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Suntory Time

February 23, 2018

Before this week, the only thing I knew about Suntory whisky I learned from Bill Murray. Or maybe I should say Sophia Coppola? Regardless, one could argue that the movie Lost in Translation had at its centerpiece a commercial shoot for Suntory whisky.

You could also argue that the movie was all about Bill Murray singing More Than This. Man. That scene still gives me chills.

Here’s a funny coincidence. In the end credits of the Bill Murray movie Stripes, there’s a thank you to Jim Beam. And now Jim Beam is owned by Suntory, which Murray made famous in this indie flick.

Small world.

Well, now I know Kyle. He’s the rep for the full line of Beam Suntory brands through much of New York, and not only did he give me an education on Japanese whisky, but he was also one of my co-judges in Monday’s Battle of the Bartenders at Savoy Taproom. Which just so happened to be George Fiorini’s last hoorah before leaving the region.

Yes. That’s sad. I was crying tears into my whisky all night long. But the good news is that he’s leaving behind a lot of talented bartenders to fill his shoes. And I know that too, because I got to try some of their drinks.

Sam is the man.

My favorite drink of the night came from the fellow who combined lychees with anime in a long drink topped with soda water and complemented with sake and lemon juice. The anime was playing on the iPhone while we drank it. Gimmicks aside, this thing was very good. And if I have any one regret about how I spent my Monday (and I have a few) it’s that this drink won’t be on the Savoy cocktail menu.

One of the hardest things about cocktail competitions is that cocktails—by design—mask the base spirits from which they are made. That’s their raison d’etre. But by diluting the relatively delicate Suntory Toki whisky with seltzer and other complimentary flavors, it gave the base spirit time to shine.

However, when one judge is dead set against lychee and owns the bar, the argument is hard to win.

Especially when all three judges can agree on George’s delicious drink, made using sugar snap pea syrup and a toasted sesame oil washed Suntory Toki he had made in advance. With a squeeze of orange zest over the top, its bright green color, the complexity of sesame, and the whisky still managing to come through, this was a winner in appearance, taste, creativity, and use of Suntory Toki. And those were the criteria for which the drinks were judged.

Chef Matt made a badass drink with bonito aquafaba. That’s right, it was flavored with dried fish flakes, tamari, pickled ginger, and pomello juice. The flavors were fantastic, daring, and deeply savory. Emily Kidd made an aromatic chocolate whisky drink that was silky and complex, even if the base spirit got washed out a bit too much. Barman Bill was totally unafraid to bring a drink with carrot, curry, and cilantro to the tournament. Man, that was good. But again the delicacy of Toki got a bit lost.

Emma, who will be filling George’s shoes, came in second with with her showstopper of a well-balanced spicy cocktail featuring the Toki in addition to yellow chartreuse, a papaya-serrano shrub, and lemon juice. The glass was presented with a half rim of spicy salt, and her drink was simply beautiful.

There were more drinks too, and they all had something to love, be it the thought, the whimsy, the mouthfeel, or the presentation.

Yes, George is leaving New York. But his winning drink “Toki is of the essence” will be made long after he has departed. And the Savoy will go on. There’s an impressive amount of talent behind that bar.

Now I just need to figure out when Sam is working to see if I can convince him to make another batch of that lychee puree on a night when I can come in for a drink.

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