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Erika Danielle from Cat Bite Club Wins Big At Nikka's Most Prestigious Regional Competition

Editorial note: All competition photographs are courtesy of La Maison du Whisky Singapore (Jeremy Lim). 

 

 

“The Nikka company began by producing apple brandies and apple products. That’s what I aimed to convey [in my cocktails].

– Erika Danielle, on how her cocktails retold the founding story of Nikka Whisky

The winner for Nikka Whisky’s prestigious bartending contest in the region has just been announced.

Erika Danielle, the ace behind the bar at the Cat Bite Club (yeah, the one in Duxton known for its soju and mezcal/tequila cocktails) just snagged the regional champion title for Singapore & Malaysia at the Nikka Perfect Serve cocktail competition. Out of ten top-notch finalists, it was Erika who poured, mixed, and dazzled her way to the top. This went down at Sugarhall, and hats off to La Maison du Whisky - Nikka’s distributor in Singapore, for bringing it all together as the host.

 

 

Nikka Perfect Serve has been over a decade in running, and isn’t just another bartending contest. Centered around the deep Japanese bartending ethos, it's a platform where bartenders bring out their A-game, blending in their skills and creating some really memorable drinks. The catch? It's all about the guest. Bartenders are expected to gauge your mood, figure out your taste, and serve up something that's just right for that very moment. 

And here's the fun part: This year, they're rolling with the theme "The Other Half." It dives deep into Nikka Whisky’s past, showing off the beautiful blend of Scotland and Japan, and giving a nod to the lovely story of founder Masataka Taketsuru and his Scottish wife, Rita. His iconic distilleries Yoichi and Miyagikyo are part of the story too.

 

Read more about how Taketsuru met Rita and founded Nikka Whisky here.

 

The adventures of Masataka Taketsuru and his wife Rita in founding Nikka Whisky as adapted into the hit TV-drama series, Massan (2014).

 

As part of this thrilling contest, each bartender will unfurl their creative prowess and deep-seated understanding of hospitality by delving into The Other Half of a selected Nikka whisky, gin, or vodka. Contenders will select and present, neat, an expression from the Nikka range, accompanied by a non-alcoholic blend that synergistically accentuates the flavour profile of the chosen spirit. 

 

 

On Monday’s competition, Erika worked with a range of nine distinct Nikka spirits, as well as the ingredients and glassware provided at Sugarhall to craft her drinks. The judges were none other than Hayden Lambert of Above Board, Melbourne, Johanne Siy, the main chef at Lolla, and Nicholas Ng, the journalist from Food For Thought.

 

 

The judges put on their best "bar guest" hats and evaluated every move she made. While Erika’s drink concoctions were a big part of the game, she was also in the spotlight for her warm hospitality, how well she chatted with the judges, her undeniable skill behind the bar, and of course, her solid know-how about the drinks she was mixing.

 

 

First up, Erika served the “Coconaughty” cocktail, reminiscent of the creamy Brandy Alexander. Moving on, Erika showcased her interpretation of this year's theme with her non-alcoholic cocktail called “Winter in Hokkaido”. This was a drink that gives off those eggnog vibes but is rooted in a home-made horchata mix. To add a touch of Nikka, she served it with neat Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky on the side. Pretty neat!

For her third act, Erika got a request for a long drink. What did she whip up? A berry highball using Nikka Days. And speaking of Nikka Days, it has this sunny vibe going on; even the packaging screams summer. Erika’s drink perfectly highlighted that bright characteristic of the whisky.

 

 

Having aced the regional title, Erika’s set her sights on the global crown. She will be heading to San Francisco this December, facing off against 15 other champs from Nikka Perfect Serve contests worldwide. And the cherry on top? The global champion and the runner-up would be getting an all-expenses-paid trip to Japan to deep dive into its bar scene and also tour the iconic Nikka distilleries – Yoichi and Miyagikyo.

Speaking after winning her the Nikka Perfect Serve Singapore & Malaysia title, Erika shared with us a little more about the inspiration for her “Coconaughty” and “Winter in Hokkaido”.

 

 

Erika revealed that the “Coconaughty” was an improvised mix using what was at hand in the bar: 10 millilitres of honey, a pour of 20 millilitres of coconut milk, and a dash of cream. But the surprise element? Coffee grounds as a garnish. You see, this was an intentional touch, designed to bring out a unique spice, hint of fruitiness and some vanilla notes.

But what about that non-alcoholic stunner, the “Winter in Hokkaido”? She explained that this was a horchata-based beverage with limezested yoghurt and spiced apple syrup, all of which she prepared at home.

 

Nikka's iconic Yoichi Distillery is set in wintry Hokkaido. Here is where Masataka Taketsuru sold apple juice and related products while he waited for his first distillery to be built (Source: Nikka)

 

Instead of the usual tiger pine nuts you'd find in South America, this was made by Erika with barley. Barley because it complemented the Nikka Coffeey Malt's smoothness, vanilla and prune notes. According to Erika, the best fruit to compliment this drink is apples. “And that means more because the Nikka company began by producing apple brandies and apple products. That’s what I aimed to convey. The reason I choose apples is because that's how it all began – making apple products while perfecting their whiskey creation,” Erika thoughtfully shared.

She also spoke with admiration about Taketsuru, the late founder of Nikka, recounting his journey to Scotland to master the craft of making whisky. For Taketsuru to go learn in Scotland how to do things, that’s inspiring because that’s what I would love to do. I want to go to distilleries and see how it is from the ground up.

Coming from the Philippines to work in one of Singapore’s best bars, this was particularly inspiring for Erika: “To me, he's a little bit of an inspiration because I learnt the traditional way, but how can I bring that to new people? Being an immigrant as well, that's kind of a thing as well. I've been living in Singapore for 12 years.”

 

 

All eyes in the region are on Erika as the grand finale in December approaches. Erika would be representing Singapore, Malaysia, and her home country the Philippines as she steps onto the global stage in San Francisco. Not only would she be representing Cat Bite Club, but also a vibrant confluence of cultures that have shaped her. As she shakes and stirs in the grand finale, we'll be here, cheering, raising our glasses, and toasting to a talent that truly transcends borders.

We wish you all the best, Erika!

@CharsiuCharlie