Saturday, 21 October 2017

Tasted #373: Black Bowmore 3rd Edition 1964-1995 31yo

If you follow our Instagram or Facebook pages (or even our Twitter account), you'll no doubt see we've been growing increasingly fond of vintage whisky over the past 2-3 years - whiskies bottled in the 1960s to 1990s generally, but sometimes even older than that.

Islay whiskies from years gone by can be especially good - if you ever get the chance to try a 1980s bottled Laphroaig or Lagavulin, do. They're often incredible, and completely unlike today's. Here's a good example of a 1980s bottle Ardbeg 15yo I tasted a few years ago, which blew me away.

On a recent trip to Japan, I was fortunate enough to try what many consider to be the "holy grail" of sherried whiskies - Black Bowmore. For whisky fans, Black Bowmore needs no introduction. For those who haven't heard of it - despite retailing for between £65 and £125 at the time of release, bottles have sold for over £11,000, and one is now for sale for £20,000. Quite simply, it's a whisky that has attained "legendary" status.

...although actually, "Black Bowmore" is not one whisky. There were 5 releases, all from casks filled on 5th November 1964, but released over a 24 year period as follows:

  • 1st edition (released 1993): 1964-1993, 29 years old. 2000 bottles released. 50% ABV.
  • 2nd edition (released 1994): 1964-1994, 30 years old. 2000 bottles released. 50% ABV.
  • 3rd edition (released 1995): 1964-1995, 31 years old. 1812 bottles released. 49% ABV (the whisky below - funnily enough, called the "Final Edition" at the time)
  • 4th edition (released 2007): 1964-2007, 42 years old.  827 bottles released. 40.5% ABV.
  • 5th edition (released 2016): 1964-2014, 50 years old. 159 bottles released. 40.9% ABV.

See more photos on the @TimeforWhisky Instagram
A few years ago Steph and I were in Osaka, and saw the 4th edition behind the bar at Bar K. It was ¥13,000 for a half dram, and I've been kicking myself ever since for not trying it. Yes, that's an insane amount of money to spend on 15mL of whisky...but this is Black Bowmore. At today's auction prices, you're looking at many times that per dram, not taking into account the markup a bar would need to charge. I also saw it by the 25mL serve in London a few weeks ago....for £600.

On a recent trip back to Bar K, unsurprisingly it was all gone (although they did have White Bowmore, which I'll write about soon). A friend who happened to be in Osaka at the same time mentioned that another bar (Rogin's Tavern about 30 minutes away in Moriguchi) had a bottle, albeit a little more expensive at ¥17,500 for a half-dram. 

No prizes for guessing where we ventured the next night...

Black Bowmore 3rd Edition 1964-1995 bottle #1496 (49% ABV, 31yo, Islay, Scotland, price: lots and lots and lots)
Colour: Deep, dark coffee-copper.

Nose: Hugely intense, but extremely "clean" sherry, mixed in with loads of tropical fruit - passion fruit and mango predominantly. Caramel licorice allsorts. Coffee grounds. After covering the glass for a bit then opening it again, there was some intense caramel-laced coffee beans and some tobacco smoke. Just an incredible nose - one I spent at least 20 minutes with before drinking.

Palate: Everything from the nose, with some added spice. HUGE mango and passionfruit, tinged with oak, allspice, glacé cherries, Brazil nuts, coffee beans, ripe peaches, leather, tobacco smoke and a very slight bitterness.

Finish: Long, quite sweet and reminiscent of sherry-soaked cherries.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  96/100. Whiskies aren't always worthy of the hype they receive. This is, without a doubt. A truly incredible whisky.


Monday, 16 October 2017

Pairing "World Whiskies" with Indian cuisine at McSorley's Hong Kong

With the immense popularity growth of whisky in Hong Kong in recent years, it's no surprise to see an increase in both dedicated whisky bars (when we started covering the Asia scene for example, there was no Club Qing or Ginger - now two of HK's best whisky bars), as well as existing bars increasing their focus on whisky.

Much loved McSorley's Ale House fall into the latter camp, with their new SoHo location in Staunton St, Central. The traditional Irish pub is increasing their focus on whisky (all whisk(e)y, not just Irish), and plans to do so with a regular calendar of events.

We went along to a recent event - a tasting of 4 "world whiskies" (which actually ended up being 7), paired with four Indian dishes. Indian cuisine may not seem like the most obvious to pair with whisky, but we applaud the bar's bravery in exploring this front (and as we discovered, it actually worked well). 

Whisky Ambassador Jessica Kwok was our host for the night, kicking things off with a brief introduction into the new whisky nights concept at McSorley's, as we all enjoyed the welcome cocktail - a mixture of Tullamore D.E.W, ginger syrup, soda and bitters. Much like the laid-back, relaxed nature of a traditional Irish pub, McSorley's SoHo is looking to keep their whisky nights informal and fun, but with a sizeable list of quality whiskies.

Jessica explained that given the group is already well-known for their Indian menus, they figured why not try to pair that with their new whisky aspirations...and without further ado, we jumped into the first pairing - Bulleit Rye with vegetable samosa. I've always enjoyed Bulleit Rye, but with a 95% rye mashbill, there's no denying it's a spicy whisky. Pairing that with vege samosas resulted in, well, a spicy pairing. A tasty one though.

Next up was Teeling Single Grain paired with Butter Chicken. This worked quite well too, with the whisky making the chicken seem sweeter, and the sauce more perfurmed.

Of course, it wouldn't have seemed right if there was no Indian whisky, and so our third course saw Amrut Single Malt (see our distillery tour here) paired with fish Makani. This was by no means a bad pairing, but neither the whisky nor the dish really seemed to elevate or substantially alter the notes in the other.

For a brief interlude before our final pairing, Jessica broke out her personal bottle of Breckenridge Bourbon, a young whiskey from the Rocky Mountains. Whilst I was sceptical at first (having tasted a lot of young, generic Bourbon over the years), I was pleasantly surprised with this - a delicious Bourbon with notes of toffee, oak, vanilla cream and red apples.

Back to the food, and our last pairing - Famous Grouse "Smoky Black" paired with tandoori chicken. Jessica explained that they'd tried this dish with various Laphroaigs and Bowmores, but found the toned-down, subtle smoke in the Famous Grouse worked best as a pairing, and to be fair, it did work well, with the charred smoke of the chicken and the subtle smoke of the blend mixing nicely, and creating what I thought was the best pairing of the night.

Indian may not seem like the natural choice when looking for food to pair with whisky, but in this case, it was a fun and interesting experiment that produced some enjoyable combinations. Well done to McSorley's, and we're looking forward to their future whisky events (including one soon with The Lost Distillery Company).


Sunday, 15 October 2017

Ardbeg An Oa (Tasted #373)

The new Ardbeg An Oa (pronounced "an oh") was released last month and formed part of the Ardbeg core range which includes the classic 10yo, Corryvreckan and Uigedail. We have seen quite a few Ardbeg releases over the last couple of years though those were merely limited edition releases including this year's committee 'Kelpie' release which saw the interesting use of Black Sea virgin oak casks.

Ardbeg An Oa takes its name from the Mull Of Oa, an area at the end of the Oa peninsula on Islay - the most southern point on Islay. The release pays homage to the untamed provenance, where the towering cliffs often battle the raging Atlantic storms, providing shelter for Islay's south coast. The story behind each Ardbeg release always continue to fascinate me and I hear there might be a rather groovy story behind one of the upcoming releases.

The An Oa release is exciting for a couple of reasons; firstly, it has been a while since Ardbeg last released a bottling into its core range and the permanent addition of An Oa to the Ardbeg family means that this particular release can truly be enjoyed throughout the year, just like its 10yo brethren. Secondly, An Oa is a remarkably balanced, approachable, 'smooth' Ardbeg - which in our view, complements the other core range bottlings rather well given their more prominent hearthy 'Ardbeg' profile. The uniqueness of the An Oa profile as compared to the other three core bottles might eventually see new Ardbeggians that prefer the more approachable style joining the Ardbeg club.

An Oa takes a slightly different profile in that it is derived from the vatting of whiskies from several different cask types including ex-bourbon, PX and virgin oak. The marrying of these whiskies within the 'Gathering Vat'; a vat that had been built from French oak, has resulted in a rather balanced yet complex Ardbeg profile.

Ardbeg An Oa (46.6% ABV, NAS, Islay, Scotland, A$119.99 / $780HKD)
A 'smooth and smoky' Ardbeg release that will appeal to both existing Ardbeg fans as well as those newer on the smoky Ardbeg block. The An Oa is one approachable Ardbeg that can be had on many occasions, either neat or mixed in a cocktail.

Colour: Champagne gold

Nose: The nose is an interesting one. It has a balanced maritime nose with a soft Ardbeg smoke, creamy vanilla and there are also grassy, maple coated bacon, caramel and sea salt peanut brittle (does such thing exist?!) notes. The nose of An Oa does not hit you with a bucket load of peat bog or bonfire smoke.

Palate: The palate is creamy, smooth and there's more of that salted peanut brittle. The sweeter notes are more subtle and quite fragrant; a good mix of vanilla slice with some burnt orange followed by a subtle Ardbeg bonfire smoke that lingers with sweet, sweet nutmeg spice.

Finish: The finish is long and lingers for a while leaving a trail of peanut butter sweetness and subtle nutmeg spices.

Rating (on Hendy's very non-scientific scale): 92/100.


Sunday, 10 September 2017

Wild Turkey Master's Keep 1894 Launch with Eddie Russell (Tasted #372)

Wild Turkey Master Distiller Eddie Russell visited Australia earlier this month to unveil Master’s Keep 1894 – the latest release in its limited edition Master’s Keep series. The visit by Eddie was quite special and coincided with the Masters of Conviction Tour; a series of masterclasses across Sydney and Melbourne to celebrate Wild Turkey and the launch of the 1894. The tour presented Wild Turkey expressions including the Rye, Rare Breed, Kentucky Spirit, the Master’s Keep Decades (a personal favourite) and the 1894.

What we love about Eddie, as the current Wild Turkey's Master Distiller, is how he worked from the ground up, closely partnering with his dad, Jimmy Russell. It's amazing to see Eddie follow in his dad's footsteps to become Wild Turkey's Master Distiller having started as a Relief Operator and subsequently spending many years as Wild Turkey's Associate Master Distiller alongside Jimmy. Eddie and Jimmy certainly make an awesome father and son Bourbon duo.

As Nicole Stanners, Wild Turkey's Bourbon Marketing Director described: "Eddie is of unmatched pedigree in the bourbon industry, with skills that only come from a true expert and knowledge others aspire to learn."

At the launch, Eddie proudly spoke of his Bourbon life and the journey from his first taste of Wild Turkey, having drunk it straight from the barrel, to his time spent with Bookers and Jimmy and through the years of learning, crafting and continuing the Wild Turkey story. Many elements of his bourbon life story have come to influence and shape the details behind each of the Master's Keep releases; the 17yo, the Decades (above) and now, the 1894.

The Master's Keep 17yo is a nice, soft and balanced barrel proof whisky. The long maturation profile of the 17yo meant the whiskey angels have had their fair share, estimated by Eddie to be around 37 gallons (140 litres) of liquid dissipation per barrel (amazing)! This is a share that had been taken from what started as 53 gallons (per standard bourbon barrel volume) to a mere 16 gallons at the time of bottling. Jokingly he referred to the angel as being the ultimate Master Distiller having taken a fair proportion of the bourbon. The long maturation was only possible through the barrel storage method by which the barrels were stored. The barrels were stored in a brick warehouse which stymied temperature variations and ensured cool and steady maturation condition; a stark contrast to maturing barrels in metal clad warehouses.

The Decades was different to the 17yo in that it had been named after the inclusion of what Eddie considered to be the golden maturation age of Bourbon, 10yo. It includes some older barrels, up to 20yo and a large portion of 13-15yo barrels. The Decades was curated by Eddie as tribute to the smooth, balanced and lingering taste profile that he prefers and is starkly different to the bigger, bolder bourbons that are commonly favoured by the wider bourbon community. Personally, the Decades is also a favourite of mine.

As to the newly launched 1894 - it takes its name from the oldest rickhouse (warehouse) at the Wild Turkey Estate which was built in 1894. The warehouse was where Eddie first fell in love with Wild Turkey. It was 36 years ago, on June 5th, 1981, when Eddie started working at the distillery, earning a mere 6.58 cents an hour. Every day, he would clock on, clock off and witness the distillery crews ducking into the warehouse not knowing what they were up to. This was until one day when Eddie decided to join them and found out that they were, in fact, going around and sampling from the different barrels. After which he joined and sampled his first taste of Wild Turkey - the day he fell in love with it all.

Commenting on the release, Eddie said: “From the very first taste at Rickhouse A, I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to Bourbon. Master’s Keep 1894 captures that moment, the start of my journey to master distiller and the beginning of years of tradition.”

The 1894 has been released in Australia before it hits the American market following a wise decision after a request was received from Marketing that Australia wanted their own bottles (in fact 10,000 bottles for allocation to Australia).

Wild Turkey Master's Keep 1894 (45% ABV, NAS, Kentucky, USA, A$197.90)
The 1894 release is a unique small batch release and can be enjoyed as an everyday bourbon or mixed up as the base to an Old Fashioned, Whisky Sours or Manhattan.

Colour: Copper with amber tinge

Nose: The nose plays strongly to spiced cinnamon apple notes, dried currants, liquorice, honey, vanilla, toffee and a slight herbaceous; wild grass undertone.

Palate: More of the herbaceous note followed on the palate and joined by some glorious toffee apple, vanilla, butterscotch notes. There's also a level of spice that lingers.

Finish: Medium, lingering spice that slowly fizzles out with a level of sweetness

Rating (on Hendy's very non-scientific scale): 91/100.


A huge thanks to ElevenPR and Wild Turkey for having us as part of the launch of the 1894 with Eddie Russell.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Master of Malt Advent Calendars return for 2017

Much-loved spirits retailer Master of Malt have again launched their series of advent calendars, covering the full gamut from whisky to gin to cognac to bourbon to (eep) vodka. Prefer tequila, mezcal or Armagnac? They've got you covered too.

The calendars this year span two pages of the MoM site, and again include an incredible £8,333 "Very Old and Rare" calendar (ex-VAT) which includes a 48 year old Karuizawa, 46 year old Balvenie DCS, 60 year old Glenfarclas and many other bottles (OBs and IBs) from distilleries past and present.

We reviewed 2016's whisky calendar here, and found it an incredibly clever and enjoyable way to try 24 drams without having to comit to a full bottle.

The full range of 2017's calendars can be pre-ordered from here now.


Sunday, 3 September 2017

A Night with Michter's in Hong Kong

We've been fans of Michter's for a while here at TimeforWhisky - and so has Hong Kong it seems - particularly on-premise, with a number of bars using Michter's range of ryes and bourbons in some incredible cocktails (more on that below). In fact, so big has the rise of Michter's been, that last year the brand appointed their own brand ambassador for Asia, John Ng (although prior to that, global sales director and son of founder Matt Magliocco lived in Hong Kong for several years).

Matt and John were joined recently in Hong Kong by Master of Maturation Andrea Wilson, who had flown in from Louisville for the distillery's first Hong Kong media launch dinner, held at Hong Kong's favourite American restaurant Lily & Bloom

Steph and I couldn't think of a better way to spend a Monday night.

Kicking things off with a cocktail was a welcome way to beat the 35ish degree heat outside - especially when that cocktail mixed Michter's Rye, ginger, pineapple, lemon and smoked tea spirit. Known as the Bomberger Buck, and served in a similar fashion to a Mint Julep, it was the perfect start to the evening, and evidence that even after 7 years, the drinks program at Lily & Bloom still continue to impress (in particular, since John Nugent's recent hiring as Head Mixologist).

After taking our seats, Matt introduced John and Executive Chef Chris Grare, who talked us through the 6-course menu, explaining it as American-focused with some Asian hints, bringing out charred, smokey flavours with some spice and caramel.

(Or in other words, a perfect match for a range of American whiskies.)

Matt talked us through a brief history of the Michter's brand, and in particular its most recent incarnation under his family's stewardship. Matt explains the company's recent history in three phases - the first involving aged casks of American whiskies being purchased from other distilleries, the second involving whisky produced (using Michter's-spec mashbills) at other distilleries, using rented time known as "Michter's Days", and the third, since August 2015, involving whisky being produced at their own distillery

After this brief history, the night's guest of honour Andrea Wilson walked us through a detailed and informative overview of Michter's production (touching on topics including oak drying, barrel entry proof and heat cycling), making it clear that the future of Michter's maturation programme is in safe hands.

One thing I've always found interesting about Michter's is the number of whiskies in the range. There are Ryes and Bourbons, both in "small batch" and single barrel variety. There are age statement varieties (including a 25 year old Bourbon and a 25 year old Rye, both of which we've been fortunate enough to try), there's a Sour Mash, an "unblended American whisky", various limited releases (including popular Toasted Barrel finishes), and barrel proof varieties too.

...little did I know we'd be tasting at least 9 of these on the night!

Following the Smoked Oyster paired with our welcome cocktail (see above), Kombu Cured Sea Bass (with yuzu-lemon compote and black sesame paste) came next, paired with Michter's US*1 Unblended American Whiskey, with the Yuzu in the dish proving a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the whiskey. Both great on their own, but better together. Off to a good start then!

Lentil-crusted Lobster (with blue point mussels and bouillabaisse) came next, paired with Michter's US*1 Sour Mash Whiskey. As I find the Sour Mash to be a fairly subtle whisky on its own (an easy and enjoyable everyday whisky though), I found the whisky and food complimented each other well here, but in a subtle way, without either really changing or accentuating the other.

Course four was Truffle tagliatelle (with Australian winter truffle and roasted cauliflower), paired with Michter's US*1 Bourbon, a great match, with the Bourbon surprisingly turning up the creaminess of the pasta significantly.

Bourbon and steak is a hard pairing to beat, and so it was when Pastrami Rib Eye (with potato gratin and pickled mustard jus) was paired with Michter’s 10 Year Old Bourbon. Decadent? Perhaps, but a fantastic combination, with the rich sweetness of the Bourbon playing brilliantly with the rare steak.

Had the meal ended there, we all would have walked off praising the chef and whiskies, but there was one more dish to go, and it was an absolute winner. Pecan Apple Tart (with granola and Michter's raisin ice cream) was very good when paired with the Michter's US*1 Single Barrel Straight Rye, but in my opinion was even better with the 10 Year Old Bourbon - the two making a deliciously sweet and rich pairing, with the Bourbon adding vanilla and honey notes to the already flavoursome dish.

With 6 wonderful pairings down, it was time to leave (it was Monday night after all), but not after a few surprise whiskies made their way out, including one (at the time) unreleased Michter's, the Barrel Strength Toasted Barrel Finish Straight Rye, which put a slightly spicier twist on a whisky I already loved for its spicy profile.

After that it really was time to leave, with memories of wonderful dishes and equally delicious whiskies to carry us home, not to mention the take-home pre-batched "Snickers Old Fashioned" cocktail, made with Michter's US*1 Unblended American Whiskey, vanilla demerara, black walnut and aztec chocolate. One of the best cocktails I've had in a while, and proof (again) that Michter's works wonderfully both in a cocktail and when served neat. would like to thank Michter's Whiskey Distillery, Andrea, John and Matt for the invitation.


Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Tasted #370 - #371: Nantou Whisky Distillery OMAR Single Cask ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry

Ask most whisky drinkers about Taiwanese whisky, and they'll probably respond with "Taiwanese whisky? You mean Kavalan?"

Whilst Kavalan undoubtedly produce some incredible Taiwanese whiskies (see our distillery tour review here), they're not the only ones. State-owned Nantou Whisky Distillery, in the central East of Taiwan, have been producing single malt whisky since 2008, and (judging by what I've tasted over the years) are doing a great job of it.

I recently picked up a pack with the above two 200mL bottles from Taipei airport - each containing a single cask, cask-strength Nantou "OMAR" expression, one ex-Bourbon (5yo) and one ex-Sherry (6yo).

Both were impressive (even more so when you consider their relative short maturation), but one really impressed me, a lot more than I expected. Read on below....

Nantou OMAR Cask Strength ex-Sherry Cask #21091313 (58.4% ABV, 6yo, Nantou, Taiwan, $2,200NTD / $570HKD / $92AUD as a set of two bottles, available from Taipei Airport)
Colour: Copper-orange.

Nose: Berry sweetness leads to red apples, milk chocolate and hints of oak.

Palate: Quite tannic / dry, with sweetbread, pot-pourri and berry notes, followed by a slight nuttiness (Brazil nuts) and raisins. Water brings the oak out a little more - I suspect this was a fairly active cask.

Finish: Long, slightly tannic and with lots of sweet oak.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 88/100.

Nantou OMAR Cask Strength ex-Bourbon Cask #11110097 (54.1% ABV, 5yo, Nantou, Taiwan, $2,200NTD / $570HKD / $92AUD as a set of two bottles, available from Taipei Airport)
Colour: Light golden straw

Nose: Grassy and herbaceous at first, with a fair amount of coconut and pencil shavings. After some time comes hints of tropical fruit, and some milk bottle lollies.

Palate: Rich and viscous. Initially dry, but after time a sweetness emerges, along with pineapple and mango notes. Water adds some oak and caramel chews.

Finish: Long, smooth and very creamy. Just the right balance of sweetness.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. An incredibly complex whisky considering it's only been maturing (albeit in Taiwan's climate) for 5 years. Delicious too - easily my pick of the two.


Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Tasted #369: The Macallan 25yo Single Cask (bottled exclusively for Davidoff Cigars)

Recently a delivery showed up which was one of those ones that just makes you smile - a sample of a 25yo single cask Macallan, and two cigars from Davidoff Cigars.

The whisky, it turns out, was a single cask bottled by Signatory Vintage, exclusively for Davidoff of Geneva and sold only at selected Davidoff and Acanta stores in Asia.. Distilled in 1991 and bottled (after 25 years in an ex-Sherry butt) on 1st December 2016 at 53.5% ABV, it had all the hallmarks of what could be a great single cask was it to be?

Well, actually yes! There's no denying that, at $25,900HKD, it's not exactly an every day dram, but considering that not every modern day Mac is a winner, this one definitely was.

The Macallan 25yo Single Cask, selected for Davidoff of Geneva (53.5% ABV, 25yo, Highlands, Scotland, $25,900HKD from selected Davidoff and Acanta stores in Asia.)
Colour: Amber-copper.

Nose: Hugely nutty. Some sulphur at first, but it doesn't dominate, and theres a lot more going on. Strawberries, cream, some green apple (actually lots). With time, the sulphur subsides, and the sweetness kicks in even more. With water, there's some sea saltiness which carries through to the palate.

Palate: Rich, viscous and mouth-filling. Very creamy. Most of the sulphur has subsided and there are notes of jelly babies (red), pistachio and salted caramel.

Finish: Long, rich, nutty and creamy. Still very sweet, with a sugary coffee note at the very end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. A curiously sweet, complex, delicious single cask from The Macallan, with less of the characteristics some people criticise about modern Macs (especially sulphur), and plenty else going for it. A whisky which feels like it's been bottled at the perfect age and ABV.

Full details can be found here and the whisky can be purchased from here.


PS: No detailed notes on the cigars (702 Series "2000" and "Special R"), but I capped off a great holiday recently by enjoying the "Special R" on the last night, and it was a wonderfully smooth and complex smoke right to the end.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Ardbeg Day (Night) Sydney 2017 (Tasted #367 - #368)

Ardbeg Day which became a global event in 2012 is now one of the most anticipated whisky events of the year, held as part of Feis Ile; the Islay Festival of Malt and Music that has attracted significant fanfares globally.

Ardbeggians around the world have joined the Ardbeg Committee in huge numbers (currently estimated to be 100,000+) to not only access early exclusive Committee Releases of the annual Ardbeg Day special bottlings, but also to take part in Ardbeg Day (or shall we say Ardbeg Night) gatherings and celebrations around the world.

As is tradition, with Ardbeg Day also comes the annual Ardbeg Day release and it was back in August 2015 when we were the first blog globally to break the news that Ardbeg were playing around with Russian Oak, and suggested that this would likely be a future Ardbeg Day release. Fast forward to 2017 and the Ardbeg Kelpie was unveiled. A limited-edition bottling that saw Ardbeg's malt matured in virgin oak casks sourced from the Adyghe Republic, on the coast of the Black Sea region and married with traditional ex-bourbon Ardbeg malt. In our view, Kelpie was a particularly exciting and unique release.

Black Sea oak is renowned for imparting deep flavour notes and only a handful of whiskies have ever been matured in these casks - hence the excitement. Sweet, powerful, herbal and maritime notes describe the Kelpie. See below for our tasting notes on both the Kelpie Committee Release and Kelpie Retail Release.

So...what's a Kelpie anyway (other than this whisky)? The story goes that kelpie is the name of a mysterious beast that have been said to live beneath the waves. Being a Scottish shape-shifting water spirit, the Kelpie was rumoured to take the form of a horse or a bull and prey on unwitting travellers.

In fact, legend has it that long ago, a farmer walking near Ardbeg's shoreline was almost dragged out to sea by a water bull. Managing to overcome and rope the creature, he locked it in a barn where it cried for mercy. At dusk, the farmer's daughter was chased by a water horse seeking revenge for its kin. The terrified girl ran to the barn and released the water bull, whereupon the malevolent beasts took flight back to the sea.

Interesting folklore to complement an interesting release. In Sydney, the Ardbeg Day celebrations were equally interesting, with the main celebration taking place at Sydney Aquarium and others throughout Ardbeg embassies across town. Ardbeggians were able to score tickets in the weeks leading up to the day through the purchase of Ardbeg cocktails across a selected number of bars around Sydney CBD.

We joined the celebration at Sydney Aquarium where the Kelpie theme was well and truly alive with guests being presented cocktails amongst all the slithering sea creatures that swam around them. It was undoubtedly a unique and once in a lifetime experience to be able to walk the shark tanks at night with an Ardbeg cocktail in hand surrounded by dugong, sharks and all kind of sea creatures swimming about. Kudos to the creativity, ingenuity and passion of the Moet Hennessy team for putting this together for this year's Ardbeg Day.

Guests joined in, with props that breathed life into the Kelpie and maritime theme. Everything from dressing up as seaweed to strewing sea lanterns and fishnets around. Even Shortie joined in hanging out by the tanks with his favourite companion - Ardbeg Ten.

The main event was held at the Great Barrier Reef room with a couple of divers entertaining the guests and crashing a few selfies throughout the night. The unveiling of the Kelpie involved divers stretching out the Ardbeg flag and showcasing the 4.5L Kelpie to the guests before Garth Foster of Moet Hennessy welcomed the guests and spoke about the release.

Nothing like celebrating and sharing a dram with your mates and also a couple of hundred maritime creatures!

Having tasted the Committee Release few months ago, it was interesting to compare it to the Retail release on Ardbeg Day....thoughts below.

Ardbeg "Kelpie" Committee Release (57.1% ABV, NAS, Islay, Scotland, no longer available)
Colour: Sauvignon Blanc

Nose: Sea breeze with whiff of cured seafood. The nose is pungent - though nice and salty, maritime. There's also an interesting mixture of milk chocolate, smoked / grilled fish, mediterranean spice. I love the nose of this particular release.

Palate: A mixture of chilli spice, beach bonfire, more of the smoked fish and maritime notes come through followed by some sweetness; milk chocolate, perhaps chilli chocolate. Lots of spices; pepper and nutmeg follows.

Finish: The finish is exquisitely long, oily, full of spices from the palate, briny and reeks of dying amber smoke

Rating (on Hendy's very non-scientific scale): 93/10

Ardbeg "Kelpie" Retail Release (46% ABV, NAS, Islay, Scotland, A$169.99)
Colour: Sauvignon Blanc

Nose: Just like the Committee Release, the smoke is there and there's almost a layer of umami; nori / seaweed with also hints of chocolate. Less smoked fish and maritime than its Committee Release counterpart and bringing it closer to your typical Ardbeg Ten.

Palate: The lower ABV has calmed this expression though there's still plenty of bonfire ash smoke, salted pork. The palate is also oily, maritime, sweet and citrusy and filled with spices. Not as varied as the Committee Release though more balanced and again draws you closer to that typical Ardbeg Ten.

Finish: Lingering smoke and salt with a touch of citrus

Rating (on Hendy's very non-scientific scale): 91/100.

Of the two releases, I personally enjoyed the committee release more where the nose and the palate were both more eccentric and perhaps played to what the black sea casks offer. The retail release is definitely well balanced and brings out more of the typical Ardbeg smoke and characteristics. Nevertheless, I would still have both as my everyday dram - especially in these cold and dark Sydney winter nights. Both releases are interesting in their own right and the use of the black oak casks introduced some maritime and briny characters which were both exciting and surprising.

Until next time Ardbeggians!!


Saturday, 15 July 2017

Gaucho Hong Kong & Glenmorangie Whisky Pairing Dinner

We've attended a fair few whisky pairing dinners lately - spanning every cuisine from Nordic to Cantonese, to Modern Australian. One cuisine we haven't historically seen paired with whisky however is Argentinian, especially Argentinian steak.

Gaucho Hong Kong are keen to change that, having recently collaborated with Glenmorangie to introduce 4 course whisky and Agentinian pairing dinners. As the experts in Argentinian cuisine (and in my personal opinion, one of the best steak restaurants in HK), it's great to see them branching out into whisky, and challenging the perception that steak should always be paired with red wine.

Over a deliciously simple arrival cocktail made from Glenmorangie The Original and lemonade (perfect for the stifling hot evening outside), guests met each other and mingled with our host for the night (and good friend of TimeforWhisky) Eddie Nara.

After some chat (and OK, maybe a second of those cocktails...) we took our seats and inspected the menu. Opening with a seafood starter, the menu quickly became meat-focused (as you might expect at an Argentinian steakhouse), with beef back ribs followed by Ancho (rib-eye).

As a whisky man with serious wine credentials (IWSC judge and WSET-certified), Eddie was coming from a position of authority when he told us that sometimes whiskies can actually be easier to pair with food than wine - and explained how Glenmorangie actually made a great whisky for pairing dinners. With the standard expression (The Original 10yo), serving as the baseline, most of the expressions (LasantaQuinta Ruban etc..) then build on that baseline through cask finishes which lend themselves to pairing with various dishes.

It made a lot of sense, and set the tone for what was to be a delicious and enjoyable pairing dinner.

First course, Salmon Tiradito was paired with Glenmorangie The Original 10yo, which made a deliciously fruity match - the passionfruit and mango in the dish especially highlighting the fruitier, almost tropical notes in the 10yo.

Our second course, Braised Beef Back Ribs was glazed in a hoisin and chilli orange sauce, with fresh orange and pickled chillies. Chilli in dishes can always be a bit hit-and-miss when it comes to pairing with whisky, but this was expertly done, with the dish elevating the citrus notes in the sherry-finished Glenmorangie Lasanta 12yo (or maybe that was the other way around)? Either way, another winning combination.

As our third course was being served, Eddie introduced Head Chef Eggi Enkh-Amgalan to talk us through the pairings, and the next dish - Ancho (or "Ribeye" as most would know it). Highlighting the delicate marbling, Eddie Chef Eggi explained the Glenmorangie 18yo Extremely Rare made a logical pairing choice, as both offer delicate flavours unlikely to unbalance the other.

Right they were too. Steak and whisky might seem like a logical combination, but it does take the right whisky to make it really work - and the right whisky in this case was definitely the 18yo.

Finally came (surprisingly enough) dessert. Blue cheese and whiskey brownie might seem like an easy pairing, but that shouldn't detract from the fact that the port-finished 12yo Quinta Ruban was a perfect pairing. Then again, as a lover of port-matured and finished whiskies, I might be slightly biased...

As Glenmorangie dinners often do, the night ended with a dram of the Glenmorangie Signet. Whilst I still find this a delicious dram, I can't help but think the latest batches don't quite have the magic of the bottle I first tried in 2009. Still a beautiful whisky though.

Hong Kongers are becoming more and more interested in whisky, and pairing dinners are a great way to introduce newcomers to the joys of whisky, whilst still offering something for long-standing fans. It's great to see Gaucho introducing their own pairing dinners, and when high quality Argentinian steak is your base, why wouldn't you?!

This pairing menu has now finished, but as we understand it will act as a prelude to more whisky pairings and events held at which I say, bring it on!

Martin. attended as guests of Gaucho Hong Kong. A big thanks must go to Gaucho, Eddie, Chef Eggi and Prime PR.