Monday 28 March 2016

Ardbeg Day (Ardbeg Night) 2016 & Tasting Dark Cove Committee Release (Tasted #275)

We've given a fair bit of coverage to Ardbeg Day over the years (having attended every single one between Steph, Hendy and myself), and for good reason - they're always one of the highlights of the whisky calendar.

Starting in 2012, with an "Islalympics" theme (and a special-release bottling simply called "Ardbeg Day"), it was then onto the archaeologically-themed Ardbog Day (and the related Ardbog release) for 2013, then the soccer-themed Ardbeg Day 2014 (with its Green and Gold adorned Auriverdes release), and most recently the futuristic-themed Ardbeg Day 2015 (with Perpetuum celebrating 200 years of Ardbeg).

So, after 4 fantastic events and 4 unique and enjoyable bottlings, it's fair to say we're a little excited about this year's Ardbeg Day...which is actually going to be Ardbeg Night. Ardbeg Night will be held on Saturday 28th May in Sydney, and will recall the "shadowy history of Ardbeg’s homeland", remembering the substantial illicit whisky trade that existed between Islay and the mainland in the 19th century. To celebrate, a special release known as "Dark Cove" has been released, in both regular guise (46.5% ABV, $169AUD) and Committee Release guise (55% ABV, $149.99AUD). Yes, at the moment the Committee Release is cheaper than the regular release (it's also available now, in Australia). thing we've noticed over the years is that Ardbeg Day in Sydney is getting increasingly popular. More people attending, more people wanting to attend. Ardbeg Day 2015 saw over 15,000 people attend 135 events globally last year, and we wouldn't be surprised if that increased this year. To address the popularity, Moet-Hennessy Australia have implemented a new system for tickets. Basically, to be in with a chance of winning tickets, you need to buy a bottle of Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee Release (if you do miss out though, Ardbeg's embassies like Stitch Bar and World of Whisky will be hosting events too).

Every bottle of Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee Release purchased between 15 March 2016 and 17 April 2016 will give the purchaser an entry into the draw to win two tickets to Ardbeg Night 2016. Participants simply need to:

1. Sign up to the Ardbeg Committee via
2. Purchase a bottle of Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee Release from 15 March 2016 via, which will place them into a ballot to attend Ardbeg Night 2016.
3. Winners be notified via telephone and email by 20th April 2016
Full details can be found at:

Now Ardbeg Day Night might not be until May, but we've been lucky enough to get our hands on a sample of the 55% ABV Committee Release thanks to the lovely folks at EVH. See below for our thoughts.

Ardbeg "Dark Cove" Committee Release (55% ABV, NAS, Islay, Scotland, $149.99AUD)
Colour: The darkest Ardbeg ever? Darker than the current regular line-up, for sure, but not quite El Diablo territory, and not as dark as some recent SMWS bottlings. Deep amber.

Nose: Rich, creamy peat....loads of peat. Coastal peat though - more maritime and less "campfire" than you may expect. Banana lollies and an overall freshness. At a guess I'd say there's a fair amount of youngish Ardbeg in here.

Palate: Big, rich and chewy. Peaty caramels (now there's an idea)! There's definite sherry influence, with red berries and a hint of mocha, but also a younger, fresher, sweeter character - licorice allsrts, musk sticks. Loads of coastal peat throughout.

Finish: Long and coastal-smoky. Fish nets, oysters, brine. With water comes a slightly earthier smoke. A hint of tannins at the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. Another very enjoyable Ardbeg, one with a younger, stronger peat influence than some of the previous Ardbeg Day bottlings.


Saturday 26 March 2016

Tomatin Tasting with Brand Ambassador Graham Nicolson (Tasted #269 -274) was recently fortunate enough to be invited to a tasting of the Tomatin range by Hong Kong distributors T'z Limited. The occasion? Global Brand Ambassador Graham Nicolson was in town (also, it was Friday, and who needs an excuse to drink good whisky on a Friday!?)

Tomatin was one of those distilleries we'd tried here and there, usually at various whisky festivals, but never actually sat down and taken the time to really taste one (let alone six) of their releases.

Arriving at the heritage Whisky@Stables bar at Hullet House (on a significantly less muggy day than last time!) we chatted with Graham, who we learned was on a mammoth trip taking in HK and Japan (with barely a single day between tastings) and local Tomatin representative / good mate Eddie Nara.

After taking our seats (an almost-too comfortable leather armchair from which we'd happily sip whisky all night) Graham kicked things off with an introduction to the distillery, and its "light, soft, fruity" character. Gaelic for "Hill of the Juniper bush", Graham explained that Tomatin's name is a reference to the illicit distillers who plied their trade before the distillery became legitimate in 1897. Not because they distilled Gin, but because juniper bush doesn't give off smoke, so using it as a source of heat/flame made it easier to hide their operations. Crafty...

From its earlier days as a popular malt for blenders, to 1984 when the distillery went out of business, to today where we see Tomatin as a popular Highland single malt (particularly in Asia), Graham took us on a brief journey of the distillery (injecting plenty of humour along the way) before we delved into the six drams in front of us.

Tomatin Legacy (43% ABV, NAS, Highlands, Scotland, $460HKD / £21.53)
An interesting NAS made up of 85% ex-Bourbon barrels and 15% virgin oak.
Colour: Light gold.
Nose: Banana bread, lemon sorbet, sweet vanilla.
Palate: Zingy and citrusy. Some custard. Very sweet. Lemon sherbert and some whole limes.
Finish: Short to medium length, lots of citrus - key lime pie.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 89/100. 

Tomatin 12 Year Old (43% ABV, 12yo, Highlands, Scotland, $580HKD / $54.99AUD£27.36)
Finished in 1st fill Oloroso casks.
Colour: Gold.
Nose: Blackberries and a slight nuttiness.
Palate: Light overall, but more mouthfeel than the NAS. Some more nuts, orange, spice. 
Finish: Medium length, with some residual sherry notes - Brazil nuts and sherry-soaked Christmas pudding.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. Easy drinking and quite "sessionable". ABV feels spot on for the style of whisky (light and approachable).

Tomatin 14 Year Old Port Wood Finish (46% ABV, 14yo, Highlands, Scotland, $780HKD / $120AUD / £44.44)
Colour: Pinkish copper.
Nose: Rich red berries (strawberries, raspberries mostly), cherries and burnt/caramelised sugar.
Palate: Initially a little thin, but then come some rich notes of toffee, caramel, cranberries, tangerine and strawberry. Fruity, but in a different way to the Legacy.
Finish: Medium to long in length. Butterscotch, toffee and a slight hint of smoke.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. 

Tomatin 18 Year Old (46% ABV, 18yo, Highlands, Scotland, $1,380HKD / $199AUD£62.34)
Finished in European Oak Oloroso Sherry butts
Colour: Copper-orange.
Nose: Flinty, whole oranges. Clearly Sherried.
Palate: Vibrant, hints of spice, nutmeg, whole oranges again, and then even more spice. Plenty of citrus though. There's a fruitiness here, but it's more mature and robust than its younger siblings.
Finish: Long and sherried, on the fruitier side.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. 

Tomatin Cù Bòcan  (46% ABV, NAS, Highlands, Scotland, $780HKD / $99.99AUD£35.69)
An interesting mix of virgin, ex-Oloroso and ex-Bourbon casks, peated to 15ppm, and named after the "Ghost Dog" who supposedly haunted the village. Hmmm...not sure about the story, but the whisky sounded interesting!
Colour: Golden sunset.
Nose: Oranges, slight peatiness, but quite floral and with clear notes of coconut.
Palate: The peat is there, but subtle, and fruity! Tropical fruits - passionfruit and whipped cream. Light, but lovely. The level of peat feels just right.
Finish: A slightly earthy smokiness with some oranges rounding it out. Medium length.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. Enjoyed this one a lot.

Tomatin 2003 single cask 11 Years Old 2003/2014 bottled for Macalabur (58.4% ABV, 11yo, Highlands, Scotland, no longer available)
Apparently the last bottle from a single cask bottled for "MacAlabur" - which as best we can work out is a whisky club either based in the US, or Denmark.
Colour: Light gold.
Nose: Beautiful. Custard, coconut, creamy caramel. A slight earthiness. Passionfruit. Overall quite tropical! A few drops of water adds some nice floral notes.
Palate: Big sweet bourbon spice. BBQ sauce. Meaty! Water amps everything up, and adds even more sweetness. 
Finish: Short to medium in length. Spicy, cream, sweet vanilla. Some residual smoke towards the end.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. 

After six drams - all very different but all with a common "light, soft, fruity" theme - it was fair to say Tomatin was no longer an "unknown", but rather a distillery from which we'd happily seek our further expression to try.

Martin. would like to thank Graham and T'z Limited Hong Kong for the invitation.

Friday 18 March 2016

This week in whisk(e)y #29 - Glenmorangie Milsean Australian launch, Sweet and Savory Pairing with Glenmorangie in Hong Kong, Sydney's Grain Bar exceeds 200 whiskies, World Class Hong Kong kicks off for 2016

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...

Glenmorangie Milsean Australian launch
The next "Private Edition" Glenmorangie has recently launched in Australia, following on from 2015's Tùsail and 2014's Companta. Named "Milsean" (pronounced "Meel-shawn"), the whisky (as with previous Private Editions) has been finished for several years in an alternative cask, only this time, those casks, Portuguese wine casks, were first deeply toasted. The result is a sweet and spicy character "reminiscent of the sugared delights in tall glass jars which once decked the shelves of every traditional confectioner’s store".

If there was any doubt as to the sweet nature of the liquid, a quick look at the candy store-like packaging should dismiss any concerns!

To quote Dr Bill himself:
“A glass of Glenmorangie Milsean transports me straight to an old fashioned sweet shop with its sweet and spicy bouquet, with hints of sugar cane, ripe fruits and fudge. Extra-maturing Glenmorangie in heavily toasted red wine casks for the first time, has allowed us to create a whisky recalling a bygone era. I hope its deep tastes of cherries, angelica, candied orange peel and unusual intensity of caramelised fruits, will surprise and delight whisky aficionados and malt connoisseurs.”

Milsean is available from the Moët Hennessy Collection now, for $150AUD. We're told the Hong Kong release is imminent.

Sweet and Savory Pairing with Glenmorangie
Speaking of sweet Glenmorangies, the distillery has partnered with 12 popular Hong Kong restaurants to introduce Sweet & Savory Pairing menus, from now until April 30th.

We already know Glenmorangie pairs well with various dishes from our lunch with Dr Bill last year, so we're sure these pairings, which include Nectar D’Or paired with Salted Caramel Macaroon, Quinta Ruban paired with Jamon Serrano Ham and Signet paired with Chocolate Craquelin, will be just as expertly matched.

The following restaurants are offering the Sweet & Savory Pairing menus between now and April 30th:

  • Bao Bei
  • 77 Wyndham Street, Central District
  • Bitters & Sweets
  • 1/F, 52-54 Wellington Street, Central
  • Little Lab
  • Shop B, G/F 48-50 Staunton Street
  • 001
  • Shop G1, LG/F, Welley Bldg, 97 Wellington St
  • Topiary
  • 3/F, Hilltop Plaza, 49 - 51 Hollywood Road, Central
  • The Woods
  • 17 Hollywood Rd, Central
  • Jimmy's Kitchen – Central
  • G/F South China Building,1-3 Wyndham Street, Central, HK
  • Jimmy's Kitchen – Kowloon
  • G/F Kowloon Center,29 Ashley Road,Tsim Sha Tsui
  • Steik World Meats
  • Shop 14 Level 3, K11, 18 Hanoi Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui,
  • Osteria Felice
  • Shop 16-21, G/F, Hutchison House, Harcourt Rd, Central
  • Bobby's Rabble
  • 57 Peel Street, Central
  • Ritz Carlton The Lounge & Bar
  • 102/F, Ritz Carlton Hotel 

Diageo World Class 2016 kicks off in Hong Kong
We love Diageo World Class here - the global cocktail competition which continues to inspire incredible, inventive cocktails year on year.

The Hong Kong round has kicked of for 2016, with bartenders given to 3rd April to construct a "daytime drinking" cocktail using Bulleit Bourbon or Rye (both of which we've loved since we visited Diageo Sydney back in 2013).

"The Hong Kong & Macau leg of this year’s competition will take place over three rounds, with the first commencing Monday 29th February until the 3rd April. Bartenders are asked to create a cocktail suitable for mid-afternoon consumption using Bulleit Bourbon or Bulleit Rye Whiskey. The challenge asks bartenders to consider factors such as the occasion the drink is served at, be it outdoors, at a wedding or a BBQ, and also that given the time of day, an appropriate alcoholic strength. Bartenders must submit their drink online at, post to social media and make it available in their bar."

Sydney's Grain Bar exceeds 200 whiskies
Sydney's Grain Bar (in the Four Seasons Hotel) might not have originally seemed like a "whisky bar" (though we did love it enough to include it in our "Top Sydney Bars" list right from the start), but recently it's slowly established itself as a serious contender.

As well as holding several serious whisky events (like the Russell's Reserve launch last year or the Laphroaig Masterclass with John Campbell), the bar now boasts over 200 whiskies and has launched a "Flight of the Week" program, offering a different set of four 15ml whiskies for AU$40 each week, Monday to Sunday.

With a menu that spans the world (Scotland, Japan, Ireland, Canada, Wales, US, Sweden, South Africa, India and Taiwan), there should be a dram for everyone, from $10 for a Hakushu Distiller's Reserve, to $380AUD for an OB Port Ellen 9th Release 30 Year Old.

(From personal experience, they also make fantastic cocktails too.)

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


Monday 14 March 2016

Compass Box's Transparency Campaign & Tasted #266 - #268: "This is Not a Luxury Whisky", "Flaming Heart (15th Anniversary)" and "The Peat Monster" (#101drams)

Compass Box, much like WM Cadenhead, Gordon & MacphailSamaroli and many others, are an Independent Bottler who bottle (and blend) Scottish whisky under their own label. 

Unlike the others though, Compass Box are known for pushing the boundaries - the boundaries of expectation, of flavour, of experimentation, of marketing, and more recently - the boundaries of the UK and EU Law. I'm talking of course about Compass Box's "Transparency Campaign", which Founder and "Whiskymaker" John Glaser explains in this brief video:

In a nutshell, Compass Box would like the laws changed to allow whisky producers the option to better describe the contents of their whiskies, including the ages of all the whiskies that make up a particular whisky.

Currently under EU law, if a whisky chooses to display an age (which increasingly, they don't) the bottle/marketing must only state the age of the youngest whisky in the mix. Which is fine - it's what stops a bottler from filling a bottle with 99% 12yo whisky, 1% 50yo whisky, and calling it a "50 Year old Whisky".

What it doesn't allow though, is whisky producers to state the age of all the whiskies that make up a particular whisky. For example, Balvenie TUN1401 is a NAS whisky that includes some seriously old malts. In some cases, the age of the casks are known, but wouldn't it be nice to list them on the bottle, and even, should Balvenie decide, to list the % makeup of each cask?

That's really all Compass Box are seeking to do here - change the law to allow whisky producers the option to let consumers know more about what's in their whisky. In today's market, with an ever-increasing consumer thirst for knowledge, that just sounds like common sense to us.

Take for example their latest limited release, "This is not a luxury whisky". We know it's a blend, we know it's Scottish, we know it's NAS and we know it's non chill filtered, but wouldn't it be great to know a little more? Luckily, Compass Box have been transparent with us, and told us the whisky is made up of:
  • 79% 19yo Glen Ord malt
  • 10.1% 40yo Strathclyde grain
  • 6.9%  40yo Girvan grain; and
  • 4% 30yo Caol Ila.
How cool is that? Now if the bottle carried a big ** 40 YEARS OLD ** label on the front, we'd have an issue with it, but we think the sort of openness Compass Box are looking to introduce can only be a good thing.

Compass Box were kind enough to send through two samples of their latest (2015 release) limited editions recently - "This is Not a Luxury Whisky" and "Flaming Heart 15th Anniversary Edition". We've also included our tasting notes of "The Peat Monster", which we've been sitting on for a while (a #101drams dram).

Compass Box "This is Not a Luxury Whisky" (53.1% ABV, NAS, Blended Scotch whisky, one of 4,992 bottles, bottled by Compass Box, Scotland, £124.75)

Designed to make people re-define their definition of "luxury whisky", and remind people that whisky is for drinking. We love the design of the bottle, in particular the cap/closure. No elaborate foil covering here, just a cork and a thin paper strip. It's almost saying "rip out the cork and pour a dram, NOW!"
Colour: Vibrant, deep dark gold.

Nose: Oh wow, there's a lot going on here. We've tried some incredible blends in recent months and this absolutely continues that trend. Marzipan, sherbert, lots of rich sherry influence (walnuts, glacé cherries, sherry-soaked raisins) with the slightest hint of peat smoke (which is interesting considering only 4% of the blend is peated, and at 30yo, that peat should be fairly subtle).

Palate: A hint of earthy smoke, a lot of sultanas, then citrus-driven Christmas cake. There's a definite sweetness too - icing sugar dusted milk chocolate truffles. Delicious.

Finish: Long and sweet. Lemon cream, a little peat smoke which lingers to the very end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. A brilliantly-constructed blend, and testament to John Glaser and the Compass Box team's skill at constructing complex and fantastic whiskies. Is it a luxury whisky? In terms of taste, absolutely. Is it a bottle you should buy and leave on a shelf unopened? No, drink the bloody thing!

Compass Box "Flaming Heart 15th Anniversary Edition" (48.9% ABV, NAS, Blended Scotch whisky, bottled by Compass Box, Scotland, £83.12)
A blended malt this time, with Caol Ila making up the majority of the blend. Also non chill filtered with no spirit colouring.
Colour: Light gold.

Nose: "Medicinal sweetness" best sums it up. Iodine and milk bottle lollies. Taiwanese pineapple cake and freshly cut grass.

Palate: Sweet and juicy peat. Some mocha, lots of milk chocolate, yet still medicinal. I would have guessed there was some Laphroaig in the blend if I didn't know better. There's a slight meatiness too, like an aged, oily piece of Jamón ibérico. Simply excellent.

Finish: Long, lingering woodsmoke with an underlying confectionary sweetness - boiled lollies predominantly. 

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. Another winner. It's not hard to throw a few Islay whiskies together and produce a blended (or blended malt) Islay whisky, but to produce one with the complexities that this has? That takes skill.

Compass Box "The Peat Monster" (46% ABV, NAS, Blended Scotch whisky, bottled by Compass Box, Scotland, $720HKD / $74.99AUD / £31.99)
Part of the "Signature Range", another blended malt composed primarily of Laphroaig, Caol Ila, Ardmore and Ledaig.
Colour: Very light straw.

Nose: Peaches, apricot, pineapple. Tropical fruit peat fest!

Palate: Relatively thin, but loads of flavour. Tropical flavours mostly - passionfruit, vanilla cream, sweet, slightly tannic, with smouldering ashes in the background.

Finish: Medium to long length - those smouldering ashes to continue to the end, accompanied by a hint of spice.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. A nice, easy sipping Islay dram which, whilst not overly complex, is 1) certainly not one-dimension like some other peat-heavy whiskies and 2) a bargain at its price-point. would like to thank Compass Box for the generous samples sent all the way from the UK. If you agree with Compass Box's Transparency Campaign, consider adding your support by signing the petition.


Sunday 13 March 2016

Tasted #265: 1938 The Macallan (Macallan-Glenlivet) 31yo

Following the 1959 Macallan 18yo tasted recently at the Dragon8 Hong Kong auction comes this much older (in both senses of the word) 1938 Macallan-Glenlivet 31yo - a pre-WW2 Macallan!

Being distilled in 1938 and bottled in 1969 by Gordon & Macphail (also for the Italian market) makes this whisky positively geriatric - distilled 78 years ago! Not the earliest whisky we've tried here (having tried a mid-1930s White Horse last year at Singapore's Auld Alliance), but certainly the earliest bottle of single malt.

Last time we saw this bottle at auction it sold for just over $2,000USD (approx $16k HKD), but it's fair to say it would probably command more than that today, especially in Macallan-crazy Hong Kong. Just look at the 1950 Fine & Rare we saw sell for $170k recently at auction and this 42yo Macallan bottled in 1969, for almost £10,000 (approx $110,000k).

Now sure this is an indie bottling (like the aforementioned 42yo), and not one of the famous "Fine and Rare" series, but regardless, what an experience!

1938 The Macallan 31yo - A Pure Highland Malt Scotch Whisky (43% ABV, 31yo, bottled by Gordon & Macphail for the Italian market, Highlands, Scotland, try your luck at auction)

Colour: Copper

Nose: Smooth, light. Plenty of sherry influence, but with fruitier undertones than you usually expect from Macallan - cranberries, lots of strawberries.

Palate: Light. Quite a bit lighter than the colour would usually suggest. There's a citrusy fizziness, some strong peach characteristics, a hint of mocha orange and some toffee. On the whole though it feels just a little thin, which suggests there might be a little oxidation happening. It's not off-putting and we've tasted more heavily oxidised bottles, but it suggests this bottle is, to a small degree, a shadow of its former self.

Finish: Shortish, soft and smooth. Inoffensive, pleasant and delicious, with lingering peach and toffee notes, although as with the palate, it seems like the finish may have been better when this bottle was younger. 

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. An incredible experience and an enjoyable whisky, but we can't help but wonder how it would have been as a fresh bottle. 
To be fair though, to make it to 78 years old and still have this much character is an impressive feat (we should be so lucky)!


Friday 11 March 2016

Tasted #264: 1959 The Macallan 18yo (#101drams)

At the recent Dragon8 Hong Kong auction a few weeks ago, I mentioned that we were treated to some incredible old drams, including Bowmores, Highland Parks, and of course, Macallans.

...and when I say rare, I mean r-a-r-e. Like this little selection:

When the youngest bottle is a Macallan 18 from 1985, you know you're in for a treat...

I was lucky enough to try two of these, and I'll kick off the tasting notes with the younger of the two - a 1959 The Macallan 18yo, bottled by Campbell, Hope & King of Elgin, and imported by Flli Rinaldi, Bologna for the Italian market. Being 1959 distilled spirit bottled 18 years later also happens to put it squarely into the #101drams category - allowing me to tick off #98 "A Scotch bottled in the 1970s". Winner - it's time I started ticking off a few more.

But hold up...this was the "younger" whisky? Well yes, the other was a 1938 31yo The Macallan - tasting notes up next!

Now sure, old Macs come up at auction somewhat often (always accompanied by lofty price tags), and occasionally you see an old bottle pop up for sale (like this 1976 Macallan 18yo, which was recently available but sold out in a matter of days), but how often do you actually get a chance to try these rarities? For the vast majority of us, it's probably fair to say "not every often".

So in summary - a rare treat indeed. But how did this spirit, distilled 57 years ago and bottled 39 years ago, hold up?

1959 The Macallan 18yo Pure Highland Malt Scotch Whisky (80˚ Proof aka 46% ABV, 18yo, bottled by Campbell, Hope & King, Highlands, Scotland, try your luck at auction)
Colour: Dark, dark copper.

Nose: Quintessential sherry. Toffee, burnt orange, a nuttiness. There's also some cola lollies, and a hint of furniture polish. Makes you want to dive right in...but you don't. You wait, you enjoy the nose longer, longer. This liquid's been waiting 57 can wait a few more minutes.

Palate: OK, can't wait anymore. Zesty - lots more of that burnt orange. A slight hint of smoke. More citrus - not bitter, but getting there (in a good way). Plenty of toffee, hints of mocha, more orange (whole oranges now), and some more nuttiness. Glacé fruits, walnuts, it's all here, and it's all delicious. So far, pleasingly, no signs whatsoever of oxidation or "old bottle effect" either.

Finish: Long (LONG), a little more smoke. More citrus (orange zest this time), some leather, a little bitterness, and somewhat surprisingly, some butter menthols.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 95/100. Honestly a stunning dram. If this is how "Old Macs" are, then I wish I was a whisky drinker back then (or at least, I wish I had the foresight to stock up when whiskies like these were within the realms of affordability!)


Monday 7 March 2016

Malt Masters Hong Kong Whisky Festival 2016 review

Hot on the heels of the inaugural Hong Kong Whisky Festival came the Malt Masters HK Whisky Festival, which celebrated its third year in Hong Kong last weekend.

Re-locating from last year's event at PMQ, this year's festival saw an entire function floor of Conrad Hong Kong taken over by a mixture of booths, masterclass rooms, and a very special "Rare Whisky VIP Room", not to mention the pool-side whisky and cigar pairing classes.

The festival ran over both Saturday and Sunday, but actually kicked off on Friday with a fantastic poolside party featuring whisky, "sensory" pairing (with the talented Ewan Henderson of Scotch Broth Events), cocktails, cigars and even a whisky highball matched with fairy floss! Ian McKerrow (Malt Masters founder) introduced the festival and explained that the focus this year would be on both education and world whiskies. A quick look at the masterclass schedule, and the distilleries represented certainly echoed that claim.

Whilst the selection of drams wasn't quite as big as the HKWF, it was certainly well curated, with Scotland, Ireland, America, Japan, Wales and Sweden all well-represented. Making good use of the entire hotel floor, the festival split booths up into a number of individual and naturally-lit function rooms keeping the event from ever feeling too busy, despite the fact that there were actually a lot of people in attendance. 

All drams were included in the entry price ($600-$800HKD) and attendees were given a clever smartcard for bottle purchases (clever, although perhaps someone dangerous given the smartly-discounted prices on offer).

A few of the more interesting whiskies for us were the Mackmyra Vinterrok and Svensk Rök (both very popular amongst attendees), Wyoming Whisky (a sweet, easy-sipping Bourbon with no rye in the mashbill), and Arran, who had their usual huge selection on offer.

The masterclasses were many and varied - offering everything from molecular food pairing and whisky for beginners to masterclasses covering specific brands, and even a masterclass on whisky investing. The variety was clearly a hit with the crowd, with attendees constantly shuffling back and forth between classes and the booths. For next year's festival we may even consider attending both days - one to focus on the masterclasses, the other to focus on the rest of the festival.

One theme that ran through the day was "fun" - everyone we spoke to, everywhere you looked, people were having fun, catching up with old friends, or making new ones. Adding to the fun (in a responsible manner) was an Uber breathalyser called "Uber Safe". It was the first time we'd seen one of these at a whisky festival, but we'd like to see more! Even if some people (most?) used it as a form of competition amongst their mates, it still did a good job of reminding people how quickly their blood alcohol level can rise at events like these, and to never drive afterwards. The freebies on offer from Uber (battery packs, sunglasses, bottle openers) were a nice addition too.

At 1pm the Rare Whisky VIP Room opened (sponsored by Platinum Wines HK, founders of the first whisky investment fund), which provided guests with two additional complimentary drams (a 27yo Macallan independently bottled under the "Prometheus" label, and a 16yo 1987 Laphroaig), as well as the opportunity to purchase 20mL drams of some incredibly rare whiskies. We'll let the photos do most of the talking, but to name a few of the drams on offer:
  • 1984 single cask Karuizawa
  • 1973 Ardbeg 15yo bottled by Sestante
  • Highland Park 35yo
  • Various Single Cask Yamazakis
  • 1982 Port Ellen, Old Malt Cask Bottling, 18yo

After a few incredible drams, and a chat to David Robertson (former master distiller of The Macallan, founder of the Rare Whisky 101 and great bloke), who had some interesting insights into the world of investing, the rare whisky market, and the proliferation of fake whisky bottles, it was time to head out to the pool for our Cohiba & Glenlivet pairing masterclass.

With the sun shining and the temperature a beautiful low to mid 20s, the class was the perfect way to wind down our time at the festival. Presented by Darren Hosie of Pernod Ricard, the class offered no pretension, no complicated tastings, and plenty of fun. A selection of 5 drams (Glenlivet 12 Excellence, 15, 18, Nadurra and New Make Spirit), a cigar (Cohiba Siglo II), a brief introduction into the whisky, and that was it - time for guests to enjoy the whisky, decide on their own favourite pairing, and chat with fellow whisky lovers.

Perfect - just like our whole day at the festival really.

Martin. would like to thank Malt Masters HK for the invitation to the party, festival and Rare Whisky VIP Room.