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6 Whiskies to Survive the Lunar New Year Holidays

 

One of the more bizarre things about growing up in Asia is that you have to celebrate the new year twice. The New Year’s Day is celebrated according to the Gregorian calendar - just like other parts of the world. But the 1st January celebrations are actually a warm-up for the Lunar New Year celebrations that the Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean and Vietnamese take (perhaps a little too) seriously. 

 

 

Festivities last for up to 15 days. And while the period is framed as a holiday, you can’t just spend your time however you want. It is customary to meet almost every member of the extended family- especially those you know next to nothing about. Like it or not, any stranger who appears in your living room could either be a trespasser or a distant, distant relative. So it’s ideal to just smile politely and hope for the best.   

Next, it’s your turn to visit other people’s homes. And unless you wish to renounce your familial ties, there’s no hope you can wiggle out of these obligations. 

We’re here to help you survive the Lunar New Year. We have identified 6 of the most challenging people or situations you would encounter during these holidays. For each situation, we know just the bottle of whisky that might just make things a little better.

(My original intent was to suggest 4 whiskies. I later realised this was ill-advised for a Lunar New Year piece since the number “4” is associated with bad fortune and death in every culture that celebrates the Lunar New Year. What a close call!)

 

 

1. House visit to your Asian partner’s family: Shizuoka Prologue K Single Malt

 

 

If this is the first time you are celebrating the Lunar New Year with your Asian partner’s family, or your in-laws, you ought to impress them with Shizuoka Distillery’s Prologue K Single Malt. 

 

 

Japanese single malts are incredibly popular across all parts of Asia, so one may think that Yamazaki, Nikka or Hibiki are the intuitive choices. Yet, we would suggest that a bottle from Shizuoka is quite a bit more special because it is an important Japanese distillery about to make history in its movement to revitalise the spirit of Japanese craft whisky. 

Choosing a Shizuoka single malt not only demonstrates that you know more than just the usual Yamazaki, but also reveals your appreciation for fine Japanese craft whisky. A Shizuoka is also something that the recipient is unlikely to have tried before. 

The Prologue K is Shizuoka’s heavily anticipated inaugural bottling. It is also a brilliant conversation piece- it was distilled using the salvaged copper still from Japan’s most famous and popular “ghost” distillery- Karuizawa Distillery. The result is a slightly more heavy-bodied and rich whisky evocative of the legendary bottles produced by Karuizawa that are now highly unattainable.

 

So how does it taste?

The 3-year-old bottle exhibits a remarkable level of refinement, complexity and balance of flavours that is more common to much older whisky.

The nose opens with gentle but bright and crisp notes and soft, mildly-acidic fruits. 

This takes a brief moment to open up initially, but develops into bright and slightly acidic notes of apricots and light Japanese plums (known as umeboshi). All this is integrated with a curiously oily aroma that you don’t quite expect in a Japanese whisky.

 

 

The palate is robust in flavour but overall quite refined. 

Initial sip brings a basket of refreshingly sweet and crisp yuzu fruits, white pomelos and Okayama white peaches. Slight spiciness from black pepper and fennel seeds, but the focus is on the mild gasoline notes with a briny minerality that is enhanced quite a bit with the oily texture and mild viscosity.   

 

 

The Shizuoka Prologue K is one of the most worthwhile NAS Japanese whiskies to try. It is bright and refreshing with an unusual elegance. It is not an understatement to say this is a 3-year-old prodigy.

 

Read our full review of Shizuoka’s single malts here.

 

 

2. Meeting that family friend who once held you as a baby: Lost Spirits Abomination, Heavily Peated Malt

 

There’s always this one Madam or Mister whom you don’t quite know their names and who, somehow, knows everything about you. When your parents introduce you to their old friend, they’ll gush, “I carried you when you were tiny!ˆ”. Sometimes, they would even produce a yellowed photograph as evidence, “this baby was you! Don’t you remember? 

 

"I'm so glad Instagram hasn't been invented."

 

But of course, with all the intellect of a 4-week-old pre-person, you remember! Prepare for this line of dialogue in an endless loop each year. Lather, rinse, repeat- until one of you dies.

What if there is something you can do to make such an impression on this Madam or Mister that they would remember you for the adult that you are? 

That person means well. So there are few gifts more apt during this period than a heavily peated malt spirit that is evocative of sweet, smoky, savoury Chinese barbecue glazed pork (also known as rou gan or 肉乾).

 

 

A huge delicacy in Singapore, Taiwan and China during Lunar New Year - sweet glazed sheets of barbecued pork. (Image Source: Honeycombers)

 

Lost Spirits Distillery’s Abomination, Crying of the Puma, is a rich and smoky malt spirit that comes in at a punchy 54% Abv to remind the kindly Madam or Mister that you have long outgrown your milk bottle and can indulge in adult stuff now. 

As an aside, Lost Spirit’s bottle is not matured the same way other whiskies are. It certainly tastes and looks like a 15-year-old whisky. But it is technically not a whisky (according to UK, EU and Japanese standards) because it has not been aged for longer than 1.5 years. Instead the malt spirit was poured into Lost Spirits’ patented reactors and “flash-aged” for 6 days. 

 

Read more about Lost Spirits Distillery's innovation here.

 

So how does it taste?

Rich and fragrant smoke and dry oak notes are very artfully woven into the sweetness of the malt and Riesling cask, providing a great balance. Despite the above 50% ABV, the alcohol is approachable and fairly easy to imbibe.

The nose opens with vibrant summer fruits, molasses and peat smoke. 

Elegant (not overpowering) sooty ash and peat in the aroma – not so much of the vegetal soot, but closer to burnt wood. A decent depth of raspberries, cherry and some iced Bandung (rose syrup milk drink) notes clamour for attention.

 

 

 

The palate medium-weight, sweet and heavily smoky but well-rounded and easy to imbibe. 

Lively sweetness of caramel and molasses, developing into fruitiness of dark cherries and nuttiness from a honey pecan pie. Coupled with a rich, meaty sootiness evocative of sweet, barbecued rou gan. 

 

 

After a compelling dram of Abomination, the kindly Madam or Mister will no longer remember you as the tiny infant they once carried. They would gasp at your glow-up into a stylish whisky aficionado…… or tragic transformation into an alcoholic underachiever. Either way, you would have succeeded in your mission.

 

Read our full review of the Crying of the Puma.

 

 

3. Dealing with that Karaoke-obsessed uncle: Lyre’s Non-Alcoholic American Malt

 

Every Asian family always has one uncle (usually an uncle) characterised by a booming voice that announces his arrival, jaunty disposition and a ruddy complexion that warns you to keep him away from the bar. 

This guy knows his oldies well, and surprisingly even some of Britney’s hits from the 90’s. He is also born with such a think skin that he isn’t shy about demonstrating his full vocal range in front of an entire family.

 

God forbid there be TWO of them!

 

For this uncle, we recommend a bottle of Lyre’s Impossibly Crafted Non-Alcoholic “Bourbon”. There is absolutely no alcohol here. The expression is made in Australia by blending natural fruit essences and herb extracts to mimic the flavour of American bourbon whiskey. We have tried it and we do think this is one of the best non-alcohol alternatives for whisky-lovers available in the market!

 

 

Your uncle’s karaoke solos are enough to deal with. So please keep him out of politics by hiding actual whisky. Alcohol would set him on impassioned politically-charged history lectures to awkward nieces and nephews. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT let this uncle near alcohol if you wish to survive the Lunar New Year.

 

 

So how does it taste?

Drunk neat, whisky devotees would immediately realise that this is not like other whiskies. Drunk on the rocks, this actually passes off pretty well for a Maker’s Mark bourbon! So serve this to the uncle with a large ice cube.

On the nose, this opens with smooth honey and caramel notes with toasted nuts, a hint of vanilla and some ginger spice. There is even a somewhat prickly sensation that feels very similar to nosing an alcoholic spirit.

 

 

The palate is similar to the nose, but much milder. Opens with big notes of sweet vanilla, creme brûlée and mild oakiness. This develops into a herbaceous note that is often felt in Maker’s Mark bourbon. There is even some heat with gentle spiced ginger and star anise. However the intensity of the heat is much milder than any alcoholic whisky we have tried. 

 

 

We recommend ensuring there is enough Lyre’s American Malt to go around for this uncle, lest he begins to wander to the alcoholic bar.

 

 

4. A bottle for late night mahjong sessions and card games: Lagavulin 11 YO Nick Offerman Edition

 

In Asia, there is not a lot of stigma surrounding betting games. They are such a usual feature of life and are considered normal especially during the Lunar New Year celebrations. For better or for worse, this is the time for younger people in Asia to pick up games such as Texas hold ’em, blackjack and mahjong. In the 2018 film Crazy Rich Asians, a game of mahjong was even proposed to settle differences between the female lead and main antagonist.  

 

“The key is playing to win, instead of trying not to lose.”
In the film, a game of mahjong was to determine whether the protagonist, Rachel, gets to stay in a relationship with her dashing love interest, Nick (not Nick Offerman, the actor). (Image Source: Crazy Rich Asians (2018), Warner Bros. Pictures) 

 

With betting games, “playing to win” is often more effective than “playing not to lose”. We reckon you and your friends could draw some Dutch courage during mahjong and card games with a bottle of Lagavulin 11 Year Old Offerman Edition.

 

   

The Offerman expression is a tie-up between Lagavulin Distillery and Nick Offerman- the actor who played Ron Swanson, a manly whisky-drinking steak-loving character in highly popular sitcom Parks and Recreation. 

What’s special about the Offerman Edition is that it has been subject to maturation in active barrels that previously held Guinness stout. This expression was so well-received that Whisky Advocate magazine gave it the top spot in its list of Top 20 Whiskies of 2021! 

 

Read about the Whisky Advocate’s Top 20 Whiskies here.

 

So how does it taste?

The Offerman Edition is highly rated by many critics mainly because it is a little more accessible than traditional heavily-peated Islay whiskies. Unlike the typical Lagavulin 16 Year Olds, the Offerman Edition is brighter, gentler in smoke and has more fruitiness on the palate. It is also more refreshing and comfortable for beginners who aren't too familiar with peated whiskies.

On the nose, bright, crisp notes with maritime salinity wrapped up in the freshness of green apples and burnt lemon peels. Develops into caramel creme brulee and light toffee notes

 

 

The palate is rich in intense coffee, chocolate and Guinness stout with a background of aromatic burnt heather smoke. Turns to fading notes of vanilla and cinnamon. 

 

 

Let the Lagavulin Offerman help you and your friends channel your inner Ron Swanson, put your game face on, and “play to win” without too much worry about losing your January’s wages.

 

Read a little more about the Lagavulin Offerman Edition here.

 

 

5. The cousin who made a windfall off crypto-trading: Ardnamurchan Single Malt

 

Lunar New Year has been celebrated in Asia for over three thousand years. It was only in the recent 4 - 5 years that we begin to see this unprecedented emergence of this person. By now, there is a good chance that there is one such person in your pool of extended family. 

 

 

Cryptocurrency trading has certainly created many winners and losers. But you might have a cousin who has made a windfall off trading the latest Bamboocoin and can afford a new Porsche now. He is always keen to offer you his crypto-trading advice. “You put money into the latest Pandacoin? Stay strong and HODL!”. Or perhaps you have not jumped on the bandwagon yet - and he would become something of an evangelist.

Is there anything that could get him to stop talking about his gains for a moment? Sure there is!

The whisky world is by no means untouched by the fascinating development of blockchain-based technology (the basis of cryptocurrencies). Distilleries are beginning to embrace the blockchain in various ways, from accepting crypto payments, to selling rare casks as “NFTs”.

In late 2021, Glenfiddich Distillery sold a new ultra-premium expression by way of NFTs (non-fungible tokens). 15 NFTs, each representing a single bottle of 46-year-old Glenfiddich Blockbar that was partly matured in an Armagnac cask, was sold for US$18,000 per bottle. They are to be paid for with Ethereum.

 

 

Around the same time, Macallan sold an NFT that represents ownership over a cask of Macallan single malt that was sold for a whopping US$2.3 million.

 

(Image Source: Luxury Launches)

 

Back to your crypto-billionaire cousin. He may be interested to hear of Ardnamurchan’s single malts, which also embrace the use of blockchain technology to combat counterfeits. 

 

 

 

Blockchain technology allows ownership of goods to be irreversibly recorded, thus allowing sellers of luxury goods or expensive objects to combat counterfeiting. The transparency of the “ledger” on a blockchain allows provenance of an item to be traced from one past owner to another past owner, to the original manufacturer of the item

Unlike the Glenfiddich and Macallan NFTs, Ardnamurchan’s bottles are priced within the breathable atmosphere of us financial mortals, so it is actually affordable to gift a bottle of Ardnamurchan to your cousin.

Notice the QR code on the back label of each Ardnamurchan.

 

 

Scanning the QR code with a smartphone directs the buyer to a certificate of authenticity, with access to online data telling the “story” of the whisky’s supply chain- from the field where barley was sourced, to the distillery, to the retailer, then to the individual. All this data has been irreversibly entered into the blockchain by technology firm Advanced Research Cryptology (arc-net), which allows the sharing and authentication of the bottles’ details.

 

Read about the 3 Ways Blockchain is changing the Whisky Industry.

 

So how does it taste?

All bottles of Ardnamurchan would have the blockchain traceability feature. But here, we have tasted the distillery’s inaugural release- the Ardnamurchan AD/09.20:01. This bottle exhibits impressive balance and some complexity for a whisky of its age, and makes a great sipping companion. 

The nose is bright, fruity, estery and with a hint of peat. 

Opens with bright notes of honey and a mild, slightly tart note of fresh apricots. This unfolds into light notes of honeysuckle, vanilla and a hint of incense smoke.  

 

 

The palate is rich with tropical fruitiness, with mild smoke and a waxy texture that keeps the flavours well-rounded. 

This opens with a gentle heat with a hint of pepper and cloves, before unfolding into sweet, rich notes of honey and grilled pineapples. There is also a gentle note of incense smoke in the background. The viscous, waxy texture plays a huge role of keeping the honeyed smokiness going on and on. 

 

 

This bottle should keep your cousin happily drinking and too tipsy to constantly share his crypto-trading war stories.

 

 

6. Tuning out the aunt who speaks with “no filter”: Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Year of the Tiger Edition 

 

Finally, in Asian households, there is usually this nosy aunt who is constantly probing about your love life, career progression or whether you would be making children. Sometimes, she could even go as far as to ask why you have gained weight in front of the entire clan. 

 

 

There is probably not much you can do to defeat this person. And unless you have the grace of the Dalai Lama, we presume you are not planning to reward her behaviour with a bottle of whisky! 

Tune out this aunt by just having a dram of good Scotch yourself. The beautifully-bottled Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Year of the Tiger Edition is a worthy bottle to drown out her insults.

 

 

This particular edition comes in a really exquisite bottle, with intricate illustrations of clouds, mountains, pagodas, and a mythical tiger with golden wings- drawn by Shanghai-Londoner artist, Shan Jiang. Of course, 2022 is the Year of the Tiger on the Chinese Zodiac cycle, and the art is intended to pay homage to the Chinese tiger as a symbol of strength and progress for the year.

It is reportedly a blend of whisky from over 20 Scottish distilleries, some of them from irreplaceable casks from long-closed “ghost” distilleries. The Blue Label doesn’t wear an age statement, however we are told that it is aged between the ripe old years of 28 and 60 years in maturity!

Certified whisky critics seem to agree that the Blue Label is good. The expression took the crown as the World’s Best Blended Scotch Whisky in the 2020 Scotch Whisky Masters Competition.

 

So how does it taste?

The Blue Label is one of the easiest to drink Scotches around with its velvety texture, great balance and barely any alcohol burn.

On the nose, a combination of vibrant bright fruits with a balance of gentle ashiness.

Opens with bright layers of soft fruits, with honey, Gala apples, nectarines and singed orange peel. This turns towards deeper notes of hot cocoa, roasted almonds and cedar wood. There is a light ashiness in the background.

 

 

 

The palate is sweet, elegant and rather complex.

Opens with some subtlety, with only dainty floral notes and a waxy texture of the whisky. This picks up quickly, turning into a complex and layered sweetness, with vanilla ice cream, orange sponge cake and raisins.

 

 

Transitions into darker notes of cappuccino, dark chocolate and freshly-baked cinnamon buns. Twist of fragrant incense smoke throughout the palate. 

 

 

 

88 Bamboo wishes you a Happy Lunar New Year!

Regardless whether you would be encountering these challenging situations this Lunar New Year, we think these 6 carefully-selected bottles should be on your radar if you are shopping for whiskies! 

Go forth and have a happy Lunar New Year!

 

<p>恭喜發財<span>, </span>心想事成<span>!</span></p> <p>새해<span> </span>복<span> </span>많이<span> </span>받으십시오<span>!</span></p> <p>Chúc mừng năm mới!</p>

 

 

 

@charsiucharlie