Tag Archive for: Taiwan Whisky

Whisky Review #100 – HNWS x Maltman Speyside 1995

Did you know that there is a whisky shop in Taiwan called HNWS? The owner is a veteran in the whisky industry with more than 15 years of experience. Besides running a whisky shop, he is also an independent bottler using his brand of HNWS. Over the years, HNWS gains the reputation of an excellent independent bottler and consumers in Taiwan, and Hong Kong are always excited whenever the brand launches something new.

We are also equally excited when we get to try one of their latest bottlings – a Speyside (distillery) 1995 finished in a Caol Ila Cask. Its unique positioning as a whisky from Speyside and getting a finish in an Islay cask got us all curious. In case some of you are confused, this bottle comes from the Speyside distillery, and not just from the Speyside region. The distillery is one of the most beautiful in the area and makes one feel like walking into a fairytale.

How does this taste like? Let’s dive in.

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Dark Gold
ABV: 54.2%

Nose: Vanilla custard, sweet berries and gentle peat surround the nose immediately. Then a light spice, almost wasabi-like, wafts up to the nose! After that, there are light green apple and citrusy notes behind, swirling around. With water, the gentle peat becomes more prominent, and notes of unripe bananas join the rest, mingling harmoniously.

Palate: The mouthfeel is very oily, and spice engulfs the palate for a while before it mellows into soft sweetness. Light vanilla ice cream, green apples, citrus notes and a little coastal brine appear at the back of the palate. With water, the spice mellows out beautifully, and slight peat becomes obvious. Vanilla notes engulf the whole palate, and then the coastal brine comes back to the forefront.

Finish: Long finish with drying, sweet oakiness and slight spice. The dryness lengthens the finish and makes it very tasty when the gentle peat turns up at the end of it all. With water, the finish is softer and less drying. More sweetness appears in the finish, and a lingering light spice concludes the dram exceptionally.

Body: It is a balanced dram with interesting notes from both Speyside and Islay influence. While the Caol Ila cask did not extend a massive impact, the light citrusy notes and peat do wonder to add layers of complexity to the dram.


Geek Flora: “I did not score the review because we are selling this bottle. It is, however, sold out and can only be savoured by attending our tasting events that are coming up!”

Geek Choc: “I think this is quite an exciting dram for me. Do try it if you can.”


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    Whisky Review #80 – Omar Peated CS with Mcd Chocolate Pie

    McDonald’s launched their famous chocolate pie on March 1st in Singapore and long queues formed outside many of the outlets for the next few days. While many fans choose to queue for this decadent chocolate pie, lazy me decided to order for McDelivery instead. So, the chocolate pie came, and I was so excited to try it that I decided to leave the “Fish & Fries” (also new) aside. I needed to try this pie first while it was piping hot!

    The first bite into the crust confirmed what I suspected all along. I needed to pair this with a peated whisky! The pie’s crust was slightly bitter when I took the first bite, but the delicious flow of molten chocolate made the whole experience great! So, I hunted around for a peated whisky to pair it with. I rejected a Laphroaig bottle because it is a PX cask, and finally settled on the Omar Peated Cask Strength Whisky, which matured in a bourbon cask.

    I was fully aware that what I was about to do was crazy, perhaps even sacrilegious!

    Now, let’s see what happened.

    Tasting Notes:

    The Omar Peated is a gentle, lightly peated whisky full of creamy vanilla and some coconut. When I took a sip of the whisky after eating the pie, smoke burst forth in the mouth and enveloped the palate thoroughly. Then all the bourbon flavours followed after – creamy vanilla, coconut, malt and some tropical fruits danced happily together in the palate. The finish was spicy but elegant. I figured the spice was just the high abv showing its character.

    Wow, that was quite an experience! I never thought that I would pair McDonald’s with any whisky, but there is always a first time!

    The whisky, unfortunately, did not improve the pie much, except to make it less sweet. Nonetheless, I had an enjoyable dessert before eating my lunch properly, and that was what matters most! Hahaha!


    Now that I opened a floodgate of pairing McDonald’s with whisky, I am looking forward to pairing something else from McD with whisky. What would be a good choice? Suggestions anyone?

    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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      Taiwanese Whisky: Nantou Winery

      The entrance of Omar Single Malt Distillery

      Nantou Winery makes Omar Single Malt Whisky in Nantou, Taiwan. It is a combined facility in which they make whisky, Gao Liang Jiu (which is a type of “bai jiu”) and Taiwan oak-aged umeshu. For the sake of easy references, we will call Nantou Winery as Omar distillery whenever we are speaking of whisky-making in this article.

      History of Nantou Winery

      The history of Nantou Winery started in 1978 where the winery focuses on making wine, blended whisky (Scotch + Taiwanese), brandy, umeshu and other fruits liqueurs. They did not have single malt whisky at all. The winery was owned by the government of Taiwan and operated as a public company.

      History of Omar Single Malt

      Omar Single Malt was born in 2007. The reason for Omar Single Malt was a humanitarian one – in 2007, the farmers in Taiwan experienced a massive harvest in barley which they have nowhere to sell to. In those days, Taiwan was facing exportation issues, and the farmers found it difficult to sell their harvest overseas. In an attempt to help the farmers, the government started Omar Single Malt as a brand and bought up all the barley from the farmers. At the same time, the government also started buying equipment for single malt whisky distillation. One of the newly-hired distillers was also sent to Scotland to learn the art of distillation necessary for Taiwanese single malt whisky.

      By 2008, the distillery started distilling whisky new-make for the Omar brand. The graduated distiller who went to Scotland came back to Taiwan and taught his fellow distillers the art of making whisky. The distillers placed the new-make into both sherry and bourbon casks of varying shapes and sizes.

      From left to right: Bourbon Barrel, Hogshead and Sherry Butt

      Omar Whisky

      Due to the climate of Taiwan, Omar has a high angel share of 6-7% during the maturation period. The typical maturation period is 4 to 5 years. Omar strictly compelled to the Scottish rules of a minimum three years before the liquid becomes whisky. While the whisky did not mature in the barrels for very long, the higher temperature encourages the liquid to interact with the oak in higher intensity, making the liquid aged faster. As a rule of thumb, the distillery counts a year in Taiwan as equivalent to 3 years in Scotland where the temperature is consistently lower.

      Omar whisky did not have an aged statement as yet. Their core range includes the regular bourbon and sherry NAS whiskies. The newest single malt whisky in the Omar core range is a peated whisky. The peat is taken from Taiwan and is pleasantly aromatic. Besides that, Omar also has single cask, cask strength whiskies

      The birth of the first Omar Cask Strength Whisky

      In 2013, two cask strength whiskies matured in a bourbon barrel and a sherry butt respectively were born. Both whiskies received high acclaim from the local market. Omar distillery sent these whiskies for competition in the following year, and both of them did well in those contests. They received gold and silver in ISC and two silvers in IWSC in 2014 amongst others.

      In 2015 and 2016, Omar received more awards. Most of them are from the Malt Manics Association (MMA) where Omar won the Best Sherried Whisky and Best Bourbon Natural Casks Whisky for both years. MMA  also named Omar distillery as the Supreme Winner in 2015 and 2016.

      Omar Bourbon Cask Strength Whisky

      Omar was indeed encouraged by these awards and the distillery strives to create consistent whiskies that everyone will love.

      The Distillery Tour

      This decorative signage was a gift from the Government in 2008

      The tour was fascinating in the sense that they brought us to see the warehouse before the rest of the processes. A large part of the reason was that our tour was a private tour, so the head distiller opens the warehouse just for our visit. To make things easier for him, we were brought to the warehouse first.

      Entrance to Warehouse No 1, the only warehouse opened to visitors

      Upon entering the warehouse, we felt the immediate drop in temperature. We understood from our guide that the warehouse is opened only on specific days when they conduct distillery tours to large groups of pre-booked visitors.

      The warehouse is cleaner and brighter than the ones that we visited in Yamazaki and Hakushu. Perhaps it was due to our impromptu visit, or maybe it was because they are repairing the air-conditioning in the warehouse. It is a small warehouse, and we suspect that much of the stocks here are likely for their blended whiskies instead of their single malt whiskies.

      Casks Repairing Work

      Interestingly, Omar does cask repairs on its own. Our guide shared that the distillery tries to be as self-sufficient as possible due to the lack of facilities outside the distillery to support the whisky industry in Taiwan. He brought us to the back of the warehouse where we saw a few rows of broken casks.

      We found the broken casks rather fascinating. Our guide told us that the casks left out in the sun are those classified as “beyond repair” and these would be re-fashioned into decorative tables for the home and whisky bars in Taiwan. We had the chance to look at an open cask, and to our surprise, we can still smell the vanilla fragrance from the charred insides! Geek Flora was so excited that she took so many pictures of that blackened inside.  ><

      Grinding, Mashing and Fermentation

      Next, our guide brought us to the barley storage and grinder. We understood from him that Omar only uses Scottish or English malted barley for their fermentation. The malted barley is imported and left in a large storage area. When the distillery wants to make a new batch of new make whisky, an automated transporter belt transports the malted barley to the grinder which grinds them and then fed them to tubes that lead to the only mash tun in the distillery. Fermentation takes 72 hours, and they use whisky yeast from France. 250,000kg of barley yields about 100,000 litres of new make in one cycle. The water source is the underground water from the nearby mountains.

      It was an eye-opener to look at how Omar mimic its fermentation process after Scotland even when they have structural challenges in their existing building. In the name of innovation and creativity, Omar fashioned a new method of delivering the wort to the fermentation washbacks that they own. While the delivery is different, it is technically mimicking the Scottish way. That is impressive!


      Omar has four pot stills that were shipped from Scotland back in 2007. ≈ Their double distillation process makes use of these pot stills. Pot stills 1 and 2 are in-charge of the first distillation process while still 3 and 4 are in-charge of the second distillation. The first distillation yields a new make with 30% abv and the second distillation increase the alcohol content to a range of 60 to 75%. After distillation, the new make goes into the spirit safe where the heart of the distillate is separated. The rest of the rejected liquid goes back to pot stills 1 and 2. The process of using only the spirit-centre of the distillate ensures the quality of the new make. This quality control is vital to keep Omar whiskies consistent.

      Omar Whisky Tasting Session

      The distillery tour ended with the new make, and our guide ushered us back into the main hall where whiskies were already waiting for us at the bar. We had a total of seven whiskies. Yes, it was scary considering that we were drinking at 10.30 am in the morning, but it was worth the risk of getting drunk with a full day ahead of us!

      First up, we had 4 whiskies that were part of our distillery tour package. They are the two regular Omar Single Malt Bourbon and Sherry Cask as well as two Cask Strength Omar Bourbon and Sherry Cask. The distillery also allows visitors to purchase other bottles for tasting at just 100 NTD per 20ml! That converts to less than SGD$4. Our guide treated us to their most popular Omar Single Malt Lychee Liqueur-Finished Whisky, and we purchased two other drams – the Taiwan Red Wine Finished and the Plum Wine-Finished whiskies.

      The Omar Whiskies

      We had an incredible journey with Omar single malt whiskies. While we had tasted their regular single malt before, the rest of the range was new to us. The bourbon and sherry single cask Cask Strength whiskies are fast becoming a regular feature in their distillery bar. It is a pity that they are only selling the single cask whiskies in their distillery and nowhere else. Nonetheless, it was great to have a taste.

      The bottle that is worth a special mention is the Omar Cask Strength Lychee Liqueur-Finished Whisky. This whisky spent most of its time maturing in a bourbon cask and then finished in a lychee liqueur cask. The finish created a sweet lychee nose and palate and lengthed the finish beautifully. It was a limited release of 700 bottles and a one-off experiment from the distillery.

      The nose boasts of strong honey notes with some vanilla and lychee notes. The nose continues into the palate, with lychee, vanilla and warm spice in the mouth and throat. Sweet honey lingers at the back of the throat after swallowing. The long finish holds honey sweetness with hints of lychee in the background.

      The End of the Visit

      Omar is indeed a hidden gem in Taiwan and one which we should pay more attention to. If you are heading to Taiwan and wants to visit the distillery, be sure to call ahead and ask them for their schedule of distillery tours. As they are unlikely to host impromptu tours as they did for us (we were lucky!), it is safer to call ahead if you want to see their facilities. We hope this has been an exciting read for you and thank you for staying with us in this long post!

      Until next time folks! We will be back with more!


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