Thursday 31 December 2015

Laphroaig Masterclass with Master Distiller John Campbell (Tasted: #244-251)

To mark the 200th anniversary of Laphroaig, John Campbell, Laphroaig's Master Distiller recently toured Australia to celebrate the momentous milestone with Laphroaig fans across the country and to showcase the fine Laphroaig range. If you recall, John was also one of the four great whisk(e)y figures that fronted the challenge at the Great Whisky Rumble against Fred Noe, Dan Tullio and Mike Miyamoto. Following the bout, John hosted a couple of Laphroaig masterclasses across Sydney, the first at the Clock Hotel in Surry Hills and the second masterclass at the Grain Bar at Four Seasons.

I attended the second Laphroaig masterclass at Grain Bar. Having had the classic Laphroaig 10 year old over the year (and having enjoyed it) and also following my sampling of the Laphroaig Quarter Cask at the Whisky Rumble, I was looking forward to tasting other Laphroaig expressions. What John and his team showcased at the Masterclass was impressive - including:
  • Laphroaig Select Cask 
  • Laphroaig 10 Year Old
  • Laphroaig 15 Year Old (200th Anniversary Edition)
  • Laphroaig 18 Year Old
  • Laphroaig Quarter Cask
  • Laphroaig 25 Year Old
  • Laphroaig Cairdeas 2012
  • Laphroaig Triple Wood
Being Islay born and bred, John Campbell loves all that is Islay. John briefly spoke to his history at Laphroaig which commenced on 14 November 1994 at the Laphroaig warehouse, and since then, has seen him work across the distillery before becoming the Distillery Manager in January 2006. Throughout his time, John had tinkered with different expressions and bottlings and also helped to grow the Laphroaig brand that people have come to know and love globally.

During the same period, there was also the decision to discontinue the rather popular Laphroaig 15 in 2009 to make way for the Laphroaig 18. Though, as John mentioned at the Great Whisky Rumble, six years later, the Laphroaig 15 was resurrected as part of the 200th anniversary. Having spoken to different people about this, the sense is that the old Laphroaig 15 is perceived as the better expression than the new Laphroaig 15 released this year. Martin had also tried this particular dram back in 2013 and found it to be one very pleasant dram. Nevertheless, despite the different views, as Laphroaig had recently campaigned, all opinions are welcomed and we can all share our thoughts as we enjoy a Laphroaig dram or two.

As the host, John was also joined by our local Laphroaig aficionado Dan Woolley, National Laphroaig Ambassador and Michael Nouri, Laphroaig Brand Ambassador. Both Dan and Michael have made their mark in the whisky (and drinks) industry over the years, and it was good to see them both supporting John at the Laphroaig masterclass.

The masterclass took us from the lightest Laphroaig, sometimes coined as the 'Breakfast Laphroaig' - the Laphroaig Select, all the way to Laphroaig 25 Year Old and the Cairdeas release from 2012. I was amazed at the breadth of the different Laphroaig expressions, and yet we all know that the lineup is only a small subset of the larger Laphroaig portfolio. In fact, following this masterclass, I sampled the Laphroaig 10 Cask Strength (which is, in my view, truly remarkable) and am currently eyeing the Laphroaig An Cuan Mor; a Laphroaig travel retail expression that involved the use of first-fill bourbon barrel. Will have to see if I can sample it soon.

Let's begin with the tasting...

Laphroaig Select Cask (40% ABV, NAS, Islay, Scotland, $90.99 AUD / $480 HKD)
An interesting, light Laphroaig expression that blends five different whisky maturation profiles including whiskies that have been matured in oloroso sherry butts, European oak, Pedro Ximenez sherry hogshead, ex-bourbon quarter cask, first-fill ex-bourbon American oak and virgin American oak. The opinions shared through 'Friends of Laphroaig' were split; 50% loved it, 50% hated it. I think this is one approachable Laphroaig, or perhaps, one approachable Islay whisky, a breakfast whisky.

Colour: Light chardonnay

Nose: The nose balances sweetness and peat with vanilla, very light peat and some medicinal note followed by wood fire smoke, a hint of lemon and buttery, toasted coconut

Palate: The palate is warm, filled with spices, there is wood fire smoke, lemon myrtle, peppermint, and baked cinnamon spiced cake

Finish: Medium warm finish and a soft peat note lingers

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 89/100.

Laphroaig 10 (40% ABV, 10yo, Islay, Scotland, $78.95 AUD / $660 HKD)
The classic Laphroaig 10 is the highest selling Islay Whisky globally and in fact, it's John Campbell's Laphroaig of choice. This is an enjoyable expression though I am a recent convert of the cask strength version of this expression.

Colour: Golden amber

Nose: The nose is filled with loads and loads of Laphroaig peat notes and then some salty, maritime, damp forest moss, iodine (band-aid) notes followed by wood fire smoke

Palate: The maritime notes is carried through with sweet vanilla and black peppercorn

Finish: The finish is dry with lingering peat

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

Laphroaig 15 - 200th Anniversary Edition (43% ABV, NAS, Islay, Scotland, $164.99 AUD$1,380 HKD)
The 200th anniversary version of the Laphroaig 15 is a resurrected version of the 15 year old. This particular expression was released to Friends of Laphroaig and it sold out in hours though stock has been replenished in recent months.

Colour: Golden

Nose: Cherry, toffee and tropical fruits (hint of passionfruit) and  lemon myrtle

Palate: Soft but sweet at first with sweet vanilla and some of the passionfruit coming through followed by some iodine, wood fire smoke and savoury popcorn

Finish: Extremely long and enjoyable with loads of spices, the finish is rather complex

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

Laphroaig 18 (48% ABV, 18yo, Islay, Scotland, $179.99 AUD$1,660 HKD)
One of my highlights of the night - simply beautiful. John Campbell described that this particular expression included older whiskies, whiskies from the 18 year old and 21 year old batches.

Colour: Golden with tinge of amber 

Nose: Loads of citrus; lemon myrtle, orange and a hint of passionfruit, also I get breakfast cereal, grain notes and soft hint of peat

Palate: Sweet vanilla is prevalent at first, I get toffee apple, aniseed and soft peat smoke

Finish: The finish is extremely long and the sweet, fruity notes still live on with passionfruit and light vanilla notes on the finish, spices also linger

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

Laphroaig Quarter Cask (48% ABV, NAS, Islay, Scotland, $110.99 AUD$730 HKD)
Another classic and a favourite of many. A beautiful creation that makes use of small bourbon quarter casks for finish resulting in big and bold sweet notes.

Colour: Golden, slightly amber 

Nose: Thick and you can smell summer fruits then it mellows out and I get breakfast cereal, grain. The peat is soft.

Palate: Sweet vanilla ice cream, then followed with warm spices, aniseed spices

Finish: Long finish, the sweet and fruity notes, just like the Laphroaig 18, carry through - passionfruit and light vanilla that stay for some time

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

Laphroaig 25 (51% ABV, 25yo, Islay, Scotland, $549.99 HKD$5,680 HKD)
Another interesting, big, bold Laphroaig that is rich in flavour with gentle peat overall. Bottled at cask strength, this expression keeps on giving.

Colour: Gold

Nose: Rich, filled with tropical fruits (hints of passionfruit), maritime notes and with very gentle peat

Palate: The richness is also evident on the palate with soft vanilla, breakfast grain cereal and dark chocolate cherry

Finish: I get loads of spices on the medium, dry finish

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

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2012 (51.2% ABV, NAS, Islay, Scotland, $159.99 AUD)
A Cairdeas release from 2012 brought to us by Michael Noury and Dan Woolley. This was served with a special Laphroaig cured prosciutto, just enough oils from the cut to cleanse and ready the palate for this special expression which saw the use of quarter casks for seven years and the blending of whisky from the 18 year old through to 21 year old batches. Bottled at cask strength, this was a particularly enjoyable expression - in fact, my favourite of them all.

Colour: Gold

Nose: Almond shortbread, vanilla, gaytime ice cream (perhaps from the nutty notes) and there is a slight hint of smoke

Palate: The palate is rich and oily with sweet vanilla, big whack of spices, loads and loads and followed with loads of peat wood fire smoke

Finish: Extremely long, rich, warming finish, one would appreciate this finish on a good winter day.

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

Laphroaig Triple Wood (48% ABV, NAS, Islay, Scotland, $116.99 AUD)
Laphroaig Triple Wood saw the triple maturation of whiskies from the first maturation in American oak, ex-bourbon barrels, followed by maturation in a small 19th century style ex-bourbon Quarter Casks. The final maturation was done in specially selected, large European oak, oloroso sherry butts. The result is a wonderfully rich and powerful Islay single malt.

Colour: Aged, tired gold

Nose: Floral with loads of sweet vanilla, lemon citrus, a slight hint of peat, wood smoke and toffee apple

Palate: Soft, savoury white pepper, grain cereal then followed by hints of peat, damp moss, cardamon, cinnamon spices

Finish: Dry and extremely long with lingering white pepper spices

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

So there we go - eight Laphroaig expressions later and I am truly a Laphroaigconvert, a Friend of Laphroaig and have shared one or two Laphroaig opinions. With John Campbell at the helm, Laphroaig has gone from strength to strength, exemplified through all the interesting and bold Laphroaig expressions released under his watch. Now with 200 years under Laphroaig's belt, I believe the future is bright for the distillery and I am personally excited for what's to come from Laphroaig and John next year.

Until then, keep on dramming.


Tuesday 29 December 2015

Tasted #243: Mars Komagatake "Single Sherry Cask" bottled for Mitsukoshi Isetan (Cask #1436)

Turns out that when I was in Japan recently I'd picked an excellent week to be there. Not just because of Whisky Live / Modern Malt Market, but also because a few limited Japanese whiskies were released that week (and as most of you would know, if you put the words "limited" and "Japanese whisky" together, the result is typically a quick sell-out).

One of those whiskies was a 3 year old single sherry cask Mars Komagatake, bottled at 58% for the large department store Isetan. I spotted this one when wondering around the store's basement level, and noticed it was available for tasting, along with another "Super Heavily Peated" release. Whilst the tastings didn't come as cheap as Liquors Hasegawa, 1000yen (approx $11.50AUD / $65HKD) seemed a very fair price to pay for a (generous) sample of each.

I enjoyed both, but preferred the sherry cask and took home two bottles (one of which was subsequently polished off in one sitting with a few good friends a few weeks ago).

I was lucky I bought them when I did, as the "Super Heavily Peated" sold out while I was there, and I heard the sherry cask sold out just a few hours later.

That's Japanese whisky these days I guess!

Mars Komagatake "Single Sherry Cask" bottled for Mitsukoshi Isetan (58% ABV, Cask #1436, 3yo, one of 297 bottles, Nagano Prefecture, Japan, no longer available)
Colour: Light straw (it looks darker in the photo).

Nose: Sherried peat, with some bananas. I actually had to check to make sure I hadn't switched the glasses - there was quite a lot of peat on this one (I hadn't - there was even more peat on the "Super Heavily Peated").

Palate: Big zingy peat hit at first. Lots of rich caramels and smoked meats. Mocha notes too.

Finish: Long, ever so slightly hot, and full of smoky barbecued meat. Smoked pork neck at the very end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. Clearly young, but very very enjoyable (which might explain how a few of us polished off a bottle in one sitting...)


Monday 28 December 2015

The Macallan Jazz Appreciation (Tasted #240-242: Macallan Rare Cask, Edition No.1 and Chairman's Release)

Edrington Hong Kong recently completed their series of "Jazz Appreciation with The Macallan" events with a fantastic finalé at one of our favourite Hong Kong Whisky BarsTiffany's New York Whisky Bar.

Described as reminiscent of the "roaring 1920s" New York Jazz scene, the event saw 5 expressions from The Macallan paired with Jazz tunes from a trio led by Jazz maestro Ted Lo.

Fine Oak 12 was served on arrival, as guests chatted and admired the line-up of drams (which for us was especially exciting, as it was our chance to finally try two new expressions - the Rare Cask and Edition No.1).

After taking our seats, Edrington's Peter Woo gave a brief introduction before handing over to our host for the night - good friend of TimeforWhisky and IWSC Judge Eddie Nara. Eddie explained that each dram had been paired with a jazz tune that showed similar characteristics. The line-up was:

  • The Macallan 12 Fine Oak (on arrival)
  • The Macallan 12 Sherry Oak
  • The Macallan 15 Fine Oak
  • The Macallan Edition No.1
  • The Macallan 17 Fine Oak
  • The Macallan Rare Cask

Whilst we didn't take detailed notes on the songs (this is a whisky blog not a Jazz blog, after all), both Steph and I thought they were well-matched - for example the Fine Oak 15 was matched with a light, playful "Summertime" Jazz song, whereas the Edition No.1 was matched with a heavier, deeper bossa nova track called "One note Samba".

We've visited some of the above drams previously, so have kept the tasting notes to the two that were new to us, plus an interesting addition that a friend had kindly brought along....

The Macallan Edition No.1 (48% ABV, NAS, Highlands Scotland, $680HKD)
Colour: Bright vibrant amber-orange
Nose: Reminiscent of a heartier Sherry Oak 12. Flint, mocha, some Christmas cake. Trademark sherry characteristics, and very in your face (more so than the Sherry Oak 12).
Palate: A continuation of the nose - lots of Christmas cake (cherries, Brazil nuts, also some raisins) but a lot bolder and richer than you get from other sherried Macallans (the 48% no doubt helps). Lots of pecans, but also some sherbert sweetness and even a little bit of bubblegum. More complex than the Sherry Oak 12.
Finish: Long, sherried and just delicious.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. Definitely one worth considering for any whisky fan living in (or visiting) HK. Good value at only $130HKD or so more than the Sherry Oak 12 (itself an excellent whisky).

The Macallan Rare Cask (43% ABV, NAS, Highlands Scotland, $2,680HKD / £189.50)
Bottled from 256 casks (all sherried, many first-fill).
Colour: Dark orange gold.
Nose: Clearly sherried, with quite a bit of toffee, but whereas the Edition No.1 was "in your face" (in a good way), this was subtle, smooth, barely peeking its head out.
Palate: The theme continues - it's elegant, refined, and smooth, but....too refined? Too smooth? Perhaps, for my palate at least. There's caramel toffee sweetness and some raisins, but it's all just a bit smooth and inoffensive.
Finish: Long with some tropical fruit and even some Banoffee pie.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. A very well made whisky, and I'm sure it'll be a hit with those looking for a smooth, elegant dram, but for me, I'm looking for something with a bit more power, a bit more "oomph".

That was it for the whiskies on offer, however as we were enjoying the last tune, a friend and fellow whisky-lover brought over a bottle of The Macallan Chairman's Release (1700 Series) he'd acquired in Taiwan, and asked if we were interested. Not one to knock back a Macallan I'd never tried (let alone one selling for up to £1,500 per bottle!) I happily said yes and was poured a hearty dram!

The Macallan Chairman's Release (43% ABV, NAS, Highlands Scotland, No longer available)
Released as a limited edition for the China Market in 2011 as part of the "1700 Series", in a Cognac-esque short, bulbous bottle.
Colour: Dark orange.
Nose: Bitter dark orange chocolate. In fact, Terry's Chocolate Orange (Dark) in a glass!
Palate: Smooth, lots of dark chocolate, a little smoke and a little earthy flintiness. Very much a dessert whisky.
Finish: Long and slightly smokey, still continuing with notes of chocolate oranges.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. A very enjoyable and unique Macallan - one I didn't even know existed previously!

There are a lot of whisky pairing events these days (dinner, cigars, chocolate, cheese), and we're happy to report that, whilst perhaps a little unusual, this pairing of music and whisky was just as enjoyable.

TimeforWhisky would like to thank Edrington HK for the invitation, and for the many excellent whisky events throughout 2015.

Steph & Martin.

Sunday 27 December 2015

Tasted #239: J.P. Wiser's Triple Barrel

We've covered many Scottish, Japanese, Irish and American bourbon whiskies on this blog, though we've yet to cover many Canadian whiskies. Having only tasted (and enjoyed) the Canadian Club 12 year old a few months ago at the Whisky Rumble, I was curious when I heard that another Canadian whisky; J.P. Wiser's, was entering the local Australian market for the first time. J.P. Wiser's; Canada's oldest continuously produced Canadian whisky will join Pernod Ricard's ever expanding portfolio here in Australia - the move appearing to signal the increasing focus for Canadian distilleries on the local market and abroad, riding the global wave of whisky appreciation.

I was sent a sample of J.P. Wiser's Triple Barrel from CavCon for tasting - a blended rye whisky matured between five and eight years in three different barrels and vatted together. The Triple Barrel uses virgin American oak barrels, ex-Bourbon barrels and also ex-Canadian whisky barrels. 

JP Wiser's Triple Barrel (40% ABV, NAS, Ontario, Canada$40AUD)
J.P. Wiser's Triple Barrel packed beautiful characters on the nose though the palate was slightly disappointing as it was almost too gentle, too refined and light on characters, perhaps a characteristic of its triple barrel maturation approach. The Triple Barrel though make a good mixer given the inherent 'rye' spices that you get on the palate and finish.

Colour: Chinese tea

Nose: Layers of buttery scones, toasted fruit bread, toffee apple, floral. The nose is great.

Palate: Soft, almost too gentle, very light macadamia notes and some light (rye) peppery spices. There are also vanilla, caramel and peppermint notes. The notes on the palate did not line up with the notes I got on the nose, the characters I picked up on the nose were certainly more exciting than what I tasted on the palate.

Finish: The finish is short to medium with lingering dried (rye) spices.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 87/100.

In addition to the Triple Barrel, J.P. Wiser's is also releasing the award winning 18 year old into the local Australian market. All the Wiser's are now available Australia wide.


Saturday 26 December 2015

Starward / New World Whisky Distillery Tasting in Hong Kong (Tasted #234 - 238)

It's no secret here that we're big fans of Starward Whisky, from Melbourne's New World Whisky Distillery. Since that first time we sat down with then CEO and Founder David Vitale, and tried a sample soon after, we knew this was an exciting distillery - definitely one to watch.

Over the past few years we've become friends with David, catching up in various cities when travel plans aligned, and attending the various Oak Barrel tastings he's hosted in Sydney (first myself attending, now Hendy). So when David reached out recently to let me know he was coming to Hong Kong, and to ask if I was interested in arranging a small tasting for Hong Kong whisky folk, the answer was obviously going to be yes!

David was visiting Hong Kong for the HK Wine & Spirits Fair, and was kind enough to make time on a Friday night to share a few of his recent releases with a small group of friends and fellow whisky lovers.

The brilliant Tiffany's New York Whisky Bar were also kind enough to provide their venue and arrange an impeccable tasting setup - Glencairns, tasting mats, crystal water jugs, pipettes etc... all at quite short notice (thanks guys!) for what, it transpired, was Starward's first ever international tasting! Have to say I felt quite honoured to have arranged the first international tasting for what I'm positive will be a well-known international brand in a few years!

Up for tasting was a mixture of Starward's core lineup and a few of their "New World Projects" limited releases. Specifically, we tried:

  • Starward Single Malt Australian whisky New Make Spirit
  • Starward Single Malt Australian whisky (Solera)
  • Starward Wine Cask Edition Single Malt Australian whisky
  • New World Projects Port Double Cask Release #1
  • New World Projects Starward Limited Edition for Vintage Cellars Release #1
  • New World Projects "Project X" 3yo white whisky
  • New World Projects Small Batch Seasonal Gin - Korenwijn

The night was relaxed and casual (reflecting the Starward style), with the first hour or so seeing everyone standing around, chatting, having a beer or wine, and hearing some of David's stories. Eventually though it was time to take our seats, and listen to the story of Starward.

David introduced us to his whisky by explaining that he wanted to do something different, something that hadn't been done before. Not just another Sullivan's Cove, if you will. David's goal was to "do for Australian whisky what Australian wine did previously" - i.e. put it on the world stage. 

Attendees were a mix of whisky fans and industry people (who also happened to be hardcore whisky fans) and David managed to pitch the content at just the right level - technical enough without delving too far into the depths of true whisky geekdom. David discussed the barrel regime (re-coopered 50, 100 and 200L casks, most of Australian Apera heritage), their recent 5,000L solera vat acquisition (used to provide consistency to the core single malt product) and the Australian laws surrounding whisky production, which includes the somewhat hilarious mandate that, as well as being at least 2 years fermented mash aged in wood, the product must also "taste like whisky".

One product that isn't a whisky, but was on tasting for us, was the new "Small Batch Seasonal Gin - Korenwijn", which David explained as an unaged, triple-distilled malted spirit, not dissimilar to Genever. Whilst I didn't take detailed tasting notes, it was a great gin, and made a fantastic Negroni when I made one at home a few days later.

David also provided an interesting insight into the world of spirits excise in Australia (long known as being very unfavourable to distillers), and made the interesting point that a tonne of barley earns the government $400AUD in taxes if sold as barley, but $40,000AUD in taxes if turned into whisky...

After those interesting insights, it was time to delve into the tasting...

Starward Single Malt Australian whisky (Solera) (43% ABV, NAS, Victoria, Australia, $82.99AUD)
Married in a 5,000L solera vat to ensure consistency from batch to batch.
Nose: Stone fruits and cherries. Some dried raisins and a hint of banana. Some vanilla. Some similarities with bourbon.
Palate: Fruity, and very smooth. More stone fruits, and apple especially.
Finish: Medium-length, Bourbon-like sweetness with some vanilla and caramel.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. I enjoyed this when I tried the very first batch (which I scored 90), and this just shows that the whisky has gotten even better since then.

Starward Wine Cask Edition Single Malt Australian whisky (41% ABV, NAS, Victoria, Australia, $80AUD)
Given the distillery's proximity to Barossa, New World are able to get ex-Barossa Shiraz barrels overnight and fill them when still "wet". David describes this as the "complex" sibling to the easier, more light-hearted and laid-back solera single malt.
Nose: Creamy, milk bottle lollies, some caramel and loads of rich red berries - strawberries and blueberries.
Palate: Hugely rich and full-bodied - lots of cherries and strawberries, and some rasbperries, which then shift to this drying, slightly tannic taste. Lots to explore and it's all delicious.
Finish: Medium to long, tannic with big red berries continuing to the end.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. Different to the solera expression and yet still very much a Starward. Grab a bottle of both - you won't be sorry.

New World Projects Project X 3yo white whisky (42.1% ABV, 3yo, Victoria, Australia,  $80AUD)
A three year old Australian single malt whisky that's clear as day?! Yep. Just don't ask David how and expect an answer (though we have a theory...)
Colour: Clear as day
Nose: Banana and pears, but also some oak!
Palate: Smooth - very confusing at first given it looks like a new make. Some toffee and some bananas.
Finish: Short with toffee notes to the end.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 89/100. Not overly complex, but smooth, unique and just very cool. Great in cocktails too.

New World Projects Port Double Cask Release #1 (48.6% ABV, NAS, Victoria, Australia, no longer available)
Nose: Toffee and loads of Banoffee pie.
Palate: Smooth and rounded, with toffee notes but also quite a bit of citrus. Not dissimilar to a good, youthful Scotch from a good Speyside distillery.
Finish: Short and slightly drying, with some red berries.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100.

New World Projects Starward Limited Edition for Vintage Cellars Release #1 (48% ABV, NAS, Victoria, Australia, No longer available but Release #2 is $134.99AUD)
Aged in an ex-Pedro Ximenez (PX) cask - a departure from Starward's more commonly used Australian Apera barrels.
Nose: Similar toffee notes to the Port Double Cask, but with lots of Christmas cake notes too - Brazil nuts and glacé cherries.
Palate: Oh wow, this is a whisky you can sit on. Big rich chewy caramel and soft toffee notes. Lots of fruit. Slightly flinty. Definitely Sherried - raisins, nuts, even some mocha. Delicious.
Finish: Long, sherried and with a slight earthiness.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. Just excellent.

Whilst Starward isn't yet officially available in Hong Kong (well, outside of the collection in my apartment...) David plans to return next year, and we hope it won't be long before we see it being officially distributed here.

TimeforWhisky would like to thank David for giving up his time and whisky on a Friday night, and for giving Hong Kong a taste of Starward - hopefully a taste of things to come!


Tuesday 22 December 2015

Time for Whisky's Last Minute Christmas Whisky Gift Guide 2015

There are a lot of good Christmas whisky guides out there this year - via blogs, news sites, and of course online stores - covering everything from high-end whiskies, to budget whiskies, to accessories and more.

So rather than just replicate them, we've decided to keep it simple - 5 whisky gifts to suit 5 specific scenarios. Left it to the last minute to get the whisky lover in your life a Christmas gift? Read on...

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 15 year old

Why: GlenDronach has a huge cult following amongst whisky lovers and it's not hard to see why. While other distilleries who have previously been known for their "sherry bombs" have branched out into other casks for aging their whisky (mostly Bourbon), GlenDronach have stayed true to their roots, producing brilliant, heavily-sherried Speyside whiskies (that's a good thing). The 15yo is the sweet spot - delicious, every bit a quintessential sherried whisky, and punching well above its price point.

Be quick though - the 15yo won't be around much longer, as it's about to be discontinued for while. It's also highly likely not 15 years old - when you look at the distillery's history, and its closure from 1996-2001, you start to realise that today's 15yo bottlings could be up to 19-20 years old. This chart gives a good run-down.

Where and how much? $103.50AUD from Oak Barrel, $920HKD from Lillion Wine or £45.83 from Master of Malt (sold out currently though)

Want to know more?: Read Hendy's review of the line-up here.


2) "I have no idea what they like. I want something safe and reliable"

The whisky: Balvenie 12yo DoubleWood

Why: The Balvenie is a Speyside favourite from William Grant & Sons, producing elegant, handcrafted, enjoyable whiskies that at the same time are accessible and won't break the bank. I've never met a whisky drinker who doesn't enjoy The Balvenie, and the 12yo DoubleWood is always a good, safe option.

Where and how much? $89.99AUD from Dan Murphys$568HKD from Merci Winery or £34.19 from Master of Malt

Want to know more?: We've written a LOT about The Balvenie in the past. You can find 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: Starward Single Malt Solera Whisky

Why: You've missed the Japanese whisky bandwagon, but you don't need to (entirely) miss the Australian one. Australian whisky is already hugely popular, but it's not quite at Japanese levels yet, and still has a long, successful (and delicious) life ahead. With new distilleries opening up (some even in cities which haven't produced whisky for 161 years, like Sydney's Archie Rose), and still-young distilleries like Starward receiving grants of $10m AUD from the likes of Diageo, you just know that this is the start of something big.

Where and how much? $82.99AUD from Dan Murphys, hopefully available soon in Hong Kong, £46 from Master of Malt (currently sold out)

Want to know more?: Read our articles on Starward here, including tasting notes and even a tour of the distillery.

Pictured: Starward Wine Cask Edition

4) "I want to get them something slightly left-field, but it still has to be a great whisky"

The whisky: Blanton’s Straight from the Barrel

Why: Why limit yourself to Scotch? Bourbon is having a moment right now and for good reason - there are some bloody good ones out there. Blantons from Kentucky (famous for the rounded bottles topped by racing horse figurines) make some excellent Bourbon, and their "Straight from the Barrel" is highly regarded amongst whisky enthusiasts. At 60%+ ABV (sometimes 65%+), it's a serious whisky...just how we like it.

Where and how much? $199.99AUD from Dan Murphys$1098HKD from HK Liquor Store or £80.14 from Master of Malt (sold out at the moment)

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: The Last Drop 48 year old Blended Scotch Whisky

Why: A 48 year old blend is a rarity in itself, but this one also tastes fantastic and, if previous The Last Drop releases are anything to go by, should be a shrewd investment too.

Where and how much? $5,500AUD from Dan Murphys$33,888HKD from Crown Wine Cellars. £2,600 from Master of Malt

Want to know more?: We have our very own tasting notes here.


Cheers and Merry Christmas,

Monday 21 December 2015

dekantā - delivering Japanese whisky worldwide (Tasted #233: Monde Royal Crystal Whisky)

There's no doubt that Japanese whisky has absolutely taken the world by storm over the past 18 months (and yes, we largely have Mr Murray to "thank" for it). The craze that initially began with "silent still" whiskies like Karuizawa and Hanyu has since spread to pretty much any and all Japanese whisky (and even some Scotch whiskies) - including whiskies that barely a year or two ago could be easily found in almost any bottle shop.

Having taken 5 trips to Japan over the past 12 months, even in that time we've seen a huge shift - with many bottles simply no longer available, and those that are selling for huge price increases.

Yep, there's no denying it - the world is going crazy for Japanese whisky, and looks set to continue doing so for some time...

...which is where dekantā comes in. dekantā is an online store selling Japanese whisky, shipped world-wide. Their founders have been in business since 1985, but have only recently began focusing on their online presence. Their range is impressive (especially in this day and age), and whilst their prices are not what you'd call "cheap", they do have a number of bottles that are almost impossible to find anywhere, apart from auctions (where bottle provenance, authenticity and value can all be huge unknowns).

From "everyday" Japanese whiskies like Hakushu 12 and Mars Iwai Tradition, to rarities such as Yamazaki 25 year oldMars Maltage 25 + 3, Ichiro's Malt Colour Joker and plenty of Karuizawas, their range is about the most impressive we've seen (there's even a Yamazaki 35 year old, which we've never even seen in person). Whiskies from lesser known Japanese whisky producers also get a look-in, including:

Whilst clearly focusing on Japanese whisky, they also stock some Scottish whiskies (mostly independent bottlings), and even Amrut from India (whom we visited earlier this year).

Based in Japan, dekantā ship world-wide and list estimated shipping times on their website - generally no more than 10 working days, and often as short as 3 working days. To try out their service (and to prove that not everything they sell is an ultra-rare collectible),  dekantā recently sent us a bottle of Monde Royal Crystal Whisky - a 10 year old blend from Japan's "third" big whisky company, Mondeshuzo, based West of Tokyo in the Yamanashi prefecture. It retails on their site for $45USD.

Two things impressed me about the delivery - firstly the speed, which saw the bottle arrive in Hong Kong from Japan in 2 days, arriving to my office early in the morning, via EMS who I've found to be extremely reliable and speedy with deliveries from Japan. The second was the packaging - a beautifully hand-wrapped crêpe paper package with a bow, paper cranes, and a discount voucher for a future order. A package befitting of some of the rarer whiskies on their site, for sure, but it was nice to see that they went to this much detail for a $45USD whisky.

As you can see above, the bottle is certainly unique (and wouldn't be out of place in Ron Burgundy's liquor cabinet), but how does it taste?

Monde Royal Crystal Whisky (40% ABV, 10yo, blend, Yamashi Prefecture, Japan, $45USD)

Colour: Orange gold

Nose: Grain notes remind you its a blend, but then you get this big fruity hit - passionfruit, strawberries, papaya, even some mango. Unexpected, to be honest.

Palate: Thin and grainy, there's a hint of maltiness and some apple notes, and a slightly smoky / rubbery note. Not unpleasant, but it doesn't live up to the nose.

Finish: Medium in length, with a hint of smoke and a hint of grainy earthiness.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 84/100.  An interesting bottle, with quite a decent nose, but with a palate and finish that don't back it up. Decent, but unlikely to excite hardcore single malt drinkers. would like to say a big thanks to dekantā and Leah Alexander PR who provided this bottle for review, and for allowing us to try out their service.


Saturday 19 December 2015

This week in whisk(e)y #27 - Malt Masters Hong Kong returns, Starward investment from Diageo, PDT comes to Hong Kong, Suntory's limited Christmas releases, Limited edition JW Blue and new Chivas 12yo bottle design

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

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

Malt Masters Hong Kong returns
Sure to be even bigger and better than last year, Malt Masters Hong Kong is returning in 2016, to be held at Conrad Hong Kong on 27-28th February, 2016.

Steph attended last year and had a great time, especially at the masterclasses (which for 2016 will be announced on 3rd January). With 50+ distilleries, 10 masterclasses, unlimited drams and various pairing events (including food and cigars - both sure to be hits in Hong Kong), we're sure 2016's festival will be an even bigger hit than 2015's.

Tickets are $800HKD per person and include one "Dream Dram" token, unlimited regular drams, a Glencairn and canapés (at the time of writing, discounted tickets for the Sunday were still available for $600HKD). Tickets are available from Gormei now.

Suntory Whisky Celebrates the Art of Giving this Christmas (Australia)
Last year we broke news of a new Suntory x Akira Isagawa collaboration (straight from Akira himself, who we found ourselves sitting next to at the 2014 Suntory Whisky Sydney launch), which turned out to be a special release of various Suntory whiskies wrapped in a furoshiki - a traditional Japanese scarf. Whilst the collaboration with Akira doesn't seem to have continued this year, the furoshiki has - returning for Christmas in selected Dan Murphy stores.

"Available as a gift with purchase in the lead up to Christmas in selected Dan Murphy’s stores, the luxury furoshiki embodies the respect with which gifts are bestowed to friends and family in Japan during the holiday season.
Like origami, furoshiki is considered an integral part of Japanese culture. For 2000 years, furoshiki served as a special pouch to hold personal items. Today, the ancient custom has become fashionable in Japan as a beautiful eco-friendly, lasting wrapping for gifts.
The 2015 furoshiki was created in Japan and is inspired by the Tanabada Festival of sakura, or cherry blossom, famous throughout the world for their delicate and striking beauty. 
“Suntory Whisky is the perfect gift, and the furoshiki completes a Suntory Whisky present in effortless style. We will even have staff on hand to hand wrap the furoshiki for customers, as well as tastings of the Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve in selected stores.”
Just 400 furoshiki have been produced, and the limited edition scarves will be available in selected Dan Murphy’s stores* around Australia this weekend 4th – 5th December, and the 18th – 19th December as a gift to wrap any purchase of the House of Suntory’s Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve (RRP AU$88)"
No doubt these won't last long, given the popularity of any limited edition Japanese whisky these days...

Please Don’t Tell (PDT) comes to Hong Kong
Now this we're excited about. Please Don't Tell, or "PDT", the legendary New York bar (often credited with initiating the modern "speakeasy" style bar trend), is coming to Hong Kong in the form of a pop-up bar at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental from 5 to 30 January, hosted in collaboration with Diageo World Class.

Steph and I visited in 2012, and I can still remember the taste of their fantastic Benton's Old Fashioned today. Needless to say we'll definitely be going along to this one... (they're even keeping the phone booth!)

"In a first of its kind event in the bar world, PDT will be recreated inside The Shell at MO Bar. Guests will step into the bar through a hidden entrance, in a phone booth located upstairs. Once inside they will find a space that faithfully recreates every detail of the New York original. Jim Meehan, bartender, founder of PDT, author of the PDT Cocktail Book, and Jeff Bell, current head bartender of PDT and WORLD CLASS USA Bartender of the Year 2013 will be behind the bar making cocktails.
Martin Newell, from Diageo RESERVE in Hong Kong said: “WORLD CLASS is on mission to inspire people to drink better. Supported by the world's biggest bartender competition, WORLD CLASS aims to elevate the drinking experience of consumers by training and inspiring bartenders around the world and working together with bars, restaurants and hotels to elevate and foster a fine drinking cocktail culture. By bringing PDT, one of the world’s best bars and home to some of the world’s best bartenders to Hong Kong, we are giving local bartenders and consumers alike an opportunity to experience a truly unique drinking experience.”
Inside PDT there will be an exclusive menu of 12 drinks, these will be a mix of PDT classics and new creations crafted just for Hong Kong. Some of the drinks they are bringing to Hong Kong include the: ‘Benton’s Old Fashioned’ (Don Lee, Winter 2007) made with bacon infused Bulleit Bourbon, bitters and maple syrup; ‘Cardinal’ (Jeff Bell, Spring 2014) a rosy hued aperitif using Tanqueray No. TEN gin, a bittersweet aperitivo known as Casoni,, Italian red vermouth and a touch of grapefruit and lemon; and ‘1-2 Punch’, a Scotch and beer combination using the Singleton of Glen Ord, lemon, grapefruit, citrus oleo-saccharum topped with a crisp lager.
A menu of hot dogs will be offered alongside the cocktails, inspired by Crif Dogs, the hot dog stand that serves as the entrance to PDT in NYC. Richard Ekkebus, Culinary Director of Amber, has created his own hot dog and a menu featuring hot dogs from leading Hong Kong chefs; part of the proceeds of each hot dog sold will be donated to charity.
PDT HK opens inside MO Bar at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental on the 5th January, it will be open from 5pm to 1230am Tuesday to Saturday until the 30th January."

For reservations, contact MO Bar by phone: 2132 0077 or email: 

Johnnie Walker Blue Label Special Release: Celebrating the Year of the Monkey
Following two previous annual releases (celebrating the Year of the Horse and Year of the Ram editions, Johnnie Walker is launching a third special release Blue Label, to celebrate the Year of the Monkey.

"JOHNNIE WALKER® BLUE LABEL™ Special Release: Year of the Monkey continues the tradition of Chinese calligraphy with blue brushstroke and golden hints. The bottle design features the energetic and joyful nature of monkey leaping fearlessly. When placing four uniquely white porcelain bottles side by side, the canvas unfolds to a stunningly beautiful visage, depicting monkeys leaping into the New Year with great joy and a daring spirit.
Drew Mills, Marketing Director of Diageo Brands noted, “JOHNNIE WALKER BLUE LABEL Year of Monkey Special Release truly marries the best of Chinese ceramic art with the very finest blend of Scotch whisky. This classic combination introduces unrivaled creative elements to the global whisky market, and I’m confident it will quickly become the premier choice for discerning collectors.”
JOHNNIE WALKER BLUE LABEL Special Release: The Year of Monkey will be available for sale at retail outlets in January 2016. (750ml/bottle)."

Chivas 12 year old re-design
We noticed something during our recent visit to the House of Chivas in Hong Kong. In the "Heritage Room", which charted the history of Chivas Regal back to the early 1900s through as series of bottle displays, what we've known as the "current" 12 year old bottle was not in fact, the last bottle on display. That honour went to this guy - the revised, 2015-onwards 12 year old.

"The new Chivas Regal 12 Year Old bottle retains the round generous shape for which it is renowned, while its shoulders have been raised higher to reflect the brand’s pride as one of the world’s leading Scotch whiskies. The brand signifier is now included as a more prominent, organic feature of the bottle, and the signatures of founders James and John Chivas have been added to the glass to display the value of brotherhood at the heart of the brand. The label has evolved to present a simplified and more vibrant look. 
The outer carton has been re-designed retaining the icons that hold depth of meaning and provenance to Chivas’ rich heritage, and select areas have been embossed and debossed to add a texturalised element to the packaging."
Same same, but different? We like it.

Congratulations Starward Whisky - $10m AUD investment including a minority stake from Diageo
Not so much a press release - more so a congratulations. Starward whisky (from the New World Whisky Distillery, whom we've become good friends with over the past few years) have recently announced the closing of an investment round of more than $10million AUD, including a minority stake taken out by Diageo

Let's just let that sink in a minute - spirits behemoth Diageo, who own brands such as LagavulinTalisker and Johnnie Walker, have taken out an investment stake in an Australian whisky distiller from Victoria who only filled their first barrel in 2010.

(We first heard about this a month or two ago, but now that it's been publicly announced, we're happy to be able to share the good news! The full press release can be found here.)

Clearly Diageo, see what I've been seeing in Starward all along - absolutely fantastic whisky. Look out for a write-up on a masterclass we helped host in Hong Kong (Starward's first international masterclass), which gave a few lucky Hong Kongers a taste of a number of stunning releases.

Well done David & team!

Thats all for this week. Until next time...