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‘Tis the season of spirits

By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published Dec 10, 2020 5:00 am

While lockdown has been hard on everybody, liquor distillers have had a somewhat captive market, what with people doing most of their tippling at home — including Zoom meeting toasts, celebrations, and regular cocktail hours.

And now comes Christmas season. Expect more raised glasses as the online celebrations get into full swing. All things considered, a New Year spent over Zoom is safer than passing along COVID under the mistletoe. So here’s a roundup of some of the more interesting spirits and concoctions that have come our way these days. (Hint: They make excellent Christmas gifts.)

Full disclaimer: I’m no whisky expert. What I’ve enjoyed about these Zoom sessions during lockdown is the opportunity to learn from the whisky masters, who have walked us through the distilling process, the careful aging, and the rituals of tasting.

TAMNAVULIN COMES TO MANILA FROM SPEYSIDE

To most whisky enthusiasts, Speyside in Scotland equals “the Cognac region of whiskies,” mostly because Strathspey, the area around the River Spey, is home to so many distillers. The trademark peat — turf made up of decaying vegetation and organic matter — adds a prized earthiness and smokiness to spirits. (Fun fact: Peat fire once was used to heat the whiskey stills, but now it’s used mostly during the drying or “malting” of barley to add signature smokiness.)

Now Whyte & Mackay, a division of Emperador, brings Speyside to these shores with Tamnavulin — a single malt that’s set to make waves here, with both their Double Cask and Sherry Cask editions winning gold at International Spirit Challenge 2020.

   Tamnavulin Double Cask and Sherry Cask editions now available in Landers

Located in a 15th-century former garment mill in Speyside Valley that now ages about 41,000 casks, Tamnavulin is a relatively young distillery (opened in 1966) with the bulk of its production still used for blending. That doesn’t mean they don’t produce bottles that stand well on their own, as we learned in a recent Zoom tasting session with Whyte & Mackay global single malt whisky specialist Stephen Martin, distillery manager Joanne Reavley, and Whyte & Mackay Asia premium brands spokesperson George Schulze.

Tamnavulin is rising up the charts — globally, it’s a top 25 malt brand. Typically short-aged in mostly American and European oak barrels, their “hero” bottle is Double Cask, which has a mellow flavor with hints of toffee, honey, apple and marzipan. (Schulze commented that Asian palates typically respond to sweeter whiskies, and marzipan is a flavor note that comes up often during tastings in Malaysia and the Philippines.)

For pairing, Schulze recommends a bit of salt or dark chocolate — White Cheddar Pop Corners and Lindt 70% Cocoa Chocolate were provided — to enhance the true Speyside flavors.

A second treat was Tamnavulin Sherry Cask edition, matured in American white oak barrels (contrary to popular belief that most sherry is aged in Spanish casks), with a pleasing blend of banana, caramel, chocolate and vanilla on the palate. A bit more sweetness here, suggestive of maple syrup, raisins and subtle apricot notes. The finish is rich, and not completely smooth — there’s fire in the belly here. Just the thing to warm those cool December nights.

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Landers Sherry Cask and Tamnavulin Distillery Experience pack (with Tamnavulin Double Cask, Tamnavulin Sherry Cask, and whisky pairing snacks) is exclusively available in Landers Superstore.

GLENMORANGIE SCORES GOLD

From Glenmorangie Company comes word that their prized Ardbeg won Distillery of the Year for a record third time in a row at the International Whisky Competition (IWC). Chalk that up to their master distiller, Dr. Bill Lumsden, creator and crafter of Ardbeg and Glenmorangie whiskies, who also won Master Distiller of the Year for a fourth time.

Nectar of the gods: Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or 12-year is aged in Sauternes wine casks. 

What makes Ardbeg special? Billed as the world’s “smokiest, peatiest Islay malt whisky,” the IWC judges praised its “exceptional craftsmanship, passion and mastery in the art of assembling phenomenal whisky” with an overall average of 92.9 out of 100 points, a rare feat indeed, with six category wins.

Until we get to lay our hands on some Ardbeg, we'll settle for warming ourselves with a cairn of Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or. It’s aged in 12-year-old Sauternes wine casks (specifically, a white dessert wine from Bordeaux heavy on sugar) so you can imagine this cask adds the deep amber-gold hue, as well as its nectar-like sweetness, some complex spicy, peppery notes, hints of apricot, vanilla and honeysuckle. As our Scottish hosts like to say: “Slàinte Mhaith!” (“To your health!”)

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Limited stocks of Ardbeg Wee Beastie are exclusively available at Singlemalt.ph. Glenmorangie and Ardbeg are available online at Boozy.ph, Singlemalt.ph. and S&R.

 STRAWBERRY GIN FOREVER

Beefeater has its own touch of Christmas elegance this year: they sent over a bottle of their strawberry-flavored Beefeater Pink, packaged with a Beefeater balloon glass to mix up your own festive concoction: a shot of Beefeater Pink Gin, 150 mls of seltzer water, throw in some fresh basil and some sliced strawberries (for that green and red look), and you have a very festive seasonal B&T cocktail. (Also some nice strawberry macarons from Kringla Pastries.)

 Think pink: Beefeater Pink for the holidays (or whenever)

While James Bond may blanch at anyone “fruiting up” their gin, Beefeater Pink does add a subtle, lively kick to its award-winning flavor by fusing natural strawberry flavor with the traditional hand-picked citrus and juniper botanicals. It’s a refreshing libation at sunset, with that trademark Beefeater dry kick offering a pleasant counterbalance to the herbal, fruity components.

The bottle is also a beauty, with the graffiti-style, stencil art logo visible through a vibrant pink hue that kind of spells “Christmas” to me.

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Beefeater Pink is available in S&R and leading supermarkets. Like Beefeater Gin on Facebook at facebook.com/BeefeaterGin/, follow @beefeatergin on Instagram, or visit their website at www.beefeatergin.com.