It is interesting how alcoholic beverages of a certain caliber have very distinct and even poetic names, apparently irrespective of the country of origin. Consider, if you will, the American wino wine MD20/20. The “MD” does not, of course, stand for “Medical Doctors,” who are unlikely to recommend it, let alone savor its less-than-subtle notes. It stands for “Mogen David,” but it is affectionately known as “Mad Dog,” both by those who consume it and those who witness the results, presumably. Then, there is “Night Train Express,” which is also from the U.S. The metaphor here should be obvious to the most literarily obtuse among us and requires no explication. Suffice it to say, that there is no need or time to decant this wine. Better hop on board now: the train’s pulling out. Finally, there was—as far as this writer can tell, it is no longer on the market; may it rest in peace—the famous (infamous?) American “Twister,” as in “Let’s Twist Again Like We Did Last Summer,” if the mood be jovial or like “He’s got himself in a twist,” if things are somewhat unpleasantly complicated. Non-American examples of this phenomenon can be found in Cambodia’s Muscle Wine, deer antlers and herbs included, but bulky biceps not guaranteed and the U.K.’s Buckfast Tonic Wine, enough said.
Recently we had the opportunity to taste a nihon-shu offered at the can’t-be-beat price (especially in these times of QE) of ¥100 + tax for a 180 ml pack! It bears the unforgettable Kiplingesque name “Kaminari Sandai” (Thunder the Third), as in “An’ the dawn comes up like thunder….”1 There is an austere beauty in Kaminari’s simplicity. Though the ABV is a relatively low 15%, the alcohol is a bit aggressive and untamed, coming up fast like the sun at daybreak in Mandalay. One imagines that Rudyard might have appreciated this one, as might latter-day curbside Kiplings. Incidentally, this sake is intended to be drunk through a straw.