Sunday 9 June 2024

Archie Rose Single Cask Series [Tasted #670 - #672]

In the world of whisky, few distilleries have carved out such a prominent place as quickly as Archie Rose Distillery in Sydney. Founded in 2014 by Will Edwards, Archie Rose has been known for innovating through all their different releases and for having quite unique proposition including their Tailored Spirits/Whisky Program and wood smoked whiskies. Guided by Master Distiller Dave Withers (one of the most knowledgable whisky folk we know and whom spent some time at the legendary Oak Barrel), Archie Rose has made leaps and bounds over the past decade to make a mark in the Australian whisky scene.

When Archie Rose first opened in 2014, the Australian whisky scene was quite different. Most people equated Australian whisky with Tasmanian whisky, and Sydney had been without a whisky distillery for a long time. In this landscape, Archie Rose emerged with its close proximity to Sydney city, a stunning bar (which we had reviewed back in 2015), unparalleled transparency, and a fresh attitude towards spirits. Along with Starward, which released its first whisky in 2013, Archie Rose began changing the scene.

A visit to Archie Rose in 2015 by Marto revealed the impressive setup and meticulous attention to detail in their production process. The original distillery, located in Rosebery, Sydney, was split into two sections: the production and cask storage on one side, and the stunning bar on the other. The distillery featured a hand-spun hopper for a 600kg mash, mash tun and stills by Peter Bailly, and Italian-made fermenters with temperature control. The distillation process includes a 3,600L steam-heated wash still, a 1,700L spirit still, and a 300L gin still for infusing botanicals. While Archie Rose has moved its distillery to Banksmeadow in 2020, much of the above equipment remain at their original site for display to the public.

Archie Rose’s innovative streak is quite evident over the years. They started with white spirits—gin, vodka, and white rye—and quickly expanded their offerings. The distillery’s approach to local sourcing is one of the things that sets them apart; they source all their malts locally and also use native ingredients such as red gum and stringybark for smoking their rye grain (as opposed to importing peated grain or peated barley).

They introduced the Tailored Spirits program, allowing customers to create their personalised gin, vodka, or whisky. The Tailored program, first, launched in 2015, has been pioneering in making personalised spirits accessible and affordable. In 2018, they continued their innovative pursuits by launching the Six Malt New Make, a new make blend derived from six different malt mash bills. This release provided insights into the base spirit of Archie Rose’s single malt whisky, showcasing their dedication to quality and depth from the start. More recent releases include Heritage Red Gum Cask Single Malt from earlier this year and Double Malt Whisky in 2023, released as part of Archie Rose's Fundamental Spirits Range.

Commencing this year, Archie Rose has also begun exporting their products to Asia, including markets like Korea, Malaysia, and Singapore. The expansion is part of their strategy to present a full portfolio of products and establish a strong international presence.

The upcoming Single Cask Series, to be released on 11 June, includes three distinct releases:

  • The Heritage Rye Malt Single Cask, aged in a single apera cask, serving as a homage to Australia’s heritage of fortified wines and showcasing Riverina-sourced heritage rye malt. This was my pick of the three.
  • The Single Malt Single Cask, an example of what makes Archie Rose’s signature whisky special. This single cask offers layer upon layer of malt-driven flavours, an excellent fruit profile, and a beautifully balanced apera cask influence. At four and a half years old and full cask strength, it delivers quite a powerful and incredibly complex whisky.
  • The Smoked Rye Malt Single Cask, made from NSW heritage rye grain, custom smoked over sustainably harvested Australian native stringybark, offering a truly unique and entirely Australian flavour profile. This cask-strength whisky balances sweetness, smoke, and rye spice with flavours reminiscent of campfire, grilled peaches, and prosciutto.

We sat down with Will and Dave as part of the launch of the Single Cask Batch 1 Release where they noted that one of the significant challenges in whisky production for them is in sourcing high-quality casks. Over the years, Archie Rose partnered closely with wineries though they have now also developed their own method of developing bespoke sherry casks. The process, managed in their Banksmeadow facility, ensures that each cask contributes uniquely to the whisky’s flavour profile. Both the Single Malt and Heritage Rye Malt single cask releases were bottled from ex apera casks.

Will and Dave also shared their thoughts and experience, particularly their frustration in dealing with rye early on in the Archie Rose journey. Rye, known for its glutinous nature, presents a different kind of challenge. Will spoke to the use of a new mash filters at their Banksmeadow facility which they didn't have at their original Rosebery distillery. Will shared his experience in dealing with rye early on, something akin to trying to sieve the liquid out of a porridge; that's basically what working with rye is like. With the new mash filters at the Banksmeadow facility, working with rye has become much more manageable.

"It's an amazing thing to come across a cask and say, 'This. This one right here. That's the essence of what we're trying to achieve." quoted Will Edwards

Single Cask Whisky Batch No. 1: Heritage Rye Malt (68.2% ABV, NAS, Sydney, Australia, A$299)

The Heritage Rye Malt Single Cask has been aged in a single apera cask, serving as a homage to Australia’s heritage of fortified wines and showcasing Riverina-sourced heritage rye malt. This was my favourite of the three single cask releases.

Nose: The aroma opens up nicely with the sweetness of honey and apricots, accompanied by the richness of cherries and plums. There is some rye spice and other spices adding a layer of depth and intrigue.

Palate: On the palate, it's very velvety, rich and mouth-filling layers of concentrated fruits, more apricots and cherries. These fruity notes are complemented by a hint of toasted oak, which adds a delicate woodiness.

Finish: The finish is long and luxurious, with the rich flavours of apricot and cherry persisting. There's a lingering fruit and spice.

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

Single Cask Whisky Batch No. 1: Single Malt (66.9% ABV, NAS, Sydney, Australia, A$349)

The Single Malt Single Cask is an incredible example of what makes Archie Rose’s signature whisky so special. This single cask offers layer upon layer of malt-driven flavours, an excellent fruit profile, and a beautifully balanced apera cask influence. At four and a half years old and full cask strength, it delivers quite a powerful and incredibly complex whisky.

Nose: The aroma opens with the rich sweetness of nougat, sticky raisins and Christmas pudding, creating a luscious mix of fruit (there's the apera influence). Some milk chocolate and orange citrus.

Palate: On the palate, roasted almonds and some chocolate, the milk chocolate, mixed with sticky date pudding. There is more on the rich fruit and spices.

Finish: The finish is long and dry, with the fruit and spices gradually giving way to a drying finish.

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

Single Cask Whisky Batch No. 1: Smoked Rye Malt (65.1% ABV, NAS, Sydney, Australia, A$269)

The Smoked Rye Malt Single Cask, made from NSW heritage rye grain, custom smoked over sustainably harvested Australian native stringy bark, offering a truly unique and entirely Australian flavour profile. 

Nose: The aroma is meaty and there is subtle hint of maple bacon and stone fruits. Subtle hints of ginger and honey add a delicate floral touch.

Palate: On the palate, there is a mix of peaches, and apricots. These notes are seamlessly joined by the nutty warmth of roasted almonds and the zesty notes. There are layers of caramel slice with a hint of peppermint (or eucalyptus) adding a refreshing lift.

Finish: The finish is long, as the flavours of fruit, nuts, and spice intertwine with smoky campfire notes. Te finish leaves a lasting impression of balanced sweetness and savoury umami depth.

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

Thanks Will & Dave from Archie Rose for hosting us and taking us through the new single cask series.



Tuesday 4 June 2024

Old Master Spirits' 1960 Peyrot 63 year old Cask Strength Grande Champagne Cognac [Tasted #669]

We're kicking off June with another well-aged #malternative - this time in the form of a 63 year old Cask Strength Grande Champagne Cognac from Peyrot, once again from Old Master Spirits. The gents behind OMS have been releasing spirits at a decent cadence lately - not too often, but a handful a year to keep things interesting. This one will be launched on 20th June, bottled at 42.9% (cask strength) and selling for $349AUD.

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

Like most (all?) of the distilleries Old Master Spirits work with, Cognac Peyrot is a family-owned House currently in its fifth generation, having been founded in 1893. In 1956 first generation viticulturist Jean Baptiste Peyrot handed over a seven acre vineyard to his daughter Mathilde Peyrot-Barret, and this 1960 was the first vintage she distilled - so quite a bit of history here! 

The grapes here, Ugni Blanc, make up ~98% of Cognac vineyards and are favoured for their high-yield, long aging potential and light, floral profile. The grapes for this particular Cognac were planted nearly 100 years ago in 1928, and after the aforementioned 1960 distillation, the spirit slumbered in Limousin Oak for 63 years.

Old Master Spirits' 1960 Peyrot 63 year old Cask Strength Grande Champagne Cognac (42.9% ABV, 63yo, Cask Strength, France, One of 155 bottles, $349AUD)

Colour: Burnished orange copper.

Nose: Power and elegance! Fresh coffee grounds, milk chocolate, herbal lozenges, and after time fresh oranges, but also light honey and strawberries.

Palate: Largely follows the nose, with increased citrus (orange) intensity, cake icing, dried apricots, raisins, honeycomb, some more berries (raspberries this time), and just a subtle hint of oak spice.

Finish: Long, slightly herbal, with strong citrus and berry notes. After some time, coffee hints return.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100 (Martin). If you haven't yet jumped into the world of well-aged Cognac yet, this may well be a very good place to start. Whisky-like complexity, power and grace. Eminently drinkable - a " special occasion" spirit you can also drink on a random weekday. For $349AUD, fantastic value.

Their oldest release to date, Old Master Spirits' 1960 Peyrot 63 year old Cask Strength Grande Champagne Cognac goes on sale 20th June 2024, $349AUD. 155 bottles in total.

Thanks Deni & David for the sample.


Sunday 26 May 2024

Glen Moray Masterclass with Iain Allan [Tasted #663 - #668]

To kick off Sydney’s Whisky Month, we joined Iain Allan, Global Ambassador for Glen Moray Distillery, and Judith Zhu, bartender at Door Knock, at Grain Bar for a Glen Moray masterclass. The session featured Glen Moray whiskies from their Cask Explorer range, including the delicious Glen Moray 10yo 'Elgin,' released as part of the Queen’s Jubilee celebration. Two limited-edition Glen Moray releases; Whisky List exclusive, a Glen Moray Rioja Cask Finish and a Peated Glen Moray Rioja Cask Finish, completed the tasting set.

It's been a while since we have had a full Glen Moray tasting. Back in 2013, Graham Coull, Glen Moray Distillery Manager led a Glen Moray whisky & cheese matching in Sydney as part of Whisky Live. Since then we have seen Glen Moray evolved, both as a distiller as well as with their flavour profile.

During the session, Iain explained that Glen Moray is situated in Elgin, midway between Aberdeen and Inverness in the Speyside region, known for producing lighter, sweeter whiskies with a bit of spice. Established in 1897, Glen Moray began as a brewery before converting into a distillery. With its long history, Glen Moray benefits from the resources around Elgin, including water from the River Lossie. Though unlike Sydney winter, Iain humorously addressed complaints about the cold weather in Sydney, comparing it to Scotland’s colder winter and noting that whisky is used to keep warm in Scotland.

Glen Moray is known for its traditional production methods, utilizing copper pot stills and oak casks for aging. They commonly use a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks but also enjoy experimenting with non-conventional casks such as madeira, port, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, rum, and rioja. In fact, Iain noted that Glen Moray has recently rebranded its core range from the classic collection to the 'cask explorer' collection - the latter denoting Glen Moray's piqued interest in experimenting with different casks. 

Despite the use of different casks, Iain did note that Glen Moray’s history of cask exploration has remained since 1897, noting that while experimentation with various cask types constitutes about 20% of their production, the remaining 80% relies on the consistent quality of bourbon cask maturation. 

Glen Moray's ownership by La Martiniquaise-Bardinet, a French spirits company, has significantly expanded the distillery's global reach while maintaining its traditional roots. Under La Martiniquaise, Glen Moray has grown from a small export range to a more global presence, with expansions increasing production capacity to 8.5 million litres, positioning it as a medium-sized distillery.

Back to the masterclass, complementing the Glen Moray whiskies were three beautifully crafted cocktails that Judith invented, combining Glen Moray whiskies, including the two Rioja Cask releases, with Australian native ingredients. Along with the 10yo Elgin, I enjoyed the Peated Rioja Cask release, which had big aromas and flavours with sweet, savoury, and big smoked meat notes.

Glen Moray Shiraz Cask Finish (40% ABV, NAS, Speyside, Scotland, A$57.90)

An Australian market-exclusive whisky, part of the newly rebranded Explorer Range, previously known as the Classic Range. Initially aged for six years in bourbon casks and finished for two years in European Shiraz casks. Iain noted that this gives the benefit of the French oak's nutty, hazelnut character and the floral, fruity notes of Shiraz.

Nose: The aroma opens with the quintessential characteristics of Speysidy, featuring a rich combination of sweet vanilla and luscious honey. There's a subtle hint of meaty undertones, adding depth and complexity. Light notes of currants and raisins, accompanied tannins that lend a slight dryness, reminiscent of well-aged oak.

Palate: On the palate, there's a delicate and inviting profile. Initial flavours of creamy vanilla and golden honey take centre stage, creating a smooth and comforting sensation. A nutty character emerges, bringing to mind freshly roasted almonds and hazelnuts, complemented by the taste of buttery sweet bread, evoking the warmth of a bakery. The vanilla base provides a consistent thread of sweetness, while a touch of perfumed spices—perhaps cinnamon and nutmeg—adds an intriguing, aromatic layer.

Finish: The finish is long and indulgent, with the delightful taste of hazelnuts leaving a lasting impression. There's a decadent Nutella-like sweetness that lingers on the tongue, making for a satisfyingly rich and nutty conclusion to the tasting experience.

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

Glen Moray 12yo (40% ABV, 12yo, Speyside, Scotland, A$65.95)

Described by Iain as a quintessential expression of the distillery’s traditional style, matured in bourbon casks for a minimum of 12 years. This aging process strikes a balance between the spirit’s natural flavors and the influence of the oak, creating a sweet and slightly spicy profile typical of Speyside whiskies. The 12 Year Old is described by Iain as the distillery’s flagship whisky, offering an approachable yet complex taste that appeals to both new and seasoned whisky drinkers. Despite production challenges, such as having to allocate the 12 Year Old due to high demand, the whisky remains a cornerstone of Glen Moray’s heritage and identity.

NoseThe aroma greets you with a delightful combination of honey and a rich nuttiness. The honey provides a sweet, floral fragrance. A warm, nutty scent follows, reminiscent of toasted almonds and hazelnuts. The presence of vanilla adds a creamy, comforting layer. Delicate notes of fresh berries, such as raspberries and blackberries, introduce a subtle fruity complexity.

Palate: On the palate, there's a light and well-balanced profile. The initial taste is smooth and nutty, bringing forward the rich flavour of hazelnuts that's mixed with the sweetness of vanilla. The vanilla is creamy and indulgent, providing a lush base that ties the flavours together. The mouthfeel is light yet satisfying, with the nutty elements creating a comforting, familiar sensation, akin to a warm, nutty pastry.

Finish: The finish is dry, leaving a lingering impression of creamy vanilla and nutty flavours. The dryness adds a refined touch. The nutty finish, with its hints of toasted almonds and hazelnuts.

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

Glen Moray 10yo 'Elgin' (46% ABV, 10yo, Speyside, Scotland, no longer available)

Glen Moray's limited edition Shiraz Cask Finish Launched last year in Australia and now no longer available, it was intended to celebrate Elgin potentially becoming a city and later commemorated Glen Moray's 125th anniversary. This unique whisky, aged six years in bourbon casks and two years in European Shiraz casks, showcases the distillery's hallmark toffee apple sweetness and a nutty, fruity profile. Despite its popularity, the whisky is nearly sold out, with only a few bottles left (none in Australia). Iain  fondly recalls the unexpected discovery of Chardonnay casks in 2008 which we actually tasted in 2013 as they were bottled as the Glen Moray 10yo Chardonnay casks.

Nose: The nose opens with a rich, inviting scent of creamy vanilla, immediately evoking the warmth of freshly baked pastries. This is complemented by buttery undertones. Sweet notes of golden honey blend seamlessly with a subtle freshness from peppermint. The minty elements provide a refreshing contrast.

Palate: On the palate, this whisky is luscious, with a rich buttery texture and sweet flavours of caramelised sugar, reminiscent of the crisp topping on a crème brûlée. The creamy vanilla persists, adding depth. Flavours of fluffy marshmallows and freshly baked loaf bread evoke a sense of home comfort. The taste of toffee apples introduces a fruity sweetness, complemented by a drizzle of thick syrup. A surprising hint of peppery rocket adds a subtle spiciness, balancing the sweetness and adding complexity.

Finish: The finish is long, leaving a lasting impression of dry, creamy vanilla and the sweetness of marshmallows. The marshmallow note lingers pleasantly, providing a light, airy conclusion to the tasting experience. This extended finish allows the rich flavours to gradually fade.

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

Glen Moray 18yo (47.2% ABV, 18yo, Speyside, Scotland, A$148.99)

Nose: The nose of this whisky is rich and inviting, opening with the sweet, golden scent of honey that immediately draws you in. This is followed by a deep maltiness, reminiscent of freshly milled grains, adding a wholesome, earthy quality. A delightful aroma of toffee and sticky caramel pudding brings a decadent sweetness, evoking the comforting scents of a dessert kitchen. The presence of vanilla essence adds a creamy, aromatic layer, rounding out the nose.

Palate: On the palate, the whisky presents a complex profile. The taste of nougat emerges first, offering a chewy, nutty sweetness that is both rich and textured. This is complemented by creamy vanilla, which provides a smooth and luscious base. Herbaceous notes add an intriguing layer of depth, with hints of fresh, green herbs that balance the sweetness. A touch of mint introduces a cool, refreshing element, while the subtle spice of ginger lollies adds a warm, invigorating kick.

Finish: The finish is medium to long. It begins with a drying sensation, which provides a refined, clean finish. The creamy vanilla lingers on the palate, maintaining a sweet, comforting presence. This extended finish allows the rich flavours to gradually dissipate.

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

Glen Moray Rioja Cask Matured (59.8% ABV, NAS, Speyside, Scotland, A$199)

Part of the Glen Moray Warehouse 1 series, this Rioja cask matured Glen Moray showcases the Glen Moray's commitment to cask exploration. Warehouse 1, a dedicated space for experimental casks, houses a diverse range of barrels including sherry butts, port pipes, and wine casks. Unlike other more regimented warehouses, it reflects Glen Moray's innovative spirit. The Warehouse 1 series, is now available globally after being a UK exclusive, features unfiltered, natural colour whiskies. Each release is unique, with current offerings including two distinct Rioja cask maturations.

Nose: The nose is a captivating blend of aromas, starting with a distinctly herbaceous quality that brings to mind freshly crushed herbs. This is complemented by a peppery spiciness that adds an invigorating kick. Creamy vanilla weaves through the scent, providing a smooth, sweet balance. Intriguingly, there is a unique hint of black Kalamata olives, adding a savoury, briny depth. Fruity notes of ripe peach and juicy plums round out the nose.

Palate: On the palate, the whisky delivers a robust and complex flavour profile. The initial taste is spiced, with a bold intensity that awakens the senses. This is followed by the savoury richness of salted rubbed meat, evoking the flavours of well-seasoned charcuterie. The sweet, juicy taste of plums emerges next, harmonizing with subtle hints of peaches, which add a delicate, fruity sweetness. Caramelised sugar imparts a rich, burnt sweetness that enhances the overall depth. A touch of nutmeg introduces a warm, aromatic spice, while a hint of peppermint provides a refreshing, cool finish.

Finish: The finish is dry and lingering, leaving a lasting impression of smoked ham that evokes the savoury, smoky flavours of cured meat. This creates a complex and satisfying conclusion, with the smoky, savoury notes gradually fading, leaving a warm, subtly spiced aftertaste.

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

Glen Moray Peated Rioja Cask Matured (59.8% ABV, NAS, Speyside, Scotland, A$209)

In November 2024, Glen Moray released a new peated whisky from their Warehouse 1 series, marking a significant departure from their traditional Speyside style. Initially skeptical about peated whisky, the distillery began experimenting with it in 2010, using local peat to create a unique smoky profile distinct from Islay whiskies. This particular release, an 11-year-old whisky aged nine years in bourbon casks and finished for two years in Rioja casks, offers a complex flavour with notes of smoky bacon, Umami, sweet smoke, red fruits, and subtle hints of citrus, toffee, and vanilla. Iain noted despite being Glen Moray's first internationally released heavily peated whisky, there are only small batches annually due to the labor-intensive cleaning process required to switch between peated and non-peated production.

Nose: The nose opens with an enticing aroma of smoked bacon, evoking memories of a hearty breakfast on the coast. This is swiftly followed by the briny scent of seaweed and a touch of sea salt, conjuring the freshness of a coastal breeze. The marine notes are beautifully balanced by the sweetness of caramel, adding a rich, buttery layer. A hint of BBQed tomato emerges, offering a smoky, umami twist.

Palate: On the palate, the whisky delivers a robust and savoury experience. The initial taste is reminiscent of salted cold meat, bringing a rich umami flavor that mingles with a pronounced sea saltiness. This is followed by the deep, smoky flavour of charred steak, enhanced by a drizzle of sweet maple syrup that adds a caramelized richness. A hint of chili introduces a spicy warmth, while honey adds a smooth, sweet counterbalance. The nuttiness, akin to roasted almonds, provides an earthy depth that enriches the overall palate experience.

Finish: The finish is long and satisfying, characterised by a dry, lingering spiciness from the chili. Vanilla adds a creamy sweetness that softens the finish. The final notes of lingering nuts, reminiscent of toasted hazelnuts and walnuts, leave a warm, nutty aftertaste that invites you to savour each moment.

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

Overall, the Glen Moray masterclass was a delightful journey through their innovative whisky range. The blend of tradition and experimentation in their whiskies, complemented by Judith's creative cocktails, made for an unforgettable tasting experience.

To follow on the tasting yesterday, Glen Moray will be available exclusively at Grain Bar from 24th May to 16th June as part of their ‘Fireplace Seduction’ experience which will also run alongside Vivid Sydney in June. Grain Bar will feature an exclusive flight of Glen Moray whiskies. The Whisky List will also have Glen Moray present at the Melbourne Whisky Show on the 6th July as well as the Brisbane Whisky Show on 14th of September.

Friday 17 May 2024

Starward Bourbon Cask #1 and #2 [Tasted #661-662]

Earlier this week Starward released their second bourbon cask release, officially dubbed, the Starward Bourbon Cask #2. This second release follows the first Bourbon Cask which was released in mid 2018 and only saw an outturn of around 1,200 bottles. For this second bourbon cask release, Starward fans alike can join Starward’s ballot system to secure an allocation. It's not known how many bottles there are in the outturn.

I was fortunate enough to join David Vitale, Starward Founder and Charlie Dyer, Starward Blender this week to sample the Bourbon Cask #2. In fact, the tasting also featured the first bourbon cask release, Starward Nova (their OG red wine cask release) as well as a sample of their wash and new make spirit to give people a sense of evolution of the liquid. It was fascinating to contrast the Bourbon Cask #2 with Bourbon Cask #1, side by side, and while they share the same ABV, they are both distinctly unique. You’ll find my tasting notes on both down the bottom but I thought it would be good to recap a bit of Starward’s history.

Time for Whisky has always been a friend of Starward, dating all the way back to early 2013 when David met Martin in Sydney while David was in Sydney to introduce the “New World Whisky Distillery;” was then renamed Starward. 2013 was also the year Starward’s first whisky was released, Solera, matured in Australian ex-Apera casks and the initial release embodied David’s vision of creating a distinct, tasty yet uniquely Australian whisky. 

Since then Starward has gone strength to strength, having attracted funding from Diego in 2015, followed by the relocation of their distillery from the old Essendon Fields to Port Melbourne in 2016, expanded their core range to include Two Fold Double Grain whisky (dubbed the everyday whisky) in 2019 and receiving numerous gold medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, underscoring the success of their approach and the quality of their products. Over the years, Starward’s spirit has also evolved, having begun with a somewhat estery profile due to  the small-scale distillation and over time, improvements in their brewing, fermentation, and distillation have led to a more balanced spirit.

Despite their growth, Starward have very much retained their unique fruit notes, in particular, the banana note. In fact, this distinct fruit profile was what David proudly attribute to what makes Starward unique, The fruity profile, in particular the banana note has been a hallmark of Starward whisky, which David has committed to retain while enhancing balance. David’s ethos has always been on how to best produce a distinctly Australian whisky that reflects the local climate, ingredients, and culture. 

Many of Starward’s releases since have been inspired by the vibrant culture and the regional influences. Starward has always had a focus on using local ingredients, including Australian malted barley and locally sourced wine barrels. In addition, Melbourne's 'four seasons in a day' climate has been said to influence the Starward whisky aging process. Allowing for faster maturation compared to traditional regions and David has termed the maturation years as the “Melbourne years”

Since the beginning, Starward's signature play was with the use of red wine barrels for aging, which added unique fruit and oak characteristics to their whisky. The use of red wine barrels has been a significant factor in creating a unique flavour profile, contributing to Starward's distinctive character.

So then, what's the fuss with the bourbon cask release?

The first Starward Bourbon Cask release, known as Starward Bourbon Cask 1, was released in mid 2018 with an outturn of 1,200 bottles. Bourbon Cask #1 was Starward's experimentation with different types of barrels to create unique whisky expressions. This release marked their venture into using ex-bourbon barrels for aging their whisky, differing from their usual practice of using red wine barrels. In fact, their first foray into bourbon cask got them to work on the second bourbon cask, almost immediately after.

The use of ex-Wild Turkey and ex-Maker Mark's bourbon casks imparted distinct flavours to the whisky, adding vanilla, caramel, and subtle spice notes. This contrasted with the fruit-forward profile typically associated with their red wine barrel-aged expressions. The whiskey retained the characteristic balance of spirit, oak, and fruit that Starward is known for, but with the added complexity from the bourbon cask influence. Overall, the first Starward Bourbon Cask release was a significant milestone for the distillery, and as such paved the way for this subsequent significant milestone for Starward, their second Bourbon Cask release.

Starward Bourbon Cask #2 has been described as an inverse to their highly awarded and signature red wine barrel maturation style. With a 52% ABV, one might think both bourbon cask releases are identical but the decision on the ABV was made to showcase the whisky as what the Blender has intended to showcase. Starward's second Bourbon Cask release sees their malt fully matured in bourbon barrels for five 'Melbourne years'. Similar to Bourbon Cask #1, Bourbon Cask #2 also saw the use of ex-Wild Turkey and ex-Maker's Mark bourbon barrels.

As Charlie Dyer, Starward Blender noted, ‘there’s nothing to hide behind with bourbon barrels’ and these casks provided the perfect, neutral canvas to let the Starward new make spirit shine. Expect all those deliciously tropical fruit notes from the fermentation process to shine through. 

It took Starward nine years to release their first Bourbon Cask in 2018, and another six years to release Bourbon Cask #2…. who knows if there will be another.

Starward Bourbon Cask #1 (52% ABV, Port Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, A$199)

The inaugural bourbon cask release has its own complexity.

Nose: The nose opens with a rich, inviting note of vanilla, followed by a more concentrated vanilla essence that adds depth and sweetness. A comforting note of cereal emerges, reminiscent of freshly milled grains. Juicy berries add a burst of fruity freshness, while the honeyed sweetness of Weet-Bix cereal blends in. A cool, refreshing hint of peppermint provides a crisp, clean finish to the nose profile.

Palate: The initial palate reveals subtle yet creamy vanilla notes, setting a smooth foundation. This is quickly joined by the tart, vibrant flavor of raspberries, which adds a lively contrast. A hint of Starward's banana note is followed by honey which introduces a tropical sweetness, complemented by pineapple notes that bring a bright, citrusy touch. Rich molasses adds a deep, caramel-like sweetness.

Finish: The finish is relatively short but leaves a lasting impression of sweet berries. The prominent tannin creates a dry, lingering sensation.

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

Starward Bourbon Cask #2 (52% ABV, Port Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, A$169)

So what was my impression of their second bourbon cask, in summary, delicious, a lot richer, flavourful and more vibrant, when compared side by side with their first bourbon cask release.

Nose: A delightful medley of aromas greets you, starting with the sweet, nutty scent of nougat and the floral, delicate notes of rosewater. Vanilla essence provides a creamy undertone, while a fresh burst of peppermint adds a cooling sensation. The herbaceous hints bring a touch of earthiness, complemented by the tropical scent of coconut shavings. Subtle whispers of raspberries and banana introduce a fruity sweetness, rounded out by the rich, caramelized aroma of grilled pineapple.

Palate: The first sip delivers a vibrant burst of mixed berries, enveloping the palate with their juicy sweetness. This is followed by a zesty Sunburst orange note that adds a refreshing citrusy twist. Black pepper provides a spicy kick, balanced by a cool hint of peppermint. The flavors evolve into a creamy strawberries and vanilla shake, offering a smooth and indulgent experience. A subtle hint of pineapple lingers, adding a final touch of tropical fruitiness.

Finish: The finish is exceptionally long, leaving a lasting impression of ripe berries and smooth vanilla. The tropical essence of coconut shavings adds a delicate, nutty sweetness, while the finish concludes with a satisfying tannin that provides a dry, lingering end, leaving you with a well-rounded, memorable taste experience.

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

Given the limited edition release, Starward has opened their ballot system for everyone who's wanting to secure a bottle to register on their website. Starward fans alike can register themselves into the ballot which will be open until 2nd June


Tuesday 30 April 2024

Gordon & MacPhail "Mr George Legacy" (4th Ed) 65yo 1958 Glen Grant [Tasted #660]

It was almost a year ago to the day I tried Gordon & MacPhail's "Mr George Legacy" 3rd Ed, a 63yo Glen Grant from 1959, and the third in the excellent "Mr George Legacy" series. Many thought that was the final release in the series, but here we are 12 months later, and G&M have honoured their second generation "Mr George" Urquhart (arguably the father of single malt whisky's popularity) with another release - this time a 65yo from 1958.

Sticking with tradition, this release is again a Glen Grant, bottled from a single cask (a first-fill Sherry butt laid down by "Mr George" himself in 1958) at 56.5% in November 2023. Cask No.3818 produced just 376 bottles, slightly more (but more or less in the ballpark) as the rest of the "Mr George" series, meaning like the releases before it, this will no doubt be a hard bottle to acquire.

Stuart Urquhart, Operations Director at Gordon & MacPhail, said: 
“My grandfather had a particular affinity with Glen Grant Distillery. Local to our home in Elgin, Mr George had a strong relationship with the owners and distillers through the decades and he enjoyed experimenting with different casks to complement the distillery’s lighter spirit style."

This edition’s packaging and support campaign is themed around having the courage of conviction, symbolised by ‘The Lone Oak’. Mr George’s approach – to age whisky for as long as it needed – was seen by some as eccentric during his lifetime. The theme celebrates this philosophy of occasionally going against the grain but always standing firm to one’s principles in pursuit of perfection. 

With scores of 92, 9294 for the previous 3 releases respectively (& 95 for the original "Mr George Centenary" release) there's some serious pedigree to live up does it? Let's find out...

Gordon & MacPhail "Mr George Legacy" (4th Ed) Glen Grant 65yo 1958 (56.5% ABV, 65yo, Single Cask, Speyside, Scotland, One of 376 bottles, £7,000)

Colour: Deep, dark coffee-burgundy

Nose: Richly oaked sherry, but with a real fruit vibrancy. Cherries, cola, spices and old books too - an amazing mix of "old" and "fresh". Cocoa, coffee beans and sweet coffee notes follow. An incredibly intoxicating nose.

Palate: True to the nose. There's cherry, cola bottle lollies, oak, coffee beans, licorice twists and a flamed orange peel. After time, some sweeter orange cream emerges. Leather and rich dark chocolate. It's all here. The alcohol is present, but extremely well-integrated, never seeming overbearing or "hot" (despite the realtively high ABV). I'll often taste a whisky with an incredible nose, but a lacking palate. Here, the nose matches the palate in terms of character and quality. Amazing. A friend referred to this as "elegant" and that's exactly what it is.

Finish: Extremely long, with herbal hints of old oak, and coffee beans.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 94/100 (Martin). The best of the "Mr George" series to date, in my opinion, and so so close to the "Mr George Centenary" (still one of my favourite whiskies of the last 5 years). Just a beautiful, beautiful dram.

A big thanks once again to G&M & WS for the sample.


Wednesday 13 March 2024

Old Master Spirits' 1974 Chateau Garreau 48 year old Bas Armagnac [Tasted #659]

A while ago I suggested we were covering enough non-whisky dark spirits on the blog to have a "Monthly #malternatives" post. Whilst that hasn't quite come to fruition (see last month's post on our recent blog hiccup...), I don't plan to stop enjoying great malternatives alongside my whisky, and so on that note, here's a #malternative for March...

Arriving once again courtesy of those affable Melburnians behind Old Master Spirits, this release is a 48 year old Bas Armagnac from Chateau Garreau, distilled in 1974 and bottled at a natural cask strength of 51.2% ABV.

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

According to Old Master Spirits (and the producer) 1974's season saw a perfect balance of sunshine and rain. A combination of Baco & Ugni Blanc grapes were distilled using a 100+-year-old traditional alembic column still (from 1919), and matured for 48 years in a single French oak cask from Gascony in Chateau Garreau’s underground wet cellar. 

The Armagnac was bottled in late 2022, but has been delayed to 2024 so those turning 50 years old could have a fairly-priced birthday vintage spirit (as someone who held a birthday tasting last year with ~20 bottles from 1983, I absolutely love this approach). This will be Old Master Spirits' only Armagnac release this year, and there are only 152 bottles.

The thing that sets Garreau apart is its underground wet cellar, built by Prince Soukowo Kabylin in the 19th century. The only underground cellar in the region, it's nicknamed ‘the burrow’ & made simply of four dirts walls, with roots visibly breaking through the dirt. The walls soak up water from each rainfall to keep a wet and humid environment. All casks in use are Gascon Oak from Cooper Bartholomo. 

We've enjoyed all of Old Master Spirits' releases so far - so how does this one stack up...?

Old Master Spirits 1974 Chateau Garreau 48 year old Bas Armagnac (51.2% ABV, 48yo, Single Cask, France, One of 152 bottles, $269AUD)

Colour: Copper-brown Gold

Nose: Spiced fruit and pot-pourri at first, followed (after some air) by some rich, almost port-like berry notes. There are hints of confectionary, alongside stewed cherries / cherry pie.

Palate: Slightly savoury at first - minced pies, oak, with some herbal dried fruit notes. After some time in the mouth, more fruit comes through - cherries again, apricot and some lemon peel. This is really good stuff.

Finish: Very long, with oak, fruit and Christmas spices in perfect balance. Basically imagine you took a bite of mum's Christmas cake and you could still taste it 15 minutes later. Yum!

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100 (Martin). Another winner from these guys, what more is there to say? Brandy lovers should love this, but I reckon most whisky lovers will too.

Old Master Spirits' 1974 Chateau Garreau  Bas Armagnac 48yo goes on sale this Thursday (14th March 2024) for a very reasonable $269AUD. 152 bottles in total.

Thanks Deni & David for the sample.


Tuesday 27 February 2024

Tasting Singapore's first whisky! Brass Lion Distillery [Tasted #658]

A very belated Happy New Year (of both the regular & Chinese variety)!

You may be wondering why our first post of 2024 is in late February, and why the blog disappeared from the face of the Internet for ~6 weeks in  December / January. I'll address that in due course, but to summarise:
  • We weren't hacked
  • It was entirely unexpected
  • We didn't expect to get the site back, and had resigned ourselves to losing ~11 years / ~700 posts worth of content, comments, hits, etc..
  • Hendy & I are very, very, very glad to have it back!

Expect some big changes in 2024, but for now, onto some whisky...

We've covered some fairly geographically-diverse drams and distillery visits over the years - from Scotland, Japan, USA and Ireland, to Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, India and beyond. Personally, I really get a thrill from trying whisky from a new country or region. on that note, 2024's first "Tasted"  post comes from Singapore, by way of Brass Lion Distillery! Distilled & matured entirely in Singapore, this is the first (and so far, only) single malt whisky release to come from the Island. 

To quote their website:
"Brass Lion Distillery worked with The General Brewing Co. to tailor-make a wash that would accommodate Singapore's high humidity and equatorial climate. They selected top-fermenting ale yeasts and Maris Otter malt, to yield a wash with fruity and complex flavours. Fermentation was done at local ambient temperature, which was possible due to the thermotolerant yeast used. 2000 litres of wash then underwent double distillation to obtain a precious 180 litres of new-make spirit. Finally it was all poured into a bourbon barrel to mature for over three years, adhering to international whisky standards and regulations."

Filled into a single ex-Bourbon barrel in September 2019, the whisky matured over 3 years in Singapore's intensely tropical climate (with no temperature control applied) and was bottled in both Cask Strength (65%) and 48% guise, for a total of 427 bottles.

The bottles sold out as quickly as you'd expect (very), but luckily a recent trip had me passing through Singapore for a few hours - just enough time for a quick dinner at the excellent Analogue Initiative, followed by a few drams with The Single Cask with Brendan & Wei De (below).

Brass Lion Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky (65% ABV, Single Malt, 3yo, Singapore, $468SGD)

Colour: Orange gold

Nose: Nutty at first, followed by stone fruits (apricot, peach) and a rich "ex bourbon vanilla" note.

Palate: Big, mouth-filling and viscous, but not harsh. I would have picked mid-50% ABV, not 65%! A bit of vanilla sweetness and some more nuttiness, but water brought even more nuts (almonds), followed by peach and pear notes.

Finish: My summary notes say "long nutty apricot pie", which sums it up nicely!

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100 (Martin). Honestly, way better than I'd expected. I'm not sure if they plan to do any further whisky releases (their main product is gin), but I hope they do.


Monday 18 December 2023

Tasted #657: 1959/1960 GlenDronach Gordon & MacPhail

It's no secret I'm a big GlenDronach fan, considering them to be one of the few remaining distilleries where value can still be found (even though the older single casks are a bit punchy these days..), and a distillery delivering quality well above some of their peers.

Between Hendy and I we've covered plenty of expressions on the blog, but for the most part they've been modern releases. On a few occasions I've been lucky enough to try some vintage bottlings, and they've almost always been spectacular, especially this 18yo dumpy for the Japanese market - one of my most favourite 'dronachs ever...until now.

As good as that dumpy was (along with the 70s single casks, excellent 1993s and other interesting IBs), they've all been overtaken - by this fascinating vatting of 1959 and 1960 distilled GlenDronach, bottled by G&M in 1986 to celebrate the marriage of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York.

It wasn't that long ago you could pick up vintage miniatures for significantly less than they should've been (the market's cottoned-on now, unfortunately) and whilst miniatures are always a gamble, I'd say I'm at about a 95% success rate. This one held up perfectly, and I think cost me all of £20...

Gordon & MacPhail 1995/1960 GlenDronach (to commemorate the marriage of H.R.H Prince Andrew to Miss Sarah Ferfuson on 23rd July 1986) (40% ABV, Single Malt, NAS but ~28yo, Speyside Scotland)

Colour: Dark copper-brown.

Nose: Hugely expressive for 40%. Some OBE (Old Bottle Effect) but also rich coffee grounds, a sweet Vietnamese coffee note, varnish, leather, and overall so fresh and clean. Even some slightly herbal / grassy notes appeared, after some time.

Palate: Overripe oranges, crisp sherry, glazed orange slices, sherbert, cherry chews, marzipan and red apple. A mixed bag of fruity deliciousness.

Finish: Medium in length, with oak only showing to the end, alongside some sweet BBQ notes.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 94/100 (Martin). Absolutely fantastic. Incredible this is only 40%!


Tuesday 12 December 2023

Glenmorangie "A Tale of Tokyo" [Tasted #656]

Glenmorangie’s recently dropped their latest release - “A Tale of Tokyo”, the fourth in the “Tale of” series which continues to explore the magic of Dr Bill Lumsden’s experimentations, initially popularised by the “Private Edition” series. The series kicked of with "A Tale of Cake" (tasting notes), then moved onto "A Tale of Winter", then last year's "A Tale of the Forest" (tasting notes).

This time Dr Bill has gotten his hands on some Mizunara casks (not an easy task), to explore the influence the fascinating and unique wood has on Glenmo’s spirit, in honour of one of his favourite places (I mean, can you blame him? Japan is a whisky lovers’ playground!)

Says Dr Bill:

“I partly matured a proportion of Glenmorangie spirit in rare Japanese mizunara oak casks, which I’ve been curious to experiment with for some time. The influence of this wood is incredibly complex and unusual; it required balance and softening with Glenmorangie matured in bourbon and sherry casks, and the result is a dram as full of delicious sensory contrasts as a trip to Tokyo.”


So...was this a Mizunara bomb like my all-time favourite Mizunara-matured whisky (or its close runner-up), a Mizunara-non-event like a certain blended Scotch with a turquoise label, or somewhere in between? Read on...

Glenmorangie "A Tale of Tokyo" (46% ABV, Single Malt, NAS, Highlands Scotland, $980HKD / AU pricing TBC / £63.29)

Colour: Orange gold

Nose: Sharp, fresh oak, pencil shavings, orange flambé, flamed orange peel, and some vanilla.

Palate: Youthful and light, with citrus and oak spice, then hints of sandalwood, and some slight floral / herbal notes. Light throughout, with some honey and mandarin towards the end. With some time in glass (and later some airspace in the bottle) the mandarin becomes a bit sweeter, a bit more prominent.

Finish: Medium in length, with a slight oak astringency towards the end. 

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 87/100 (Martin). A perfectly enjoyable dram, and another successful attempt at matching up trademark Glenmorangie notes with something a bit left-field. Personally though (and I think I'm in the minority here) I preferred last year's "A Tale of the Forest" (tasting notes).

Thanks to Glenmorangie & Flare Communications for the review bottle.