Taiwanese Style Whisky Dinner at SiChuan DouHua with Tony from HNWS

Whisky dinners – you probably seen one before or maybe even gone for one. In those dinners, whisky or some other quality spirit would be paired with a dish. With many thanks to Spirits Castle, I got to experience my first Taiwanese-style whisky dinner! Taiwanese style whisky dinners separate whisky and dinner, does not attempt to pair it. This allows for dishes that don’t usually go with Whisky, like spicy food or strongly scented ones. In this tasting, Tony, owner of the Taiwan independent bottler HNWS, has graced us with his presence in a befitting venue – Sichuan Douhua, a restaurant on the 60th floor of the UOB building with a glorious view! So, just like whisky dinners in Taiwan, we started with 5 drams from the HNWS. To the reviews! -batman transition-

 

Imperial 23yo 1995 Sherry Finish

Imperial is a closed distillery, and most casks are under the ownership of Pernod Ricard. While most Imperials I have come across are bourbon matured, not many of them have undergone sherry maturation. This bottle features a sherry finished Imperial, and it is quite a looker. But it’s not just all looks, the nose and palate are both welcoming and inviting. The dram even showed some prominent character development in the next 20 minutes of breathing.

Nose: An initial arrival of a sherry bomb greets me as the first dram of the evening — notes of raisins, cinnamon, black pepper and a distinct savoury note reminiscent of Oloroso sherry. The hints of strawberries and walnut nuttiness were incredible too. With water, the raisin notes were softer. However, the prior ex-bourbon maturation shines through with notes of peaches puree, a soft orange note, confectionary sweetness and mango.

Palate: The arrival was a good note of cinnamon spice along with strawberry jam, cranberry, gooseberries, black cherries and raisins. With water, the initial arrival was more chocolatey with the mid-palate still dominated by strawberry jam.

Finish: A beautiful cinnamon and strawberry finish with floral notes and black cherries. With water, notes of chocolates, sour plums and lemon zest appear in that finish.

Islay 29yo 1989

Although the distillery is not mentioned in the name, this bottle has a label depicting a Scottish-style dragon flying over the Laphroaig distillery. It’s not often that I come across an old Laphroaig and boy is this fascinating!

Nose: The dram began with soft medicinal notes and coastal brine aromas. Notes of heather, musk, vanilla and honey were also present. Despite its age, the smoke is still remarkably vibrant and lively. With water, this Laphroaig becomes sweeter, quite like vanilla sponge cake, with notes of musk, leather, earth and notes of damp bonfire ash the morning after.

Palate: As expected, this arrival was as soft as an old islay whisky can be, with notes of Laphroaig’s signature medicinal TCP notes, sweet oak, and soft peaches. With water, the musky leather notes became more prominent, alongside notes of coastal brine.

Finish: The finish was a sweet honey vanilla finish along with earthy and medicinal notes. With water, the earthy, smoky and vegetal Lapsang Souchong tea notes become more evident in the finish.

Ardbeg 10yo 2008 PX Finish

This dram is a Peated sherry bomb with a mocha vibe on the colour, the nose and the palate! This is most likely due to the strong oak influence in the dram. Yet, the Ardbeg spirit character stands strong with tones of mineral notes alongside the heavier oak influence

Nose: The initial arrive with a peated, smoky bang, alongside notes of smoked salmon, seafood, sulphur, floral notes and red plums. With water, the mineral iodine character of Ardbeg shines through.

Palate: Similar to the nose, the palate starts with the same big show stopper of smoked bacon, strong cinnamon spice, along with the mineral iodine note and coastal brine. With water, a gunpowder note shines through with dark chocolate and roast coffee bitterness.

Finish: This gives a robust smoky finish with smoked meat, sulphur note, mineral note and. With water, the extended finish comes with iodine notes and dark chocolate.

Hellyers Road 16yo 2002

Hellyers Road is a Tasmanian whisky distillery with a unique spirit character. The bottle almost looks identical compared to an official bottling if I did not look carefully enough. It comes with a certificate of authenticity, as well. At a whopping 64.5%, this spirit-driven dram tastes especially good for its strength.

Nose: T’was a spirity arrival of tea bags and hay. Unique notes of passionfruit appear with notes of vanilla, honey, cinnamon and brioche. With water added, the honey note became sweeter with notes of green guava, honeydew, passionfruit, peaches and a nice confectionary note. 

Palate: The arrival did not feel like 64.5%, and I was immediately greeted with notes of green guava, dry tea, floral notes and a vegetal hay note. With water, there were notes of peaches, Japanese honeydew (those from DonkiDonki), and green guava; with the tea spirit character being very prominent throughout the palate.

Finish: the finish was vanilla, slightly smoky, and earthy. With water, the finish is a lot longer with the aromatic tea note.

Port Charlotte 10yo 2008 Madeira Cask

Bruichladdich is one of my favourite distilleries, and I love their whiskies for its consistent quality. This dram was somewhat different. This PC started with notes of creamy feta cheese. Along with the fruitiness of the Madeira cask and the sweetness of the intrinsic nature from Bruichladdich still.

Nose: This was surprising. I was not prepared at all to smell cream cheese in a dram. It was something between cream cheese and greek feta cheese. The spirit character of Port Charlotte shines through with marshmallow sweetness and lovely peat smoke. With water, the cheesy note became more of fruit yoghurt with notes of unripe green apples.

Palate: The arrival was cheesy as well, with notes of red cheddar and greek feta alongside peat smoke. With water, the dram showed more of the sweetness from its spirit character with more fruitiness.

Finish: The finish is just as unique as the nose and palate, with notes of dry cranberries and aromatic vegetal notes. With water, brings a longer, earthy peat smoke finish.

Dinner

After 5 drams, our appetite has built up. Now comes the dinner, which was a lot more satisfying after drinks!

This 5-course meal was terrific, from the tea to the main course to the dessert! Check it out!

There was a professional pouring hot water into the teacup that allowed the tea inside to swirl and mix! That’s form and function!

The trio combo was amazing. These three items on the plate contained a wide plethora of flavours, which showcases how skilled the chefs are at balancing flavours.

This braised lobster soup with bamboo pith and kale is probably the calm before the storm.

This is the start of the mala storm. Lovely stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts and dried chill had the familiar numbing spiciness.

This bowl of sliced fish in Sichuan Pepper sauce was topped with loads of chilli.

This fragrant rice with diced chicken helped me cool down from the last two mala dishes!

The dessert was lovely, but a suggestion by Zerlina to add some whisky inside did improve it!

This has been a fantastic first visit to the Sichuan DouHua on the 60th floor of the UOB building! Special thanks to Tony for coming all the way down from Taiwan, and Spirits Castle for this invite! 

 

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Frongoch Distillery – The Royal Welsh Whisky of Old

The Royal Welsh Whiskies – Picture from Penderyn Distillery

Wales is not high on the whisky map. It is well-known as an industrial country with coal mines, and gold. Whisky was never one of their “virtues”.  Many people did not even know where Wales is or that it exists.

Wales has a short whisky history. The current distilleries are Penderyn Distillery, located in the Brecon Beacons in Southern Wales, and Dà Mhìle Distillery in Western Wales. Penderyn is the only distillery exporting its Welsh whiskies outside of UK, to countries such as the United States, Germany, France and Singapore.

The History of Whisky in Wales

Unknown to many, Wales was home to a whisky distillery about one century ago. Known as Frongoch Distillery, its location was about two and a half miles from Bala on the way to Trawsfynydd. R. Lloyd Price, the owner of the Rhiwlas Estate and Robert Willis, a pretty unknown person, registered the Welsh Whisky Distillery Co in Frongoch, Bala, in 1889 and built the Frongoch Distillery.

The Rise and Fall of Frongoch Distillery

An Old Picture of Frongoch Distillery. Picture from BBC.

Frongoch was the perfect site for the distillery due to two crucial things – the pure, peaty water from the Tryweryn River, and the readily available transportation network via the nearby railway station and ports. The first Welsh distillery was a magnificent building in its heydays as it received fundings of £100,000 to build and run it. When it opened its doors in 1890, it was a beautiful place with a malthouse, kilns, peat store, offices and accommodation for its 30 workers. There was also a dedicated excise officer located on site.

Sadly, the distillery did not survive. The company went bankrupt in 1910 and Frongoch Distillery became an empty shell. The premise remained uninhabited until the outbreak of World War One in 1914. During the war, the distillery and its grounds became a prisoner of war camp for captured Germans and Irish.

In 1916, during the Easter Rising in Ireland, the English army detained some of the most prominent figures of the uprising at Frongoch. There were two camps on the premises, the North and South camps. The South Camp was in the old buildings of the distillery. The prisoners included Terence MacSweeney and Michael Collins. Frongoch Distillery in Wales remains a vital link in the history of Ireland even up to today. As a prison during the war, it held the best of Ireland’s revolutionaries for the freedom of Ireland.

The Whisky of Frongoch Distillery

It was said that full production at Frongoch would reach 150,000 gallons per annum when the distillery opened. The first Welsh whisky went to customers in 1891. All of them went to North Wales and the border counties. The owners changed their policy after the first batch, choosing to increase the years of maturation. This was a time before rules and regulations came into the whisky industry; such a move from the owners showed their passion and dedication to the craft of whisky-making.

Interestingly, the Welsh Whisky Company Co. received a royal warrant from the Queen on 26 July 1895. As a result, the prefix “Royal” could be used in front of the whisky. Hence, the Royal Welsh Whisky was born. Shortly after the receipt of the royal warrant, the market released the first Royal Welsh Whisky in the history of Wales.

 

Advertisement of the Royal Welsh Whisky. Picture from WhiskyInvestDirect

Details about the flavours and taste of the whisky did not survive the years, unfortunately. Advertisements such as the above picture tell us that the distillery released the whisky as a five years old malt made from the finest malted barley, but there was nothing that spoke of its flavours or taste.

Based on the location of Frongoch, the ample peat available likely meant that the whisky was peated. It was also comparatively more expensive than the typical Scotch whiskies of the time. The old report of the Wine & Spirits Trade Record also pointed to the fact that the Royal Welsh Whisky might have been more similar in style to their Irish counterpart than Scotch in terms of their choice of using a “Pot Still” and selling the whisky both in bulk and in bottles. Sadly, there were no concrete details to find out more.

The modern Royal Welsh Whisky

The Royal Welsh Whisky of Penderyn. Picture from Spirits Castle

Fast forward to the modern era, and we have Penderyn Distillery as a successor. As the first Welsh distillery to export its whiskies outside of the United Kingdom, the distillery owns one of the original Royal Welsh Whisky bottle (picture at the top of the article). There are three other surviving bottles. One of them is a resident at Cardiff’s St Fagans National History Museum. The other two belong to private collectors who bought them in an auction at £7,300 and £7,200 respectively in 2016.

In 2019, Penderyn Distillery decided to honour the history of whisky-making in Wales with the release of their version of the Royal Welsh Whisky. It is part of Penderyn’s Icon of Wales series and released in March 2019 to celebrate St David’s Day. The new Royal Welsh Whisky sports a peated Portwood finish.

We wonder if the distillery opened the original bottle to try before deciding on the flavours, although it would be very much like drinking a historical relic. Nonetheless, we are excited to try the newly-minted “Royal Welsh Whisky” from Penderyn Distillery.

Royal Welsh Whisky from Penderyn Distillery

Nose: Guava, melons, pineapples surface with black pepper in the nose, with a very muted peat note at the back. With time, vanilla surfaces with soft peat.

Palate: Tropical fruits, muted peat and hints of smoke at the forefront. With time, vanilla cream, peat and smoke come together in a harmonious and beautiful expression.

Finish: Oaky with sweet fruits that develops into fruit peels. With time, the finish is long, and wisps of smoke come and go elegantly.

The Royal Welsh Whisky will benefit from patience and airing time. The dram evolves over time, with the characteristic of its Portwood finish disappearing after 30 minutes and the Peated finish comes full power. It is a beautiful dram that changes with time, giving you a surprise at every turn.

 

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A Chat with Brendan McCarron from Glenmorangie

Brendan McCarron, Head of Maturing Whisky Stocks at The Glenmorangie Company

WhiskyGeeks is fortunate to get a chance to speak with Brendan McCarron, the Head of Maturing Whisky Stocks at the Glenmorangie Company, during our DFS event. As the heir apparent to whisky legend, Dr Bill Lumsen, Brendan has plenty to work on. He joins the company five years ago and started work with the whisky creation team alongside Dr Bill.

Brendan’s Whisky History

Brendan hails from Glasgow, Scotland. As a chemical engineering graduate, he started his career in the whisky industry in 2006 when he joined Diageo. After three years, Brendan began work as the distillery manager at Oban. Two years later, he left for “Peatland” – Islay, where he worked with Lagavulin, Caol Ila and of course, Port Ellen.

Port Ellen is a malting facility where Brendan got to work with the maltsers on different requirements. Making smoky malted barley was probably one of his favourite thing to do! The smoky malted barley was also the reason that Brendan got to know Dr Bill Lumsen. After ten years of working as a distillery manager, Brendan decided to change his direction and joined The Glenmorangie Company as part of their whisky creation team.

Brendan’s Unique Journey

Brendan has a fantastic whisky journey from the day he joined the industry in 2006. He is probably one of the very few people in Scotland who has worked on all aspects of whisky making. From designing a brand-new distillery (building it!) to malting, distilling and maturing whisky, Brendan has done it all. These experiences at the various distilleries and malting houses have shaped Brendan’s knowledge and expertise along the way. Additionally, he also went out of his way to acquire theoretical knowledge through his pursuit of books, courses and degrees. All of these add to his practical experience and give him a well-rounded education in whisky making.

Glenmorangie and its whiskies

Glenmorangie Whiskies (Picture Credit: Glenmorangie.com)

We had a short chat with Brendan on the different exciting whiskies that are coming shortly. We understood that there is a 25-year-old whisky released, but so far, we have yet to see it land in Singapore. It may be soon, but we do not know when.

The exciting part of the chat is, of course, the single cask #1399, that we tasted during the DFS tie-up event that we did on 22 June 2019. It is part of their latest project to launch exclusive single casks for specific countries. Making its debut as a travel retail exclusive bottle is naturally the best way for a brand to market a rare single cask bottling in Singapore considering the sheer volume of people passing through our airport!

Glenmorangie’s Affairs with Wood

Wood has always been the talk for Glenmorangie. We know that they used exceptional “designer” oak casks for some of their limited edition whiskies. We asked Brendan about these casks.

The creative team at the distillery involves itself in the creation of the oak casks from the start. Their research led them to the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, USA, where they found slow-growing wood that suits the spirit of Glenmorangie. To bring the effects of the slow-growth wood further, the team discovered the trees in the Mark Twain National Forest, where the oak trees grow slowly and develop the porous nature that the Glenmorangie team needs for its whiskies.

The Making of Artisan American White Oak Casks

An Oak Cask (Photo Credit: Glenmorangie.com)

The entire process of making these oak casks started with the identification of specific trees within the Mark Twain National Forest. These trees are cut and then air-dried for two years for maximum effects. Air-drying not only reduces astringency and improves the wood’s permeability; it also enhances the soft and rich flavours of the Glenmorangie whiskies.

These tight-grained but porous wood are then made into casks. The casks will be heavily toasted and then lighted charred for the distillery’s needs. The cooperage then fills bourbon whisky in the casks for precisely four years. It is like clockwork. Once four years is up, the casks are ready for shipment to the Scottish Highlands. The whole process takes six years to complete. Such dedication to oak casks is impressive, and we salute the team for going through with this process.

Designer Wood Casks for Limited Edition Whiskies

Some of the designer wood casks hold the core range of the whiskies from Glenmorangie; others hold limited edition whiskies. One of the famous limited edition is the Glenmorangie Astar. Our team got the chance to taste the Astar at another event held at The Exciseman on 1st July, where Brendan gave a presentation to both trade and consumer alike. We will speak of that another time.

Due to the higher porosity of the cask, the whisky soaks better into the wood, extracting flavours that the distillery is after. The distillery also uses these designer casks only twice for maturation purposes. Brendan explained that the casks are no longer suitable after two uses, and they usually sell the majority of these casks. Some get left behind for experiments, and a small number of them go to Ardbeg.

Are Flat-Packing Barrels still a Cost-Saving Practise?

We asked Brendan some essential financial questions as well, that affects production. In the past, some distilleries broke up the ex-bourbon barrels they bought and flat pack them before shipping to Scotland. Once the vessel landed, the distilleries brought the staves to a cooperage and rebuilt the casks. The practice affected the quality of the casks, and the whiskies matured in such casks become a debatable topic.

According to Brendan, this practice is hardly used in Scotland’s distilleries today. The discovery that they do not save cost by doing so was one of the significant factors. However, the debate on the practice that MAY have affected production was probably the main factor that led to the abolishment.

The abolishment, unfortunately, led to a reduction of hogshead as most hogsheads are rebuilt from standard barrels. While this is a loss to the whisky industry, we must remember that cost is always a factor for end-consumers because higher cost equates to higher prices!

The Truth about Virgin Oak Casks

Some distilleries are making use of virgin oak casks to mature some of their whiskies. We even know of new distilleries that make use of virgin oak maturation to reduce the number of years needed to produce delicious whisky. Glenmorangie uses virgin oak casks as well, and we wanted to know what Brendan thinks about them. He thinks, that virgin oak casks may prove to be too strong an influence on Glenmorangie’s new make spirits. The virgin oak casks may hide the fruity notes of Glenmorangie and make it “un-Glenmorangie”. Brendan prefers to do finishes with virgin oak casks instead.

It is of interest to know that Glenmorangie does a lot of wood finishes to bring flavours to their whiskies. For example, the distillery finished the Lasanta in Oloroso and PX sherry cask, the Quinta Ruban in Ruby Port Pipes and the Nectar D’òr in Sauternes casks.

Factors that Affects the Choices of Cask Finishes

Brendan explained that they do not know all the elements of influences when the creative team chooses the cask finishes. They know for a fact that the spirit of Glenmorangie works well with Port and Sauternes casks finishes. Unfortunately, they do not know the reaction to all the casks in the world. Therefore, it is much of a trial and error for the team when they are choosing the cask finishes. By selecting items of interest which the team thinks would work with the spirit, they came up with various experiments of different finishing casks. The availability of the casks is also crucial, as they need enough casks to complete a new finishing experiment.

Brendan mentioned that the team also takes the opportunity when it comes knocking. If their suppliers offer casks which they have not tried before, they may take a few of the casks to create new experiments. Some experiments will succeed while others may not. Part of the fun is finding out if it works. For those of you who are curious, the casks that don’t work are not thrown away! The team reracks the “unworkable” casks into sherry or ex-bourbon casks to “reset” them. Usually, the age of the whisky will also help to rectify any issues that the team finds.

Brendan Wants YOU to Know This!

Brendan, the whisky expert

We thought that we have enough technical talk, so we asked Brendan what the one thing that he would like the whisky community to know is. The answer is not surprising. Brendan wants everyone to know that a single malt whisky comes from a SINGLE whisky distillery. It is one of the most misunderstood terms in the whisky industry. Many whisky drinkers confused single malt whisky and single cask whisky. Brendan shares his frustrations at how he always get that same question – “How is the whisky still a single malt whisky when you blend all these casks to create it?”

To set the record straight, Brendan shares that a single malt whisky can be a “blend” of 15 casks from the SAME distillery. As long as the whisky is made from malted barley and is not blended with whisky from another distillery, it is a single malt whisky.

What You Can Do If You Want to Work for a Whisky Distillery

Most of our younger folks here would probably be keen to work for a whisky distillery. We ask Brendan what we need to do if we want to work for a distillery. Here is his advice.

Get a science-related degree if you want to be on the distilling team. Chemical engineering or chemistry is a good start. Otherwise, biochemistry is helpful too. There are, however, many ways to get involved. You can still work in the industry even if you have a business degree. You can join the distillery in sales or marketing with it. Nonetheless, you will still need the passion and love for whisky before you can comfortably stay in the industry.

Do not despair if you do not have any of those. Brendan said that having experience is equally vital if you are not Scottish and want to work in Scotland. He started in pharmaceutical and the knowledge he gained there translated into his next job with Diageo. Working in a brewery also helps because that involves two stages of the whisky distillation. Ultimately, the potential candidate needs to be open and adaptable. When you combine the passion for whisky and your openness to adapt, you will be able to make headway into the career that you want. Start with a job that you can do and learn from there. You will never know where that will take you!

 

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