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Nantou Distillery (Omar whisky) visit!

Nantou distillery has been making Omar, a Taiwanese whisky, since 2008. The distillery tours there are quite like those of Scotland. The tour guide makes the experience more intimate, more personalised and less commercial. Nantou distillery’s willingness to experiment makes them unique, especially to whisky geeks like myself! I know many of you are more interested in the whisky; so I will leave the technical production details to later in the article!

Omar Whisky

Nantou winery makes different fruit wines and liqueurs which can be used to season casks for unique cask finishes. Omar whisky has released whisky finished in casks of Lychee Liqueur, Plum liqueur, Black-Queen Wine and Orange liqueur.

Batch 4 Lychee Liqueur Cask Finish

This Lychee liqueur finish has a balanced Lychee note that does not overpower the whisky. I enjoyed the tropical fruit notes of pineapple and mango alongside notes of pear drops!

Batch 1 Orange Liqueur Cask Finish

This dram is for the orange lover with notes of orange puree, orange zest, and orange flower water alongside some lovely notes of vanilla and honey from its prior maturation.

I am particularly fond of their bourbon cask strength, both peated and unpeated! But do not fret about the age statements. Due to a higher average temperature, maturation speeds are a lot faster than Scotland. A 3-year-old whisky at Nantou would taste similar to an 8 to 12-year-old whisky matured in Scotland. The 8-year-old cask strength is a special release; it feels like a 15-20-year-old scotch.

Omar 8yo 2009 Cask Strength

This 8yo is very soft and demure, giving notes of old oak, vanilla, pears and mandarin oranges!

Omar 3yo 2014 Peated Cask Strength

The 3-year-old peated cask strength displayed a high calibre of maturation, with the right balance of peat smoke. Water will draw out more smoke for people who love that note! This delicious yet affordable single cask would be good smoky daily dram!

Omar 10yo 2008 PX Sherry Cask

For sherry bomb lovers, this is an absolute sherry nuke or WMD! This is the result of 8 years in sherry hogshead before finishing in a PX cask for two years. This dram holds notes of Christmas cake, cinnamon, chocolate, plums and dried fruit!

Barley

TTL buys barley in bulk from multiple maltsters. Most of the unpeated barley is from maltsters in England, while most of the peated barley at 35ppm is from maltsters based in Scotland. The moisture content is also similar to specifications required in Scottish distilleries, around 4%.

Milling & Mashing

The barley is milled into grist with the standard ratio of 70% grist, 20% barley husk and 10% flour. Distilleries maintain specific ratios to assist in the filtration of wort and to prevent choking in the pipes. The grist is sent to a German semi-lauter mash tun with a charge of 120000L. Hot water is added three times; the first and second streams form the wort. The third stream, called the sparge, picks up the remaining sugars, but it is low in sugar. The sparge is not mixed with the first 2 streams, but to maximise sugar recovery. This is done by reusing the sparge for the first stream to be added to the next batch of grist.

Fermentation

The wort goes into one of the stainless steel washbacks to undergo fermentation, turning it into a strong beer called wash. In this stage, the yeast will start eating the sugar in the wort and produce carbon dioxide and alcohol. For Omar whisky, this fermentation process takes an average of 72 hours using French distiller’s yeast. This is slightly longer than the 48 hours of fermentation in most modern Scottish distilleries. The wash from Omar is around 7-8% alcohol by volume (abv).

Distillation

Pot stills

The wash goes into one of 2 wash stills to be distilled into low wines. This distillation removes the barley solids leaving mostly ethanol, water and aromatic compounds. The low wines are pipped into the spirit still for its second distillation to reduce water content. Nantou Distillery currently has 2 Wash Stills and 2 Spirit Stills. One spirit still is different, as it, strangely enough, has a window. The stills are of varying sizes, one at 7000L, two at 5000L and the last one at 2000L.

Cut of the Heart

There are three components in the spirit still distillate. The head comes first at a high abv, followed by the heart, which is what goes into the barrels, and lastly comes the tail which has a lower abv. The cut of the heart affects the new make spirit and how the whisky tastes. If the cut starts at a higher abv, the new make spirit gets lighter, fruity notes, but also more undesirable flavours from the heads. If the cut ends too low, it gets heavier flavours but risk lowering the final abv.

The master distiller decides how to balance these two points. For Omar, the cut of the heart is somewhere between 73% and 64%. This means that the stillmen sends distillate above 73% (heads) and below 64% (tails) into a tank to be redistilled. The heart that is within the range will go into barrels for maturation. Due to Taiwan’s legislation, Nantou Distillery reduces the strength of their new make spirit to just below 60% abv before filling in casks.

Maturation

Cask Management

Nantou distillery receives the sherry and bourbon casks whole so that the cask maintains its inherent quality. Nantou distillery uses ex-bourbon casks up to 3 times. As for Sherry casks, there is no fixed numerical limit. Craftsmen will keep utilising the sherry cask until they deem it to be too exhausted to provide flavour. According to the tour guide, the sherry casks usually provides stronger flavours in Nantou’s climate, therefore using refill would give a more balanced dram.

 

3rd and 4th fill Bourbon casks are usually used for seasoning with wines or liqueurs. This is extraordinarily creative, because a 3rd or 4th fill cask may not provide as much cask influence, but they can act as a sponge to soak up the previous liquid. This means that such a seasoned cask would deliver the flavours of the previous content without over-oaking the product. These seasoned casks are used for the various Omar whisky finishes.

Warehouse

Most of Nantou distillery’s warehouses are racked for easy access to the individual cask. Amongst the racked warehouses, Nantou distillery also has a specially designed warehouse with space for future tasting events. This warehouse has an architecture heavily influenced by the sherry bodegas in Spain. The casks stacked up to three high and is a mimic of the solera system in a sherry bodega. Though the ceiling is lower, the arcs near the ceiling are similar to Bodegas in Spain. As a comparison, these are some pictures of the bodegas I visited in Jerez de la Frontera. On the left is Bodega Diez Merito, on the right is Bodega Fundador.

 

Distillery Expansion

Omar is looking to expand its production capacity by adding 3 more pairs of wash and spirit stills! The distillery is also undergoing renovation to accommodate larger tour crowds. In addition, Omar is continuing to experiment with new and different finishes! It is an exciting time ahead for Omar whisky and Nantou distillery is a must go on your Taiwan trip!

 

Special thanks to Nantou Distillery, Chairman Chung, and Ben for this enjoyable experience!

10 Whisky Tips For Whisky Drinkers

There are so many things about whisky (or whiskey) that we can learn. The information is so vast that it may not be possible for a person to learn everything in one lifetime. Nonetheless, there are little tips here and there which we can pick up quickly from others who walked the path before us.

Recently, we found a book written by Andrew Langley – The Little Book of Whisky Tips – hidden on our bookshelf. It is apparent that we have forgotten about this little gem! On further inspection, we discovered that there are some helpful tips in there for whisky lovers everywhere, especially those who are just starting out on this fantastic journey.

Here are ten tips which we think you ought to know.

Drink whisky from a “tulip-shaped” glass

You are all set to appreciate whisky if you recognise what a Glencairn glass is. If you do not know how it looks, here’s a picture of the glass.

Bars use these glasses to serve whisky neat. The narrow top of the glass concentrates the aroma to help you get the best and fullest nose. The shape of the glass is also useful in encouraging you to sniff and sip. Hence, you are less inclined to slurp everything at one go.

Drink whisky in your way

As we have mentioned in a previous post, there is no right or wrong way to drink whisky. The important part of drinking whisky is to appreciate and enjoy the dram. If you want to know the top five favourite ways to drink whisky, check out our previous post here.

Drink a good quality single malt at room temperature

A good quality single malt may be debatable, but the idea is to drink one at room temperature instead of chilling it. The higher temperature helps to release the volatile oils and other aromas to give you a fuller nose when you sniff it using a Glencairn glass.

Use a lighter whisky for cocktails

If you are a fan of whisky cocktails and love to make your own, remember to use lighter whiskies as your base. The reason is simple – heavy malts tend to dominate the taste of the cocktail, making it singular and tasting too much like a regular whisky. The best whiskies to use for cocktails are Canadians, light Bourbons or British blend with plenty of grains.

Water can affect the whisky

Most whisky drinkers use tap water or distilled water when they want to add water to their whisky. While it is alright to do that, the whisky may change because of the interaction with chlorine in the water. You can use a bottle of still spring water to help you capture the aromas and flavours more quickly. Of course, the best kind of water to use is the water collected near the distillery itself, but that is too difficult to achieve for most whisky drinkers.

Store your whiskies in the correct way

If you are building a whisky empire in your house, be sure to store your bottles away from direct sunlight as that can affect both the colour of the whisky and the label. They should also be kept in a cool, dry and stable place. Whisky bottles can be stored upright, but take the time to turn the bottles sideways every three to six months to keep the cork moist.

Whisky can last forever

Whiskies do not spoil so quickly, as long as it is kept sealed in an unopened bottle. They do not age once they are bottled, and hence, the liquor goes into suspension mode. However, once you open the bottle, the liquid inside is affected by oxidation and may change its characteristics over time.

Read the label on the whisky bottle

There are many counterfeit whiskies on the market now. Therefore, one of the precautions that you can take is to read the label on the bottle carefully. If you see something named as “Scottish Whiskey”, it is likely to be a fake. Besides the obvious, check for spelling errors, or omitted information. Some telling signs are the omission of whether the whisky is a blended, a malt whisky or a single malt.

Most single malts have an age statement

All single malts used to have an age statement until recently. With the challenge of time and the lack of older single malts, distilleries have taken the market by surprise with non-age-statement single malt whiskies. Most single malts, however, still have an age statement. They will either state it as a 12 or 18 years old whisky or in some distilleries, the date of distillation and date of bottling. The age of the whisky is the difference between the two.

New-make whisky is colourless

All new-make whisky distilled from the stills are colourless. The colour comes from either the casks that they matured in or in the addition of sugar caramel. The adding of colour is permitted, but it is not a widespread practice as seasoned whisky drinkers are not keen on added colouring.

We hope these tips are helpful. If you have any questions, feel free to chat us up, and we will answer your questions to the best of our knowledge. As we always say, there is always something new to learn about whisky!

 

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Appreciating Whisky in 5 Different Ways

The world of whisky is varied and often contentious. Good whiskies may be everywhere, but the affordability of said whisky may be questionable. With the price of whisky trending upwards around the world, the way we serve and drink it becomes a controversial part of how we enjoy the precious liquid.

Whisky lovers would agree that there isn’t a correct way of drinking whisky, but there are specific preferred ways of drinking it. We highlight five different styles of drinking whisky below.

Drink it Neat

Drinking whisky neat (just as it is) is a conventional method favoured by many whisky lovers. Taking the liquid as it is and not adding anything helps to retain the flavour of the whisky. The drinker experiences the purest form of the whisky, just as how the whisky maker has tasted it. The excitement comes through when the drinker interacts with the whisky to find the different aromas and flavours over time and oxidation, all without the influence of external substances.

Drink it with Water

Some people enjoy whisky with a little water. There is a whole argument behind the adding of water to whisky. Some people said that water dilutes the alcohol influence in the whisky and opens up the flavours and aromas of the whisky. It allows for a better appreciation for some whisky lovers. The opposite camp argues that drinking a whisky neat is the way to go because one should taste whisky straight from the bottle. There is no right or wrong answer to this – it is merely a matter of preferences.

Drink it with an Iceball or on the rocks

Adding ice is yet another conventional way of drinking whisky – with ice. It can be an iceball or some ice cubes. The idea is to dilute the alcohol level in the whisky as well as to chill the drink. While some whisky drinkers swear by this way of drinking, others feel that the ice spoils the taste and flavours of the whisky.

Make a Highball

A highball is a favourite way of drinking whisky among Japanese and some ladies around the world. It is simple to make – just add lots of ice and carbonated water to whisky, stir it with a long spoon, and you have a highball! The highball lengthens the drink and also dilute the alcohol content to make it palatable for drinkers who dislike the bite of higher abv.

Make a Whisky Cocktail

A cocktail is meant to be light and suitable for people who can’t drink very well. However, a whisky cocktail can be potent, and those who do not take very well to alcohol should be careful before ordering one of these. A whisky cocktail is full of surprises because it can vary from smokey to overtly sweet, depending on the whisky base used. A cocktail made from an Islay whisky is smokey and savoury while a cocktail made from American bourbon tends to be a tad too sweet. Nonetheless, every whisky cocktail has its uniqueness.

Other ways to drink whisky

There are other different methods to drink whisky. One can add cola or green tea to their whiskies, or one can drink it with whisky stones. Whisky stones are made from steel or granite and work to chill the whisky without diluting the taste.

Everyone has their preference, and nobody is right or wrong. Some whisky drinkers may cringe when they see others adding cola or green tea to their whiskies, but nobody should dictate how another drinks his or her whisky. It is entirely up to the drinker.

Therefore, if you are a beginner and did not like the bite of the high abv too much, remember that you can enjoy your whisky in other forms besides having it neat. A whisky highball may be the best drink for you, if only you try it!

Enjoy your drink! No one will judge you.

 

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