Sunday, 7 February 2016

Tasted #256: The Last Drop Distillers 50 Year Old ‘Double Matured’ Blended Scotch

It was only a few months ago that we tried the 48yo blended Scotch whisky from The Last Drop Distillers and found it to be one of the best blends we'd tasted in a long time.

Fast forward to January and, as promised, we've now tried the next blended whisky release from The Last Drop - a 50 year old "Double Matured" blended Scotch, released this month in Hong Kong.


As we mentioned back in January, this whisky is particularly interesting as it was initially released as a 30yo blended whisky (in Taiwan in the mid 1990s), then re-racked into a sherry hogshead for a further 20 years, matured in the Scottish lowlands. After all those years, it's still managed to retain a strength of 51.8% ABV.

To introduce us to the whisky, and explain a little bit more about The Last Drop philosophy, Beanie Espey and Rebecca Jago (daughters of founders James Espey and Tom Jago) held an intimate tasting at Hong Kong's Angel's Share bar (which we reviewed back in 2014 here). The pair, who now have significant roles in running The Last Drop, talked us through a brief history of the company and their family's roles in the whisky and broader spirits industry. Collectively, their fathers were responsible for Johnnie Walker Blue (nee Oldest), Chivas Regal 18, the Diageo Classic Malts range, Malibu, Baileys Irish Cream (it was invented in Rebecca's family kitchen) and the Keepers of the Quaich program.

Impressive.

Beanie and Rebecca also gave us an interesting insight into the whisky we were about to taste. It turns out those 20 additional years, which were spent in a first fill Oloroso cask, weren't initially intended - the cask was, like so many, simply forgotten when the blender left the company. Whilst coy on some of the details, we were told that the blend contains 82 whiskies from all regions (including whisky from closed distilleries like Dallas Dhu), and was aged for 30 years in a Bourbon barrel before the aforementioned 20 years of "finishing" in Oloroso.

I'd been nosing the glass throughout the presentation, but it was at this point I decided it was time to dive in....


The Last Drop 50 Year Old "Double Matured" Blended Scotch Whisky (51.8% ABV, 50yo, Blend, Scotland, $36,888HKD)
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Colour: Deep dark copper (distinctly different to the vibrant bright gold of the 48yo!)

Nose: Fresh tropical fruit initially - papaya, guava, passionfruit. Then Leather. There's oak, for sure, but it's in perfect balance. Cola, sugary coke bottle lollies, sweet confectionary. 

Palate: Spice. Passionfruit and pineapple. Coke bottle lollies again (hmm is there some Glenfarclas in this?). The oak is still in perfect balance, and the whisky feels like it could have many years still to go. A few drops of water amps up the sherry (adding mocha / milk chocolate notes, and some leather), and tones down the fruitier notes. There's the tiniest hint of smoke too.

Finish: Long, with milk chocolate, coffee and leather. 

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 95/100. Just incredible. I love a well-aged ex-Bourbon whisky, for the big tropical fruit notes, and I love a well-aged, heavily sherried whisky for the "Christmas cake" notes. This has both. In spades. A stunning achievement and yet still such a vibrant whisky. It's only February but I suspect this will be one of the highlight tastings of the year for us.


Approximately 40-50 bottles of the 50 year old "Double Matured" blended Scotch will be making their way to Hong Kong, priced at $36,888HKD. Pricing outside HK isn't yet known, but Master of Malt have been known to stock previous releases (and still stock the 48 year old).

TimeforWhisky would like to thank Beanie, Rebecca, The Last Drop Distillers  and Quintessentially & Co for inviting us to taste this amazing whisky.

Cheers,
Martin.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Malt Masters HK 2016 preview and tasting (Tasted #253 - 255)

The Malt Masters Hong Kong Whisky festival, as we mentioned back in December, is returning to Hong Kong in a few short weeks, to be held at Conrad Hong Kong on 27th and 28th February. To give give us a taste of what to expect, Malt Masters recently invited media to a private preview and tasting, held in one of the Conrad rooms that will host the festival.

Malt Masters are veterans of the HK whisky scene, having hosted their first festival 3 years ago, and a hugely successful festival in 2015 (which Steph covered here). The Malt Masters connection to the whisky industry goes back much further though, with the father of founder (and good friend of Time for Whisky) Ian McKerrow having previously run the show at Glenmorangie!


Ian opened the preview with an overview of the festival, focusing on the global mix of malts being represented at the festival this year (a theme to continue in our tasting shortly after). In addition to a number of iconic Scottish malts, the festival will feature American, Irish, Welsh, Swedish, Japanese and possibly even Indian whisky brands - both large players and boutique/craft distilleries alike.

Ian also explained that former Macallan and Dalmore Master Distiller David Robertson will be presenting in the VIP room (which will also feature the launch of the 27yo "Prometheus" Speyside single malt and tasting of a 1987 16yo Laphroaig, as well as an impressive lineup of rare and very, very old malts available for purchase by the dram). Pairing will also be a big focus of the festival this year, with cigar, cheese and food pairings all on offer (the latter courtesy of Scotch Broth Events).

Of course it wouldn't be a festival without masterclasses, and there are a number on offer over the two days, including:
  • An introductory class on the language and art of whisky drinking
  • Advice on building a whisky collection
  • Ichiro's Malt Whisky; and
  • The aforementioned pairing classes.

To preview the masterclass format, and introduce us to a few of the brands being represented, Malt Masters' brand ambassador and Head of Whisky Education Josh Tate took us through a tasting of:

Penderyn Madeira Finish (46% ABV, NAS, Single Malt, Wales,  $89.99AUD / £37.28)
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Colour: Light orange-gold.
Nose: Sweet and floral. Taffy, sherbert - lots of sweet sugary confectionary.
Palate: Youthful but not harsh. Slight chalky rubberiness at first, moving into tropical fruits - passionfriut, bananas, peaches. Some grape, white wine (Chardonnay?) style notes.
Finish: Medium length. Slightest burn at the very end, with hints of sherbert.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. 


Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 17 (43% ABV, 17yo, Blended Malt, Japan,  $1,168HKD$399AUD / £94.95)
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Colour: Gold.
Nose: Spice, pears, and some crème brûlée.
Palate: Lots of saltiness - quite surprising really as it's not a characteristic we usually get on the Yoichi or Miyagikyo (being the two single malts in this blend) - at least the ones we've tried. Some smoked herring, sea air and then just more salt. It's not offputting, just very, very...salty. 
Finish: Medium length, with the saltiness continuing through to the end.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100.  Enjoyable, and slightly odd.


The Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso Cask Strength (60.7% ABV, NAS, Single Malt, Speyside, Scotland, $880HKD / $99.99AUD / £45.46)
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Colour: Dark orange-copper.
Nose: Big fruitcake notes, as you might expect, but also sweeter notes of cake icing.
Palate: A little closed up initially (understandable considering the 60%+ ABV). Rich, quite a bit of oak, with cherries and a slight nuttiness. With some water there's a lot of spice, and the nuttiness (Brazil nuts now) gets turned up significantly.
Finish: Medium length, slightly tannic, and spicy to the end after a few drops of water.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. I tried the non cask-strength version and found it didn't really blow me away. I was hoping this would - but it didn't. An enjoyable dram, no doubt, but I'd happily take an A'bunadh or even a GlenDronach 15 over it, if looking for a heavily sherried whisky.


In addition to the festival booths and master classes, Malt Masters HK will feature Dream Drams (all attendees will get one token), a branded Glencairn, unlimited tastings, a charity raffle, dining discounts and discounted whisky sales. With all of that, we have no doubt this year's festival will be a big success.

Tickets are available now for $800HKD (day ticket), with masterclasses at an extra $200HKD, and VIP room tickets an additional $400HKD. Tickets can be purchased here for Sat 27th Feb, and here for Sun 28th Feb.

Hope to see you there!

Cheers,
Martin.

Friday, 22 January 2016

50 Year old Karuizawa, 1902 Highland Park and other results from the Bonhams Hong Kong Whisky Auction (Jan 2016)

Back in August last year we did a little write-up of the Bonhams Hong Kong whisky auction we'd just attended. That particular auction saw some ridiculously high prices, including over $900k HKD (over $160k AUD at the time) for a single bottle of Karuizawa (1960 52yo), and a complete set of Ichiro's Malt Cards (for $3,797,500 HKD, or $685,000AUD).

At the time, we questioned whether the bubble was about to burst....

Well, we've just returned from Bonhams' latest whisky auction tonight, and whilst it wasn't a disaster by any means, prices (in almost all cases) definitely seem to have come down from their peak in August last year.

Right from the outset, it was clear that bidding activity wasn't going to be on par with August. Lots were selling...but in many cases, at the very bottom of their estimate range, if not even lower. A 1986 Macallan 18 couldn't fetch $6,000HKD ($1,097AUD), and lots that would typically command bidding frenzies seemed to finish in the middle of their estimate range (like this 32yo Macallan Fine & Rare 1970, which went for $67,375HKD inc premium, compared to this younger 1976 which fetched $88,200HKD last time around).


When we moved onto the Japanese whiskies (always a favourite in Hong Kong), it was a similar story. Whereas last August, 1981 Karuizawas were fetching in the $30k HKD range, and some as high as $58k, this time most barely managed to reach $25k, with one going for $19k.

As we'd speculated before though, the super, ultra rare whiskies (i.e. not your average ~30yo Karuizawa of which there seems to be a LOT) fared well, with this 1960 50yo Karuizawa selling for $490,000HKD ($89,800AUD) - double its highest estimate. It must be quite a rare bottle, because we couldn't find any information on it outside of this auction. It looks a lot like this 1960 Karuizawa (a 47yo), and is even bottled at the same ABV, but is clearly from a different cask. We'd love to know more...



This 42yo Karuizawa also fared well, smashing its estimate to take in $232,750HKD inc. premium. Clearly the ultra rare Japanese whiskies are still in demand.

Last August we made specific mention of how Glenfiddich didn't garner a lot of interest in that auction, and how it often doesn't fare well on the auction circuit in general (hey, more for us to drink!) Interestingly, one of two bottles on offer at tonight's auction actually exceeded it's $18-$22k HKD range, selling for $25k HKD ($30,625HKD inc premium). Sometimes you just can't tell...

Other lots of note included:


Springbanks fared reasonably well, with some exceeding their estimates, and some Hanyus also did well, especially this Ace of Spades which went for $85k HKD (before premium) on a $60-80k estimate.


Now of course, it's important to keep a level head here. The prices attained for most of the whiskies are still huge amounts of money. Even $19k HKD (almost $3,500AUD) for a "common" Karuizawa is a significant amount of money, and still well ahead of what it sold for just 2-3 years ago...

...but I can't help but feel we're on a downward slope, and we might see this "cooling off" continue throughout 2016. Only time will tell of course, but if it means more whiskies will be opened and enjoyed, and more people will be buying whiskies to drink, then we're all for it!

(As a final note - huge thumbs up to Bonhams for their fantastic range of drams served to attendees tonight. Amongst the 13 whiskies on offer were TWO Port Ellens, a 1960's Henry McKenna Bourbon, a Cask Strength Macallan and a 10yo Old Rip Van Winkle. Tasty drams indeed.)

Cheers,
Martin.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

PR #31: The Last Drop Distillers 50 Year Old ‘Double Matured’ Blended Scotch to be released in Hong Kong

It was only a month or so ago that we tasted The Last Drop Distillers' 48yo blended whisky - a stunning and complex blend of which only 592 bottles were produced.

Not one to rest on their laurels, The Last Drop Distillers have announced their next release - this time a 50 year old, due to launch in Hong Kong next month. Pricing hasn't yet been announced, but with a previous 50yo release selling at auction last year for HK$85,750 - three times its original price - we can speculate that this release might carry a premium.

This one's particularly interesting as it was initially released as a 30yo blended whisky, then re-racked into 2nd fill sherry hogsheads for a further 20 years, matured in the Scottish lowlands (and has still managed to retain a strength of 51.8% ABV).

We'll actually be tasting this whisky next week, so will bring you our thoughts then, but for now, here's some info from the press release:
"This latest release, a 50 Year Old ‘Double Matured Blended Scotch, comprises only 898 bottles in existence, and has already been awarded 2016 Blend of the Year (26-50 Years) and 2016 Scotch Blend of the Year –in Jim Murray’s prestigious Bible.
This elegant and complex whisky was initially blended from more than fifty different Scotch whiskies, and is a fine example of the Blender’s Art. It was first blended in 1995 as a premium 30yo Blend for the Asian market and refilled into Bourbon wood for marrying. After bottling, a small and precious remnant was then refilled into 2nd Fill Sherry wood Hogsheads and returned to an old traditional maturation warehouse in the Lowlands of Scotland. The liquid was laid to rest for a further 20 years slowly maturing in perfect conditions until it was bottled by The Last Drop Distillers at its peak in late 2015. Over the course of this slow process of ageing, the whisky developed extraordinary richness and depth of flavour, taking on character traits from both woods – stone-fruit and honey from the Bourbon wood, and a rich, spicy quality from the Sherry wood creating the ‘double-matured effect. 
The original blend includes over 50 different Malt & Grain whiskies, many from distilleries long since closed, making the liquid an exceptional, complex and multi-layered whisky and utterly delicious."

Cheers,
Martin.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Bar Review #20: Foxglove (Hong Kong)

If you read our write-up from the "House of Chivas" Icon HK launch last year, you may have noticed the stunning venue in the background of the photos. That venue was the newly-opened Foxglove, which we returned to recently for the official media launch and more in-depth tour. 

Foxglove is the new venue from Ming Fat Group, who in 2014 brought us the excellent Mrs Pound in Sheung Wan. At over 4,000sq ft, it's cavernous by Hong Kong standards, yet retains an intimate feeling in every one of the 4 distinct areas.

Starting in a room which can only be described as an upmarket First class train carriage from the 1930s, we admired the red leather lounges encircling the room, the umbrellas lining both sides and the convex mirror which is sure to make for some fun Instagram photos. We're told the room will be available to patrons most nights, as well as being used for the occasional intimate gig. We've already seen it being used to good effect for whisky masterclasses too.


Moving onto the bar, we were given a decent taste of the cocktail menu on offer, starting with the "Bitter Truth", using an Angostura Bitters base (along with house-made orange cordial, Kraken spiced rum and fresh apple juice). Delicious, and a great way to show the versatility of Ango.

Then (of course) was onto the whisky cocktails - starting with the "Empire Boulevardier" which replaces Bourbon with Hibiki 12 and features house-made cardamom bitters. Citrus forward and bitter, this was right up my alley. The "Whisky Smash Twist" based on Tonka-bean infused Buffalo Trace wrapped things up with a herbal, earthy flavour. Interesting, but delicious.



The spirits selection is impressive too, with a library of old, rare cognacs and whiskies, some dating to the 1950s and many from mothballed distilleries (below is just a small taste of the bottles on offer - many of which are reserved for the VIP room - more on that later).


Next we moved onto the dining room, which the venue bills as the perfect spot for a working lunch. Hmm...we see where they're coming from, but those blue leather chairs are so comfortable (and the food / drinks so good), I don't think we'd want to go back to work after a visit!

We tried a number of dishes from both the bar snacks and dinner menus - beef tartare with Kimchi, ham and cheese toastie (with 4 types of cheese, no less), melt-in-your-mouth wagyu, and lobster tagliatelle to name a few. All fantastic.

 

Our final stop for the tour was the secret VIP room (which doubled as the Chivas Heritage room a few weeks earlier), for a tasting of Hine Cognac with Hine's Asia Pacific Brand Ambassador Mathieu Jeannin.

The small, but impressively decorated room holds a small bar (with 4 bar stools), a "library" of rare spirits, and a ceiling resembling a bookshelf. Easily one of the most impressive rooms in any bar we've seen in Hong Kong, it will be available to guests ordering rare, special or high-end spirits, and other VIP guests.


Foxglove is located at Printing House 2/F, 6 Duddell Street (also accessible from 18 Icehouse St), Central, and is open from Midday (Mon-Sat) until 1am (Mon-Thurs) or 3am (Fri-Sat). Well worth a visit for dinner, drinks, or (ideally) both.

Cheers,
Martin.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

PR #30: Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016

It took the whisky world (perhaps that should be the whisky auction world) by storm when a certain Mr Murray voted the 2013 release as "World Whisky of the Year" last year, and now it's back, with the iminent release of the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016.

Sure to be an instant sell-out, the 5,000 bottle worldwide release (246 for Australian bars and retail stores, HK release figures unknown) from Suntory is due next month.

There's scant detail on the rest of the "cask collection" (these releases usually consist of 4 different bottlings - a Mizunara cask, a Bourbon cask, a Puncheon and the Sherry cask) but since Mr Murray's award, it seems the Sherry Cask is the one on everyone's radar.



With only 5,000 bottles to be released, we're sure Suntory could use any old sherry casks and still sell out in minutes - but instead they've taken the same base as popular 2013, with an additional 2 years maturation, and thrown in some additional malts over 25 years old. Sounds like a winner to us.

We're hoping to get our hands on a bottle in the coming weeks, so we can let you know our thoughts. In the mean-time - here's the official press release:
"Suntory Whisky, the pioneer of Japanese Whisky, will launch the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 into the Australian market in February 2016. The Yamazaki Sherry Cask has been created for lovers of complex, refined, yet subtle tastes. Only 246 bottles will be available for sale in specialist whisky retailers and bars.

In 2015, Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible awarded the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 “World Whisky of the Year”. The new 2016 blend incorporates the same whiskies that created the 2013’s base with an additional two years maturation as well as adding various rare sherry cask single malt whiskies, some of which are over 25 years old.

Created by Chief Blender and Great Grandson of founder Shinjiro Torii, Shinji Fukuyo, the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 is a deliberate design, choosing from over a hundred malt whiskies. While sherry casks are both revered and feared for their strong character, Shinji Fukuyo selects only casks that hold a delicate balance of chemistry between the Yamazaki malt, and sherry cask, thereby enhancing Yamazaki’s characteristically rich and multifaceted flavour.

“Shinji Fukuyo has designed a journey in this whisky. The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 is undeniably where Spain meets Japan in the form of a whisky. To fully enjoy this journey, Fukuyo recommends the whisky first be served neat to showcase its nose. On its own, there is a clear and fresh top note. A raisin-like, deep sweetness that is both elegant and rich,” Narelle McDonald, Beam Suntory Marketing Manager for Premium Brands, said.

“You immediately taste the complexity of this liquid, and the fine balance of maturity and delicateness. Served on the rocks, the flavour opens as you begin to taste the Delaware grape-like sweetness and its slightly bitter acidity. When cut with water, there is a soft sweetness that blossoms like the first apples of the harvest,” said McDonald.

Sherry cask whisky has been a constant staple of the Suntory Whisky portfolio since 1924; a year after the distillery began construction. Shinjiro Torii started making Suntory Whisky in sherry casks imported from southern Spain, which he had originally used to blend his famous Akadama Sweet Wine.

Today, Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo visits the Northern region of Spain himself to ensure that it is his selection of Spanish oak to be sent to the “bodegas” sherry wineries to be made into sherry casks used to store their Oloroso Sherry. Fukuyo carefully oversees this entire process, from the selection and making of the casks, to the charring, and the aging of their sherry. After three years of aging, the sherry casks are sent back to Suntory Whisky, ready to receive what becomes the distinguished Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky."
(We've met Fukuyo-san twice now, and had no idea he was the Great Grandson of Shinjiro Torii. Nice guy, great blender AND from Japanese whisky royalty! Cool.)

The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 will be available in selected specialist whisky retailers and bars from February 2016, priced at $450AUD RRP.

Cheers,
Martin.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Please Don't Tell (PDT) Pop up Bar - Hong Kong (Bar Review #19)


As we mentioned last month, the legendary New York cocktail institution PDT (Please Don't Tell) has made its way to Hong Kong, setting up a month-long pop up bar at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong.

Far from being a half-hearted, branded attempt to cash in on the continuing success of one of the world's most famous cocktail bars, the pop up (a collaboration with Diageo World Class) is about as authentic as they come.


Not only has the upstairs bar been faithfully transformed (including a back bar that looks exactly like the original, taxidermy, exposed brick and yes, a phone booth entrance), but the bar's founder Jim Meehan, General Manager (and World Class USA Bartender of the Year 2013) Jeff Bell, and bartender Nick Brown are all in Hong Kong, manning the bar each night (though we're told Jim leaves at the end of this week).

 

Steph and I visited on Friday, and I returned yesterday for the media launch, where we learnt of the effort which went into planning the event over the course of a year (including discussions with a Shenzhen-based taxidermy company who didn't have a taxidermied bear, but said they "could get one". The organisers declined....)

There's no doubt about it - this has got to be the most authentic "pop up" bars we've seen, but thankfully there's been lot of local flavour injected too, with 6 (of the 12) cocktails made especially for Hong Kong. Rather than list them all here, we recommend checking out the bottom of this Lucky Peach article, written by Jim's brother. We do recommend trying both the "Red Velvet" and "Benton's Old Fashioned" though - the former because you simply won't believe how wonderfully weird coconut water and bourbon can be until you try it, and the latter because it's "the" famous PDT cocktail (and works brilliantly when made with Bulleit, which has just launched in HK).


The food menu also gets a Hong Kong touch, with four of the hot dogs designed by famous Hong Kong restaurants:
  • "Demon Dog", by Demon Chef Alvin Leung from BO Innovation (how often do you get to eat a hot dog made by a 3 Michelin-starred chef?)
  • "Yardbird",  by Matt Abergel of Yardbird
  • "Bahn Mi Trap Dog", by Jowett Yu of Ho Lee Fook (probably our favourite HK restaurant)
  • "Frenchie", by Richard Ekkebus of amber. 
(Chef Richard Ekkebus described it as an exercise in "comparing wieners").

  

The event is almost fully booked (though bar seating is available for walk-ins), and it's not hard to see why. The drinks are fantastic, the venue is an incredibly detailed and faithful re-creation, the hotdogs are delicious and the whole experience is just that - an experience.



Don't think of this as "going to a bar for drinks", think of it as an experience (and a wonderful one at that).

PDT Hong Kong
Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 5pm til late (until 30th January)
Location: MO Bar, Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong
Reservations: +852 2132 0077 or lmhkg-mobar@mohg.com

Cheers,
Martin.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Bar Review #18: Malt Whisky Bar Sheung Wan (Hong Kong)

We mentioned recently that there's a new Hong Kong Whisky Bar, nestled neatly in the Tai Ping Shan area of Sheung Wan, on Hong Kong Island (just a short walk / MTR ride from Central).

That bar is Malt Whisky Bar, which officially opened in early December. Steph and I actually stumbled upon Malt walking home one day (as you do these days in Hong Kong...) so it was great to finally drop in for a proper look around (and maybe a dram or two).


After spending an hour or so chatting to the staff, admiring the collection and trying some fantastic drams, I have to say - Malt has exactly the right formula You know how some whisky bars have great collections, but can be overly stuffy, formal, or just so expensive that you don't feel comfortable staying for more than one? Not here. Consider this your "friendly local bar", with an awesome selection of drams, great cocktails and staff who know their stuff. The sort of place you could happily spend all night.


The collection currently sits at around 290 bottles (with more being added), and covers a good portion of the globe - with Indian, Australian, Scottish, Irish and Japanese all well represented. An impressive backlit "library" of ultra-rare malts greets you on entry (think OB Port Ellens, Hibiki 30, Karuizawas, rare Ardbegs and Laphroaig 32 amongst others - all available by the bottle), whilst the back bar houses an impressive selection,available by the dram. Prices are very reasonable for HK - with Glenmorangie 10yo for $90HKD, Nikka from the Barrel also for $90HKD, and Highland Park Dark Origins for $165HKD. It's also refreshing to see the bar hasn't added a ridiculous "Japanese whisky tax" like some bars, with Hakushu 12 for $150HKD and Yoichi 15 for $260HKD (not bad, considering what these bottles now sell for).


Flights are also on offer (including an "around the world" flight), and the bar also hosts various tasting events, like this upcoming event on 13th January hosted by Eddie Nara, which includes GlenDronach 21, Old Pulteney 17, Auchentoshan Three Wood, Springbank 18 and Octomore 6.3. For those who prefer their drinks mixed, the cocktail list is worth a look (the attention to detail put into the Christmas cocktail we tried was impressive).


The bar itself is quite small, with a narrow design, but they've used the space well and designed it to feel open and inviting. You could easily come here with a group of 6-8 and still feel comfortable.

We get the impression that the owners and staff here are just down to earth whisky lovers who want to share their love of whisky with the neighbourhood - which is exactly the sort of bar we want to drink in



Address: 19 New St, Sheung Wan
Phone: +852 2858 0058
Hours: Open until midnight Mon-Sat.


Cheers,
Martin.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Tasted #252: Glenfarclas 105 40 year old

Happy New Year!

Our first post of 2016, and 6th tasting note for a 40 year old whisky (the others being from Balvenie, Glenfiddich, The Glenrothes, Glenfarclas and Master of Malt) comes courtesy of this Glenfarclas 105 40 year old, which I tasted recently at the excellent new Malt Whisky Bar in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong (review up soon).



For those unfamiliar with the "105", it's Glenfarclas' sherried cask strength release, released regularly and considered by many to be one of the best value "sherry bombs" out there, often compared with Aberlour's A'bunadh. At $778HKD,  $119.90AUD  or  £45.13, it's definitely one worth having in your collection (you can see our recent tasting notes with George Grant here).

That's not the whisky above though. The whisky above is significantly more special.

One of only 893 bottles, the 105 40 year old was released in 2008 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 105. Bottled at the same 60% as the regular 105, but with significantly more years under its belt, I was particularly keen to see how it fared with the other two Glenfarclas 40 year olds we've tried (and for that matter, the 50 and 60 year old Glenfarclas "secret Speyside whiskies" we've tried in recent years).

I count myself incredibly lucky to have tried this, and am hugely grateful to those who allowed me to do so....


Glenfarclas '105' 40 year old (60% ABV, 40yo, Speyside, Scotland, $3,500AUD$19,800HKD)
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Colour: Molasses, treacle.

Nose: Huge amounts of cola - rich juicy cola - sour 'Coke bottles' (lollies) and sour gummy worms. Exactly the same notes I've had on almost every single Glenfarclas I've tried over the age of 30 years (which is 8 and counting), but ramped up big time.

Palate: Initially hot and a little closed up, but with clear notes of sherry-soaked dates, raisins and brazil nuts. With a few drops of water - almonds, red wine, aged leather, cigar smoke. Absolutely everything you want in a dram to just sit and "chew" on. Marvellous.

Finish: Long and tannic, but beautifully so. Some heavily sherried whiskies can be overly bitter/drying (especially some older Japanese expressions, I find). Not this - it's perfect. Some cigar smoke, some earthiness, and a little more cola round it out.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 94/100. Absolutely fantastic. Worth trying without, and then with a few drops of water (but not too much). However you drink it, if you ever get the chance, you're in for a treat.

Cheers,
Martin.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Laphroaig Masterclass with Master Distiller John Campbell (Tasted: #244-251)

To mark the 200th anniversary of Laphroaig, John Campbell, Laphroaig's Master Distiller recently toured Australia to celebrate the momentous milestone with Laphroaig fans across the country and to showcase the fine Laphroaig range. If you recall, John was also one of the four great whisk(e)y figures that fronted the challenge at the Great Whisky Rumble against Fred Noe, Dan Tullio and Mike Miyamoto. Following the bout, John hosted a couple of Laphroaig masterclasses across Sydney, the first at the Clock Hotel in Surry Hills and the second masterclass at the Grain Bar at Four Seasons.

I attended the second Laphroaig masterclass at Grain Bar. Having had the classic Laphroaig 10 year old over the year (and having enjoyed it) and also following my sampling of the Laphroaig Quarter Cask at the Whisky Rumble, I was looking forward to tasting other Laphroaig expressions. What John and his team showcased at the Masterclass was impressive - including:
  • Laphroaig Select Cask 
  • Laphroaig 10 Year Old
  • Laphroaig 15 Year Old (200th Anniversary Edition)
  • Laphroaig 18 Year Old
  • Laphroaig Quarter Cask
  • Laphroaig 25 Year Old
  • Laphroaig Cairdeas 2012
  • Laphroaig Triple Wood
Being Islay born and bred, John Campbell loves all that is Islay. John briefly spoke to his history at Laphroaig which commenced on 14 November 1994 at the Laphroaig warehouse, and since then, has seen him work across the distillery before becoming the Distillery Manager in January 2006. Throughout his time, John had tinkered with different expressions and bottlings and also helped to grow the Laphroaig brand that people have come to know and love globally.

During the same period, there was also the decision to discontinue the rather popular Laphroaig 15 in 2009 to make way for the Laphroaig 18. Though, as John mentioned at the Great Whisky Rumble, six years later, the Laphroaig 15 was resurrected as part of the 200th anniversary. Having spoken to different people about this, the sense is that the old Laphroaig 15 is perceived as the better expression than the new Laphroaig 15 released this year. Martin had also tried this particular dram back in 2013 and found it to be one very pleasant dram. Nevertheless, despite the different views, as Laphroaig had recently campaigned, all opinions are welcomed and we can all share our thoughts as we enjoy a Laphroaig dram or two.

As the host, John was also joined by our local Laphroaig aficionado Dan Woolley, National Laphroaig Ambassador and Michael Nouri, Laphroaig Brand Ambassador. Both Dan and Michael have made their mark in the whisky (and drinks) industry over the years, and it was good to see them both supporting John at the Laphroaig masterclass.

The masterclass took us from the lightest Laphroaig, sometimes coined as the 'Breakfast Laphroaig' - the Laphroaig Select, all the way to Laphroaig 25 Year Old and the Cairdeas release from 2012. I was amazed at the breadth of the different Laphroaig expressions, and yet we all know that the lineup is only a small subset of the larger Laphroaig portfolio. In fact, following this masterclass, I sampled the Laphroaig 10 Cask Strength (which is, in my view, truly remarkable) and am currently eyeing the Laphroaig An Cuan Mor; a Laphroaig travel retail expression that involved the use of first-fill bourbon barrel. Will have to see if I can sample it soon.


Let's begin with the tasting...

Laphroaig Select Cask (40% ABV, NAS, Islay, Scotland, $90.99 AUD / $480 HKD)
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An interesting, light Laphroaig expression that blends five different whisky maturation profiles including whiskies that have been matured in oloroso sherry butts, European oak, Pedro Ximenez sherry hogshead, ex-bourbon quarter cask, first-fill ex-bourbon American oak and virgin American oak. The opinions shared through 'Friends of Laphroaig' were split; 50% loved it, 50% hated it. I think this is one approachable Laphroaig, or perhaps, one approachable Islay whisky, a breakfast whisky.

Colour: Light chardonnay


Nose: The nose balances sweetness and peat with vanilla, very light peat and some medicinal note followed by wood fire smoke, a hint of lemon and buttery, toasted coconut


Palate: The palate is warm, filled with spices, there is wood fire smoke, lemon myrtle, peppermint, and baked cinnamon spiced cake

Finish: Medium warm finish and a soft peat note lingers


Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 89/100.


Laphroaig 10 (40% ABV, 10yo, Islay, Scotland, $78.95 AUD / $660 HKD)
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The classic Laphroaig 10 is the highest selling Islay Whisky globally and in fact, it's John Campbell's Laphroaig of choice. This is an enjoyable expression though I am a recent convert of the cask strength version of this expression.

Colour: Golden amber

Nose: The nose is filled with loads and loads of Laphroaig peat notes and then some salty, maritime, damp forest moss, iodine (band-aid) notes followed by wood fire smoke

Palate: The maritime notes is carried through with sweet vanilla and black peppercorn

Finish: The finish is dry with lingering peat

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100


Laphroaig 15 - 200th Anniversary Edition (43% ABV, NAS, Islay, Scotland, $164.99 AUD$1,380 HKD)
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The 200th anniversary version of the Laphroaig 15 is a resurrected version of the 15 year old. This particular expression was released to Friends of Laphroaig and it sold out in hours though stock has been replenished in recent months.

Colour: Golden

Nose: Cherry, toffee and tropical fruits (hint of passionfruit) and  lemon myrtle

Palate: Soft but sweet at first with sweet vanilla and some of the passionfruit coming through followed by some iodine, wood fire smoke and savoury popcorn

Finish: Extremely long and enjoyable with loads of spices, the finish is rather complex

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100


Laphroaig 18 (48% ABV, 18yo, Islay, Scotland, $179.99 AUD$1,660 HKD)
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One of my highlights of the night - simply beautiful. John Campbell described that this particular expression included older whiskies, whiskies from the 18 year old and 21 year old batches.

Colour: Golden with tinge of amber 

Nose: Loads of citrus; lemon myrtle, orange and a hint of passionfruit, also I get breakfast cereal, grain notes and soft hint of peat

Palate: Sweet vanilla is prevalent at first, I get toffee apple, aniseed and soft peat smoke

Finish: The finish is extremely long and the sweet, fruity notes still live on with passionfruit and light vanilla notes on the finish, spices also linger

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100


Laphroaig Quarter Cask (48% ABV, NAS, Islay, Scotland, $110.99 AUD$730 HKD)
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Another classic and a favourite of many. A beautiful creation that makes use of small bourbon quarter casks for finish resulting in big and bold sweet notes.

Colour: Golden, slightly amber 

Nose: Thick and you can smell summer fruits then it mellows out and I get breakfast cereal, grain. The peat is soft.

Palate: Sweet vanilla ice cream, then followed with warm spices, aniseed spices

Finish: Long finish, the sweet and fruity notes, just like the Laphroaig 18, carry through - passionfruit and light vanilla that stay for some time

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100


Laphroaig 25 (51% ABV, 25yo, Islay, Scotland, $549.99 HKD$5,680 HKD)
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Another interesting, big, bold Laphroaig that is rich in flavour with gentle peat overall. Bottled at cask strength, this expression keeps on giving.

Colour: Gold

Nose: Rich, filled with tropical fruits (hints of passionfruit), maritime notes and with very gentle peat

Palate: The richness is also evident on the palate with soft vanilla, breakfast grain cereal and dark chocolate cherry

Finish: I get loads of spices on the medium, dry finish

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100


Laphroaig Cairdeas 2012 (51.2% ABV, NAS, Islay, Scotland, $159.99 AUD)
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A Cairdeas release from 2012 brought to us by Michael Noury and Dan Woolley. This was served with a special Laphroaig cured prosciutto, just enough oils from the cut to cleanse and ready the palate for this special expression which saw the use of quarter casks for seven years and the blending of whisky from the 18 year old through to 21 year old batches. Bottled at cask strength, this was a particularly enjoyable expression - in fact, my favourite of them all.


Colour: Gold

Nose: Almond shortbread, vanilla, gaytime ice cream (perhaps from the nutty notes) and there is a slight hint of smoke

Palate: The palate is rich and oily with sweet vanilla, big whack of spices, loads and loads and followed with loads of peat wood fire smoke

Finish: Extremely long, rich, warming finish, one would appreciate this finish on a good winter day.


Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 94/100


Laphroaig Triple Wood (48% ABV, NAS, Islay, Scotland, $116.99 AUD)
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Laphroaig Triple Wood saw the triple maturation of whiskies from the first maturation in American oak, ex-bourbon barrels, followed by maturation in a small 19th century style ex-bourbon Quarter Casks. The final maturation was done in specially selected, large European oak, oloroso sherry butts. The result is a wonderfully rich and powerful Islay single malt.

Colour: Aged, tired gold

Nose: Floral with loads of sweet vanilla, lemon citrus, a slight hint of peat, wood smoke and toffee apple

Palate: Soft, savoury white pepper, grain cereal then followed by hints of peat, damp moss, cardamon, cinnamon spices

Finish: Dry and extremely long with lingering white pepper spices

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100

So there we go - eight Laphroaig expressions later and I am truly a Laphroaigconvert, a Friend of Laphroaig and have shared one or two Laphroaig opinions. With John Campbell at the helm, Laphroaig has gone from strength to strength, exemplified through all the interesting and bold Laphroaig expressions released under his watch. Now with 200 years under Laphroaig's belt, I believe the future is bright for the distillery and I am personally excited for what's to come from Laphroaig and John next year.

Until then, keep on dramming.

Cheers,
Hendy

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Tasted #243: Mars Komagatake "Single Sherry Cask" bottled for Mitsukoshi Isetan (Cask #1436)

Turns out that when I was in Japan recently I'd picked an excellent week to be there. Not just because of Whisky Live / Modern Malt Market, but also because a few limited Japanese whiskies were released that week (and as most of you would know, if you put the words "limited" and "Japanese whisky" together, the result is typically a quick sell-out).

One of those whiskies was a 3 year old single sherry cask Mars Komagatake, bottled at 58% for the large department store Isetan. I spotted this one when wondering around the store's basement level, and noticed it was available for tasting, along with another "Super Heavily Peated" release. Whilst the tastings didn't come as cheap as Liquors Hasegawa, 1000yen (approx $11.50AUD / $65HKD) seemed a very fair price to pay for a (generous) sample of each.

I enjoyed both, but preferred the sherry cask and took home two bottles (one of which was subsequently polished off in one sitting with a few good friends a few weeks ago).

I was lucky I bought them when I did, as the "Super Heavily Peated" sold out while I was there, and I heard the sherry cask sold out just a few hours later.

That's Japanese whisky these days I guess!



Mars Komagatake "Single Sherry Cask" bottled for Mitsukoshi Isetan (58% ABV, Cask #1436, 3yo, one of 297 bottles, Nagano Prefecture, Japan, no longer available)
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Colour: Light straw (it looks darker in the photo).

Nose: Sherried peat, with some bananas. I actually had to check to make sure I hadn't switched the glasses - there was quite a lot of peat on this one (I hadn't - there was even more peat on the "Super Heavily Peated").


Palate: Big zingy peat hit at first. Lots of rich caramels and smoked meats. Mocha notes too.

Finish: Long, ever so slightly hot, and full of smoky barbecued meat. Smoked pork neck at the very end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. Clearly young, but very very enjoyable (which might explain how a few of us polished off a bottle in one sitting...)





Cheers,
Martin.

Monday, 28 December 2015

The Macallan Jazz Appreciation (Tasted #240-242: Macallan Rare Cask, Edition No.1 and Chairman's Release)

Edrington Hong Kong recently completed their series of "Jazz Appreciation with The Macallan" events with a fantastic finalé at one of our favourite Hong Kong Whisky BarsTiffany's New York Whisky Bar.

Described as reminiscent of the "roaring 1920s" New York Jazz scene, the event saw 5 expressions from The Macallan paired with Jazz tunes from a trio led by Jazz maestro Ted Lo.

Fine Oak 12 was served on arrival, as guests chatted and admired the line-up of drams (which for us was especially exciting, as it was our chance to finally try two new expressions - the Rare Cask and Edition No.1).


After taking our seats, Edrington's Peter Woo gave a brief introduction before handing over to our host for the night - good friend of TimeforWhisky and IWSC Judge Eddie Nara. Eddie explained that each dram had been paired with a jazz tune that showed similar characteristics. The line-up was:

  • The Macallan 12 Fine Oak (on arrival)
  • The Macallan 12 Sherry Oak
  • The Macallan 15 Fine Oak
  • The Macallan Edition No.1
  • The Macallan 17 Fine Oak
  • The Macallan Rare Cask

Whilst we didn't take detailed notes on the songs (this is a whisky blog not a Jazz blog, after all), both Steph and I thought they were well-matched - for example the Fine Oak 15 was matched with a light, playful "Summertime" Jazz song, whereas the Edition No.1 was matched with a heavier, deeper bossa nova track called "One note Samba".


We've visited some of the above drams previously, so have kept the tasting notes to the two that were new to us, plus an interesting addition that a friend had kindly brought along....

The Macallan Edition No.1 (48% ABV, NAS, Highlands Scotland, $680HKD)
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Colour: Bright vibrant amber-orange
Nose: Reminiscent of a heartier Sherry Oak 12. Flint, mocha, some Christmas cake. Trademark sherry characteristics, and very in your face (more so than the Sherry Oak 12).
Palate: A continuation of the nose - lots of Christmas cake (cherries, Brazil nuts, also some raisins) but a lot bolder and richer than you get from other sherried Macallans (the 48% no doubt helps). Lots of pecans, but also some sherbert sweetness and even a little bit of bubblegum. More complex than the Sherry Oak 12.
Finish: Long, sherried and just delicious.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. Definitely one worth considering for any whisky fan living in (or visiting) HK. Good value at only $130HKD or so more than the Sherry Oak 12 (itself an excellent whisky).


The Macallan Rare Cask (43% ABV, NAS, Highlands Scotland, $2,680HKD / £189.50)
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Bottled from 256 casks (all sherried, many first-fill).
Colour: Dark orange gold.
Nose: Clearly sherried, with quite a bit of toffee, but whereas the Edition No.1 was "in your face" (in a good way), this was subtle, smooth, barely peeking its head out.
Palate: The theme continues - it's elegant, refined, and smooth, but....too refined? Too smooth? Perhaps, for my palate at least. There's caramel toffee sweetness and some raisins, but it's all just a bit smooth and inoffensive.
Finish: Long with some tropical fruit and even some Banoffee pie.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. A very well made whisky, and I'm sure it'll be a hit with those looking for a smooth, elegant dram, but for me, I'm looking for something with a bit more power, a bit more "oomph".


That was it for the whiskies on offer, however as we were enjoying the last tune, a friend and fellow whisky-lover brought over a bottle of The Macallan Chairman's Release (1700 Series) he'd acquired in Taiwan, and asked if we were interested. Not one to knock back a Macallan I'd never tried (let alone one selling for up to £1,500 per bottle!) I happily said yes and was poured a hearty dram!


The Macallan Chairman's Release (43% ABV, NAS, Highlands Scotland, No longer available)
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Released as a limited edition for the China Market in 2011 as part of the "1700 Series", in a Cognac-esque short, bulbous bottle.
Colour: Dark orange.
Nose: Bitter dark orange chocolate. In fact, Terry's Chocolate Orange (Dark) in a glass!
Palate: Smooth, lots of dark chocolate, a little smoke and a little earthy flintiness. Very much a dessert whisky.
Finish: Long and slightly smokey, still continuing with notes of chocolate oranges.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. A very enjoyable and unique Macallan - one I didn't even know existed previously!


There are a lot of whisky pairing events these days (dinner, cigars, chocolate, cheese), and we're happy to report that, whilst perhaps a little unusual, this pairing of music and whisky was just as enjoyable.

TimeforWhisky would like to thank Edrington HK for the invitation, and for the many excellent whisky events throughout 2015.

Cheers,
Steph & Martin.