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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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    An Interview with Mr. Li Chunfeng – Founder of TDM

    WhiskyGeeks with Mr Li Chunfeng at The Drunken Master Whisky Bar

    WhiskyGeeks readers know who Mr Li Chunfeng is – because we have introduced him in our previous articles. He is the owner of The Drunken Master Whisky Bar (TDM), chairman of the Formosa Whisky Society and an avid, passionate whisky lover. His journey in whisky started as a young man in his university days, but his success today is all due to his hard work and belief in his love for whisky. We sat down with him during our visit to Kaohsiung in early December and understood his passion behind TDM.

    Early days in Chunfeng’s whisky journey

    Chunfeng had his first brush with whisky in his university days, where he drank a glass of Glenfiddich. In those early days, he did not know whisky and found the drink to be horrible. He confessed that he drank that glass of whisky by mixing soft drinks to it! After a few years, he began working in his father’s company as an advertisement space salesperson, and he had to go out with his clients to drink and entertain. During one of such occasions, his client gave him a glass of Glendronach single cask. He sipped it, and then took a bigger mouthful – wow! What a different whisky! He fell in love with it, and from that day onwards, Chunfeng has never looked back.

    Research into the whisky world shown him that whisky is an exciting drink. With so many different varieties, brands and ways of maturation and bottling, Chunfeng soon started collecting whiskies. That was the beginning of the road of no return.

    The birth of The Drunken Master

    TDM Bar Counter

    TDM started as a brand of an independent bottler. Chunfeng’s love for whisky turned his hobby into a business when he decided to share his passion with the people around him. His exposure to the world of independent bottlers made him want to do the same for others. Besides, as the chairman of Formosa Whisky Society, he wanted to have a branding for the whiskies that they bottled for the society. One thing leads to another, and soon, TDM was born as a brand in 2014. The whole process took him three years, but it was a good three years for him.

    TDM Whisky Bar was born much later, in October 2016. It has just passed its one year anniversary and is well on its way to fame!

    Buying of the Whisky Casks for TDM

    Some of us know that buying whisky casks from the distilleries are not easy. The buyer has to head to Scotland and visit the distilleries one by one, sampling the casks before choosing to buy a particular one. More often than not, the distilleries have preset a certain number of casks for the buyer to choose from. In the case of TDM, Chunfeng works with The Whisky Agency (TWA) instead. TWA is a cask reseller – they are the middlemen in which they buy casks from the distilleries and then resell them to buyers. As the middlemen, they helped the buyers to choose the casks in advance.

    Chunfeng gets samples from TWA together with the price of the cask. If he likes what he tasted, he will buy the cask from TWA. This method of purchasing cask helps enormously as he does not need to travel to Scotland regularly for cask samples. Instead, he can sample them easily in the comfort of his bar.

    The making of TDM Whisky Labels

    Label of the latest bottle from TDM

    If you read the WhiskyFair TAKAO post, you would know that TDM has amazingly beautiful labels. Chunfeng makes all the labels himself by purchasing artwork online or spectacular photos from his photographer friends. He creates the labels using Photoshop and adds his ideas to every label. Therefore, each label is unique and artfully crafted.

    TWA does not demand a lot from Chunfeng to add their name to his labels either. The only restriction they requested is a legal one – Chunfeng has to put TWA’s website – www.thewhiskyagency.com on the labels – because it is part of the regulation from the Scotch Whisky Association in Scotland. By adding the site to the labels, it formalised the whiskies as Scotch.

    Chunfeng’s opinion of the whisky industry in Taiwan

    We were curious about the whisky industry in Taiwan, as it appears to be vastly different from Singapore. We were surprised to know that it is not too different. They are just faster, perhaps? Chunfeng shared that Taiwanese whisky drinkers are made up of two extreme groups. One group goes for the cheap whiskies while the other group goes for only the expensive ones. Taiwan is a big market, so whisky prices range from 200-300NTD all the way to 3000-5000NTD for the mid-tier whiskies. The high-end whiskies are always above the 10,000NTD mark. He also shared that most Taiwanese prefer to buy a bottle and share it with their friends in the comfort of their home. Unlike the whisky drinkers in Hong Kong and Japan, the Taiwanese are less likely to spend their time in a whisky bar, drinking different whiskies.

    Chunfeng hopes that the whisky scene will move towards the style of Japan and Hong Kong as the whisky industry matures in Taiwan. The whole idea of drinking whisky is to taste all the different kind of whiskies, not spending money on bottles and bottles of whiskies to put at home.

    The rising prices of whisky

    We spoke about the increasing costs of whisky and how everything seems to be getting more expensive (except our salaries)! Chunfeng said that it is evident to him that whisky prices are rising a little too fast for comfort. He shared that a bottle of whisky which he had bought three years ago for 3000NTD has become almost 10,000NTD! The rising price of whisky makes it less appealing to new whisky drinkers as they may not be willing to pay a higher price for a dram of mid-tier whisky if they have no idea how to appreciate it. It is a concern for the whisky industry as the market will one day come to a standstill if the number of new whisky drinkers reduces overtime.

    Chunfeng’s opinion of flippers in the market

    Our chat brought us to a somewhat sensitive topic about the apparent flipping of bottles in the market. Similar to most countries, Taiwan has a culture of flipping bottles for profit. Some buyers are not whisky drinkers – they are whisky businessmen. They buy bottles for the sole purpose of reselling them at a higher price. We asked Chunfeng if he thinks this is a bad move for the industry.

    Chunfeng has a neutral view towards this practice. He said that it is not surprising as whisky is valuable. Each expression and even each bottle (for those with limited quantity) is precious to someone. As long as the buyer is willing to pay for the bottle at the higher price, there is no reason for him to stop the buyer from buying the bottle from an astute reseller. He said that auctions are done in the same way – if the buyer is willing to pay for the bottle, who is he to stop the auction from functioning?

    At the end of the day, he feels that it is still a willing buyer, willing seller situation.

    Chunfeng’s favourite whisky distillery

    Littlemill Distillery – Picture Credits

    WhiskyGeeks is always curious about our guests’ favourite whisky distillery. Chunfeng is perhaps, one of the very few, who pinpoints his favourite very quickly. His favourite distillery is the Littlemill. It is a Lowland distillery which was dismantled in 1997 and unfortunately, burned down in 2004. A residential development now stands on the original site.

    While there is no favourite expression or bottle that Chunfeng likes from the Littlemill distillery, he said that he dislikes the pot pipes and those distilled with worm tubs (which makes the whisky sulphuric). His love for Littlemill stems from the consistent flavours that he gets from most bottles – rock melon and sweet, white flowers notes.

    Chunfeng’s changing journey with whisky

    Chunfeng laughingly shared his dislike for peat while we were on the topic of his favourite whisky. He had tried an Ardbeg 10 and did not like the nose or the palate. As he explores more whiskies, he begins to realise that peated whiskies from Islay are just as complex as a Speyside or a Highland whisky! The journey he took is apparent – from a complete ex-sherry cask fan to a hogshead cask fan, Chunfeng is an excellent example of how one’s opinion changes with time. Hogsheads present a certain surprise element as it can be ex-bourbon or ex-sherry. A buyer of a hogshead cask can never be sure if he does not know the history of the cask. The surprising element is the beauty of a hogshead cask.

    Advise for a new whisky drinker

    As a bar owner, Chunfeng comes across many new whisky drinkers. We asked him what he usually advises his customers. It turns out that he does not recommend or suggest any whisky straightforwardly, but instead, let his customer choose their preferences with his guidance. In TDM whisky bar, there are a group of bottles that are primarily for new beginners. They are younger in age and mellower in taste. What Chunfeng did was to let the new drinker nose the bottles. He would start with extremes – like an Islay and a Speyside. If the customer thinks that the Islay bottle is “smelly”, he will change it to a Highland and the nosing continues until the customer decides on a bottle that he or she likes best.

    He is also a considerate mentor. Chunfeng will ask his customer for his or her budget, and if his customer ends up with a bottle that is over the budget, he will inform them and let them change a bottle if they wish to do so.

    His final advice for new beginners is simple, “Try as many whiskies as you like – it is for enjoyment.”

     

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      Bar in Kaohsiung: The Drunken Master Whisky Bar

      The Shop Front of TDM

      Our trip to Taiwan in early December had been a fruitful one. Besides attending WhiskyFair TAKAO, we also had the chance to visit The Drunken Master Whisky Bar in Kaohsiung. It is a charming little bar with a shop front and a side door to slip into the bar behind the shop. Hidden in the middle of a row of shops, it is easy to miss this lovely bar if you are in a taxi.
      The Drunken Master (TDM) belongs to Mr Li Chunfeng, a young but passionate whisky lover. This bar is also relatively new – the official operation period is about a year. There were two reasons why we went to TDM. 1) We heard excellent reviews from our friends in Singapore and 2) we found out that he is the organiser of the Whiskyfair TAKAO. It was a coincidence that we found out because we messaged Mr Li via Facebook Messenger to find out how to go to his bar. A little chat later, we discovered that he was the man behind Whiskyfair TAKAO. So, it became a must for us to visit TDM.

      The First Visit to TDM

      We arrived Kaohsiung on Friday morning, 1st December, and after checking in to our hotel, we rested a while before heading out to seek some good food and shopping. In the evening, we took a cab to TDM. Our driver almost missed the bar because it was such a well-hidden gem but we arrived there alright. The scene that greeted us when we opened the door of the bar was what we’d call organised chaos!
      People were everything in the tiny bar! Nonetheless, we managed to get our seats from a kind gentleman from Japan who shifted his place to let us have our space. Wow…we were soaked into the jolly atmosphere immediately, even when we knew nobody in that bar! It was only later that we realised that some of the most well-known names in the whisky industry were squeezed in the bar that night!

      TDM Bar Counter

      We were lucky to be seated in the middle of the bar that evening, right where the TV was. Our inquires for Mr Li did not go unnoticed by many in the bar, and soon we drew a curious group of people who came to chat with us. We found new friends from Taiwan who were regulars of the bar. Then, there were friends from Hong Kong, Japan, Germany, Rotterdam and Singapore! Our Singapore friends were none other than the owners of The Writing Club, a bespoke new whisky bar in the Orchard area! Toru Suzuki-san, the owner of The Mash Tun Tokyo, was also amongst the esteemed guests of the bar that night. We spoke to him briefly, and he invited us to his bar! We must save more dough for a visit to Japan again!

      The Whiskies We Had

      We are sure that you probably are more interested in what we had that night and what we’ll recommend if you visit the bar yourself. Here’s the stuff we drank – in pictures!

      Caol Ila Bottles

      Due to the chaos in the bar and how shorthanded they were (only one poor guy was behind the bar at first), we waited quite long in between drinks. As Geek Flora is a fan of Caol Ila, we had a few bottles of Caol Ila for comparison. Both Geek Choc and Flora concluded that the XOP Caol Ila 36 Years Old was the best out of the three! Well, it could be due to age, or it could be due to the IB doing an excellent job in choosing the cask! Whatever the reason, if you are a fan of Caol Ila, all three bottles are worth trying to form your conclusion.
      Now, we want to draw your attention to both the Bruichladdich 10 Years Old and the Santis Malt Pinot Noir.

      Bruichladdich 10 Years Old

      The Bruichladdich 10 Years Old is an OB from 1980. When we had the first sip, it was notably different from The Classic Laddie. While The Classic Laddie has a honeyed palate, this one took on a slightly savoury, meaty taste, almost like honeyed ham. The oily mouthfeel helped to make this dram meatier. While it was a somewhat singular dram, it was excellent!

      Santis Malt 14 Years Old

      The Santis Malt from Switzerland was a surprise. It was a treat on the house by Mr Li. This is one of their oldest whiskies so far – a 14 Years Old. Matured in old beer casks, this 14 years old whisky was finished in a pinot noir cask. The nose, palate and finish of this dram were consistent, reminding us of an aged brandy, and sweet red berries juice. The balance is almost next to perfection!

      Highly Recommended Bar

      We would encourage you to drop by TDM whisky bar the next time that you are in Kaohsiung. You are sure to find rare gems in this little bespoke bar that draws in well-known whisky experts from around the world! If you happen to drop by, do remember to mention WhiskyGeeks to Mr Li Chunfeng!

      Back to the hotel

      Time flew by, and before we knew it, it was after midnight. We bid goodbye to Mr Li and his fantastic crew at the bar and headed back to the hotel in a taxi. Before we left, we received more than a couple of invites from our new friends in Japan and Hong Kong to visit them when we can. It was indeed an exciting night and one that we will not be forgetting so soon.

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