Thursday 29 November 2018

Whiskies & More, Timeless & Tasty and 3 delicious single casks from Laphroaig, Glentauchers and Ardmore (Tasted #407 - #409)

Whisky fans in Hong Kong would find it hard not to notice the proliferation of new whisky shops these days - it seems like every week there's a new one, opened by a passionate whisky lover (or group of whisky lovers), and on the whole it's a great thing for the whisky scene.

Whiskies & More however are a little different. Part shop, part distributor, part whisky events coordinator, W&M and their online shop, Timeless & Tasty are run by passionate whisky lover Hil, someone for whom I have massive respect, having come from the same industry I work in (not whisky - this is just a hobby for me) and switching it up to run a successful business in whisky.

Not only that, but Whiskies & More  also arrange some of the most epic whisky tastings in Hong Kong (like when they brought the guys from WM Cadenhead out for a tasting of 6 whiskies, straight from the still maturing casks, including 3 closed distilleries!)

The list of brands Whiskies & More distributes includes a number of hugely-respected independent bottlers (Asta Morris, AD Rattray, Elements of Islay, WM Cadenhead, Blackadder), well-loved OBs (Arran, High Coast, others) and even my favourite Cognac Vallein Tercinier (aka the cognac for malt lovers). The fact that Whiskies & More so regularly bring out guests from these brands for regular masterclasses in HK (like Bert from Asta Morris) is a testament to the relationships Hil has built in a short space of time.

To try out some of the range, Hil recently gave me a few samples from three of W&M's brands, all of relatively young ages, and all proof that "age is but a number":

Asta Morris Glentauchers 2009-2017 (52.5% ABV, 8yo, Speyside, Scotland, 1 of 90 bottles, $995HKD)
Colour: Orange-brown gold.

Nose: Spirity and fruity at first, with some varnish and sultanas, and a slight peppery note. After a few drops of water, some Vegemite and barbecued meat.

Palate: Rich and sweetly sherried - more sultanas, a nuttyness, pear notes and some red fruits.

Finish: Long, with some light tannins, sugar-coated sultanas, dried apricots and pears.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. A simple yet surprisingly moreish dram.

The Single Malts of Scotland Aird Mhor (Ardmore) 2009-2018 (59.4% ABV, 8yo, Highlands, Scotland, 1 of 123 bottles $850HKD)
Colour: Straw

Nose: Spiced fruit, cinnamon eggnog. Hints of peppery smoke.

Palate: Similar to the nose, with more cinnamon and more pronounced peat smoke, followed by some flamed orange peel, cardamom and Christmas cake.

Finish: Long, with smoky-sweet stone fruits at the very end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 87/100. From an ex-Laphy barrel, I learned afterwards!

AD Rattray Williamson (Laphroaig) 2011-2017 (61.3% ABV, 6yo, Islay, Scotland, 1 of 96 bottles $850HKD)
Colour: Light straw.

Nose: Big campfire peat smoke with some stone fruit notes, and slightly medicinal notes (but not an "iodine bomb").

Palate: Hugely mouth-coating. Spicy peat, meaty, oily, some tobacco and leather, then some toasted bread, apricot jam and some barbecue smoke.

Finish: Medium to long in length, sweet with caramel notes and just a hint of smoke.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100.

With Christmas around the corner,  W&M's shop Timeless & Tasty would be worth a look for anyone looking to buy a whisky present (it can be for yourself - we won't tell), as would the above three whiskies.


Thursday 15 November 2018

"The Macallan Table" - launch dinner at Felix

As we've experienced more than a few times over the yearsThe Macallan are no strangers to food and whisky pairing, having hosted a number of fantastic lunches and dinners in both Australia and Hong Kong. Their recent partnership with Michelin-starred Felix at the Peninsula extends this beyond a single one-off dinner, offering guests the chance to book "The Macallan Table" over a series of nights and taste four Macallans paired with dishes from chef Juan Gomez, Felix's new (and very talented) chef.

We were invited along to the launch recently, hosted by The Macallan's lovely brand ambassador Patricia and featuring two new drams (The Macallan Edition No.4, which we first tasted here and Rare Cask 2018 Edition Batch No.1) and two old favourites (The Macallan Double Cask 12yo and Classic Cut).

Kicking off with a cocktail (the Glenrothes Highball was especially refreshing), it was hard not to soak up the view from The Peninsula's enviable position overlooking Victoria Harbour and out to Hong Kong Island.

Dinner itself was a four course affair, starting with House smoked Salmon loin, green asparagus, camembert, butter lettuce and celeriac, paired with The Macallan Double Cask 12yo, which played really nicely with the Camembert (and of course smoked salmon and a nice honeyed whisky like Double Cask is always a good pairing).

Slow roasted Pigeon breast with mushroom sauce and grilled seasonabl vegetables was paired with The Macallan Edition No.4, with the pigeon's smokiness and the whisky's sweetness bouncing off each other nicely, back and forth.

In between courses, Patricia introduced chef Gomez, whose Spanish heritage not only showed in the dishes (especially the one we were about to eat), but also served as a perfect complement to The Macallan, with its history of sherry casks and strong ties to bodegas in Spain.

Dried aged Tenderloin "Rubia Gallega", piquillo parmeniter, soufflé poteato, brocolini and Madeira wine was next, paired with the new Rare Cask 2018 Edition Batch No.1). Beef and whisky is often a sensible pairing, and this one was particularly good, with the whisky's dried fruit notes bringing out some particularly fruity notes in the dish - presumably from the Madeira sauce.

The Macallan Classic Cut was served on its own next - and actually at 58% made a great digestif, a great way to break up the dishes and prepare us for the dessert - Raspberry Coconut, fresh thing coconut crunch with raspberry mousse and sorbet. The whisky had strong ginger and nutmeg notes - very different to the 10yo Cask Strength of days gone by, but good in its own right.

A big thanks must go to Edrington and The Peninsula for hosting another successful and expertly-paired whisky dinner. Whilst "The Macallan Table" pairing dinners have ended for 2018, Felix has a Macallan Jazz night on 16th November.


Monday 12 November 2018

Tasted #405 - 406: 1973 42yo Longmorn and 1976 37yo Mortlach (bottled by Gordon & MacPhail)

Whilst trying the Gordon & Macphail 1961 "Private Collection" Longmorn twin casks a few weeks ago was a pretty special experience, they weren't the only drams we tried on the night. As a prelude to the two, we were treated to another well-aged Longmorn (a 1973, bottled in 2015) and a 1976 Mortlach (bottled in 2013).

Both enjoyable drams in their own right, I felt they deserved their own post...

Gordon & Macphail "Distillery Label" 1976 Mortlach (bottled 2013) (43% ABV, 37yo, Speyside, Scotland, no longer available)
Colour: Honey gold.

Nose: Sweet raisins, clean and sharp. Cherries and treacle. Peach, then other stone fruits - pear, apricot. Some oak but nothing overpowering.

Palate: Rich and fruity - stewed pears, peach pie, apricot purée. Fruit compote with sherry-soaked apple rings and pear halves (just like mum used to make at Christmas).

Finish: Long, surprisingly spirity with some oak at the very end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. A lovely dram and an interesting twist on the usual Mortlach meatiness, but the finish didn't quite live up to the rest.

Gordon & Macphail "Distillery Label" 1973 Longmorn (bottled 2015) (43% ABV, 42yo, Speyside, Scotland, no longer available)
Colour: Orange gold.

Nose: Cinnamon and dried apple rings. Caramel chews. Slightly dusty / earthy notes.

Palate: Slightly thin at first, then notes of spiced mince pie, apple pie, and caramel emerge. Raisings and ginger too.

Finish: Long, cinnamon spiced with hints of ginger and raisins.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 88/100.


Sunday 11 November 2018

Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection Twin Casks - Longmorn 1961 Casks #508 and #512 (Tasted #403 - 404)

A lot of great tasting invitations pass across the desks of TimeforWhisky, but it's not every day those invitations involve trying a pair of 57 year old whiskies (filled into two different casks on the same day, way back in 1961) costing £30,000, in the presence of the two brothers who selected them.

This one did, though. I'm talking of course about Gordon & Macphail's new Private Collection 1961 Longmorn twin casks, released recently as a set of two decanters, both distilled on 2nd Feb 1961, both bottled 57 years later on 2nd Feb 2018, in a release of only 97 sets globally.

A few weeks ago in private whisky club in HK's Central, I found myself chatting to members of the Gordon & Macphail owning family (and twin brothers) Richard and Stuart Urquhart about these two incredible whiskies, hearing some great stories from the family's history, and then tasting them (alongside a 1973 Longmorn and a 1976 Mortlach, as if these two weren't special enough!)

The brothers explained that the casks (filled by their grandfather in 1961) were an experiment to determine "nature versus nurture" in a whisky context. Both were filled with the same spirit and matured side by side for their entire 57 years - one a European Oak cask, the other American Oak (both first fill Sherry Hogsheads).

57 years after their filling, the brothers each selected the cask that best represented themselves. Richard (elder by a few minutes) selected the cask filled first (#508, European Oak), a stronger and more robust whisky, whereas Stuart's cask (#512, American Oak) is a spicier, drier cask said to reflect Stuart's drier sense of humour.

(Of course, inevitable "stronger vs weaker" jokes were bandied back and forth between the brothers too..)

I've met Richard a few times over the years, and always respected his passion for whisky, and respect for the family's history. Stuart was no different, and it was fantastic to hear stories of their forefathers' foresight in laying down casks like these - all of which are owned by G&M from the day they're filled (the family doesn't buy pre-matured casks).

Of course, it's one thing to hear stories about rare whiskies like these, but another thing entirely to taste them. So on that note...

Gordon & Macphail "Private Collection" 1961 Longmorn Twin Casks - Cask #512 American Oak (40.8% ABV, 57yo, Speyside, Scotland, Cask #512, 1 of 97 bottles, £30,000 sold as a pair (UK), HK pricing available on request from Fine Vintage)
Colour: Rich brown treacle.

Nose: Delicate, but with lots going on. Floral notes of potpourri, some varnish and saw dust. Then some vegetal notes. Fruit - dried apricots and prunes at first, then some tropical mango and guava. Lots of flamed orange peel, then some sweeter notes emerge - candied almonds and marzipan.

Palate: Sweet initially, with some slightly bitter herbal tannins, giving way to pineapple, raisins, and more oranges (whole and peel). There's some milk chocolate, slight hints of earthy smoke, at time some rum-soaked banana, and lemon notes. Many different notes, but integrated very well.

Finish: Long, tropical, with orange peel and dark (not milk anymore) chocolate most predominantly. The bitterness lingers (in a nice way) - not overly different to a bitter orange liqueur like say Campari.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. An absolutely stunning nose, followed by a delicious and complex palate and long lingering finish.

Gordon & Macphail "Private Collection" 1961 Longmorn Twin Casks - Cask #508 European Oak (45% ABV, 57yo, Speyside, Scotland, Cask #508, 1 of 97 bottles, £30,000 sold as a pair (UK), HK pricing available on request from Fine Vintage)
Colour: Deep coffee-copper with red tinges.

Nose: World's apart from the American Oak. Big, bold, sherried. Nutty, cherries, some allspice. Huge milk chocolate notes, Vietnamese coffee, lots of rum and raisin. Varnish and oak, but sweet, not dry or bitter.

Palate: Huge! The tannins are noticeable, but the sherry notes are super clean. Hazelnuts and orange peel (fresh, not flamed), lots of raisin and strong black espresso notes. Rum n Raisin. At times I'm reminded of some of my favourite Italian herbal digestifs - Averna (the barrel-aged variety only available in Italy), Cynar etc..

Finish: Long, warming, creamy and oaked. Hints of dark orange chocolate at the very end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. Definitely the more robust of the two, and whilst the oak shows, it doesn't overpower the whisky too much, and allows all the other notes (and wow, there are a lot) to shine through.

57 years is a long time for any whisky to spend in a cask - especially in a first fill sherry cask. These whiskies could have so easily been overpowered by oaky tannins, or some of the less pleasant notes that appear on some sherry casks (sulphur, etc) and yet, they didn't. They remained clean, complex, delicious, and each incredibly unique.

Fine Vintage in Hong Kong have an (understandably very limited) number of these sets available for purchase, should anyone be interested.

Thanks to Richard, Stuart and Howard for the invitation to this fantastic tasting. 


Thursday 1 November 2018

The BenRiach Distillery Company x Ming Court Whisky Dinner (Tasted #402)

It's always nice when one of your favourite distilleries (GlenDronach) comes to town, especially when they're accompanied by their two sister distilleries (BenRiach & Glenglassaugh), and especially when they really get embedded into the local culture, as this video shows:

In addition to filming the video, Global Brand Ambassador (for all 3 brands) Stewart Buchanan was in Hong Kong to host a whisky dinner at Cordis Hotel's Ming Court restaurant, pairing 6 Cantonese courses with whiskies from the three distilleries:

Whisky pairings can be a lot of fun, especially when the chef puts in the effort to actually design and match dishes to the whiskies, not just finding complementary flavours, but actually enhancing notes in one with the other......which was absolutely the case with this menu. It was clear the time that Stewart and chef Li Yuet-Faat spent together was time well-spent.

Stewart started the night with a brief introduction to the three distilleries, explaining that whilst the three are relatively close geographically (GlenDronach and BenRiach being Speyside distilleries, Glenglassaugh sitting just outside in the Highlands), they all have unique surroundings (someone may have mentioned "terroir") and characteristics - from BenRiach's traditional Speyside profile, to GlenDronach's heavier, more sherried profile and Glenglassaugh's fruity, sweet spirit (largely due to the water having the highest mineral content of any distillery).

Kicking off with Glenglassaugh Evolution, Stewart explained that whilst it's currently a NAS (and has been since 2008), when it hits 10 years old it will carry a 10yo age statement. As the name suggests, it's evolved over time, and certainly this expression was markedly different to the one I first tried over 5 years ago back in 2013. Matured in ex-Tennessee barrels (guess which ones...), it shows sweet, stewed fruits on the nose, lots of ginger spice on the palate and a long sweet ginger finish. An excellent match for the Sautéed Fresh Lobster with Honey and Lemongrass, with the ginger notes in the whisky really lifting the honey notes in the dish.

Next was The BenRiach Heart of Speysidepaired with Braised White Asparagus and Sautéed Matsutake, Termite, Shimeji and Shitake Musrhoom with Chilli Sauce. It was the asparagus which stood out here - when combined with the whisky, there was an earthy-but-floral note sounds odd, but was very enjoyable.

Moving onto GlenDronach (referred to on the night as the "double espresso of single malt"), both the Original 12yo and Allardice 18yo were paired with Braised Port Rib in Homemade Royal Sauce. The Allardice 18yo was my favourite whisky of the two (unsurprising given its sole makeup of Oloroso, and my penchant for Oloroso-matured GlenDronach!) but the 12yo I thought was a better pairing, adding a sweetness to the already very rich "royal sauce".

Keeping with The GlenDronach theme, The GlenDronach Parliament 21yo was next, paired with
Braised Wagyu beef cheek with aged dried tangerine peel. The 21yo has always been one of the sweeter GlenDronachs (due to its mix of PX and Oloroso sherry casks) and the sweetness in the whisky really melded with the dried Tangerine Peel well, adding a sweetness to the latter and amplifying the flavours in both.

Back to BenRiach next, where The Benriach Curiositas 10yo was paired with Fried Rice with Cram Meat, Dried Shrimp paste, Ginger and Spring Onion. A pretty tasty dish on its own, the perfumed smoke in the Curiositas brought out wood smoke & BBQ notes which were very enjoyable.

There was one dish left at this point, but Stewart surprised (and delighted) guests by whipping out a single cask GlenDronach. Not just any single cask, mind you - a 1993 (said by GD fans to be a special year) Single Cask 24yo (Cask #55) - one of the highest regarded 1993 single casks! 

The GlenDronach Single Cask 1993 24yo Cask #55 (56.7% ABV, 24 Years Old, Speyside, Scotland, no longer available)
Colour: Bright red-brown copper
Nose: Big, sharp Oloroso notes. Sultanas, woodspice, polish. Cherries. Plums.
Palate: Rich, sweet leather. Ginger spice. Coffee beans and some sweet tobacco notes. With time herbal notes emerge, then more cherries, plums and red berries. Dark chocolate.
Finish: Long, sweet oak with a slightly herbal and slight raspberry note.
Rating (on Martin's very non-scientific scale): 93/100. A very high performing GDSC!

The sole remaining dish (Molten Whisky and Chocolate Custard Bun) was due to be paired with The BenRiach Heart of Speyside (as the bun was actually cooked with the whisky), however I found The Benriach Curiositas 10yo to be the best pairing, with the smoke doing wonders for the molten chocolate.

Stewart presents Chef Li with a signed bottle of Allardice 18yo
With bellies full of great whisky and equally good food, it was time to retire to head home...but not before another dram or two of that lovely cask #55!


Time for Whisky attended the dinner as a guest of Telford Wine & Spirits, distributors of BenRiach, GlenDronach and Glenglassaugh in Hong Kong. A big thanks to the team (and Cordis Hong Kong) for a fantastic night.