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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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