Friday, 27 February 2015

Tasted #159 - #163: Ichiro's Malt Cards Series (Hanyu) Ace of Diamonds, Yamazaki Mizunara 2014, Miyagikyo 1987, Hanyu from the last year of production...and more!

A few weeks ago we posted a review of the fantastic Zoetrope bar in Tokyo, Japan, as part of a trip Steph and I recently took to Japan. As with every bar we visited, we tasted some amazing, rare, unusual (and generally, insanely cheap) whiskies.

Here are the five we tasted at Zoetrope (who conveniently are happy to serve most drams by the half-dram), including not just any Ichiro's Malt "Cards" bottling, but an Ace! Sadly (but unsurprisingly) they'd run out of their Colour Joker stocks...

Ichiro's Malt (Hanyu) "Cards" series Ace of Diamonds (56.4% ABV, 21yo, Bottle #407 of 527, Cask 9023, Hanyu, Japan, no longer available)
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Distilled in 1986, bottled in 2008. Two casks: Hogshead & Cream Sherry Butt
Colour: Dark red-copper.
Nose: Rich, Sherried, sweet, raspberries, some almond.
Palate: Leather, oak, spice, big spice. A little sweetness - bubblegum, wine gums, and some apricots.
Finish: Drying and tannic. After a fantastic nose and palate, the finish lets it down slightly...but only slightly.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. Despite the slight disappointment on the finish, still a fantastic whisky.



Nikka Single Cask Malt Whisky (Miyagikyo) 1987 (62% ABV, 17yo, Bottle #4, Cask #89698, Sendai, Japan, no longer available)
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Distilled in November 1987, bottled in August 2005.
Colour: Intensely dark
Nose: Plums and port.
Palate: Lots of juicy plum notes. Lets you know it's packing 62% ABV, but that's not to say it's harsh. Hot yes, but not harsh. Water really brings out sweet toffee notes.
Finish: Drying, tannic, medium length. Lots of oak. Water lengthens the finish (unsurprising given the ABV).
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. Better with a few drops of water.



Yamazaki Mizunara 2014 (48% ABV, NAS, 1 of 1,600 bottles, Yamazaki, Japan, ¥25,000)
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Colour: Bright orange
Nose: Spiced, chilli, vanilla and coconut. Lots of coconut (a feature of all Mizunara-matured whiskies we nosed during the trip).
Palate: Spicy, possibly one of the spiciest whiskies I've tried. Peppers and chilli.
Finish: Cayenne pepper, turning into pure coconut. Very long.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. I probably wouldn't drop the asking price on a bottle (though even if I wanted to, I'm sure all 1,600 are now spoken for, but an enjoyable and very unusual whisky nonetheless.



Ichiro's Malt (Chichibu) Zoetrope Banzai 8th anniversary bottling (62% ABV, 4yo, bottle #25 of 79, cask #609, Chichibu, Japan, not for sale)
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Distilled Nov in 2009, bottled in June 2014 to celebrate the bar's 8th anniversary.
Colour: Orange sunset
Nose: Play dough (it's clearly young) but very smooth. Pineapple too.
Palate: Meaty. Some plastic, crayons. But rich tropical fruits too. Very, very good.
Finish: The only disappointing part. Medium length, tannic and slightly sour.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. Bloody good whisky, let down only slightly by a finish that reminds you that this is still very young, and has some less than favourable notes that haven't quite left it yet.


Ichiro's Malt (Hanyu) Shot Bar Zoetrope 3rd anniversary bottling (60.7% ABV, 9yo, bottle #158 of 263, cask #9800, Chichibu, Japan, not for sale)
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Distilled in 2000, the last year of Hanyu's production. Partially matured in a rum cask and bottled in 2009 to celebrate Zoetrope's 3rd anniversary (how many bars can say they have two whiskies bottled specifically for them? Zoetrope actually have 3...)
Colour: Orange sunset
Nose: Bacon. Bacon. Some more bacon, and then, for a change, bacon. So much bacon. A few drops of water brought about some smoke too. Smoky bacon. Yes please!
Palate: Intense bacon-ness. Water brings about even more bacon, but also adds smoked BBQ flavours and dried fruits - apples and sultanas.
Finish: Long and hot. Some smoke, quite a bit of vanilla sweetness.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. Not my favourite of the night, but still a fantastic whisky (especially if you like bacon. Mmm, bacon...)


If you ever get the chance, visit this bar.

Cheers,
Martin.

Monday, 23 February 2015

This week in whisk(e)y #17

As you might know if you read this blog regularly, we get a fair few interesting press releases and news articles here at TimeforWhisky, and usually try to feature them with our own spin, experiences or comments. Sometimes though, they come thick and fast, and we just don't have time to do them all justice.

So we've decided to take a leaf out of some other excellent whisky blogs, and feature a "PR roundup" every now and then - basically a wrap-up of relevant press releases we've received in the previous week or so (including other interesting whisk(e)y news Steph & I think you might enjoy). So on with it then...


Ardbeg Day 2015 announced
If you only read one of these news bits, read this one. Ardbeg Day 2015 has been announced, to be held on 30th May 2015. Mark the date in your calendar, and if you lve in Sydney (and probably Melbourne), then you'll most definitely want to keep the date completely free.

Why? Because Ardbeg Day is usually one of, if not the best whisky event of the year in Australia (no word yet on if there'll be a Hong Kong one in 2015, but we hope so).

2013 was fantastic2014 possibly even betterDo you want to be the person who misses out on 2015?

(Trust me, you don't.)

Details will be posted here when available:
http://www.ardbeg.com/ardbeg/ardbeg-day-2015



New World Whisky Distillery Tours and Tastings

You may know New World Whisky Distillery from their Starward Australian single malt whisky, their brilliant single cask and one-off bottlings, or from our private tour back in Dec 2013. Either way, they're an incredibly exciting young (though now well-established) distillery doing some incredibly exciting things (ginger beer cask-finished whisky anyone), who don't seem to be slowing down the pace any time soon.

Since our tour, they've added a bar, and a series of formal tours/tastings, which can be found on their events page. While they've just run a whole bunch of tours throughout early Feb, they have an open day coming up on 28th February which is sure to be a cracker.

Do yourself a favour if you haven't, and get into this exciting distillery (literally, if you're in Melbourne and are free this coming Saturday).



The Glenrothes to release Vintage 1968 Exceptional Cask in Australia
It wasn't that long ago that we attended the Hong Kong launch of the 1969 Exceptional Cask, and now the 1968 vintage has been announced in Australia (previously only being available at Singapore duty free).

For those who like the geekier details:
"The Glenrothes Extraordinary Single Cask 1968 has been bottled from the contents of Cask #13507 – a second-fill hogshead cask, filled on 19th November 1968. It has yielded just 145 bottles at a natural strength of 41.9% ABV. The hallmarks of The Glenrothes are quality and purity, evident in the beautifully-balanced, elegant and well-mannered single malt with peerless texture, perfectly expressed by this single cask bottling. This expression is unchill filtered and, like all Glenrothes’ bottlings, of completely natural colour."
The Glenrothes Extraordinary Single Cask 1968 #13507 will be available in Australia from March 2015. Prices will start at "$10,000AUD and upwards" per bottle.



Highland Park "Odin" has arrived
Back in November we attended the Hong Kong launch of the Highland Park "Freya", and the next in the series has now been announced - none other than "Odin", joining "Freya", "Thor" and "Loki" to complete the Valhalla collection.

Odin weighs in at 55.8% ABV and, judging from the comments online, has been very well received.

No word on a HK release just yet, but we'll be sure to look into it and update this post with any details.



anCnoc 1975 Vintage released
Another new anCnoc release - this time a very well-aged 1975 release, bottled in 2014 (making it 38 or 39 years old in my books, depending on distillation/bottling dates).

To quote the press release:
"On February 1st 2015 anCnoc Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky will unveil its latest creation – anCnoc 1975 Vintage. Bottled late in 2014 this is the oldest expression ever released from Knockdhu Distillery and promises to be the ultimate treat for anCnoc fans and the most discerning whisky drinkers around the world.
The whisky comes from only three American oak and Spanish oak ex-sherry casks laid down in 1975. The release consists of 1590 bottles. The whisky comes in its most natural form, it has not been chill-filtered or coloured and is presented at the cask strength of 44.2% ABV.
The recommended retail price is £300. anCnoc 1975 Vintage will be available in several key markets around the world including the UK, USA, Russia and Canada.
In-keeping with anCnoc's ethos of 'Modern Tradition', the 1975 Vintage is presented in a simple, striking bottle and encased in an elegant black tube.
anCnoc Assistant Brand Manager Stephanie Bridge sheds light on where the new Vintage fits within anCnoc's recent string of acclaimed releases.
“The last 12 months have been a very ambitious and a very successful time for anCnoc. We unveiled the limited Peaty Collection to a global audience and launched two travel retail expressions as well as our popular 18 Year Old. The 1975 has been anticipated for a number of years, it’s distinctively anCnoc, a fantastic whisky and a superb addition to any whisky collection.""


Visit the world with LABEL 5 fans
In another example of whisky companies seeking to engage their audience in new and exciting ways (e.g. The Glenlivet's The Guardian's Chapter and Maker's Mark's ongoing excellent Ambassador program) LABEL 5 (which we tried back in November) recently asked their fans to film a 5 second video of their city, for inclusion in a "round the world" compilation produced by LABEL 5.

The compilation has now been completed, and can be found at: http://youtu.be/TNXhGn9QXZg


Cheers, 
- Martin.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Tasted #158: Blackadder "Raw Cask" Linkwood 1991 22yo

On the same day I tried the Old Pulteney 21 at Liquors Hasegawa in Tokyo, I also spotted this 22yo Linkwood which was too tempting not to try...

One thing I love about the "Raw Cask" series from Blackadder is the little bits of char (known in the Twitterverse as "chat", I believe) that floats around the bottle. There's no doubt that these come straight from the cask...


Blackadder "Raw Cask" 1991 Linkwood (58% ABV, 22yo, Speyside, Scotland, bottle 190 of 254)
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Colour: Light pale straw.

Nose: Earthy, herbal smoke, but at the same time sweet, boiled lollies.

Palate: Lots of caramel. Thick, rich, like a creme brûlée with cinnamon on top, condensed into a hard-boiled lolly.

Finish: Long and lingering, without any "heat", but with notes of burnt caramel.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. While I love my sherried whiskies, I also really appreciate a great ex-Bourbon cask whisky, and this definitely fits the bill. One of those who like their whiskies on the sweeter side, for sure.


Cheers,
Martin.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Tasted #157: Old Pulteney 21 (#101drams)

There's a wonderful, magical place in the maze that is Tokyo station, called Liquors Hasegawa, the whisky shop of your dreams.

Actually there are two, and a "Sake Hasegawa", but one of them is more wonderful and magical than the others, for you see, not only do they have an absolutely incredible amount of whisky crammed into a tiny, tiny store, they also offer very cheap 10mL tastings (and not just of the regular stuff - plenty of rarer single cask whiskies too, like BlackAdder Raw Cask bottlings - notes up soon).

The excellent Nonjatta explains how the rules work, but basically, anything with a small red and white sticker (see below) has a price. You pay that price (rarely more than a few Aussie dollars or $20HKD) and you taste 10mL of that whisky (or other spirit). Simple.

When I started the #101drams Charitable Challenge I knew that I'd have to be creative about finding different ways to try all 101 whiskies, but I didn't expect to tick one off at a small liquor shop in a subway station. But then again, this was Japan...

The first whisky I tried was Old Pulteney 21, which was on the #101drams list along with the 17 (tasted here) and 40yo (unsurprisingly, one I've yet to taste). For ¥150, it was pretty hard not to....


Old Pulteney 21 (46% ABV, 21yo, Wick Scotland, $200AUD / $2,168HKD)
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Colour: Light straw.

Nose: Sweet, and very smooth and composed. Strawberries mixed with salty sea air.

Palate: Smoke, hints of spice and lots of orange peel.

Finish: Long, smokey with plenty of sea salt. Some citrus (orange) notes at the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. Enjoyable and quite "sessionable" (though perhaps not given its pricepoint...)



Cheers,
Martin.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Bar Review #13: Zoetrope (Tokyo, Japan)

Moving onto the first (of many) bar reviews from our recent Japan Trip - kicking off with Zoetrope in Shinjuku, Tokyo....

There are many brilliant whisky bars in Japan, but Zoetrope (a Tokyo institution for 9 years) was firmly at the top of my list when planning our Japan trip (actually, it's been there for a few years, since I first read about it on Nonjatta).

Zoetrope (technically "Shot Bar Zoetrope*"), like many Tokyo bars is hidden in a nondescript city building, up a few floors, accessed by a slow and dinky lift. Now while the term "shot bar" might recall images of a dingy tourist bar in Hong Kong's LKF, or a seedy Kings Cross bar (before the lockout laws turned into a sleepy wasteland post-2am), nothing could be farther from the truth. All over Japan, it seems, "shot bar" just refers to a bar with a collection of spirits (in many cases, especially here, bloody fine ones).


We arrived at opening time, first patrons, and promptly took a seat in front of the bar, right in front of this, which set the tone for the night nicely....

Yes - Ichiro's Malt "Cards" bottles, that aren't empty, and don't cost an arm and a leg for a dram!
A very quick history lesson for those unfamiliar with these bottles. Ichiro Akuto's grandfather Isouji Akuto founded the Hanyu Distillery, north-west of Tokyo, which ceased production in 2000. Ichiro inherited the remaining stock, and like the enterprising chap he was, bottled a lot of it as a series of "Cards" - some vattings, some single casks. Despite selling for pretty reasonable sums at the time of release (many were under $85AUD / $550HKD), they quickly gained a cult following and rapidly shot up in price. One of the final bottlings (the elusive "Colour Joker") now sells for around $2,000AUD / $12,300HKD anywhere you're lucky enough to find it. I actually did spot a bottle on a shelf in Osaka, but sadly the shop clearly knew its value...

Suffice to say that any remaining bottles are incredibly rare, sought-after, and usually cost a pretty penny. We've been in bars with Ichiro's Malt bottles available, but usually one or two, and usually for far more than I'm willing to pay for a dram of whisky (and I'm willing to pay a lot for certain whiskies...).

So seeing 8+ available, generally for under ¥3000 ($30AUD / $185HKD) for a dram, with many closer to ¥2000, was a very welcome sight! The fact that the bar also did half-drams for anything over ¥1600 was an added bonus (they did previously have a Colour Joker available for ¥2800/dram, but unsurprisingly had sold out).


Zoetrope isn't a large bar, with only 6 seats at the bar and 3 tables, but it's not the smallest whisky bar we visited (more on that in a future post), and they make the most of every available inch by cramming it full of whisky. A ¥600 cover charge applies to all guests (as we found was the case with most Japanese bars), but this is more than made up for considering the prices:


Japanese whisky is definitely the focus, and if you're not into interesting or weird/wonderful Japanese whiskies, you can nurse a Nikka from the Barrel for a measly ¥600, or try one of their well thought-out tasting sets. For the enthusiast though, we recommend browsing the list, picking out 1 or 2 (or 5) that you thought you'd never get to try, and ordering half-drams. You can't go wrong...

..well, maybe with the section of the menu labelled "we don't recommend the products below", which included gems such as "Royal Crystal" (¥400), Single Malt Isawa 1983 (¥800) and "Mushu Cask Strength" (¥1800). We didn't venture into this territory, but I have tried a 1984 Isawa previously and it was drinkable (just not hugely enjoyable).

Owner Atsushi Horigami speaks English (though in general we found that if you learn just a few Japanese words, it makes your trip that much more enjoyable) and is also a massive film buff, so don't be surprised to see some vintage movies, or even animation being belted out on the project at the back of the room:


You know a bar is popular and well-loved (usually) when they have their own bottling (such a bottling also being one of my #101drams whiskies). Zoetrope doesn't have one. They have three. A Chichibu single cask, a Hanyu single cask, and an Akashu two-cask vatting. The first two for ¥1500, the latter for ¥1000 (and they were all very enjoyable).


Zoetrope is a Japanese whisky institution, and with good reason. The selection is fantastic, the bar itself inviting, and the prices excellent. With the popularity of Japanese whisky soaring though, we recommend going sooner rather than later. Atsushi relayed to us the story of a recent limited bottling he tried to get his hands on from the department store Isetan. Despite being there at opening time (on the morning the whisky went on sale), he simply wasn't quick enough to run down to the liquor department, and by the time he got there, it was all gone... (no doubt to appear on an auction site at 5 times the value later that night).

That's the Japanese whisky scene for you...


Tasting notes up shortly (edit: here).

Cheers,
Martin.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Tasted #153 - #156: Two single cask Yamazakis and two Yamazaki 12 component whiskies

As mentioned the other day, our visit to the Suntory Hakushu distillery last month uncovered an amazing find in the form of the distillery bar, with some seriously cheap whiskies for tasting (see the article or photo below for examples).

Of course, being TimeforWhisky.com, we weren't going to taste all those whiskies and not write about them, were we? No, no we weren't. We already covered the first four (Hakushu and Chita) whiskies tasted a few days ago, so now it's onto the Yamazaki whiskies we tried during the same visit...

Yamazaki 1986 Single Cask (51% ABV, cask 6B0168, NAS, Japan, not available for purchase)
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Colour: Dark, rich copper.
Nose: Molasses, cask strength rum!
Palate: Furniture polish, leather, slightly sour, but not to the point of spoiling the experience.
Finish: Incredibly short, sour and oaky.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100.


Yamazaki 1995 Single Cask (62% ABV, cask 5P70008 NAS, Japan, not available for purchase)
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Colour: Pale straw.
Nose: Sweet. with honey-like, ex-bourbon sweetness.
Palate: Mouth-filling and rich. Slightly hot. Lamingtons and cake icing.
Finish: Short, sweet and hot.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100.


Yamazaki "Sherry Cask" component whisky for Yamazaki 12 (50% ABV, 12yo, Japan, not available for purchase)
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Colour: Dark copper.
Nose: Very sweet - at a guess I'd say ex-PX. Plums and berries.
Palate: Cherry-like. Much dryer than the nose suggests. Hints of port, big bold shiraz, and dark rich red berries.
Finish: Short and drying, with lots of oak influence.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 89/100. Not bad but not something I'd choose to drink every day.


Yamazaki "Mizunara Cask" component whisky for Yamazaki 12 (50% ABV, 12yo, Japan, not available for purchase)
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Colour: Yellow golden
Nose: Coconut and paprika. Lots of pepper and spice.
Palate: Banana toast (but not like a young whisky or new make) sprinkled with coconut.
Finish: Medium length, drying and "dusty. Hints of spice at the very end.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 89/100. 



Cheers,
Martin.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Tasted #149 - #152: Hakushu 18, New Make, "smoky" component and Chita New Make

As mentioned the other day, our visit to the Suntory Hakushu distillery last month uncovered an amazing find in the form of the distillery bar, with some seriously cheap whiskies for tasting (see the article or photo below for examples), many of which aren't available to purchase, or likely taste anywhere else in the world (except perhaps the Yamazaki distillery).

Of course, being TimeforWhisky.com, we weren't going to taste all those whiskies and not write about them, were we? No, no we weren't....so here are the Hakushu and Chita whiskies (and spirits) we tasted:

Hakushu 18 (43% ABV, 18yo, Japan, $250AUD$2,400HKD)
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Colour: Deep orange copper
Nose: Earthy, hints of pine needles. The slightest hint of smoke.
Palate: Spicy earthiness, moss, some sesame.
Finish: Long, smooth and enjoyable. Moss, oak, and sesame crackers.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100.


Hakushu new make spirit (70% ABV, unaged, Japan, not available for purchase)
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Colour: Deep, dark copper...ha no, I kid. Clear as water, obviously.
Nose: Grassy earthiness, with some kitchen cleaning products (but in a good way...?)
Palate: Earthy bubblegum.
Finish: Hot, as expected, and medium length. The alcohol esters are there, but they don't ruin the finish.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. As far as new makes go, not a bad one. And quite different to the usual banana / strong bubble gum notes you get on a lot of others.


"Smoky" component malt for Hakushu 12 (50% ABV, 12yo, Japan, not available for purchase)
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Colour: Pale straw
Nose: Campfire smokiness, obvious peat, with an earthy undertone.
Palate: Fresh woodfired bread, shortbread biscuits, and a lot of peat smoke.
Finish: Medium and peaty to the end.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100.


Chita New Make Grain Distillate (58% ABV, unaged, Japan, not available for purchase)
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Colour: Clear as day
Nose: Windex, spirytus. Not a lot of complexity.
Palate: Surprisingly light - very few discernible qualities. Some bananas, some pineapple. Quite hot.
Finish: Short and plain, with no real stand-out characteristics.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 80/100. Nowhere near as complex or enjoyable as the Hibiki NMS.



Cheers,
Martin.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Distillery Tour #2: Suntory Hakushu Distillery (Japan)

As promised 2 or so weeks ago we're kicking off the first of many JapanTour14 posts, with a tour of Suntory's Hakushu Distillery, a few hours West of Tokyo.

Both Suntory tours (the Yamazaki tour post will be up soon) took a bit of planning for this trip. When booking hotels and deciding where to be and when, we thought we should probably consult the distillery opening days, given we were travelling around The Emperor's Birthday and New Year. Good thing we did, both distilleries were planning large closures over the new year period, but luckily we managed to squeeze in during their last days thanks to some help from Suntory Australia.


The Hakushu Distillery is located about 2.5hrs by train West of Tokyo. We took a JR train (which was included in our JR Pass, but otherwise would have been ~$120AUD / $755HKD return each) to Kobuchizawa Station, and then a 10-15min taxi ride (~$22AUD / $138HKD) to the distillery itself. A free coach service provided trips back to the station, and may have even arranged pickups if we'd enquired. You know you're in the right place when the (small, rural town) train station shop has a display like this:


Often seen as Yamazaki's younger brother, Hakushu (founded 50 years later in 1973) has a core range that echoes Yamazaki's (NAS Distillers Reserve, 12yo, 18yo, 25yo) but with a very different spirit. Far more earthy and herbal, and after one look at the distillery it's not hard to see where this might come from. In addition to being one of the world's highest distilleries (at an altitude of 700m), resulting in lower pressure / temperature distillation, Hakushu is set amongst some of the most dense and luscious alpine forest in Japan. It really is a beautiful setting, with the distillery, visitor centre, and barrel houses dotted around this stunning backdrop:


We joined the tour as the only non-Japanese speakers, and were given a headset with a pre-recorded tour guide in English (we knew to expect this - neither of Suntory's distilleries run tours in English). The tour, as I'd read beforehand, is pretty much a standard whisky tour. It takes about 40 minutes all up (including a brief bus trip), and you get to see the mashing, fermentation, distillation room (although only through the windows as it was closed for maintenance) and one of the larger barrel houses. You can also spend some time wandering around the (small but interesting) museum before or after your tour.

The tour does get you up close and personal at times (walking past the Douglas fir washbacks, walking between the large pot stills when the room is open, getting up close to the barrels etc...) but unlike certain Scottish distilleries, there's no cask tasting, no in depth discussion of the wood management program, or other sorts of things you might expect if they ran an "enthusiasts" tour (hint hint Suntory, this would be awesome). I guess given the popularity of Japanese whisky at the moment, that's not overly surprising. The tours are still very popular, running every 30 minutes (and with at least 25 people on ours).


The highlight of the tour was the non-temperature controlled barrel house. Unlike any ageing warehouse I'd ever seen in person, the automated racking system stacks barrels at least 12 high, and as far as the eye can see in pretty much all directions. A seriously mammoth facility. Impressive, but somewhat lacking that sense of tradition or hand-craftedness you get wandering around a traditional ageing warehouse (wait for the Yamazaki tour post).



Notice I said "highlight of the tour"? The REAL highlight actually came after the tour, when we visited the tasting room....


The standard tour (which by the way is completely free) includes a Hakushu highball (though we were kindly ushered aside for a tasting of the 12 and 18, and given a few departing gifts from the giftshop which was a lovely gesture!) but those willing to stay after the highball are in for a real treat. Apart from having a great setting (check out that outlook above), the most impressive part of this room was the whisky menu, and its frankly ridiculous prices. Hakushu or Yamazaki 18? That'll be ¥500 (just over $5AUD / $33HKD). Hibiki 21? That'll be the same. 1995 single cask Yamazaki? ¥200 (just over $2AUD / $13HKD). 1986 single cask Yamazaki? Whoa big spender, that'll be ¥800 (just over $8AUD / $52HKD). Granted the serves were all 15mL half-drams, but for us that was perfect, as it meant we could try more whiskies.

For the whisky nerds (guilty) they also had the various component whiskies that make up whiskies like Yamazaki 12 and Hibiki 17 - including Mizunara cask, sherry cask and puncheon varieties. All between ¥200 and ¥1,200. The new make Chita (grain) was also interesting, and as steal at ¥100 (yes, $1AUD / $6.60HKD).

The menu wasn't limited to Japanese whiskies either, with a number of the whiskies Suntory either owns, or has exclusive distribution rights to in Japan, at similarly fantastic prices. Everything from Macallan 30 (both Sherry and Fine Oak), to Bowmore 25 to Glenfiddich 18 to Laphroaig 18, and even Jim Beam if you're feeling so inclined.


Of course we made the most of this opportunity (leaving some out knowing that Yamazaki, which we were visiting 2 days later, would likely have a similar menu), and decided we'd catch the later shuttle bus back. Or the one after that...

Our final visit was to the gift shop, which is worth visiting, but which I feel we should warn you about. Anyone expecting to pick up a bunch of single cask, rare, limited release Suntory whiskies is likely to be disappointed. You know how Japanese whisky is popular in pretty much every market now? Well it's even more popular in Japan. Some stores struggle to get even the most basic bottlings, and so the idea of finding a cheap, distillery-special single cask bottling was never going to happen. The shop did actually have an odd-looking 300mL Hakushu bottling for ¥1400 (which was included in our gift, along with some very nice pens made from old casks), though details were scant and we've yet to crack it open. The Suntory shop in Osaka, on the other hand, does have the odd limited bottling (generally in 200-300mL sizes) which are relatively cheap and (from our tasting) very enjoyable. Worth seeking out if you're ever in Osaka.


All up, we both had a thoroughly enjoyable time and would recommend the tour to anyone who enjoys their whisky...but make the most of it, don't drive, and give yourself an hour or so after the tour to sample the menu.

Cheers,
Steph & Martin.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

This week in whisk(e)y #16

As you might know if you read this blog regularly, we get a fair few interesting press releases and news articles here at TimeforWhisky, and usually try to feature them with our own spin, experiences or comments. Sometimes though, they come thick and fast, and we just don't have time to do them all justice.

So we've decided to take a leaf out of some other excellent whisky blogs, and feature a "PR roundup" every now and then - basically a wrap-up of relevant press releases we've received in the previous week or so (including other interesting whisk(e)y news Steph & I think you might enjoy). So on with it then...


Teeling Whiskey, set to expand in Australia in a big way, sees first new copper pot stills arrive in Dublin in over 125 years
We first brought word of Teeling Whiskey Company's Small Batch Irish Whiskey in December 2013, and over 12 months later we note that it's still punching well above its $49.90AUD price point Australia.

Good news then, that in just a month or two we hear that Dan's will soon stock 5 more of the Teeling lineup, including: Single Grain, 21YO, 26YO, 30YO, and Poitin. Whilst we haven't yet tried any of those releases, we've heard very good things about the Single Grain and 21yo (the latter which seemed to be very popular during our recent trip to Japan.

It seems the popularity isn't limited to Australia, with demand being such that the company are building a new distillery right in Dublin, with three new copper pot stills (crafted in Italy) - a 15,000 litre wash still, 10,000 litre intermediate still and 9,000 litre spirit still

"The Teeling Whiskey distillery is the first new distillery in Dublin in over 125 years and will have the capacity to produce 500,000 litres of whiskey on an annual basis. The Teeling Whiskey brand is already on sale in Ireland and is currently in over 30 export markets.  The construction of the new distillery will guarantee future supply for the Teeling Whiskey brands and allow the creation of a range of innovative and authentic Irish whiskeys based on the traditional and unique Dublin style of distillation 
Jack Teeling, founder and managing director of the Teeling Whiskey Company commented “Today is a major milestone in the development of the new Teeling Distillery, with the final pieces of the jigsaw, the copper pot stills, finally positioned in their new home in Newmarket. We are extremely proud to be returning to our ancestral distilling roots and bringing whiskey distillation back to Dublin. We look forward to the first spirit flowing from our new stills and opening our doors to the public to come see a real Dublin distillery in operation in 2015. ”
The new Teeling Whiskey distillery received planning permission in January 2014 and started work on site in August with over 100 people employed during the construction of the distillery with 30 permanent jobs planned for following its completion. Commission of the new distillery will happen early in the New Year and with the distillery opening its door to visitors soon afterwards.
For more on Teeling Whiskey Company and its award winning Irish whiskeys, visit www.teelingwhiskey.com"
We hope to bring you tasting notes of the full range in due course. No word yet on a possible Hong Kong release, but we'll be sure to let HK readers know.


Johnnie Walker Blue Label launches “The Year of the Ram Limited Edition”
Hot on the heels of the 2015 Johnnie Walker Blue Label launch, which Steph and I attended recently, comes a special release for 2015 - "Year of the Ram", just in time for Chinese New Year.
"Inspired by the famous Chinese brush-painting “Three Rams”, created during the Emperor Qianlong era, employing techniques of traditional Chinese ink painting with a light-as-air white brushstroke, the bottle’s design seamlessly merges visual art with calligraphy. The royal blue-tinted bottle symbolizes the Chinese tradition of celadon porcelain and on each of the four sides conveys the written characters for Ram. When four bottles are placed side by side, they unfold into a representation of the magnificent Chinese scroll painting “Three Rams”, to depict a New Year of great fortune. This tasteful limited edition is of particular value to collectors, especially during the all-important gifting season this Chinese New Year. 
The Ram’s character being naturally fearless of heights, unswerving in its determination and ability to conquer new heights, echoes the characteristics of JOHNNIE WALKER BLUE LABEL – the pinnacle of Blended Scotch Whisky from the House of Johnnie Walker. Created by the Master Blender with his decades of experience in selecting only the rarest casks from Johnnie Walker to create this powerful, complex, smooth character of Blue Label, only 1 from every 10,000 casks are selected to create Johnnie Walker Blue Label. 
Drew Mills, Marketing Director of Diageo Brands noted, “JOHNNIE WALKER BLUE LABEL Year of the Ram Special Release truly marries the best of Chinese ceramic art with the very finest blend of Scottish whisky. This classic combination introduces unrivaled creative elements to the global whisky market, and I’m confident it will quickly become the premier choice for discerning collectors." 
JOHNNIE WALKER BLUE LABEL The Year of the Ram Special Release (750ml) is now officially for sale at all major wine and spirit retailers. To personalise the Limited Edition for gifting, customers purchasing the Limited Edition at SOGO on 17th, 24th and 31st January 2015 will enjoy free engraving service."


Malt Masters HK: A Celebration of Single Malt Whisky
Steph and I arrived a little late in the year to hear about most of the Hong Kong whisky festivals last year, but we'll make sure that doesn't happen this year. First up, "Malt Masters Hong Kong", held at the ever-changing and always enjoyable PMQ.

"Malt Masters Hong Kong returns with Hong Kong’s Premium Whisky Festival.  The 2015 Festival will take place on Saturday 7th March at The Qube, PMQ, 25 Aberdeen Street, Central.  After the success of last year’s inaugural event, the 2015 Festival includes some new features.  In addition to accessing some of Scotland’s leading single malt distilleries, guests will experience the addition of ‘Dream Drams’ as well as gaining access to a variety of companies offering expertise throughout the world of whisky such as whisky investment and accessories, and the opportunity to buy whisky directly from the companies. 
A casual and relaxed general tasting session around many of the best loved whiskies will be supported by brand ambassadors from the various distilleries as well as other leading figures from the whisky industry. Meanwhile, individual masterclasses will allow participants to explore particular whisky distilleries and themes in more depth within a focused but intimate setting. 
There are two main sessions, each lasting three and a half hours: from 1.30pm to 5pm and from 6pm to 9.30pm. The main tasting event has the following benefits: 
  • Single Malt Whisky stalls featuring a variety of expressions
  • Access to brand ambassadors
  • Access to other whisky industry experts
  • Showcase of whisky accessories, available for purchase
  • Glencairn whisky tasting glass on arrival (included in ticket price)
  • Opportunity for onsite purchases
Over 20 companies and distilleries will be in attendance with each stall offering a selection of different expressions for tasting.  Masterclasses will run throughout the day, with the full masterclass schedule advertised online by early February.  Tickets must be bought in advance and spaces are limited so early booking is advised. 
Dream Drams - This year we are introducing Dream Drams.  All visitors to the 2015 event will receive a Dream Dram token to redeem against a range of truly outstanding whiskies from the exhibitors. These whiskies are extremely hard to find and are consequently very expensive.  Further Dream Dram tokens will be available to buy online before the event, offering visitors the opportunity of tasting a large variety of incredibly unique and expensive single malts.  
Tickets are priced at HKD 800 and are sold via www.maltmastershk.com. There will be a charity raffle offering a variety of excellent whiskies and whisky accessories in aid of 2 Hong Kong based charities."

Steph and I will be there, and you can bet we'll be checking out the "dream drams"!


Cheers, 
- Martin.

Monday, 5 January 2015

The Macallan Masters of Photography: Mario Testino Edition Hong Kong Launch (Tasted #148)

As we mentioned last month, The Macallan "Masters of Photography" Mario Testino Edition has been released in Hong Kong, retailing for $28,000HKD. We were lucky enough to attend the Hong Kong launch event for this whisky in December, which was a lavish event celebrating the photography of Mario Testino, and of course, The Macallan.


Held on a Friday night at the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, with views over Hong Kong Harbour, the event was attended by a number of people we've met so far in the Hong Kong whisky scene (including, sadly, the last HK whisky outing for local whisky expert Marlon of The Whisky Library, shortly before he left HK).

A selection of photos were placed around the room showcasing the photography of Mario Testino, and the whisky itself was presented by Coral Gill, Edrington Regional Brand Director (with whom we have an Interview coming up shortly). The Macallan's famous "six pillars" were discussed, namely:
  1. The Spirital Home
  2. "Curiously" small stills
  3. Finest cut (which we've referenced before on this blog)
  4. Exception Oak casks
  5. Natural Colour
  6. Peerless spirit

..and their relation to the Mario Testino Edition, which is a vatting of 6 casks, each representing one of the above "pillars".


In a slightly more upbeat / funky move when compared with a typical whisky launch, a number of models then paraded out onto the stage to showcase the various components (the aforementioned "6 pillars") making up the Mario Testino edition. The models' dress echoed those who formed the shoot itself, shot at the China Club in Beijing, to represent the luxury and diversity of The Macallan and its enjoyment around the world.


A fitting event for an impressive whisky (as all Edrington events seem to be), and we say that not just based on the launch party or the marketing, but on our own tasting of the whisky the day prior:


The Macallan Masters of Photography: Mario Testino Edition (46.6% ABV, NAS, Highlands, Scotland, $28,000HKD)
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Colour: Deep dark copper

Nose: Definitely The Macallan DNA in there, but more sweet, more rounded than the 12 or 18. Some nutty, almond notes, and some definite citrus - grapefruit? Sweet, but complex.

Palate: Citrus "zing" at first, but then some nuttiness, more grapefruit, and finally rich Christmas cake. Something for everyone in here. A complex, but very easy drinking dram.

Finish: Long, incredibly smooth, with lingering raisins and Christmas cake notes.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 94/100. A luscious dram that you could easily sip all night, but would feel far more appropriate saving for special occasions.
Cheers,
Martin.