Tasting Session Asia! #1: Penang

An evening tasting of five whiskies with two Chees (one royal and one regular) and a merry bunch of Angs. Featuring two first expressions, a dubious world champion and an insight into why sherry-cask Speysiders might not fare well in Asia.

Big shout out to Royal Chee for sorting out the evening, and to Regular Chee for bootlegging a bottle across the Atlantic. And to the merry bunch… I trust you had fun, I most certainly did 🙂

The Evening

Escaping the last clutches of winter in the UK, yours truly decided to fly on home to the island of Penang over Easter. Sadly, this meant there was no April tasting session in London, but conversely this meant warmer climes and great street food for moi.

Back in January this year, Royal Chee suggested over plate of dosa that it would be grand if we held a whisky tasting session when I was next back in town. What a splendid idea, thought I, never one to pass up the opportunity for a whisky piss up tasting.

After three months of planning and a bit of wrangling with shipping and customs, the night was finally upon us.

The Whisky Line Up

Continuing the theme of “explorers at heart”, the whisky selection was a bit of a mixed bag.

We decided to carry out the tasting blind, with the bottle only revealed after everyone’s had a taste and passed judgement. Additionally, the price was only revealed at the end of the evening.

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And my (personal) opinions in sequence…

Muirhead’s Blue Seal (40%)

This was our dealer’s choice, where the whole point is to take a risk with an unknown and reasonably-priced bottle of whisky.

The Muirhead’s brand is pretty old, having been established in 1824 before being sold to Glenmorangie and subsequently to Tullibardine. This particular bottle is probably their 3 year old blend.

We started off the evening using this whisky as the base for a ginger ale / soda water with lime cocktail and then subsequently tried this neat.

Inoffensive to a fault. It’s hard to form an opinion if a whisky has very little discernable flavour. Saying that, pretty well balanced blend giving it a smooth delivery. Light floral notes on the nose. low #whybother

We really needed to pour a hefty pour into a cocktail to get any flavours from it. Could be an interesting base for a cocktail if you didn’t want to overpower the main flavours of the other cocktail ingredients i.e. just want smooth inoffensive alcohol for your mixers!

Arran Founder’s Reserve (NAS, 43%)

Here was the bottle that I was really looking forward to try myself. Having done an Arran piece recently I wanted to see if the rocket-y tingly mouth feel could be found in their very first bottling.

Only available to shareholders of the distillery for purchase, the NAS-version of Arran Founder’s Reserve is something of a curiosity. One can still find plenty of these to purchase at auctions at really good sub-£40 prices. For fans of the distillery, I think having a couple of these in the bar might be a good investment.

Floral aroma, followed by a peppery tingle in the mouth, delivered gently via hot air balloon rather than the rocket that was the 10 year old. Very pleasant drinking. #good

All round crowd pleaser, this.

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye (NAS, 45%)

On to our dubious world champion.

Disclaimer. I am a big fan of Jim Murray’s. Not a fan boy, but I do have a lot of respect for the bloke for unabashedly sticking to his guns, following a tasting process that sounds fairly robust and pronouncing judgement on whiskies based entirely on one thing…

Is it a delicious specimen?

He was single-handedly responsible for propelling the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 into the whisky history books and hall of fame by pronouncing it his World Whisky 2015.

This whisky, or whisky to be more accurate was his choice for World Whisky 2016.

A rye. From Canada. Now available at Target for under $30.

Queue mass hysteria from Scotch fans worldwide and the bottle being swept clean off the shelves. One imagines confused looks at the Target tills.

Having tried the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 (it was incredibly yummy, thanks El Guajiro for the birthday gift), I was curious about this one.

Can be summed up in one picture.

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If they made a rye…

Banana-flavoured chewing gum. Overwhelming sweet overripe tropical banana. Spicy flavours with a toothy crunchy grain delivery. high #meh

In my books, certainly not a world beater, but a decent rye nevertheless, especially considering the sub-$30 price.

Interestingly enough, mixing it with coke (yes… I am that person sometimes) results in a stupendous drink!

One reads that the original batch that Messr Murray tasted is quite different from the bottles that you get at the shops these days, and that Crown Royal have struggled to make the same product today as their fateful one back in 2016.

Wolfburn Single Malt (NAS, 43%)

As a brand, Wolfburn have barely scratched the surface in Asia. They have won some awards, but it has yet to make a splash.

I suspect this won’t stay the same for long. My notes for my second tasting of their entry level expression…

Peaty oaky high notes, slightly briny, well balanced slightly floral body with minimal alcohol sharpness. You can almost close your eyes and imagine a flowery Glenfiddich 12 being accidentally matured in an ex-Laphroaig second fill Quarter Cask. #good

Interestingly, some people instantly proclaimed ‘KIAM HU!!!’ when this went down. And yes, I wholeheartedly agree – I can imagine the cask being aged in a kiam hu warehouse…!

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Kiam Hu. Image courtesy of Pixabay

Mortlach 16yo Flora and Fauna (43%)

Going into the tasting, I was fairly confident that the mighty Mortlach would do well based on the inaugural London tasting.

Surprisingly, it didn’t.

My personal tasting notes on it remained fairly unchanged from the London session, so what could it be?

Regular Chee possibly shed some light on the matter when he proclaimed his top three of the evening. It’s just… too familiar.

You see, my friends, in Asia, Macallan reigns supreme in the single malt stakes. You may recall my encounter with one such at a big birthday celebration. If you say single malt to the bloke on the Gurney Drive omnibus, you will almost inevitably get the response ‘ahh… Macallan!’

And what is Macallan, if not a well sherried Speysider?

I think this calls for a side-by-side!

Conclusion

All in all, a very memorable and pleasurable evening of good company, great chat and big laughs. I trust everyone’s got their sample bottles correctly labelled and stored away for a rainy day! Til the next one… !

 

 

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Can most certainly help with some headaches.

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