a long wait for age-statement japanese whisky

yama060taste

We all knew this would happen, but it’s still very sad. Suntory just announced that they’ll stop selling Hakushu 12 and Hibiki 17. Whisky takes time to age; there is no way of fast forwarding a 12-, 15-, 18-, 21-, 30-year process. All Japanese whiskies we see nowadays are NAS. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with NAS, we trust the master distillers. The boom in 2014 cleaned out Nikka’s stock, so the image of shelf upon shelf of Yoichi, Miyagikyo, Taketsuru and others won’t return till at least 10 years from now.

yamazaki12

Meanwhile, any single malt especially Yamazaki, Yoichi or Miyagikyo that can be found are selling for higher and higher price. Nikkei chart of prices.

monthly whisky subscription

whiskyme

I’m not in alcohol-drinking mode right now, the last alcoholic drink I had was the local lager at the treehouse in Bangkok two weeks ago. If I were in a whisky-drinking mode and if I were back in the UK, I’d totally sign up for the whisky of the month subscription offered by black rock whisky bar. Google maps tells me that it’s up the road from where I: a) went to school and b) worked when I was last in London, haha.

For £7 (when paid annually, or £7.99 paid monthly), subcribers get a 50ml sample of whisky every month. Launched in November, they’ve had Macallan Fine Oak 12, Royal Lochnagar 2000, and Loch Lomond Inchmurrin 18 so far. It’s around the cost of a dram in a whisky bar, so not too bad. I don’t know what will happen if people like the whisky and want to buy more, probably go to TWE.

The whisky is shipped in what vinepair called capri sun pouches. I guess it’s a good way of shipping, much safer and cheaper than small sample bottles. I’ve seen single serve wine pouches before, so it’s not a big leap to think about whisky transported this way.

shackleton whisky

It started with one of those trying-to-be-smart-but-comes-across-as-naff lifehacker posts, this one telling us how to graduate to better whiskey. It pains me to type that ‘e’ especially since some of their suggestions are not American or Irish. Basically they’re saying if you like a certain whisky, then you may want to try another, hopefully better, one:

  • like bulleit, try michter’s
  • like bulleit rye, try whistlepig farmstock
  • like jameson, try green spot
  • like laphroaig 10, try octomore
  • like macallan 12, try yamazaki 12
  • already like yamazaki 12, try amrut cask strength

I can’t comment much on bourbon or rye, because I don’t have enough exposure to them and basically my suggestion centres around blanton’s. At the risk of offending my friends who like jameson, I won’t drink it because it’s pretty terrible. I agree with green spot, and I’d go as far as saying move even further up and try redbreast. I love laphroaig the distillery but for peat monsters I prefer ardbeg any day, and yes octomore certainly.

I think the trend to like/buy/order japanese whisky by certain people is a fad. These are the people who queue for hours for the cronut, go gluten-free because goop says so, and are currently coughing up $37 for 2.5 gallons of raw water. Cough is the right word, because said raw water may come with a bunch of unfriendly friends. An anecdote is one of mm’s relatives, who went hunting for japanese whisky during their latest trip to hokkaido, when we’ve never seen him drink whisky or express any interest in whisky before. He says he’s looking for it because “everyone else is” and may be he can find a rare bottle to sell. Argh!! These people jumping on the bandwagon is the reason why there is zero supply of non-NAS japanese whisky.

/rant

The reason the lifehacker article caught my eye is the suggestion that if you like Johnnie Walker, try Shackleton. First of all, show me someone who likes JW, especially red and black. Last time I was served JW black I almost spit it out. So the suggestion to try Shackleton is interesting, because it’s an interesting whisky. I remember a little about its history.

In addition to the promotional video, there’s a good account in the NYT, even though there are passages that made my teeth grate. Read this about Richard Paterson, Whyte & Mackay’s master blender:

the sight of someone dropping ice cubes into a whiskey glass or knocking back a shot without taking sufficient time to savor it makes him furious. The whisky he threatened to kill me over was not any old tipple, either.

Aaaaarrrrrrgggghhhhh.

WHISKY.

W.H.I.S.K.Y.

THERE IS NO ‘E’ IN WHISKY. WHY CAN’T BLOODY AMERICANS EVER GET IT RIGHT?!!

/rant

shackletonwhiskynz

Anyway, in 1907, Shackleton and team tried to go to the south pole. Amongst the supplies they brought with them were 25 cases of whisky, 12 of brandy and 6 of port. Between four people. The expedition was ultimately a failure, although the team got to 112 miles from the pole, the furthest south at that time. When they turned back and sailed home in 1909, they left behind supplies that included cases of whisky and:

dried spinach, mint, stewed kidneys, oxtail soup, India relish, mutton cutlets in tomato sauce, Irish brawn, marrow fat, stewed rump steaks, tripe, concentrated egg powder, kippered mackerel, minced collops, and redcurrants.

Some of the stuff were pilfered but since 1990 the area around the hut where they stayed is controlled by the NZ-based Antarctic Heritage Trust. In 2007, three cases of whisky were discovered in the permafrost outside the hut; in 2010 these were chiselled from the ice and one case taken to Canterbury Museum.

The whisky that the Shackleton expedition brought with them was “Rare old Highland malt whisky, blended and bottled by Chas. Mackinlay & Co.” Mackinlay was eventually bought by Whyte & Mackay, which was then sold to an Indian billionaire, Vijay Mallya. Mallya’s private plane brought three bottles “home” to Scotland in 2011, where master blender Paterson and James Pryde, Whyte & Mackay’s chief chemist, extracted sample liquid from the original bottles for analysis. After one hundred years, there was a possibility that the whisky had turned bad. But luckily no. They found that the whisky was a blended malt, most likely from the defunct Glen Mhor distillery, which was owned by Mackinlay. The team was also able to ascertain that the water was from Loch Ness, the peat from the Orkneys, and the whisky was aged in american white oak sherry casks. 47.3% abv.

To everyone’s surprise, the whisky was light and fruity, and not smoky at all. There was peat, but it was subtle. Even Paterson, writing beforehand, expected a a heavy, peaty whisky that was the style back then. Plus there’s the image of Shackleton the macho explorer.

Sir Ernest Shackleton occupies a similar place to another with the same name, Ernest Hemingway. Larger than life, big, brash. A womaniser. The intrepid explorer. The guardian described Shackleton as having the essence of:

death-defying, pipe-smoking, god-among-men masculinity.

There’s a certain romanticism associated with explorers of that era, and soon modern marketing came into play. It was decided to replicate the whisky, and use the story to sell it. Paterson found stock from Glen Mohr and blended it with Dalmore and more than 20 other whiskies and so the Discovery edition was born. £150 and it’s no longer available. The second edition, Journey, inspired by the 2013 expedition that retraced another of Shackleton’s expeditions, is available for £110.

shackletonwhisky

The one that I think lifehacker meant as a replacement for JW is neither of these, but the mainstream, more accessible, version. It still retains the notes of vanilla, honey and orchard fruits of the earlier editions, but possibly using younger whiskies. Introduced in 2017 initially as duty free only and now more widely available, it seems to be positioned neatly in the premium blend category and at £34.95 is something I’d try, if only once. I’d like to try it against Naked Grouse, as the JW black step-up. At £27.95, it’s at a sweet price point. Then again, HP12 is around £30, and wins everything.

bbmm accidental whisky tasting

Went out for haircut then met mm, our plan was to go to the expo. Ha! Talk about best laid plans of mice and men.

We saw a whisky shop and the rest of the day was shot.

whisky20171218

We were just browsing and then got chatting with the gentleman who worked there. They had samples for tasting, like HP12, Glenfarclas 105, Ardbeg Corryvrekan. Then as we talked more and tasted more, he introduced us to Aberlour a’bunadh, Glengoyne and several different ages of Glenfarclas, which was what we were interested in. He also gvae us several independent bottlers samples of Mortlach, an islay blend that was so fantastic, and one from cambeltown that I can’t remember the name.

The one independent bottler he recommded for daily drinking was Mcdonald’s Ben Nevis which was a special edition to celebrate Ben Nevis’ 185th year and the whisky was made in a way that attempted to recreated the traditional taste. NAS and apparently only 5 years old but tasted richer, with notes of dried fruit and subtle peat. Ben Nevis was bought by Nikka in 1989, who had been purchasing grain and malt from the distillery for years. Normal Ben Nevis uses the distinctive NIkka bottle but Mcdonald’s follows a more traditional model.

And finally, he brought out the big guns. We asked him which were his favourites and he went to the back and brought out a few bottles, saying let’s try sherry casks. The Glengoyne 21 (£110) we tasted already, Glendronach 21 Parliament (£115), and The Macallan 10 cask strength that is no longer available and sometimes available at auctions for over £500. He has it for almost £700. For the same price, there’s a 41 year old speyside whisky (can’t remember distillery) and he only has 3 bottles left.

We were tempted by the Macallan 10 and the 41 year old, but decided to think about it first. I did end up getting a bottle of the Mcdonald’s Ben Nevis.

Oh, he has Ardbeg Alligator, Rollercoaster and Supernova too, but I didn’t see Galileo. I need to get that Alligator.

By the time we left the shop it was too late to go to the expo. We had a quick dinner and went home.

TWE tasting sets


TWE is promoting its newest gift idea, dram-sized tasting bottles and sets. Cute 10ml bottles of all sorts, not only whisky but gin, bourbon etc. Single bottles or a dark wood gift box of multiple bottles plus a glass, what a stroke of packaging and marketing genius. They have a balvenie set, a lagavullin set, a sherry cask set. The tour of Scotland set has auchentoshan, glenfiddich, two lagavullins, talisker. The bourbon discovery set at £44.95 has the usual suspects–makers mark, evan williams, four roses, wild turkey, elijah craig. The Japanese whisky set has chichibu, mars, nikka coffey grain, taketsuru, yamazaki 12 at £54.95. To be honest, totally overpriced and we are definitely paying for packaging.

twechocwhisky

The around the world set has english whisky, miyagikiyo, michter’s, kavalan sherry oak, amrut peated. I’ve tried all of these. English whisky company is current and amrut is in the rotation queue. Miyagikyo is probably my favourite japanese single malt, even more so than the more well-known yamazaki and yoichi. I’m surprised they don’t have a european whiskies set, opportunity wasted.

The sets I’m drawn to are the rarer ones. Lost distilleries, Port Askaig, Laddie set. The chocolate and whisky set at £44.95 should be popular. It helps that in that set they have balvenie, glenfarcas, taisker and port askaig. Actually I wont mind this set, I’ll take the whiskies and give mum the chocolate.

english whisky

englishwhisky

I saw this English Whisky at M&S and thought I’d give it a try for the novelty factor. I’ve tried small drams by the St George’s distillery before, and the label says distilled in Norfolk, where the company is. I guessed (and confirmed) it’s a Marks and Spark’s exclusive distilled by St George’s.

First clue, NAS. Plus the distillery has only been in operation for about 10 years, so not likely to be more than 7 years old. My first impression, on taking the bottle out of the box, was how pale it is. It seems that it’s barely been aged in barrels at all, or that the barrels used are different from the typical sherry or bourbon barrels for scottish whisky.

Not much of a taste too, not fiery on the palate. My initial reaction was cake, but not as rich as cake. Somewhat sweet but not fruity. It was better when a drop of water was added, more fragrant, sweeter, and a longer finish.

In the UK it’s on sale for £35. I got it for equivalent of £50. For this price, there are plenty of other options. I’m glad I tried it, but I won’t go back to it once this bottle is finished.

karuizawa ballot

twe

The ballot for two karuizawa golden geisha whiskies have begun at TWE. There are a very limited supply, only around 350 bottles combined. Needless to say, the price is also very high: £2500 for the 31 year and £2750 for the 33 year. The ballot gives the lucky person the chance to buy one but not both the bottles.

I lucked out on another karuizawa ballot a few years ago and was initially thinking this is too expensive for me. But it costs nothing to enter the ballot so, yes, I put in my email.

Karuizawa the town is between Tokyo and the Nagano region. It’s possible to plan a trip from Tokyo to Karuizawa then to Takayama and Kanazawa. Of course the distillery is closed, but there’s plenty to see and do what is one of Japan’s most upmarket resort area.

writers tears label

writerstearslabel

A friend wanted the label from the bottle of writers tears I opened, um, less than a fortnight ago. I decanted most of it to a flask so the bottle is empty. At first I thought it’d be straightforward, just soak in water. But soaking overnight in a bucket of water didn’t work. Google to the rescue, wikihow gives 4 methods for removing a wine label intact: soak in hot water for 10-15mins, heat the bottle in the oven at 250ºC for 10mins, fill bottle with boiling water or use chemical means like goo gone.

Didn’t want to use chemicals or set the oven that high so tried the simplest method of filling the bottle with hot water. Didn’t work, those labels sure are sticky. What I ended up having to do was to heat the bottle in a large pot for 20mins, I could see the label bubbled as the glue melted. Here’s the trick, let the label dry then remove it carefully using a paper blade while the bottle is still hot. When I tried to take the back label off whilst it was still wet, the paper fell apart. At least the front label is intact. There’s still glue on the reverse sides so I’ve placed them on greaseproof paper to dry and for storage. If I open another bottle I’ll save the labels too, in case someone else wants them.

I felt guilty that I was using a 8l pot. The water couldn’t be reused because it had bits of paper and glue. The only use I could think of was to [tmi]flush the loo[/tmi].

writers tears

writerstears2017

Finished the bottle of Dalwhinnie. It’s okay, middle of the road.

While thinking about the next bottle to open, I’ve been buying scads of Writers Tears, which is back at m&s at a lower price. I haven’t tried WT extensively, so it was an easy decision to open a bottle for the next rotation.

There’s something about Irish blends, that make them different from Scottish or Japanese blends. The Famous Grouse series is the only ones I like in the Scottish blends stable, and I’ve tried so very hard to like Hibiki but nope. Irish blends are usually a mix of malt, pot still and grain, I think the pot still tempers the harshness. WT is a blend of pure pot still and malt, no grain. Celtic Whiskey Shop in Dublin:

A deliciously soft, sweet, easy drinking dram.

Mr Murray gives it 93 points:

the arrival is an alternating delivery of soft and hard waves, the former showing a more bitter, almost myopic determination to hammer home its traditional pot still stand point; the sweeter more yielding notes dissolve with little ot no resistance, leaving an acaia honeyed trail

The fruity but not overly fruity notes on the nose is oh so pleasant. The palate is smooth and sweet with just enough kick. The finish is lingering and I have to say pleasant again. I love cask strengths and this one at a normal 40% tastes almost of cask strength. It’s cheaper than HP12, around the price of 2 bottles of good wine and can easily become my day-to-day dram.

p.s. posted on st patrick’s day

world whisky day

worldwhiskyday2016

It’s world whisky day. My whisky today is toasted to Papa, who would have enjoyed this. The bottle is a newly opened Laphroaig QA cask:

initially matured in bourbon barrels before being finished in charred American white oak casks. The result is a peaty, warming and spicy whisky

I bought it at DXB together with a PX cask. It was duty free only, but now available at TWE for £56 (litre bottle). The “QA” comes from Quercus Alba, Latin for American oak.

The peaty aroma hits as soon as it’s nosed. Quite distinctive Laphroaig, although less so than the PX or even the 10 year. In terms of taste: smooth, sweet with a pleasant tail. Easy on the palate to the point of uninteresting, actually. A r/scotch reviewer aptly described it as:

a very tame 10 year

That said, a nice one to try although for me the 48% Quarter Cask, at £35, is the better choice. QA at 40% works out to be £40 for 700ml.

#68 new whisky arras cask strength

ldnwhiskyex012casks

Tasks #64-68 of 101.1001 are to try 5 new whiskies. This is the last one.

I finished both the Laphroaig PX and Bunnahabhain Cruach-Mhona. Wanted something to fill my flask that I keep with me on my desk. Decided to open this one that I bought at TWE from their “fill your own bottle” casks.

arraswhisky

It’s a blended whisky called Arras. Cask strength at 54.2%. I can’t find much info on it online, the only pages point to TWE’s own promotion. No tasting notes anywhere I can find either.

Pleasant on the nose, slight sherry sweetness. Not smoky or peaty at all. Since it’s cask strength, I find the first sip fairly strong. Once it settles down, I taste fruitiness: pineapple and citrus primarily. Add a drop of water and the aroma spreads. Reasonably smooth, with more citrus aftertaste. Medium tail.

IIRC it was £40 for 500ml, which puts it in the expensive range, especially for a blend. Worth it, though. TWE obviously select their casks carefully. I may not get this one next time, but I’ll definitely think about their other “fill your own bottle” options.

japanese whisky price explosion

Posted a bunch of classifieds today, all sorts of stuff for sale. Within an hour, I got a response for a hand blender we never used. Walked down to the station to exchange–the buyer sent her son, hahaha.

hk2016yoichi12

Clicking around the website, found some whiskies for sale. This is Yoichi 10, for sale at equivalent of US$240. This was what we saw at Nikka distillery in 2014:

nikka132yoichi10

Distillery price of ¥4,643 translates to US$40. Granted, distillery price was the absolute lowest available. I don’t have Yoichi 12; I have even better: 2 bottles of 15yr and a bottle of 20yr. I bought the 20yr at the distillery for equivalent of US$190. I repeat, open market price for a 10yr is $240; I bought a 20yr at the distillery for $190.

hk2016miyagikyo12

Here’s another for sale. Miyagikyo 12 for US$330. I bought mine in Japan for the equivalent of US$70. I also have a bottle of 15yr for just under US$100. Miyagikyo distillery is located in Sendai, around 120km from the Fukushima nuclear plant that was devastated after the tsunami in 2011. Even though at the time the distillery didn’t suffer damages, I always think people will be wary of the water quality in whiskies down the line. Miyagikyo is very rarely seen outside Japan, which adds to their value. Personally, I prefer it to Yoichi so I began looking out for them early on in our Japan travels.

It’s unreal, seeing Japanese whiskies advertised at prices that are multiples of how much we paid. It’s another sign of the serious shortage of Japanese whisky, and how aged expressions will soon be no longer available. This definitely bumps up the prices. Holy cow, how much is my Yoichi 20 worth? If I bought it at US$190, and open market is running at 5x that, it’s worth, gulp, almost US$1,000. Or more, since older whiskies are always more expensive.

Not that I’ll ever sell, mind you.

whisky club ideas

islay453lagataste

A few people have expressed interest in the virtual whisky club idea, so may be it’s worth giving it a go. Keep it small, keep it simple.

I think it’s best to start with a fb event, so people can post what they will be tasting ahead of time and others can join in, or add another whisky they will be tasting. If successful, may be move to a fb group format, or keep the informal event format.

Possible tasting themes:

  • single distillery vertical
  • horizontal, eg 15 year
  • single producer/bottler
  • Islay or islands, to include HP and Talisker
  • Highlands
  • Speyside
  • world whisky
  • Irish whiskey
  • Kentucky bourbon
  • bourbons from other regions
  • rye
  • small producers
  • blends
  • peated
  • cask strength
  • NAS
  • bring anything

let’s start a whisky club

ork00highlandpark

May be fun to have a whisky club. Since most of the people I know who like whisky lives in different countries, it’ll be a virtual club. Some tips on how to host a whisky tasting and advice from reddit:

keep it small, keep it simple, keep it not for profit

Just brainstorming here:

  • once a quarter
  • format like author chats/book clubs using twitter, fb group or google hangout as possible communication tool
  • pick a general theme, like Islay whisky or bourbon trail distilleries or 15 year olds so people don’t always have to buy a new bottle every time
  • pick a timeslot or a certain day, participants taste on their own or if they can get together with others, make it a gathering
  • fill in tasting notes for fun and for record

whiskynotes

whisky vs whiskey (again)

I was browsing through amazon, looking through the first few pages of a book that I thought may be interesting. Seemed promising until someone got a drink. The drink was even named: Chivas. A few sentences later it was described as whiskey. Argh. I was so put off I browsed for another book instead.

In this day and age, a simple google search will give the answer, and another one that gives more colour and explanation. Quite interesting that even the mighty NYT had to change its house style after stubbornly, and wrongly, defending their use of the word whiskey when describing a Speyside whisky. A rare case of Americans acknowledging the rest of the world is correct. Now onto fahrenheit, paper sizes, voltage and socc(–argh, I can’t use that word), haha.
 
whiskywhiskey

Anyway, TWE has a simple graphic using flags so people can remember. I’ve also read somewhere that countries with ‘e’ in their name–United States of America, Ireland–use whiskey and countries without–Scotland, Canada, Japan, India–use whisky. Hmm, may be not anymore as many countries are bringing out their products; the English Whisky Company, Penderyn, Mackmyra, Millstone all use whisky and they have ‘e’ in their country names.

 

chivasbottle

I think the easiest way is also the most respectful: look at the label. What do the distillers and bottlers, ie the people whose product it is, call it? So it should have been easy for the everyone involved in that book I was looking at to google an image of a Chivas bottle and see that it’s whisky, not whiskey.

With so many choices of books available to me, this poor book has now been pushed to the bottom of the queue. While it may seem a trivial reason not to buy a book, this is one of my pet peeves. Readers are fickle and books have been rejected for lesser reasons.

 

bbmm whisky and goose

lambwhisky02

Went over to mm’s place to hang out and relax. We talked about going out, but decided against it. We did go outside for a little while, to get some food for dinner. Got half a roasted goose, some grapes and plums. Simple dinner. The goose was really, really good.

Made some inroads into our whisky collection. Started with macallan, moved onto taketsuru 17 and then one of the nikka pure malts. Watched tv, then frozen. It’s good to stay in and do very little.

ardbeg in space

islay171ardbeg

Ardbeg is one of my favourite Islay whiskies, and the first distillery I ever visited. In 2011, they sent a small vial of whisky distillate along with shavings from a charred oak barrel to the International Space Station, another vial of the same whisky was kept at the distillery as control. This week, they revealed the findings of how the two whiskies compared, with the space whisky having spent 2.5yrs in space in a white paper [pdf link].

Both samples went through gc, gcms and hplc analysis for organic chemicals produced during the fermentation and maturation process in order to determine if the micro-gravity conditions in space affected the composition of the distillate and whether micro-gravity may be used to develop novel flavours found in whisky. Dr Bill Lumsden, Ardbeg’s director of distilling and whisky creation, discussed the results with the CEO of space research company NanoRacks and whisky expert Charlie Maclean.

ardbegspace

The gc and gcms results, testing for alcohols, aldehydes, ketones and esters, found only small differences between the 2 samples. More interestingly, the hplc results that tested the presence of flavour compounds released from contact with wood showed there was a difference between the earth and space samples. The presence of what they call key wood extratives is lower in space samples. They didn’t say whether space conditions affected the actual extraction itself or the rate.

Enough about the scientific process. What does it mean in terms of nose, flavour, finish? Seems the space sample was more intense with different types of nose and aftertaste. Dr Lumsden summarised:

The space samples were noticeably different. When I nosed and tasted the space samples, it became clear that much more of Ardbeg’s smoky, phenolic character shone through – to reveal a different set of smoky flavours which I have not encountered here on Earth before

Tasting notes for earth sample:

  • woody aroma, hints of cedar wood, sweet smoke and aged balsamic vinegar
  • on the nose, raisins, treacle toffee, vanilla and burnt oranges
  • dry palate, woody/balsamic flavours, sweet smoke and clove oil
  • fruitiness (prunes/dates), some charcoal and antiseptic notes
  • lingering and typically Ardbeg aftertaste, with flavours of gentle smoke, briar wood, tar and some sweet, creamy fudge

Tasting notes for space sample:

  • intense and rounded, with notes of antiseptic smoke, rubber, smoked fish and a curious, perfumed note, like cassis or violet
  • powerful woody notes, hints of graphite and some vanilla leading into very earthy/soil notes, a savoury, beefy aroma, and then hints of rum & raisin flavoured ice cream
  • focused flavour profile, smoked fruits (prunes, raisins, sugared plums and cherries), earthy peat smoke, peppermint, aniseed, cinnamon and smoked bacon or hickory-smoked ham
  • pungent, intense and long aftertaste, with hints of wood, antiseptic lozenges and
    rubbery smoke

Does it mean we’ll see distilleries in space some time in the future? It’ll be very expensive, at least in the beginning. I was reading a novel based on Mars colonisation, and I’m convinced this is possible in the future. I envy the people in the next few centuries; they’ll probably think back to us now in the 21st century as doing something so stupid and backwards as drinking whisky distilled at earth gravity.

wine, bourbon, whisky

smsfwine01display smsfwine02sign

Went to a liquor store to look for wine with Car. I got a california cab and a washington pinot. The store had a great selection and I mainly looked at US wines—when in Rome, do as the Romans do, which means go for the local wines. It’s like drinking chianti in Italy, chateauneuf in France and sauvignon blanc in New Zealand.

There was a tasting of save me san francisco wine which are wines launched by a band called Train. I’ve never heard of Train before, but the wines were very decent and good value. I tried the (very generous portions) cab, pinot and blend. The proceeds go to a non-profit organisation in California. One of the band members, Jimmy Stafford, was there to autograph the bottles so I bought a bottle of their pinot too.

After the wine, I went to look at the whisky shelf and wow, there were 2 shelves full of very tempting whisky. One shelf was bourbon and rye; the other shelf was whisky and Irish whiskey, including Tullamore Dew Phoenix which was only available at the distillery and at the airport in Dublin. Even Yamazaki, Hibiki and NIkka Coffey.

bourbonardbeg201507

It was very hard not to buy up the entire shelf of whisky and whiskey. I couldn’t not get the Ardbeg Perpetuum, which was released during Feis Ile 2015 to celebrate Ardbeg’s 200th anniversary so is very, very special. I was bummed I wasn’t in London for its launch and had been resigned to never getting a bottle. $90 plus tax, which probably works out cheaper than the £90 at TWE.

It was impossible to limit the bourbon purchases to one. I got another bottle of Blanton’s, after seriously considering Bookers, Redemption, Rittenhouse Rye and Weller. Also got a bottle from ch distillery—they are a vodka distillery and bottled this bourbon— it was on sale and the company is in Chicago, all towards my goal of buying local. All this to add to the Knob Creek single barrel I bought yesterday.

I’ll have to finish drinking the wine and figure out how to bring all these bottles of whisky and bourbon back with me. Ah well, I have a few weeks to think of that.

more whisky

whiskies201506 nikkabarrel

Recent whisky purchases include 3 bottles of Nikka from the Barrel, a Mars Iwai, Amrut fusion and a umeshu-whisky liqueur. I went to get the Nikka from the Barrels, which were on special and the saleslady there suggested I get the Iwai too. Not very expensive, so I did. Wonder how it tastes like, it’s a blend from the little known Mars distillery.

I did get to try the umeshu-whisky liqueur, which tasted mostly of umeshu with a hint of whisky. At the tasting they had a umeshu-brandy liqueur which was very sweet, but none for sale.

Rounding off the selection is an unknown 45% chinese liqueur bought at a supermarket in Shunde. Chinese liqueurs tend to be very strong and burning, but the bottle of opera masks was cute and it was cheap so I got it, for decoration if not for drinking.

new world whiskies: amrut, kavalan

amrutwhiskies kavalan

I saw a whisky promotion at a small shop mm and I once stumbled upon. They had bunnahabhain and the dalmore on specials, and on their shelf they also had highland park, talisker, the balvenie and the usual macallan and glenmorangie. The more unusual selection was on another shelf, they had a few amruts and kavalans, from india and taiwan respectively. I have an amrut fusion already, so I bought a second bottle to open. The kavalans were miniatures, and kavalan is hot right now, since their solist expression won 2015 world whisky awards best single malt. It’s a bit like new world vs old world wines, so many new interlopers muscling into the world previously dominated by scotland. So many whiskies, not enough money to buy or time to try them all.

#worldwhiskyday

worldwhiskyday

It’s world whisky day. It was also raining and thundery so the ideal dram would have been Talisker. I haven’t opened the bottle of Storm yet so I celebrated by going to another island—the Orkneys—for my absolute favourite go-to whisky: Highland Park 12. Yes, favourites are best. I’m still annoyed at all the different NAS expressions HP is bringing out, that I can’t keep track of. Still, on my to buy list is the ever-present HP 12, 18, 21 and I might shell out for a 25 one of these days. Duncan Ross at TWE also recommended Dark Origins, so it’s now on the list. So many whiskies to buy, so little time to drink.

writerstears

In other whisky news, I can now get Writers Tears at M&S. At TWE it’s £32.95, price here is equivalent to £50, so there is a markup. Still cheaper than shipping it then risking customs. I’m still hankering after that £100 cask strength that I may have to have shipped.

europe day 27: london camden, whisky exchange

Today is the second sunday of easter, or the sunday of divine mercy and mm wanted to go to this church in Camden town. It’s a nice small parish church where most of the attendees seemed to know each other. Good mass.

Lunch was my pick and I opted for…Nando’s. Hmmm. Remember when mum and I went to Vancouver and we had Nando’s, it’s the same situation. We had a sharing platter with 4 pieces of chicken and 4 sides. Unlimited soft drinks so I broke my coke zero semi-fast and had many, many glasses.

Camden on a Sunday was crowded. We walked through a part of the market then headed towards the tube station, our destination was London Bridge for The Whisky Exchange. We got there after 3pm so Borough Market itself was closed.

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The nice people at TWE gave us samples from their bottle-your-own casks—craggenmore, ledaig, arras. Got talking to Duncan Ross, one of the assistant managers there and a fountain of knowledge. He gave us a small sampling of Karuizawa 30yr sherry cask. Wow, wow, wow!! I saw a bottle of Ardbeg Supernova on the shelf and was this close to snapping it up, without concern to how much my suitcase will weigh. Logic prevailed, we’ll see about our total weight first.

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Dinner back at the flat: tomato basil soup with added kale, fresh toscana bread from whole foods, proscuitto from Rome. Laundry and relaxation.

mackmyra single malt from sweden

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How often does someone give you something you’ve always wanted but thought you’d never get a chance to have? Hardly ever. And when it happens, it is a very special moment indeed.

Sis went to a small Swedish shop with her friend, a Swedish mom whose daughter is my niece’s best friend. They were there to look for chocolate and biscuits. She spotted an unusual bottle of whisky that she hadn’t seen before, and because it’s my birthday coming up, bought it for me.

She didn’t know Sweden had whisky and hadn’t heard of Mackmyra before. Little did she know it’s one of the whiskies on my list that I’ve wanted to try. I first came across it in 101 whiskies to try before you die, and saw a bottle at Stockholm airport—I couldn’t buy it because it was only available for purchase for travellers going to non-EU destinations. The best chance of trying would have been at a whisky bar or tasting.

Mackmyra is Sweden’s first single malt whisky, and the comments are positive. This bottle is a first edition, ie the distillery’s first product. NAS, and from what I can gather, is light and smooth. Now that I know where I can get it, I’m tempted to get another bottle to open and drink.

I’m so so so grateful that Sis saw this whisky, and thought of getting it for me.

world whisky awards 2015 japan leg winners

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The results of the Japan leg of the World Whiskies Awards 2015 are out, these are the contenders that will be brought to the WWA final in London:

  • best single malt: yamazaki 18 (other finalists miyagikyo NAS & 12, yamazaki 25)
  • best blended malt: taketsuru 17 (other finalists taketsuru NAS, 21)
  • best blended: hibiki 21 (other finalists super nikka, tsuru 17)
  • best grain: fuji-gotemba blender’s choice

 

Yamazaki gets the nod for best single malt again, although it’s interesting that the 18 beat the 25. I’m happy about since it keeps our beloved Nikka whiskies a little bit under the radar.

Interesting remark #3, that from Nikka the preferred whisky is Miyagikyo, when it’s been Yoichi the past few years. When we tasted the flights at the Nikka bar at Sapporo last year, I told mm that I preferred Miyagikyo—Yoichi is slightly smoky and Miyagikyo is smoother. We visited the Yoichi distillery in Hokkaido but it’s unlikely we’ll visit Miyagikyo in our lifetime. The distillery is located in Sendai, site of the devastating 2011 tsunami; and only 50 miles from the Fukushima nuclear plant. There’s been speculation about how “safe” the post-2011 batches of Miyagikyo will be—now is the time to stock up.

And I didn’t know Hibiki is blended as opposed to blended malt. No wonder a) it keeps winning all these awards; b) I keep trying and trying and trying and I never ever like it. It’s not snobbery, I have yet to find a blended whisky I like. The only ones that came close are Naked Grouse and some of the Compass Boxes, but I’ll never buy them. At the £30-ish price range, I’d rather spend my money on Highland Park 12.

#67 new whisky bunnahabhain cruach-mhona

bunnacruachmhona2015

Tasks #64-68 of 101.1001 are to try 5 new whiskies. This is #4 of 5.

I finished the dalmore 18 fairly quickly, about 6 months, probably because I didn’t quite like it. The next in the mainland rotation should be either the magnificent dalwhinnie, a strangely-named ancnoc from my sis, or perhaps mortlach 16. But I opened a bunnahabhain cruach-mhona instead, because…I don’t know why. May be it’s because I had 2 bottles? Anyway it means I currently have 2 islays open, this one and laphroaig PX. Co-incidence much? Both are duty free only.

Bunnahabhain and laphroaig are like heaven and earth when it comes to peatiness. Bunnas’ peatiness is subtle, while laphroaigs are peat monsters. I loved visiting both distilleries though. Bunna was closed when we went there, but the location and the weather that day brought home how wild and unfettered the distillery was. I’d love to go back there when it is open.

Anyway, I love Bunna 12 and I completely adore Bunna 18. Cruach-mhona in gaelic means peat stack, although its peatiness is nowhere near laphroaig or ardbeg. It’s un-chill filtered and uncoloured, resulting in a very light golden colour, like sunflower oil without the viscocity. NAS and doesn’t taste very old, may be 10-12 years. Peaty and seaweed on the nose. In terms of taste, slightly smoky, sweet, smooth with a long finish. Reviews are average and Mr Murray gave it a not terribly mind-blowing 83 points. I like it myself, I’m sold on the smoothness and the long finish.
 

best hip flasks

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I can’t think of anything I want for Christmas. On my shopping list are a new ipad cover (but no hurry—the current one is chipped), a belt (more urgent as the current one is getting grotty) and a foam roller that I can store at parents’ place.

Everywhere I look, there are lists of what to buy as presents. What caught my eye was a list of best hip flasks from the people who recently took us on the bourbon trail and to whisky in Scotland.

And besides, I have a weakness for hip flasks, remember the ones inside hollowed out books.

Two caught my eye, and they can’t be more different. A bog-standard $10 stainless steel flash that looked surprisingly good with its clean lines and sturdiness. At the other end of the spectrum is a $200 copper flask because: a) copper and b) cork stopper. 

whisky (cocktail) and (keyboard) waffle

When I was talking to sis’ restauranteur friend about a whisky bar, he mentioned about an idea he had about whisky and waffles. Quite intriguing. The main reason is that using standalone waffle irons or electric griddles falls under a less stringent food licence. And waffle irons can be used to cook all sorts of food other than waffles.

We ended up not going through with the whisky bar idea. And waffle irons do come in other shapes like animals, the state of Texas and of course Hello Kitty.

keyboardwaffle

I was reminded of our idea when I saw this keyboard waffle iron kickstarter project featured all over the place. I can imagine geekily shaped waffles and whisky being an interesting idea for a bar-café. And for an alternate breakfast idea, how about keyboard waffles with this pg tipple cocktail made from pg tips, marmalade and bulleit bourbon.

$60 for a waffle iron is on the expensive side—most kickstarter projects are expensive I find. If I were going for the whisky & waffle bar idea then I’d probably get a couple of these.  

hollowed book with whisky flask

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Here’s something for the person who has everything, via bb, an etsy store that sells hollow books: hollowed out hardbacks with matching whisky flask. Edgar Allan Poe, Pride and Prejudice, DC comics, even the Bible.

I’m trying to de-clutter and minimalise my life. I have been collecting whiskies, now should I get one of these book whisky flasks to enjoy a wee dram? Tempting.

#66 new whisky dalmore 18

dalmore18

Tasks #64-68 of 101 in 1001 is to try 5 whiskies. This is #3 of 5.

Next in the highland/speyside rotation is the bottle of The Dalmore 18 I bought at DXB last year. It was on special offer, and I couldn’t help remembering that Dalmore boasts the most expensive whisky in the world, a very limited (12 bottles total) edition of the 1962 sold at Chiangi airport for US$250,000. My flawed theory was, if they can sell the world’s most expensive whisky, their other offerings must be good, right?

Well, not so much. I found the 18 to be flat and abrupt with barely any finish. It’s smooth enough, I must say. Some notes of bitter chocolate or bitter something. The first few sips were disappointing, then I got used to it and was prepared for the lack of finish. Not quite sure why it gets such good reviews, may be it’s my palette.

It costs around the same as Macallan 18 and even though I’ve pretty much gone off Macallan, I think the Dalmore compares poorly with Macallan and other high street 18s. The problem with Dalmore is that they’re trying too hard to market themselves as a premium brand, with a distinctive bottle, stag logo that screams county squire, and gimmicky £1 million pricetags.

Yes, there are people with more money than taste who will throw money at something very expensive because it is expensive. But to make it as a premium brand, the product itself has to be of sufficiently high quality consistently. In the crowded 18yr category, I’ll take Highland Park 18 any day, or Bunnahabein 18 (£70 at TWE, a bargain) or the stunning Yamazaki 18 (a bit higher in the price bracket, but I can get it when I travel to Japan). I think I should have saved my money or gone for the 12 or 15 if I wanted to try Dalmore. Mr Murray gives the Dalmore 18 a disappointing 76.5 points and I think it’s about right. Nice bottle design though.

laphroaig new releases, opinions welcome

I’m a FoL, aka a Friend of Laphroaig. Each bottle of Laphroaig includes a code that entitles the holder to a small 1 square foot plot of land in and around the distillery. I think I have 3 or 4 plots in my account. Anyway, Laphroaig is definitely a unique, acquired taste and I love it especially since I had a great time when I visited the distillery.

I’m still working through my bottle of PX cask, and now they have a few new releases. The Select is a NAS aged in a combination of Oloroso sherry butts, American white oak, hogsheads seasoned with Pedro Ximenez, quarter casks and first fill bourbon casks. Very reasonable at £35. Then there is the 2014 cask strength, batch 006 coming in at 58% and the 2014 Cairdeas currently available exclusively to FoL.

They also embarked on a global marketing campaign, asking the question:

how would you describe Laphroaig to someone who hasn’t tried it before?

They filmed people (actors? real people, I’m skeptical) tasting a brown liquid poured from an unlabelled green bottle. Comments like spicy, fishy, seagull’s armpits and “I think they smoked it too long” actually describe Laphroaig pretty accurately. The fun part is to see people trying to pronounce Laphroaig, snerk.

30in30 #19: treat for my birthday

karuizawa1984

Tast #19 of 30 in 30 is a treat for my birthday, which isn’t till next week. But today a box got delivered that made me happy, and it felt like a birthday treat.

Earlier this year, TWE had a lottery for Karuizawa 1984 sherry cask #3663, bottled in 2013 at 56.8% from a single cask. Karuizawa is a Japanese distillery that is no longer in production, and is quite in demand by collectors and investors. I put my email in the lottery for fun, and got the confirmation after the lottery closed that, as expected, I wasn’t allocated a bottle. I thought, next time we’re in Japan, we’ll continue looking for interesting Japanese whisky.

Then in March, I got another email from TWE that I had been allocated a bottle of the Karuizawa. That was a surprise, because I’d already forgotten about the earlier lottery. I guess people either were disqualified because of too many entries, or people who were allcoated didn’t follow through with the purchase, or some other reason. The fact was, I was being offered an opportunity to purchase one of a limited supply (reputably 240 bottles) of a highly rated whisky.

I didn’t decide straightaway, because of the £325 price tag. That’s a lot, even for a 29 year old single cask rare whisky. I did some research first. nojatta said,

If you manage to get your hands on a bottle of this, you really have won the lottery

whisky investor fb page said,

Strong buy. Any single cask releases from Karuizawa are towards the top of the ‘buy’ list

In the end, I decided that I would probably regret it if I didn’t get it. I saved on VAT, but had to pay shipment and customs, which added to the total cost. I handled the bottle very, very carefully when the delivery person came, and it’s now safely tucked away on my whisky shelf. All the talk about whisky investment is irrelevant, because I’ll have to be destitute before I begin to think about selling my whiskies. Will I ever open the bottle? May be, eventually. Have to be a special occasion, I think.

hokkaido day 6: sapporo

We woke up early to do laundry, which was one of the advantages of staying at an apartment as opposed to a hotel. All told the apartment wasn’t that much cheaper than a hotel, we wanted a different experience for our trip. We had bought brioche from café denmark yesterday so we had breakfast in the apartment while waiting for the laundry to finish.

Destination in the morning was the historical village of hokkaido. I’d read about it on my research and really wanted to go. Luckily we had the car, it would have been a bit of a hassle to go by public transport. We were also lucky to have a coupon from the shiraito onsen hotel.

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sap349grocery

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The village consisted of 50-60 buildings from all over hokkaido, dating from the mid-1800s to mid-1900s. There were all sorts of buildings: inns, shops, post office, distillery, newspaper building, temple, church, farmhouse, residental homes. Some, if not all, the buildings had exhibits inside of furniture or equipment from that time. A guidemap suggested a 1 or 2 hour walk, but to explore the outside and inside took longer. We didn’t mind, we were completely enjoying ourselves. It rained and dropped sleet and was very windy so we were running from building to building. It also felt like we were the only visitors at times. Again, we didn’t mind.

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We were quite cold by the time we finished the tour, having covered about 75% of the village. Stopped at the cafeteria for much needed coffee and tea.

Next destination was outlet shopping. We had lunch at the food court, a great value meal of seafood donburi, tempura and soba for only ¥1080. The outlet itself was a bit of a let down and we quickly finished browsing through all the shops including the more interesting farm shop.

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Parked the car back at the overnight car park near the apartment and took the subway to susukino to visit the nikka bar. It was still quite early so we were the first customers. A nikka whisky fan’s dream bar, it had all the nikka whiskies plus a lot of other whiskies and liquors. We sat at the bar and had 2 flights: yoichi 10, 12, 15 and miyagikyo 10, 12, 15. It was the first time we tried miyagikyo and I like it better than yoichi. Guess we’ve decided on the next distillery visit, heehee. To finish, we tried a simple taketsuru NAS.

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Took the subway back to JR sapporo and had dinner at kushidori, a chain yakitori restaurant. Even after 9pm we had to wait for a bit, and were lucky to sit at the counter with an unimpeded view of the grilling stations. Had beef, ox tongue, chicken gizzard, chicken gristle, pork with asparagus, okra, mushroom, pepper and I had a half & half beer (half dark, half light).

hokkaido day 5: jozankei, nikka, otaru, sapporo

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Another early wake up day to soak in the spa, we went back to the outdoor one. Breakfast was as delicious and as extensive as dinner. Salmon, rice, tofu, egg and bacon cooked at the table, natto, soup and orange slices. We said goodbye to the proprietors, who were so fantastically hospitable and old fashioned they waited till we were in our car and bowed goodbye to us.

Our last exploration in Jozankei was the small shiraito waterfall the hotel was named after. Very small falls, and the bridge was not accessible because of snow. A very pleasant half an hour walk before we left for our next destination.

nikka008building nikka027distillery

About 1.5-2hrs’ drive brought us to the nikka yoichi distillery where they make, duh, single malt yoichi. What a magnificent distillery. Architecturally looking like a distillery in Scotland, with many of the same features and equipment. We were free to walk around the grounds ourselves to see the mill, mash ton, fermenter, pot stills and warehouses. A series of videos in various languages inside many buildings gave commentary on the whisky making process.

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The walk ended in the tasting room where we sampled yoichi 10, tsuru blend and an apple wine. Beautiful view of snowy mountains from the tasting room, it gave the whole tasting an unforgettable atmosphere.

We had lunch at the onsite restaurant. Lamb shabu shabu in two broths — whisky and red wine. After lunch we went to the museum bar for more selection. We picked special ones and were pleased that the bartender was generous with his pours:

  • yoichi single cask 15 — cask strength, quite strong
  • yoichi 20 — slightly peaty, smooth
  • yoichi apple brandy barrel — bit rough, not our favourite
  • taketsuru 21 — no wonder it won all sorts of awards
  • taketsuru 25 — brilliant, brilliant blend, at ¥1600 for a shot pretty expensive but top quality

Spent a lot of time at the shop deciding on what to buy. They had everything and we wanted to buy everything. Had to balance want against space in our luggage. In the end I bought:

  • yoichi 20 — one of the ones on my list
  • single cask 10 — small 180ml bottle
  • single cask 15 — small 180ml bottle
  • single cask 20 — small 180ml bottle
  • yoichi 10 small 180ml bottle — may be for silent auction
  • taketsuru 17 small 180ml bottle — also for silent auction
  • taketsuru 21 4x180ml bottles — worked out to be cheaper than 700ml

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On the way back from yoichi to sapporo we passed otaru and we couldn’t resist stopping. It was around 5pm and many shops were closed or were closing so it was just a short visit. Went to the canal to take night time pictures as we had never been to otaru after sunset.

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By the time we got back to sapporo it was dark. Luckily the gps found our apartment easily, we double parked while we unloaded. I found this apartment on airbnb, on the 10/F of an apartment block near hokkaido university. Quite dorm like the building and the apartment, which was very small with a tatami room, a kitchenette and tiny bathroom. We went back downstairs and spent a little time trying to find an overnight car park. The saving grace was the pocket wifi that came with the apartment which meant we could use google maps.

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After we got sorted and parked it was around 8.30pm already. We headed to 6/F stellar place to see if the famous hanamaru conveyor belt sushi. We only had to wait for about 10mins because it was late. No wonder there is a permanent queue outside. The sushi was fresh and fantastic. We observed other customers who didn’t take their plates from the belt, instead ordered freshly made by writing their order on an order sheet. Undeterred, we asked for an english menu and were happy that it came in 5 languages. We were able to copy the mainly kana (as opposed to the more familiar kanji) characters from the menu to the order sheet. Elated when the chef delivered our plates, meaning they understood our writing, yay! Okay, mm did all the writing, but I contributed by helping to read the menu. We had uni, squid, ikura, ikura soy, crab roe, salmon, blue fin tuna, medium tuna, scallop — total stack of 14 plates.

Did some basic grocery shopping at the station kiosk — milk, coffee, snacks. Negotiated the tiny shower and went to bed, another happy day.

#65: new whisky laphroaig px cask

laphroaigpx

Task #64-68 of 101 in 1001 : try 5 new whiskies. This is the second new one.

I finished the Ardbeg 10, which I exchanged for airmiles a few years ago, so I looked especially carefully at the Islay selection at Dubai when I was transiting there. May be Caol Ila, may be Lagavullin, may be stretch the category to island and get a Talisker. In the end, I couldn’t resist the temptation of Laphroaig PX Cask. I already have a bottle, so I bought one I won’t feel guilty at opening. Something like £60-70 I think.

First time I tasted PX was at Heathrow with RM when we were on our whisky binge that year. Heathrow didn’t have any in stock — it’d just been released and quickly snapped up — we eventually found them at Aberdeen airport.

This PX Cask has no age statement, but is distinguished by the type of wood casks it matured in, which seems to be a trend nowadays. It’s also duty free only, which seems also to be a trend. There are the regular single malts (10, 12, 18yrs) and then increasingly there are ones matured in various casks and carrying various special names. It’s hard to keep track. It follows the successful Quarter Cask and Triple Wood and sits on the duty free shelf together with the QA Cask.

I love Laphroaig. I love Islay whiskies anyway, and have very fond memories of the fantastic distillery tour. While the likes of Bowmore don’t even let you photograph inside the distillery, at Laphroaig we were encouraged to stick our fingers into the spirit safe to sample the freshly distilled spirit. What a difference. The tasting at Laphroaig was also memorable.

It’s no secret also that I prefer sweet, sherry-cask matured whiskies. This is a lovely combination of Laphroaig peat and top notch Pedro Ximenez (hence PX) sherry cask. 48%, which is what I like too. The smoke is heavier on the nose than the palate, which is smooth with vanilla and not too strong caramel.

Mixed online reviews. Some feel it’s too young and not peaty enough. Some like the sherry taste. No different from many whiskies, there will be people who like it, and people who don’t. I don’t have the most recent book by Mr Murray, so I don’t know if he has a view on it.

why are these alcohol ads so good

Prompted by this bell’s whisky ad spotted at gizmodo, I’ve been coming across great drinks ads lately.

I don’t drink bell’s but this ad, for the south africa tv market, really tugs at the heart’s strings. Now this is what a whisky is for, to celebrate something wonderful.

Another one spotted is for tullamore dew irish whiskey — created by new york agency opperman weiss, via fastcompany — from the weather to the music to the graveyard to the hat worn in the film, so quintessentially irish. I had tullamore dew in dublin, although I prefer redbreast, it was a nice dram

Here are a couple of guinness ads by agency AMV BBDO, more tears. First, the famous basketball one:

And last but not least, this fantastic, dapper one with sapeurs, the society of elegant persons of the congo:

Where the narrator says at the end,

I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul

Truer words have never been spoken.

#64: new whisky auchentoshan three wood

Task #64-68 of 101 in 1001 challenge: try 5 new whiskies. This is the first new one.

I finished the bottle of glengoyne burnfoot I bought in Dubai, so it was time to open a new whisky. This Auchentoshan Three Wood I bought in the summer and since I hadn’t tried Auchentoshan extensively, it made sense to open this. Auchentoshan is the one of the few lowland distilleries and this particular expression was matured in 3 different cask types: bourbon, Oloroso sherry and Pedro Ximenez sherry. There is no age statement, although it appears to be a 12 year that was matured in bourbon casks for 10 years, then one year each in the sherry casks. Tasting notes from the distillery:

To The Eye: Rich golden bronze.
To The Nose: Blackcurrant, brown sugar, orange, plum and raisin.
To The Tongue: Fruit and syrup. Hazelnut with hints of cinnamon and lemon. A butterscotch sweetness adds to the overall complexity.
To The End: Fresh and fruity, with long lasting oaky sweetness.

Mr Murray didn’t like it, only awarding 76 points:

The comments on TWE are somewhat divided, some thought it was really smooth, others thought it was unbalanced. Most agree it was sweet.

I thought it was delicious and way too easy to drink. Then again I prefer smooth, sweet, sherry-casked whiskies. There is definitely butterscotch and some fruitiness. In terms of colour, it’s darker than other Auchens I’ve tasted. It’s not fair of the one commenter to compare it with Laphroaig Three Wood, can’t compare a lowland whisky to one of the most peated whiskies from Islay. At around £40, it is fantastic value and the sweetness perfect for a cold Christmas evening. I’m so glad I bought 2 bottles, I’ll save the other one for another winter.

how i learned to drink

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Short answer: Switzerland.

Long answer: as a result of all my travels.

Went out with mm and our friend to a bar and caught their oktoberfest special. Everyone ordered 500ml beers — they had Erdinger weissbeer and dunkel and I had a bottle of Schneider-Weiss tap 7 — an amber wheat beer. We also shared a platter of sausages and sauerkraut. So German, love it. Naturally I finished mine way faster than them, but before I waved down a server and ordered another one, they gave me 1/3 of their remaining glasses. So I had like 800ml total and they each had 350ml or so. Ah yes, I can drink more than my friends in general.

When I was young, as in pre-teen, our grandfather and even my dad would let us kids try a little bit of beer or brandy that they were drinking with their meals. Just a small touch or a tiny sip. No harm done, it meant I didn’t find alcohol a big deal.

I didn’t drink when I got to drinking age. Oh, I think I had the required Newcastle Ale in college, but I don’t remember liking it. I was the one with the car amongst my friends, who weren’t big drinkers anyway, so it didn’t even enter my mind that alcohol should be part of my life. I didn’t drink throughout my twenties. Not the teetotal type of non-drinker, just very, very rarely.

When I learned to drink, was in Switzerland. That was when my group of friends then liked to drink. Eating out was expensive, so our gatherings were always at someone’s apartment. And someone would inevitably bring a couple of bottles of wine. Or vodka. Or something equally strong. We got into Swiss wine in a big way, knowing that it was only available inside Switzerland. Proximity to France, Germany and Italy helped too. Wine tasting at Alsace was one of the highlights of those couple of years. We made watermelon vodka, jelly shots, caipirinha. I first tried this shot with baileys floating on creme de menthe that was extremely addicting.

Moving to Asia gave me access to a new type of drink. Sake and umeshu from Japan and soju from Korea. New World wines dominated the market (and were much, much cheaper) so it was cabs and chardonnay from Australia for a while.

In the US I discovered craft beers. A race in Chicago would be sponsored by 312 or Goose Island and if I ignored the buds and millers, aka water, that are on the supermarket shelves, there’d be another section of wonderful special beers in interesting bottles.

And then came whisky. When RM came to London, he introduced me to world of whisky. And the rest is history. I’ve visited distilleries on 3 continents and developed a taste for Highland Park, Blanton’s and Yamazaki. I now have almost 50 bottles of whisky and whiskey at home, not counting the half-shelf of sample bottles. It’s becoming an interesting, if expensive, hobby.

I’m not drinking as much as when I was in London. I love buying though, so my living room cabinets are filled to the brim with whisky, bourbon, grappas, vodka, limoncello, pear liquor, tomato liquor and a bourbon cream I bought at Buffalo Trace. And a bunch of wines from our trip to Provence or from London that I brought with me in my shipment. They all just sit there, waiting to be tasted…someday.

I’m also seeing my taste develop somewhat as I get older. It can’t be any ol’ wine, beer or whisky, I know generally what I like and what I don’t like. I’m still game for trying new stuff, and there’s so much more to experience. Cheers.

japan trip day 1 part 1

flight, car

kan003bfast kan008car

It’s very rare that I start a trip report at midnight, and on Friday the 13th to boot. Technically our holiday started at around 11pm yesterday, when we got on the taxi to go to the airport. It was quick, only about half an hour from my place. We were checked in and passed through security fairly quickly too, and headed straight to the duty free to look at whiskies. Got kicked out after midnight because they were closing, so we found seats near the gate. Boarding was uneventful.

It being a red-eye flight (dep 1.45am) we tried to get as much rest as possible. They gave us a snack box that had a sandwich roll, muffin and lemon tea but we just tucked it away. Fell asleep watching Grand Designs; altogether probably slept for 2 hrs.

Arrived 6am. Direct path through immigration and baggage meant we didn’t see any duty free. Breakfast was the sandwich and muffin from the flight, supplemented by drinks from the vending machines. Ah, how could we forget about the vending machines in Japan. They will be lifesavers.

We had a car booked for the next 4 days, a Toyota Sienta. Solid, boxy thing with high ceiling, sliding rear doors and lots of space. More practical than cute. Took us an hour to get out of the airport — first had to get them to switch to an English GPS, then couldn’t get the audio working, then it was fixing the bluetooth. A patient young man from the rental place helped with all that.

yamazaki distillery 山崎蒸溜所

yama004distillery yama008statue
yama025safe yama033warehouse

I took first driving shift from Kansai airport to Yamazaki distillery. Our original plan was to visit the distillery on Sunday, when we come up from Shirahama to Kyoto, but when mm called they said the tours were full at the weekend. We changed our plan and routing, deciding to detour north and hit the distillery before heading south. Google maps told us the drive would be 1.5hrs, the GPS was more conservative at 2hrs. All in all, with traffic jam and finding our way, it did take us 2hrs.

We were just about able to make the 10am tour. They asked us how we arrived and at first we were too honest and said car. The lady at reception then attempted to give one of us a badge that said driver. Ack, no tasting, no way. So we declined and changed our method of transport. The tour was in Japanese, but we were given an English audio guide, which wasn’t as animated as the guide but equally informative. The tour passed by the entrance with statues of the founding fathers of the distillery before heading to where the mash tun, fermenter, stills and warehouse were located. Honestly, aside from the language, the distillery reminded me of a smaller Bowmore.

yama058taste yama057taste

The tour ended at the free tasting bar where they served up Yamazaki no age, Yamazaki 12 and Hakushu no age. Entry level stuff, diluted with water and soda. Also some snacks and chocolate. We only sipped a little of each, saving our quota. They had orange juice and green tea for non-drinkers and actually I really liked the green tea.

Even though the tour was finished there was still a lot to explore. The shop sold entry level Yamazaki, Hakushu and Hibiki as well as blends we saw for the first time. From small sample bottles to mid-sized bottles to regular sized bottles. There were also other souvenirs and we both bought a tasting glass with the distillery name.

yama081bar yama098taste

Beyond the shop was a small exbition area which we skipped. A balcony and staircase led down to the very impressive library. Shelf upon shelf of whisky samples, not only Suntory but from all over the world. Ah, despite the quaint Japaneseness of the distillery, never forget that Suntory owns Auchentoshan, Bowmore and Glen Garioch. Not to mention Orangina, Ribena and Lucozade.

Within the library was another bar, this a paid one. Out of so many choices we decided on 4 samples:

  • Royal — at ¥100, we wanted to try one of those entry level blends, the bottle is supposed to be based on the arch in the distillery grounds and that was the only good thing about it. Pretty sharp taste on the tongue, we each had one sip and put the glass away
  • Single grain whisky — also ¥100, worth trying a grain liquor, the first for us
  • Yamazaki 1984 25yr special edition — ¥2,300 typical Yamazaki, a little kick after the distinctive taste, my favourite
  • Hibiki 30 — ¥2,300 per glass of this prize winning best blend, normally £900 a bottle so it was well worth the try. Honestly, it did not taste like a 30 year, it was pleasant but couldn’t compare against the Yamazaki. I find this consistently with Hibiki, I want to like all the ones I try, I do like them but I always go back to Yamazaki

In case anyone is thinking we drank whisky and then one of us drove off in our car, we never finished any of the whiskies we purchased at the bar. I’d brought small containers so after sipping (that didn’t even add up to one whole glass), we poured the remainder into the containers to bring to our hotel. We didn’t want to be limited by their “no drinking for the driver” rule, but it didn’t mean that we would deliberately drink and drive.

highland park loki

highlandparkloki

I can’t resist Highland Park. RM likes Caol Ila and Scapa, mm is still refining her taste. All things being equal, if I had to have any 12 year, I’d pick HP in a second. If I were rich, I’d stock up with the super HP 30, 40 and, gasp, 50. Our visit to Orkney was one of the highlights last year, and the HP distillery visit was out of this world.

Like many of the distilleries, they have far too many different expressions and exclusives. One of those is the Valhalla collection to celebrate Orkney’s Norse connection. It began last year with the introduction of Thor. The most recent release, this year, was Loki. No surprise, it’s another well received release from a fantastic distillery. Of course it’s commercial. Of course it’s yet another means to get our money. Of course I have to have it, to complete my collection.

It’s no problem me using my UK credit card, but I need an address in the UK, a place to deliver it to and someone kind enough to store it for me until mm and/or I manage a trip back to the UK. I already have a couple of bottles with CC, and another bottle at my niece’s grandparents’ and I didn’t want to trouble them further. So after some deliberation (heh, it was all of 2 minutes) I bit the bullet and ordered it to deliver straight to me. £108 ex VAT, but a whopping £50 for overseas delivery. That said, £150 to me is still worth it. Even with whatever customs duty I have to pay when it arrives, driving the cost up even more. Yes, it’s bloody well worth it.

And no, I dare not tell mm about this.

lamb and whisky

lambrack03 lambwhisky02

The lamb racks turned out pretty well. I had two batches. The first batch roasted in mm’s oven at 200°C, but hers is a small countertop oven and I didn’t notice that we had it on grill only. Once we turned both top and bottom elements on, it only took 10mins more to get to rare, by that time they’ve been cooking for about 30mins. The second batch I seared first then put in my oven at 180°C for 20mins. I can control it better with my own equipment. Then again, I also burned my palm on the handle of the pan.

We had a leisurely lunch with the lamb, and mm made a couple of nice salads — chili marinaded cucumber and sesame oil flavoured bean sprouts. And then we got started with our whisky flight. Mainly Japanese whisky and mostly pure malt blends:

  • Nikka from the barrel — Mr Murray described it as an unspecified malt; came in a cute perfume bottle like bottle; clean and sweet
  • Nikka Pure Malt Red — fruity and quite light
  • NIkka Pure Malt Black — sweet and big, quite like a Speyside
  • Nikka Pure Malt White — slightly smoky, with its Yoichi content, need to drink this very slowly
  • Yamazaki 12 — pleasant, typical Yamazaki
  • Macallan 12 — as a contrast to the Yamazaki, very typical, bigger than Japanese
  • Yoichi — I think this was either 10 or 12, slightly peaty
  • Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 17 — great value for money, easy daily drinking
  • Kavalan Bourbon cask (from Taiwan) — I remembered it as bering really good, but it tasted a bit rough compared with the others

Only a small sip of each, the total we each had was probably just a double. The Pure Malts were quite good, and each had its own character. The Nikka from the barrel was the real surprise. With a higher alcohol content of 58.6% it was sweet and smooth and very easy to drink. No wonder I tend to prefer cask strength whiskies.

p.s. There are different types of whisky blends. What is referred here as pure malt is a blended malt, ie a blend made from single malts only. It’s also known as vatted or sometimes all malt. Not to be confused with generic blends which includes whiskies made with other type of grains; or even grain alcohol itself.

old pulteney flight

old pulteney

There’s a Scottish pub hidden in the basement of an unassuming hotel in the nightlife district. It has haggis, Scottish breakfast and staples like roast lamb, shepherd’s pie and bangers & mash. It also has one of the largest whisky selections around town, so much so that they have a separate whisky menu.

They also do flights of a few whiskies. Unfortunately they didn’t have Laphoraig or Talikser 18 so they couldn’t serve those flights. I opted for the Old Pulteney: 12, 17 and 21 year. The 12 was already pretty good, not sharp, a little vanilla and a little citrus. The 17 was smooth and the 21 was perfect. Yes, perfect. It won World Whisky of the Year, Scotch Whisky of the Year, Multiple Cask 16-21 year old of the Year; 97.5 points in the Whisky Bible Awards 2012.

glengoyne burnfoot

dxbwhisky

One of the tasks on the trip was to get whisky at DXB duty free. It helped that I saw the large selection last time, and on the layover to Copenhagen I was able to browse even more. I’d promised a GCLS friend I’d bring a bottle of VAT 69 to Dallas, so I got that. Big bargain, less than $20.

I could get another bottle, which would be for myself. I’d finished an Edradour (mostly making whisky honey & lemon when I was sick in Feb) so I wanted a Speyside or HIghland. In any case, not peated as the Ardbeg is still open. This ruled out a very tempting Laphroaig PX or an even more tempting Caol Ila 12. Sigh. I briefly thought about a Jura 16.

Original intention was Dalmore 12, seeing how popular it is. But I didn’t want to commit to a whole bottle of a standard expression without having tried it first. That was what I did with BNJ and the aforesaid Edradour, and I would have preferred Highland Park 12 over either one.

My eye was drawn to a Glengoyne Burnfoot. No age expression, travel retail only. Named in honour of the original name of the distillery. But the difference was, I had tried it before, sometime last year when RM and I were doing the distillery rounds. I have a bottle already at home. I remember it being smooth and sweet. And at a price of AED143, or £30 for 1 litre, is good value for money.

It’s as sweet as I remembered. Needed a drop of water and to sit a while for the flavour to develop and the kick to dissipate. Reviews say apple, I get sticky heaviness and lots of citrus to finish. Definitely a more than worthy successor to the rather sharp Edradour. Next time, Dalwhinnie or Old Pulteney or back to my favourite HP12.

adelphi whisky

adelphiwhisky

The newest tasting, Adelphi whisky. Not quite my usual, something from an independent bottler. The name is taken from an old distillery that closed in 1907.

Tasted the cheaper blended one, which was quite okay and the price was good for daily drinking. The one that got me excited was a cask from Caol Ila that says it’s 25yr. I’m not sure I’m convinced about independent bottlers, or blends. Withholding judgement yet.

international whisky day

whiskyathome

March 27th is international whisky day, a global celebration of whisky originally set up to honour the late Michael Jackson:

On this date let every whisk(e)y lover annually raise a dram – wherever in the world he or she may be – to honour the many unsung heroes of the past and present, who have been crafting the King O’ Drinks for centuries and will hopefully continue to do so till the end of time.

I have 3 bottles of whisky currently open at home:

  • edradour — the smallest distillery in Scotland. When I had that terrible 3 week bronchitis, I made serious inroads into the bottle making whisky, lemon and honey, aka hot toddy
  • ardbeg — peat monster, no introduction needed
  • kavalan — from taiwan, one of the newer and more unusual whisky producing countries

I think this is a good strategy, to have a selection always on the shelf. A highland / speyside / lowland, an Islay / island and then one from the rest of the world: either a bourbon or one from an unusual location. Three seems to be a good number.

japanese ice ball

I found this video on my iphone. Last year mm and I went to a Japanese whisky bar, and the bartender / owner demonstrated to us how to make a perfectly round ice sphere from a large cube of ice by hand. There are moulds and machines on the market, but this guy did it using 3 different knives. In 3 minutes. I snipped repetitive parts, and also so it fits within the 1:30 limit.

iceball

Trust the Japanese to invent something so odd, yet so beautiful. The theory is that the sphere has the smallest surface area of all 3-dimensional objects so a spherical block of ice will melt slower than regularly shaped ice cubes. This is especially important for whisky, you want the whisky to get cool but don’t want it to get watered down so quicky.

mywhisky

mywhisky201212

I now have the last of my whisky collection, mm brought the bottles she’d brought back and been holding for me. Over 30 bottles, plus a bunch of miniatures, occupy 2 shelves of my display cabinet, some of my sideboard as well as one borrowed shelf of my TV cabinet. Amongst them:

  • bunnahabhein 25
  • ardbeg corryvrechan (and a 10)
  • laphroaig px
  • bruichladdich F in bordeaux cask
  • highland park 12, 18, 1994 and St Magnus
  • redbreast cask strength
  • arras filled from cask at the whisky exchange
  • yamazaki 12

Not just whisky, there’s a bottle of pyrat rum, a bourbon cream from buffalo trace, belvedere vodka, pear liqueur from Switzerland, the world’s best beer, a strange tomato liqueur from Japan. Not to mention tons of wine from Provence and that bottle of masi amarone 1996 that I got from Verona.

highland park at the yacht club

hkychp003supply

Catching up on a few posts. This was from 1 November. Sis saw a Highland Park dinner tasting at the yacht club and wanted to go. Not a lot of resistance from me, I got mm to go too. I even wore my HP polo shirt.

The evening started with a tasting of Famous Grouse, which is also owned by the Edrington Group. Fairly innocuous blended whisky, nothing special. The starter of prawn tartar and scallops was accompanied by Naked Grouse, another blend that has a high % of Highland Park. We liked it.

Deep fried pigeon with citrus and nut salad came with HP18, now we’re talking. Lamb chops with turnip and risoni came with HP21. Chocolate crème brûlée was served with HP25. And we finished with HP30. Fantastic.

whisky flight

maltywhiskyflight

Took a break from home stuff to do personal stuff: got a haircut, went with sis to foot massage, and tried out a whisky bar I found. With a name like “Malty” it’s a risk — personally I think it’s a bad name, too cheesy. It’s more like a normal bar with a few more whiskies than a real whisky bar. They had vertical flights of glenfiddich, glenlivet, macallan and the like. Nothing terribly exciting, although more than an average bar/pub. We ordered a basic flight of 3x30ml drams — balvenie doublewood, highland park 12 and laphroaig 10. Sis had never tried highland park before and I think I have a convert.