Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Teeling "Blackpitts" Peated Irish Whiskey [Tasted #528]

My enjoyment of Teeling Whiskey is well documented on this blog, having first tried their whiskey way back in 2013 (a year after brothers Jack & Stephen Teeling started operations), and many times since - including some incredible single casks from the early 1990s, with their trademark Irish tropical fruitiness.

The thing is, those whiskies weren't actually distilled at the Teeling Distillery in Dublin (which only opened in 2015, a year before the brand's Hong Kong launch), but rather at the Cooley Distillery, which was started by Stephen & Jack's father John, but sold to Beam in 2011. 

Things changed in 2018, when Teeling's Dublin Distillery released their first Dublin-distilled whiskey (Pot Still, which I shamefully still haven't tried), and last year the distillery released their second Dublin-distilled whiskey, in the form of this peated "Blackpitts".

Aged in a mixture of Sauternes (1/3) and ex-Bourbon (2/3) casks, the triple-distilled whiskey takes its name from the area located behind the distillery, previously home to some of the largest barley malting houses in Ireland.

It ticks a lot of the same boxes that Teeling's first "Small Batch" did all those years ago (46%, NCF, well-priced, matured in an interesting mix of casks etc..) but let's see how it tastes shall we? 

Teeling "Blackpitts" (46% ABV, NAS, Dublin, Ireland, $729HKD$94.99AUD)
Colour: Light orange straw.

Nose: A lighter, funkier style of peat than your typical Islay peated whisky. Tangy BBQ sauce, white pepper and a slight hint of oak.

 Apple chips, honey toast, peach and subtle pineapple. A delightful funk, with some subtle caramel undertones.

Finish: Fairly short, with some spiced oak and milk chocolate.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 87/100. I enjoyed this - it's an unusual style of peat (no doubt the triple distillation is part of the reason), but with some delicious complementary notes. A great addition to the range.

A big thanks to Teeling Whiskey Co & Summergate Hong Kong for this bottle, which is available for $729HKD from Summergate's Website in Hong Kong.


Sunday, 27 June 2021

Ardbeg Day 2021 - Ardbeg Scorch [Tasted #527]

Ah, Ardbeg Day, that wonderful annual celebration for Ardbeggians all around the world, with increasingly epic events since its inception a decade ago. From digging up Arbdeg treasure at 2013's "Ardbog" event, to human foosball at 2014's "Auriverdes" event, to a secret island for 2016's "Dark Cove" event, not to mention all the great bar events in both HK and Australia in 2018 and 2019, there have certainly been some fantastic times (and that's not even including the actual Feis Ile events at the distillery).

Last year COVID did what COVID does (i.e. messed everything up), but that didn't stop us from tasting the 2020 "Blaaack" release, nor celebrating with a small bar night at Tiffany's New York Bar in Hong Kong - which incidentally is exactly what we did again this year, with COVID still making large-scale parties a non-starter.

Ardbeg Scorch is 2021's limited release (and again comes in both Committee Release and regular guise in Australia, but only the latter in HK, shown below). Matured in ex-bourbon American oak casks which have been heavily charred "by the fiery exhale of Warehouse 3’s definitely-real-and-totally-not-made-up dragon" (gotta love these press releases) the whisky harkens back to 2011's Alligator - now a cult favourite and yet another whisky I regret not picking up at Changi Duty Free when I had the chance!

LVMH were kind enough to send me a sample to try, along with an invitation to Tiffany's for a live stream tasting with new distillery manager Colin Gordon. We were guided through a tasting of 6 Ardbegs, which was great because whilst I'd tried almost all of them before, I'd never tried them all side by side. From Wee Beastie (a great value dram) to the Classic 10, An Oa, Uigeadail & Corryvreckan, it was great to spot the differences (some subtle, some very noticeable) between each. 

Of course, there was one whisky we were particularly there to try...

Adbeg "Scorch" (Ardeg Day 2021) (46% ABV, NAS, Islay, $2098HKD in a pack with the 10yo, $225AUD)

Colour: Orange brown-gold.

Nose: Smoked candied lemon & orange peel at first, then a burst of coastal salty peat. 

Palate: Initially velvety and sweet, with strong citrus notes then an emerging BBQ smoke. Caramel chews, salty sea air, licorice and oat cakes round things out.

Finish: Long citrus smoke and jelly babies, with some residual BBQ notes.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. More complex than I was expecting. Sweeter too, but overall another winner. Not quite up there with Alligator if you ask me, but definitely worth your consideration. Well done Ardbeg.


Thanks to MHDHK for the invitation and sample.

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

That Boutique-y Whisky Company "Australia" Series: Part 2 [Tasted #519 - 526]

Following on from Part 1 of our coverage of That Boutique-y Whisky Company (TWBC) Australia Series release, our Part 2 post will explore the series in a bit more detail.

The full lineup of TWBC's Australia series include 8 bottlings from distilleries that span across the mainland and Tasmania:

  • Black Gate 3YO Single Malt
  • Belgrove 4YO Rye
  • Tin Shed 3YO Single Malt
  • Fleurieu 3YO Single Malt (exclusive in Australia to The Oak Barrel)
  • Killara 2YO Single Malt 
  • Riverbourne 3YO Single Malt
  • Starward 3YO Single Malt
  • Bakery Hill 5YO Single Malt

The series sees bottlings from a collection of highly sought after, small-batch craft distilleries, many of which have not previously been available outside of Australia. Amongst this is Belgrove, a farm-to-glass distillery run by Peter Bignell, one of the most known and loved Distillers in Australia. Peter has been known for his unconventional equipment and techniques and is dubbed the 'Mad Scientist.' Peter's Belgrove Rye is renowned internationally due to the use of his own rye to craft his whisky.

Alongside Belgrove, the release also includes bottlings from Starward (whose presence has graced markets in the UK and US, Black Gate (whose total annual output is just 3000L) and Killara, founded by Kristy Lark-Booth - daughter of Bill Lark aka the ‘godfather’ of Australian whisky. Although Kristy has grown up around whisky, she originally wanted to be an Air Traffic Controller. The TBWC Killara label has her overseeing airspace that is filled with flying copper pot stills - an acknowledgment to her dedication to controlling the distillation process.

There is also bottling from Fleurie, a South Australian distillery run by ex-brewers Angela and Gareth Andrews whose site is famously an old train shed site and feature on the TBWC label. Angela and Gareth also took the pleasure to re-create the label by wearing the same outfit as the label during the Oak Barrel launch of the series. Fleurieu is also known for their copper pot stills which are modelled on those at Islay Distillery, Caol Ila and their super long (8 days) fermentation. 

The series also features bottlings from Tin Shed, Riverbourne and Bakery Hill. The Tin Shed release is particularly interesting given the use of ex-tawny port and ex-Pinot Gris casks. Tin Shed started producing in 2013 and is known for occasionally smoking their barley with mallee root, the root of a dwarf Australian eucalyptus tree.

The release from Riverbourne is also fairly unique with the use of re-charred ex-Australian wine casks. Another fun fact, Riverbourne is run by Australia's oldest distiller, Martin Pye whose root is actually in pharmacy with Martin being a third-generation pharmacist. He has been known to use a wide range of yeast strains and re-charred ex-wine casks for maturing the Riverbourne spirit.

Then there's Bakery Hill. Headed by David Baker, an ex-High School chemistry teacher who first built his still in an industrial unit in Bayswater Victoria in 1999. The label on the TWBC Bakery Hill bottling down right paints his earlier years, 'Breaking Bad' style - though no blue ice involved, only whisky. The label shows founder David Baker and his son Andrew in hazmat suit packing their Winnabago full of casks. Classic.

I sat down with each of the bottlings and here's my take on the series. My personal favourites included the Black Gate 3yo, the Belgrove Rye as well as the Killara 2yo.

Black Gate 3 Year Old (46%, 3yo, New South Wales, Australia, A$255) One of my favourite from the series. The nose is very floral, there are fruity hints, specifically stone fruits, peaches and green apples. There is vanilla. The nose reminds you of springtimes. The palate on the other hand adds a level of punch firstly with tar and soot which then mellows out to vanilla and creamy soda. There is that creme brulee or lemon tart that then develops into hot white pepper notes. The spices remain on the palate for some time.

Belgrove 4 Year Old Rye  (49.8%,  4yo, Tasmania, Australia, A$299) The nose is interesting and filled with agave (tequila?), it is nutty and there are peppermint notes and a whiff of light smoke. The palate begins with char, tar and lots of soot. It's very earthy. Once the big initial notes fizzle out, you get peanut brittle that's served with some spices, chilly, that agave returns and there is that smoke again. The finish is dry yet the smoke lingers and remains for some time.

Tin Shed 3 Year Old (48%, 3yo, South Australia, Australia, A$215)  Interesting mix with a combination of ex-Tawny and ex-Pinot Gris cask. Very musky nose with glazed bacon with an added maple syrup. It's rather stocky, meaty, bbq meat, there's a hint of smoke with some mild chilli. The palate is rather complex. Soft at first, with a gradual build-up of spice, caramel and bacon developing into a soft mushy pear. The finish is quite a bit of tannin, mild, heat and stays for some time.

Fleurieu 3 Year Old (49.5%, 3yo, Goolwa, South Australia, $190) (exclusive in Australia to The Oak Barrel) The nose is pungent, old linen, biscuits, pecan pie, honey, flour, caramel. The palate is creamy, gentle at start, spiced, chilli, pumpkin pie, more vanilla, salted caramel, chilli chocolate. The finish is full of spices mixed with chocolate and caramel, a tart finish and spice remnants.

Killara 2 Year Old (49%, 2yo, Tasmania, Australia, A$375) the nose is sweet with loads of gummy berries, vanilla, maple syrup on waffles, fruit tingles. The nose is fun and surprising given the relatively young age of the spirit. The palate is chalky at first which is then followed by some berries (raspberries), mango, and strawberry, some citrus/lemon notes and hints of black pepper. I must say, the palate is rather delicious and fruity, very balanced. The sweetness and tartiness linger for a while.

Riverbourne 3 Year Old (50%, New South Wales, Australia, A$239) Allspice hits the nose, there is heat, a hint of cinnamon and the heat keeps rising, chilli or perhaps chilli chocolate. There's oak and honey though plenty of spearmint and tannin. That heat continues but fizzles out after a while. Unique profile that may please traditional Riverbourne fans though might be different for some.

Starward 3 Year Old (56%, 3yo, Victoria, Australia, A$179) The Starward profile is clearly there on the nose with loads of gummy bear lollies, banana, raisins, dried fruits, apricot, nectarines. Very fruity at first and followed by cinnamon chai and caramelised sugar.      Those sweet lollies are ever-present again. Though there is also some salt and spice; salted caramel. The sweetness continues and the cinnamon spice grips. Very mouthful and settle into some citrus and oranges (naval) notes. The finish is gingery, the spice remains and fizzle out into spearmint after taste.

Bakery Hill 5 Year Old (50%, 5yo, Victoria, Australia, A$299) The nose is musky with oak remnants, some vanilla, leather. There is cherry ripe mixed with some spearmint. The palate is very gentle, soft and filled with oat biscuit, creamy marshmallow and there is a gentle nutmeg spice on the back of the palate. The spearmint lingers on the palate and slowly fizzle out.

The Australian Series is an extremely exciting set and so much so that the majority of the bottlings have been sold out. The Oak Barrels in Sydney as well as few select retailers in Australia still have limited stocks on some of the bottlings - so do get them while it lasts.


Monday, 24 May 2021

67yo "Mr George Legacy" Glen Grant 1953 from Gordon & MacPhail [Tasted #518]

Over the past few years I've been fortunate to try some pretty incredible Gordon & MacPhail bottlings - many of them positively geriatric (including one in it's 70s - notes here), but my favourite by far has been the 62yo 1956 "Mr George Centenary" (tasted here). I called it my top whisky of 2019, and if I'm honest, it remained so across 2020 too. when G&M reached out and asked if I'd like to try the new "Mr George Legacy" 1st Edition - also a Glen Grant, but this time a 1953 bottled just after its 67th birthday, I wasn't going to say no!

Distilled on Christmas Eve 1953 and bottled on 5th Jan 2021, the whisky spent its whole life in a First Fill Sherry Butt, and retained a hefty (and frankly astonishing) 59.4% ABV when bottled after those 67 years. 

Bottled to celebrate the Legacy of "Mr George" Urquhart (second generation of the G&M family and the man who created the Connoisseurs Choice range which still remains hugely popular today), a total of 355 bottles are available. A fitting tribute to someone Charlie MacLean refers to as "The father, the originator of the current success and appreciation of Scotch Malt Whiskies" then!

Describing Mr George's influence on the company and wider Scotch whisky scene, Stephen Rankin, grandson and G&M's Director of Prestige said: “My grandfather possessed a passion for taking single malts beyond these shores. Over many decades, he built and nurtured close relationships with some of Scotland’s leading distilleries and proudly took as much as he could carry on his international trips. I have fond memories of joining him, meeting new people, and telling stories about the casks he’d chosen to bring out the best in the different types of spirit."

Gordon & MacPhail 1953 Glen Grant 67yo "Mr George Legacy" (59.4% ABV, 67yo, Cask #4209, Speyside, £5,000)

Colour: Intensely deep ruby-red copper.

Nose: Maraschino cherries and cough syrup, with old leather-bound books initially. Seriously "decadent", mature and complex. Sherry-soaked dates, furniture polish & hazelnuts. Water adds a little more nuttiness.

Palate: Zesty at first, with citrus spice, and cigar leaves soaked in orange. Grassy and with blackcurrant hints, the nearly 60% ABV does bring some heat, but it's a very composed and complex palate overall. There's some ginger and a plum sweetness, with mint notes towards the end. Water brings more of a meaty, earthen note.

Long notes of leather cigar pouch with residual earthy smoke and paprika.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 94/100. There's a huge amount going on here, and it's all delicious. A stunning dram - even more impressive when you consider that after 67 years in a 1st fill butt, there's no "off" notes - no overly-oaky tannins, no sulphur. A stunning cask and a testament to both Mr George and the wider G&M team.


Friday, 7 May 2021

More Malternatives - Super old Armagnac and Cognac from Wu Dram Clan [Tasted #514 - 517]

If it seems like there's been a bit less content here over the past year, it's true, but it's also partly because there's more going up on our Facebook page, and especially our Instagram. The site hasn't been forgotten (far from it), but more timely content will typically be found over on our Instagram account @TimeforWhisky (if you already follow us, thanks! If not, give us a follow - there might even be some prize giveaways soon).

One of the things I love about Instagram is the whisky community - and how a simple like, comment or story reply can spawn a great friendship, or the discovery of something entirely new...which is exactly how I discovered Wu Dram Clan (@wudramclan.official), an "Independent bottler of high quality single malt whisky, cognac, armagnac & gin" run by two blokes from Germany and one from Japan. 

I think it was an Instagram story I'd posted of Wu Dram Clan's 1967 Vallein Tercinier (a stunner I'd tried at the excellent House Welley Bar), which prompted Boris (aka @the.whiskykingLagavulin collector-extraordinaire and half of the German side of Wu Dram Clan) to reach out about a few more brandy releases they had coming up, and kindly offer to send me a few samples. Next thing I know, I had 3 generous samples of the following:


Just a casual ~58yo Armagnac Chateau de Gaube 1962/2020, a ~54yo Armagnac Aurian 1966/2020 and a ~41yo Armagnac Aurian 1979/2020! Whilst my Armagnac knowledge is well behind my whisky knowledge, I always welcome the opportunity for further education, and this seemed like a good way to do it...

Armagnac Chateau de Gaube 1962/2020 (48.6% ABV, ~58yo, Ténarèze, One of 144 bottles)
Orange copper.

Nose: Fruity and musty, with some cereal notes. Intriguing. Old leather-bound books but with an undertone of overripe mango. A slight hint of sulphur, marmalade and coffee beans. 

Palate: Slight sulphur at first, but then more old leather and oak. Rainins, almonds, and a slightly "farmy" funk.

Finish: Long, old oak and vintage books, with a residual nuttiness.

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

Armagnac Aurian 1966/2020 (53% ABV, ~54yo, Armagnac, $2,880HKD / AU pricing not available)
Colour: Coffee-copper.

Nose: Fresh, floral and esther-y (nail polish), followed by a sherbet sweetness. With water came berries, lemon and after time, caramel-coated apples. 

Palate: Big on the esthers, initially, followed by nuts and pine needles. With water, some caramel apples.

Finish: Long, meaty and creamy. 

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 88/100. Suggest giving it a bit of time for the initial esthers to dissipate. Unique, but enjoyable.

Armagnac Aurian 1979/2020 (49.6% ABV, ~41yo, Armagnac, $1,980HKD / AU pricing not available)
Colour: Red coffee-copper.

Nose: A bit more youthful compared to the others - red fruits with slight esthers, and with water, an intriguing grassy herbaceous note. 

Palate: Strong oak influence - wood varnish, leather, and bitter orange. With water, a lot more sweetness with jelly babies (green and yellow!) and lemon.

Finish: Short to medium in length, with oak and some orange peel towards the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 86/100. 

Thanks to the generosity of a friend in the HK whisky community, I also recently had the pleasure of sampling another Wu Dram Clan cognac - their 1962 58yo "Cognac Jean-Luc Pasquet" bottled at 40.4%.

Cognac Jean-Luc Pasquet 1962/2020 (40.4% ABV, ~58yo, Cognac)
Colour: Dark copper orange.

Nose: Huge berries and an underlying earthiness/mustiness.  Camphour wood, acetone, milk chocolate and cocoa. 

Palate: Camphour, resin, varnish, then pineapple and peach! Chocolate-coated strawberrries, big mik chocolate and finally some big raspberry notes.

Finish: Long and slightly tropical, with peach, and dark bitter chocolate.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. So much going on here. Great stuff.

A huge thanks to Boris (aka @the.whiskyking) and Wu Dram Clan for the samples - if you're looking for a fun and delicious Malternative, definitely give these some consideration (if you can still find them). Remember too that old, vintage brandy isn't (yet) priced anywhere near old, vintage get in while you can!


Friday, 23 April 2021

That Boutique-y Whisky Company "Australia" Series: Part 1

Indie bottler That Boutique-y Whisky Company (TBWC) has been renowned for not only bottling malt from brands and distillers around the world but also for its fun and novel-style labels. They have set out to bring great whisky in a fun, colourful and informative way with no nonsense. They've been able to bottle over 100 different bottlings and a variety of fans far and wide with whiskies from the likes of Ardbeg, Paul John, Overeem and even the elusive Karuizawa.

Locally, TBWC worked with Overeem just as the Australian whisky industry was growing, around the time when Overeem started to push into the UK market in 2014. With the continued growth of the Australian boutique malt whisky industry over the years, TBWC saw an opportunity to bring more Australian whiskies abroad through a new whisky series.

The new series dubbed 'The Australia Series' follows TBWC's World Series and World Rye Series and present the best of Australian whiskies including whiskies from Starward, Black Gate, Tin Shed and Fleurieu. 

What's exciting is that the range in the series showcases a wide variety of flavour differences created by the different whisky producers from across Australia. This is an exciting prospect as the new series will undoubtedly help to bring more Australian whiskies into the international whisky community.

I will do a two-part post to cover this series with this post providing an overview of the Australia series as well as sharing some insights from Atom Brands Head of Whisky and friend of this blog, Sam 'Dr Whisky' Simmons followed by another post where I'll share my thought on the series and some backstories on the local producers.

The full line up of the Australia series include:

  • Black Gate 3YO Single Malt - $255.00
  • Belgrove 4YO Rye - $299.00
  • Tin Shed 3YO Single Malt - $215.00
  • Fleurieu 3YO Single Malt - $190.00 (exclusive in Australia to The Oak Barrel)
  • Killara 2YO Single Malt - $375.00
  • Riverbourne 3YO Single Malt - $239.00
  • Starward 3YO Single Malt - $179.00
  • Bakery Hill 5YO Single Malt - $299.00

Sam Simmons summed it up well when he said "Take note of these distillery names, it may be the first time you’ve heard some of them (certainly if you're not from Australian Shores), but it will not be the last." That's likely not far from the truth given most of these labels will be foreign for people abroad who may only have heard or sampled whiskies from one or two Australian distillers.

Sam also added... While I think it’s fair to say that most of the world is just waking up to the fact that Australian whisky is on the map at all, I would dare say that these whiskies, and the future of whiskies from down under, may turn the world upside down. Literally flipping the hegemonic order on its head, with Australia at the top of the pile in the 21st century.”

The series will see bottlings from a collection of highly sought after, small-batch craft distilleries, many of which have not previously been available outside of Australia. Included amongst this list is Belgrove, a farm-to-glass distillery run by Peter Bignell, one of the most known and loved faces in Australian whisky."

As part of this post, I put out five questions to Sam earlier this week to get a bit more on the series and here's what he's got to say:

1. Favourite part of your journey to put together this new TBWC Australia series?

Well, my colleague Felix Dear had the joy of travelling around Australia staying with distillers and coming home with casks, poor bastard.

And I was on the World Whiskies Awards (WWA) judging panel for the famed 2014 award for Sullivans Cove, however, I didn't actually vote for that winner...

So for me, I think it began when I was in Australia in 2013 and 2016 with Balvenie. My visits were only a few years apart but there was a marked increase in available domestic whisky, there were more people I met asking "have you tried..." (so I did), and what I tried was for the most part incredibly tasty. 

It was on one of those trips that David Vitale described Australian regulations (since 1992, anyways) as being "so forgiving you could blow a cannonball through them", and they are. So that moment when what was in my glass was world-class AND I was being told that the possibilities are as wide as the distillers' imaginations, I thought "fuck yes; THIS is exciting".

2. In your experience are there any differences in how whisky drinkers differ in how they enjoy their whisky from different regions? What can people from perhaps Australia, Asia, UK expect from this new Australia series?

This is a great question as, let's remember, most of the world drinks their whisky mixed with ice, soda, cola, ginger ale, green tea, coconut water etc, but for most "new world" distilleries, the intention is to be sipped and enjoyed like a fine cognac or single malt scotch. 

These Australian bottlings are no different, as many Boutique-y drinkers around the world may have never had an Australian whisky before let alone a Fleurieu or Tin Shed.

3. What's the one (or two) whiskies out of this series that has really surprised you - either in a good way or in a somewhat interesting way?

For me, the standouts were the Black Gate ex-apera and the Tin Shed pinot gris cask. I've never tasted anything like them, and I've never liked anything that tasted like them. Whiskies whose magic you immediately want to share with someone, "you gotta try this"

4. The labels on these bottles all look fun (as with all TBWC bottles), any particular favourite from the set?

The Belgrove is just perfect, but I also really like Black Gate's colour palate/mood and Bakery Hill's fun. Emily Chappell is an incredible visual storyteller and is the Glaswegian artist behind all the labels.

5. Lastly, what's the one whisky trend you think will continue to grow in 2021? (e.g. will we see more craft distilleries flourish, growth in independent labels, rum starting to take over whiskies?)

It pains me to say it, and it may only be a dip, but the trend of declining Scotch whisky may pick up speed in 2021.

For now, the Australia series will launch today across Australia as well as abroad and I look forward to sharing my thoughts on the series in the next post.


Monday, 5 April 2021

Diageo Special Releases 2020

The Diageo Special Releases 2020 have now arrived in Australia.

This year's series is made up of eight whiskies including Cardhu 11yo, Cragganmore 20yo, Dalwhinnie 30yo, Lagavulin 12yo, Mortlach 21yo, The Singleton of Dufftown 17yo, a Caribbean Rum cask finished Talisker 8yo and another release from the ghost distillery Pittyvaich 30yo.

The annual collection once again explores different age points, experimental maturation techniques and introduces the first-ever release finished in pot-still Caribbean rum casks. This was an interesting one. The theme of 'Rare by Nature' alludes to the relationship between nature that surrounds each distillery and also in the illustrations used on the bottles.

Dr Craig Wilson, Diageo Master Blender, says, “I’ve created this year’s Special Releases Collection, from some of my favourite distilleries across Scotland, with whisky enthusiasts in mind.  For those who enjoy spicy flavours, my recommendation would be to try our Cardhu, and for those who favour rich, intense and smooth flavours my choice would be Mortlach 21 year old. If you are curious about discovering something very rare, the Pittyvaich - the single ghost distillery in our Special Releases Collection this year is an unforgettable dram.”

For those curious to discover the very last drops from unique casks or get a little taste of history, the collection includes: Pittyvaich, from the Speyside ghost distillery, finished in first-fill ex-bourbon casks, a rare Highland expression of Dalwhinnie matured in refill hogshead casks filled in 1989, the best of Isle of Skye, Talisker, finished in pot-still Caribbean rum casks, and the stalwart Lagavulin, a perfect expression of this Islay distillery’s character.

I was lucky enough to have had the pleasure to sit down through the eight releases. I've noted my notes on the different releases below but I'll do a write up on each one over the next few weeks:

Dalwhinnie 30 Year Old (51.9% ABV, 30yo, Highlands, Scotland, A$970.00) Clean and elegant, matured in refill hogsheads filled in 1989. The nose smells of leather, floral, sweet honey and peaches. The palate is peppery-spicy and warm on the tongue with a good mixture of oak and citrus and an elegant and smooth (yet short) finish.

The Singleton of Dufftown 17 Year Old (55.1% ABV, 17yo, Speyside, Scotland, A$209.99) Mellow and mild. A first-ever release matured only in refill American oak hogshead instead of the usual combo of European oak/ex-sherry cask and American oak/ex-bourbon cask. The taste intense and sweet overall with honey, marshmallow, I'm in a candy shop with lots of creamy candy. The palate is also quite viscous and soft with some citrus and ginger snap. The finish is both drying and slightly coating.

Cardhu 11 Year Old (56% ABV, 11yo, Speyside, Scotland, A$159.99) A small-batch distilled in 2008 and combined from three distinct casks refill, new and ex-bourbon American oak. The nose is floral and sweet, with a hint of apples and stone fruits. On the palate, it's sweet, juicy, creamy with a delicious vanilla slice within. The finish is long and peppery.

Cragganmore 20 Year Old (55.8% ABV, 20yo, Speyside, Scotland, A$239.99) An age never before released from the distillery, matured in refill and new fresh-charred casks. The texture is creamy-smooth, while the taste is ladened with citrus, sour warhead notes; it's both rich and sweet. The finish is mellow with charred notes, ginger spice and some lingering apple note.

Pittyvaich 30 Year Old (50.8% ABV, 30yo, Speyside, Scotland, A$690.00) A 1989 ghost, the first release ever to be finished in first fill ex-bourbon casks. The taste is rich, oily and creamy vanilla-sweet. There are also some dry notes from non-ripe banana. Overall, there's a balance between the sweetness, lemon/citrus notes, orange peel to some peppercorns. The finish is clean and drying with a gentle spice at the end.

Mortlach 21 Year Old (56.9% ABV, 21yo, Speyside, Scotland, A$1,100) Rich and smooth, breakfast on the nose with dried fruit, warm croissants and mild, malty rich golden syrup. The intensity comes from a small batch finished in Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso-seasoned casks. The palate is both savoury and fruity, there are melons, lemon and some resinous leather. The finish is nice and long and warming.

Talisker 8 Year Old (57.9% ABV, 8yo, Islay, Scotland, A$169.99) A big taste, the first-ever release of Talisker finished in pot-still Caribbean rum casks. A soft, smooth texture and a big taste; salty and lightly sweet, before the full-on Talisker pepperiness takes over.

Lagavulin 12 Year Old (56.4% ABV, 12yo, Islay, Scotland) Soaring and intense, lots of tar and iodine/medicinal notes. The Lagavulin 12 is a small batch of single vintage Lagavulin matured in refill American oak casks. A clean, fresh Lagavulin that is very lightly drying mid-palate. The finish is relatively long, coated with the char and spices from the palate.


Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Tasted #512 - 513: Sherried Ben Nevis showdown

Whilst whisky might not "follow vintage" the same way that wine does, there are definitely some whiskies distilled in certain periods which, in my view, stand out - be it due to changes in production methods, wood policy, cask sourcing/availability, or just plain old luck. 

Mid 1960s Bowmore is a well-known example. 1993 GlenDronach too. Late 2000's Caol Ila (ex-Bourbon) is a more recent one...and in my opinion, late 1990s Ben Nevis (1996 gets all the love, but don't look past 1995 and 1997).

I recently had two samples of Ben Nevis - one a 1996 "Small Batch" 21yo bottled for La Maison du Whisky, the other a 1997 Single Cask 19yo bottled by SMWS. What do you do when you have two similar, delicious whisky samples? Try them side-by-side of course!

Ben Nevis SMWS 78.41 "A Real Sherry Monster" 1997-2017 (57.1% ABV, 19yo, IB, Highlands, Scotland)
Colour: Deep orange gold.

Nose: Rich creamy coffee grounds and red currants, followed by nutty chocolate Florentine. With water: more creaminess with hints of white chocolate.

Palate: Toffee, marzipan sweetness, then slightly metallic herbal notes and musk sticks. With water, the herbs become more pronounced.

Finish: Long, slightly tannic. Herbal mouthwash. With water, there are slightly less tannins but more herbs.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 88/100. A real mixed bag, with a lot going on. I liked it, but didn't love it the way I have some 1990s Ben Nevis.

Ben Nevis 21yo "Small Batch" for LMdW 1996-2018 (55.5% ABV, 21yo, OB, Highlands, Scotland)
Colour: Dark copper-brown.

Nose: Deep rich sherry notes - dirty old leather books, herbal musk, dunnage warehouse. With water: some cola notes emerge.

Palate: Rich, velvety deep sherry notes - more of the leather and herbal musk, but adding raisins, coffee grounds and the tiniest hint of sulphur. With water: cola, more raisins and herbs.

Finish: Long, dark chocolate cherry.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. A bit more up my alley but I'd prefer to see a little less cask influence and a bit more spirit.


Monday, 8 February 2021

Let's talk about Malternatives: Vallein Tercinier "Lot 65" Cognac 1965 - 2016 [Tasted #511]

With the exception of the odd Rum or Gin post, we haven't really covered the topic of "malternatives" much on the blog, but over on the @TimeforWhisky Instagram we've been discussing a few lately, mostly Rums, Cognacs and Armagnacs. 

(For those unfamiliar with the term, a "malternative" is basically a whisky alternative. Generally but not always a spirit, their interest comes in a large part from the significant rise in whisky prices and availability, and whisky drinkers seeking value elsewhere, often landing on Rums, Cognacs and Armagnacs, where some incredible value and amazing spirits can still be found.)

One of the first Cognacs I came across when starting to venture beyond whisky was Vallein Tercinier. I learned of them through Independent Bottler Maltbarn, who bottled a 1986 ("Lot 86") Vallein Tercinier at Cask Strength which I really enjoyed. I then started reading up on the house, and noticed Serge from WhiskyFun had some very, very good things to say, and that a few of the older vintages were said to have a tropical profile (pretty much my holy grail when it comes to whisky profiles). One in particular was referred to as being "between a 1966 Bowmore and a 1972 Caperdonich, only less expensive" which sealed the deal for me...I needed to seek some out.

So off to auction I went, where I picked up a few from the 1960s (and even one from the 1930s!), including this "Lot65" from 1965. I'd heard a few well-regarded people in whisky circles refer to the Lot65 as a "legendary bottle", so hopes were high. 

Lot65 actually comes in three different strengths (two at higher strength with a different label and a green wax stamp), but this is the lower-proof version @ 46% ABV (although believed to still be cask strength). One of the other versions scored a whopping 95 points over on WhiskyFun, whilst this same 46% bottle sscored a very respectable 93 points, also on WhiskyFun. High praise indeed.

The bottle didn't last too long (shared with many good friends), but before it was emptied I had the chance to sit down and take some proper notes, and see if the hype was justified.

Cognac Vallein Tercinier "Lot 65" (46% ABV, ~50yo, Cognac, Grand Champagne, France)
Colour: Deep orange gold.

Nose: Instantly tropical - mango, guava, some strawberries and after a little time, passionfruit. There's an underlying red berry fruitiness that tells you this is Cognac rather than whisky, but it takes a backseat to the mango and passionfruit. Red grapes emerge too, as does just the slightest hint of spice after a while.

Palate: Follows the nose, with pineapple, blueberries and cherries dominating. The spice notes return (more of a fruit spice, think fruit cake), and there are some leather notes. Slight hints of tannins show, but nothing excessive, especially considering the 50yo age. Hugely complex with massive depth of flavour.

Finish: Long, spiced apple and mango, with red grapes lingering well after the glass has been emptied.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 94/100. In his tasting, Serge at mentioned "the profile would make me think of some Bowmore from the very same vintage" and I have to agree. A stunning Cognac.



Friday, 29 January 2021

Tasting Glenmorangie's little-discussed "Truffle Oak Reserve" 26yo [Tasted #510]

Back in 2019 Glenmorangie quietly released "Truffle Oak Reserve", a 1000 bottle release of 1993 Glenmorangie, matured for 26 years (16 of which were in "Truffle Oak").

("Truffle Oak" you might rightly ask? In a nutshell, a porous oak sourced from Germany's Black Forest.)

Interestingly, this wasn't the first release of this liquid, with the distillery first releasing a 12yo (with a 2 year Truffle Oak finish) in 2005, limited to 886 bottles. The remainder of the 4 original casks was set aside, matured for an extra 14 years, and the result is what you see here.

Little has been written about this bottle, and I might know why. It seems the marketing is focusing on private clients and high-end events, rather than press release saturation and seeding samples out to bloggers and other media. Understandable, given the limited release and significant price tag. Thanks to good friend of this site Eddie Nara, I was able to attend one of those events (held in the Tatler Suite at Hong Kong's Upper House, no less) and try the whisky.

It's a shame most won't get to try this, as it's an absolutely stunning Glenmo - possibly one of the best I've had (definitely up there with the earliest Signets, which I adore, and the 1963). You can find my full tasting notes below, but it's a hugely complex dram with the Truffle Oak clearly having a significant influence (as you'd expect after 16 years of "finishing").

With exclusivity and quality though, comes cost, with Truffle Oak tipping the scales at $21,500HKD (or over $3,500AUD). Compared to the 1991 grand vintage (also 26yo) at $5,795HKD, it's not a cheap dram...but it is an incredible one. Only 12 bottles came to Hong Kong, and given I tried this a few months ago now, they may well all be sold.

Glenmorangie "Truffle Oak Reserve" (55.7% ABV, 26yo, Highlands, Scotland, $21,500HKD)
Colour: Vibrant orange gold.

Nose: Initial hit of spiced oak, then an earthy nuttiness comes to the fore. More damp earth eventually involving into intriguing, mossy, mushroom notes. There's vanilla, but for me it's more of a rich, intense vanilla essense note.

Palate: Spicy at first, but rich and juicy at the same time. There's still some of that musty damp earth (in a good way, trust me) and huge mouthfeel thanks to the 55.7%, but it's never harsh. With a bit of time, peach and raspberry notes begin to emerge and complement the earthy notes.

Finish: Hugely long, with red berries, peach and some melon notes.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 94/100. This...this is very good.

Thursday, 31 December 2020

Dalmore "King Alexander III" [Tasted #509]

One last post for the sh*t of a year that's been 2020....

Whilst I've tried at least one incredible Dalmore in the past 18 or so months on this blog (sadly, a 1 of 1 bottle which sold for £108,000, leaving me zero chance of trying it again), it's been many years since I'd visited the core range - not since 2015, in fact, when Master Blender Richard Patterson came to town.

To change that, I was recently (and very kindly) sent an unprompted bottle of Dalmore King Alexander III, part of the distillery's core lineup which I'd originally tried back in 2015, and about which I'd said at the time:
"The Dalmore King Alexander III, as Richard explained, is finished in a whopping 6 different casks (Port, Madeira, Marsala, Cabernet Sauvignon, Small Batch Bourbon and Matuselm Oloroso) and is designed to give rich plummy characteristics. Despite not carrying an age statement, King Alexander III is typically 20 years old, at 40% "because that's how I wanted it" (Richard's words)"

It's always fun to revisit drams after several years, as both palates and whisky batches can change. So without further final dram for 2020.

Dalmore "King Alexander III" (40% ABV, NAS, Highlands, Scotland, $1,580HKD / £159.85 / $300AUD)
Colour: Bright red copper.

Nose: Earthy at first (damp grass, moss) giving rise to ripe strawberries and then floral, potpourri notes.

Palate: Very muted. Spiced initially, then vanilla bean, walnuts, some oak spice and slight tannins, Mandarin and grapefruit notes with an underlying damp moss earthiness...but it feels like the ABV could do with a decent increase - it really is a very subtle palate (some might say "smooth", one friend called it "watery"). Perhaps though, that's more a reflection on the number of cask-strength drams I've tried since 2015 - which would likely number in the thousands.

Finish: Medium to long in length, with spiced apple cider notes and residual oak.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 87/100. A nice pleasant dram and one I think would make a great introductory dram for someone just getting into whisky, or concerned about high-ABV spirits, as it's genuinely one of the subtlest drams I've had in recent memory. There's quite a lot going on in terms of different flavours, but for me, I think I prefer Dalmore when it's from one or two types of casks (say, ex-Port or ex-Sherry), rather than the "assemblage" we have here.

A big thanks to Telford HK for the bottle tasted here.


Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Mortlach 16 and "Meats with the Beast" [Tasted #508]

Mortlach is a whisky that's seen a few different guises in recent years. Originally (and still) prized by blenders, and used as a key component in Johnnie Walker, the "2.81 distilled" whisky rose to prominence amongst whisky lovers in the 1990s via Diageo's Rare Malts and Flora & Fauna series - the latter showcasing a 16yo Mortlach which is still much loved (and increasingly sought after) today. 

Mortlach had always been considered a bold whisky for a Speysider (dubbed "The Beast of Dufftown" by Dave Broom for its robust, rich and meaty characteristic), but in a rare mis-step in 2014, attempts to market Mortlach as a luxury / up-market malt saw it bottled in 500mL format (in a range including a NAS) and promoted heavily in travel retail. Whisky lovers were quick to turn on the series, and it's fair to say it probably didn't enjoy the success that had been envisaged. The series was scrapped, and in 2018 a new series emerged, with a core range consisting of a 12, 16 (this bottle) and 20 year old - mercifully, back in 700mL / 750mL format.

Scarred a little from the 2014 series (and with only one bottle of F&F left), I hadn't tried much Mortlach of late, so it was a pleasant surprise when MHDHK kindly sent me a bottle of the latest 16yo ("Distiller's Dram"), out of the blue.

Sherried, but said to be less-so than the Flora & Fauna 16yo, I was keen to see how this held up, and if it could "stand on its own" - and perhaps even capture a new generation of whisky drinkers.

Mortlach 16 "Distiller's Dram" (43.4% ABV, 16yo, Speyside, Scotland, $790HKD / £74.85 / $132AUD)
Colour: Orange-brown gold.

Nose: A slight citric / orange "dustiness" at first, followed by some big barbecued meat notes then flamed orange peel

Palate: Sweeter than the nose suggests - sweet BBQ sauce, molasses, and barbecued ribs. The sherry notes are there, but they feel on the lighter side. There's also some sherbet and oak. It's not super complex, but it's tasty.

Finish: Medium to long in length, with spiced apple cider notes and residual oak.

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

So in conclusion, a different dram to the Flora & Fauna, but an enjoyable one nonetheless. Fairly priced (especially in this 750mL format) and definitely worth a look if you’re after an OB Speysider with a bit more “oomph”. 

To celebrate the Mortlach range, the distillery has teamed up with Grand Hyatt Steakhouse HK for a "#MeatswiththeBeast" promotion, whereby 3 special dishes have been chosen to match the core Mortlach range (12yo, 16yo, 20yo), as follows:
  • Mortlach 12-Year-Old (The Wee Witchie) x House smoked salmon
  • Mortlach 16-Year-Old (Distiller's Dram) x USDA Prime beef tenderloin
  • Mortlach 20-Year-Old (Cowie's Blue Seal) x Sticky date pudding
Per the press release:
"We are delighted to partner with Grand Hyatt Steakhouse. It is a perfect marriage between the finest meats and The Beast of Dufftown, complimenting each other on the rich flavour and characters. Customers can experience exceptional meaty and bold flavour from the brand's signature 2.81 distilling process." Said Ms Crystal Chan, Brand Manager of Diageo Brands.

"We are very proud of the Meats with the Beast menu, which is a co-creation between our culinary team and Mortlach Single Malt Scotch whiskies. It showcases our unrelenting pursuit of bold classic flavours and perfect execution. The resulting menu is simple, confident and sophisticated." Said Marc Benkoe, newly appointed Head Chef who will take the helm of the Grand Hyatt Steakhouse kitchen starting from December"

Whilst the restaurant is currently closed due to the COVID-19 situation, the promotion is expected to re-commence once the restaurant opens again. 

As a final side-note, big props to Diageo too for the sensible packaging. Check out the Instagram story grab below for a comparison with another whisky which arrived on the same day!


Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Time for Whisky's Last Minute Christmas Whisky Gift Guide 2020

It's been a while, 5 years in fact, since we last did a "Last Minute Christmas Gift Guide". This year I've received so many questions about which whiskies people should buy as gifts for their family/friends/colleagues/other, I figured it was time for the next instalment.

Rather than base it on price range, I've stuck with the same formula as 2015's guide - 5 categories, 5 whiskies, but for 2020, with three new categories.

If you've left it to the last minute to grab the whisky lover(s) in your life a gift, hopefully this is of some help. 

Note: For this guide I've tried to keep the spirits to those that are relatively widely available - ideally in both HK and Australia, so for that reason you won't find esoteric single casks, indies, or other whiskies that you or I might typically enjoy outside OB ranges. This is a "last minute" gift guide, after all!

1) "The recipient is a whisky lover. I'm not, but I want to get them something that shows I did some research."

The whisky: GlenDronach 18 year old

Why: 5 years ago, we chose GlenDronach 15 for this category - a great dram. Since then, it's been discontinued and re-released, and whilst it's still a great dram, it's actually 15 years old now (as opposed to 5 years ago, when it was likely significantly older), and made up of both Oloroso and PX-matured whisky. Whilst that's no bad thing, the Oloroso-matured 18yo is, in my opinion, the sweet spot now, and in today's market is one of the few whiskies I'd still call incredible value. 

Prices are rising, but for now, it's one of the best "bang for your buck" whiskies out there.

Where and how much? $1,050HKD from Dram Good Stuff or £97.94 from Master of Malt. Seemingly out of stock across Australia, unfortunately.

Want to know more?: You can read all our previous thoughts and tasting notes on GlenDronach's whiskies here.

2) "I have no idea what they like. I want something safe and reliable."

The whisky: Balvenie 12yo DoubleWood

Why: 5 years later, The Balvenie (a Speyside favourite from William Grant & Sons) continues to be a fantastic entry-level dram, and still to this day, I've never met anyone who hasn't like it. The Balvenie produce elegant, handcrafted, enjoyable whiskies that at the same time are accessible and won't break the bank. 

Where and how much? $89.90AUD from Cambridge Cellars$550HKD from Dram Good Stuff or £39.95 from Master of Malt

Want to know more?: We've covered plenty of Balvenie stories and tasting notes in the past, but you can read our notes on the 12yo DoubleWood specifically here.


3) "I want to buy a whisky that shows I'm ahead of the curve."

The whisky: Archie Rose Rye Malt Whisky

Why: Australian whisky continues to rise in prominence (increasingly, globally so) and it's hard to not be excited by what Archie Rose are doing in Sydney. We first visited Archie Rose and spent a day making some whisky back in 2015, and whilst they didn't actually have any whisky released back then, they do now - two "core" releases in fact, Rye Malt and Single Malt.

Both are good (and very well-priced at $119AUD), but the Rye Malt we find especially interesting, as Rye whiskies typically aren't made using malted rye. It's also incredibly delicious and complex considering it's young age.

Where and how much? $119AUD. Whilst Archie Rose are sold out of both at the moment, options exist via The Whisky List. Sadly not yet available in HK.

Want to know more?: Read both Hendy and my tasting notes on the Rye Malt here.

4) "I want to get them something slightly left-field, but it still has to be a great whisky."

The whisky: Highland Park Cask Strength

Why: Buying your recipient a regular 12yo Highland Park would show you know good whisky, but played it safe (like the afore-mentioned Balvenie, "HP12" is a widely-loved dram). The Cask Strength shows you took a risk - although not much of one, as it's a delicious whisky, and very refined considering its 63.3% ABV.

Where and how much? $680HKD from King's Wine Cellar or £54.75 from Master of Malt (sold out at the moment)

Want to know more?: See here for our tasting notes.

5) "Money is no object and I want to show the recipient I really like/love/appreciate them by spending a whole stack of money on them."

The whisky: Diageo's "Prima & Ultima" full set

Why: If money is no object, why limit yourself to just one bottle? Diageo's "Prima & Ultima" set contains 8 bottles, ranging in age from 25 to 48 years old, including this 40yo whisky from the closed Port Ellen distillery. I was fortunate enough to taste the whole set recently and there are some great bottles in there...especially the Cragganmore, Caol Ila and Port Ellen.

Where and how much? $223,970 HKD for the full set of 8 bottles, available direct from MHDHK.

Want to know more?: See here for our tasting notes on the 40yo 1979 Port Ellen from the series - arguably the most sought after bottle of the eight.

6) "I want to get them a spirit...but they've got more whisky than they know what to do with. What's a good 'malternative'?"

The spirit: Black Tot Rum.

Why: Good rum is having something of a moment, with several whisky lovers starting to embrace the spirit, and real efforts being made to introduce more legitimacy and structure to the labelling and categorisation of rum. Black Tot is a well-priced blended rum with delicious notes which works equally well neat or in a cocktail.

Where and how much? $660HKD from Timeless & Tasty.

Want to know more?: See our thoughts here.

7) "I'm really not comfortable to buy a bottle of whisky out of fear they'll already have it, or won't enjoy it. What else can I get?"

The gift: Membership to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

Why: Stronger than ever after 37 years, "the society" bottle single cask whisky and spirits from a range of distilleries, often showing a unique (and typically delicious) side to a distillery most won't have seen. More than that though, they host fantastic tastings and events, and have built a real (and very welcoming) community amongst whisky lovers and newbies alike.

Where and how much? $800HKD for HK Membership$120AUD for Australian membership.

Want to know more? We've covered plenty of SMWS events over the years - here.

8) "I just want to get them something FUN!"

Why: It's a whisky called "A Tale of Cake"! It's got a fun label, and it's actually very, very tasty.

Where and how much? $1050HKD from Dram Good Stuff, $169.99AUD from Nick's.

Want to know more? Check out my recent tasting notes here.

Cheers and Merry Christmas,