Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Tasted #460 - 462: Gordon & Macphail Summer 2019 Collection: Dallas Dhu 1969, Longmorn 1966, St Magdalene 1982

Those who have been following the blog for a while may have noticed we've been fortunate enough to try some incredible drams from Gordon & MacPhail lately. What started as a grocery business over 120 years ago has become a one of the most respected bottlers, distillers, retailers and wholesalers in the industry, with an enviable collection of casks that has allowed us to try beauties such as a 70 Year Old Glen Grant from 1948, a 50 Year Old Caol Ila64yo Glenlivet, a pair of 1961 Longmorns, a 46yo Benromach and many others.

Despite this ongoing stream of amazing whisky, it's always a nice surprise when another package arrives, such as it was last week when a box arrived containing a sample of these three gems:

Drinking whiskies at the ages of 36, 50 and 53yo is always going to be a special experience, but in this case especially so, as two of the three whiskies (the Dallas Dhu and St. Magdalene) come from closed distilleries - both having closed in 1983.

One thing I love about receiving these samples is cracking into them on the day they arrive (often mid-week). Some people say whiskies like these should be kept for special occasions. I say the special occasion is the fact that you have whiskies like these in front of you!

..and so it was that last Monday, I pulled out my trusty Glencairns (Crystal - these whiskies deserved it) and set to work, starting with the St. Magdalene... 

Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection 1982 from St. Magdalene Distillery (53% ABV, 36yo, Cask#2092, Lowlands, Scotland, 161 bottles, £1,000 / $13,000HKD)
Bottled from a refill American hogshead, cask #2092.

Colour: Pale yellow sunset.

Nose: Big and fruity (hello!). Pineapple, rockmelon, baked apple tarts, and a green apple waxiness. After time a sweet, herbal lozenge note emerges.

Palate: Big, sweet candied pineapple chunks, followed by vanilla cream, flambéed banana and Banoffee pie. More pineapple, then some caramel.

Finish: Long but lighter than the palate, with the herbal notes returning, the slightest hint of well-matured tobacco, then a vanilla cream puff. Long, long, long.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. Delightfully graceful.

Next came the dram I was most excited to try - the Dallas Dhu. Ever since trying a Diageo Rare Malts Dallas Dhu in Italy, I've been hooked, always seeking to try as many different bottlings as I can.

Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection 1969 from Dallas Dhu Distillery (43.1% ABV, 50yo, Cask#1656, Speyside, Scotland, 176 bottles, £6,950 / $75,000HKD)
Bottled from a refill Sherry hogshead, cask #1656, filled on 10th June 1969.

Colour: Dark rusty copper

Nose: Probably one of the most unique noses I've ever experienced. First up - Vegemite (yeast spread)! Then lots of cola, walnuts, then rich espresso, tobacco and tangerine. A mixed bag, but an enjoyable one.

Palate: Just super elegant sherry - wood polish, cigar humidor, Dakr Fruit'n'Nut chocolate, and Brazil nuts. Then sultanas, and a very slight amaro bitterness. Incredible elegance overall for a 50yo though - no overly dominant notes drowning out the others, and everything in harmony.

Finish: Restrained oak, slight vegetal note. Clean to the very end, with a Vietnamese coffee sweetness emerging at the very end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 94/100. Clean, elegant and hugely complex. Truly a unique and incredible dram. 

Last of all it was time to move onto the oldest of the trio - the 1966 Longmorn, at 53yo.

Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection 1966 from Longmorn Distillery (46% ABV, 53yo, Cask#610, Speyside, Scotland, 398 bottles, £6,950 / $74,000HKD)
Bottled from a first-fill Sherry butt, cask #610.

Colour: Close enough to Coca-Cola. Deep brown mahogany.

Nose: Huge sherry notes (sultanas, muscovado sugar, glacé cherries, Christmas cake) but with an underlying herbal, almost spearmint note. After time, freshly cut flowers and sweet marshmallow.

Palate: Rich and creamy, yet subtle. All the trademark notes are there from a well-aged 1st fill sherry butt - coffee beans, sultanas, more Christmas cake, along with cherries, Espresso cream, some tobacco, caramel, rocky road and raspberries. 

Finish: Slight oak tannins behing to emerge, but a residual juiciness remains. Strong espresso notes round things out, with slightly dry oak at the very end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. A lovely sherried whisky made even more impressive by the fact that 53 years in a first-fill butt hasn't overpowered it! For me, not as complex as the other two, but still an impressive whisky.

A big thanks must again go to G&M for the drams, a diverse, unique and utterly delicious trio. The Dallas Dhu and St. Magdalene are likely to suit fans of the distillery (despite the latter being a departure from the often-sherried bottlings we see released), and the Longmorn is just a beautiful example of long-term sherry maturation done right.


Monday, 5 August 2019

Tasted #459: The GlenDronach 1993 Single Cask #392 26yo (exclusively bottled for The Whisky List, Australia)

I don't really post about GlenDronach enough here on the blog, but it's one of my favourite distilleries and its single casks make up a not-insignificant portion of my whisky collection. Whilst the distillery has a few "defining years" in its recent history (1996: Closure. 2002: Production recommencement. 2005: switch to steam heating. 2016: Acquisition by Brown-Forman), amongst enthusiasts one year holds a special place: 1993.

I've never heard a definitive reason as to why 1993 is considered such a good "vintage", nor why it's better than 1992 or 1994 (production techniques and cask regimes remained the same through the period), but for some reason, 1993 casks hold a special place in the hearts of 'Dronach lovers - especially those from early 1993. In fact as I write these words, I'm enjoying a 1993 cask #397 23yo bottled for Kenny Hsu in Taiwan - incidentally distilled on the same day as the whisky I'm reviewing here. It's very good indeed.
But I digress. The bottle I'm reviewing today, also a 1993 Single Cask GlenDronach, is special for a few reasons:
  • The entire cask is exclusive to Australia (I could be wrong here, but I think that's a first. Sydney's brilliant Oak Barrel had a 2003 exclusive single cask a few years ago, but I believe it was split with Whisky Galore NZ).
  • It's a 26yo 1993, meaning it was bottled in 2019. Even the latest Batch 17 GlenDronach single casks from the distillery don't include a 26yo 1993 (there are 1993s, but they're all 25yo)
  • It was distilled on 12th Feb 1993 - the same day as some other very highly rated GlenDronach single casks.

An outturn of 659 bottles means someone took a pretty big punt on bringing this cask to Australia, and that "someone" is the team behind The Whisky List, who through their app and website "help Australians – from beginners to connoisseurs – discover, enjoy, and share great whisky".

(To be clear - the whisky is an Official Bottling, or OB, bottled by the distillery but exclusively for The Whisky List. GlenDronach have been doing this for a while now, bottling casks for whisky shops, clubs, events and even individual whisky lovers).

The whisky, from an ex-Oloroso Butt (like the best GlenDronachs in my view) has been bottled at 51.0% ABV in May 2019. Chris Ross, Co-founder at The Whisky List explained 
“Being a small market and far away from the US and the UK, Australia often is left to last - or just completely left out - of selecting any single cask bottlings from distilleries, forcing whisky drinkers and collectors in Australia to purchase these kinds of releases from overseas websites and auction houses. This is why we’ve partnered with Brown-Forman in selecting this delicious cask from GlenDronach.” 
He's not wrong - ask any GlenDronach fan in Australia (or HK for that matter) and you'll find that, apart from the official single cask "batches" (which you can pick up at the likes of Oak Barrel), they most likely purchased their single casks from overseas. In my case, all mine have come from Oak Barrel, Taiwan, or UK retailers. So it's indeed refreshing to see an official Aussie release, available exclusively on Australian shores.

...but enough about the background, how does it taste!? In a nutshell, very very good indeed...

GlenDronach 1993 Single Cask #392 (exclusively bottled for The Whisky List, Australia)  (51.0% ABV, 26yo, Highlands, Scotland, $700AUD)
Colour: Orange-red copper.

Nose: Rich, sweet and sherried but without the overly-domineering sherry / oak that some GlenDronach single casks exhibit. Quite perfumed - there are notes of pot pourri, followed by sweet toffee, then some Vietnamese coffee. Everything seems in harmony - there's an obvious sherry element (26 years in an ex-sherry butt will do that!) but there's also this elegant perfumed element that is far less common in GlenDronach single casks of this age. After a bit of time slight hints of sandalwood emerge. 

Palate: The palate follows the nose, with lots of toffee confectionary, a slight almond nuttiness, a little more sandalwood, candied almonds, sultanas and cinnamon. A sherry bomb this is not, and it's all the better for it. This has elegance and balance on a level not often seen.

Finish: Long and sweet, with only the slightest oak tannins at the very end. 

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. I'm not exaggerating here, this is one of the best GlenDronach single casks I've had*. In the pantheon of 1993 single casks, I'd rate #55 and #394 up there as some of my favourites, and this easily equals them, if not beats them (I haven't tried them back to back). I love that it hits all the right sherry notes, without being a bomb. Don't get me wrong - I love sherry bombs, but I also love whiskies that have more nuance and elegance, whilst still being bloody delicious. This ticks all those boxes and then some.

Now of course, $700AUD ($650AUD pre-sale) is not a small chunk of change for a whisky, but let's face it, GlenDronach prices have been rising for years now, as have whisky prices in general...and to put things into perspective:
  • An equivalent bottle in the UK, let's say Batch 17 1992 single cask #113 (also an ex-Oloroso at 26yo, at a similar 50.1% ABV) is £306, or $547AUD. If you had a UK friend pick one up for you and then ship it to Australia (at a cost of let's say $50AUD), you'd get stung with (give or take) around $120AUD in taxes, which would bring your total up to ~$717. Ok sure, if you managed to avoid the VAT it would come in slightly under $700AUD, but for me, the example highlights that the pricing isn't at all unrealistic given the current state of the market.

GlenDronach 1993 Single Cask #392 (exclusively bottled for The Whisky List, Australia) is available now via The Whisky List and to allow potential customers to try before they buy, The Whisky List in partnership with GlenDronach will host a number of tastings featuring the bottle in some of Australia's best whisky bars, including Archie Rose Distilling Co. (NSW), Hains & Co (SA), The Elysian (VIC), Whisky + Alement (VIC) and Halford Bar (WA). Tickets for these events will be announced via The Whisky List website, newsletter and social media. A limited supply of bottles will also be available to purchase at the upcoming Sydney Whisky Fair 2019 (the best whisky fair in Australia, if you ask me).

Thanks must go to the TWL guys for the sample, and we wish them all the best spreading the word of this lovely cask throughout the Aussie whisky community.


*If you're curious, the honour of the best GDs I’ve had goes jointly to these two bottles (both of which are vattings):

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Tasted #458: Archie Rose Rye Malt Whisky tasting notes

7 odd years ago when we started this little blog, the Australian whisky scene was a very different place. Most people equated "Australian Whisky" with "Tasmanian" (and to be fair, Tasmania did dominate the scene), Starward was called "Victoria Valley Distillery" (and hadn't yet released a whisky), and Sydney was going on 160 years without a whisky distillery.

Then in 2014, Archie Rose came along with their close proximity to Sydney city, stunning bar, unparalleled transparency and a fresh attitude to spirits, and (along with Starward, who released their first whisky in 2013) the scene began to change.

Now to be fair to the plethora of other Australian whisky producers, we're not for a moment suggesting that Archie Rose and Starward single (double?) handedly grew the scene. There are some incredible smaller producers who began distilling or releasing whisky in the same period (as just one example, I'm particularly fond of Fleurieu Distillery who released their first whisky a few years ago) and they've all absolutely been a key part of making the industry what it is today (as have bars like Whisky and Alement and Bad Frankie who do a stellar job educating drinkers on Aussie spirits). It has to be acknowledged though that both Starward and Archie Rose, with their unique releases, focus on quality, marketing, transparency and significant social media footprints, have definitely helped thrust Aussie spirits further into the global limelight than they were previously.

As many distilleries do, Archie Rose started out with white spirits - Gin, Vodka and White Rye, and over the past 5 years they've added a Tailored Spirits program (where you can get your own tailored spirit for under $90AUD!), aged beer spirita bevy of fascinating and collectible gins, rhums, and even a "buttered toast spirit".

Earlier this month though, finally, whisky arrived, in the form of the very tasty Chocolate Rye Malt, limited to 1148 bottles, available at a very reasonable $149AUD and all sold in under 3 hours. 

That's not what this post is about though. This post is about what comes next - tomorrow, in fact. Tomorrow (1st August 2019) Archie Rose release their first "core range" whisky - Archie Rose Rye Malt Whisky. Limited to 2,071 individually-numbered bottles (for Batch 1), the whisky represents a watershed moment for the distillery - the culmination of 5 years of incredibly hard work. To quote the distillery:
"To create this truly unique whisky, we selectively sourced rare malted rye and the finest malted barley from progressive malt houses, paired them with virgin American oak casks air-dried for 36 months and let it all mature in the maritime air of coastal Sydney."

AR were kind enough to send Hendy and I a generous sample ahead of its release, and in summary we were both blown away by its elegance and complexity. If this is what we can come to expect from Archie Rose whisky, well, the future is looking very tasty indeed.

Archie Rose Rye Malt Whisky Batch 1 (46% ABV, NAS*, Sydney, Australia, $119AUD)

Martin's tasting notes:

Colour: Deep intense fiery orange. 

Nose: Far more complex than you expect a rye to be. Perfumed. Vanilla spice. There's definitey sweetness, but also hints of anise, barbecued pineapple, then citrus. Butter menthols. Honey. This is not your average rye.

Palate: The spice is there but there’s also a confectionary sweetnesss and a citric acid element. Rich & robust but never close to harsh, there's also a toffee sweetness and gooey, warming caramel.

Finish: Long and warming, slightly vegetal, absolutely no harsh tannins or overt spice, though there's some cinnamon spice at the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  92/100. Just incredible elegance and complexity from a first release, rye-based spirit.


Hendy's tasting notes:

Colour: Maple Syrup.

Nose: The nose is striking with sweet sticky bush honey, a little bit of oak, Speculaas and then some more glazed cherries, vanilla and ladened with loads of citrus (orange peel).

Palate: The palate eases you into a gentle spice, a sticky citrus sponge cake welcomes you followed by some pop rocks popping candy that represents the subtle spices and then some more oranges.

Finish: The finish is long with some cinnamon, some cherries and lingering peppery spice.

*No Age Statement, but if you check the whisky's spirit data you can find all the specs you could possibly want, including the barreling and disgorgement dates on each of the whisky's 40 casks!

We congratulate Dave, Will, and all the guys and girls at Archie Rose for what is nothing short of a fantastic product - and an exciting development for the Australian whisky scene. We can't wait to see what the future brings, especially the first malted barley release in 2020!

Archie Rose Rye Malt Whisky goes on sale on Thursday 1st August 2019. Limited bottles will be available online, at the distillery, or via launch day events. Expect them to sell out very, very quickly.


Enjoying a sample of 5 month old Archie Rose Single Malt from the TImeforWhisky.com cask, with Master Distiller (and good friend of TimeforWhisky) Dave Withers.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Tasted #457: Ardbeg Drum (46%)

We've been covering Ardbeg Day on this blog for a while now - back to 2013 in fact, and attending even further back. The annual celebration, held at the distillery during Fèis Ìle and throughout the world at Ardbeg Embassies and elsewhere, sees Ardbeg release a limited edition whisky around a central theme - from mythical sea creatures to soccer, to the future and even whisky's illicit history of smuggling.

2019's Fèis was no different, with Ardbeg celebrating Islay's rich history of carnivals with "Drum". Released in both regular and Committee Release guises, the whisky is said to be "imbued with the influence of carnival spirit, rum" and sees ex-bourbon spirit "rested awhile" in ex-rum casks from the Americas.

With official tasting notes proclaiming the whisky to show tropical notes of banana and pineapple, I'm sure I'm not the only whisky fan whose ears pricked up at the thought of a modern fruity, tropical Ardbeg.)

(For those who haven't had the pleasure of old Islay whiskies from the 1960s/1970s/1980s, like this 1973 15yo Ardbeg or this beautiful 1964 Bowmore, they're often hugely tropical, highly sought after, and sadly with price tags to match nowadays.)

Now, I wasn't expecting this new NAS release to evoke the glory of those old Islay whiskies, but I'll admit my curiosity was still piqued, and when MHDHK kindly sent me a bottle to review, I wasted no time jumping straight in...

Ardbeg "Drum" (Ardbeg Day 2019 Release) (46% ABV, NAS, Islay, Scotland, $163.50AUD, HK pricing TBC)
Colour: Light straw.

Nose: Unmistakenly Ardbeg at first - on the younger side. The banana notes are there, along with big briny / salty smoke, some lemon and hints of pine. 

Palate: Still youthful, but less so. Creamy and mouthfillying, the banana is still there but has become flambéed, joined by mandarin, milk chocolate drops, and vanilla essence. Quite tasty and more rounded and complex than the nose suggests.

Finish: Sweet, fruity smoke. Medium to long in length. Settling into an ever-so-slightly tannic finish.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  88/100.

These days it can be tough to produce a limited release in enough quantity to satisfy whisky lovers' demands around the world, whilst still ensuring a sufficiently different and enjoyable whisky. We again applaud Ardbeg for having done so.


Friday, 7 June 2019

Bar Review #23: Highlander Bar (Stamford Hotel, Sydney)

For Scotch Malt Whisky Society members who frequent the Royal Automobile Club of Australia, they might be familiar with a quaint cosy bar right next door at Sir Stamford, Circular Quay.

Earlier this month, the bar has re-launched itself as the Highlander Whisky Bar, complete with a refreshed set of world whiskies as well as whisky centric offerings, which include Whisky High Tea - who wouldn't love a good dram as an alternative to champagne. Highlander Bar will also feature "Whisky of the Month" as well as host bi-monthly Whisky masterclasses.

Sir Stamford at Circular Quay has already established itself as the home of great whisky events, from hosting annual whisky shows to regular Whisky & Cheese tastings. Our Highlander Bar will offer a unique platform to build on these events with dedicated offerings to guests and locals who share a love of fine whisky,” said General Manager, Sir Stamford at Circular Quay, Jacky Cheung.

We attended the media launch which showed the bar in different limelight and provided an opportunity to preview the refreshed bar as well as the refreshed cocktail offerings. On normal evenings, the Highlander Bar actually offered a more cosy, relaxed and warm ambience.

As part of the re-launch, the Bar Menu has been updated, with the help of David Ligoff of Alchemist Events, to include an extensive set of world whiskies - everything from your classic Glenmorangie 10yo, Glenfiddich 12yo to Chichibu Chibidaru IPA Cask, Lark Classic Cask and more.

David Ligoff is the co-founder of World of Whisky and owner of Alchemist Events which runs The Whisky Show across Australia as well as other similar events. Sir Stamford partnered with David to refresh the menu and the bottle selections.

“I’m very pleased to be working with the Highlander Bar and bringing some rare offerings to the table.  The perception is often that these whiskies will be very expensive, but this is not the case. Our research team has created a portfolio of unique whiskies, many of which have never been seen before in Australia,” said David.

The Whisky High Tea which is a bespoke twist on the hotel’s famous high tea offerings, with a selection of savoury items mixed with whisky infused treats including Jack Daniels Apple Mouse Slice, Jim Beam Bourbon Crème Brulee Tart and Johnnie Walker Caramel Square, and paired with a Chivas Regal whisky flight. The High Tea is served from 11 am - 4 pm,  Monday to Sunday, and costs $79.

The Whisky of the Month pays homage in the centre of the bar and served with tasting notes. The whisky is said to be unique from month to month with an example being the limited-edition single cask bottling of a 20-year-old Ben Nevis, the Highlander Inn.

Highlander Bar will also host bi-monthly Whisky Masterclasses with themed tastings such as ‘Malts in the Movies’ class which highlight the product placement of malt whiskies in classic movies,  a ‘How Whisky Made the Mob’ class, exploring how organised crime and prohibition defined the whisky we drink today. And as a classic set, the ‘Whisky Old Enough to Order Itself’ class will celebrate all 18-year-old whiskies.

The Whisky Masterclasses will vary in cost, depending on the theme and range from $80 to $130 per person. Duration will be around 90 minutes, with five to six whiskies presented.

The Highlander Bar is open now, for both reservations and walk-ins , Reservations can be placed either online or by telephone at 02 9252 4600 or email BarReservations@SSCQ.Stamford.com.au.

Thanks to Blue Planet PR for having us at the event.


Monday, 13 May 2019

Starward Red Manhattan, a modern Australian twist to an iconic whisky cocktail

We've written about the Starward exciting journey earlier this year with David Vitale's vision to make Starward the whisky of choice at every Australian's dinner table or at any occasion, just like wine or beer. This was one of the reasons why Starward released their first bottled cocktail, the Starward Old Fashioned twelve months ago. They had the vision to make it as easy as possible to liven up any occasion with bartender quality cocktails. The release was a success and resonated with many given the iconic stature of the Old Fashioned - a classic that has held its place as the perfect cocktail for over a century.

Building on the success of the first bottled cocktail release, Starward has now unveiled its second release of the bottled cocktail (series). The Starward Red Manhattan is a direct tribute to another iconic cocktail - the classic Manhattan cocktail. The creation of the second release is actually a result of a close partnership between Sacha La Forgia, Adelaide Hills Distiller and Sam Slaney, Starward’s Head Distiller. They have both spent quite a considerable amount of time since the start of the year trialling and experimenting with different recipes to re-create the Manhattan cocktail, albeit with an Australian twist.

The final recipe was very much a marriage of the original Starward whisky together with bespoke red wine vermouth and infused with native botanicals and Starward's own bitters. There is a red theme that permeates through this new creation – from the whisky maturing in red wine barrels to the red vermouth to the added cherry red garnish - and hence the "Red" Manhattan.

Sam Slaney, Starward’s Head Distiller, says, “It’s such an exciting time to be in the Australian craft spirits category – there is so much opportunity for creativity and to challenge tradition. Starward and Adelaide Hills Distillery are both innovative and award-winning local craft spirit producers that are passionate about creating distinctly Australian flavours. Starward whisky is uniquely matured in Australian red wine barrels and Adelaide Hills"

Adelaide Hills Distillery sources Australian native produce, from the roots, herbs, wormwood to the red wine from Adelaide Hills for its red vermouth. The Red Manhattan is very much a one-of-a-kind bottled cocktail that is bright, balanced and full of flavour.” Sacha La Forgia, Adelaide Hills Distillery founder, adds,

At Adelaide Hills Distillery, we produce small. Like a white wine, the recommendation is to store Red Manhattan chilled in the fridge. Serve as a 70ml pour in a coupe glass and garnished with a cherry or red grape."


With the inherent stability or instability of vermouth once exposed to air, Sam mentioned that once opened, the Red Manhattan should ideally be consumed within a month. Though mixed with the higher ABV of Starward Grain at 40% ABV - the vermouth is then stabilised.

We had the opportunity to compare both, a Red Manhattan that we skilfully created from scratch against the Starward Red Manhattan. For those at home, you can mix up your Starward-inspired Red Manhattan using:

  • 2 parts (~60ml) Starward Two Fold
  • 20ml vermouth
  • 2 Dashes Angostura bitters.
  • Garnish with a maraschino cherry

Comparing the two, the bottled Red Manhattan exhibited a lot more vermouth than the one I made. It could be that I mixed in a bit too much Two Fold into the mix though serve chilled - both are very delicious cocktails. Looking at the colour, you can simply guess which one was made by me and which one was poured from the Red Manhattan bottle.

Yes, the right cocktail was my amateur creation of the Red Manhattan.

The Starward Red Manhattan is now available from the Starward Website for $49. Serving the bottled cocktail simply required the bottle to be chilled and serve with either cherry or red grape.

With this second bottled cocktail release, David's vision is ever becoming a true reality to shape what and how we drink at the dinner table and for any occasion.


Thanks to Adrienne of Dialogue PR and Starward for having us at the launch event.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Tasted #456: The Dalmore L'Anima 49yo (1 of 1 bottling)

When it comes to whisky (as with other things in life, I suppose) the words "rare" and "limited" get bandied about fairly often...and fair enough too. With no formal, legal or singularly accepted definition, "rarity" differs from person to person. Is an 18,000 bottle outturn of a new "limited edition" considered "rare"? For some - yes, for others - no. What about single cask bottlings? What about a fairly accessible whisky (say, Laphroaig 10yo or Macallan Sherry Oak 12yo) but from the 1980s?

What's your threshold for "rarity"?

One thing we can probably all agree on is that if a bottle is released as a single bottle - i.e. a "1 of 1", it rightly deserves the title of "rare".

Enter The Dalmore L'Anima Aged 49 Years - borne out of an encounter between The Dalmore's Master Distiller Richard Paterson, and Chef Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana (currently the "World's 50 Best" #1 restaurant). The single bottle produced is available only via Sotheby's Auction, with bidding currently at £65,000 and due to end 9th May at 10pm HKT and sold for £108,900. All proceeds from the sale will be donated to Bottura's charitable foundation "Food for Soul", which aims to reduce both food wastage and poverty.

The whisky, made from a marriage of 3 cask types (1st Fill ex-Bourbon barrels, 40yo PX casks from Gonzalez Byass and Vintage Port pipes from Graham's) was designed not so much to pair with food, but to reflect the shared passion, or soul ("L'Anima" in Italian) of both Paterson and Bottura. 

(That said, there were definitely a few characteristics on the nose and palate a few of us picked up which you could equate with Italian cooking...)

A very small gathering of whisky lovers and media was fortunate enough to taste the liquid tonight - obviously not from the bottle being auctioned, but from a sample bottle (decanted into The Dalmore decanter seen above). It's fair to say my usual "booze free Monday" tradition was promptly abandoned this week...

With a healthy pour of the 41.5% dram poured (and a second serve, should we wish) I wasted no time diving in nose-first (which is how I spent the next 15 minutes, before taking a sip - such was the complexity and changing nature of the nose).

The Dalmore L'Anima Aged 49 Years (41.5% ABV, 49yo, Highlands, One of 1 bottle, Auction)
Colour: Deep orange-brown copper.

Nose: Very expressive, right from the outset. Whole oranges, creme brûlée, dark chocolate. But also milk chocolate, mint, charred oak. After some time raspberry notes emerge, along with hints of some of the characteristics of my favourite Italian Amari - artichoke, rhubarb, cardamom and menthol.

Palate: The first thing that hits you is the creaminess. Now I'm not going to say it's a "parmigiano reggiano" creaminess, but it's definitely not the sweet, vanilla ice cream creaminess you find in some whiskies, and I won't lie - given the context, it did remind me of a creamy cheese-laden pasta. Herbal notes follow - mint primarily, followed by spiced oranges, some paprika. Towards the end of the palate you get some hints of drying tannins (no doubt the Port pipes at play), but it's very pleasant and integrates well with everything else. More herbal Amaro notes emerge over time - with menthol and orange peel especially showing.

Finish: Long, creamy and intense. The Port pipes really shine here, bringing a drying (but not too oaky) close.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  93/100. Truthfully, I was expecting to enjoy the experience of this one, but I wasn't sure how I'd feel about the whisky. I'm happy to say it was absolutely fantastic - with huge complexity (something I look for, especially in a whisky of this age), no "off" notes, no signs the whisky had been in the cask too long, and with flavours that work together in perfect harmony.

A fellow taster mentioned it would be a great whisky to match with food (in general), and I'd have to agree. Hopefully the winning bidder opens the bottle and finds out.

Online bidding on The Dalmore L'Anima Aged 49 Years is open now until 9th May (10pm HKT) - see here for details and to place a bid. The L'Anima auction ended with a winning bid of £108,900. The winning bidder also gets a dinner for two at Osteria Francescana, and speaking from experience, it's a dinner they won't forget!

A big thanks to Josh and The Dalmore / Whyte & Mackay for this incredible experience tonight.


Sunday, 5 May 2019

Tasted #455: Gordon & MacPhail "Private Collection" 1981 from Coleburn Distillery

We've been fortunate to feature and try some fantastic recent Gordon & Macphail releases on the blog over the past few months, from a sublime 50yo "old style" Caol Ila to an impressive 1975 Glenrothes right through to the oldest whisky we've ever tasted.

With the exception of a 1985 Inverleven however, all the whiskies tasted were from operational distilleries. Of course, G&M being G&M, they no doubt have a plethora of casks from closed distilleries, and have recently bottled one in the form of this 1981 Coleburn, bottled at 38 years old under their "Private Collection" range, which showcases greatly-aged whiskies from celebrated, little-known or closed distilleries, hand-selected by members of the owning Urquhart family.

Laid down on 11th March 1981 (just four years before the distillery was mothballed in 1985), the whisky was matured in a refill sherry Hogshead for 38 years in G&M's warehouse in Elgin, before bottling on 14th March 2019, still at a healthy 55.9% ABV. It goes without saying that that beautiful mahogany hue above is all-natural - no doubt a product of 38 years in good wood.

I have to be honest, Coleburn is a distillery that I either hadn't tried before, or hadn't remembered trying, so I was pretty excited to learn G&M were generously sending me a sample. As a single malt primarily used for blending (there was only one Official Bottling ever released - part of Diageo's Rare Malts series) it's not one you see very often - certainly less often than the other "big name" closed distilleries like Port Ellen & Brora, who have had a steady stream of IBs (and even OBs) released in recent years.

So, the distillery ticks the "rarity" box and the whisky sounds great on paper...but how does it fare in a tasting? Read on...

Gordon & MacPhail "Private Collection" 1981 from Coleburn Distillery (55.9% ABV, 38yo, Cask #476, Speyside, One of 101 bottles, £1,250)
Colour: Fiery amber mahogany.

Nose: Clean, rich, fruity sherry. Red berries, hazelnuts, dried apricot, eventually evolving into as subtle underlying earthy smokiness.
With water: Similar, with slightly more nuttiness evident, as well as caramel & roasted coffee grounds. After 20 minutes, sweet toffee notes came to the fore.

Palate: Initially drying, then satisfyingly becoming juicier, with spiced orange, cloves, then gingerbread and dark roasted coffee beans. Oak? Sure, but perfectly balanced and not at all overpowering.
With water: A touch more oak and the coffee beans become coffee grounds. Some cherry notes emerge and the spiced orange remains. With or without water, it's delicious.

Finish: Long, orange and gingerbread notes. It really does linger with hints of distant earthy smoke barely perceptible.
With water: Equally long and enjoyable, with more noticeable sweetness.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  94/100. I'm being a bit stricter with my "high scores" this year, but in my view this deserves it. A wonderfully complex and delicious dram, with none of the negative characteristics that can often betray a dram of this age. Well done, G&M.

The Gordon & MacPhail "Private Collection" 1981 from Coleburn Distillery 38yo is available for purchase worldwide, with a UK RRP of £1,250. With 101 bottles, it's unlikely to last too long though.


Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Game of Thrones Single Malt Scotch Collection Australia Launch

The wait is over, this goes for both the return of the much-anticipated return of the Game of Thrones TV series as well as the Game of Thrones Single Malt Scotch Whisky Collection from Diageo. Firstly, I have to admit that I am a closet fan of the series having followed the series from day dot so the excitement of seeing two things I love come together - is rather exciting. There may be references below that you may not appreciate if you have never watched the series though you will most likely be familiar with the whiskies on offer.

The gathering of all the houses and characters in the last season of the series very much provides a good backdrop for the release of the eight Game of Thrones-themed whiskies from Diageo. Partnering with HBO, Diageo has released eight different whiskies from eight different distilleries in Diageo’s portfolio. Each of the eight distillers represents the Great Houses of Westeros as well as the band of army that have sworn an oath to protect the northern Wall.

Locally, in Australia, we will see only seven out of the eight whiskies with House Tyrell (Clyenish) being noticeably absent from the local release due to a rumoured potential trademark issue that Diageo wanted to avoid, notable with Tyrrell Wines. Nevertheless, the House Tyrell release is widely available outside Australia. As with the others, they are all now available from major liquor retailers nationwide including some Costco outlets though quantity is diminishing rather quickly.

The relationship between the different distilleries to the House they represent has been based on characteristics and similarities. There is no real science behind the relationship other than from similarities between where the different Houses are located in Westeros as compared to where the distillery's geographical location is, in the real world together with notable known characteristics. I have included details on the relationship between the houses and the whiskies below.

For example, The Game of Thrones House Targaryen - Cardhu Gold Reserve is fuelled by the fiery spirit of the fierce female leadership of Daenerys Targaryen, celebrating legendary women and their unwavering perseverance. This was inspired by Helen Cumming and her daughter in law, Elizabeth who have pioneered The Cardhu Distillery during the 1800s, a time when the whisky industry was almost entirely male-dominated.


Similarly, the royal lineage drives the iconic pairing for the Game of Thrones House Baratheon - Royal Lochnagar 12yo. Similar to Robert Baratheon ruling the seven kingdoms upon the iron throne, Royal Lochnagar was deemed a whisky worthy of a royal family as it was granted a Royal Warrant after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited the distillery in 1848.

Now a bit more on the whiskies themselves, six of the releases are actually new bottlings, released for the series with the residual two, being Cardhu and Royal Lochnagar, a rebadge of Cardhu Gold Reserve and Royal Lochnagar 12yo respectively.

I attended the local launch of the Diageo Game of Thrones Single Malt Whisky Collection launch at Mjølner earlier this month. The launch was as exciting as seeing the Stark kids finally getting back together again and if you've been to Mjølner, you can appreciate the selection of the venue for the launch with its nomadic feel.

The launch saw different Houses represented across different stations with each of the Game of Thrones whisky matched up with excellent canapes, as prepared by Mjølner. Personally, the highlights from the night were the pairing between the House of Lannister - Lagavulin 9yo and the Mini Bone Marrow Brulee Chocolate as well as the pairing between the Night's Watch - Oban and the chicken parfait. Yes, you read right, Mjølner has outdone itself by transforming one of their signature dish, bone marrow into an extravagant, decadent and super-rich dessert. A fine pairing it was. As with the latter, I'm always a sucker for a good parfait and the briny, coastal and oilyness of the Oban release worked a treat with the parfait.


Other pairings on the night include House of Baratheon - Royal Lachnagar with Venison, House of Targaryen - Cardhu with Duck Ham, Horseradish and Seeded Pear, House Tully - The Singleton with Cured Ocean Trout, Salmon Skin and Creme Fraiche and House of Greyjoy - Talisker with Garnished Rock Oysters.


There were also three cocktails on offer on the night and something you can try to spin up at home as you devour each episode. The three cocktails on offer were:

  • Wrong Cider The Wall; Dalwhinnie mixed up with spiced mulled house cider with mead, apple, pear & spices. This was served warm and will prove delicious as we approach the colder months.
  • The Drowned God; Talisker mixed with manzanilla sherry, white pepper and salted syrup. Served over a block of ice. This was a personal favourite and embodied a briny and coastal profile, most likely from the Talisker base.
  • Lion of Lannister; Lagavulin 9yo, mixed with amontillado sherry, caramelised banana and cacao nib syrup and finished with some chocolate bitters.

Now I didn't actually sat down with all the whiskies and tasted them side by side with notes as there were far too many of them and it was also difficult on the night with the setup though I've included the official description for each of the seven whiskies that are available locally below. Personally, of the seven, the highlights were the Lagavulin (Lannister), Oban (Night's Watch) and I'm always a big fan of Dalwhinnie (Stark).
  • Game of Thrones House Lannister – Lagavulin 9yo 700mL (46% ABV, 9yo, Islay, Scotland, A$130)

    Lagavulin is one of the most legendary single malt brands and has been crafted on the shores of Islay for more than 200 years - mirroring the meticulous calculation and tenacity employed by the Lannister's in their rise to conquer the Iron Throne. This single malt whisky is a roaring single malt that recalls the Lannister's riches.
  • Game of Thrones House Greyjoy – Talisker Select Reserve 700mL (45.8% ABV, NAS, Islay, Scotland, A$99.99)

    House Greyjoy rules the Iron Islands and worships the Drowned God. Talisker was a natural pair for House Greyjoy as this single malt is distilled on the shores of the Isle of Skye, one of the most remote and rugged areas of Scotland. The layered flavours and signature maritime character of Talisker Select Reserve are the results of its wave-battered shores. This liquid is an intense smoky single malt Scotch with spicy, powerful and sweet elements combined with maritime flavours.
  • Game of Thrones House Tully – The Singleton of Glendullan Select 700mL (40% ABV, NAS, Highlands, Scotland, A$99.99)

    House Tully, located at River run, rules as the lord of The River lands. The power of water flows through both HOuse Tully and The Singleton Glendullan Select as it is made on the banks of the River Fiddich in the wooded hills of Dufftown. Here they harnessed the water that flowed through the land, utilising a water wheel to power the entire distillery.
  • Game of Thrones House Stark – Dalwhinnie Winter's Frost 700mL (43% ABV, NAS, Highlands, Scotland, A$99.99)

    House Stark's resiliency, strength and ability to thrive under the most intense situations are greatly shaped by Winterfell's frigid temperatures. Dalwhinnie, known for being the highest distillery in all of Scotland is cold and remote much like the North where House Stark calls home, making the two an iconic pairing. Extreme conditions are responsible for shaping the signature Dalwhinnie Winter's Frost flavour.
  • Game of Thrones House Targaryen – Cardhu Gold Reserve 700mL (40% ABV, NAS, Speyside, Scotland, A$99.99)

    As noted above, fuelled by the fiery spirit of the fierce female leadership of Daenerys Targaryen, celebrating legendary women and their unwavering perseverance. This was inspired by Helen Cumming and her daughter in law, Elizabeth who have pioneered The Cardhu Distillery during the 1800s, a time when the whisky industry was almost entirely male-dominated.
  • Game of Thrones House Targaryen – House Baratheon – Royal Lochnagar 12yo 700mL (40% ABV, 12yo, Highlands, Scotland, A$130)

    The royal lineage drives the iconic pairing between the House Baratheon and Royal Lochnagar. Balanced with delicate fruits and spices, this taste of royalty is best served neat.
  • Game of Thrones The Night’s Watch – Oban Bay Reserve 700mL (43% ABV, NAS, Highlands, Scotland, A$130)

    The Oban distillery sits beneath the steep cliff that overlooks the bay in the frontier between the West Highlands and the Islands of Scotland, separating land and sea, just as Castle Black, home of the Night's Watch, sits between Westeros and the lands beyond The Wall. The liquid's richness is balanced with a woody, spicy dryness that The Night's Watch could enjoy even on the coldest of nights.

All seven whiskies are now available to purchase (assuming quantity is still there) from liquor stores nationwide. For more information on The Game of Thrones Collection Single Malt Scotch Whisky Collection, visit www.malts.com and join the conversation using #GOTSingleMalts.

Thanks to Joanna and Sarah of Leo Burnett and Diageo for having us at the launch event and for providing us with the opportunity to preview all the whiskies.