Here's what we're drinking, and you should too.

#Tales from the Cask

At Ruth’s Chris for a company dinner.  They have an Oban 15!  Must be the shit. 

You would think that a chain steakhouse would both know their selection and be able to spell Nadurra.
At Ruth’s Chris for a company dinner.  They have an Oban 15!  Must be the shit. 

You would think that a chain steakhouse would both know their selection and be able to spell Nadurra.

At Ruth’s Chris for a company dinner. They have an Oban 15! Must be the shit.

You would think that a chain steakhouse would both know their selection and be able to spell Nadurra.


Kiuchi Brewery’s Hitachino White Nest Ale Whiskey in San Francisco

I assume that like most hobbyists, whenever I go to a bar I have never been before, I check out their whisk(e)y and beer selection.  I haven’t been going out to many new places lately (or going out for that matter, I guess), but I recently went to Bloodhound in San Francisco to watch the end of the Cal Stanford game.

The funny thing about trying to scope out whisk(e)y behind an only somewhat lit bar is that you become the reason brand and product managers stay employed.  By virtue of bottle shape and bottle label, even in a dark and noisy bar you can do a pretty good job of playing “name that whisky.”   This is where I found myself on that Saturday night after dinner.

On my initial pass, I did not notice anything out of the ordinary.  I ordered a Blood and Sand (side note: it wasn’t an amazing cocktail, Alembic makes a killer one).  On my second pass, I did another look, and saw something out of the ordinary.  I asked the bartender if I could see the bottle (which I’m sure he loved on a busy Saturday night).

The picture accurately displays my vision at this point

On the shelf was a small, slim 200ml bottle carrying some clear liquid and Japanese text.  The bartender took down the bottle, looked at it strangely, and poured himself a glass.

White Dog of White AleHitachino Nest White Ale White Dog

The bar had a bottle I had never seen before!  The “name that whisky” brought out quite a surprise.  The whisky was a white dog version of Hitachino Nest White Ale, brewed by the Kiuchi Brewery in Japan, imported by a B. United International in Connecticut.   After the bartender poured himself a dram he poured me one and I took it back to my seat.

The taste?  Umm.  Well.  I wasn’t in any position to be accurately tasting anything.  It was extremely fruity (perfect for SF - hey!) and tasted like a really sharp (not smooth) white dog.  I didn’t love it.  I went back to the bartender after to discuss and he said he thought it tasted like ‘grappa' - at the time I agreed.

I haven’t been back yet to retaste, but will do so at some point.  Even though I didn’t love the whisky, I loved the find.  So keep your eye out when you’re in a bar, you too might find a new bottle that instructs you to “PLEASE ENJOY RICH FLAVOR AND TASTE.”



Tales from the Cask : Wilson and Wilson Private Detective Agency

Outside of a San Francisco Detective Agency

One of the bars in San Francisco that knows how to make a cocktail is Bourbon and Branch.  They invented the Laphroaig Project there, and the bar is actually housed in what used to be a speakeasy.  There’s a back “library” that houses a second bar that you need to enter through a fake bookcase.  You need to make a reservation and know a password to get in, the bartenders and staff are all dressed up old-fashioned like, and the quality of their drinks is only matched by the prices they charge.

Recently they expanded.  Next door houses “Wilson and Wilson Private Detective Agency”.  It’s a bar that is supposed to give you a higher level of service and ostensibly it does.  It’s another speakeasy type thing, and you can read a good review and the backstory here from The Tender.  I didn’t have an awesome time there (the seats are REALLY uncomfortable and our waitress was pretty awful), but the drinks were good.

The reason I write this post is that they have some extremely interesting whisk(e)y drinks.  The menu is arranged by apertifs, main courses, and digestifs (they have a prix fixe menu where you get three drinks for the price of two and a half, or really the price of a decent meal anywhere else).

The three drinks are:

The Phantom

Clove infused cognac, Glenrothes Alba Reserve, Cocchi Aperitivo, Lemon Juice, Cacao and Vanilla Syrup, Orange Bitters

Truth Serum

Highland Park 12, Amaro Nonino, Brown Sugar Cinnamon Syrup, Sasparilla Aromatic Bitters, Licorice Root Tincture


Knob Creek Bourbon, Coffee Syrup, Cranberry Infused Angostura Orange Bitters, Tobacco Bourbon Tincture

I had the Truth Serum and really enjoyed it.  It wound up being way smokier than I expected from HP 12, and was really delicious.  The flavors were balanced and I even got some of the sarsparilla.  Not sure it was worth the cost, but definitely an experience.

For those who want to check out the full menus, they are here.  Here’s a pdf of the envelope the menu comes in and here are page 1 and page 2 of the menu.


Flea Market Finds: A Vintage Wooden Johnnie Walker Black Shipping Crate

Nice Red Jacket!Johnnie Walker Black Crate

At the Alameda Flea Market last Sunday, I stumbled upon a vintage wooden crate that used to store Johnnie Walker Black. There are always wooden crates around, but this one, with it’s two-toned color walking man, was especially cool.

Maybe the Best Christmas View EverHappy Holidays with Compass Box and Johnnie

What’s cool? Finding a vintage Johnnie Walker crate at a flea market.

What’s cooler? That vintage Johnnie Walker crate being cheap, having a two-tone walking man, and having it actually be related to San Francisco.

What’s da coolest? Aside from peeing your pants, the vintage Johnnie Walker crate acting as vintage decor so that there is no problem with the lovely lady I live with, in other words, providing me an opportunity to have more whisky displayed.  It totally counts as Catalog Living.

Win win situation all around. I’m guessing the crate is from the 1980s because of the Canada Dry Corporation mark, but I’m not sure. Anyone have an idea based on the front/back?  Maybe when that third street warehouse was active?

I Love me Some SchweppesCanada Dry Corporation Warehouse in San Francisco

Tales from the Cask Teaser: Bhutanese Whisky - Coronation Silver Jubilee

So that's where Bhutan is
Bhutan is centrally located. In the center.

Last night I met up with a friend of mine who just came back from Bhutan. Which, by the way, the Bhutanese call their country Druk Yul, or Land of the Dragon. She went there not as a tourist (which, is very limited anyway and someone literally has to accompany you at all times), but as something even more rare - she went there to work and lived there for a period of months.  She had special permission from the ministry to do this, etc.

So what did she do?  She brought me back some Bhutanese Whisky.  How cool is that?  And how cool is she?  I’ll do a more thorough post on this, but wanted to post up some Whisky Bottle Porn of Coronation Silver Jubilee Whisky (or CSJ Whisky for those in the know) and a few tidbits she told me.

  1. This whisky is from the Gedelphu Distillery, which is incredibly remote.  Apparently everyone that can go to Bhutan flies into Paro (which is the only paved airport in Bhutan).  Gedelphu is a 2 Day (Day!) bus ride from Paro and it is in the middle of nowhere.
  2. The weird peacock design thing is actually a hat that the king of Bhutan wears on special occasions.  The design on the bottle it the Bhutanese flag, except where the King’s peacock hat is would normally be a dragon.
  3. The bottle is labelled as 25’ Up and 42.8% v/v.  My first thought is to thank goodness it’s not 50’ UP because I’m not sure I’d be able to deal with that.  In reality, I’ll go through at a later date and put some research into what those markings actually mean.
  4. The blend is made with “Extra neutral” grain whisky to commemorate the 25 Years of Enthronement of “The 4th Druk Gyalpo”, which basically translates to the 4th King of the Land of the Dragon.  Totally sweet.

So, now for some whisky bottle action.  I’ll post a formal review and do some more searching on this whisky in a little bit, but thought I’d share my excitement with everyone.  Here’s to hoping it’s amazing, right?

- StrongLikeCask

All that and a peacock hatFor an impoverished land, they sure know how to dress up special whiskies
Don't Mess with the 4th King of DragonsThe 4th Druk Gyalpo Deserved this Whisky
Bhutanese Aim to PleaseA Taste of Bhutan

The Whisky Travels: Switzerland, Cows, Whisky and Cognac

She mooed lots.Swiss cow early in the morning

Switzerland is known for many things: cows, cheese, neutrality, chocolate, fondue, gold, banking, the Alps, and probably pigtails.  Whisky?  Not so much.  When it comes to liquor, most folks probably know of Goldschläger (the origins of which aren’t even Swiss), but whisky wouldn’t be top of the mind.  Let’s try to change that.

I was lucky enough to travel to Switzerland to celebrate my grandma’s 100th birthday (she’s awesome, still lives on her own, and remembers all her kids, grandkids’ and great grandkids’ names).  Before going,  I wanted to do some due diligence and try and locate some whisky I could purchase in Zurich Duty Free.  And apparently  I had been spelling whisky wrong.  Really, I was looking for “Swhisky”.

What?!?  That portmanteau, potentially one of the most awesome and terrible words I’ve seen actually exists and represents a real product.  It’s 100% Swiss whisky and it’s award winning.  Their motto, google translation tells me is to “do good and not evil”  Weird for a whisky, but I can get behind that.  Swhisky has several lines - the amazing looking Prestige Collection, the Grand Crus Collection and the Club Collection which contains two releases available in Zurich’s duty-free: Challenger and Skipper.   I was able to pick these up at duty-free, though I was a little dismayed that they run a hefty price.  The company has a whole slew of other releases that I could not get my hands on that have apparently won awards, though they have problems making enough to meet demands.  LonelyPlanet even recently posted a nice article about the company.

All you need is Swiss LiquorSwhisky, Rheingold Cognac and Santis Malt

Liquor in Switzerland is purchased in a grocery store (I did not find a liquor store anywhere).  When I tried to figure out where to purchase and shop for whisky, my uncles had no idea where I could get some except maybe for department/grocery stores.  The selection in those stores was pretty light - though many did carry the Appenzell Single Malt I write of below.  One store I found (Globus) did have a bottle of Ardbeg Lord of the Isles for sale at around 130 Swiss Francs (and I was excited!) but when I tried to purchase it, they claimed the price was a mistake and wouldn’t sell it for less than 400 Swiss Francs.  It made sense - it seems that everything in Switzerland is pretty pricey.  Oh well.

My parents who got to Switzerland before me visited Appenzell, a region of Switzerland best known for its cheese and herbal liquor (which interestingly can’t be imported into the US because they refuse to release all their ingredients).  While there, they found an Appenzeller Single Malt, called Santis Malt – a 100% barley single malt whisky that is aged in ex-beer barrels, and they were kind enough to pick up the 500mL bottle for me as a birthday present.  The packaging of this one is awesome (though once again, the whisky was pretty expensive) and was found in the Appenzell region as well as the Globus store I visited.

Rudlinger Rheingold Cognac

Lastly, though not whisky, I was able to take home a bottle of some amazing cognac.  My uncle maintains a few grape vines on his small farm, and in 2003 he decided to make some of the grapes into cognac.  The bottle is gorgeous – the label is written in sharpie on 24 karat gold leaf (eat that, goldschlager).  And the taste?  Well, let’s just say I’ll be willing to try different cognacs from now on.  The cognac had amazing stone fruits on the nose, and on the palate it was sweet, developed nicely into tartness, and honeyed cinnamon flower petals.  I was extremely impressed.

Anyway, so that’s Switzerland.  It is an amazing place, and though whisky is a bit harder to come by, there are still some surprises to be had.  To close, below is a picture of my Grandma.  When 11 AM rolled around on her 100th birthday, she asked if it was okay if we started drinking wine.  If you’re looking for something to toast later on, raise a dram to her health.  And to yours.

Triple digits, yo!Mamama on her 100th, showing us all how to lean back

- StrongLikeCask


Tales from the Cask, Enemy Nations Edition: Syria

At first thought, one might assume there isn’t much of a relationship between a place like Syria and a product like whisky.  Even though the Mesopotamians left us the first historical and clear physical evidence of malting, and Arabia was a major contributer to and transmitter of the art of distillation (it is literally al-Cohol), those traditions certainly haven’t carried over to the modern Middle East.

But for those of us who come in the tradition of the western world as explorers of the Orient, a good drop is essential for that long, dusty road (along with plenty of sanitary water).  In fact, my first adult glass of Scotch was courtesy of the Syrian-born co-director of excavations at a giant tell in the far northeast, near the Iraqi border, several years ago.

We had the pleasure of watching Apaches fly overhead and seeing the flares go off for US troops’ night missions just over the Sinjar mountain range.  With the war as a backdrop and a sleepy Syrian village as the setting, my birthday, I imagined, was going to prove underwhelming.  It was quite pleasant, though, with some home-cooked pizza and a glass of what would turn out to be my favorite liquid cuisine.  The expression was Johnnie Walker Black Label, which is both available and affordable in places such as Qamishli, Syria (ca. 1000 SYP, around $20/liter).

A couple times every year on my way to excavation I purchase a liter of something special at duty free and treat the team to the best whisky they can get in that country.  I have also done some reconnaissance: I’ve tasted two local Syrian-made whiskies (Al-Andarin and Old Gold), and discovered a couple of places one can get a single-malt in the Old City in Damascus (near the Bab Touma).

This season the director of excavations (who fills the same position at the same school as a certain fictional archaeologist’s fictional professor) came bearing, of all things, a liter of Laphroaig 10!  As much as he chose this spirit based on love of the drop, his background in Scotch was minimal; thus, many discusions of phenols and cresols ensued, and we were temporarily, and happily, able to reverse the roles of student and master.  Now, you might think that the intense smokeyness of a big southern Islay would be hard to bear in a sticky 50 °C climate.  But in an odd and remarkable way, a tea-glass worth at night just brings everything into balance for once during the day.

Both in agreement that the big peat flavours captivated our palates, it was not long before we embarked upon a full disection of the processes by which such tarry, smokey whiskies could be made.  Scotch is that great potent potable that allows such in-depth discovery and analysis, not so dissimilarly, I would find out, from the crates upon crates of Late Chalcolithic painted pottery that we dug up each day.

Btw, the director also loved the Bulleit Bourbon I managed to bring along.  He used some Jim Beam he brought for (fresh) mint juleps, and boy were those refreshing on a hot Raqqa friday night in August.  Generally I’m not much of a mixer, but those should be on the menu at every dighouse east of the Jordan.

One thing you have to look out for in Syria, and presumably other countries of similar ilk, other than scorpions, is the Johnnie Walker Red Label.  It’s fake.  Every time.  In fact, much like the Johnnie Walker bottles used in Cambodia to transport petrol, this FRed Label tastes more like gasoline than it does whisky.  Don’t worry, though, the Dewar’s White Label, the Cutty Sark, Grant’s, Teacher’s, Black Label, and other premium blends are all on the up and up there.  I once managed to haggle a 1.5 L bottle of Cutty Sark down to 500 SYP (ca. $10) at a grocery store in Qamishli, and they might even have Jura Superstition if you’re there at the right time of year.  And now, on to the local spirits:


Abv: 25% (hey, every country makes their own alcohol laws…).

Color: the color of caramel coloring.

Nose: molten plastics, some aluminum, and rose water.

Palate: mouthwash, old bologna, kerosene (much like the FRed Label).

Finish: cheap cough-syrup vapors die quickily, but leave a slight burn and the twin tastes of disappointment and desparation.

Overall: at least now I know what they were putting in the Red Label bottles.  70 cl of this stuff cost me 125 SYP, which is less than $2.  Worth it?  Well, half the bottle got drank, but not happily.  There was a lot of grimacing.

Old Gold - “A blend of finest fully matured malts […] pure grain alcohol”

Abv: 40% (okay, back in business).

Color: heavily brownish amber.

Nose: currants, melted wax, rubber… maybe some faint black cherries with time out in the air.

Palate: wax again, soft wheat, strong grain heading into the finish; some apples with aeration.

Finish: life in the Hobbesian state of nature: brutish, nasty, and short.

Overall: slightly better than the Andarin, but still not whisk(e)y in our sense of the word(s).  This wasn’t expensive, either, but by all means, skip the local distillates and pay the $15 for a decent blend if you have the good fortune of spending time in rural Syria.  Most towns will have a liquor/beer store, especially if there is a Christian population.  Gin and vodka are available, too, though tonic is very hard to find.


The Whisky Travels: Cambodia and Johnnie Walker Black

Bayonne Temple in Angkor WatBayonne Temple in Angkor Wat

After tasting Mekong Whisky in Southern Thailand, I flew back into Bangkok to take a short flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia.  My destination was the temples of the area - like Ankgor WatBayonne and Tah Phrom (known all over Siem Reap as the Tomb Raider temple).  The best way to travel in Angkor Wat is by Tuktuk - basically a small motorcycle with a 2 person carriage welded onto the back.  There are cars around, but many more motorcycles and tuktuks.

A Cornucopia of Johnnie Walker WhiskyA Cornucopia of Johnnie Walker Whisky

One of the first things I noticed on our tuktuk ride in from the airport, and I continued seeing as we traveled out to temples and around the countryside were stands set up along the side of the road with Johnnie Walker Black and Johnnie Walker Red bottles.  They almost seemed as though they were an old fashioned ice shaving stand where the Johnnie Walker bottles were filled with flavored syrup to pour on the ice - except for some reasons Cambodians only appreciated one flavor.  Now at some stands, there were other bottles - some stands had large soda bottles and others had Seagrams gin bottles - but predominantly, the bottles were black label and red label Johnnie Walker whiskey.

More Whisky in CambodiaMore Whisky in Cambodia

Eventually, I asked our guide Tea (pronounced tee-ah) what was going on with all the whiskey bottles, especially because like the rest of South Eastern Asia, most of the drinks I saw in restaurants and bars were beer - whiskey wasn’t widely available.  It’s surprising that the most prevalent place I saw whiskey all over Asia was on the streets of Angkor Wat, in refilled bottles.  So, what was in the bottles?

The liquid in the bottles, according to Tea, is actually gasoline.  It’s petrol.  And not just any gasoline, but LEADED gasoline.  There are gas stations in Cambodia, and they’re actually pretty common place, but for that unleaded gas at those stations, it apparently is expensive.  People smuggle in leaded gasoline from Thailand, and sell it on the streets for less money than the unleaded gasoline.  Cambodians just decide between screwing up their motorcycle engines with leaded gasoline, or paying more money for the unleaded variety.  The whiskey bottle is just a convenient way to measure out 1 liter of gasoline.  One would stop by a stand, pay for a bottle, and literally upend the Johnnie Walker Black into the tank.

Pigs on a MotorcyclePigs on a Motorcycle

Cambodia was probably my favorite part of my trip to Asia.  Seeing an incredibly beautiful countryside from the back of a tuktuk, visiting absolutely stunning temples, and being able to see such a unique representation of cultural mashing through the whiskey bottle usage is something I will not forget for some time.

Spicy Snail Cart for Balancing out the Leaded GasSpicy Snail Cart for Balancing out the Leaded Gas

The Whisky Travels: Thailand Whiskey

A Thai BeachA Thai Beach

Many people will tell you not to travel to Southeast Asia in the summer.  They claim it will be extremely hot, extremely muggy, and generally miserable.  May I suggest that you pay more heed to these people than you usually do to naysayers.  I was once again extremely lucky to be able to travel to Southeast Asia for a period of two weeks this past summer, and though my time there was amazing and we were lucky with very little rain, it was hot.  Hot enough that every one on the trip basically had a day of heat exhaustion.  Think 41 degrees celsius for my friends in Europe (105.8 degrees Fahrenheit), muggy as all get out, and then walk around a city sightseeing for 8 hours a day.   Was it worth it?  Absolutely.

The first stop on my trip, which was where I pretty much spent the least amount of time, was Thailand.  I arrived at about 10 at night,  crashed at a hotel (where my awesome girlfriend’s awesome friend had a cold beer waiting for me), and then woke up early to fly down to meet the rest of our party on the wonderful beaches of Railay in Southern Thailand.

The thing most people drink there (or, at least, tourists drink there) is beer.  However, at the airport, I was able to pick up some Thai made whiskey - at least, that’s what I was told.  The label was all in Thai.  Paying three US dollars for a flask of whiskey seemed reasonable and I was really excited to try it.

IMG_1488When the time finally came to try the whiskey, I was alone in my pursuit.  I opened up the bottle, took a sniff of the whiskey, and then put the bottle right back down.  Wow.  It was terrible.  Terrible, awful, abominable, foul.  Of course, I had to take a sip.  I poured it into a glass, took another sniff and then a sip.  I have no tasting notes, other than what I remember whiskey tasting like when I was a little kid and swore I would never drink alcohol.  The stuff could peel paint, and I did not have more than a few sips.  I went back to beer for the duration of my time in Thailand (once again, only a couple of days).  I do however have a bottle at home with me, so sometime soon will be another tasting in our 4 under $4 series.


The Whisky Travels: The Venetian at Macau, Dewar’s 12 Year Old Special Reserve, Moet Chandon and Infiniti Bathtubs

Macau Through the SmogMacau Through the Smog

After Hong Kong and the glory of The Pawn, a few of us on the trip went to Macau after our official visits were over.  I didn’t know what to expect from Macau - only that it was going to be an experience to remember and you had to ride a jetfoil to get there.  I was expecting to drop some cash on some seriously rare single malt.  I mean, lots of places in Asia kind of disappointed when it came to single malt, but Macau would have to represent, right?

Well, no.  This will be a short post, because the whisky in Macau is almost non-existent, disappointingly.  But, I figured loyal readers might want to see a few pics and hear some stories.  First things first, the only place to get whisky or whiskey in Macau (at least at The Venetian where we were) is at Duty Free America - yes, a Travel Retail store that’s not really anything except a branded retail store within the mall.  Here is where I picked up a couple of bottles of Dewar’s 12 Year Old Special Reserve for us to share that night (yeah, I know, not my first choice, but I wanted some whisky - WhiskyBoys review here, ForPeatSake here. Drinkhacker here, and John Hansell reviews the 18 Year Founder’s Reserve but throws in a kudos to the 12 year here).

The Infiniti Tub in the Baller SuiteThe Infiniti Tub in the Baller Suite

I then brought my whisky up to the ridiculously large and amazing BALLER suite that had been arranged through strange coincidences and luck - think the suite from The Hangover, replete with master bedroom, regular bedroom, huge living room, media room, dual headed shower and infiniti tub, remote controlled curtains, kitchen, big wet bar, 4 flat screen 42 inch tvs, and oh yeah, a massage room (yes, really.  included a massage bed, lotions, and mood lighting).  No tigers, though 12 of us slept comfortably there.  12 people comfortably in one hotel room - for about the price of a Motel 6 back home.  I might have a few slippers from the hotel still, and definitely still have some of the free BVLGARI bathroom products.

I was lucky enough to be given a tour by some higher-ups within the organization and learned some interesting things.  One of the main reasons (apparently) for the lack of whisky is because when Chinese people gamble, they’re not there to drink - they’re there to gamble.  That’s right, there’s a dirth of cocktail waitresses bringing around cocktails because Chinese people don’t want to affect their judgment with alcohol when they gamble (they do smoke like chimneys, though).  And when they gamble, they don’t think it’s a matter of skill (say like poker or blackjack as Americans and Europeans do), they think it’s a matter of destiny.  Like Austin Powers, they might stay on 5 - because it would be their destiny to win on that hand.  And they take it SERIOUSLY - minimum bet on the lowest tables we could find in the EXPANSIVE gambling floor was $35 USD.  And the crowds were huge, which is saying a lot because the folks in Asia are smaller than in the US.

After sharing lots of whisky with friends, the night we were there remains a bit of a blur - but for some it involved crashing in the media room, others went gambling, others had a night out on town at a club and made some new Mongolian friends.  The next day, after visiting the world’s only Moet-Chandon bar/store, we went back to Hong Kong, and then back to the states.  My time in Asia was officially over, at least for two months.

The World's Only Moet Chandon BarThe World’s Only Moet Chandon Bar
Macau?  Yes, Please.Macau? Yes, Please.
My Boat is Faster Than Your Boat - Traveling to Macau by JetfoilMy Boat is Faster Than Your Boat - Traveling to Macau by Jetfoil

The Whisky Travels: Hong Kong, The Pawn, Port Ellen Tasting Notes and Oliver Stone

An absolutely breathtaking sight.Hong Kong at Night: An absolutely breathtaking sight.

The last official stop on our trip was Hong Kong, and I absolutely loved it.  When you fly into the airport, you basically fly into rural jungle on an island, and then after passing lots of motorbikes and construction-looking vehicles hauling materials or things (I’ve tried hard to come up with a word here.  ‘Things’ is the best I got to describe the amalgamation of building materials, chickens, furniture, boxes, etc. that on my later travels realized could be summed up as Asian transport and travel, but for Hong Kong right now, especially since it was to a lesser extent than I saw on later travels, I’m going to use ‘Things’), you take a bridge over a lengthy amount of water and arrive in a just as beautiful and awe-inspiring as the jungle, thriving city.  At night, the city reflects on the surrounding sea, and though English is spoken, wander down any back alley and the most you’ll get is a few english words, but mostly Chinese.  The city is like New York in that it’s alive at 5 in the morning all the way up to 3 in the morning - it’s just the characters who are out and about that change.

Trolleys at Night : Like miniature double deckers!Trolleys at Night : Like miniature double deckers!

It was in wandering one of these back alleys with some friends that I came upon The Pawn.  As had happened the night before and the night before that, we were finishing up our evening with a foot massage.  I had never heard of a foot massage before Hong Kong, and was slightly weirded out when it was first suggested, but let me tell you, it’s amazing.  Putting your dogs up after a long day of walking around and having someone massage the living hell out of them (and your calves) for an hour after soaking them in a hot bath all for about $15 USD is a luxury I wish I could have all the time.  Plus, like Taco Bell, the massage parlors stay open until late.   So, on this particular night, the foot massage purveyor we had been frequenting was all booked up.  We had about 30 minutes before we could experience foot nirvana.  So, we walked down the street to try and find a bar and we came upon some white lanterns hanging on stone and a simple yet well designed sign mounted to the stone presenting “The Pawn.”

And Wow!  From the upbeat jazz music that greeted us upon entering, to the waiters all dressed in the same, baggy striped pants and solid shirts that were more Ratatouille then Footlocker, this place and its candlelit tables and soft couches ruled.  After surviving most of Asia with nothing but Johnny Walker Red to drink and viscous-y tapioca and corn starch covered meat and vegetables to eat, I was ecstatic.  We sat down at a slightly lumpy couch, I asked for a menu.  It was then that I was really floored.  I reproduce the menu here, if only to demonstrate how exceedingly rare it was/is to find a place like this in America let alone Asia.  The menu had 54 single malt scotches listed.  The prices were also pretty reasonable - it’s about 7 Hong Kong dollars to 1 US dollar.

The Pawn's Single Malt Menu - An Oasis in Hong KongThe Pawn’s Single Malt Menu - An Oasis in Hong Kong

Speyburn 10 Years Old (Highland)  45
Balblair 10 Years Old (Highland) 46
An Cnoc 12 Years Old (Highland) 46
Tomatin 12 Years Old (Highland) 48
Highland Park 8 Years Old (Orkney) 50
Macallan Sherry Oak 12 Years Old (Speyside) 54
Talisker 10 Years Old (Island) 55
Glenmorangie 10 Years Old (Highland) 58
Glenfarclas 12 Years Old (Highland) 59
Old Pulteney 12 Years Old (Highland) 59
Dalmore 12 Years Old (Highland) 60
Laphroaig 10 Years Old (Islay) 60
Isle of Jura 10 Years Old (Island) 64
Springbank 10 Years Old (Campbeltown) 66
Brackla 10 Years Old (Speyside) 72
Auchentoshan 10 Years Old (Lowland) 74
Royal Lochnagar 12 Years Old (Highland) 76
Glenrothes 14 Years Old (Speyside) 77
Linkwood 15 Years Old (Speyside) 78
Clynelish 16 Years Old (Highland) 79
Dalwhinnie 15 Years Old (Highland) 83
Glen Ord 12 Years Old (Highland) 84
Bruichladdich 15 Years Old (Islay) 86
Ardbeg 10 Years Old (Islay) 90
Tullibardine 1988 18 Years Old (Highland) 94
Laphroaig 15 Years Old (Islay) 96
Aberlour 15 Years Old (Highland)
Deanston 17 Years Old (Highland) 98
Auchroisk 10 Years Old (Speyside) 102
Bowmore 18 Years Old (Islay) 110
Oban 14 Years Old (Highland) 114
Glenfarclas 21 Years Old (Highland) 118
Glenglassugh 22 Years Old (Speyside) 127
Lagavulin 16 Years Old (Islay) 132
Glenmorangie 18 Years Old (Highland) 127
Benromach 21 Years Old (Highland) 132
Longmorn 25 years old (Speyside) 149
Bruichladdich 20 Years Old (Islay) 154
Macallan Fine Oak 18 Years Old (Speyside) 171
Gordon & Macphail Rare 34 Years Old Distilled at Tomintoul (Speyside) 182
Port Ellen 28 Years Old (Islay) 193
Bunnahabhain 25 Years Old (Islay) 215
Glen Grant 1965 38 Years Old (Speyside) 220
Old Malt Cask 26 Years Old Distilled at Macallan (Speyside) 226
Glengoyne 32 Years Old (Highland) 231
Bowmore 25 Years Old (Islay) 242
Signatory 1964 26 Years Old (Highland) 286
Benromach 39 Years Old (Speyside) 319
Girvan 1964 37 Years Old (Lowland) 330
Talisker 30 Years Old (Island) 360
Lagavulin 25 Years Old Cask Strength (Islay) 395
Glenburgie 1964 41 Years Old (Highland) 410
Isle of Skye 1952 50 Years Old (Island) 450
Glenglassugh 1960 44 Years Old (Speyside) 495

After reading through the menu, there was no doubt what I was going to get.  I ordered a dram of the Port Ellen that I had wanted to try for so long.  The waiter then brought me a glass of port.  Really.  No exaggeration.  After explaining to him what I wanted and pointing at the menu, I then asked for the bottle to be sure.  The picture of my dram and the bottle are at right.  The tasting notes on the Port Ellen are below.  They are from when WhiskyParty and I finished off his 20cl bottle from the Islay Collection.

Port Ellen 7th Release - Tasting at The PawnPort Ellen 7th Release - Tasting at The Pawn

c: copperish yellow
l: medium, slow
n: smoke from a bonfire, some phenol, tinge of vanilla
p: strong smoke from both a coal fire and a brush fire, burnt sugar, little seaweed, little pork
f: long, smoke til the end
0: this is just delicious.  the smoke is there, but it doesn’t overpower.  it’s just amazing.  95

The next night I went back to The Pawn to get dinner there (as I said, vegetables covered in corn starch and tapioca thickener are not my thing).  The meal, like the bar menu, was amazing.  Really great.  I enjoyed a dram of Highland Park 8 year old on this night along with some nice British lagers.  Interestingly enough, the place is apparently not as much of a back alley joint as I had thought.  Oliver Stone was eating there with some ludicrously good looking women.  Three of them to be exact.  I tried to follow Oliver into the bathroom to ask him how it was hanging, but they were single rooms only.  He also left before I could ask him to take my picture (with the video function on, obviously), so I could have an Oliver Stone directed film of myself.  Oh well.  When our time in Hong Kong was done, I continued by boat to Macau where I expected to really see what luxurious was.  That will be the next episode.

Batman Climbed This Tower.  Then Jumped Off of it.Batman climbed this tower. Then jumped off of it.

Other Opinions:

  • ScotchHobbyist loved it and basically only wished that the nose was less muted.  He likened it to a vatting of Caol Ila 12, Laphroaig 15, and Talisker 18.  Not bad.
  • Here’s WhiskyParty's tasting.  Both he and scotch hobbyist got more heat than I did, but I guess since it's above 50% ABV, that's expected.  He also loved it though, and is quite happy that he has a full bottle stashed away.
  • Serge at WhiskyFun gives it 92 points and 5 stars.  He also gets some orange and marzipan on it that I didn’t get, but I’m guessing his palate is way more developed.  He does think that the finish isn’t as much of a monster as it could be (says its a vampire) and I guess I’ll have to disagree.  I found it to be strong yet subtle.  Delicious.
  • And John gave it a seemingly unenthusiastic 90, thinking that it paled in terms of vibrancy to earlier bottlings, thus showing its maturity.

The Whisky Travels: Dubai and the Burj Al Arab, The Most Expensive Cocktail in the World

After London and the Stansted Airport, I went to Dubai. Dubai is a really, really, really, really interesting place. I was there not long after the article from the NYTimes about foreigners fleeing Dubai and leaving their cars abandoned at the airport. I actually researched trying to import a car back into the states (I pictured myself in a Maserati that I got for 10K), but alas, import taxes and the fact that there were no Maseratis for 10K kept me from having a car. So bicycles and mass transit are still the way I travel.

Notice the Similarities to TronTables at the Sky View Bar: Notice the Similarities to Tron

Regardless, after many meetings over the course of a few days, I went with some friends to the Sky View Bar at the Burj Al Arab. Before going to the Sky View Bar, we were told that we needed to make reservations, that we’d never get those reservations (we went on a Friday night), and that even with reservations, you need to pay a minimum of something like $40 in order to enter the bar.

Because Computer Circuitboards Exude ClassBecause Computer Circuitboards Exude Class

The bar is on the 27th floor of the Burj Al Arab, that hotel in Dubai that looks like a sail. Well, as the economy was going to the pooper, especially in a finance-based, debt-ridden, huge growth place like Dubai, getting reservations at the Sky View Bar, even on a Friday night at 8:30 PM, was not that difficult of a task for a bunch of unimpressive amateurs. Even more, after arriving at the Burj Al Arab, negotiating our entrance fee down to buying $15 worth of drinks per person wasn’t really all that difficult. In the illustrious words of Kurt Vonnegut, “So it goes.

The bar offers a few scotches, though not as great of a selection as I’d hope from the penthouse bar in what is billed as the “World’s Most Luxurious Hotel.” The bar looks like it could have been a staging area for Tron, and I was a little sad I did not bring my helmet or rollerblades. Not the type of place where if I were rich and famous I would like to hang. So while having a Ledaig 10 year old or four (a practical steal at $10 compared to other things on the menu) I took some pictures and contemplated the “World’s Most Expensive Cocktail" which is sold out at 27,321 Arab Emirated Dirham, or the equivalent of $7500 USD.

Too bad it's made with Macallan Whiskey instead of Macallan WhiskyThe World’s Most Expensive Cocktail: Too bad it’s made with Macallan Whiskey instead of Macallan Whisky

I copied and pasted the text from the menu below. I have a few issues with it. First, the entire menu is in capital letters, which is a little annoying. I saved you from this when I copied it out. Second, the menu continuously refers to the Macallan as whiskey, and not whisky (but I guess, so does the NYTimes). I would think that when charging $7500 USD for a drink, they might be able to run that by a few whisky experts before printing. Third, they’re offering a 55 year old Macallan (John Hansell’s Tasting Notes here). Something that is extremely rare, and they not only water it down with ice cubes (though I agree the Macallan distillery water is nice, but I refer you to the many debates in which WhiskyParty has taken part), but they also add bitters to it. They take something beautiful and change its flavor, consistency, and your ability to appreciate it. Poor form all around, even if Hansell only gave it a 74,

The text is below. And the remaining pictures of my trip to the Burj Al Arab (some other nice Macallan bottles they had on display) are below that. The cocktail, by the way, is named 27.321 because the bar is on the 27th floor of the Burj Al Arab, which itself is 321 meters tall.

The World’s Most Expensive Cocktail

This extraordinary creation is the world’s most expensive and exclusive adaption of the renowned “Old Fashioned Cocktail”, made with 55 year old Macallan single malt scotch whisky from the limited Lalique decanter “Natural Colour”. This precious whisky is stirred with “Dried Fruit Bitters”. produced exclusively for Burj Al Arab.

"27.321" was prepared with ice cubes, made of water from the Macallan Distillery and stirred with a piece of wood from the original sherry casks.

The cocktail was served in a baccarat 18 karat gold glass. The glass in its tailored leather box and a personal numbered certificate was issued for the limited drink to every of the ten buyers.

The first two drinks were sold on the 16th of April, two on the 8th of May and another couple on the 12th of July. The cocktail #7 was purchased on the 7th of August and the cocktail #8 on the 4th September. 27.321 #9 and #10 were sold on the 15th December 2008. The cocktail is featured in the Guinness Book of World Records 2009.

Savour the very last drops of this extraordinary and exclusive limited single malt whiskey and experience the marvel around the malt and the world’s most expensive cocktail.

Taken at the Burj Al Arab in DubaiTaken at the Burj Al Arab in Dubai
Taken at the Burj Al Arab in DubaiTaken at the Burj Al Arab in Dubai
Taken at the Burj Al Arab in DubaiTaken at the Burj Al Arab in Dubai

The Whisky Travels: Stansted Airport in England

In March of 2009, as I was becoming a big fan of whisky, I had the opportunity to go on a trip that pretty much took me around the world.  Though still a novice in the world of scotch, and at the beginning of a very steep learning curve on which I’m still somewhere in the first third, I knew an amazing place when I saw one.  This place was World of Whiskies, and apparently is located only in a few airports - Stansted, Heathrow, Gatwick, Edinburgh, and Glasgow.  It is travel retail at its finest (once again, before I even understood what that means).  But, imagine going to your local liquor store, or local mall and entering an Apple store or something like that.  Now, imagine that the entire store is filled with whisky.  The entire store.  The selection is unbelievable, from the rare distillery bottling, to potentially rarer independent bottlings, to travel retail exclusive bottlings.

I was there with friends and took part in a few tastings (a Bowmore with an age designation I don’t remember, a Highland Park 21 (I know.  I wish I knew what this meant back then), and one more I don’t remember except for it was a speyside) and ultimately wound up not purchasing a single thing nor taking any notes on what I was sipping.  Sigh.  Things you learn.  This was at the beginning of a three week long travel period that would take me from place to place, and I did not want to lug a bottle of whisky around with me.  I regret this, and obviously would do better if I have the opportunity to go back.  However, I did have the foresight to take some pictures of the store to show to friends back home.  I humbly share them with readers of WhiskyParty and apologize that in hindsight they are not as directed as I would like, not as selective as I would like, and not as thorough.  But hey, that’s one of the good things about whisky, right?  The more you learn, the more fun you have, and the more you regret earlier moves you made.  All my pictures (including a 43 year old Bowmore from 1965 for 6000 pounds) are below.


Tales from the Cask: Tales of Tennessee

Whisky Party (Mike C.) has been very handily holding down the fort here while I’ve been mucking about at a certain music festival in Tennessee and StrongLikeCask (Dan) has been hiking across Thailand.  The last time I saw those two in the flesh was Memorial Day weekend, when I enjoyed some of the best/most interesting/rarest whisky I’ve ever had— and it was done in the company of some of my best friends.  I was thinking about that weekend’s activities combined with the fact that we here at the WhiskyParty generally split our time between working, whisky-partying, and travelling (usually for either work or whisky).  This gave me the idea to begin a series of posts about more than just the whisky in the bottle, but about the spirit in the air, so to speak.

First stop on my stumble through TN was at the 5 Spot, an East Nashville establishment owned by our very good friend T-Money.  As we pulled up to the bar after an eight hour trip down from Chicago, the proprietor of this legendary venue and musician’s hangout  greeted us properly— with a hearty round of Irish Car Bombs.  Well, that took the edge off for a couple of road-weary travellers.

I soon was able to meet a few of our more southerly blog readers (what up, Wes), and that was a lot of fun.  After many pints of the Nashville area’s best local microbrews, including the delicious Yazoo, we got to the scotch.  My friend, after a little brainstorming with the minds behind our very own Whisky Party blog, now stocks his well-run bar with a select variety of your favorite single-malts.  I chose the Balvenie 12 year Doublewood for us and our compatriots, which at this point in the evening included the legendary fiddle player Buddy Spicher.

The Balvenie 12, in all its balanced earthy/fruity glory, inspired some fascinating discussions between myself and Mr. Spicher not only about whisky, but also about the relationship between human history and material culture (of which music and whisky are small— but important— parts).  Then Mr. Spicher, along with many of the town’s best working musicians, gathered together in different arrangements to play a few impromtu songs and jams in excellent time.  Incredible.  The night ended back at my friend’s in-house studio, where we enjoyed large drams of Cragganmore 12 and the sounds of our own youthful wishes that we had become rock musicians rather than moonshiners banging on other people’s instruments.

Next stop: Bonnaroo!  As me and my friend Outlaw Pete pulled out our poles to insert into the tents that we brought to the campgrounds, the downpour of rain began in a biblical fashion.    Undeterred, we setup camp with all the effeciency of LOGCAP.  Upon completion, beneath our canopy we warmed ourselves with towels and big drams of the uber-affordable (< $20) and quite tasty (blending primarily Laphroaig) Islay Mist.  Since the festival doesn’t allow glass into the grounds, we had poured our prescious whiskies into empty liter-sized water bottles in order to bring them along.  Sufficiently warmed, we began our comsumption of music, music, some great rye ales, and more music.

The other great whisk(e)y that accompanied us for the weekend was the fabulous and quite dry Bulleit Bourbon.  And at $28 for a full liter, its perfect for just about any occaisson.  One trick I discovered is that, if your whisk(e)y must unfortunately be left out in the hot sun or in your hot car or tent, and you do not love to drink it on the rocks, dropping an ice cube in the glass for just a few seconds will drop the temperature down to what would have been room temp; then, you can remove the ice cube and enjoy your drink the way it was meant to be— neat.

Although this tale should have ended with a visit to the nearby Jack Daniels distillery followed by a short stay in Bulleit County, KY, and then a romp down the Bourbon Trail (all of which we passed on the way home), all we were able to do by the time we left the festival grounds was promise that next year, there would be even more whisk(e)y.