Wednesday 11 December 2019

Starward Tawny [Tasted #477]

Christmas in Australia has never been synonymous with cold, cosy, dark, sit by the fire kind of season. In fact, Santa is often seen surfing and basking in the hot Australian sun.

And just because the weather is getting warmer, it doesn't mean that it's time to stash away those whisky bottles. In fact, some whiskies are more fun and more festive in summer. Take this decadent Starward Tawny as an example. The sweet and tantalising nature of this new release from Starward means that you can feature it as part of a Christmas feast or a festive dinner with friends. You can mix it up with some ice and tonic to make a fun Christmas cocktail but it's also great to have on its own.

Starward Tawny is Starward's first Tawny cask release. Small 100L tawny fortified wine barrels from Yalumba were used to mature its whisky and to provide a full-bodied taste. Tawny ports have always been known for its rich, sweet, elegant and smooth complex flavours and Yalumba Tawny is no different. Yalumba Tawny is known for its aromas of rich caramels, sweet figs, chocolate, liquorice spices, wood-aged nuttiness and dried fruits and nuts. So what do you get when you marry Starward's single malt whisky with Yalumba's Tawny casks? A rich and complex marriage of the two.

Starward Tawny follows Starward's key signature of ageing its whisky in small wine barrels. The Tawny is no different with the use of tawny port wine barrels. 

Starward's Head Distiller and Tawny cask innovator, Sam Slaney notes, ".. with a palate of rich dried fruits, brown sugar and nutmeg, Starward Tawny can be enjoyed neat, with food such as blue cheeses like stilton and Roquefort, or rich desserts or as a digestif." 

There were certainly loads of Christmas flavours that you do get from the Tawny. Everything from Christmas fruit cake, raisins, glazed cherries to the myriad of cakes. Starward has always been fun on the palate and the Tawny is no different. These flavours have partially been derived from the tawny casks as well as Starward's signature fruity DNA.

The bottle may look familiar to some, the label shares a similar design to the label of Starward's other limited edition releases including the Ginger Beer cask release as well as the Bourbon cask release. I had fun featuring this bottle with all sorts of Christmas ornaments for this post.

Now, whilst Starward's previous limited-edition releases including their Bourbon Cask release sold out in minutes, Starward Tawny has strategically upped its outturn with around 4,000 unique bottlings out there in the market. It does present a good opportunity for those wanting a bottle of the Tawny ahead of Christmas or any time really.

Starward Tawny (48% ABV, NAS, Blend, Melbourne, Australia, A$119)

Colour: Caramel

Nose: The nose is creamy. It is loaded with sweet cakes from sweet vanilla meringue, Christmas fruit cake with glazed cherries, cream, summer fruits, figs and some orange marmalade.

Palate: The palate is sweet with that slice of vanilla cake, some raisin, plums, stone fruits followed by dried spices; pepper and nutmeg and a hint of caramelised sugar.

Finish: The finish is long and dry, leaving a nice, sweet, tannic, spiced remnants which lingers for some time.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100.

Thanks to Starward and Dialogue PR who kindly provided the Starward Tawny bottle for review.


Monday 9 December 2019

Highland Park Triskelion

It's been a big 12 months for Highland Park, most recently with the Valfather (which we recently celebrated the launch of in Taipei) and previously Valknut, not to mention the latest 50 Year Old and a number of other releases for Travel Retail.

The distillery has released one more for the year though, this time a NAS designed to celebrate "the combined wisdom and inspiration of three legendary Highland Park Master Whisky Makers" – Max McFarlane, John Ramsay and Gordon Motion (whom we had the pleasure of meeting recently).

Launched last month, the whisky comes from first-fill casks (sherry-seasoned Spanish oak butts, sherry seasoned American oak casks and bourbon barrels and hoggies), save for a small quantity from refill casks.

The three whisky makers, combining over 100 years' experience, each had a combined hand in the making of the whisky. To quote current whisky maker Gordon Motion: “It took us a while to agree on the final flavour profile, but we are very proud of the result – it tested our skill set, our craftsmanship but not our friendship!”

Priced at $2,200HKD and bottled at 45.1% ABV, Triskelion is available from the usual quality outlets in HK. Whilst we haven't yet tasted it (but hope to soon), the official tasting notes can be found below.

Appearance: Natural colour, deep russet, clear and bright
Aroma: Seville oranges, coriander seeds, crème brûlée, cloudy honey, lightly peated with a hint of rose.
Taste: Orange peel, apricots, cumin, vanilla and light smoke
Finish: Lingering sweet, citrusy and spice


Friday 6 December 2019

The Macallan Edition No 5 [Tasted #475]

Of the many releases each year from The Macallan, the "Edition" series has become an annual favourite, with fans guessing months in advance what the next release colour might be (so far: Brown, Orange, Yellow, Green, Purple).

Always residing around a central theme (structure, cask, nose, etc..), the whiskies are a fun and varied insight into the distillery, always offering a slightly different take whilst retaining an underlying Macallan familiarity.

More importantly for me though, the series represents one of the distillery's strongest forays into transparency, with plenty of detail on cask make-up (size, type, fill) provided, and even a bit more hidden detail if you know where to look.

For 2019's release (the 5th in the series), the focus is on colour (remember The Macallan never artificially colour their whisky), and to emphasise the point, the distillery even registered their own Pantone colour - "The Macallan Edition Purple". Whether or not you buy into this sort of marketing (personally we think it's a bit of fun, nothing more, nothing less), the focus is, and should be of course, on the liquid.

We've seen Edrington HK  hold a range of events for the series over the years, from the Edition No 2 launch dinner at VEA, to an evening with Roja Dove to celebrate Edition No 3, and last year's lunch launch of Edition No 4. Sadly this year Steph and I could't attend the festivities for Edition No.5 (fun though they looked), but whilst we waited for our bottles to arrive, we made our way over to The ThirtySix Bar & Co to try a bottle they had open in the whisky vault.

The Macallan Edition No 5 (48.5% ABV, NAS, Speyside, Scotland, $1,450HKD)
Colour: Golden treacle

Nose: Instantly a Macallan, with a a slightly floral bouquet, sweet and fresh, with some hints of stone fruit and a slight hint of hay.

Palate: There's that slight matchhead / flint note I find on some recent sherry-influenced cask Macallans, followed by a herbal earthy (yet very subtle) smoke, allspice, raspberry jam and a hint of cigar box.

Finish: Medium to long in length, with residual wafts of ginger, pot pourri, poached pears and toffee.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  90/100. A worthy entry into the series - approachable, enjoyable, and and sufficiently different enough to Editions 1-4 to earn its place.

Whether you're an avid Macallan collector, or looking to try your first dram, picking up a bottle of Edition No 5 won't disappoint.


Monday 2 December 2019

Mars Komagatake Limited Edition 2018 & 2019 [Tasted #473-474]

The world of Japanese whisky is a complex one, filled with delicious drams, yes, but also traps for the unsuspecting consumer. Whilst there are many categories (some of which are explained brilliantly in this infographic from Nomunication), including blends, single malts, single grains, blended malts, single cask blends, and even shochu labelled as whisky, in my view you can loosely bucket Japanese whisky today into three broad categories:
  1. "The OG's": The sort of whisky which filled the shelves just a few years ago, but now proves increasingly difficult and/or expensive to find. I'm including in here pretty much all age statement Suntory whiskies (e.g. Yamazaki, Hakushu, Hibiki), age statement Nikka whiskies (Yoichi, Miyagikyo, Taketsuru), closed distillery whiskies like the famed Karuizawa and Hanyu, and even Chichibu single malt (which even though is barely a decade old, definitely falls under the "difficult to find" and/or "expensive" banner).
  2. "Fake" Japanese whisky - aka whisky sold as Japanese, but containing whisky distilled outside Japan. Now to be clear, under Japanese law this is perfectly legal (and to be even clearer, many reputable whisky brands do this with complete transparency - e.g. "world whisky" like Suntory's "Ao" & Ichiro's Malt "World Blended Whisky"), but there are an increasing number of whiskies which seem to try to "fool" the consumer into thinking they're entirely Japanese; and
  3. Whisky distilled in Japan, yet is (relatively) available and affordable. Into this category falls whisky like "Nikka Coffey Malt", NAS Yoichi / Miyagikyo / Yamazaki / Hakushu (which seemed to be slightly more available on a recent trip to Japan), and Mars Whisky's range of single malt "Komagatake", including the two I'm reviewing today.
We tasted several Mars whiskies back in January this year (with President Hombo-san, no less) and this time around have two limited releases under the microscope - Mars Single Malt Komagatake Limited Editions 2018 & 2019.

It's not often you come across a (genuine) Japanese single malt, released in limited numbers, that you can easily buy, yet that's the case with these two, which are still readily available in Hong Kong (in fact I saw the 2019 edition at the airport last week!)

As non-chill filtered genuine Japanese single malts, bottled at a respectable 48% ABV,  they tick a lot of boxes on paper, but how do they stack up as whiskies to drink? Read on...

MARS Single Malt KOMAGATAKE Limited Edition 2018 (48% ABV, NAS, Japan, 1 of 10,000 bottles, $1,300HKD)
Originally tasted back in January this year, this limited release of 10,000 bottles was aged entirely in ex-Bourbon / American White Oak barrels, and is said to include both peated and unpeated spirit, matured in Shinshu.

Colour: Light yellow gold.

Nose: Vanilla and toasted oak, slightly smoky toasted banana bread, oat cakes and faint wafts of smoke.

Palate: Toffee and caramel, then some ripe plum, orange zest, pot pouri. With time, some floral pear notes emerge.

Finish: Long, citrus with a floral lingering smoke.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  88/100. A few new flavours discovered the second time around, but the score remains the same. A youthful, yet enjoyable dram.
MARS Single Malt KOMAGATAKE Limited Edition 2019 (48% ABV, NAS, Japan, $1,380HKD)
2019's release was distilled at Mars' Shinshu distillery and vatted from Bourbon barrels and "several other types of casks" (it literally says that on the box). The exact number of bottles released isn't known, but like its 2018 counterpart, it's a one-off limited release.

Colour: Light copper gold.

Nose: Instant fruit - pear, melons (rockmelon & honeydew melon), green apples and some oak.

Palate: Follows the fruitiness of the nose. Rockmelon, apricot, marmalade, some orange slices and hints of sweet Grand Marnier.

Finish: Apple flan, slight earthy "fruit smoke", peach pie.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  90/100. It's youthful and not overly complex, but it's also delicious and whilst great on its own, I imagine would make a great highball with a slice of apple.

Both 2018 and 2019 Limited Editions are available in HK from AFTrade, who kindly provided these bottles for review.