Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Tasted #479: The Macallan Concept Number 2

These are certainly unique, strange and (in many, many cases) devastating times in which we're living. Cities are on lockdown all around the world, unemployment is climbing well into the double digits, industries are being battered left right and centre, and global travel has more or less ground to a halt (for a shocking example of this, the other day Cathay Pacific only carried 582 passengers. Globally).

The spirits industry is of course not immune either, with many distilleries either shutting down, or switching entirely to the production of hand sanitiser (and to those who are also donating it to medical services in need, we say bravo).

I'd planned to pick up a bottle of The Macallan's new "Concept No.2" (a travel retail only edition) on an Easter Trip to Sydney, but with the trip obviously cancelled, I figured it would be some time before I got my hands on a bottle. Whilst this is obviously the LEAST of anyone's worries during these incredibly challenging times, it was nonetheless a lovely surprise when a bottle turned up at my home, completely unprompted, courtesy of The Macallan HK a few days later.

For those unfamiliar with the series, "Concept" is a travel-retail (what we used to call "Duty Free") exclusive series which, to quote The Macallan " fuses the passion behind The Macallan’s whisky making with innovative art, music and culture".

Concept No.1, released in 2018, focused on "surreal art" and saw the typical maturation regime flipped on its head - with whisky spending time first in ex-sherry casks, and then ex-Bourbon casks. If I'm honest, whilst I found it perfectly drinkable, I didn't think it was The Macallan's finest release, although having heard good things about Concept No.2, I was keen to give it a try.

 Concept No.2 (which, interestingly, despite being travel retail only, is available at Master of Malt) takes its inspiration from music (as you might guess from the packaging), and specifically house music, which Whisky Maker Steven Bremner practices as a DJ, commenting that:
“Creating a track and crafting a single malt can take a similar path. Beginning with the layering of sounds just like the layering of different flavours from specific cask types. Each different cask brings its own influence to the character of the liquid, like each instrument, or sound, adds depth to a track. In both cases, we can alter each different element to play up or down particular sounds or flavours.”
In this case, the "layering" is achieved with the use of sherry-seasoned American oak casks, Miguel Martin European Oak sherry casks, and ex-Bourbon casks. So on the surface, a NAS Fine Oak / Triple Cask? Actually on the contrary I found it closer to a Macallan 12 Sherry Oak, albeit with an overall sweeter profile.

The Macallan "Concept No.2" (40% ABV, NAS, Speyside, Scotland, $1,280HKD in travel retail)
Colour: Mid-copper brown.

Nose: Initially sweet. You get that trademark Macallan "flintiness" (as I call it), sherry-soaked sultanas, but with an underlying sweet strawberry sherbert note.

Palate: Largely follows the nose, with strawberry Hubba Bubba, rose water, toffee apple and almond meal also peeking through.

Finish: Medium length with an almond nuttiness, tart berry notes and slight wood spice hints to the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. Not every NAS Macallan is a winner in my books, but this is definitely one of the better ones, and doesn't feel too "light" with a 40% ABV. If you like the typical modern Macallan profile, but prefer your whiskies on the sweeter side, this is definitely worth a look-in.

The Macallan "Concept Number 2" is available at Duty Zero by CDF Departure and Arrival stores in Hong Kong International Airport at an RRSP of 1280 HKD. Australian pricing TBC (although of course it will likely be a while before the opportunity to purchase it arises for most..)

Stay safe everyone.


Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Distillery Tour #8: Two Moons Distillery (Hong Kong)

TimeforWhisky.com is, obviously, a whisky blog, but that doesn't stop me from enjoying the occasional malternative, be it rum (including every Caroni I can get my hands on), brandy (especially Vallein Tercinier Cognac), and at times, gin (the "whisky drinker's white spirit").

(I stop short at Vodka, of course...)

Gin isn't something we'd typically feature here, but then when you live in HK, it's not every day that someone starts up a local distillery producing a fantastic product. Enter Dimple and Ivan, founders of Two Moons Distillery in Chai Wan, Hong Kong...

The idea for Two Moons Distillery came about in 2017, when Ivan and Dimple were creating their own gin infusions for cocktail events, but were never quite satisfied with the results. After gaining valuable insights from meeting and working with distillers abroad, they decided to set up their own distillery, despite no one else (at the time) having opened a gin distillery in Hong Kong.

Told by many it was "impossible", the duo reached out to HK Customs who more or less said "why not?", and together both sides embarked on a two-year learning journey. It was refreshing to hear Ivan talk of the collaborative experience they had working with Customs - a far cry from what you might expect when dealing with bureaucracy, particularly in the context of alcohol production.

Gin Ambassador course teacher Eddie Nara hearing about Two Moons Gin botanicals from co-founder Ivan Chang
The facility itself is small but smartly designed, with seating around a crescent-shaped bar overlooking the still and bottling facilities, which all sit in a bonded area (interestingly, in Hong Kong only authorised personnel are allowed to enter bonded facilities, and Customs must be notified of each and every non-authorised person who enters).

Speaking of stills, "Luna" (as she's known) is a 100L copper pot and column hybrid still, created by Müller Stills in Germany. Ivan tells a funny story of how Müller weren't sure if they should produce the still for Two Moons, as there was a concern that it may have actually been requested simply to copy and reproduce (because "who distills gin in HK?!"). After satisfying themselves that Ivan and Dimple were legitimate, Müller created the still and it now takes pride of place in the distillery.

Utilising a sugarcane-based neutral grain spirit from Holland, Luna churns out approximately 100-110 bottles in each batch, with 2-3 batches produced per week currently.

Seeking a "balanced, complex and sippable" spirit, the duo experimented with variety of botanicals before settling on 12 to provide citrus notes (Lemon peel, Rose, Tangerine Peel, Pink Peppercorns), Sweetness (Tonka bean, Madagascan vanilla, Chinese apricot kernels), London Dry tradition (Juniper from Italy, Cardamom, Coriander seed) and a slight bitterness on the aftertaste (Licorice root, Oris root). With no sugars or sweeteners, the gin is bottled at 45% (based on taste) in custom bottles which are then wax-dipped by hand.

There are a lot of craft gins out there, and not all of them are good, but I have to say, Dimple and Ivan nailed it with this one. It's one of the few gins I'd happily sip neat, and would make an excellent martini, given the complexity. I particularly like the way the citrus sweetness (never overpowering) balances with the juniper and slight bitterness on the finish.

As if it wasn't impressive enough to start a new distillery in Hong Kong, Dimple and Ivan have taken things one step further to ensure the facility has some serious sustainability credentials too - from re-use of water, to turning the composted botanicals into fertiliser for local community farms, the duo are giving back to the community in more ways than one.

Two Moons is not the only gin distillery in Hong Kong (the current count I believe is 3), but regardless, you have to hand it to anyone who decides to take the leap into distilling, particularly in a city with no recent history of it. Given the quality of the product, I have no doubt Dimple and Ivan will succeed.

Two Moons Distillery is located at the end of the Island MTR line, literally across the road from Chai Wan Station in Chai Wan, HK. Visits can be booked via their website.

A big thanks to Dimple and Ivan for their time and hospitality, and Eddie Nara of Barrel Concepts (and also Gin Ambassador HK teacher) for arranging the tour and introduction.


Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Tasted #478: Bladnoch x Boilermaker House Select Cask 18 Year Old

Aussie-owned Scottish distillery Bladnoch is one we've featured on the blog and socials before, but always covering bottles from their standard line-up (i.e. what you can buy at Dan's). What we tried recently however, is a little bit more special...

Bladnoch, in conjunction with Melbourne's temple of whisky and beer Boilermaker House have bottled a single cask, 18yo Bladnoch specifically for the bar...finished in Moscatel casks no less!

To quote the bar:
"In creating this release, Bladnoch’s acclaimed Master Distiller, Dr Nick Savage hand selected a collection of Bladnoch malts for the Boilermaker team to taste. In a private tasting, Cask 102 was specially selected by the team led by Greg Sanderson as the perfect malt for the Boilermaker House customer. 
In August, Boilermaker’s bar manager, Asher Spitz travelled to Bladnoch Distillery in the Scottish Lowlands to meet Nick Savage and Distillery Manager, Neil Bulloch and taste directly from the team’s selected cask. Finished in luxurious Moscatel casks, the malt shows notes of sweet baking spices and fruitiness on the palate.
Just 275 bottles have been made from the cask and will be on shelves at Boilermaker accompanied by a custom beer to celebrate the release."
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Whilst the majority of stock has been kept for the bar, 30 bottles will be available for purchase, by ballot registration here. So should you? The team at Bladnoch were recently kind enough to send us a sample, so judge for yourself with the tasting notes below...

Bladnoch x Boilermaker House Select Cask 18yo Cask #102 (48.3% ABV, 18yo, Lowlands, Scotland)

Colour: Orange gold

Nose: There's a big hit of stewed fruits at first - poached pears, apricots, raisins (notes which continue throughout). There's a sweetness too - maple syrup perhaps.

Palate: More stewed fruits. Baked pears, apples, apricots. The oak is there, but balances well with the fruit. The first whisky it reminded me of was Glenmorangie's Bacalta, and that's not a bad thing! Peach and caramel pie follows up, making for a deliciously fruity dessert dram.

Finish: Relatively long and warming, with hints of cinnamon, star anise and dried apricots.

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


Thanks to Bladnoch and Boilermaker House for the sample.

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Bar Review #24: House Welley Bar (Hong Kong)

For our 24th bar review, we visited HK's latest whisky haunt, House Welley Bar in the heart of Central. HK whisky lovers who visit will likely recognise the familiar faces of Vincent, Eric and Jason, known for their friendly hospitality and impressive whisky collections, which now form the basis of the bar.

The space is open, large, and features an edgy design with a noticeable departure from the "average" whisky bar (whatever that is these days). It works - it's a striking venue that places whisky at the fore, but at the same time feels comfortable and inviting.

Of course, you don't come to a whisky bar for the space or decor, you come for the whisky, and House Welley Bar doesn't disappoint there. The back bar is split by region and style (there are sections for "Speyside", "Islay", "Blended", "Japan" etc...) and reflects the tastes of the owners, who are all too happy to make a recommendation.

You'll find OBs, sure, but not the average ones you'll find at the supermarket. Here you're more likely to find single cask, limited edition, distillery exclusive OBs, alongside a number of interesting IBs, from bottlers both established and obscure. It's not just modern releases filling up the back bar either - vintage Clynelish, Bowmore, Macallan and others can all be found too.

During my visit I tried a stunningly fruity Cooley from SMWS (117.1 no less, in the old "paper label" bottle style), a secretive 29yo Scottish malt, a 30yo Islay Blended Malt (which tasted suspiciously like Bowmore) and the now-famous 25yo 1975 Macallan from Casa de Vinos (it's excellent, but give it a lot of time in the glass). Prices were reasonable, everything is available by the half-dram, and there were several more bottles I spied on the back bar for which I'll definitely be coming back!

Whether you're a whisky geek, or just starting out on your whisky journey, or anywhere in between, House Welley Bar will have something to suit your tastes, from an obscure IB, rare Japanese single cask, to a sought-after OB.

Note: At the time of writing (21st Jan 2020), House Welley Bar is open by private appointment only, but we hope that changes shortly.