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,

Sunday, 20 December 2020

Glenmorangie's "A Tale of Cake" [Tasted #508]

For several years, Glenmorangie released an annual "Private Edition" - a fun, interesting release which didn't break the bank and you could (most likely) get your hands on. We talked about why this was a good thing for whisky last year when "Allta" was released, and prior to that we covered most of the Private Editions over the years - including 2013's Ealanta, 2014's Companta, 2015's Tùsail, 2016's Milsean, 2017's Bacalta and 2018's Spios.

Whilst the "Private Edition" series ended last year with Allta, you could argue its spirit lives on in "A Tale of Cake" - 2020's Limited Release Glenmorangie. As with several of the Private Editions, "A Tale of Cake" is the work of mastermind Dr Bill Lumsden (Glenmorangie's Director of Whisky Creation), and involved standard bourbon-matured 10yo Glenmorangie Original being finished in a new / interesting / unique type of cask - in this case, Hungarian Tokaji casks, formerly holding the sweet dessert wine hailing from the Tokaj region of Hungary. For Aussie readers unfamiliar with Tokaji wines, they're made using grapes infected with Noble rot fungus (Botrytis cinerea), not dissimilar to the Hunter Valley's Botrytis Semillon dessert wines.

As you might imagine, these are pretty sweet wines, and so you can expect the casks would impart a similar profile to the whisky (although Glenmorangie don't specify for how long the whisky was finished this time).

Let's dive in an see then shall we?

Glenmorangie "A Tale of Cake" (46% ABV, OB, NAS, Highlands, Scotland, $1050HKD$169.99AUD)
Colour: Yellow gold.

Nose: Sweet* - sherbet, gummy bears, lots of orchard fruits, maple syrup, vanilla and tinned peaches.

Palate: Initially sweet with a slight minerality, and strawberry shortbread, peach tart and a hint of nuttiness. After time a bit of oak shines through.

Finish: Long and nutty, with some residual oak at the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. I was worried this would be too sweet for my palate, but I needn't have. It's sweet, sure, but there's plenty of other notes going on, and plenty to enjoy. I'd say on the whole, a bit less sweet than 2016's Milsean.
*Yes I know, technically you can't "smell sweet"...

So, another winner from Glenmorangie. Great on its own, but also worth trying in this cocktail ("Caketail") developed in partnership with bartender Jeremy Le Blanche:

The Cake Old Fashioned
  • 50 ml Glenmorangie A Tale of Cake
  • 7.5 ml coconut water
  • 7.5 ml pineapple syrup [no details on how to make this, but Google has some suggestions]
  • 1 dash Peychaud’s bitters
  • 1 pinch black pepper
Method: Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a rocks glass over block/  cubed ice.
Garnish with a twist of orange zest and a walnut.

Thanks to MHDHK who, in the interests of full disclosure, provided this bottle for review.


Wednesday, 16 December 2020

A bounty of single cask 1960s and 1970s Glenrothes from The Last Drop Distillers [Tasted #501 - 507]

As mentioned in my recent post on The Last Drop Distillers' 56yo Blended Whisky, there were a few more samples included in the package along with the blend...and by "a few" I mean 7 individual cask samples of 1968, 1969 and 1970 Glenrothes!

Ordinarily I'd be happy to dive into all of them myself, but I'd been treated to some particularly nice whiskies from Kam at Dram Good Stuff lately, including our 500th whisky tasted on, so I thought I'd share the love a bit.

Bottled in 2018 (1968), 2019 (1969) and 2020 (1970), the whiskies were all (give or take) 50 years old, and in the case of the 1969 and 1970, were from casks filled on the same day. It's not often you get to try whiskies filled on the same day and matured side-by-side for ~50 years!

Detailed tasting notes were included (some from Charlie Maclean, some from a bloke in a hat...), which made for interesting reading, but really, we were keen to taste for ourselves, so wasting no time, Kam and I got stuck in...


The Last Drop 1968 Glenrothes (cask #13504) (51.2% ABV, 49yo, IB, 1968-2018, 1 of 168 bottles, Speyside, Scotland)

Tasted by Martin
Colour: Golden amber.
Nose: Fruity and floral, after time, hints of paprika, pineapple and pot pourri. Old cigar box and interestingly, raspberry coulis!
Palate: Big and zesty - flamed orange peel, followed by an almost BBQ meatiness. Oak shows, but doesn't dominate.
Finish: Long oak tannins emerge, coated in orange wafts of smoke.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100.

The Last Drop 1968 Glenrothes (cask #13508) (50.2% ABV, 49yo, IB, 1968-2018, 1 of 141 bottles, Speyside, Scotland)
Tasted by Kam

Nose: Very complex, light sweet smoke infused herbs, lovely minerality .. more sweet smoke with faint floral notes, almond oil, hints of mint (beeswax in the glass when empty )
Palate: Full mouthfeel - spicy and grassy simultaneously, slight bitter tobacco towards the end
Finish: Medium length.
Rating: 92/100.


The Last Drop 1969 Glenrothes (cask #16207) (47.1% ABV, IB, 1969-2019, 1 of 141 bottles, Speyside, Scotland)

Tasted by Martin
Colour: Orange sunset.
Nose: Green apple, kiwifruit, banana leaves, rockmelon, overripe bananas, with a hint of sandalwood and honey after time.
Palate: More muted than 1968 #13504, but with more sherry and oak. Rich treacle, old wood, lacquer, cherry, with a chewier, oily, viscous mouthfeel. A hint of mint rounds things out.
Finish: Mint and basil, old oak, leather. Medium in length.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100.

The Last Drop 1969 Glenrothes (cask #16203) (46.3% ABV, 49yo, IB, 1969-2019, 1 of 130 bottles, Speyside, Scotland)
Tasted by Kam

Nose: Vibrant with lots of fruit; banana, honeydew melon … grassy herbaceousness, citrus (lime) and hints of raspberry… faint charred oak, cedar chips and almond oil
Palate: Gentle mouthfeel that instantly dries the cheeks, mild spices, nuttiness and honey
Finish: Long but muted.


The Last Drop 1970 Glenrothes (cask #10586) (45.3% ABV, IB, 1970-2020, 1 of 103 bottles, Speyside, Scotland)

Tasted by Martin
Colour: Yellow gold.
Nose: Spiced fruit - spiced apple tart, kiwifruit with lemon drizzle. A little heat.
Palate: Banana chews, menthol drops, toffee chews. Slightly "thinner" than the others, with notes of apple, pear and kiwifruit.
Finish: Medium to long length, retaining the previous fruitiness - kiwifruit and nectarines. Old oak cask notes towards the end.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100.

The Last Drop 1970 Glenrothes (cask #10588) (44.1% ABV, IB, 1970-2020, 1 of 87 bottles, Speyside, Scotland)

Tasted by Martin
Colour: Yellow gold
Nose: Furniture polish, cigar box, sweet vanilla, then rich, creamy chocolate ice cream.
Palate: Spicy, slightly earthy smoke, grassy, with caramel fudge richness coming through after time. Oily, sandalwood hints and chocolate-coated caramel (Fantails). Residual oak notes.
Finish: Medium to long, with sweet toffee fudge, tobacco, mint and grass.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. Complex - quite a mixed bag, but it works, well.

The Last Drop 1970 Glenrothes (cask #10589) (45.0% ABV, IB, 1970-2020, 1 of 96 bottles, Speyside, Scotland)
Tasted by Kam

Nose: Open freshness with summer fruits; guava, peaches .. lots of coconut, shea butter hand cream, hint of sea air.
Palate: Explosive with tastes matching up perfectly with the aromatic notes… warming and full mouthfeel, hints of peaches, almond oil.. mild bitterness at the very end…
Finish: Long and luxurious.

It's not easy to try whiskies this old and rare these days, but to taste so many casks (in some cases filled on the same day) side by side was a real treat - a huge thanks to The Last Drop Distillers!


Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Tasted #500: Port Ellen 40yo 1979 "Prima & Ultima"

When I started this blog over 8 years ago, I didn't really know where it would lead, but it's fair to say I didn't expect that after all this time it would still be running with regular updates, spanning two countries and with two writers. I also didn't expect we'd ever see a 500th tasting post either, and yet here we are!

Over the years I've tried to keep the "100s" posts for special drams. #200 was a 60yo Glenfarclas#300 was a 65yo Macallan#400 was a 50yo OB Balvenie...and for this 500th post, I was fortunate enough to try a 40 Year Old Port Ellen from Diageo's recent "Prima & Ultima" range, which in some ways seems to have picked up the mantle from the Special Releases (themselves becoming a bit more accessible - no bad thing, mind you). 


You don't say no to a Port Ellen, and whilst they're not all deserving of the hype, this one bottled from a single refill European Oak Butt, and matured for 40 years from 1979-2019, certainly filled me with a lot of hope. Thankfully, my hope was justified.

Port Ellen 40yo 1979 "Prima & Ultima" (51.2% ABV, 40yo, OB, 1979-2019, Cask #6422, Islay)


Colour: Rich deep amber gold.

Nose: Lemons at first, then a grassy herbaceousness. A hint of mint? Subtle salty smoke, leading to seaweed and finally hints of an old cigar box.

Palate: The smoke comes through stronger on the palate - BBQ smoke, followed by orange wheels and an explosion of meatiness. Quite different to the much more subdued nose, this was chewy, viscous and "big". Dried fruits, chocolate, smoked seaweed all feature too.

Finish: Long, with sea salted peanuts, followed by charcuterie and a residual longing BBQ smoke at the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. What an experience.

A humungous thanks to Kam of Dram Good Stuff for the taste of this. Whilst they don't currently have this bottle listed, they do have another OB 1979 40yo Port Ellen available if this one has whetted your appetite!


Friday, 13 November 2020

Macallan Edition No.6 Hong Kong Launch [Tasted #499]

The Macallan "Edition" series has become a pretty monumental one for the whisky collecting community. What started 6 years ago with a ~$700HKD release (which some instantly dismissed as just another NAS) has gone onto become a highly sought-after series, with Edition No.1 now fetching almost $13,000HKD at auction (more importantly though, it was a good whisky).

The events hosted by Edrington HK have been equally monumental too, in particular the Edition No.2 launch dinner at VEAEdition No.3 launch party with Roja Dove & Edition No.4 lunch to celebrate the new distillery (my luck ran out with Edition No.5 - I was out of town).

..and then just a few weeks ago, the party came to an end, with the launch of Edition No.6.

Celebrating the River Spey, which runs through the distillery estate and serves as the water source for all Macallan whisky, Edition No.6 was launched in HK at a series of lunches and dinners held at K11 Musea. Hosted by the ever-knowledgable Patricia Byott (Brand Ambassador for The Macallan HK and Macau), the aquatic-themed room saw diners at appropriately socially-distanced tables enjoy a 4 course meal paired with, for a change, three cocktails (all made with Edition No.6), followed by a neat serving of Edition No.6. 

With dishes including Scallop, Sea Bass and Crab, there was a clear theme to the event, which was further emphasised when the neat drams of Edition No.6 were handed out, and the curtains opened to reveal a fishing set up on the "banks" of Victoria Harbour.


As per tradition, The Macallan give a little more detail on the box for Edition No.6 than most of their core range, so we know that this release is comprised of a number of cask styles including:
  • American Oak Tevasa butts
  • Euopean Oak JMM hogsheads
  • European Oak Tevasa butts and hogsheads
  • European and American Oak refill butts; and
  • American Oak Vasyma butts
(Butts make up 74% of the whisky, hogsheads the other 26%)

Bottled at 48.6% ABV, the whisky retails for $1,103HKD and is available now. Whilst the exact outturn isn't known, with 393 casks in the vatting, this release seems to be a bit smaller than the previous releases, with the exception of Edition No.1 and perhaps No.2. If you're thinking of grabbing one, probably best to do so sooner rather than later.


The Macallan Edition No.6 (48.6% ABV, NAS, Speyside, $1,103HKD)


Colour: Caramel gold.

Nose: Ginger, orange, notes of oak, raisins and dark chocolate. So far, so good!

Palate: Rich creamy caramel, then spicy orange zest and vanilla cream. Toffee and cinnamon, then a bit more ginger.

Finish: Long, and "robustly sherried" - cigar box, earth-imbued oak.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. Happily, a fantastic end to the series - on par with #1, which was probably my favourite of the series (though now they've all been released, I would like to do a side-by-side comparison of all of them!)


Monday, 9 November 2020

Tasted #498: Port Askaig 2001 Specially Bottled for Whiskies & More

One of the benefits, I imagine, of being an importer/distributor of some of the world's best-loved Independent Bottlings is that when you want to release a special bottling to celebrate an anniversary or similar, you have a few friends you can call on.

That's been particularly evident with HK-based Whiskies & More (Timeless & Tasty) who represent brands such as Asta Morris, Port Askaig, WM Cadenhead, Hidden Spirits, Elements of Islay, Single Malts of Scotland, A.D. Rattray and Blackadder, and over the years have released special bottlings specifically for their anniversaries and HK whisky events (like this Glenlossie 10yo bottled for HK Whisky Festival).

With their 4th Anniversary just past, a special bottling was called for, and that call was answered in the form of this beautiful Port Askaig 2001, bottled after 17 years in a sherry butt at a respectable 53.4% ABV.

Many readers will probably know that a lot of Port Askaig (a brand under Elixir Distillers, part of The Whisky Exchange family) is actually Caol Ila...but not always. This represents the "other" side of Port Askaig..and I believe to be from the same distillery as the 45 Year Old (hint: like this release, their whisky is often unpeated. Further hint: Check the labels on this post...).

Whiskies & More were kind enough to send through a sample recently...and let's face it - you don't say no to a single cask 17yo Islay whisky fully matured in a sherry butt, right?

Port Askaig 2001 Specially Bottled for Whiskies & More (53.4% ABV, 17yo, Islay, $1,880HKD)


Colour: Deep copper orange.

Nose: Clean, sweet candied walnuts, glacé cherries, rasins and some leather. With a few drops of water, a but more nutty, a bit more perfumed.

Palate: Sweet, viscous and intense. Hints of mango and peach, then a nuttiness (almonds, walnuts), and slight hints of spice.

Finish: Long, very creamy with some sweet fruity spice lingering right to the end.

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


Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Highland Park Cask Strength - Hong Kong launch [Tasted #495 - 497]

It's been a "long time between drinks" when it comes to whisky events in HK (for obvious reasons, of course). With the COVID caseloads being relatively low for the past month or so however, it's been nice to see a new style of launch event able to emerge - smaller gatherings with appropriate social distancing. Wasting no time in this space was Edrington HK, who recently launched the new Highland Park Cask Strength with a series of small tastings held in a suite at Rosewood Hong Kong, overlooking Victoria Harbour.

Building on the success of the Single Cask series (of which there have been a few for Hong Kong), the new Cask Strength sees the whisky bottled without any dilution, and is set to be a part of the core lineup, albeit in various batches - this being Release 1.

Whisky maker Gordon Motion (whom we met back in August last year in Taipei) created the whisky from "predominantly sherry seasoned American oak casks of different ages" and judging by not just my notes, but those of others in the room, some of those casks must have had a reasonable amount of age. Highland Park are deliberately inviting whisky drinkers to "choose their strength" with this release, and with 63.3% ABV on tap, there's plenty of room for experimentation.

Our tasting was accompanied by some perfectly-matched canapés, along with the 12yo and 21yo for good measure...but really it was the Cask Strength everyone was most keen to try.

Highland Park Cask Strength Release 1 (63.3% ABV, NAS, Orkney, $625HKD, £54.75) 


Colour: Vibrant yellow gold.

Nose: Sweet at first (although as our ever-helpful host Ron Taylor taught us, you can't actually "smell" sweet) - boiled lollies, desiccated coconut, pears. No prickliness, despite the high ABV and what I'd wrongly assumed would be a relatively young age.

Palate: Big and mouth-coating as you'd expect - ginger, orange, then a slightly earthen smokiness emerges, but surprisingly approachable. "Big", but not "brash". I'd honestly have no hesitation giving this to a whisky newcomer! There's some toffee too. With a few drops of water, a meatiness appears, the smoke intensifies slightly, and there's citrus (orange) that becomes evident.

Finish: Follows the palate with incredible length.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. "Big", but not at all harsh - much more approachable, and much more mature than I'd expected. A very good dram, especially for $625HKD.

Highland Park 12 Year Old (40% ABV, 12yo, Orkney, $490HKD, £29.95) 


Colour: Yellow gold.

Nose: Floral spice, honey, wafts of earthy-smoke and candied ginger.

Palate: Vanilla, ginger spice, whole oranges and that same earthy smoke, but with floral hints.

Finish: Medium in length, with hints of caramel towards the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. Still a solid dram, as it's always been over the years.

Highland Park 21 Year Old (2019 Edition) (46% ABV, 21yo, Orkney, $2,300HKD, £209.95) 


Colour: Orange-brown gold.

Nose: Paprika spice, gingerbread, sea-salted smoke.

Palate: Complex - sweet and savoury, with BBQ smoke, orange chocolate, salted caramel and dry rub.

Finish: Orange chocolate, coconut, medium to long in length.

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

I'll admit that going into the event, I expected the Cask Strength to be a little on the young, and possibly harsher side (especially given the 63.3% ABV), but it's not at all. Here's a rare cask strength whisky from a respected distillery which is available, good value, approachable, and delicious. That's a lot of boxes ticked in my opinion!

Highland Park Cask Strength is available now across UK and HK retailers.