Monday, 13 July 2020

Tasted #485: M&H Classic Single Malt

Temperate and warmer climate have provided whiskies distillers with significant advantages and also hurdles for the distillation and maturation of their whiskies. Distilleries from India, Taiwan as well as Australia have had embraced better extraction of wood flavours and accelerated maturation. One year in these regions can often be the equivalent of five Scottish years. At the same time, the variation in temperature and humidity can also yield a highly variable yet exciting whisky as distilleries imprint their unique environmental and geographical influence.

M&H Distillery is one of those world distillers that are facing similar challenges and are embracing it. Founded in the coastal city of Tel Aviv, M&H Distillery is Israel's first whisky distillery and Tel Aviv's only whisky distillery. M&H is short for Milk & Honey, the name that is referred for the land of Israel. 

Israel is very hot and humid. The temperate climate in Israel sees temperatures swinging between 10 to 30 degrees (c) and this has resulted in faster maturation of their whiskies whilst also giving their fair share to the angel. M&H has also experimented with different maturation methods with one such experiment that saw them bring their whiskies to the Dead Sea region, the lowest point on earth, where they are currently aging on the roof of a hotel. They mentioned that the Negev desert might be the next stop - the extreme dryness of the region and its effect on the whisky maturation will be interesting to observe.

Founded by six entrepreneurs in 2012, M&H is currently led by co-founder Gal Kalkshtein and CEO Eitan Artie. Since established in 2012, their operations have had the blessings of the late whisky legend, Dr Jim Swan who had advised them on how they can emphasize and focus on quality and innovation. M&H fills approximately 800 barrels a year or approximately 170,000 litres of new make spirit. Whilst it may seem small when compared to the big Scottish single malt distillers that produce millions of litres per annum, M&H have established their prominence in recent years, both within Europe and abroad. In their pipeline are a sherry cask finish which will be released later this year, followed by a lightly peated M&H whisky, a single malt with a red wine cask finish as well as a potential release involving pomegranate wine cask. These culminations were as a result of M&H's accumulation of unique casks over time.  

Alba Whisky, the Australian Distributor for M&H Whisky sent us a sample of the M&H Classic Single Malt Whisky which was released locally in Australia last month. The three-year-old M&H Classic Single Malt Whisky was matured in the ex-bourbon and red-wine STR casks, giving it a light and balanced character, with notes of vanilla, light oak, alongside a light black pepper spiciness. For those wondering what STR is. STR is short for Shaved, Toasted and Recharred. The term is used to describe red wine casks that have their individual staves shaved, reassembled, toasted and then re-charred. The lighter and more balanced nature of the whisky can be attributed from the use of these STR casks. Kichoman and Kavalan are the other distilleries that have used the STR process to condition their casks before using them to finish their whiskies.

M&H Classic (46% ABV, NAS, Tel Aviv, Israel, A$120)

Colour: Light copper

Nose: The nose is light, fragrant, floral and fruity (apples and figs) yet slightly musky and sweet. There's a good mixture of honey, vanilla and apple juice. A small remnant of oak comes through followed by cereal grain and nutmeg spice. 

Palate: The palate is soft and gentle, which is then followed with a subtle spiciness, nutmeg and cloves. There's a layer of fruitiness; apples and oranges and a bit of honey drizzled on top. You can taste the vanillin amongst the fruits and spices. The STR treatment of the red wine casks has led to a much lighter profile on the end whisky from the wine casks.

Finish: The finish is moderately long, ladened with oak and spices that remain for some time.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 88/100. As a classic single malt that has survived the test of a warmer climate in Israel, this is a relatively balanced dram. The oak and spices can overshadow the lighter floral and fruity notes though do provide a different dimension to the dram. It would be interesting to see if additional maturation time or the use of different casks can bring in other notes that can balance out the oak and spices. Perhaps we might see completely different characters in their upcoming sherry cask or peated whiskies. Until then, this is another interesting world whisky that you check out.


Thanks to Alexandra from Xhibition and Alba Whisky for providing the sample.

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Tasted #484: Westward Oregon Stout Cask

The phenomenon of "farm to table, grain to glass" has been around for some time and with the rise of craft distillation - consumers are embracing the movement more and more. Westward, a Portland Distiller has dabbled in the craft distillation practice over the past few years. Born out of a region known for its craft culture, Westward has been one of the proponents of craft American single malts over the past year. 

Last year I sat down with Miles Munroe, Westward Head Distiller who told us that Westward, like others, are continuing to explore various distillation techniques and have been given the freedom and flexibility through which they can do this in. Miles indicated that Westward was developing a partnership with Deschutes, an Oregon brewery to come up with stout cask finished bottlings. Miles would send a couple of hundred of recently empty barrels to Deschutes where they would use them to age their stock and they'll send back again for use by Westward. At that time, the Westward Stout Cask Finish concept was still in its infancy and very much confined to the states. That has now changed with the recent arrival of the Oregon Stout Cask in Australia. 

The Oregon Stout Cask is a collaboration between Westward and various local Portland breweries and as far as beer breweries go, you can't go past Portland. Known as one of the world's greatest beer city - Portland has more breweries than any other places. Miles also started his career as a brewer, having studied Brewing Science and Engineering and has worked at a few craft breweries early in his career. It is, therefore, no surprise that Westward has headed down this path early in their journey, to marry both whiskey and beer.   

Stout, made from heavily roasted barley, carries rich notes of toffee, coffee and chocolate. The use of ex-stout casks for the maturation of malt whiskey I find imparts interesting notes on the final product. Jameson tried this with their Caskmates Stout Finish in 2016 which I thought was good with notes of cocoa and coffee.

For Westward, the Oregon Stout Cask starts with their classic double pot-stilled American single malt, that is aged for a period of time in bourbon barrels before being finished in ex-stout casks for approximately a year.

The Oregon Stout Cask is likely to be an indication of what we might see from Westward in the coming years. Portland is located in the Willamette Valley, a place known for its Pinot Noir and so I  do see the potential partnership between Westward and the wineries in the region. Wine and whisky is certainly not a new concept and does present a good marriage - look at Starward. If anything, it will provide Westward with another point of differentiation rather than using the more traditional sherry or port casks, they can experiment with the marriage of their single malt and local wine barrels.

Westward Oregon Stout Cask

Westward Oregon Stout Cask (45% ABV, NAS, Portland, Oregon, A$169)

Colour: Rich golden caramel

Nose: The nose is fragrant. I get a sweet cinnamon bun, nutmeg spice, orange zest from orange peels, a hint of vanilla, cereal note, marzipan cherry cake

Palate: The palate is pleasant and soft at first, like biting into a warm cinnamon bun with glazed sugar. The cinnamon and star anise spices come through. There is that creamy milk chocolate, could this be a blessing from the ex-stout casks. The mouthfeel grows over time, becoming quite luscious and a tad salty. The stout profile comes back again at the end.

Finish: The finish is relatively long with loads of coffee and chocolate profiles. There are fresh orange slices, malt, caramel and chocolate. A lovely finish.

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


Thanks to Agent 99 PR for providing the sample.

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Tasted #483: Glenlossie 10yo bottled for Hong Kong Whisky Festival 2020 (Single Malts of Scotland)

With whisky festivals being cancelled (or moving online) the world over due to COVID-19, and a particular dearth of Feis Ile bottles this year (notable exception: The Scotch Malt Whisky Society), it's nice to see some festival-only bottlings still being released, even without their corresponding festival.

One such bottling is this 10yo Glenlossie, bottled for the 2020 Hong Kong Whisky Festival (currently postponed to 11th Oct), which is available to purchase now. Distilled on 2nd July 2009, and bottled on 9th Jan 2020 from a Bourbon hoggie, there are 120 bottles and all are, naturally, non-chill filtered and with natural colour.

Bottled by Elixir Distillers under their "Single Malts of Scotland" range, the bottle carries pedigree, but Glenlossie isn't exactly a blue-chip distillery, and 10yo isn't exactly "well aged" in Scotch whisky some might wonder just how good could a bottle like this be?

Very, very good, it seems.

Glenlossie 10yo bottled for Hong Kong Whisky Festival 2020 (SMoS) (59.2% ABV, 10yo, 1 of 120 bottles, Speyside Scotland, $988HKD)
Colour: Bright gold.

Nose: Coconut, but not the "huge whack of fresh young oak" variety, more of a subtle, fruity tropical variety. Then there's pot pourri, marmalade, and some very creamy vanilla pie. After time comes some grapefruit and oranges, and a subtle underlying note of old books. You don't expect a nose this complex on a 10yo Scotch, ordinarily.

Palate: Creamy and slightly tropical, with hints of mango, lemon and subtle passionfruit, underscored by vanilla cream and baked pineapple tarts.

Finish: Long, tropical and coconutty, with a waxy texture keeping things going long after the liquid is gone.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. Truly, this is an excellent dram and one whose flavour and complexity I would peg at closer to 15-18yo than 10yo. At under $1,000HKD, look past the label and just buy one. I did.


Thursday, 28 May 2020

Tasted #482: Ardbeg Blaaack (Ardbeg Day 2020)

Ardbeg Day - that annual celebration of all things Ardbeg with fun, games, music, and two limited release bottlings, is upon us again.

There have been some epic parties in previous years (in particular 201320142016 (twice) & 2017), along with some great bar events in 2018 and 2019, but sadly thanks to COVID-19 this year's celebrations will be significantly more...virtual.

Still, that hasn't stopped the distillery from ensuring Ardbeg fans get their fix, with #ArdbegDayLive this coming Saturday 30th May @ 7pm BST, where members all around the world can tune in and take part in interactive activities with a dram in hand. They've even provided a Spotify Playlist for the occasion.

Note: Ardbeg Fans in HK will actually have the opportunity to attend a real, live, face to face event this Saturday at Tiffany's New York Bar...get those RSVPs in ASAP!

Of course, it wouldn't be Ardbeg Day without a limited release Ardbeg, and this year to celebrate 20 years of the Ardbeg Committee the distillery has released "Blaaack", a NAS release matured in NZ Pinot Noir wine casks, in traditional Committee Release guise @ 50.7%, and regular guise @ 46%. Having tried both this week, I can safely say Ardbeg fans should be happy - even those who perhaps weren't so happy with the Ardbeg Day releases of recent years.

Ardbeg kindly sent a sample of the 46% release today, so we could share our thoughts...

Ardbeg "Blaaack" (46% ABV, NAS, Islay Scotland, $189.99AUD, $1,300HKD)
Colour: Light copper-gold.

Nose: There's a sooty peat initially, but it doesn't mask the rich notes of red berries, milk chocolate, blackcurrants and strawberry jam. After some time, some sherbet emerges, and more chocolate-coated strawberry notes, with a faint coastal note wafting over the top.

Palate: There's a sooty bushfire note, but again it doesn't hide what else is going on - notes of woodfired crumpets with jam, cherries, and strawberry jelly babies. Give it a bit of time and you might find some marmalade (slightly bitter but in a way that works with the other notes).

Finish: Medium in length, with a slight oak / tannic bitterness and an underlying campfire sootiness to the very end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 89/100. I'd say perhaps the best Ardbeg Day release since Dark Cove. Much more composed and mature than last year's Drum (which we still enjoyed), and a must-try for anyone who likes their Ardbegs big on the smoke, but also on the flavour.

No detailed tasting notes for this one unfortunately, but the committee release with its extra ABV is just as enjoyable, with big berry notes shrouded in a sooty peat.


Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Tasted #480-481: Two new Hong Kong "exclusive" bottlings

There's been no shortage of Hong Kong exclusive whisky releases over the years - whether it be for bars (such as Club QingGinger (RIP) or Tiffany's New York Bar), shops (e.g. Dram Good StuffCaskells or Timeless & Tasty) or exclusives direct from the distilleries themselves (like this single cask Highland Park), HK whisky lovers are well looked after.

...and it's not hard to see why. We're a market of passionate, curious and knowledgable whisky enthusiasts, lovers of single casks and IBs....and who doesn't love an exclusive bottling? Personally, bottles like these make up a decent chunk of my annual purchases, and I love taking them on visits back to Australia, to share a whisky that I can be pretty confident most of my mates won't have yet tried.

We're in challenging times at the moment, but that hasn't stopped two shops recently releasing their own HK releases - both from Scotland, but otherwise two very different drams...


The first, a Blackadder "Black Snake" release comes courtesy of official importers / distributors Timeless & Tasty (aka Whiskies & More). The Black Snake series is effectively their take on a solera system, involving a vatting of casks finished in a sherry butt. I could explain it, but figure it's best left to the experts... 
"Black Snake is produced from a Vatting of casks finished in a Single Sherry Butt. It starts its life in first-fill ex-Bourbon casks. We then put three of them into new Oloroso or PX Sherry butts and leave for around a year for further maturation before bottling two thirds of the cask. We call these “Vats” as they are a kind of mini Solera. 
After each bottling we add two more ex-Bourbon casks, always of the same whisky, and leave for around a year before again bottling two thirds of the Vat. All future bottlings from each vatting of Black Snake will therefore contain some spirit that was in previous expressions from the Sherry Butt.
From time to time the Sherry Butt is renewed. Each edition bottling of Black Snake is called “Venom”, as in the poison from a snake’s bite. A touch of Blackadder humour! The first bottling from each Vat is called “First Venom”, the second bottling is called “Second Venom” and so on."
Bottled NAS and NCF from an undisclosed Scottish distillery @ 59%, there were 126 bottles of this release, known as the "Vat No. 6 Fourth Venom" release.

Blackadder Black Snake "Vat No.6 Fourth Venom" (59% ABV, NAS, Scotland, one of 126 bottles, $980HKD)
Colour: Orange-gold brown.

Nose: Orange blossom and rosewater. Quite (pleasantly) perfumed. Doesn't nose at all like 59% - very refined and elegant. Sweet pot pourri. After some time, there's a little earthy smoke and some flint / meatiness to the spirit.

Palate: Oranges, then a little more meatiness, some oak, burnt orange peel, figs and dark chocolate.

Finish: A long, earthy smoke gives way to a final orange-chocolate note.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. I don't know how old this is, but (despite the high ABV) it's elegant, juicy, and not at all overpowered by overly-active oak, or too spirit-forward. A well-balanced whisky that happens to be delicious as well!

The second bottling, a single cask 2007 12 Year Old Caol Ila was bottled by The Single Cask as a joint bottling between Hong Kong's Malt Whisky Hong Kong shop and HNWS Taiwan (OK, so technically not a HK exclusive...but we'll allow it).

Bottled NCF at 56.1% in 2019 from a single hogshead, there were 293 bottles released in total. I've often enjoyed these 10-12yo single cask ex-Bourbon Caol Ilas (here's another excellent HK release) so was keen to take this one for a spin.

The Single Cask Caol Ila 2007-2019 12yo bottled for Malt Whisky HK & HNSW (56.1% ABV, 12yo, Cask #307332, Islay, Scotland, one of 293 bottles, $1,199HKD)
Colour: Lemony straw.

Nose: Trademark lemon. Buttery vanilla, sweet citrus / lemon smoke.

Palate: Follows the nose initially - juicy lemon, vanilla and citrus-laden smoke, then some spiced lemon, green apple, white peach and maritime peat. Freshly-baked lemon pie crust, with a little sea salt.

Finish: Long, slightly salty with a residual maritime peat that lingers long after.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. There's just something about some of these single cask, pre-teen Caol Ilas...they're super delicious and versatile, and this is no exception.

Both bottles are available now, but (given the limited outturns) are unlikely to last long. Prices and links to purchase can be found above.


Thanks to Timeless & Tasty and Malt Whisky Hong Kong for the samples.

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Tasted #479: The Macallan Concept Number 2

These are certainly unique, strange and (in many, many cases) devastating times in which we're living. Cities are on lockdown all around the world, unemployment is climbing well into the double digits, industries are being battered left right and centre, and global travel has more or less ground to a halt (for a shocking example of this, the other day Cathay Pacific only carried 582 passengers. Globally).

The spirits industry is of course not immune either, with many distilleries either shutting down, or switching entirely to the production of hand sanitiser (and to those who are also donating it to medical services in need, we say bravo).

I'd planned to pick up a bottle of The Macallan's new "Concept No.2" (a travel retail only edition) on an Easter Trip to Sydney, but with the trip obviously cancelled, I figured it would be some time before I got my hands on a bottle. Whilst this is obviously the LEAST of anyone's worries during these incredibly challenging times, it was nonetheless a lovely surprise when a bottle turned up at my home, completely unprompted, courtesy of The Macallan HK a few days later.

For those unfamiliar with the series, "Concept" is a travel-retail (what we used to call "Duty Free") exclusive series which, to quote The Macallan " fuses the passion behind The Macallan’s whisky making with innovative art, music and culture".

Concept No.1, released in 2018, focused on "surreal art" and saw the typical maturation regime flipped on its head - with whisky spending time first in ex-sherry casks, and then ex-Bourbon casks. If I'm honest, whilst I found it perfectly drinkable, I didn't think it was The Macallan's finest release, although having heard good things about Concept No.2, I was keen to give it a try.

 Concept No.2 (which, interestingly, despite being travel retail only, is available at Master of Malt) takes its inspiration from music (as you might guess from the packaging), and specifically house music, which Whisky Maker Steven Bremner practices as a DJ, commenting that:
“Creating a track and crafting a single malt can take a similar path. Beginning with the layering of sounds just like the layering of different flavours from specific cask types. Each different cask brings its own influence to the character of the liquid, like each instrument, or sound, adds depth to a track. In both cases, we can alter each different element to play up or down particular sounds or flavours.”
In this case, the "layering" is achieved with the use of sherry-seasoned American oak casks, Miguel Martin European Oak sherry casks, and ex-Bourbon casks. So on the surface, a NAS Fine Oak / Triple Cask? Actually on the contrary I found it closer to a Macallan 12 Sherry Oak, albeit with an overall sweeter profile.

The Macallan "Concept No.2" (40% ABV, NAS, Speyside, Scotland, $1,280HKD in travel retail)
Colour: Mid-copper brown.

Nose: Initially sweet. You get that trademark Macallan "flintiness" (as I call it), sherry-soaked sultanas, but with an underlying sweet strawberry sherbert note.

Palate: Largely follows the nose, with strawberry Hubba Bubba, rose water, toffee apple and almond meal also peeking through.

Finish: Medium length with an almond nuttiness, tart berry notes and slight wood spice hints to the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. Not every NAS Macallan is a winner in my books, but this is definitely one of the better ones, and doesn't feel too "light" with a 40% ABV. If you like the typical modern Macallan profile, but prefer your whiskies on the sweeter side, this is definitely worth a look-in.

The Macallan "Concept Number 2" is available at Duty Zero by CDF Departure and Arrival stores in Hong Kong International Airport at an RRSP of 1280 HKD. Australian pricing TBC (although of course it will likely be a while before the opportunity to purchase it arises for most..)

Stay safe everyone.


Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Distillery Tour #8: Two Moons Distillery (Hong Kong) is, obviously, a whisky blog, but that doesn't stop me from enjoying the occasional malternative, be it rum (including every Caroni I can get my hands on), brandy (especially Vallein Tercinier Cognac), and at times, gin (the "whisky drinker's white spirit").

(I stop short at Vodka, of course...)

Gin isn't something we'd typically feature here, but then when you live in HK, it's not every day that someone starts up a local distillery producing a fantastic product. Enter Dimple and Ivan, founders of Two Moons Distillery in Chai Wan, Hong Kong...

The idea for Two Moons Distillery came about in 2017, when Ivan and Dimple were creating their own gin infusions for cocktail events, but were never quite satisfied with the results. After gaining valuable insights from meeting and working with distillers abroad, they decided to set up their own distillery, despite no one else (at the time) having opened a gin distillery in Hong Kong.

Told by many it was "impossible", the duo reached out to HK Customs who more or less said "why not?", and together both sides embarked on a two-year learning journey. It was refreshing to hear Ivan talk of the collaborative experience they had working with Customs - a far cry from what you might expect when dealing with bureaucracy, particularly in the context of alcohol production.

Gin Ambassador course teacher Eddie Nara hearing about Two Moons Gin botanicals from co-founder Ivan Chang
The facility itself is small but smartly designed, with seating around a crescent-shaped bar overlooking the still and bottling facilities, which all sit in a bonded area (interestingly, in Hong Kong only authorised personnel are allowed to enter bonded facilities, and Customs must be notified of each and every non-authorised person who enters).

Speaking of stills, "Luna" (as she's known) is a 100L copper pot and column hybrid still, created by Müller Stills in Germany. Ivan tells a funny story of how Müller weren't sure if they should produce the still for Two Moons, as there was a concern that it may have actually been requested simply to copy and reproduce (because "who distills gin in HK?!"). After satisfying themselves that Ivan and Dimple were legitimate, Müller created the still and it now takes pride of place in the distillery.

Utilising a sugarcane-based neutral grain spirit from Holland, Luna churns out approximately 100-110 bottles in each batch, with 2-3 batches produced per week currently.

Seeking a "balanced, complex and sippable" spirit, the duo experimented with variety of botanicals before settling on 12 to provide citrus notes (Lemon peel, Rose, Tangerine Peel, Pink Peppercorns), Sweetness (Tonka bean, Madagascan vanilla, Chinese apricot kernels), London Dry tradition (Juniper from Italy, Cardamom, Coriander seed) and a slight bitterness on the aftertaste (Licorice root, Oris root). With no sugars or sweeteners, the gin is bottled at 45% (based on taste) in custom bottles which are then wax-dipped by hand.

There are a lot of craft gins out there, and not all of them are good, but I have to say, Dimple and Ivan nailed it with this one. It's one of the few gins I'd happily sip neat, and would make an excellent martini, given the complexity. I particularly like the way the citrus sweetness (never overpowering) balances with the juniper and slight bitterness on the finish.

As if it wasn't impressive enough to start a new distillery in Hong Kong, Dimple and Ivan have taken things one step further to ensure the facility has some serious sustainability credentials too - from re-use of water, to turning the composted botanicals into fertiliser for local community farms, the duo are giving back to the community in more ways than one.

Two Moons is not the only gin distillery in Hong Kong (the current count I believe is 3), but regardless, you have to hand it to anyone who decides to take the leap into distilling, particularly in a city with no recent history of it. Given the quality of the product, I have no doubt Dimple and Ivan will succeed.

Two Moons Distillery is located at the end of the Island MTR line, literally across the road from Chai Wan Station in Chai Wan, HK. Visits can be booked via their website.

A big thanks to Dimple and Ivan for their time and hospitality, and Eddie Nara of Barrel Concepts (and also Gin Ambassador HK teacher) for arranging the tour and introduction.


Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Tasted #478: Bladnoch x Boilermaker House Select Cask 18 Year Old

Aussie-owned Scottish distillery Bladnoch is one we've featured on the blog and socials before, but always covering bottles from their standard line-up (i.e. what you can buy at Dan's). What we tried recently however, is a little bit more special...

Bladnoch, in conjunction with Melbourne's temple of whisky and beer Boilermaker House have bottled a single cask, 18yo Bladnoch specifically for the bar...finished in Moscatel casks no less!

To quote the bar:
"In creating this release, Bladnoch’s acclaimed Master Distiller, Dr Nick Savage hand selected a collection of Bladnoch malts for the Boilermaker team to taste. In a private tasting, Cask 102 was specially selected by the team led by Greg Sanderson as the perfect malt for the Boilermaker House customer. 
In August, Boilermaker’s bar manager, Asher Spitz travelled to Bladnoch Distillery in the Scottish Lowlands to meet Nick Savage and Distillery Manager, Neil Bulloch and taste directly from the team’s selected cask. Finished in luxurious Moscatel casks, the malt shows notes of sweet baking spices and fruitiness on the palate.
Just 275 bottles have been made from the cask and will be on shelves at Boilermaker accompanied by a custom beer to celebrate the release."
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Whilst the majority of stock has been kept for the bar, 30 bottles will be available for purchase, by ballot registration here. So should you? The team at Bladnoch were recently kind enough to send us a sample, so judge for yourself with the tasting notes below...

Bladnoch x Boilermaker House Select Cask 18yo Cask #102 (48.3% ABV, 18yo, Lowlands, Scotland)

Colour: Orange gold

Nose: There's a big hit of stewed fruits at first - poached pears, apricots, raisins (notes which continue throughout). There's a sweetness too - maple syrup perhaps.

Palate: More stewed fruits. Baked pears, apples, apricots. The oak is there, but balances well with the fruit. The first whisky it reminded me of was Glenmorangie's Bacalta, and that's not a bad thing! Peach and caramel pie follows up, making for a deliciously fruity dessert dram.

Finish: Relatively long and warming, with hints of cinnamon, star anise and dried apricots.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100.


Thanks to Bladnoch and Boilermaker House for the sample.

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Bar Review #24: House Welley Bar (Hong Kong)

For our 24th bar review, we visited HK's latest whisky haunt, House Welley Bar in the heart of Central. HK whisky lovers who visit will likely recognise the familiar faces of Vincent, Eric and Jason, known for their friendly hospitality and impressive whisky collections, which now form the basis of the bar.

The space is open, large, and features an edgy design with a noticeable departure from the "average" whisky bar (whatever that is these days). It works - it's a striking venue that places whisky at the fore, but at the same time feels comfortable and inviting.

Of course, you don't come to a whisky bar for the space or decor, you come for the whisky, and House Welley Bar doesn't disappoint there. The back bar is split by region and style (there are sections for "Speyside", "Islay", "Blended", "Japan" etc...) and reflects the tastes of the owners, who are all too happy to make a recommendation.

You'll find OBs, sure, but not the average ones you'll find at the supermarket. Here you're more likely to find single cask, limited edition, distillery exclusive OBs, alongside a number of interesting IBs, from bottlers both established and obscure. It's not just modern releases filling up the back bar either - vintage Clynelish, Bowmore, Macallan and others can all be found too.

During my visit I tried a stunningly fruity Cooley from SMWS (117.1 no less, in the old "paper label" bottle style), a secretive 29yo Scottish malt, a 30yo Islay Blended Malt (which tasted suspiciously like Bowmore) and the now-famous 25yo 1975 Macallan from Casa de Vinos (it's excellent, but give it a lot of time in the glass). Prices were reasonable, everything is available by the half-dram, and there were several more bottles I spied on the back bar for which I'll definitely be coming back!

Whether you're a whisky geek, or just starting out on your whisky journey, or anywhere in between, House Welley Bar will have something to suit your tastes, from an obscure IB, rare Japanese single cask, to a sought-after OB.

Note: At the time of writing (21st Jan 2020), House Welley Bar is open by private appointment only, but we hope that changes shortly.


Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Starward Tawny [Tasted #477]

Christmas in Australia has never been synonymous with cold, cosy, dark, sit by the fire kind of season. In fact, Santa is often seen surfing and basking in the hot Australian sun.

And just because the weather is getting warmer, it doesn't mean that it's time to stash away those whisky bottles. In fact, some whiskies are more fun and more festive in summer. Take this decadent Starward Tawny as an example. The sweet and tantalising nature of this new release from Starward means that you can feature it as part of a Christmas feast or a festive dinner with friends. You can mix it up with some ice and tonic to make a fun Christmas cocktail but it's also great to have on its own.

Starward Tawny is Starward's first Tawny cask release. Small 100L tawny fortified wine barrels from Yalumba were used to mature its whisky and to provide a full-bodied taste. Tawny ports have always been known for its rich, sweet, elegant and smooth complex flavours and Yalumba Tawny is no different. Yalumba Tawny is known for its aromas of rich caramels, sweet figs, chocolate, liquorice spices, wood-aged nuttiness and dried fruits and nuts. So what do you get when you marry Starward's single malt whisky with Yalumba's Tawny casks? A rich and complex marriage of the two.

Starward Tawny follows Starward's key signature of ageing its whisky in small wine barrels. The Tawny is no different with the use of tawny port wine barrels. 

Starward's Head Distiller and Tawny cask innovator, Sam Slaney notes, ".. with a palate of rich dried fruits, brown sugar and nutmeg, Starward Tawny can be enjoyed neat, with food such as blue cheeses like stilton and Roquefort, or rich desserts or as a digestif." 

There were certainly loads of Christmas flavours that you do get from the Tawny. Everything from Christmas fruit cake, raisins, glazed cherries to the myriad of cakes. Starward has always been fun on the palate and the Tawny is no different. These flavours have partially been derived from the tawny casks as well as Starward's signature fruity DNA.

The bottle may look familiar to some, the label shares a similar design to the label of Starward's other limited edition releases including the Ginger Beer cask release as well as the Bourbon cask release. I had fun featuring this bottle with all sorts of Christmas ornaments for this post.

Now, whilst Starward's previous limited-edition releases including their Bourbon Cask release sold out in minutes, Starward Tawny has strategically upped its outturn with around 4,000 unique bottlings out there in the market. It does present a good opportunity for those wanting a bottle of the Tawny ahead of Christmas or any time really.

Starward Tawny (48% ABV, NAS, Blend, Melbourne, Australia, A$119)

Colour: Caramel

Nose: The nose is creamy. It is loaded with sweet cakes from sweet vanilla meringue, Christmas fruit cake with glazed cherries, cream, summer fruits, figs and some orange marmalade.

Palate: The palate is sweet with that slice of vanilla cake, some raisin, plums, stone fruits followed by dried spices; pepper and nutmeg and a hint of caramelised sugar.

Finish: The finish is long and dry, leaving a nice, sweet, tannic, spiced remnants which lingers for some time.

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

Thanks to Starward and Dialogue PR who kindly provided the Starward Tawny bottle for review.


Monday, 9 December 2019

Highland Park Triskelion

It's been a big 12 months for Highland Park, most recently with the Valfather (which we recently celebrated the launch of in Taipei) and previously Valknut, not to mention the latest 50 Year Old and a number of other releases for Travel Retail.

The distillery has released one more for the year though, this time a NAS designed to celebrate "the combined wisdom and inspiration of three legendary Highland Park Master Whisky Makers" – Max McFarlane, John Ramsay and Gordon Motion (whom we had the pleasure of meeting recently).

Launched last month, the whisky comes from first-fill casks (sherry-seasoned Spanish oak butts, sherry seasoned American oak casks and bourbon barrels and hoggies), save for a small quantity from refill casks.

The three whisky makers, combining over 100 years' experience, each had a combined hand in the making of the whisky. To quote current whisky maker Gordon Motion: “It took us a while to agree on the final flavour profile, but we are very proud of the result – it tested our skill set, our craftsmanship but not our friendship!”

Priced at $2,200HKD and bottled at 45.1% ABV, Triskelion is available from the usual quality outlets in HK. Whilst we haven't yet tasted it (but hope to soon), the official tasting notes can be found below.

Appearance: Natural colour, deep russet, clear and bright
Aroma: Seville oranges, coriander seeds, crème brûlée, cloudy honey, lightly peated with a hint of rose.
Taste: Orange peel, apricots, cumin, vanilla and light smoke
Finish: Lingering sweet, citrusy and spice


Friday, 6 December 2019

The Macallan Edition No 5 [Tasted #475]

Of the many releases each year from The Macallan, the "Edition" series has become an annual favourite, with fans guessing months in advance what the next release colour might be (so far: Brown, Orange, Yellow, Green, Purple).

Always residing around a central theme (structure, cask, nose, etc..), the whiskies are a fun and varied insight into the distillery, always offering a slightly different take whilst retaining an underlying Macallan familiarity.

More importantly for me though, the series represents one of the distillery's strongest forays into transparency, with plenty of detail on cask make-up (size, type, fill) provided, and even a bit more hidden detail if you know where to look.

For 2019's release (the 5th in the series), the focus is on colour (remember The Macallan never artificially colour their whisky), and to emphasise the point, the distillery even registered their own Pantone colour - "The Macallan Edition Purple". Whether or not you buy into this sort of marketing (personally we think it's a bit of fun, nothing more, nothing less), the focus is, and should be of course, on the liquid.

We've seen Edrington HK  hold a range of events for the series over the years, from the Edition No 2 launch dinner at VEA, to an evening with Roja Dove to celebrate Edition No 3, and last year's lunch launch of Edition No 4. Sadly this year Steph and I could't attend the festivities for Edition No.5 (fun though they looked), but whilst we waited for our bottles to arrive, we made our way over to The ThirtySix Bar & Co to try a bottle they had open in the whisky vault.

The Macallan Edition No 5 (48.5% ABV, NAS, Speyside, Scotland, $1,450HKD)
Colour: Golden treacle

Nose: Instantly a Macallan, with a a slightly floral bouquet, sweet and fresh, with some hints of stone fruit and a slight hint of hay.

Palate: There's that slight matchhead / flint note I find on some recent sherry-influenced cask Macallans, followed by a herbal earthy (yet very subtle) smoke, allspice, raspberry jam and a hint of cigar box.

Finish: Medium to long in length, with residual wafts of ginger, pot pourri, poached pears and toffee.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  90/100. A worthy entry into the series - approachable, enjoyable, and and sufficiently different enough to Editions 1-4 to earn its place.

Whether you're an avid Macallan collector, or looking to try your first dram, picking up a bottle of Edition No 5 won't disappoint.


Monday, 2 December 2019

Mars Komagatake Limited Edition 2018 & 2019 [Tasted #473-474]

The world of Japanese whisky is a complex one, filled with delicious drams, yes, but also traps for the unsuspecting consumer. Whilst there are many categories (some of which are explained brilliantly in this infographic from Nomunication), including blends, single malts, single grains, blended malts, single cask blends, and even shochu labelled as whisky, in my view you can loosely bucket Japanese whisky today into three broad categories:
  1. "The OG's": The sort of whisky which filled the shelves just a few years ago, but now proves increasingly difficult and/or expensive to find. I'm including in here pretty much all age statement Suntory whiskies (e.g. Yamazaki, Hakushu, Hibiki), age statement Nikka whiskies (Yoichi, Miyagikyo, Taketsuru), closed distillery whiskies like the famed Karuizawa and Hanyu, and even Chichibu single malt (which even though is barely a decade old, definitely falls under the "difficult to find" and/or "expensive" banner).
  2. "Fake" Japanese whisky - aka whisky sold as Japanese, but containing whisky distilled outside Japan. Now to be clear, under Japanese law this is perfectly legal (and to be even clearer, many reputable whisky brands do this with complete transparency - e.g. "world whisky" like Suntory's "Ao" & Ichiro's Malt "World Blended Whisky"), but there are an increasing number of whiskies which seem to try to "fool" the consumer into thinking they're entirely Japanese; and
  3. Whisky distilled in Japan, yet is (relatively) available and affordable. Into this category falls whisky like "Nikka Coffey Malt", NAS Yoichi / Miyagikyo / Yamazaki / Hakushu (which seemed to be slightly more available on a recent trip to Japan), and Mars Whisky's range of single malt "Komagatake", including the two I'm reviewing today.
We tasted several Mars whiskies back in January this year (with President Hombo-san, no less) and this time around have two limited releases under the microscope - Mars Single Malt Komagatake Limited Editions 2018 & 2019.

It's not often you come across a (genuine) Japanese single malt, released in limited numbers, that you can easily buy, yet that's the case with these two, which are still readily available in Hong Kong (in fact I saw the 2019 edition at the airport last week!)

As non-chill filtered genuine Japanese single malts, bottled at a respectable 48% ABV,  they tick a lot of boxes on paper, but how do they stack up as whiskies to drink? Read on...

MARS Single Malt KOMAGATAKE Limited Edition 2018 (48% ABV, NAS, Japan, 1 of 10,000 bottles, $1,300HKD)
Originally tasted back in January this year, this limited release of 10,000 bottles was aged entirely in ex-Bourbon / American White Oak barrels, and is said to include both peated and unpeated spirit, matured in Shinshu.

Colour: Light yellow gold.

Nose: Vanilla and toasted oak, slightly smoky toasted banana bread, oat cakes and faint wafts of smoke.

Palate: Toffee and caramel, then some ripe plum, orange zest, pot pouri. With time, some floral pear notes emerge.

Finish: Long, citrus with a floral lingering smoke.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  88/100. A few new flavours discovered the second time around, but the score remains the same. A youthful, yet enjoyable dram.
MARS Single Malt KOMAGATAKE Limited Edition 2019 (48% ABV, NAS, Japan, $1,380HKD)
2019's release was distilled at Mars' Shinshu distillery and vatted from Bourbon barrels and "several other types of casks" (it literally says that on the box). The exact number of bottles released isn't known, but like its 2018 counterpart, it's a one-off limited release.

Colour: Light copper gold.

Nose: Instant fruit - pear, melons (rockmelon & honeydew melon), green apples and some oak.

Palate: Follows the fruitiness of the nose. Rockmelon, apricot, marmalade, some orange slices and hints of sweet Grand Marnier.

Finish: Apple flan, slight earthy "fruit smoke", peach pie.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  90/100. It's youthful and not overly complex, but it's also delicious and whilst great on its own, I imagine would make a great highball with a slice of apple.

Both 2018 and 2019 Limited Editions are available in HK from AFTrade, who kindly provided these bottles for review.


Friday, 22 November 2019

Johnnie Walker Game of Thrones "A Song of Ice" and "A Song of Fire" (Tasted #471-472)

Diageo is continuing its Game of Thrones series with the release of two limited edition blends – Johnnie Walker "A Song of Ice" and Johnnie Walker "A Song of Fire". These two new releases are based on the overarching book series "A Song of Fire and Ice", of which Game of Thrones was part of.

A Song of Ice, containing malt whisky from Clynelish distillery, is described as having a ‘crisp, clean taste’ with a ‘green and grassy’ flavour and notes of ‘vanilla and tropical fruit’.

A Song of Fire containing peated malt whisky from Caol Ila distillery, is said to feature ‘subtle smoke tempered by a rich, rounded sweetness’, and is bottled at 40.8% abv

These releases follow the launch of "White Walker" by Johnnie Walker last year and Diageo's Game of Thrones Single Malt Collection earlier this year.  The latter was a series of eight limited edition single malts that represented the Great Houses plus the Night's Watch. Personally, there were some real highlights from the collection including the Lagavulin (Lannister), Oban (Night's Watch) and Dalwhinnie (Stark).

Now, the White Walker and the Single Malt Collection were launched in anticipation of the final season of Game of Thrones which aired in April 2019. However, both A Song of Ice and A Song of Fire have been released post the end of the final season. Whether this point to an upcoming Game of Thrones series, it hasn't been confirmed though there are rumours a prequel is in the works.

The bottle design have been inspired by the two great houses who face off in final season of the series - House of Stark (represented by the Direwolf) and House of Targaryen (inspired by Daenerys Targaryen aka Mother of Dragons). The sigil of both houses, a direwolf and a dragon were used on the bottle design.

Tasting notes aside, the bottles have been impeccably designed. A Song of Ice share the same colour and design as its White Walker release from last year. On the contrary, A Song Fire incorporates a bolder design featuring what looks like Drogon, one of Daenerys' dragons.

Tasting them side by side, is one tastier than another? They are both different and I personally, prefer the A Song of Ice over A Song of Fire though they may appeal to different taste buds.

Johnnie Walker "A Song of Ice" (40.2% ABV, NAS, Blend, Scotland, A$69.99)
Colour: Pale Straw

Nose: Herbaceous, fresh hay. There are some sweet treats from apple stew, stone fruits, vanilla and orange zest.

Palate: The palate is soft yet lightly spiced and has layers of flavours from oranges, vanilla, nutmeg and stone fruits. Although the palate is soft, it still packed quite a complex profile.

Finish: Short to medium, with warming spice and herbaceous notes.

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

Johnnie Walker "A Song of Fire" (40.2% ABV, NAS, Blend, Scotland, A$69.99)
Colour: Flame Amber

Nose: Orange, vanilla and black pepper. Very soft and light on the nose. There's a small hint of peat.

Palate: Light and soft. There's tannic when you first taste it which is then followed by vanilla, black pepper spices and a hint of peat. You would think this is the one with the Clyenish malt but no, the primary malt is in fact, Caol Ila.

Finish: Short, with warming fading notes. The spices also disappear quickly .

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 85/100.

At $69.99 a bottle, these new blends are great for those looking to fill Santa's stockings ahead of Christmas. Both Johnnie Walker A Song of Ice and A Song of Fire are now available from liquor stores nationwide.


A big thanks to Diageo and Fuel Communication for providing samples for review.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

The Singleton of Glen Ord 12yo Sherry Cask launch dinner [Tasted #470]

The Singleton doesn't get a lot of attention in Australia, but it certainly does in parts of Asia - in Taiwan especially (where we're told it's the #1 selling single malt brand), but more recently Hong Kong, where the brand and its three distilleries are rapidly gaining a large profile.

Those three distilleries are Dufftown, Glendullan and Glen Ord, and it's the latter which recently gave us a new release for the HK market - The Singleton of Glen Ord 12yo Sherry Cask, released just last month.

To celebrate the new whisky, The Singleton held an elaborate dinner at the St Regis Hong Kong's Astor Ballroom, with a menu by lauded Singaporean chef Justin Quek.

The dinner saw 5 Singleton whiskies paired with a variety of dishes, many of them surprisingly well-matched (particularly given how hit-and-miss whisky pairings can be).

What was more unusual however, was the non-food pairing. A booklet on our table told us that we'd be given an "interpretive dance recital", telling the story of the whisky, with three dancers each interpreting the "European Oak Sherry Casks", "American Oak Bourbon Casks" and the final "Sherry Casks" used for marrying the whiskies together.

I'm not sure I really "got" the interpretation of cask type in dance, but it was certainly a unique and interesting take on the whisky dinner format, which often follows the exact same formula time after time.

At the front of the elongated, twin-tabled room was a chef's station where Chef Quek talked the 120 or so guests through each dish, with a live feed being broadcast over screens throughout the venue (it was significantly less Owellian than it appears in the photo below, and actually a nice touch).

You can tell when a "whisky pairing" dinner has been thrown together, and that certainly wasn't the case here. It was clear much thought had gone into matching the whisky with each dish, such as the trio of starters (House cured salmon/Royal Oscietra Caviar, Light Smoked Hamachi Fillet/Konbu & Gillardeau Oyster Fritter/Spanish ham/Mushrooms) which Chef Quek explained were specifically chosen to match elements of the whisky - the Oysters to represent Speyside, the Hamachi to represent the subtle smoke in the whisky, and the salmon to represent...The Singleton's logo! Fair play.

Taste-wise, the combo worked well with the new 12yo Sherry Cask, as did Wok Fried Maine Lobster with The Singleton of Glen Ord 15yo, with the whisky adding a sweetness to the Lobster that worked very well.

As is often the case, the dessert pairing (Chocolate variations and Singleton Whisky Ice Cream, paired with The Singleton of Dufftown 25yo) worked a treat. It's not hard to get a dessert and whisky pairing right, but this one worked particularly well, with a creamy, fruity sensation coming out in the whisky that wasn't as prominent on its own. The Singleton infused ice cream was a nice touch as well.

Despite enjoying 15, 18, 21 and 25 year old expressions of The Singleton, it was the Sherry Cask 12yo we were all there to celebrate, and I thought it fitting to give it a proper tasting on its own, before the dinner.

The Singleton of Glen Ord 12yo Sherry Cask (40% ABV, 12yo, Highlands, Scotland, $548HKD)
Colour: Deep copper/amber with hints of red.

Nose: Candied brazil nuts, cherries, with hints of cloves and a slight berry-laden wood spice.

Palate: Initially light, but quickly settling into rich berry notes (raspberries, cranberries) then a dustry dry-rub spice. Cherries, fresh raspberries, caramel and and hints of oak are rounded out with a subtle underlying smoke.

Finish: Longer than you might expect, with hints of oak spice and pot pourri and dried raspberries.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  88/100. A solid dram. It's nice to see a new release carrying a decent age statement for a change too.

MHDHK and their PR partners PRime Asia don't do things by halves here in Hong Kong, and this dinner was no exception - a beautifully curated event to suit an evening of highly enjoyable whiskies.

Martin. attended this event as guests of MHDHK.