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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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鋐釀酒坊 – Home Need Wine & Spirits

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

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

The Birth of HNWS

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

Tony’s Adventures in the Early Days of HNWS

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

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

The launch of HNWS as an Independent Bottler

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

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

Malt Manics Awards (MMA)

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

2016 MMA Awards

Gold Award

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

Silver Award

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

Bronze Award

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

Best Sherry Award

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

2017 MMA Award

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

Tony’s Cask Selection Process

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

Tony’s Criteria for Cask Selection

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

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

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

One Final Consideration for Cask Selection is…

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

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

Recent HNWS Bottling

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

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

Picture taken from www.spiritscastle.sg

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

Flight and Feathers Series 4 – Speyside 1995 23 Years Old

Picture taken from www.spiritscastle.sg

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

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

Picture from HNWS

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

Future bottlings

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

 

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Whisky Review #93 – Dramfool Port Charlotte 15 Years Old

 

There isn’t much information that I could find online about Dramfool. What I do know is that Dramfool is the brand name of an independent bottler and that the owner’s name is Bruce Farquhar. According to Bruce’s LinkedIn Profile, he is an experienced engineer who is now the director of Dramfool.

This review focuses on one of Dramfool’s recent releases for the Islay Whisky Festival Exclusive Bottling that happened to be Dramfool’s 13th release. It is a Port Charlotte, distilled in December 2001 and bottled in December 2016. Dramfool bottled the whisky at cask strength of 58.3%. There are only 195 bottles available.

How does it taste like? Let’s find out.

Tasting Notes:

Colour: White wine
ABV: 58.3%

Nose: The first notes I got was coastal salt and peppery spice. There is light vanilla cream in the background. Sweet barley notes surface after a few minutes. Gentle peat (soot?) wafts into the nose after 10 minutes, and lemony notes appear underneath the peat. (17/20)

Palate: Sweet barley comes quickly but peppery spice attacks right after the sweetness. After the spice mellows, coastal salt, vanilla cream and lemon notes appear all in succession. The gentle peat comes at the back of the throat. (16/20)

Finish: Medium finish with sweet barley and hints of vanilla. (16/20)

Body: It is a balanced dram with a typical Port Charlotte profile. It is decent, but not something that I would wow over. It is probably not something that I would want to spend money to buy a bottle. Nonetheless, Dramfool sounds like an interesting IB, and I would want to explore more of its releases. (33/40)

Total Score: 82/100

Comments:

Geek Flora: “Well, it was a nice dram, but not something that gets me excited. A typical Port Charlotte profile is pleasurable but not fantastic. I guess I was looking for more as I had a great experience with the MoS Port Charlotte previously. You can find our review here

Geek Choc: “Port Charlotte was not high on my list usually, and this is no surprise. I think it is a simple dram, balanced but not complex enough.”

 

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Whisky Review #88 – XOP Caol Ila 36 Years Old

XOP Caol Ila 36 Years Old at The Drunken Master Whisky Bar, Kaohsiung

Some of you may know that I am a Caol Ila fan as well as a Bruichladdich fan. Both distilleries are on Islay, but the styles are quite different. Nonetheless, I find whiskies from both distilleries enjoyable, and suitable for the various moods that befall me. This review is an independently bottled Caol Ila by Douglas Laing. It is part of their XOP range as it is a distillate from 1980 and matured for 36 years. I had this whisky at The Drunken Master Whisky Bar last year when I was there attending the Takao Whisky Fair.

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Amber
ABV: 57.4%

Nose: Sweet caramel finds its way into the nose with warm spice in the background. Hints of dark fruits like raisins float in and out of the nose. After aeration of three minutes, the spice becomes more prominent, and the sweetness of fruits and caramel fade into the background. After ten minutes, light, aromatic peat appears to complement the spice. At the same time, light notes of caramel and dark fruits reappear. The result is intense sherried notes. (18/20)

Palate: Hot spice leads the way, but sweet caramel and dark raisins coat the palate almost immediately after the spice, reducing the fiery hotness. After airing, the spice mellows beautifully. Caramel, raisins, and dark chocolate are evident in the mouth, and we detect hints of honey at the back of the mouth. Unfortunately, the honey notes are quickly overwhelmed by the spice. Light peat comes in at the end, but it is hardly noticeable. (17/20)

Finish: Long finish with warm spice leading the way. Aromatic peat surfaces in the finish instead of the palate. We think that it could be due to the spice. After airing, the peat disappears from the finish, leaving only the mellow spice and the fruity sweetness. (17/20)

Body: It is not the most balanced dram that I had drunk. The peat is hardly noticeable in the palate and finish, though it is promising in the nose. The redeeming grace is the intense sherried notes that are balanced from the nose to the finish. The whisky is likely to benefit from some water, which will open the flavours. Unfortunately, we did not have the chance to do that due to the overcrowding at the bar. (33/40)

Score: 85/100

Comments:

Geek Flora: “My first impression was WOW! Then the spice overwhelmed me at the palate. I still think it is a fantastic whisky, but it probably needs more than just aeration. This whisky should open up its flavours if I add some water. It was a pity that I did not get to do that during my time at the TDM bar as it was too crowded! If I get to try this again, I will report!”

Geek Choc: “My mouth burns from drinking this whisky. It is too spicy for my liking, and I do not know why Geek Flora likes it! Hahaha…but I have to admit that it is pretty special. I think I will enjoy it more if I add some water to mellow the spice.”

 

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The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS)

 

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) landed on Singapore’s shores some time ago. It was a joyous moment for many of us as we finally get a chance to be a member of this esteemed whisky society. As we journey along with SMWS for these months, we discovered that not everyone knows how or when SMWS started. So, today, we are sharing a brief history of SMWS for all to enjoy.

The Birth of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society

When we speak of SMWS, we think of Phillip “Pips” Hills and his travels around the Scottish Highlands in the 1970s. Due to his experience of tasting whisky directly from the casks during his visits, he fell deeply in love with whisky. His experiences changed his life forever, especially after he convinced his whisky-loving friends to jointly buy a cask of whisky from Glenfarclas distillery in 1978.

As the years passed, the group expanded into a syndicate where more people joined the group and purchased casks together. As the members continued to grow, they bought and bottled more casks from different distilleries and distribute these bottles to all the subscribing members. After five years, the Society is large enough to purchase their first property – The Vault – in Leith. The Vault comes with a set of vaulted wine cellars said to be from the 12th century.

The year 1983 marked the closure of many whisky distilleries in Scotland. It was a low point in the history of whisky. Many great distilleries like Port Ellen, Glenugie and St Magdelene closed down in 1983. It was this year that the founding members of SMWS decided to open their membership to the wider public as they can finally welcome more members with their ownership of The Vault. Therefore, SMWS was founded in 1983, as it was the first year that the society opened its doors to the general public.

The Ups and Downs of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society

After the founding of SMWS in 1983, the society grew by leaps and bounds as more people joined the community. The Vault serves as the member’s second home, where several members’ rooms are available for use by only the members of SMWS. In 1996, the society launched a share scheme to purchase a second property in Greville Street, London. After that, SMWS bought a third property – a Georgian townhouse on Queen Street, Edinburgh in 2004. With three venues, the society grew strongly in numbers, and they purchase more casks than ever before. SMWS then caught the eyes of Glenmorangie PLC, which bought the society in 2004.

2008 marks the 25th anniversary of SMWS. The guiding members of SMWS decided to celebrate the occasion by redesigning the label to include more information and tasting notes on the front of the bottle. Things continue to run smoothly, and by 2015, SMWS was once again, acquired by private investors. SMWS remains as the property of these private investors today.

The Membership of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society

Only members of the society can purchase SMWS’ bottlings. Becoming a member is easy. Choose from the basic membership at SGD$140 or the membership pioneer at SGD$320. Both memberships come with the following benefits:

  • Exclusive access to purchase whisky and spirits from SMWS.sg
  • Members rates for all SMWS events
  • Members rates at all partner bars across Singapore, UK & Europe
  • Advanced access to all new whiskies (Outturn)
  • Exclusive access to member venues
  • Free subscription to our award-winning magazine
  • Membership Card

The membership pioneer has the additional exclusive welcome pack:

  • Three limited release SMWS 10cl bottles
  • SMWS Journal
  • Club lapel badge

If you are happy to get the membership without the welcome pack, the basic membership is good enough for you to gain access to the SMWS bottlings. However, the exclusive welcome pack is choked full with goodies, so if you are keen to explore SMWS and have a deeper pocket, why not try the membership pioneer?

Locations of SMWS Bars in Singapore

There are currently two SMWS member bars in Singapore – The Single Cask and The Wall SG. If you want to check out new bottlings from SMWS, visiting either bar will be a good choice for you to taste some excellent whiskies from SMWS. New members can also head over to The Single Cask to collect your membership card and pick up any bottles that you purchase online.

Members can access SMWS bars in other countries. Besides the three member-bars in the U.K, there are bars in Australia, Austria, Benelux, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Poland, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the U.S.A.

SMWS Moving Forward

We hope to see more bottlings from SMWS coming into Singapore in the future as we move forward together as a nation to appreciate whisky. We believe that with SMWS coming onboard in Singapore, more people will get to try whiskies straight from the cask and at cask strength too!

In our next article, we will speak more of SMWS bottlings and the codes on their bottles.

 

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Whisky Review #84 – Bowmore 14 Years – Cadenhead

Cadenhead is well known to everyone, and there is no need for us to do a further introduction. Cadenhead bottles some of the most excellent whiskies in their series of Cadenhead Small Batch and this bottle under review is one of them.

The bottle is a Bowmore 14 years old in a dumpy bottle. It looks gentle and invites the drinker to taste it. So we took the bait and ordered a sampling of this expression.

Tasting Notes:

Colour: White Wine
ABV: 46%

Nose: Gentle spice floats into the nose before zesty citrus fruits follow. Green fruits develop after a while and add complexity to the nose. We detect zero peat at first, but light peat begins to surface after about 15 minutes of airing. (16/20)

Palate: Sweet, zesty, citrusy fruits explode in the mouth with some gentle spice in the background. Slightly lemony with no smoke or peat initially. A soft peat surfaces after 15 minutes of airing and lingers at the back of the throat. It feels like having a cigar at the back of the throat, in a pleasant way. (17/20)

Finish: Medium long at first with fruity sweetness. The impressive punch of the finish comes after 15 minutes of airing when the finish lengthens stunningly, and it becomes fragrant peat smoke all the way! (17/20)

Body: A relatively balanced dram but it can be better. I wonder if the flavours will be stronger if the abv is higher? The liquid improves with 15 minutes of airing and expands beautifully after that. Perhaps it will benefit from more oxidation in the bottle. (33/40)

Total Score: 83/100

Comments:

Geek Flora: My impression of Bowmore is that of gentle peat. This expression is entirely consistent with my idea of a Bowmore, but I feel it could be better if the abv is higher. It is likely that the whisky is too watered-down for the flavours to develop fully. Lots of patience is needed for this dram. 

Geek Choc: I cannot taste the peat. It is not something a peathead will be happy with, but I guess it improves with airing. Love the explosion of smoke and peat after 15 minutes of airing. 

 

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Whisky Review #83 – Port Charlotte 2002 – MoS

Malts of Scotland (MoS) is probably not a stranger to you if you are a fan of independent bottlers. MoS is a consistent award winner as an independent bottler and has won many different awards across the whisky industry. The most prestigious of all awards is likely the “Independent bottler of the year”.

Thomas Ewers heads MoS and earns the reputation of a “whisky talent” at a young age. His first foray into whisky was in 2003 when he had his first single malt. The second dram of a 10-year-old Aberlour sealed his fate as a whisky lover and eventually an independent bottler.

The bottle under review today is a Port Charlotte distilled in 2002 and bottled in 2013. Matured in a bourbon hogshead, it has been known to give rise to tasting notes such as “baby vomit”, “rotten milk” and “spoiled milk” at the bar where we had this.

With such a fascinating reputation, let us get started to see if we can find the “baby vomit”.

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Amber
ABV: 57.4%

Nose: Smokey and sweet. Dark, dried red fruits with smoke. It is gorgeous indeed. The nose boasts of notes typical of a sherry cask, but this is a bourbon hogshead! Isn’t that amazing? Raisins, dried figs, stone fruits are all presented in the nose. Sweet and beautiful indeed! (17/20)

Palate: Sweet and flavourful, with smoke in the background developing beautifully as we drink. Raisins, sultanas, figs and cranberries combined in a sweet and fruity palate. Hints of raspberries are detected in the back of the throat. That sourness from the raspberries may be the answer to the “baby vomit” and “spoiled milk”! (18/20)

Finish: Long and smokey! Cranberries and raisins linger forever and ever. Gets a little dry after a while and almost feel like an elegant, old red wine. (18/20)

Body: This is balanced brilliantly. The smoke is consistent from the nose to the finish. Add the raisins and dark fruits, and you get a divine drink! (36/40)

Total Score: 89 points

Comments:

Geek Flora: Well, well, well, this is an exciting tasting of a Port Charlotte. I like the uniqueness of this whisky, and it is an excellent example of how independent bottlers can make a whisky better.

Geek Choc: I must be honest and say that I am in the camp of those who think of “baby vomit” when I tried this PC. Not my favourite for sure. 

 

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Whisky Review #77 – Rosebank 20 Years Old (Silver Seal)

Rosebank…the distillery that is resurrecting in the near future. Most of us who have tasted the exquisite liquid from this distillery are likely to remember it for a long time to come. That sweet, floral oaky taste stays for a long time and remains etched in our memories.

The bottle for review today is a 20-year-old expression from the Silver Seal Company. Part of the Sestante Collection, it is a single barrel with an outturn of 298 bottles. The distillery distilled the liquid in 1990 and Silver Seal bottled it in 2011.

Let’s check out the notes!

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Honey Gold
ABV: 56.7%

Nose: Perfume, sweet, floral perfume wafts up the nose before sweet honey, musky oak and fresh tropical fruits rush in. A pleasant aroma of freshly cut flowers remains in the background even as warm spice creeps in. (18/20)

Palate: Hmm! Sweet raw honey, fresh fruits and flowers float the palate with the first sip. Warm spice appears with the second sip at the back of the throat, but the floral sweetness remains, bringing an enjoyable experience of a high abv whisky. (18/20)

Finish: It has only a medium finish, but the impact is impressive! The sweetness of the honey and fresh fruits lingers till the end while the spice completely disappears. (17/20)

Body: Oh boy! What a balanced dram! The floral sweetness follows through from nose to palate to finish, while the spice does a disappearing act in the finish! It is truly a pleasant dram to drink! (37/40)

Total Score: 90/100

Comments:

Geek Flora: “When I first tried this, I thought to myself, “Wow, did I just drink some perfume?” It was an interesting experience with the floral sweetness that remained me of a DKNY perfume that I used to like! It is a beautiful and balanced dram indeed, but I do wish that the price can be a little less steep!”

Geek Choc: “Wow! Just wow! I love Rosebank! That perfumey sweetness is perfect for me! I love everything about this whisky, except the price that I had to pay for it! Hahaha!” 

 

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Whisky Review #74 – Caol Ila 1982 First Cask Series

Caol Ila 1982 – First Cask Series

WhiskyGeeks has not reviewed any bottles for an extended period, so it is time to put that right. Today, our review brings us to an independent bottler from the Netherlands, which is quite a character.

Brief History of the independent bottler

Jan Kok and Marcel Bol are the founders of Whisky Import Netherlands (WIN). Founded in December 2004, WIN started with the imports of new bottlings from Adelphi Distillery. Both Jan and Marcel are veterans in the whisky industry. As youngsters, Marcel was an avid whisky drinker and met like-minded Jan in the company that they both worked for. The two hit off so well that they planned a trip to Scotland together! From then on, their whisky journey took off on a higher note. As members of the local whisky club, Jan and Marcel both became the club leaders and Marcel was also in charge of the club’s publication. They are so well-known that Diageo approached them to promote whisky! As a result of this request, Jan and Marcel attended formal whisky courses and became accredited. During their learning journey, they got to know Charles MacLean, who got them to import new bottlings for Adelphi Distillery as well.

That is a short history on WIN, the Netherlands independent bottler, who bottled this excellent bottle of Caol Ila 1982 (single cask). The First Cask Series is WIN’s label, and much effort has been put into each selection to choose casks which showcase the character of the distillery and the influences of the barrels used. This bottle of Caol Ila is distilled in 1982 and matured in an American oak hogshead. 25 years later, WIN bottled the liquid without chill-filtration and colouring. It also boasts of a natural cask strength!

With the introduction completed, let’s dive into the review of this Caol Ila 1982!

Tasting Notes

Colour: Bright Gold
ABV: 60.8%

Nose: Elegant peat is all my brain could comprehend when I first nose this whisky! It was terrific. Sweet, fruity and light, all at the same time. When my mind calms down, I picked up mango, apricot and aromatic peat. There is a warm, pleasant spice wafting in the background. (18/20)

Palate: The first sip registered fruity sweetness and warm, mellow spice. A second sip reveals sweet mango, apricots, nutmeg, some cinnamon and beautiful peat. At the high abv of 60.8%, the liquid is gentle and elegant. The warm spice coats the mouth but does not burn the throat, which is pleasant for a high abv whisky. (19/20)

Finish: The finish is long with sweet peat and mango. The mouthfeel gets drier towards the end, but it is pleasant, almost wine-like. (19/20)

Body: This dram is excellently balanced. The peat co-exists beautifully with the sweet fruitiness and the gentle spice. I would say that the peat enhances the sweetness of the whisky and makes it even better! (36/40)

Total Score: 92/100

Where to find it: The Swan Song

Comments:

Geek Flora: “This dram makes me love Caol Ila more than I already am. That sweet, gentle peat completely sold me. I would be heading back for more in future!” 

Geek Choc: “I only got a sip of this, and it was heavenly. Did not get to drink a second sip of the dram after that because Flora was too excited and drunk everything herself!”

 

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A chat with Michael Hsieh – Founder of ARen Trading

WhiskyGeeks with Michael

Geek Flora and Geek Choc had the pleasure of meeting Mr Michael Hsieh, founder of ARen Trading Co. in Kaohsiung when we attended WhiskyFair TAKAO in early December 2017. ARen Trading Co. is the official trading partner of The Whisky Agency as well as Säntis Malt. Mr Hsieh is also one of the organisers of WhiskyFair TAKAO, alongside with Mr Li Chunfeng, founder of The Drunken Master.

Michael is a man of many talents. He is not only an independent bottler in Taiwan. He is also an avid whisky lover, an author of amazingly detailed whisky tasting notes for his own bottlings and the author/translator of the Chinese version of the book, Whisky Rising. Whisky Rising is a book written by Stefan van Eycken. It talks about Japanese whisky and is considered to be one of the most comprehensive books ever written on the subject.

WhiskyGeeks’ copies of the English and Chinese versions

 

WhiskyFair TAKAO’s Inspiration

The photographs of Michael’s visit to Limburg (the birthplace of the famous WhiskyFair Limburg) created WhiskyFair TAKAO. His pictures and stories of Limburg inspired Mr Li Chunfeng to suggest holding a whisky fair in Taiwan. Back in 2016, Michael attended WhiskyFair Limburg and came back with photos and stories of the whiskies he drank and the people he met. Chunfeng reciprocated Michael’s passion and enthusiasm and suggested holding a similar whisky fair in Kaohsiung. That was the beginning of their collaboration for WhiskyFair TAKAO that resulted in the highly successful show in December 2017.

The Chance to Drink Rare Whisky

Michael attended the yearly WhiskyFair Limburg, and he shared his experiences with us freely during our chat. When WhiskyFair Limburg first started, it had 20 stalls. In the latest one in 2017, it has doubled to 40 stalls. The good thing about Limburg is the affordability of rare whiskies that you get to try. By paying a fraction of what you need to pay for in a bar, you get to taste good and rare whiskies at the fair. WhiskyFair TAKAO used the same system, and it was an excellent way to filter out the real, serious drinkers and those who were there to look for free booze. Michael shared that he first drank Karuizawa at WhiskyFair Limburg and his first Port Ellen was similarly from Limburg too.

Paying for the drams also ensures that visitors control what they drink. Serious drinkers are likely to pay for good drams that they want to try, while the beginners will seek those which are affordable. It prevents overdrinking and discourages drunkards at their fair.

ARen Trading Co.

Mr Michael Hsieh is the President of ARen Trading Co. He set up the company in 2013 and has since, been a trading partner of The Whisky Agency and Säntis Malt from Switzerland. The company started partly because of Michael’s passion for whisky, but it is his talents for the business that got the company to where it is today.

Labels and Whisky Bottles

Taiwan IBs have beautiful labels on their bottles. When we quizzed Michael regarding labels, he said, “To us, labels are free. Most IBs do not use a back label because it cut costs, but to me, that’s not true! Because you can use the back label to advertise almost anything! Of course, you need to ensure the liquid inside is good.”

Independent Joint Bottling

ARen Trading Co. functions as an independent bottler (IB) and buys whisky casks from The Whisky Agency (TWA). The reasons that Michael wanted to work with TWA are numerous, but one of the biggest reasons is their flexibility in allowing Michael to use his independent labels on the whisky bottles. Similar to Chunfeng’s desire to have his individual labels, Michael wanted to use his labels as well.

Michael’s unique positioning stems from the fact that he is always looking out for innovative ideas to help others. Looking at other IBs, he realised that not many IBs make use of labels at the back of the bottles that they released. In a burst of creativity, Michael came up with the idea of using labels as a way of advertising.

With the idea of promoting new bars in Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong and other parts of Asia in his mind, Michael approached bars in Japan to check if they are interested in doing joint bottlings. His idea was highly appreciated, and hence, the series of World Bars Tour from ARen Trading Co. was born. Here are some pictures of the bottles available at The Drunken Master Whisky Bar.

Success after Success

These initial joint-bottlings became so popular in Japan and Taiwan that other bars around the region wanted to be part of it. Other bars began to approach Michael for joint bottlings, and the World Bar Tour series expanded. The latest one was a joint bottling with six different bars across Japan, Taiwan and Australia.

Such joint bottlings are win-win solutions for the bar and the consumers. On one end, the bars get the necessary promotion. On the other end, the consumers get to drink good whiskies!

A Whisky-Loving Businessman

How did Michael succeed in such a challenging environment? His secret lies in being humble and from learning all the time. Michael loves whisky. His business is flourishing because of his passion for whisky and his determination to provide the best service to his customers. He has a faithful following of whisky drinkers who trust him to bring them good-quality bottles. Why do they trust him? Well, that’s because he has been steadily writing detailed tasting notes for his customers from day one and has not stopped doing so whenever there are new bottlings. All his customers have come to trust in his notes and know that what they buy are bottles that they will love – based on Michael’s tasting notes. Nowadays, Michael’s bottles sell out before they arrive on Taiwan’s shores because his customers pre-ordered them.

On Writing a Book

Michael is the author/translator for the Chinese version of Whisky Rising, a definitive book about Japanese whiskies. While he is considering to write his own book, he is not keen to start it yet. “I need more time, and more experiences,” he said. Nonetheless, he welcomes the idea of doing a translation of another popular whisky book into Chinese so that more Taiwanese can enjoy it.

Interest in Michael’s book and Whisky

If you are interested in buying Michael’s book and whisky, drop us a note at slainte@whiskygeeks.sg, and we can help you to find out how we can ship them over to your country of residence!

 

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