Wednesday, 21 October 2020

A very personal experience with the new Rosebank 30 Year Old "Release 1" [Tasted #493]

The launch of a new 30yo Scotch whisky would generally be exciting enough on its own. An OB from a closed distillery, even more so. The launch of the new Rosebank 30 Year Old 1990 however was a particular special experience for me, as I was fortunate enough to be one of only 6 people around the world chosen to be part of the launch video, sharing the screen with noted spirits journalists such as Alice Lascelles (FT)Felipe Schrieberg (Forbes) and Mamoru Tsuchiya (Head of the Japan Whisky Research Centre).

Joining some of the world's most authoritative sources on whisky and spirits was pretty special, as was the whole experience of filming the video (eagle-eyed Hong Kong readers might recognise the setting as Tiffany's New York Bar, a favourite of mine), but the real treat was being able to taste the whisky months before the official release. The hard part, of course, was not being able to talk about it until today!

The first in a series of annual, limited releases, Rosebank 30 Year Old 1990 Vintage has been bottled un-chill filtered at 48.6% ABV, from casks laid down in 1990 (62% refill sherry butts, 38% refill Bourbon hogsheads) - just a few years before the distillery closed in 1993. These bottles will be marked "Release One", with each year seeing a new release leading up to the first "new" Rosebank spirit to run from the stills, now that Ian Macleod Distillers has taken over Rosebank and plan to re-open the distillery.

4,350 bottles are available, with a retail price of £1,600. As a fun way to engage buyers, Rosebank is also giving the first 200 people to scan the QR code on the neck collar of their Release One bottle the the opportunity to enjoy a dram of Release Two, and the chance to receive an early link to purchase Release Two before the general release. does it taste?

Rosebank 30 Year Old "Release One" (48.6% ABV, 30yo, Lowlands, £1,600) 
Colour: Bright yellow gold.

Nose: Big, rich, and lively. Orchard fruits, green apple, slight hints of mango and peach (baked peach pie), almonds, vanilla, and nectarine.

Palate: The fruit really dominates - it's not tropical, more orchard, with peach, apricot, pear, and undertones of vanilla. My mum used to make a fruit compote for Christmas, with sherry-soaked pears, apricots, nectarines etc.. and this 100% took me back to those Christmases. Has some slight oak undertones, but very balanced.

Finish: Long, lingering orange peel and a slight hint of oak at the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. Delicious. A whisky that really brought back some memories.

A huge thanks to Ian Macleod Distillers and Wire (and especially Vicky) for the chance to be part of this awesome launch.


Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Tasting the new Double Cask range at The Macallan Room Hong Kong [Tasted #490 - 492]

If you make your way to Level 5 of the incredible K11 Musea shopping centre, you might find a small piece of Speyside, in the form of the new "Macallan Room" - a permanent space next to Liquid Gold which serves as a showcase for the brand, and event space for product launches.

A relatively cosy space (ideal for holding COVID-compliant gatherings at the moment), the space boasts a marble bar overshadowed by a wall (or perhaps wave) of Macallan bottles, with rare Macallans lining most walls, including a Macallan 72yo Genesis Decanter, Exceptional Single Casks (available for purchase from Liquid Gold next door, albeit not at original retail pricing) and Fine & Rare releases

Outside the room sits a more temporary exhibit currently, hosting "The Macallan Extraordinary Wood Journey Exhibition", using photography from Steve McCurry to tell the story of oak (and subsequent casks) that make up the new Double Cask range.

Double Cask is a whisky we first met back in 2016, although at the time the range comprised a single 12yo expression. Fast forward to 2020 however, and the range has been expanded with the addition of both 15 and 18 year old expressions. Both still 100% sherry maturation, but (like the 12 year old), from a 50:50 mixture of American and European Oak sherry casks (the better-known "Sherry Oak" Macallan range uses European Oak exclusively).

As nice as the new Macallan Room was, we weren't there just to see the space, with Edrington kindly arranging a tasting of the new Double Cask Range - 12 Year Old, 15 Year Old and 18 Year Old, expertly led by The Macallan Brand Ambassador Patricia Byott.

The Macallan 12 Year Old Double Cask (40% ABV, 12yo, Speyside, Scotland, $500HKD$105AUD / £51.95)
Colour: Yellow-honey gold.

Nose: Vanilla, honey and dried orange peel. It's clearly from sherry, and has trademark Macallan notes, but (as I found back in 2016), a bit more fruity and less intense than the Sherry Oak 12yo.

Palate: Still more honey and vanilla, with some oak spice and ginger tea.

Finish: Medium in length with a warming ginger note.

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

The Macallan 15 Year Old Double Cask (43% ABV, 15yo, Speyside, Scotland, $1,150HKD / $199AUD / £90.95)
Colour: Maple gold.

Nose: The European Oak has started to work some of its magic here. There's still orange, but the honey has become toffee, and there are some sultana and demerara notes too.

Palate: From the same family as the 12yo, but with more wood spice and dried fruits - sultanas, sweet raisins and pot pourri.

Finish: Long, with lingering dried fruit mix and woodspice.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. The "sweet spot" in the range, if you ask me.

The Macallan 18 Year Old Double Cask (43% ABV, 18yo, Speyside, Scotland, $2,200HKD / $499AUD / £249.95)
Colour: Copper gold.

Nose: Toffee and sultanas, but the orange has become grapefruit, and there's a noticeable Brazil nut quality coming through.

Palate: Less sweet than the 15, with more dried fruit mix, almonds and Brazil nutes, but also bitter dark chocolate (yum) and more grapefruit.

Finish: The longest of the three, with some oak tannins starting to show at the very end.

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

The Macallan Double Cask range is available in Hong Kong now (with pretty keen pricing from Dram Good Stuff I've noticed - certainly better than Watsons and the like). Those wanting to visit The Macallan Room or the exhibit can find the details below:

The Macallan Room
To immerse, discover and savour The Macallan 
Address: Shop 507, Level 5, K11 Musea, Victoria Dockside, 18 Salisbury Road, Tsimshatsui
Opening Hours: Monday – Sunday 10am – 10pm 
Contact No: (852) 5988 0777
Steven McCurry - The Macallan Extraordinary Wood Journey Exhibition
Address: Level 5, K11 Musea, Victoria Dockside, 18 Salisbury Road, Tsimshatsui
Exhibition period: 22 September 2020 to 10 October 2020
Time: 10am – 10pm. 


Monday, 14 September 2020

Tasted #489: Chief's Son The Tanist

When I received a note on a new release from the Chief’s Son distillery based in Mornington Peninsula; an area south-east of Melbourne - I jumped at the occasion. Partly due to the fact that I wanted to find out more about the distillery. Aptly named after the Scottish Gaelic expression of Mhic an Tòisich which means 'Son of the Chief,' the distillery was named after the surname of Chief's Son Distillery's founders Stuart and Naomi's McIntosh.

When Stuart and Naomi founded the distillery in 2013, they wanted to build on their story of chance, risk and passion and history, love and family. Stuart and Naomi have wanted to build on the honour that was awarded to their family 900 years ago for their ongoing loyalty to the Chiefs of Alba (Kings of Scotland). After three years of test bed success, the first commercial batch of single malt whisky was distilled at the current Somerville location.

The McIntosh are passionate about loyalty, the intergenerational, the meaning of their name and the passing of the love of whisky from generation to generation.

At the heart of their whisky making story is their single electric powered 4,000 litre copper open neck pot still. This pot still can be seen standing tall behind Stuart and Naomi in the photo above. Not only is having an electric powered still a unique arrangement, but their positioning of the lyne arm is also interesting. The lyne arm that connects the head of the still to the condensing system is downward facing. This generally results in less reflux and encourages carryover where more of the heavy oils flow down towards the condenser. A larger proportion of the oils, flavours and aromas flow into the final spirit, helping to create a heavier but more nutty spirit - creating their unique style.

Chief's Son uses a range of malt across their core range including peated malt, darker specialty malt (chocolate malt) in addition to the base distillers' malt. Their core range series include three different styles with the '900 Standard' imparting a mix between base and specialty malt (including a small percentage of peated malt), the ‘900 Pure Malt’ switches out the peat for darker specialty malt and their ‘900 Sweet Peat‘, leverages a higher percentage of their peated malt. Maturation of their whiskies is done through the use of ex-fortified wine French oak barrels.

But we are here for Chief's Son new release, the Tanist. Stuart and Naomi wanted to introduce the Tanist into their core range to create a whisky with a broad taste profile and at a reasonable price point. Stuart wanted a whisky that has a soft, approachable, big and balanced flavours. One that has less of the rich, robust characteristics of their core and specialty range. The Tanist is formed through the use of combination of whiskies that have been matured in both ex-fortified French oak barrels and American oak ex-bourbon barrels. The Tanist is a double wooded whisky that uses a mash bill composed of of their specialty pale malt and a bit of their peated malt. Bottled at 43% ABV and sold at $115, it is a rather attractive proposition for an Australian whisky.

So how does the Tanist fare:

Chief's Son The Tanist (43% ABV, NAS, Mornington Peninsula, Australia, A$115)

Colour: Amber/Copper

Nose: The nose is fragrant, floral and riddled with apple stew, a mix of toffee, vanilla, sweet honey, lemon custard and some burnt orange and cinnamon.

Palate: The palate is soft and floral. Orange cake and honey are quite prominent followed by a mix of spices; cloves, cinnamon, black pepper and toffee.

Finish: The finish is relatively long with caramelised toffee flavour and lots of tannins.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. This is a rather welcoming whisky that you can come back to as an everyday dram, it’s flavour packed yet does not hit you with any extremities. It does remind me of Starward’s Two Fold and their broad based flavour profile. I will do a comparison with their 900 Pure Malt and 900 Standard as well in a separate post to see if the Tanist does contrast from Chief’s Son punchier core range.

The Tanist is now available from the Chief’s Son Distillery door, online on their web store and through selected retailers.


Thanks to Chief's Son for providing the sample.

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Black Tot Rum on Black Tot Day (Tasted #488)

It was a dark day for many on 31st July 1970, when 200 years of tradition came to an end as the last daily rum ration (or "daily tot") was handed out to British Royal Naval sailors. In time however, the day has grown to become a celebration of all things rum, and big things were planned this year, when 31st July 2020 marked the 50th anniversary of the day known as "Black Tot Day".

In Hong Kong, the day was to be celebrated in a big way with Timeless & Tasty (official distributors of Black Tot Rum) at the newly-opened Central rum bar The Daily Tot, but unfortunately a third wave of COVID-19 put an end to those plans. Luckily, Black Tot Rum had an alternative, in the form of an epic, non-stop 24 hour online rum festival, featuring rum ambassadors, independent bottlers, formal naval officers and even Sukhinder Singh

To prepare for the event, Timeless & Tasty offered this pack containing component rums from Barbados, Guyana & Jamaica, along with a sample of Black Tot Rum, a blended Caribbean rum from The Whisky Exchange.

"But this is a whisky blog, Martin!" you may be thinking, and you'd be right....but I've never been averse to the odd "malternative" brown spirit being featured occasionally, especially when that brown spirit is rum. Personally, I find rum a delicious spirit, fascinatingly varied, and a category which (thanks to efforts like The Whisky Exchange's focus on categorisation) will likely start to gain the legitimacy and respect already commanded by other categories (e.g. whisky) in the years to come.

The aforementioned pack from Timeless & Tasty was a great way to delve into some rum geekery and explore the different styles and regions which make up the category, especially when enjoyed alongside the following online session (as part of the 24 hour online celebration), conveniently held at 7pm HKT!

with Global Rum Ambassadors - Miguel Smith (Mount Gay), Christelle Harris (Hampden Estate), Daniyel Jones (Angostura), & Benjamin Boothe (Tamosi)

The hour-long session involved an overview of  Barbados, Guyana and Jamaica (from where the rums within Black Tot originated), insights into what makes their spirit production / style unique, thoughts on the future of rum, and for those lucky enough to have the corresponding sample pack, a tasting!

My favourite of the components was Barbados, followed by one of the Guyanan rums (not a surprise given I usually love El Dorado rum, which comes from Guyana), but it was the final Blended product itself I was most excited to try....

Black Tot Finest Caribbean Rum (46.2% ABV, NAS, Blended rum, $660HKD)
Colour: Copper gold

Nose: Grilled pineapple, acetone and glazed honey on the BBQ. There's a meatiness, and a slight hint hint of petrol (in a good way - in the way it really "works" on say a Caroni), along with some vanilla

Palate: Lots of grilled pineapple, BBQ smoke, banana fritters, sweet caramel, dried mango pieces, stewed apples, spice and dried ginger.

Finish: Toasted honey-coated banana toast, coated in icing sugar.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 89/100. I'll admit I was sceptical when I read how tropical the official notes are, but it's true - there are some great tropical flavours in here. I mean, don't expect a 1964 Bowmore, and it's still a rum, but it's a delicious, fruity one.

A big thanks to Timeless & Tasty for the sample pack, and The Whisky Exchange for putting on a fantastic online event and giving those of us in various states of lockdown the ability to still enjoy a delicious spirit and learn something in the process!

From now until 30th September, everyone who buys a bottle of Black Tot Rum from gets the chance to find a Rum Ration Card in their tube, giving them a variety of Black Tot prizes. I'm not sure exactly what the prizes are, but I found one with the bottle I bought (and submitted it for a prize), so I'll let everyone know via Instagram stories once it arrives!


Monday, 31 August 2020

Tasted #486 - 487: 1980s Bowmore showdown - 15yo vs 30yo

You wouldn't know it by reading through my "Tasted" posts (as I'm about 400 posts behind...), but I'm a huge Bowmore fan, and have been for a while now. Not just because of the few crazy-rare and delicious examples I've been lucky enough to try (like this), but in general, it's a distillery whose character I (usually) love. IBs mostly, but I don't mind a lot of the OBs either.

I recently had these two bottles open at the same time, and felt they warranted a post. One, an older bottling of Bowmore 15yo Mariner (bottled c.2002), the other, an IB 30yo single cask bottled by Single Cask Nation. On the surface then, they might seem quite different:
  • IB vs OB
  • 30yo vs 15yo
  • Single cask vs vatting
  • Natural colour vs (likely) coloured
  • Bottled 2019 vs bottled c.2002.
...but if you work back from the ages, you realise both are late 1980s spirit - the 30yo distilled in 1989, the 15yo likely around 1987 (both are also within 1.1% ABV of each other). Given the late 1980s was a pretty notorious area for Bowmore (when the spirit was often described as overly perfumed or soapy), I couldn't resist trying them side-by-side.

Bowmore "Mariner" 15yo bottled c.2002 (43% ABV, 15yo, OB, Islay, Scotland)
Colour: Copper-brown gold.

Nose: Musty, earthy, with perfumed peat smoke. Noticeable notes of nutty sherry, and some oak / cigar boxes after some time.

Palate: Follows the nose, with continuing subtle (yet perfumed) peat smoke, then a good whack of lavender, spice, and pot pourri. Reasonably full-bodied for 43%, but you're not going to mistake it for a cask-strength banger. 

Finish: Oak with some residual lavender spice. Medium in length.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 88/100. Definitely showing some of those perfume notes evident on many Bowmores of the era, but with some other notes too, still an enjoyable dram.

Bowmore 1989 Single Cask ex-Bourbon 30yo bottled by Single Cask Nation (44.1% ABV, 30yo, IB single cask, Islay, Scotland)
Colour: Golden amber-yellow.

Nose: It bursts with tropical pineapple, mango and papaya, and even a little passionfruit (now we're talking!) with less obvious floral and perfume notes. With time there comes lavender (subtle), vanilla and a little rancio. Interestingly, after the bottle was less than half full for a few months, the tropical notes seemed to step back a bit, and the perfume / floral notes came to the fore.

Palate: More perfume and less fruit than the nose, but still with noticeable fruit - mango, guava, lime and banana, followed by a little pot pouri. A little lemon, bubblegum, lavender and some oak round things out.

Finish: Floral, with hints of lavender again, herbal lozenges, and slight oak at the very end. Medium to long in length.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. This won't be everyone's cup of tea (indeed, it wasn't), but I dug it, quite a bit. Especially those early-stage tropical notes on the nose. Yum.


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.