Rum and Casks – The Importance of Rum in Whisky

What is it with rums, anyway? Whisky drinkers may or may not like rums for its sweet notes. However, rums are popular amongst many, and it is understandably so. Whisky makers are also increasingly using rum casks to age whisky to capitalise on the sweet notes that rums are famous for.

What is Rum?

Rum is made from either sugarcane juice or sugarcane by-products such as molasses through a process of fermentation, distillation and ageing in oak barrels. The method of making rums is similar to whisky; the difference is in the ingredients. Most of the world’s most famous rums are from the Caribbeans and Latin America. However, there are many other countries which produce rums, such as Japan, New Zealand, Spain, South Africa, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.

Rums have different grades. Typically, there are three grades of rums, light (white) rums, dark rums and spiced rums. They are consumed or used in different ways depending on the style that they are made. For example, dark rums are usually consumed on the rocks, or neat, or in a cocktail. Light rums are commonly only used in cocktails, but in modern times, some premium light rums are also drunk on the rocks.

Rum has connections in the maritime industry as it was used as a form of medicine in the past for the armies as well as the pirates.

Rum Grades

While there are typically three grades to categorise rums, the grades and variations in describing rum dependents largely on the location of its origins. These are some of the most frequently used terms to describe rums.

  • Dark Rums: These are identified by their colour, usually in brown, black or dark red. Made from caramelised sugar or molasses, they are generally aged longer in heavily charred oak barrels. The production methods give these rums stronger flavours of molasses or caramel together with a hint of spice. They provide the strong characteristics of rum in cocktails and are also used for cooking. Most dark rums come from Jamaica, Haiti and Martinique.
  • Gold Rums: Also known as “amber rums”, these are medium-bodied rums. They do not age as long as dark rums but still retains the strong flavours of an aged rum. It is midway between dark rums and light rums.
  • Light Rums: Also referred to as “silver” or “white” rums, they have very little flavours besides some sweetness. Light rums are sometimes filtered after ageing to remove their colouring. The milder tastes of light rum are perfect for cocktails, even though their lighter colour and flavours are not used in rum-based drinks. Most of the light rums come from Puerto Rico.
  • Spiced Rums: Spiced rums are processed rums with spices and sometimes caramel. Most spiced rums are processed gold rums. The more affordable brands could be made of white rums with the addition of caramel and spices. Some of the spices used in these rums are rosemary, aniseed, cinnamon, cloves, pepper and cardamon.

Other Types of Rum Categories

There are also other varieties of rums that are lesser known, such as the flavoured rums and premium rums.

Flavoured rums are fruits-infused liquid and generally less than 40% abv. They are used for flavouring in cocktails and sometimes, drunk on their own.

Premium rums are a class above the rest of the rum categories. Similarly to premium whiskies, boutique brands craft them with more flavours and characters. They are generally consumed neat or on the rocks.

Rum’s Production Methods

The production methods differ widely in the rum industry. The traditional styles of a particular locale determine the production method. Nonetheless, rum is made through a similar process as whisky. Rum producers also ferment the basic ingredients – molasses or sugar cane juice using yeast and water before distillation and ageing.

Molasses, the by-product of sugar cane, is the most common ingredient used to make rum. Some producers use sugar cane juice, notably from the French-speaking islands in the Caribbean. A rum’s quality is highly dependent on the quality and the variety of the sugar cane used. In turn, the quality of sugar cane is dependent on the soil and climate it grows in. Therefore, it is usual for rums to differ widely in quality in different places of origins.

Fermentation

Molasses (or sugar cane juice), yeast and water are the three ingredients for fermentation to take place. There is variation in the yeast used as well. Some producers use wild yeast, but most of them use a particular strain of yeast to ensure a consistent taste and stable fermentation time. The yeast used is essential as it will determine the final flavour and aroma profile. Lighter rums use quick yeast while the more flavourful ones tend to use yeast that is slower.

Distillation

There is no standard distillation method. Some producers who make small batch rums use pot stills while most producers use column stills for distillation. The only difference between pot stills and column stills distillation is that pot stills create fuller flavoured rums.

Ageing and Blending

Interestingly, most rum-making countries require producers to age their new-make rums for at least one year. The ageing is done in a charred, ex-bourbon oak barrel or a stainless steel tank. The ageing process gives rum its colour. It becomes dark when aged in an oak cask and remains colourless if aged in stainless steel tanks.

Due to the warm climates in most rum-making countries, rum matures much faster than whisky. The angels’ share of rum is also higher. It goes up to as much as 10% in tropical countries!

The final step in rum-making is to blend the rums for consistent flavours before bottling. Parts of this blending process include filtering light rums to remove the colour taken from oak casks and adding caramel to adjust the hue of dark rums.

Rum and Whisky

It appears that rum and whisky have nothing in common when you first started reading, but it turns out that they have a lot in common. While the production methods differ, the general idea of fermentation, distillation, ageing and vatting (blending in the case of rum) is similar. In a modern world where traditional sherry casks are getting more expensive, it is no surprise that whisky makers are turning to other alternatives such as port casks, rum casks and wine casks for whisky maturation.

Rum casks infused a sweet overtone to the whisky and gave a robust body to it. We enjoyed some rum cask-finished whiskies, like the Glenfiddich 21 years old.  If you love rums as much as you love whisky, be sure to give them equal attention as whisky makers who use rum cask for their ageing depend on you to drink more rum!

 

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Whisky Review #92 – Lagavulin 16 Years (White Horse Distillers)

 

Whisky lovers know that there is a difference between old and new liquids. When I say old liquids, I do not mean whiskies that are aged 30 to 40 years old. I mean the liquids of old when times were different. A Lagavulin 16 years old made in the 1970s compared to one which is made now is different because the methods used in distilling, maturing and storing are all different.

The White Horse Distillers Story

The duo at WhiskyGeeks had the pleasure of trying a Lagavulin 16 Years Old made during the era of the White Horse Distillers. If you are aware of the history of Lagavulin, you will know that James Logan Mackie & Co bought the distillery in 1862 and refurbished it. When James Mackie passed away in 1889, his nephew, Peter Mackie took over and launched the White Horse range. When Peter Mackie died, the company changed its name to White Horse Distillers and controlled the distillery in that name from 1924 to 1927. The company sold the distillery to DCL in 1927.

Given the timeline, a bottle of Lagavulin 16 years old that holds the name “White Horse Distillers” in its label is likely to exist since their time? Not necessary. This bottle that we tried came from the 1990s. In 1988, Lagavulin 16 Years was selected as one of the six Classic Malts, and this bottle was one of the first few batches where Diageo still puts “White Horse Distillers” on the label. They phrased it out in the late 90s and also changed the crest on the label. We had the pleasure to try this because of our friend, Michael, whom we met for dinner during our trip to Taiwan. It is too special not to share the tasting note, isn’t it?

So let’s dive in!

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Gold
ABV: 43%

Nose: Lemon peels, orange peels, citrus, brine and green apples presented themselves at the forefront. Hints of vanilla linger in the background. There is no peat evident in the nose; neither are there sharp or biting notes of spice. We can nose this all day long. (17/20)

Palate: Oily mouthfeel with sweet orange peels, lemon peels and green apples in the palate. Gentle spice and peat mix with the citrus sweetness. Then vanilla cream appears in the palate. It is almost like eating vanilla cream puffs! (19/20)

Finish: Medium finish with very gentle and sweet vanilla lingering all the way to the end, while the citrus sweetness waft in and out. The gentle peat blows over the mouth like a smoke cloud, almost difficult to catch. (17/20)

Body: Wow! This is most unlike the modern Lagavulin 16! The gentle peat and the vanilla sweetness are so unlike the modern version that we are blown away! It is very balanced too. Out of this world, indeed! (36/40)

Total Score: 89/100

Comments:

Geek Flora: “Well, I did not know I was drinking a piece of history until I knew about the era of the bottle. After I know, I sipped the liquid more carefully than ever. Haha…very grateful to Michael and his friend at 常夜燈 for the chance to try this expression of the Lagavulin 16.”

Geek Choc: “I am flabbergasted. It tasted so different from the regular Lagavulin 16! Haha…amazing bottle with fantastic liquid!”

 

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Lagavulin – The Runaway Success

Lagavulin Distillery is one of the three distilleries on Islay that made up the Kildalton trio together with Ardbeg and Laphroaig. It is a picturesque distillery situated at Lagavulin Bay enjoyed by many who visited. Saddled with a relatively dull history, Lagavulin produced one of the most widely-enjoyed whiskies on Islay.

Brief History of Lagavulin

Legal distilling started at Lagavulin in 1816 when founder John Johnston built the distillery. A second distillery, named Ardmore, originally shared the same site but the Johnston family bought it in 1825. However, by 1835, Johnston ceased production at Ardmore.

In 1836, Johnston passed away, and the family sold the distilleries to Glasgow spirit merchant, Alexander Graham. He absorbed the production of Ardmore into Lagavulin in 1837. In 1852, John Crawford Graham took over the Lagavulin distillery, but his era lasted only a brief ten years.

By 1862, James Logan Mackie & Co. bought the distillery and refurbished it. With blender James helming the distillery, the public awareness of the distillery grew. However, it was his nephew, Peter J. Mackie who took Lagavulin to greater heights.

The Story behind Peter J. Mackie

Peter J Mackie first learned his art of whisky blending at Lagavulin at a tender age of 23. It was 1878 and his first trip to Islay to learn whisky at Lagavulin gave his invaluable experience of the production of whisky. His success with learning the secrets of distilling eventually led to his taking over of the distillery after his uncle, James Logan Mackie, died in 1889.

Peter J Mackie (later becoming Sir Peter Mackie) was an important figure in whisky history. The Mackies started to blend whisky in the mid-1880s, with Lagavulin at the core, and Peter Mackie registered the “White Horse” brand in 1891, one year after the company changed its name to Mackie & Co. Peter Mackie also co-founded Craigellachie distillery and recognised as a great innovator of his time.

The “Fight” for Laphroaig

Peter Mackie leased Laphroaig distillery in the 19th century and tried to copy its style. Several legal battles ensured between the two distilleries and in 1908, Peter Mackie officially lost the battle. In his irritation, he built a second distillery on the site of Lagavulin, named Malt Hill. It tried to reproduce the same characters of Laphroaig, but it failed. It closed in 1962.

The Beginning of the Modern Era

Sir Peter Mackie passed away in 1924, and the company changed its name to White Horse Distillers Limited. During this period, they produced various expressions that are vastly different from the modern bottlings that we enjoyed now. One of them was a Lagavulin 16 Years. Bottled in the same style as the contemporary version, it had only one difference – the label held the name “White Horse Distillers”.

 

Sadly, White Horse Distillers Limited did not hold on to Lagavulin for very long. In 1927, the distillery went into the hands of DCL (present-day Diageo). When the war started, Lagavulin closed and only reopen after the war. However, tragedy struck again when a fire destroyed much of the distillery in 1951. Diageo rebuilt it.

The distillery floor malting closed in 1974 and turned into a visitor’s centre and admin offices.

The Modern Era

As Lagavulin heads into the modern era, the Lagavulin 16 Years becomes one of the six Classic Malts. Selected in 1988, it becomes Lagavulin’s pride. Today, Lagavulin holds the fort by operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week to keep up with the ever-growing demand. The core range is the 16 Years Old and the distillery also released a limited edition cask strength 12 Years Old every year. One of the most popular at the moment is the 12 Years Old released in 2016 for the 200th anniversary of the distillery.

 

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Whisky Review #91 – Clynelish 1995 Waxing Lyrical

Wemyss Malts is an underrated independent bottler with some great bottles. They are not quite popular in Singapore yet, but in some countries like Taiwan, Wemyss is very well received. Flora was first introduced to Wemyss by our friend, Brendan, over at The Single Cask. Since the first tasting, we have tried more than a fair number of their expressions.

The particular expression for this review is one of those bottles which impressed us greatly. It is a 22 years old Clynelish; distilled 1995 and bottled 2017. It has an outturn of only 240 bottles. We like Clynelish well enough, but we do not usually go out of our way to try or buy a bottle. We have a couple of bottles at home, but it is not our first go-to distillery. However, after tasting this expression, we went all out to find a bottle of it to bring home with us. It was impressive.

How so? Let us find out.

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Pale Gold
ABV: 55.7%

Nose: Sweet tropical fruits, red apples, sweet pears and hints of melons come quickly. As it develops, pineapples notes began to surface in the background. Vanilla cream develops and forms a beautiful nose together with the other fruity notes. Spice hides in the background, rearing its head now and then. (19/20)

Palate: Gentle spice and sweet fruits envelope the palate completely. The sweet fruity notes turn into red apples, sweet pears and butterscotch. The spice goes to the back and provides a gentle warmth all the way down the throat. (17/20)

Finish: Medium finish with a little burning spice at first but it mellows out beautifully. Sweet notes linger for a while before some oakiness takes over. (17/20)

Body: Well balanced dram that is extremely flavourful and complex. The sweetness complements beautifully with the spice and makes it an enjoyable dram to nurse after a long day. (36/40)

Total Score: 89/100

Comments:

Geek Flora: “I love this Clynelish! It is fruity and yet the spice adds a challenging dimension to the dram. It encourages me to sip and savour this dram slowly, instead of drowning it out in one gulp!”

Geek Choc: “I do not like spice, especially the kind that burns! However, this Clynelish surprises me with its lovely complexity. The spice mellows quickly and is always in harmony with the sweetness of the fruits.” 

 

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Visiting Barbershop at The ArtHouse

We visited Barbershop and its awesome manager, Fab Arm on an idle Thursday night after the Trump-Kim summit. We were looking for a beautiful place to chill and enjoy some live music, so, we thought – Timbre or Barbershop. Since Barbershop generally serves what we need for the night (read: whisky), we decided to head over for pizza and whisky.

It was quiet when we reached around 7-ish in the evening. Two groups of working executives occupied a couple of tables. Choc and I took the corner high table (because we like secluded spots that remind us of Sentosa the area). We took a look at their menu, and we were astounded! Not only were the prices reasonable, but the range of whiskies also expanded tremendously! Wow, we were pleasantly surprised as Fab was still working on his list the last time we came.

Before we ordered, Fab came along to say hi! We haven’t seen him for a while now, so it was a great moment to meet again and catch up finally. It was indeed Fab’s hard work that contributed to that massive and impressive list of whiskies on offer at Barbershop! We were excited to wet our lips after learning that Fab curated more whiskies from what we understood from before!

Dinner was served

Half and Half Pizza

I was a fan of Timbre and its food, so I know exactly what we need to order. A half and half pizza to share between both of us. It was a little greedy because the pizza could feed at least three persons, but we were hungry that night. A roasted duck combined with a Yakiniku Chicken sounded like a perfect fit for two hungry and greedy persons!

Fab came along with his whiskies and rum, of course. First up, we tried a wee bit of the Speymalt Macallan 1998 (19 years). It tasted almost identical to the official bottling of the old Macallan 18 years old. The only exception is that the Speymalt is slightly more spicer than the official Macallan 18 of old. Next up, we had a wee taste of an interesting rum. Bottled by The Whisky Agency & La Maison du Whisky, it hails from Sancti Spiritus Distillery in Cuba. Exotic as it is, this rum is approachable and frisky. There was also a Linkwood 15 years old Sherry Cask by Gordon & MacPhail, but we find it too light for our liking.

We ended up with the Speymalt and the Sancti Spiritus rum as a pairing to our duck and chicken pizza. Haha…it was an innovative experience, but I thought the Yakiniku Chicken went very well with the Macallan.

Speymalt Macallan 1998

Speymalt Macallan 1998

I tried this Speymalt Macallan 1998 previously at WhiskyLive 2017 and found it to be less than desirable. Perhaps the previous bottle was aired too much, or maybe I was just not sober enough to detect the notes. However, trying this again a second time gives me a different perspective. The nose is full of dark fruits, dark chocolate, raisins and bits of oakiness. Pretty much like an old bottle of the Macallan 18 years old. The palate is dark chocolate, raisins, sultanas, woodiness and under it all, a dark fruitiness that balances the entire taste. The finish is long, with raisins and dark fruits lingering all the way.

I like Macallan in the past and love the complexity that the old bottlings offered. The modern batch appears to lack something, and I thought that it requires the love that used to go into every bottle. Perhaps I am wrong, but that’s how I feel. Therefore, I was glad to find this Speymalt Macallan. It was like an old love, reignited.

The Whisky Agency x La Maison du Whisky (Sancti Spiritus) Aged Rum 18 Years old

Sancti Spiritus 18 Yrs Old

Sancti Spiritus Rum is the first rum that I drank which does not turn me off immediately with its overpowering sweetness of caramel and toffee. Interestingly, the rum is full of its original character – sugar cane. The nose is full of subtle sugar cane sweetness, and a hint of strong spirit underneath the sweetness. Bottled at more than 60% abv, it is hardly surprising that the spirit within is flexing its muscles. The palate is biting, but the sugar cane sweetness covers it almost immediately. The taste mellows as I left it on my tongue. The sugar cane sweetness develops into a robust minty note as the spirit disappears, almost as if you have just eaten a mint drop. The finish gets oaky as the cask begins to talk but nothing overpowering. The mintiness lingers all the way to the end of the medium to long finish.

More whisky? Of course!

After all the “hard work”, we deserved yet another dram, don’t we? Once again, Fab showed his perfect hospitality with more wee tastes of another two different whiskies. First up is an Auchentoshan from Signatory Vintage. It is worthy to speak more about this whisky because it is what Auchentoshan should be when it grows up! I need to shout this off a rooftop: “Un-chillfiltered Auchentoshan is like a Rosebank!!” Yes, I am not kidding. Seriously, the Auchentoshan we had was fabulous!

The last wee taste we had was a Wilson and Morgan Bunnahabhain. Matured in a sherry cask, it is a relatively sweet Bunny! It is not fair to the Bunny though, because both Choc and I had fallen in love with the Auchentoshan.

Signatory Vintage Auchentoshan 1998 (17 years; cask 102359 &102360)

SV Auchentoshan 1998

When I first nosed this un-chillfiltered Auchentoshan, my first thoughts were, “wow, this is the full Lowland character that was lacking in the regular Auchentoshan.” As I subject the whisky to more nosing, the grassy and floral notes begin to resemble a bourbon-matured Littlemill expression that I had previously. The first taste is pure bliss as the floral notes explode in the mouth into a subtle fruity sweetness. The dry grassiness stays in the mouth even as I swallow. The finish is long and dry, with the dry grass filling the palate thoroughly.

I aired this Auchentoshan for about 15 minutes and what appeared caught me by surprise! It smells like the Rosebank 12 years old that I had at Swan Song! Omg, a second sniff confirms it. It smells like a Rosebank!! I quickly took a sip of the liquid. The palate is mellow, sweet fruitiness combined with a dry grassiness without overpowering each other. A subtle oakiness from the cask comes through at the end of the tongue, and with just a little peppery spice at the back of the throat. Again, this is similar to the Rosebank 12, but of course, the Rosebank 12 is more flavourful, and the notes are more prominent. The finish is long and dry, leaving me wanting more.

The best dram of the night

We got to admit that we called it a night after the Auchentoshan 1998 because we wanted to savour the flavours for as long as we want. Besides, each pour at Barbershop is 40ml, and we already had 160ml between us. Time to call it quits when we were still alert and sober!

Naturally, the best dram of the night was the Rosebank 12 Auchentoshan 1998! I think my life is quite complete now because I finally know how un-chillfiltered Auchentoshan taste like. My guess is right – it showcases all the right Lowland characters at its natural best.

Thank you, Fab, for showing us how Auchentoshan can shine! For those of you who want to visit Barbershop, give Fab a shoutout when you go, and he will treat you well!

 

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A Brief Introduction to The Malt, Taipei

The Malt Taipei

Before we went on our recent Taiwan trip, we kept hearing many good things about The Malt, a bespoke whisky bar in Taipei. We made it a point to visit the bar in Taipei, as we need to find out just how good it is. The Malt is in the Da-an district in Taipei, and you could walk to the bar after taking the subway to Da-an station. It is quite a far walk as the bar is along a side road. If you are lazy to walk don’t know the way, you can always take a cab.

Choc and I chose to walk as we were out in the area that day. Walking in Taipei City is an enjoyable task because there are so many things to see, and eat. Haha…Along the way to The Malt, we encountered boutique shops, food stores with long Q and even pushcarts selling irresistible food.

The Malt, Taipei

The Malt, Taipei – Outside looking in

When our meandering finally brought us to The Malt, this is what we found. As we were early, the bar was quiet. Walking into the bespoke bar was like stepping back in time. The rows of whiskies on the shelf on the right awed us into silence, and we walked, almost reverently, to our seat at the corner, near the back of the bar.

The boss of the bar explained how things work at the bar. They only sell whisky by the glass, and every bottle on the shelf is available for our choice. What we need to do is to walk to the shelf, choose our bottle, and bring it to the bar counter. They will pour the whisky for us and serve it at our table.

The wide selection

The Whisky Selection at The Malt

The selection at The Malt is unbelievable. Each row of the shelf holds three tiers of whisky, and every one of them has a tag with the price by the glass at the back. We found many treasures, including the Yamazaki Mizunara 18 years old, a complete range of Yoichi as well as old and rare Springbanks. We also saw a lot of independent bottling from the usual suspects – G&M, SV – as well as Taiwan’s independent bottlers – HNWS, The Drunken Master and Vie la Vie. Of course, there are also Taiwan exclusive from Arran, Bruichladdich and Glenlivet. The Malt cannot be called a Taiwanese bar if it does not have a range of Kavalan and Omar expressions, so we are delighted to see a couple of Omar bottles and an extensive range of Kavalan.

Choc with the Yamazaki Mizunara 18 Years

Naturally, Choc and I went for the unique stuff that we do not get in Singapore. In case you are wondering, no, we did not touch any Japanese whiskies. It is not that we do not like them, but that they are more expensive than what we would like to pay. My first choice was an Arran single cask, which I had been wanted to try for the longest time.

Arran 1998 Cask #1134

Choc chose an independent bottling of Bruichladdich. The Stillman’s Dram bottled the liquid after 27 glorious years.

The Stillman’s Dram – Bruichladdich 27 Years

Our Favourite Drams

Our first drams showed us what The Malt has to offer, and we continued to explore their vast collection after the first dram. I chose a Littlemill eventually (how can I not pick one?) from The Exclusive Malt. It is a 1988 expression matured in an ex-sherry hogshead.

Littlemill 1988 from The Exclusive Malt

After a taste of this particular Littlemill, I fell in love with it. It was the best-sherried Littlemill I had so far. Too bad that it is too expensive for me to buy the whole bottle home! Haha…not that it would have survived the days…I would carry it back in my tummy! Hopefully, I will be able to find a bottle of this particular Littlemill someday.

As for Choc, he is more greedy. He has two favourites from The Malt. The first one is an HNWS x Glen Castle Tormore 28 years. It is a sherry bomb without its undesired companion – sulphur. It was a sweet and flavourful dram with all the right notes in the right place.

HNWS x Glen Castle Tormore 28 Years

The second one is a Rosebank 14 years from Blackadder. It is from the Raw Cask series, so we know that it is at cask strength. It was an expensive dram, but Choc loves it! As for me, I still prefer the official Rosebank bottling, especially the Rosebank 21!

More Whiskies Please!

I am sure that you know that we had more whiskies than what we shared above. However, we are not posting every one of them here as we had shared them previously on our Facebook page. Check them out if you have not!

As a reminder to myself that there are other bottles which I had not tried, I took a picture with bottles of my favourite working distillery – Bruichladdich!

Flora and Bruichladdich Bottles – a mandatory picture

Recommendations

If you are in Taipei or heading to the beautiful city anytime soon, be sure to head over to The Malt. It has everything that a whisky lover needs and you can stay there from the moment it opens till the time it closes. That was what we did on our first night at The Malt, and we had eight drams between us! The second night that we went was a Friday, and the bar was a lot more crowded. As we had a long day, we called it quit earlier. Nonetheless, we still managed to have seven drams between us.

The bespoke bar that is The Malt is a place for you to chill and relax. Whether you are alone or in a group, it is a great bar to enjoy some whiskies while in Taipei.

 

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An Insightful Hour with Diageo Bar Academy Director – Lam Chi Mun

Picture Credit: Diageo Bar Academy

Have you heard of Diageo Bar Academy? It is the training arm of Diageo and it strives to build up the professionalism and knowledge of all bar owners, bartenders and almost anyone who is interested to learn more about the bartending industry. Geek Flora has the privilege to meet one of the Diageo Bar Academy (DBA) directors, Mr Lam Chi Mun, during the visit to ProWineAsia 2018 and she managed to arrange for a chit-chat session with Mr Lam at Diageo Bar to understand more about what DBA is all about.

Training as the Backbone

DBA builds its backbone with the professional training that it is famous for. The Academy has a structured portfolio and courses that build up from one another to give a person the necessary training he or she needs to become an outstanding bartender in the global bar scene. In Singapore, many courses are available to the bartenders and they are able to gain access to many resources within the DBA’s courses.

In recent years, DBA also recognises the need for the common folks to learn more about the drinks they enjoyed. The Academy, therefore, opens an online portal where anyone who has an interest in bartending will be able to sign up and take their online courses at home for free. DBA’s structured courses allow the participants to understand basic steps in bartending and also to become his or her own bartender at home.

Moreover, if anyone is interested in opening a bar, DBA also provides training in the Business of Bars, where the owner or the team members can attend to better equip themselves with the knowledge of running a bar efficiently.

Know Your Liquid

Besides training, DBA also offers up other valuable information nuggets. For those who want to know more about the different liquids, DBA has what you need. You can pick your choice of liquid – Scotch whisky, vodka, gin and even baijiu – and DBA has the low-down for you. With a brief introduction of the liquid and its production to how it can be served, DBA’s knowledge vault is perfect for a knowledge-hungry you.

Bar Tools

In our opinions, one of the best things that DBA offers is the downloadable bar tools available on its website. From Facebook headers to festive menus, DBA offers a quick and easy way for bars to get a funky and attention-seeking menu for almost any occasion. It saves bar owners the time and efforts to come up with something new, and also help to reduce the operating cost of the bars with its ready-to-use tools.

World Class Competition

Most of us have heard of World Class Competition, but we are just not within the industry to truly understand the prestige that comes with it. It is possibly the reason why DBA started as Diageo wanted to help young bartenders around the world to grow their knowledge and, eventually, take part in the World Class competition.

That is the reason why DBA seeks out WSET to collaborate to build upon professional certification. WSET is an organisation based in the United Kingdom with a huge presence in many countries. With its reputation in the alcohol industry, WSET is the perfect organisation for Diageo to work with.

And that is where Mr Lam Chi Mun comes in.

Introducing Mr Lam Chi Mun

Mr Lam is DBA’s Asia Pacific Director. He has an extensive career as an educator and spends much of his life, learning and teaching in the alcohol industry. Mr Lam is a pioneer in many of the industry’s initiatives and is also one of the first who took the WSET course in Wines and Spirits in 1988-1989.

When Diageo approached Mr Lam to work together, Mr Lam was in his 20th year as an educator in Shatec. One thing led to another, and Mr Lam decided to join Diageo in its quest for education. Mr Lam’s position in Diageo is unique. He is the Asia Pacific Director in DBA, but he also works with WSET to bring forth training materials for the global training programs.

A typical day of work for Mr Lam

We ask Mr Lam about his typical day at work, and well, we got quite a stunning reply from him! He shares that he split his day into various parts. One of them is creating contents for education through the different agencies that deliver the lessons for the global students. He also ensures that the contents which go online to the DBA’s portal are suitable for the audience. Additionally, he also handles some of the marketing contents on social media.

Another part of his job is a little harder. He travels extensively and visits partner bars in the Asia Pacific region to find out if bartenders and staff in the bars require training. This part of the job is challenging as he needs to figure out a suitable time for these bartenders to attend training as they are always busy with one thing or another within their job scope. Therefore, Mr Lam needs a lot of patience and plenty of organisational skills to work with bar owners to arrange training sessions for their staff.

Once he identifies training needs, Mr Lam organises suitable training programs. He does some of the training himself and leaves the rest to his team of capable educators.

An Interesting Part about Mr Lam’s job

What we find interesting about this part of Mr Lam’s job is also the fact that it entangles itself with sales. Diageo freely trains the bartenders of a bar that signs a contract to house its products, and in return, the staff of the bar gets free training. In our opinions, this is a win-win situation. The bar becomes a partner of Diageo and with the free training, the staff becomes knowledgeable and is able to help sell more. Diageo benefits from the higher sales too, as the bar will buy more from them. In this way, Diageo makes partners and help them prosper whenever they sign a sales contract. It is not a one-sided benefit but one where the other party wins too.

Courses available for the common folks

Speaking to Mr Lam also make us curious about the different courses available in Singapore. So, on behalf of all of you who wants to advance your knowledge of spirits in general, we ask Mr Lam for suitable courses to recommend. Here are some of the courses that are useful:

  1. WSET Level 1 in Spirits
  2. WSET Level 2 in Spirits
  3. Diageo Bar Academy online courses

WSET Level 1 and 2 are available at Shatec and of course, the DBA’s online courses are available for anyone who signs up for it. For those of you who wish to start learning more, why not start with DBA’s online courses? They are designed for the busy folks who need to learn at their own pace so it is perfect for a start!

Live Webinar for Johnnie Walker Black Label

Talking about online courses, there is an upcoming live webinar for “Johnnie Walker Black Label and the Art of the Highball” on 26 June at 10 pm Singapore time (2 pm UTC). For those who wish to sign up and learn more about the art of making a perfect highball, you can register here. It is free so why not?

 

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A Visit to King Car Kavalan Distillery in Yilan, Taiwan

Kavalan Distillery from afar

We visited Kavalan Distillery in Yilan during our trip to Taiwan in May. It was a rather long journey from Taipei as we needed to take a local commuter train from Taipei to Yilan. After that, we took a cab from the station to the distillery. The drive took 22 minutes! Thankfully, we started our day early and arrived at the distillery 10 minutes before 11 am.

The cab driver dropped us at the main entrance, and we walked into a building that looked like a colonial house from the past. What greeted us when we went in was this.

It was a crisp, clean look with an impressive, awe-inspiring feel to it. Behind the two doors that you could see in the back of the picture was an auditorium.

I love this auditorium because the glass behind the stage allow everyone to look outside and enjoy the view of the lush greenery.

Searching for the Distillery Tour

After a short exploration, we approached the staff at the main building and asked about the tour. She told us that it would start at every hour, and adviced us to wait for the tour. As we planned to take the 1 pm tour, we decided to go for a meal at the Mr Brown’s Cafe first, which was at the far end of the distillery grounds. When we returned from lunch, we waited for the tour to start. They ushered us into another big room where we spent 10 minutes watching a film about King Car Group, the parent company of Kavalan Distillery. The Group is enormous, with businesses in all kinds of beverages and insecticides (they started the group with pesticides).

After the film, all of us waited with anticipation for the tour guide – who never came! The staff informed us that it was a self-guided tour and we could walk around by ourselves! We were bummed! To be honest, we were a little annoyed at the lady as she did not tell us in advance. We could have started the self-guided tour without going back to the main entrance! So, we tracked our way back to the distillery again.

The Distillery “Tour”

It was disappointing that there wasn’t a tour guide but the state of the distillery tour made it worse. To be fair, there was a lot of information available, but all of them were general, and there was nobody stationed there for visitors to ask questions. Furthermore, there wasn’t any information about their production process. Here are some of the pictures from the distillery.

The awards that Kavalan won

 

Entrance to the distillery

 

Barley Storage

 

Peaty Malt

 

Regular Malt

 

A half completed cask

 

Different casks used in Kavalan

We understood that Kavalan makes their casks in a cooperage within the distillery. We also managed to see a machine that appears to be charring the barrels. However, we did not manage to explore further as we did not have enough time after wasting time waiting for the film at the main entrance. Moving on to the production line, these were what we found.

Mash Tun at Work

 

These bottles showed the fermentation process

 

Here’s the yeast that Kavalan used

 

Half of all the stills that we saw

 

More Stills

 

The Spirits Safe

 

Warehouse

As you can see from the pictures, the whole “tour” was nothing more than just a stroll through a park. It was very different from Nantou Distillery, which we visited last year. The whole process took us less than 30 minutes and bringing our disappointment along with us; we headed to the tasting area. We got a free dram when we entered, but we quickly moved on to the paid tasting.

The Tasting Room

Kavalan has a Tasting Room on the second floor of the building that houses their shop and cafe. It hides in a corner, so you need to do some walking to find it. We paid NTD$400 at their shop and headed upstairs for the tasting. We were given a choice of 4 drams out of the 16 expressions they have, and of course, we went for the single casks.

Paid Tasting

Geek Flora chose the following:

  1. Ex-Bourbon Single Cask Strength
  2. Manzanilla Sherry Single Cask Strength
  3. Amontillado Sherry Single Cask Strength
  4. Oloroso Sherry Single Cask Strength

Geek Choc chose the following:

  1. Fino Sherry Single Cask Strength
  2. Vinho Barrique Single Cask Strength
  3. PX Sherry Single Cask Strength
  4. Kavalan Distillery Reserve Peat Cask Single Cask Strength

The expressions were a mixture of delicious stuff and those which were lacking. Our favourite turned out to be the Ex-Bourbon, the Manzanilla, the Vinho Barrique and the PX Sherry.

The DIY Blending

After the tasting, we went to the DIY Blending Room where we had previously booked a slot to do our blends. Our job here was to become a master blender and create our special blend. The DIY Blending Experience cost NTD$1,500.

We had three different casks with different flavours. We guess that two of them are ex-bourbon matured and one is an ex-sherry matured. They were labelled A, B and C. A (ex-bourbon) was 40% abv, B (ex-sherry) was 40% abv and C (ex-bourbon) was 46% abv.

The three casks

The lady manning the room gave us the below setup. Our job was to blend the three liquids given into something that was uniquely our own.

The setup

When we started work, we forgot to take pictures along the way once we got engrossed in the blending. It was a fun and insightful experience where we took a peep into the world of all master blenders. The experience also “helped” us to forget the time! It was later than we thought when we finally finished!

Flora’s Blend

 

Choc’s Blend

The Rush for the Train

The last part of our journey to Kavalan Distillery was the most stressful one! Due to us forgetting the time, we only managed to get the shop staff to call a cab for us at 5 pm. She dropped us a bomb after that – the cab could only come in 20 minutes! Our train was due at the station at 5.35 pm, so we thought we were going to miss the train. We lamented about paying extra for new tickets but due to the efficiency of the staff at Kavalan, and the experience of the cab driver, we arrived at the station at 5.34pm. With one minute to go, we rushed into the station, and found that our train was late for 3 minutes! We were so glad! We finally boarded the train at 5.37 pm before it went off a minute later. It was such an adventure!

Therefore, if you are heading to Kavalan, we would suggest you go early, and complete the tasting and DIY blending (if you want to do it) before going to the self-guided tour. It would help you to determine the time and of course, call the cab earlier! 😀 Of course, the other option is to stay at Yilan for a couple of days and explore the town.

 

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What You Should Know About Port Wines

What does port wines and whisky have in common? I am glad you ask. If you notice, port cask finished whiskies gained some reputation in recent years, as distillers experiment with port casks to insert variety into the whisky scene. What do we know about port wines? Most whisky drinkers who do not drink wine possibly know very little, so I think we must set it right because port cask finished whiskies are getting popular.

What is Port Wine?

Port is a fortified wine that is produced exclusively in the Douro Valley in Portugal. The Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto regulated port production massively through stringent rules. Producers of port wine must make, label and market their products in a specific way as stated by the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto. In this sense, port wine production is similar to Scotch whisky as the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) also controls and regulate the production.

Due to the rules in place for port wine, its authenticity is easy to spot. One simple rule of thumb to identify an authentic bottle of port wine is to look for a white seal that reads “Vinho do Porto Garantia” (see below).

Port Wine Production

Port wine is what red wine wants to be when it grows up. Producers add aguardiente (which most referred to as “brandy”) into red wine to create port wine. The brandy increases the alcohol content to 20% abv on average and stops the fermentation process to preserves natural sugars from the grapes. The common term for this process is fortification. Interestingly, fortification also warmed the body and made port wine a good substitute for whisky in long, winter months.

Grapes are the essential ingredients of port wines. These grapes are Portuguese indigenous grapes, which make port wine so unique. Some variety of Portuguese port grapes include Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo),  Tinta Cāo and Tinta Barroca. I understood from Wine Folly that there are at least 52 varieties in port wine! Each type of grapes gives different flavours to create a complex and flavourful end-product.

Types of Port Wines

Typically, there are two kinds of port wines – the barrel-matured port and bottle-matured port. Barrel-matured port made up 98% of all port wines while the remaining 2% comes from the bottle-matured process. All port spend some time in barrels, but bottle-matured port wines spend significantly lesser time in oak cask than barrel-matured port wines.

Bottle-matured port wines are rare with only exceptional vintages that age for decades in the bottles. These port wines are expensive and only sought-after by wine connoisseurs.

From the two kinds of port wines, producers split them into four main styles.

  1. Ruby Port
  2. Tawny Port
  3. White Port
  4. Rose Port

Here is an infographic to help you understand the flavours of port wines.

In general, a ruby port is deep-red in colour and includes the Vintage, Late-bottled Vintage (LBV), Crusted and Ruby Port. A Tawny port is barrel-aged with sweet nuts and caramel flavours. A white port is unique as it used white grapes such as Viosinho, Gouveio, Rabigato and Malvasia. Finally, a rose port is a new style in which the producer make port wine like rose wine with strawberry, violets and caramels flavours.

A Very Short History of Port Wines

The discussion on port wines make me curious about the history, and I discovered some interesting nuggets from Google. Port wines existed since 1678 in Portugal. Thanks to the fall-out between England and France, England restricted the import of French wines during the 1600s. Portugal and England, however, were buddies. The obvious supply of wine to England was Portugal, but the tricky part was keeping them fresh during transit. The solution was to add brandy to the wine. The export of the fortified wine shipped from the town of Oporto, and hence, the fortified wine was named “port”.

Port Wines and Whisky

There are many port-finished whiskies to choose from in today’s whisky scene. Some of the well-known Scotch is Balvenie 21 Portwood, Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban and Tomatin 14 Port Wood Finish. Most of these port-finished whiskies are flavourful and sweet, gaining fame amongst those with a sweet tooth. They are also popular with sherry lovers since they share some similar qualities.

While port casks are not yet as prominent in the whisky industry as sherry casks are, there may come a day when port casks become a necessary component in maturing whisky! Therefore, drink some port wines and do your part to create more casks for the whisky industry!

 

 

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Event: An American Affair in Kaohsiung, Taiwan

From left: Jim Beam Black, Jim Beam Double Oak, Jim Beam Signature Craft and Maker’s Mark

A whisky shop owner invited Geek Choc and me to a tasting session that he hosted with his wife during our short stay in Kaohsiung. It was an eye-opening session for us, and one which we will not be forgetting anytime soon. It happened totally at random as we went to the shop because a friend told me that the shop has a lot of Bruichladdich bottles, including one which I was looking for.

We arrived with a high expectation, and the shop did not disappoint us at all. It started out a little awkward, but as we got to know the boss and lady boss, we began to chit chat about whisky and all things Taiwan vs. Singapore. The boss then invited us to a tasting session of Jim Beam, which took place one day before we left Kaohsiung. We accepted the invitation readily as we were very curious about how Taiwanese ran their whisky tasting sessions. We were glad that we did because it was indeed different and entirely out of our expectations.

Brief Information about the tasting session

The boss told us that the tasting session was for Jim Beam. While we lamented that it was not a Scotch whisky tasting, we thought that Jim Beam should still be interesting to us, as we never drank it before. The line up was four different drams with significant differences.

They are Jim Beam Black, Jim Beam Double Oak, Jim Beam Signature Craft and finally, Maker’s Mark. Out of the four, we tried Maker’s Mark before and enjoyed it with ice.

The Event Proper

The organiser held the event at a new hotel in Kaohsiung, named Lin Hotel. It is a luxurious and lavish hotel completed with much opulence. We were stunned when our taxi drove us up to the lobby, and we breathed a sigh of relief that we dressed up for the event. The hotel had arranged the tasting session in a private room within their seafood restaurant, and it was a small, cosy place. It sat about thirty people comfortably and had a small area for displaying the four whiskeys.

The setting looked like a small intimate Chinese wedding dinner, with three tables for ten pax each placed at strategic locations. Everyone seated could see the big screen in the middle. Once 90% of the participants turned up, the event started promptly. The organiser did not wait for latecomers – which was interesting for us.

Speaker of the Event

Brand Ambassador of Jim Beam

The speaker for the event is none other than the brand ambassador of Beam Suntory in Taiwan. I need to apologise that I completely missed his name as I am bad with names. He is a knowledgeable man and explained much about American whiskey. The only thing that I feel that he could do better is to slow down. The speed of the presentation and tasting session was too fast, which was not ideal considering that most of the participants were avid drinkers who wanted to taste the whiskeys properly.

Nonetheless, he shared the history of Jim Beam and how it came about with the audience and what proved to be of interest to me was the history of Jim Beam. It was the oldest Kenturkey bourbon ever – sold for the first time by founder Jacob Beam in 1795. It was a short but insightful session. I loved it when brand ambassador waxed lyrical about the history of the brand and the distillery because it helped me to understand the whiskey better.

Production Methods

The brand ambassador also shared the history of how charred barrels came from as Jim Beam charred their barrels to level 4 to get the most of the butterscotch, vanilla, coconut and caramel flavours. History has it that charring had a very different purpose in the past. One theory said that it was to kill germs – burning the wood was the best way. Another argument, which was popular, said that a greedy merchant tried to cheat the system by using secondhand barrels. To remove the smell and taste of the previous liquid, he burnt the insides of the barrel badly. By accident, the charred barrels produced excellent results, and hence the idea took off.

Besides barrels, the brand ambassador also explained the rules of making bourbon. It must be at least 51% corn, and the remaining 49% can be made up of rye and barley. While he did not tell us the exact make-up of Jim Beam, he did mention that Jim Beam is a proper Bourbon. Due to the temperature at Kenturkey, Jim Beam’s angel share is about 4%, and the first-fill bourbon barrels influence the liquid up to about 60%.

After the presentation (which was too fast for me), we tasted the whiskeys. These were the four glasses that we had.

Besides the four glasses, two pitchers of Jim Beam Black sat on the table, for anyone who wanted a top up. We found the session to be completely generous as it was also free.

The Four Whiskeys

Jim Beam Black

We started out with Jim Beam Black. We understood that the black label is supposed to be better than the white label.

Jim Beam Black

Jim Beam Black is 43% abv with a bright gold colour. It has a strong coconut and caramel nose with butterscotch and spice in the background. A creamy mouthfeel with coconut, caramel, vanilla and gentle spice follows in the palate. The finish is short to medium with sweet caramel all the way.

It is a simple whiskey and one which can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks or in a cocktail. Personally, this is one of my favourites among the three Jim Beam bottles.

Jim Beam Double Oak

Jim Beam Double Oak

The next whiskey up for tasting is the Jim Beam Double Oak. It is an excellent whiskey to showcase the influence of wood. Again at 43% abv, it gives a beautiful bright gold colour too. The nose promises a fuller flavour with coconut and caramel complementing the spice. The palate has a sharper bite to it, and the oak influence creates sandalwood notes in addition to the expected coconut, caramel, and vanilla. The mouthfeel is less creamy but oilier. It is also oakier. The finish is longer than Jim Beam Black with the sandalwood notes lingering all the way.

The Jim Beam Double Oak is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of whiskey. The stronger flavours may appeal to some but not others. Geek Choc likes this expression best out of the three Jim Beam, but I find it harder to accept.

Jim Beam Signature Craft

Jim Beam Signature Craft

The Jim Beam Signature Craft is unique because it aged for 12 years before bottling. For those who know about bourbon, you know that bourbon does not age for more than five to six years typically. For an expression to reach 12 years of age is not an easy feat. The Signature Craft is also 43% abv and spot a gold colour that is slightly brighter than the above two expressions.

The aromas from the nose are more mellow than the other two expressions. Coconut and caramel couple with vanilla waft up the nose with no sharpness. There is also no spice detected. The palate is oily and creamy, with beautiful notes of coconut, caramel, vanilla ice cream and hints of spice. It feels mellow, smooth and more aged. The finish is long with sweet coconut and gentle spice. Slightly oaky in the end too, but nothing unpleasant.

Maker’s Mark

Maker’s Mark

Finally, we had Maker’s Mark. While it is not from the Jim Beam family, it is produced together in the distillery. I like Maker’s Mark as I find the notes of honey, vanilla, and coconut to be perfect as a whiskey on the rocks.

The nose is full of honey, coconut and caramel in the forefront and vanilla hiding in the background. The palate speaks with spiced coconut, caramel, and honey at first before vanilla cream appears to give another layer of complexity. The finish is short with spiced coconut lingering all the way.

The Dinner

I must admit that the dinner which followed the whiskey tasting was the best surprise of the night. We expected a series of finger food and snacks, but a 10-course Chinese meal came instead. When course after course arrived at the table, we were stunned beyond words. The food served was lip-smacking good – drunken prawns, smoked duck, steamed fish, and the list went on.

The whole event ended after dinner. The organisers offered up bottles for sales at a reasonable price and many of the participants bought by the cartons. For us, we only bought two bottles as we still have a long trip ahead of us in Taipei.

Conclusion

We had a great time and indeed, opened our eyes to how a tasting event can be done. It is as different as it can be in Singapore and I think the same scale will be hard to replicate here due to cost. While this tasting is not representing every tasting session in Taiwan, we believe that it is a great way to get people together to enjoy good food and whisky.

 

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