Thursday, 25 June 2020

Tasted #484: Westward Oregon Stout Cask

The phenomenon of "farm to table, grain to glass" has been around for some time and with the rise of craft distillation - consumers are embracing the movement more and more. Westward, a Portland Distiller has dabbled in the craft distillation practice over the past few years. Born out of a region known for its craft culture, Westward has been one of the proponents of craft American single malts over the past year. 

Last year I sat down with Miles Munroe, Westward Head Distiller who told us that Westward, like others, are continuing to explore various distillation techniques and have been given the freedom and flexibility through which they can do this in. Miles indicated that Westward was developing a partnership with Deschutes, an Oregon brewery to come up with stout cask finished bottlings. Miles would send a couple of hundred of recently empty barrels to Deschutes where they would use them to age their stock and they'll send back again for use by Westward. At that time, the Westward Stout Cask Finish concept was still in its infancy and very much confined to the states. That has now changed with the recent arrival of the Oregon Stout Cask in Australia. 

The Oregon Stout Cask is a collaboration between Westward and various local Portland breweries and as far as beer breweries go, you can't go past Portland. Known as one of the world's greatest beer city - Portland has more breweries than any other places. Miles also started his career as a brewer, having studied Brewing Science and Engineering and has worked at a few craft breweries early in his career. It is, therefore, no surprise that Westward has headed down this path early in their journey, to marry both whiskey and beer.   

Stout, made from heavily roasted barley, carries rich notes of toffee, coffee and chocolate. The use of ex-stout casks for the maturation of malt whiskey I find imparts interesting notes on the final product. Jameson tried this with their Caskmates Stout Finish in 2016 which I thought was good with notes of cocoa and coffee.

For Westward, the Oregon Stout Cask starts with their classic double pot-stilled American single malt, that is aged for a period of time in bourbon barrels before being finished in ex-stout casks for approximately a year.

The Oregon Stout Cask is likely to be an indication of what we might see from Westward in the coming years. Portland is located in the Willamette Valley, a place known for its Pinot Noir and so I  do see the potential partnership between Westward and the wineries in the region. Wine and whisky is certainly not a new concept and does present a good marriage - look at Starward. If anything, it will provide Westward with another point of differentiation rather than using the more traditional sherry or port casks, they can experiment with the marriage of their single malt and local wine barrels.

Westward Oregon Stout Cask

Westward Oregon Stout Cask (45% ABV, NAS, Portland, Oregon, A$169)

Colour: Rich golden caramel

Nose: The nose is fragrant. I get a sweet cinnamon bun, nutmeg spice, orange zest from orange peels, a hint of vanilla, cereal note, marzipan cherry cake

Palate: The palate is pleasant and soft at first, like biting into a warm cinnamon bun with glazed sugar. The cinnamon and star anise spices come through. There is that creamy milk chocolate, could this be a blessing from the ex-stout casks. The mouthfeel grows over time, becoming quite luscious and a tad salty. The stout profile comes back again at the end.

Finish: The finish is relatively long with loads of coffee and chocolate profiles. There are fresh orange slices, malt, caramel and chocolate. A lovely finish.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 89/100.


Thanks to Agent 99 PR for providing the sample.

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Tasted #483: Glenlossie 10yo bottled for Hong Kong Whisky Festival 2020 (Single Malts of Scotland)

With whisky festivals being cancelled (or moving online) the world over due to COVID-19, and a particular dearth of Feis Ile bottles this year (notable exception: The Scotch Malt Whisky Society), it's nice to see some festival-only bottlings still being released, even without their corresponding festival.

One such bottling is this 10yo Glenlossie, bottled for the 2020 Hong Kong Whisky Festival (currently postponed to 11th Oct), which is available to purchase now. Distilled on 2nd July 2009, and bottled on 9th Jan 2020 from a Bourbon hoggie, there are 120 bottles and all are, naturally, non-chill filtered and with natural colour.

Bottled by Elixir Distillers under their "Single Malts of Scotland" range, the bottle carries pedigree, but Glenlossie isn't exactly a blue-chip distillery, and 10yo isn't exactly "well aged" in Scotch whisky some might wonder just how good could a bottle like this be?

Very, very good, it seems.

Glenlossie 10yo bottled for Hong Kong Whisky Festival 2020 (SMoS) (59.2% ABV, 10yo, 1 of 120 bottles, Speyside Scotland, $988HKD)
Colour: Bright gold.

Nose: Coconut, but not the "huge whack of fresh young oak" variety, more of a subtle, fruity tropical variety. Then there's pot pourri, marmalade, and some very creamy vanilla pie. After time comes some grapefruit and oranges, and a subtle underlying note of old books. You don't expect a nose this complex on a 10yo Scotch, ordinarily.

Palate: Creamy and slightly tropical, with hints of mango, lemon and subtle passionfruit, underscored by vanilla cream and baked pineapple tarts.

Finish: Long, tropical and coconutty, with a waxy texture keeping things going long after the liquid is gone.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. Truly, this is an excellent dram and one whose flavour and complexity I would peg at closer to 15-18yo than 10yo. At under $1,000HKD, look past the label and just buy one. I did.


Thursday, 28 May 2020

Tasted #482: Ardbeg Blaaack (Ardbeg Day 2020)

Ardbeg Day - that annual celebration of all things Ardbeg with fun, games, music, and two limited release bottlings, is upon us again.

There have been some epic parties in previous years (in particular 201320142016 (twice) & 2017), along with some great bar events in 2018 and 2019, but sadly thanks to COVID-19 this year's celebrations will be significantly more...virtual.

Still, that hasn't stopped the distillery from ensuring Ardbeg fans get their fix, with #ArdbegDayLive this coming Saturday 30th May @ 7pm BST, where members all around the world can tune in and take part in interactive activities with a dram in hand. They've even provided a Spotify Playlist for the occasion.

Note: Ardbeg Fans in HK will actually have the opportunity to attend a real, live, face to face event this Saturday at Tiffany's New York Bar...get those RSVPs in ASAP!

Of course, it wouldn't be Ardbeg Day without a limited release Ardbeg, and this year to celebrate 20 years of the Ardbeg Committee the distillery has released "Blaaack", a NAS release matured in NZ Pinot Noir wine casks, in traditional Committee Release guise @ 50.7%, and regular guise @ 46%. Having tried both this week, I can safely say Ardbeg fans should be happy - even those who perhaps weren't so happy with the Ardbeg Day releases of recent years.

Ardbeg kindly sent a sample of the 46% release today, so we could share our thoughts...

Ardbeg "Blaaack" (46% ABV, NAS, Islay Scotland, $189.99AUD, $1,300HKD)
Colour: Light copper-gold.

Nose: There's a sooty peat initially, but it doesn't mask the rich notes of red berries, milk chocolate, blackcurrants and strawberry jam. After some time, some sherbet emerges, and more chocolate-coated strawberry notes, with a faint coastal note wafting over the top.

Palate: There's a sooty bushfire note, but again it doesn't hide what else is going on - notes of woodfired crumpets with jam, cherries, and strawberry jelly babies. Give it a bit of time and you might find some marmalade (slightly bitter but in a way that works with the other notes).

Finish: Medium in length, with a slight oak / tannic bitterness and an underlying campfire sootiness to the very end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 89/100. I'd say perhaps the best Ardbeg Day release since Dark Cove. Much more composed and mature than last year's Drum (which we still enjoyed), and a must-try for anyone who likes their Ardbegs big on the smoke, but also on the flavour.

No detailed tasting notes for this one unfortunately, but the committee release with its extra ABV is just as enjoyable, with big berry notes shrouded in a sooty peat.


Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Tasted #480-481: Two new Hong Kong "exclusive" bottlings

There's been no shortage of Hong Kong exclusive whisky releases over the years - whether it be for bars (such as Club QingGinger (RIP) or Tiffany's New York Bar), shops (e.g. Dram Good StuffCaskells or Timeless & Tasty) or exclusives direct from the distilleries themselves (like this single cask Highland Park), HK whisky lovers are well looked after.

...and it's not hard to see why. We're a market of passionate, curious and knowledgable whisky enthusiasts, lovers of single casks and IBs....and who doesn't love an exclusive bottling? Personally, bottles like these make up a decent chunk of my annual purchases, and I love taking them on visits back to Australia, to share a whisky that I can be pretty confident most of my mates won't have yet tried.

We're in challenging times at the moment, but that hasn't stopped two shops recently releasing their own HK releases - both from Scotland, but otherwise two very different drams...


The first, a Blackadder "Black Snake" release comes courtesy of official importers / distributors Timeless & Tasty (aka Whiskies & More). The Black Snake series is effectively their take on a solera system, involving a vatting of casks finished in a sherry butt. I could explain it, but figure it's best left to the experts... 
"Black Snake is produced from a Vatting of casks finished in a Single Sherry Butt. It starts its life in first-fill ex-Bourbon casks. We then put three of them into new Oloroso or PX Sherry butts and leave for around a year for further maturation before bottling two thirds of the cask. We call these “Vats” as they are a kind of mini Solera. 
After each bottling we add two more ex-Bourbon casks, always of the same whisky, and leave for around a year before again bottling two thirds of the Vat. All future bottlings from each vatting of Black Snake will therefore contain some spirit that was in previous expressions from the Sherry Butt.
From time to time the Sherry Butt is renewed. Each edition bottling of Black Snake is called “Venom”, as in the poison from a snake’s bite. A touch of Blackadder humour! The first bottling from each Vat is called “First Venom”, the second bottling is called “Second Venom” and so on."
Bottled NAS and NCF from an undisclosed Scottish distillery @ 59%, there were 126 bottles of this release, known as the "Vat No. 6 Fourth Venom" release.

Blackadder Black Snake "Vat No.6 Fourth Venom" (59% ABV, NAS, Scotland, one of 126 bottles, $980HKD)
Colour: Orange-gold brown.

Nose: Orange blossom and rosewater. Quite (pleasantly) perfumed. Doesn't nose at all like 59% - very refined and elegant. Sweet pot pourri. After some time, there's a little earthy smoke and some flint / meatiness to the spirit.

Palate: Oranges, then a little more meatiness, some oak, burnt orange peel, figs and dark chocolate.

Finish: A long, earthy smoke gives way to a final orange-chocolate note.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. I don't know how old this is, but (despite the high ABV) it's elegant, juicy, and not at all overpowered by overly-active oak, or too spirit-forward. A well-balanced whisky that happens to be delicious as well!

The second bottling, a single cask 2007 12 Year Old Caol Ila was bottled by The Single Cask as a joint bottling between Hong Kong's Malt Whisky Hong Kong shop and HNWS Taiwan (OK, so technically not a HK exclusive...but we'll allow it).

Bottled NCF at 56.1% in 2019 from a single hogshead, there were 293 bottles released in total. I've often enjoyed these 10-12yo single cask ex-Bourbon Caol Ilas (here's another excellent HK release) so was keen to take this one for a spin.

The Single Cask Caol Ila 2007-2019 12yo bottled for Malt Whisky HK & HNSW (56.1% ABV, 12yo, Cask #307332, Islay, Scotland, one of 293 bottles, $1,199HKD)
Colour: Lemony straw.

Nose: Trademark lemon. Buttery vanilla, sweet citrus / lemon smoke.

Palate: Follows the nose initially - juicy lemon, vanilla and citrus-laden smoke, then some spiced lemon, green apple, white peach and maritime peat. Freshly-baked lemon pie crust, with a little sea salt.

Finish: Long, slightly salty with a residual maritime peat that lingers long after.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. There's just something about some of these single cask, pre-teen Caol Ilas...they're super delicious and versatile, and this is no exception.

Both bottles are available now, but (given the limited outturns) are unlikely to last long. Prices and links to purchase can be found above.


Thanks to Timeless & Tasty and Malt Whisky Hong Kong for the samples.

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) 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.