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.