Saturday, 17 February 2018

Tasted #384: GlenDronach Single Cask 1995 19yo Cask #4941

Over the last few years I've been building up a bit of a collection of GlenDronachs, in particular their single casks. Personally I find it a fantastic distillery, making brilliantly-sherried whiskies at a very reasonable price (although prices have been rising lately).

This one is from their 11th batch of single casks (they're just about to release Batch 16), and was one of the first "GDSCs" I bought. It started my love of ex-Oloroso GlenDronachs, and I've been buying them up ever since...

GlenDronach Single Cask Batch 11 Cask #4941 1995 19 Year Old (57% ABV, 19yo, Single Malt from an ex-Oloroso Sherry puncheon, Speyside, Scotland, was £75.79ex-VAT but no longer available)
Colour: Dark amber-copper (or as some would say - "correct").

Nose: Earthy at first. Then varnish/furniture polish, leather, tobacco and Brazil nuts. Beautiful nose. With water it becomes a little more earthy, a little more dusty.

Palate: Initially citrus-sweet, then moving onto rich mocha caramel. Sweeter and spicier than the nose, with hardly any of the furniture polish / leather from the nose. Water does add a little bit of those characteristics though.

Finish: Long, citrus-y and warming. Slight tannic astringency, which vanishes after a few drops of water.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  92/100. A very nice whisky but if the palate matched the nose, it would be absolutely incredible.


Friday, 9 February 2018

Bar Review #22: Please Don't Tell (PDT) Hong Kong opens...for good

If an article about PDT opening in Hong Kong on this site sounds familiar, that's because we wrote that very article two years ago. That was a temporary pop-up though, and as impressive as it was (and it really was), after a few months it was gone....until now.

Clearly buoyed by the popularity of 2016's pop-up bar, New York's world famous "PDT" (aka Please Don't Tell) has returned to Hong Kong, filling the same space (the mezzanine above MO Bar in Landmark Mandarin Oriental), in a much more permanent fashion. We attended the media launch last week, which gave us a good chance to explore the new space, sample the new cocktails and try the new menus (fear not, it's still hotdog-heavy).

The entrance is (of course) via a phone booth (hint: Press 1) and the space, whilst small, has large booths for 5 groups, and counter seating for 8. The drinks menu features 15 drinks (our preview night menu had 8), and again includes a number which have been given a Hong Kong / Asian twist, including:
  • Big Fan, a refreshing shandy served with Cabeza tequila, lime juice, pink peppercorn, guava and Moonzen Fuijan radler
  • Safari, combining ELephant Gin, Italicus Rosolio, Kabosu, Shiso and East Imperial Burma Tonic
  • Umbrella, a refreshing aperitif combining Blandy's Rainwater Madeira, Tio Peppe Fino Sherry (YES!) and Kamm & Sons British Aperitif.
  • Bad Hunter, a John Collins prepared with Chivas blended Scotch whisky, Fernet Hunter, lemon juice, dragon eye and Moët Brut Imperial Champagne
  • Milky Tea Punch, a rich flip composed of Ron Zacapa Centenario rum, Hennessy V.S.O.P. cognac, Rickshaw tea, condensed milk, Tayouran egg and Angostura bitters; and
  • Pear of Peres, a short, sharp cocktail with Rye, Cocchi, Genepi, Pear Brandy and Ango bitters.

The food menu echoes that of the pop-up (and the original in New York), with hot dogs including the Honkie Dog (fried pork dog with sakura shrimp and XO mayo) and Kimchi Dog from the New York menu (bacon-wrapped, deep-fried pork dog with Kimchi). Tater tots are back, and the Takoyaki Tots are a must - deliciously snakcable!

Drinks-wise, the Safari was a great way to kick things off (think of it as a slightly more complex G&T), followed by an Umbrella, which was a perfect aperitif. Bad Hunter was refreshing and complex (and a great use of "Fernet Hunter", which seems to be popping up everywhere in HK), and Pear of Peres was the perfect nightcap - short, brown and bitter, just the way we like 'em!

Industry legend / PDT owner Jim Meehan was mixing the drinks all night, and providing great chat too - giving some helpful suggestions / insights regarding a few recent vintage spirits bottled I'd acquired.

The whisky selection is good, with a selection of Japanese, Scottish, Irish and American whiskies, but really, you're here for the cocktails, and they're fantastic.

PDT Hong Kong is open now, for both reservations and walk-ins (although we suspect the latter will be difficult at first), Reservations can be placed one week in advance for parties of up to 6 people by telephone at +852 2132 0110 or email to



Monday, 5 February 2018

Glenmorangie "Spios" - 9th Private Edition launch in Hong Kong and Sydney (Tasted #383)

As a whisky fan, there are a few regular events each year you tend to look forward to. Moët Hennessy are particularly good at organising these - perhaps the most obvious (and fun) example being Ardbeg Day, but another (with slightly less shenanigans) being the annual launch of Glenmorangie's "Private Edition" releases.

We've covered a few of these over the years - 2013's Ealanta, 2014's Companta, 2015's Tusail, 2016's Milsean and 2017's Bacalta, so it was a pleasure to learn that not only would we be celebrating the launch of 2018's "Spios", Hendy and I would be doing so together, remotely, via video conferencing!

Moët Hennessy had cleverly arranged for the launch event to be held simultaneously in Hong Kong, Sydney, Seoul and Singapore, with each location video conferenced in with Dr Bill Lumsden and Brencan McCarron for a simultaneous live tasting.

All four locations were treated to the same lineup of drams - Glenmorangie OriginalNectar D'Or, and finally the new Private Edition - Spios. Whilst none of us had tried the latter, the name ("Spicy" in gaelic) gave us some clues as to what to expect.

After Dr Bill leading us through the Original (describing it as the whisky he "interferes with the least"), and Brendan taking us through the Nectar D'Or, it was time to learn about Spios.

Bill took us back to the 1990s, when he first learned about Rye whisky (then significantly less popular and attainable than it is now) from the legendary whisky writer Michael Jackson. After visiting North American distilleries and trying their ryes, he loved the spicy notes that the extra rye in the mashbill imparted, and years later, sought to procure some ex-rye casks.

He was successful, and 10 years ago (which should give us an idea as to the age of this NAS release) laid down some casks that had previously held 95% rye, with Glenmorangie single malt spirit. That's right - no finishing here, just a full 10 (ish) years in ex-rye!

(Whilst Bill nor Brendan would be drawn on which distillery the casks came from, subsequent discussion online suggests it could only have been MGP of Indiana).

With the backstory explained, there was only one thing left to do - taste it! It was at this point that I was thankful I'd kept some of the Original in my glass. Here we had two Glenmorangie single malts, both having spent ~10 years in American Oak - one in ex-bourbon, and one in ex-rye. This is the sort of comparison us whisky geeks love...

Glenmorangie Spios (46% ABV, NAS, Highlands, Scotland, $1,100HKD, Australian price/availability TBC. Available in HK from 26th February.)
Colour: Straw with a slight pinkish-gold hue.

Nose: There's no doubt it's a Glenmorangie - there's some honey, and some underlying floral hints, but take away all the sweet vanulla you get on the nose of the Original, and replace it with spice! Also grass, mint, toffee, cherry, and after some time, caramel chews.

Palate: Gentle cinnamon / clove spice - it's there and it's dominant, but its not overpowering, and it's working nicely with the toffee and some sweeter ginger notes that start to come through. There's even a tiny hint of black pepper.

Finish: Long, with lingering earthy sweet smoke and more of that toffee.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  92/100. Very good, and fun and fascinating to compare side by side with the Original. "Same same, but very different" sums it up best - it's definitely an ex-American Oak Glenmo, but with plenty of unique characteristics not found on the Original. Delicious.

After the Spios, Bill and Brendan took questions from each city (that's me spying on the good people of the Sydney whisky scene, below), and whilst Bill wasn't giving anything away about future Private Editions, he did confirm that "anything you can think of, I probably am trying it" and the 10th Private Edition will be "extremely innovative".

We can't wait!

Thanks to Moët Hennessy in both Sydney and Hong Kong for the dual-invitation to this innovative and enjoyable event!


Thursday, 25 January 2018

Getting re-acquainted with the Sullivans Cove range

Mention "Australian whisky" to anyone overseas, particularly in Asia, and if they've heard of it, there's a good chance they'll respond with "Oh, yes, I know Sullivans Cove"! Whilst Australia currently has a significant number of whisky distilleries (the exact number seems to be constantly changing, but is over 40 as of the time of writing), the old joke that "most Aussie distilleries make less than the Scottish distilleries spill" almost holds true, and by far the majority of this output remains within Australia.

Some distilleries (like Starward) are doing a great job of getting their product onto the world stage, but Sullivans Cove have been doing it for longer than anyone (I remember as far back as 2010 seeing Sullivans Cove in bars all over Asia, well before it won a slew of awards and gained even more fame).

On one of my recent trips back to Sydney, Sullivans Cove kindly treated Hendy and myself to a private tasting of the full core range, the rare (and very much sold out) "Special Casks", and a few other goodies too.

Over a few delicious sharing plates in The Roosevelt's private "Monroe room", we tasted 7 Sullivans Cove whiskies, including the oldest available cask (HH088, distilled in 1999), an at the time unreleased special Double Cask (DC095, now sold out), and a number of other drams which gave us a great insight into the portfolio. The full line-up included:
  • Double Cask DC090 12/12/07 to 11/04/17 @ 40%
  • Double Cask DC095 29/05/08 to 06/10/17 @ 49.6%
  • American Oak TD56 16/11/05 to 23/02/17 @ 47.5%
  • American Oak HH0088 7/12/99 to 29/06/17 @ 47.5%
  • Special cask TD0231 American Oak ex-tawny 29/12/07 to 10/02/17 @ 63.8%
  • Special cask TD0202 French Oak ex-Chardonnary 06/07/07 to 20/01/17 @ 47.5%
  • French Oak HH0516 12/10/00 to 14/04/17

As Tasmania's 2nd oldest (currently operating) whisky distillery, and 100% Aussie owned and operated, it's fair to say Sullivans Cove Distillery (formerly "Tasmania Distillery") is firmly ingrained into Aussie whisky folklore, and whilst their earliest output in the mid 1990s may have been a bit average, they well and truly turned a corner around 1999 and now produce some fantastic Aussie whisky...which we were ready to dive into.

With the delightful Amanda as our guide, we learned about the distillery's history and current state, its philosphies, and an idea of where its heading in the future. Amanda's business card may have read "Sales and Marketing Manager", but her knowledge and passion for the distillery genuinely exceeded that of many brand ambassadors we've met over the years!

Sullivans Cove's core whisky line-up consists of "Double Cask", "American Oak" and "French Oak" - the latter two being single cask, the former being a vatting of 3-5 barrels (a mix of American Oak ex-Bourbon and French Oak ex-Tawny, mostly from Seppeltsfield) yielding ~950 to 1,500 bottles each release.

We started with the Double Cask, tasting two expressions - one a 9yo @ 40% ABV (DC090), and another 9yo @ an unusual 49.6% ABV (DC095, which went on sale soon after and rapidly sold out).  DC090 had a beautifully creamy, vanilla nose, following through to a sweet, fruity palate but then deviating to an earthy, vegetal finish. Unexpected, but enjoyable. DC095 wasn't dissimilar in terms of flavours, but they were significantly ramped up, with more creaminess, spice and (for me) tannin on the finish. Same same, but different, and I enjoyed both equally.

The American Oak range was next, with two bottlings - one 11yo (TD56), and one at a whopping 17 years old (HH0088) - Sullivans Cove's oldest available cask. Both were at 47.5%. TD56 showed some citrusy paprika on the nose, with the citrus following through on the palate and an oaky, spicy finish. HH0088 was buttery but for my palate showed some slight hints of sulphur, albeit with a lovely caramel finish. Not my favourite of the two, but still a lovely dram, and a great chance to sample the distillery's oldest wares.

The famous French Oak followed - not the really famous HH0525 which helped kick off the Tasmanian whisky boom (are there even any left in the world?!) but HH0516, distilled in October 2000 and aged at 16 years old, bottled at 47.5% ABV. With an orange gold hue, and big sweet raspberries and blueberries on the, initial impressions lived up to expectations. The palate was initially drying, but then a berry-sweetness emerged, turning to a long and "chewy" caramel-oak finish. My favourite so far.

Up until last year, a discussion of the Sullivans Cove range would have stopped there. In 2017 though, the distillery saw the first new release (two actually) in over a decade - the green-labelled "Special Casks". At $750AUD each they don't come cheap, but that didn't stop them selling out in record time. Described to us as "exceptional malts that don't fit the core range", they're evidence of some of the experimentation underway at Sullivans Cove, and perhaps an insight into some of the more unusual and interesting whiskies we may see coming in future years.

Amanda was kind enough to allow us to taste both - TD0202, a 9yo French oak ex-Chardonnay cask bottled at 47.5%, and TD0231, a 9yo American oak ex-tawny cask bottled at a not-insignificant 63.8% ABV.

The dark-copper TD0231 had a hugely syrupy molasses nose, with lots of maple syrup which amplified with water. The palate was thick and syrupy, with a decent amount of allspice accompanied by treacle-soaked dates. The finish was long, with hints of charred oak.

TD0202 on the other hand couldn't have been more different, with a light yellow-golden hue, floral pineapple fritters on the nose, sweet chocolate-coated pineapple chunks, apple and honey on the palate, and a tropical, floral finish that went on for days. Whilst Hendy's pick was the TD0231, this one was my pick of the night.
You might note that Sullivans Cove don't actually specify an age on their whiskies, although (in the "spirit" of complete transparency), provide the exact distillation dates (for the youngest whisky, in the case of the Double Cask range), the bottling date, and the cask numbers. It doesn't get much more transparent than that!

Hendy and I owe a huge thanks to Amanda for giving up her time to walk us through the range. It's not often you get a private tasting, including a number of un-released, pre-released and sold-out drams, and to try them all together was a fantastic experience.

I personally can't wait to see what "Special Casks" are released in the near future, but if the experimentation we heard about and tasted is anything to go by, I'm sure they'll be a whole lot of fun.


Tuesday, 23 January 2018

The Art of Blending: Launch of Johnnie Walker Blenders' Batch: Espresso Roast and Rum Cask Finish (Tasted #381 - 382)

The last couple of years have proved to be quite an exciting time for Johnnie Walker and all its fans with the recent relaunch of their 18yo (with a new name and packaging), 2016's release of the experimental series including the Blenders' Batch "Red Rye Finish", "Select Casks" Rye Cask Finish and the relaunch of the Green Label back into the Australian Market earlier last year. Personally, I found the experimental series to be delightful and interesting, especially in the price range it was set at.

With a desire to keep innovating and to try and appease the ever-evolving global whisky market, Johnnie Walker has now released the second release in the series of limited-edition experimental series with the Blenders' Batch: Espresso Roast and Rum Cask Finish. Similar to initial series, this second release is also targeted at bartenders and mixologists for use in cocktails and other mixes.

The Espresso Roast batch was created by Aimée Gibson, Johnnie Walker Blender using heavily roasted barley matured in a combination of rejuvenated casks and first-fill Bourbon casks. The Rum Cask Finish was created by Blender, Chris Clark using a blend of Speyside and Lowland whiskies finished in a Carribean pot still rum casks. The Rum Cask is said to have been worked on by Chris over the past decade prior to arriving at the final expression. These distillation and finishing techniques are certainly not new though their use in these series does result in quite different profiles.

Inspired by the Espresso Roast release, the launch of the series was held at the newly rebranded Brewtown Cafe, Surry Hills (previously Gnome Cafe). Simon McGoram, Diageo Whisky Ambassador and Coffee Sensory Expert, Ryan Spinoglio joined forces to co-host the evening, combining both of their prowess to introduce the series and in particular the Espresso Roast release.

Both whiskies exhibited subtle notes with the Espresso Roast having a more dominant roast, chocolate characters. Interestingly, I found both to be quite creamy and milky and this bode well with the use of the Espresso Roast release in cocktails. Think Espresso Martini though curated simply with a cold brew and a serve of the Espresso Roast. The result, in my view, was very close to a decent espresso martini.

Johnnie Walker Blenders' Batch Espresso Roast (43.2% ABV, NAS, Scotland - A$54.99)
This was my pick of the two new releases and for simplicity sake, you can add cold brew to the mix for a kick-ass yet simple espresso martini. Wouldn't that be awesome to have this summer?

Colour: Golden maple syrup

Nose: The nose hints of dark chocolate bitterness with a hint of smoke, cherry and then some more dark chocolate to appease.

Palate: The whiff of chocolate from the nose translate into a blend of vanilla and chocolate, bitter melon, apple and cherry. The palate is quite balanced though riddled with soft yet enticing notes.

Finish: Subtle, long, with lingering roasted notes, tobacco leaf.

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

Johnnie Walker Blenders' Batch Rum Cask Finish (40.8% ABV, NAS, Scotland, A$54.99)
Of the two batch releases, I found the Rum Cask Finish to be a tad too soft and mellow. Structuring a cocktail with the Rum Cask Finish may risk the whisky being drowned out by the other ingredients.

Colour: Light champagne

Nose: The nose has subtle notes of vanilla, clove and a mixture of fruits - coconut, banana and mango. The fruity and spiced notes may have been inherited from the rum casks.

Palate: The palate is soft with some banoffee pie served with cream that then eases into a light clove spice. Lots of sweetness in this though certainly not as complex as other blends.

Finish: Medium to long with that spiced rum finish.

Rating (on Hendy's very non-scientific scale): 90/100

Thanks to Liz of Leo Burnett Sydney and Diageo for having us at the launch.