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Halekulani celebrates 100th anniversary with private label bourbon

In honor of Halekulani’s 100th anniversary, in partnership with Heaven Hill Distillery, the historic Waikiki beach front 5-star hotel resort introduces their new private label of Elijah Craig Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. 

Three years in the making, back in 2014, Andy Shapira of Heaven Hill Distillery attended a dinner at the Halekulani, bringing with him a vintage bottle of Heaven Hill bourbon that was part of the Halekulani’s original private label bourbon whiskey stock back in the early 1950s.  Halekulani wine manager and lead sommelier Kevin Toyama was presented the vintage bottle, to which upon Halekulani CEO Peter Shaindlin having heard about it,  gave Toyama the task of updating the whiskey for a new private release on the hotel’s centennial milestone this year.

Toyama really did his homework, going as far as visiting Heaven Hill’s production facility in Bardstown, Kentucky where he got a first-hand taste of three samples of Elijah Craig that were oak barrel aged for 8 to 12 years. While most bourbon on store shelves come from batches of 200 barrels or less, private labels such the Halekulani come from just one barrel. Just ONE BARREL! The final barrel chosen for this new Halekulani private label has been aged for 9 years. 

Adding to that exclusivity, and making this even more special is the fact that the distillery has incorporated 5 to 7 ounces of the original Halekulani private bourbon whiskey stock from the 1950s into this new one, preserving its history and vintage.  Think of it as to how the “mother dough” is preserved with prized sourdough bread makers such as Boudin, and there you have it. 

That said, only 180 bottles of Halekulani’s new private label Elijah Craig Bourbon Whiskey have been produced for this new 2017 limited edition release.  It’s now available at Halekulani restaurants, including Orchids and House Without A Key for $16 for a 1.5 oz. tasting pour. Or if you prefer, as a cocktail where this bourbon is the key ingredient, including the 1930s namesake classic, the Halekulani cocktail. 750ml bottles are also available for purchase at their gift shop at the Waikiki property for $115 each, while supplies last. 

To stir excitement of Halekulani’s new private label bourbon on their 100th Anniversary, the hotel invited special guests from local media to a private tasting event at their highly acclaimed Orchids Restaurant. Held on December 5, 2017, the presentation was lead by Kevin Toyama, Wine Manager and Lead Sommelier of the Halekulani, and Andy Shapira of Elijah Craig’s Heaven Hill Distillery out of Kentucky.  To go along with the tasting of their new private label bourbon, Halekulani also served several appetizers from Orchids and its sister restaurant, House Without A Key. 

Following are photos, captions and final commentary of this most elegant tasting event. Kanpai. ;-)

Halekulani’s original private label Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Heaven Hill Distillery, dating back to the early 1950s… preserved for all these years! 

Halekulani’s new 2017 limited edition release Elijah Craig Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey private label; only 180 have been produced

Elijah Craig Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey small batch and single barrel releases for private labels

Halekulani’s new private label Elijah Craig Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, shown with their namesake cocktail dating back to the 1930s, the “Halekulani”

1/2 ounce taster’s pour of Halekulani’s new private label bourbon, along with the “Glide” cocktail taster

1/2 ounce taster’s pour of Halekulani’s new private label bourbon 

Taster’s serving of the “Glide” cocktail, made with Halekulani’s new private label Elijah Craig Bourbon Whiskey, pineapple, orange and lemon juice (all fresh-made), grenadine, Turbinado syrup and Agnostura bitters

Halekulani’s signature craft cocktail, the “Halekulani”, made with their new private label Elijah Craig Bourbon Whiskey, honey syrup, Yuzu extract, Aperol and egg white

A taster’s serving of the 5-star hotel resort’s signature craft cocktail, the “Halekulani”

Coconut Shrimp with mango-orange marmalade sauce from House Without a Key

Kalua Pork Sandwich (slider version) with napa cabbage, swiss cheese on taro roll (regularly on a toasted hoagie) from House Without a Key

Truffle Parmesan Fries from Orchids

Cajun Spiced Ribeye with onion crisp from House Without a Key

Fried Calamari & Prawn with Lime Tartar Sauce from Orchids

Hawaiian Yellow Fin Ahi Tartare with Avocado, Cucumber, Soy Sauce and Crème Fraîche from Orchids

Hawaiian Yellow Fin Ahi Tartare, served with a 1/2 oz. taster’s pour of Halekulani’s newly released private label Bourbon Whiskey

Media and Halekulani staff at the tasting table in the Orchids Restaurant 
Pomai Souza of the Tasty Island and Jason Genegabus, “Barfly” Reporter/Columnist for the Honolulu Star Advertiser, showing off the original Halekulani Private Label Bourbon Whiskey from the 1950s
Oswaldo Rabago, Assistant Director of Food & Beverage and Christian Testa, Chef de Cuisine of the Halekulani Waikiki 

Kevin Toyama, Wine Manager / Lead Sommelier of the Halekulani Waikiki with Andy Shapira, grandson of the Heaven Hill Distillery’s founding family and Vice President of Marketing
Dining room interior at the Orchids Halekulani (many tables missing due to being rearranged for tasting event)
View of  Halekulani Hotel’s oceanfront courtyard from Orchids 
Outdoor oceanfront seating at Orchids overlooking Waikiki beach 
Outdoor oceanfront seating at Orchids overlooking Waikiki beach 
View of Diamond Head and Waikiki Beach from Orchids during sunset
And? OK, I’m going to admit that I’m not a hard liquor person, no less a whiskey bourbon enthusiast, so I personally can’t tell you of  the subtle nuances there may be between this private label and say, “any other” bottle of Elijah Craig you can buy right at your local supermarket.
Exclusivity is the key here, and surely the high caliber clientele who typically stay at or visit the Halekulani, whether kama’aina or visitors, are willing to pay for that. While that  Honda Civic will get you to this hotel just as well as a Ferrari 458 Spider (my favorite, most lusted after exotic), hey if you can afford the Ferrari, do that! While I’m not calling this the “Ferrari of Bourbon” (shouldn’t it be a Corvette?), Andy Shapira of Heaven Hill and Kevin Toyama of Halekulani sure convinced us at least psychologically that it is!
I honestly have a hard time drinking bourbon straight, yet I must say, from what I could tell from the 1/2 ounce pour I tried, based on the four main characteristics to judge, being appearance, aroma, taste and finish? Yup, it’s all good. lol At 94 proof, it definitely ain’t no slouch in the “feel good quickly” department. Seriously, though, if you’re a bourbon whiskey connoisseur, you just have to come on down to Halekulani and try it for yourself. I mean these guys are REALLY serious about this release!
The “Glide” was an interesting cocktail, in that it actually preserved the flavor and quality of the bourbon itself. I take it the Agnostura bitters were key to that.  Speaking of which, it would have been nice if they also whipped up an Old Fashioned for us to try, complete with the big single ball of ice.
I must say though, that “Halekulani” cocktail, with its slightly thickened frothy texture and exotic combination of flavors captured my heart. Love that one! Being it’s made with egg whites, it reminded me of Top of Waikiki’s new retro throwback cocktail, the Western Whiskey Sour. Of which I had just tried upon attending a tasting event prior to this one on that very same day! 
Halekulani logAs for the pupus?  Come on, we’re talking Orchids and House Without A Key here. Need I say more? OK I will, and you know which I’m going to pick as the fave, being of course that incredible Ahi Tartare dish. Food for the Gods my friends. And with that, interestingly the “Glide” cocktail paired best out the three bourbon-based cocktails served. I’m guessing  because of the subtle hint of bitters in that cocktail is what helped punch out the naturally oceanic fresh flavor of the  finely chopped Ahi and its accompaniments. 
Summing it up, once again, if you’re serious about your bourbon whiskey, put Halekulani on your must do VERY SOON list, before their new Elijah Craig single barrel private label stock all runs dry!
Mahalo to Kevin Toyama and Oswaldo Robago of Halekulani food & bev, along with Andy Shapira of Heaven Hill Distillery for this very informative presentation. Also special mahalos to Bonnie Bise, Halekulani’s Public Relations Manager, for organizing this wonderful tasting event. Cheers to 100 more years!
2199 Kalia Rd
Honolulu, Hawaii 96815

Tel. (808) 923-3100

Related links:
The X-Factor: Why It’s All About Collaboration for the Coolest Luxury Hotels – Forbes.com


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