Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Toast the Macallan Australia, and the Macallan Double Cask 12 (Tasted #360)

The Macallan has had its fair share of moments over the past years, be it in Australia or in Hong Kong, with its various releases and events. The recent auction of The Macallan Lalique Legacy Collection; a collection of six rare Macallans made news globally when it sold for an incredible $993,000 USD at a charity auction. This was followed recently by the launch of the sixth official Masters of of Photography release which saw whisky from the post war 1940s / 1950s era blended with Macallan aged in ex-Rioja wine cask (see Martin's write-up from the HK launch here).

The prestige of the brand and the style of The Macallan has always drawn people to discussions on aged vs NAS, luxury vs affordable and old vs new (as commented by Andrew Derbridge in his Whisky & Wisdom article; The past, present and future collide) etc...

Nevertheless, the launch of The Macallan Double Cask 12yo in Australia this month has excited people once more and may mark the re-invigoration of aged Macallan malt in Australia since the 1824 series was last released in 2013. Speaking to Sietse Offringa, Global Brand Ambassador for The Macallan at the Toast the Macallan pop up dining earlier this month - he certainly shared a view that Australia is a market that Macallan has its eyes on, and we will have to watch this space for more exciting releases from The Macallan - perhaps Edition 3?!

The launch celebration saw the establishment of a pop up dining event series across both Brisbane and Sydney, dubbed 'Toast the Macallan' - Led by premium marketing and distribution company, Spirits Platform. The event was Spirits Platform’s first marketing initiative since its partnership with Edrington (which will see the company distributing The MacallanHighland ParkThe Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark in the Australian market) started in April 2017.

The event featured whisky tasting masterclasses led by Sietse and a three course menu curated by James Viles of Bowral's two hatted restaurant; Biota Dining. James Viles commented on his excitement to have worked with The Macallan to curate the menu, which saw a series of dishes that complemented three Macallan expressions, including the Fine Oak 12 Years Old, Double Cask 12 Years Old and the Macallan Rare Cask.

We joined the Sydney celebration and attended the pop up event held at Roslyn Packer Theatre, Walsh Bay. Upon arrival guests were presented with the opportunity to have their photos taken as well as savour a couple of Macallan cocktails - Fine Oak Copa and the Double Cask Old Fashioned.

The Roslyn Packer Theatre had been transformed to reflect the opulent nature of The Macallan and the special 'Toast the Macallan' occasion. Macallan bottles were plastered across the theatre wall and there was even an appearance by the Macallan that had been dubbed as the most expensive whisky in the world; The Macallan 'M Decanter' whisky from the 1824 Series. Unfortunately, there was no tasting of the M on the night though Sietse did bring it out for photos when we chatted with him on the night.

Led by James Viles, the selection of dishes were impeccably curated and paired. James introduced each dish, paired with a Macallan which Sietse would introduce.

The Fine Oak 12 was paired with an entree of smoked kingfish loin and showcased the marrying of the honied, fruity malt notes with the fresh, citrus fish dish. The citrus was also compounded with a side dish of citrus and wild fennel salad. I have always found food pairing to be an interesting challenge for chefs as paired dishes can either complement or over power a whisky, and striking a balance is often more challenging than it seems.

The newly released Double Cask 12 Year was paired with the main dish which to me was the highlight of the night. The fruity, citrus, sweet caramel and spiced characters of the Double Cask complemented the sweet and earthy glazed beef rib that was served with wild mushrooms. The glistening glazed beef rib was succulent and tender and the Double Cask pairing defied the old adage of serving meat with malt.

The dessert of honey creme with toasted rye and j choke ice cream elegantly helped to finish off the night, with the dish showcasing a textural play on the palate with the toasted rye bark and the nitrogen granulated ice cream. Served with The Macallan Rare Cask which I found to not be as rich as others found - the honied, fruity notes presented well with the sweet and malty ice cream.

Martin reviewed the Double Cask when it was released in Hong Kong last year in June, though I have appended some notes of mine from the night, to try and compare or perhaps find commonalities.

The Macallan 12yo Double Cask (43% ABV, 12yo, Highlands, Scotland, A$109.99, $548HKD)
An enjoyable every day dram either with or without a meal. The sweet, fruity and spiced nature of the Double Cask is fairly balanced and I found the overall malt quite fresh and zesty.

Colour: Gold.

Nose: Fresh with citrus, vanilla, raisins, candied orange, cloves - perhaps Christmas cake and dried fruits, followed by notes of stone fruits and black pepper.

Palate: I found the palate to be interesting - fresh, zesty, sweet caramel, honey, nutty, peanut bars even, bitter melon and starting to dwindle into this lighter, tannic spiced malt - nutmeg and more of that pepper.

Finish: The sherry influence is there. The finish is floral and medium long with lingering bitter sweetness and nuttiness.

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

Thanks to the Edrington Group, Spirits Platform and Porter Novelli for having us on the night to celebrate the launch of the Double Cask in Australia.


Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The Macallan Masters of Photography: Steven Klein Edition launch party

Last Friday night saw Edrington Hong Kong launch The Macallan Masters of Photography Steven Klein Edition, the Sixth official release in the series (not including the Steven Klein edition of Rare Cask Black). Priced at $2,999USD and bottled at 53.9%, the NAS release includes whisky distilled "in the 1940s or 1950s", and for the first time ever, Macallan aged in ex-Rioja wine casks. 1,000 bottles are available, with just over 30 coming to Hong Kong (HKD price TBC).

Now I'm no art critic, but based on what I've seen, Steven Klein's aesthetic seems to bring together fashion, sexuality, dystopianism, with a good dash of colour. Just like the video below, produced as part of this Macallan.

...hang on...why am I talk about Steven Klein's "aesthetic" on a whisky blog, you might ask? Because that aesthetic seems to be exactly what Edrington were seeking to re-create for the launch party, and they absolutely nailed it. As soon as we read the location on the invitation (an entire hall of the HK Convention & Exhibition Centre), Steph and I knew the event would be impressive, but we didn't quite know what to expect...

What we were met with upon arrival though could easily have been the set of the next Steven Klein shoot, only with everyone looking a lot more animated and happy than in the above video! Happiness which was no doubt partially a result of the cocktails on offer - including a Double Cask 12yo Rusty Nail, a smoked ginger Old Fashioned and a cherry cocktail which was delicious, but definitely one for the sweet tooths.

(The cocktails were particularly fitting, given MoP Steven Klein edition includes a number of cocktail tools, presumably a nod to whisky "blasphemers" who would be happy to mix the whisky in a cocktail. I'm sure it'd make for delicious cocktails.)

Cocktails were passed around the room, or available from the three bars each offering a different one, with bartending theatrics (liquid nitrogen etc..) on show, whilst two large countdown clocks loomed in the background.

When those clocks finally did strike 00:00:00, Brand Director for The Macallan Ken Grier (who we first met 12 months ago at the launch of the 65yo in Lalique) took the stage to introduce the whisky, and explain a little about the collaboration, and the liquid itself (although the aforementioned details - whisky distilled in the 40s or 50s, and ex-Rioja Macallan, were about all the details we were given on the whisky's make-up).

With all those cocktails, you might think there was a noticeable absence of neat whisky (a point some attendees made too), however before long, drams of Rare Cask made their way around the room, followed by a lovely Rare Cask cocktail (whose ingredients I didn't manage to note, but seemed to include some sort of PX Sherry. Either way, it was delicious).

Whilst we didn't get to actually try the The Macallan Masters of Photography Steven Klein Edition (not unexpected, given the crowd size), the event was a huge amount of fun, and a testament to the ongoing creativity that the Edrington Hong Kong team put into their events. 

We can't wait to see what's in store for the next launch.


Friday, 2 June 2017

FINDS x Highland Park whisky pairing dinner - launch

Two nights ago Steph and I attended the launch of the new Highland Park pairing menu at FINDS - Hong Kong's first and only Nordic restaurant. FINDS (which stands for "Finland, Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden") are offering a set four-course menu (paired with 3 Highland Park drams) for $668HKD/person, and Steph and I went along to see what it was all about.

We've included a full write-up below, but in summary: a fantastic menu at a very fair price, with cleverly-paired courses. Whisky meal pairings can be great, but they can also be difficult to execute (we've attended plenty over the years). We're happy to say this one was spot on - with the subtle Highland Park smoke pairing beautifully with the delicate smoke used in various ways in the four dishes.

Upon arrival we were handed a welcome cocktail by bartender Sam, made with Naked Grouse, Pear cider and Pear Juice, with a mint garnish. Incredibly refreshing considering the 28degC temperatures outside (Summer is coming)!

Soon after, we were shown our seats in the private "Nordic Express" room (the regular menu will be available in the main restaurant), which is best described as 'Alice in Wonderland' meets the Orient Express, under the cover of stars.

After a brief introduction from the FINDS communications team, our host for the night (and good friend of Ron Taylor gave us an introduction to Highland Park, its Orkney Islands home, and its viking heritage. As the first dish arrived, Executive Chef Jaakko Sorsa gave an introduction, explaining that he saw an "affinity" between the lightly-smoked nature of Nordic cuisine, and Highland Park's delicate peat smoke character.

We were also provided a copy of the menu (below), which is exactly as available until 31st August (the only difference being we finished the night with a dram of Highland Park 21yo, which isn't included in the regular menu).

Our first pairing course, Smoked arctic shrimp & Vendace roe with grilled & pickled onions, sour cream and dill oil was paired with Highland Park 12yo (below). Chef Jaakko explained the difference between the various Nordic shrimp available, and how these were the result of some serious exploratory efforts through rural, Northernmost Norway, where the sub-zero temperatures provide the shrimp with a firm texture and delicate sweetness.

The shrimp / prawns (which were definitely much sweeter than usual) paired far better than I'd expected with the Highland Park 12, with the shrimp bringing an almost fruity sweetness out in the whisky which wasn't noticeable when enjoyed on its own.

Lightly smoked veal striploin 63˚ with celeriac & potatoes braised in veal broth, red cabbage, brussell sprout leaves and bay leaf jus was next, paired with Highly Park Dark Origins, the more heavily sherried (NAS but said to be ~15yo) expression which celebrates the early days of Highland Park's founder Magnus Eunson's illicit distilling.

I found the heavily-sherried Highland Park accentuated the "meatiness" in the veal with this pairing, making for a powerful (and enjoyable) combination.

Our last course was the visually-stunning "Drottning's Cake - Queens Cake" - chocolate layer cake with raspberries & blueberries in a smoky tar syrup, paired with the perennial favourite of many - Highland Park 18yo.

I have to admit I'd never seen "tar" used as a dessert (or any dish) ingredient before, but I was curious. Chef Jaakko explained the theory and uses behind pine tar, and how he'd used it to add an unique tarry smokiness to the dish. Hats off - it worked beautifully, both on its own and matched with the Highland Park 18.

Whisky pairing is tricky, and usually in a multi-course menu we find some which don't quite hit the mark...but that was not the case here. Each of the 3 pairings were spot-on, with both the whisky and food enhancing the flavours of each other. Bravo, Chef Jaakko.

FINDS Hong Kong (located in TST's The Luxe Manor) are offering this 4 course menu paired with 3 Highland Park drams for $668HKD/person (+10% service charge), every day between now and 31st August (1 day advance booking required). Bookings can be made via or by calling +852 2522 9318. If you're a whisky fan, just beginning your whisky journey, you love Nordic cuisine, or you just want to see how a well-matched dinner and whisky menu is executed, we can highly recommend it.

Martin. attended this event as guests of FINDS and The Luxe Manor. A big thanks must go to the FINDS / The Luxe Manor team, as well as Edrington for the invitation.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Tasted #359: Heartwood "Mediocrity be Damned"

I've realised that despite being a huge Heartwood Malt Whisky fan, I haven't really posted many reviews yet. Time to fix that...

"Mediocrity be Damned" is a single cask, peated ex-Oloroso Sherry whisky, distilled at Lark Distillery and matured/bottled by Heartwood Malt Whisky at 7 years old (at a Heartwood-esque 67.2% ABV).

Heartwood "Mediocrity be Damned" (67.2% ABV, 7yo, Cask #LD530, Lark Distillery, Tasmania, no longer available)
Colour: Bright, rich, red-amber.

Nose: Big, of course, but not quite as big as the ABV suggests. RIchard dark chocolate, cherries - Cherry Ripe! There's a freshness, a "floral mossiness", oak, and some marzipan and nuts. WIth water, a touch fresher, more citrus and a little less oak.

Palate: A little closed at first (no surprises with the ABV - Tim Duckett of Heartwood suggests these are enjoyed from a wine glass). After some air, there's a caramel nuttiness and some fruitcake. It's slightly drying, but not cheek-puckeringly tannic. There's a buttery oakiness present throughout too. WIth water, there's a little more marzipan, whilst chocolate, dried fruits and almonds also come to the fore.

Finish: Medium legnth. Chewy, the tannins linger, along with fruit and a little earthy smoke.

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


Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Tasted #358: Mackmyra 10 Year Old

A key goal of this blog, right from the very start, was to celebrate "world whiskies", or "new world whiskies". That goal has never changed (and in fact I now write a monthly column on the subject  in Hong Kong's Malt & Spirits magazine), so it's fair to say when a world whisky has a "coming of age" moment, like releasing their first 10 year old single malt, it's a cause for celebration.

Mackmyra have done just that recently, with the launch of Sweden's first official ten year old single malt (simply called "Mackmyra Ten Years") - also the first Mackmyra to officially bear an age statement.

Bottled at 46.1%, the whisky was aged 50 metres underground in Mackmyra's Bodås mine warehouse, and has been released in a run of 20,000 bottles (12,000 retained for Sweden's alcohol monopoly retailer Systembolaget, 8,000 for various export markets).

The distillery was kind enough to send me a sample recently, and I have to say, it's definitely the most "complete" and mature Mackmyra I've ever tried. Read on...

Mackmyra Ten Years (46.1% ABV, 10yo, Sweden, £56.77 ex-VAT)
Colour: Yellow gold

Nose: Lemon zest, grass, tea leaves, pot-pourri and pear initially. After a little more air comes some undertones of rich vanilla. I've always enjoyed Mackmyra, but there's more to this than any I've tried in the past.

Palate: "Sweet and zesty" in a nutshell. There's stewed/baked apple. Hints of lemon (less than the nose though). Some raisins, and a lot of fruity herbs - like a fruit tissane tea. There's a creaminess, some "fruity cream", and even some candied orange. It's a fruit bomb, and a delicious one at that.

Finish: Long, fruity, creamy.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. To me, easily the most complex, matured and "well-rounded" Mackmyra to date. There's a lot of fruit, but not like a tropical fruit bomb like a lot of ex-Bourbon matured Scotch. No, this is fruity, but in a uniquely Scandinavian way, if that makes sense. Definitely worth a try.


Sunday, 21 May 2017

Ardnamurchan Spirit 2016/AD (Tasted #357)

The bottle is marked with a series of notes: Concerto Barley, Broomhall Farm, Glenmore Spring, Long Fermentation, Slow Distillation, Oloroso PX. Identifiable, Unpronounceable. There I was looking at a the newly released spirit bottling from the Ardnamurchan distillery; the Ardnamurchan 2016/AD. It has been labelled as a 'spirit' instead of 'whisky' as the first release is merely 18 months young. This was Ardnamurchan's preview release, a release which aims to get their name out in the market and most importantly, to give us all a sneak peek at what to expect from the distillery in the coming years.

The Ardnamurchan Distillery was opened in July 2014 by Adelphi; the independent bottler that we all know and love. The distillery sit on a remote part of Scotland, on the shores of Loch Sunart and produces two styles of spirit - peated (30 ppm) and unpeated. Local barley is used and the distillery feature two mash tuns, a wooden washback and a 10,000L wash still. With a total production capacity of around 300,000L per annum, the production potential for Ardnamurchan is huge for a young distillery (contrast this with Kilchoman's capacity of around 110,000L per annum). Though in noting that, current production capacity is still managed at around 100,000L per annum - equivalent to around 30 casks each week.

The youthful Ardnamurchan 2016/AD combines both peated and unpeated malt matured in two different types of sherry cask - Oloroso and Pedro Ximinez, and the vatting of the two malts has resulted in a spirit that is both interesting and exciting.

We were fortunate enough to have been one of the few people invited to the event hosted by Baranows Emporium at The Oak Barrel Sydney to preview the youthful release from this young distillery. Our thoughts

Ardnamurchan Spirit 2016/AD (50.3% ABV, NAS (~2yo), Glenbeg, Scotland, A$199)
An interesting young spirit from Ardnamurchan that does not smell or taste too strongly of a new make. In fact, surprisingly, you can derive so much from this young spirit - from its herbaceous and earthy nose to its soft, sweet and slightly peaty palate. It will be interesting to see how the Ardnamurchan spirit matures over the years given the already pleasant base that it offers now.

Colour: Gold

Nose: The nose is filled with notes of apple, sweet raisins and lightly herbaceous, there are remnants of dry grass and soil and it is rather quite earthy. Over time, the nose also offers a touch of cinnamon, complementing its herbaceous and earthy notes.

Palate: The palate is soft, tannic with loads of berries, citrus and is quite sweet and fruity. The citrus continues with hints of orange peel, lemon meringue before being topped by a light layering of peat smoke and remnants of clove spice.

Finish: The finish is medium to long, soft and tannic and there is a bit of heat on the finish.

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

On the night, Adelphi being Ardnamurchan's parent company also presented a few Adelphi bottlings - the Glenborrodale Batch 3 Sherry Cask release and my favourite on the night, the Glen Garioch 1998 Sherry Cask release.

All the bottles are available for purchase from the Oak Barrel though you might want to be quick with the Ardnamurchan as there are only 2,500 bottles globally and local allocation is quite limited.


Friday, 19 May 2017

Hong Kong Whisky Festival 2017 review

After the success of 2016's inaugural Hong Kong Whisky FestivalInterContinental Grand Stanford held their festival again this year, delivering an even bigger and better festival with even more masterclasses.

Held again over one day, the event brought together big brands and indies alike, and made the most of the (expansive) hotel space, taking over two floors, several function rooms and even a suite!

Arriving an hour or so after opening, I took a walk around to see what was what. The first thing that struck me was, even that early, it was already busy. The second thing that struck me was just how many, varied stands there were. Bars, shops, independent bottlers, major distilleries, major distributors, local distributors, were all well-represented, as were "world whiskies" from all over the globe. In fact, the festival brochure had an excellent article on "New World" whisky (although I might be a little biased, given I wrote it...)

The festival shop saw a big improvement on the prior year, with a lot more space and even more bottles available (including some long gone Indies like this Eiling Lim 27yo Irish).

As is always the case with these festivals, you end up chatting to and sharing a dram with all the wonderful people working there, and before you know it, 3 hours have passed. I'd barely gotten around to half the booths when my first masterclass came up - an Asta Morris class with founder Bert Bruyneel.

Sidenote: As evidence of the quality and quantity of masterclasses on offer throughout the day, I had to decide between this and an Adelphi masterclass, both on at the same time. The good people of Malt Maniacs & Friends suggested I go for the Asta Morris class, and I'm glad I did.

Held in conjunction with Whiskies and More (Asta Morris' HK distributor) and The Fine Spirits Society, the class saw us tasting 6 spirits blind. We knew what the spirits were (amongst them were an 14yo Ardmore, an aged gin, a 13yo Bowmore, a 5yo Chichibu, a 27yo Bunnahabhain and a 32yo 1979 Benriach - a cask which was saved by Bert from blending into Chivas), but not the order, which made for much fun and debate.

I'd heard a bit about this Bert "character" and it was all true. His class was exactly what I look for in a masterclass - great whiskies (tick), educational (tick), full of stories (tick), but most of all, FUN (tick tick). The hour flew by and by the end of it, we all felt like we'd had a heap of fun, enjoying a few casual drams, making new friends and listening to some hilarious stories. 

I guess what I'm saying is, if you get a chance to attend one of Bert's classes, take it!

After Bert's class, it was straight over to another function room for a Hunter Laing masterclass, with Andrew Laing, to explore "Where the flavours come from" with a variety of whiskies of different ages, provenance and cask types. Included in the lineup was a 19yo Longmorn, 8yo Craigellachie (showing some great natural colour due to its aging in a quarter cask), a 6yo Caol Ila and an 8yo Talisker.

After the two classes, it was time for a bit more of a walk around, a few more drams, and a delicious cocktail from Eddie Nara, to prepare myself for...

...a barrel making demonstration, in which I was to construct a whisky barrel with none other than The Balvenie's Head Cooper Ian Macdonald - a man who has been in the business for almost 50 years! Luckily, I'd managed to grab a few tips by watching Mr Nara do the same a few hours earlier.

After managing to bungle my way through making the barrel, I have to say - hats off to people who do this day-in, day-out for a living. It's not easy (even less so after a few drams), but it was a fun and rewarding experience (thanks to Ian for the expert tutoring and assistance)!

By this point, the show was wrapping up, but there was still one masterclass left to attend - this time focusing on some fairly rare (and expensive) blends.

Those blends of course, being four Johnnie Walker "Private Collection" releases, from 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014.

A 7pm timeslot after a long whisky festival is always going to see a few people worse for wear, but our host Stephen Notman (aka Mr Whisky China) pushed through, talking us through the history of blending and how the Private Collection series "rips up the philosophy of consistency in blending". He wasn't wrong - here were four very different (but all very enjoyable drams).

All were great, but the 2017's waxy apple nose and tropical and vanilla palate won me over as my favourite. A bit of Clynelish in there perhaps?

Between these festivals, the excellent Tiffany's New York Bar, and the many other whisky events/promotions throughout the year, InterContinental Grand Stanford have firmly established themselves as a Hong Kong whisky powerhouse over the past few years, and we have no doubt their upcoming World Whisky Day 2017 celebrations will only help cement that (unfortunately we won't be in HK to enjoy it...)

Martin. attended HKWF17 as a guest of InterContinental Grand Stanford.