LYNAM UP
Lynam Up
by

Boutique spirits come to Hong Kong, like craft beers before them

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 January, 2015, 6:22am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 February, 2015, 5:52pm

It's generally been difficult to find fine spirits that have not been made by one of the large, long-established producers, in Hong Kong. The selection has been tilted in favour of big brands rather than boutiques.

That is changing, and a growing number of products from recently established micro-distilleries, and other relatively small producers, are now available in bars and restaurants, and specialist retail outlets.

Retailers blazing a trail include Liquor and Liqueur on Wellington Street, The Whisky Library in the basement of the Landmark Atrium (which despite the name, also sells rare and restricted production spirits in other categories), and The Bottle Shop in Sai Kung.

Micro-distillery spirits have a similar appeal to that of craft beer. People who seek them out are interested in character, originality and rarity. These distilleries - aka craft or artisanal distilleries - are springing up everywhere, particularly in North America.

Many of these operations have been founded by passionate fans of a particular type of spirit - some with experience in the booze business, others with none.

The High West Distillery and Saloon in Park City, Utah, which is the first distillery to be established in the state since the 1870s, was set up in 2007 by biochemist David Perkins.

 

Perkins has a deep love of American whiskey, and wanted to make it himself. He is also interested in Scotch whisky, and High West Whiskey Campfire, ranks among his more exotic creations.

This spirit marries American bourbon and rye whiskeys with an unnamed Scotch in what is called a "global blend". Several High West whiskeys are available from The Bottle Shop.

On the other side of the Atlantic, a similar passion led to the establishment of the Sipsmith Distillery in 2009. This is the first distillery to open in London, where London dry gin originated, for about 200 years.

The distillery, housed in a converted garage in Chiswick, was established by a small group of enthusiasts to produce their ideal gin. They worked on the assumption that it might sell, but if it didn't, the partners would at least have a lifetime supply of a drink they liked.

 

As it is, they are probably having trouble keeping up with demand. Sipsmith's London Dry Gin is a worldwide hit, and the company has diversified into vodka. Both the gin and vodka are widely available in Hong Kong.

There may be something about the Chiswick area of London that is particularly attractive to lovers of artisanal spirits, because that's also where whisky maker John Glaser set up shop in 2000.

His company, Compass Box, is an independent bottler and blender rather than a distiller, and Glaser's artisanal whiskies have been acclaimed by a number of leading whisky authorities. The company makes a signature range of five blended whiskies, among others.

Notable whiskies blended by Glaser include the intensely smoky Peat Monster, the contrastingly light Asyla, and the unusual blended-grain Hedonism. They are not very easy to find here, but more should be coming this year.

Glaser is not the only whisky professional doing interesting things with the spirit in Britain outside Scotland and Northern Ireland. Although the Scots and the Irish are internationally well known as whisky distillers, the Welsh and the English have distilling traditions that some enthusiasts are keen to revive.

The Welsh Whisky Company launched Penderyn Single Malt Welsh Whisky in 2004, and has since produced several award-winning batches. The company also makes gin, vodka, and a cream liqueur.

Many of these operations have been founded by passionate fans of a particular type of spirit - some with experience in the booze business, others with none

Penderyn will be among the participants in the Malt Masters Whisky Festival taking place on March 7 at The Qube in PMQ, tickets for which are now available from maltmastershk.com

No whisky had been distilled in England (legally at least) for more than 100 years when The English Whisky Company produced its first batch in 2006, at its new distillery in Norfolk. Several of its whiskies, labelled with chapter numbers, have won awards at international spirits shows, most notably the Islay-inspired Chapter 11.

The boutique spirits business has also attracted a noteworthy number of celebrities keen to clamber aboard the bandwagon.

Dan Aykroyd has his own vodka brand, Crystal Head, which he launched in 2008, and George Clooney is the joint founder of Casamigos Tequila. Both brands have seen success with this combination of artisanal and celebrity appeal.

Now locally based celebrity chef Umberto Bombana has got in on the act. This week saw the launch of Bombana Select Michter's Bourbon - an 81/2-year-old spirit - that will be available exclusively at 81/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana.

More new spirits reflecting the fresh thinking of smaller producers keen to distil differentiated products can be expected to come on to the market this year.

It is probable that only a handful of them will be great, but they should at least keep things interesting.