Sunday, 21 May 2017

Ardnamurchan Spirit 2016/AD (Tasted #357)

The bottle is marked with a series of notes: Concerto Barley, Broomhall Farm, Glenmore Spring, Long Fermentation, Slow Distillation, Oloroso PX. Identifiable, Unpronounceable. There I was looking at a the newly released spirit bottling from the Ardnamurchan distillery; the Ardnamurchan 2016/AD. It has been labelled as a 'spirit' instead of 'whisky' as the first release is merely 18 months young. This was Ardnamurchan's preview release, a release which aims to get their name out in the market and most importantly, to give us all a sneak peek at what to expect from the distillery in the coming years.

The Ardnamurchan Distillery was opened in July 2014 by Adelphi; the independent bottler that we all know and love. The distillery sit on a remote part of Scotland, on the shores of Loch Sunart and produces two styles of spirit - peated (30 ppm) and unpeated. Local barley is used and the distillery feature two mash tuns, a wooden washback and a 10,000L wash still. With a total production capacity of around 300,000L per annum, the production potential for Ardnamurchan is huge for a young distillery (contrast this with Kilchoman's capacity of around 110,000L per annum). Though in noting that, current production capacity is still managed at around 100,000L per annum - equivalent to around 30 casks each week.

The youthful Ardnamurchan 2016/AD combines both peated and unpeated malt matured in two different types of sherry cask - Oloroso and Pedro Ximinez, and the vatting of the two malts has resulted in a spirit that is both interesting and exciting.

We were fortunate enough to have been one of the few people invited to the event hosted by Baranows Emporium at The Oak Barrel Sydney to preview the youthful release from this young distillery. Our thoughts

Ardnamurchan Spirit 2016/AD (50.3% ABV, NAS (~2yo), Glenbeg, Scotland, A$199)
An interesting young spirit from Ardnamurchan that does not smell or taste too strongly of a new make. In fact, surprisingly, you can derive so much from this young spirit - from its herbaceous and earthy nose to its soft, sweet and slightly peaty palate. It will be interesting to see how the Ardnamurchan spirit matures over the years given the already pleasant base that it offers now.

Colour: Gold

Nose: The nose is filled with notes of apple, sweet raisins and lightly herbaceous, there are remnants of dry grass and soil and it is rather quite earthy. Over time, the nose also offers a touch of cinnamon, complementing its herbaceous and earthy notes.

Palate: The palate is soft, tannic with loads of berries, citrus and is quite sweet and fruity. The citrus continues with hints of orange peel, lemon meringue before being topped by a light layering of peat smoke and remnants of clove spice.

Finish: The finish is medium to long, soft and tannic and there is a bit of heat on the finish.

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

On the night, Adelphi being Ardnamurchan's parent company also presented a few Adelphi bottlings - the Glenborrodale Batch 3 Sherry Cask release and my favourite on the night, the Glen Garioch 1998 Sherry Cask release.

All the bottles are available for purchase from the Oak Barrel though you might want to be quick with the Ardnamurchan as there are only 2,500 bottles globally and local allocation is quite limited.


Friday, 19 May 2017

Hong Kong Whisky Festival 2017 review

After the success of 2016's inaugural Hong Kong Whisky FestivalInterContinental Grand Stanford held their festival again this year, delivering an even bigger and better festival with even more masterclasses.

Held again over one day, the event brought together big brands and indies alike, and made the most of the (expansive) hotel space, taking over two floors, several function rooms and even a suite!

Arriving an hour or so after opening, I took a walk around to see what was what. The first thing that struck me was, even that early, it was already busy. The second thing that struck me was just how many, varied stands there were. Bars, shops, independent bottlers, major distilleries, major distributors, local distributors, were all well-represented, as were "world whiskies" from all over the globe. In fact, the festival brochure had an excellent article on "New World" whisky (although I might be a little biased, given I wrote it...)

The festival shop saw a big improvement on the prior year, with a lot more space and even more bottles available (including some long gone Indies like this Eiling Lim 27yo Irish).

As is always the case with these festivals, you end up chatting to and sharing a dram with all the wonderful people working there, and before you know it, 3 hours have passed. I'd barely gotten around to half the booths when my first masterclass came up - an Asta Morris class with founder Bert Bruyneel.

Sidenote: As evidence of the quality and quantity of masterclasses on offer throughout the day, I had to decide between this and an Adelphi masterclass, both on at the same time. The good people of Malt Maniacs & Friends suggested I go for the Asta Morris class, and I'm glad I did.

Held in conjunction with Whiskies and More (Asta Morris' HK distributor) and The Fine Spirits Society, the class saw us tasting 6 spirits blind. We knew what the spirits were (amongst them were an 14yo Ardmore, an aged gin, a 13yo Bowmore, a 5yo Chichibu, a 27yo Bunnahabhain and a 32yo 1979 Benriach - a cask which was saved by Bert from blending into Chivas), but not the order, which made for much fun and debate.

I'd heard a bit about this Bert "character" and it was all true. His class was exactly what I look for in a masterclass - great whiskies (tick), educational (tick), full of stories (tick), but most of all, FUN (tick tick). The hour flew by and by the end of it, we all felt like we'd had a heap of fun, enjoying a few casual drams, making new friends and listening to some hilarious stories. 

I guess what I'm saying is, if you get a chance to attend one of Bert's classes, take it!

After Bert's class, it was straight over to another function room for a Hunter Laing masterclass, with Andrew Laing, to explore "Where the flavours come from" with a variety of whiskies of different ages, provenance and cask types. Included in the lineup was a 19yo Longmorn, 8yo Craigellachie (showing some great natural colour due to its aging in a quarter cask), a 6yo Caol Ila and an 8yo Talisker.

After the two classes, it was time for a bit more of a walk around, a few more drams, and a delicious cocktail from Eddie Nara, to prepare myself for...

...a barrel making demonstration, in which I was to construct a whisky barrel with none other than The Balvenie's Head Cooper Ian Macdonald - a man who has been in the business for almost 50 years! Luckily, I'd managed to grab a few tips by watching Mr Nara do the same a few hours earlier.

After managing to bungle my way through making the barrel, I have to say - hats off to people who do this day-in, day-out for a living. It's not easy (even less so after a few drams), but it was a fun and rewarding experience (thanks to Ian for the expert tutoring and assistance)!

By this point, the show was wrapping up, but there was still one masterclass left to attend - this time focusing on some fairly rare (and expensive) blends.

Those blends of course, being four Johnnie Walker "Private Collection" releases, from 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014.

A 7pm timeslot after a long whisky festival is always going to see a few people worse for wear, but our host Stephen Notman (aka Mr Whisky China) pushed through, talking us through the history of blending and how the Private Collection series "rips up the philosophy of consistency in blending". He wasn't wrong - here were four very different (but all very enjoyable drams).

All were great, but the 2017's waxy apple nose and tropical and vanilla palate won me over as my favourite. A bit of Clynelish in there perhaps?

Between these festivals, the excellent Tiffany's New York Bar, and the many other whisky events/promotions throughout the year, InterContinental Grand Stanford have firmly established themselves as a Hong Kong whisky powerhouse over the past few years, and we have no doubt their upcoming World Whisky Day 2017 celebrations will only help cement that (unfortunately we won't be in HK to enjoy it...)

Martin. attended HKWF17 as a guest of InterContinental Grand Stanford.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

This week in whisk(e)y #36 - Ardbeg toasts beloved Manager, Glenmorangie Pride 1974

As you might know if you read this blog regularly, we get a fair few interesting press releases and news articles here at TimeforWhisky, and usually try to feature them with our own spin, experiences or comments. Sometimes though, they come thick and fast, and we just don't have time to do them all justice.

So we've decided to take a leaf out of some other excellent whisky blogs, and feature a "PR roundup" every now and then - basically a wrap-up of relevant press releases we've received in the previous week or so (including other interesting whisk(e)y news Steph, Hendy & or I think you might enjoy). So on with it then...

Glenmorangie Pride 1974
Following the release of the Glenmorangie Pride 1978 in 2012, Glenmorangie has released another old and rare release, the Glenmorangie Pride 1974. Here's the official press release:
"The most prized Highland single malt whisky ever to emerge from Glenmorangie has become the inspiration for musical virtuoso Aaron Diehl, as part of a creative partnership with renowned piano maker Steinway & Sons.  The launch of Glenmorangie Pride 1974, the Distillery's oldest, rarest and deepest whisky, has led the celebrated Steinway Artist to compose a mesmerising work evoking its rare beauty. 
Glenmorangie Pride 1974 is the third and most prestigious expression in the Distillery's illustrious Pride series, which celebrates its most rare and treasured creations.  Matured for 41 years, just 503 crystal decanters exist of this intense, spicy, yet mellow limited edition.  
The exquisite single malt showcases spirit distilled in Scotland's tallest stills by Glenmorangie's legendary Men of Tain, and laid down on 30 October 1974, some in ex-bourbon refill casks, some in ex-Oloroso sherry casks.  This spirit spent decades maturing under the expert care of these select craftsmen, until Glenmorangie's inspired Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation & Whisky Stocks deemed that it had reached its very peak.  Only then, did Dr Bill Lumsden skilfully marry the two parcels together – realising his vision for Glenmorangie's oldest expression, deeper in colour and character than any other. 
Diehl, a Steinway Artist and graduate of world-renowned Juilliard School, visited the Distillery as part of Glenmorangie's partnership with Steinway & Sons.  His musical evocation of Glenmorangie Pride 1974 reflects their shared dedication to creativity and craftsmanship, established over generations.   
Diehl, 31, who will premiere his work alongside Glenmorangie Pride 1974, said: "In many ways, creating whisky is very similar to composing.  The rare beauty of Glenmorangie Pride 1974 combines years of uncompromising craft and painstaking attention to detail, with a creativity and passion any musician would recognise.  Its story inspired me to create a work echoing the whisky's depth of character, its long maturation and its astonishing tastes." 
Dr Bill said: "Glenmorangie Pride 1974 is the oldest and deepest Glenmorangie ever to be released.  Its age lends the whisky an enriched intensity, borne only of long maturation.  The result is an exquisite blend of salty, spicy aromas, leading to tastes of toffee, baked apples, oranges and brown sugar.  Aaron Diehl's inspired composition perfectly captures the spirit of Glenmorangie Pride 1974.  Each of us has created a rare moment of beauty – and at the whisky's premiere, they will be married together in exquisite harmony." 
Only 503 crystal decanters of Glenmorangie Pride 1974 will be released globally in May 2017."
Three cheers to an Ardbeg stalwart
Ardbeg fans were recently asked to raise a dram and raise a toast and give three cheers for Mickey Heads, Ardbeg Distillery Manager and also the Ardbeg Committee Chairman, who is celebrating his tenth anniversary as Distillery Manager.

We've certainly shared a few Ardbeg drams in celebration and lots of Ardbeg fans around the world also toasted and gave three cheers to Mickey, summarised well in this video, including a prominent display of local whisky figure, Andrew Derbridge.

#3cheers for Mickey from us at Time for Whisky, you've certainly transformed Ardbeg over the decade and we look forward to continuing to be part of the Ardbeg journey!!

Here's a bit more from the official PR release:
"It is ten years since Ardbeg's beloved Mickey Heads took charge of the single malt whisky's untamed spirit. To celebrate the acclaimed Distillery Manager's decade at the helm, the world's smokiest, peatiest Islay malt invites fans across the world to pour a dram of Ardbeg and give three cheers for Mickey, with a nose, taste and toast.

In 2007, when Mickey was appointed, Ardbeg was a very different place to the one the cult malt's loyal following knows today. Saved from extinction by The Glenmorangie Company only a decade previously, it would require years of devotion to complete the Distillery's resurgence on its remote Scottish island home. With Islay native Mickey at the forefront however, Ardbeg has gone from strength to strength. Today, it is the world's most highly awarded smoky malt, while Mickey was singled out as Distillery Manager of the Year at respected industry awards in 2014. 

In honour of Mickey's decade of dedication to Ardbeg's enduring spirit, the Distillery calls on smoky malt whisky fans to join in a worldwide three cheers, with a nose, taste and toast of their favourite expression, be it Ardbeg Ten Years Old, Ardbeg Uigeadail or Ardbeg Corryvreckan. Ardbeggians are invited to film and share their cheers with the hashtag #3cheers, to be part of a special anniversary surprise for Mickey which the Distillery is keeping under wraps for now.

Meanwhile on Islay, Mickey is holding some anniversary tastings of his own. In Ardbeg's first official tasting videos, he will nose, taste and toast Ardbeg's three Ultimate whiskies, giving his insight into the expressions that Islay's wilderness has inspired.

Mickey, who also chairs Ardbeg's loyal fan club, the Committee, said: "I've loved every minute of my years at Ardbeg. The Distillery has grown stronger and stronger in the past decade, and today its untamed spirit is enjoyed by Ardbeggians around the globe. Here on Islay, I'll be raising a glass of Ardbeg to celebrate how far we've come. I hope Ardbeggians will join me to toast The Ultimate Islay Malt. Sláinte!"
Until next time...

Martin & Hendy. 

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Diageo Special Releases 2016 Tasting in Sydney (Tasted #354 - 356)

Sometimes in whisky (as in life), things just work out perfectly.

Take the other week for example. An invitation arrives for a tasting at 2pm on a Tuesday, in Sydney. On any normal week, I'd be 1) in Hong Kong, and 2) Working at 2pm (although considering the invitation in question was for the Diageo 2016 Special Releases, I'd probably try to wrangle some time off and be there). In this case however, there was no wrangling required. I was in Sydney, with a free day. Perfect.

So along I went to Sydney's timeless Rockpool Bar & Grill, to join what was to be a very special tasting. I'd been fortunate enough to try a few of the 2016 releases a few months earlier in Singapore, and whilst I would have loved to try those same drams again, I was very happy to see three of the five drams on tasting were ones I hadn't tried.

Specifically, we were to taste:
  • Caol Ila 15yo "Unpeated Style" - Distilled 2000, 61.5% ABV
  • Cragganmore Limited Release - 55.7% ABV
  • Glenkinchie 24yo - Distilled 1991, 57.2%
  • Brora 38yo - Distilled 1977, 48.65 ABV
  • Port Ellen 37yo (16th Release) - Distilled 1978, 55.2% ABV

After a wonderfully refreshing Dalwhinnie 15 highball (with honey and malic acid), we took our seats to hear from Diageo Australia's newly-appointed National Whisky Ambassador Simon McGoram, who kicked things off with a brief history on the Special Releases (now in their 16th year), and how the much-loved Rare Malts of the 1990s gave way to the Special Releases of today.

Also of interest was the price of the 1st release Port Ellen - a mere £110! A far cry from the $5,000AUD of the 16th release we were about to taste.

(I remember back in 2009 picking up a catalogue from Park Avenue Liquor in New York, which I still have, with a whole range of Port Ellens from $200-$400USD. If only I'd had a little more foresight!)

For those unfamiliar with the Special Releases, it's basically Diageo's annual collection which shows off the various Scottish whisky distilleries, both malt and grain, within Diageo's immense portfolio. Typically the collection includes closed distilleries (like Port Ellen and Brora), operational distilleries (like Lagavulin and Talisker) and grain distilleries (like Cambus - also a closed distillery), and covers many of Scotland's whisky producing regions.

All bottles are bottled at cask strength, and the series has become increasingly popular with both drinkers and collectors alike. This year's collection runs from $170AUD (Caol Ila) to $5,000AUD (Port Ellen), so there's something for everyone.

You wouldn't usually expect to start a tasting of various Scottish regions with an Islay whisky, but in the case of Caol Ila's 15 year old "Unpeated Style", it was entirely appropriate. An annual release, this year's 15yo is from a batch made just once per year, in what Diageo call the "Highland Style", showing off the vibrancy of the Caol Ila spirit without the usual peat smoke.

Caol Ila 15yo "Unpeated Style" (Special Releases 2016) (61.5% ABV, 15yo, OB, Islay, Scotland, $170AUD)
Colour: Light yellow gold.

Nose: Dried seaweed. Lemon tart. Salty, maritime notes, with hints of fresh tropical fruit.

Palate: Allen's Pineapple lollies, more seaweed, a fair amount of malt. A few drops of water brings a little smoke, but nothing like you'd get on a regular Caol Ila, especially one at 61.5% ABV!

Finish: Medium in length, with some vanilla, caramel and popcorn. 

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

The Cragganmore was next - the only NAS in the line-up. We're not ones to judge an NAS by its (lack of) age statement though - Diageo have proven (as we found with 2014's Clynelish) that they do NAS very, very well when it comes to Special Releases.

Cragganmore NAS (Special Releases 2016) (55.7% ABV, NAS, OB, Speyside, Scotland, Bottle #2,818 of 4,932, $750AUD)
Colour: Yellow-orange sunset.

Nose: Earthy - mushrooms, dried vegetation and almonds primarily.

Palate: Citrus and spice initially, followed by nutty, vegetal notes. Stewed fruits follow, with the spices wafting in and out. The cask make-up (a mixture of refill hoggies, rejuvenated hoggies, and European Oak) shows.

Finish: Long, smooth and spicy. Slightly vegetal.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. A fantastic match with Jamon Bellota, it turns out (and of course very good on its own).

Next was the Glenkinchie 24 - the oldest official bottling ever released, and also the first to be matured entirely in European Oak. Fair to say I was a bit excited to try this one.

Glenkinchie 24 Year Old (Special Releases 2016) (57.2% ABV, 24yo, OB, Lowlands, Scotland, Bottle #988 of 5,928, $520AUD)
Colour: Deep yellow gold.

Nose: Tropical fruit, Nutri-Grain cereal, milk chocolate, whilst retaining a floral lightness. Water brought out more of the fruit. It's a complex nose, for sure, but not one you'd immediately associated with a dram aged for 24 years in European oak.

Palate: Lightly spiced, with floral hints and some cereal notes from the nose returning. The tropical notes were there too - pineapple dusted with cinnamon.

Finish: Long, sweet fruity and fragrant spices. Walking through a spice market eating a sweet apple.

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

The Brora and Port Ellen rounded out the tasting, and I found very similar notes to when I'd tasted them a few months earlier (and unknowingly gave the same scores as then, too).

As expected, the Brora stole the show, with an incredible amount of complexity coupled with what I'll call "delicious elegance". The pick of the bunch, in my opinion, and a dram I could happily nurse for hours, seeking out more and more notes as time goes on.

As mentioned, nine of the ten 2016 Special Releases have been released in Australia (unfortunately, this year Australia misses out on the crowd favourite Lagavulin 12 Cask Strength, which we learned was very constrained due to "every market wanting to get their hands on the 200th Anniversary release". The nine available bottles are as follows:

AUCHROISK 25 year old, Distilled 1990, ABV 51.2%
3,954 bottles available worldwide. 216 for Australia.

BRORA 38 year old, Distilled 1977, ABV 48.6%
2,984 bottles available worldwide. 108 for Australia.
RRP $2,800AUD

CAMBUS 40 year old, Distilled 1975, ABV 52.7%
1,812 bottles available worldwide. 68 for Australia.
RRP $1,400AUD

CAOL ILA 15 year old, Distilled 2000, ABV 61.5%
450 bottles for Australia.

4,932 bottles available worldwide. 180 for Australia.

GLENKINCHIE 24 year old, Distilled 1991, ABV 57.2%
5,928 bottles available worldwide. 282 for Australia.

LINKWOOD 37 year old, Distilled 1978, ABV 50.3%
6,114 bottles available worldwide. 300 for Australia.
RRP $1,100AUD

MANNOCHMORE 25 year old, Distilled 1990, ABV 53.4%
3,954 bottles available worldwide. 240 for Australia.

PORT ELLEN 37 year old, Distilled 1978, ABV 55.2%
2,940 bottles available worldwide. 128 for Australia.
RRP $5,000AUD

With almost $10,000AUD worth of whisky across 5 bottles, it's fair to say this was no ordinary tasting, but it's one I was thrilled to join. A huge thanks must go to Simon, Diageo Australia and the team at Leo Burnett for the invitation and their hospitality during the afternoon.


Friday, 31 March 2017

Distillery Tour #7: Joadja Distillery (NSW, Australia)

Whilst I often try to fit some "whisky tourism" into my trips where possible (a distillery tour, bar or whisky show for example), I wasn't expecting to do so on a recent trip back to Australia, considering I was only there for 3 nights for a mate's wedding and to visit my folks in their new Southern Highlands home.

Turns out my parents had a different idea though, and had sneakily booked a tour of Joadja Distillery, in the historic town of Joadja (about 40 minutes from Bowral). The distillery wasn't open that day, but the lovely Valero and Elisa Jimenez (Directors, owners and operators of the Distillery and Joadja Heritage Tours) kindly agreed to open up and show us around.

Even if you're familiar with the Australian whisky scene, you may not have heard of Joadja before. That's because they haven't actually released a whisky yet - although they have produced whisky (and from what I tried, it was very nice indeed - more on that below).

The trip to Joadja takes you on ~10km of (relatively easy-going) dirt road, passing several ancient buildings hinting at the town's historic roots. Upon arrival at the distillery, Elisa and Valero (who also run non-whisky focused tours of the historic town) told us a little about the history of the area - founded in the 1870s as a shale mine and refinery, and staffed at the time by a large population of Scottish shale miners, who not only distilled shale oil, but also their own illegal spirit, or "sly grog", on the side.

So...historical significance - tick!

The Jimenez family (as the name might suggest) have Spanish heritage, with Elisa herself having a direct family connection back to Jerez, enabling them to source high quality ex-Sherry (Oloroso and PX) casks for maturing their whisky.

So, access to high quality sherry casks too - tick, tick!

It was these factors (coupled with some convincing from the Godfather of Australian Whisky Bill Lark) that convinced the family to establish the distillery in 2014, having purchased the site years earlier, seeking a change of lifestyle after running a backpacker's hostel in Sydney. 

It's interesting to note that there was actually a distillery in Joadja previously, on the same site, which had all the equipment but never produced a drop. Those stills however were removed, and made their way to New World Whisky Distillery (aka makers of Starward), whilst Valero and Elisa procured new equipment for their distillery.

Soon after arriving at the distillery we were greeted by an immense downpour - so heavy that we couldn't even hear Valero speak. When things quietened down, and we were taken on a tour of the town, the local spring (supplying all the water used in the distillation) was flowing. No concerns about water availability then!

The distillery uses an 800L spirit still, and produces a powerful but nuanced new make. Maturation occurs in the same location,  just a few metres away, mostly in 32L casks which previously held Oloroso or PX Sherry (the distillery also sells the sherry which came from the casks, and it's very tasty stuff).

As with most young Australian distilleries, Joadja are also producing and selling new make ("Outlaw"), Anis, and a Dry Gin, all of which are available now. Their whisky is not yet available, although Bottles #1 and #40 will be given away at the upcoming Brigadoon festival in Bundanoon - Bottle #1 to Scottish-Australian legend Jimmy Barnes, and #40 to be raffled off at the event. It's expected the whisky will be available for sale to the public this year.

I was fortunate enough to try a dram of the first cask (JW001), at a cask-strength 60.8% ABV, and whilst I've promised not to post detailed tasting notes (as what I tasted was still a 'work in progress'), I can confirm it was an impressive dram for only 2 years old, and reminded me very much of other Australian distilleries in their younger years - distilleries which have since gone on to produce world-class whiskies.

Certainly a distillery to keep an eye on.

Whilst the distillery is a bit of a trek from Sydney, it's one I can recommend making - make it a day trip and include a tour of the historic town too. You can't taste any of the whisky during the tour, but you can see the equipment up close, and try the sherry which seasoned the casks that are now maturing the whisky.

You can also see Kangaroos, and really, how many distilleries can lay claim to that!?

A huge thanks must go to Elisa and Valero for their immense hospitality during our visit, and for generously allowing us to taste their spirits. Personally I'm excited to see another NSW distillery producing high-quality spirit, and can't wait to see this distillery grow and no doubt go onto great things.