When I first had the idea of starting Kanpai! in 2011, I never expected it to lead to a book deal. But this came to fruition thanks to Chris Bunting’s generosity in offering to co-author a pitch to fabled Asian book publisher Tuttle Publishing for a comprehensive guide to Japanese alcohol. Over the past 70 years, Tuttle has been published more than 6,000 titles on Asian culture, language, and history. My personal favorites are their reprints of the masterworks of Lafcadio Hearn (aka, Koizumi Yakumo), an Irishman who became one of the first journalists to permanently relocate to Japan during the Meiji Restoration.
Tuttle, to our surprise and delight, offered us a book deal. That’s when the real work began. With Chris based in the North of England and me bouncing between NYC and Japan, we managed to put together the research and photography necessary. Chris was busy with a full-time job and family so the writing was left to me. In fact, Chris and I have only met once in our lives when I visited him after a trip to Scotland. Chris and I talked late into the evening as we downloaded thousands of photos from his archival hard drives.
In the acknowledgements section of our book Chris and I thanked 98 different people. While our names appear on the cover, this was truly a labor of love by so many who contributed their time, knowledge, photographs, and passion with us as we put this book together. From the alcohol makers to sake evangelists to craft beer lovers, we received incredible support.
When The Complete Guide to Japanese Drinks was published on Sake Day 2019 (October 1st) I traveled to Tokyo where I was able to have a launch party at the Baird Beer Nakameguro Tap Room surrounded by close friends including Dean Weston (who was part of the very first visit to Izakaya Ten that started all of this) and Christopher Pellegrini (my shochu brother from another mother). This was followed quickly by a brief book tour with stops at Knifewear Vancouver, Hannyatou Sake Bar in Seattle, Izakaya Mita in Chicago, Sakaya in Manhattan, and Brookly Kura + Kuraichi in Industry City.
After that it was back to regular life at home in Fukuoka, Japan for a few months. However, on March 10, 2020, back in NYC just days before the emergency declaration by Mayor DeBlasio, I was able to give a talk at the Japan Society Talks+ Series, which is now available online. I must have signed 50 copies of the book that night while all of us practiced likely inadequate social distancing. I did, however, encourage everyone to be Japanese and not shake hands. This really does represent perhaps the last evening of normalcy I can remember. Even a night out for drinks a couple days later had a sense of impending doom. Sure enough by the following Monday I was fleeing NYC on a flight back to Japan.
The time since then has been surreal, as I am sure it has been for all of you. It seems there has been bad news daily with thousands of deaths from this unexpected pandemic, economic turmoil, and more. However, there have been glimpses of hope for the future. Mike Slaven, who built this site, became a father the same week we relaunched Kanpai. My friend Tom Kretchmar has inspired thousands with his #austeritywithflair Instagram posts on how to be a responsible home cook during a national emergency. Brian Ashcraft’s new Sake Bible is now available for preorder. And, of course, my own personal good news.
The Complete Guide to Japanese Drinks has been nominated for a James Beard Book Award in the category Beverage Without Recipes. This is the first book about Japanese alcohol ever nominated for a James Beard Award. The other nominees this year are the 8th Edition of the World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson and the Red & White by Oz Clarke. To be nominated alongside these giants of wine writing is truly humbling.
For those of you perhaps unaware of the James Beard Foundation and their annual awards, they are often referred to as the Oscars of Food. Just being nominated is a tremendous honor. For this first time author who started with this humble blog 10 years ago, it is a mind blowing compliment. I was numb for two days before receiving a private congratulatory message from the head bartender (who I have never met) of a 3 Michelin Star restaurant (where I have never been). This confirmation of the external validation finally broke the haze and allowed me to fully feel the joy that this experience deserves.
This has gotten long so I just want to say thank you to all of you who have supported Chris and me through this entire journey. And to those of you reading this who have dreams of doing something unlikely, but are afraid of the reaction you may receive from the world, we are living proof that if you follow your passions, good things can and do happen. Do not fear.
Hopefully we will all be able to raise a glass in celebration soon.