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pairing   lost in translation

Suntory's Yamazaki 18 year old Japanese Whisky paired with Chuao's Rio Caribe bonbon and an Arturo Fuente Añejo cigar

 movie posterWho could ever forget that scene in the 2003 movie "Lost in Translations", of an improbably suave Bill Murray quoting that now famous line “For relaxing times, make it Suntory times” ?  The plot of this engaging comedy is about how a strange alliance turns into a special friendship.  This movie synopsis could easily be used to paraphrase the story of the birth of malt whisky in Japan.

While Sake may be more synonymous with our concept of that nation's spirit of choice, brown liquors made their appearance in the country as early as 1854, growing steadily in favor ever since.  According to the fun and informative website, American whiskey was introduced to Japan by Commodore Matthew Perry as a gift to the Emperor when treaties were signed to formally open trade with the West. Evidently “The Taste” caught on and in the 1800’s through early 1900’s, several companies cropped up to manufacture what was known as that foreign spirit. But it was through the strange alliances and special friendships of one chemist with several Scots, that distilling secrets would be decoded and nurtured to result in Japan’s rise to become the second largest global producer of malt whisky.

templeThe story begins with the dreams of one man, Masataka Taketsuru, to make “genuine” whisky in Japan. In 1918, this son of a family of Sake brewers, was sent by his employer Osaka based spirits maker Settsu Shuzo, to attend chemistry classes in Glasgow, Scotland. He was to learn everything he could about Scotland’s whisky making process. To do so, this enterprising and fearless young man traveled to Speyside, where he literally knocked on the doors of distilleries requesting a crash course in their operations.  J.R. Grant, then general manager of Longmorn Distillery allowed a five day visit, thus opening the door to opportunity.  But it was the friendship of Forsyth James Wilson, a Glasgow Royal College chemistry professor, that helped Taketsura secure a five month apprenticeship at the Hazelburn Distillery in Campbeltown. Upon his return to Japan, he was unable to convince employer Shuzo to invest in the required distillery equipment.  Ironically it was businessman Shinjiro Torri who actually capitalized on Taketsuru’s new found technical mastery.  In 1923 they joined forces to build and operate Yamazaki, the first distillery in Japan, for the company which eventually came to be named Suntory. In 1934 Taketsuru established Nikka Whisky and started his own distillery in Hokkaido, known as Yoichi. Nikka and Suntory, now rivals, clearly dominate the whisky market in Japan. (Beyond the summary here, we encourage you to explore more fascinating details on the history of Japanese whisky at .)

yamazaki 18 120Suntory’s Yamazaki distillery is located between the cities of Kyoto and Osaka, close to the forested hills that provide a picturesque backdrop to the Kansai plain. Here pure waters, a cool climate and high humidity contribute to an ideal maturation environment for malt whisky. Processes today are still faithful to what Taketsuru learned in Scotland. Yamazaki is matured in American, Spanish and Japanese oak barrels.  Today, inductee to the Bourbon Hall of Fame and foremost authority on brown spirits, Lincoln Wesley Henderson serves as Master Distiller.  In this role, he is responsible for the quality of all new and maturing spirits.

The Yamazaki 18 year old is luscious and intensely flavorful.  Maturation in sherry casks is evident on the nose, as well as the palate.  Sherry combines with toffee to blend into an almost resinous note with a faint whiff of leather at the tail.  This dram is full, rich and slightly creamy in texture.  On the palate cinnamon stewed oranges and honeyed fruit pierce a veil of oak and almond nuttiness in the background.  The finish is dry, spicy and satisfying. The masterful orchestration of flavors has real depth.  This is an extremely well balanced spirit that is anything but timid on the tongue. 

 rio caribesmallWith this pairing we wanted to accentuate the subtler oaky, nutty notes of this dram rather than the explosive fruit flavors.  For this we chose Chuao Chocolatier's Rio Caribe bonbon.  Its almond and hazelnut praline buried in a fudgy center fillinf, just fits the ticket for this pairing.  Rio Caribe is enrobed in a milk chocolate that is so rich you would swear its pure dark cacao.  The slightly crunchy texture adds another dimension to this wonderfully decadent experience.   


While some men dream of whisky, others dream tobacco. Much like bringing single malt whisky to Japan, there is a story behind growing the perfect cigar wrapper leaf in the Dominican Republic.

arturo fuente logo copyYou would expect this story to begin in Cuba, and it does. Arturo Fuente learned the art of cultivating top quality tobacco, and manufacturing handmade cigars from his father in Cuba. But the birth of A. Fuente Cigar Company actually took place in Ybor City, Tampa, Florida USA, cigar capital of the world in 1912. Arturo's son, Carlos Sr. followed his father exactly, also born into the cigar business, and worked in the factory every day after school.

However, the first of several disasters that defined the courage of the Fuente family occurred -- the factory burned down in 1924. To pay off his creditors, Arturo worked for other cigar manufacturers until the 1940's, when he began business again as Arturo Fuente Cigar Company from the back of his home. His flourishing business allowed him to move to a two-story factory in 1950, and again to a four story building back in Ybor City in the early '60's. Up until then, many of the cigars produced by Fuente were using Cuban tobacco, but the US embargo with Cuba changed all that, and Fuente had to look for other sources for his tobacco. During this period, Carlos Sr. had a son - Carlos Fuente, Jr. and once again the family business had an heir.

In the 1980's, producing hand-rolled cigars in Tampa became a lost art, partly due to the inability to find skilled workers, and production was shifted to a new factory in Nicaragua. But that fledgling operation was burned to the ground by the rebel Sandinistas. After moving to Honduras, a second factory was also demolished by fire accidentally. Forced again to move, the Fuente family found their permanent home and located their factories in Santiago, Dominican Republic.  The prime tobacco growing region in the Dominican Republic is located in the Yaque Valley and is similar  in what the Vuelta Abajo is to Cuba. This area begins on the outskirts of Santiago and continues northwest to the town of Esperance. The region is about six miles wide and is bordered by two mountain ranges, where the soil is rich and deep.

The Fuentes bought tobacco rather than farming it, but Carlos Jr. dreamed of owning a farm and growing premium Dominican tobacco. He also dreamed of growing wrapper tobacco, a feat no one to date had ever performed in the Dominican Republic.  Past history was dogged by failure and an industry bias towards Cuban, Connecticut, Ecuadorian or Sumatran tobacco for wrapper. Even as late as the 1980's with nearly every U.S. cigar manufacturer having stake in the Dominican tobacco industry, no one, not even private farmers successfully grew wrapper.

In 1990 his dream came closer to reality when Carlos Jr. visited the 50 acre farm in the tiny town of El Caribe, where Angel Oliva, chairman of Oliva tobacco, had planted a test plot of piloto Cubano. When Carlos Jr. saw the tobacco, he got excited - the leaf was like silk - elastic, oily, and had a fantastic aroma and texture. But in the early '90's, no one would order Dominican wrapper leaf because it didn't exist in great quantity, and if nobody ordered it, the Olivas wouldn't grow it. A cycle that had to be broken, and the Fuente family were the ones to do it.

Cigar manufacturers are very particular about their tobacco, in the 1990's anyone would tell you that the most beautiful wrapper in the world wouldn't sell if it came from a country not known for wrapper leaves. It was the cigar men's reliance on their existing knowledge of what each seed type grown in each country tasted like, that inhibited experimentation. It was up to Carlos Jr. to prove them wrong, and in 1991 they did it with their first crop.

Today, cigar experts and critics have agreed that the silken wrapper leaves from  El Caribe have few equals anywhere in the world. The plantation which produces the tobacco, now called Chateau de la Fuente, has expanded to produce wrapper for numerous brands of Arturo Fuente cigars - most notably the OpusX and the Añejo lines. And the Fuente family earned a footnote in the history of tobacco as being the first to successfully grow wrapper leaf in the Dominican Republic.

afuenteanejo horizA lengthy tie in to this month's cigar selection, the Arturo Fuente Añejo, but it explains the journey behind the production of this cigar, and the reason why it is so rare and special. Let alone the other capricious factors that influence the tobacco industry - hurricanes, drought, floods, wind, cold, fire...  The Añejo was born out of the disastrous results of a hurricane, when wrapper leaf for the OpusX line was damaged, a substitution had to be found. It was a gorgeous five-year old aged Colorado broadleaf maduro wrapper leaf that took it's place with the original binder and filler blend and the Añejo was created. Aged in cognac barrels, this cigar is truly elegant and amazingly rich, spicy and slightly sweet.  Produced in limited quantities to maintain quality, and released only at Father's Day and Christmas, the Añejo is one of the most exclusive cigars in the world.

Flavors upon lighting are woody with a definite cognac flavor. But as the cigar heats up, other flavors appear in the creamy smoke - fruit, wood, cinnamon, burnt sugar or molasses. Mid-way through the cigar and the maduro flavors come forth into the mix - chocolate, coffee, earth. A cedary spicy flavor builds towards the last inch or so, then promptly wanes, revealing sweet vanilla, almond and cinnamon flavors to carry through to the end. The Añejo is a fabulous ride, all the while smooth and never overpowering.

Paired with the Yamazaki 18, the sweet molasses and cognac flavors become more distinct in the whisky, as the cigar tends to highlight these notes. The rich, creamy smoke dulls the alcohol's slight burn and makes for a smoother experience, and counteracts the drying finish of the whisky as well. Enjoy these two and see what flavor notes you can pull out and experience what the dreams of men can achieve with the best of Japanese single-malt and the rarest of Dominican cigars.

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