An unparalleled collection of exotic spirits below the Dream Downtown Hotel.
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After the eccentric concept restaurant Romera struck out in the subterranean space below the Dream Downtown Hotel and high-end Japanese eatery Cherry took its place, sommelier Chris Johnson knew he had to do something to wow wary diners. “I wanted to make the experience here different from every other Japanese restaurant in town,” he says. “I presented the idea of putting together a whiskey program, and luckily they trusted me.”
Johnson’s idea to make Cherry the go-to spot for Japanese whiskey in New York City was risky. Japanese distilleries rarely export the spirit, so anything other than the most obvious bottles can be nearly impossible to get. But he succeeded.
Cherry has six Japanese whiskeys in stock—the only six available in the U.S. Of those, Nikki was introduced to the U.S. market this January, and Hakushu made its stateside debut last year. Johnson is working tirelessly to get first dibs on others—such as a 21-year whiskey from Hibiki that will be available at Cherry later this year.
The whiskeys have a distinct sweetness and sell for $15 to $24 a glass (and more than $110 a bottle). The blenders are highly disciplined, Johnson says. “The master blender at Yamazaki eats the same shrimp tempura every day for lunch to ensure that his palate remains consistent,” he says. The resulting Yamazaki spirit won “Best Single Malt Whiskey” at the 2011 World Whiskies Awards.
Johnson has also curated a selection of shochu that’s been aged in whiskey barrels. Recognized by their lighter hues, barrel-aged shochus have about half the alcohol content of whiskey and make a great introduction to Japanese brown spirits. There’s also a 77-bottle sake list, which features some of the most sought-after brands in the world.
Johnson’s ultimate goal is to provide a buy-and-keep service, through which patrons can purchase Japanese whiskey by the bottle and keep it at the restaurant to enjoy when dining there. In the meantime, you’ll have to inquire with the waitstaff, as the whiskey is still not on the menu.