr Shiraishi and young Ohigashi-kun were also due to join us on Saturday morning. Because of all the rain, I decided to take my Pista as it would be easier to clean later. The Pista has no bottle cages, so I had to fit my water bottle and pump into my shirt pockets which meant I ended up leaving my camera and raincoat behind. As it turned out I was lucky enough not to need the raincoat but the camera would have come in handy as my telephone is too fiddly to use while I am riding.

It was sunny when I left home but soon got cloudy and I had to battle into the wind to get to our meeting point at Ishikari. Our usual riding area to the north can be quite windy and there were also darker clouds in that direction so we decided to head south instead. I’ve only gone as far south as Otaru before turning inland so I was pretty happy to head in that direction and be shown some new roads.

No big climbs but nicely hilly all the way.

Once we got through Otaru, we turned inland onto a pleasantly quiet country road through some quite charming countryside made all the more beautiful for its late autumn shades of orange. The single-speed pista gave me the best of excuse for falling behind up all of the hills and the rain was holding off quite nicely.

As we got closer to Yoichi, Mr Kon asked me if I had visited the Nikka distillery before. I had to admit to being surprised. I’m not a big drinker of spirits so although I’ve become au fait with Japanese beer I had no idea about the local hard stuff. It turns out the Nikka whisky distillery in Yoichi was one of the first in Japan and that the single-cask whisky made there is considered to be very good indeed. The distillery was established by Masataka Taketsuru in 1934. He was from a sake-making family but decided Scotch was going to be his thing and fronted up in Scotland in 1918 to learn how to make whisky. I can imagine he was viewed as a crazy Japanese guy but must also have been pretty single-minded about being able to return to Japan to make whisky. He helped establish Japan’s first distillery in Yamazaki before heading to Yoichi where he felt the climate was more similar to Scotland.

Nobody seemed particularly surprised to see the four of us in our cycling gear wandering around the distillery area and into the museum and tasting room.

Just taking in the sights.

The museum was quite interesting, especially a series of glasses of their whiskies for visitors to sniff. This was all their top-notch stuff so we couldn’t taste it but it was quite an education smelling the various styles. It was also an education learning that even a 180ml bottle of their very good stuff can set you back nearly 10,000 yen (A$122 at time of writing). In contrast, I checked at the supermarket yesterday and the cheapest Nikka whisky can be had for 3,500 yen (A$42) for a four-litre plastic bottle. We made our way to the tasting room where I insisted to Mr Kon that we try one of their free samples:

Mr Kon checks the whisky's quality.

I suspect this one was closer in quality to the lower end of their range but it was nicely warming on such a cool day. It was only to late that I noticed that the paper glass cover informed us not to drink and cycle:

That's a mamachari, not a road bike. I'm sure we'll be okay.

All warm again, we cleared off for the trip home.

No, I don't think we stood out.

We took the flatter coastal road home and had the wind at our back plus Ohigashi-kun was setting a pretty decent pace. I found I could keep up well enough at 42kmh but any faster than that and I could only spin the pedals that quickly for short bursts. When I got home, I calculated from my gearing that 42kmh gave me a cadence of 110. Quite a good workout, I think.

That night Kazuko took me out for dinner for our anniversary and we went to Sapporo’s revolving restaurant for a tasty French-style set menu. Kazuko’s sister Masako and her husband Kii-chan had their 10th anniversary last month but they have never celebrated an anniversary, so they came along with us as well. For a while in Perth, Kazuko and I made a habit of going somewhere flash for our anniversary but we were without fail disappointed either by the quality of the food or the service so it was quite nice for a change to go somewhere with decent food and service even if the dessert did imply that we were there to celebrate a cenotaph:

Happy Memorial!

And finally on Sunday I went shopping with Kazuko to get her a pair of Oakley sunglasses for her birthday, which will be on the 18th. So not only have I managed to not forget all the important dates this year, I’m actually ahead of time. I can rest on my laurels and we haven’t even finished the celebrations yet – it’s back to Jozankei next weekend for the onsen part of our anniversary antics.

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