Michito Kaneko (MK), owner of Nara’s Lamp Bar and DIAGEO Global World Class Bartender of The Year 2015 visited Singapore earlier this week and did a guest stint at the Manhatten Bar, Regent Singapore. To commemorate his visit, Mr Kaneko prepared several cocktails with Mars Whisky. Highlight worthy is the Iwai Tradition which will be aged in the Rickhouse of Manhattan for a month before hitting the bar’s menu for guests to order.
(above) Manhattan’s first rick house cocktail featuring a Japanese whisky and a recipe by a Japanese bartender. Named 'From Forest' or 森から, the recipe pairs the flavourful malt-driven blended whisky (aged in a combination of ex-sherry and bourbon casks) with sweet vermouth and Michito’s home-made forest bitters made with ingredients like hinoki, Japanese citrus, and burdock.
I spoke to the soft spoken Mr Kaneko to find out more about his passion for his craft and this special cocktail.
CWA: How did your passion for whisky start?
MK: When I started bartending at the age of 20, my mentor was a famous whisky collector who taught me how to recognize good whiskies. His love for whiskies rubbed off me and i have started collecting whiskies. To date i have about 1000 bottles in my personal collection.
CWA: What was the inspiration behind From Forest?
MK: In From Forest, I am trying to bring 2 mountains together into 1 drink. Mars's Shinshu Distillery (the distillery of Iwai whiskies) is located near Mount. Komagatake and Nara, the city I come from is located near the mountains as well.
CWA: Do you see any difference in the drinking preferences between Asian and Western customers?
MK: There were very different drinking styles 3 years ago. Asian customers want to drink Japanese whisky on its own whereas European customers wanted to have Japanese whisky in cocktails. Now, the trend is similar and they all want to have cocktails.
CWA: How did you infuse that Japanese element in From Forest?
MK: I try to balance the flavour of nature in my cocktails. My homemade forest bitters use a lot of natural Japanese ingredients. In my cocktails, you will notice cypress, Japanese burdock and citrus skin from my own grapefruit tree. My tree is grown in the mountains and produces very high quality fruits. I want to bring Japanese nature to Singapore through this balance in my cocktails.
CWA: We realized that you use one special ingredient in one of your other cocktails named Colourless (which we tasted). Tell us why did you decide to add vinegar to Colourless?
MK: To use lemon and citrus in this cocktail alone would have been too acidic and they tend to create cloudy cocktails. With vinegar, I can achieve the clear colourless look that I've envisioned. Vinegar also evaporates to create a pleasant scent with Iwai whisky and tone the flavour.
Mars Whisky is Japan's third whisky company after Yamazaki and Nikka Whisky. With high quality, mineral-rich water and distillation temperatures as low as -15°C, the conditions of the main Shinshu distillery located 798 metres above sea level in the Japanese Alps of Nagano Prefecture allows Mars to produce full flavoured and balanced whisky. There are currently two core expressions in the Mars Whisky range: the Iwai Japanese, and the Iwai Tradition.
Mars Whisky is distributed by selected importers and served at only selected bars in Singapore so look out for it and don't forget to order From Forest when you head down to Manhatten Bar at Regent Singapore for a drink!