Friday 22 January 2016

50 Year old Karuizawa, 1902 Highland Park and other results from the Bonhams Hong Kong Whisky Auction (Jan 2016)

Back in August last year we did a little write-up of the Bonhams Hong Kong whisky auction we'd just attended. That particular auction saw some ridiculously high prices, including over $900k HKD (over $160k AUD at the time) for a single bottle of Karuizawa (1960 52yo), and a complete set of Ichiro's Malt Cards (for $3,797,500 HKD, or $685,000AUD).

At the time, we questioned whether the bubble was about to burst....

Well, we've just returned from Bonhams' latest whisky auction tonight, and whilst it wasn't a disaster by any means, prices (in almost all cases) definitely seem to have come down from their peak in August last year.

Right from the outset, it was clear that bidding activity wasn't going to be on par with August. Lots were selling...but in many cases, at the very bottom of their estimate range, if not even lower. A 1986 Macallan 18 couldn't fetch $6,000HKD ($1,097AUD), and lots that would typically command bidding frenzies seemed to finish in the middle of their estimate range (like this 32yo Macallan Fine & Rare 1970, which went for $67,375HKD inc premium, compared to this younger 1976 which fetched $88,200HKD last time around).

When we moved onto the Japanese whiskies (always a favourite in Hong Kong), it was a similar story. Whereas last August, 1981 Karuizawas were fetching in the $30k HKD range, and some as high as $58k, this time most barely managed to reach $25k, with one going for $19k.

As we'd speculated before though, the super, ultra rare whiskies (i.e. not your average ~30yo Karuizawa of which there seems to be a LOT) fared well, with this 1960 50yo Karuizawa selling for $490,000HKD ($89,800AUD) - double its highest estimate. It must be quite a rare bottle, because we couldn't find any information on it outside of this auction. It looks a lot like this 1960 Karuizawa (a 47yo), and is even bottled at the same ABV, but is clearly from a different cask. We'd love to know more...

This 42yo Karuizawa also fared well, smashing its estimate to take in $232,750HKD inc. premium. Clearly the ultra rare Japanese whiskies are still in demand.

Last August we made specific mention of how Glenfiddich didn't garner a lot of interest in that auction, and how it often doesn't fare well on the auction circuit in general (hey, more for us to drink!) Interestingly, one of two bottles on offer at tonight's auction actually exceeded it's $18-$22k HKD range, selling for $25k HKD ($30,625HKD inc premium). Sometimes you just can't tell...

Other lots of note included:

Springbanks fared reasonably well, with some exceeding their estimates, and some Hanyus also did well, especially this Ace of Spades which went for $85k HKD (before premium) on a $60-80k estimate.

Now of course, it's important to keep a level head here. The prices attained for most of the whiskies are still huge amounts of money. Even $19k HKD (almost $3,500AUD) for a "common" Karuizawa is a significant amount of money, and still well ahead of what it sold for just 2-3 years ago...

...but I can't help but feel we're on a downward slope, and we might see this "cooling off" continue throughout 2016. Only time will tell of course, but if it means more whiskies will be opened and enjoyed, and more people will be buying whiskies to drink, then we're all for it!

(As a final note - huge thumbs up to Bonhams for their fantastic range of drams served to attendees tonight. Amongst the 13 whiskies on offer were TWO Port Ellens, a 1960's Henry McKenna Bourbon, a Cask Strength Macallan and a 10yo Old Rip Van Winkle. Tasty drams indeed.)


Thursday 21 January 2016

PR #31: The Last Drop Distillers 50 Year Old ‘Double Matured’ Blended Scotch to be released in Hong Kong

It was only a month or so ago that we tasted The Last Drop Distillers' 48yo blended whisky - a stunning and complex blend of which only 592 bottles were produced.

Not one to rest on their laurels, The Last Drop Distillers have announced their next release - this time a 50 year old, due to launch in Hong Kong next month. Pricing hasn't yet been announced, but with a previous 50yo release selling at auction last year for HK$85,750 - three times its original price - we can speculate that this release might carry a premium.

This one's particularly interesting as it was initially released as a 30yo blended whisky, then re-racked into 2nd fill sherry hogsheads for a further 20 years, matured in the Scottish lowlands (and has still managed to retain a strength of 51.8% ABV).

We'll actually be tasting this whisky next week, so will bring you our thoughts then, but for now, here's some info from the press release:
"This latest release, a 50 Year Old ‘Double Matured Blended Scotch, comprises only 898 bottles in existence, and has already been awarded 2016 Blend of the Year (26-50 Years) and 2016 Scotch Blend of the Year –in Jim Murray’s prestigious Bible.
This elegant and complex whisky was initially blended from more than fifty different Scotch whiskies, and is a fine example of the Blender’s Art. It was first blended in 1995 as a premium 30yo Blend for the Asian market and refilled into Bourbon wood for marrying. After bottling, a small and precious remnant was then refilled into 2nd Fill Sherry wood Hogsheads and returned to an old traditional maturation warehouse in the Lowlands of Scotland. The liquid was laid to rest for a further 20 years slowly maturing in perfect conditions until it was bottled by The Last Drop Distillers at its peak in late 2015. Over the course of this slow process of ageing, the whisky developed extraordinary richness and depth of flavour, taking on character traits from both woods – stone-fruit and honey from the Bourbon wood, and a rich, spicy quality from the Sherry wood creating the ‘double-matured effect. 
The original blend includes over 50 different Malt & Grain whiskies, many from distilleries long since closed, making the liquid an exceptional, complex and multi-layered whisky and utterly delicious."


Tuesday 19 January 2016

Bar Review #20: Foxglove (Hong Kong)

If you read our write-up from the "House of Chivas" Icon HK launch last year, you may have noticed the stunning venue in the background of the photos. That venue was the newly-opened Foxglove, which we returned to recently for the official media launch and more in-depth tour. 

Foxglove is the new venue from Ming Fat Group, who in 2014 brought us the excellent Mrs Pound in Sheung Wan. At over 4,000sq ft, it's cavernous by Hong Kong standards, yet retains an intimate feeling in every one of the 4 distinct areas.

Starting in a room which can only be described as an upmarket First class train carriage from the 1930s, we admired the red leather lounges encircling the room, the umbrellas lining both sides and the convex mirror which is sure to make for some fun Instagram photos. We're told the room will be available to patrons most nights, as well as being used for the occasional intimate gig. We've already seen it being used to good effect for whisky masterclasses too.

Moving onto the bar, we were given a decent taste of the cocktail menu on offer, starting with the "Bitter Truth", using an Angostura Bitters base (along with house-made orange cordial, Kraken spiced rum and fresh apple juice). Delicious, and a great way to show the versatility of Ango.

Then (of course) was onto the whisky cocktails - starting with the "Empire Boulevardier" which replaces Bourbon with Hibiki 12 and features house-made cardamom bitters. Citrus forward and bitter, this was right up my alley. The "Whisky Smash Twist" based on Tonka-bean infused Buffalo Trace wrapped things up with a herbal, earthy flavour. Interesting, but delicious.

The spirits selection is impressive too, with a library of old, rare cognacs and whiskies, some dating to the 1950s and many from mothballed distilleries (below is just a small taste of the bottles on offer - many of which are reserved for the VIP room - more on that later).

Next we moved onto the dining room, which the venue bills as the perfect spot for a working lunch. Hmm...we see where they're coming from, but those blue leather chairs are so comfortable (and the food / drinks so good), I don't think we'd want to go back to work after a visit!

We tried a number of dishes from both the bar snacks and dinner menus - beef tartare with Kimchi, ham and cheese toastie (with 4 types of cheese, no less), melt-in-your-mouth wagyu, and lobster tagliatelle to name a few. All fantastic.


Our final stop for the tour was the secret VIP room (which doubled as the Chivas Heritage room a few weeks earlier), for a tasting of Hine Cognac with Hine's Asia Pacific Brand Ambassador Mathieu Jeannin.

The small, but impressively decorated room holds a small bar (with 4 bar stools), a "library" of rare spirits, and a ceiling resembling a bookshelf. Easily one of the most impressive rooms in any bar we've seen in Hong Kong, it will be available to guests ordering rare, special or high-end spirits, and other VIP guests.

Foxglove is located at Printing House 2/F, 6 Duddell Street (also accessible from 18 Icehouse St), Central, and is open from Midday (Mon-Sat) until 1am (Mon-Thurs) or 3am (Fri-Sat). Well worth a visit for dinner, drinks, or (ideally) both.


Saturday 16 January 2016

PR #30: Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016

It took the whisky world (perhaps that should be the whisky auction world) by storm when a certain Mr Murray voted the 2013 release as "World Whisky of the Year" last year, and now it's back, with the iminent release of the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016.

Sure to be an instant sell-out, the 5,000 bottle worldwide release (246 for Australian bars and retail stores, HK release figures unknown) from Suntory is due next month.

There's scant detail on the rest of the "cask collection" (these releases usually consist of 4 different bottlings - a Mizunara cask, a Bourbon cask, a Puncheon and the Sherry cask) but since Mr Murray's award, it seems the Sherry Cask is the one on everyone's radar.

With only 5,000 bottles to be released, we're sure Suntory could use any old sherry casks and still sell out in minutes - but instead they've taken the same base as popular 2013, with an additional 2 years maturation, and thrown in some additional malts over 25 years old. Sounds like a winner to us.

We're hoping to get our hands on a bottle in the coming weeks, so we can let you know our thoughts. In the mean-time - here's the official press release:
"Suntory Whisky, the pioneer of Japanese Whisky, will launch the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 into the Australian market in February 2016. The Yamazaki Sherry Cask has been created for lovers of complex, refined, yet subtle tastes. Only 246 bottles will be available for sale in specialist whisky retailers and bars.

In 2015, Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible awarded the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 “World Whisky of the Year”. The new 2016 blend incorporates the same whiskies that created the 2013’s base with an additional two years maturation as well as adding various rare sherry cask single malt whiskies, some of which are over 25 years old.

Created by Chief Blender and Great Grandson of founder Shinjiro Torii, Shinji Fukuyo, the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 is a deliberate design, choosing from over a hundred malt whiskies. While sherry casks are both revered and feared for their strong character, Shinji Fukuyo selects only casks that hold a delicate balance of chemistry between the Yamazaki malt, and sherry cask, thereby enhancing Yamazaki’s characteristically rich and multifaceted flavour.

“Shinji Fukuyo has designed a journey in this whisky. The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 is undeniably where Spain meets Japan in the form of a whisky. To fully enjoy this journey, Fukuyo recommends the whisky first be served neat to showcase its nose. On its own, there is a clear and fresh top note. A raisin-like, deep sweetness that is both elegant and rich,” Narelle McDonald, Beam Suntory Marketing Manager for Premium Brands, said.

“You immediately taste the complexity of this liquid, and the fine balance of maturity and delicateness. Served on the rocks, the flavour opens as you begin to taste the Delaware grape-like sweetness and its slightly bitter acidity. When cut with water, there is a soft sweetness that blossoms like the first apples of the harvest,” said McDonald.

Sherry cask whisky has been a constant staple of the Suntory Whisky portfolio since 1924; a year after the distillery began construction. Shinjiro Torii started making Suntory Whisky in sherry casks imported from southern Spain, which he had originally used to blend his famous Akadama Sweet Wine.

Today, Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo visits the Northern region of Spain himself to ensure that it is his selection of Spanish oak to be sent to the “bodegas” sherry wineries to be made into sherry casks used to store their Oloroso Sherry. Fukuyo carefully oversees this entire process, from the selection and making of the casks, to the charring, and the aging of their sherry. After three years of aging, the sherry casks are sent back to Suntory Whisky, ready to receive what becomes the distinguished Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky."
(We've met Fukuyo-san twice now, and had no idea he was the Great Grandson of Shinjiro Torii. Nice guy, great blender AND from Japanese whisky royalty! Cool.)

The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 will be available in selected specialist whisky retailers and bars from February 2016, priced at $450AUD RRP.


Wednesday 13 January 2016

Please Don't Tell (PDT) Pop up Bar - Hong Kong (Bar Review #19)

As we mentioned last month, the legendary New York cocktail institution PDT (Please Don't Tell) has made its way to Hong Kong, setting up a month-long pop up bar at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong.

Far from being a half-hearted, branded attempt to cash in on the continuing success of one of the world's most famous cocktail bars, the pop up (a collaboration with Diageo World Class) is about as authentic as they come.

Not only has the upstairs bar been faithfully transformed (including a back bar that looks exactly like the original, taxidermy, exposed brick and yes, a phone booth entrance), but the bar's founder Jim Meehan, General Manager (and World Class USA Bartender of the Year 2013) Jeff Bell, and bartender Nick Brown are all in Hong Kong, manning the bar each night (though we're told Jim leaves at the end of this week).


Steph and I visited on Friday, and I returned yesterday for the media launch, where we learnt of the effort which went into planning the event over the course of a year (including discussions with a Shenzhen-based taxidermy company who didn't have a taxidermied bear, but said they "could get one". The organisers declined....)

There's no doubt about it - this has got to be the most authentic "pop up" bars we've seen, but thankfully there's been lot of local flavour injected too, with 6 (of the 12) cocktails made especially for Hong Kong. Rather than list them all here, we recommend checking out the bottom of this Lucky Peach article, written by Jim's brother. We do recommend trying both the "Red Velvet" and "Benton's Old Fashioned" though - the former because you simply won't believe how wonderfully weird coconut water and bourbon can be until you try it, and the latter because it's "the" famous PDT cocktail (and works brilliantly when made with Bulleit, which has just launched in HK).

The food menu also gets a Hong Kong touch, with four of the hot dogs designed by famous Hong Kong restaurants:
  • "Demon Dog", by Demon Chef Alvin Leung from BO Innovation (how often do you get to eat a hot dog made by a 3 Michelin-starred chef?)
  • "Yardbird",  by Matt Abergel of Yardbird
  • "Bahn Mi Trap Dog", by Jowett Yu of Ho Lee Fook (probably our favourite HK restaurant)
  • "Frenchie", by Richard Ekkebus of amber. 
(Chef Richard Ekkebus described it as an exercise in "comparing wieners").


The event is almost fully booked (though bar seating is available for walk-ins), and it's not hard to see why. The drinks are fantastic, the venue is an incredibly detailed and faithful re-creation, the hotdogs are delicious and the whole experience is just that - an experience.

Don't think of this as "going to a bar for drinks", think of it as an experience (and a wonderful one at that).

PDT Hong Kong
Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 5pm til late (until 30th January)
Location: MO Bar, Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong
Reservations: +852 2132 0077 or


Thursday 7 January 2016

Bar Review #18: Malt Whisky Bar Sheung Wan (Hong Kong)

We mentioned recently that there's a new Hong Kong Whisky Bar, nestled neatly in the Tai Ping Shan area of Sheung Wan, on Hong Kong Island (just a short walk / MTR ride from Central).

That bar is Malt Whisky Bar, which officially opened in early December. Steph and I actually stumbled upon Malt walking home one day (as you do these days in Hong Kong...) so it was great to finally drop in for a proper look around (and maybe a dram or two).

After spending an hour or so chatting to the staff, admiring the collection and trying some fantastic drams, I have to say - Malt has exactly the right formula You know how some whisky bars have great collections, but can be overly stuffy, formal, or just so expensive that you don't feel comfortable staying for more than one? Not here. Consider this your "friendly local bar", with an awesome selection of drams, great cocktails and staff who know their stuff. The sort of place you could happily spend all night.

The collection currently sits at around 290 bottles (with more being added), and covers a good portion of the globe - with Indian, Australian, Scottish, Irish and Japanese all well represented. An impressive backlit "library" of ultra-rare malts greets you on entry (think OB Port Ellens, Hibiki 30, Karuizawas, rare Ardbegs and Laphroaig 32 amongst others - all available by the bottle), whilst the back bar houses an impressive selection,available by the dram. Prices are very reasonable for HK - with Glenmorangie 10yo for $90HKD, Nikka from the Barrel also for $90HKD, and Highland Park Dark Origins for $165HKD. It's also refreshing to see the bar hasn't added a ridiculous "Japanese whisky tax" like some bars, with Hakushu 12 for $150HKD and Yoichi 15 for $260HKD (not bad, considering what these bottles now sell for).

Flights are also on offer (including an "around the world" flight), and the bar also hosts various tasting events, like this upcoming event on 13th January hosted by Eddie Nara, which includes GlenDronach 21, Old Pulteney 17, Auchentoshan Three Wood, Springbank 18 and Octomore 6.3. For those who prefer their drinks mixed, the cocktail list is worth a look (the attention to detail put into the Christmas cocktail we tried was impressive).

The bar itself is quite small, with a narrow design, but they've used the space well and designed it to feel open and inviting. You could easily come here with a group of 6-8 and still feel comfortable.

We get the impression that the owners and staff here are just down to earth whisky lovers who want to share their love of whisky with the neighbourhood - which is exactly the sort of bar we want to drink in

Address: 19 New St, Sheung Wan
Phone: +852 2858 0058
Hours: Open until midnight Mon-Sat.


Wednesday 6 January 2016

Tasted #252: Glenfarclas 105 40 year old

Happy New Year!

Our first post of 2016, and 6th tasting note for a 40 year old whisky (the others being from Balvenie, Glenfiddich, The Glenrothes, Glenfarclas and Master of Malt) comes courtesy of this Glenfarclas 105 40 year old, which I tasted recently at the excellent new Malt Whisky Bar in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong (review up soon).

For those unfamiliar with the "105", it's Glenfarclas' sherried cask strength release, released regularly and considered by many to be one of the best value "sherry bombs" out there, often compared with Aberlour's A'bunadh. At $778HKD,  $119.90AUD  or  £45.13, it's definitely one worth having in your collection (you can see our recent tasting notes with George Grant here).

That's not the whisky above though. The whisky above is significantly more special.

One of only 893 bottles, the 105 40 year old was released in 2008 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 105. Bottled at the same 60% as the regular 105, but with significantly more years under its belt, I was particularly keen to see how it fared with the other two Glenfarclas 40 year olds we've tried (and for that matter, the 50 and 60 year old Glenfarclas "secret Speyside whiskies" we've tried in recent years).

I count myself incredibly lucky to have tried this, and am hugely grateful to those who allowed me to do so....

Glenfarclas '105' 40 year old (60% ABV, 40yo, Speyside, Scotland, $3,500AUD$19,800HKD)
Colour: Molasses, treacle.

Nose: Huge amounts of cola - rich juicy cola - sour 'Coke bottles' (lollies) and sour gummy worms. Exactly the same notes I've had on almost every single Glenfarclas I've tried over the age of 30 years (which is 8 and counting), but ramped up big time.

Palate: Initially hot and a little closed up, but with clear notes of sherry-soaked dates, raisins and brazil nuts. With a few drops of water - almonds, red wine, aged leather, cigar smoke. Absolutely everything you want in a dram to just sit and "chew" on. Marvellous.

Finish: Long and tannic, but beautifully so. Some heavily sherried whiskies can be overly bitter/drying (especially some older Japanese expressions, I find). Not this - it's perfect. Some cigar smoke, some earthiness, and a little more cola round it out.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 94/100. Absolutely fantastic. Worth trying without, and then with a few drops of water (but not too much). However you drink it, if you ever get the chance, you're in for a treat.