Monday, 16 January 2017

Edinburgh Whisky Academy: Accredited, in-depth Scotch Whisky education courses

Readers from Hong Kong may well be familiar with Malt Masters, founded by Ian McKerrow and responsible for Hong Kong's very first whisky show (not to mention being one of the first HK organisations to really promote and grow whisky appreciation in the SAR).

Ian comes from a family steeped in Scotch Whisky tradition (his family started Mackinlay's Whisky in the 1800s, and his dad ran Glenmorangie for a time), and clearly that tradition has extended beyond the males in the family, as Ian's sister, Kirsty McKerrow (former Nordic brand ambassador for for Glenmorangie and Ardbeg) has recently opened the Edinburgh Whisky Academy, a Scottish Qualifications Authority-accredited centre dedicated to in-depth Scotch Whisky education.

From a personal perspective, I have to say I've been (very pleasantly) surprised at just how much interest there is in formal whisky education since moving to Hong Kong in 2014. I regularly meet people at whisky events who proudly proclaim they've undertaken a formal qualification (most commonly the Whisky Ambassador course, run here in HK by good mate Eddie Nara) and when you ask what it is they do in the whisky industry, their response is usually something along the lines of "Oh, I'm an artist / banker / chef / writer / whatever - I just really love whisky!"

Clearly the demand for formal whisky education is there, a fact Kristy has obviously noted too, who in September last year launched the two day "Diploma in Single Malt Whisky", which is (in Kristy's words):
“written and delivered by independent industry experts...compact and in-depth and will provide a true and factual grounding for whisky knowledge“

Set in the beautiful Arniston House (just outside of Glasgow), the two day course is led by Vic Cameron, a 23 year veteran of distillation with Diageo and regular whisky educator, and covers 7 modules:

    1. The Historical Development of Distillation & Whisky
    2. The Business of Whisky
    3. The Raw Materials & Their Preparation
    4. The Batch Distillation Process 
    5. The Maturation Process 
    6. World Single Malt Whiskies
    7. Sensory Aspects of Single Malt Whisky
    The Academy also offers a 1 day course in whisky tasting, and plans to offer a diploma in blended whisky too.

    Far from just being a classroom exercise, the Single Malt Diploma includes a visit to nearby Glenkinchie for hands-on education, and the upcoming January course (28-29th January) will include a guest appearance by Charlie MacLean (who we can safely say, from personal experience, will make it a course to remember)!

    Whilst we're acutely aware that there is no one single diploma or accreditation in the whisky world, nor even one that is seen (universally across the industry) as "the" accreditation, like say, WSET in the world of wine and broader spirits, we believe that a good accreditation/diploma needs a few key ingredients - knowledgable instructors, real experiences and in-depth content. Whilst none of us have actually personally attended an EWA course, they do seem to have those three elements in spades, and feedback from attendees backs that up.

    The next Single Malt Diploma is being held on 28-29th January and pricing and booking information is available here:


    Saturday, 14 January 2017

    Tasted #340: Rittenhouse Straight Rye Whisky 100 Proof

    Moving onto something a little bit simpler for a change - Rittenhouse Straight Rye Whisky (Bottled in Bond). I actually bought this for cocktails (I've always enjoyed it in a Manhattan, Sazerac etc.. and find the 50% ABV holds up well), but it's a highly regarded rye on its own, so thought I'd spend some time with it neat, and post up my thoughts.

    Rittenhouse Straight Rye Whisky100 Proof (50% ABV, NAS, Kentucky, USA, ~$350HKD / £29.99 / $82.99AUD)
    Colour: Copper-brown.

    Nose: Treacle, maple syrup, lots of vanilla pods and some peppercorn.

    Palate: Smooth, slightly viscous, spicy (pepper and cinnamon). There's orange rind and cinnamon sticks, with a dusting of icing sugar and a fair amount of oak. Simply, but tasty.

    Finish: Medium to long in length, peppery.

    Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  88/100. No-one's suggesting this is an earth-shatteringly complex whisky - it's not. It's a simple rye done very well. All the flavours you want in a rye are there, with a bold, solid backbone. The ABV feels spot on and it serves well as a neat dram, or a great base for a booze-forward cocktail.


    Tuesday, 10 January 2017

    Tasted #337 - 339: GlenDronach 12yo (distilled in 1963), Macallan 7 year old (1990s bottling) & Balblair 1983 30yo

    Over the many hours spent at Whisky Live Singapore recently, I tried more drams than I could possibly take detailed notes for (at least, subjectively so), but before the palate fatigue set in, I took a few notes on the following interesting bottles.

    GlenDronach 12yo distilled in 1963, bottled in 1975 (43% ABV, 12yo, OB, Speyside, Scotland)
    Colour: Light yellow-gold.

    Nose: So fruity! Passionfruit, peaches. Quite sweet and very perfumed. Lovely, but completely unlike the sherried GlenDronachs of today.

    Palate: Following the nose - oranges and peaches, lots more passionfruit. Incredibly smooth and easy drinking, without feeling weak on the ABV front. No spice, no sherry, just a beautiful, fruity ex-Bourbon (I'm assuming) bouquet. It's not complex, it's not "layered", but it's tasty.

    Finish: Medium to long in length, sweet, simple.

    Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  91/100. No one would call this a complex whisky, but I'd wager most people would call it a delicious one. Fun too, because it's such a departure from the usual Sherried GlenDronachs we see today.

    The Macallan 7yo (40% ABV, 7yo, OB, Speyside, Scotland)
    A sherried 7yo Macallan bottled in the 1990s for Italian importer Giovinetti & Figli.

    Colour: Amber-orange gold

    Nose: Fresh laundry. Hints of sherry. Young.

    Palate: Not a whole lot going on. Some caramel chews, toffee. A little spice. Some furniture polish.

    Finish: Short and funky, with a residual earthiness and some mouth-drying tannins.

    Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  85/100. Drinkable, just not all that impressive.

    Balblair 1983 (46% ABV, 30yo, OB, Highlands, Scotland, £179.16)
    Colour: Orange gold.

    Nose: Candied ginger and whole oranges. Vanilla, oak and toffee.

    Palate: A textural mouthfeel, with plenty of citrus (whole oranges, grapefruit) and salt-water taffee. Some butterscotch (Butter Menthols actually) and a little oak to balance things out, but not too much. Some dark chocolate rounds things out.

    Finish: Long, whole orange slices.

    Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  92/100. Glad I got to try this, as I have a bottle stashed away that hasn't yet been opened. I'm not unhappy about the purchase. It's not hugely complex, and the tasting notes might read like many other well-aged ex-Bourbon whiskies, but it's an enjoyable dram and one that definitely hasn't taken on too much oak in its 30 years.


    Monday, 9 January 2017

    Whisky Live Singapore 2016 review

    We've attended a few Whisky Live events over the years - Tokyo, London and Sydney twice, but had never attended the Singaporean event, despite having heard good things. When a bit of good fortune put me in Singapore for a conference in the days following Whisky Live, it was a no-brainer to arrive a bit earlier and spend a day at the show.

    After an absolute debacle trying to buy a ticket (without going into too much detail, there was no eTicket / mTicket option, and no option to pick up the tickets at the venue - although the organisers arranged the latter for me after my tickets never arrived at the hotel), I turned up to Capella Hotel on Singapore's Sentosa Island, ready for a day of whisky.

    I'd opted for a 1 day VIP ticket ($173SGD), which gave access to the "VIP Tasting Room" as well as the main floor. I've attended a lot of whisky shows over the past 5 or so years, and whilst I still really enjoy them (probably the social aspect more than the whisky these days!), the whiskies on offer at most shows can be a bit "same same". Sure, sometimes (often) there's something special under the table, and don't get me wrong, the people at these shows absolutely make them worth attending, but sometimes you're just looking for something a bit more unusual/unique on the whisky front - something beyond the usual 12/15/18/NAS lineup. 

    ...and that's where the VIP Tasting Room came in. Singapore's Whisky Live is run by La Maison du Whisky, and as anyone who's come across LmdW knows, they bottle and sell a lot of very special whisky, rum, cognac etc......and a huge number of them were on offer in the VIP Tasting Room. From 43 year old Speysiders to single cask Kavalans, to limited edition Blantons to a whole lot of tasty Indies, to 30yo OB Speysiders and...well I'll let the photos do the talking...


    Certainly not your average whisky show drams, and generous pours were being served (all included in the ticket price). The room never felt busy, and there was always a friendly face or two to chat to.

    Next door though was something even more special - the "Collectors' Room", housing much, much rarer whisky that LmdW had managed to get their hands on - from rare single cask Japanese whiskies (Yamazakis, Karuizawas) to old, old bottles of Laphroaig, Bowmore, Macallan and others. Whilst prices weren't "cheap" (especially not for those who have visited Japanese whisky bars with similar collections), they were for the most part reasonable, considering the rarity of the whiskies.

    1 token was $10SGD.

    Dave Broom was also floating around (having just presented a masterclass on two 1965 Karuizawas!) and being the top bloke he is, was more than happy for a chat and a dram.

    By this time I'd been at the show for about 2 hours and hadn't yet ventured onto the main floor. When I finally did, I got there just in time for a "Dram Full Yum Seng", led by Glenfiddich's Regional Asia Pacific Brand Ambassador Matthew, and a few of his Brand Ambassador colleagues from Pernod Ricard and Edrington.

    Not quite sure what to expect from my first 'Yum Seng", it basically involved yelling "Dram Full" for as long as we possibly could, and then shooting the whiskies on offer (Glenfiddich 21yo, Macallan Rare Cask, amongst others). Not quite the "pacing myself" I'd planned, but a huge amount of fun, and a great welcome to the main floor. There's a video of it here.

    The main floor had the usual complement of brands - with Macallan, Glenfiddich, Balvenie, Aberlour, Glenrothes, Glenlivet and others representing Scotch, and Kavalan, Paul John, Teeling and others representing "world whiskies". There were of course a few special pours available if you asked nicely (some I can talk about, some I can't!) and a few fun experiences, like Glenfiddich's virtual reality tour (actually quite good!), Monkey Shoulder cocktails, Arberlour/Glenlivet music pairing, and Balvenie's free customised whisky tasting journals.

    There were also a few indies on tasting from Singapore and Seoul's B28 bar:

    ..and a good selection of masterclasses, priced quite cheaply in most cases (except for the Karuizawa 1965 masterclass which was almost $600SGD/ticket).

    When all the whisky became a bit much and the palate fatigue started to set in, there was a large F&B area outside, and VIP ticket holders were entitled to two servings of food and a cocktail from each of the pop up bars (host by some of the world's best cocktail bars - Bar Trench, 28 Hong Kong Street, Gibson and Jigger & Pony to name a few). A refreshing break (as were the Monkey 47 gin laybacks on offer)!

    As the sun started to set (had it really been 6 hours already!?) I headed back to the VIP Tasting Room to try a few more drams (including some fascinating rums) and enjoy whisky banter well into the night with whisky friends old and new.

    So, overall impressions of Whisky Live Singapore?
    • Fantastic range of whiskies
    • Brilliant collector's room
    • Good value tickets (when you consider the food, cocktails, and all the VIP drams)
    • Great venue layout (great space and really well utilised - it never felt too busy)
    • Great personalities.

    My only complaints would be the ticketing process (which I understand is a limitation of the ticketing company more than LmdW / Whisky Live), and the fact that I had to leave all the samples I'd brought at the front counter, which made it a pain to do the sample swaps I'd arranged beforehand (this might've been a "responsible service of alcohol" type situation, but whisky sample swaps are pretty common at shows like this, and I've never had an issue at shows anywhere else in the world).

    On the whole though, an absolutely brilliant event, and one I'd definitely return for (only next time, I'll buy a 2 day ticket).


    Wednesday, 21 December 2016

    Tasted #336: Glenfarclas 2007 9yo for Whisky and Wisdom

    Whisky fans can be an obsessive bunch (myself included). If we like a whisky enough, we might start to build a collection around it (like say, Heartwood), or even start to stockpile a single type of bottle (the many GlenDronach 15yo bottles I have stashed away would suggest I'm guilty of this too...)

    It takes a special kind of whisky fan though to try a whisky, and say "Yep, I like that. I'll take a cask."
    (Note: cask, not case)

    That however is exactly what the Mr Andrew Derbidge of Sydney did recently, when presented with a sample of a 2007 First Fill ex-Sherry Glenfarclas (well, he took half the cask, but we're splitting hairs here - he still took 252 bottles!).

    As Director / Cellarmaster of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society Australia, long-time whisky writer, more recent whisky blogger, Glenfarclas tragic and all-round nice bloke, "AD" is probably Sydney's most well-known whisky personality, so it's fair to say he knows his way around a dram. Having shared many a dram with AD over the years (and tried many of his SMWS picks), I knew he had an excellent palate, so had no hesitation buying this before sampling it.

    ...and I'm glad I did.

    Glenfarclas 2007 "Whisky & Wisdom" (60.5% ABV, 9yo, Speyside, Scotland, $229AUD)
    Colour: Dark mahogany copper (or put more simply - "correct").

    Nose: Huge, rich Christmas cake and Brazil nuts. There are classic Oloroso sherry notes everywhere you look, but they're all incredibly "clean" - not a hint of sulphur, dustiness, or what have you. GlacĂ© cherries, fresh cherries, and even some macerated blueberries.

    Palate: Instantly, a massive, oily, warming (but not "hot") mouthfeel. This is every bit a Christmas (or winter) dram. There are walnuts, sherry-soaked raisins, Brazil nuts and loads of red berries. With a few drops of water, some humbugs and fresh laundry (a trait I often find on "clean" sherried whiskies - and this is one of the cleanest!)

    Finish: Long, vibrant, warming. Red berries, tobacco and raisins. With some water, a little herbal.

    Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. I'll be honest, whilst I've tried some excellent Glenfarclas releases (at least 8 I can recall over 30yo), it's a distillery whose core range, and younger whiskies I'm generally not hugely fond (give me a GlenDronach any day). This 'farclas however, is absolutely beautiful - showing an incredible amount of character, flavour and refinement for merely 9 years of age. Top pick, AD.

    Sidenote: I've shared this whisky with a lot of people (which probably explains why my bottle is now empty) - whisky fans and novices alike, including a few people who are definitely not used to whiskies above 43% ABV (let alone 60%+). Everyone has loved it, and more than one person has asked where they can buy a bottle. It's not often you find a whisky that appeals to whisky geeks and novices alike, but this one seems to. 

    The Whisky & Wisdom Glenfarclas is available for $229AUD from The Whisky Empire. Andrew's even offering a discount for the Christmas season (presumably because it makes a bloody good Christmas dram) - $25 off for Dram Full members. $204 for a whisky like this is, to be honest, a very good deal.


    Sunday, 18 December 2016

    Tasted #334 - 335: Teeling 13 Year Old "Revival II" and Teeling 24 Year Old Single Malt

    We've been pretty fortunate here at TimeforWhisky to try pretty much every major Teeling release that makes its way to Australia, and since it's launch in Hong Kong earlier this year, Hong Kong too.

    Teeling has taken off in a big way in Hong Kong this year, and that means more releases for HK, and more opportunities to sample those releases (without Teeling having to send them all the way from Australia, which they've kindly done on several occasions)!

    The latest releases to hit the Hong Kong market are the 24 year old Single Malt, and 13 year old "Revival II" (following on from Revival, tasted back in May), both of which I've just tasted this weekend.

    Teeling 24 Year Old Single Malt (46% ABV, 24yo, Dublin, Ireland, HK pricing TBC / AU pricing TBC / £220.78 ex-VAT)
    One of 5,000 bottles. Matured in ex-Bourbon barrels and married in ex-Sauternes casks.

    Colour: Light copper.

    Nose: Dusty, varnish/furniture polish. Leather. All those "old whisky" notes I love! There's also some cherry freshness, candied almonds, and blackcurrants. Lots of blackcurrants! Hugely perfumed - it noses a bit like an old Bowmore, minus the smoke.

    Palate: Massively creamy blackcurrant notes. Tropical notes too - grapes, mango. Oily mouthfeel, with lots of wine gum notes coming through after time too.

    Finish: Medium to long length, with notes of caramel and wine gums.

    Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. Probably the most unique Teeling I've tried, and up there with the most enjoyable!

    Teeling 13 Year Old "Revival II" (46% ABV, 13yo, Dublin, Ireland, HK pricing TBC / AU pricing TBC / £83.29 ex-VAT)
    Aged for 12 years in ex-Bourbon barrels and finished for 12 months in ex-Calvados casks.One of 5,000 bottles. Matured in ex-Bourbon barrels and married in ex-Sauternes casks.

    Colour: Vibrant yellow straw.

    Nose: Big tropical fruits - mango, guava. Vanilla and strawberry-flavoured bubblegum. Some green apple.

    Palate: Spice and oak initially, then the tropical notes come through - green apple, big pepper and some milk chocolate. The effects of the Calvados finishing are subtle but noticeable.

    Finish: Long, slightly tannic (though not unpleasantly so), with some mango and orange chocolate at the end.

    Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 89/100. An enjoyable, easy-drinking and quintessential Teeling...with a twist.

    Thanks as always to Teeling Whiskey Co and Summergate Fine Wines & Spirits for the samples.


    Saturday, 17 December 2016

    Tasted #332 - 333: Highland Park 25 and Highland Park 40 Year Old

    Highland Park's "Ice" may have been the focus of its recent launch in Hong Kong, but there were a few other drams fighting for the limelight that week too - namely the Highland Park 25 year old, and Highland Park 40 year old. Having tried the 30 year old a few years ago, I was happy to be able to finally sample its older and younger siblings (and not spend over £200 for the privilege!)

    Highland Park 40 Year Old (48.3% ABV, 40yo, Orkney, Scotland, $21,800HKD / Not currently available in Australia / £1,996 ex-VAT)
    Colour: Dark orange copper.

    Nose: Honey-drizzled orange slices. Papaya. Perfumed oak. Marmalade on toast.

    Palate: More citrus - whole oranges dipped in Dark Chocolate. Hugely perfumed. Floral spice, leather, oak - lots going on here. Honey and the slightest hint of earthy peat.

    Finish: Soft honey smoke that lingers, and lingers, and lingers (and you're very glad it does).

    Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 94/100. Just beautiful. 

    Highland Park 25 Year Old (45.7% ABV, 25yo, Orkney, Scotland, $4,200HKD / Not currently available in Australia£280.42 ex-VAT)
    Colour: Golden toffee.

    Nose: Honey, toffee, roasted chestnuts. Nutty pie with a sugary centre. 

    Palate: Rich, warming honey drizzled over waffles. Chewy toffee. Slightly leather / furniture polish notes. There's a slightly smokey earthiness - a hint of earthy peat. It's one of those drams that has a lot of characteristics of an old, well-matured whisky - the sort of notes you never, ever see on younger whiskies.

    Finish: Long and earthy. Oak and leather. Beautiful.

    Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 94/100. The 30yo is a lovely dram, I prefer the 25, which I'd put on equal footing with the 40.


    Friday, 16 December 2016

    Highland Park Ice Launch Tasting & Lunch in Hong Kong (Tasted #331)

    It may have been released all the way back in February of this year, but Edrington Hong Kong were so busy with other launches in 2016 (Edition No.2Double Cask 12yo and the incredible 65yo in Lalique to name a few), that Ice was put on the backburner. Not to worry though - good things always come to those who wait, and this month Hong Kong finally got its taste of "Ice".

    Focusing on the creation (with "Ice") and destruction (with "Fire") of Earth, the series follows on from the hugely successful "Valhalla Series", which concluded with 2015's "Odin". Interestingly, this series will only have the two bottles - there won't be a "wind" (although I'm not sure what style of whisky "wind" would have been anyway - an empty bottle perhaps?!)

    Whilst the HK release may have been delayed, it was certainly no less impressive than we've come to expect from Edrington, with Highland Park's Senior Brand Ambassador Martin Markvardsen flying out for a series of events over the course of a week.

    Our first taste of Ice came not during the official media launch, but during a public tasting held at SAFE Bubbles & Malt (which features in our list of Hong Kong's Top Whisky Bars). A few weeks earlier I'd seen a tasting advertised on Facebook, for the very reasonable sum of about $300HKD (~$53AUD). That might sound about right for a tasting, but check out the lineup...
    • Highland Park 40 Years Old
    • Highland Park 30 Years Old
    • Highland Park 25 Years Old
    • Highland Park Ice Edition
    • Highland Park 18 Years Old
    • Highland Park Dark Origins
    It's not every day you get to try a 40yo Highland Park, but to do so with all those others, led by the distillery's global brand ambassador, for $300HKD? I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear it sold out in a matter of hours...

    As a host Martin was the consummate professional, infusing his incredible Highland Park knowledge and love with stories from his years working for the brand (in roles ranging from floor malting to his current position), and always making sure guests were having a good time (we were - did you see the line-up above?!)

    Martin talked us through a few interesting facts about the distillery and its Orkney home, like the minimal angels' share (0.5-1% each year), their use of "Tartan Barley" for 5 weeks every year, and the fact that if Scotland voted "Yes" in their 2014 independence referendum, Norway would have legally had the right to "buy back" Orkney - and intended to exercise that right!

    Of course as interesting as those facts were, we were there to try the whiskies, and Martin wasted no time in letting us get into them.

    Having tried the 18 year old, Dark Origins and 30 year old before, it was the Ice, 25 year old and 40 year old I was most interested in. I'll save the 25 and 40yo for another post, and focus on the Ice here.

    Highland Park "Ice" Edition (53.9% ABV, 17yo, One of 30,000 bottles, Orkney, Scotland, $2,880HKD£158.33 ex-VAT)
    Matured in 100% first-fill Bourbon hogsheads with virgin, un-charred cask ends.

    Colour: Light yellow gold. 

    Nose: Light at first. Some bananas, a hint of mint. Then freshly cut grass. Tropical notes follow - mostly green apples and papaya.

    Palate: It's tropical, but there's also a fair amount of spicy vanillin. Then there's mint again, and a treacle-like sweetness that emerges - honey-drizzled pineapple actually!

    Finish: Long, spicy, with subtle hints of earth-laden smoke. I wouldn't call it BBQ smoke, but there is a little grilled pineapple towards the end.

    Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. After a lot of hype, and a lot of comments (both good and bad) online, after finally tasting it, I can confidently say it's a sold dram - one that meets the hype.

    Later that week, Edrington held a media lunch to launch Ice, at Eaton House in Central. Over a 3 course lunch we heard more of Martin's years with the distillery, and tasted Dark Origins, 25 year old and of course Ice, paired with a menu from Eaton House's caterers.

    Crab Cake with Salad paired well with Dark Origins, bringing out some really interesting fruity, yet nutty notes which weren't evident in the whisky when sampled neat. 

    Short Ribs stew with red wine reduction, seasonable vegetables and brown rice followed, paired with Ice. The pairing was fine, but I used this as another opportunity to try Ice on its own (and found I enjoyed it just as much as the first time).

    Chocolate truffle cake came last, paired with the 25 year old. As the 25 was my equal favourite dram of the core range (equal with the 40), I was more than happy to enjoy that one on its own. Detailed tasting notes on both the 25 and 40 year olds will follow this post.

    Edrington certainly went all out for their last launch of the year, and it was great to finally try Ice. A big thanks to Edrington and Lee Wolter PR (again). We can't wait to see what 2017 has in store!