Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Tasted #359: Heartwood "Mediocrity be Damned"

I've realised that despite being a huge Heartwood Malt Whisky fan, I haven't really posted many reviews yet. Time to fix that...

"Mediocrity be Damned" is a single cask, peated ex-Oloroso Sherry whisky, distilled at Lark Distillery and matured/bottled by Heartwood Malt Whisky at 7 years old (at a Heartwood-esque 67.2% ABV).

Heartwood "Mediocrity be Damned" (67.2% ABV, 7yo, Cask #LD530, Lark Distillery, Tasmania, no longer available)
Colour: Bright, rich, red-amber.

Nose: Big, of course, but not quite as big as the ABV suggests. RIchard dark chocolate, cherries - Cherry Ripe! There's a freshness, a "floral mossiness", oak, and some marzipan and nuts. WIth water, a touch fresher, more citrus and a little less oak.

Palate: A little closed at first (no surprises with the ABV - Tim Duckett of Heartwood suggests these are enjoyed from a wine glass). After some air, there's a caramel nuttiness and some fruitcake. It's slightly drying, but not cheek-puckeringly tannic. There's a buttery oakiness present throughout too. WIth water, there's a little more marzipan, whilst chocolate, dried fruits and almonds also come to the fore.

Finish: Medium legnth. Chewy, the tannins linger, along with fruit and a little earthy smoke.

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


Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Tasted #358: Mackmyra 10 Year Old

A key goal of this blog, right from the very start, was to celebrate "world whiskies", or "new world whiskies". That goal has never changed (and in fact I now write a monthly column on the subject  in Hong Kong's Malt & Spirits magazine), so it's fair to say when a world whisky has a "coming of age" moment, like releasing their first 10 year old single malt, it's a cause for celebration.

Mackmyra have done just that recently, with the launch of Sweden's first official ten year old single malt (simply called "Mackmyra Ten Years") - also the first Mackmyra to officially bear an age statement.

Bottled at 46.1%, the whisky was aged 50 metres underground in Mackmyra's Bodås mine warehouse, and has been released in a run of 20,000 bottles (12,000 retained for Sweden's alcohol monopoly retailer Systembolaget, 8,000 for various export markets).

The distillery was kind enough to send me a sample recently, and I have to say, it's definitely the most "complete" and mature Mackmyra I've ever tried. Read on...

Mackmyra Ten Years (46.1% ABV, 10yo, Sweden, £56.77 ex-VAT)
Colour: Yellow gold

Nose: Lemon zest, grass, tea leaves, pot-pourri and pear initially. After a little more air comes some undertones of rich vanilla. I've always enjoyed Mackmyra, but there's more to this than any I've tried in the past.

Palate: "Sweet and zesty" in a nutshell. There's stewed/baked apple. Hints of lemon (less than the nose though). Some raisins, and a lot of fruity herbs - like a fruit tissane tea. There's a creaminess, some "fruity cream", and even some candied orange. It's a fruit bomb, and a delicious one at that.

Finish: Long, fruity, creamy.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. To me, easily the most complex, matured and "well-rounded" Mackmyra to date. There's a lot of fruit, but not like a tropical fruit bomb like a lot of ex-Bourbon matured Scotch. No, this is fruity, but in a uniquely Scandinavian way, if that makes sense. Definitely worth a try.


Sunday, 21 May 2017

Ardnamurchan Spirit 2016/AD (Tasted #357)

The bottle is marked with a series of notes: Concerto Barley, Broomhall Farm, Glenmore Spring, Long Fermentation, Slow Distillation, Oloroso PX. Identifiable, Unpronounceable. There I was looking at a the newly released spirit bottling from the Ardnamurchan distillery; the Ardnamurchan 2016/AD. It has been labelled as a 'spirit' instead of 'whisky' as the first release is merely 18 months young. This was Ardnamurchan's preview release, a release which aims to get their name out in the market and most importantly, to give us all a sneak peek at what to expect from the distillery in the coming years.

The Ardnamurchan Distillery was opened in July 2014 by Adelphi; the independent bottler that we all know and love. The distillery sit on a remote part of Scotland, on the shores of Loch Sunart and produces two styles of spirit - peated (30 ppm) and unpeated. Local barley is used and the distillery feature two mash tuns, a wooden washback and a 10,000L wash still. With a total production capacity of around 300,000L per annum, the production potential for Ardnamurchan is huge for a young distillery (contrast this with Kilchoman's capacity of around 110,000L per annum). Though in noting that, current production capacity is still managed at around 100,000L per annum - equivalent to around 30 casks each week.

The youthful Ardnamurchan 2016/AD combines both peated and unpeated malt matured in two different types of sherry cask - Oloroso and Pedro Ximinez, and the vatting of the two malts has resulted in a spirit that is both interesting and exciting.

We were fortunate enough to have been one of the few people invited to the event hosted by Baranows Emporium at The Oak Barrel Sydney to preview the youthful release from this young distillery. Our thoughts

Ardnamurchan Spirit 2016/AD (50.3% ABV, NAS (~2yo), Glenbeg, Scotland, A$199)
An interesting young spirit from Ardnamurchan that does not smell or taste too strongly of a new make. In fact, surprisingly, you can derive so much from this young spirit - from its herbaceous and earthy nose to its soft, sweet and slightly peaty palate. It will be interesting to see how the Ardnamurchan spirit matures over the years given the already pleasant base that it offers now.

Colour: Gold

Nose: The nose is filled with notes of apple, sweet raisins and lightly herbaceous, there are remnants of dry grass and soil and it is rather quite earthy. Over time, the nose also offers a touch of cinnamon, complementing its herbaceous and earthy notes.

Palate: The palate is soft, tannic with loads of berries, citrus and is quite sweet and fruity. The citrus continues with hints of orange peel, lemon meringue before being topped by a light layering of peat smoke and remnants of clove spice.

Finish: The finish is medium to long, soft and tannic and there is a bit of heat on the finish.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100.

On the night, Adelphi being Ardnamurchan's parent company also presented a few Adelphi bottlings - the Glenborrodale Batch 3 Sherry Cask release and my favourite on the night, the Glen Garioch 1998 Sherry Cask release.

All the bottles are available for purchase from the Oak Barrel though you might want to be quick with the Ardnamurchan as there are only 2,500 bottles globally and local allocation is quite limited.


Friday, 19 May 2017

Hong Kong Whisky Festival 2017 review

After the success of 2016's inaugural Hong Kong Whisky FestivalInterContinental Grand Stanford held their festival again this year, delivering an even bigger and better festival with even more masterclasses.

Held again over one day, the event brought together big brands and indies alike, and made the most of the (expansive) hotel space, taking over two floors, several function rooms and even a suite!

Arriving an hour or so after opening, I took a walk around to see what was what. The first thing that struck me was, even that early, it was already busy. The second thing that struck me was just how many, varied stands there were. Bars, shops, independent bottlers, major distilleries, major distributors, local distributors, were all well-represented, as were "world whiskies" from all over the globe. In fact, the festival brochure had an excellent article on "New World" whisky (although I might be a little biased, given I wrote it...)

The festival shop saw a big improvement on the prior year, with a lot more space and even more bottles available (including some long gone Indies like this Eiling Lim 27yo Irish).

As is always the case with these festivals, you end up chatting to and sharing a dram with all the wonderful people working there, and before you know it, 3 hours have passed. I'd barely gotten around to half the booths when my first masterclass came up - an Asta Morris class with founder Bert Bruyneel.

Sidenote: As evidence of the quality and quantity of masterclasses on offer throughout the day, I had to decide between this and an Adelphi masterclass, both on at the same time. The good people of Malt Maniacs & Friends suggested I go for the Asta Morris class, and I'm glad I did.

Held in conjunction with Whiskies and More (Asta Morris' HK distributor) and The Fine Spirits Society, the class saw us tasting 6 spirits blind. We knew what the spirits were (amongst them were an 14yo Ardmore, an aged gin, a 13yo Bowmore, a 5yo Chichibu, a 27yo Bunnahabhain and a 32yo 1979 Benriach - a cask which was saved by Bert from blending into Chivas), but not the order, which made for much fun and debate.

I'd heard a bit about this Bert "character" and it was all true. His class was exactly what I look for in a masterclass - great whiskies (tick), educational (tick), full of stories (tick), but most of all, FUN (tick tick). The hour flew by and by the end of it, we all felt like we'd had a heap of fun, enjoying a few casual drams, making new friends and listening to some hilarious stories. 

I guess what I'm saying is, if you get a chance to attend one of Bert's classes, take it!

After Bert's class, it was straight over to another function room for a Hunter Laing masterclass, with Andrew Laing, to explore "Where the flavours come from" with a variety of whiskies of different ages, provenance and cask types. Included in the lineup was a 19yo Longmorn, 8yo Craigellachie (showing some great natural colour due to its aging in a quarter cask), a 6yo Caol Ila and an 8yo Talisker.

After the two classes, it was time for a bit more of a walk around, a few more drams, and a delicious cocktail from Eddie Nara, to prepare myself for...

...a barrel making demonstration, in which I was to construct a whisky barrel with none other than The Balvenie's Head Cooper Ian Macdonald - a man who has been in the business for almost 50 years! Luckily, I'd managed to grab a few tips by watching Mr Nara do the same a few hours earlier.

After managing to bungle my way through making the barrel, I have to say - hats off to people who do this day-in, day-out for a living. It's not easy (even less so after a few drams), but it was a fun and rewarding experience (thanks to Ian for the expert tutoring and assistance)!

By this point, the show was wrapping up, but there was still one masterclass left to attend - this time focusing on some fairly rare (and expensive) blends.

Those blends of course, being four Johnnie Walker "Private Collection" releases, from 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014.

A 7pm timeslot after a long whisky festival is always going to see a few people worse for wear, but our host Stephen Notman (aka Mr Whisky China) pushed through, talking us through the history of blending and how the Private Collection series "rips up the philosophy of consistency in blending". He wasn't wrong - here were four very different (but all very enjoyable drams).

All were great, but the 2017's waxy apple nose and tropical and vanilla palate won me over as my favourite. A bit of Clynelish in there perhaps?

Between these festivals, the excellent Tiffany's New York Bar, and the many other whisky events/promotions throughout the year, InterContinental Grand Stanford have firmly established themselves as a Hong Kong whisky powerhouse over the past few years, and we have no doubt their upcoming World Whisky Day 2017 celebrations will only help cement that (unfortunately we won't be in HK to enjoy it...)

Martin. attended HKWF17 as a guest of InterContinental Grand Stanford.