Written & Photos by (作者, 图片来源): Vincent R. Vinci 魏文深
Bar Constellation is a Ningbo legend, the place to go if you want classic cocktails done right in the right atmosphere. Behind a long bar there’s countless whiskeys, liquors, and stories. The padded chairs in the dimly lit room filled with cigar smoke and jazz wafting through the air with gentle conversation. It goes without question that it’s a great place for a whiskey tasting.
That’s just what happened on the evening of June 14th, when the longtime establishment hosted two whiskey tastings for Michter’s and Bruichladdich, two very different brands with equally exceptional flavor.
Relatively new to the Chinese market, Michter’s is an American whiskey brand that’s claim to fame isn’t just its good reviews but also its long and colorful history. The distillery was founded way back in 1753 in Pennsylvania, and it’s alleged that Michter’s made the rye whiskey that George Washington gave to his troops to keep warm during the long winter encampment at Valley Forge during the American Revolution. Even though the company shut down following hard times during Prohibition and the drop in whiskey popularity in the 1980s, they were purchased and moved to Kentucky by a whiskey enthusiast in the 1990s and have been going strong ever since.
Of the four whiskeys we tasted – a bourbon, rye, sour mash, and their popular unblended American – the best were the straight rye and the unblended American. The rye was heavily influenced by the grain, with a nose full of caramel and vanilla notes and hints of spice and pepper. This continued on the palate, with the spiciness leading to the full flavor of the rye, light and fennel-like with a climactic finish. The unblended American was mellower, unique in that it had been aged in bourbon-washed white oak, which lent it nice hints of raisin and vanilla with a smooth finish.
The tasting itself was a largely private event, reserved for staff and representatives from the various bars around the city. “Michter’s has been in China for more than a year and a half,” we were told while we had a seat with John Ng, Michter Distillery’s China Ambassador. “It’s a good chance for me to go around and meet with potential distributors.” His goal with tastings like this one is to tell the story of the whiskey, its process, as well as showing people how to truly understand and enjoy the product. Imparting the company’s 250-year history for consumers is no easy task, but with John it was a blast. Although it’s also great in cocktails, Michter’s is the kind of whiskey you have to have alone to truly appreciate it, a testament to the industry and the history of what is a definitive American beverage.
The second round came later in the evening in the form of Bruichladdich (pronounced Brook-laddie), one of the single malt distilleries on Islay. Even though Islay, a small island off the coast of Scotland, is known worldwide for its peated (smoky) whiskies, Bruichladdich sets itself apart from its competitors, priding itself in being an unpeated whisky with lighter flavor and no age statements on their bottles. That being the case, they do have some especially interesting peated whiskies, three of which we sampled that evening.
Five whiskies were present that evening, including their flagship Scottish Barley Classic Laddie, along with one of their peated malts, the Port Charlotte. The two standouts of the bunch were the Octomore Super Peated Edition 7.1, a very heavily peated whisky that sees a new version released each year, and the amazingly complex Black Arts 1990, a whisky whose composition is kept secret besides the fact that its aged in a combination of American and French oak.
We were suckers for the purest whiskies of the lot, so our favorite was definitely the Classic Laddie. The nose was quite peculiar, with the floral notes that Bruichladdich is known for as well as a hint of ocean air. The palate was smooth and simple, with a continuation of the floral flavors and barley. Our next favorite was of course the super peated Octomore. Unlike the light sandy color of the Classic Laddie, the Octomore 7.1 was a dark reddish tan, with a nose that starts out with hints of caramel and pine only to be overtaken by the boldness of the peat (we swear it smells like smoked ham, but that’s just us) along with other notes. This is mimicked on the palate, which starts off smooth with a little vanilla and citrus, before going right to the smokiness of the peat, which continues throughout the finish.
If there was ever an art that could be sensed through smell and taste, whiskey is definitely it. The varieties and complexities of each different dram is sometimes surprising and thought-invoking, some of them, in the case of the insane Octomore, are like a Picasso for the nose and mouth, and others, like Michter’s Straight Rye, a trip to fields of American grains. These two events fit perfectly in Bar Constellation, a true Ningbo classic. Speaking to Jenny Chen – Constellation’s manager – during the two tastings, she says they hope to have more events like these in the future, and to that we raise a dram.
If you are interested in attending a future tasting at Bar Constellation or would like more information, please leave your contact with the staff at the bar (see address and hours).
Bar Constellation | 酒池星座宁波店
Business Hours | 营业时间: Sunday周日-Thursday周四, 7:00 PM-2:00 AM; Friday 周五 & Saturday 周六, 7:00 PM-3:00 AM
Address | 地址: 72 Renmin Road, Laowaitan, Jiangbei | 江北区老外滩人民路72号
Vincent R. Vinci is the Senior English Editor of Ningbo Focus. Having lived, studied, and worked in China on and off for the past 3 years or so, he has dedicated his time in the country to exploring its history, culture, food, and drink and sharing it with whoever wants to read about it.