Wednesday, 13 October 2021

The Macallan Concept No. 3 [Tasted #543]

Last year I wrote about The Macallan "Concept 2", a travel retail exclusive launched at a time when global travel was extremely limited.

Fast forward ~18 months, and the next (and final) whisky in the series has been released, "Concept 3" (at a time when global travel is still, sadly, very limited). Despite the lack of travel, The Macallan were kind enough to send me a bottle (part of this stunning kit) so I could try the whisky.

First though, some background. The third and final release in the “Concept” series sees a whisky which “brings together the worlds of whisky and graphic design”, through a collaboration with designer David Carson. Described as “bright & fresh”, the whisky was created by The Macallan Whisky Maker Polly Logan, at a unique 40.8% (because “8 happens to be mine and David’s favourite number”, says Polly 😁)

As you might expect from a collaboration with a graphic designer, the bottle and packaging have a lot "going on" visually, culminating in an impressive AR experience (via app download) which gives more detail on the whisky, design and collaboration via short videos from Polly and David. It's a fun and unique (in the world of whisky) way to add a little joy / interactivity to the experience. 

 

As for the whisky itself, details are limited, but we do know that it includes whisky from first fill sherry butts & ex-bourbon casks, along with "selected refill and virgin oak casks" (no word on if the refills are ex-sherry or ex-bourbon, or something else however).

I never covered it on the blog, but some of you may know I wasn't the biggest fan of Concept No.1 (for me, the "reverse" sherry-then-bourbon cask maturation didn't quite hit the mark), but I found No.2 to be a big improvement. So the big question is, how does the series finale stack up? Let's find out...



The Macallan Concept No.3 (40.8% ABV, NAS, Speyside Scotland, $TBC)
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Colour: Yellow golden sunset.

Nose: Sweet yellow fruits - apricot and peach. Subtle ginger followed by a big dollop of honey, and sweet mandarin.

Palate: A lot of sweetness, with soft peach and pear notes, floral / pot pourri notes, and subtle vanilla hints. There's plenty here to let you know it's a Macallan, but it's sweeter than you might be familiar with (especially when compared with other recent NAS Macallans).

Finish: Medium in length, sweet and spiced (allspice), with vanilla hints at the very end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. A sweeter Macallan, but a well-constructed one and one that I suspect will be popular with a wide cross-section of drinkers. 

 

The Macallan Concept No.3 is available now via travel retail globally. A big thanks to The Macallan Hong Kong for the set pictured here.

Cheers,
Martin.

Friday, 8 October 2021

Highland Park Hong Kong Single Cask Edition #4 [Tasted #542]

Edrington's two most well-known distilleries (The MacallanHighland Park) get a lot of airtime on this blog, and that's largely because their commanding presence in the HK market means they can bring some pretty cool whiskies here, and launch them with some pretty amazing events


One area the brands really differ though is in their single cask offerings. The Macallan has the "Exceptional Single Cask" program (which has included everything from 12yo to 67yo whiskiy), but these are pretty tough to get a hold of, and typically come with a price tag to match their rarity (to be fair, their retail prices are very reasonable - but rarely can they be found at retail prices!)

(The Macallan also have a private cask program, but it's so incredibly limited I won't cover it here.)


Highland Park's single cask program on the other hand has seen hundreds of casks released, often at very reasonable prices. Some have been specific to certain shops, whisky clubs, bars or events, others are specific to the distillery visitor centre and yet others are bottled only for certain locations. In the latter camp, we've previously seen no less than four HK-exclusive casks (the first of which we covered almost 3 years ago) and now, Hong Kong has it's fourth - this time an 18yo!


Distilled in 2001 and bottled in 2020 @ 56.6% ABV, the Highland Park "Hong Kong Edition 4" 18yo comes from a refill Hoghhead (Sherry no doubt) and is limited to 296 bottles. It also comes in a pretty nice and very heavy wooden box.


To celebrate the new single cask, and the launch of the latest edition 50yo (which I later tasted thanks to Dram Good Stuff, but that's for another post...) a lunchtime tasting and pairing was held at St Regis Hong Kong with HK whisky stalwart Ron Taylor. The canapés were delicious and the whiskies expertly paired, but there was one whisky I was there to taste, and really spend some time with, and that was the new single cask...



Highland Park Single Cask Series "Hong Kong Edition 4" (56.6% ABV, 2001-2020, 18yo, Refill Hogshead #2585, 1 of 296 bottles, Orkney Scotland)
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Colour: Amber copper.

Nose: Slight sulphur notes at first, then followed by citrus (calamansi?), vanilla and sour mix. The sulphur dissipates but some mild tannins remain, alongside some sweet orange notes.

Palate: Zesty orange, vanilla and coffee grounds. It has a sweetness, but at the same time there's a robust earthy note. Slight hints of grassy peat, then raw honey, hazelnut and orange chocolate. A few drops of water adds a little more earthy spice, with a hint of vanilla.

Finish: A long, floral honey nuttiness.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91. A very enjoyable cask.



The Highland Park "Hong Kong Edition 4" 18yo sells for $4,650HKD at Dram Good Stuff (but given its limited outturn, I suspect it won't be around for long).

A big thanks to Edrington Hong Kong, Ron and Lee Wolter for the invitation to the event.

Cheers,
Martin.

Friday, 10 September 2021

Berry Bros & Rudd's new bottle design (and a very special 1989 Bunnahabhain) [Tasted #541]

The whisky world (in particular the Scotch whisky world) talks a lot of provenance and history - as well it should. With whisky distillation legally sanctioned in Scotland in 1823, and distilleries commencing operations very soon thereafter (and many, like Bowmore and Glenturret, well before), there's a rich history to draw upon.

~200 years may seem like an impressively long time to be in business (and let's face it, it is), but it pales in comparison to Berry Bros & Rudd, Britain's oldest wine and spirit merchant who have not only been in operation since 1698, but have traded from the same shop the entire time. 

323 years is an incredibly long time to be in business (especially trading from the same location), but in all that time, Berry Bros have never had their own bottle design, with the "Own Selection" whiskies and spirits using a relatively standard design. Until now...


Launched in July this year, Berry Bros & Rudd's whiskies (and other spirits) now have a bottle worthy of the liquid, with a bespoke design by label designer Stranger and Stranger referencing the Berry Bros & Rudd shop's iconic arched windows.

As Guy Pratt, Design Director from Stranger and Stranger explains:
“The premises on St. James' in the heart of London’s West End is inextricably tied to the history of old London and the host of famous and extraordinary people who have passed through its doors. It was the famous arched windows of the facade that provided a way to express the merchant’s prodigious spirit credentials within the mould of the bottle itself, added to the base of the bottle they echo both the iconic facade and the scalloped decoration you might typically find on a heavy spirits glass. In this way we were able to celebrate the brand and the home it has occupied since 1698 in a single mark. For appreciators of fine spirits who unfortunately cannot visit the shop itself, Berry Bros & Rudd have just brought the shop to you!”

BBR's "Summer Release 2021" series is the first to be bottled in the new design, and features 6 diverse spirits from across the world - 5 Single Casks (a 2010 peated Bruichladdich, 2000 Clyenlish Sutherland, 2014 Guyana rum-finished Laprhoaig Williamson, a 2010 Islay-finished Diamond Rum from Guyana, and (the coolest of all) a 2016 Lark from Tasmania), alongside a "Small batch" whisky in the form of a 2009 12yo Linkwood - at only £60.

When BBR kindly offered to send me something to celebrate the new bottle design, I assumed it would be a few samples of the above - or perhaps even one of the bottles if they were feeling particularly generous. What I didn't expect was an entire bottle of single cask 1989 Bunnahabhain, labelled with my own name (or a slightly misspelt version of it) front and centre, adorning the new bottle design!


Incredibly generous and unexpected! Whiskybase suggests the cask (#5738 from 2015) was originally bottled for Shinanoya, but presumably they didn't take the whole cask, and a few fortunate souls were lucky enough to receive a personalised bottle in the new bottle design.

Of course, as lovely as the new bottle design is, ultimately it's all about the liquid inside, and so to that end, upon receiving the bottle I immediately ripped the cork out and poured myself a dram...and I'm glad I did!


Berry Bros & Rudd Single Cask 1989 Bunnahabhain (43.4% ABV, 1989-2015, 25yo, Hogshead #5738, 1 of 115 bottles Islay Scotland)
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Colour: Bright yellow gold.

Nose: Rich yellow fruits - peach, pair, hints of lemon.

Palate: Zesty white chocolate, lemon pie. Creamy vanilla pie. Viscous mouthfeel, with marzipan and yellow jubes.

Finish: Long, with hints of pear and peach.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. Extremely drinkable, complex, and entirely enjoyable.


A big thanks to Berry Bros & Rudd for this beautiful personalised gift, and congratulations on a stunning new bottle design and range!

Cheers,
Martin.

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Tasting the world's oldest whisky: G&M's Generations 80 Year Old from Glenlivet Distillery [Tasted #540]

We've featured our fair share of Gordon & MacPhail whiskies over the years - from the "Connoisseurs Choice" range (which, no hyperbole, deserves a lot of credit for bringing single malt whisky into the spotlight back in the 1960s) to the rare and always-exceptional "Private Collection" range. With whiskies ranging up to 70 years old, it's fair to say we've had some incredible tasting experiences.

One range we've never featured though is G&M's "Generations". Retained for only the longest-matured, most exclusive whiskies, there have only ever been 4 previous releases - two of which broke the record at the time as the oldest Scotch whisky ever bottled.

Since the last "Generations" release (a 75yo Mortlach in 2015), there's been quite an increase in incredibly-aged malts hitting the market (one distillery in particular has released no fewer than five 70+ year old whiskies since 2018), but to date, the oldest whisky ever commercially bottled has topped out at 78 years old.

Today though, G&M are regaining the crown, with the release of the world's first 80 Year Old Single Malt WhiskyGenerations 80 Year Old from Glenlivet Distillery.



It would be easy to simply focus on the age of such a whisky, given how rare it is for whisky to remain in oak for so long and still legally be whisky, but that would mean brushing aside some incredible facts and figures, like:
  • This whisky was distilled during World War II (1940), when production at Glenlivet (and all Scottish distilleries) reduced by two-thirds due to Govt-imposed restrictions before almost halting entirely/. Peat was also commonly used, even in distilleries that don't today produce "peated" whiskies.
  • This incredible cask was looked after by four generations of the Urquhart family (who still own G&M to this day); and
  • This whisky matured for 40% of the lifespan of The Glenlivet distillery!


The spirit for this release was filled into a 1st Fill Sherry Butt (which initially held mosto (freshly pressed grape juice), then sobretables (new wine post fermentation) before being filled with mature Sherry at Bodegas Williams Humbert) on 3rd February 1940, and was laid down in Elgin by George Urquhart (aka "Mr George") and his father John, to mature well beyond their own lives - all the way to 5th February 2020, when it was bottled as the very first 80 year old Single Malt Scotch.



I was incredibly fortunate to taste the whisky recently, over a 1:1 Zoom with Stephen Ranking - eldest member of the 4th Generation of Urquhart family and G&M's Director of Prestige. Speaking to Stephen and hearing him tell the story of this whisky and G&M's 125 years in business was fascinating, and a testament to G&M's long-standing relationships throughout the industry. 

For example, G&M were only able to obtain Glenlivet new make (going back to well before this one was bottled) due to long-standing relationships with the distillery - both business relationships (G&M would provide the distillery with business, casks and warehousing) but also personal relationships, as both families were close. Similarly, as a close personal friend of Alexander Williams of Bodegas Williams Humbert at the time, "Mr George" was able to secure quality casks and ensure they were prepared as required.

(Side note: one fact I really love about G&M is they still, to this day, only buy new make spirit and fill their own casks themselves, unlike most other independent bottlers who also buy mature casks for further maturation. Of course there's nothing wrong with buying mature casks, but G&M's approach affords significantly more control and oversight of the whisky's maturation. Due in no small part to their extensive relationships, they've been able to do this for over 100 Scottish distilleries throughout their 125 years.)



As Stuart Urquhart (Operations Director and member of the fourth generation of the owning family) explains of the spirit:
“Glenlivet’s style of spirit is often highlighted as a classic example from Speyside – smooth, light, fruity and slightly floral. Spirit from Glenlivet can withstand long term ageing, managing to retain its delicate character. It is imperative for us to select quality casks, made to our exacting specifications, to ensure the spirit is not overpowered. Typically, we use Sherry casks for spirit earmarked for long-term maturation, with bourbon casks deployed for shorter term expressions although there are always exceptions to the rule."
When reviewing a whisky, I'll be honest - I don't typically like to give a lot of attention to bottle and packaging design on the blog, but in this case, it warrants an exception. For the fifth Generations release, G&M looked to partner with someone who shared their values of ‘artistry’, ‘legacy’ and ‘craftsmanship', and they found him in Internationally acclaimed architect and designer, Sir David Adjaye OBE.


Not having an architect's eye myself, my first thought upon seeing the design was "yeah, that looks really cool", but speaking to Stephen highlighted the level of thought and planning that went into the designs:
  • The decanter, with its "lenses" on the sides, is intended to cast the whisky in a different shade, showing off the different colours it goes through during maturation (the lenses are also functional, serving as handgrips. You wouldn't want to drop one of these!)
  • The oak case (handmade in sustainable timber by Wardour Workshops) is intended to "open like an oak forest letting light through its branches".
  • The blackened top of the handblown Glencairn crystal decanters is intended to echo a charred cask.

 


Generations 80 Year Old from Glenlivet Distillery officially launches today, as a release of 250 decanters bottled at 44.9% ABV. Interested parties won't be able to purchase one just yet however, as decanter #1 is going under the hammer for charity, with Sotheby's holding an auction on 2nd October in Hong Kong. In addition to the first decanter (and oak case and two tumblers), the winner will also receive:
  • A unique & rare whisky tasting experience for four in London, tailored to the buyer, conducted by Stephen Rankin and attended by Sir David Adjaye OBE.
  • The cask head of cask 340 which cradled the spirit for eight decades, presented in a bespoke frame.
  • Sir David Adjaye OBE’s original, signed concept drawings for the decanter and oak case, presented in a bespoke frame.
Proceeds from the auction (minus costs) will be donated to Trees for Life, a Scottish charity with a mission to rewild the Caledonian forest, with whom Gordon & MacPhail colleagues have been actively involved in helping with tree planting, including native oaks, at their site at Glen Affric in the north of Scotland.

Pricing and availability for the remaining 249 decanters will be announced following the auction.


So, a historic and incredible feat of whisky-making, no doubt, but how does it taste? Many would claim (and I wouldn't disagree) that on average, Scotch single malt hits its "sweet spot" around 15-25 years old, and that for a whisky to make it to 40, 50, 60, 70+ years and 1) still be whisky and 2) still taste good is an incredible feat.

..but what about 80 years? Has 8 decades in a First Fill sherry butt rendered something of an oak bomb? Read on...



Gordon & MacPhail Generations 80 Year Old from Glenlivet Distillery (44.9% ABV, 80yo (3rd Feb 1940 to 5th Feb 2020), First Fill Sherry Butt #340, 1 of 250 decanters, Speyside, Scotland, pricing TBC)
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Colour: Rich, deep burnished copper.

Nose: Initially coconut, followed by cigar box, some mint & sandalwood. You get some of those woody notes that let you know a whisky has spent some time in-cask, but they don't dominate at all - far from an "oak bomb". Nose it for a bit longer (I spent 45 minutes on the nose alone) and you'll find pot pouri, lavender, and some caramel cream.  With a little drop of water, I found port, more sandalwood, rooibos tea and some orange.

Palate: Viscous and full-bodied, there's initially some citrus-infused oak, dried fruits (sultanas, papaya), pressed flowers, fig and hints of grassiness and mint. You get big "vintage whisky" notes (cigar box, leather) without the "old bottle effect" notes that often accompany whiskies of this era from decades gone by. Water brings out a little orange peel, some very slight tannins, more mint and after 40 minutes, the faintest hints of smoke appear. The layers in this are incredible - some of these notes only showed themselves after 20, 25, 30+ minutes. If you looked up "complex whisky" in the dictionary, you may well find a picture of this.

Finish: Incredibly long and mellow. Ginger tea, sandalwood, incense and orange peel.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 94/100. Just incredible - not only because this whisky made it to 80 years and still retained 44.9% ABV, but because it retains such balance and complexity. An absolute pleasure to experience - I sincerely hope whoever is lucky enough to purchase one of the 250 decanters opens it up and enjoys it with good friends.





A tremendous thank you must go to Stephen Rankin for generously giving up his time to take me through the whisky, and Gordon & MacPhail and Petrie PR for allowing me this incredible opportunity.

Cheers,
Martin.

Saturday, 28 August 2021

Gordon & MacPhail launches 7 new Glenlivet Expressions, including Private Collection 1976 [Tasted #537 - #539]

Ahead of the September release of the oldest single malt Scotch ever bottled, Gordon & MacPhail's Generations 80-Years-Old from Glenlivet Distillery, G&M is launching seven new Glenlivet expressions across both its "Private Collection" and "Connoisseurs Choice" ranges.


The bottles, which range from £104 to £1,750 include:
  • Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection 1975 from Glenlivet Distillery, Refill Sherry hogshead
  • Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection 1976 from Glenlivet Distillery, Refill American hogshead
  • Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection 1976 from Glenlivet Distillery, First fill Sherry hogshead 
  • Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection 1980 from Glenlivet Distillery, Refill American hogshead
  • Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice 1993 from Glenlivet Distillery, Refill American hogshead
  • Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice 2003 from Glenlivet Distillery, Refill bourbon barrel
  • Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice 2004 from Glenlivet Distillery, Refill bourbon barrel

Keep an eye on the blog for more details on the Generations 80 Year Old soon, but ahead of that, G&M were kind enough to send through samples of the Private Collection 1976 (American Oak hogshead), Connoisseurs Choice 2003 & Connoisseurs Choice 2004 so we could share our thoughts.



Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection 1976 from Glenlivet Distillery (43.9% ABV, 45yo (30th Jan 1976 to 8th Feb 2021), refill American hogshead #1565, 1 of 124 bottles, Speyside, Scotland, £1,750)
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Colour: Yellow gold.

Nose: Subtle pears, green apples and vintage oak spice. A creaminess emerges, vanilla milkshake-like, then apple pie with cream.

Palate: Leather (new leather) at first, remaining throughout and quite dominant. Honey-drizzled apple slices and licorice follow, with some maple syrup after some time. There's a slight milk chocolate note too after a while, but the leather remains throughout. 

Finish: Honied apples, a lingering nutty slice, and lemon zest.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. Different notes to what I was expecting, based on the specs alone, but a very enjoyable and unusual dram, with a fantastic nose (an excellent candidate for the 1920s Blenders Glass, if you have one). The years have imparted some varied and interesting flavours, and it all works well together.



Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice 2003 from Glenlivet Distillery (46% ABV, 17yo (1st Jul 2003 to 14th Jun 2021), refill bourbon barrels #800356 & 800358, 1 of 510 bottles, Speyside, Scotland, £127)
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Colour: Light yellow gold (Riesling-like)

Nose: Green apple and paprika spice. There's a slight dustiness, and with time, some peaches and then apple crumble.

Palate: Follows the nose, with peaches and apple, but there's a creaminess to it - almost like a vanilla apple pie. After time a slight herbaceousness follows.

Finish: Herbaceous, with lingering vanilla cream.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 89/100.



Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice 2004 from Glenlivet Distillery (46% ABV, 16yo (10th Nov 2004 to 21st Jun 2021), refill bourbon barrels #800671 & 800672, 1 of 510 bottles, Speyside, Scotland, £104)
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Colour: Light yellow gold (Riesling-like)

Nose: Green apple and spice like the 2003, with a bit more meatiness - some tangy fruity BBQ sauce, with white pepper. After 20 minutes, vanilla cream emerges.

Palate: Banana, apple, pears, custard pie with vanilla cream. Slight hints of pineapple and pear.

Finish: Herbaceous, with a very slight meaty smoke.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100.



All seven whiskies are available now, from the usual UK outlets including The Whisky Exchange (no word yet on Hong Kong or Australian availability or pricing). A big thanks to G&M and ANMComms for the samples.

Cheers,
Martin.

Friday, 27 August 2021

SMWS & Starward: Distillery 148 lands with two impressive releases [Tasted #535 & #536]

I heard a funny comment about the Scotch Malt Whisky Society the other day - that technically only one quarter of their name fully describes what they do. They no longer bottle only Scotch whisky, they no longer bottle only malt whisky, they no longer bottle only whisky...but they are still a Society (one of which I've been a devoted member since 2013).


Some may think the inclusion of grain whiskies, world whiskies and other spirits has changed the Society, and I agree - it's changed it for the better. This blog was always about enjoying whisky (and the occasional dark spirit) on its merits and flavour alone, regardless of where it comes from or how old it is, and that's a philosophy SMWS really take to heart.

So when SMWS started bottling whiskies from "new world" whisky countries like TaiwanIndia, England, Denmark and Sweden, to me it wasn't a case of "Oh no, they're deviating from their roots!" it was a case of "OK, so when will we see an Aussie distillery?" 

That question was answered last month, when Luke McCarthy's excellent Oz Whisky Review broke the news that, finally, an Australian SMWS distillery code had been announced. Distillery 147 (Sydney's excellent Archie Rose) had the honour, with their 2yo 147.1 "Jacaranda Jam". Long-time readers might remember that time Archie Rose let me make a nuisance of myself by "helping" them "make whisky" one morning back in 2015 (long story short: it was great, educational fun).

Photo credit: SMWS Australia


They say "good things come in threes" and that's certainly the case here, as TimeforWhisky.com is pleased to be the very first to break the news that hot on the heels of 147.1 comes 148.1 (and in 2022, 148.2) - from none other than Melbourne's Starward!

Further down you'll find further details and my tasting notes on both releases (a huge thanks to Matt Bailey for the samples & opportunity), but I felt this was a good chance to revisit some key events in the history of Starward, and pull out a few highlights Hendy and myself have experienced over the years.

2013 was the year Starward's first whisky was released (matured in Australian ex-Apera casks), and was the result of 6 years of hard work, stemming from founder David Vitale's vision to create a quality, accessible, distinctly Australian whisky. It seems obvious now, but looking at Starward's recent success and immense following, but back then it was a big gamble.

TimeforWhisky.com's friendship with the distillery goes back to early 2013, when David was kind enough to give up an hour during a flying visit to Sydney to sit down and talk me through the (then) "New World Whisky Distillery" over a coffee at Shirt Bar. David generously gave me a 200mL bottle of the whisky, and my tasting later that evening confirmed this was one to keep an eye on! 



Fast-forward a few months to late 2013, and David was again kind enough to give me an in-depth, private tour of the distillery (the old Essendon Fields-based distillery, before the move to Port Melbourne), tasting the various stages along the way - wash, new make, and maturing cask samples. 


For me this it was a fascinating insight into this new Aussie distillery, and a real eye opener as to the differences between UK and Aussie distilleries - which was never more apparent than when I asked about the "spirit safe". David showed me the open, sheet-metal fabricated box (below) where the spirit ran off the stills, and asked if I'd like to have a taste - by cupping my hands underneath and scooping some up! Something you could never get away with in Scotland!



It wasn't long after that that Steph and I moved to Hong Kong & expanded TimeforWhsky.com into Asia, and Hendy came on-board to continue the Aussie coverage. Moving to HK meant leaving behind 99% of our whisky collection and taking only 1 bottle each, but for me the choice was easy - Starward's very first "New World Projects" Single Cask Release #1. I figured this had to be the only bottle in HK (if not Asia), and I used it to spread the good word of Aussie whisky until the bottle was emptied. 




I stayed in touch with David, and the following year had the pleasure of arranging Starward's very first tasting outside Australia, with David taking a small group of HK whisky lovers through an eclectic mix of Starward whisky, new make and gin. By that point, the Starward range had grown to encompass two core bottlings (a red-wine matured whisky sitting alongside the original ex-Apera product), along with a few weird and wonderful "New World Projects" releases.



Funnily enough, 6 years on I still regularly have whisky catch-ups with some of the same people (often at the same venue) only now they're bringing Starwards to the tastings themselves (not an easy feat, considering Starward still isn't officially distributed in Asia)!

It's hard to believe that was 6 years ago, but since then it's seemed the distillery can do no wrong, with the move to brand new distillery right in the heart of Melbourne (the main reason for my 24hr trip to Melbourne in 2018), multiple new release whiskies (some limited, like the recent Unexpeated and the ever-popular "Ginger Beer Cask" series, some permanent, like the innovative Two-Fold blended "Double Grain", which Hendy had the pleasure of seeing launched at the Distillery in 2019), and even a bottled cocktail series, including 2019's delicious "Red Manhattan".



...which brings us to today. It's probably fair to say that as a young distillery, having your stock sought by independent bottlers is a clear sign of your popularity, and Starward has (in the last year alone) been bottled by no less than 3 well-respected "Indies": Berry Bros & Rudd, Adelphi and That Boutique-y Whisky Company (the latter tasted by Hendy back in May).

Now however, Starward can add another feather to their cap: being bottled not just by another independent bottler, but by the world's leading whisky club, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society.



SMWS 148.1 Starward "Apera for Everyone!" will be the first release, a 6yo single cask "dot one" distilled on 27 November 2013 and matured in a 1st Fill Apera barrique. Sitting in the "Deep, Rich & Dried Fruits" flavour profile, this is the oldest independently bottled Starward ever released, and was distilled at the original Essendon Fields distillery. Bottled at 58.3%, it will be accompanied by a special historical write-up and released in the October Outturn, launching via regular and ballot release on Friday 1st October at midday AEST. From an outturn of 210 bottles, 174 will be made available to Australian members (the remaining 36 will be heading to the UK).

SMWS 148.2 Starward "Kirsch Me Quick", from the "Spicy & Sweet" flavour profile will follow in early 2022. A 3yo single cask bottled from a 1st Fill red wine barrique, it was distilled on 27 April 2017, weighs in at 55.5% and will see 274 bottles released (238 for Australia, 36 for the UK). 


So enough waiting....how do they taste!?


SMWS 148.1 Starward "Apera for Everyone!" (58.3% ABV, 6yo, Melbourne, Australia, Pricing TBC, Available from 1st October via SMWS.com.au)
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Colour: Golden-brown treacle.

Nose: At first, that big fruity Apera hit, but then a nuttiness emerges, along with a slightly leathery herbaceousness. After time, some berries and cherry notes With a few drops of water, more fruit, with pear and some peach showing through. 

Palate: Initially: wow. Big apricot and peach notes, then chewy milkbottle lollies, caramel chews, fresh toffee and Manuka honey. Water adds a little herbal smoke and vanilla cream. Incredibly complex and delicious.

Finish: Warming, soft, and lasting for days, with apricot and fruit compote.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. Super complex, AND super delicious. Starward casks set a high barrier as it is, but this goes well beyond. An absolutely unique and stellar dram.




SMWS 148.2 Starward "Kirsch Me Quick" (55.5% ABV, 3yo, Melbourne, Australia, Pricing TBC, Available early 2022 via SMWS.com.au)
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Colour: Reddish golden-amber.

Nose: Fresher than the .1, with more red fruits & some dried fruits. There's a slight herbal note and dehydrated orange wheels. Water doesn't change it much.

Palate: Spice, soy, herbs, cigar tobacco - it reminds me a lot of other ex-red wine Starward single casks I've tried. The complexity and balance is excellent for a 3yo. There's a slight BBQ meatiness too, and with water, a more tannic / drying note, with more spice and less fruit (IMO, it's better without water).

Finish: Salted chocolate, long and slightly drying with berry-like tannins.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. Closer to the single casks Starward fans know and love than the "dot one". Very good, and instantly recognisable as a Starward.




It's been my immense pleasure to break the news of this pairing of my favourite whisky club and one of my favourite distilleries, and equally great to see Starward come so far over the years. Well done to all involved, and a big thanks to Matt Bailey and the SMWS for the opportunity to taste and talk about these whiskies.

Cheers,
Martin.

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