So Long and Thanks for all the Hangovers: Re-Bacheloring Adventures in Portland

by Justin D'Olier on February 19, 2013 | (4) Comments |

Last weekend, I visited Portland for a re-bachelor party with my buddies Shorts, Dinger, Power Nap, and Esquire (our lawyer).

Wait a second. What the deuce is a re-bachelor party?

I’m so glad you asked

A re-bachelor party is what happens to a bachelor party when the future husband’s fiancee decides she doesn’t want to get married and kicks said future husband out of their house (at nine in the morning, no less) some time between accepting his proposal and walking down the aisle.

Yes, that actually happened. No, I still can’t fathom how someone could do that. Yes, in retrospect, it’s for the best. No, the fact that someone who was with you for about half a decade and agreed to marry you would end your engagement without so much as a heads up does not make any sense. Yes, she is a smelly pirate hooker.

But I digress…

The change from bachelor party to re-bachelor party did not materially alter the trajectory of the trip; it did, however, kick it into high gear.

Travelling to Portland with four bartenders and a lawyer was never destined to end well. This simply ensured that it end in the most ugly way imaginable.

Suffice to say, this article will not divulge the details of the trip. Not for the trite, insulting, and infantile excuse of “What happens in Portland stays in Portland”, but, more appropriately that divulging all the details would diminish the mystery and mystique of one life’s truly epic adventures and, more importantly, would likely serve as incriminating evidence in future legal cases brought upon the involved parties.

Much like how a great horror movie hides the identify of the monster for as long as possible, it’s better – for everyone, really – if you don’t know everything. Hell, most of us don’t even remember everything. All you need to know is that we put a dent in Portland (and Portland put a dent in us).

In lieu of divulging the assuredly incriminating evidence of this weekend, I will simply issue well deserved thank yous to all the parties involved in making this weekend so special, so extraordinary, and so sensationally sublime. I hope to see many of you back in Hawaii so we can return the overwhelming and humbling generosity.

Without further ado, allow me to give a warm Drink with Aloha thank you…

… to Debbie our bartender at the Honolulu Airport for the beers, smiles, and side shots of Jameson.

… to the guy who blew his nose in the urinal next to Shorts at the Honolulu Airport for permanently raising the bar for most disgusting act you could perform in an airport bathroom with your clothes on.

… to the smelly pirate hooker for sending a message to her ex-fiancee wishing him a weekend filled with “fun and friendship”, kick starting an endless stream of “fun and friendship” jokes.

… to the Budweiser distributors for stocking the Honolulu Airport with a healthy supply of Budweiser aluminum bottles to ensure that we could drink at the airport while our hand and lips were unbearably cold. (The designer of the aluminum bottle falls right below the creator of ultra-bright permanent-blindness-inducing fog lights on cars on my list of people I would actively choose to not save from a tiger attack if given the opportunity.)

…To our bartenders at the Doug Fir for the beers and the best advice we didn’t need on what to do in Portland… “go to a strip club and do not drive”. (It is truly amazing how frequently people say “go to a strip club” when you ask them what to do in Portland. Judging from my conversations, all people do in Portland is eat, drink, and look at boobs. In related news, Portland is awesome.)

… to Lulu the stripper with great eye make-up sitting outside Union Jack’s for the cigarette, polite conversation, and helpful recommendation to avoid actually entering Union Jack’s due to the general bad attitude of the dancers that evening. (Yes, a stripper actually convinced us NOT to enter her strip club. In defense of the aforementioned unfriendly dancers, Lulu did say “they do great pole work though”. Also, Power Nap gave a glowing report on the attitude and abilities of the ladies of “Union Jack” after a return visit.)

… to Steve McCarthy from Clear Creek distillery for the incredible hospitality, behind the scenes tour, and making what is almost certainly the best pear brandy in the United States. (His grappa ain’t to shabby either.)

… to Jody from the Clear Creek tasting room for graciously hosting us and laughing at the world’s worst and most offensive religious themed plum brandy joke of all time. (No, I will not repeat it. Ever.)

… to the surly bartender at Joe’s Cellar who poured shots of Jameson like she knew us.

… to the gentlemen wearing jogging shorts over their yoga pants at Joe’s Cellar for breaking the record for most times anyone has ever said they were not gay in one day – my unofficial count ended at 17 – and for the grapefruit and well vodkas. (Travelor’s Tip: Never drink well vodka at an establishment where a round of beers for five people costs $11.)

… to the cougars at North 45 for hitting on me and Shorts even after I proved borderline unable to drink a beer without spilling it all over the floor. (Update: One of the cougars emailed Shorts and I after the trip. Apparently we agreed to help her plan her neice’s wedding. Also, she thanked us for not spilling <em>her</em> drink. For the record, I have no recollection of this conversation taking place.)

… to Dinger for having the foresight to call ahead and tell the staff at Bull Creek distillery that visiting would not be in the best interest of any parties involved given our current levels of imbibement.

… to the bartender at Matador for serving Shorts and I the first Negroni he had ever made.

… to the staff at Raven and Rose for the fantastic hospitality, great drinks, and for having the foresight to know that 9:30 PM was an appropriate time to politely ask us to leave.

… to Dinger for buying the shot of 20 year-old whiskey that ended my night. (If you’re going to go out, do it with a bang, no?)

… to Brian, from Tasty & Alder, for picking up Dinger after his barstool had seen enough antics and for the best improved whiskey cocktail I’ve ever imbibed.

…to Esquire for providing sufficient legal council to keep Shorts from becoming the first person to ever get jailed for whistling minutes after being kicked out of the Low Brow for sleeping on a table. Also, for leading a group discussion on whether it would be better to go to prison, since they might have good coffee and vegan food at Portland jails.

… to Power Nap for concluding that he needed a much better reason than coffee and vegan food to go to prison, which, in retrospect, was the right call.

… to Patrolman Shaw for not introducing any members of our group to the fine coffee and vegan food of the Portland Correctional Facilities.

… to Stacey Dash and Alicia Silverstone for keeping me company as I lay in bed in the next morning too hungover to turn off Clueless.

… to Chris from Deschuttes for buying lunch for our crew, entertaining us with phenomenal stories all morning, and somehow convincing us to love Deschuttes more than we already did and ever thought possible.

… to Lee and Patrick from Bull Run Distilling company for the incredible behind the scenes tour, amazing chinnato barrel aged whiskey – I can’t stress how good this was – and delicious aquavit (120 proof and still sippably smooth. Incredible).

… to Patrick for coming out for “one drink”.

… to Tommy Klus for guiding us on a truly epic evening of adventure and for staking a claim to the world’s greatest coaster flipper.

… to Tommy’s dog, Mabel, for talking with Dinger on not one,or two, but 3 full car rides. (As we told Dinger, this was not what we had in mind when we told him to go talk to some bitches.)

… to Brandon Wise for the staggering generosity, incredible food, and heart stoppingly amazing drinks. If you’re ever in Portland, visit Brandon at the Imperial order the Duck Meatball and have him make you a drink. Any drink. Doesn’t matter what it is. Ah. May. Zing. You’re welcome in advance.

… to our bartender at the Red Star for proving that it is possible to ruin a Hemmingway Daquiri.

… to Dinger for passing out on the table at the Bronze Horse while a hot girl was rubbing his shoulders.

… to Krystin and Cristine for inspiring this picture:

... to the giraffe for posing so beautifully in the picture.

… to the giraffe for posing so beautifully in the picture.

… to Esquire for waking up at 1 AM when we banged on his door after previously passing out so he could accompany us to Casa Diablo. (As Esquire notes, “can the record state that I had a shot of Fernet in my hand before I put my shoes on?”.)

…to he girls at Casa Diablo for reasons that will understandably go unnamed but may have involved a snake and dangerous amounts of blood.

… to Brian, the Blazer’s staff member, for settling the debate once and for all about whether I could field a starting five with my friends that could beat a Women’s Division I team (yes) and the shots of Jaeger.

…to Bethany, the hottest bartedner in the city of Portland – for the next 10 days anyway; enjoy Santa Barbara, Bethany – for the Surfer on Acid and one of the world’s most engaging smiles. Call me.

… to Jacob for taking me to Portland’s most inspiring landmark. (A sense of overwhelming awe and revenrance aren’t the first things that pop in to your mind when you Google “Mill Ends Park”, but trust me: it’s life chaning in person.)

… to Petie and Deb for provinding a witty series of hilarious and catty commentary during the thoroughly entertaining Grammy’s.

… to the city of Portland, for providing the framework for one of the world’s most epic weekends.

It was fun, Portland. Let’s do it again some time.


Addendum: Though Esquire and I did not accompany them, Shorts, Dinger and Power Nap headed to Seattle for two more days of re-Bacheloring. Shorts sent the following addendum to the story: “I know you missed it but ‘one last shot’ at Zig Zag in Seattle was all time; Brian should and will pay for that! What else happened in Seattle should never be mentioned.

Apparently, fun was had in Seattle as well. God bless the Pacific Northwest.

The Dangers of Ordering an Iced Tea in Malaysia [Asian Adventures 2012]

by Justin D'Olier on August 23, 2012 | Comments Off |

From June 15-July 3, I joined 18 other MBA students on an Asian Field Study academic immersion program that visited Tokyo, Japan; Shanghai, China; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Over the next few weeks, I will recount the best of those adventures here on Drink with Aloha. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as we enjoyed living them. 

Of all the cities we visited on our whirlwind tour of Asia, Kuala Lumpur had the best food and, frankly, it wasn’t close.  China offered an impressive array of flavors. Vietnam’s fresh vegetables and noodle dishes were sensational. Tokyo’s seafood was pants-wettingly delicious. But, Malaysia… Oh, Malaysia. Nestled between India, Thailand, Singapore, and China, Malaysia delivers a culinary explosion of epic proportions. The combination of diverse cultural influences and intense flavors provide an unrivaled gastronomical experience. You can’t trip and fall in Malaysia without landing in a bowl of delicious peanut curry noodle soup, chili pepper crab, or something else really cool you’ve probably never heard of before. Malaysia is the hipster of culinary paradises.

Ironically, during our stay in the Mecca of meals, our group met with the management of Chili’s. Yes, Chili’s. The fried food, microwave-happy haven of genericized underwhelming tex-mex slop… and onion blossoms. (I’m grudgingly obligated to give credit for anything as sensational as a flowering mound of friend onion glory. Congratulations, Chili’s. Your epic failure is not all encompassing.) For some reason, the group decided to compound the bizarre decision to visit Chili’s with an even more perplexing decision to eat at Chili’s. Why they decided to do so is still unknown to me. We were hanging out at the Megan Fox pajama party of food destinations and the group decided to go home and curl up with a bowl of Kraft macaroni and cheese and the latest episode of Gossip Girl. At least they had onion blossoms.

Thankfully, CodeRed realized the folly of abandoning the culinary equivalent of a bra-and-panty laden fiesta of a Hollywood starlet regardless of the comforting allure of Gossip Girl. While the group dined on soggy, microwaved, fried congealed meat parts, CodeRed and I hit the food court of the mall for some Indian Food.

Feeling happy about my meal choice, I decided to add a flourish to my lunch with a refreshing Malaysian iced tea.  I perused the iced tea section of the menu and my eyes caught a glimpse of something called an “Iced Kacang”. It sounded awful, probably contained lethal levels of pesticide, and was likely going to be sweet enough to give a giraffe kidney failure, but what the fuck. I was in Malaysia.

I told the server, “I’d like an Iced Ka-Kang”.

He looked at me, cocked his head to the side, smirked, and said, “You like an Iced KaCHONG”?

To which I replied, “YEAH! KA-CHONG ME!”

The next thing I know, this guy grabbed a two liter sized crystal goblet and dumped in a tablespoon of unidentifiable green goo. Next he dusted off a 2000 year old tupperware from underneath the counter and placed two huge scoops of rainbow colored gelatinous blocks in the oozing center of the goo lake. He followed this up with a sizable handful of what appeared to be mochi.

At this point, I realized that I was probably not getting an iced tea and that I should probably make a break for it and abandon the growing shame in glass being built in front me, but I was too embarrassed to admit my mistake to Captain KaChong.

After scooping seven bubble-teas worth of gelatinous mass into a goblet, my new best friend moved my goblet under a three foot tall giant mechanical contraption that resembled an industrial size lathe and placed a block of ice on top of the machine. He then proceeded to flip a switch on the device, which made the counter, the floor and my molars start to shake and set in motion a series of events that filled my jell-o-goblet with a two foot high mound of shaved ice. The pile was the size of a small watermelon.

After making the ball of ice big enough to sustain an Eskimo community for a few weeks, he drenched the ice city with eight different types of syrup, ranging in flavor from durian to what I can only guess was some type of tree bark. He had a look of bemused satisfaction as he incorporated every type of bizarre, questionable, seriously-we-made-this-just-to-fuck-with-tourists flavor imaginable. But, we were not done yet. Oh no. Not by a long shot. An iced KaChong is so much more than a green goo based, gelatinous covered hot mess of a shave ice.

The Chong Ranger sprinkled crushed peanuts over the top of the cantaloupe-on-steroids sized rainbow ice mound. Then he whipped out an economy sized can of condensed milk and attempted to put my train-wreck of a dessert out of its misery by drowning it in warm, sticky, sweet, milk.

Thinking he must be finished, I motioned to pick up my cold, sticky goblet of shame. Not so fast. Mr. Dessert Malaysia 2012 smiled and wagged a finger in my direction, letting me know that my embarrassment was not nearly complete. With a flourish, he dipped a big silver spoon into a large plastic tub of creamed corn and draped a sizable mound on top the shave ice from Hell. His large smile indicated that he took no small amount of pleasure from putting the coup de gras atop the great KaChong. He placed a metal spoon the size of a salad tong on my plate (apparently, you’re supposed to shovel your KaChong down at rapid speed) and smiled ear to ear as he slid the plate across the counter towards my look of shock and awe.

He gave me two huge thumbs up and shouted “KACHONG!” Either he was intimately aware of the unforgettable mistake I had made or he thought I was the coolest, whitest Malaysian of all time.

Iced Kacang

My icy shame mound

I examined the icy sea of technilcolor sticky corn goo as I walked back to the table. As soon as CodeRed saw the look on my face and the cup of disgrace on my tray, he started laughing uncontrollably.

I shoved my icy failure into the middle of the table and tried to forget about it as I polished off my Indian food. CodeRed and I eyed the slowly melting shame glacier while we ate our lunch. When I finished the rest of my meal, I took a deep breath, summoned my nerve, picked up the world’s largest serving spoon and took a big bite of chong. The experience was a mixture of sweet, salty, fruity, savory, stickiness, ice, crunch and, of course, corn. Sweet and salty corn. Because nothing brings a shave ice together quite like a large helping of sweet, salty, soggy corn.

I gingerly scooped a few jell-o nugs out of the chong in an attempt to find some vague redeeming value in the icy mistake. No such luck. The gelatin nuggets popped and crunched in my mouth like a fruity eye ball, releasing a sweet goo injection into my throat at rapid speed. Awesome.

Finally, I admitted defeat at the hand of the great Chong and laid down my weapon.

I invited Cody to have a bite. He politely declined. (I believe his exact words were “There is no fucking way I’m touching the Chong, dude.”) We left the remnants of the slowing melting corn mountain on the table and walked away changed men.

I may not have been man enough to climb the great KaChong Matterhorn, however, I’m vaguely certain that somewhere, in a random shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur, you’ll find a picture of my face hanging in the restaurant to commemorate the one and only person without melanin who has ever gone toe to toe with the Great Chong.

I am the George Mallory of iconic Malaysian iced corn desserts.

The Unifying Power of the High Five [Asian Adventures 2012]

by Justin D'Olier on August 1, 2012 | (3) Comments |

From June 15-July 3, I joined 18 other MBA students on an Asian Field Study academic immersion program that visited Tokyo, Japan; Shanghai, China; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Over the next few weeks, I will recount the best of those adventures here on Drink with Aloha. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as we enjoyed living them. 

High Five

That was awesome! Let’s hit each other!

There is no gesture as fundamentally and uniquely American as the high five. The celebratory act of two individuals slapping the palms of their hands together in a cathartic release of exuberance exemplifies the brash, visceral, and in-your-face attitude of the United States (“That was awesome! Let’s hit each other!”).

Japan doesn’t roll like that. Japanese culture is much more reserved. (“That was awesome! Let’s celebrate independently in proud silence and ancestral reverence!”). The country is also significantly more germ conscious. Many people wear white masks when they walk around, which I assume is to either guard against an outbreak of SARS or to give the impression that everyone in Japan is a doctor. Needless to say, timid people wearing protective facial covering to guard against a potential future super-virus aren’t exactly excited about the prospect of swapping palm grease with loud, abrasive foreigners. Go figure.

High-fiving someone in Japan is the equivalent of getting to second base. It might happen if you’re lucky, but you probably need to take them out on a few dates first. Or at least get them drunk.

The high five becomes an inescapable force when intoxicated. When you see two people high five, you feel a strange internal desire compelling you to high five them, like a full contact yawn.

Other physical gestures do not work that way. If you see a guy run up and punch someone in the face, you don’t feel compelled to stroll up and whack em in the jaw. When you see a couple kissing, you don’t think to yourself, “Ooh, baby. I want in there after that guy finishes up.” Yet, when you see two people high five, a strange urge wells up inside you that makes you want to take part in the forceful palm ramming action. The high five is not to be denied.

The same principles applies in Japan, only more so. The combination of the high five’s natural infectious powers with the foreign tabboo of public physical contact, instigated by a staggering amount of alcohol, coalesce into a perfect storm of high-fiving.

No one high fives like a drunk Japanese guy. No one.

Our first night in Japan, CodeRed, Shack, Cash, Shimmer, and I went out looking for cheap drinks in Ginza, the neighborhood around our hotel. Those of you who know about Japan are laughing. For those of you that don’t know, Ginza is the old money district of Tokyo. It’s not uncommon for bars to charge $30 for cocktails and we were looking for dollar night. You’d have a better chance of finding a healthy vegan alternative at McDonald’s than a reasonably priced drink in Ginza.

After thirty minutes of fruitlessly wandering the streets of Ginza, we noticed a poster for a bar that appeared to be offering $3 drinks – I say appeared, because the sign was in kanji and none of us read Japanese.  The poster did have the numeral three on it though. The dark doorway on which the sign was posted opened into a dimly lit spiral staircase that led to God knows where. But, what the hell, right? Three dollar drinks!

The staircase wrapped around a few times as it lead us to the basement of the building. As I approached the end of the staircase, I noticed two things: 1) we had entered the world’s smallest bar and 2) every pair of eyes in the place was staring right at us, with a look that suggested that we had just broke through a window and walked into their living room. We had inadvertently stumbled into the ramshackle Japanese version of Cheers, only nobody knew our names.

The “bar” – retrofitted basement would be more appropriate – was about twenty feet by thirty feet with a row of seven seats facing a bar along both outside walls. The seats on the right side were taken, but the left side conveniently had five open seats. The other two were occupied by two, old, disheveled Japanese men wearing suits, drinking straight alcohol out of large tumblers, and talking in the loud, unmistakable tones of drunkenness.

Our group was bunched up at the bottom of the stairs, looking around at each other nervously, wondering what we should do. But, it was too late to turn around without risking considerable embarrassment and we were already committed to the quest for cheap drinks come hell, high water, or a bizarre local bar filled with a group of strangers wondering why we had broke into their home to drink their alcohol. Channeling our spirit of adventure, we took a seat.

Of course, I got to sit next to the drunk guys.

At first, there was no bartender behind the bar and no one came over to help. After a few uncomfortable minutes passed, an older Japanese lady – who was either a bartender or just someone who felt bad for the group of hopelessly lost gaijin, I’m still not sure which – walked behind the bar, served us a few small bowls of the world’s largest cornnuts (the corn kernels would have given the President of Monsato a hard-on for weeks), and looked at us with the expectant look of someone who clearly doesn’t speak your language and is waiting for you to initiate some form of communication.

Shimmer: Go Birru? (Translation: Five beer?)

Bartender/Foreign sympathizer: Hai! (Translation: Yes!)

(The lesson here: When traveling to a foreign country, make sure you know the word for “beer” and how to count to ten. The rest of the details will work out on their own.)

The language barrier effectively breached, the lady turned and poured five mugs of ice cold beer to accompany our genetically engineered corn snack.

The sight of a beer in my hand was apparently enough to convince the drunk guys at the end of the bar that they should attempt to communicate with me. The combination of their severe intoxication, limited knowledge of the English language, and my complete inability to speak Japanese led to a series of bizarre, virtually unintelligible questions where I understood one of every three or four words they said.

I’m pretty sure they first asked me where we were from. After that, it seemed like they wanted to know something about my thumb, whether we enjoyed pouring beer on ourselves, and, finally, what sounded like an inquiry about my age or the length of our stay in Japan, but ended with them pointing to their crotch. Wanting to distance myself from the crotch question as fast as humanly possible, I pointed to their glass and asked “What are you drinking?”

Drunk Guy #1 (beaming with pride): Scotch!
Drunk Guy #2 (also beaming with pride): Suntory Scotch! Very good. You try some.

I have a few rules when I travel and not wanting to anger drunk Japanese guys who point to their crotch in a small bar with no easily available exits is an important one, so I waved over the bartender/foreign sympathizer and used a combination of words and gesticulations to signal that I wanted a glass of whatever Tweedle Drunk and Tweedle Drunker were having. She smiled, set down a short glass in front of me, and grabbed an ice pick.

Now, I don’t care how sweetly she smiles at you, it’s difficult to feel comfortable when sitting directly in front of a woman brandishing a sharp impaling instrument above her head. Magnify that feeling exponentially when the person brandishing said instrument is standing in a strange bar in a foreign country located in the basement of a dilapidated office building with one exit, which happens to be blocked by two extremely intoxicated men. Furthermore, there’s something wholly unsettling about getting the thought of getting stabbed by someone smiling.

The lady raised the ice pick high in the air. I made preparations to dive into Shack’s lap. With one rapid motion the woman brought the pick down. As I moved to dive out of the way, I saw her direct the pick onto a large block of ice located directly in front of her on the bar, chipping off a large chunk of clear, hand cut ice into my glass.

Don’t ever say the Japanese lack a flair for the dramatic.

She then poured a generous amount of brown liquid from a jet black bottle into my glass.  The liquor cascaded slowly over the Mt. Fuji sized ice chunk in my glass. Realizing that I was in too deep to change my mind about drinking the mystery alcohol, I raised my glass towards my drunken Asian compatriots, prayed the beverage in my glass was potable, yelled an enthusiastic “KAMPAI!”, closed my eyes, and took a sip.

Ooh wee.

If you ever see Suntory Scotch in a jet black bottle, do yourself a favor and order a glass, doubly so if it’s poured over a giant ice cube cleaved by a random woman wielding a sharp object. The scotch was warming, strong, flavorful, smooth and lovely.

Score one for Japanese, American relations.

Inspired by the success of my scotch and the moment of cultural harmony, I turned to Shack and gave him a big high five.  This simple gesture brought my drunk friend’s conversation to a screeching halt. Short of taking off my shirt to reveal a pair of lovely C-cup breasts, nothing else I could have done could possibly have captured the attention of the drunk gentlemen to my left more than smacking Shack’s hand.

I set my scotch back on the bar and turned to the left to see both drunk men staring, mouth’s agape, trying to comprehend the magnitude of what they had just witnessed. One of them turned his palms up and looked down at them, contemplating his hands powerful ability to share a moment of triumph with other hands. The other friend cracked a huge smile and thrust his hand in my direction, clearly signaling that he wanted in on the action.

Without a moment’s hesitation, I gave him a solid smack on the palm and flashed him a thumbs up. His smile grew wider as he clenched both hands into fists and thrust them into the air like Usain Bolt crossing the finish line. His buddy, caught up in the elation of the moment, popped out of his chair, ran up to me and gave me a rousing two-fisted hand slap while yelling “KAMPAI!” at the top of his lungs. In this moment, the look on his face suggested that he had just achieved high five nirvana. He was one with the five. Siddartha HighFiveA.

In that moment, no language barrier or culture differences could misconstrue our shared joy. Despite our differences, we were of one mind and one hand. We didn’t know each other. We will never see each other again.  But, for that brief period, through the raw power of the high five, we were friends.

Caught up in the moment, me and my two new best friends raised our glasses and brought them together for one final toast, before simultaneously downing the contents of our cups in a salute to the glory of slapping hands.

Shortly thereafter, the pair wished us a fond farewell – I’m going to assume the jumbled of drunken sounds, smiles, and hand gestures was meant as such – and stumbled out of the bar, chattering excitedly to one another. I have no way of knowing, but I’d like to think they high-fived the whole way home.

I Learned Everything I Know About Drinking in Japan from a Ninja – Part 2 [Asian Adventures 2012]

by Justin D'Olier on July 18, 2012 | Comments Off |

From June 15-July 3, I joined 18 other MBA students on an Asian Field Study academic immersion program that visited Tokyo, Japan; Shanghai, China; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Over the next few weeks, I will recount the best of those adventures here on Drink with Aloha. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as we enjoyed living them. 

The following is Part 2 of the story how I learned everything I know about drinking in Japan from a ninja. You can read Part 1 here.

If you didn’t read Part 1, allow me to set the stage. My buddies, Boogie, Blondie, CodeRed, Shack, and I met some new friends in Japan who had taken us out for the evening when a ninja kicked through the wall of a building that led to the entrance of a cave and screamed that we needed to follow her, lest enemy forces attack us, before sprinting off into the darkness with the only source of light.

(No, really. That actually happened. It makes sense if you read Part 1. Well, more sense anyway. Scratch that, it still doesn’t make sense. But, it was awesome.)

Now, back to the cave…

As the ninja sprinted off into the cave with the only light, Boogie, Blondie, CodeRed and I exchanged one last “I-can’t-believe-this-is-really-happening” glance before taking off into the cave after the ninja. (For the record, yes, the fact that the four of us chased a ninja through a series of caves beneath the streets of Tokyo is still incredibly weird.)

Twenty feet ahead I caught a glimpse of the lantern, bobbing back and forth as the ninja sprinted through the abyss. I could barely make out stalactitites hanging from the cieling and the occasional glint of gold coins shining through the darkness of various passageways. Ocassionally, I caught a quick glimpse of something bizarre in the darkness.

Was that a treasure chest?

I’m going to pretend that wasn’t a skull.

There is no way I just saw a waterfall…

Up ahead I heard the vague sound of rushing water. The lantern came to an abrupt stop.

As I slowly approached the light, the pathway dropped into darkness over what appeared to be a river. The undeniable sound of rushing water filled the cave. I peered over the edge of the cliff and there it was: an actual rushing body of water, six feet across, blocking our procession further into the catacombs.

Ninjas. Treasure. Skulls. Swords. Lanterns. And now, an underground river. All that was missing was a Japanese Ashton Kutcher jumping out of the water to tell us we’d been punk’d.

Ninja with a sword

When a person with a sword tells you to run, you run.

While I waited for Takato Kutcher (or, would that be Shunsuke Kutcher?)to jump out of the river, the ninja turned to us and said, “The bridge is down. We need to find a way across or the enemy will surely destroy us.” (Sitting at my computer, in the safe confines of my bedroom, I can see the fanciful, somewhat comical nature of a tiny Japanese woman in black pajamas, holding an electrical candle in a lantern covering, putting the fear of God in unsuspecting visitors. However, at the time, this proclamation was life-threatening news. The enemy was almost upon us!)

With a glint in her eye, the ninja turned to us, wagged her finger and said, “But, don’t worry. I use ninja magic to bring bridge down. WAH-TAH!” Her gutteral scream coincided with a two-fisted point across the rushing torent of water. As if by (ninja) magic, a bridge descended from the opposite side of the cliff, providing a way forward.

The ninja quickly rushed across the bridge, urging us to follow. When we made it safely accross the bridge, she turned to us with an ashen look and said, “Oh no. The enemy is almost here!”. The sound of marching footsteps and oncoming soldiers filled the cave. “But, don’t worry,” our ninja guide said, the twinkle returing to her eye. “I use ninja magic to bring bridge back up. WAH-TAH!” With another violent two-fisted point accross the river, the ninja willed the bridge back into it’s orginal hidden position. Before I could ask the ninja if her magic skills worked as well at parting gridlocked traffic, she took off running again.

We followed the ninja around a turn in the cave and my jaw nearly hit the floor. The cavern opened into a giant, underground village that looked like a cross between a ninja hideout, Robin Hood’s fort, the caves from Disney’s Pirates of the Carribean ride, the Shire from Lord of the Rings, and the Ewok village. Wooden structures stood floor to cieling with rope bridges connecting the towers. Ninjas leaped between the buildings, carrying trays of food, pitchers of beer, and the occassional martini glass. Apparently, after running startled visitors through a system of underground tunnels, ninjas feel obligated to serve them haute cuisine and alcoholic beverages. This further cemented my belief that ninjas are awesome.

Every so often during our journey through Robin Hood’s Pirates of the ShireWok ninja village bar and grill, we would pass a screen hanging over the entrance to a cave. Through the gap between the edge of the screen and the mouth of the cave, we could barely make out groups of people sitting around a dining table, eating, talking, and laughing. A few rounds of sake seemed to have abated their fears about the enemy lurking on the other side of the bridge.

We followed our diminuitive ninja guide for a few minutes as we wandered through the labyrinthian village. Eventually, she reached a staircase leading to a hollowed out cave with a bird’s eye view of the village. She pointed up the stairs and said, “Welcome to the Dragon cave. If you need to use the bathroom, please ask for directions. Otherwise, you will wander the ninja caves forever.”

With that, she spun around and disappeared into the crowd of ninja waiters. I was a little surprised she didn’t vanish in a cloud of smoke.

Stunned silent with looks of bewilderment and smiles on our faces, CodeRed, Blondie, Boogie and I climed the stairs and took our seats at the long table in the Dragon Cave.

Five minutes later the rest of the group arrived. Our Japanese hosts, joined by two new friends, Keisuke and Akiko, are visibly laughing as Shack sports the same look of stupified wonder we’ve finally managed to wipe from our faces. Apparently, the evening has begun according to plan.

Me: “That was awesome!”

Takato (with a huge smile on his face): “I’m glad you liked it. This is our favorite place to take people from out of town.”

We spend a few minutes recounting the madness – ninjas, lanterns, skulls, rivers, treasure – and eventually decided that our hosts have taken us to the Japanese equivalent of the Paradise Cove luau. You would never visit the place on your own, but the experience of watching visitors faces when a ninja kicks down a door to a cave (or a fire dancer whips a flaming knife fifty feet in the air) is priceless. God bless the kitchy madness of the tourist trap.

A waiter hands us menus printed on ninja scrolls. We pick out an entree from a list of five choices and our hosts tell us that they’ll handle the rest of the ordering.

Within a minute, two pitchers of beer arrive. This was to become a common occurance. Every time I looked up a ninja was taking away an empty pitcher and replacing it with a full one. (Let me tell you, the childlike excitement that comes from a ninja handing you a full, icy pitcher of Kirin never gets old). Either this place specializes in serving pitchers of beer in large quantities or they are still telling stories about the crazy assholes who made them cart pitchers of Kirin up a flight of stairs to the Dragon Cave for the better part of four hours. I would put the over/under for number of pitchers we put down that night at 34 between ten people.

We did some drinking that night.

Before this evening, I had heard stories of drinking with Japanese people for the first time. My uncle is a pilot and spent considerable time working for Japan Airlines. During this time, he had numerous co-workers take him out for dinner for “a few drinks”. In Japan, “a few drinks” is code for “I’m going to get you so hammered you can barely stand and your speach consists of monosyllabic utterances to verify that, at your absolute drunkest, I can trust in your character.” You don’t drink to get drunk. You drink to establish trust. Drinking with a group of Japanese people is equal parts introduction and rite of passage. It is also a staggering amount of fun, emphasis on the staggering.

At this point, our first course arrived. Black ninja star crackers, haninging from a tree of breadsticks, with a matching dipping sauce shaped into a ninja star. Game on.

The courses came in waves. Seven? Eleven? Seventeen? I would beleive any number between seven and twenty four courses of food. Drinking from a neverending beer glass has a way of altering your perception.

Typically, during a night of heavy drinking, I channel my inner Phil Jackson and take a mid-dinner timeout to assess how much I’ve had to drink, slow things down a bit, and determine how to pace myself for the rest of the evening. Tonight? By the time I stumbled my way to the bathroom with the help of a ninja guide – without her help I would probably still be wandering through the ninja cave – I was toast. Completely floored. At this point, there was no turning back. I threw some water on my face, slapped my cheeks, put my big-girl drinking-panties on and went back to the table, ready to imbibe like a champ.

I arrive back at the table to hear Blondie make the fatal mistake of mentioning sake.

Haruto: “Do you guys like sake?”

Our fate has just been sealed. Within minutes, ninjas appear with ten sake cups and two large bamboo vessels filled with daiginjo. Our dignity, conincidentally, decides to leave upon the sake’s arrival. Did they take away our beer glasses? Of course not. This is Japan. You keep drinking until somone commits seppuku.

At this point in the evening, the conversation turned to what we all do for a living. Oh Lord. This is hard enough for me to do sober:

I write about alcohol in Hawaii.
I host a weekly talk radio show about University of Hawaii sports.
I do freelance web design and development.
I do freelance writing assignments.
I’m working on a few entreprenueiral ventures in the food, beverage, and media industries.
I’m training to be a bartender.

Basically, I’m doing everything but training unicorns for fun and profit, though if you can get me a unicorn, I’m game. Of course, there’s also the minor detail that I quit my job of seven and a half years developing applications for a financial institution in order to attend the Asian Field Study. (It’s a long story, but let’s just say that it’s always exciting when work tells you that they’re retroactively cancelling the approval for your three week vacation due to project constraints a week before you’re scheduled to leave. Initially, the decision to leave was jarring, however, eating an infinite course meal in Japan with new friends and discussing the subtleties and eccentricities of Japanese and American culture while drinking pitchers of beer and sake until someone pisses blood, I was pretty happy with my decision.)

After my rambling, barely coherent explanation of my haphazard collection of job related activities, I didn’t know what type of reaction to expect. What I received blew me away.

Each one of our new Japanese friends said how happy they were that I quit my job, thereby facilitating this magical evening. They extended an offer to help me in any way they could if business ever brought me to Japan. Their effortless generosity floored me. Over the course of three hours, 200+ beers, 18 bottles of sake, and a mad dash through a ninja cave, five individuals whom I had never met offered me an unconditional bond of friendship. That moment of kindness spoke volumes about Japanese culture, their spirit of collectivism, and the tight knit bonds of friendship and family. It also confirmed that I must not be too much of an asshole when I drink.

Before I could get further caught up in the sentimentality of the moment, a ninja magician flew up the flight of stairs and began performing a ninja magic show. Because how else do you cap off a night of bizarre excess than with a ninja doing card tricks?

After Ninja Houdinni wrapped up his legitimately impressive David Blaine impression, Takato asked us if we wanted any more beer or sake. We responsed with a collective “Please God, no!”, almost in unison.

Stuffed to the hilt and drunk enough to consider taking a swim in the indoor river we headed for the exit as our ninja led us through the maze of the village one last time and out a side door, which spit us out in the original room with no windows or doors. Our night had officially come full circle.

We stumbled up the stairs and out into the streets of Tokyo. As we shuffled, arm in arm down the street we heard a loud “SAYONARA!” and turned to see a ninja execute a perfect front hand spring, pop up and hold open a ninja scroll that says “Thank you for coming!”. You gotta hand it to ninjas. They know how to put the cherry on top of a sundae.

Turning around a second too late, Blondie says, “Wait. What happened? What did I miss?”.

Now, at this point, I’ve had between 12 to 15 beers and about a bottle of sake. The world isn’t spinning, so much as it is lightly rotating on no axis in particular. I am in no shape to execute any bout of physical activity, let alone a daring gymnastic move over a cement sidewalk. Of course, I’ve had 12 to 15 beers and a bottle of sake, so doing a front handspring sounds like a damn good idea.

Without a moments hesitation I execute a form perfect front hand spring, pop up and mimic the motion of opening up a scroll. Looks of amazement hang on the faces of the entire group. The ninja runs up and gives me a high five. For those of you who’ve never had the opportunity to get a flying high five from a ninja warrior, let me tell you, the experience ranks somewhere between having sex and watching your favorite team win the Super Bowl (while having sex). The night officialy acheives perfection.

Team Ninja

Team Ninja

Our group huddled up for a photo outside the ninja restaurant to commemorate our most memorable of evenings. We exchanged handshakes, hugs, and fond farewells and our hosts ushered us into cabs, instructing the drivers how to take us home.

We arrived at the hotel home and got out of the cab. Before entering the lobby, we shared one last look around. We don’t say a word. We don’t have to. Our eyes tell the story.

I finally break the silence… “HOLY FUCKING SHIT”. Holy fucking shit, indeed.

We headed up to our rooms, weary yet exhilirated. Before we retired for the evening, CodeRed, Shack and I stopped off at the vending machine on our floor and bought a few scotch and sodas for a night cap, because that’s how ninjas roll.


EPILOGUE

The next morning I sent Takato an email to thank him and his friends for sharing such an incredible experience with us. His response touched me to the core.

Dear Justin

Thank you for your e-mail.
For us, it ws also wonderful time to meet you.

If you didn’t quit your bank, we would never come together.
So, we really appreciate your important decision.

Hava a good trip and keep in touch.

Sincerely,
Takato Utsunomiya

Two weeks ago, I was dealing with the ramifications of quitting the only job I’d ever had. Was I making the right decision? Should I suck it up and stay? How will I find another job? How long can my family get by on only my wife’s income? I was forced to make a life altering decision in a short period of time and I chose to jump off the high dive into the deep end. I didn’t know what to expect. I simply hoped everything would work out for the best.

Reading Takato’s email – If you didn’t quit your bank, we would never come together.
So, we really appreciate your important decision.
– I knew everything would be just fine. A ninja told me so.


This article is dedicate to Takato, Shunsuke, Haruto, Keisuke, and Akiko. Thank you for your kindness, your generosity, your spirit of adventure, and most of all, your friendship. You will always have friends in Hawaii.

Domo Arigato Gozaimasu

Help Children in Africa Learn to Make Cocktails and Other Worthy Causes

by Justin D'Olier on July 17, 2012 | (1) Comment |

No one likes asking for money.

There are countless charities, non-profits, and fundraising opportunities, most of them deserving – If you have $50 to blow, you can adopt a wombat and get a free wombat stuffed animal. Who’s with me? – but, no matter the legitimacy of the cause or the need of the organization, soliciting donations always feels a little sleazy. Whether you’re trying to teach African kids how to make mixed drinks or improve working conditions for migrant orangutan farm workers, asking for cash is asking for cash.

“Don’t you hate the sexual oppression of three toed sloths? Me too! Can I have $100 bucks?”

This phenomenon gets even weirder when you’re asking for money for yourself.

Enter Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is a bizarre, Web 2.0, crowd sourcing social phenomenon that allows people to solicit money for projects in exchange for various rewards based on the level of donations. These rewards vary from the legitimate – a pre-order for a new video game console – to the utterly bizarre – the founder shouting your name while chasing a duck. No, really.

Sad Giraffe

I’m sad because no one here knows how to make a decent gimlet.

On one hand, the money goes towards the creation of a business / entity / duck chasing phenomenon, which the donors support – money comes in, cool stuff comes out. Unfortunately, this only partially obfuscates the fact that Kickstarter is essentially asking you to invest in projects with no real return or equity.

“Don’t you hate the sexual oppression of three toed sloths? Me too! Can I have $100 bucks? (By the way, I’m spending it on myself.)”

Sadly, fundraising is a necessary evil. Few things in life are free and many worthy causes and ideas lack proper funding. Lord knows, those African kids can’t make a decent gimlet without small batch gin.

With that in mind, please forgive me for what I’m about to do.

I’m not going to ask you for money; I’m simply going to suggest a cause I find worthy of donation. I won’t be offended if you decide not to donate. In fact, I don’t particularly care what you do. I only have two aims with this article: 1) to inform you of an exciting new development in the local cocktail scene 2) to make you laugh in the process. (As long as you chuckle at the urgency of the African child mixed drink epidemic, we’re cool.)

I’m simply letting you know about a cause that, in my never humble opinion, deserves your awareness, your support and – depending on your ideological background, interest, and wherewithal - your money.

Hawaii Bitters Company logo

We can drink better, Hawaii

Local bartender Kyle Reutner and technology guru / taco truck advertising maven / chimpanzee trainer / cocktail afficionado Mike Prasad (note: I made up one of those titles, but with all the things Mike has on his plate, nothing would surprise me) have teamed up to start a Hawaii bitters company named, well… Hawaii Bitters Company. Their goal is to create high quality bitters with the best available locally sourced ingredients, infused with quintessential Hawaii flavors. Think coconut, lilikoi, Kona coffee, guava, etc…

“What are bitters?”, you say. Basically, an alcohol infused with herbal essences and other flavors to impart a bitter characteristic. Bitters are primarly used in cocktails to offset sweet flavors and provide a sense of balance.

Locally produced and sourced bitters take this idea to the next level. They provide local bartenders the ability to match traditional Hawaiian flavors and infuse their drinks with a sense of place, a term wine afficianados like to call terroir. (I will conveniently gloss over the fact that 97.3% of people who have ever uttered the word terroir deserve a sharp elbow in the pretentious crotch.)

Basically, local bitters provide yet another nudge to the growing Hawaii cocktail movement.

Kyle and Mike are cognizant of the inherent akwardness of asking for money via Kickstarter, regardless of the legitimacy of their intention. With this in mind, they have attempted to structure the donation rewards as a pre-order program, rather than some type of duck shouting subterfuge. Once production begins, a bottle of bitters will cost approximately $15. If you donate $15 to Hawaii Bitters Company you will receive a bottle of bitters from the initial batch.

Kyle and Mike create bitters with high quality local ingredients. You get a bottle. Bartenders around the State create better drinks.

Win. Win. Win.

Asking for money sucks. It’s inherently awkward. But, sometimes it takes a little money to get something worthwhile of the ground; a little seed capital to put a charge in the World. I believe Kyle and Mike deserve your support, but it’s your money. Do what you think is right.

If it comes down to a decision between Hawaii Bitters Company and teaching African kids how to make a perfect Manhattan, you know where I stand (but, if you have some money left over, Kyle and Mike could use some too).


If you decide to donate to the Hawaii Bitters Company, you can do so via their campaign page: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mikeprasad/hawaii-cocktail-bitters-bottling-the-flavors-of-th

You can also follow the company on their website, Facebook and Twitter.

I Learned Everything I Know About Drinking in Japan from a Ninja – Part 1 [Asian Adventures 2012]

by Justin D'Olier on July 13, 2012 | (1) Comment |

From June 15-July 3, I joined 18 other MBA students on an Asian Field Study academic immersion program that visited Tokyo, Japan; Shanghai, China; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Over the next few weeks, I will recount the best of those adventures here on Drink with Aloha. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as we enjoyed living them. 

A ninja taught me how to drink in Japan.

Well, technically the ninja didn’t teach me how to drink, but they actively facilitated my first truly Japanese drinking experience. The ninja acted as a sensei, guiding me down the path – I mean this in the most literal sense possible – to cultural alcohol enlightenment.

You could say a ninja took my Japanese drinking virginity. That’s right. I lost my virginity to a ninja.

But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We can’t just hop right in the sack with the ninja drinking virginity story. We need some backround, some setting, some ambiance, some foreplay, if you will. That’s how ninjas roll.

Lady Ninja

I don’t always drink in Japan, but when I do, I prefer to do it with ninjas.

Late last year, my parents traveled to Japan with a local business group, HAPA, the Hawaii Asian Pacific Association. (Yes, my parents played an active role in the course of events that eventually led to a ninja deflowering me. I find this as weird as you do.) Essentially, HAPA is a group of successful local business types who take lavish Asian business excursions in the name of commerce. From what I’ve gleaned, a “business excursion” is a vacation where you travel with other business people and sprinkle a company visit or “business meeting” (slang for Michelen three star lunch with wine) amid two weeks of fine dining, sightseeing, and massages. And you wonder why people go to Business School…

During one of the “business meetings”, my parents met with the Japanese Young Business Leaders (JYBL), a networking group organized by (you guessed it) young Japanese business leaders. The group consisted of intelligent, progressive innovators interested in expanding the scope of their busienss and potentially expanding their horizons outside of Japan. The group thoroughly impressed the HAPA folks and my parents gushed about meeting them upon their return.

Dad: “One of the members works for Pokemon!”

(Working for Pokemon is the Japanese equivalent of working for Virgin Records. Seriously, even the other JYBL members were excited that one of their members worked for Pokemon. It took all of my willpower not to ask if he could introduce me to Pikachu, but I’m getting ahead of myself.)

My friend Boogie was also attending the Asian Field Study and her parents are also Hapa members who met the JYBL. So, during pre-trip discussions, Boogie and I decided to get the contact information for the JYBL and set up a social event in Tokyo. Our parents gave us the email addresses for Takato Utsunomiya and Shunsuku Tsukamoto, two of the groups founding members. Boogie sent out a short email asking if they were available during our time in Japan. Little did we know, this seemingly innocuous decision would set off a chain of events involving ninja stars, swords, fire, hidden treasure, a desperate blind run through a series of catacombs underneath Tokyo with the only light coming from a single latern, and the eventual loss of our Japanese drinking virginity to a ninja.

In other words, a typical Tokyo business meeting.

The email exchange started so innocently. Pleasantries exchanged, details discussed, and a general agreement to meet on the night of Monday, June 18th. On Monday, we received a vague email from Takato:

Dear Boogie,

I have 2 plans according to the number of attendants from Hawaii university. So, let me know the number of people.

Anyway I will go to Hotel Villa Fontainne Shiodome at 7:00 PM today.

Thanks.

Takato Utsunomiya

Boogie replied back:

We have a group of 5 people. We look forward to meeting you.

That was the last contact we had with Takato.

Monday started at 4 AM with a visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market tuna auction, included a visit to the Fujitsu innovation center to learn about their super computer and wrapped up with a trip to the 7-11 headquarters to learn how they’re taking over the world one crustless sandwich at a time. (Seriously, all Japanese sandwiches have the crust cut off. Every. Single. One. There must be warehouses somewhere in the outskirts of Tokyo filled from floor to ceiling with millions of bread crusts. If you told me all Japanese stuffed animals were filled with bread crust, I would believe you.) We returned to our hotel around 5:30 PM, showered, dressed, enjoyed an ice cold Kirin from the vending machine on our floor – God bless the Japanese for their vending machine culture – and headed to the lobby to await our mystery Japanese hosts.

Our group included myself, Boogie, Shack, Blondie, and CodeRed. We sat akwardly in the lobby waiting for our blind date with two guys who looked like their names were Takato and Shunsuke. If you’ve ever been to Tokyo, you understand our dilemma. Every person looks like a Takato or a Shunsuke. My informal count of potential Takatos got to 17, narrowly eclipsing my potential Shunsuke count of 13, when two guys walked in who looked young, professional, vaguely-leaderesque, and immediately raised my Takato/Shunsuke counts to 18 and 14 respectively.

Boogie took the initiative, walked up to the two young men and started the introduction.

Boogie: Takato?

Takato (grins): Yes. Nice to meet you.

The rest of the group hopped up and made introductions. Takato was mild-mannered, polite, and confident with a pair of dark rimmed glasses and a comforting look that instantly set you at ease. Shunsuke was stylish and more relaxed, weraing a dark jacket over an unbuttoned collar shirt. He sported a vaguely American demeanor and polished North American accent, we later learned came from spending extensive time in the States. They let us know that we were waiting for their buddy Haruto, before heading to… an undiclosed location for what would apparently involve drinking and possibly dinner. Details remained vague.

After a few minutes, a young Japanese guy wearing dark slacks, a blue short sleeved collered shirt and a devilish grin that belied his placid exterior, strolled up and shook hands with Takato and Shunsuke. Enter Haruto.

The three instructed us to split up into three groups and have each group get in a cab with one of them to head to our destination. Split up? Get into cabs with strange Japanese men to drive to an undisclosed location in Tokyo? Count me in!

Blondie and I hopped in a taxi with Haruto as the cab driver effectively disoriented us on a circuitous route to our destinty. Haruto did his best to distract us from our impending fate by letting us know that he’s an entreprenuer, who started a company that does digital marketing for dental clinics in Japan. This may sound like a niche market, but there are more dental clinics in Japan than their are convenience stores (and I’m fairly sure that there are more convenience stores than missing sandwich crusts in Japan).

After 15 minutes of weaving, the cab driver decided we were suitably lost, so he pulled up to a large, non-descript warehouse. Not a restaurant. Not a high rise. Not a bar. A warehouse. A large, sprawling complex with corrugated metal siding and a small door – small by Japanese standards, which is to say virtually non-existant – leading to a steep spiral staircase descending to darkness. Blondie shot me a look that clearly conveyed the message that if we died, we would die together and shuffled closer to me as we near the door of abyss.

At this point, Boogie and CodeRed arrived with Takato who encouraged us all to head down the mysterious entryway. The four of us ducked down to step inside the black stairwell and headed down a wooden, spiral staircase, leaving Shack alone with our three hosts. The horror movie plot was proceeding perfectly as the four Americans headed down a creaky staircase into the untold horror of darkness while one of their friends remained with the locals. What could possibly go wrong?

I began rehearsing how I would explain to Shack’s wife that we lost him in Tokyo. Yakuza hit? Godzilla attack? Freak miso soup accident? Before I got past the point of deciding whether to blame his assured disappearance on Boogie, the stairwell hit a dead end. A dark stairwell leading to a make shift coffin. We were in the Japanese version of Disney’s Haunted Mansion. The only thing missing was a disembodied voice telling us that the “room had no windows and no doors.”

Without warning, a side panel of the room was violently thrown back and a lady ninja with a sword on her back, holding a lantern popped through the opening and yelled, “Quickly. The enemy is descending upon us. We must move. Hurry!”

I’ve swam nose to nose with ten foot sharks. I’ve evaded the police and a group of angry Spaniards throwing kitchen appliances in Barcelona on an absinthe fuled escapade. I’ve had hoodlums in Amsterdam try to steal my wallet while barking at me like a dog. But nothing in my life up to that point could have prepared me for a tiny lady ninja jumping out from behind a hidden door like a deadly human jack-in-the-box and informing me that my life was in dire peril.

Without hesitation, the she-ninja turned to a side wall and broke through a side wall with a swift ninja roundhouse kick. (Eat your heart out, Chuck Norris.) The wall exploded into a mist of splinters as the ninja lept through the opening of what appeared to be the mouth of a cave. A rush of cold air escaped the cavern opening and the four of us exchanged looks of utter disbelief, attemping to validate whether we really just witnessed Lady Shinobu explode through a wall like Lucy Liu in Kill Bill. Before we have a chance to think, the ninja turned around and screamed, “The enemy will be here any moment. Move. NOW!” and sprinted out of sight taking with her the lantern, the only source of light in the room.

Left with no other choice, the four of us plunged headlong into darkness.

[Too be continued...]

Let the Great Asian Adventure Begin

by Justin D'Olier on July 11, 2012 | Comments Off |

Tokyo. Shanghai. Kuala Lumpur. Ho Chi Minh City. Oakland.

(Oakland? Yes, Oakland. Bear with me.)

You Are Here

In case you were wondering where you were…

Over the course of 18 mind altering days, I traveled from the sunny shores of Honolulu to Tokyo, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur, and Ho Chi Minh City as part of the Asian Field Study for the University of Hawaii Executive MBA program. I returned home for two delirious days, before hopping on a red eye with the Wine Pixie to attend a wedding in Oakland, where we spent a grand total of 27 hours on the ground in the Bay Area.

Needless to say, I am exhausted. Scratch that. I have trenscended exhaustion. I am in a bizarre state of hyper-tired delirium, fueled exclusively by adrenaline, caffine, alcohol, and one perfectly timed McDonald’s Sausage Biscuit.

The first morning I woke up after returning from Asia, I nearly had a heart attack, because I thought I was still in Vietnam. I dove under my covers for safety and tried to recall how I could have possible gotten drunk enough to wind up in a strange room with a naked Asian lady and a small Vietnamese child crawling on my bed. I tried to act calm as the little Vietnamese girl crawled on top of me and said bizarre things in English like “Good morning, Dad.” and “Daddy, why do you look scared?” I couldn’t figure out why the naked woman in bed with me didn’t find anything strange about this scenario. She just lay there like this happened all the time. I reasoned that after you’ve lived in Saigon for a few years, the bizarre becomes commonplace.

I did a brief scan of the room, looking for my wallet, so I could slip the child some money and make a quick exit. No luck. I couldn’t find my clothes anywhere either, just a computer and some pictures of white people I couldn’t identify. Were we in someone else’s house? I was about to bolt out of bed and make a run for it, nudity be damned, when I realized that the small Vietnamese child was, in fact, my daughter, and the naked Asian woman was, in fact, the Wine Pixie.

As I was saying, exhausted. Exhausted, yet exhilarated after a series of mind-altering adventures.

Each city offered a host of new people, new experiences, new sensations and, of course, new drinks. I dove headfirst – quite literally in Malaysia, but that’s a story for another time – into the drinking customs of each city in an attempt to learn what I could about each culture through their enjoyment and imbibement of alcohol.

I learned alot.

I learned about the Japanese art of bartending from one of the oldest and most respected barmen in Tokyo; (I also learned how to navigate the streets of Ginza during a Typhoon to find his bar, but again, that’s a story for another time.)

I learned about the up and coming cocktail scene in Shanghai;

I learned how to buy alcohol in an Islamic country after midnight in Kuala Lumpur;

And I learned about the importance of lasers, big bottles of hard alcohol, and fruit plates in Ho Chi Minh City.

But we didn’t just learn in Asia. We shared our love and knoweledge of drinking wherever we went. We left a dent in every country we visited.

We taught Tokyo the majesty of the high five.

We taught Shanghai how to make Mind Erasers and Adios Motherfuckers.

We taught the members of an all-male Indian night club in Kuala Lumpur how to dance with women.

And we taught Ho Chi Minh City how to play flip-cup and fist pump. (BTW – Ho Chi Minh City loves fist pumping. If you go clubbing in Vietnam in two years and everyone is pounding their fist in the air like an Asian version of Jersey Shore – only with bigger bottles, more fruit plates, and lots and lots of hookers – you know who to blame.)

During the trip, our constantly busy schedules prevented me from writing about these experiences as they happened. (The near constant drinking and socializing may have had a slight impact on this as well, but I’m not here to point fingers.)

Over the ensuring weeks, I will do my best to recount the myriad of alcohol infused adventures we had on our whirlwind Asian excursion.

I will tell the story of…

… how a ninja taught me how to drink in Tokyo.
… how we talked our way into (and I nearly talked my way out of) a club with a $1000 cover charge.
… the power and glory of the Ice KaChong.
… the foot massues who climbed me like Mount Everest.
… the world’s worst shot of Tequila (and, frankly, it’s not close).
… how I survived an hour walking the streets during a typhoon to find the best cocktail in Tokyo.
… winning a dance battle against a Vietnamese gangster.
… and how we drank an ungodly amount of beer, wine, bourbon, vodka, gin, rum, scotch, Chinese schnapps, sake, shochu, un-pastuerized beer, banana wine, rice wine, snake wine, Hennessy, and Remy Martin in four different countries and lived to tell the tale.

I will weave these stories (and more) into a general discussion of the drinking customs in each culture and what insights they provide about the country, their people, and their way of life. More importantly, I will use these experiences to discuss the unifying power of alcohol and how these drinking customs help to bridge the culture gap and bring the world closer together.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to sleep for the next 72 hours. Hopefully, when I wake up, I won’t be under siege by a small South East Asian child. (Now, the naked Asia woman, that’s a different story.)

Let the Oahu Cocktail Revolution Begin

by Justin D'Olier on May 31, 2012 | (2) Comments |

This evening, Pint and Jigger will open their doors at 1936 South King Street, across the street – and down a tad – from Alan Wong’s. The bar is a collaboration between celebrated local bartender’s Dave Newman (formerly of Nobu) and Jonathan Schwalbenitz (formerly of Murphy’s). They will feature 21 beers on tap, 50 more available by the bottle, a seasonally rotating cocktail menu, and food designed to pair with the drinks.

This is the extent to which I can objectively write about the opening of Pint and Jigger.

Aside from being one of Hawaii’s best bartenders – don’t take my word for it, he recently won the Grey Goose Cherry Noir cocktail competition – Dave Newman is also my good friend. So, even if Dave didn’t make imaginitive, classicaly inspired, panty moistenting cocktails and wasn’t such a gracious, humble barman, I would want him to succeed. But, when you couple my affinity for Dave’s drinks with my affinity for Dave, it is impossible for me to provide a reasonably measured summary of the significance of the opening of Pint and Jigger.

So stow your objectivity in the overhead bin, put your tray table into a closed and locked position and prepare for the takeoff of a seminal moment in Hawaii’s fledgling cocktail history.

Pint and Jigger

I wonder if they'll have Bud Light Lime on tap.

Pint and Jigger isn’t a bar. Pint and Jigger is a declaration that the cocktail movement has arrived on O’ahu (or, at the least, has rented a two bedroom walk-up in Makiki and is going to see how it takes to island life). If the Hawaii cocktail movement was a porn flick, Pint and Jigger opening would be the pool boy giving the busty housewife a back massage.

Short of Mila Kunis opening a burlesque club in my attic – Mila, if you’re reading this, I’m willing to give you a sweetheart deal on rent – I could not possible be more excited for the start of the Pint and Jigger era.

Why am I so excited?

I spent the past week and a half in New York City, up to my liver in amazing cocktails. In a three block radius in the East Village alone, there are enough drinks to keep Ernest Hemmingway loaded long enough to write The Old Man and The Sea 2: Colder, Darker, and Rainier. Mayahuel. Death and Co. Amor y Amargo. Employee’s Only. PDT. If you trip and fall in the East Village you land in a glass of overproof bourbon and craft bitters.

These bars don’t just serve good drinks. They transcend the idea of a cocktail and serve liquid performance art. Mayahuel has a drink list that must span seven pages and include over 75 drinks – if I’m off on my estimations, please excuse me, I left more than a little intoxciated – based only on tequila, mezcal, and various other esoteric cactus spirits you probably haven’t even heard of. To enter PDT – a modern reenvisioning of a speakeasy – you walk down the steps in a hipster hotdog hovel, walk past a row of classic video games, and enter a phone booth (yes, a phone booth) in the side of the restaurant. When you pick up the phone, the bar manager answers and let’s you know if and when they have available seats. If they do, the phone booth wall slides away revealing a dimly lit cocktail bar. Mindblowing.

A few blocks away, Booker and Dax fuses cocktails and science in the sexiest union since Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. The drinks are paradoxically both staggeringly simple and utterly complex. Their gin and juice has only two ingredients: grapefruit juice and gin. Only they put the gin and juice mixture into a centrifuge, spin in at 16,000 4,500 RPM to clairfy the liquid by extracting the solids. Then they carbonate the resulting mixture with delightfully tiny bubbles that dance on your palatte and make hot, wet love to your taste buds. Short of jerking you off, I don’t know how anyone could make a better gin and juice. In fact, I’m pretty sure Booker and Dax experimented with a mid-drink tug job only to find that it distracted from the harmony of flavor.

(Booker and Dax deserves their own article and I will write at length about the sensational drinks, science, and service we received. For now, let me simply extend a thank you to bar manager Thomas Jones and bartender Josh Perez – formerly of Hawaii’s own 39 Hotel – for providing one of the best bar experience I have ever encountered. When you go to NYC, go to Booker and Dax, find Thomas and Josh and be prepared for an amazing evening.)

Mayhuel is why Pint and Jigger is so important.

PDT is why Pint and Jigger is so important.

Booker and Dax is why Pint and Jigger is so important.

You see, Pint and Jigger is the first bar on Oahu designed around the idea of providing you a world class drinking experience. There are an increasing number of barstools in the state where you can sit down and have an amazing cocktail and incredible service, but, before Pint and Jigger, not one designed with the drink at the epicenter.

This is certainly not meant as a slight to any existing establishment or a declarative fact by any stretch of the imagination, simply my assessment of the driving force, the spirit – if you’ll excuse the pun – of Pint and Jigger.

There are many reasons to get pumped about Pint and Jigger – craft beers, seasonal cocktail menu, two incredible bartenders, food specifically designed to pair with the drinks, cool atmosphere, etc… – but all of those are window dressing for the true significance of Pint and Jigger: a message to the State that the cocktail movement has arrived.

I don’t know if Pint and Jigger will survive. I don’t know if enough people will appreciate what Dave and Jon are trying to do. What I do know, is that Pint and Jigger represents a huge step in the right direction for the local cocktail scene.

Hawaii is not New York. We will never be New York. We don’t want to be New York. But, I’d like to think the islands are ready to step up and support a similarly world class cocktail scene.

So toss your objectivity aside and go enjoy the Mila Kunis burlesque show of new watering holes. Life’s too short to drink bad drinks.

This is what you are doing on Sunday

by Justin D'Olier on April 13, 2012 | Comments Off |

John HeckathornYou might not know it yet, but this Sunday you’re going to Apartment 3 from 6pm to midnight. Your attendance is not optional. You’re going. If you need me to cancel your existing plans – let’s be honest, you don’t want to have dinner with your inlaws anyway – I’m happy to do so. Just another public service on behalf of your favorite alcohol life planners here at Drink with Aloha.

The USBG Hawaii Chapter is organizing a Memorial Cocktail and silent auction fundraiser in the name of John Heckathorn, who sadly and prematurely passed away last December.

If you don’t know who John Heckathorn was, he was the Babe Ruth of local food and beverage writers.

If you don’t know who Babe Ruth was, he was the Michael Jordan of baseball players.

If you don’t know who Michael Jordan was, he was the George Washington of basketball players.

If you don’t know who Geroge Washington was, slap yourself upside the head for being such a moron.

John Heckathorn was a driving force of the local food and beverage scene. If you read anything about food or beverages in Hawaii in the past 30 years, there’s a good chance John wrote it. The event on Sunday is the USBG’s way of saying goodbye and thank you to John for his devotion to improving the quality and awareness of quality food and drink in the Aloha State.

The event will take place at Aparment 3 from 6pm to midnight. Entrance is free. A silent auction will take place throughout the night. All proceeds from drinks and tips as well as money from the auction will go towards the creation of a scholarship in Heckathorn’s honor at HPU, where John taught journalism.

Just about every bartender who you can identify by one name (Christian, Dave, Jonathan, Kyle, Maria, Roxanne, Tim) will be behind the bar at one point during the evening.

Come for the drinks.

Come for the people.

Come for the silent auction.

Come in honor of John.

Whatever the reason is, you’re coming. Let me know if you need help clearing your schedule.

Note from USBG bartender Dave Newman: “All money from the silent auction will be going towards setting up a scholarship fund in John’s name at HPU. Not sure if we can raise enough cash to get it set up, but we are going to try. If we come up short, the money will all be donated to the Journalism department at HPU, in the Heckathorn family name.”

Dewar’s Signature Will Make Sweet Love To Your Mouth

by Justin D'Olier on March 21, 2012 | (2) Comments |

Typically, Drink with Aloha chronicles my personal misadventures with alcohol. Occasionally, however, people in the wine and spirits industry mistake my booze addled ramblings for journalism and invite me along to sample a new product with industry professionals, bartenders, and others who actually know what the fuck they’re talking about. Attending these events always causes me a personal crisis of journalistic ethics, since it’s difficult to write objectively about free drinks.

Then I have a couple drinks, remember I’m not a journalist and don’t have any ethics; and all is right with the world again.

Dewars Portfolio

The scotch was so good, I finished the first glass before I could take a picture.

This past Wednesday I had the pleasure of attending a tasting of the Dewar’s portfolio, which included Dewar’s blended – Dewars White Label, Dewars 12, and Dewars Signature – and single malt – Aberfeldy 12, Aberfeldy 21 – offerings followed by couple of scotch cocktails mixed up by The Modern’s head beverage guru, Tim Rita, and organized by Young’s Market Hawaii alcohol event promotion supernova, Christa Wittmier.

The tasting was set on the pool deck of The Modern – a total sleeper spot to grab lunch and a drink, by the way – amid styled-out luxury, sunshine, and beautiful ladies in bikins soaking up the sunshine. This idyllic setting further clouded my ability for objective judgement – it’s hard to be negative when you’re drinking free scotch on the pool deck of a luxury Waikiki Hotel – but I attempted to steel my reserve and approach each beverage with as unbiased an opinion as possible.

The Dewar’s Signature completely foiled that plan.

Before we sampled Dewar’s Signature, the high end Grand Daddy of the bunch, Dewar’s Brand Ambassador Gabe Cadarella said “If I ever see you putting coke in this, I’ll kick your ass.” After briefly flirting with the idea of ordering a Coke to test whether Gabe would make good on his claim, I decided to save that experiement for a future article. Dude is kind of big and I thought I’d enjoy the scotch more without a black eye.

I took my first sniff and knew I was in for something special. The nose is light, enticing and delicate, almost aloof. It gives off a total hipster vibe. “Yes, that is a light hint of honey and toffee. Whatever.” The first sip coats your mouth with a rich, smooth toffee, caramel, honey syrup and subsequent sips enhance and embolden the interplay of the flavors. After the third sip, the clothes come off and the flavors start to have a scotch threesome in your mouth. I’m sure if you had a full glass, they’d get even more comfortable and start to get really kinky.

I was decidedly upset when my glass finally emptied. I turned it upside down, attempting to coax as many of the remaining rivulets of liquid butterfly prayers into my mouth. If I hadn’t been sitting across the table from Honolulu Magazine Food Editor Martha Cheng, I might have started licking the inside of the glass.

I’m sure a bottle is obscenely expensive, but if you’re looking to expand past the blended monopolistic clutches of Johnny Walker Blue, give Dewar’s Signature a try.

(Just try not to get weirded out when the honey takes its pants off…)

[Special thank to Young's Market Hawaii, Christa Wittmier, Tim Rita, and Gabe Cadarella for putting on such a kick ass event (and deeming me worthy of an invite).]

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