Thursday 10 December 2015

Bowmore Mizunara Hong Kong Launch Dinner at Lobster Bar & Grill (Tasted #229-231)

Last Tuesday was a pretty huge day for the whisky scene in Hong Kong. Not only was it the launch of the Chivas Regal Icon, it was also the HK launch of another rare, limited, and highly sought-after Scotch whisky. A certain Islay single malt (with Japanese heritage) which has garnered more than its fair share of discussion throughout the past few months....

I'm talking of course about the Bowmore Mizunara Cask Finish, which is now available (in extremely limited numbers) in Hong Kong. So limited in fact that it's only officially available from one place - Island Shangri-La's excellent Lobster Bar & Grill, which was recently voted 18th best bar in the world).

I have to say, I like the approach Suntory, Lobster Bar and distributor Asia Euro Wines & Spirits have taken with this whisky. Whilst the bar are selling whole bottles (at approximately $11k HKD), they're also selling the whisky by the dram (at approximately $700HKD for a 45mL pour). That might seem like a lot, but when you consider the price these retailed for in the UK, Hong Kong's 100% spirits tax, and the price they're now fetching at auction (and most likely going unopened), the pricing is actually pretty reasonable in comparison.

Asia Euro Wine & Spirits were kind enough to invite me to an intimate dinner to celebrate the launch recently, held (of course) at Lobster Bar & Grill. Beam Suntory's International Brand Ambassador John Cashman was in town for a flying visit, and gave his time to attend the dinner and talk us through the range of whiskies we'd be trying, including:

  • Bowmore 12 year old
  • Bowmore 18 year old
  • Bowmore 23 year old Port Cask
  • Bowmore Mizunara Cask Finish
  • Bowmore 25 year old

Having rated the 23yo as one of my absolute favourite drams of 2014, I was excited to be able to taste it again (along with the star of the show of course).

After a cheeky 23yo Port Cask to start the night (someone opened it - it would've been rude not to...), a delicious Bowmore Darkness 15-based whisky sour (with a sea salt rim - genius) and a chat with the affable Mr Cashman, we took our seats to survey the menu, consisting of:

  • Cancale oyster with salmon roe (Bowmore 12)
  • Assorted mesclun salad, avocado, beetroot and smoked salmon (Bowmore 18)
  • Pan-seared sustainable sea bass, young spinach, clams and oyster leaf (Bowmore Mizunara Cask Finish)
  • Parmesan Cheese with fresh fig (Bowmore 23 Port Cask and Bowmore 25).

I'd tried Oysters with Islay whiskies before, and always found them to be a good match, but had never tried the "Oyster Luge", which involves pouring a small serve of whisky into the oyster shell, and letting it flow into your mouth (luge-style) with the brine. Marvellous stuff - the dominant notes of the whisky (peat) and brine (sea) were both toned down, in favour of a deliciously smoky, slightly salty broth. Fantastic.

(Turns out Bowmore have illustrated instructions for how to do your own "oyster luge" on their website:

John then talked us through a little about the "Bowmore balance" (the philosophy that, unlike some other Islay whiskies, no one character dominates), and explained the influence of the sea air on Bowmore's famously maritime characteristics. Then it was onto the next course, with Bowmore 18. Smoked salmon and whisky is a hard pairing to get wrong, and this was no exception, with the complementary salty aftertaste of both the salmon and whisky working perfectly in tandem.

Next up was the meaty sea bass with the Bowmore Mizunara Cask Finish. Cleverly, this was a brilliantly simple dish (yet simultaneously the best fish dish I've had all year), which allowed all the characteristics of the Mizunara Cask Finish to shine. Full tasting notes on the whisky can be found below, but this was an excellent pairing which gave the fish a slightly sweeter note.

Thankfully we were each served a generous pour of the Mizunara Cask Finish, which gave us a good opportunity to give the "Mizu" a thorough assessment independent of the food. John introduced the whisky, explaining master blender Rachel Barrie's dream to finish a Bowmore in Mizunara, and how it finally came true when the Suntory acquisition allowed the procurement of three Mizunara casks from Japan (which I'd guess came from Yamazaki). Even post-acquisition, with Suntory only producing 200 Mizunara casks each year, and the oak's notorious difficulty to work with (being quite porous and prone to leaking), this was an impressive feat to pull off. Bowmore from the 90s was left to finish in the casks for 3 years in Bowmore's No.1 Vaults, before being bottled at 53.9% and becoming the whisky were were about to try...

Now, there's been plenty said about the price, the age (supposedly between 15-25 years, but without any age statement on the bottle), the popularity at auctions etc... so I'm not going to discuss any of that here. What I will do is focus on the liquid itself...

...which I have to say, is absolutely hands-down stunning in every way. Suntory have made a lot of claims about this being the "best of both worlds" (Japan and Scotland) and it's absolutely true - the best characteristics of Bowmore shine through, as do the obvious (but never overpowering) Mizunara notes.

Bowmore Mizunara Cask Finish (53.9% ABV, NAS, Islay Scotland, approx $11,000HKD / £650)
Colour: Bright vibrant gold

Nose: Red apples, spice. Some desiccated coconut. Actually quite a lot of desiccated coconut. Sea salt.

Palate: Coconut, rice pudding, a hint of sea air. Hints of spice, hints of subtle peat smoke. Like a slightly smoky, coconut-dusted salted caramel macaron, with a little spicy honey on the side.

Finish: Long, some tropical fruits, salty, sweet, and still plenty of coconut (which for me, is a trademark Mizunara characteristic).

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 94/100. Simply stunning - well and truly the "best of both worlds" that Bowmore claim it to be.

A hard whisky to top, no doubt, but it was nice to know we still had two stunning Bowmores left to try....

Bowmore 23 Year Old 1989 Port Matured (50.8% ABV, 23yo, Islay Scotland, £347.30)
An interesting release in that this isn't a finished whisky, but rather a whisky that has seen a full 23 years in exclusively an ex-port Cask. Not be be repeated for quite some time.

Colour: Copper, maple syrup.

Nose: Goji berries, leather, cherry pie. Creamy.

Palate: Rich and intensely creamy. Oily and syrupy. Noticeable fig notes, lots of plums and red berries. Slightly dry but not too much.

Finish: Long, sweet, stone fruits and maple syrup.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. I'm glad this is just as good as I remembered it.

Bowmore 25 Year Old (43% ABV, 25yo, Islay Scotland, $4,880HKD / £280)
Colour: Coffee-copper.

Nose: Aged leather, lots of raspberry.

Palate: Thin initially (understandable given the previous two whiskies were 50%+). Brazil nuts and Christmas cake (obvious sherry influence here), some icing and some marzipan.

Finish: Marzipan, whole oranges and smoke right through to the reasonably distant end.

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

..and with that, it was time to enjoy one more dram of the Mizunara Cask Finish and call it a night, having had a day and night of absolutely fantastic drams.

TimeforWhisky would like to thank Asia Euro Wines & Spirits Hong Kong, Beam Suntory, Lobster Bar & Grill and John Cashman for a wonderful evening, and the opportunity to try the incredibly rare Mizunara Cask Finish.


  1. This is interesting... I actually found the Peat in the Mizunara a little too strong. Obviously I love peated whiskies, but the balance of this dram was off for me. It was a brave marriage between Mizunara wood and Scottish weather, but it just wasn't there for me.

    Sorry, but my heart still favors your less peated Trilogy whiskies... Bowmore White 1964 is still by far the best whisky I've ever tasted.... I do have a hot on the heals whisky that's my 2nd place... but I won't dare utter it's name on this post :)

    Kelly Jaremco

    1. Haha, go on! Have never had the pleasure of trying a Bowmore Black or White (though a year ago I had the chance for a not-too-ridiculous sum, and wish I did...). Hopefully one day!

      Thanks for reading :)