Monday, 15 October 2018

Ardbeg Twenty Something 22 Year Old (Tasted #401)

Following on from last year's limited release - the Ardbeg Twenty Something (23yo), Ardbeg has released a follow up release, also dubbed Ardbeg Twenty Something although this time, a 22 Year Old made from spirit distilled in 1996. This year's release is as a tribute to the turbulent days of mid-nineties and also to those Ardbeggians that have stuck around, persisted and kept the Ardbeg spirit alive in the mid 1990s - one of those Ardbeggians being the current Ardbeg Distillery Manager, Mickey Heads.

The year 1996 was a glorious year which saw Metallica and Spice Girls share the music chart and Windows NT4 (what's that again?) released, though for Ardbeg, 1996 was a tumultuous time when the distillery was closed in July put up for sale by its owner at the time, Allied Distillers.

The period between the 80s and 90s was a rough period for whisky distillers, production at the Ardbeg Distillery slowed to a trickle and its future was looking very much in tatters. This particular release, with spirit from that year symbolises the challenges and triumph from that era and gives us a glimpse into what Ardbeg distillation had been like then.

The glorious days that followed are a stark contrast to the challenges from that era. Today, Ardbeg endures, partly (or wholly) thanks to the efforts of the small army of Ardbeggians worldwide. The loyal Ardbeg Committee, founded in 2000 is to be recognised for its unwavering dedication to the distillery. The classic Ardbeg 10 which was released in the same year signifies the continuing success of Ardbeg through to this day.

Mickey Heads, as one of the handful of believers from that period provided his take on the new Twenty Something release:
"A sense of immense pride, hope and a touch of idealism were key ingredients in this whisky. Created with spirit from the retired Still which now stands in the Distillery courtyard, this bottle is a magnificent reminder as to why Ardbeg should never be allowed to disappear. Ardbeg Twenty Something is for those who believed wholeheartedly in the Ardbeg Distillery, which is why it's fitting that this rare whisky - a 22 Year Old - will be enjoyed by our loyal Committee Members, who maintain that same belief."

Ardbeg Twenty Something 2018 (46.4% ABV, 22 Year Old, Islay, Scotland, A$720)
An Ardbeg that you can sit with for some time. What initially comes off as fresh and bright slowly and subtly morphs into the classic Ardbeg notes that we may be more familiar with, sweet peat, smoke and dryness. The nose is surprisingly vibrant and layered with subtle smoke. The ex-bourbon casks may have its part to play in shaping the sweeter and lingering palate.

Colour: Straw

Nose: Big tropical fruits bearing a mixture of star fruits, mixed berries, passion fruit with a hint of creaminess of milk chocolate. There is also the sweetness of citrus candy thrown in for good measure. The Ardbeg smoke then subtly punches through.

Palate: The freshness from the nose prevails on the palate, with some more tropical fruits, vanilla joined by a big peppery and aniseed punch before settling into some smoked oyster over a bonfire on the beach complete with the natural brine from the oyster.

Finish: The finish is very long, with hints of sweet peppermint and dryness that prevails.

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


Saturday, 13 October 2018

Tasted #400: Balvenie Fifty (50) Year Old (Cask #4570)

In keeping with the theme of reserving the hundredth tasting posts for rare and/or old whiskies (#200 was a 60yo Glenfarclas, #300 was a 65yo Macallan), "Tasted" post #400 is a 50yo OB Balvenie, bottled by the distillery in 2014.

Unfortunately I didn't win the lotto, so I didn't go and drop $47,000AUD on a bottle. This (very, very generous) sample bottle came courtesy of a (very, very generous) benefactor. Often when I have a rare, old or expensive whisky (sample or bottle), I'll try to save it for a special occasion. With this one though, that occasion was "I have a Balvenie 50!" and it was tasted that first night. It was a Monday.

One of two 50 year old Balvenies released in 2014, this was the less sherried of the two, and was distilled on 28th May 1963, with only 128 bottles produced.

Balvenie Fifty Year Old Cask #4570 (45.9% ABV, 50yo, Speyside, Scotland, Cask #4570, $47,000AUD)
Colour: Dirty dark copper-gold (awesome).

Nose: A slightly OBE-like mustiness at first, quickly developing into rich citrus (tangerines primarily), with deep earthy oak and some sweeter perfumed notes. Cranberries, molasses, spiced honey, cinnamon all show too. After some time, there's some milk chocolate and peanut butter cups.

Palate: Slightly earthy / asparagus notes at first. Then spiced honey, vanilla, sweet oak. Some whole ripe oranges and spicy cloves, then a toffee sweetness with some creamed honey.

Finish: Medium to long in length. Sherry-soaked pears, more cloves, lots of cinnamon, and some oaky tannins at the very end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. Not a sherry bomb, nor an oak bomb. Yes there's noticeable oak there (the whisky did spend 50 years in the stuff..) but its not overpowering, and on the whole all the notes are incredibly balanced. A beautifully made whisky that has stood the test of time.

Thanks again to the incredibly generous whisky legend who sent me this sample all the way from the UK.


Friday, 12 October 2018

Bruichladdich Port Charlotte range re-launch party in Singapore (Tasted #396 - 399)

Bruichladdich is a distillery I've liked for a long time, but it's also a distillery I've respected for a long time. That's not to say I don't respect other distilleries, but Bruichladdich's whisky has just always struck me as incredibly honest whisky. It doesn't hide behind caramel colouring, or chill-filtration. It's bottled at (at least) 50%. As a distillery, Bruichladdich are also incredibly transparent.

...and they make incredibly good and varied whisky - from the standard "Laddie" to the peated Port Charlotte, to the super-peated Octomore and the fun stuff like Black Art and Micro Provenance ranges.

All of which made it pretty easy to say yes when Rémy Cointreau contacted me recently, asking if I wanted to join them in Singapore for the (re)launch of the Port Charlotte range. Fast forward 6 weeks, and I find myself, on a surprisingly mild Singapore night, standing in the middle of an industrial space...

The invitation listed the venue as "Cargo39", which I assumed was some cool new bar in a popular part of Singapore, but no, it turns out "Cargo39" is an actual cargo dock / shipping yard (which frankly is so much cooler).

The #WeAreIslay balloon made it clear I was in the right area, and after a few minutes of mindlessly wandering around an empty loading dock, I found my way to the venue.

(Turns out, Cargo39 is in Tanjong Pagar Distripark - a popular art / performance / venue / F&B space, utilising converted warehouse space. Not dissimilar to some of the warehouses around HK's Wong Chuk Hang.)

One look at the voucher provided on arrival suggested guests were in for a good night, filled with all the good things in life...

First though, I headed to the G&T Station (Bruichladdich make a great gin, y'see) where Citizen Farm had set up a botanical station and were talking guests through different mints, herbs and leaves to garnish their gin & tonics (the locally-grown Apple Mint suited the Botanist's 22 botanicals very well).

"Local" was to be a theme for the night - with stations set up around the room serving delicious goods from local providors - cheese (from The Cheese Ark), chocolate (from DemoChoco), burgers and oysters (from Jam & Co) and even a taste of home, with beer / boilermakers by Young Master Ales.

Of course, we were all there for whisky, and there was no disappointment on that front, with the "Rare Dram" bar front and centre serving all manner of Bruichladdichs from the standard Laddie right up to Octomore OBA, and the full "Rare Cask" series (not to mention a number of rare distillery-only releases).

Everyone was allowed one free Rare Dram (more if they were lucky...) and the prices for others were pretty reasonable - Bere Barley 2008 for $10SGD, Black Art 5.1 for $30SGD, with the rarest drams (Octomore OBA, Rare Cask series and Yellow Submarine) at $50SGD.

Before long a few familiar faces showed up - namely good whisky mates Andrew (@whiskyhobo) and Christopher (@kanpaikev) from Indonesia Whisky Research Society (soon to be hosting Indonesia's first Whisky Live), and Singapore's Loh Chin Hui aka @whisky uncle. After sharing a dram or two of the distillery-only "The Laddie" Valinch 32, it was time to start the official tasting.

Brand Ambassador Chloe Wood welcomed guests, explaining that we'd be tasting four Port Charlotte drams, with a guided tasting led by none other than Bruichladdich Head Distiller Adam Hannett, video conferenced in all the way from Islay. This was impressive for two reasons - 1) Islay Internet is said to be notoriously dodgy; and 2) Adam couldn't hear anything happening in Singapore, yet managed to almost time his interjection after each dram perfectly.

I managed to spend a good amount of time with each dram, appreciating both the similarities and differences between the range...

Port Charlotte 10 (50% ABV, 10 Years Old, Islay, Scotland, £50 (AU and HK pricing TBC))
Containing only Scottish Barley, and peated to 40ppm. Matured in a combination of 1st fill ex-Bourbon, 2nd fill ex-Bourbon and 2nd fill ex-French wine casks.
Colour: Golden straw
Nose: Sweet vanilla smoke initially, over time, tangy BBQ sauce and vanilla cream pie. A strange combination...that works very well.
Palate: BBQ-charred lemon wedges, then some big berry notes coming through - strawberry and raspberries. Plenty of salt-air peat - balanced well with the fruitier notes.
Finish: Follows the palate - long sweet lemon citrus smoke.
Rating (on Martin's very non-scientific scale): 91/100. I sat on this for a while and it got better and better. An impressive dram, especially considering the price.

Port Charlotte Islay Barley 2011 (50% ABV,  6-7 Years Old, Islay, Scotland, £60 (AU and HK pricing TBC))
Showcasing truly local barley. 15 years ago no-one was growing Barley on Islay, now there are 18 farms!
Colour: Yellow gold.
Nose: Lots of vanilla and some citrus, and then some peach. Some slightly plastic notes that aren't offputting, but do differentiate this from the PC10. Spirit is more noticeable.
Palate: Meatier, more spirity than the 10. Lots of lemon zest and orange peel. More spritely and youthful than the 10. It'd be very interesting to try this at 10 years old.
Finish: Longer and hotter than the 10, with residual lemon zest smoke.
Rating (on Martin's very non-scientific scale): 88/100.

Port Charlotte MRC:01 2010 (59.2% ABV,  7-8 Years Old, Islay, Scotland, Pricing TBC)
75% ex-Bourbon, 25% ex-wine cask. Finished for 1 year in Chateau Mouton Rothschild casks.
Colour: Golden orange
Nose: Well this is different! Vegemite. Rye bread. Some slight hints of matchheads. Big, meaty. Beefstock.
Palate: More match heads / sulphur notes (not offputting). A lot more fruit starts to show - red berries mostly.
Finish: Long, sweet smoke and oak tannins at the very end.
Rating (on Martin's very non-scientific scale): 87/100.

Port Charlotte MC:01 2009 (56.3% ABV,  8-9 Years Old, Islay, Scotland, Pricing TBC)
Finished in ex-Marsala casks for 18 months. Not yet bottled at the time of tasting, but intended to replace the current Global Travel Retail Cognac-finished expression.
Colour: Bright orange gold.
Nose: Lovely. Dry rub, paprika, very malty. Some berry notes start to show afer time.
Palate: Huge, rich oily mouth feel. Cherry cream pie. First fruit, then a big whack of sweet smoke.
Finish: Long, slightly tannic but at the very end, sweet Crème brûlée.
Rating (on Martin's very non-scientific scale): 90/100.

With the tasting over (and Adam no doubt finally able to enjoy his lunch), a few of us wandered over to check out the games on offer, including "Speak like a Scot", "Ring Toss" and "Blind Tasting". With rare drams on offer for winners, and Bruichladdich keyrings on offer for everyone else, everyone was a winner really.

Finishing the night with a dram of 1984/32 from the Rare Cask Series, then an Octomore OBA and the latest 1991 Yellow Submarine was a pretty incredible way to cap off what was, in all honesty, one of the most fun and well-run whisky parties I'd attended in ages.

The new range continues everything I like about Bruichladdich, and shows they're not afraid to go a little bit left-field either (just look at the new bottle design). A humungous thanks must go to Rémy Cointreau and Bruichladdich, who not only invited me to the event, but provided flights and accommodation too.


Tuesday, 2 October 2018

The Balvenie Dinner at Hong Kong Parkview with David Stewart and Kelsey McKechnie

One of the benefits of being a whisky lover in HK (as I've mentioned a few times) is the steady stream of international whisky personalities who pass through. William Grant & Sons are no exception, with a visit by Glenfiddich Global Band Ambassador Ian Millar in 2014, The Balvenie Malt Master David Stewart in 2015 and former global brand ambassador (and the funniest man in whisky) Sam Simmons in 2016.

Fast forward to 2018, and The Balvenie Malt Master David Stewart again came to town (for one night only), this time with Kelsey McKechnie who had only just been announced as new apprentice Malt Master weeks earlier.

The pair had come to Hong Kong for a Balvenie pairing dinner, held at Hong Kong Parkview's Ming Yuen restaurant, in conjunction with Parkview's brilliant whisky bar and Telford Wine & Spirits.

For a select few media, the event actually kicked off a little earlier in the evening, with a tasting of The Balvenie 40yo kindly sponsored by the Parkview's brilliant Parkview Whisky Bar. I'll save the tasting notes for a separate post (suffice to say, it was a special dram indeed), along with an even older Balvenie post I've been saving...

Kicking off with a rich complex cocktail made with The Balvenie 12 Doublewood, sherry and coffee, as guest arrived we chatted with David and Kelsey, and collectively wondered if they'd make their flights the next day, given the impending typhoon (subsequently the strongest in HK's history).

Admiring the drams laid out, it was clear we were in for a good night, with the following on the menu:

After taking our seats, David gave a brief introduction, reflecting on his incredible 56 years (and counting) with William Grant & Sons, and talking us through the DoubleWood's 25 year history, starting with the first bottling in 1983 (coincidentally, recently marked by a limited-release 25yo DoubleWood). David, known for his pioneering ways in the field of cask finishing ("ACEing" in some circles), explained the first four whiskies were finished (Sherry, Rum, Sherry, Port), whereas the 30 is a marriage of 1st fill American Oak casks, refill American Oak casks and 1st fill European Oak casks.

Kicking off with Chilled Fresh Abalone (which is actually kind of clever, because Abalone itself doesn't have a lot of flavour, but soaks up other flavours), and then Double Boiled Shi Hu with Sea Conch & Pigeon (soup), both with The Balvenie 12 Doublewood, and then Kurobuta Pork Roll with Teriyaki Sauce, paired with The Balvenie 14 Caribbean Cask, it was clear the new chef has taken Ming Yuen in a much more interesting and modern direction (presentation-wise), whilst keeping the flavours traditional and delicious. Steph and I had eaten there only once before (it's typically only open to Parkview residents), but this was much, much better than I'd remembered.

Kelsey presented the The Balvenie 17 DoubleWood next, paired with Pan-fried Cod with Passionfruit Jus with each bringing out (or rather, amping up) the sweetness in the other.

It seemed like almost every attendee had brought at least one bottle of their of Balvenie to ask David / Kelsey to sign (I was no exception), and in between courses queues started to form. There were a number of rare and interesting bottles (DoubleWoods from the 80s, TUN 1858s etc..) but none more so than this bottle, brought by Kam from Dram Good Stuff...

Not on tasting, obviously!
(We also learnt that the DCS5 collection is likely to have a 1962 release with an even older age statement - 56 or 57yo!)

Whilst Dessert and whisky pairings are an "easier" match to make, this one was particularly good, with Mango Pudding with Rose Jelly paired with The Balvenie 21 PortWood Finish. David explained the casks for the 21 come from Speyside Cooperage, supplied from Portugal (exact provenance unknown), with about 100 casks used each year and the whisky undergoing a 4 month finish.

The 30yoI figured was deserving of tasting on its own, and will post tasting notes in a separate post shortly. I'd tried the Thirty before and always found it fantastic, but this (more recent) release even more so - a sentiment echoed by friends and others online too, who all agreed it was a great whisky which seems to have recently gotten even better. A truly beautiful dram.

As the dinner wrapped up, those of us who stuck around availed ourselves of a second (and umm, third) dram of our favourites, before heading home with a bottle of DoubleWood 17yo for our troubles. 

A wonderful night spent with great company.


Time for Whisky attended the dinner as a guest of Telford and Hong Kong Parkview, and would like to say a massive thanks to all involved. It should be noted that the price of this dinner also included a bottle of The Balvenie 17 DoubleWood.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

The Macallan Masters of Photography Magnum Edition Hong Kong Launch (Tasted #395)

We've been fortunate since moving to HK to attend some brilliant Macallan events (particularly lately), including a few for the various "Masters of Photography" releases. First it was the Mario Testino (5th) Edition, then last year's Steven Klein (6th) Edition (we also tasted one of the 58 different Elliott Erwitt (4th) editions), and this week we attended the launch of the 7th edition - the "Magnum Edition", celebrating the new distillery via the work of 6 Magnum photographers.

One thing I like about the "MoP" series is they don't follow any rules when it comes to the whisky's make up. Single cask, vattings, age statement, NAS - doesn't matter. The whisky is designed to reflect the nature of the photographers / photography, and over the years there's been some really interesting releases (The Mario Testino Edition especially, being a vatting of 6 casks, with the package including a miniature of each of the 6 casks).

The new "Magnum Edition" is also a vatting, of 7 casks, and whilst you can read the detail about how each cask reflects its photographers personality here, the one thing that really interested me was that one of the casks was an ex-Rioja cask - apparently one of only 3(!) the distillery has ever done.

Bottled at 43.7%, the whisky carries no age but after spending a good amount of time nosing and tasting it (see below), it's clearly not young. I'd hazard a guess the majority of the casks would be north of 20 years old (but that's just a guess).

Ken Grier, Creative Director for The Macallan was our host for the night, in what was sadly his last ever event for The Macallan. Ken opened proceedings by talking us through the 6 photographers (each had examples of their Macallan photography on display around the room), then introduced our dinner pairings, explaining that a "Triple Cask Vertical" of 12/15/18 was chosen to accompany the first three courses, as a nod to the original "Masters of Photography" release, which was a 30 year old Fine Oak 

("Triple Cask" being the new name for the "Fine Oak" series originally launched in 2004).

Dinner was a 4 course affair, expertly paired as always, consisting of:

Vanilla poached mangrove forrest prawn, smoked watermelon carpaccio, avocado creme, basil, roasted crustacean aspic

Seared Foie Gras, sour cherry jus, hazelnut creme

US prime beef sirloin, black garlic mashed potato, abalone sauce glazed morel mushrooms, cress salad

Dark chocolate 68% cigar, Baileys Cremeux, streusel, Hazelnut ice cream

Of course, it wouldn't have been much of a launch event if we hadn't actually tried the whisky being launched...

The Macallan "Masters of Photography" Magnum Edition (43.7% ABV, NAS, Speyside, Scotland, $26,600HKD)
Colour: Yellow gold with a reddish tinge.

Nose: Fruity creme brûlée at first. Toffee apples. Then you get this subtle, but definitely noticeable smoke. Not big Islay-style peat (although one of the casks was "peated", we learned), but a definite dry, dusty, earthen smoke. There's some tobacco and aged leather, and after some time, some burnt orange peel.

Palate: Dry - very dry, with oak tannins quite noticeable. There's also some grassy tobacco, butterscotch, some hints of mandarin peel and more smoke, but underneath it all, an undercurrent of dry oak tannins.

Finish: Extremely long, with the oak tannins carrying right through.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. One that definitely needs time, and the more time you give it, the more you discover. To me, that complexity is something I look for in a whisky, so it scores well because of that. Whilst the palate didn't appeal to me as much as something like Edition 4, or a juicy old Macallan Cask Strength 10yo, it's still quite enjoyable (taste-wise), and the nose is definitely intriguing and hugely complex. Taste is a matter of opinion and plenty of others on the night really enjoyed the taste. Either way, it's definitely one to sit with and enjoy.

The Macallan Masters of Photography "Magnum Edition" is available for $26,600HKD, with a limited allocation of 72 (of 2,000) bottles coming to HK.

Thanks again to Edrington Hong Kong for another successful Macallan launch.


Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Tasted #394: The Macallan 55 year old - Exclusively bottled to celebrate The Macallan distillery opening 2018

As mentioned a few weeks ago, at the launch of The Macallan's new distillery and visitor centre we were treated to a spectacularly rare whisky - a Macallan, in which the youngest Macallan was 55yo, of which there were only 20 bottles, and which was served only to guests of the distillery launch events for a week in May.

As far as welcome drams go, it's fair to say it was a good one.

Upon picking up a glass, we weren't given any details at all. We were asked to hold off for a few minutes until a toast was made, but that didn't stop me giving it a good long nose...which was all I needed to tell me this wasn't your average sherried Macallan. This was something unique.

We later learned it was a special bottling, released only for the distillery launch events, but weren't given any other details apart from its age. A few days later, Siobhan Sellers (@herguide) posted up the following post (edit: since removed), confirming the ABV (50.3%). I'm sure I also read somewhere that it was limited to 20 bottles, but can't seem to find that info anymore.

The Macallan 55yo - Exclusively bottled to celebrate The Macallan distillery opening 2018 (50.3% ABV, 55yo, Speyside, Scotland, Not commercially available)
Colour: Burnished copper-gold.

Nose: Sweet orange zest initially. Sultanas. Sultana Bran, figs and sweet dates...but so much more. Leather. Slightest hints of smoke, nutmeg and mince pies. If you search hard enough, some dunnage warehouse. Clean, beautifully sherried and complex.

Palate: Raisins dusted with nutmeg. Some pepper. Apples, cloves, more orange, but then...grapefruit? Lots of grapefruit - both flesh and hints of zest. Ginger, dried fig and candied apricots...this dram had a lot going on, and it was all delicious.

Finish: Long with a slight citrus bittnerness leading to a subtle, lingering earthy smoke.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. Delicious, just a beautiful example of an incredibly well-aged sherried whisky. To enjoy it amongst friends, as one of the first in the world to tour the new Macallan Distillery was just an incredible experience.


Monday, 6 August 2018

New Book Review - "Japanese Whisky: The ultimate guide to the world's most desirable spirit"

A new book came across the TimeforWhisky desk recently, titled "Japanese Whisky: The Ultimate Guide to the World's Most Desirable Spirit". As a lover of Japanese whisky, not to mention a good whisky book every now and then, I was keen to dive in.

Written by Brian Ashcraft, the 140+ page hardcover suits both beginners and fanatics alike, covering the history of Japanese whisky (both modern and ancient), its ties to sake and Shochu, the production process, the uniqueness of Mizunara and Japanese drinking culture.

..and that's just in the first 55 or so pages. The remaining pages are dedicated to the "big boys" of Japanese whisky distilling and their products. Yamazaki, White Oak, Yoichi, Mars Shinshu, Fuji Gotemba and Chichibu are all covered, with detailed tasting notes and scores on a number of whiskies from each (15 tasting notes for Venture Whisky / Chichibu alone).

All up, there are more than 100 tasting notes, all by Japanese whisky reviewer and blogger Yuji Kawasaki.

The book is striking in its (extensive and exclusive) photography, with large, vivid photos of distilleries, production processes and products, not to mention historical artefacts (older release whiskies, advertisements, and people).

There's even coverage of Japan's bar scene and culture, which (as readers of this blog and followers of our Facebook and Instagram pages might know) is something we're a little bit obsessed with.

There have been a few great books on Japanese whisky released recently, each of them with a slightly different focus. In it's 140ish pages, "Japanese Whisky: The Ultimate Guide to the World's Most Desirable Spirit" successfully manages to appeal to a wide audience with a mix of history, facts, opinion, humour and insider detail, all accompanied by stunning imagery and wrapped up in an easy-to-read format.

Whilst I like to think I know a decent amount about Japanese whisky, I have to admit I learned a few things reading this. Definitely recommended for Japanese whisky lovers and those looking to learn more. 


Thanks to Brian Ashcraft and Tuttle Publishing for the review copy.