World of Whisky: Let the Journey Begin

Monday, June 11, was SWAM’s first World of Whisky event beginning the journey in Japan.  Although we were not in the country of Japan, we had their finest whiskies.  This tasting was very special to me because over the years we began collecting Japanese whiskies.  Friends would travel to Japan and asked if there was anything we wanted.  Of course we seized the opportunity to have them bring back Hibikis and Nikkas.   The collection grew enough that it was about time to share.  Perhaps the journey should have began where ‘whisky’ was invented, nevertheless, we have been doing Scotch tastings for awhile and taking this detour would be a nice beginning from the obvious.  Here’s the line-up.

Nikka Gold and Gold:  We prepared it Manhattan style.  It was a lot more  smokier and very savory.  I’m beginning to prefer this style of flavor over the traditional Manhattan.   Paired with a Banya Cauda Mousse or anchovy mousse with tempura and fresh vegetables.  The smokey, sweet manhattan matched well with the saltiness of the Banya Cauda.

2-  1 1/4oz.  Nikka Gold and Gold
1- 1 oz. Noilly Prat Sweet Vermouth
dash of Fees Bros. Aromatic Bitters
Stir in ice, strain into a martini glass garnished with a maraschino cherry

Chichibu ‘Ichiro’s First’ 3 year Single Malt:  At 61% ABV, taking it neat was too ‘hot’ to appreciate.  After a couple drops of water, the whisky opened up and shined..brillantly.  Whisky Advocate named this whisky Japanese Whisky of the Year in 2012.  The uniqueness about the Chichibu was the aroma of sandlewood.  The sandlewood profile came from fermenting the malt in mizunara, Japanese oak, vats.   For a young whisky it had viscosity and richness.  We paired this with the Bain and Kumamoto oysters.  After gobbling up the delicious and sweet oysters, a nice treat was adding a little Chichibu into the oyster shell and tossing it back to help cleanse the palate.

Suntory Hakushu 12 year Single Malt: Making it’s debut in the Hawaii market, we were very excited to try the Hakushu.  Slightly smokey aroma but not as earthy as the Nikka.  There was lightness about the 1 2 year old.  It was subtle in flavor.  Paired with a Smoked Chicken Hash and Hamakua Caprese Salad with a cherry balsamic vinaigrette, the salad kicked up the Hakushu’s flavor with more acidity.

Suntory Yamazaki 18 year Single Malt:  The dark caramel color, sweet butterscotch on the nose, and the Yamazaki 18  just glided on the palate.  Silky, Silky, Silky.   Paired with the Pan Seared Scallop with a Hibiki 21 glaze and a Braised Pork Belly with Watercress Waldorf  Salad.  This pairing done me in! The Yamazaki 18 with the Braised Pork Belly was absolutely sinful!  It felt sooo wrong eating all that sticky sweet gelatinous fat and washing it down with the 18 year.   The Yamazaki cut the pork fat in to butter.  OH…it was incredible.

Suntory Hibiki 30 year Blended:  Not available in the United States.  Four years ago, we bought this Hibiki 30 for around $500/600 US dollars.  Currently 2012, the bottle is now priced at $1000 US Dollars.  Smooth and rich with figs and cocoa.  This whisky was paired with Hacho Misa Glazed Lamb with Daikon and Wild Mushroom Gratin.  Frankly, I couldn’t help but take two bites out of the perfectly cooked dish and called it quits.  I was full to the gills!  The lamb was tender and the 30 year added a more smokier finish to the lamb.  I didn’t know which one to continue on further.  I chose the whisky and took home the lamb.

Nikka Taketsuru 17 year Pure Malt:  A generous gesture from one of our guests, Mika Hill.  She offered her bottle for the dessert course.  The Dark Chocolate Pot de Creme with Fig Jam was a home run with the Nikka 17 year.  The 17 year has a faint nutty and  chocolate flavor but paired with the pot de creme enhanced the velvetly chocolate notes.  It was a pleasant surprise to have a whisky unexpectedly paired with the dessert finale.

Kyle Matsumoto and his team at Off the Wall Restaurant did a magnificent job pairing Japanese whisky with their style of food.   What an incredible evening to start our journey.  It will be challenge to find another great food pairing for our next destination….. Scotland!

Off the Wall Restaurant

Chichibu Distillery

List of  Suntory’s Award Winning Whiskies 

List of Nikka’s Award Winning Whiskies

Category : Blog &Reviews &Spirits

The Pilgrimage to Whisky Fest 2011

The Pilgrimage started at HNL International Airport Gate 16, standby status. To my luck, I was the last person called for the last available seat on Delta Flight 1152. Flying standby was incredibly stressful especially when everything hinged on this one flight. Thank goodness! I was on my way to San Francisco.  All I could think about was my strategy on what table to hit first.

Whisky Fest 2011 did not disappoint. In attendance was my favorite Master of Whisky, Tom Turner with his lovely wife, Stephanie. The Third and Fourth Generation of Van Winkles were on hand answering questions from sloppy drunkards. It was entertaining to watch the stately Van Winkle handle the demanding questions. Not a ‘wrinkle’ under pressure. Kudos! Also representing their respected distilleries were Master Distillers from the Four Roses, Compass Box, Hudson, and Anchor.  After two hours of ‘sampling’ I’ve narrowed down my overall favorites and of course all of them are not available in Hawaii.

High West:  This was the first table I sampled. The most memorable whiskey by far was the 36th Vote Barreled Manhattan.  Everyone around me raved over the 21 yr Rocky Mountain Rye, but I wanted more 36th’s deliciously rich, slightly spiced, velvety smooth barreled Manhattan.  High West was the first legalized distillery in the State of Utah in 2007.  Utah, known to be alcohol unfriendly, was ironic to insure it would be the last state to end Prohibition.   It was their crucial 36th Vote against the 19th Amendment, hence, the tribute to the Barreled Manhattan. How does a distillery opererating since 2007 have a 21 yr old rye? The Rocky Mountain Rye was a rye barreled in used American oak. These barrels were found in a Kentucky warehouse and were saved from being shipped off to be blended with Canadian whiskies.

Hudson:  Fond of it’s petit packaging, short from a full sized bottle but far from short on flavor.  Hudson brought five of their whiskies  and the one that stood out was the New York Corn Whiskey.  The sweet corn aromatics from this white whiskey was never ceasing.  I loved it.  Opened since 2001, Hudson became the first whiskey distillery in New York since Prohibition.

How do young distilleries compete with the demand for aged whiskies?  Many are using smaller casks to age the whiskey with enough wood influence to give the whiskey its depth of color and richness in flavor.  Hudson also uses sonic maturation to help vibrate the whiskey into the wood.  The whiskey spends less time in smaller 2 gallon barrels compared to years in a much larger 53 gallon barrel without sacrificing flavor and color.

Compass Box:  The only scotch to make my favorite list.  This year I did not concentrate much on the scotches but when I saw the Great King Street, I had to sample it.  Compass Box, known to have brought the ‘cool’ factor back into blended scotches,  also sampled their famous Peat Monster, Spice Tree, and Hedonism.  Great King Street is blend of 51% Lowland, 23% Northern Highland with malty/fruity notes, 18% Northern Highland with grassy/perfumed notes, and 8% Speyside.  Rich, toasty, with hints of vanilla.

Four Roses:  I really wish Four Roses were sold in Hawaii.  It is one of my favorite Kentucky bourbons.  What is so impressive about them is how they represent themselves at a tasting like Whisky Fest.  During the VIP hour,  Master Distiller, Jim Rutledge, ‘nosed’ some of our glasses to make sure we did not have scotch residuals and then rinsed it with a Four Roses bourbon prior to trying the 2011 Limited Edition Small Batch.  I love when people involved with the product they created want to you to experience it correct and untainted.

As much as I wanted to feature every distillery I tried,  these four distilleries made an impression on me with quality of product, packaging and a passion for why they were at WhiskyFest.   One day I hope to sell these great products in my store but for now I’ll just have to patron another establishment and sip on them sparingly.

Category : Reviews &Spirits

A Bitter Obsession

I am obsessed about bitters. If there’s one spirit that I have to have in my personal bar other than whiskey,  it would be bitters.  I first came to love bitters when I had a bad case of hiccups.  My friend splashed Angostura bitters on a lemon wedge and that was the end of the hiccups.  The taste had an unusual, herbal bite.  I enjoyed that sensation of stimulating my saliva glands.  Now, the medicinal elixir-cure-all is a part of my dining out routine.  Some of my favorite bitters are…

Campari, an Italian aperitif, is an infusion of herbs and fruit.  Historically,  the distinctive bright red color was produced from crushed cochineal insects which carmine dye is derived.  I prefer to sip my Campari neat and after dinner.  It helps  ease digestion after a full meal.  Most fine dining restaurants will have Campari available.

Bonal, a French aperitif, is ‘an infusion of gentian, cinchona (quinine) and renown herbs of the Grand Chartreuse mountains in a Mistelle base.’  I prefer mixing Bonal with a rye whiskey.  It’s a classic cocktail that is making a come back with the rise of mixologists behind the bar.

Amaro,  an Italian digestif or after dinner drink, is a maceration of herbs, roots, bark, flowers, and citrus peels in alcohol.  The maceration is normally aged in casks to soften out the flavor.  I prefer to sip an amaro neat as well.  There are many producers of amaro and one of my favorites is Zucca.

Peychauds, originally an apothecaric tonic made famous in New Orleans, is now produced by the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky.  Bitters are a key ingredient to the Sazerac  and Old Fashion cocktails.  Another famous and one of the oldest surviving producers of aromatic bitters is Angostura.  At one point Angostura ran into a shortage NOT because of the ingredients.  There was shortage on BOTTLES.  The worldwide shortage led to rationing and hoarding.  Problem solved, they found a new supplier and Angostura is back on track.

Cocktail Bitters, like Peychauds but with flavoring ingredients suitable for pairing with clear or brown spirits, enhance drinks with a simple dash.  For example The Bitter Truth, from Germany, has a Xocolatl Mole Bitter or Chocolate Bitters to spice up the flavor of an aged rum or reposado tequila.  The citrus bitters like lemon and grapefruit pair well with a clear spirits such as vodka, gin, and silver tequila.

September is Bourbon Heritage month.  PREP! September will creating the classic cocktails using bitters.

Category : Blog &Spirits

Coo Coo for Coconuts: Vodka, Rum, Shochu, Beer, Syrup, Milk, Water….

Did I forget to include anything else?  Like macadamia nuts, there is a world shortage on coconuts but one wouldn’t know it because it’s everywhere in the beverage world.  Coconut flavoring has come a long way from tasting and smelling like sun tan lotion.  Coconut drinks have developed into something more exotic than drinking out of coconut and adding a cocktail umbrella.  

Kai Coconut Shochu.  Two of the fastest growing beverages, coconut water and shochu, combined to make one winning product.  Shochu is a distilled spirit normally from rice, but can also be distilled from sweet potatoes, barley, and buckwheat.  The alcohol proof is 48 or 24% alcohol which about half the proof of vodka.  The trend is using Pan-Asian flavors like coconut water, lemongrass, yuzu, and ‘matcha’ green tea.  Coconut water is gaining popularity because it’s ‘fat-free, cholesterol-free, low-calorie, super-hydrating, and naturally rich in electrolytes.’ There is a subtle flavor, but it does not taste like Mounds or Almond Joy.  In my opinion, it tastes more like Horlicks Malted Milk tablets.  The Kai Coconut Shochu does have a slight sun tan lotion aroma but not offensive.  The Horlick maltiness is ethereal and finishes without the burn.

Malibu Black Coconut Rum.  Malibu’s newest addition to their rum family.  The Black is at 70 proof or 35% alcohol compared to the Original is 42 proof or 21% alcohol.  The Malibu Black uses aged rum which gives the rum it’s darker color.  A rule of thumb that we use is the higher the alcohol percentage, the less sweeter the liquor will taste.   The Malibu Black resembles in flavor to a spiced rum with a hint of coconut.  There are nuances of toffee and vanilla on the nose and palate.

Hawaiian Coconut Vodka.  We have all ready mentioned Dave Flintstones’ Hawaiian Vodka on a previous blog, but it’s well worth a second shout.  Hawaiian Vodka is small batch, artisan vodka made in Honolulu, Hawaii.  The Hawaiian Coconut Vodka is very much like the Kai Coconut Shochu but with a more silkier texture and lingering flavor.  It tastes much like haupia, a favorite luau dessert.  I wished it was called Hawaiian Haupia Vodka, but it would be a little harder to market…i understand.

Maui Brewing Co. Coconut Porter.  When this beer first debuted, there was a lot of skepticism about the coconut ‘flavoring.’  Critics were shushed because the Maui Brewing Coconut Porter took Gold Medal for the Herb & Spice category at the 2006 World Beer Cup.  The aroma is full of rich, roasted nuttiness.  There is a slight hint of toasted and salted coconut.  Maui Brewing Co. toasts the coconuts themselves to insure the flavor.

Why we are coo coo for coconuts?  We live on a island where the palm trees sway.

Category : Reviews &Spirits

Kai Lemongrass Vodka : My Crave Substitute

You don’t have to be pregnant to crave.  And I can assure you I’m not pregnant just because I have a mean food crave for lemongrass.  For me, it’s like catnip to a feline.  I love the smell and taste.  At one point, I used to go to my favorite vietnamese restaurant, Viet Cafe, once a week to get my Shrimp Lemongrass fix.  Viet Cafe is long gone and I still have not found a restaurant that made the Shrimp Lemongrass like they did. Hence, my craving subsided.  Then Hot Pot Heaven comes along with a killer Thai Lemongrass Broth and right now I’m salivating about it.  Is it poor table manners to openly just drink the broth?  Well, thank goodness for Kai Lemongrass Vodka I don’t have to live in broth shame.

Kai Lemongrass Vodka is a recent addition to the popular Kai Lychee Vodka.  Kai is an ultra premium vodka distilled from rare yellow rice blossom grown in Vietnam.  Kai Lemongrass is very similar to a citrus vodka BUT it has a distinctive dry finish.  The aroma is very subtle of fresh lemon.  On the palate, the flavor starts with sweet citrus and lingers after swallowing but then there’s a dryness.  Sometimes adding a touch of heat fills the void.  We added a dash of chili pepper water to one ounce of vodka.  What a difference a dash makes.  It’s  like drinking the Thai broth chilled with alcohol.  Turned off? Don’t be because it is very savory and delicious.

In our SWAM newsletter, we normally include a cocktail recipe.  In the August newsletter, we created our version of a plantation iced tea. Someone revealed that the country clubs use lemongrass in their plantation iced tea.  Using the internet, we looked up cocktail recipes for a lemongrass plantation iced tea and nothing came up.  We decided to create on ourselves.   The lemongrass tea cocktail is refreshing but the subtle dryness doesn’t quite quench the thirst.   It can be a little dangerous because we seemed to refilling the glass more than often.  ~Tipsy~ Enjoy creating your own cocktails with the Kai Lemongrass Vodka!

Chili Pepper Water Recipe by Sam Choy

2 cups filtered water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed
6 medium Hawaiian (or locally available) chili peppers

Sterilize a 16-ounce bottle in a hot water bath for 3 minutes, and allow to cool a little.
Bring 2 cups of filtered water to a boil. Place salt, vinegar, garlic, and chilies in the bottle.
Pour the 2 cups of water into the bottle and stir.
Let stand for about 3 to 4 days before using.


Saigon Plantation Cocktail

1 3/4 oz. Kai Lemongrass Vodka
1 3/4 oz. Pineapple Juice
3 1/2 oz. Sweetened Iced Tea

Add all the ingredients to ice. Shake vigorously and pour all including ice into a tall glass.



Category : Reviews &Spirits

Dessert by the Shot: Pinnacle Cake and Cupcake Frosting Vodka

Cake + Frosting + alcohol= a Johnny Cupcake party?  May be after 5 shots, you may think so, but actually it’s the new flavors in the vodka world.   With the cupcake boom, it would be only natural that it’s popularity overflow into the liquor world.  Our appetite for desserts are now available for us who crave a liquid diet.  Cake Vodka by Pinnacle is now available among all of their other edible  flavors like Cotton Candy and Whipped.   Cupcake Vodka is now available with Frosting, Chiffon, and Devil’s Food.

Pinnacle Cake vodka smells and tastes exactly like yellow cake.  Caution, it is sweet.  Simply, it can easily be shaken and taken as a shot.  We first mixed it with Dekuyper Buttershots… whoa, way too sweet.  It may need a little sour to balance out the sweetness, perhaps a squeeze of lemon.

Cupcake Frosting vodka faintly smells and tastes like white frosting.  It’s more vodka than flavor, but a more mixable vodka to accommodate a sweeter addition like peach schnapps.

Not only vodka brands are developing the more unusual flavors.  Syrups like Torani are always introducing new flavors.  We’ve experimented with Gingerbread and Peanut Butter.   The possibilities of cocktail creations are endless! Regardless of all the new sweet flavors coming out,  I’m still anxiously waiting for the bacon vodka to arrive in Hawaii.

Suggestions on what cocktails to create…

One example of the Pinnacle Cake Vodka recipes from the Pinnacle website

Birthday Cake Shot

1oz. Pinnacle Cake Vodka
1 tsp Dry Vanilla Cake Mix
1/2 oz. Chocolate Liqueur
1/2 oz. Half and Half
Cream Vanilla

Add all the ingredients to ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a shot glass, top with Cream Vanilla and colored sprinkles. Happy Birthday!

Pinnacle Cake Recipes

Cupcake Frosting Recipe




Category : Spirits

Bulleit Rye

We were fortunate to squeeze in a visit from Master of Whisky, Tom Turner, and taste the Bulleit Rye last week.  By the way, rye whiskies are making a nice comeback into the market, hooray!  Back in 2004, Tom Bulleit started developing the Bulleit Rye. With requests from the trade, it became a priority to move the project into production.  The Bulleit Rye is 95% rye and 5% malted barley and aged between 4 and 7 years.  Turner explained that the 5% malted barley is used to enzymatically breakdown the unmalted rye seed.  Thus producing a touch of sweetness to the spicy rye. Delicious!! 

On a side note, Turner pointed out that whiskies in the 1980’s declined in consumption.  Distilleries shutdown and production was reduced.  Like many trends, they fall out of fashion and then years later there’s a revival.  Whiskies, beers (aka craft beer), gins, and cigars are making a fashionable comeback with new packaging and higher price tags.  Certain distilleries that are considered the main component in popular blended whiskies are playing catch up in their single malts. Many 10 year whiskies are being held back to become a 12 year just to keep up with the supply.  Yes, whiskey does need time to age so for the vodka folk, keep your comments to yourself, thank you.  Not only has the demand drove prices up for an aged product but what about the raw materials??  Grain and fuel prices have only gone up due to the wrath of mother nature and the nature of politics.  With rollercoaster economic trends, how long will this ride last?  Hopefully for my sake, longer than my lease…

Back to the Bulleit Rye, currently we are sold out.  In Hawaii, the 750 ml will arrive in late June.

Category : Spirits

Hijos de Villa Tequilas and Mocambo Anejo Rum

I try not to ruffle any feathers but some may question my ‘obsession’ with bottle shapes especially in the shape of firearms.  I personally don’t own a registered firearm or a paintball gun because some might agree that it might not be a good idea if I did.  Unfortunately, I have not tried the Just Arrived tequila from Hijos de Villa nor the Mocambo Anejo rum prior to posting like other ‘experienced’ bloggers would.  My apologies for my hastiness, but pictures are worth more than my opinion.

Not only do Hijos de Villa make tequila in ‘cool’ bottles but they’re the first distillery in Mexico to have a pear tequila liqueur with a pear in the bottle like the european ‘poire williams’ brandy.

Category : Spirits