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 French red wine 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.