Thursday, 14 February 2019

Tasted #432 - Casks of Distinction Clynelish 1983 35yo for Dram Good Casks (Cask #2566)

Private cask ownership - for many whisky lovers, the ultimate goal...

We first came across Diageo's "Casks of Distinction" programme during our visit to Johnnie Walker House in Singapore in 2016, and since then we've seen some impressive bottles bottled from some of Diageo's best malt distilleries, including Port Ellen and Lagavulin. The program, more or less a private cask ownership program, sees Diageo offering up a small selection of high quality casks (literally "Casks of Distinction") each year for private ownership.

Having tried 7 or 8 "CoD" bottlings so far (including an excellent HK-exclusive Lagavulin, for which we'll post notes shortly), I personally haven't been disappointed by any of them. This Clynelish however was something really special. Distilled in 1983 and bottled in 2018 (at 35 years old), it is easily the most impressive modern Clynelish I've ever had the pleasure of trying.

This particular cask (Hogshead #2566) was bottled by our good friends Dram Good Stuff, under their "Dram Good Casks" label. DGS also had a small portion of the outturn bottled for Aaron Chan of whisky bar Club Qing, as well as for Bank of Singapore, but the remainder (and the majority) was bottled under the "Dram Good Casks" label you see above.

Clynelish fans in HK and Singapore should definitely give this a look-in, as this one truly is a "cask of distinction" and will no doubt impress even the most hardcore Clynelish fan. See my notes below.

1983 Clynelish 35yo "Casks of Distinction"Single Cask #2566 exclusively bottled for Dram Good Stuff (52.2% ABV, 35yo, Highlands, bottle 144 of 144)
Colour: Yellow golden sunset.

Nose: Opening with enticing, invigorating clean, fresh waxy green apple notes (yep, it's definitely a Clynelish), you then start to experience wafts of earthy smoke, sweet pot-pourri-like floral notes, and baked apple pie (with a slightly burnt crust). This is a nose that warrants sitting on for a while - revisit it many times over a 20-30 minute period and you'll be rewarded with a changing and constantly delicious profile.

Palate: Starting with vanilla orange cream, much like the nose it then starts to evolve over time - with marmalade and mandarin notes showing at first, then a slight junipery-pepper note, more green apples and some of the floral notes from the nose returning. There's oak, but never too much, and it works in perfect harmony with the many other notes that appear over time. As with the nose, this is a dram that rewards time - the more you spend with it, the more you'll get from it.

Finish: Long, waxy, with hints of oak (never dominating), grassy freshness and finally back to those delicious green apple notes. An incredibly satisfying end to a beautiful dram.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  93/100. Truly excellent.

A limited number of these bottles are available - contact Dram Good Stuff (mention or contact us and we'll be happy to put you in touch.


Friday, 8 February 2019

Tasted #430 - 431: Gordon & Macphail Connoisseurs Choice 1988 Mortlach and 1990 North British

Gordon & MacPhail's "Connoisseurs Choice" range is surely one of the most enduring and well-recognised series of IBs out there, with some amazing bottles going back over the past 50 or so years. The range underwent a facelift recently, and has since seen a number of impressive (and impressively-aged) bottles released.
When G&M sent me a sample of their 70yo 1948 Glen Grant "Private Collection", the package contained a sample of these two as well - a 30yo malt from the "Beast of Dufftown" (Mortlach) and a 28yo Grain from North British.

I always love trying an IB take on Mortlach, not to mention well-aged Grain, so these two were right up my alley.

Gordon & MacPhail "Connoisseurs Choice" from Mortlach Distillery 1988 Cask #4839 (48.8% ABV, 30yo, Speyside, Outturn of 129 bottles)
Colour: Yellow/orange gold.

Nose: Stone fruits and spice. Stewed peaches and toffee at first, then some honeycomb.

Palate: Stewed apples, pears, candied ginger and cardamom. Robust and full-bodied, with spicy and sweet fruity notes working together nicely.

Finish: On the shorter side, with a slightly herbal bitterness and some ginger notes.

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

Gordon & MacPhail "Connoisseurs Choice" from North British Distillery 1990 Cask #73847 (61% ABV, 28yo, Lowland, Outturn of 181 bottles)
Colour: Dark copper brown.

Nose: An initial matchhead flintiness gives way to sweet, BBQ meaty notes with a touch of pepper.

Palate: Sweet red berries at first, then grapes. It's intense, rich, oily and mouth filling, with lots of the sherry notes we've all come to know and love (dried fruits, pot pourri, leather). Then it gets sweeter, turning to Crème Brûlée and milky sweet Vietnamese coffee. Water turns up the sweetness again.

Finish: Long, sweet roasted coffee beans.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  91/100. Intensely sherried, but if you like that sort of thing (I do) you'll probably like this dram, especially if you like a little sweetness too.


Sunday, 3 February 2019

The Balvenie x Blue Butcher Valentine's Day Dinner: "An Edible Story of Whisky Making"

For Valentine's Day this year The Balvenie have teamed up with Sheung Wan institution (and temple to all things meat) Blue Butcher to bring diners an "Edible Story of Whisky Making" - a 4-course menu featuring Balvenie-infused ingredients echoing 4 stages of whisky-making. Paired with 4 whiskies from The Balvenie (12 Doublewood, 14 Caribbean, 17 Doublewood and 21 PortWood), the menu is available only on Valentine's Day and costs just $520HKD/head.

A few nights ago I had the pleasure of trying two dishes from the menu, paired with two drams of The Balvenie. First was The Balvenie & Earl Grey smoked salmon with creme fraiche, charred eggplant, roasted nuts and puffed barley paired with The Balvenie DoubleWood Aged 12 Years. Designed to echo the malting process, the dish contained crunchy barley pieces which made for a nice textural counterpoint to the soft salmon, as well as providing a slight nod to The Balvenie being one of the few Scottish distilleries still with its own malting floor.

Next was the gargantuan The Balvenie 21yrs aged Grass Fed Australian sirloin with Hollaindase sauce and aged fat roasted potatoes, paired with The Balvenie 21 PortWood. Easily a whole meal in its own right, the theme here was "maturation" - with the sirloin having been aged in Blue Butcher's special drying room for extra rich flavour. The Balvenie 21 PortWood might seem like an interesting choice (it's more commonly paired with dessert), although it worked well here, bringing out a sweetness to the meat.

Whilst we didn't try the other two courses (the full menu can be found below), what we did try was more than enough to confirm that this meal should make any whisky-loving couple happy, and at $520HKD/head? Bargain.

Those looking to further the whisky-theme for Valentine's Day could do worse than gifting a bottle of The Balvenie 12 DoubleWood too - which for a limited time and at certain retailers will come with a solid cologne "inspired by the key notes in The Balvenie 12 DoubleWood". Don't worry, it doesn't make you smell like you've bathed in whisky, but it does have nice fruity honey notes.

The Valentine’s Day menu is only available on the 14th February 2019. Reservations can be made via e-mail to attended as a guest of Telford Wine & Spirits and Maximal Concepts.


Full menu (from press release):
"The first step is called Malting, introducing the starter The Balvenie & Earl Grey smoke salmon with creme fraiche, chard eggplant, roasted nuts and puffed barley paired with The Balvenie DoubleWood Aged 12 Years. The barley grain is stepped in water, germination will turn the starch in the barley grain into sugar. The Balvenie’s malt men will regularly turn the barley by hand using a wooden shovel to ensure the grains germinate equally. It is one of the few distilleries to still operate a malting floor.
 The second step is Fermentation, using Buffala burrata with kalamata tapenade, charred baby fennel, fermented melon and arugula. Post malting, the barley is dried in the kiln then milled. Hot water is added 3 times to extract out the sugar and yeast is added to the cooled down sugar solution. The fermentation process will produce a liquid with alcohol content of around 6-8% known as “wash”. The fermented melon exact echoes the fermentation process in whisky making. This crafted dish is a perfect match with The Balvenie Caribbean Cask Aged 14 Years. To refresh the taste buds, the third step is Distillation. The “wash” is distilled 2 times in copper pot stills into a new make spirit of 60-70% alcohol content. The shape of the pot stills in is a key contributing factor to style of the whisky. The Balvenie employs its own team of coppersmiths to maintain this important asset. Refreshing Citrus Zest Sorbet is paired with The Balvenie DoubleWood Ages 17 years to set your dinner into the spotlight of the main course. The sorbet is created using a distillation process to extract citrus concentrate.
 Maturation is the forth step of whisky production, and Blue is demonstrating this important process with The Balvenie 21yrs aged Grass Fed Australian sirloin with Hollaindase sauce and aged fat roasted potatoes. The meat aging process is carefully monitored by the Chef just as The Balvenie’s Malt Master, David Stewart MBE watches over his whiskies. The new make spirit is put into oak barrels for maturation. The type of casks selected for maturation is the key factor which affects the flavours of the whisky. Each year around 2% evaporates, as some calls it “Angel’s Share”. David is skilled at using different types of wood to create unique flavours for each expression of The Balvenie. The succulent steak is paired with The Balvenie PortWood Aged 21 Years to enhance the savoury experience.
 To make a great ending to this romantic night, Blue presents Dulce De Leche Rocher with apple pie and The Balvenie infused chocolate sauce with hazelnut on top. Which will definitely wrap up the dinner with a sweet touch, enjoying The Balvenie PortWood Black Cherry Flip specially created by our in house mixologist."

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Tasted #429: 70yo Gordon & MacPhail "Private Collection 1948 from Glen Grant Distillery"

Writing about whisky fairly consistently for the last ~7 years has afforded us the opportunity to try some incredible whiskies, as well as some incredibly old whiskies - with several in their 40s, a fair few in their 50s, and three in their 60s, topping out at 65yo.

With the exponential rise we've seen in both the demand for and value of old and rare whisky, it seemed like that 65yo might retain the crown as our oldest whisky ever tasted...until this arrived in the mail...

Bottled at a whopping seventy years old (70yo), this Glen Grant from Gordon & MacPhail's "Private Collection" range (full name: "Gordon & MacPhail 1948 from Glen Grant Distillery") was distilled on 11th June 1948 and bottled on 19th October 2018 @ 48.6% from a single first fill sherry butt - #2154, yielding 210 bottles.

See our previous thoughts on the "Private Collection" range here, including a 50yo Caol Ila, 64yo Glenlivet, a pair of 57 year old Longmorns and more.

A lot of whiskies are termed "liquid history" but this one is truly deserving of the title. Distilled only 3 years after World War II ended, when the UK was still rationing barley and spirit production was below pre-WWII levels, it was filled by G&M and maintained by four generations of the owning Urquhart family, whilst it matured in Glen Grant's Warehouse No.5 (for the first 20 years) and GM's Elgin warehouses (for its final 50 years).

You have to give G&M credit for their recent Private Collection releases - they've produced some stunning decanters to go with some stunning whiskies, and whilst the focus should always be on the liquid - it doesn't hurt when the presentation is this impressive:

But, the focus is on the liquid and so to that end...let's dive into the oldest whisky we've ever tasted...

Gordon & MacPhail "Private Collection" 1948 from Glen Grant Distillery 70yo (48.6% ABV, 70yo, Speyside, One of 210 bottles, £17,500)
Colour: Golden orange-copper.

Nose: Fresh herbal-citrus at first - mandarin, orange peel and spearmint, with coriander. But hold on, now it's got some older, earthier notes coming through - vintage books, polished leather. After some time, a waxiness emerges, with some strawberry jam and cinnamon. Now there's mint, and some subtle-but-definitely-there dried, smoky oak staves.

Palate: Big and expressive - initially with cinnamon and oak showing, then strawberry and apricot jam. More of the smoked oak from the nose, and then some cracked pepper. Underneath all this are herbal undertones - earthy, wet-grass notes, along with hints of aged dry leather. The sherry influence here is noticeable, but remarkably restrained and refined for a 70 year old whisky. No one note dominates here - it's an orchestra of flavours, each coming and going and then returning again.

Finish: Medium to long in length, with more noticeable woodsmoke than the nose and palate. There's a residual citrus (whole oranges) note throughout, and right towards the end, more mint.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  92/100. It's truly astonishing that a whisky can be 70 years old, from a first-fill sherry butt, and still retain such complexity, refinement, and most remarkably of all - not be entirely dominated by oak. Well done to G&M for what would have to be one of the most incredible examples of maturation I've experienced.

Gordon & MacPhail 1948 from Glen Grant Distillery is available for a UK RRP of £17,500 (Hong Kong pricing TBC) and will be available worldwide. Thanks to G&M for this review sample.


Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Mars tasting at Whisky and Words with Kazuto Hombo (Tasted #422 - 428)

The popularity of Japanese whisky continues to grow in Hong Kong, and at a recent tasting (at the newly-opened Whisky & Words in Sheung Wan) it was evident that that popularity isn't limited to rare, old and aged Japanese whisky (although Karuizawa prices continue to baffle at auction...)

The whiskies in question were those of Mars, under parent company Hombo Shuzo. This was no ordinary tasting though, with Hombo-san (Kazuto Hombo), the President of Mars himself in attendance along with Kusan-san (Tatsuro Kusan), master distiller.

Hosted by good friend of Eddie Nara, the tasting involved 7 spirits, including some not even yet released in Japan.

Eddie and Hombo-san talked us through a brief history of Mars whisky - from their 1872 inception as a Shochu producer, to their 1949 licence to distill whisky and 1960s experiments in whisky (which were not popular), to their later periods of whisky production (1978-1992 and 2011-current). 

We learned that 1985 saw the opening of the Shinshu distillery in Nagano, and much more recently in 2016, the Tsunuki distillery in Kagoshima (on the site of a previous ageing warehouse) to provide some variety in the portfolio. With 2 distilleries, 3 warehouse locations and 5 different kinds of new make spirit (0ppm up to 50ppm), the Mars whisky portfolio is a diverse one it seems!

First up was the latest "Lucky Cat" release - "May", the 4th in the series, finished for 18 months in ex-umeshu casks. As a big fan of the first Lucky Cat (which I was lucky enough to buy on release for under $300HKD/$50AUD!) I was looking forward to the latest one, named after a cat found and owned by Hombo-san's daughter, who also happened to be in attendance on the night.

Mars Lucky Cat "May" (40% ABV, NAS, Blended whisky, bottled in Japan)
Colour: Orange gold
Nose: Green apples, apricots, plum wine. Very unique.
Palate: Light, sweet, fruity. Some acetone, grapes and plum.
Finish: Short, light, with lingering grape notes.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  85/100. A simple yet enjoyable whisky.

Next was the latest Komagatake Limited Edition (2018), aged in ex-Bourbon / American White Oak barrels and bottled at 48%.

Mars  Komagatake Limited Edition 2018 (48% ABV, NAS, Single Malt, Japan)
Colour: Yellow gold.
Nose: Banana, hay, and sweet jelly chews (red frogs).
Palate: Sweet toffee apple and banana flan. Some pear emerges after some time.
Finish: More toffee apple, with some oak and coffee ground bitterness towards the end (though not overpowering).
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  88/100. Also simple, though enjoyable - especially for those who like their whiskies on the sweeter, ex-bourbon side.

Next it was over to Tsunuki, where this single cask Komagatake was aged (hence the "Tsunuki Aging" moniker). Bottled for the Tsunuki festival to be held the following weekend, the whisky was aged in ex-umeshu casks like the Lucky Cat, but this time for the full maturation - 3 years and 7 months.

Mars  Single Cask Komagatake "Tsunuki Aging" Hojo Selection 2018 (44% ABV, 3yo, Japan)
Colour: Orange gold.
Nose: Apple juice, cider, almond chews.
Palate: Red apples, sweet candy apples, jelly chews (but this time, green frogs).
Finish: Oak tannins and toffee apple.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  90/100.

Sticking with Tsunuki, we next tried two "new makes" (aged 664 and 408 days), followed by one actual new make.

Mars Tsunuki "New Make" 664 days (59% ABV, 664 days old, Japan)
We were amongst the first people in the world to try this, apparently! 
Colour: Light gold.
Nose: Light and floral. Some grape hubba bubba.
Palate: Rich and oily with sweet grape notes.
Finish: Medium length, malty, oaky, with a lingering earthy smoke.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  83/100. Simple but showing promise.

Mars Tsunuki "New Make" 408 days (59% ABV, 408 days old, Japan)
Colour: Light yellow gold.
Nose: Sweet smoke - quite meaty, with a subtle sweet pulled port undertone.
Palate: The smoke is less noticable on the palate, and there's some white chocolate and sweet sugared almonds.
Finish: The smoke returns and there's a lingering sweetness to the end.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  87/100. A lovely sweet meatiness to this spirit - I'd love to see how it goes after a decade or two in a good cask!

Mars "New Pot Heavily Peated" New make Spirit from May 2017 (60% ABV, NMS, Japan)
Colour: Clear (duh)
Nose: Earthy bananas.
Palate: BBQ ash, burnt beef brisket pieces, and then, somewhat interestingly, a lemon-lime sweetness emerges!
Finish: Back to the smoke - long ashy BBQ smoke.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  85/100. Undoubtedly simple, but actually quite enjoyable! I wasn't the only attendee who said they preferred this to the 664 days!

Last but not least came the "Marsmalt Le Papillon" 5th edition, bottled at just over 4 years @ 60% ABV, from a single American White Oak cask (distilled at the Shinshu distillery).

Marsmalt "Le Papillon" 5th Edition Single Cask (60% ABV, 4yo, Bottle no 553/560, Japan)
Colour: Vibrant orange gold.
Nose: Candied orange peel. Sweet and citrus.
Palate: Bitter orange at first, then lemon, then grilled BBQ fish and a salty bitterness at the end.
Finish: Medium in length, with slight citrus (lemon) bitter tannins.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  87/100

Tasting a range like this is always fun, especially when it involves such variety of distilleries, spirits and ageing regimes under the one banner (in this case, "Mars"). A big thanks to Hombo-san and Kusan-san for giving up their time, Eddie Nara for his expert hosting duties, and Whisky & Words for the venue!

Martin. was grateful to attend this tasting as a guest of Whisky & Words.

Monday, 31 December 2018

Tasted #421: Karuizawa 1984 Single Cask #3692 28yo

As a final post for 2018, I thought it fitting to not only post my thoughts on a fantastic whisky, but one that's symbolic of the camaraderie and friendships that whisky can bring about.

See, in addition to this blog I spend a fair bit of time on both Instagram and Facebook, often talking about whisky. Through both platforms (and Twitter) I've made some amazing friendships with whisky lovers all over the world, with whom we regularly discuss and share samples of whiskies (when we can't meet in person for a few drams).

That's how I came to get a hold of a sample of this stunning 1984 Karuizawa single cask. @maltandbean (who writes, someone I'd come to know through a mutual interest in whisky, was in Hong Kong and we caught up at Club Qing (of course) for a few drams. I'd brought a sample to share, as had he....and it was this Karuizawa. @maltandbean, it turns out, is one of those rare people who not only buys some incredible whiskies, but actually opens them too. Applause all round. 👏🏼

Photo taken from The Whisky Exchange

Bottled at a not-insignificant 61.6% ABV in 2012 at 28 years old, there were 359 bottles produced from a single sherry butt.

Karuizawa 1984 single cask #3692 (61.6% ABV, 28yo, Japan, One of 359 bottles, no longer readily least not at a reasonable price sadly!)
Colour: Dark copper brown, with an orange tinge.

Nose: There's noticeable sulphur at first (it dissipates slightly over time), but there's also sweet BBQ'd pineapple rings, strawberries and cream, floral pot-pourri and more - leather, some oak, molasses, and some earthy notes. Incredibly complex, and extremely inviting. A few drops of water just amps everything up a notch. Simply an amazing nose.

Palate: Similar to the nose. Initially some burnt match heads, but then comes the sweetness - cookies and cream ice cream, strawberry shortbread and more pineapple (cooked). It doesn't feel 60%+ ABV, though a few drops of water does open things up even more. Absolutely delicious - the sort of whisky you just want to keep taking sips of. Truly one of the tastiest drams I've had this year.

Finish: Long, creamy, floral, and lingering. There's some vanilla cream spice that lasts for the longest time, and you wish it lasted even longer.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  93/100@maltandbean opened this to celebrate the birth of his daughter, and all I can say is it's an incredibly fitting whisky for such a momentous occasion. Not every Karuizawa is a good Karuizawa, but when they're good, wow, they're great. This one falls clearly into the latter camp.

A huge thanks to @maltandbean for this, and to all my whisky mates around the world for the drams, laughs, knowledge, samples and above all, friendship.

Hope you all have a fantastic 2019, and thanks for continuing to read our blog. We look forward to bringing you plenty more interesting stories in the new year - our 6th year!