Feeling Robbed

We had a really good day today spending quality time with family and enjoying a relaxing home-cooked meal, so afterwards JC and I decided to stop by Angel’s Share, a whisky bar here in Hong Kong. After arriving in Hong Kong I haven’t really imbibed and I’d been eyeing their website for a while, so tonight in good spirits (no pun intended) we finally decided to take the plunge.

The first thing I order is the Highland Park 1997 straight from the one of two casks they have there. It’s supposed to be one of the things that make the place unique, that they have two casks that they draw limited offerings from (the other cask was Macallan 1990). I immediately notice the size of the drink, well below the midway point of the curve in the Glencairn glass (which is what I’m used to), so I sip accordingly. I figure they’re “testing the waters” and might start off a bit stingy before knowing what kind of customer they’re dealing with. I guess I should have paid more attention to when the waitress asked me if I wanted my Highland Park 1997 cask strength “on the rocks”.

Highland Park 1997 Cask Strength
Highland Park 1997 Cask Strength after one tiny tongue-tip sip.

It was my first time enjoying single malt whisky since leaving home back in August. Admittedly, I don’t even remember what the Highland Park tasted like. There was some sweetness, it was light body, and the color was pale (it was dark in this place). It was harsh at 49% ABV before adding water. I was actually more interested in the Islay malts, but I just wanted to try one of the cask offerings. So, I immediately ordered a Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition 1998. Again, I was asked if I wanted it on the rocks.

This drink was much better (to me). Leather, peat, smoke, salt air, as an Islay should be. It was pale, very similar to the Highland Park, but again it was pretty dark there. And again, the size of the drink was not generous. Again, I had to make a mental note to intentionally take smaller sips. It really took away from the experience.

At this point I was starting to get suspicious. Now, I consider myself a beginner and not a whisky snob at all, but asking me twice if I want these beautiful whiskies on the rocks? The whiskies were served in Glencairn glasses. I was given a glass of water with droppers. These are signs of a legit whisky bar. What’s going on? I told JC that I didn’t like having to nurse my drinks. I had already spent a pretty penny on two drinks, and dissatisfaction was creeping in. So, I decided to give them one more chance. I ordered a Laphroaig 18. To their credit, they didn’t ask me if I wanted it on the rocks.

The Laphroiag 18 came and went, literally. I was tired of nursing my quality drinks. I took a small sip (i.e. not my usual satisfying sip) to taste it, rolled it around my tongue, and then I said f*** it, I’m just going to enjoy this one. Two real sips later, it was gone, and I had had enough of that place. I asked for the check.

I would ask the reader to please note the timeframe in which this happened. I remember sending a message to my friend whom I’ve shared many whiskies with after I had the Highland Park. The timestamp was 10:38 PM. The end time on the credit card slip was 11:04 PM. However you want to do the math, I ordered 3 quality whiskies in a matter of 20 minutes. I think that should have raised some flags with the staff, like, I don’t know, maybe we have an enthusiast here, and that it wouldn’t hurt to give him a normal-sized pour? That’s what I would have done, anyway.

In the end, I feel robbed. I feel like someone just offered me a prime Wagyu ribeye steak dinner, and halfway through the steak the waiter comes and takes the steak away. To quote JC, she feels “cheated”. She had 2 cocktails, one of which had a rotten cherry, and again, both of them were poured very stingily. A Manhattan and an Old Fashioned are not exactly limp drinks, and she would normally be feeling something after having them, but not tonight.

The final price tag was HKD$788, or USD$101.63 at today’s rate. For that price, I could have bought an entire bottle of Lagavulin 16, with enough money left over to buy me some good chocolate to eat with it. Obviously, when you’re eating out you’re paying a premium, and if I did the math like I just did I’d never eat out. But, I believe in value, and I have paid much more to enjoy good whiskies without feeling like someone just grabbed a few bills from my wallet. I would have happily paid more and ordered more if I felt like I was welcome. And, ultimately, that’s the biggest problem I had with Angel’s Share. I didn’t feel welcome.

As I sit back in my hotel room and write this, the tastes of the Caol Ila and Laphroaig linger on my palate, and I wonder what might have been. I’m already fully sober. I would have enjoyed sampling more varieties. Will I go back to Angel’s Share? I don’t know. They do have very good variety. But, I get the feeling that they’re just like many other places in Hong Kong. They have a pretty website, and even have a YouTube video promoting the place. But when you actually go there, it’s robotic and assembly-line service. All style, no substance. Perhaps I’ll just stop by Watson’s Cellar and buy that Lagavulin 16 after all.