Saturday 15 July 2017

Gaucho Hong Kong & Glenmorangie Whisky Pairing Dinner

We've attended a fair few whisky pairing dinners lately - spanning every cuisine from Nordic to Cantonese, to Modern Australian. One cuisine we haven't historically seen paired with whisky however is Argentinian, especially Argentinian steak.

Gaucho Hong Kong are keen to change that, having recently collaborated with Glenmorangie to introduce 4 course whisky and Agentinian pairing dinners. As the experts in Argentinian cuisine (and in my personal opinion, one of the best steak restaurants in HK), it's great to see them branching out into whisky, and challenging the perception that steak should always be paired with red wine.

Over a deliciously simple arrival cocktail made from Glenmorangie The Original and lemonade (perfect for the stifling hot evening outside), guests met each other and mingled with our host for the night (and good friend of TimeforWhisky) Eddie Nara.

After some chat (and OK, maybe a second of those cocktails...) we took our seats and inspected the menu. Opening with a seafood starter, the menu quickly became meat-focused (as you might expect at an Argentinian steakhouse), with beef back ribs followed by Ancho (rib-eye).

As a whisky man with serious wine credentials (IWSC judge and WSET-certified), Eddie was coming from a position of authority when he told us that sometimes whiskies can actually be easier to pair with food than wine - and explained how Glenmorangie actually made a great whisky for pairing dinners. With the standard expression (The Original 10yo), serving as the baseline, most of the expressions (LasantaQuinta Ruban etc..) then build on that baseline through cask finishes which lend themselves to pairing with various dishes.

It made a lot of sense, and set the tone for what was to be a delicious and enjoyable pairing dinner.

First course, Salmon Tiradito was paired with Glenmorangie The Original 10yo, which made a deliciously fruity match - the passionfruit and mango in the dish especially highlighting the fruitier, almost tropical notes in the 10yo.

Our second course, Braised Beef Back Ribs was glazed in a hoisin and chilli orange sauce, with fresh orange and pickled chillies. Chilli in dishes can always be a bit hit-and-miss when it comes to pairing with whisky, but this was expertly done, with the dish elevating the citrus notes in the sherry-finished Glenmorangie Lasanta 12yo (or maybe that was the other way around)? Either way, another winning combination.

As our third course was being served, Eddie introduced Head Chef Eggi Enkh-Amgalan to talk us through the pairings, and the next dish - Ancho (or "Ribeye" as most would know it). Highlighting the delicate marbling, Eddie Chef Eggi explained the Glenmorangie 18yo Extremely Rare made a logical pairing choice, as both offer delicate flavours unlikely to unbalance the other.

Right they were too. Steak and whisky might seem like a logical combination, but it does take the right whisky to make it really work - and the right whisky in this case was definitely the 18yo.

Finally came (surprisingly enough) dessert. Blue cheese and whiskey brownie might seem like an easy pairing, but that shouldn't detract from the fact that the port-finished 12yo Quinta Ruban was a perfect pairing. Then again, as a lover of port-matured and finished whiskies, I might be slightly biased...

As Glenmorangie dinners often do, the night ended with a dram of the Glenmorangie Signet. Whilst I still find this a delicious dram, I can't help but think the latest batches don't quite have the magic of the bottle I first tried in 2009. Still a beautiful whisky though.

Hong Kongers are becoming more and more interested in whisky, and pairing dinners are a great way to introduce newcomers to the joys of whisky, whilst still offering something for long-standing fans. It's great to see Gaucho introducing their own pairing dinners, and when high quality Argentinian steak is your base, why wouldn't you?!

This pairing menu has now finished, but as we understand it will act as a prelude to more whisky pairings and events held at which I say, bring it on!

Martin. attended as guests of Gaucho Hong Kong. A big thanks must go to Gaucho, Eddie, Chef Eggi and Prime PR.

Tuesday 4 July 2017

Diageo "Classic Malts" Hong Kong launch dinner (Tasted #361-366)

Recently Steph and I had the pleasure of attending a dinner to celebrate the official launch of sixteen new Diageo Single Malts in Hong Kong, including six classic Malts like Lagavulin 16, Caol Ila 12 and Oban 14, along with ten 2016 special releases (many of which we enjoyed in Singapore last year, and again in Sydney earlier this year). We can get caught up in tasting some crazy, old, rare and vintage whiskies on this blog from time to time (see our Instagram for regular updates of what we're drinking), so it was nice to take a step back and revisit some of the whiskies that got me into whisky in the first place (Dalwhinnie 15yo for example was the first single malt I ever bought, and Oban was the first distillery I ever visited).

..hold on, you might be thinking. A launch for whiskies like the Lagavlun 16 and Caol Ila 12?! Haven't they been in HK for years? Well yes, but until now - not officially!

Held at Ah Yat Harbour View restaurant in Causeway Bay, the dinner was hosted by the affable Donald Colville, a man who carries the enviable title of Diageo's "Global Malts Ambassador". With six Classic Malts and two Special Releases, paired with an 8 course meal all presented by Donald, we were expecting an enjoyable night, and we certainly weren't disappointed. 

Opening with Glenkinchie 12yo (paired with Lo Shui goose liver with pork belly), Donald explained we would be traversing Scotland throughout the course of the dinner - starting in the Lowlands. To be honest, I've never been a huge fan of Lowland whiskies, but I did enjoy the 24yo Glenkinchie Special Release a few months earlier) so I was happy to try the 12yo again.

Glenkinchie 12 (43% ABV, 12yo, Lowlands, Scotland, $798HKD / £31.19 ex-VAT)
Colour: Yellow amber.
Nose: Light, floral and citrusy - lemon mostly.
Palate: Light and fruity. Pears, lemon, and some honey. Youthful but by no means harsh.
Finish: Short length, with a slight citrus acidity.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 86/100. 

A nice enough dram (especially on a summers' day), and a great match with the pork belly (each lifting the flavours in the other), but not a whisky I'd choose over others if drinking neat.

After the introductory course, Donald gave us a little background into his path to whisky, which seemed to have been written from birth, given his family owned two Campbelltown distilleries, and his Great Grandfather actually traded whisky with Alexander Walker (son of "the" Johnnie Walker)! When you hear of someone having a family history like that, coupled with their obvious love of Scotch whisky, it's hard to think of a better person to hold the title "Global Malts Ambassador".

Next was Dalwhinnie 15yo, paired with Baked stuffed crab shell. Describing the new make Dalwhinnie spirit as "sulphury and sharp", Donald explained how time in oak tamed these notes whilst leaving a big, bold and flavoursome whisky.

Dalwhinnie 15 (43% ABV, 15 yo, Highlands, Scotland, $780HKD / £31.19 ex-VAT)
Colour: Golden yellow.

Nose: Big rich fruity sherry. Apple, pear, nectarine, and rich fruitcake.
Palate: Bold, rich and viscous. Nutty, sweet, cherries and toffee.
Finish: Long, caramel/toffee, malty.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. 

I was very pleased to see that even though this was the first single malt I ever bought, back in 2007 or so, I found it even more enjoyable that I did all those years ago. It was also a great match for the crab - each had big bold flavours and they bounced off each other brilliantly.

Next on the menu was the first of the Special Releases for the night - Mannochmore 25. I won't repeat the tasting notes as I tasted it in Singapore last year, but this as my highlight dram of the night. Paired with Braised whole abalone with Goose web and Chinese lettuce, it can't have been an easy match, but it held up well. Given how enjoyable this dram was on its own though, I found myself saving it for after the course.

We moved over to Speyside next, for the Cragganmore 12, paired with Deep fried yellow croaker. Donald explained how Cragganmore's still design (with its flat lyne arm) introduces complexity as the spirit hits the top of the arm, falling back down during distillation, and that complexity was certainly evident in both Cragganmores we tasted.

Cragganmore 12 (40% ABV, 12 yo, Speyside, Scotland, $480HKD / £30.28 ex-VAT)
Colour: Yellow gold.

Nose: Light, floral, with hints of toffee and stone fruits.
Palate: Youthful, but with definite complexity. A mixture of walnuts, cherries, honey and toffee.
Finish: Medium length, meaty but also sweet.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 88/100. 

Next was the only NAS of the night...and also the most expensive bottling tasted. The Cragganmore Limited Release (Special Release 2016) was clearly popular, as (by the time I got my hands on it a second time for the photo below) it was all gone. NAS it may be, but we were reliably informed it contained whisky from 8-9 years, right up to "older than Donald". Unfortunately I couldn't tell you how old that actually is...but judging by the complexity in the whisky, a decent age! Tasting notes can be found in my Sydney tasting post.

Over to Oban next, for the classic Oban 14, paired with Stewed oxtail w/homemade sauce and red wine. Like Dalwhinnie, Oban also holds a special place in my whisky history, as the first distillery I ever visited (I also remember having some fantastic fish and chips near the distillery)!

Oban 14 (43% ABV, 14yo, Highlands, Scotland, $760HKD / £39.86 ex-VAT)
Colour: Orange gold.

Nose: Sea spray soaked oranges.
Palate: Fried scallops, sea air, salted fish and chips. One of those drams that transports you somewhere instantly - for me, to that little fish and chip stall right near the distillery. 
Finish: Medium to long in length, with some salt-cured meat and slight oak tannins
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. Even better than I remember.

This was seriously delicious
Nearing the end of the meal, it was time to take a trip down to peat town - firstly with Talisker 10. An old favourite that I hadn't revisited for a while, I'd heard some people claim the "new stuff" wasn't as good as the "old stuff". Thankfully, for me, with this bottle at least, that wasn't the case, and it was just as good as I'd remembered. Paired with Ah Yat Signature Fried Rice, the saltiness in both the rice and the whisky complimented each other well. 

Talisker 10 (45.8% ABV, 10 yo, Isle of Skye, Scotland, $508HKD / £31.19 ex-VAT)
Colour: Golden

Nose: Salty seasalt-laden oak, slight smoke, cherries. Seaweed,
Palate: More sea air, some caramel, a meatiness, and a noticeable amount of peat smoke which wasn't as evident on the nose.
Finish: Long, salty and malty.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. 

The last dram of the night, paired with an incredible Baked sago pudding with black truffle and lotus seed cream was (both predictably and delightfully) Lagavulin 16. A perennial favourite, I'll admit I was surprised to learn that it had never been officially imported into HK (especially considering it's available in my local supermarket). Regardless, it's good to know it is know officially available, and if that means we'll see more of it - that can only be a good thing.

Lagavulin 16 (43% ABV, 16yo, Islay, Scotland, $980HKD / £39.96 ex-VAT)
Colour: Copper brown.

Nose: Earthy smoke with tinges of sherry sweetness. Iodine notes abound, in a wonderful way.
Palate: Big BBQ meaty notes, lots of seaweed, fishnets, and seaside smoke. Plenty of sherry notes underneath all that peatsmoke too.
Finish: Long, spicy and peaty, with a touch of vanilla.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. Fantastic to see this is still an excellent dram after all those years, and it has to be said - a really, really good match with the sago pudding (although I think it matched best with the black truffle inside the pudding).

One thing this dinner highlighted for me was not only how versatile the Classic Malts range is (evidenced by the incredibly wide range of dishes they were paired with), but also how enjoyable they are on their own. The Dalwhinnie 15yo especially brought back memories (and was even better than I remembered), and Lagavulin 16 continues to be an absolutely world-class dram.


A huge thanks to Moët Hennessy Diageo HK for a fantastic dinner, and a great trip down memory lane. The Diageo Classic Malts range is now available from all good whisky retailers in HK, whilst the Special Releases range is available from Moët Hennessy Diageo HK directly.