Monday, 27 April 2015

Distillery Tour #4: Suntory Yamazaki Distillery (Japan)

It's taken a while to get around to writing this post, but on the same JapanTour14 trip where Steph and I visited the Suntory Hakushu Distillery, we also visited Yamazaki, located about 30 minutes from Osaka  (15 min from Kyoto) by JR train. Our visit again came thanks to some help from Suntory Australia.

As Japan's first malt whisky distillery, Yamazaki was established by Suntory founder Shinjiro Torii in 1923, making use of the town's "famous" water from the foot of Mount Tenno to (eventually) make a whisky to suit the delicate Japanese palate.

As a tour, the Yamazaki offering doesn't differ too greatly in format or sights to the Hakushu tour. There's a small visitor museum with plenty of historical bottles (including the first Suntory SMWS bottlings - 119.1 and 120.1), and the famous Yamazaki Library - which is worth a visit to the visitor centre on its own. There you'll find thousands and thousands of bottles of Suntory single malt, aged in a variety of different casks, at a variety of ages, and even some flavoured whiskies. We even saw a Lavender Yamazaki, and a Yamazaki Rye! Sadly all are for show and none are for tasting, but the distillery does have an excellent bar like Hakushu - more on that later.


Apart from that, you get the same guided tour, with an audio guide for non-Japanese speakers (which was actually the same recording as Hakushu in parts), a brief walk around the facilities and grounds (getting up close and personal in some areas, like the barrel house, and not so close to others, like the stills or washbacks), and a guided tasting / highball at the end.

As a distillery though, Yamazaki differs immensely to the much more modern Hakushu, and feels much more like a traditional Scottish distillery, with none of the automated cask management found at Hakushu. The distillery does feel big though - and gives the feeling of a large factory set amongst tranquil country side. 2013 saw Yamazaki install 4 new stills, bringing the total to 16, and while the distillation room was closed for maintenance, what we saw made it clear that this is a large operation.

We'll let the photos do the talking...

The barrel house provides some great photo opportunities, and also includes a little Japanese whisky history - casks first laid down in 1924! The eagle-eyed can also spot a few Chita (grain whisky) casks aging away too.

The shop is slightly smaller than Hakushu's, and doesn't include any unusual or distillery-edition bottlings (though you can buy bottles of Chita single grain). As with Hakushu, the bar is definitely worth spending some time at, with a very similar menu at the same excellent prices. If you've ever wanted to try Yamazaki 18 or 25, and not break the bank, this is the place. In fact, you can even try Hibiki 35yo, but at 15,000¥ (~$975HKD or $160AUD) for 10mL, we passed... 

The tour itself isn't going to blow the minds of hardcore malt fanatics, but as an entire experience (the tour, the library, the tasting bar, the museum) it's definitely worth a visit, especially if you happen to find yourself in Osaka or Kyoto with half a day to spare.

Steph & Martin.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Tasted #174: Georgia Moon Corn Spirit (#101drams)

Years ago, when dad and I first visited Scotland and the UK, we noticed a curious-looking "whiskey" called "Georgia Moon"at The Whisky Exchange in London (a shop I recently returned to and was pleased to see it was as much an enthusiast destination as before).

The "whiskey" caught my eye because:
  1. It came in a jar (and this is before drinking alcohol from a jar became de rigueur in Hipsterland)
  2. It was clear (so presumably a new make or very close to it)
  3. It proudly boasted that it was "Less than 30 days old" (0 is less than 30, right?)
..and so, despite the fact that it's effectively a Heaven Hill-distilled Bourbon new make, and surely a joke more than a serious product (designed to look, feel and taste like "moonshine"), it was deemed interesting enough to be added to the #101drams list.

Georgia Moon spirit (40% ABV, "less than 30 days old", Kentucky, USA, £23.15)
Colour: Clear as water.

Nose: Spirity, doughy (as in bread-like), with some slightly pleasing corn notes and some far less pleasing detergent notes.

Palate: Smooth enough (though some burn at the back of the throat presents after a while), oats, Kelloggs Nutri-Grain, and an off-putting chemical taste I couldn't quite put my finger on.

Finish: Chemicals, stale bread, corn flakes. Not too long (thankfully).

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 77/100. Unsurprisingly - not very good.


Monday, 13 April 2015

Annandale Distillery - A Spirit reborn

One the same weekend I attended Malt Masters HK, TimeforWhisky was also invited to a presentation of the Annandale Distillery project, organised by Eddie Nara, Co-founder and Chairman of Malt and Grain Whisk(e)y Society Hong Kong. Martin sure picked a busy (whisky) weekend to be away!

The presentation was led by Professor David Thomson, Founder and chairman of the Annandale distillery project. David’s lovely wife, Teresa Church who has worked closely with him in each step of the project greeted all guests and appeared genuinely interested in learning about the backgrounds of all attendees. The event was the first time Annandale’s new make ‘Rascally Liquor’ had been launched in Hong Kong.

David’s whisky passion developed and grew over time as his wife gifted him with bottles of whiskies for birthday and Christmas celebrations. He read about Annandale in the book ‘Scotch Missed’ by Brian Townsend and went on to purchase, renovate, and re-build the Annandale brand. Hailing from marketing, market research and brand development background, David and Teresa purchased the building in 2007, commenced restoration in 2011 and started production in late 2011. Conveniently located on the England-Scotland border, Annandale was one of the oldest legal distilleries in Scotland and was previously owned by 3 families, one of which was John Walker and Sons (1895-1918).

David took the group on a photo journey of the grounds and production process, and detailed the creation of the branding of the ‘Rascally Liquor New Make’ (63.5%) which comes in both peated and unpeated varieties. The peated new make aims to be smoky and complex and the spirit is currently being matured in second fill bourbon and sherry casks. The unpeated new make aims to be fiery and fruity, and uses different yeast to what is used in the peated process. Each will be sold as new makes to give consumers a taste of what is to come [Martin: and to no doubt provide some income until such time the distillery starts offering "whisky"].


The names and branding of each single malt (which will be ready for purchase and consumption in 3 years time) reflect both the rich maritime history of Annandale, as well as prominent local individuals including King Robert Bruce, the 7th Earl of Annandale who was also a warrior and liberator of Scotland; and Robert Burns, Poet, song writer and Baird of Scotland (and excise man of Annandale). The Man O’Swords (peated single malt) and the Man O’Words (unpeated single malt) will be sold at 46% alcohol by volume.

Despite not typically sharing Martin's enthusiasm for new make, I found myself enjoying these - especially the peated version. It will be interesting to see how these turn out as "whiskies" when they are released as such in 3 years time!

- Steph

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Tasted #173: Glenfarclas 1979 34yo Family Cask for Shinanoya Tokyo

During our recent visit to Campbelltoun Loch, Tokyo (part of our JapanTour14), we were keen to try as many good drams as (sensibly) possible, but especially those which were either unique to Japan, or very difficult to find elsewhere. One that placed a big tick in that first box was this 34yo Glenfarclas Family Cask release, bottled specifically for Shinanoya (a bottle shop in Japan) on 31st July 2013 and distilled in 1979.

Glenfarclas 1979 34yo Family Cask bottled for Shinanoya (52.1% ABV, 34yo, one of 209 bottles from cask 8800, Speyside, Scotland, no longer available)
Colour: Light gold

Nose: Steph and I walked past a lolly (sweet / confectionary) shop earlier in the day, and this smelled exactly like that - big sugary confectionary notes - boiled lollies most predominantly.

Palate: Easily one of the most unique whiskies I've ever tried. The notes on the nose carry right through, giving big notes of sour warheads and sour gummy worms (Steph got green frogs). There were some honey notes, but they took a big back seat to the sour lollies.

Finish: Medium to long, and sour to the very end. Certainly not what I was expecting.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. Really good. But REALLY odd. But really good.

Martin (and Steph).

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Bushmills Tasting at PJ's Irish Whiskey Bar with Simon McGoram (Tasted #168-172)

Having tasted the Jameson series just before St Pat's day a few weeks back at the CCWC, I was looking forward to embarking on another Irish whiskey journey through the Bushmills whiskey dinner at PJ's Irish Whiskey Bar in Sydney. Given the rising (and continuing) success of Scottish single malt whiskies globally, it will be interesting to see if the Irish distillers follow the path and push through innovative expressions, such as what we have seen recently from Teeling Whiskey Company.

PJ's Irish Whiskey Bar is a whisky bar housed in the upper George Street Irish branded venue, Jacksons on George (as owned by the Gallagher Hotels). The bar itself features your classic Irish whiskies - from Jameson, Tullamore D.E.W, New Middleton, Powers to a range of Bushmills (as featured on the menu for the night). The bar also showcases other whisky expressions from Scotland, America, Japan and Australia.

The Bushmills whiskey dinner was hosted by avid whisky enthusiast Simon McGoram, former Porteño Bar Manager and Co-Owner of the Neighbourhood Bar / Restaurant in Bondi. Upon arriving, we caught up with Simon and checked out the Bushmills line-up for the night:
  • Bushmills Original
  • Bushmills Black Bush
  • Bushmills 10yo
  • Bushmills 16yo
  • Bushmills 21yo
The Old Bushmills distillery is renowned as the oldest distillery in Ireland, and in the world -- out-aging even the oldest distilleries in Scotland - Glenturret and Bowmore. Founded in 1608 in County Antrim, Ireland, the Old Bushmills distillery has had its fair share of success and chaos. The distillery survived the introduction of the malt tax in the 1800s, destruction of by fire, the tumultuous prohibition era, and world wars. The distillery had recently been featured on Irish banknotes to mark its 400 years anniversary.

The inherent flavour profile of the Bushmills expressions is said to be rather sweet and honey-laden. Like most of its Irish whiskey brethren, Bushmill is triple-distilled in pot stills from unpeated barley. A number of expressions, including the original Bushmills have grain whiskey blended together with the malt whiskey.


The Bushmills whiskey dinner paired the Bushmills range with a set of delectable whiskey inspired dishes from light smoked salmon / creme fraiche to match the light Bushmills Original to a reuben, as complemented by the Black Bush and a simple bread and butter pudding finished with a whiskey custard -- taking the flavour profile from the 16yo. The sweet and decadent 21yo was nicely paired with a traditional oatmeal cookie, topped with an Irish Cashel Blue cheese, honey and muscatel raisins. The five course menu was designed by Executive Chef Ronny Ghantous.

So then, onto the series of Bushmills whiskies...

Bushmills Original Irish Whiskey (40% ABV, NAS, Antrim, Ireland, $40AUD)
A standard, light blended Irish whiskey expression. Much like a number of the light Jameson expressions tasted at CCWC a couple of weeks back.

Colour: Pale amber

Nose: The nose begins with some honey with a citrus peel edge and then some vanilla
Palate: A light, sweet vanilla begins to build on the palate which is then followed by a hint of citrus and toffee and a touch of honey
Finish: Not as long running, rather it was a short finish

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 87/100. It's light, sweet, easy on the palate though fairly un-interesting.

Bushmills Black Bush Irish Whiskey (40% ABV, NAS, Antrim, Ireland, $48AUD)
A richer NAS blended whiskey with higher malt than grain in the blend and aged in a higher percentage of American oak Oloroso sherry casks.

Colour: Dark caramel

Nose: The Black Bush smells of sherry coupled with crumbs of banana bread, a hint of vanilla of some spices
Palate: The palate is light, though smooth and creamy and exhibits that sherry profile with a hint of vanilla, honey and cinnamon
Finish: Medium finish with heat from the dried spices and lingers with some sherry

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. It's light, smooth, creamy and carries a nice sherry profile -- might be a good candidate for a breakfast Irish whiskey

Bushmills 10 Year Old Irish Whiskey (40% ABV, 10yo, Antrim, Ireland, $60AUD)
A light and creamy single malt Irish whiskey matured in two woods, bourbon and sherry casks

Colour: Light gold

Nose: The nose smells of pears, vanilla and is that chocolate eclair in there
Palate: Similar to the Black Bush, the palate is light, creamy, vanilla sweet and honey laden. There palate is also slightly nutty towards the end
Finish: A smooth and creamy medium finish and hint of black pepper that lingers on

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 89/100. It's a nice light, creamy and sweet expression; quite a simple expression

Bushmills 16 Year Old Irish Whiskey (40% ABV, 16yo, Antrim, Ireland, $110AUD)
A rich and creamy single malt expression aged in olorosso sherry and bourbon casks and finished in port wine casks.

Colour: Rusted nail

Nose: The nose hints of chocolate and honey, quite sweet
Palate: Creamy and leathery. There is that hint of sherry, citrus with sweetness from chocolate and custard. The palate then develops into a more nutty toffee profile.
Finish: Quite a long finish that opens up for more

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. The three wood aging process adds to the complexity of the expression though the expression is rich

Bushmills 21 Year Old Irish Whiskey (40% ABV, 21yo, Antrim, Ireland, $230AUD)
Only 900 cases of this expression are produced annually. An intense, smooth and creamy single malt expression that is aged for 19 years in ex-bourbon and ex-oloroso sherry casks and finished for two years in madeira casks.

Colour: Dark caramel

Nose: Vanilla, chocolate with a hint of citrus and banana
Palate: At first tasting, you can taste the creaminess of the expression with some orange rind, raisins and salted caramel. The palate then proceeds to those malty flavours; toffee, cinnamon, cloves, raisins and a hint of sherry. There is also a touch of licorice towards the end.
Finish: The finish is sweet and dry and lingers on for a bit though not too long.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. A rich, old Irish whiskey that you can have by the fireplace or to complement a rich after-dinner dessert.

When compared to the Jameson expressions, the Bushmills expressions exhibit a more interesting taste profile, with a richer, sweeter note. As the oldest Irish distillery, Bushmills are well-placed to showcase what great expressions Irish distilleries can offer.

- Hendy would like to thank Red Agency for the invitation to what was an enjoyable and insightful night at the PJ's Irish Whiskey Bar, Jackson's on George.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Malt Masters Hong Kong 2015 & Charlie Maclean Masterclass

With Martin away in India (visiting Amrut Distilleries - detailed tour write-up soon), it was up to me to pick up the Glencairn and cover two back to back Hong Kong Whisky events. First up - Malt Masters Hong Kong 2015.

Hong Kong whisky enthusiasts (and those new to the whisky world) gathered at PMQ’s "the Qube" on Saturday 14th March to taste, explore and learn about all things whisky. Exhibitors present included many large and well-known brands such as Macallan, Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie, Glenrothes, Balvenie, Singleton, Arran, Old Pulteney and Jura. There were also a small number of independent bottlers (Berry’s from Berry Bros & Rudd, Hepburn, The First) and at least one new to the whisky world (Annandale - who aren't yet producing a "whisky", per se).  Although it was great to see so many Scotch whiskies, it would have been nice to see more world whiskies, particularly from other parts of Asia.

The food provided was plentiful with various tasty canapés to line stomachs, and it was great to see a few food exhibitors including Dutch Cheese, whisky ice-cream (!) and deli meats; however this attendee was there for the whisky!

The Charlie MacLean masterclass (pre-purchased as an add-on to the entry price) was informative for whisky beginners through to connoisseurs. Three drams were discussed and tasted (Singleton of Glenord 12 and 18 [created for the Asian market], alongside Talisker 10) and Charlie was eager to answer any simple or tricky questions from the group. Charlie discussed the colour and flavour development of whisky, the fermentation and maturation process and the purpose of different elements in the production-  copper and charcoal being purifiers at different stages of the process, the importance of water quality both during production and when tasting, and the importance of balancing distillery characteristics of whisky with the maturity characteristics. A few gems of knowledge were also thrown into the mix, such as why waxy new make became waxy in the Clynelish distillery (“gunk” in the receiving tank); Glem Ord has the longest fermentation time of all distilleries known to Charlie (more than 80 hours compared to the usual 60-ish hours, resulting in increased flavour complexity); and Diageo own 7 of the 14 distilleries that use wormtubs, which make for a lighter style of whisky.

Overall, the Malt Masters made for a great (and leisurely) afternoon for anyone interested in tasting and learning more about whisky. Great timing with the PMQ night markets held just downstairs for a quick snack on the way home too! There were a few kinks that need to be ironed out for future events (the ticketing process with long lines to enter, the lack of drinking water, and master classes starting and running late), but I am confident that this event will only get bigger and better in future years!

- Steph

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Distillery Tour #3: Kavalan Distillery (Taiwan) - Makers of the 2015 World's Best Single Malt Whisky

Third in our Distillery Tour series (don't worry we haven't forgotten about Yamazaki - it's due soon) is the Kavalan Distillery in Taiwan. Or should we say, the distillery responsible for the World's Best Single Malt Whisky 2015, as crowned by the World Whiskies Awards in London last week.

Just a few weeks before the Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique Single Cask Strength picked up the coveted title, Steph and I were lucky enough to be treated to a private tour of the distillery (which was very lucky, considering the regular tours are in Mandarin, which neither of us speak).

Located in Yuanshan, a rural township in Yilan County (about 1hr 20m away from Taipei city), the Kavalan Distillery really is a sight to behold. Much like its parent, the King Car group, the distillery is absolutely massive, with everything done on a grand scale - the grounds, the warehouses, even the tasting room.

..but what really fascinated us, before all that, was Yilan County itself. Kilometer upon kilometer upon kilometer of flat, water-filled plots, some with shacks and run-down houses, some with modern mansions. Truly unlike anything we'd ever seen before (the photos below don't do it justice - but believe us when we say the landscape was like this for a good 30-40 minutes before we got to the distillery). Simply amazing.

Unfortunately Ian Chang (Master Distiller, who we met at The Whisky Show 2014 in Sydney) wasn't on site, but nevertheless we were given a very enjoyable tour by an enthusiastic tour guide who showed us the ins and outs of the distillery.

Kavalan obtain their barley already malted from the UK, Sweden and Finland, and don't do any in-house malting (though if they wanted to, they'd certainly have enough room!) Producing 3 million bottles a year, with the average cask aged for 3-4 years, means you need some serious storage facilities. In addition to the incredible 5 story warehouse they currently have, at the time of our visit, the distillery were constructing another. Unsurprising really, given the popularity in recent years. Due to frequent earthquakes in the region, the casks are bound 4 at a time, to reduce the risk of them toppling over - particularly those racked towards the top.

As with many distilleries, casks are a mix of port pipes, sherry butts and bourbon barrels, with the type of cask identifiable by a unique code on the front (and of course, the shape / size). The 3 casks below, first filled in 2006, were the first Kavalan casks to be filled (when you think about it, to win the World's Best Single Malt is a pretty incredible achievement for a distillery that's only been producing for 9 years!

Interestingly, in addition to the regular spirit/wash stills producing the single malt that has made Kavalan famous, the distillery has recently installed a number of other, very different German stills, which are intended to produce gin and brandy. Watch this space.

The tour itself (which I should point out, is completely free) is, in a similar fashion to the Suntory Hakushu Distillery we tourd back in December, somewhat of a "standard" tour. You see the mashing, you see the fermentation, you see the distillation, you see the barrel houses, and then you go into the tasting room. It's enjoyable, and you do get to see a few close-ups (such as some sample grains, open casks, new make spirit / whisky at various stages of aging in different casks), but you're not going to try a single cask whisky straight from the barrel, or taste a new make with your hands. From the looks of it, the distillery simply gets too many visitors each year to offer any specialist tours. It's certainly a popular tourist destination.

Unlike the aforementioned Hakushu Distillery tour, the tasting at the end of the tour is of one whisky only - the Kavalan Classic Single Malt 40% (4yo). There are nosing bottles on each table to allow tasters to nose each Kavalan expression (including the award winning Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique Single Cask Strength), but they aren't for tasting.

What the distillery shop offers, however, is 50mL sample bottles of every expression, along with a limited distillery-only peated 7yo expression (housed in a stunning presentation box, and available for a very reasonable ~$350HKD / $57AUD). If there are two things I really like to see in a distillery shop, it's a distillery-only expression that doesn't cost the earth, and a large range of samples. Tick, tick. Well done, Kavalan.

Was the tour worth doing? Yes, absolutely. While it might not be the most interactive of distillery tours you'll go on, you'll get to see whisky distillation / aging on a simply massive scale, in a country that just a few short years ago no-one would have thought could produce a decent whisky, let alone a world-beater.

A few tips if you do plan to visit:
  • As mentioned, the distillery is a decent drive from Taipei (it took us about 1h 20m in a taxi), and if you're not driving yourself, your options are pretty limited. Our hotel (the excellent W Taipei) arranged a taxi for us, who waited at the distillery and drove us back. If you're not driving, I'd suggest doing something similar.
  • If you are driving though, there's plenty of parking (of course it goes without saying - don't drink and drive, but this isn't like some Scottish distilleries where you'll be tasting 4-5 whiskies at the end).
  • Book ahead, and if you don't speak Mandarin, see if you can arrange an English tour.

With Ian Chang (Kavalan Master Distiller) the day after his 
"Best Single Malt 2015" win, in London.

Steph & Martin.