Monday 18 December 2017

Review: Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar 2017 by Drinks by the Dram

As they were last yearDrinks by the Dram / Master of Malt were again kind enough to send us one of their Whisky Advent Calendars for 2017 - the "Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar" this year.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, it's basically an advent calendar with the chocolate taken away, and in its place, 30mL samples of whisky! There are more version than you can count over at Master of Malt (Bourbon, Japanese, or some of the rarest Whisky you can possibly imagine? Sorted. Rum, Irish Whiskey or single cask whisky? Covered. Heck, even if your tastes tend towards Mezcal, Armangac or Absinthe, they've got you covered.).

The full list of the Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar can be found below (spoiler alert), but suffice to say it has some pretty varied and wonderful drams, including one at 50 years old! Not bad for the "standard" calendar, at £124.96 (ex-VAT).

  • Bowmore 15 Year Old Darkest
  • Auchentoshan Three Wood
  • Smokehead
  • Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition Blended Scotch Whisky
  • Glenfarclas 21 Year Old
  • Monkey Shoulder
  • Glenfiddich Experimental Series - IPA Cask Finish
  • Copper Dog
  • The Half-Century Blend
  • Inchmurrin 12 Year Old
  • Riverflow
  • Kilchoman Single Cask 524/2011
  • Inchmoan 12 Year Old
  • Big Peat - Drinks by the Dram
  • Singleton of Dufftown 12 Year Old
  • Angels' Nectar Blended Malt - Rich Peat Edition
  • Wolfburn Aurora Single Malt
  • Loch Lomond 12 Year Old
  • Port Askaig 8 Year Old
  • Glengoyne 15 Year Old
  • The Lost Distilleries Blend
  • Tamdhu 10 Year Old
  • The GlenDronach 12 Year Old
  • Peat's Beast 

I've always been a big fan of whisky samples (either professional samples like this, or samples shared amongst whisky mates), and to get 24 of them, over 24 days in such a fun way is something every whisky lover should consider.

As we slowly work our way through the calendar, we hope you all have a wonderful Christmas / Holiday Period, and a very Happy New Year!

Thanks again to Drinks by the Dram / Master of Malt for the generous gift of this "Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar".


Tuesday 21 November 2017

The Rusty Nail is back - Drambuie's new look

Sometimes you want a nice, complex well-aged single malt, bourbon or even a rye (and we've got plenty of tasting notes to whet your appetite if so)...but then other times, you just want a nice whisky-based cocktail.

Enter Drambuie - the classic and much-loved Scotch-whisky based tipple, blending whisky, heather honey, herbs and spices into a seriously mixable liquer. Patented in 1893 and bottled for sale in 1914, it became big in the 1960s, particularly thanks to the famous "Rusty Nail" cocktail (see below).

Drambuie is gearing up for a big 2018 globally, with a new bottle design (that's it above), and a big assault on the cocktail scene (and with classic cocktails having such a large resurgence over the past few years, why not?)

William Grant & Sons (no strangers to high quality whisky) took over the brand in 2014, and have big plans to spread the word in 2018. One way they've started to do sois via the "Drambuie & You" cocktail competition (#Drambuieandyou), inviting bartenders around the world to create their own cocktail using 1 part Drambuie. I particularly like the sound of this one from Adelaide's Barlow Room - cleverly incorporating Balvenie, which mixes brilliantly with Drambuie).

The competition entries have just recently closed, but if you can't wait for the results, here are a few easy to make Drambuie cocktails we've been experimenting with lately:

Rusty Nail (the classic):
  • 1 part Drambuie
  • 2 parts Scotch whisky
Stir over ice, garnish with a lemon twist.

Drambuie Collins:
  • 1 part Drambuie
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 8 mint leaves
  • 2 parts soda
Squeeze the 1/2 lemon into a highball glass, drop in the mint and fill with ice. Pour in the Drambuie, then top up with soda and stir slowly.

Of course, it's a nice liquer on its own too (I personally prefer it with ice) - sweet and refreshing, with huge honey notes, some Christmas spices and a little lemon.

The recipe may not have changed in 270 years (nor does it need to), but that's not to say its use in cocktails can't change. Whilst the Rusty Nail will always be a favourite, we look forward to seeing what global bartenders come up with as part of the #Drambuieandyou competition.

Drambuie retails for $59.99 at Dan Murphys and can also be found at any good bottleshop. Thanks to William Grant & Sons and Agent99 PR for sending us a bottle for review.


Saturday 18 November 2017

Whisky & Alement Cellar open to the public - for a limited time only

Since moving to Asia in 2014 Steph and I have been fortunate to visit some incredible whisky bars - from Auld Alliance (both old and new) in Singapore, to Campbelltoun Loch and The Mash Tun in Tokyo, to Bar K and Rogin's Tavern in Osaka, and the always-awesome Club Qing in Hong Kong (to name just a few).

One bar that I still count amongst the best in the world however, is back home in Australia - Whisky & Alement in Melbourne (which we first reviewed...geez almost 5 years ago!), previously known as Chez Regine.

I've stayed in touch with the W&A team over the years, and followed with a keen interest their developments, including last year's "Bar White Oak" Japanese pop-up and their new "Melbourne Whisky Room".

...and now their latest development - a limited-time opening of their cellar, giving the public access to purchase some of the rarest and most collectible whisky bottles available in Australia. The first time in their 8 year history!

If you follow any of the W&A adventures on Facebook or Instagram you'll know they go to serious lengths (literally) to seek rare whiskies for the bar. For a short period of time in December, they're letting collectors (as well as the usual drinkers) benefit.

The cellar will be open from 1st - 22nd Dec, weekdays from 10am - 10pm (Mon-Fri), 4pm-10pm (Sat) and 4pm-9pm (Sun) on request, with owner Julian White on hand to offer assistance. Not everything is for sale, but a browse through these photos shows some pretty fantastic and collectible bottles from all around the world...


Further details can be found here, but if you're looking for a special whisky for Christmas, you could do well to drop by and peruse the cellar.


Wednesday 15 November 2017

Launch of Yamazaki 18 Mizunara 2017 Edition (Tasted #380)

Last week we joined Suntory Whisky Global Ambassador Mike Miyamoto to launch the new Yamazaki Mizunara 2017 Edition in Sydney - the first commercial 18 year old Mizunara expression released by the distillery. It was certainly a truly remarkable and unique experience as the Simmer on the Bay precinct at Walsh Bay was decadently converted into the "House of Suntory".

The release of the Yamazaki 18yo Mizunara 2017 is particularly exciting given the upswing in Japanese whisky popularity over the past few years, the use of the rare Japanese Mizunara oak, and the fact that the launch was hosted by Mike Miyamoto, a veteran in the whisky industry (see here for our first event with Miyamoto-san back in 2014). With over 40 years working in the whisky industry including some time managing production at Bowmore and also at one point, managing Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries, Mike is a well-respected figure in the industry.

Mike welcomed us into the House of Suntory before describing the Suntory journey over the past three-generations and the true devotion of their Master Blenders in pursuing a truly unique and exquisite Japanese whisky. Part of such devotion included the craftsmanship in working with Mizunara, a delicate and rare Japanese oak - and the highlight of this new release.

The use of the Mizunara is what makes this new release special. Whilst there have been Yamazaki Mizunara expressions released before, they were NAS, whereas this carries an 18yo age statement. That's no small feat, as Mizunara, as a wood, takes almost double the time to grow as compared to the more widely used American oak or European oak (Mizunara only reaches a sizeable diameter in width after a whole century), and is notoriously difficult to work with, due to its porous nature.

Due to the demanding nature of Mizunara, it had taken Suntory's coopers many years to perfect the cask-making techniques. The wood is only found in a few regions in Japan and is branchy, inter-twined and permeable in nature - all characteristics that make the wood hard to shape and join with precision. As a result, Mizunara casks can often leak and it is only through perseverance and years of trial and error that Suntory coopers have mastered the art of Mizunara cask making.

As a result, comparatively, the difficulty that comes with Mizunara cask making puts the cask at a premium over other cask types including quality sherry casks that already command a relatively high premium.

On the night, a Mizunara tree was showcased through a digital projection, and described by Mike with a short animation to illustrate the tree's journey over the four seasons.

Suntory’s Chief Blender, Shinji Fukuyo stated “I wanted to reveal the whisky’s soul; that is, the art of Mizunara – a heightened sense and awakened palate engaged through aromas and flavours never known before. Encountering it should be a moment of epiphany”.

To showcase how Mizunara affects the overall taste profile, Mike led a tasting of three distinct Mizunara cask samples; a 5-year-old Mizunara (distilled in 2013), a 15-year-old Mizunara and an old Mizunara that had been distilled in 1969. The youngest Mizunara was pulled into the mix to showcase that Mizunara provides little to no influence in the first few years. Contrasting that with the oldest Mizunara, one that was distilled in 1969 which was described by Mike as rather oaky and with notes of nail polish, varnish and bitterness. Finally, of the three, the 15 year old was the one that had the best balance, with creamy, elegant, fruity and incense notes.

The three samples were chosen to illustrate the fact that Mizunara not only is a difficult wood to work with, but is also quite delicate and the cask can take years to successfully influence the whisky, to achieve a result that is not too soft nor overly oaked.

The new Yamazaki 18 Mizunara 2017 edition has been released to celebrate such craftsmanship as well as the essence of the noble Mizunara. At 48% ABV, the new release is a blend of single malts that have been aged entirely in Mizunara casks for at least 18 years (and in some cases, apparently, up to 50 years) The result of the Mizunara maturation gives the resulting whisky uniquely Japanese characters; distinct spices, incense like aromas and sandalwood notes.

Presented in a wooden box crafted from recycled Suntory casks, the new Yamazaki Mizunara 2017 will be available to purchase from select retailers for $1,400AUD. The allocation for Australia is less than 200 bottles (of the 5000 bottles available globally), including many for on-premise, and sadly has been fully allocated.

Thanks to Liquid Ideas and Beam Suntory for having us at the launch. 

Unfortunately, due to battling a cold and a reduced sense of smell / taste on the night, my tasting notes didn't quite do the whisky justice. Luckily Martin also recently tried it, and has included his thoughts below...

Yamazaki Mizunara 18yo 2017 Edition (48% ABV, 18yo, Japan, ~$1,400AUD but good luck finding one for that price now, sadly)
Colour: Burnished copper-gold.

Nose: Sandalwood at first then hints of (sweet, dessicated) coconut - the mark of a good Mizunara-aged whisky in my opinion. Then some cherry-chocolate - Cherry Bounty Bars! As the minutes go on, the coconut increases, and after 10 or so monutes, there's some noticeable spice - cinnamon and paprika.

Palate: Creamy at first, quickly followed by an oaky fruitiness - slightly tropical, with lots of coconut, perfume, but still lots of oak spice, which at times can almost overpower the other notes. There's some mango and peach, and after letting the glass sit (covered) for 30minutes, there's noticeable sweet coconut milk chocolate, and a seemingly more mellow overall mouthfeel.

Finish: Medium to long in length, with sandalwood spice, pencil shavings and a little tannin.

Rating (on Martin's very non-scientific scale): 92/100. Look, I love a good Mizunara-aged whisky, and this definitely falls into that category. The nose is outstanding. Beautiful, complex, of the best noses I've found on a whisky in a while. The palate, whilst certainly not a let-down, just doesn't live up to the nose unfortunately, with a little too much spice and oak. Overall though, a very very good whisky, but not the best Yamazaki we've tried (that honour would go here), nor the best Mizunara-matured Yamazaki. Interestingly, the "amazing nose, palate not as great" assessment is similar to what I said about last year's massively popular Yamazaki release - the 2016 Sherry Cask.

Hendy & Martin.

Monday 30 October 2017

Tasted #378 - 379: Belgrove Peated Rye and Belgrove Oat Whisky

Almost four years ago, I posted our first Belgrove post - tasting an experimental "Oat" with an Oat-led, four-grain mashbill. The distillery excited me then, and continues to excite me now, as owner Peter Bignell continues to innovate and produce whisky in his own unique way, putting out some truly fantastic products.

Based in Tasmania, the distillery came about when Peter (a sixth-generation farmer) had some excess rye and decided to use it to make whisky. In addition to growing his own rye, building his own copper pot still and peating the rye using a self-converted washing machine(!), Peter also runs the operation on biodiesel he makes from cooking oil, harvests brewing and diluting water from his roofs, and collects cooling water from his own dam.

Call it "closed loop", "green", "sustainable" or whatever buzzword you like, put simply here's a bloke making whisky like no-one else in Australia, and doing a bloody good job of it.

Peter was kind enough to send me few samples recently - of his "Oat Whisky" (@ 58.6% ABV) and a cask sample of his Peated Rye whisky (at a hefty 65.1% ABV).

Belgrove "Oat Whisky" (58.6% ABV, NAS, Tasmania, Australia, $250AUD)

Colour: Light yellow-gold.

Nose: A little bit muted at first, but after time, creamy, tropical fruit notes emerge - pear, pineapple and a big dollop of cream.

Palate: Hugely nutty! Very unexpected. Macadamia nuts and walnuts. Oily mouthfeel. There's some creamy caramel, and lots of milk chocolate-coated Macadamia nuts. With water there's a little more fruit - pears and a hint of strawberry, but the nutty notes definitely dominate, which is unusual, unexpected and very enjoyable.

Finish: Long and full of macadamia, with some hints of oak and pepper at the back of the palate.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  90/100. I love an "unusual" whisky, provided it also noses and tastes good. This ticks all those boxes and more.

Belgrove "Peated Rye" Whisky cask sample (65.1% ABV, NAS, Tasmania, Australia, cask sample not available for sale, although when available the Peated Rye is $250AUD)
Colour: Light orange-gold.

Nose: There's smoke, but it's not coastal or medicinal - it's meaty and BBQ-like. Reminds me of a BBQ'd steak topped with tangy BBQ sauce. With time there's a bit of milk chocolate too.

Palate: Salami drizzled with honey. Lots of honey in fact. Then some charred capsicum, and with water some burnt snags (sausages). Sunday arvo BBQ in a glass?

Finish: Long and campfire-smokey.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  91/100. Not your usual peated whisky, and all the better for it.

It's great to see Peter and his team continuing to do things "their own way", with such impressive results. I've noticed Peter has recently started providing regular updates via his Facebook page too - well worth a follow if this sort of thing interests you like it does me.


Sunday 29 October 2017

Comparison: Chivas Brothers' Royal Salute 21yo "Polo Collection" and Royal Salute 21yo (Tasted #376 - 377)

Back in 2008 when I was just starting to get "into" whisky, I picked up a Royal Salute 21yo ceramic flaggon during one of my work trips. I didn't know a whole lot about it (other than it was a 21yo blend), but it was a purchase I was happy with - one of my first "better" whiskies, and the (empty) bottle still adorns a shelf back in Sydney to this day.

The Royal Salute has continued to be a staple of the Chivas Brothers portfolio (note it's not a "Chivas Regal", but a separate brand owned by Chivas Brothers / Pernod Ricard), and over the years various limited edition variants have been released.

One such variant is the new "Polo Collection" (aka "Polo Edition") 21yo, released originally in Singapore travel retail, and (as of September 2017) world-wide. Marketed as a "lighter, more delicately flavoured" expression to be enjoyed during the day, it comes in an eye-catching turquoise porcelain flaggon, with distinctive Polo markings to celebrate the brand's long-standing association with the sport of Polo (the horse kind, not the water kind).

A day-drinking whisky? What's not to love about that? A good mate from Pernod Ricard was kind enough to give me a sample of the new expression, along with a regular Royal Salute to allow a comparison - see below for my thoughts.

Royal Salute 21yo "Polo Collection" (40% ABV, 21yo, Blend, Scotland, $194SGD)
Colour: Deep orange gold.

Nose: Light and fruity - you can see where the "daytime" whisky tag comes from. Tropical fruits - pears at first, then some mango, with banana undertones. Some lychee too.

Palate: Light, but flavoursome - lychee and lemon predominantly, then salted / dried mango slices.

Finish: Long, slightly oaked and with residual hints of toffee / burnt sugar.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  89/100. Definitely a summer, "day drinking" whisky, and an enjoyable one at that.

It'd been a few years since I'd had the "regular" Royal Salute 21yo, so it was nice to be able to compare the two back to back...

Royal Salute 21yo (40% ABV, 21yo, Blend, Scotland, $175.99AUD$1,268HKD / £95.64ex-VAT)
Colour: Deep orange gold. I really couldn't differentiate between the two.

Nose: There's some fruit like on the Polo Edition, but it's more citrus, and in the background, as toffee, caramel and milk chocolate take the forefront. Eventually some cherries and stewed apple slices emerge.

Palate: Caramel / chocolate chews, toffee, apple tart, oak with occasional wisps of smoke.

Finish: Long, slightly smokey with the apple tart notes carrying through to the end.

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

For me, the regular Royal Salute *just* wins this comparison, but it's close, and really, each whisky suits a different time and place:

  • Daytime in the middle of summer, outdoors? The Polo Collection. 
  • Nighttime, relaxing after a nice meal? The regular edition. 
Let's call it's (Polo) horses for courses.

Thanks to Muzz and Pernod Ricard Hong Kong for the samples.


Friday 27 October 2017

Highland Park Fire and Valkyrie Launch in Hong Kong (Tasted #375)

It's been a big month for Edrington Hong Kong, with the launch of The Macallan Edition No.3 last week, and three new Highland Parks the week before - Valkyrie, Fire, and Viking Honour 12yo (the same 12yo everyone knows and loves, but in a new and admittedly spectacular bottle).

To introduce the new releases, a lunch was held for thirsty Hong Kong media, with the guest of honour none other than Highland Park Global Brand Ambassador Martin Markvardsen. We first met Martin at 2016's Ice launch, and it was great to see him back in Hong Kong.

The event kicked off with a "Viking Blood" cocktail (Highland Park 12-based, refreshing and delicious) while Martin gave a an overview Highland Park, touching on its unique geography and Viking history (explaining that still to this day, one in three Orkney residents can genuinely trace their heritage back to the Vikings).

Martin talked us through the changing Highland Park bottle designs (which are still in progress, and will continue throughout the range), and the new "Viking Legend" range, of which the Valkyrie is the first release.

The "Viking Legend" range is to be a series of three Highland Parks (Valkyrie, to be followed by Valknut and Valhalla Valfeather), with bottles designed by Danish designer Jim Lyngvild. Martin mused that Jim (whilst a great guy and good friend) was "a little bit weird", and that he originally proposed that the Highland Park 12yo re-design involve the bottle being wrapped in fur (we can't imagine why that idea didn't stick...?)

Suffice to say, they settled on an eye-catching and powerful design, and we look forward to seeing what Jim has in store for the Valknut and Valhalla.

Moving onto the whisky itself, the Valkyrie is a NAS release made up of American Oak ex-Bourbon, American Oak ex-Sherry, and European Oak ex-Sherry casks, with 50% more peated malt, bottled at 45.9%. I found hints of cinnamon, honey and sweet smoke on the nose, with a citrusy, slightly smokey palate with wafts of toffee and honey, and a slightly tannic, long, sweet finish. The increased smoke is definitely there, but it's still very much a Highland Park. The pairing with dry-aged striploin beef was a well thought-out one, with the smoke playing off against the fat in the beef quite well.

At 240,000 bottles, Highland Park aren't calling it a "Limited Edition" (wise, if you ask me), but when those 240,000 bottles are sold, there won't be any more.

Next was a whisky I'd been waiting 12 months to try - Fire. I was a fan of last year's "Ice", and as a fan of (good) port-matured whiskies in general, I was particularly keen to try the Fire, especially as it was wholly matured in ex-Port, like one of my all-time favourite whiskies.

Highland Park Fire (45.2% ABV, 15yo, Orkney, Scotland $2,480HKD£158.33 ex-VAT / $775AUD)
Colour: Deep rich gold.

Nose: Raspberry jelly beans, allspice and jelly babies. Sweet with hints of vanilla spice.

Palate: Slight smoke with a tinge of sea-air saltiness, quick developing into rich toffee vanilla and marzipan, with hints of red berries sprinkled with cinnamon.

Finish: Short, with a predominantly spicy notes with hints of vanilla and red currants.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 89/100. An enjoyable whisky, and a fascinating first for Highlan Park, but my pick of the two remains Ice.

It was great to have Martin back in Hong Kong, talking us through the new releases as part of his epic world tour. A big thanks to Martin and Edrington Hong Kong for making it happen.


Saturday 21 October 2017

Tasted #374: Black Bowmore 3rd Edition 1964-1995 31yo

If you follow our Instagram or Facebook pages (or even our Twitter account), you'll no doubt see we've been growing increasingly fond of vintage whisky over the past 2-3 years - whiskies bottled in the 1960s to 1990s generally, but sometimes even older than that.

Islay whiskies from years gone by can be especially good - if you ever get the chance to try a 1980s bottled Laphroaig or Lagavulin, do. They're often incredible, and completely unlike today's. Here's a good example of a 1980s bottle Ardbeg 15yo I tasted a few years ago, which blew me away.

On a recent trip to Japan, I was fortunate enough to try what many consider to be the "holy grail" of sherried whiskies - Black Bowmore. For whisky fans, Black Bowmore needs no introduction. For those who haven't heard of it - despite retailing for between £65 and £125 at the time of release, bottles have sold for over £11,000, and one is now for sale for £20,000. Quite simply, it's a whisky that has attained "legendary" status.

...although actually, "Black Bowmore" is not one whisky. There were 5 releases, all from casks filled on 5th November 1964, but released over a 24 year period as follows:

  • 1st edition (released 1993): 1964-1993, 29 years old. 2000 bottles released. 50% ABV.
  • 2nd edition (released 1994): 1964-1994, 30 years old. 2000 bottles released. 50% ABV.
  • 3rd edition (released 1995): 1964-1995, 31 years old. 1812 bottles released. 49% ABV (the whisky below - funnily enough, called the "Final Edition" at the time)
  • 4th edition (released 2007): 1964-2007, 42 years old.  827 bottles released. 40.5% ABV.
  • 5th edition (released 2016): 1964-2014, 50 years old. 159 bottles released. 40.9% ABV.

See more photos on the @TimeforWhisky Instagram
A few years ago Steph and I were in Osaka, and saw the 4th edition behind the bar at Bar K. It was ¥13,000 for a half dram, and I've been kicking myself ever since for not trying it. Yes, that's an insane amount of money to spend on 15mL of whisky...but this is Black Bowmore. At today's auction prices, you're looking at many times that per dram, not taking into account the markup a bar would need to charge. I also saw it by the 25mL serve in London a few weeks ago....for £600.

On a recent trip back to Bar K, unsurprisingly it was all gone (although they did have White Bowmore, which I'll write about soon). A friend who happened to be in Osaka at the same time mentioned that another bar (Rogin's Tavern about 30 minutes away in Moriguchi) had a bottle, albeit a little more expensive at ¥17,500 for a half-dram. 

No prizes for guessing where we ventured the next night...

Black Bowmore 3rd Edition 1964-1995 bottle #1496 (49% ABV, 31yo, Islay, Scotland, price: lots and lots and lots)
Colour: Deep, dark coffee-copper.

Nose: Hugely intense, but extremely "clean" sherry, mixed in with loads of tropical fruit - passion fruit and mango predominantly. Caramel licorice allsorts. Coffee grounds. After covering the glass for a bit then opening it again, there was some intense caramel-laced coffee beans and some tobacco smoke. Just an incredible nose - one I spent at least 20 minutes with before drinking.

Palate: Everything from the nose, with some added spice. HUGE mango and passionfruit, tinged with oak, allspice, glacé cherries, Brazil nuts, coffee beans, ripe peaches, leather, tobacco smoke and a very slight bitterness.

Finish: Long, quite sweet and reminiscent of sherry-soaked cherries.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  96/100. Whiskies aren't always worthy of the hype they receive. This is, without a doubt. A truly incredible whisky.


Monday 16 October 2017

Pairing "World Whiskies" with Indian cuisine at McSorley's Hong Kong

With the immense popularity growth of whisky in Hong Kong in recent years, it's no surprise to see an increase in both dedicated whisky bars (when we started covering the Asia scene for example, there was no Club Qing or Ginger - now two of HK's best whisky bars), as well as existing bars increasing their focus on whisky.

Much loved McSorley's Ale House fall into the latter camp, with their new SoHo location in Staunton St, Central. The traditional Irish pub is increasing their focus on whisky (all whisk(e)y, not just Irish), and plans to do so with a regular calendar of events.

We went along to a recent event - a tasting of 4 "world whiskies" (which actually ended up being 7), paired with four Indian dishes. Indian cuisine may not seem like the most obvious to pair with whisky, but we applaud the bar's bravery in exploring this front (and as we discovered, it actually worked well). 

Whisky Ambassador Jessica Kwok was our host for the night, kicking things off with a brief introduction into the new whisky nights concept at McSorley's, as we all enjoyed the welcome cocktail - a mixture of Tullamore D.E.W, ginger syrup, soda and bitters. Much like the laid-back, relaxed nature of a traditional Irish pub, McSorley's SoHo is looking to keep their whisky nights informal and fun, but with a sizeable list of quality whiskies.

Jessica explained that given the group is already well-known for their Indian menus, they figured why not try to pair that with their new whisky aspirations...and without further ado, we jumped into the first pairing - Bulleit Rye with vegetable samosa. I've always enjoyed Bulleit Rye, but with a 95% rye mashbill, there's no denying it's a spicy whisky. Pairing that with vege samosas resulted in, well, a spicy pairing. A tasty one though.

Next up was Teeling Single Grain paired with Butter Chicken. This worked quite well too, with the whisky making the chicken seem sweeter, and the sauce more perfurmed.

Of course, it wouldn't have seemed right if there was no Indian whisky, and so our third course saw Amrut Single Malt (see our distillery tour here) paired with fish Makani. This was by no means a bad pairing, but neither the whisky nor the dish really seemed to elevate or substantially alter the notes in the other.

For a brief interlude before our final pairing, Jessica broke out her personal bottle of Breckenridge Bourbon, a young whiskey from the Rocky Mountains. Whilst I was sceptical at first (having tasted a lot of young, generic Bourbon over the years), I was pleasantly surprised with this - a delicious Bourbon with notes of toffee, oak, vanilla cream and red apples.

Back to the food, and our last pairing - Famous Grouse "Smoky Black" paired with tandoori chicken. Jessica explained that they'd tried this dish with various Laphroaigs and Bowmores, but found the toned-down, subtle smoke in the Famous Grouse worked best as a pairing, and to be fair, it did work well, with the charred smoke of the chicken and the subtle smoke of the blend mixing nicely, and creating what I thought was the best pairing of the night.

Indian may not seem like the natural choice when looking for food to pair with whisky, but in this case, it was a fun and interesting experiment that produced some enjoyable combinations. Well done to McSorley's, and we're looking forward to their future whisky events (including one soon with The Lost Distillery Company).


Sunday 15 October 2017

Ardbeg An Oa (Tasted #373)

The new Ardbeg An Oa (pronounced "an oh") was released last month and formed part of the Ardbeg core range which includes the classic 10yo, Corryvreckan and Uigedail. We have seen quite a few Ardbeg releases over the last couple of years though those were merely limited edition releases including this year's committee 'Kelpie' release which saw the interesting use of Black Sea virgin oak casks.

Ardbeg An Oa takes its name from the Mull Of Oa, an area at the end of the Oa peninsula on Islay - the most southern point on Islay. The release pays homage to the untamed provenance, where the towering cliffs often battle the raging Atlantic storms, providing shelter for Islay's south coast. The story behind each Ardbeg release always continue to fascinate me and I hear there might be a rather groovy story behind one of the upcoming releases.

The An Oa release is exciting for a couple of reasons; firstly, it has been a while since Ardbeg last released a bottling into its core range and the permanent addition of An Oa to the Ardbeg family means that this particular release can truly be enjoyed throughout the year, just like its 10yo brethren. Secondly, An Oa is a remarkably balanced, approachable, 'smooth' Ardbeg - which in our view, complements the other core range bottlings rather well given their more prominent hearthy 'Ardbeg' profile. The uniqueness of the An Oa profile as compared to the other three core bottles might eventually see new Ardbeggians that prefer the more approachable style joining the Ardbeg club.

An Oa takes a slightly different profile in that it is derived from the vatting of whiskies from several different cask types including ex-bourbon, PX and virgin oak. The marrying of these whiskies within the 'Gathering Vat'; a vat that had been built from French oak, has resulted in a rather balanced yet complex Ardbeg profile.

Ardbeg An Oa (46.6% ABV, NAS, Islay, Scotland, A$119.99 / $780HKD)
A 'smooth and smoky' Ardbeg release that will appeal to both existing Ardbeg fans as well as those newer on the smoky Ardbeg block. The An Oa is one approachable Ardbeg that can be had on many occasions, either neat or mixed in a cocktail.

Colour: Champagne gold

Nose: The nose is an interesting one. It has a balanced maritime nose with a soft Ardbeg smoke, creamy vanilla and there are also grassy, maple coated bacon, caramel and sea salt peanut brittle (does such thing exist?!) notes. The nose of An Oa does not hit you with a bucket load of peat bog or bonfire smoke.

Palate: The palate is creamy, smooth and there's more of that salted peanut brittle. The sweeter notes are more subtle and quite fragrant; a good mix of vanilla slice with some burnt orange followed by a subtle Ardbeg bonfire smoke that lingers with sweet, sweet nutmeg spice.

Finish: The finish is long and lingers for a while leaving a trail of peanut butter sweetness and subtle nutmeg spices.

Rating (on Hendy's very non-scientific scale): 92/100.


Sunday 10 September 2017

Wild Turkey Master's Keep 1894 Launch with Eddie Russell (Tasted #372)

Wild Turkey Master Distiller Eddie Russell visited Australia earlier this month to unveil Master’s Keep 1894 – the latest release in its limited edition Master’s Keep series. The visit by Eddie was quite special and coincided with the Masters of Conviction Tour; a series of masterclasses across Sydney and Melbourne to celebrate Wild Turkey and the launch of the 1894. The tour presented Wild Turkey expressions including the Rye, Rare Breed, Kentucky Spirit, the Master’s Keep Decades (a personal favourite) and the 1894.

What we love about Eddie, as the current Wild Turkey's Master Distiller, is how he worked from the ground up, closely partnering with his dad, Jimmy Russell. It's amazing to see Eddie follow in his dad's footsteps to become Wild Turkey's Master Distiller having started as a Relief Operator and subsequently spending many years as Wild Turkey's Associate Master Distiller alongside Jimmy. Eddie and Jimmy certainly make an awesome father and son Bourbon duo.

As Nicole Stanners, Wild Turkey's Bourbon Marketing Director described: "Eddie is of unmatched pedigree in the bourbon industry, with skills that only come from a true expert and knowledge others aspire to learn."

At the launch, Eddie proudly spoke of his Bourbon life and the journey from his first taste of Wild Turkey, having drunk it straight from the barrel, to his time spent with Bookers and Jimmy and through the years of learning, crafting and continuing the Wild Turkey story. Many elements of his bourbon life story have come to influence and shape the details behind each of the Master's Keep releases; the 17yo, the Decades (above) and now, the 1894.

The Master's Keep 17yo is a nice, soft and balanced barrel proof whisky. The long maturation profile of the 17yo meant the whiskey angels have had their fair share, estimated by Eddie to be around 37 gallons (140 litres) of liquid dissipation per barrel (amazing)! This is a share that had been taken from what started as 53 gallons (per standard bourbon barrel volume) to a mere 16 gallons at the time of bottling. Jokingly he referred to the angel as being the ultimate Master Distiller having taken a fair proportion of the bourbon. The long maturation was only possible through the barrel storage method by which the barrels were stored. The barrels were stored in a brick warehouse which stymied temperature variations and ensured cool and steady maturation condition; a stark contrast to maturing barrels in metal clad warehouses.

The Decades was different to the 17yo in that it had been named after the inclusion of what Eddie considered to be the golden maturation age of Bourbon, 10yo. It includes some older barrels, up to 20yo and a large portion of 13-15yo barrels. The Decades was curated by Eddie as tribute to the smooth, balanced and lingering taste profile that he prefers and is starkly different to the bigger, bolder bourbons that are commonly favoured by the wider bourbon community. Personally, the Decades is also a favourite of mine.

As to the newly launched 1894 - it takes its name from the oldest rickhouse (warehouse) at the Wild Turkey Estate which was built in 1894. The warehouse was where Eddie first fell in love with Wild Turkey. It was 36 years ago, on June 5th, 1981, when Eddie started working at the distillery, earning a mere 6.58 cents an hour. Every day, he would clock on, clock off and witness the distillery crews ducking into the warehouse not knowing what they were up to. This was until one day when Eddie decided to join them and found out that they were, in fact, going around and sampling from the different barrels. After which he joined and sampled his first taste of Wild Turkey - the day he fell in love with it all.

Commenting on the release, Eddie said: “From the very first taste at Rickhouse A, I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to Bourbon. Master’s Keep 1894 captures that moment, the start of my journey to master distiller and the beginning of years of tradition.”

The 1894 has been released in Australia before it hits the American market following a wise decision after a request was received from Marketing that Australia wanted their own bottles (in fact 10,000 bottles for allocation to Australia).

Wild Turkey Master's Keep 1894 (45% ABV, NAS, Kentucky, USA, A$197.90)
The 1894 release is a unique small batch release and can be enjoyed as an everyday bourbon or mixed up as the base to an Old Fashioned, Whisky Sours or Manhattan.

Colour: Copper with amber tinge

Nose: The nose plays strongly to spiced cinnamon apple notes, dried currants, liquorice, honey, vanilla, toffee and a slight herbaceous; wild grass undertone.

Palate: More of the herbaceous note followed on the palate and joined by some glorious toffee apple, vanilla, butterscotch notes. There's also a level of spice that lingers.

Finish: Medium, lingering spice that slowly fizzles out with a level of sweetness

Rating (on Hendy's very non-scientific scale): 91/100.


A huge thanks to ElevenPR and Wild Turkey for having us as part of the launch of the 1894 with Eddie Russell.

Saturday 9 September 2017

Master of Malt Advent Calendars return for 2017

Much-loved spirits retailer Master of Malt have again launched their series of advent calendars, covering the full gamut from whisky to gin to cognac to bourbon to (eep) vodka. Prefer tequila, mezcal or Armagnac? They've got you covered too.

The calendars this year span two pages of the MoM site, and again include an incredible £8,333 "Very Old and Rare" calendar (ex-VAT) which includes a 48 year old Karuizawa, 46 year old Balvenie DCS, 60 year old Glenfarclas and many other bottles (OBs and IBs) from distilleries past and present.

We reviewed 2016's whisky calendar here, and found it an incredibly clever and enjoyable way to try 24 drams without having to comit to a full bottle.

The full range of 2017's calendars can be pre-ordered from here now.


Sunday 3 September 2017

A Night with Michter's in Hong Kong

We've been fans of Michter's for a while here at TimeforWhisky - and so has Hong Kong it seems - particularly on-premise, with a number of bars using Michter's range of ryes and bourbons in some incredible cocktails (more on that below). In fact, so big has the rise of Michter's been, that last year the brand appointed their own brand ambassador for Asia, John Ng (although prior to that, global sales director and son of founder Matt Magliocco lived in Hong Kong for several years).

Matt and John were joined recently in Hong Kong by Master of Maturation Andrea Wilson, who had flown in from Louisville for the distillery's first Hong Kong media launch dinner, held at Hong Kong's favourite American restaurant Lily & Bloom

Steph and I couldn't think of a better way to spend a Monday night.

Kicking things off with a cocktail was a welcome way to beat the 35ish degree heat outside - especially when that cocktail mixed Michter's Rye, ginger, pineapple, lemon and smoked tea spirit. Known as the Bomberger Buck, and served in a similar fashion to a Mint Julep, it was the perfect start to the evening, and evidence that even after 7 years, the drinks program at Lily & Bloom still continue to impress (in particular, since John Nugent's recent hiring as Head Mixologist).

After taking our seats, Matt introduced John and Executive Chef Chris Grare, who talked us through the 6-course menu, explaining it as American-focused with some Asian hints, bringing out charred, smokey flavours with some spice and caramel.

(Or in other words, a perfect match for a range of American whiskies.)

Matt talked us through a brief history of the Michter's brand, and in particular its most recent incarnation under his family's stewardship. Matt explains the company's recent history in three phases - the first involving aged casks of American whiskies being purchased from other distilleries, the second involving whisky produced (using Michter's-spec mashbills) at other distilleries, using rented time known as "Michter's Days", and the third, since August 2015, involving whisky being produced at their own distillery

After this brief history, the night's guest of honour Andrea Wilson walked us through a detailed and informative overview of Michter's production (touching on topics including oak drying, barrel entry proof and heat cycling), making it clear that the future of Michter's maturation programme is in safe hands.

One thing I've always found interesting about Michter's is the number of whiskies in the range. There are Ryes and Bourbons, both in "small batch" and single barrel variety. There are age statement varieties (including a 25 year old Bourbon and a 25 year old Rye, both of which we've been fortunate enough to try), there's a Sour Mash, an "unblended American whisky", various limited releases (including popular Toasted Barrel finishes), and barrel proof varieties too.

...little did I know we'd be tasting at least 9 of these on the night!

Following the Smoked Oyster paired with our welcome cocktail (see above), Kombu Cured Sea Bass (with yuzu-lemon compote and black sesame paste) came next, paired with Michter's US*1 Unblended American Whiskey, with the Yuzu in the dish proving a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the whiskey. Both great on their own, but better together. Off to a good start then!

Lentil-crusted Lobster (with blue point mussels and bouillabaisse) came next, paired with Michter's US*1 Sour Mash Whiskey. As I find the Sour Mash to be a fairly subtle whisky on its own (an easy and enjoyable everyday whisky though), I found the whisky and food complimented each other well here, but in a subtle way, without either really changing or accentuating the other.

Course four was Truffle tagliatelle (with Australian winter truffle and roasted cauliflower), paired with Michter's US*1 Bourbon, a great match, with the Bourbon surprisingly turning up the creaminess of the pasta significantly.

Bourbon and steak is a hard pairing to beat, and so it was when Pastrami Rib Eye (with potato gratin and pickled mustard jus) was paired with Michter’s 10 Year Old Bourbon. Decadent? Perhaps, but a fantastic combination, with the rich sweetness of the Bourbon playing brilliantly with the rare steak.

Had the meal ended there, we all would have walked off praising the chef and whiskies, but there was one more dish to go, and it was an absolute winner. Pecan Apple Tart (with granola and Michter's raisin ice cream) was very good when paired with the Michter's US*1 Single Barrel Straight Rye, but in my opinion was even better with the 10 Year Old Bourbon - the two making a deliciously sweet and rich pairing, with the Bourbon adding vanilla and honey notes to the already flavoursome dish.

With 6 wonderful pairings down, it was time to leave (it was Monday night after all), but not after a few surprise whiskies made their way out, including one (at the time) unreleased Michter's, the Barrel Strength Toasted Barrel Finish Straight Rye, which put a slightly spicier twist on a whisky I already loved for its spicy profile.

After that it really was time to leave, with memories of wonderful dishes and equally delicious whiskies to carry us home, not to mention the take-home pre-batched "Snickers Old Fashioned" cocktail, made with Michter's US*1 Unblended American Whiskey, vanilla demerara, black walnut and aztec chocolate. One of the best cocktails I've had in a while, and proof (again) that Michter's works wonderfully both in a cocktail and when served neat. would like to thank Michter's Whiskey Distillery, Andrea, John and Matt for the invitation.