Tuesday 30 August 2016

Benromach 1974 41yo Media lunch in Hong Kong (Tasted #313)

We were recently incredibly fortunate to be invited to an intimate lunch in Hong Kong to celebrate the release of the 41 year old 1974 Benromach, recently released in extremely limited numbers.

Special guest / host for the lunch was Richard Urquhart of Gordon & Macphail / Benromach. Richard's business card might refer to him as "Export Regional Sales Manager", but as a member of the 4th generation of the Urquhart family (who founded Gordon & Macphail over 120 years ago), you'd be hard-pressed to find a better brand ambassador. A man more passionate about a whisky brand you'll likely not find - unsurprising when said brand is ingrained in your family's heritage.

I first became familiar with Benromach back in 2013 at a tasting in Sydney, so it was nice to revisit the whiskies (and a few new ones) and see if / how my perception had changed, and also to visit a few new releases. To do so over a fantastic 8 course banquet at Dynasty Restaurant at the Harbourview Hotel was the icing on the cake.

Richard introduced us to the distillery (which Gordon & Macphail purchased in 1993 and reopened in 1998) with a quick video, then gave us a deeper insight into what it's like to be part of such a prolific whisky family. Interesting note: no special treatment for family members - Richard began life at Benromach sweeping the floors!

Lunch kicked off with Benromach 10yo which, I have to be honest, I remember being good, but not this good! An absolutely wonderful "entry level" Speysider - with plenty of sherry influence whilst still maintaining the light and elegant notes you expect from a Speyside whisky. Crème brûlée, citrus, and even a little ginger were the dominant notes. Matured 80% in ex-Bourbon and 20% in ex-Sherry, the whisky is later finished in a 1st fill ex-Oloroso cask. It works wonderfully, and matched well with our first dish too - Bread candy rolled with scallop and mango, barbecued pork, salty ox-tongue with black pepper.

Next was Benromach 15yo, which has the same make-up as the 10yo, but enjoys a 5 year finish in those Oloroso casks. With a more prominent sherry influence, this was a beautifully rounded dram with a creaminess which complimented the Baked crab shell stuffed with crab meat and onion nicely, but was in no way a one-dimensional sherry bomb. A very elegant dram.

Our next whisky was from Benromach's "Wood Finish" range - the Hermitage, distilled in 2005, matured in 1st fill ex-Bourbon barrels, finished for 2 years in French wine casks from Northern Rhône, and bottled at 45%. The wine influence was noticeable here, with an earthy, flinty, almost dusty note along with a vanilla creaminess no doubt imparted by the 1st fill bourbon barrels. Another lovely whisky, which we really enjoyed with Sautéed diced wagyu beef tenderloin with asparagus.

That was supposed to be it for the "regular" line up, however Howard of Fine Vintage Hong Kong (Benromach's distributor here) had brought along his own bottle of Benromach Sassicaia, and was kind enough to share it with us. As his favourite in the line-up, Howard joked that he regularly carries a bottle around (hey, that's an idea we can get behind).

It's a tough call between the 15yo and the Sassicaia, so I'll call it even - both are wonderful drams. With a pinkish yellow gold hue and notes of berries, lemon, vanilla cream and key lime pie on the nose and palate, the wine finish became most noticeable on the finish, which was slightly earthy and vegetive. A complex and delicious whisky, very enjoyable with Baked fresh lobster in supreme sauce with e-fu noodles.

...all of which led us to the main event - our very special tasting of the Benromach 1974. With only 3 bottles in Hong Kong (available for $25,000HKD each from Fine Vintage HK), we didn't crack open the one in front of us, but rather tasted from a sample bottle Richard had brought along.

When asked "why 41 years old? Why bottle it this year?" Richard simply said that they felt the whisky was ready, and it met the profile they were looking for. Good answer! Too often we see whiskies released at 40, 50+ years when really, they probably would have been much better 5-10 years earlier. It sounded like that wouldn't be the case here, but I was about to find out for sure...

Benromach 1974 (49.1% ABV, 41yo, Speyside, Scotland, Cask #1583, One of 452 bottles, $25,000HKD£1,000 / AU pricing not available)
Colour: Orange copper.

Nose: Furniture polish, neenish tarts, leather, sweet caramel chews, blackcurrant, orange spice. With more time, a little smoke and just the slightest hint of oak, but overall, quite fresh and very complex.

Palate: Initially quite sweet, settling into notes of super clean sherry. No sulphur here! Vanilla cream drizzled with Oloroso sherry. Hints of creamed honey. Dark chocolate. After time, a slightly earthy, peppery smoke.

Finish: Long, sweet and slightly smoky (earthy / vegetive smoke). Slight tannins at the very end, and a lingering sweetness.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  94/100. Complex and beautiful - two characteristics that, when brought together well, produce an utterly fantastic whisky in my opinion.

It was fantastic to sample the 1974 41yo, but it was also great to revisit some of the core lineup too, and to do so with a member of the G&M legacy. I've always enjoyed Benromach, but enjoyed it even more this time around. I'd go so far as to say the 10yo would be one of the best value Speysiders around that age on the market, and the 1974 - well, if you have $25k HKD you're thinking of spending on whisky, it would be a good way to spend it.


TimeforWhisky.com would like to thank Richard and GHCAsia for a fantastic lunch and tasting.

Monday 29 August 2016

2017 Ardbeg Day release - Ardbeg Kelpie? TimeforWhisky's prediction from 12 months ago coming true?

Just over a year ago, after a lunch with Dr Bill Lumsden we broke the exclusive news that Ardbeg had been playing with Russian Oak, and that we could see the result turn into a future release, perhaps for Ardbeg Day:
"...oh, and about a little experiment Dr Bill is in the middle of, involving Ardbeg aged in Russian Oak. Although coy on the details (when asked for his thoughts on the impact Russian Oak has on the spirit, he said to ask again in 2 years), Dr Bill did suggest that the project (codenamed "Ardbeg KGB" within the distillery), could well be a future Ardbeg Day release. We've seen "Islalympics" (2012), Archaelogy (2013)Soccer World Cup (2014) and Space (2015) as themes, so can we expect to see a Russian-themed Ardbeg Day in the near future? Perhaps."
Fast forward 12 months, and it seems like our prediction may come true in 2017, with these label renderings surfacing today (found in the US TTB database, and flagged to us by good mate The Whisky Ledger):

Now just because Moët Hennessy have filed a few images with the TTB, that doesn't automatically mean we'll see the whisky released, but in the past their database has been a relatively reliable source of information, and the timing seems to line up based on our 2015 discussion with Dr Bill, when he suggested the Russian Oak experiment wasn't quite ready, and to "ask again in 2 years".

If this is indeed going to be a future release, we could see a similar approach to this year's Dark Cove, with a Committee release at a higher ABV (51.7% if the label above is to be believed) and a lower strength "general release".

Whatever the case, it gives us something to speculate over for a little while (whilst we wait to see if that 21 year old Ardbeg actually gets released). I for one would very much love to try a Russian oak-aged Ardbeg!


PS: As much as we wanted the label to feature an Australian Kelpie, in this case we suspect the name refers to the mythical Scottish horse-like creature.

Saturday 27 August 2016

Tasted #310 - 312: Westland American Single Malt Whiskey (American Oak, Peated and Sherry Wood)

Mention "American Whiskey" to many people, and you're likely to get a response along the lines of "Oh, you mean Bourbon?" or maybe rye if they feel they know a thing or two. American single malt though, is a category that's still relatively unknown and even though there's a lot of it around (and has been for a while), is still seen as being in its relative infancy.

Enter Seattle's Westland Distillery. Drawing on the natural and high quality materials found in the USA's Pacific North West, the distillery produces a core range of three single malts, as well as a number of single cask expressions. Recently we were lucky enough to receive a sample of the three core expressions below, from Alba Whisky in Australia who will soon be distributing Westland:

At a minimum of 2 years old (26 months for the Sherry Wood) they're not old nor super complex, but nor are they trying to be. Aiming to showcase the rich barley of Washington state, the whiskies are designed to show what attention to detail, quality ingredients and intelligent maturation can produce.

Australia's Alba Whisky (known for distributing brands such as G&M, Amrut, Benromach, Wemyss and of course Westland) were kind enough to send us three samples recently (all the way to Hong Kong), to let us see what these whiskies were all about...

Westland American Oak American Single Malt Whiskey  (46% ABV, 2yo, Seattle, USA, Australian price TBC)
Colour: Honey gold.

Nose: Honey, caramel, BBQ'd pineapple. Very pleasant.

Palate: Smooth but rich. Toast, pork crackling, oranges drizzled with honey. Its 46% ABV feels spot on.

Finish: Short to medium length, with slight rubbery notes initially rounding out into bitter cocoa notes.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 88/100. Very drinkable, and quite impressive given the young age of both the whisky and the distillery.

Westland Sherry Wood American Single Malt Whiskey (46% ABV, 26 months old, Seattle, USA, Australian price TBC)
Colour: Light honey gold.

Nose: Toffee and caramel, raisins and maple butter. Some sweet PX notes with red berries.

Palate: Crisp and clean, with brazil nuts, a slight meatiness, oak and continuing creamy maple butter.

Finish: Medium to long length, creamy, sweet, slightly drying.

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

Westland Peated American Single Malt Whiskey (46% ABV, 2yo, Seattle, USA, Australian price TBC

Colour: Light honey gold.

Nose: Initially gives sweet, meaty, citrusy peat notes. Think honey orange-glazed BBQ pork. The peat is noticeable, but subtle.

Palate: Peat smoke that's simultaenously earthy and sweet, and slightly peppery. It's unique, but very enjoyable. Burnt toast, BBQ'd pork and charcoal-roasted pineapple.

Finish: Medium length, slight earthy smoke with a residual sweetness to the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. Very enjoyable (especially the palate) and definitely my favourite of the three.

The range of Westland whiskies will soon be available from Alba Whisky in Australia. Thanks to Ian for the generous samples.


Thursday 25 August 2016

Bar Review #21: J.Boroski Hong Kong

A month or so ago, a mate tagged me in a Facebook post highlighting a new cocktail bar in Hong Kong opening soon, called J.Boroski. Not being familiar with it, I did a little Googling which promptly turned up exactly one result, with no details whatsoever.

A little more Googling told me it was the HK outpost of a popular Bangkok bar by the same name, with both interiors designed by Aussie Ashley Sutton (of Iron Fairies Bangkok and Ophelia Hong Kong fame). Despite only opening a few years ago, the cocktails at the Bangkok bar were said to be world class, so obviously we were keen to see how the HK version stacked up.

So a few weeks ago I reached out to Joseph (the "J" in "J.Boroski") and made a reservation for Steph and I for a Saturday night. Finding the place was a challenge at first (the directions were something like "go down a little laneway, look for the graffiti, go down the hallway, through the door at the end, turn right" but we managed, and after confirming details with the host, were taken to our bar seats.

The first thing that strikes you is just how simultaneously exquisite and refined the space is. It's unique (how many other bars have their walls/ceiling adorned with life-size Rhino beetle tiles!?), but it works brilliantly when coupled with the warm wooden furnishings and comfortable suede chairs.

The other thing that struck us was how quiet it was. We arrived at 8:30pm on a Saturday and had the entire place to ourselves (literally) for almost 2 hours. Of course, I should mention that at that point, the bar hadn't even been in "soft opening" mode for a week, and still wasn't officially open. I returned a few weeks later on a Monday, and as expected it was much busier, with the bar seats all full by 10pm.

J.Boroski HK operates on an "invitation only" basis and whilst that might initially seem a bit wanky, it's purely to ensure there's space for guests so everyone can be looked after. It's a small, intimate space, and they want to ensure every customer gets the appropriate amount of attention. Invitations can be requested by e-mailing hk@jboroski.com.

One look at the backbar (an eclectic mix of American and Scottish whiskies, gins, rums, tequilas, Mezcals, and more infusions and home-made syrups than you can imagine) and you could tell this was a serious cocktail bar. You might reasonably expect they'd have a pretty incredible cocktail menu too, but you'd be wrong! The bar eschews menus in favour of the bartenders discussing flavours / preferences with customers, and creating a drink to suit.

We love bars that back themselves enough to "throw away" the menu, and it's done brilliantly at J.Boroski HK.

Feeling in the mood for something similar to a Negroni to kick things off, our bartender Nathan Tse (previously of Bitters & Sweets) suggested a variation made using a Thai gin. Slightly smoky, bitter and perfectly balanced, it hit the mark wonderfully - a theme that continued with every drink we tried.

On a later visit our group requested a mix of "Classics with twists" and "Classics" - from a smoked Manhattan-style drink with coffee-infused Bourbon, to a crisp, sharp classic daiquiri, every single drink was spot on. The team here might be new, but they're already matching the best Hong Kong has to offer.

Drink prices are on par with any other high-end cocktail bar in HK (expect cocktails to be around $150HKD, depending on base spirit) and considering the thought and effort that goes into each (not to mention the fantastic end result), and the personalised service, it's a fair proposition.

If you're a fan of cocktails, we highly recommend making a booking and getting yourself down to J.Boroski sooner rather than later. You won't be disappointed, and you'll probably be blown away.


Wednesday 24 August 2016

The Glenlivet pairing dinner at Le Méridien Cyberport Hong Kong

Steph and I had barely been back in Hong Kong a few days (after a great trip to Sydney) when an invite arrived for a whisky dinner with The Glenlivet, to be held at Le Méridien Cyberport. It'd been a few years since the last Glenlivet dinner we attended, and although Steph had plans,  my fondness for The Glenlivet (and you know, eating..) meant I wasn't about to say no. So on a Friday night recently, myself and good mate Eddie Nara jumped in a cab and headed towards "Sou ma gong" (Cyberport).

Upon arrival we were greeted by Darren Hosie (Regional Mentoring Manager for Chivas Bros and good friend of TimeforWhisky) and handed a cocktail made with Chivas and...Dragonfruit?! Different, but it worked perfectly as a refreshing antidote to the heat outside.

Taking our seats shortly after, the hotel's GM gave a brief introduction and explained how the hotel has run successful wine dinners in the past, but was looking to expand into whisky, hence the five malts laid out in front of us.

With guests ranging from whisky novices to enthusiasts (and one CEO of an Australian distillery...) Darren gave a brief introduction into how to taste / appreciate whisky, before we jumped into the first dram - The Glenlivet 12 Excellence. We first tasted the Excellence earlier this year with Charlie Maclean, and enjoyed the sherry matured notes that aren't present in the regular 12yo (the "Excellence" is designed for Asian palates and distribution is limited to only certain countries in Asia).

With hints of chocolate, orange, paprika and cinnamon, it's noticeably different to the regular 12yo, and when paired with Parma ham and (vodka-infused) melon balls, proved a great way to kick things off.

You'll have to forgive the references to "wine servings"...
Next came Steamed Foie Gras with Banana Chutney paired with The Glenlivet Nadurra. Whilst not the most visually-appealing dish, it was spot on in terms of flavours, and matched better than I'd expected with a cask strength whisky like the Nadurra.

Gazpacho on a heavenly-cloudy peach malange was next, paired with The Glenlivet 18. Given the spiciness of the dish, at first I thought this might have paired better with the Nadurra....but that just goes to show you why I'm not a chef (or food pairing expert). This was a fantastic pairing, with the spiciness of the dish picking up the some of the cloves and asian spices in the 18yo, and adding an overall Demerara-like sweetness. 

Next came Roasted beef fillet topped with Hazelnut, seasonable vegetables and orange gravy, paired with The Glenlivet XXV (25yo). A subtle / nuanced dram with a simple dish like a well cooked piece of beef was a smart option, and again these two complimented each other well.

Desserts often provide an opportunity for great whisky pairings, and this was no exception, with Whisky chocolate mousse with vanilla ice cream playing nicely off the sweeter, apple-like notes in the Limousin-aged The Glenlivet 15yo French Oak, even adding some hints of cinnamon that weren't obvious in either the dish or the whisky on their own.

In addition to the whisky and food pairings being a big success, the event also struck that perfect balance by being informative without going over guests' heads (or worse, putting them to sleep). With each course Darren gave a brief intro, explained a little about the whisky and thought process behind the pairing, and that was it. Guests seemed to appreciate the introduction, but also the chance to form their own thoughts on each pairing.

With the courses finished (and an extra dram or two of the XXV to wrap things up) it was time to call it a night. I'd have to say as the first Le Méridien Cyberport whisky pairing dinner it was a big success, and I look forward to seeing them run others in the future. Whilst I'd kindly been given a ticket courtesy of Pernod Ricard, at $888/head the dinner was great value - especially when you consider you'd almost pay that for a single dram of XXV in some Hong Kong bars!

TimeforWhisky.com would like to thank Darren, Pernod Ricard HK and Le Méridien Cyberport for the invite.


Friday 19 August 2016

Celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Jack Daniel Distillery with Chris Fletcher

2016 is a special year for Jack Daniel's as it marks the 150th anniversary of the distillery. To help lead the birthday celebrations across Australia, Chris Fletcher; Jack Daniel's Assistant Master Distiller joined fellow Jack Daniel's fans and lovers alike to raise a toast to the milestone. Having travelled all the way from Lynchburg, Tennessee, Chris (the grandson of Frank Bobo; the distillery's fifth Master Distiller) shared stories that shaped the Jack Daniel's we all know and love today. This being Chris' first visit to Australia made all the celebrations even more special.

The birthday celebration in Sydney was part of a series of events that formed Chris' Australian tour and took place at Hotel Harry in Surry Hills where Chris led guests through a special tasting masterclass as well as through a series of clever and interactive theatrics that brought the Jack Daniel's stories to life.

The celebration kicked off with a masterclass that included a couple of Jack Daniel's new makes along with traditional Jack Daniel's expressions such as the Old No 7, Gentleman Jack and Single Barrel expressions. The new makes were put into the mix to showcase the concept of "charcoal mellowing" - a distinct process used by Jack Daniel's to transform their whiskey into the renowned Tennessee whiskey.

Charcoal mellowing was what Chris highlighted as a key differentiator between how a bourbon whiskey and a Tennessee whiskey (in the case of Jack) is made. The process of taking the new make off the still and into 10 feet of hard packed maple charcoal over a sixty day period is what removes the hard and harsh notes from the Jack Daniel's new make. We could easily compare and contrast the subtle differences between the pre and post-charcoal mellowed new make - the post charcoal-mellowed new make was a lot less viscous, oily and bitter.

As Chris continued with the masterclass, a man dressed in his pyjamas with a giant briefcase in one hand interrupted the session. He looked around the room, which by now was filled with puzzled faces, and with a spare glass of Old No 7 in one hand, started to share his story. He spoke of stories from the past, from when he was younger, from when he was a famous bootlegger in the 1920s. As he narrated his story, everyone eased, knowing that he was simply part of the celebration.

A short while after, he asked for all the guests in the room to follow him up the stairs. As we climbed the stairs, we could hear a voice from one of the rooms calling out "White coffee with one sugar, that's how I like it". In the room was the younger version of the bootlegger.

Entering the room, it felt like we 'd all been transported from 2016 through to the early 19th century, the era in which the young bootlegger grew up in. The young bootlegger explained that he was looking for an assistant to help him - as a master taster; a taster of the fine Tennessee whisky he was bootlegging. Everyone was asked to scour the different milk jars around the room - the first person to locate Jack Daniel's in one of the jars was to become his assistant. One of the guests; Tony from Brisbane successfully found the jar, not through nosing the jar but through deciphering the codes that were printed on the tags of the jars. Clever find.

Stuart Reeves of Brown Forman got into character as the bootlegger's partner and brought Tony to the side to teach him the old way that whisk(e)y cocktails were made. Stuart spoke to how an Old Fashioned was made in the 1920s. Fortunately, nothing since - sugar, whiskey and bitters still being the prominent ingredients for the old cocktail.

Following the short cocktail demo, guests were ushered by the old bootlegger into another room. Walking into the room, one could see a fine leather chair, crystal tumblers and suave settings. Oh, and there was also Frank Sinatra and his assistant. Frank was in the room, sitting comfortably on his lounge with a glass of whiskey on hand. The Frank Sinatra feature was to celebrate the recent Jack Daniel's Sinatra Select release.

Following a brief demonstration of how to pour a Jack Frank's way, Frank proceeded to sing to the room before our old bootlegger mate ushered us all into the final room.

The final room looked bright and raw. It was backstage with a rockstar duo. Jack Daniel's and Coke cocktails were lined up on the side and the rockstars spoke to the room, asking everyone for suggestions on their rock band name. Guests suggested various names from "The Bootleggers" to "Single Barrels" -- all fitting names.

We were all given a Jack Daniel's and Coke cocktail before heading downstairs for the final wrap up session.

Chris Fletcher recapped the memorable two hours and spoke to how he selected something special for Australia. He wanted to leave a memorable Jack with all the guests - a special Single Barrel Select selected by Chris from the distillery that is rich, bold and full of character -- attributes he believed represented Australia.

The 150th anniversary celebration of the Jack Daniel distillery in Sydney was phenomenal and innovative. The theatrics, setup and all the different elements brought alive the history of Jack Daniel's a history that traversed the prohibition era, Frank Sinatra's era and the era from which rock was born. 

All in all, the celebration was brilliantly put together and and with Chris Fletcher at the helm of the celebration, was certainly true to Jack's guiding belief that "Every day we make it, we'll make it the best we can."

TimeforWhisky.com would like to thank Jack Daniel's and Celia Harding of The Sound Campaign for the invite to this fantastic event.


Saturday 13 August 2016

This week in whisk(e)y #34 - New Australian SMWS partner bar, JW Rye Cask Finish, Sydney Indie Tasting showcase and Bar High Five comes to Hong Kong

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...

The Gresham becomes Queensland's first SMWS partner bar
Joining the ranks of some of our favourite Aussie bars, including Whisky & AlementEau de Vie and Shirt Bar, is Queensland's The Gresham, recently been announced as Queensland's first (and only) Scotch Malt Whisky Society partner bar.

According to Matt Bailey, Brand Ambassador for SMWS (and good mate of TimeforWhisky):
“What we look for in a partner is those who have a proven dedication to serving their guests the best spirits in the world,” he said “It’s not just about stocking the world’s best whisky, it’s about the people serving that product having extensive knowledge and are passionate about single cast and cast strength Scotch Malt Whisky. 
Ryan Lane’s the manager there, his team and the owners of The Gresham all have a demonstrable track record of excellence in product choice and knowledge, not just in whisky but in all the beverages they stock and the way they serve them”.
One to check out if in Brisbane.

New Johnnie Walker "Rye Cask Finish" released in Australia
We heard about this one a while ago, and now the Johnnie Walker Rye Cask Finish is available in Australia. Whilst the "rye" in the name might throw a few people, this is still very much a blended Scotch whisky - just one finished in ex-rye whiskey casks. We love a good rye here so it'll be interesting to see what effect ex-rye casks have on a 10yo, Cardhu-heavy Johnnie Walker blend.

Somewhat bucking the NAS trend, this one's bottled with a clear (10 year old) age statement on the bottle, and also at a healthy 46% ABV (as opposed to many blends nowadays, bottled at 40 or 43%).

Quoting the press release:
"Rye Cask Finish is a Scotch whisky blend that showcases the best of Scottish blending and maturation expertise and has already picked up numerous international awards including gold at The International Spirits Challenge 2016 and silver at the 2016 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
With Cardhu single malt at the heart of the blend, Johnnie Walker’s Master Blender Jim Beveridge used whiskies matured for at least ten years in first-fill American Oak casks. He finished the Scotch in ex-rye whisky casks, creating a complex new whisky with rich layers of flavour starting with creamy vanilla notes and transitioning to a more spicy finish.
Johnnie Walker Select Cask – Rye Cask Finish is the perfect gift for Father’s Day (available nationally) and has a recommended retail price of $70 (700ml)."
We'll hopefully have our own tasting notes posted in the near future.

"Indie Tasting" independent spirits showcase returns to Sydney
On Sunday 18th September, Sydney will see over 40 suppliers showcasing 120 boutique spirits at the annual "Indie Tasting", to be held at the always-fun Frankie's Pizza (I mean the "always fun" part. On a recent trip back to Sydney, I visited on a Tuesday night and what I saw was a scene I thought was long-dead in Sydney, thanks to the lockout laws...riotous good times.)

Not to be confused with Independent bottlings (aka "Indies" or "IBs") which often provide an alternative insight into a particular distillery, this event celebrates small, boutique, independent (I hesitate to use the word "craft") spirits.

Indie Tasting founder, David Spanton, shares, “These definitely aren’t your run-of-the-mill bottleshop offerings. Many haven’t even made it to the bottleshop or backbar yet. Thanks to a boom in the local distilling industry, home grown Aussie spirits are making a big appearance. This showcase is about helping small brands get more visibility in today’s competitive market. And Sydney is the perfect city to host such an event with its thriving small bar scene and passionate bartending professionals and drinkers.”

Brands on show will include Young Henry's (yes they do spirits now!), Poor Tom's, Applewood (their Red Okar is a pretty unique alternative to Campari), Adelaide Hills, Beenleigh, Husk Distillers, Hippocampus, Four Pillars, West Winds, Melbourne Moonshine and whisky distillery Whipper Snapper, not to mention six distilleries from North Carolina, including one producing a "blonde whisky" (?!), which sounds intriguing.

With tickets only $40 (pre-sale) or $50 (on the door), it sounds like a pretty bloody good way to spend a Sunday arvo.

Indie Tasting Sydney
Sunday, 18 September, 12pm – 5pm
Frankie’s Pizza, 50 Hunter St, Sydney, NSW 2000
Tickets: $40 online, $50 on door (pending availability).
Link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/indie-tasting-sydney-2016-tickets-26191609810

Bar High Five (pop up) comes to Hong Kong
Earlier this year Hong Kong's Landmark Mandarin Oriental welcomed famed NYC bar Please Don't Tell (PDT) for a pop-up, taking over the small upstairs part of MO Bar ("The Shell") and turning it into an incredibly realistic replica of the original bar.

This September and October it's set to happen all over again, this time with Japan's Bar High Five - a Japanese cocktail institution and currently rated Asia's third best bar.

Ensuring the utmost authenticity, the bar will be presided over by founder Hidetsugu Ueno (winner of this year's International Bartender of the Year award at Tales of the Cocktail). We've met and exchanged a few e-mails with Ueno-San over the past few years (most recently during this year's Tokyo International Bar Show + Whisky Expo) and as well as being an absolute master of his craft, he's a really nice, genuine bloke.

"With BAR HIGH FIVE founder and master bartender, Mr Hidetsugu Ueno, heading the cocktail-making team, the pop-up will open in MO Bar’s upstairs private room, The Shell, between 1 September until 31 October 2016. The Shell will be transformed into a jewel-box venue reminiscent of Mr Ueno’s glamorous Ginza institution.
Guests are invited to join an Instagram photo contest to win a two-night stay for two people at Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo and visit the original BAR HIGH FIVE in the city’s Ginza district.
Mr Ueno and his team of award-winning mixologists, Ms Kaori Kurakami and Ms Yuriko Naganuma, will present 14 specially crafted cocktails at the pop-up. Since starting his career in 1992, Mr Ueno has won many awards and consistently been a finalist at the world’s leading cocktail contests.
The pop-up will shine a light on the idiosyncratic art of Japanese bartending, celebrating Mr Ueno’s legendary theatrical approach, which includes meticulously carving giant blocks of ice into intricate diamonds, a spectacle guests find as enjoyable as the crafted and often playful cocktails he makes.
To complete this exclusive experience, The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong’s Culinary Director, Richard Ekkebus, will present a bespoke menu of gastronomic treats, including charcuterie of Ibérico Bellota Ham and the finest Iberian specialities by Bellota Bellota."

It's fair to say we're a little bit excited about this one. Stay tuned for a review and plenty of photos of the transformation in early September.

Until next time...


Wednesday 10 August 2016

Michael Wong "MW35" 35yo Single Cask Glenlivet launch (Tasted #309)

We've written about Dragon 8 Auctions a few times recently, though usually about the auctions themselves or the incredible bottles they've featured. In 6 short months they've certainly established their whisky credentials here in Hong Kong.

Not one to rest on their laurels though, Dragon 8 have recently released their own whisky, in collaboration with HK actor/singer/pilot/celebrity Michael Wong. Not just any whisky, mind you - a 35yo single cask Glenlivet, well and truly from the days when the distillery was still using Golden Promise barley.

Bottled at 49.8% ABV, it spent its life maturing in a single sherry hogshead, and comes presented in an engraved decanter along with two engraved Glencairn glasses, all secured in an impressive display case and limited to 228 bottles.

..which is all very nice, but what I wanted to know was - what was the whisky like?

Luckily Steph and I were able to answer that question recently, when Dragon 8 and Michael Wong held a launch party at Gaia Ristorante in Sheung Wan.

Never one to do things by halves, Dragon 8 ensured the party was every bit a "party", with magnums of Champagne, excellent food, a band, a few tunes belted out by Michael, and even a trio of Brazilian dancers to ensure guests continued to party well into the night.

...and of course there was plenty of the "MW35" to go around:

35yo Single Cask "MW35" The Glenlivet (49.8% ABV, 35yo, 1 of 228 bottles, Speyside, Scotland, $24,888HKD)
Colour: Dark copper brown.

Nose: On first nosing there's no doubt this is every bit a sherried dram. Fruitcake, raisins, sherry-soaked prunes, it's all there. There's a hint of sulphur, but it's very minor and doesn't detract from the enjoyment at all. It's also, however, floral, fruity, with some hints of vegetation. The sort of unique combination of notes that usually only come with an extremely long time in oak.

Palate: Clean sherry - no discernible sulphur. Creamy, fruity (raisins, sultanas, cherries) with hints of caramel chews. It's drying, but not in a bad way, and whilst there's a slight tannic mouthfeel, it works well. The oak is there, but only to let you know that it spent a good 35 years getting to know this whisky (it doesn't dominate the whisky). It opens up nicely with a few drops of water too, with the sherry fruity notes exploding onto the palate.

Finish: Long and slightly tannic, with a lingering rich fruity sherry mouthfeel that makes you want to go back for a second dram and sit on it longer the second time (which we did...)

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. A nice, clean, lovely-drinking sherried whisky - a whisky that strikes the balance between being able to be appreciated by whisky fans, whilst also being enjoyed by whisky novices (there were plenty of both on the night). The rarity obviously makes it a special occasion dram, but for those occasions its well up to the task.

Update: A previous version of this article mentioned that this whisky was bottled by Signatory, information we took from the mock-up bottles at their Gamma auction in June (see last photo), and from this YouTube video. We have since been informed by Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Co. Ltd. that they were not involved in either the bottling or cask acquisition, or any other part of the final product (which is why their name is not present on the final decanters - only the early mock-ups). We apologise for any misinformation.