Whisky Appreciation

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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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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What does it mean to “open up” your whisky?

Seasoned drinkers often like to use the phrase, “open up”, to express their challenges in getting the subtle nuances of the whiskies they drink. What exactly does “open up” means? To explain this in layman’s terms, it merely refers to the patience that a drinker needs to have when drinking whisky, especially older expressions. A whisky deserves to sit in the glass for a while to allow it to reveal the secrets it is hiding inside. The aeration of older whisky is similar to that of old vintage wines. By allowing air to interact with the liquid, a drinker enables the complexities to surface.

Aeration of Whisky

Let’s explore deeper into this idea that whisky needs aeration. Some seasoned drinkers believe that old whiskies slumber long enough in the cask and should be drunk straight away from the moment the liquid hits the glass. These drinkers feel that a 30-year old whisky should not get aired because it has been aired for 30 years in the cask anyway.

However, other drinkers are more patient with their whiskies. They sip and wait while allowing air to interact with the whisky in the glass. Jim McEwan, the legendary master distiller, said, “I advocate letting a whisky sit for one minute for every year of its age. It’s a bit like wine; it needs to breathe. Give it time to open up. You don’t need to let it sit the whole time without touching it, take wee sips along the way, and you’ll notice the difference. It can be quite dramatic.”

Jim went on to say that he had a fantastic time with a Glenfarclas 50-year-old, which surprised him so much with the evolution of its flavours and profile, that he scored it 110/100. “It was so good. I kept coming back to it, and it kept coming back to me, it was incredible,” he said. “Enjoy it, savour it, and you’ll be rewarded.”

Adding Water to Whisky

Adding water is another way to help the whisky to give up its flavours to you. It accelerates the process as the water dilutes the alcohol percentage and dissipates the fumes to help you get to the characters. Nonetheless, it is probably sacrilegious to add lots of water to an old whisky instead of allowing it to sit out in the glass. You are likely to lose the core flavours of the whisky if too much water gets into the glass. “By adding water carelessly, you’re not being clever enough, you’re not thinking about what you’re doing,” Jim said.

Yes, we agreed. Due to our curiosity, we had, on occasions, added copious amount of water into our whiskies (of course, they are not old; they are not our favourites) to see how water changes the profile of the whisky. In some whiskies, the water dilutes the flavours to the extent that only the bad aromas linger (think extreme chilli spice and baby vomit). In others, the water dilutes all the characteristics.

The trick to adding water is a drop at a time. Adding a drop of water to the whisky and allowing it to sit for a minute or two before nosing it again will help you to get the aromas. The water dissipates the alcohol fumes and encourages the underlying flavours to surface.

The Science Behind “Opening Up” the Whisky

To fully understand how to “open up” a whisky, we seek to understand the science behind it. It appears that science supports both approaches discussed above.

An article from Unfiltered, the undisputed whisky magazine from SMWS, refers to Paul Hughes, assistant professor of distilling practice at Oregon State University in the USA. He explains that the main difference between the two approaches is time. The patience of allowing the whisky to open up through aeration uses time as the main component to “unbound” the molecules in the liquid. It results “opening up” the aromas of the whisky gently and naturally. Conversely, adding water to the whisky dilute the alcohol contents in the liquid, “unbound” the molecules quickly and forces the underlying aromas to surface quickly.

“There is good scientific evidence to suggest that compounds clustered when extracted from wood, so they seem to add structure to whisky. A more aged whisky, at least regarding the mass of extractives, might reasonably open more slowly, with wood extractives glueing the clusters together,” said AP Paul Hughes. “The gentle evaporation of alcohol after pouring is preferable to the ‘forced breakdown’ of ethanol clusters by adding water. However, waiting for a 40-year-old whisky to open up might test the patience, so maybe some natural evaporation with a little water would be a good compromise.”

Conclusion

It is still debatable whether you should drink your whisky immediately, allow it to air or to add water to it. There is no right or wrong way. It is ultimately, your preference. We had experiences where a whisky gives up its flaws after aeration instead of giving up its subtle aromas. It deteriorates so quickly that we had to pour it down the sink.

We conclude that whisky is dynamic and that only through experiments can you indeed discover the precious aromas of a particular dram.

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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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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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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Does Terroir Influences Scottish Peat?

Peatheads around the world would tell you that peated malts are one of the best things that happened to them. Geek Choc, for one, claims that peated whisky smells heavenly. I am somewhat more reserved on peat, but some of those peated whiskies are fantastic! What is peat? Encyclopedia Britannica defined peat as a spongy material that formed by the partial decomposition of organic matters in wetlands. Depending on the location or terroir, peat can take on different chemical compounds and produce differentiating quality.

Where is Scotland’s Peat?

As you can see from the above map, Scotland has various locations of peat bogs. Three of them are in Islay, one in Campbeltown, one in Orkney and the remaining two in the Northern Highlands. As we have tasted different characteristics of peaty whiskies, we wonder if the peat from the various locations contributes to the subtle difference in peaty whiskies.

History of Peat

Let’s start with the historical usage of peat in Scotland. Peat was a conventional fuel used in kilning to dry malts in the past. The islands, Campbeltown and the Northern Highlands, used peat regularly as coal was not readily available. Back in the 1940s, it was typical for the Islay and Campbeltown malts to use 100% peat fire, while the Highlands utilised 50-75% peat. The Lowlands used 25-50% peat. By the 20th century, the advances in technology made coal, gas and oil more affordable, and the reliance on peat reduced significantly. Nonetheless, Islay, Campbeltown and Northern Highlands still produce peated whisky today.

How is Peat Formed?

Peat formed in waterlogged lands through the partial decomposition of organic matter. It appears that there are differences between peat composition based on the different climate, vegetation, bog type and also the cutting depth during the harvest. We can divide peatlands into bogs, fens, marshes and swamps.

Bogs form through heavy rainfalls and contain more sphagnum moss than the other types of peatlands. Bogs also have lesser woody vegetation as compared to the rest. Fens (better known as basin bogs) have more sedges and grass. Marshes, in general, are treeless waterlogged areas and peat formed very slowly. Swamps, on the other hand, are very minerotrophic and the peat has high wood and nutrients contents.

The Contents of Peat

To delve deeper into the contents of peat from the different peatlands, we need to venture deep into a chemical discussion. To ensure that we do not delve too deep into the scientific names (and lost myself along the way), we will stick to layman terms. In general, peat is 90% water and 10% dry matter. The 10% is sub-divided into 92% organic matter and 8% inorganic. Peat formed from bogs are usually more aromatic due to the higher percentage of phenols and aromatic materials found in them. Peat from fens is less aromatic.

Cutting Depth

The cutting depth during a peat harvest is as vital as the type of peatland. The surface layers are usually not aromatic enough to create the smokey effects in the whisky that we love, but cutting too deep into the layers can capture too much harmful nitrogen and sulphur compounds in the peat. Therefore, every distillery that makes peated whisky has their own calculated cutting depth to ensure that the peat they use will produce the effects that they want.

Peat Terroir

Does terroir influence peat? Our research appears to point to the peatland location and cutting depth of the peat as the “influencer”. While the type of peatland and vegetation influence the peat subtly, they are not crucial for the flavours in the whisky. For example, the peat used in Laphroaig and Bowmore are similar to each other as both are fens found on Islay. Yet, the peat found in Laphroaig and Bowmore whiskies are very different. It points to the different cutting depths that both distilleries use, and of course, the interaction between the malts and the casks used. The only difference in the peatlands found in Islay is interestingly from Port Ellen. The contents of the peat using in Port Ellen maltings are woodier in natural and has different microbiology from the rest of Islay.

Interestingly, the peat from Orkney Island is relatively similar to the peat found in the fens of Islay even though it is a bog and not a fen peatland. The peat from the Northern Highlands in Tomintoul is also different from those in Islay, even though it is a fen. The difference in contents across the peatlands in Scotland suggests that peat forms differently due to the climate, microbiology and also the variety of sphagnum moss.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the research points to peat terroir. The contents of the peatland differ across Scotland with local variation found. The cutting depth during the peat harvest also plays a significant role in the flavours of the whiskies as is evident from the different peaty flavours found in whiskies harvesting similar peat.

 

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