Saturday, 15 July 2017

Gaucho Hong Kong & Glenmorangie Whisky Pairing Dinner

We've attended a fair few whisky pairing dinners lately - spanning every cuisine from Nordic to Cantonese, to Modern Australian. One cuisine we haven't historically seen paired with whisky however is Argentinian, especially Argentinian steak.

Gaucho Hong Kong are keen to change that, having recently collaborated with Glenmorangie to introduce 4 course whisky and Agentinian pairing dinners. As the experts in Argentinian cuisine (and in my personal opinion, one of the best steak restaurants in HK), it's great to see them branching out into whisky, and challenging the perception that steak should always be paired with red wine.

Over a deliciously simple arrival cocktail made from Glenmorangie The Original and lemonade (perfect for the stifling hot evening outside), guests met each other and mingled with our host for the night (and good friend of TimeforWhisky) Eddie Nara.

After some chat (and OK, maybe a second of those cocktails...) we took our seats and inspected the menu. Opening with a seafood starter, the menu quickly became meat-focused (as you might expect at an Argentinian steakhouse), with beef back ribs followed by Ancho (rib-eye).

As a whisky man with serious wine credentials (IWSC judge and WSET-certified), Eddie was coming from a position of authority when he told us that sometimes whiskies can actually be easier to pair with food than wine - and explained how Glenmorangie actually made a great whisky for pairing dinners. With the standard expression (The Original 10yo), serving as the baseline, most of the expressions (LasantaQuinta Ruban etc..) then build on that baseline through cask finishes which lend themselves to pairing with various dishes.

It made a lot of sense, and set the tone for what was to be a delicious and enjoyable pairing dinner.

First course, Salmon Tiradito was paired with Glenmorangie The Original 10yo, which made a deliciously fruity match - the passionfruit and mango in the dish especially highlighting the fruitier, almost tropical notes in the 10yo.

Our second course, Braised Beef Back Ribs was glazed in a hoisin and chilli orange sauce, with fresh orange and pickled chillies. Chilli in dishes can always be a bit hit-and-miss when it comes to pairing with whisky, but this was expertly done, with the dish elevating the citrus notes in the sherry-finished Glenmorangie Lasanta 12yo (or maybe that was the other way around)? Either way, another winning combination.

As our third course was being served, Eddie introduced Head Chef Eggi Enkh-Amgalan to talk us through the pairings, and the next dish - Ancho (or "Ribeye" as most would know it). Highlighting the delicate marbling, Eddie Chef Eggi explained the Glenmorangie 18yo Extremely Rare made a logical pairing choice, as both offer delicate flavours unlikely to unbalance the other.

Right they were too. Steak and whisky might seem like a logical combination, but it does take the right whisky to make it really work - and the right whisky in this case was definitely the 18yo.

Finally came (surprisingly enough) dessert. Blue cheese and whiskey brownie might seem like an easy pairing, but that shouldn't detract from the fact that the port-finished 12yo Quinta Ruban was a perfect pairing. Then again, as a lover of port-matured and finished whiskies, I might be slightly biased...

As Glenmorangie dinners often do, the night ended with a dram of the Glenmorangie Signet. Whilst I still find this a delicious dram, I can't help but think the latest batches don't quite have the magic of the bottle I first tried in 2009. Still a beautiful whisky though.

Hong Kongers are becoming more and more interested in whisky, and pairing dinners are a great way to introduce newcomers to the joys of whisky, whilst still offering something for long-standing fans. It's great to see Gaucho introducing their own pairing dinners, and when high quality Argentinian steak is your base, why wouldn't you?!

This pairing menu has now finished, but as we understand it will act as a prelude to more whisky pairings and events held at which I say, bring it on!

Martin. attended as guests of Gaucho Hong Kong. A big thanks must go to Gaucho, Eddie, Chef Eggi and Prime PR.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Diageo "Classic Malts" Hong Kong launch dinner (Tasted #361-366)

Recently Steph and I had the pleasure of attending a dinner to celebrate the official launch of sixteen new Diageo Single Malts in Hong Kong, including six classic Malts like Lagavulin 16, Caol Ila 12 and Oban 14, along with ten 2016 special releases (many of which we enjoyed in Singapore last year, and again in Sydney earlier this year). We can get caught up in tasting some crazy, old, rare and vintage whiskies on this blog from time to time (see our Instagram for regular updates of what we're drinking), so it was nice to take a step back and revisit some of the whiskies that got me into whisky in the first place (Dalwhinnie 15yo for example was the first single malt I ever bought, and Oban was the first distillery I ever visited).

..hold on, you might be thinking. A launch for whiskies like the Lagavlun 16 and Caol Ila 12?! Haven't they been in HK for years? Well yes, but until now - not officially!

Held at Ah Yat Harbour View restaurant in Causeway Bay, the dinner was hosted by the affable Donald Colville, a man who carries the enviable title of Diageo's "Global Malts Ambassador". With six Classic Malts and two Special Releases, paired with an 8 course meal all presented by Donald, we were expecting an enjoyable night, and we certainly weren't disappointed. 

Opening with Glenkinchie 12yo (paired with Lo Shui goose liver with pork belly), Donald explained we would be traversing Scotland throughout the course of the dinner - starting in the Lowlands. To be honest, I've never been a huge fan of Lowland whiskies, but I did enjoy the 24yo Glenkinchie Special Release a few months earlier) so I was happy to try the 12yo again.

Glenkinchie 12 (43% ABV, 12yo, Lowlands, Scotland, $798HKD / £31.19 ex-VAT)
Colour: Yellow amber.
Nose: Light, floral and citrusy - lemon mostly.
Palate: Light and fruity. Pears, lemon, and some honey. Youthful but by no means harsh.
Finish: Short length, with a slight citrus acidity.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 86/100. 

A nice enough dram (especially on a summers' day), and a great match with the pork belly (each lifting the flavours in the other), but not a whisky I'd choose over others if drinking neat.

After the introductory course, Donald gave us a little background into his path to whisky, which seemed to have been written from birth, given his family owned two Campbelltown distilleries, and his Great Grandfather actually traded whisky with Alexander Walker (son of "the" Johnnie Walker)! When you hear of someone having a family history like that, coupled with their obvious love of Scotch whisky, it's hard to think of a better person to hold the title "Global Malts Ambassador".

Next was Dalwhinnie 15yo, paired with Baked stuffed crab shell. Describing the new make Dalwhinnie spirit as "sulphury and sharp", Donald explained how time in oak tamed these notes whilst leaving a big, bold and flavoursome whisky.

Dalwhinnie 15 (43% ABV, 15 yo, Highlands, Scotland, $780HKD / £31.19 ex-VAT)
Colour: Golden yellow.

Nose: Big rich fruity sherry. Apple, pear, nectarine, and rich fruitcake.
Palate: Bold, rich and viscous. Nutty, sweet, cherries and toffee.
Finish: Long, caramel/toffee, malty.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. 

I was very pleased to see that even though this was the first single malt I ever bought, back in 2007 or so, I found it even more enjoyable that I did all those years ago. It was also a great match for the crab - each had big bold flavours and they bounced off each other brilliantly.

Next on the menu was the first of the Special Releases for the night - Mannochmore 25. I won't repeat the tasting notes as I tasted it in Singapore last year, but this as my highlight dram of the night. Paired with Braised whole abalone with Goose web and Chinese lettuce, it can't have been an easy match, but it held up well. Given how enjoyable this dram was on its own though, I found myself saving it for after the course.

We moved over to Speyside next, for the Cragganmore 12, paired with Deep fried yellow croaker. Donald explained how Cragganmore's still design (with its flat lyne arm) introduces complexity as the spirit hits the top of the arm, falling back down during distillation, and that complexity was certainly evident in both Cragganmores we tasted.

Cragganmore 12 (40% ABV, 12 yo, Speyside, Scotland, $480HKD / £30.28 ex-VAT)
Colour: Yellow gold.

Nose: Light, floral, with hints of toffee and stone fruits.
Palate: Youthful, but with definite complexity. A mixture of walnuts, cherries, honey and toffee.
Finish: Medium length, meaty but also sweet.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 88/100. 

Next was the only NAS of the night...and also the most expensive bottling tasted. The Cragganmore Limited Release (Special Release 2016) was clearly popular, as (by the time I got my hands on it a second time for the photo below) it was all gone. NAS it may be, but we were reliably informed it contained whisky from 8-9 years, right up to "older than Donald". Unfortunately I couldn't tell you how old that actually is...but judging by the complexity in the whisky, a decent age! Tasting notes can be found in my Sydney tasting post.

Over to Oban next, for the classic Oban 14, paired with Stewed oxtail w/homemade sauce and red wine. Like Dalwhinnie, Oban also holds a special place in my whisky history, as the first distillery I ever visited (I also remember having some fantastic fish and chips near the distillery)!

Oban 14 (43% ABV, 14yo, Highlands, Scotland, $760HKD / £39.86 ex-VAT)
Colour: Orange gold.

Nose: Sea spray soaked oranges.
Palate: Fried scallops, sea air, salted fish and chips. One of those drams that transports you somewhere instantly - for me, to that little fish and chip stall right near the distillery. 
Finish: Medium to long in length, with some salt-cured meat and slight oak tannins
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. Even better than I remember.

This was seriously delicious
Nearing the end of the meal, it was time to take a trip down to peat town - firstly with Talisker 10. An old favourite that I hadn't revisited for a while, I'd heard some people claim the "new stuff" wasn't as good as the "old stuff". Thankfully, for me, with this bottle at least, that wasn't the case, and it was just as good as I'd remembered. Paired with Ah Yat Signature Fried Rice, the saltiness in both the rice and the whisky complimented each other well. 

Talisker 10 (45.8% ABV, 10 yo, Isle of Skye, Scotland, $508HKD / £31.19 ex-VAT)
Colour: Golden

Nose: Salty seasalt-laden oak, slight smoke, cherries. Seaweed,
Palate: More sea air, some caramel, a meatiness, and a noticeable amount of peat smoke which wasn't as evident on the nose.
Finish: Long, salty and malty.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. 

The last dram of the night, paired with an incredible Baked sago pudding with black truffle and lotus seed cream was (both predictably and delightfully) Lagavulin 16. A perennial favourite, I'll admit I was surprised to learn that it had never been officially imported into HK (especially considering it's available in my local supermarket). Regardless, it's good to know it is know officially available, and if that means we'll see more of it - that can only be a good thing.

Lagavulin 16 (43% ABV, 16yo, Islay, Scotland, $980HKD / £39.96 ex-VAT)
Colour: Copper brown.

Nose: Earthy smoke with tinges of sherry sweetness. Iodine notes abound, in a wonderful way.
Palate: Big BBQ meaty notes, lots of seaweed, fishnets, and seaside smoke. Plenty of sherry notes underneath all that peatsmoke too.
Finish: Long, spicy and peaty, with a touch of vanilla.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. Fantastic to see this is still an excellent dram after all those years, and it has to be said - a really, really good match with the sago pudding (although I think it matched best with the black truffle inside the pudding).

One thing this dinner highlighted for me was not only how versatile the Classic Malts range is (evidenced by the incredibly wide range of dishes they were paired with), but also how enjoyable they are on their own. The Dalwhinnie 15yo especially brought back memories (and was even better than I remembered), and Lagavulin 16 continues to be an absolutely world-class dram.


A huge thanks to Moët Hennessy Diageo HK for a fantastic dinner, and a great trip down memory lane. The Diageo Classic Malts range is now available from all good whisky retailers in HK, whilst the Special Releases range is available from Moët Hennessy Diageo HK directly.


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Toast the Macallan Australia, and the Macallan Double Cask 12 (Tasted #360)

The Macallan has had its fair share of moments over the past years, be it in Australia or in Hong Kong, with its various releases and events. The recent auction of The Macallan Lalique Legacy Collection; a collection of six rare Macallans made news globally when it sold for an incredible $993,000 USD at a charity auction. This was followed recently by the launch of the sixth official Masters of of Photography release which saw whisky from the post war 1940s / 1950s era blended with Macallan aged in ex-Rioja wine cask (see Martin's write-up from the HK launch here).

The prestige of the brand and the style of The Macallan has always drawn people to discussions on aged vs NAS, luxury vs affordable and old vs new (as commented by Andrew Derbridge in his Whisky & Wisdom article; The past, present and future collide) etc...

Nevertheless, the launch of The Macallan Double Cask 12yo in Australia this month has excited people once more and may mark the re-invigoration of aged Macallan malt in Australia since the 1824 series was last released in 2013. Speaking to Sietse Offringa, Global Brand Ambassador for The Macallan at the Toast the Macallan pop up dining earlier this month - he certainly shared a view that Australia is a market that Macallan has its eyes on, and we will have to watch this space for more exciting releases from The Macallan - perhaps Edition 3?!

The launch celebration saw the establishment of a pop up dining event series across both Brisbane and Sydney, dubbed 'Toast the Macallan' - Led by premium marketing and distribution company, Spirits Platform. The event was Spirits Platform’s first marketing initiative since its partnership with Edrington (which will see the company distributing The MacallanHighland ParkThe Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark in the Australian market) started in April 2017.

The event featured whisky tasting masterclasses led by Sietse and a three course menu curated by James Viles of Bowral's two hatted restaurant; Biota Dining. James Viles commented on his excitement to have worked with The Macallan to curate the menu, which saw a series of dishes that complemented three Macallan expressions, including the Fine Oak 12 Years Old, Double Cask 12 Years Old and the Macallan Rare Cask.

We joined the Sydney celebration and attended the pop up event held at Roslyn Packer Theatre, Walsh Bay. Upon arrival guests were presented with the opportunity to have their photos taken as well as savour a couple of Macallan cocktails - Fine Oak Copa and the Double Cask Old Fashioned.

The Roslyn Packer Theatre had been transformed to reflect the opulent nature of The Macallan and the special 'Toast the Macallan' occasion. Macallan bottles were plastered across the theatre wall and there was even an appearance by the Macallan that had been dubbed as the most expensive whisky in the world; The Macallan 'M Decanter' whisky from the 1824 Series. Unfortunately, there was no tasting of the M on the night though Sietse did bring it out for photos when we chatted with him on the night.

Led by James Viles, the selection of dishes were impeccably curated and paired. James introduced each dish, paired with a Macallan which Sietse would introduce.

The Fine Oak 12 was paired with an entree of smoked kingfish loin and showcased the marrying of the honied, fruity malt notes with the fresh, citrus fish dish. The citrus was also compounded with a side dish of citrus and wild fennel salad. I have always found food pairing to be an interesting challenge for chefs as paired dishes can either complement or over power a whisky, and striking a balance is often more challenging than it seems.

The newly released Double Cask 12 Year was paired with the main dish which to me was the highlight of the night. The fruity, citrus, sweet caramel and spiced characters of the Double Cask complemented the sweet and earthy glazed beef rib that was served with wild mushrooms. The glistening glazed beef rib was succulent and tender and the Double Cask pairing defied the old adage of serving meat with malt.

The dessert of honey creme with toasted rye and j choke ice cream elegantly helped to finish off the night, with the dish showcasing a textural play on the palate with the toasted rye bark and the nitrogen granulated ice cream. Served with The Macallan Rare Cask which I found to not be as rich as others found - the honied, fruity notes presented well with the sweet and malty ice cream.

Martin reviewed the Double Cask when it was released in Hong Kong last year in June, though I have appended some notes of mine from the night, to try and compare or perhaps find commonalities.

The Macallan 12yo Double Cask (40% ABV, 12yo, Highlands, Scotland, A$109.99, $548HKD)
An enjoyable every day dram either with or without a meal. The sweet, fruity and spiced nature of the Double Cask is fairly balanced and I found the overall malt quite fresh and zesty.

Colour: Gold.

Nose: Fresh with citrus, vanilla, raisins, candied orange, cloves - perhaps Christmas cake and dried fruits, followed by notes of stone fruits and black pepper.

Palate: I found the palate to be interesting - fresh, zesty, sweet caramel, honey, nutty, peanut bars even, bitter melon and starting to dwindle into this lighter, tannic spiced malt - nutmeg and more of that pepper.

Finish: The sherry influence is there. The finish is floral and medium long with lingering bitter sweetness and nuttiness.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. 

Thanks to the Edrington Group, Spirits Platform and Porter Novelli for having us on the night to celebrate the launch of the Double Cask in Australia.


Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The Macallan Masters of Photography: Steven Klein Edition launch party

Last Friday night saw Edrington Hong Kong launch The Macallan Masters of Photography Steven Klein Edition, the Sixth official release in the series (not including the Steven Klein edition of Rare Cask Black). Priced at $2,999USD and bottled at 53.9%, the NAS release includes whisky distilled "in the 1940s or 1950s", and for the first time ever, Macallan aged in ex-Rioja wine casks. 1,000 bottles are available, with just over 30 coming to Hong Kong (HKD price TBC).

Now I'm no art critic, but based on what I've seen, Steven Klein's aesthetic seems to bring together fashion, sexuality, dystopianism, with a good dash of colour. Just like the video below, produced as part of this Macallan.

...hang on...why am I talk about Steven Klein's "aesthetic" on a whisky blog, you might ask? Because that aesthetic seems to be exactly what Edrington were seeking to re-create for the launch party, and they absolutely nailed it. As soon as we read the location on the invitation (an entire hall of the HK Convention & Exhibition Centre), Steph and I knew the event would be impressive, but we didn't quite know what to expect...

What we were met with upon arrival though could easily have been the set of the next Steven Klein shoot, only with everyone looking a lot more animated and happy than in the above video! Happiness which was no doubt partially a result of the cocktails on offer - including a Double Cask 12yo Rusty Nail, a smoked ginger Old Fashioned and a cherry cocktail which was delicious, but definitely one for the sweet tooths.

(The cocktails were particularly fitting, given MoP Steven Klein edition includes a number of cocktail tools, presumably a nod to whisky "blasphemers" who would be happy to mix the whisky in a cocktail. I'm sure it'd make for delicious cocktails.)

Cocktails were passed around the room, or available from the three bars each offering a different one, with bartending theatrics (liquid nitrogen etc..) on show, whilst two large countdown clocks loomed in the background.

When those clocks finally did strike 00:00:00, Brand Director for The Macallan Ken Grier (who we first met 12 months ago at the launch of the 65yo in Lalique) took the stage to introduce the whisky, and explain a little about the collaboration, and the liquid itself (although the aforementioned details - whisky distilled in the 40s or 50s, and ex-Rioja Macallan, were about all the details we were given on the whisky's make-up).

With all those cocktails, you might think there was a noticeable absence of neat whisky (a point some attendees made too), however before long, drams of Rare Cask made their way around the room, followed by a lovely Rare Cask cocktail (whose ingredients I didn't manage to note, but seemed to include some sort of PX Sherry. Either way, it was delicious).

Whilst we didn't get to actually try the The Macallan Masters of Photography Steven Klein Edition (not unexpected, given the crowd size), the event was a huge amount of fun, and a testament to the ongoing creativity that the Edrington Hong Kong team put into their events. 

We can't wait to see what's in store for the next launch.


Friday, 2 June 2017

FINDS x Highland Park whisky pairing dinner - launch

Two nights ago Steph and I attended the launch of the new Highland Park pairing menu at FINDS - Hong Kong's first and only Nordic restaurant. FINDS (which stands for "Finland, Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden") are offering a set four-course menu (paired with 3 Highland Park drams) for $668HKD/person, and Steph and I went along to see what it was all about.

We've included a full write-up below, but in summary: a fantastic menu at a very fair price, with cleverly-paired courses. Whisky meal pairings can be great, but they can also be difficult to execute (we've attended plenty over the years). We're happy to say this one was spot on - with the subtle Highland Park smoke pairing beautifully with the delicate smoke used in various ways in the four dishes.

Upon arrival we were handed a welcome cocktail by bartender Sam, made with Naked Grouse, Pear cider and Pear Juice, with a mint garnish. Incredibly refreshing considering the 28degC temperatures outside (Summer is coming)!

Soon after, we were shown our seats in the private "Nordic Express" room (the regular menu will be available in the main restaurant), which is best described as 'Alice in Wonderland' meets the Orient Express, under the cover of stars.

After a brief introduction from the FINDS communications team, our host for the night (and good friend of Ron Taylor gave us an introduction to Highland Park, its Orkney Islands home, and its viking heritage. As the first dish arrived, Executive Chef Jaakko Sorsa gave an introduction, explaining that he saw an "affinity" between the lightly-smoked nature of Nordic cuisine, and Highland Park's delicate peat smoke character.

We were also provided a copy of the menu (below), which is exactly as available until 31st August (the only difference being we finished the night with a dram of Highland Park 21yo, which isn't included in the regular menu).

Our first pairing course, Smoked arctic shrimp & Vendace roe with grilled & pickled onions, sour cream and dill oil was paired with Highland Park 12yo (below). Chef Jaakko explained the difference between the various Nordic shrimp available, and how these were the result of some serious exploratory efforts through rural, Northernmost Norway, where the sub-zero temperatures provide the shrimp with a firm texture and delicate sweetness.

The shrimp / prawns (which were definitely much sweeter than usual) paired far better than I'd expected with the Highland Park 12, with the shrimp bringing an almost fruity sweetness out in the whisky which wasn't noticeable when enjoyed on its own.

Lightly smoked veal striploin 63˚ with celeriac & potatoes braised in veal broth, red cabbage, brussell sprout leaves and bay leaf jus was next, paired with Highly Park Dark Origins, the more heavily sherried (NAS but said to be ~15yo) expression which celebrates the early days of Highland Park's founder Magnus Eunson's illicit distilling.

I found the heavily-sherried Highland Park accentuated the "meatiness" in the veal with this pairing, making for a powerful (and enjoyable) combination.

Our last course was the visually-stunning "Drottning's Cake - Queens Cake" - chocolate layer cake with raspberries & blueberries in a smoky tar syrup, paired with the perennial favourite of many - Highland Park 18yo.

I have to admit I'd never seen "tar" used as a dessert (or any dish) ingredient before, but I was curious. Chef Jaakko explained the theory and uses behind pine tar, and how he'd used it to add an unique tarry smokiness to the dish. Hats off - it worked beautifully, both on its own and matched with the Highland Park 18.

Whisky pairing is tricky, and usually in a multi-course menu we find some which don't quite hit the mark...but that was not the case here. Each of the 3 pairings were spot-on, with both the whisky and food enhancing the flavours of each other. Bravo, Chef Jaakko.

FINDS Hong Kong (located in TST's The Luxe Manor) are offering this 4 course menu paired with 3 Highland Park drams for $668HKD/person (+10% service charge), every day between now and 31st August (1 day advance booking required). Bookings can be made via or by calling +852 2522 9318. If you're a whisky fan, just beginning your whisky journey, you love Nordic cuisine, or you just want to see how a well-matched dinner and whisky menu is executed, we can highly recommend it.

Martin. attended this event as guests of FINDS and The Luxe Manor. A big thanks must go to the FINDS / The Luxe Manor team, as well as Edrington for the invitation.