Kavalan Distillery 01

Touring Taiwan’s Whisky Titan: A Visit to Kavalan Distillery

I remember my first taste of Kavalan. It was at a master class during a whisky festival, and Taiwanese whisky was very much a novelty at the time. Since then, Kavalan has gone from strength to strength. Its brand has grown massively, in no small part thanks to the multitude of awards snatched up. So when I marked Taiwan as my next holiday destination, I immediately checked Google Maps to see where the famous Kavalan distillery was located. After a not-so-accidental detour, we found ourselves at the King Car Yuan Shan distillery, as the place is more properly called. The home of such products as Mr. Brown coffee, Buckskin beer, YoGo Fresh yoghurt drinks, and more importantly… Kavalan Single Malt!

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Ledaig 18 year old

Ledaig 18 year old reviewDistillery: ­­Tobermory
Region: Islands
Age: 18 years old
abv: 46.3%

Describing a whole range of whiskies as wonderfully peated is sure to raise some expectations. Yet Tobermory distillery from the Isle of Mull told no word of a lie when they slapped this label on their range of Ledaigs. While the lively 10 year old is a great bargain, Ledaig has also released some excellent older bottlings lately. These include the sumptuous 19 year old Oloroso Cask and the alluring Dùsgadh. But today’s headline act is Ledaig 18 year old. Bottled at the customary 46.3% and matured in casks that previously held sherry, this Ledaig is produced in small batches. This particular batch is No. 02, but fortunately a new batch has been released since, pointing at Ledaig 18’s commercial success. This bottling comes in an elegantly designed wooden box, making it a great gift. Trust me though, give Ledaig 18 a taste and you’ll agree you’d rather not part with this whisky…

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Glenfiddich IPA Experiment

Glenfiddich IPA Experiment 01Distillery: Glenfiddich
Region: Speyside
Age: No age statement
abv: 43%

Glenfiddich IPA Experiment was the first entry in Glenfiddich’s Experimental Series, a range of whiskies that is breaking new ground and is rightfully generating some buzz. Glenfiddich describes these whiskies as Single Malts that Rewrite the Rulebook. Of course, Glenfiddich has a history of writing its own rules, being the first company to successfully market single malts. Now drams such as Winter Storm and Fire & Cane are among the more unusual bottlings on the market, a tasteful reminder that distilling whisky doesn’t always have to be all about tradition. And surely, no distiller had dared to mature whisky in an ex-IPA casks before either. The oak in question comes from the Speyside Craft Brewery, which uses ex-Glenfiddich casks to mature their IPA beer, before returning them to the distillery. It’s this symbiotic relationship that has allowed Glenfiddich to jump on the global popularity of IPA, extending those bitter, hoppy flavours to its normally fruity whisky. I’m a big fan of IPA beers, and when I first tried Glenfiddich IPA Experiment, I was so intrigued that I decided to create my very own Arran IPA Cask Finish. But I digress, let’s return to the matter at hand…

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Super Nikka – Rare Old

Super Nikka ReviewProducer: Nikka
Country: Japan
Age: No age statement
abv: 43%

Super Nikka was launched as far back as 1962, during a decade of great optimism in the Japanese whisky industry. Nevertheless, these were sad times for Nikka founder Masataka Taketsuru, whose Scottish wife Rita had passed away the previous year. As a way of dealing with his grief, he poured all his energy into creating a new blend, which he would title Super Nikka. To honour his late wife, he meant for it to be something special. Super Nikka was the company’s most expensive product to date, retailing at ¥3000 per bottle, at a time when a college graduate could expect to earn around ¥18000 a month. The glass bottles were hand blown, each fitted with a glass stopper to add an extra touch of class. The bottle alone reportedly cost ¥500 to make, an extravagance given that many whiskies were retailing for less. As mentioned though, this was a time when whisky was booming in Japan and consumers sure were interested. Around 1000 bottles of Super Nikka were produced each year. All of them sold.

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Arran Marsala Cask Finish

Arran Marsala Cask ReviewDistillery: Isle of Arran
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 50%

While 2017 saw the introduction of the Arran Trebbiano Cask, in 2018 it was time for another Italian wine to take its place. After plenty of shuffling around, Arran seems to have now settled on the Port, Amarone and Sauternes Cask being a core part of their range, complemented by a different Limited Edition each year. That honour now falls to the Arran Marsala Cask Finish.

Marsala is a fortified wine produced on Sicily, and is essentially Italy’s take on port or sherry. While Marsala’s intense flavour means it’s often used for cooking, it can also be drunk on its own, particularly if you have a bit of a sweet tooth. Not surprisingly then, Arran Marsala Cask will come as a treat for those who like their whiskies sweet and sumptuous. Bottled at the usual 50% abv, this is another easy-drinking sip of whisky from Arran distillery.

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Kura The Whisky

Kura The Whisky ReviewDistillery: Helios
Country: Japan
Age: No age statement
abv: 40%

First things first: Kura The Whisky wasn’t actually distilled in Japan. So why does this bottle bear the label Japanese Whisky I hear you ask? Well, while many countries have strict regulations that govern the distilling and labelling of whisky, Japan is notoriously lax when it comes to such matters. To take just one example, Japanese whisky makers can get away with including up to 70% generic blending alcohol in their “whiskies”. But back to Kura The Whisky. Suffice it to say, the raw spirit in this dram was produced in Scotland. Okinawa-based rum distillery Helios then shipped it to Japan, stored it in their rum casks for a while, and proudly proclaimed it “Japanese whisky”. If this feels like Helios is jumping on the bandwagon of Japanese whisky’s success story, well… that’s because it is. Not that Helios hasn’t been in business for some time, having produced quality rum and awamori (a rice-based liquor) since 1961. While Helios did distil some of their own whisky in the past, they seem to have stopped production since 2001, half a decade before Japanese whisky started becoming liquid gold. Anyway, let’s not judge a bottle by its cover, it’s time to give Kura The Whisky a try!

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Bar Kage in Tokyo's Ginza district

Bar Kage

I’m sure we’ve all experienced these little twists of fate that inexorably draw us towards a place we hadn’t intended on. So it was when I found myself in Tokyo’s Ginza district, ready to immerse myself in the local bar scene. Before coming to Japan, I had read Stefan van Eycken’s excellent Whisky Rising, which features a chapter on the best whisky bars in town. Clearly Bar High Five was the place to go, or so I thought. Alas, I’ll never know (or at least not until my next trip to Tokyo), for High Five was jam-packed, with a line stretching all the way to the elevator. Fortunately, another of the book’s recommendations was just around the corner. We almost missed the entrance (a sliding door in a dim alley), but once inside we were able to descend the stairs into the bar.

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Arran Amarone Cask Finish

Arran Amarone CaskDistillery: Isle of Arran
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 50%

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I really enjoy Arran’s Cask Finishes range. There’s something about Arran’s fresh, fruity profile that just lends itself very well to an additional few months in ex-wine or port casks. For this bottling, Arran used oak that previously held Amarone, a rich Italian red wine. And oh my, has it left its mark on this whisky. Dark of colour with sweet, nutty flavours, a silky mouthfeel and a long, lingering finish, Arran Amarone Cask is a dram to savour. For the past few years this bottling has been in a bit of a limbo, being discontinued and reintroduced several times over. Let’s see if the Amarone Cask sticks around, but surely a dram this good has earned its place in Arran’s core range..?

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Laphroaig Lore

Laphroaig Lore Review 01Distillery: Laphroaig
Region: Islay
Age: No age statement
abv: 48%

Lore
Noun. a body of traditions and knowledge on a subject held by a particular group, typically passed from person to person by word of mouth.

Laphroaig is no stranger to a bit of Gaelic here and there, but today’s bottling is in plain good old English. Which means it’s possible to look up a definition, and as always the folks at Oxford Dictionary were happy to oblige. So if you consider that the particular group are distillers, blenders and craftsmen, and that the subject is distilling Laphroaig, then the name Lore is really quite fitting. For indeed this bottling is meant as a celebration of the knowledge passed on through the ages, all the way from 1815 until the present day. Somewhere along the line someone must’ve passed some knowledge on the virtues of NAS whiskies, because Laphroaig has very much followed this trend. But enough has been said about this, for it’s quality that counts, not age statements. And on this front Laphroaig Lore is certainly not holding back. Current distillery manager John Campbell claims that Lore is the richest Laphroaig ever made, and given that it’s composed of 7 to 21 year old whisky, including some aged in sherry butts and quarter casks, there may be some truth to this statement. Certainly Lore has picked up plenty of awards, and was named as best NAS Scotch in Jim Murray’s 2019 Whisky Bible. While I far from always agree with Jim Murray, I certainly did enjoy this luxuriously spicy Laphroaig!

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Oban Distillers Edition

Oban Distillers Edition ReviewDistillery: Oban
Region: Highland
Age: Distilled in 1997, bottled in 2012
abv: 43%

When legendary whisky writer Alfred Barnard visited Oban in 1887, he described the distillery as “a quaint old-fashioned work”. On the face of it, not much has changed, with Oban distillery employing the same traditional production methods. In the meanwhile though, owners Diageo have invested significantly in both hardware and marketing, and Oban has become one of their flagship Classic Malts.

As a town, Oban is known as the Gateway to the Isles, and indeed many a ferry departs from here to the Hebrides. Perhaps it’s unsurprising therefore that Oban’s distillery character holds the middle between a Highland and an Island whisky. Fresh and fruity but with plenty of briny notes and a whiff of smoke, Oban is the quintessential coastal malt. I count Oban amongst my favourite distilleries, but somehow never end up drinking much of their whisky. Perhaps it’s the fact that there aren’t many expressions on offer. Or perhaps it’s the fact that Oban is never truly outstanding, but never lets you down either, like that dependable old friend you really ought to pay a visit more often. This particular expression has received a second maturation in Montilla Fino sherry casks, providing a nutty richness on top of Oban’s sweet, coastal profile.

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