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Why the world is flipping for Japanese whisky

Photo: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert (Getty Images)
DrinkeryDrinkery is The Takeout’s celebration of beer, liquor, coffee, and other potent potables.  

Welcome to Gateways To Drinkery, where The Takeout offers an entry-level course on our favorite libations, and some suggestions on where to start drinking them.

Japanese whisky

The lowdown: Japanese whisky has a simple definition: It’s whisky from Japan. It doesn’t have the same legal requirements as bourbon or even Scotch. If any portion of the whisky in a bottle comes is distilled, bottled, or sold by a distillery in Japan, it’s Japanese whisky.

And to say Japanese whisky just burst onto the scene is no understatement. As recently as just five or six years ago, only the most well-traveled whisky aficionados were familiar with labels like Yamazaki and Hibiki. Yamazaki Single Malt, the first Japanese whisky to arrive in America, only began hitting shelves in 2001, according to the The Whisky Bible (a menu that’s also largely a reference book) compiled by Jersey City, New Jersey’s Ani Ramen House. But Japanese whisky surged ahead in America in 2014, when Jim Murray’s influential Whisky Bible guide named Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 its whisky of the year and touched off a wave of interest in whiskies from Japan.

“When we opened in 2005, Japanese whisky was unheard of. I pulled a Japanese whisky bottle and showed it to people and they laughed at me, like ‘What is this?’” says Khaled Dajani, owners and whisky buyer for San Francisco’s Nihon Whisky Lounge. “Japanese whisky really came to fame only in the past 10 years, though they’ve been producing whisky for over 100 years.”

Dajani shares a statistic to drive home his point: Beam Suntory, one of the two largest companies producing Japanese whisky, told him in 2006 the company sold 400 cases of it in the U.S., of which Nihon itself accounted for 60. Today, he says, the company sells about 30,000-40,000 cases of Japanese whisky in America.

For all its global popularity today, the Japanese whisky industry can trace its origins mostly to a single person: Masataka Taketsuru. Following hundreds of years of isolationist policy, Japan began to open itself to the world in the late 19th century. Making up for lost time, the country sent citizens abroad to learn about products in other parts of the world—how to weave rugs in the countries of the former Persian empire, and how to distill whisky in Scotland. Taketsuru traveled to Scotland where he studied organic chemistry at the University Of Glasgow and worked at several of the country’s best Scotch whisky distilleries. When he returned to Japan in 1918 (with a Scottish wife, Rita) he was hired by Shinjiro Torii, founder of the company that would become Suntory. Taketsuru worked with Torii for years, but ultimately, Taketsuru’s focus on a more peaty Scotch style of whisky wasn’t working for Torii.

“The whisky he was making was very much like Scotch: pretty smoky, intense, pretty maritime,” says Pedro Shanahan, the “spirit guide” for California-based 213 Hospitality. “That didn’t match up with what the Japanese palate wanted or was used to… In Japanese culture, you can’t really just be okay, you’re either a home-run hitter or a failure. And his wasn’t a home run. So they didn’t renew his contract, so he started Nikka.”

Those two producers—Nikka and Suntory, which acquired Beam Inc., makers of Jim Beam bourbon, in 2014 for $16 billion—today represent 80-90 percent of Japanese whisky production.

Photo: Toru Yamanaka/AFP (Getty Images)

The taste: Because of its broad definition, Japanese whisky doesn’t have just one single flavor. It has historical links to Scotch whisky, and some bottles can be as peaty, earthy, and brooding as those single malts. Still others are like a highland Scotch, more restrained and subdued.

What attracts many drinkers to Japanese distilleries, though, is their mastery in the art of blending. Distillers in other whisky-producing countries generally work with one shape of still—pot, columns, hybrids—and then purchase or trade their distillate with other whisky-makers to acquire a variety of flavors for blending. But in Japan, Shanahan tells me, the attitude is more self-reliant. Distilleries typically have multiple styles of stills as well as a multitude of barrels and casks—puncheons, hogsheads, port pipes, sherry barrels, red wine barrels, used bourbon barrels—so they’re able to create richly layered blends entirely from their own distillate.

Especially when it comes to Suntory’s whiskies, some of the most popular in the world, drinkers prize their nuance, their delicacy, their harmony. “[Suntory has] a uniquely Japanese flavor profile: floral notes, light verdant green notes,” Shanahan tells me. “The Japanese really value nature and it’s reflected in the whisky making process itself, that harmony between aspects.”

Blending has the benefit of making some Japanese whiskies approachable to even newcomers, but it has a secondary benefit as well: It makes Japanese whisky relatively food-friendly.

“Japanese whisky tends to be lighter, much mellower in style than that of other whisky and it has to do with the Japanese desire to drink whisky with food,” Dajani says. “Some of the older vintages, say Yamazaki 25, are very rich. But overall, they’re looked at as friendly to the palate, easier to drink, a whisky you can drink with food.”

A worker checks fermentation at Suntory’s Hakushu distillery in Hokuto City.
Photo: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP (Getty Images)

Possible gateway: Highballs. The Japanese whisky industry pushed these club-soda-and-whisky cocktails during a lag in spirits sales in the early 2000s, convincing drinkers they were a low-alcohol, classier alternative to beer. Refreshing and highly carbonated, these cocktails clock in at an alcohol content similar to a strong beer. Now, premixed and canned versions exist, but the best ones are still made by bartenders with great attention to detail.

I’ve had tasty Japanese highballs at ramen and izakaya restaurants stateside, but Shanahan tells me they’re an entirely more elaborate affair in Japan. At the best bars in Tokyo, bartenders hand-cut ice shards, then allow them to melt slightly so their surfaces are slick and don’t allow soda bubbles to cling to them. The bartender then slowly adds soda into the Collins glass of whisky, careful to pour the soda along the side of the glass so it doesn’t disturb the ice shard. The drink is then garnished with a precisely cut ribbon of citrus, sprig of rosemary, or piece of fruit.

Next steps: Like any other whisky, Japanese whisky is at its fullest expression when served neat or with just a splash of water or ice. As for which bottles to look for, experts caution that because global demand is so high for these whiskies, it can be difficult to chase down a certain one. (“Southern California could drink all the Japanese whisky that Japan could produce, easy,” Shanahan says.)

That said, experts recommend Suntory’s flagship Yamazaki 12- and 18-years as a solid introduction to the category, as well as Nikka’s Taketsuru Pure Malt and From The Barrel lines, which show off that distillery’s blending prowess. The Takeout’s resident fancy whiskey shopgirl, Allison Shoemaker, gives two thumbs up to Suntory’s Hibiki Harmony and Nikka’s Coffey Grain. But the most important experience is tasting, tasting, tasting.

“When you go to the liquor store and see the prices on this Japanese whisky that you’ve never heard of before, and it’s twice as expensive as a killer bourbon that you know is good, it’s like ‘hmm,’” Shanahan says. “You have to go try stuff before you go buy a whole bottle and shell out $80 and get a few sips in and are bummed.”

Talk like an expert: “I enjoyed the Hibiki 21-year, but right now I’m really interested in some of the Japanese rice whiskies like Ohishi and Kikori. They’re a fascinating convergence of two of Japan’s best-known spirits: sake and whisky.”

Source: Kotaku.com

Everything In Civilization VI, Crammed Into One Real Map

Between civs, city states and wonders, there’s a lot of stuff from history being recreated in Civilization VI. This handy map shows you exactly where all that comes from in the real world.

Put together by LacsiraxAriscal, it shows each city that appears in the game, whether as a city state or Civ settlement, then throws in each natural and man-made wonder as well.

UPDATE: Originally created at the time of Civilization VI’s release, the map has now been updated to include the extra content added since, including from the game’s two main expansions.

It leaves us with a map that’s chaotic, but in a way that lets you also appreciate that the developers tried to spread the love to as many corners of each continent as possible.

You can check out the map below. Scroll/pinch to zoom, and clicking/tapping on each marker will give you a name and, in some cases, a brief bit of trivia about the location. Oh, and you can slide in from the left and filter by civ as well.

This story was originally posted in 2016. It has been updated in the wake of Gathering Storm’s release this month.

Source: Kotaku.com

There Are A Ton Of Games To Play Free This Weekend On PS4, Xbox One, And PC

If you’re looking for something new to play but aren’t quite ready to plunk down some cash on a game, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from this weekend. A number of titles are free to play for the next few days on PC and Xbox One, and PS4 and Xbox One owners will be able to try a special demo of Dead or Alive 6.

PC players have the most choices this weekend, as four titles are holding free weekends on Steam. These include the sandbox games Boundless and TerraTech, the mech strategy game BattleTech, and the 3v3 competitive game Aftercharge. You’ll be able to sample all four of these at no charge until Sunday, February 24, and each is also on sale in case you’d like to pick them up after the free period ends.

On Xbox One, Xbox Live Gold members can try both Halo Wars: Definitive Edition and its sequel, Halo Wars 2, at no charge as part of Microsoft’s ongoing Free Play Days promotion. The trial period likewise runs through February 24. You can download them either from Microsoft’s website or the Gold member area on Xbox One, and both games are on sale for 50% off from the Microsoft Store.

Beyond that, Team Ninja is holding a beta for its upcoming fighting game Dead or Alive 6 from February 22-24. The demo will be available on both PS4 and Xbox One, but you’ll need to have either a PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live Gold subscription to participate. You can read more details about the beta on the Dead or Alive 6 website.

Separate from the free weekends, Epic is giving away another title for free through its storefront, the Epic Games Store. From now until March 7, PC players can claim a digital copy of the point-and-click adventure game Thimbleweed Park at no charge.

Source: GameSpot.com

Paradox Interactive brings mod support to its Xbox One games

Paradox Interactive, publishers of the Crusader Kings and Hearts of Iron franchises, and the upcoming Stellaris: Console Edition, will bring modding support to the Xbox One versions of its games.

Paradox Mods, as the platform is called, will begin as a free update to Surviving Mars, the extraterrestrial city-builder that launched in March 2018. Players will have more than 30 mods tested and ready for Surviving Mars’ Xbox One version, with support for additional Paradox titles is coming later this year. The feature will be found under the “Mod Manager” tab at the bottom of the Surviving Mars title screen.

Mods for Paradox games on PC may also be used for their Xbox One versions. Paradox Mods appears similar to Bethesda Softworks’ Creation Kit, which also shares mods created on PC across different platforms.

“As we have diversified the way we distribute our games, we want to make sure all our players can take part in the creation process,” Anders Törlind, the Paradox Mods head, said in a statement. “For Surviving Mars, we have worked with mod creators to support Paradox Mods with some of the best mods available, all in one place and downloadable in-game or simply using a web browser.”

The Paradox Mods update to Surviving Mars also adds keyboard-and-mouse support to the game on Xbox One. The console received that as a control option with a November operating system update.

Source: Polygon.com

Pokémon Go will soon let trainers change teams

Niantic and The Pokémon Company will finally let Pokémon Go players change their team allegiance in a forthcoming update to the mobile game. Starting Feb. 26, players will be able to purchase a new item called a Team Medallion, allowing them to switch to Team Mystic, Team Valor, or Team Instinct.

A Team Medallion will cost 1,000 PokéCoins when it goes on sale later this month. Players can purchase PokéCoins from Pokémon Go’s in-game shop with real money, but they can also be earned through play.

Niantic is limiting team changes to once per year. There are some other minor restrictions, as outlined in a post on the Pokémon Go website:

Any of your Pokémon that are in Gyms when you change teams will be returned with no PokéCoins earned once it’s defeated. You also can’t battle your own Pokémon, so if you return to a Gym one of your Pokémon is defending, your Pokémon will be returned to you with no PokéCoins earned. (You’ll be able to find more information on our Help Center page.)

While Team Medallions may be limited, the option to switch teams is a welcome feature for players who may have pledged their allegiance to a team during the game’s launch, but may now find themselves raiding with friends on a different team.

Source: Polygon.com

Apex Legends Player Waves Meekly Before Exploding

Today on Highlight Reel we have weird Anthem javelins, flying Metro Exodus guards, killer Apex Legends moments, and much more!

Watch the video then talk about your favorite highlight in the comments below. Be sure to check out, like, and share the original videos via the links below. Subscribe to Kotaku on YouTube for more! Catch up on all the episodes on the Highlight Reel Youtube playlist!

Highlight Reel is Kotaku’s regular roundup of great plays, stunts, records and other great moments from around the gaming world. If you record an amazing feat while playing a game (here’s how to record a clip), send it to us with a message confirming that the clip is yours at [email protected] Or, if you see a great clip around that isn’t yours, encourage that person to send it in!

Source: Kotaku.com

Princess Shuri debuts her Black Panther costume

Throughout Shuri’s entire solo comic series, her mother and the rest of Wakanda pressured her to take the mantle of Black Panther after T’Challa vanished in a space mission. The first issue explored Shuri dealing with the fallout of T’Challa’s disappearance and though she’s since mind-melded with Groot in space and teamed up with Tony Stark in order to curtail a black hole, Shuri refused to take her brother’s place.

Part of the reason, she insisted in the first issue, is because she’s more concerned with finding him than replacing him.

[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for Shuri #5]

But the events of Shuri #5, in which Shuri and Tony manage to vacate Timbuktu and save the city from both a black hole and supervillain Moses Magnum, put Shuri in the international spotlight. Reporters question why she hasn’t stepped up as Wakada’s Black Panther.

Initially, Shuri refuses, telling the spirits of her ancestors who hang out around her head that she won’t be told by them, her mother, or the council of Wakanda women (which she needs) to become the new Black Panther. T’Challa’s secret Pan-African council, the Egungun, also urge her to take on the title. She is resistant at first, but finally realizes that maybe she is the one who is wrong. She doesn’t need to do this just for Wakanda, but for the whole continent of Africa.

So Shuri decides that it’s time — but she’s going to do things her way. She creates a new Black Panther costume, incorporating the wings she designed in the first issue. Shuri’s Black Panther is ready to spread her wings and take on alien invaders.

Nnedi Okorafor, Leonardo Romero/Marvel Comics

Becoming the Black Panther is a big deal for Shuri. This version of the Wakandan princess struggles more with living in her brother’s shadow than her MCU counterpart, which is part of the reason she has been so reluctant to totally fill his shoes. Taking up the mantle shows that she is growing past that insecurity. Putting her own spin on the costume indicates that she’s not just a replacement for her brother; she will be her own hero.

Source: Polygon.com

Black Ops 4’s ‘Grand Heist’ Update Is Excellent Except For The Loot Boxes

Image: Activision

The latest update for Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is a double-edged sword. It brings great new content to the game that I’m having a blast with, but also loot boxes. Ironic, considering that the update is titled “Grand Heist.”

Black Ops 4’s “Operation Grand Heist,” available this week on PlayStation 4 and next week for Xbox One and PC, introduces a cops-and-robbers theme, with the addition of Casino and Lockup as new multiplayer maps for players who purchased the Black Ops Pass.

In addition to new maps, Grand Heist offers nostalgia with the return of Black Ops’ fan-favorite “One in the Chamber” party mode, which gives each player a pistol, one bullet, and three lives. Each kill earned loads another bullet in their gun, and players fight to be the last one standing.

Also, Black Ops 3’s popular Outrider has now joined Black Ops 4’s growing crew of skilled Specialists. Outrider returns with her Sparrow bow as the Specialist weapon, and her new equipment is a helpful drone that can be positioned to tag enemies within its line of sight.

As teased last week via cryptic in-game hints, the battle royale mode Blackout finally received a much-needed refresh to the map. Ghost Town is now the cool place to drop for loot, providing a desert locale that includes Black Ops 3’s DLC map Outlaw, which is a Western version of Black Ops 2’s popular Standoff map.

Ghost Town
Image: Activision

Keeping with the Wild West vibe, Black Ops 2’s Buried Zombies map now occupies some of Ghost Town’s underground real estate. This new named location is a great addition to the map, and there were several smaller areas that also received a decent makeover. Extra shops and clusters of buildings add more looting opportunities for those aiming to bypass the hot drop locations. I’d love to see more visual updates like this in the near feature, and I think Treyarch can go even bigger here, but these map changes are a start.

Like with past Black Ops 4 events, there’s a new Contraband stream of loot in the Black Market that can be rewarded for in-game time spent playing multiplayer or Blackout. This includes the new Switchblade X9 submachine gun and the fully-automatic Rampage shotgun.

Zombies players will have to wait until March to receive a new DLC map, but there’s a brand-new “Death-Con Five” Gauntlet for the Classified map. I really enjoy the grind of the Gauntlets, so I’m glad to see all the maps getting the challenge treatment.

Grand Heist’s new content is still trickling in this week on PlayStation 4. Blackout’s upcoming Hot Pursuit will become available on February 22, adding police chase shenanigans to the battle royale setting. Launching today on PS4 and offering a more competitive setting, League Play is a series of ladders that mimic Call of Duty’s pro league’s rulesets.

Operation Grand Heist Contraband Tiers

Overall, the new content is excellent, but it’s hard to get entirely excited as this update also means that another poor loot box system is sliding back into Call of Duty. This update revamps Black Ops 4’s loot reward system in a way that rewards players less for playing, while now giving the option to spend money on a gamble. Yes, players can still play and level up tiers of the Contraband streams for decent rewards without buying anything extra, but now, some sought-after items are only going to be found in Reserve Cases.

Initially, these cases were included in the Contraband stream as “Reserves” that you could earn after finishing the final tier of an event. For example, after reaching tier the final tier 100, you could keep progressing through 101 and beyond, with each additional tier earning you one case that contained a random item.

Now, Reserve Cases can now be obtained through purchase of the Reserve Crate supply drops, starting at a price of $1.99 per crate. One crate will give you three random cases, or you can simply earn individual cases in an unrewarding grind separate from the Contraband stream.

Boring Torque outfit rewarded for hours of playtime.

It’s uncertain how the game calculates how often to reward players with a case, but in my experience, the rate needs to be sped up. I played Blackout and multiplayer for at least three hours on the first day of the event, earning myself one single Reserve Case for my nightly grind. The case contained a basic Specialist outfit that I’ll never use because I have already acquired a much better collection to choose from.

Call of Duty has received a lot of backlash from its strategies around loot boxes and microtransactions in the past, and Black Ops 4 was a chance to finally offer players a system that felt somewhat fair and rewarding. Blackout character skins were initially unlocked via in-game quests, but now some new skins are hidden behind a supply-drop paywall. I really want the Vacation Hudson skin, but there are hundreds of potential items in the Reserves, and my luck with supply drops has always been poor. I’ll stick to earning the “free” crates, but the system still needs to be fixed. Also, there shouldn’t be duplicates.

I play because I enjoy the game, but if these cases are going to contain one single random item meant as a reward for hours of play, it needs to feel more rewarding.

Source: Kotaku.com

Guild Wars 2 Developer ArenaNet Plans For Mass Layoffs

Photo: ArenaNet

ArenaNet, the studio behind the popular online games Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2, informed employees today that it is planning big layoffs, according to a person who is there. Although ArenaNet did not give out exact numbers, and they may not yet be finalized, rumors floating around the studio signal that a significant number of people will be let go.

Songyee Yoon, the CEO of Korean publisher NCSoft West, which owns ArenaNet, e-mailed employees this afternoon with the news. “Our live game business revenue is declining as our franchises age, delays in development on PC and mobile have created further drains against our revenue projects, while our operating costs in the west have increased,” she wrote. “Where we are is not sustainable, and is not going to set us up for future success.”

Yoon added that the company plans to “cut costs across the organization” and restructure across the board, merging ArenaNet and NCSoft’s publishing divisions in the process. “The restructuring, cost-cutting, and strategic realignments are all being done to secure our tomorrow and to provide the foundation that will allow us to grow and acquire,” she wrote.

Later this afternoon, ArenaNet CEO Mike O’Brien plans to meet with staff to discuss the layoffs further.

Around 400 people work at ArenaNet, and for the past few years they’ve been working on a number of unannounced projects, according to one person familiar with goings-on at the company. However, that person said, slow development progress combined with a lack of new games in 2018 and 2019 has led to a financial squeeze. ArenaNet’s last release, the Path of Fire expansion for Guild Wars 2, launched in September 2017.

This news comes in the wake of widespread cost-cutting measures at NCSoft. Last September, NCSoft shut down Wildstar developer Carbine Studios, and earlier this year it began plans to reduce staff at the mobile studio Iron Tiger. In its financial earnings call earlier this week, NCSoft reported an annual decline in PC revenue.

When reached by Kotaku earlier today, an NCSoft representative declined to comment.

UPDATE (6:02pm): ArenaNet management addressed employees directly in two meetings this afternoon, according to people who were there. There’s still no word on how many people will be laid off, and most employees are still in limbo as they wait to find out if they’ll be affected (although some who worked on canceled projects say they’re presuming they’ll be laid off and are making preparations accordingly).

ArenaNet told employees it will be giving out severance of two months to anyone losing their jobs, as well as bonus time based on tenure with the company.

Source: Kotaku.com

Anodyne 2 Gets Playstation-Era Nostalgia Right

Anodyne 2: Return to Dust isn’t releasing until May, but it’s been quietly dominating my thoughts so far this year. Mixing Playstation-era visuals with Link’s Awakening-esque dungeons, it’s on track to be one of the most innovative and evocative games of 2019.

The original Anodyne released in 2013, offering a world of dreamy pixel art dungeons to explore. I had the chance to play a preview build of the sequel, and it’s a delightful merger of some of my favorite styles of gameplay. Developed by Sean Han Tani and Marina Kittaka, Anodyne 2 follows a “nano cleaner” named Nova. Picture a newborn fairy who can shrink to microscopic size and vacuum up dust. The world is suffering at the hands of evil dust fragments and dangerous miniature assassins, and it’s Nova’s job to dive down, hop inside of people, and clean all the bad stuff. It’s a whimsical concept, but what really makes it work is Anodyne 2’s visual style.

Whenever you’re wandering the world, it feels like you’re navigating your way through Playstation classics like Spyro the Dragon. It’s a hard style to get right, and with only a few recent indie titles really capturing the aesthetic. Jagged-edged polygonal structures and strange animal citizens dot the landscape, and you’re able to freely explore an overworld map to find folks affected by the dust. There’s a sun-drenched dream shore, hazy ruins, and bustling metropolises that feel lifted from the late 1990s. Worlds mix platforming and double-jumps with the ability to turn into a super-fast car that allows you to zoom around the world. The goal is to chat it up with folksy friends until you find someone who needs some cleaning. After that, you shrink down and get to work.

Changing size also changes the art style back to the same pixel art from Anodyne. Every person you need to clean acts as a sort of tiny Zelda dungeon complete with puzzle rooms and enemies. These areas—at least the early ones I’ve played—aren’t particularly difficult but still feature enough brainteasers to be satisfying. One room might challenge you to avoid enemies and leave them alive, while another could involve sucking them up Kirby style and then hurling them through fire so they burn up a gate blocking your path. It gives Anodyne 2 a unique pace: bouncing around the overworld and then slowing down for puzzles when you shrink. In some ways, it reminds me of Psychonauts. Each new dungeon reflects something about the person you are helping, and as you delve deeper you start to understand them a little more. This makes success feel particularly gratifying. You’re not just checking off a list of objectives; you’re helping people.

In the time since Anodyne, its creators have honed their skills with a variety of projects. Tani and Kittaka released Even the Ocean in 2016, a narrative platformer that pioneered accessibility options even before games like Celeste popularized them. Tani also released All Our Asias last year, a lo-fi, 3D game that dealt with cultural identity and boasted astounding visuals. Anodyne 2 feels like the product of several lessons coming home to roost, both in terms of how confidently it weaves together different gameplay styles and how much it nails old school Playstation visuals. There’s still some time before the game releases, but even the few moments I’ve spent with it have been inspiring. If you like good games or want to slide into a truly nostalgic and kind-hearted experience, keep your eyes on Anodyne 2.

Source: Kotaku.com