Saturday, 30 September 2023

Women in Whisky, GlenDronach Tasting with Dr Rachel Barrie, inc GlenDronach Grandeur Batch 12 [Tasted #651]

In the world of whisky, few names resonate as powerfully as that of Dr. Rachel Barrie. With a career spanning over 28 years, she has left an indelible mark on the industry. Trained as a bio-chemist, Dr. Rachel Barrie began her journey under the mentorship of the legendary whisky figure, Dr. Jim Swan.

Before joining Brown Forman in 2017 as a master blender, she honed her skills at renowned distilleries such as Glenmorangie, Ardbeg, and Bowmore. At Brown Forman, she has been instrumental in crafting the unique identities of The GlenDronach, Benriach, and Glenglassaugh’s Single Malt Scotch whiskies.

One of her most significant contributions to date is the relaunch of Benriach’s entire core range as well as the recent Glenglassaugh Coastal series which we had reviewed earlier this year. This ambitious project is widely regarded as a testament to her vision and authority as a master blender.

Dr. Rachel Barrie’s influence extends beyond blending exceptional whiskies. She has played a pivotal role in shaping the future of each distillery through bespoke, considered maturation in quality oak casks. Her efforts have helped attract a more diverse audience to the world of whisky than ever before.

Often referred to as Scotch Whisky’s First Lady, Dr. Rachel Barrie’s contributions have not gone unnoticed. She is a proud member of Whisky Magazine’s illustrious Hall of Fame, a fitting recognition for a woman who continues to inspire many in the industry.

So when I found out she was making her way to Australia, I was excited. As often happens with Master Blenders, they get whizzed around the country to host a number of events and dinners while they are in town. Time for Whisky was extended the opportunity (thanks to Brown Forman and We Are Different PR) to join the Women in Whisky event with Dr. Rachel Barrie and given her superb contributions over the years, I knew this was a special panel.

The event featured a panel, hosted by Carmen Hartwich, Queensland-based Brand Ambassador for Brown Forman and featured Dr Rachel Barrie, Kathleen Davies, of Nip of Courage and Emily Cason, co-founder and director of The Whisky Club.  

Kathleen, as most would know, has over 30 years of experience in the industry, having founded Nip of Courage, Aussie Tipple Company and more importantly Women of Australian Distilling. Emily Cason, one of the co-founders of The Whisky Club has a background in the global drinks trade and publishing and has successfully founded The Whisky Club which has now grown far and wide to serve distinct whisky releases to the masses.

The panel discussion noted the progress and the importance of fostering diversity and inclusion within the whisky industry. A noteworthy trend is the increasing participation and leadership of women across various roles. Emily added that there has also been an ongoing evolution of the drinking culture, especially among younger generations, who are now exploring and developing an enhanced appreciation for quality whisky. Emily explained that over 65% of The Whisky Club's membership base consists of individuals under the age of 35. Furthermore, data underscores a distinct shift toward quality over quantity, with younger members willingly investing in premium, higher-quality whiskies.

The profound influence of female leaders like Dr. Rachel Barrie, Kathleen, Emily and Carmen cannot be understated. Their pioneering contributions have not only left an indelible mark on the industry but have also served as a wellspring of inspiration, nurturing the next generation of female whiskey lovers and enthusiasts. This past decade has witnessed a transformation in the whisky landscape, making it more accessible and enjoyable. This paradigm shift has effectively shattered stereotypes, rendering the industry more inclusive and inviting to individuals of diverse backgrounds, regardless of gender.

Following the panel discussion, Dr Rachel Barrie then hosted a tasting of three Glendronachs;

  • GlenDronach 18yo, also known as Allardice; named after the renowned founder of the distillery, James Allardice.
  • GlenDronach 21yo, aka the Parliament, aptly named after the 'parliament (colony)' of rooks that have been nesting in the trees that overlook the GlenDronach distillery for almost 200 years; and
  • GlenDronach 28yo 1994 single cask #1769
As a GlenDronach fan, the tasting was phenomenal as expected and it was great to have also gone through the tasting with Dr. Rachel Barrie, indulging in the very fine thing that she has spent day and night creating. To cap off the night, we were all given a mystery dram which was later revealed to be the 2023 GlenDronach Grandeur (Batch 12) Personally, I have never tasted the Grandeur prior so I knew this was special.

The GlenDronach Grandeur is a limited edition release and was originally released as a special edition whisky in association with the Kingsman movie franchise. The original release was known as The GlenDronach Kingsman Edition 1989 Vintage and was created in collaboration with Matthew Vaughn, the director of the Kingsman film franchise. The original release was produced from a selection of six casks distilled in 1989, matured in Oloroso sherry casks and finished in PX casks. There was also a subsequent release, the GlenDronach Kingsman Edition 1991, a 25yo.

The 2023 edition of the GlenDronach Grandeur, also known as Batch 12, is a 29yo, matured for almost 30 years in Oloroso casks and bottled at 49.2% ABV. 

GlenDronach Grandeur 29yo Batch 12 (49.2% ABV, Highland, Scotland, A$TBC)


A rich and opulent GlenDronach that has all the typical hallmarks of full-bodied sherried GlenDronach mixed with velvety elegance. As Dr Rachel Barrie described, the Grandeur series is rather “rich, indulgent, exuberant and full-bodied sherry cask style”. 

Nose: Velvety, the nose is filled with sticky date pudding with remnants of dates, creme brulee, rich custard, and a hint of vanilla slice. The nose is rich, sweet and opulent.

Palate: The palate is rather interesting, while there is the sweetness that follows from the nose, the initial palate is salty, salted caramel, espresso mixed with milk chocolate. It is a bit dry on the mouth but has a mixture of raisins and white pepper.

Finish: The finish is long, drying, and leaves nutty and mild spices on the palate

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100 (Hendy)

Thanks to Dr Rachel Barrie, Brown Forman and We Are Different PR for having us at the Women in Whisky special event. 


Tuesday, 19 September 2023

Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection 1949 from Glenlivet Distillery 74 Year Old [Tasted #650]

It seems like only yesterday I posted a trio of incredible whiskies from Gordon & MacPhail (because it was, admittedly a little late on my part), but evidently time and new releases wait for no-one, because today I'm back to taste G&M's latest - which just happens to be the second oldest whisky I've ever tried!

Glenlivet & Glen Grant seem to both be whiskies that can take incredible age, so it's no surprise this whisky hails from the former. Distilled on New Year's Day 1949 and bottled 6th March 2023, the whisky slumbered for an incredible 74 years in a single refill Sherry butt under the care of G&M, who were able to produce 192 bottles at a very respectable 49.3% ABV.

Drinking whisky distilled before I was born is a rare treat these days. Drinking whisky distilled before my parents were born though? I honestly didn't know if I'd get the chance again...and yet here we are.

Dave Broom said of the whisky:
"To find a whisky of this age is absolutely extraordinary. What comes across immediately is the fruit - there’s richness and there’s depth. You have this wonderful interplay of distillery character, of oak and oxygen. It’s a gift that keeps on giving." let's see how I felt about it!
Gordon & MacPhail 1949 from Glenlivet Distillery 74yo Private Collection (49.3% ABV, 74yo, Refill Sherry Butt #11, Speyside, Scotland, One of 192 bottles, £35,000)

Distilled on 1 January 1949(!) and bottled 74 years later on 6 March 2023, this incredible whisky has matured over a longer period of time than most people spend on this earth! It also happens to be the last cask of 1949 Glenlivet from Gordon & MacPhail.

Colour: Copper gold

Nose: Waxy oranges, dunnage warehouse and clean, sweet sherry to start with. Then comes ginger, toffee, the slightest hint of leather polish, cinnamon spice, and with some air, peach and stone fruit compote.

Palate: Big and rich, it flits back and forth between spicy sherry and zesty fruity/citrus notes, with mandarin peel, flamed orange peel, a slight meatiness and dusty oak. A second sip shows some chocolate - both milk and dark, more oranges (whole this time), Christmas cake, and an emerging herbaceousness - mint, or is that tea tree? It's a beautifully complex palate. Dave Broom referred to its layers and complexity, and he's spot on. There's tonnes going on here, all working in harmony. The oak spice is an underlying theme, but considering this whisky spent 74 years in oak, it retains impressive balance.

Finish: Long, orange chocolate with a soft residual oak undertone.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100 (Martin).
Generally speaking, a whisky shouldn't normally make it to 74 years old and still be good. How G&M manage to consistently put out whiskies of 60, 70, 80 years old that aren't just "good", but "incredible" never ceases to amaze me.

For the past 19 days, the whisky has been available for purchase at Dubai International Airport. Launched in partnership with Le Clos on Friday 1st September, the Dubai airport store had an exclusivity period, but the whisky is now available worldwide as of today, priced at £35,000. 


Monday, 18 September 2023

Gordon & MacPhail Recollection Series #2: 1981 Port Ellen, 1973 Glen Mhor & 1976 Banff [Tasted #647 - 649]

It's been a few months since we tried an incredibly-aged release from Gordon & MacPhail (the Mr George Legacy 3rd Edition, if you're wondering) and thanks to the good folk at G&M, today we have not one, not two, but three more new releases - this time from "The Recollection Series #2".

As the name suggests, the annual Recollection series (first launched in 2022) celebrates closed distilleries, this time across both Private Collection and Conoisseurs Choice ranges. Consisting of 18 expressions from 15 distilleries, the full series includes:

  • Port Ellen 1981 – RRP £10,000
  • Glen Mhor 1973 – RRP £6,000
  • Banff 1976 – RRP £4,300
  • Caperdonich 1979 – RRP £3,500
  • Dallas Dhu 1979 – RRP £3,500
  • Glen Albyn 1979 – RRP £3,500
  • Glenlochy 1979 – RRP £3,500
  • Imperial 1979 – RRP £4,000
  • Lochside 1981 – RRP £3,750
  • Linlithgow 1982 – RRP £3,000
  • Glen Esk 1984 – RRP £2,200
  • Inverleven 1985 – RRP £2,000
  • Littlemill 1991 – RRP £1,600
  • Lochside 1991 – RRP £1,600
  • Rosebank 1991 – RRP £2,000
  • Pittyvaich 1992 – RRP £1,200
  • Imperial 1997 – RRP £380
  • Imperial 1998 – RRP £360

Tasting any of these would've been a treat, but luckily the first three (in bold) above are global releases, and it's those we're tasting today. It's not every day you get to try a 42 year old Port Ellen, so let's get into it...

Gordon & MacPhail "The Recollection Series #2" Port Ellen 1981 42yo (52.5% ABV, 42yo, Refill Sherry Butt #290, Islay, Scotland, One of 181 bottles, £10,000)

Distilled on 28 Jan 1981 and bottled 6 Feb 2023, and hailing from arguably the most famous closed Scotch malt whisky distillery, the whisky was distilled just two years before Port Ellen shut its doors in 1983. They won't stay shut forever though, as the distillery is set to re-open this year.

Colour: Copper-brown mahogany

Nose: Subtle bonfire notes with rum & raisin, BBQ'd pork, cherry smoke and hints of cinnamon. Already a lot going on (all of it good), right from the outset.

Palate: Red cherries, cigar box, with the faintest whiff of residual smoke. There's some oak (not too much), baked apple pie crust, some pepper spice, and some sweeter rich Christmas cake notes. Very complex, very clean, very robust.

Finish: Long, with poached pears, dried cherries and a dusty residual smoke. 

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100 (Martin).
There's a LOT going on here and it's all very well-integrated. An impeccable dram.

Gordon & MacPhail "The Recollection Series #2" Glen Mhor 1973 49yo (57.2% ABV, 49yo, Refill Sherry Hogshead #85026801, Highland, Scotland, One of 170 bottles, £6,000)

Distilled on 30 April 1973 and bottled 10 Jan 2023, this whisky hails from Glen Mhor which may not be well-known by the average whisky drinker, but certainly rewards those who come across it.

Colour: Golden copper-brown

Nose: Funky cola chews (I love finding this note in well-aged sherried whiskies, rare though it is), citrus zest, BBQ rub, then smoked paprika, za'atar, with an underlying juiciness. Very strong competitor for nose of 2023 so far. Just incredible.

Palate: Less zest and juiciness than the nose, more rounded and mature, with mature oak more noticeable. BBQ meat follows, with a slightly earthy / vegetal note (mint / Eucalyptus even?), some overripe oranges, pecan pie & rich toffee.

Finish: LONG, with a soft lingering oak spice and hints of chocolate mint slice.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100 (Martin).
Absolutely incredible nose (one of those drams I could happily nose for an hour), with a very strong palate and finish. Complex like few other drams - take your time with this one, you'll be rewarded.

Gordon & MacPhail "The Recollection Series #2" Banff 1976 46yo (50.4% ABV, 46yo, Refill Sherry Butt #2887, Highland, Scotland, One of 109 bottles, £4,300)

Distilled on 26 Oct 1976 and bottled 3 Feb 2023. Banff is sometimes called "Scotland's unluckiest distillery", having been destroyed in a fire (twice), and bombed by the Luftwaffe during WWII. Like Port Ellen, Banff closed in 1983, but unlike Port Ellen there are no plans to re-open it.

Colour: Yellow golden sunset

Nose: Immediately, one of those "incredibly old and complex light style sherry" noses. Not dissimilar to this G&M 70yo Glen Grant from 2019. There's a yellow / stone fruitiness - pears, grapefruit, peach, followed by wafts of light smoke (earthy, not peated) & dunnage warehouse. After a decent airing, some slightly funky notes (the pleasant kind) emerge.

Palate: Follows the nose well, adding a touch of oak, more peach and strawberry, vanilla cream, baked peach pie & ginger. An elegant, well-aged, balanced palate.

Finish: Long, with ginger and hints of residual grapefruit.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100 (Martin).
I had high hopes for this and it exceeded even them. For me, on par with the Port Ellen, yet a very different style of dram.

Thanks as always to G&M for the samples.


Tuesday, 22 August 2023

Halcyon Spirits 30yo Single Cask 1993 Macallan [Tasted #646]

Whilst this blog may feature a lot of "OB" whisky, you only need to see my Instagram stories on any given day to know I'm a fan of Independently Bottled the extent that it probably makes up 80% of what I drink these days.

I have my favourites of course, but I also love trying whiskies from new "Indies" on the market - no easy feat, considering the difficulties in obtaining quality casks these days. Heck, the scene has changed so much that even IB stalwart Gordon & MacPhail recently announced their intention to cease independent bottling!

I was recently contacted about a new Scotland-based Independent Bottler, Halcyon Spirits, family-owned and based in Aberdeenshire. Founded by Daniel & Craig Milne (responsible for both Whisky Hammer & Still Spirit, now 49% owned by HK-based Rare Whisky Holdings) the bottler has a warehouse of over 2,000 casks which presumably means we'll be seeing many more bottlings to come.

Kicking things off with a bang, Halcyon released their first bottling in June - none other than a 30yo 1993 vintage single cask Macallan (from a First Fill Sherry cask no less).

Bottled by Halycon at a cask strength 49.8% ABV, the whisky comes in at £2,950 per bottle, with only 238 bottles available here (at the time of writing, there were only 97 remaining). As nice touch, Halcyon Spirits will also fund the planting of ten trees for every bottle sold, meaning this inaugural release will result in 2,380 trees being planted.

Described by David Robertson (former Macallan Master Distiller) as “a superb example of a well matured Spanish oak sherry vintage whisky", I was fortunate enough to receive a sample from the folk at Halcyon so I could share my own thoughts.

As a side note, when I taste samples I'll often taste half, then come back to the other half a little later and see how it's evolved. This time "a little later" became several weeks, and it was interesting to see how the whisky evolved over that time, with the breathing space adding an extra (positive) dimension the second time around, despite the sub-50% ABV.

Halcyon Spirits "Halcyon Release #1" Macallan Aged 30 Years (49.8% ABV, Single Malt, 30yo, 1 of 238 bottles, Scotland, £2,950)
Colour: Deep Ruby-Copper

Nose: Fresh sherry and oak, with a good whack of maltiness. There's "old sherry wood" complexity here, but accompanied by the freshness and vibrancy of a younger dram too. After time, I found hints of coffee grounds, dates, and an unusual (but welcome) herbal note, along with some maple syrup.

Palate: Initially, big fruit - not the spicy, nutty oak that the colour and nose suggested, but more strawberry gum(!) and interestingly, Eucalyptus! I spoke to a few other bloggers who found it a touch soapy, but for me it was more Eucalyptus (my Aussie upbringing perhaps?) 

After another 10-15min, some trademark sherry notes started to emerge - cigar box, toffee, cinnamon, caramel, but still with an underlying Eucalypt / herbal note, and after a few weeks, more of a rounded, caramel malt note. Not exactly what I was expecting, but certainly enjoyable, and isn't uniqueness the whole point of a single cask anyway?

Finish: Long, warming oak with slight tannins only towards the very end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100 (Martin). A very solid showing for the first bottling from a new bottler (although clearly one with history and experience in the industry). Really looking forward to seeing what they release by way of future bottlings.

A big thanks to Halcyon Spirits & WSW for the sample.


Monday, 21 August 2023

Glenglassaugh Coastal Series [Tasted #643 - #645]

Since joining the portfolio of The BenRiach Distillery Company, the revival of Glenglassaugh has featured well as part of BenRiach Company's reputation to revive old, forgotten distilleries. 

Dr Rachel Barrie, Brown-Forman Single Malts Master Blender noted that very few distilleries are situated by the beach with the sun, with rolling waves. The air and the high mineral water content all shape to influence the unique profile of Glenglassaugh. The minerality is derived from the geology and the landscape from where Glenglassaugh sits, with the distillery located by the beach, on the sea cliffs next to the village of Portsoy, Scotland.

Glenglassaugh has been around since 1875, during the 19th-century blend-led boom. It's been mothballed a few times, first in 1907, again in 1986 before finally being saved in 2007. Even then Glenglassaugh has always produced smaller volumes until 2010 before production started ramping up.

As Dr Rachel Barrie noted, 12 years on, the Glenglassaugh whisky from those years has finally come of age as it's reached the milestone age. She described it as the coastal awakening of Glenglassaugh. With the launch of Glenglassaugh's Coastal Series which will become their core range, the Glenglassaugh 12yo stands out as the flagship in the series.

The Glenglassaugh Coastal Series features three new expressions; a 12yo, Sandend and Portsoy. What's also apparent is the new bottle design which is said to have been inspired by the rippling sand tide at Sandend Bay and the overarching colour of the ocean.

The release of the flagship Glenglassaugh 12yo single malt embodies Glenglassaugh’s signature coastal style. The 12yo matured in bourbon, sherry and red wine casks and is akin to an evolution to Glenglassaugh Revival which also is a result of a mix of wine, bourbon and sherry casks.

Two other new whiskies, Sandend and Portsoy join the flagship 12yo. Sandend, inspired by the crescent beach of Sandend Bay, is matured in bourbon, sherry and manzanilla casks and Portsoy, the peated release, taking its name from the neighbouring harbour village, reflects the bold and deeply maritime flavour of this richly peated single malt, matured in sherry, bourbon and port casks. These three now represent Glenglassaugh's core range expressions.

As Dr Rachel Barrie noted:

“The new portfolio brings together all the key elements of Glenglassaugh’s spirit. Inspired by its truly unique coastal location, the new expressions transport us to a place where the spirit is awakened and soul invigorated, inviting us to stop, take a breath and appreciate our surroundings.”

“To taste Glenglassaugh Single Malt is to experience the coastal influence of Sandend Bay and the ancient harbour towns nearby. Shaped by the coalescence of land and sea, the senses are awakened by the imposing yet calming crash of waves and the sweet smell of gorse in the air.”

Glenglassaugh 12yo (45% ABV, Highland, Scotland, A$109.99)


An evolution to the Glenglassaugh Revival with similar cask composition for the 12yo to the Glenglassaugh Revival. This flagship Glenglassaugh 12yo release carry the dry influence from the wine cask with the added richness from the bourbon and sherry casks. 

Nose: Lots of tropical fruits, passionfruit, sour pineapple and mixed with dark raisins, fig, Christmas cake and some dried fruits.

Palate: The palate is ladened with tannin, grape tannin - likely from the wine casks. The notes that follow are sweet, candied date like followed by some spices that come alive after a while.

Finish: Medium to long

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100 (Hendy)

Glenglassaugh Sandend (50.5% ABV, Speyside, Scotland, A$131.99)


My pick of the three new releases from Glenglassaugh. This decadent malt from Glenglassaugh is beautiful, creamy, dessert like with burst of tropical fruit flavours. Many of the rich flavours I suspect have been derived from the manzanilla fino sherry casks which on its own is a remarkably rich sherry.

Nose: Almost ice cream like. The nose is beautiful and creamy with loads of vanilla, sweet vanilla slice, butter cookies, vanilla ice cries with a tinge of sea salt and peppermint.

Palate: The palate is equally as soft and beautiful with a tinge of slight spices, black peppercorns but with a persistent sweetness, vanilla ice cream like. The palate is lush, creamy, viscous and palate coating.

Finish: The finish is soft, gentle and slowly fizzles out.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100 (Hendy) 

Glenglassaugh Portsoy (49.1% ABV, Highland, Scotland, A$119.99)


A lightly peated Glenglassaugh release that balances the rich notes derived from the sherry, bourbon and port casks with umami flavours. This is a rather interesting expression that reminds me of everything from seaweed crisps to salted caramel crumbles. The sherry and port wine casks does bring out the dark chocolate and spices with some light bonfire smoke notes coming through. Delicious.

Nose: Rich, maritime notes. Hints of seaweed, sea salted seaweed with salted caramel. The nose is reminiscent of Japanese seaweed sheet mixed with a bit of dark chocolate and cherries.

Palate: The palate is full bodied, has a bit of the salted caramel from the nose, sweet maple syrup with a light bonfire smoke coming through from the peated grain.

Finish: The finish is light and lingers for a while.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100 (Hendy) 

The new Glenglassaugh Coastal Series is an exciting release from this small Highland distillery. The three new Glenglassaugh expressions will be available nationwide from September 2023 at Dan Murphy and specialist whisky stockists. 

For limited time in September, the team at Brown Forman have partnered with Sydney Oyster Farm Tours to offer a 'Sea-to-Table' whisky and oyster experience. Now, of the three, I would have thought the Portsoy to be the most decadent pairing for any oyster tasting but this package offers pairing with all three releases.

So here's your chance to savour some of Hawkesbury’s finest oysters, during peak oyster season (which runs from September to March) while submerged in the tranquil waters of the Hawkesbury River indulging in both the Glenglassaugh coastal range and Hawkesbury's finest oysters.

Visit Glenglassaugh Whisky Immerse Yourself package to check on availability across September for this particular package.

Thanks to the Brown Forman and We Are Different teams for previewing the new Glenglassaugh Coastal Range with us.


Tuesday, 20 June 2023

House of Hazelwood - Whisky from the Gordon Family private collection [Tasted #639 - 642]

As I think I've mentioned a few times on this blog, Glenfiddich is the whisky that got me into whisky (an abnormally large percentage of my posts from 2012 were about the distillery), and a whisky for which I've always had a soft spot. Over time that extended to sister distilleries Balvenie & Kininvie, so it's fair to say I'm a fan of what parent (and still family-owned) company William Grant & Sons produce. 

It shouldn't be a surprise then that when I was asked if I wanted to try some well-aged releases from House of Hazelwood, the latest venture from the Gordon Family (owners of WG&S), a very emphatic yes quickly followed.

Depending on when you began your whisky journey, "Hazelwood" could mean a few different things - a limited series of releases dating back to 2001 (with the first released only to WG&S employees, and the second being the first official bottling of Kininvie single malt), or a 2016 series of blended releases found largely in duty free, bottled in 500mL format as an 18, 21 and 25 year old.

It's the Hazelwood brand's most recent incarnation we're here to discuss though, and arguably its most exciting. To learn more, I sat down with Director Jonathan Gibson for a virtual tasting recently.

Jonathan explained that Charles Gordon (great-grandson of William Grant, father of the current WG&S Chairman & influential character in the company's history) began collecting casks not for commercial release, but for the family's personal stocks decades ago, and built the collection to the point that it simply became "too large". No doubt buoyed by whisky's immense rising popularity, the family decided it was time to bottle and sell these, and hence the House of Hazelwood collection was born, with a plan to release 8 new whiskies every 6-9 months.
(A point I found interesting is that the casks that go into the House of Hazelwood collection don't contain old Glenfiddich, Balvenie or Kininvie. The distilleries are diverse and varied, and the majority of the whiskies are blended, blended malt or blended grain whiskies.)

I asked Jonathan (who himself came from Compass Box) about the cask management - he explained some are actively managed, and others are left alone. Some are blended at birth (like the aptly titled "Blended at Birth"!) and others blended later in life.

The company (under the WG&S umbrella, but run as a separate company to the distilleries) launched in June 2022, and has recently officially launched in Australia, largely following a model of selling direct to consumers. With some luck Hong Kong distribution won't be too far behind.

Having covered the background, it was time to dive into a tasting of the 4 releases House of Hazelwood had kindly sent me:

House of Hazelwood 1965 "Blended at Birth" Blended Scotch Whisky (47% ABV, Blended Scotch, 56yo, 1 of 192 bottles, Scotland, £4,500)
A blend containing Girvan grain whisky, blended into the cask at birth and bottled a whopping 56 years later.

Colour: Deep amber

Nose: Dunnage warehouse, menthol, orange and almond.

Palate: Quite nutty initially - almonds, almondmeal and almond cake. Orange and grapefruit notes show up soon after, followed by herbal jelly. With some time in the glass, a brandy fruitiness emerges.

Finish: Long and lingering, with a slight fruit spice towards teh end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100 (Martin). A very solid start, and a whisky that evokes those "old whisky" notes (as opposed to "old bottle") the way very few can.

House of Hazelwood "The Tops" Blended Malt Whisky (51.6% ABV, 33yo, 1 of 523 bottles, Blended Malt, Scotland, £1,450)
Containing a blend of Speyside malts, matured in ex-Sherry casks.

Colour: Dark copper-brown.

Nose: Cherry, berry fruits at first. Rich, but beautifully clean sherry notes follow with juicy oak and some coffee grounds.

Palate: Spiced oak, caramel, hunidor, followed by more cherry, some sherry-soaked raisins, and rum & raisin ice cream.

Finish: Lasts incredibly long, with a fruity, rum & raisin finish with a hint of residual oak.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100 (Martin). Exactly what you want in a sherried Speyside - clean but noticeable sherry, with the oak in-check.

House of Hazelwood "The Unknown" Blended Scotch Whisky (43.3% ABV, 44yo, 1 of 143 bottles, Blended Scotch, Scotland, £3,000)
Distilled in 1978 and blended in 1989, "The Unknown" underwent an extensive secondary maturation for a further 33 years in a single refill butt

Colour: Bright yellow-gold.

Nose: Fresh vanilla pods in a fruit salad - pear, peach, apple predominantly.

Palate: More vanilla - creamy, with the same fruit salad notes from the nose, adding in nectarine and some citrus. There's a light, delicate mouthfeel and an underlying sweetness you find with some old grain whiskies.

Finish: Medium to long in length, with vanilla-laced smooth oak notes.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100 (Martin).

House of Hazelwood "A Breath of Fresh Air" Blended Grain Whisky (46.4% ABV, 37yo, 1 of 417 bottles, Blended Grain, Scotland, £3,000)

Colour: Morning sunrise golden

Nose: Strawberries, Butter Menthol lollies, creamed honey and an underlying butteriness.

Palate: Light, with the buttery notes continuing alongside some rum-like esthers, heather & honey.

Finish: Medium in length, with a sweet buttery shortbread note that gains some dryness towards the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100 (Martin). A delightful example of the unique characteristics old Grain whisky can produce.

House of Hazelwood whiskies are available now in UK and Australia, purchased directly from the official website, with further distribution to follow. The collection is expected to grow every 6-9 months (with another 8 bottles added), and we can't wait to see how the future releases shape up.


Thanks to House of Hazelwood for the samples, and to Jonathan for his time.

Thursday, 1 June 2023

Planet Ardbeg Day 2023 - Heavy Vapours [Tasted #638]

If there's one consistent annual article on this blog, it's Ardbeg Day. Almost every year since 2012, Hendy or I have managed to at least taste the annual limited release, if not attend Sydney and/or Hong Kong events. From last year's "Ardcore" to 2013's "Ardbog", and pretty much everything in between (2014's "Auriverdes" event was a highlight, as was 2016's "Dark Cove" Committee Release) there's been a lot of weird and wonderful releases.

2023 is no different, with the distillery celebrating "Planet" Ardbeg Day this year with the launch of "Heavy Vapours", which saw Ardbeg spirit distilled without a purifier (the apparatus on the still responsible for maintaining Ardbeg's "unrivalled balance between extreme peat and floral fruitiness").
An experiment by Dr Bill Lumsden (who else?!), the change supposedly allows the "heaviest and untamed vapours to rise up the still during the distillation process". 

Because this release is for Ardbeg Day (which always means equal parts experimentation and fun), Ardbeg have teamed up with different artists to create a series of "Planet Ardbeg" comics, with the Heavy Vapours comic following Jackie Thomson, Ardbeg Visitor Centre Manager & Committee Chair (aka "Agent 46"), portrayed as an interplanetary detective on a quest to locate the elusive purifier ad restore Ardbeg's signature balance.

So we've established it's experimental and fun (as to be expected), but how does it taste...?

Ardbeg "Heavy Vapours" Ardbeg Day 2023 Release (46% ABV, NAS, Islay, Scotland $1,930HKD (with Wee Beastie 5yo) £120 / $250AUD)

Colour: Pale straw.

Nose: Spiced, briny smoke. Paprika at first, but then after time perfumed, settling into an ashy campfire.

Palate: Initially light, youthful and vibrant. There's a slight oak bitterness, some milk choc notes, some pepper and after time some mocha notes.

Finish: Relatively short, with hints of bitter oak and dark chocolate.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 86/100 (Martin). A perfectly drinkable Ardbeg, but (as with last year's Ardcore), I find myself preferring the core 10yo - which sells for less than 1/3 the price here in HK.

Ardbeg have clearly put a huge amount of effort into the marketing and event side of Ardbeg Day, and must be applauded for it, but I can't help but feel the whiskies each year are getting sub-par when compared to the excellent core range (in particular the 10yo & Uigeadail). That's not to say these are bad whiskies - not at all. They're fine, but in comparison to the core range, personally I don't find this one as good - especially not when it's almost quadruple the price of the 10yo, and more than double the price of the Oogie. "Fun" has to have a price cap. For the first time since 2013, I'll admit I didn't buy the release this year - either regular to committee version.

If you're keen to try it for youself, there are Heavy Vapours Masterclasses being held in HK (as well as Heavy Vapours cocktails being served) at the following venues - contact them for details:
  • Tiffany's New York Bar (including the main event on Sat 3rd June, 4-6pm)
  • Whisky & Words (10th June)
  • CNY Bar (17th June)
  • Bar Butler (29th June)

Ardbeg "Heavy Vapours" is available now from Ardbeg Embassies, whisky retailers and online. Thanks to MHDHK & Flare Communications for the sample.


Monday, 22 May 2023

Old Master Spirits 1978 Domaine de Papolle Bas Armagnac 44yo [Tasted #637]

It's getting to the point now where we could almost call these posts "Monthly #malternatives" (and I'm OK with that)! This month's comes once again from Melbourne-based bottlers Old Master Spirits, and like their "XXO" reviewed in March, is another Bas Armagnac - though this time it carries an age & vintage statement - being bottled from a 44yo single 1978 cask, ex Domaine de Papolle.

(You can read my thoughts on several of Old Master Spirits' previous releases here, including why I love what these guys do, and how their #malternatives are very much made for whisky lovers.)

Distilled from 100% Baco grapes, the spirit matured for 44 years under the watch of master distiller Bernard Piffard, who now manages the estate, vines and production along with his son Frederic Piffard.

Old Master Spirits' previously releases have all been high quality, but does this (their 8th) continue that trend? Let's dig in...

Old Master Spirits 1978 Domaine de Papolle Bas Armagnac 44yo (40.3% ABV, 44yo, Single Cask, France, One of 132 bottles, $249AUD)

Colour: Deep, dark rich mahogany.

Nose: Fresh and fruity at first, with cola chews & red jubes, turning into sherry-soaked apricots, raisons and some almond oil. With a little time in the glass, coffee grounds and a hint of furniture polish emerge.

Palate: Super balanced - there's oak, raisins, peach, vanilla chews and caramel all playing nicely together. Then some milk chocolate, cigar box and more of the almonds from the nose (though more of an almond nougat this time). Super drinkable and moreish.

Finish: Long, largely following the palate with some more oak towards the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100 (Martin). Complexity and approachability, in a delicious package. The guys have done it again.

Old Master Spirits' 1978 Domaine de Papolla Bas Armagnac 44yo goes on sale this Thursday (25th May 2023) at With only 132 500mL bottles (each selling for a very reasonable $249AUD), I can't see this one lasting too long on the virtual shelves...

Thanks Deni & David for the sample.


Friday, 19 May 2023

Starward Stout Cask [Tasted #636]

Get ready to raise your glass, or rather your beer glass. Starward Whisky's latest creation combines the art of brewing and distilling. The expression, dubbed, Starward Stout Cask, is seek to combine flavours derived from whisky together with those flavours imparted by imperial stout beer. 

To create Starward Stout Cask, the Starward team have combined Starward's core whisky, from their renowned red wine and small format Apera barrels which is then aged for an additional 18 months in barrels from Brick Lane's highly acclaimed 'Trilogy of Fear' imperial stout series. The aging in the stout barrels is said to add bold and captivating flavours to Starward's tropical fruit and vanilla notes.

Sam Slaney, the Production Director at Starward, expressed his enthusiasm for the project, stating, 

"We love the change of seasons at Starward, and the colder weather means the perfect time for a stout! Brick Lane's amazing Trilogy of Fear series showcases complex dark malt and a rich texture, allowing our whisky to soak up all the robust flavor from these stout-soaked barrels. This limited release has been brewing for some time, and we couldn't be happier with the result."

Bottled at 52% ABV, Starward Stout Cask balances rich roasted characteristics with Starward's signature notes. With the flavours that have been imparted by the stout barrels, Starward Stout Cask is an ideal candidate as a boilermaker or just drunk neat. Starward have recommended pairing it with a barrel aged stout though it says it complements other craft beer equally as well.

Let's dive into the Stout Cask neat for now...

Starward Stout Cask (52% ABV, Melbourne, Australia, A$169)


A rather delicious and fun release from Starward combining Starward's traditional tropical fruit notes with a layer of malt and chocolate. The nose and palate are fun filled and quite enjoyable neat. Definitely a great input into a boilermaker.

Nose: Lots of tropical fruits, pineapples, lychees, passionfruit followed by a layer of vanilla, milk chocolate, maple syrup, and oat biscuits

Palate: The palate is equally fruity, with banana lollies and vanilla ice cream at first before some notes of  passionfruit and mangosteen that follow before light white pepper spices mixed with some milk chocolate to end

Finish: Oat biscuit and milk chocolate with a lingering white pepper spice

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100 (Hendy) 

Before its official launch, selected venues across Australia will offer Starward Stout Cask boilermakers starting from May 20th for a limited time. There's also the opportunity to grab the bottle through Starward's ballot system via their website. Ballot registration opens 10 May with the ballot drawn from 5 June.

Thanks to Starward for providing us with a sample as well as the pairing imperial stout cask from Trilogy of Fear.

Monday, 8 May 2023

Diageo Special Releases 2022 [Tasted #628 - 635]

It's that time of the year when Diageo unveils its annual Special Releases, albeit for us down under, it's a six-month delay from our northern hemisphere brethren.

Diageo has unveiled its annual Special Releases for 2022, which continue with the mythical theme similar to last year’s special releases. The 2022 series dubbed ‘Elusive Expressions’ sees Illustrator Ken Taylor back again, this time joined by a fellow visual artist, Kevin Tong. Ken Taylor was the Illustrator behind last year’s Fable theme illustrations.

While this year’s theme may be similar to last year’s, the lineup for the 2022 Special Releases is slightly different to last year’s. The 2022 Special Releases see Cameronbridge feature as part of the lineup as well as many familiar distilleries.

When the sample set arrived, Marto was in town and we decided that it would be heaps of fun to split the sample do a joint tasting and combine our notes. While there are some clear favourites amongst us, it was fun to compare the notes for the eight whiskies from the 2022 series. Though, from the entire series, there was one distillery that came out on top.

Here we go...

An interesting Cardhu 16yo, 56%, finished in Jamaican Rum casks. A$299

Martin: Pear, apple and hints of peach on the nose are complimented by a slight herbal note. On the palate, some subtle strawberries & cream notes along with hints of oak, following through to the long finish. 90.

Hendy: Tropical notes on the nose with some mango, and pineapple. Some hints of apples and stone fruits. The palate is soft and creamy, with loads more apples with some strawberries added. The spices appear gradually and slowly evolve into a nice milky chocolate finish. 91.

Oban 10yo, 57.1%, finished in ex-sherry and amontillado-seasoned casks. A$179.99

MartinA herbal grassiness and slight saline smoked note on the nose, followed by a fairly simple, slightly salted beef note with underlying red berry notes. A long and warming finish with residual oak to the end. 87.

Hendy: The nose is quite fruity, apples, berries and grapes. Spices kick on the palate followed by the apples, and pears. The palate evolves with some chocolate mixed with some berries and pepper. The finish is long and warming and similar to Marto's note, quite an oaky finish. 90.

An unusual 12yo Clynelish, 58.5% ABV, matured in refill American Oak, then finished in PX/Oloroso seasoned casks. A$350

Martin: Baked apple pie with vanilla on the nose. Things are a bit more robust on the palate, with more of the expected notes from a sherry finish - nuttiness, a robust toffee note, some red berries and a hint of red apple. A long finish, slightly drying at the end. 90.

Hendy: Stewed apples and vanilla custard flows through the nose. You can also smell a hint of apple turnovers. The palate is fulsome and viscous, with apples, and raisins coming through from the apple turnover. There are some peppermint spices that follow. The finish is nice and round with remnants of white pepper spice and a layer of chocolate. 90.

Singleton of Glen Ord
A 15yo The Singleton of Glen Ord, 54.2% ABV, aged in refill American and European Oak, then double matured in wine-seasoned casks. This was one of my highlights from the 2022 series. A$199

Martin: The rich, robust but fruity nose is a welcome departure from the rest of the range tasted so far. Raspberries and strawberries, and after time some green apple. On the palate, cranberries and raisins are coated in milk chocolate, leading to a long and consistent finish. 91.

Hendy: Nice and fruity, raspberries, oranges, and stone fruits. The palate is soft at first and the spices gradually build. The fruits have come out again, apples, raspberries and stoned fruits. The spices remain for some time, into a somewhat long finish with a nice milk chocolate undertone. 92.

A rich and fruity NAS Mortlach, 57.8% ABV, finished in Tawny Port, Red Muscat and Virgin Oak casks. A$425

Martin: Rich and expressive on the nose, I wouldn't call it 'meaty', but it's definitely 'robust'. A well-polished palate that suggests some age, set against the backdrop of spicy, drying red fruit notes on the palate, and long, lingering raspberry on the finish. 90.

Hendy: Rich and fruity, baked apple pie with apple bits, and some glazed cherries on a warm baked loaf cake. The palate is quite welcoming with rich spices, more of the stewed apples from the apple pie, some berries and salted caramel brittle. The nutmeg and pepper spices continue to build and gradually disappear leaving an oaky, berry finish. 91.

Talisker 11-Year-Old, 55.1% ABV, matured in first-fill ex-bourbon, refill, and wine-seasoned casks. A$199

Martin: Youthful saline smoke on the nose, leading to slightly herbal salted beef notes with a slight medicinal salinity. The palate follows the nose, with the herbal, grassy, saline smoke notes. The finish is long but a little thin, leading to residual dry smoke notes. 88.

Hendy: Quite briney and full of sud, dry seaweed amongst bonfire smoke. There are some subtle herbal notes as well on the nose. The palate is sweet but quite simple. There is some apple and cinnamon with very light nutmeg spice. The finish is slightly herbaceous and oaky but does linger for a while. 89.

A 12yo Lagavulin, 57.3% ABV, matured in virgin oak casks and our smokiest reserves. A$229.99

Martin: A classic and thankfully, this one doesn't disappoint. Whilst the nose is lighter than you might expect (albeit with classic Lagavulin DNA still showing through). On the palate, things come to life, with briney Islay peat and complex chocolate orange amidst seaspray-soaked ropes. A long and smoked citrus finish rounds things out. 91.

Hendy: Earthy and Briny. The nose reeks of sea brine and salted fish. There are remnants of bonfire smoke by the beach. The palate is quite distinct to the nose, the sweetness of toffee green apple comes through with some milk chocolate. There is also some mulchy earth with black pepper spices and oak notes. The finish is quite tarry, there is an earthy oaky undertone but overall, the sweetness of the milk chocolate remains. 91.

For the first time ever, Cameronbridge 26yo single grain whisky, 56.2%ABV, finished in refill American oak. A$599.99

Martin: Citrus tea notes on the nose give way to a more drying, but rich palate with notes of stone fruits (pear, apple, peach) and drying oak. I found the finish reasonably short, with those stone fruit notes carrying through to the end. 88.

Hendy: Sweet milk chocolate, some nougat and toffee apple on the nose. The palate is equally as creamy, milky - milk chocolate. Some Ribena juice gradually follows followed with mint spices and shortbread. The finish is minty and oaky and the milky notes continue for some while. 90.

Hendy (and Marto)

Thank you to Diageo and Example for sending us the Diageo Special Releases 2022 Collection kit for us to spend some time with.