“There’s this Japanese term—Omotenashi. It’s all about hospitality wherein you try to tune in with your customer’s frequency and put yourself inside their shoes. What’s the greatest reward from all this?” Francis Tosei, Japanese whisky and spirits concierge asks me in between sips of whisky, “the synchronicity you get between you and your customer.”
There’s a newly-opened bar at Serendra that serves Japanese whisky. It is called Lit and its logo is a play on a lighthouse-slash-whisky-bottle-slash-the-great-wave-off-Kanagawa. It is also a tongue in cheek reference to getting ‘lit’ (or getting drunk), which is most likely to happen at the bar if you’re not careful.
“After the war, whisky started to be mass-produced. I grew up with the whisky culture, saw it on TV, saw how the salaryman would drink too much and threw up on the train. I wanted to avoid that so I tried exploring wines and vodkas—but I always went back to whisky.”
Francis recalls his first ever whisky. “It was a Kirin,” he remembers with much fondness. “There are many stories and progressions of Japanese whisky even before Yamazaki and Hibiki. The demand is getting higher while the stock is getting lower. There’s even a TV series now about Nikka whisky founder Taketsuru and his wife. So the story goes, this guy goes to Scotland to study the art of whisky and brings home a Scottish wife. It becomes a TV show and now, all the housewives in Japan are drinking whisky!” he laughs.
At Lit, Francis tells me that they are not here to tell you what to drink, but rather, it is part of their duty to help you figure that out on your own. So we play a little game of me giving Francis five different scenarios from which he will recommend his top-of-mind choice of Japanese whisky. Here they are.
1. Taking your fiancée’s parents out for a drink?
Francis’ Pick: Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu Port Pipe (for the mother) and a Kirin 18-year Single Malt (for the dad)
“If you want to impress your future in-laws, then you better give them something of the equivalent. The Port Pipe is relatable to the ladies in terms of color, and there’s a bit of umami flavor to it, too.”
2. First salary?
Francis’ Pick: Hakushu 12-year Single Malt or a Nikka 12-year Pure Malt
“These are very conservative choices, but it’s all about rewarding yourself, right? A 12-year whisky is a very well-balanced one. It’s smooth and has just the right amount of smokiness to it. It’s like giving yourself a pat on the shoulder.”
3. Got fired?
Francis’ Pick: Nikka Yoichi 12-year Single Malt or a well-aged Suntory
“You can grope highballs (whisky + soda water on ice) of these whiskys. The Yoichi is earthy while the Suntory is peatier—both make you realize ‘hey, what’s the big deal?’”
4. Meeting a hardcore Scotch purist who will never swear by Japanese whisky?
Francis’ Pick: Chivas Mizunara Special Edition Blended Scotch Whisky
“Simple! Chivas Mizunara, a brand from Scotland, created a whisky exclusively for the Japanese market that’s very smooth, yet oriental and exotic at the same time.”
Francis’ Pick: The Hibiki Japanese Harmony or a Nikka 12
“This is a very lovely whisky with a floral flavor and aroma—rich and rosy. It reminds you that life may be bitter, and love may be bitter, but it also reminds you that everything in life is crystal clear at that moment, so it gives you some sort of redemption and harmoby. The Nikka 12 is also a good choice because it sort of gives you a tender mental massage. ”
After a whisky flight topped off by a highball, I ask Francis what he loves the most about whisky, after being exposed and experienced with it for so many years. “I love how it really is a product of nature. So many factors go into play—the water, the environments, the wood. Sure, whisky can make you feel like an ass if you’re drunk, but there’s a certain deepness to it. Some sort of connection with nature that makes you feel really small if you take a look at the process alone. Personally, that’s why I like being behind the bar. I like sharing these thoughts with the customers, talking to them, reflecting together. One of the most unforgettable moments so far was when a lady went to the bar alone, drank alone, and told me that she would be back. Manila needs more places like this one, somewhat like a ‘safe space’. Omotenashi. We definitely it is better timing now that we can share this with the people in the Philippines.”