Published: Saturday March 21, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Monday March 23, 2015 MYT 9:56:57 AM

A dram full of fun at Heart Of The Run whisky festival

Finally, a decent whisky festival in Malaysia! Held at The Bee at Publika, Solaris Dutamas, Kuala Lumpur on March 8, the Heart Of The Run (HOTR) Whisky Festival was a welcome event for whisky lovers in the Klang Valley indeed.

While our neighbours down South have Whisky Live Singapore to look forward to every year, for some reason, there has never been a proper whisky festival of note in KL. HOTR turned out to be just the thing to kick things off. Held on a quiet Sunday afternoon in the pleasantly informal environment of The Bee, it turned out to be a relatively cosy and intimate affair with a good but manageable crowd of whisky lovers coming and going throughout the five-hour-long event.

Kavalan from Taiwan was a popular choice with connoisseurs.
Kavalan from Taiwan was a popular choice with connoisseurs.

For a very reasonable RM180 (RM150 if you bought the early bird tickets), connoisseurs got a limited-edition whisky tasting glass, lunch and tea, and most importantly, the chance to sample more than 50 different brands of whisky (a steal, considering a single shot of entry level single malt whisky would probably cost about RM20-30 in a bar).

Almost all the major players in the local whisky industry were there. While the majority of the brands were Scotch whiskies (besides single malts, there were also blended malts, blended, and single grain whiskies to try), there were also whiskies from other regions, including Japanese whiskies, bourbon and whisky-based liqueurs.

Guest whisky expert Ben Ng of Fluid Alchemy was there to give a talk on how to appreciate whiskies, and if your palate was getting tired from too much whisky (yeah right), one could also partake in some bespoke cocktails from some of Malaysia’s best bartenders, including Karl Too and Janice Lau from Omakase + Appreciate, Ash from Nobu KL and Erik from 44bar.

Karl Too of Omakase Appreciate was one of the guest bartenders making bespoke cocktails at the event.
Karl Too of Omakase + Appreciate was a guest bartender at HOTR.

While HOTR was a great event for novice whisky drinkers to expand their knowledge and try some lesser-known brands, more seasoned drinkers like myself found it more of a challenge to find something we have not tried before. But fortunately, there were some whiskies that managed to pique my curiosity nonetheless.

In fact, there was actually one brand I had not heard of before – The Tiger’s Eye. When I first saw it on the list before the event, I was scratching my head over it (Google wasn’t much help either); so when I got there, the first thing I did was seek out this strange new whisky.

It turns out that The Tiger’s Eye is actually a blended malt produced by the Edrington Group primarily for the Asian market, and consists of malts from The Macallan and Highland Park (unlike blended whisky, which contains malt and grain whisky, blended malts contain only malt whisky). It turned out to be a pretty decent, accessible whisky (OK, maybe a little TOO accessible) – fruity and sweet on the nose and palate, and finishing with a light but lingering malty finish.

While I was trying The Tiger’s Eye, another whisky at that booth caught my eye – the Highland Park Dark Origins, another whisky I had not tried (it was a good start to the festival for me!). It had a wonderful mellow smokiness that reminded me of bacon somehow, and on the palate, it was spicy with creamy chocolate malt notes, with a nice peaty complexity that mellows out into a light, lingering, smoky finish.

Eye of the tiger: The Tiger’s Eye is a blended malt using malts from Macallan and Highland Park. (Above) From blended Scotch to bourbon and liqueurs, there was something for everyone at the festival.
Eye of the tiger: The Tiger’s Eye is a blended malt using malts from Macallan and Highland Park.

Other Scotch whiskies that stood out for me were those from Glencadam (strong but complex), Glenrothes (smooth and fruity), Aberfeldy (the 12 Year Old was a nice surprise) and Bunnahabhain Toiteach, a heavily peated entry from the Islay distillery that is better known for its gentler, fruity style. Toiteach, which is Gaelic for “smoky”, was a departure from the usual Bunnahabhain – smoky on the nose and on the palate (but not too overwhelmingly so), with just enough of that signature fruitiness coming through to make it uniquely Bunnahabhain.

Of course, some of the bigger brands in Scotch whisky also made their presence felt, including The Glenlivet, Glenmorangie and Dewars. One could try a vertical tasting of 12-, 15-, and 18-year-old Glenlivet, or head over to the Glenmorangie booth where you could not only try their signature Glenmorangie expressions, but also the very unique rich coffee/mocha goodness of Glenmorangie Signet. You could also try iconic single malt brands such as Ardbeg, Talisker, Oban and Lagavulin.

It was not just about Scotch though – Asian whiskies such as Kavalan and Nikka Whisky were there as well. Kavalan, especially, seemed to attract quite a bit of attention from whisky-lovers who were keen to try the Taiwanese whisky for the first time; while Nikka kept the Japanese whisky flag flying, showcasing their Pure Malt range as well as the excellent Nikka Coffey Grain whisky. Not to be left out, Wild Turkey 81 bourbon was also there, along with the sweet, honey-infused Wild Turkey American Honey Liqueur.

From blended Scotch to bourbon and liqueurs, there was something for everyone at the HOTR festival.
From blended Scotch to bourbon and liqueurs, there was something for everyone at the festival.

All things considered, the Heart Of The Run was a resounding success, managing to provide a good crowd of punters a chance to try an impressive range of whiskies for a very reasonable price. Let’s hope they do it again next year, and that there will be even MORE whiskies for us to try next time!

■ Michael dreams of a day when Malaysia finally has a whisky and spirits festival to rival the best in the world. Drop him a note on Facebook.

Tags / Keywords: Tipsy Turvy, whisky, Heart Of The Run, The Bee, Publika, Glenlivet, Glenmorangie, Nikka, Scotch

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Kavalan from Taiwan was a popular choice with connoisseurs. (Left) Connoisseurs were given a tasting glass to bring around to the booths for sampling. (Below) Karl Too of Omakase Appreciate was a guest bartender at HOTR.

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