An Oriental Adventure

It feels good to be back in the welcoming climes of Britain in winter, and it feels even better to be back writing.

It’s been a busy 6 weeks. Christmas, New Year and Chinese New Year typically means the three Fs in abundance: Food, Family and Friends. And more often than not, it comes with a couple of weeks back in Asia. And gratuitous amounts of whisky – Oriental style.

T’was the night before Christmas…

And as always, the threat of industrial action loomed large over the entire holiday. Cue last minute panic and re-packing of luggage. That meant hand carry for me only, as I did not want to run the risk of missing a flight just because an irate baggage handler did not want to handle some baggage (the thought of it!)

Thankfully everything went smoothly on the day. So there I was, at airport security where I was unceremoniously sent back to the check in desk, when Father Christmas smiled a day early – a seat upgrade on a 13 hour long haul flight.

This was my first ever upgrade, and my oh my, that sense of exhilaration and euphoria when the check in desk officer said those magic words…

Definitely beats the check in experience for Ryanair (wait, what check in experience?)

British Airways – Premium Economy vs Economy

Is it me, or do the stewardesses in Premium Economy seem more cheerful than those in Economy? More often than not, I get a slightly raised eyebrow when they come around with the in flight drinks service and I ask for the strong stuff.

Katie very cheerfully handed me a mini Johnnie Walker Black which I gratefully knocked back while enduring Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.

Sharp nose, a tad smokey and hints of toffee, delivered in the smooth and steady embrace you come to expect. I’m talking about Johnnie Walker, of course, not Katie.

Skipping forward to the return leg, where I crashed back to reality when I was not upgraded. A very sullen Mike handed me a mini Glenlivet Master Distiller’s Reserve, which made the much-too-obvious-now cramped confines of Economy class a bit more bearable.

Is that starfruit I detect? Yum! Super smooth as is standard with most Glenlivet fare, with honey notes and a slightly peaty finish.

All in all, this marked a very positive departure from the Dewar’s Red Label that they used to serve. Do they still serve that on flights anymore, I wonder?

A Big Birthday Bash

ahma_jw_xr21
Johnnie Walker XR21… how have I not come across you before?

2016 was a big milestone for her side of the family – Her grandmother’s 90th birthday celebrations. This of course called for a celebration. You know, the sort with a cake. And maybe a song.

Add a couple hundred guests, swanky restaurant in an uptown location, a live band, and all the whisky you can drink. Oh yes, this was definitely a party by Her side of the family!

I honestly can’t believe I had not come across the Johnnie Walker XR 21 before that fateful evening. For me, the words Johnnie Walker was almost always followed by a colour from a fairly unimaginative artist (Double Black? What?), so this was a pleasant surprise.

Slightly sweeter than the Johnnie Walker Black, without the sharp nose and surprisingly less depth in the body. Good whisky, but not sure I’d pay for the premium in price for the self proclaimed ‘luxury blend’

As the night wore on, all 10 courses of food consumed and the stocks of XR21 dwindled, it was time for the supporting act to make an appearance.

ahma_others
The supporting cast… ‘merely’ the Laphroaig Quarter Cask and Macallan 18

The Laphroaig Quarter Cask made a very welcome appearance; it should have been unsurprising given we had a few Islay fans in the crowd. The Laphroaig brand is not particularly well marketed in Asia, so it is not as ubiquitous as some other brands (Chivas, I am looking you!), so the sight of that green bottle back home always makes me feel like I am bumping into an old friend.

Attention quickly moved on to the Macallan 18 for this was definitely one of those ubiquitous brands in Asia. There were far fewer grimaces amongst the drinkers, when compared to the Laphroaig.

By that time, yours truly was properly hooned, so I would not be able to give a fair account of the proceedings. Perhaps next time!

Taipei

A relatively quiet New Year’s celebration nursing a sadly demised bottle of Burgundy, and then it was off to Taiwan for Tezza’s wedding celebrations and a quick tour of the country.

I very unfortunately fell ill (not a great way to start 2017) so very sadly missed out on the wedding after party and a chance to catch up with the Angry One and his newly minted wife. But nevertheless, there were plenty of adventures in the days I was up and about.

Whisky Whisky Everywhere….

For starters, one cannot fail to notice just how popular whisky is in the capital city of Taipei. You cannot go a couple blocks without seeing a whisky store, never mind a liquor store and bars. We stayed a short walk away from the Taipei 101 building which is pretty much Taipei central and we certainly were spoiled for choice. All the local convenience stores (they are everywhereeeeeee) stock whisky, and I counted two stores devoted to whisky and a myriad other bars in my walks there.

A lot of people are still surprised to find that Kavalan, far from being a Scotch whisky, is in fact made in Taiwan. They in fact have two major producers: King Car who make the award winning Kavalan, and Taiwanese Tobacco and Liquor (TTL) which produce Omar.

When Two Nations Fight Over Cabbage

 

A visit to the National Palace Museum is a must-do in Taipei. Two artefacts stood out for the me.

The Jade Cabbage is by far the most popular object in the entire museum. It’s almost comical to think that one of the pinnacles of Chinese culture… is a vegetable. But I have to say, it is certainly a very impressive specimen.

And then there were the chicken cups. These four porcelain pieces were sitting in a quiet dingy corner of the museum. Most people miss these. After all, what’s the big deal about a few tea cups? Well, the last time one came up at auction, it fetched a cool USD 36mil.

I wonder if a nosing glass will ever fetch this much at auction.

China and Taiwan are locked in a dispute over ownership of these items, which were shipped away to Taiwan for ‘safekeeping’ from the ‘Communist hordes’ during the civil war. Heck, if someone took away my precious tea cup, I will certainly throw a hissy fit and threaten the offender with oblivion. Or not.

NB: that may be an overly-simplified view of Chinese-Taiwanese geopolitics.

Proper Taiwanese Tea

 

The majority of the tea that is drunk in Taiwan is the imported stuff. However, the Taiwanese do grow their own stuff, and it sure is hands down some of the best tea I have had. I would highly recommend a visit to a reputable tea shop and spend an hour or so there to try tea from the different regions in Taiwan.

It’s not every day that one spends £100 on tea. Considering I get to drink fantastic tea for the next year for the price of a dram of Karuizawa, it’s a bargain.

A Kavalan to Behold

kav_1
Oh my dear Kavalan, how you proved me wrong

Back to whisky.

Much ado has been made about Kavalan, especially after the Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique took home top gongs at the WWA in 2015. I came away from my very first encounter with it in January 2016, after my dear mate FurbyX was gifted a bottle of the Kavalan Sherry Cask Solist Single Cask on a business trip there. If I recall correctly, it was a very intense herby encounter. Think bitter Chinese root medicine in a melange of sherry cask whisky. Not quite to my taste.

I was equally non-plussed when I had a run in with them at the London Whisky Show 2016, where I tried the Kavalan Port Cask Solist Cask Strength and it was all a bit meh. It was decent, but it simply did not stand out from the crowd.

All that changed when I encountered the Kavalan Port Cask Solist Single Cask Strength during dinner in Taipei one night.

Rich port flavours living in perfect harmony with the amber-coloured whisky. Incredibly suave delivery, effortlessly making a heady 58.6% ABV go down as smooth as a 40% blend.

Wait, what?

If you did a double take there, so did I. I just had this nagging feeling, that perhaps this was something that I might have encountered before.Frantically, I searched through my photos.

There it was. I had the Cask Strength at the whisky show and the Single Cask Strength at the restaurant. Here it is, side by side.

So, what’s the story here? Well, that’s the subject of another post, I’m sure.

But I am very very glad that I finally found a bottle of Kavalan that is to my taste. So I don’t look a right pillock when I disagree with someone for saying Kavalan is amazing. Someone like the WWA.

kav_sbs
One’s cool, one’s not

Beyond Taipei

Growing up the only thing I knew about Taiwan was that it made a lot of electronics, and China had some beef with it.

Instead, I discovered an incredibly beautiful country, covered in mountains (more than 2/3 of it is mountain ranges), fabulous food and a surprisingly warm and welcoming people living in an unexpectedly progressive society.

I sure hope I go back there one day….!

What follows are some photos. No more whisky though 😦

taiwan_shifen_coal_plant
Abandoned coal plant in Houtong cat village
taiwan_lantern
The mindboggling town of Shifen with a train track through the high street
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Street markets of Jiufen
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Sun Moon Lake
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Cliffs of Qingshui
taiwan_gorge
Taroko Gorge
taiwan_clouds
Driving above the clouds in Hualien
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Sunset in the mountains
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Wood fired ovens for roast chicken in Yuchih
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I wonder what the factory makes…

Thoughts?

Had your own mixed reactions to Kavalan? Want to weigh in on the Single Cask / Cask Strength point? Or to ask a recommendation on a travel itinerary in Taiwan? Drop us a comment!

 

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