Hong Kong bar reviews

Bar review: The Woods Annex – spirit tasting by appointment only in a stylish SoHo hideaway

You book a 90-minute sampling session via a website that asks your drinking experience, and it pays to know what you like as your knowledgeable host pours examples of vodka, gin, agave rum and brandy to appraise and compare

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 December, 2017, 12:32pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 December, 2017, 12:31pm

The vibe: The latest venture from Victoria Chow of The Woods bar on Hollywood Road, Central, The Woods Annex is an intimate space behind another Chow venture, canned cocktail shop Kwoon, next to the intersection of Staunton and Aberdeen Streets.

Described as a “spirits library and tasting room”, its walls are filled with a treasure trove of rare bottles, which glow like jewels on their stylishly lit wooden shelves. Each bottle has its own library card, so you can add your name as endorsement of the ones you liked best.

Booking is by appointment only via a website form which asks for information about your experience of drinking, which spirits you’re especially interested in, etc. A curated drinking session lasts one hour and 30 minutes and drinks are charged by tasting shot, with a minimum spend of HK$300 per person; masterclasses for groups are also available. Our host Rupert, one of The Woods bartenders, was friendly and knowledgeable.

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The drinks: The host goes through a range of spirits based on your tastes and interests, introducing each one – many have unique background stories – and suggesting side-by-side comparisons.

We started off with two California vodkas made from grapes. Hanson Organic Habanero (HK$40) was light and so grapey you’d never peg it for a vodka, while Hangar One Fog Point (HK$90) has the distinction of being made with water produced from Northern California’s famous fog and had a correspondingly soft, cottony mouth feel.

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Turning to agave, the bar world’s current rising star spirit, the Bozal Mezcal (HK$50) was smoky and rich, with layers of flavour from the different types of agave used to produce it. The Fortaleza Reposado Tequila (HK$45) was gorgeous, silky smooth and complex.

Three gins (which you can taste with tonic and tiny ice balls if you wish) were all strikingly different. G’Vine Floraison from France (HK$40), made with a neutral grape spirit and flavoured with vine flowers, was soft and floral; St George Terroir (HK$40) from California was more robust, with a strong scent of pines evoking the woods of Alameda Island, where this small artisanal distillery is located.

No. 209 Chardonnay Barrel Reserve (HK$40) is aged (as you might guess) in barrels previously used for chardonnay; it’s a moot point whether ageing works for gin, and here I didn’t feel it did because the oak overwhelmed the botanicals.

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We finished up on a sweeter note with Ron Zacapa 23 (HK$60), a velvety blend of Guatemalan rums aged from six to 23 years and the St George Apple Brandy (HK$40), reminiscent of a very smooth and apple-packed Calvados. The only real disappointment was the High West Campfire Whisky from Utah (HK$55), a blend of American and peated Scotch whisky, which was overly sweet and lacked character.

The verdict: If you are seriously interested in premium, artisanal spirits, this is a great way to learn more and discover some unique offerings. You’ll get more out of your session if you come in with a clear idea of what you want to taste and, while prices are fair given that a bottle of these items costs anything from HK$500 to HK$1,500 or more, the tab mounts up fast if you let yourself get carried away.

The Woods Annex, 64-65 Staunton Street, SoHo. Open: By appointment only at