Exciting New Blended Asian Whisky by Michel Lu

Michel Lu – Owner of Orientalist Spirits

WhiskyGeeks has the absolute pleasure of meeting Michel Lu, a well-known veteran of the Food & Beverage industry in Asia. As an active entrepreneur, Michel successfully ran many restaurants, bars and even night clubs over the course of his career of more than 20 years. In recent times, Michel decided to branch out into the whisky scene, and that was how we met – whisky!

Introducing Michel Lu

Michel has been in F&B for over 20 years around Asia – Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, Xiamen, Shanghai, Indonesia, Malaysia. He successfully ran restaurants, bars, clubs and even for a period of time, was Group CEO for a group that handles food manufacturing. With his vast knowledge in F&B, he was getting a little tired of doing yet another bar or restaurant. For a short period, Michel was doing consultancy for the F&B industry, but he discovered that it was not what he wanted.

As a businessman, Michel wanted to do something new within the F&B industry. He considered two options – robotics and the spirits business. When he explored both options, the traction for the spirits business came faster and stronger than robotics. Michel did not hesitate for long; he jumped right into it! Besides wanting to do something new, Michel wanted to create a legacy for himself. The best way to do it, in his opinion, is to create a product, a brand, that is solely his.

Besides the above, Michel views the challenge of creating products that represent him as a creative process. He sees every step in his career as a step towards creativity. Starting a restaurant, bar or club has always been a creative process for him, and he wants to make the same process for a brand that can eventually become global.

Orientalist Spirits

The Orientalist Trio

Michel owns the Orientalist spirits. In the picture above, you can see the three products that the company launched recently. The one in the centre, is the Dragon Whisky, an 8 Years Old Blended whisky that is made up of Asian malts. The one on the left is the Gunpowder gin, while the other one on the right is the Origins Vodka.

Orientalist Spirits started because Michel wanted something different to challenge his creative senses. Beyond that, he wanted Orientalist Spirits to become a global brand in his lifetime. As the name suggests, Orientalist represents Michel himself. He wants to bring the appeal of Asia and the Orient to the rest of the world. It is a brand designed to showcase Asia to the world. Each of his products has ingredients that come from Asia.

Dragon Whisky 8 Years Old Blended Malt

The Dragon whisky is very special. As an 8-Year-Old blend, its ingredients hail from Taiwan, India and Japan, the three major Asian whisky-making countries. While Michel does not actively do the distillation himself, he blends the whisky to his requirements all by himself. The whisky is blended first before it is put into first bourbon oak casks and then sherry casks. Double maturing the whisky helps to bring out the flavours and texture that Michel is looking to create.

The aim of the whisky is to give good quality and value to the drinkers around the world. Although some parts of the world are smitten with single malts, there are many other regions who do not drink many single malts. Blended malt or blended whisky, however, may not have good quality all the time, and it is the reason why Michel wanted to create a whisky that helps to fill in the gap.

Moreover, his idea is not to compete with the many brands of single malts out there with a rich history and even richer experience. Michel wants to showcase Asia in the best way he knows, and that is to bring out the best of Asia through his products. Therefore, he acknowledges the fact that his Dragon whisky is not something that buyers would want to keep for 50 years in the cupboard, but something that they can easily drink with their friends and family. He even has a cute hashtag – notyourfatherwhisky.

Whisky Review

WhiskyGeeks is privileged to try the Dragon Whisky when we met with Michel. We enjoyed it both neat and on the rocks, giving us the full experience of the flavours of the whisky. Here are our short notes on it.

Nose: Floral, fruity and sweet candy, with a hint of vanilla in the background

Palate: Mellow, fruity and sweet. Slight spice as we roll the whisky around the tongue, but definitely pleasant

Finish: Short to medium finish, with a lingering sweetness.

We recommend enjoying the whisky as it is, without adding ice or water. However, do try to it as a highball if you fancy something nice on a hot day. Dragon whisky is not something that you would want to keep in your cupboard for the next 50 years, so crack it open and enjoy it with some friends! It certainly fits the hashtag “#notyourfatherwhisky”!

Vodka and Gin

The Origins Vodka uses only the highest quality base ingredients for its creation. Orientalist Spirits uses the purest organic longan honey from South East Asia, Tibetan highland barley from mythical, magical Shangri-La, perched 3,300m above sea level and more than 9 types of premium potatoes of specific varieties designed to give the best mouthfeel. The vodka has a faint taste of longan honey if you drink it neat at room temperature. Once you add ice, the longan flavour is harder to find, but the result is an extra smooth vodka for the evening.

The Gunpowder Gin uses botanicals found in Asia, including Siberian Ginseng, Osmanthus, Goji Berry, Korean Omija Berry, Gunpowder tea, and lapsang souchong tea from Fujian. The name “Gunpowder Gin” naturally comes from the fact that the gin was infused with gunpowder tea. The array of strong contenders behind the Gunpowder Gin gives it body and complexity, making it as good to drink neat as well as in a G&T.

Both vodka and gin are watered down by the pristine spring water from the Sakurajima peninsula in Kagoshima, Japan. The water is naturally filtered and purified over hundreds of years by 1,117m of porous volcanic rock. Just imagine the taste!

Try it for Yourself

If you have imagined the taste already, don’t keep dreaming about it! You can buy all three products from Orientalist Spirits on their website. It’s a new year and a new decade. Time to try something new!

 

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An Afternoon Chat with Lukasz Dynowiak

Lukasz Dynowiak

WhiskyGeeks is honoured to be invited once again by our friends, AsiaEuro, to have an afternoon chat with Interbev Brand Outreach Manager, Lukasz Dynowiak when he was in town in November.

Introducing Lukasz Dynowiak, Brand Outreach Manager, International Beverages Holdings

Now, Lukasz has an interesting job with Interbev. He joined the company in 2015 and has since travelled extensively around the world, talking and teaching about whisky.  His main profile is the Balblair Single Malt Scotch Whisky from the Highlands of Scotland. Interestingly, he has been involved with the brand since 2010, where he worked as a consultant for the brand and did quite a lot of work that included training and hosting at the distillery.

Lukasz’s previous life before joining Interbev was not far from whisky either. He worked at the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre through his undergraduate life and was heavily involved in educating and sharing his experiences. After graduation, he worked in the marketing and social media aspect in the whisky industry and was never far from his love and passion for the liquid gold.

Back at the Beginning

Lukasz came from Poland, in the Central Eastern European region. He was brought up in a traditional culture that involved lots of drinking. Lukasz was used to white spirits, so when he got to know Scotch whisky, it was something different.

Lukasz shared that he never wanted to be involved with whisky when he was younger. When he first moved to Scotland in 2005 as a student, he was working on something that was completely different from the whisky industry. The first part-time job that he took up as an undergraduate in a whisky distillery, however, changed his life. The job showed him the intrinsic details of working in a distillery and sparked his interest in whisky. As he explored the option, his passion flared and he knew that there was no turning back. In his second year in university, he discovered that he no longer had an interest in whatever he was studying. His heart and soul have been given to whisky. He finished his course while working in the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre, and then move on to help distilleries with marketing and image consultation jobs.

He also began to work with the distilleries on more technical aspects as he learnt more about distillation and production of whisky.

Motivations of Moving into Whisky

We were curious why Lukasz wanted to go into whisky, so we probed further. At this point in our interview, we were getting warmed up, and Lukasz began to share more about the social and cultural aspects of whisky. He said that living in Scotland, away from family, whisky appealed to him in many ways. The community radiates warmth, and the whisky industry is like family. The social and cultural appeals, however, are just part of the reason.

The other reason, obviously, is the product itself. Scotch whisky is delicious, and it is one of the most flavoursome spirits that Lukasz has ever tasted. As a geek, he is also fascinated by all parts of the industry. There are just so much to learn and discover. Lukasz even listed down all the geeky stuff that one can do with Scotch whisky. First, he mentioned his first interest, which is the liquid itself. The age, vintages, types of casks and the maturation process are all something that interests him. Then he said that as a history buff, the entire Scotch whisky industry is a treasure trove for anyone who cares to dive right in. Of course, there are also the technical and flavours/aromas aspects of whisky which one can study and learn. With so many things to discover in Scotch whisky, Lukasz knows that he is hooked for life.

Whisky and Terroir

We cannot resist asking this rather controversial question about whisky and terroir. What does Lukasz think about terroir and whisky? Lukasz said that it is becoming an age-old question, but it is one which he loves to explain.

Lukasz shared that he cannot truly understand the debate that goes on among some of the whisky fans and colleagues who speak of terroir as something tangible. Many may argue that the lands which the barley comes from plays a part. However, Lukasz feels that the process of distillation is a great equaliser to all whisky because, during distillation, every bit of the wort goes through a “violent” chemical reaction. During the reaction, the distillation method done by each distillery creates something new. The product at the end of the distillation cannot be called the same as the one before.

“Whisky terroir is about the ways things are done; you can call it a social terroir if you will.”

There are too many factors that affect the final product. First, we need to look at the historic landscape – what has gone on before the distillery comes into existence. Then we have to consider the human interaction, as well as the supply chain for all the necessary ingredients and equipment. After that, we check the environment – the temperature and the humidity.

Whisky terroir and wine terroir are completely different. Maybe it is time for us to reject a broad-base term and look into the makings of whisky terroir.

The Brands that Lukasz Looks After

Lukasz does not just take care of Balblair Single Malt. He also looks after Old Pultney, Ancnoc, and a few other spirits. While it is difficult to look after so many brands, Lukasz said that it is much more exciting. He finds the challenge appealing (as a geek) and always look forward to learning new things for the brands he takes care of. The variety of brands also ensure that his days are refreshing and no two days will be the same.

We wanted to know if he compartmentalised all his knowledge, or he actually remembers everything. Lukasz laughed and said that he is lucky that he already amassed a huge amount of general whisky knowledge from his years working in the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre and through his own studies. Having that base in general knowledge helped him to reduce the amount of work he needs to do for each brand. The other spirits that he looks after – gin and rum – are not as tough too, as his knowledge helps to migrate the difficulty.

The secret behind Lukasz’s ability to retain all the information is not his super-human brains though. He has the opportunity to visit the various distilleries in his work, and having the almost constant interaction with the people at the distillery helps him to retain the knowledge and information of the various spirits.

How to Improve Your Whisky Knowledge

It was as if Lukasz could read our minds because he answered the question before we even asked! To improve your whisky knowledge, you need to read more blogs (such as ours!), listen to your pals, read magazines, newspapers and avail yourself to the vast amount of information online. However, nothing is more educational than going to Scotland and visiting the distilleries yourself. There is magic in the distilleries, and talking to the people working there release those magic moments. Whisky even taste better in Scotland! Now that is a fact that WhiskyGeeks can confirm!

The New Balblair Range

 

Most whisky drinkers know that Balblair has been releasing vintages since 2008. The vintages have worked beautifully in Asia particularly, as many drinkers love the vintage look of the bottle, label and liquid. However, in recent times, Balblair removed the vintages and replaced them with a core range of age statements. The move surprised many, and we want to know why.

Lukasz explained that due to various factors such as their maturing stocks, the brand image and of course, the accessibility of the brand, they decided to make the change. The core range serves to reach more people and would help the brand grow globally. It is a platform that will help to develop new markets and excite the old ones.

Nonetheless, the liquids remain the same. The core range of 12, 15 and 18 years old remains fruity, juicy and delicate. The younger ones are crisp, and the older one are rounded and fresh. There is also a premium 25 Years Old which is possibly more full-bodied but still fruity all the same. Every bottle of Balblair is still non-chill filtered and naturally coloured.

Some Facts about the New Balblair Range

To better understand the core range, we decided to check out the different casks that they were in. The 12 Years Old is a 100% American White Oak Bourbon-matured whisky. The whisky is crisp, fruity and brings along a hint of vanilla and lemon zest. The 15 Years Old is a mixture of Spanish Oak Sherry-matured whisky and American White Oak Bourbon-matured whisky. The balance between the sherry and bourbon maturation is amazing and truly a beauty to behold. The 18 Years Old is also a mix of Spanish Oak and American White Oak, with the Spanish Oak taking an upper hand. The sherry-maturation shines through and the whisky is heavier and sweeter compared to the 15.

The WhiskyGeeks team is divided on our preference on these bottles, but suffice to say, we all like something from the core range! That makes all of them very appealing indeed! Before we go, we would like to thank Lukasz for his time to speak with us and we look forward to meeting him again in future!

If you like to read more about Balblair Distillery, please visit our post on its history here.

 

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Queen and Mangosteen with Penderyn!

Whiskygeeks was invited to a Penderyn whisky dinner at Queen and Mangosteen!

 

The whisky dinner started with a refreshing cranberry cocktail. The tartness works with the sweetness from the Penderyn Legend, and that creates a balanced and refreshing cocktail. Served together with the cocktail were Haggis Scotch eggs. For those who haven’t tried Scotch eggs, they are eggs coated with meat, breaded and deep-fried. In this dish, the meat used was Haggis. 

Penderyn Madeira with Tuna Tartare

In the dish was a beautiful combination of tuna sashimi and creamy avocado, topped with shrimp roe. The base was laden with umami flavours from a miso-based sauce and tomatoes. The seafood flavour from the tuna and roe compliments the umami miso paste. This savoury starter enhances the light and sweet character of the Penderyn Madeira.

Penderyn Sherrywood with Rack of Lamb

The lamb dish looked exquisite, very much like the towers of KL. This lamb was also unlike any lamb I have tried before.

The cross-section of the lamb not only looked like steak, but it tastes like steak as well. Even a Welsh gentleman sitting adjacent who disliked lamb loved the dish. The garlic enhanced the lamb rack as well, while the mashed potato brought some balance to the main course. The Penderyn Sherrywood had the body and flavour to compliment this beautiful full-flavoured dish!

Penderyn Portwood Chocolate Hazelnut Praline

The plating of the dessert was beautiful, showcasing a variety of colours, flavours and textures. This was a dessert that could indeed follow up the extraordinary main course! When my spoon carved into the pyramid-shaped praline, the spoonful took the right amount of caramel sauce with it and complimented the hazelnut cream and chocolate! The fresh fruit and yoghurt ice cream gave the acidity to refresh the palate before going for more chocolate!
With such a variety of sweet treats, the Penderyn Portwood, with its flavours of guava and bananas, pairs well to this fantastic dessert!

 

The dinner at Queen and Mangosteen was truly amazing, and made even better with Penderyn whisky! Many thanks to Spirits Castle for the invite!