Spirits are always popular gifts for festivals or special occasions. For example, the most famous French Cognacs, like V.S.O.P. and XO, are synonymous with Chinese New Year gifting – always presentable and never out of fashion. In recent years, other spirits are on the trend too, particularly, Whisky. Single malts or blended, Scottish or Japanese, all sorts of Whiskies have their own fans. Here we will introduce different spirits types and brands to you, so that you may have a brief idea about what your perfect New Year spirit choice is!
V.S.O.P, XO – what are the differences?
Hennessy, Martell, Remy Martin, and the famous brands alike that we often see in the New Year and weddings are actually all Cognac! Cognac is a variety of brandy produced in the commune of Cognac, France (or other designated surrounding regions) mainly with the grape Ugni Blanc. Apart from the origin and grapes, it is required to fulfil multiple legal requirements to be named a Cognac, such as double distillation in copper pot stills and a minimum ageing of 2 years in French oak. Our familiar names like V.S.O.P. and XO are official quality grades. V.S.O.P (Very Superior Old Pale) designates a blend in which the youngest brandy is aged for at least 4 years in a cask while XO requires 10 years, making it particularly premium and more costly.
Hennessy is the best-selling Cognac brand in the World. Founded in 1765 by an Irishman Richard Hennessy and has since been recognised as a symbol of luxury, power and passion. Since 1800, its know-how has been jealously guarded and passed on from generation to generation. One of its “not-so-secret” secrets for its success is the “Tasting Committee”, which is, considered by many, the dream job for wine lovers. A team of 8-10 dedicated experts, who are trained for at least 10 years and have a profound understanding of Hennessy’s Cognac, gather at the headquarter of the House each morning at 11am and sample the best eaux-de-vie to perfect the future blends.
Hennessy has a wide range of Cognac in its portfolio: the young and dynamic V.S. range, which is popular among the younger generations; the classic V.S.O.P and XO ranges, which are top-sellers in the world and the benchmark for the Cognac industry; the prestigious Paradis and Richard Hennessy, which are the results of Hennessy’s years of experience and craftsmanship, appealing to collector’s and connoisseur with the highest standards.
Founded by Jean Martell in 1715, Martell is the oldest of the great Cognac houses. From Jean Martell’s initial search for the world’s finest eaux-de-vie, 300 years of passion and audacity has built the legacy of Martell. Place, precision and time are the three pillars of Martell’s art of Cognac. In the 1800s, Frédéric Martell, Jean Martell’s great-grandson, first used the mention of V.S.O.P (Very Superior Old Pale).
Its signature Martell Cordon Bleu is the cognac for true connoisseurs and has acquired legendary status since its creation by Edouard Martell in 1912. Its distinctive taste, characterised by a predominance of eaux-de-vie from the Borderies, and its timeless bottle design make it a classic, unequalled in the world of cognac. An explosion of spicy fruit notes and elegant richness makes it the ideal bottle for Cognac lovers.
Well-known by the Chinese as the “Centaur”, Remy Martin was established in 1724. It mainly uses grapes from Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne to make Cognac. Rémy Martin XO is the signature of its Cellar Master who with his expertise blends up to 400 different eaux-de-vie and the private collection of the family. His art of blending allows the house to express the full aromatic complexity of this XO Cognac. The exceptionally elegant and highly recognizable bottle is another reason for collecting the Cognac.
Also noteworthy is its flagship Cognac Louis XIII. Named after King Louis XIII of France, it is a tribute to the King for being the first monarch to recognize Cognac as a category. The Cognac is a blend of over 1,200 eaux-de-vie, each of which is aged at least 50-100 years, far beyond any legal requirements there is. Moreover, each bottle is handmade with crystal by French crystal manufacturers, the perfect combination of traditional craftsmanship and art. Its limited editions are also auctions’ “regulars”. Among the priciest Cognacs in the world, quite a number of them are Louis XIII. If you bring a Louis XIII to Chinese New Year gathering, it will definitely be a showstopper!
New Year: Enjoy Whisky in Style!
The Whisky trend is unstoppable around the globe – single malts, blends, Scottish, Japanese and more styles are all shining and can be considered ideal choices for Chinese New Year. Scottish Single Malts are the most popular, especially among Hong Kongers, such as Macallan, The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich.
Single Malt Whiskies must be made with malts and from one single distillery, showing more the characters of its brand. As for Blend Whiskies, apart from malts, other grains can be used, such as wheat and corns. Therefore, they usually have a softer mouthfeel and are more approachable. The global market share of Blended Whisky is very high with the renown Johnny Walker being one of the examples.
In addition to Scottish Whiskies, Japanese Whiskies are on-trend too. Frequently awarded in international challenges, Japanese Whiskies are gaining popularity at an unprecedented rate. The prices are dragged up too and some of the hot sellers are in short supply, such as Hibiki, Yamazaki, Yoichi, Hakushu and Taketsuru.
When first stepping into the Whisky World, most will have a chance to try the Macallan – as it’s so popular. The Macallan is one of the most respected and admired names in Scottish whisky, nestled on a plateau above the river Spey in north-east Scotland. No expense is spared in their pursuit of excellence with Golden Promise barley, small spirit stills, and small spirit cut. Macallan whisky is full-bodied and rich with distinctive robust character.
When picking a Macallan, one may pay attention to the oak each style uses. The classic Sherry Oak is rich, intense and spicy; if American Oak is used, such as in the Double Cask and Triple Cask range, apart from the Sherry characters mentioned above, the Whisky will also display the sweet vanilla of American oak. Very balanced and approachable.
Founded by George Smith, The Glenlivet has long been crafted in the remote Livet Valley in the heart of Scotland’s Speyside region since 1824. The Glenlivet uses the mineral-rich water that comes from Josie’s Well, it helps to form the flavours during mashing and fermentation, whilst the specific height and width of the copper stills add a delicate yet complex character. The Glenlivet whiskies are smooth and aromatic, which are surely worth a try.
The 12-year-old is fruity and has the sweetness from American Oak. 15-year-old gets its distinctive rich and exotic characters from the French oak. The Glenlivet was in fact the first o use French Oak in Whisky-making, bringing out a pleasing spiciness without overpowering the results. The practice was imitated by its counterparts around the world. A combination of cask types gives the 18-year-old a complex and elegant style, with American oak providing tropical fruitiness and Sherry providing spicy complexity. It has won countless International Awards, assuring the quality and taste of The Glenlivet.
The most awarded top-selling Scotch whisky label Glenfiddich, which nurtures a dream to make the ‘best dram in the valley’, produces whisky with complex and intense flavours. Its iconic triangular shaped bottle was inspired by the 3 major elements to make a Glenfiddich whisky, which is “water, air and malted barley”. It is still considered a radical design of the time now!
Glenfiddich 15-year-old is highly recommended. Characterized by rich fruit, honey aromas and warm spice, it is often described as showing the texture and complexity older than a regular 15-year-old Whisky. One of the reasons is that it has been aged in a unique “Solera Vat”, allowing older and new Whisky to mix. Never empty since 1998, only half of the whisky in the “Solera Vat” is bottled every year and the other half is kept for mixing in the coming years, contributing to complex aromas and flavours.
Established in 1820, Johnnie Walker has been known worldwide for its unique blended scotch whisky quality. It wins the hearts of consumers with its exceptionally wide product offerings, ranging from the “user-friendly” Red Label and Black Label to the most prestigious John Walker & Sons Series. To celebrate its 200th anniversary, they have launched limited editions in 2021. A must-have collection for the fans!
Johnnie Walker Blue Label is the masterpiece of the brand. Only one in every ten thousand casks has the elusive quality, character and flavour to deliver the remarkable signature taste of Johnnie Walker Blue Label. Johnnie Walker Blue Label is created using a selection of rare casks from the Speyside and Highland distilleries – including delicate Cardhu and Clynelish, warm, rounded Benrinnes, as well as Islay malts for Johnnie Walker’s signature smokiness.
Japanese Whiskies are more than just Hibiki or Yamazaki. In Chinese New Year’s time, we may pick other labels to have a new try, such as The Nikka. Nikka is one of the two largest Whisky companies in Japan, owning Yoichi, Taketsuru, the namesake Nikka and other brands. It is the greatest competitor of Suntory, which owns Hibiki and Yamazaki. Nikka was founded by Masataka Taketsuru, the “Father of Japanese Whisky”, who was the first Japanese to study Whisky winemaking in Scotland. His winemaking inherits the Scottish rich and oaky style and The Nikka is one of the examples.
The Nikka 12 Years Whisky is a blended Whisky launched in 2014, the 80th Anniversary of Nikka. The ratio of Malt Whisky is higher than that of Grain Whisky, showing a rich and malty flavours, well-balanced by the softness Grain whisky. The golden emblem on the bottle was designed by Masataka Taketsuru in 1940 and the asymmetric bottle design was inspired by the traditional “Kimono”. The last production of this Whisky was in 2019, so it’s very limited and rare!
The Nikka Tailored is the ultimate reflection of Nikka’s winemaking, showcasing the precision and delicacy of its blending. The Yoichi malt, which has a strong scent of peat, shows its identity, and the Miyagikyo malt, which is aged in sherry barrels, brings the sweetness of vanilla and caramel. Similar to Nikka 12, its bottle has the Masataka-Taketsuru-designed logo and the “Kimono” asymmetric shape.
In traditional festivals like Chinese New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival, there is a popular choice among wine lovers that may seem unusual to some. That is Moutai!
Kweichow Moutai is made of sorghum, wheat, water combined with extraordinary technology. With a one-year production cycle through multiple times of high-temperature fermentation, high temperature distilled, and 10 years ageing comes the national spirit of China. Used to serve China National Events and Diplomats.