At Mahina & Sun’s, locally sourced ingredients shine on a cocktail menu designed by bartender Alicia Yamachika. (Photo: Mariko Reed and Laura La Monaca)
“Mai tai, please.” Certain cocktails spring to mind when you’re ordering drinks on a tropical getaway. Embodying a sense of place through what you sip is an excellent way to freeze-frame vacation memories, and what you order in Hawaii is no different.
What should visitors to the island of Oahu look out for, libation-wise? Alicia Yamachika, a lead mixologist at Nobu Honolulu and the designer of island hot spot Mahina & Sun’s cocktail menu, filled us in on the Oahu bar scene’s hottest trends.
Handcrafted with Care
Craft cocktails have been booming over the past five years. “People are starting to appreciate the art and creativity behind craft cocktails,” Yamachika observes. “For bartenders that means the bar scene is no longer just about how fast you can sling drinks.”
What’s getting Yamachika fired up? “I’m excited about the amount and variety of amaros, mezcals and whiskeys that have become available on the islands.” First up on her must-frequent list is Encore Saloon, located in Chinatown. The bar/eatery is owned by Danny Kaaialii of Cocina and Salt Kitchen & Tasting Bar fame.
Encore’s standout feature: laying claim to Oahu’s first agave bar. “It has an eclectic selection of mezcals, tequilas and two rotating slushy flavors,” Yamachika says. Her fave is the fresh mango margarita slushy made with fruit brought in from bartender Quinn Mears’ yard.
Shh … Speakeasy Finds
A diehard fan of Pint + Jigger, Yamachika is excited about owner Dave Newman’s soon-to-open endeavor, Harry’s Hardware. “It has the fake façade of a hardware store,” Yamachika says. “Enter through its secret entrance, though, and inside is a real prohibition-style speakeasy; Hawaii’s first.” She suggests ordering cocktails served from a table-side cart as well as from the extensive selection of barrel-aged cocktails. One to try: Not in Kansas Anymore, made with barrel-aged Campari and Lillet Blanc.
A Different Kind of Rum Diary
Rum straight from the source is a must on Yamachika’s list. Her pick is Manulele Distillers’ KōHana Agricole Rum, the only rum agricole being produced in the state. Yamachika gives a special nod to the Kunia-based distiller’s use of heirloom sugar cane grown on the west and north sides of the island. “They’ve sourced ancient Hawaiian sugar canes that have almost gone extinct due to industrialized varietals.” While touring KōHana, Yamachika suggests tasting the “cocktail geeky” Lahi varietal. “It’s bold and aromatic with flavors of bananas, grass and salinity.”
The perfect time to savor this varietal is during KōHana’s Rum Tasting Tour and Sugar Cane and Aquaponic Tour, which typically run Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Make certain to check tour availability online.) Can’t make it to the distillery? As of late, KōHana is carried by Fujioka’s Wine TIMES in Honolulu’s Market City Shopping Center. Yamachika says the liquor store is unto itself an ideal place for sampling new allocations of spirits coming onto the islands.
Another venue where the influence of KōHana Rum can be felt is Piggy Smalls. The sister restaurant to Pig and the Lady, Piggy Smalls’ ambience is more laid-back than its predecessor and features a craft cocktail menu created by KōHana Rum’s Brand Manager Kyle Reutner. As for its bar scene, Yamachika says, “It’s a little bit different in that there’s no sit-down bar, but they do have table-side service.”
Belly Up to a Beer Cafe
New at SALT at Our Kaka`ako, a block-long collective of chefs, artists and entrepreneurs, is Village at Bottle Shop & Tasting Room, Hawaii’ s only bar with both on- and off-premises licenses. This allows for an inventory of 500 curated beers as well as 16 different taps for beer and eight for wine. “They have some of the most esoteric beers found on the island,” Yamachika says of this dedicated craft beer bottle shop and beer café. Her pick from the rotating tap selection: Lagunitas Brewing Company’s Dark Swan, a red wine, barrel-aged sour ale.
Biodynamic, sustainable, locally sourced. These are the descriptors of the food and beverage program at Mahina & Sun’s, the Ed Kenney–helmed restaurant. Yamachika, who designed Mahina & Sun’s cocktail menu, suggests ordering either the Guava Daiquiri or “Market Special,” a seasonal, fresh-pressed-juice cocktail — an unexpected mix of island-grown kale, ginger, pineapple and jalapeño juice mixed with vodka, gin or tequila.
“Mai tai, please?” Sure. Just don’t miss out on other Oahu specialties, like Cascade Brewing’s Figaro Ale (vintage, barrel-aged sour beer with fresh figs found at Village Bottle Shop & Tasting Room) or Mahina & Sun’s Mr. Pink (Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin, Lillet Blanc, Ferrand Dry Curaçao, Yellow Chartreuse, rose water, egg white and citrus). They are, in a word, unforgettable.