Is there such a person as a whisky noob?

During a recent BYOB (bring your own bottle) event at a friend’s place, one of his friends got to chatting with me about the length of our whisky adventures. “I am a whisky noob,” she said. “I only started drinking whisky about three to four years ago.” When she knew that I have been drinking whisky for the past ten years, she exclaimed, “Wow! Then you must know a lot about whisky!” I said no, for there are still way too many things that I do not know. We soon moved on to other topics, but her comments stayed with me. It makes me uncomfortable because I believe that nobody is truly a whisky noob.

Getting to know Whisky is a Journey

I do not know what all of you think, but for me, drinking whisky is a learning journey. It is almost like a new friendship that I forge with someone whom I do not know. When a complete beginner starts the journey, it is likely that the person does not know what she is drinking and follows what her friends are drinking. The exploration begins that way for most of us, and we slowly but steadily move forward on our journey.

If we are lucky, we meet someone who is far advanced in his or her journey with whisky, and this person can guide us in our learning journey as a beginner. While we may not know as many things about whisky as the other person, both of us are on a trip of discovery. We are just on a different level.

Everyone learns at a Different Pace

It is hard to tell how long a person has been drinking, even if he or she is spouting tasting notes like an expert. As whisky drinkers, all of us learn at a different pace because we start at varying levels. A person could learn a lot about whisky in less than a year and improve his or her knowledge at an alarming pace while another person could be drinking whisky for ten years and still be clueless about many things.

Be Open to Try

I think being open to trying the various type of whiskies is one key factor in our learning journey. When we want to discover new things, the best way to do so is to try it. Therefore, a person who is willing to try different whiskies all the time walks along the whisky path faster than someone who is always drinking the same thing. Of course, the openness to try should be coupled with the willingness to learn from others, as well as the diligence to read some excellent whisky books.

It is also about the Passion

If you wonder why some people move faster than the others in their whisky adventures, it could also be the fact that they are more passionate about whisky. I know of someone who hates whisky for a large part of her life and then gets introduced to a whisky which suits her palate. The hate melts instantly into love, and the passion she has for whisky develops into an almost intense relationship. Her desire to learn more, the willingness to keep trying made her practically geeky to some extent. Sometimes, she scares me with the tons of questions she has. I am inspired though because her passion for the liquid gold makes me ever so keen to drink with her. We explore whiskies and discover new things together. Her enthusiasm was contagious!

Time does not always measure your knowledge of whisky

Most of us think that time measures our knowledge of whisky. To some extent, it is true for some people as they explore different whiskies all through their lives. However, it is not for some of us. A person drinking the same few brands of whiskies for the past 30 years will not know much beyond what they drink. Their knowledge is similar to someone who just started drinking whisky and sharing the love for the same few brands. Conversely, a person who is drinking whisky for five years, but have been trying different brands of whiskies, and exploring independent bottlings, will probably know more about whiskies in general. Therefore, time may measure the depth of your knowledge for one brand of whisky but does not measure the general understanding that you may have for whisky as a drink category.

Exposure to the “right” people

Just as how we should mix with the “right” people for our career, our profession and even our moral characters, exposure to the “right” group of people when drinking whisky is also a factor. It sounds slightly weird, but when we are exposed to people who know more than us about whisky in general, these people inspire us to learn more. At the same time, they guide us with their knowledge as they are more advanced in their whisky journey than us. We shorten our journey because of these beautiful people whom we call friends and learn faster because they bring us up to their advanced level by journeying with us.

Conclusion

There is not one person in this world who knows everything about whisky. There is too much to learn for one person, and everyone is an expert at some subject matter of sorts. Even the master distillers at the various distilleries have something new to learn about whisky; sometimes, they learn something new from a beginner too!

Therefore, if you are just starting out on your journey, be happy that you have someone who drinks with you. It is a beautiful journey, so enjoy it and ignore people who may call you a noob. Nobody is a noob. We are each on our journey to learn more about whisky.

Whisky Review #101 – Port Charlotte 2004 Highland Laird

 

When it comes to Bruichladdich distillery, most people tend to overlook Port Charlotte as a brand and instead focus on the non-peated version – Bruichladdich and the ridiculously peated version – Octomore. Port Charlotte is the middle sibling, and as all middle siblings know, they are often overlooked. However, the distillery produces fantastic Port Charlotte and those who have not taken the time to discover Port Charlotte; you should seriously do so.

We drank many expressions from Port Charlotte, especially the official bottling. The peak of our Port Charlotte adventure, however, came in the form of the abovementioned bottle – the Port Charlotte 2004. A 12 years old expression bottled under the Highland Laird label by Bartels Whisky, it is a beast of a Port Charlotte! Bottled from a single bourbon barrel (#900) at cask strength, only 225 bottles are available worldwide.

We tasted it blind, and these are the reasons why it impress us so.

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Light Gold
ABV: 57.3%

Nose: Cereal notes are prominent at the first nose, sweet and fulfilling. It reminds me of a beautiful Bruichladdich I once had. I thought it was a Bruichladdich, but then the peat smoke appears after a couple of minutes. Gentle at first, and then slowly gaining prominence. Floral notes, vanilla cream and lemon peels surface after the peat smoke, and the cereal notes continue to linger. All of these beautiful aromas mingle delightfully to give a fantastic nose! (18/20)

Palate: Sweet cereal notes, gentle peat smoke and floral notes come together at first with a tinge of sharpness from the high abv. Then vanilla cream and lemon peels come in to add complexity to the already beautiful notes. As I swallow, the peat smoke expands to engulf the palate for a while before mellowing down back to sweetness. At this point, I am no longer in doubt that this is none other than a peated Bruichladdich – Port Charlotte! (18/20)

Finish: The finish is long and yet subtle. The sweetness lingers from the palate, and there is this oakiness to the finish. However, it is not astringent or dry, making the dram extremely satisfying. It took me more than a couple of minutes to identify its identity as a Port Charlotte due to its complexity, but it is fantastic! (18/20)

Body: It is a superb balanced dram that is easily one of the best Port Charlotte I ever had so far. Well-rounded and balanced on all its notes, it also is a fitting expression to represent the distillery. (37/40)

Total Score: 91/100

Comments:

Geek Flora: “This is one of the best Port Charlotte I ever had. The other one which impressed me much was a MoS Port Charlotte, but this easily tops that with the amazing complexity. I suppose Port Charlotte still works best in a good ex-bourbon barrel, and perhaps, the guys at Bastel Whisky get this right on every note! Well done! Now, please excuse me while I go hunt for a bottle or two of this to bring back home.” 

Geek Choc: “I never like Port Charlotte – I think it has this baby puke note in it. Flora put me through many torturous drams of Port Charlotte, and I never like any of them – until this one! We tasted it blind, so that may have helped to reduce my bias, but this is the best dram of PC I ever had! It changes my opinion of Port Charlotte, and I think I will be happier to try new PC that Flora puts in front of me in future.”

 

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鋐釀酒坊 – Home Need Wine & Spirits

鋐釀酒坊, or what is better known as HNWS in this part of the world, is a popular whisky shop in Taoyuan, Taiwan. In a small, unnoticeable shop along the street, a wealth of whisky treasures sits. Ranging from official bottling from countless Scottish distilleries to independent bottling from various independent bottlers across the world, the shop is a haven for whisky lovers.

Behind these treasures sits the man who makes the vault available and affordable for the common man. He is a veteran in the whisky industry in Taiwan, with more than 15 years of experience under his belt. His name is Tony Chiu, and today, we tell his story.

The Birth of HNWS

Tony breathes life into HNWS in September 2005 as a young man who was ready to take on the world head to head. He started his whisky journey when he joined Maxxium Taiwan (current day Edrington Taiwan) in 2001. In his four years in the company, Tony evolved from a man who doesn’t drink into a whisky lover. As his passion for whisky deepens, Tony took the plunge and opened his own whisky shop – HNWS – in Taoyuan, Taiwan.

Tony’s Adventures in the Early Days of HNWS

As an entrepreneur and a whisky lover, Tony feels that drinking whisky that one likes is more important than drinking every whisky in the market. Due to this belief, he promotes whiskies to his customers based on what they like, not what he wants to sell. His reputation as a fellow whisky lover soon reached the ears of the matured whisky market in Taiwan, and HNWS slowly but steadily becomes popular. Tony also entered the independent bottlers (IB) market, where he believes that quality whiskies existed.

The IB journey was exciting as Tony researched intensely to find high qualities products with interesting flavours profiles. The hard work paid off, and his shop becomes synonymous with good quality products. His IB journey eventually brought him into a circle of friends who love IB brands and encourage him to launch his own brand.

The launch of HNWS as an Independent Bottler

Tony took the next step forward in 2014 and launched his own independent bottler brand – HNWS. With his determination and passion, his humble shop becomes more than just a shop. It becomes a brand; an independent bottler. In the four years since he started this journey, Tony kept his initial vision for his shop in mind – to only sell good quality products. Every HNWS bottling was a quality-assured product and his fans around Taiwan and the region agree!

To make his success even more prominent, we only have to look toward the international stage to see the various awards that Tony’s bottling have won.

Malt Manics Awards (MMA)

We know that awards are further assurance that a whisky is of a good quality. Tony’s bottles have won various awards in the MMA since 2016. Considering that he only started his brand in 2014, the achievements are impressive!

2016 MMA Awards

Gold Award

Kavalan Solist Port Cask #O090615011A abv 58.6% (Chosen for his corporate client 3RD)

Silver Award

Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask for HNWS Taiwan #090608021A abv 57.8%
Glenfarclas 1990 Sherry Butt for HNWS Taiwan 10 Year Anniversary #4710 abv 54%
Douglas Laing Old Particular Laphroaig 19 Years Old for HNWS Taiwan #DL10720 abv 53.3%

Bronze Award

Strange Ways Port Charlotte 10 Years Old Madeira Cask for HNWS Taiwan #2005001572 (Chosen for his private client)
Kavalan Solist Bourbon Cask for YKE Taiwan #B080825038 abv 54% (Chosen for his corporate client)

Best Sherry Award

Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask for HNWS Taiwan #090608021A abv 57.8%

2017 MMA Award

Gold Medal and Best Peated Whisky in Premium Category
Cadenhead Ledaig 12 Years Old 2005/2017 for HNWS Taiwan’s 12thanniversary, abv 61.1%

Tony’s Cask Selection Process

When an IB is successful in a short period of time, we often wonder what its owner’s secret is. We are just as curious, so we ask Tony. It turns out that he has a strict cask selection process and he sticks to this method for every cask that he chooses. Due to the stringent process, each of HNWS bottling is a success.

Tony’s Criteria for Cask Selection

Tony is particular in his cask selection process. He believes in BALANCE, which determines his choices and leads to the “quality assured” reputation that HNWS bottlings gain over the years.

There are four “NO” in Tony’s cask selection process.

  1. NO sulphur: Too much sulphur in sherry matured whisky affects the nose and palate of the whisky and could also lead to a less than desirable finish. Such influences reduce the original profile of the whisky. Of course, there is an exception when a little bit of sulphur can improve the whisky.
  2. NO overwhelming sweetness: When a whisky is too sweet, it influences the finish of the whisky. Tony believes that the finish in a whisky is enticing; having an overwhelming sweetness that influences the finish is a big no-no.
  3. NO extreme oakiness: Oakiness, or what we call the astringent note in a whisky comes from the cask itself and the liquid from before. When a whisky is extremely oaky, it could mean that it has over-aged in the cask or the cask was not suitable for maturation in the first place. That denotes a whisky that is not at its optimal. An over-aged whisky tends to retain a strong bite on the tongue and affects the drinker’s ability to taste the whisky properly.
  4. NO overwhelming bitterness: This is mostly a problem with sherry casks. The sweetness sometimes turns bitter and create an unpleasant experience. Bitterness is split into the bitterness of medicine and the bitterness of a charred cask. Too much of either is bad.

One Final Consideration for Cask Selection is…

These four points lead back to one big consideration – BALANCE.

A balanced whisky is one which changes over time. This is Tony’s standards for his cask selection. When he is making a choice, he often asks himself many questions in order to answer all of the above. However, one vital question is not included above. That important question is “How much do I like this whisky?” While everyone’s preferences are different, he makes use of his 17 years of experience to determine the best flavour profile that his patrons love best.

Recent HNWS Bottling

Tony visits Scotland yearly to source for casks to bottle under the HNWS brands. Some of his recent bottlings include the Flight and Feathers Series – a collaboration between HNWS and a Taiwan photographer. Here are some pictures of the HNWS bottles.

Flight and Feather Series 3 – High Coast (Box) 2012 5 Years Old

Picture taken from www.spiritscastle.sg

High Coast Distillery (formerly known as Box) is a Swedish boutique distillery in the Northern part of Sweden. Tony bottled this expression from a 40 litres cask, which yields only 63 bottles. It is precious considering its status as a single cask and the limited number of bottles available. What makes it more valuable is the HNWS logo on it.

Flight and Feathers Series 4 – Speyside 1995 23 Years Old

Picture taken from www.spiritscastle.sg

We did a review for the Speyside 1995, which is from Speyside Distillery, and definitely not a secret Speyside bottle. This bottle is special because it was finished in a Caol Ila cask! How unusual is that?! If you want to know how it tastes, follow this link.

Flight and Feathers Series 5 – A Kilbride Distillery 1989 28 Years Old

Picture from HNWS

This mysterious bottle is an undisclosed Laphroaig matured in a bourbon cask for 28 years old. In order not to spend unnecessary money to buy the rights to use the distillery’s name (it will push final cost higher for customers), Tony uses his creativity to find an alternative name for his bottling. The Kilbride Dam is the water source for Laphroaig, and hence, “A Kilbride Distillery” is a fitting name for this bottle.

Future bottlings

With HNWS’ anniversary coming up, we are looking forward to more bottling from HNWS in the coming month. Watch this space if you want to have the first dips on what HNWS is coming up with!

 

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Whisky Review #100 – HNWS x Maltman Speyside 1995

Did you know that there is a whisky shop in Taiwan called HNWS? The owner is a veteran in the whisky industry with more than 15 years of experience. Besides running a whisky shop, he is also an independent bottler using his brand of HNWS. Over the years, HNWS gains the reputation of an excellent independent bottler and consumers in Taiwan, and Hong Kong are always excited whenever the brand launches something new.

We are also equally excited when we get to try one of their latest bottlings – a Speyside (distillery) 1995 finished in a Caol Ila Cask. Its unique positioning as a whisky from Speyside and getting a finish in an Islay cask got us all curious. In case some of you are confused, this bottle comes from the Speyside distillery, and not just from the Speyside region. The distillery is one of the most beautiful in the area and makes one feel like walking into a fairytale.

How does this taste like? Let’s dive in.

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Dark Gold
ABV: 54.2%

Nose: Vanilla custard, sweet berries and gentle peat surround the nose immediately. Then a light spice, almost wasabi-like, wafts up to the nose! After that, there are light green apple and citrusy notes behind, swirling around. With water, the gentle peat becomes more prominent, and notes of unripe bananas join the rest, mingling harmoniously.

Palate: The mouthfeel is very oily, and spice engulfs the palate for a while before it mellows into soft sweetness. Light vanilla ice cream, green apples, citrus notes and a little coastal brine appear at the back of the palate. With water, the spice mellows out beautifully, and slight peat becomes obvious. Vanilla notes engulf the whole palate, and then the coastal brine comes back to the forefront.

Finish: Long finish with drying, sweet oakiness and slight spice. The dryness lengthens the finish and makes it very tasty when the gentle peat turns up at the end of it all. With water, the finish is softer and less drying. More sweetness appears in the finish, and a lingering light spice concludes the dram exceptionally.

Body: It is a balanced dram with interesting notes from both Speyside and Islay influence. While the Caol Ila cask did not extend a massive impact, the light citrusy notes and peat do wonder to add layers of complexity to the dram.

Comments:

Geek Flora: “I did not score the review because we are selling this bottle. It is, however, sold out and can only be savoured by attending our tasting events that are coming up!”

Geek Choc: “I think this is quite an exciting dram for me. Do try it if you can.”

 

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Westland Distillery – Thoughtfully Made in America

I am never a big fan of American whiskey because I find bourbon too sweet and Tennessee whiskey just a little weird for my general tasting profile. However, I had the chance to taste two out of three Westland Distillery’s core range in two separate occasions and their malt-forward flavours and profile made me sit up and take notice.

A closer look at their bottles revealed the reason – Westland Distillery made single malt whiskey. That is to say, they use malt barley as their base for fermentation, not corn or rye or any other grains. It was an exciting discovery for me so I dug deeper into the distillery to find out more.

Lo and behold, there are more surprises! I found out that the Westland Distillery belongs to Remy Cointreau, the French company who also owns Bruichladdich Distillery. Apparently, Remy bought the American distillery in late 2016 after the sales of its whiskey soared in the same year.

So, what is the secret behind Westland? Let me share what I found so far.

The Founding of Westland Distillery

The founders, Matt Hofmann and Emerson Lamb started Westland Distillery in 2010. Bonded over their love for whiskey and their passion to create something different for America, the pair decided to produce American whiskey in a special way. Deciding to follow the Scots in the choice of their grains, Matt Hofmann and Emerson Lamb choose to use malt barley instead of the usual corn or rye.

The distillery moves to the current location in Seattle, Washington in 2012 by refurbishing an old crane factory in 18 months. The first Westland release was a 375ml bottle named “The Deacon Seat”.

The Ingredients in Westland Single Malt Whiskey

As we know, there are only three ingredients in single malt whisky when the Scots made them – barley, yeast and water. Westland Distillery follows this recipe closely, but with one exception. They use more than one type of barley for their mash. The distillery uses five different malted barley for their regular American Oak and Sherry Wood, and six different malted barley for their peated expression.

The five malts are:
– Pale Malt from Washington
– Munich Malt from Washington
– Extra Special Malt from Wisconsin
– Brown Malt from the UK
– Pale Chocolate Malt from the UK

The government and state park in America control much of the peat bogs and wetland in the country and distilleries find it extremely difficult to gain access to peat bogs. Westland is trying to persuade the government to allow them access to a peat bog that is a flavourful, herbaceous mix. For now, Westland is using peated malt from Bairds Maltings in Inverness, Scotland.

The Production Process

The distillery mills the barley on site using a roller mill before placing the milled barley into their stainless steel mash tun. Once the mash is completed, the wort moves along to the washbacks for fermentation. The yeast used is a Belgium brewers yeast that typically produces fruity beers! Fermentation takes four to six days, depending on the whiskey that they are making. Distillation takes place in two copper pot stills – a wash still and a spirit still.

The interesting part of their distillation comes from their copper pot still. It is a combination still where the shape of the still is rounded and yet, there is a column on top of the copper pot. The main idea of the column still is to remove impurities and make a clean spirit for maturation. For Westland Distillery, they remove the plates of the column still in their spirit still, which means there is no rectification or what we called column distillation done over in the spirit still.

Cask Maturation

Westland Distillery does not mature their whiskey on site, but at Hoquiam, Washington. That is roughly a two hours drive south of the distillery location. The location sits right smack on the Pacific Ocean, where the sea breezes create a coastal and humid environment. An environment such as this gives an angel share of about 2% all year around.

Westland only uses standard-sized casks and does not believe in small cask ageing. They have over 40 different cask types in their warehouse as of last year, and they range from sherry to port to ex-bourbon. Besides the regular wood, they also use Garryana oak, an endangered species of oak trees in the United States of America. Scientifically known as Quercus Garryanna, this tree used to grow rampantly from northern California to the British Columbia, but now, the growth area is only 5% of what it used to be. Westland is fighting to use this oak. Due to its endangered status, Westland Distillery is making a lot of efforts to ensure the continuity of the species. You can read more about their quest here.

The Core Range of Westland Distillery

Westland Distillery produces three expressions for their core range. The flagship style of the distillery is of course, the American Oak. It is a reflection of the distillery, where it is from and the values of those who made it. It is an approachable dram that is not only uniquely American, but only special in its choice of ingredients.

The peated malt expression is a varietion of their flagship style with an addition of peated malt imported from Scotland. The addition of the peated malt adds smokey flavours to the whiskey and that makes it flavourful.

The sherry wood expression is an experiment that has gone well for the distillery. Using only the finest PX and Oloroso sherry casks sourced from Tonelería del Sur in Montilla, Spain, Westland creates a beautiful sherry wood expression with their malt-focused spirit.

Should you try whiskey from Westland Distillery?

Well, I tried two of the core range and end up digging deeper into the distillery to find out more. If you are someone who do not fancy bourbons because they are so sweet, perhaps Westland whiskeys will be something to try. It is less cloying on the palate and in general, gives a very well-rounded tasting profile.

If you are a bourbon lover, try this and let me know what you think! I will love to know what a bourbon drinker thinks about the whiskies from Westland!

 

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Whisky Review #99 – Westland Peated Single Malt

This is the other American whiskey that we tried at the Secret Mermaid. It is Geek’s Choc’s choice as he does love his peat. It was also a safe choice as he had tried another expression from Westland previously at The Wall SG.

This expression is a Westland single malt peated whiskey. Being a non-chill-filtered whiskey adds creditability to it, and we thought that it was indeed a safe dram to order. Let’s see if we are right!

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Gold
ABV: 46%

Nose: Sweet, ripe pears, bananas, peat smoke and a hint of cinnamon spice hit the nose immediately and remains constant throughout. It almost reminds us of a Scotch! It is charming to me, and I could nose it all day. However, it is one-dimensional and proves to be somewhat unexciting. (16/20)

Palate: Sweet pears and light banana notes are prominent as the liquid stays in the mouth. A whiff of smoke passes in the back of the throat as the liquid goes down, and disappears immediately once we swallow. Again, it remains us of a young and light, ex-bourbon matured Scotch. The bite of the spirit is not sharp, but evident in the palate. (16/20)

Finish: It has a medium finish with lots of oak and subtle sweetness on the side. (15/20)

Body: It could be more balanced if the finish does not disappoint. However, the finish is lacking, and this dram becomes one-dimensional and straightforward. Gentle on the nose and palate, it is a good starting dram or an introduction to peat for a non-peat drinker. I also find it too much like a Scotch, even though it is an American whiskey. So, while I would like to give it a higher score, I hold back because I think it can be better in its category as an American whiskey.  (31/40)

Total Score: 78/100

Comments:

Geek Flora: “I like this whiskey! It is almost Scotch-like, and it has the usual flavours that I like in my peaty whisky. However, I need to remain myself that it is an American whiskey – a category that is supposed to give more sweetness, more flavours. This is a very mellow dram. I am torn between giving it a higher score and the score I eventually gave because I think that while bourbon drinkers who love the strong flavours will find this interesting, it will not be a dram they will return to very often. On the other hand, Scotch drinkers will like this but still will return to Scotch.”

Geek Choc: “It is a whiskey that I don’t mind drinking at all. Too much like a Scotch, but it can be a refreshing change especially if the cost for a bottle is lower than a typical Scotch. However, just like what Flora said, I would eventually still return to my favourite Scotch.” 

 

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Whisky Review #98 – Belgian Dark Strong Style

I am not an American whiskey fan generally due to my aversion to things that tasted too sweet. The unfortunate fact remains that American whiskey, as a group, is often too sweet for me and my tolerance to it is probably just a half pour at a bar. Nonetheless, there are some whiskeys which are delicious to me; State 38’s bourbon and rye, for example, as well as famous Maker’s Mark!

I always wanted to try other whiskeys because I have friends who love bourbon and encourage me to try them beyond the usual. So Geek Choc and I had some crazy ideas last week and decided to pay a visit to an American bar in search of crafted bourbons. We walked into The Secret Mermaid, and after getting seated at the bar, we were offered a cocktail menu. It took some time and lots of efforts to attract the staff at the bar before we got the proper whiskey menu. As there were no recommendations forthcoming even though I mentioned it was our first time, we ordered something that sounds interesting.

One of the whiskeys we ordered is this – Belgian Dark Strong Style. Crafted by the Chicago Distilling Company, it is a single malt whiskey! To be honest, I went with some expectations. I was hoping to be convinced. Was I convinced?

Let’s find out!

Tasting notes:

Colour: Dark Amber
ABV: 45%

Nose: Strong notes of dried preserved plums come head on right from the start, with sandalwood following right behind. There are some orange notes and burnt sugar in the back. It defines itself as an American whiskey right away, and there is no doubt that I am possibly not going to like the palate very much. Objectively though, the nose is exciting and it does make me want to taste it. (17/20)

Palate: Sandalwood, burnt sugar, and cloves combined to give an awkward taste to the palate at first, but then oakiness comes forth with a touch of dried preserved plums as the liquid went down the throat. I would say that, objectively, the palate is strange but not unpleasant for those who like bourbons. I like how the dried preserved plums surface at the back of the throat and soothe out the bite from the cloves. (15/20)

Finish: The finish is relatively short in terms of flavours in the palate. Some saltiness at the back of the throat and a tiny burst of sweetness before everything ends prematurely. However, the warmth of the liquid lingers in the throat for quite a while, giving us a pleasant warmth. (16/20)

Body: To be fair, it is a balanced dram. I think that as a bourbon, it has outdone some of the others which I had tried. Maybe it will taste better (to me) on the rocks. The sweetness is not overpowering but I still find the notes too strange for my liking. However, the saltiness of the dram adds a touch of surprise in an otherwise simple dram. For that, I must give it credit! (33/40)

Total Score: 81/100

Disclaimer: I think I may be biased here, but it is my honest opinion. I do welcome those who had tried this to give their thoughts about it on our Facebook post!

Comments:

Geek Flora: “I failed to like this, even though I tried very hard. The style is too different and while I find myself falling in love with Welsh whisky, English whisky and even Nordic whisky, I cannot bring myself to like American whiskey too much. Thankfully, there are still some which I can enjoy, like State 38’s DC Loveday Bourbon and Maker’s Mark!

Geek Choc: “I think I like this. While I agree with Flora’s review of the whiskey, I think this is an interesting dram and one which brings a different feel to my usual whisky choices. While it will not be my first choice of whisky, I do not mind having it now and then.” 

 

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New Whisky Bar – Tipple and Dram

 

Have you heard from Tipple and Dram Bar? Located at 24 Ann Siang Road, the appearance is that of a wine bar when you first walk into the bright and cheery place with rows upon rows of wine. However, if you go down the stairs to the basement, you walk into a completely different place. Tipple and Dram Bar hides its whisky bar from view, which gave it an air of secrecy and a sense of cosiness when you sip a dram there.

Visiting the “Underground Whisky Bar”

Once you step off the staircase and around the corner, there is a big table with armchairs just inviting you to lounge in them with a Glencairn glass in hand. Continue to walk in, and you will find another table and armchairs to your right, and the bar right in front of you!

Behind the bar, there is yet another table and armchairs just waiting for whisky lovers. If you are not in a big group, the best place to sit is, of course, at the bar. You get a full view of the bottles, and you can just pick the bottles that you want by looking instead of using the menu!

Whisky Selection at Tipple and Dram

Tipple and Dram Bar has a wide selection of special official distillery bottling on offer by the dram. Think of special releases like the Laphroaig Cairdeas (meant only for Friends of Laphroaig) and Bowmore Islay Festival bottling (the bar has an entire range from 2014 to 2017). There are also a series of Cadenhead bottlings to whet the appetite of those who prefer independent bottling.

Geek Choc had a couple of drams from Islay – a Bowmore Islay Festival 2014 and the Laphroaig Brodir. I had an Edradour Fairy Place and a Cadenhead Bladnoch. Our friend, Fab, who went along with us despite a tiring day, comforted himself with a Cadenhead Cragganmore. While we did not get to try a lot of whisky due to time, the drams we had were excellent.

Food at Tipple and Dram

We cannot have this post without talking about the bar food available. We ordered a “Half Half Platter”, which consisted of some hams and cheese.

These were some of the best hams and cheeses I had, especially the cheeses! The French Brie was my favourite as it was incredibly creamy with a super soft and smooth texture. I like the spicy salami as well. The spiciness is well-balanced and pairs well with whisky.

Then, there is the complimentary bread bowl. Flora loves French pastries so you can imagine her excitement at the sight of the bread bowl! Hahaha…The bread complimented the cheese beautifully!

 

What We Hope to See in Future

Tipple and Dram is a very new bar with barely just two months in operation. There is room for improvement definitely, such as leaving the whisky bottle with the customer for a short while so that we can take a picture. It is unfortunate that we only managed one picture of the whisky bottles, but seeing that it is our first time at the bar, we did not wish to encroach on their policies of not having bottles at the bar too.

The selection is broad but not extensive. There is also room for improvement on this one, but the current collection is enough to please a whisky drinker who loves to try the special releases from official distillery bottlings. We understand from the bar manager, Chris, that more will come shortly. They are also working hard to make the whisky bar a haven for everyone to relax and enjoy a dram!

We look forward to seeing whisky flights and more whisky selections at Tipple and Dram. For now, we encourage you to visit them and see the place and the fantastic offer of special distillery bottling that they have available by the glass.

Does the alcohol contents (ABV) really matters?

When whisky nerds get together, sensitive topics that hold dear to our hearts can sometimes be raised and debated. These sessions can get rather heated if not controlled, and more often than not, we agree to disagree with one another. A recent whisky event held at a bar raise this question between Geek Choc and me, and hence the debate began.

What does the ABV do to the whisky?

ABV, or alcohol by volume, is the measurement of alcoholic content within a beverage. In the simplest of terms, I would describe the effects of abv as creating a fuller picture of the whisky. There are more flavours; the whisky is more complex and robust when the abv is above a certain value. The optimal abv for each person varies, as it depends on how far the person has journeyed in his whisky adventures.

The Classic Debate

It appears that the classic debate amongst whisky drinkers is often the abv of a bottle. What constitutes a high abv? Some of us may have heard people saying, “Less than 50% abv, cannot drink lah!” Others may rebut and say, “60% abv? You might as well drink ethanol la!”

In an attempt to understand the debate, Geek Choc and I studied the effects of drinking high abv whisky (above 50% abv) and lower abv whisky (49.9% and below) by judging how our noses and palates react to the whisky. Over the course of a few weeks, we drank whiskies that were 40%, 43%, 46%, 50%, 55.7% and 60%. We also take into consideration the type of cask used for maturation as well as the age of the whiskies.

Here’s what we discovered.

It is not about the abv all the time

It’s true. The profile of a whisky does not depend on the abv all the time. While the abv does affect the nose and taste of the whisky, the production methods play a more vital role in the profile. Not all 40% whisky is under the “cannot drink”  category, and not all 50% and above whisky are pleasant too. At the end of the day, it really depends on where the person is in his drinking journey and also the experience of the particular drinking session that he is after.

Cask influence is more crucial

Our conclusion is that cask influence is a more crucial element than the abv itself. The cask plays an integral part of whisky maturation, and the flavours imparted from the cask to the whisky determine the final product. An ex-bourbon matured whisky differs from an ex-sherry matured expression; the same goes for those matured in other types of casks. For example, a 46% abv ex-bourbon matured whisky may not taste as good to me as a 40% ex-sherry matured whisky because the flavours from the cask are different. The body and character of the individual liquid help to determine the final profile of the whisky, not the abv.

Light-bodied whisky is perfect for blending

This seems like an off-topic but no, I am still on the topic. We discovered at a light, ex-bourbon whisky of about 46% is perfect for blending. The medium abv coupled with a light-bodied character accepts the addition of a more flavourful and yet lower abv whisky easily, making a new, robust whisky that has an abv of an in-between. We blended a Scotch (46%) with a Taiwanese whisky (40%) and the blend is better than either of the single malts. Well, maybe it only tasted better to us, but the idea is there! Therefore, it is not true to say that a whisky with a standard abv is a weak or bad whisky.

Taste is subjective

Finally, I want to say that taste is subjective. While one low abv whisky may taste bad to you, it does not mean that every low abv whisky will taste bad. Be open, and explore the world of whisky. Try not to turn up your nose at a whisky that is 40%, but try it. You never know when you may like one! The same goes for high abv whisky – not every one of them is nice. I had tried some really horrid ones to be sure!

I hope this article sits well with all of you. I know some of you may disagree, but we can always discuss it in details again! 😀 May all of us get to drink as much as whisky as we want!

 

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The Liquid Gold of Wales – Penderyn Distillery

We interview Dr Giancarlo Bianchi, Technical Director of Penderyn Distillery previously, where we spoke briefly about Penderyn Distillery. It is now time for us to formally introduce the Penderyn Distillery to our readers since their products are coming to Singapore shortly.

The Birth of Penderyn

Wales, England had lost the art of distillation for over a century since it stopped in 1894. The people of Wales need to have a distillery to call their own, their pride. In the late 1990s, a group of friends met at a pub in a small Welsh valley town for a catch-up session over drinks. As the night progressed, the talk turned serious, and this group of friends began to conceive the idea of building the first whisky distillery in Wales. It would be a Welsh distillery that creates “a whisky as pure and precious as Welsh gold” and one which the people of Wales will be proud of.

The group of friends already have a location in mind – the historic village of Penderyn on the southern tip of the Brecon Beacons. The site is perfect because it has its supply of fresh, natural spring water. They knew that it is the ideal place for a distillery. What’s more, this resourceful group of friends also have access to a unique copper single-pot still designed by Dr David Faraday. He is a relative of the famous 19th-century scientist Michael Faraday.

With the resources and plans ready in hand, the group of friends began the construction of Penderyn Distillery and established the home of the Welsh’s liquid gold on 1 March 2004 in the presence of HRH Prince Charles.

Penderyn’s Unique Copper Still

How is Welsh’s liquid gold made? Well, remember we spoke about Penderyn’s unique copper single-pot still designed by Dr David Faraday? It is this very still that makes gold for Penderyn.

Penderyn distillery has a pair of copper single-pot stills called the Faraday Stills. The stills are designed by Dr David Faraday, who is a relative of the famous Victorian scientist, Michael Faraday. The single-pot still produces a clean and flavourful spirit of extraordinary strength that becomes Penderyn’s signature style of whisky.

The Distillation Process

The distillery charges malted barley wash into their copper stills every morning. The still is heated with hot steam. As the liquid reaches boiling point, the vapour rises into a copper column above the still. The column has seven perforated plates, and the vapour condenses on the first plate before falling back into the still. The process continues, with the vapour that condenses on the first plate becoming purer and rising to the second plate before condensing. This delicate process continues until the vapour reaches the 7th plate, where it condenses and is collected into a glass spirit safe, drop by drop.

The entire process helps to purify the final spirit and imbues it with great complexity, depth, and body. The copper still also removes many undesirable chemical compounds. The magical process creates a clean spirit of extraordinary strength. The new make at Penderyn arrives at the spirits safe at a staggering strength of 92% abv, one of the industry highest.

Wood and Cask

The new make from Penderyn needs a home after they are born. Penderyn takes great care to ensure every drop of liquid has a quality home to rest in. The distillery’s house style comes from the use of two kinds of casks. The primary residence of the new make is an excellent hand-selected bourbon barrel that comes from either Buffalo Trace or Evan Williams Distillery. Both of them make some of the finest bourbons in the world. That makes their ex-bourbon casks perfect as the first home for Penderyn’s whisky.

Penderyn uses Portuguese barriques that held a rich Madeira wine to finish their house-style whisky. The rich Madeira casks imparted subtlety and complexity to the whisky. They also use other types of casks to create a range of products to suit everyone’s palate. The distillery uses Scottish peated casks, Portugal port wood barrels and Spanish dry oloroso sherry casks.

Penderyn’s Range of Whisky

Penderyn has a large range of whisky available for every whisky drinker. At a glance, there are three ranges of whisky on offer as well as other spirits such as gin and vodka.

First up, there is the Dragon range. It showcases the pride of Wales as the red dragon is the national flag. Under the Dragon range, you can find Legend, Myth and Celt. Legend mirrors the house-style of Penderyn’s signature malt, with ex-bourbon and Madeira finish. Myth is matured in ex-bourbon and ex-red wine casks. Celt is the lightly peated version of Penderyn’s single malt.

There is also the Gold range, which is made up of Maderia, Port wood, Sherry wood and Peat. Every expression is matured in ex-bourbon cask before getting a finish in their respective casks.

Besides the above seven expressions, Penderyn also has limited edition releases named Icons of Wales which showcase either a person, milestone or event from Welsh history with international significance. So far, the distillery launched five expressions with number six coming along in the near future.

What will be Available in Singapore?

We understand that Penderyn whisky will be launched in Singapore in October 2018 with seven expressions from the Dragon and Gold range. The dates are not confirmed, but we will be releasing them as soon as we know. Stay tuned for more!

 

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