Whisky Reviews

BenRiach’s New Range

BenRiach has always been GlenDronach‘s shy sibling, but not anymore! Dr Rachel Barrie has shaken up the core range and BenRiach is getting more of the spotlight!

BenRiach – The Chameleon Malt

BenRiach is a distillery in Speyside, known for its experimental distillation and maturation ever since Billy Walker bought over the distillery in 2003. Why do I spell BenRiach with a capital R? It’s Billy Walker’s signature mark to capitalise a letter in the middle of the name, like GlenDronach or GlenAllachie. Pretty much like the late Stan Lee’s cameos in Marvel movies. Being one of the first few distilleries in Speyside to triple-distil their spirit shows how willing they are to break regional stereotypes and experiment! They even started distilling peated spirit since the 1970s!

In some whisky circles, BenRiach single malts have been known as the ‘chameleon malt’. To clarify, this means that the spirit character adapts well to various casks and cask finishes. What is cask finishing? It is taking a matured whisky in a more gentle cask, usually American white oak casks and transferring the whisky to another cask to add a layer of flavours. And just how adventurous was Billy Walker with cask-finishes? Well, just for example, if you would look into the archives, BenRiach has gone into Madeira casks, Sauternes casks, dark rum, tawny port and wine casks! The spirit worked well, fitting into various casks of different flavours, like a chameleon changing colours based on its environment. However, some people find it difficult to pin down BenRiach’s signature spirit character.

The baton is in good hands

Dr Rachael Barrie, Master Blender and Keeper of the Quaich. Photo Credits to Brown-Forman and MaltWine Asia

So, how has Dr Rachael Barrie changed the new range? In my opinion, I think that she played to the strengths of BenRiach’s chameleon character whilst addressing its confusing nature. That is to say, the new bottlings feature BenRiach matured in ex-bourbon barrels and finished in casks like Jamaican rum, Port, or Marsala and blends it with full-term matured Benriach to create unique flavour combinations. In my opinion, this is absolutely genius! It showcases BenRiach’s chameleon nature with cask finishes whilst securing a consistent house-style with ex-bourbon maturation. In addition, Brown-Forman, who owns several American Whiskey distilleries, is also providing BenRiach with quality ex-bourbon casks!

The new packaging is ironically a call back to the packaging of BenRiach in the 1990s, when BenRiach was owned by Seagram’s.

Photo Credits to Brown Forman, Malt Wine Asia, and WhiskyBase

BenRiach The Original Ten

Photo Credits to Brown Forman and Malt Wine Asia

The Original Ten is a combination of peated and unpeated spirit. As a result, the blend produces a lightly smoky malt, which was what some Speyside whiskies were like in the past. Bottled at 43%, the label declares the casks used, namely, Bourbon casks, Sherry casks and Virgin casks. This is largely ex-bourbon dominant, so this bottling has a more fruit-forward character with a trace of smoke that becomes a little more distinct with time and a couple drops of water!

Out of the four new releases, I really enjoy this the most! I was surprised by the blending expertise that ensured the balance between peated and unpeated Single Malt. It gave me flashbacks of the Arran Smuggler’s Series. Although, I would love to see a version of this at an abv of 46% or higher someday!

BenRiach The Smoky Ten

Photo Credits to Brown Forman and Malt Wine Asia

The Smoky Ten is a revamp of the 10yo Curiositas, but a little funkier! This 10-year-old single malt features some peated BenRiach with a Jamaican rum cask finish, giving it more fruitiness! With the Virgin oak contributing more to the body, I would say that this would be a delightful daily dram for a peat lover!

BenRiach The Twelve

Photo Credits to Brown Forman and Malt Wine Asia

I expected this unpeated 12yo to be pretty popular in the room for the media event, and it was. Being based on the previous sherried BenRiach 12yo bottlings, this now features a combination of full-term sherry matured single malt with some Port-cask finished stock. In my opinion, this brings about more of that bourbon-cask fruity house style. For any sherried malt lovers, this bottling would be something you might want to try!

BenRiach The Smoky Twelve

Photo Credits to Brown Forman and Malt Wine Asia

This is a rather interesting entry, as it offers the BenRiach peated experience with a bit more European oak spice notes from the sherry and marsala casks. I like it that the core features casks from more unique fortified wines!

Concluding Thoughts

As a person who causally blends whiskies as a small party trick or for my own enjoyment, I can feel the expertise and mastery of the art Dr Rachel Barrie has put into this core range. And I know it’s out of her control, and I know Brown Forman does want to make BenRiach appealing for the mass market, but I do wish some of these entries were unchill-filtered so I could really get the full character of BenRiach. Maybe we need to start educating more whisky drinkers to understand the beauty of scotch mist!

If you’re interested in the new bottlings or the old unchillfiltered bottlings, do check out MaltWineAsia with this link! They have both! There are some cask strength single cask BenRiachs under S$200 as well!
Special thanks to MaltWineAsia, Brown Forman and Stewart Buchanan! Look out for the BenRiach distillery article next week!

Have you visited the redesigned Malts Whisky Bar yet?

Malts @ Marine Square (Photo Credits: Malts)

Many of us probably have walked along Level 1 of Marine Square on our way to various destinations and noticed Malts. The whisky bar sits next to the entrance of the mall quietly, serving its own private clientele for the past couple of years. Recently, due to a change in management, the bar is now looking to welcome new customers to visit its well-stock whisky vault.

Malts @ Marine Square is an upmarket whisky bar serving a wide variety of whiskies, ranging from Scotch to Japanese. You could literally find all the regions in Scotland represented within Malts. The bar team is experienced and knowledgeable, so you know that you will be in good hands once you walk through the door.

Whiskies to look out for at Malts

Looking at the range available, you know that there is always something for you to try there. It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or seasoned drinker, there will be something that appeal to you at Malts. We also heard that they are planning to offer up special menus that includes unique cocktails, independent bottles and even cognacs in the future, so you just gotta check them out.

Where to find Malts

Malts is located at 6 Raffles Boulevard, #01-07/08 Singapore 039594. Due to Covid-19 social distancing measures and limited space available, you are highly encouraged to make a reservation by calling 6252 8002 before heading over to check the bar out! The bar is opened Monday to Saturday from 3pm to 10.30pm.

Remember that all bars need to close at 10.30pm, so please be considerate and allow the bar staff to do their due diligences when it is time to go. We can all do our part to fight Covid-19 and look forward to resuming all activities in the near future.

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    Dram on, Dràm Mòr

    The first big tasting of Dràm Mòr in Singapore and their second ever release of bottles in Autumn of 2020! Dràm Mòr is an Independent Bottler in Scotland that is owned by a husband-wife duo, Kenny and Viktorija.
    Many of the bottles in this second release were finished in fortified wine or wine casks for 4 months! This decision for a short duration finish was not unfounded as well! Kenny sought the advice of Whisky legend Jim McEwan and told Kenny to watch closely over 1st fill wine casks. This is most likely due to the spicy notes the active wine cask might impart on the whisky if it aged any longer.

    Glen Garioch 8yo 2011 (Cask #2697) 55%
    Glen Garioch 8yo 2011 (Cask #2697)
    Glen Garioch 8yo 2011 (Cask #2697)

    We started the night with a full-term refill bourbon. There was a time I used to find full-term bourbon maturation like from Cadenhead to be boring. What a fool I was #cringe. What I know now is that a light bourbon maturation can allow the spirit character to develop and shine through!

    For this Glen Garioch, I’m glad it did! I get the herbal orange peel that I associated with the Official Bottlings of Glen Garioch, but with so much more characteristics! There’s a toasted cereal note, peaches, a hint of salinity, with a mouthfeel you can chew on! It’s a lovely anytime kind of dram!

    Aberlour 7yo 2012 (#F800914) 54%
    Aberlour 7yo 2012 (Dràm Mòr)
    Aberlour 7yo 2012 (Dràm Mòr)

    This Aberlour spent 7 and a half years in refill bourbon with a 4 month dry Madeira finish. The Aberlour A’bunadh series inspired Dràm Mòr to do a young cask strength Aberlour! This decision for a short finish was an excellent one. In 4 months, the influence of the wine is clearly much stronger, with only a touch of spice from the oak. This works well because the strawberry jam preserve notes of the Aberlour spirit character works with the dry cranberry notes, pepper and raspberries, along with the honey and floral notes from the prior bourbon maturation.

    Glenrothes 9yo 2011 (#2850)
    Glenrothes 9yo 2011 (#2850)
    Glenrothes 9yo 2011 (#2850)

    One of two Glenrothes in this Autumn release, this spent 8 years and 8 months in refill bourbon, before finishing in Spanish Red Wine casks for 4 months. This was a beautiful balance between the influence of the red wine and the European oak. Even the folks at Glenrothes distillery gave Kenny the stamp of approval!
    In my personal opinion and preference, this dram probably needs some time to open up. Initial top notes of gunpowder which will fade away with time, so if you love your sulphur notes, you might not want to wait. This Glenrothes offers notes of honey, a whiff of chocolate, with oranges, red berries, figs and nuttiness!

    Glenrothes 9yo 2011 (#2851)
    Glenrothes 9yo 2011 (#2851)
    Glenrothes 9yo 2011 (#2851)

    This Glenrothes spent 8 years and 8 months in refill bourbon, before finishing in Moscatel Wine casks for 4 months. If it feels like Déjà vu, that’s because both Glenrothes are sister casks! Moscatel Wine casks are not as popular in whisky, but this is a damn good example! People who know me know that I do not particularly enjoy the spirit character of Glenrothes, but this dram is probably the first young Glenrothes that I have thoroughly enjoyed!
    This dram offers golden pears, with honey and vanilla sweetness coming from the bourbon maturation. Moreover, the wine cask influence is very nuanced, with hints of toasted nuts, tart apples and a whiff of Nutella! One of the participants in the tasting even got Jasmine flowers! This is definitely a beautiful dessert dram.

    Tomintoul 15yo 2005 (#32)
    Tomintoul 15yo 2005 (#32)
    Tomintoul 15yo 2005 (#32)

    This gentle dram spent 15 years and 4 months in a rather shy refill sherry butt, and 4 months in a 1st fill Sauternes Wine Cask! These 15 years in the refill sherry butt gave a gentle maturation, and most importantly, it cultivated the gentle spirit character of the Tomintoul. Distilleries Director of Angus Dundee, Robert Flemming, who oversees Tomintoul and Glencadam, loved this dram when he asked Kenny for a sample of this! If the people who make this whisky liked it, then you know Dràm Mòr did Tomintoul right!
    This gentle dram offer notes of sugary sweetness, freshly cut grass in spring, pears, white raisins, tart apples and pears, notes of a buttery pie crust and hints of salinity.

    In this Autumn release, Dràm Mòr shows that flavourful whisky doesn’t necessarily need to be peated, or heavily sherried or old. I also do enjoy their stance on not chill filtering and not adding colour! If you wish to purchase these bottles, do give Spirits Castle a visit, and if you wish to find out more about Dràm Mòr and their latest December 2020 Christmas release, check it out here!

    Singapore Distillery Gin Launch!

    Early October 2020 saw the launch of Singapore Distillery’s Gin range and Whiskygeeks sat down with head distiller Ashwin for a chat about the distillery, the gin and future plans!

    It’s a bold and risky move for a launch amidst the COVID phase 2 in Singapore. That said, I am glad there are more players in the local spirits scene in Singapore! I mean, I know this is Whiskygeeks; but hey, a malternative once in a while is great. Bruichladdich started making gin for a reason too! 😉

    The Six

    It was astonishing to see a full range of 6 gins launched in one sitting. And much like popular Kpop groups, there is something for everyone! Off to the gins!

    Singa Gin
    Singa Gin

    The flagship, Singa Gin is a London Dry style gin. And right there, I see the visible confusion on some of your faces. A Singaporean London Dry Gin? Is that distilled in London or Singapore?
    The full legal definition can be found here at Annex I, Category 22. But the crux or TLDR of it is that it is a style of gin, not restricted by location.

    The Sing Gin comprises of 13 botanicals, which includes Grains of Paradise from Africa, Malaysian Sarawak Pepper and Ceylon Cinnamon from Sri Lanka!

    Personally, I found it of a medium Juniper strength, earthy, sweet, with a mild but noticeable note of Angelica root and an overall balanced flavour when drunk neat!

    Singapore Distillery Coconut Pandan Gin
    Coconut Pandan Gin

    This fun yet amazing Coconut Pandan Gin would excite any South-East Asian Gin drinker! The Pandan and Coconut flesh vapour infused, along with background botanicals of orange and other spices.
    Not gonna lie, the smell took me by surprise. It smells like coconut cream or milk that is thiccc (with 3 Cs), but I was staring into a colourless liquid!

    The palate was where the Pandan flavour took the spotlight, but in the finish, the coconut cuts in again for one more encore.

    Although it might be a bit sacrilegious, I mixed this gin with two other gins, Stolen Roses and Lime Garden. The result was absolutely divine!

    Singapore Distillery Stolen Roses
    Stolen Roses Gin

    A gin, red as roses. But still at 42.5%! This expression is sweetened in the Old Tom style of gin. And before you ask yourself that question, no, it is superior to any rose syrup or rose liqueur. Fight me. There’s more depth to the rose flavours in this gin, with hints of juniper and citrus zest in the background. It would make a killer Valentine’s Day G&T or a Martini!

    Mixed in with the Coconut Pandan Gin, it became a lovely Bundung concoction. Luckily, Head Distiller Ashwin did not take offence to this.

    Singapore Distillery Singapore Sling
    Singapore Sling Gin

    This is not based on popular Singapore Sling with a bajillion ingredients, but it was inspired by the Straits Sling, the alleged predecessor of the Singapore Sling as we know today. Records show a Straits Sling recipe that predates the supposed invention of the Singapore Sling, which comprises of gin, cherry brandy, Bénédictine D.O.M., lime and some bitters.
    To achieve those flavours, cherries, angelica root, and limes serve to represent the cocktail’s ingredients, alongside some pineapples and oranges to give the gin more vibrancy.

    This gin is pretty stunning when drunk neat, would probably do wonders in a Negroni or a Martini!

    Singapore Distillery Kyuri Gin
    Kyuri (きゅうり) Gin

    きゅうり or Kyuri is Japanese for cucumber! In this gin, Japanese cucumbers are left to macerate or soak in Neutral Grain Spirit NGS) for a full day before distilling. In addition, more cucumbers and sakura flowers are placed in gin baskets for vapour infusion.

    Kyuri gin is pretty much Hendrick’s Japanese cousin, and I found it very refreshing and floral, along with hints of lemon zesty and juniper earthiness. This would definitely make a lovely summer G&T!

    Lime Garden Gin

    The name of this gin is perfect – distilled with 3 different varieties of South-East Asian limes: Calamansi, Key Limes, and Kaffir Lime. The limes are placed in the distillation stills and the vapour baskets to double down on their flavour and to extract their essential oils.

    I was especially impressed by the distinct almost Lavender-like floral notes from the Kaffir lime. Might I add, (before I get punched by Gin connoisseurs), that the addition of the Coconut Pandan gin results in something reminiscent of Thai cuisine. You gotta try it to know it!

    The technical titbits

    The alcohol from gin usually comes from commercial available neutral grain spirit (NGS). Ashwin uses NGS from France, as he believes that to be the softest and best for his gins!

    42 and a half?

    The keen-eyed amongst you might have noticed that all their gins are bottled at 42.5%. Now, why is that?
    Head Distiller Ashwin determined that this abv helps the gin maximise flavour and accessibility. More a slightly higher abv generally means a higher propensity to hold more flavour. But then again, nobody would be in the mood for high strength spirits all the time. With these two factors playing tug of war, Ashwin found the sweet spot that is high enough to capture the botanicals and yet soft enough abv for most drinkers to access the gin’s plethora of flavours.

    The Stills

    The stills at Singapore Distillery. Source

    When I first saw a photo of the distillery set up, I thought it was crazy! According to Ashwin, that picture shows ONE set up. The NGS and botanicals go in the Pot Still through a gin basket, and 2 column stills, then another gin basket before reaching the condenser.

    Chill filtration at Singapore Distillery

    Singapore Distillery does not chill filter their gins, and yet the gins do not go cloudy in the bottle. How did they do it? According to Ashwin, by controlling the various aspects of distillation, he is able to adjust the distillate such that it maximizes flavour and yet doesn’t cause noticeable clouding when diluted!
    What’s the difference you might ask? It’s that the gin still retains flavour components that wouldn’t cause cloudiness but would have been taken away by chill-filtration!
    I can tell you as a Chemical Engineering degree holder that this is a painstakingly tedious feat! Kudos to Ashwin for his skill, patience and persistence

    Future Plans

    Ashwin plans to try his hand at vodka next, and a navy strength version of one of the gins we have talked about 😉 I am absolutely excited to taste what this distillery does next!

    Many thanks to Singapore Distillery and Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall for organising the industry launch and special thanks to Head Distiller Ashwin for sitting down with us to talk about his vision and All bottle photo credits go to Singapore Distillery.

    Meeting the man behind a Kombu Whiskey: Origin Spirits

    Earlier in August 2020, Whiskygeeks had a chat with Managing Director of Origin Spirits Patrick Shelley. Origin Spirits has in its portfolio the Ornabrak Single Malt Gin, Kalak Single Malt vodka and the Currach Kombu Irish Whiskey.

    Currach Whiskey, Kalak Vodka and Ornabrak Gin
    Portfolio of Origin Spirits. Source: Origin Spirits

    How it Started

    Back in 2010, Patrick was living in Russia, working for LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE) which owns Glenmorangie and Ardbeg distillery since 2004. And of course, in Mother Russia, the vodka culture is strong there. But the vodkas out in the market then was not to his taste. To get him through these times, he had drams of peated Scotches. *coughArdbegcough* This later inspired Patrick to want to design a vodka with personality, texture and flavour; a vodka he could enjoy! His love for peated Scotches later inspired the peat cask vodka!

    With his time in LVMH, he gained much wisdom and experience which would help elevate Origin Spirits to where it is today. Patrick had three cornerstones in Origin Spirits:

    • Quality Product with its own unique personality.
    • Striking visual identity.
    • Compelling brand story.

    What it became

    Patrick works with West Cork distillers to create unique products that Origin Spirits offers. Patrick talks fondly about Director of West Cork Distillers, Dr John O’Connell, who holds not just one but two PhDs! Dr O’Connell saw some potential in Patrick’s ideas and was eager to help make Patrick’s ideas a reality!

    Under LVMH, some of the brands Patrick used to work for had decades of history with tales abound. As a fresh new company, Patrick had instead created a story around the product, Kalak, weaving Irish folklore and gods with this beautiful spirit. You can read more about here!
    Patrick wanted to use 100% Irish malted barley for several reasons. Even though malted barley cost around three times as much as other grains, Patrick wanted a quality product with personality. It also pays homage to the terroir of Irish local barley and a quality ingredient.

    How it’s made

    West Cork Distillers. Source: Origin Spirits

    In West Cork distillers, malted barley is milled on site. This grist meets 63°C water in the mash tun and spends 2 hours mashing for sugar extraction. Heat exchangers then cool down the sugary liquid called wort to 27-29 °C. Distillers yeast is then added for inoculation. The fermentation lasts 96 hours, which is twice the amount of time as some Scotch whisky distilleries. This longer fermentation time allows for ester formation and lactic acid fermentation which produces fruitier and more complex flavours in the spirit. After 4 days of fermentation, the strong beer, or wash is at a whopping 11-12% abv.
    The wash then goes into copper pot stills for distillation.. 3 times distilled for the whiskey, 4 times for the gin and 5 times for the vodka!

    How it’s aged

    The casks used for Origin Spirits are not used for maturation more than twice. So far, Origin Spirits are only using American White Oak for their cask maturation. The casks Origin Spirits uses comes from the Kelvin cooperage in Kentucky.

    Virgin Oak cask charred with Kombu
    Virgin Oak cask charred with Kombu. Source: Origin Spirits

    Patrick stumbled on the idea of using seaweed to char the casks, which serves as a fuel source for the charring and imparts umami flavour to the oak. This marks Currach, the Kombu Irish Whisky, with the terroir of both the sea and land with Irish seaweed and barley. For Currach, Patrick prefers using virgin oak to bourbon casks as the bourbon flavours in the cask might interfere with the delicate umami flavours from the seaweed. Aged in ex-bourbon for 3-4 years then 3-month finish in virgin oak, as it maximises the kombu flavour, mellows the spirit and ensures the whiskey does not get too oaky.

    What’s next for Origin Spirits

    Kombu
    Drying Kombu. Source: Origin Spirits

    The kombu used for the charring for Currach is a type of brown seaweed, and Patrick intends to experiment with other kinds of seaweed, like with red seaweed and green seaweed. Currently, Origin Spirits are using American White Oak, either virgin or ex-bourbon oak. Patrick wanted a mellower oak influence to allow the spirit character to shine. But Patrick has a never say never attitude, so sherry fans, stay tuned!

    Patrick is going to experiment a lot more with food pairing, but progress has been slower due to the pandemic. But in general, Japanese cuisines, and umami dishes like steak or mushrooms works well with Kalak and Currach. Patrick describes those spirits as gastronomical and I would have to agree!

    Origin Spirits has shown a lot of innovative products which excel in form and function. I am looking forward to their next release!

    A guide to understand Mars Whisky

    Mars Whisky!
    Mars is one of the oldest whisky companies in Japan. Even though Mars started distilling in 1960 in Yamanashi, the buying and selling of whiskies date back to 1949! For a whisky company with 2 distilleries (Shinshu Distillery and Tsunuki Distillery ) and 3 maturation sites, it could be confusing sometimes! So with the help of Hombo Shuzo and Barworks, here’s a guide!

    Note: The names of various locations are in colour because it can indicate which distillery or ageing site it is from, similar to Uigeadail or Inchmoan.

     

    Distilleries

    Shinshu Mars Distillery

    The distillery is in Miyadamura, Nagano prefecture at the foot of Mt. Kiso Komagatake. Shinshu distillery started making whisky in 1985 and was mothballed from 1992 to 2011. Mars whisky uses both peated and unpeated concerto barley from CRISP maltings in the UK, with 4 different peating levels at 0ppm, 3.5 ppm, 20ppm and 50ppm. After milling the barley, the grist goes into a stainless-steel 8000L lauter mashtun, along with a stream of hot water to extract barley sugar. The sugary and clear liquid that the mashtun extracts is called the wort. The wort is cooled down and subsequently enters a 7000L washback with a combination of distiller’s yeast, ale yeast and slant yeast.

    Washbacks in Shinshu Distillery. Photo courtesy of Hombo Shuzo Co. Mars Whisky.

    In before 2016, the fermentation period was 3 days long, however, this fermentation period was increased to 4 days, so as to allow more flavours to develop. Shinshu has 5 cast iron washbacks and newer 3 Douglas fir wooden washbacks. After fermentation, this strong beer called wash at 7-8% alcohol by volume (abv) goes into a 6000L wash still for distillation. Both distilleries use indirect heating for their stills as it is energy efficient. The distillate is called low wines with an abv of 21-22% and is cooled in a shell & tube condenser before going into an 8000L spirit still for the second distillation.

    The Pot Stills of Shinshu Distillery. Photo courtesy of Hombo Shuzo Co. Mars Whisky.

    This distillate goes through a worm tub, which will contribute to the robustness of the spirit character! The new make strength is around 70% and diluted to 60% before filling.

    Tsunuki Distillery

    Tsunuki Distillery. Photo courtesy of Hombo Shuzo Co. Mars Whisky.

    Mars Whisky’s second distillery started in 2016 and lies on the southwest side of Kagoshima called Tsunuki. Similarly to its sister distillery, Tsunuki Distillery uses both peated and unpeated concerto barley from CRISP maltings. The milled barley goes into a slightly smaller 5000L lauter stainless steel mashtun with hot water to produce a clear wort. This wort goes to one of 5 wash stainless steel washbacks in the distillery. The same yeast varieties and fermentation times are utilised, therefore, Tsunuki Distillery produces wash with a similar abv as its sister distillery.

     

    Washbacks at Tsunuki Distillery. Photo courtesy of Hombo Shuzo Co. Mars Whisky.

    The distillation is somewhat similar to Shinshu distillery, except that both stills in Tsunuki Distillery use a worm tub condenser. The new-make spirit has the same abv range, and similarly, Mars whisky keeps the filling strength consistent at 60% abv.

    Pot Stills at Tsunuki Distillery. Photo courtesy of Hombo Shuzo Co. Mars Whisky.

     

    Ageing Sites

    Racked Warehouse in Tsunuki Distillery. Photo courtesy of Hombo Shuzo Co. Mars Whisky.

    There are three ageing sites, two of which are onsite at the distilleries and a third ageing site at Yakushima! Having three ageing sites would mean that there are three different climates for ageing Mars whisky. Climate affects the rate of maturation and therefore, the annual whisky loss per year, or angel’s share. One could easily compare these rates by looking at Scotch, Taiwanese and Indian whisky distilleries. With three slightly different rates of maturation, there are many more possibilities in flavours for Mars whisky. Humidity is also significant for estimating the drop in abv of the ageing whisky over time. A higher humidity would mean a slower loss of water than ethyl alcohol, which could lead to a faster decrease in abv, and vice versa.

    Komagatake Cellar (Shinshu Distillery)

    A cask ageing onsite at Shinshu Distillery. Photo courtesy of Hombo Shuzo Co. Mars Whisky.

    The surrounding temperature ranges from a subzero -15°C in the winter to over 30°C degrees in the summer, and an annual average temperature is around 12 degrees. The at an elevation of 798m, the humidity around the distillery is 65-67% and has an angel’s share around 3-4%.

    Tsunuki Aging

    Rows of PX casks in the warehouse at Tsunuki Distillery. Photo courtesy of Hombo Shuzo Co. Mars Whisky.

    Kagoshima has warmer climates with an annual average temperature of 18°C, with a temperature range of -2°C in the winter to a blistering 36°C degrees in the summer. The humidity is slightly higher than its sister distillery at around 70-72%, with a higher angel’s share at approximately 5-7%.

    Yakushima Cellar

    The Mars Yakushima Aging Cellar is on an island bearing the same name. Yakushima Island is a world natural heritage site and located southwest of Kagoshima and still almost three times as wide as Singapore though. This dunnage warehouse stands near the coastline, so the ageing casks breathes in the coastal air. The temperature on the island ranges from 5°C to 35°C in with an average annual temperature of 19°C. With a higher humidity at 74-76%, the angel’s share is higher as well, at 7-9%.

    The Casks

    PX Cask. Photo courtesy of Hombo Shuzo Co. Mars Whisky.

    The casks at Mars Whisky are used 4 to 6 times. The Yakushima Aging Cellar contains ex-bourbon casks and ex-sherry casks. The two onsite racked warehouses at the distilleries contain other unique and exciting casks resting away. Other than Madeira casks, Port casks, and French oak wine casks, there are Mizunara oak casks, umeshu white oak casks, shochu white oak casks and even sakura casks!

    Ex-Bourbon Casks. Photo courtesy of Hombo Shuzo Co. Mars Whisky.

    Hopefully, this article has shed light on the different variations of Mars whisky.

    If you’re interested in getting yourself a bottle of Mars, you can head to Barworks. In addition, there’s also a 33% discount on the Annual Limited Edition 2019 bottling of Komagatake (from Shinshu Distillery) which you can get here!

    Mars Single Malt Komagatake Limited Edition 2019. Photo courtesy of Barworks.

     

    Mars Single Malt Komagatake Limited Edition 2019

     

    These are the tasting notes from the producers.

    Nose: Ripe persimmon, apricot, and orange marmalade

    Palate: Elegant and mellow taste like Chinese quince, melon and milk candy

    Finish: Clean and comfortable aftertaste

     

     

     

    Special thanks to Hombo Shuzo and Barworks, the official Mars whisky distributor in Singapore for the information and the photos!

    Mizunara Matured Malternative

    Back in December, Whiskygeeks was invited to an exclusive Cognac Park tasting. After trying some non-traditional Cognacs, I found an excellent malternative.

    What is a malternative?

    As enjoyable as whisky might be, having too much of a good thing could get boring or burn you out. It’s essential to give your palate a break sometimes, and a Malt Whisky Alternative, or Malternative, could give you such a change. 

    Good whisky Malternatives should be quality spirits as well, and one such example is Cognac.

    What is Cognac and how is it made

    Cognac is an aged grape spirit from the region of Cognac in France under a specific set of rules called the AOC designation, dictating how it can be made. You can find the document (in French) here

    White grapes will ferment for 2 to 3 weeks till it reaches 7-10% abv. Cognac distilleries use Charentais copper pot stills for double distillation in a similar fashion to Scotch single malt. In the first distillation, the white wine becomes Brouillis, equivalent to low wines in Single Malt distillation. The brouillis, at approximately 30%, undergoes a second distillation, also known as Bonne Chauffe. The distillates then split into heads, hearts and tails, just like whisky. Only the heart portion goes into French oak barrels for maturation. The distillery will not throw out heads and tails. Instead, they will add the head and tails back into the wine or brouillis for the next distillation. Both distillations require about 24 hours in total, so the Charentais pot stills are running 24/7 during distillation. 

    The cognac “new-make spirit” or eau de vie goes into French Limousin oak casks for maturation. The angel’s share is around 3% on average, slightly higher than Scotland.

     

    How is it different from Whisky?

    In whisky, producers use a wide variety of barley strains, but Cognac distilleries primarily use Ugni Blanc after the phylloxera mould crisis of the 1960s. The grape is disease resistant, high in acidity and low in sugar. Such properties make Ugni Blanc a suitable grape for making Cognac. Cognac Park uses approximately 60% Ugni Blanc for their Mizunara range. Imagine if the SWA proposed that rule to use barley varieties like Golden Promise, Triumph or Bere Barley. 

    The Charentais stills for cognac distillation use must be direct-fire heating as well. Many Scottish distilleries, on the other hand, that have switched to steam coils.

    Unlike Scotch and many other spirits, Cognac distillation, with accordance to the Cognac Appellation, can only occur around late November to March. 

     

    What makes Cognac Park different?

    Cognac Park is in the Borderies, the smallest growing cru in the region, just 4,000 hectares under vineyard cultivation. The soil in the Borderies is prized for its limestone and chalky properties. This terroir could be the reason why cognac from this region has characteristic floral notes of violet. Cognacs in the Borderies region also have a reputation of requiring a shorter maturation time for the same quality. The entire Cognac Mizunara collection are all Single Cru Cognacs meaning that the grapes used are exclusively from the Borderies region.

    The Mizunara casks used for Cognac Park must be virgin casks; which means that it cannot have aged spirits before, similar to bourbon. The Mizunara cask finish also cannot extend beyond 12 months. Otherwise, the cask could lose its appellation, and the cask cannot be considered a Cognac anymore.

    Tasting the Cognac

    Now to the Cognac! The Cognac Park Mizunara matures in French oak for 4 years before a  6-month finish in virgin Mizunara casks. This NAS was one of my favourites before the I tasted Single Cask. With the 10-year-old Mizunara, it generally has more Cognac characters with a nice layer of Mizunara complexity. However, due to the longer 10-month finish in virgin Mizunara casks, the patient drinkers amongst us will be rewarded. Regardless, I would definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys Cognac previously.

    The vintage 2006 single cask was extraordinary, primarily due to its higher alcohol strength that allows the cognac’s complexity to shine. This single cask portrays many flavours similar to a youthful yet tender single cask whisky. The last Cigar Blend was mindblowing as well in terms of age and taste. The Cigar blend contains cognac ranging from 25 to 32 years old that has leather and tobacco flavours similar to sherried single malt in its mid-twenties or older!

    Many thanks to Spirits Castle for the invite to this exclusive tasting. These bottles can be bought locally here! If you are interested in the tasting notes, I have left my opinion down below!

    Cognac Park Mizunara Finish

    Nose: Notes of raisins, dried fruits. Insense notes, a hint of black pepper and sandalwood. With water, notes of brioche started to appear. 

    Palate: Orange peel, sandalwood, incense, herbal note, earthy notes. With water, oak spice and sandalwood.

    Finish: Herbal note, vegetal notes, sandalwood, With water, cinnamon spice and black pepper.

     

    Cognac Park 10yo Mizunara Finish

    Nose: Soft nose, rich raisins, figs, red apples, black pepper, umami note, floral notes, milk chocolate. With water, cinnamon, star anise, brioche, oak and honey.

    Palate: Floral note, orange peel, parfait armour, ripe red apple. With water, vanilla, cinnamon and toasted oak.

    Finish: Incense note, black pepper spice, raisins and walnuts.

     

    Cognac Park 9yo 2006 Single Cask Mizunara Finish

    Nose: Green Pears, hints of orange, honey, herbal note, black pepper, vanilla, lemon zest. With water, more confectionary sweetness and green apples

    Palate: sandalwood, vegetal note, earthy notes, umami notes, confectionery sweetness, With water: green apple, herbal sweets, minty cooling sweets

    Finish: sandalwood, black pepper, incense note. Water: more minerality, raisins.

    Punjab Grill and Penderyn Dinner

    Within Marina Bay Sands Shoppes lies a unique fine dining Indian restaurant, Punjab Grill. The food using Traditional North Indian styles and flavours and reimagines them for a fine-dining experience. In collaboration with Spirits Castle, they are introducing a new 5-course whisky pairing dinner! 

     

    The dinner started with some fantastic papadum and a spherical rice-crispy to kick start the appetite. After that came a beautiful Starter paired with the first whisky!

    Starter:

    The sphere on of the left is a Chicken Minced Truffle Kofta Kebab, and pairs well with the Penderyn Myth! This contrast brings out the sweetness in the whisky and the savouriness of the chicken. On the right is Beet & Lotus Root patty stuffed with cheddar cheese; which looks like a dream veggie patty with its fantastic texture, crunch and deep red colour. But the patty works best with the spicy Orange Dijon Mustard Chutney and Black Lentils Korma Sauce.

     

    1st Entre:

    I appreciated how the Jumbo prawn was deshelled, as I am rather lazy myself. The prawn itself was humongous and incredibly juicy. That sweetness, along with the Tellicherry Pepper and the fragrant Coconut sauce works beautifully with the slightly smoky, coastal umami flavours of the Laphroaig Peated.

    Following this first entre was also a refreshing fruity Sorbet to cleanse the palate before the next meal. I like this concept as Indian cuisines are usually heavier and the sorbet provides the acidity so as to cut through the oils and hit the refresh button on my palate.

    2nd Entre

    Next came the second entre Tandoori Grilled Lamb Ribs with Palak Gucchi Mushroom Risotto-style Briyani. The Risotto contains Gucchi, a rare wild mushroom from the Himalayas. Along with the Palak base, the risotto was rich, creamy and flavourful. The lamb is intensely flavourful and has a nice char that adds to the texture!

    Similarly, the whisky alongside the lamb was just as bold in flavour. The Penderyn Sherrywood is robust, with notes of dried fruit, cinnamon and guava. This pairing juxtaposes beautifully with the flavours of grilled lamb and the savoury risotto, yet matches it in the intensity of flavour.

    For anyone who is not as keen on mutton, the 2nd Entre provides a second option of Pan-seared Cottage Cheese Tikka which is equally rich and flavourful. The different spices and textures made the dish stand up to the bold flavours and characteristics of the Penderyn Sherrywood.

    This dish came along with the restaurant’s incredible garlic naan and fantastic dippings.

    Dessert:

    Lastly, the dessert is a Cheesecake that incorporates the Penderyn Madeira. On the cake were slices of Galab Juman, another kind of Indian dessert. The cheesecake itself has the fruitiness and sweetness of Penderyn but does not have any alcohol bite! 

    The dinner overall is a very unique fine-dining experience – Traditional Indian recipes and flavours in a fine-dining venue paired with Welsh Single Malt. You will be hard-pressed to find a fine-dining combination more unique than this.

    If you are interested, you can call +65 6688 7395 to book this dinner!

    Many thanks to Spirits Castle and Punjab Grill for this experience! 😀

    Whisky Review #105 – Glenmorangie Whiskies

    The Exciseman Whisky Bar

    There were so many Glenmorangie events recently that our heads were practically swimming with the whiskies from the distillery. Even though we shared two previous posts about Glenmorangie, we wanted to share a particular event hosted by The Exciseman Whisky Bar because we thought it was truly exceptional.

    Brendon McCarron and The Exciseman Whisky Bar

    With Brendon in town, it was an excellent chance to share some moments with the trade personnel in Singapore on a cosy Monday afternoon. Lewis and Patricia from The Exciseman Whisky Bar hosted an afternoon tasting session on 1 July 2019. It was a rare chance for Brendon to interact with more trade people in Singapore, and to give all of us a better understanding of what Glenmorangie is all about.

    The Whisky Line-Up

    The Glenmorangie Whisky Line-Up

    WhiskyGeeks has spoken extensively about Glenmorangie and Brendon, so we will not repeat them. What we want to share here are the reviews of the various expressions that we tasted at The Exciseman Whisky Bar. It was a unique tasting because we paired whisky with the wine that the whisky was finished in.

    Lasanta 12 Years Old x Pedro Ximenes (PX) Sherry

    Lasanta 12 Years Old

    The first whisky on the list is Lasanta 12 Years Old. Its name means warmth. We understood from Brendon that the whisky matures for ten years in ex-bourbon casks before finishing in both Oloroso and PX sherry casks. 75% of Oloroso sherry and 25% of PX sherry gives a result of “clean sherry” influence. For the pairing, a PX sherry was used.

    Lasanta 12 Years Old

    Nose: The first nose was that of cinnamon spice, sweet raisins, toffee and chocolate. With some time, vanilla and honey surfaced. It also becomes relatively oaky.
    Palate: We tasted cinnamon, caramel, raisins and hints of chocolate. There was also a pleasant warmth. It was a light and easy dram. With time, sweet vanilla, honey, coconuts and white pepper came out to play.
    Finish: The finish was medium, with dark chocolate, hints of cocoa powder, raisins and honey. It was also oaky and dry.

    PX Sherry

    Nose: It was full of dark raisins (reminded me of Ligo brand), plums and sweet stewed fruits. I could nose this all day!
    Palate: Full of raisins, stewed and candied fruits, there was also some honey that I could get on the palate. It was a delicious dram even though I find it a tad too sweet for my liking.
    Finish: Long and sweet with raisins and stewed fruits lingering on forever.

    Conclusion: I may like the sherry more than the whisky with this pairing. The nose and palate of the sherry bring back beautiful memories of snacking on raisins in my childhood! This is a perfect example of memories helping us to like a particular drink more than others!

    Quinta Ruban x Ruby Port

    Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban 12 Years Old

    The Quinta Ruban is a port cask finished whisky bottled at 46%. The whisky matures in ex-bourbon casks for ten years and finishes in ruby port casks for two years.

    Quinta Ruban 12 Years Old

    Nose: There was vanilla, honey, musky caramel, hints of oranges and spice in this one. The sweetness was more muted than the Lasanta 12 YO, but there appeared to be more complexity in the whisky.
    Palate: Yes, the complexity continues in the palate. I got the vanilla, honey, cinnamon spice with hints of oranges. There were also dark chocolate and oak to it. The level of maturation and finish in the whisky was more exciting than the Lasanta 12 Years Old.
    Finish: The finish is long and oaky, with the slight bitterness of very dark chocolate.

    Ruby Port

    Nose: The nose was full of chocolate, light raisins and fragrance of grapes
    Palate: Extremely sweet with heavy chocolate notes and the fruitiness of grapes.
    Finish: Soft and short, there isn’t much of a finish here.

    Conclusion: The whisky is the winner over there. The spirit character of Glenmorangie is evident in the Quinta Ruban 12 Years Old. The level of maturation is also excellent with both the bourbon and port influence showing clearly.

    Nectar D’òr 12 Years Old x Sauternes

    Glenmorangie Nectar D’òr

    The Nectar D’òr is a 12 Years Old whisky bottled at 46% too. The whisky matures for ten years in ex-bourbon barrels and finishes for two years in Sauternes casks.

    Nectar D’òr 12 Years Old

    Nose: Initial nose gave green fruits such as apples and pears. It then developed into melons, honeysuckle, vanilla and hints of white pepper. With some water, I got oranges, lemon zest and a more substantial sense of white pepper.
    Palate: There was light fruitiness of melons and apples, but the white pepper were prominent. With water, the orange peels and lemon zest showed themselves alongside white pepper. The overall was spicy, but lingering sweetness hid below.
    Finish: Long, oaky and tannic. Water reduced some tannins, but it remained oaky. The fruits were subtle.

    Sauternes Wine

    Nose: There were light raisins, Qoo white grapes juice and hints of melon and apples.
    Palate: I got plenty of sweet Qoo white grapes juice and raisins. It was also tannic.
    Finish: The medium finish was oaky and tannic.

    Conclusion: I did not like the Nectar D’òr as much as the other two. Perhaps it might be due to the peppery spice and tannins from the Sauternes cask. As you can imagine, I did not like the Sauternes wine very much too.

    Astar 2017

    Astar 2017

    Finally, we had the Astar, which was made using the designer American White Oak Casks that we spoke of during Brendon’s interview. The Astar is fully matured in designer first fill bourbon casks and bottled at 52.5%. It is also a non-age statement whisky.

    Astar 2017

    Nose: We get coconuts, vanilla, melons, honey, salted caramel, and hints of white pepper. With time, citrus lemon zest appeared alongside the other aromas.
    Palate: Plenty of vanilla, lemon and honey in the palate with the higher alcohol percentage showing up as white peppers. There were also hints of coconuts. With time, the coconuts and lemon zest became more prominent.
    Finish: The medium finish is full of honey, pepper and oak. With time, the finish lengthened and became sweeter.

    There was no bourbon for us to pair with the Astar, as we were all quite high by then. Pairing wine and whisky is no easy feat, and we applauded The Exciseman Whisky Bar for doing so. Brendon also did a fantastic job through the guided tasting, and we learned more about the different wines as we go along.

    Conclusion: I think I like the Astar 2017 best among the four. It has the complexity that my tongue was looking for, with the bourbon-matured whisky showing significant wood influence. This was my first time tasting a whisky that was fully matured in the Glenmorangie designer casks, and I must say that I am impressed.

    Tasting the Glenmorangie Whiskies at The Exciseman Whisky Bar

    If you are keen to try the whiskies from Glenmorangie, look no further than the Exciseman Whisky Bar. They have a wide spread of Glenmorangie to choose from at reasonable prices. We present to you a short list of what you can expect.

    1. Lasanta 12 Years Old @$15 (30ml) or @$22 (60ml)
    2. Quinta Ruban 12 Years Old @$16 (30ml) or @$24 (60ml)
    3. Nectar D’òr 12 Years Old @$18 (30ml) or @$27 (60ml)
    4. Astar 2017 @$20 (30ml) or @$30 (60ml)
    5. Signet @$32 (30ml) or @$48 (60ml)

    Full bottles are also available if you are keen to bring them home or open them at the bar to share among friends.

     

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      Whisky Review #104 – Cragganmore 1989 27 Years

      Cragganmore 1989 27 Years Old

      Our recent visit to Kaohsiung, Taiwan, was pretty much a whisky trip. We landed ourselves in The Drunken Master Whisky Bar on the first night to enjoy some respite from the long day of travelling.

      Cragganmore 1989 27 Years Old

      There are only 60 bottles for this label. Bottled at 50.9% abv from a hogshead, this bottle of Cragganmore 27 Years Old is the brainchild of Kuo Yi Liang, the bartender of The Drunken Master Whisky Bar. He is a dear friend of the owner, Li Chunfeng, and also a friend of WhiskyGeeks. The bottle is labelled as Kuo’s Choice and showed a scene of summer on the label. There was another bottle in the series – a Glen Moray – but it was sadly sold out.

      I was lucky to get the last few pours from the bottle and man; I wasn’t wrong in choosing to have this as my first dram!

      Tasting Notes:

      Colour: Light Golden

      Nose: Sweet mango and melons dominated the nose at the start before the strength of the whisky wafted in as white peppers. Mild oakiness surfaced after resting the whisky for more than 15 minutes, giving the whisky more complexities. (20/25)

      Palate: It had an oily texture, with white pepper leading the way. It soon gave way to mango pudding, melons, guava and a hint of oakiness. The oiliness made the whisky approachable, and the sweetness of the dram helps to balance out the spice from the white peppers. (22/25)

      Finish: The long finish lingered in the mouth with fruity sweetness and gentle oak. The dryness of the dram allows the sweet fruits to leave a lasting effect. (21/25)

      Body: It is a balanced dram! The sweetness of the whisky is pleasant and complements the oiliness perfectly. The oakiness is also in the right proportion to give a slight “old whisky effect”. (22/25)

      Total Score: 85/100

      Comments:

      Zerlina: I like the fruitiness of the dram. It is also richer than the usual Cragganmore OB with that oiliness found in the palate. At 27 years old, the oakiness is gentle and does not overpower the character of the whisky. I think it is a well-chosen cask. However, I did not give a higher score because I feel that it is not as sophisticated as what I would expect of a 27 years old whisky. It is, nonetheless, just my opinion. If you have a chance to try this, you should try it to see how it works for you. 🙂