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The Destined Whisky Lover 

命中註定的飲家 

Since some time ago, KOL (key opinion leaders) become a high-esteemed occupation among the internet and the darling of marketing agents. Of course, everyone can claim he/she as a KOL. The problem is not the number but the quality. Like Biming said, ‘uncles of Victoria Park’ and ‘Nat Gor’ give a lot of opinions and have many followers, but they are not KOLs except they could give opinions with depth and influence. In recent years, there’s such a rising opinion leader evolving in Taiwan - his name is “Xiao Mo.” 

Xiao Mo is such a notorious whisky geek in Taiwan. He has selected and bottled his own casks of whisky twice, and both of them have received extremely high praise from “The Malt Maniacs Awards”. The whisky group he founded, Taiwan Single Malt Club has a number of thousands active members. He has also been invited by various organizations to attend lectures to share his tasting experiences. His sharing class in Hong Kong is always full house. 

Whisky has always been the taste of senior groups, but the young man, who is now only 30 something, has become one of the opinion leaders within the whisky industry of Taiwan, which is considered a matured market of whiskey culture. It’s quite astonishing if you knew what he has encountered in his early age. It happened one day suddenly that his thoracic nerve was infected by rare virus, and he found himself paraplegic since ever. 

The KOL who dismiss himself as a dog 

He was really frustrated for a while, but his personality has saved him from the slump. He realized it won’t do him any good if he continued to feel sorry for himself. His nickname ‘ Xiao Mo’ has an implicit meaning of ‘local dogs’, which are strong and vitally tough. It reminds him to be tough in depression, and work harder than the others. 

It’s in the toughest days that he met and fell in love with whisky. Those indescribable aromas and variations invoked his interest. He began to put all his efforts in the study of whisky, reading a variety of books, tons of searching in the web, and of course, unlimited tastings... 

He set up “love to share” discussion group in p9 website in 2010 to encourage flow of information and exchange of knowledge. As the number of members reached over 1,000 in just a few months, he changed its name to “Taiwan Single Malt Club”, which become one of the most influential groups in Taiwan whisky industry. Xiao Mo showed his talents to the public and was then recognized as an opinion leader. 

Recently Xiao Mo come to Hong Kong to hold several sharing sessions themed with Glenfarclas, while a few years ago his selected cask of Glenfarclas 1990 # 5098 was titled the Supreme Winner by“The Malt Maniacs Awards”. So what is his criteria in selecting a cask? He claimed that it could be simple as following your own or market preference, or it could also be complicated that conveying some messages through your selection. “No matter what the initiative is, I always put the aromas as the first priority - the evolution, the complexity, the continuation and the persistence (particular important). You’d find one common thing in my selections, i.e. you need to take time to explore the evolution of aroma and its complexity, and that the aroma won’t fade out even after a long time. As for the procedure, it’s not quite different compared with normal tasting, except I will do it a few times, and compare the tasting notes to evaluate the outcome. The risk control of flavor variations requires certain experience though. 

Not that mature 

Many people think Taiwan as one of the most mature whisky culture circle, but Xiao Mo, who lives there for years, doesn’t agree. “Taiwan drinkers are too biased in their palate. In general they have a strong preference in Sherry cask and deep color. The are still reluctant to accept other styles or Bourbon cask. Therefore how can such a market be a mature one?” Of course, Taiwan’s Kavalan and Nantou distilleries have got several International awards and Xiao Mo quite agrees with the acclaims. “ Kavalan often shows beautiful Sherry notes with intense flavor and heavy body, while the Nantou’s Bourbon and customized casks are extremely impressive. Their whiskies benefit in rapid maturation from climate, but it’s kind of drawback as well. It increses the risk of over-oaking, and less known, leads to a shorter finish of the final whisky. 

Like other icons in the industry, Xiao Mo is often asked to give comments to various whiskies. It’s not complicated for him to give detailed analysis of the flavor profiles but he always reminds people not to take them serious. A perfect whisky for Jim Murray, for example, may not be your style. At the end of the day, it’s all about your own judging that counts. 

不知從何時起,KOL ﹝關鍵意見領袖﹞成為全球網民追捧的一種職業、「媽屐亭」的寵兒。當然了,既是「自僱人士」,人人皆可自稱,其問題不在於量,而是質素。像畢明說,維園阿伯同阿叻, 意見很多,也有不少Followers,然而真正的領袖,不只具備人氣, 其意見要具深度和份量,更有本事令群眾跟他走。近年在台灣威士忌界,就冒起了這樣一位新銳意見領袖——他的名字叫「小默」。

在台灣酒圈內無人不識的小默,曾兩次「選桶」,均獲得麥芽狂人競賽的高度肯定。由他發起的T.S.M.C. (Taiwan Single Malt Club) 臺灣單一麥芽俱樂部,活躍會員過千;他又常獲邀到各地任客席講師,分享其品飲經驗;而每次來港辦講座,情況有如紅館演唱會般一票難求。

威士忌向來是成熟男士的品味,這位三十出頭的小伙子,卻已成為界別的意見領袖,實屬難得,尤其台灣是威士忌文化比較成熟的地方。你可能以為他自小受家人薰陶,其實他並沒有贏在起跑線。相反,十年前他的胸椎神經突如其來受到罕見病毒感染,讓他一夜之間雙腳癱瘓,從此要以輪椅代步。

 

自嘲為土狗的KOL 

上天有時會跟你開殘酷的玩笑,而小默也確實一度消沉,不過因個性關係,他很快接受了事實,反正繼續自怨自艾也無法改變現況。「小默這名字如果要說特別的含意,那就非這默字不可。默字拆開來就變成黑與犬兩字,讓人想到臺灣土狗。土狗的生命力與韌性極強,也無所畏懼,這無形中也是期許自己遇挫無懼,要殘而不廢不斷的努力。」

就在人生最低迷之時,他遇上了威士忌。於是,一切都變得理所當然,那無以名狀、變化無窮的香氣,彷如丘比特的箭般觸動了他靈魂中的紅芯。哪怕他的腳走不動,那一刻開始他已認定這是他該走的路。於是他窮盡精力放在鑽研威士忌上,像海綿般吸取養份,讀遍所有威士忌書籍雜誌,尋遍各項網路資料,當然,少不了無間斷的品試…… 

為了吸取和分享知識,小默於2010 年成立了「就是愛分享」網絡群組,後來因為成員不斷介紹身邊朋友加入,短短數月群組人數已攀升至千多人,翌年群組更名為T.S.M.C. 台灣單一麥芽俱樂部, 而小默亦嶄露頭角,成為業餘威士忌玩家中的達人。

這次小默來港數天,一連舉辦了多場以格蘭花格為主題的分享會——數年前他選的格蘭花格1990 #5098 榮獲麥芽狂人競賽的金獎至高殊榮(Supreme Winner),整個群組都與有榮焉。究竟選桶有甚麼要訣?他認為可以很簡單地根據自己喜好或迎合市場喜好, 也可以複雜地從選桶中灌輸自己想要傳達的想法。「不管出發點怎樣,我首重的還是香氣的表現——變化性、複雜度、延續力、耐放性﹝特別重視這點﹞這幾個重點。我所選的酒款都有一個共通性, 就是你需要花時間靜下心來慢慢品飲,去感受香氣的變化性與複雜度,而且開瓶許久也不容易有走味的問題發生。至於選桶過程和自己品飲時並沒有太大不同,只是會多幾次做品飲與紀錄,最後抓出風味的大方向去降低風味變異的可能性,風味上的風險控管確實是需要經驗累積的。」

 

似熟未熟的台灣

許多人會覺得臺灣的威士忌文化在亞洲中較為成熟,但小默卻認為並非如此。「臺灣飲家的喜好太過偏頗於雪莉桶,而且是顏色越深的越好,對於其他風味或是波本桶的接受度相對偏低,這樣的市場怎麼會是成熟的市場呢?」當然,近年臺灣的噶瑪蘭酒廠與南投酒廠在國際上獲得不少獎項,小默也認為她們各有優點。「從飲家角度看,噶瑪蘭的雪莉桶很強,味道相當濃郁厚重;而南投則是波本桶與風味桶表現讓人驚豔。她們共同的優勢在於氣候造成的快速熟成,但這既是優點也是缺點,除了容易造成吃桶過重,還有另一個較少人提起的,就是較易遇到尾韻偏短的問題。」

就像其他酒界的權威一樣,小默也經常被問及對每一款威士忌的看法。他總是能很詳細地分析其風味,不過他寄語每位品飲者該有的觀念,那就是不能忘記自己才是最後的評審,比賽中獲獎的酒只代表一小群評審的喜好,不代表你一定要喜歡。在品飲的世界裡,只有你自己才是真正的評審,好不好與喜不喜歡只有你說的才算!