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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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Whiskey Review #75 – Tennessee 2003 (JD)

American Whiskey is a class of its own with Bourbon, Tennessee and Rye playing the most significant share. While we have shared some American whiskey previously, we were not a big fan of it due to the overwhelming sweetness that we tend to get from corn distillate. However, we tried this bottle of Tennessee recently, and it was so good that we were taken aback! Is that even Tennessee?! It tasted like a sherry-matured Scotch!

Brief History of the bottle

The Tennessee we have here is an independent bottling by The Whisky Agency (TWA) for Kaohsiung, Taiwan. It was a joint-bottling by four different bars – The Drunken Master Whisky Bar (TDM), Inn Bistro, Goodness Bistro and Bar Diary. Each bar owner has tasted and agreed to bottle this whiskey for their bars. We got this from TDM, and it proved to be a right thing to do!

What is Tennessee?

Tennessee whiskey is different from Bourbons due to a particular step within the whiskey making process. While both liquid comes from at least 51% corn, Tennessee whiskey goes through an additional phase before the whiskey makes it to the barrel for maturation. Tennessee makers steep or filter the new whiskey in charcoal chips.

All Tennessee whiskey makers make their whiskey slightly differently. This particular bottle comes from Jack Daniel’s (JD), so the method is as follows:

  • Soak Sugar Maple Wood in 140 proof Jack Daniel’s
  • Set the wood on fire and reduced it to charcoal
  • Ground the charcoal to bean-sized pellets
  • Pour new whiskey through the pellets and placed into barrels.

Distilled in 2003, TWA bottled this JD in 2017. It is labelled as a 13-year-old as it did not spend the full 14th year before bottling. In a technical sense, you can think of this bottle as a 13.5-year-old.

Now that you have a better understanding of this bottle, let’s deep dive into the tasting notes!

Tasting Notes

Colour: Burnt Gold/Amber
ABV: 50.7%

Nose: Sweet caramel hits immediately with light spice hiding in the background. On the second sniff, we detect some sweet cream, almost like an ice-cream soda from F&N. Hints of preserved red dates and orange peels appear after a few minutes, enhancing the sweet nose to the next level. (19/20)

Palate: Sweet sherry and caramel come rushing in before a sharp spice punches the palate and disappears as quickly as it appears. As we hold the liquid in the mouth, sweet fruitiness of red dates and cherries coats the palate beautifully. The spice hits again as we swallow, creating a warm and pleasant burn down the throat. Then, a surprise happens! A burst of cranberry juice coats the whole mouth, bringing the berry sweetness to a grand ending! (19/20)

Finish: It has a relatively short finish with sweet red fruits, warm spice and a hint of cranberry juice. (17/20)

Body: Oh my, what a beautiful dram! The superb nose and palate are presented so exceptionally, and the sweetness is not overwhelming. An untypical Tennessee for sure and one that we will want to keep drinking. Although we are slightly disappointed with the shorter than expected finish, it was good till the end! (37/40)

Total Score: 92/100

Comments:

Geek Flora: This is the BEST Tennessee that I have ever tried so far! It gives me such a warm and happy feeling inside after drinking it! I will be sorry when we finish this bottle, but this is one whisky that is worth sharing!

Geek Choc: This has to be the most impressive whiskey I have ever tried. My attempts at American whiskey were few as I find them far too sweet for my liking. This Tennessee, however, hits me in all the right places! 

 

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Whisky Review #33 – The Single Cask Auchroisk 21 Years Old

Auchroisk 21 years old is by far the oldest expression in this collection. It has an interesting flavour profile and is considered one of the unique whiskies in The Single Cask (TSC). It is also one of the four choices offered by TSC to its new members as a welcome gift. If you like this one, grab one before it is gone too!

Tasting Notes:

Colour: White Wine
ABV: 48.4%

Nose: Green grass and flinty on the nose, it reminds you of green bananas in a field. Perhaps it is also green raisins with lime skin. Some sweetness close to a lime custard tart formed as you nose it a little longer with hints of sour plum in the background. (15/20 points)

Palate: Umeshu with some pepper, it is sweet and citrusy like a lime soda before giving way to a combination of winter melon, guava, summer berries and peaches. (17/20 points)

Body: Good balance between green and sweet with pepper to add to its complexity. (30/40 points)

Finish: The finish is medium long with sweet and minty notes. (16/20 points)

Total Grade: 78/100 points

Comments:
Geek Choc: “One of my favourite flavour profiles with a good balance. While not everyone will like the flinty profile, I do find it unique and interesting as a drink.”

 

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Whisky Review #32 – The Single Cask English Whisky

English Whisky is truly one rare whisky which everyone’s got to try. The Single Cask (TSC) has specially chosen a whisky that is not from Scotland for this bottling. It is from England, hence the name “English Whisky”. This whisky is a fantastic dram to chill with even though it is only aged for 7 years. Do take note that it is a small release with only 249 bottles if you are interested to get one!

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Straw
ABV: 60%

Nose: If you like peanut butter and smoked honey bacon, this is for you! The notes of peanut butter with sweet corn juice drift up the nose before smoked honey bacon invades. Hints of salt and wet wool follow after. (18/20 points)

Palate: It is sharp and spicy with a big punch, as expected from the high alcohol content. Rich and buttery on the palate, smoky oak chips follows the spice before giving way to hints of toasted nuts and creamy vanilla ice cream. Gradually, it gets dry on the palate like a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. (17/20 points)

Body: Well balanced whisky with a punch. Sharp and spicy versus rich and buttery, it has quite a complex flavour profile. (31/40 points)

Finish: A long and dry finish with a pleasant hint of vanilla ice cream (16/20 points)

Total Grade: 82/100 points

Comments:
Geek Flora: “This whisky definitely lives up to TSC’s motto of fine-quality single malt. A complex flavour profile coupled with its small batch release, this is a whisky that should fly off the shelves fairly quickly.” 

 

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Whisky Review #31 – The Single Cask Deanston 15 Years Old

Deanston 15 years old is a single malt Scotch from Deanston Distillery. It was distilled in 1997 and matured in its cask for 15 years before it was selected by TSC. Cask #1958 was then bottled at 45.8% abv under the label of TSC. It is one of the four exceptional choices offered by TSC to its new members as a welcome gift at the moment. It will be replaced once it is completely sold out!

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Deep Gold
ABV: 45.8%

Nose: The immediate sweet notes on the nose feels like walking into a store full of fresh perfume. Almond vanilla crackers with key lime custard tart mix with honey tea and wild lilies follow after. (16/20 points)

Palate: A sweet and citrus palate like a honeycomb cracker with limes and grapefruits hits the palate pleasantly. It gradually turns into a mellow peppercorn with creamy vanilla burnt wood (16/20 points)

Body: The body is reasonably balanced with honey and vanilla. (28/40 points)

Finish: The finish is short but sweet with a pleasant oaky woodiness (15/20 points)

Total Grade: 75/100 points

Comments:

Geek Flora: “I like how it reminds me of a perfume shop with all my favourite perfumes. A sweet and easy drink that goes well as an after-dinner dram.”

 

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Top 5 Independent Bottlers you can find in Asia

We have touched the tip of the ice berg regarding independent bottlers (IBs) in our previous post. In this post, we will share the top 5 IBs whose bottles are found in Asia, particularly Singapore.

Gordon & MacPhail

Gordon & MacPhail is founded in 1895 by James Gordon and John Alexander Macphail. Originally a well-known grocer, the company imported all kinds of groceries. That included whisky. As the founders grew to like whisky, they started buying malt whisky by the barrels. They inclined towards Speyside’s single malts and today have a large collection of these whiskies.

John Urquhart joined James and John Alexander in their early days as an apprentice. The business passed into the hands of Urquhart and his family later on. Today, the company is still helmed  by the Urquhart family.

Gordon & MacPhail occupies the original premises in Elgin, Scotland since 1895. Today, it is one of the largest independent bottlers in Scotland. They have over 300 own bottlings in their catalogue at any one time. In 1993, they also bought the Benromach distillery. The distillery closed for renovation for 5 years and reopened in 1998, where they continue to produce quality whisky for the world.

The range of whiskies is wide and includes Connoisseurs Choice, The MacPhail’s Collection and Cask Strength.

Douglas Laing & Co Ltd

Douglas Laing & Co Ltd is a Glasglow based company founded in 1948 by Frederick Douglas Laing. Unlike Gordon & MacPhail, Douglas Laing started out as an IB directly. The post-war era was a good time for business and the company grew rapidly. The business passed down to his two sons, Fred and Stewart, who continue to manage the business well. The company is one of the largest independent bottlers today.

In 2013, Stewart decided to start his own company called Hunter Laing and the two brother parted ways. Nonetheless, Douglas Laing continues to produce high quality whiskies despite challenges in the company with Stewart leaving.

Some of the popular ranges of whiskies from Douglas Laing includes the Old Particular range of single malt and single grain whiskies as well as blended malt such as Big Peat and the King of Scots.

WM Cadenhead’s

WM Cadenhead’s is a well-known independent bottler but it did not start that way. It was founded by George Duncan in 1842 as a vintner and distilling agency in Aberdeen. He invited his brother-in-law, William Cadenhead, to join him after a decade of flourishing business. 6 years after Cadenhead joined, Duncan passed away, leaving the vintner to Cadenhead. He promptly changed the company’s name and continued to build the business.

Cadenhead passed the vintner to his nephew, Robert Duthie, when he died. Duthie was the one who developed the company into the independent bottler that we know today. In an attempt to move away from his uncle’s business model, Duthie started vatting the variety of malts he had to create exceptional blended malts like the popular Heilanman and deluxe Putachieside. He also started the slogan “By Test the Best”.

Duthie died in an accident in 1931, leaving the company to his two sisters. They have no idea how to run the business, so they left it in the hands of long-time employee, Ann Oliver. Unfortunately, Oliver was unable to grow the company but instead left it in such a bad state that they ran a “fire sales” of spirits at the auction house of Christie’s in 1972. Ironically, it cleared all their debts and added a 6-figure profit to the company. The sisters decided to sell the company to J. & A. Mitchell and Co., the owner of Springbank in Campbeltown in the same year. It moved to Campbeltown where it continues to produce quality independent bottling today.

Duncan Taylor Scotch Whisky

Duncan Taylor shared a similar history to most of the independent bottlers above. It was founded in 1938 as a cask broker and trading company. Due to its strong ties with the distilleries they worked with, Duncan Taylor began to bring their own casks to buy new make spirits from their distilleries friends. This resulted in Duncan Taylor holding on to rare whiskies from closed distilleries today.

Euan Shand bought Duncan Taylor in 2001 and moved the company to his hometown of Huntly, Scotland. He also changed the business completely, forsaking its history as a cask broker. Euan’s experience in the industry makes him the perfect guy to utilise the whisky vault that Duncan Taylor owns and he began the company’s new journey as an independent bottler.

Some of the popular ranges of whiskies include Black Bull, The Octave and The Rarest.

Signatory Vintage

The last bottler on our list is relatively young but equally strong. Signatory Vintage is established in 1988 by Andrew  Symington and his brother in Edinburgh. As a late bloomer, the company adopts a vigorous release policy so consumers can easily find 50 available different single malt expressions at any one time. Despite the bigger amount released, the quality is never compromised and the company grew by leaps and bounce.

Signatory Vintage was threatened in the early 2000s due to the crisis of independent bottlers where distilleries started to mistrust them. In an attempt to overcome the threat, Signatory Vintage bought Edradour distillery in 2002 and moved its operation to Perthshire, next to the distillery. Today, the company is producing not only quality independent bottles but also releasing single malt whisky under the Edradour brand.

The popular ranges of whiskies from Signatory Vintage include the un-chill filtered collection, the cask strength collection and the single grain collection.

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A Short Note about Independent Bottlers

Picture Credits: http://whiskyforeveryone.blogspot.sg

Much talks about independent bottlers have been around for a while. Almost everyone has an opinion about independent bottlers. Some say that they are fantastic for the market, some not so. Others say that independent bottlers make inferior whiskies, while some appreciate these whiskies more. Despite the mixed opinions, indepedent bottlers are rising to fame. Why is that so?

The Appeal of Independent Bottlers

The appeal of independent bottlers (IBs) is simply the fact that they expand the whisky market. You can call them an industry disruptor if you will, because they bring a larger selection of whisky to the world. IBs do one of these two things – they buy new spirits from distilleries and mature them in their own casks, or they buy and trade already matured whisky in barrels. If the IBs decide on new spirits, they can choose to store the barrels/casks in their own warehouse, or leave them in the distillery or a shared warehouse.

The Rise of Independent Bottlers

The last decade has seen the rise of many new independent bottlers, especially in Scotland. There is also a trend for popular whisky shops to bottle their own whiskies. For example, The Single Cask, La Maison du Whisky, The Auld Alliance, etc. These shops are found in Singapore and each of them have their own labels. These new independent bottlers often confuse people, because they are not well-known to the public. The doubt is strong regarding how good they are. Oftentimes, they need to prove their own worth but they are doing it!

History of Independent Bottlers

The first known independent bottler in Scotland appears to be Gordon & MacPhail from Elgin. Originally a well-known grocery company, it decided to buy malt whisky in casks and to bottle it with their own labels. As they started in 1895, they have a large stock of malt whisky casks that are worth a fortune in current time. Between 1895 to 1980s, there were many other IBs, but most of them closed down due to the 2 world wars and major economic upheavels.

In the 1980s, Signatory Vintage Ltd entered the market. The Symington brothers marked the Scotch single malt as their goal, and they make it their mission to change the Scotch single malt market. Due to their diligence and hard work, they transformed the whole market in 20 years, achieving high success.

Up until 2001, there were many dubious new IBs which entered the market and gave it a bad name. This pretty much caused suspicions and doubts from both big player distilleries and consumers alike. Restrictions were placed by the big boys. Distilleries such as Glenmorangie and Glenfarclas forbid IBs to use their names. Others like Diageo, stopped selling casks to IBs. Consumers boycotted certain IBs which are producing inferior products. Some stopped trying whiskies from IBs completely. The sincere IBs were in trouble. With no good quality casks to be bought, they were in danger of drying up.

Solutions to the Problem

In order to survive, the IBs bought distilleries themselves. Gordon & MacPhail took over the Benromach distillery. Murray McDavid bought Bruichladdich while Ian MacLeod took the helms at Glengoyne. Signatory Vintage waited a while before buying Edradour distillery. With the big IBs running their own distilleries, expectations of independent bottling naturally raise as well, creating this class of high quality independent whiskies that we get today.

The Future of Independent Bottlers

Nobody knows what the future may bring. Nonetheless, we foresee mergers in the short to medium term for the IBs. For the long run, they will need to come up with better business strategies. One viable option is to set up new distilleries of their own. Some examples of such include the Isle of Arran and Kilchoman. The easiest way to do this is to buy a distillery that is closing down. However, this, in itself, is a challenge. Well-known distilleries are expensive while cheap distilleries have lesser potential.  How can one decide which to buy?

Nonetheless, the future is not totally bleak for the IBs as the market is taking notice. As long as they continue to finetune their business models and produce good whiskies, the consumers will help them to survive for the next 100 years or more.

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