Wednesday, 22 October 2014

A truly memorable evening with Jim McEwan

The start of October marked a special moment in the whisky world here in Australia as we were graced by the presence of the respected, legendary, Jim McEwan. The Master Distiller of Bruichladdich toured Australia to share the story of Bruichladdich and his wonderful journey with the distillery. It was not that long ago that we adventured through the exciting Bruichladdich series at the Eastern Hotel and so Jim's visit was particularly exciting and timely.

We attended the evening with Jim McEwan as part of the Single Malt Whisky Society event at the grand Royal Automobile Club in Sydney. The ever-knowledgeable Andrew Derbidge of SMWS co-hosted with Jim and facilitated the session.

The night began with an unconventional (for a whisky tasting) 'The Botanist' gin and tonic ('The Botanist' being the herbacious Islay gin crafted by Bruichladdich). As Jim put it, at the time, the gin had been crafted when the distillery was going through tougher financial times and could not afford to produce whisky. The remark was not true of course, rather a sign of the wave of light humour that was to come from Jim that night.

The story of Bruichladdich is a labour of love. Built in 1881 by the Harvey brothers, the Islay distillery continued to evolve over the century, making use of equipment which has stood the test of time. The distillery progressed further over the years, currently producing approximately 1.5 million litres of liquid gold per annum, yet still continuing to strongly support local Islay farmers and the good folks of the Islay community. A short testimonial video was shown to the room featuring testimonies from local barley farmers and a number of passionate distillery workers alike, one of which had been ear-marked by Jim as his protege.

Jim's own story was equally full of passion and love. Having worked in the whisky industry for over 50 years, Jim worked his way through the ranks. Starting as an apprentice Cooper for Bowmore in 1963, Jim continued his journey through warehousing, mashing and malting before becoming a master blender at one point, and eventually becoming the Ambassador for Bowmore. Jim only returned to the production realm when he joined Bruichladdich in 2000 and has since shaped the Bruichladdich we now all know and love.

Throughout the night, Jim shared various stories from his journey as a Master Distiller, stories from the distillery and a few tips for appreciating a good dram including a few experimentations with the fingers. Even through the countless stories though, Jim still kept a single story close to his chest - the story of how the Black Art came about. Few have attempted to unravel the mystery of the Black Art from Jim (and failed).

The tasting menu for the night consisted of seven quality Islay drams, all hailing from Bruichladdich (though one a SMWS curation which was, as the name suggests...salty):
  1. The Classic Laddie
  2. Islay Barley 2006
  3. Black Art
  4. Port Charlotte Scottish Barley
  5. Port Charlotte 10yo
  6. SMWS 127.39 'intensely salty' 12yo
  7. Octomore 06.1

Oh, let's not forget, the eighth dram. Never had the dram been previewed or tasted anywhere globally before. The inaugural preview of the mysterious, almost six year old, 2008 Octomore (matured in a French virgin oak cask) was something special. The dram was astounding, loads of toffee and smoked ham (with peating levels at 175ppm) and quite a remarkable contrast to the Octomore 06.1 previously tasted.

Following the last wonderful mystery dram, Jim then extended an invite for us all to join him in a Highland toast. Having skipped the Port Charlotte Scottish Barley from earlier that night, this was the dram we toasted with. With one foot on the table and our hand raised, we chanted, we sang and we capped off the night and saluted with the aromatic, sweet and lightly toasted dram.

Memories from the night will linger on. Jim was simply remarkable, inspirational and legendary. His passion, charm, wisdom and love for distillation truly define him and all his beautiful creations. If you ever do get the chance to see or meet Jim, perhaps around Islay, take it up as it will undoubtedly be the most memorable moment you will have in your whisky journey.

A special heartfelt thanks to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and Southtrade International for co-hosting such a wonderful and memorable event, and Southtrade for the invitation.

- Hendy.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Tasted #129 & #130: Ardbeg Supernova 2014 & Supernova 2009 (#101drams)

A few weeks ago we brought word of the upcoming release of Ardbeg Supernova 2014 in Australia, and gave a bit of a background to Supernova, from the original 2009 release through to 2014's release.

As mentioned, the good folk at Moet Hennessy Australia were kind enough to send a sample of the "SN2014" Supernova, and it's finally time to taste it.

Now, before I continue, I should point out that this isn't just any mini you can buy from a bottle shop, or even the distillery. As with the Gold Auriverdes bottling, these samples are primarily for media only, and are never for (official) sale. Which means, of course, in our current frenzied global whisky market, you have people making statements like:

Truly crazy. Of course this didn't interest me at all, because 1) Us bloggers are sent these whiskies to review, not to make a profit on, and 2) I actually really wanted to try the SN2014 (and to make it even more enticing, Supernova is a #101drams dram!)

So with that out of the way, let's get onto the tasting notes....

Ardbeg Supernova "SN2014" (55% ABV, NAS, Islay, Scotland, $240AUD)
Colour: Light, much lighter than I was expecting (call it a psychological thing, being a heavy, strong, peated whisky with a high ABV). Apple juice-like.

Nose: Rich and creamy, with citrus undertones - grapefruit most notably. A serious whisky, no doubt, but one with approachable, lighter elements in both the sweetness and citrus characteristics. Mind you this is all with a big whack of peat in the overshadowing the aforementioned notes.

Palate: The peat isn't as pronounced or "in your face" as the nose might suggest. The palate keeps the citrus notes and introduces rich, caramel notes with a hint of maple syrup. The peat lingers, but it's the citrus and sweet dessert-like notes that play the dominant role.

Finish: Long and lingering, with peat and interestingly, notes of breakfast cereal.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. After re-reading my notes, I realised it may come across as a tamer, lighter Ardbeg. It's not. It's still a peaty, 55% ABV beast of a dram, but manages to also be approachable and simultaneously peaty, sweet and citrusy. A one-trick pony it ain't.

If you've read reviews of the SN2014 from other bloggers, you may have noticed there's become a bit of a trend of destroying these bottles after tasting. I get it - keep them out of the hands of those who just want to profit, and keep them out of the hands of the counterfeiters who may fill them with Ardbeg 10yo (if you're lucky) and on-sell them. I get it, I do....but I won't be destroying my empty. Simply because it's a cool bottle, unique, rare, and I personally want to keep it in my Ardbeg collection (which though modest, is growing).

So that's that.

...but wait, there's more! </Tim Shaw>

I mentioned recently that I stumbled across the 2009 Supernova release at a bar here in Hong Kong, and while it wasn't cheap (no whisk(e)y in Hong Kong is, it wasn't as over the top as other drams I've seen, so I decided to dive in. Not too many of these bottles left...

Ardbeg Supernova "SN2009" (58.9% ABV, NAS, Islay, Scotland, Difficult to find these days)
Colour: Light gold.

Nose: Sooty, ashy smoke. I was instantly taken back to my old school camping days. Not so much the smell of a fresh campfire, but the next morning. This was interestingly mixed in with some raspberry notes!

Palate: Ashy smoke at first, but then, almost drastically, a change to sweet desserts. Ice cream, peacans and condensed milk (made me a little bit hungry it did). Delicious.

Finish: Not as long as I'd expected. The peat sticks around to the end, as does the sweet, almost sugary notes, but it doesn't seem to linger for as long as say,the Ardbeg Coryvreckan does.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 95/100. High score for a great whisky. Wish I first tried it when it was more readily available!


Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Bar That Jack Built

The month of September has always been a month of celebration for Jack Daniel. His exact birth day is not known to many, so celebration of his birthday takes place throughout the entire month of September.

Last month, to celebrate 'Jacktember,' a call to Jack's Facebook friends was made. The call was for all who share a passion and love for Jack Daniel's to donate a host of "resources", whether that be materials, time or expertise, to build what would be the first 'crowd-sourced' bar. Fittingly, the bar was named 'The Bar That Jack Built'.

Utilising the old Locomotive Workshop at the Australian Technology Park as a base - artists, musicians, electricians and carpenters alike worked together to build 'The Bar That Jack Built' 

The resulting bar; beautiful and impeccable, the hand made bar shared a rustic, industrial and unique feel and showed excellent level of craftsmanship. 'The Bar That Jack Built' was only open for one night though such curation may inspire others to build other similar 'crowd-sourced' bars in the near future. 

As the saying on the night went - "Here’s to raising a Jack to Jack."

More photos of The Bar That Jack Built at our Facebook page: The Bar That Jack Built Album Page

- Hendy

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Whisky Show Sydney 2014 Review (#101drams)

We love our whisky fairs here at What better way to meet the people behind the whisk(e)y, chat about whisk(e)y with like-minded individuals and try some rare, interesting, unique and (sometimes) downright weird drams, all with a cost of admission less than a single one of those drams might cost you at a bar?

Sydney has three main whisky shows/fairs each year, and they all serve very different purposes. There's our pick of the bunch, The Oak Barrel's Whisky Fair, where you're guaranteed to try some stunning, rare, often one-off drams and meet some real enhusiasts and industry legends (this year for example, they had their own cask of Glenfarclas selected by George Grant himself).

There's Whisky Live Sydney, which is more of a "beginners'" show and may be good if you're just getting into whisky, or you want to try a large part of Dan Murphy's range.

..and then there's this one, The Whisky Show, run by Double Bay's World of Whisky, held in May this year, and the only 2014 fare we attended (as our July move into Asia saw us miss the 2014 Whisky Fair).

Held for the first time at Mascot (a fair way out of Sydney city compared to previous years' events, though easily accessible on the train from the CBD), the event saw a number of familiar faces presenting the latest offerings from their respective distilleries and distributors.

The show was a decent size, though the hall did start to fill up and towards the end some booths were a little difficult to access. Steph and I left before the end though, as the shortage of food meant we headed off in search of sustenance (having spoken to the organisers subsequently, we understand they have plans to address this next year - hear hear we say!)

There were many interesting drams on-show, mostly available for retail purchase at the show's shop (handy that). Highlights for us,  or rather drams of interest (for various reasons) were:
  • Scallywag Speyside Blended Malt - we'd heard a lot about this blend, and given the enjoyable and well-priced Big Peat also from Douglais Laing & Co, we were happy to start with this as our first dram of the night. Sadly, for me at least, it was a let-down. Too much young spirit and not enough character. Great label and name though.
  • Stagg Jr - I'd been wanting to try this for a while, and it was enjoyable, but for only $30AUD less than the excellent George T Stagg, I know where I'd be putting my money.
  • Tobermory 15, a #101drams dram! I found this to have a citrusy, slightly musty nose, with a drying, tannic, earthy palate and a slightly peaty finish. A decent dram.
  • Sinatra Select - an incredibly smooth, and stunning looking (though pricey) Jack Daniels. A dram worthy of 'ol Blue Eyes for sure.
  • Bruichladdich "The Laddie" Classic - another #101drams dram. Grain-driven, but smooth and with a sweet nose. Sweet vanilla palate with hints of dark chocolate. A medium length finish with wafts of smoke, though certainly not what you'd call an overly peaty whisky.
  • Glen Grant Five Decades - an interesting concept and one which I'd been wanting to try for a while. Created to pay tribute to Master Distiller Dennis Malcolm, this contains Glen Grant from 5 different decades. Enjoyable, as long as you're not expecting to taste a 50 year old whisky.
  • Octomore 6.1 Scottish Barley - you may not like peaty whiskies, but you have to appreciate what Bruichladdich have done with each of their Bruichladdich releases. Far from just being "overbearing peat monsters", they've released some truly unique, distinct and collectible whiskies. The 6.1 Scottish Barley was no different. Peaty, sure, but so much more than that.
  • Laphroag Select Cask - a lot has been said about this dram and I tend to agree with a lot of it. Not exactly my taste - too much young Laphroaig, and for the money, I'd rather drink the reliable, standard 10yo any day.
  • Still on Laphroaig though, we were fortunate enough to try the very rare Laphroaig 25yo, at cask strength. With a sweet nose (with muted peat influence), a citrusy, ashen palate and a great mix between the stereotypical medicinal notes and chocolate sweetness on the finish, this was a fantastic dram. I gave it a 94, which probably doesn't tell you much, but it does give you an idea of some of the other drams in it's league, in my opinion.
  • SMWS - nothing but brilliant drams throughout the whole lineup, as expected, including the 39yo 21.27 "An Enticement of Sweet Oak".
  • Balvenie 15 - but wait, that was already one of my favourite drams. Why include it here as a "dram of note"? Well, Mr James Buntin (who readers of this blog would be familiar with, and who has recently taken up the coveted role of UK Balvenie Ambassador) was representing the William Grant & Sons single malts, and brought along two bottlings, both the older, Bourbon-aged 15yo, retail bottles. Yet the two were incredibly different! One was peppery and spicy and the other had these incredible honied notes. Both stellar whiskies, but it just goes to show you how much influence a single cask can have over the lifetime of a whisky.

There were far too many interesting and enjoyable whiskies to mention - including Berry Bros & Rudd with a large lineup of Glenrothes, Pernod Ricard with the usual fantastic assortment of Chivas and Glenlivet whiskies (and Strathisla, Scapa and Arberlour thrown in for good measure), Starward,Diageo with a few of the newer Talisker releases, the usual Aussie contingent (Lark, Overeem etc..) and plenty more.

Suffice to say, it was an enjoyable event and one we'd recommend for next year (where, we're assured, there'll be more food!)


Monday, 6 October 2014

Fine spirits amongst fine suits (Tasted #126 - #128)

Last week I headed back to The Whisky Library (which we featured recently) to chew the fat with their whisky guru Marlon, and taste two recent whisky arrivals (and a sneaky rhum agricole thrown in for good measure).

The whiskies to be tasted were Douglas Laing Old Particular Glen Grant 18yo (48.4% ABV, $1,550HKD) and Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2014 (46% ABV, $1,150). Having tasted and enjoyed the 2013 Loch Gorm earlier this year when Anthony Wills visited Sydney, I was keen to see how the 2014 stacked up. The rum, a 45% ABV Rhum Agricole from Guadeloupe, bottled by Samaroli (who I suspect you'll hear more of now that we're based in Hong Kong) was a unique way to finish off the tasting.

The setting for the photos was the stunning The Armoury store in Landmark Men, conveniently connected to the Whisky Library. Fine spirits and fine suits - a perfect match.

Douglas Laing Old Particular Glen Grant 18yo (48.4% ABV, 18yo, Speyside, Scotland, $1550HKD)
Colour: Light, golden sunset.
Nose: Vanilla, toffee and hazelnuts.
Palate: Spice, but sweet. More cinnamon than paprika. Toffee notes. Some heat, but not excessively so.
Finish: Long and smooth, with some lemon notes and a continuing cinnamon tinge right to the end.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. A fine example of a middle-aged, enjoyable, reliable Speysider.

Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2014 (46% ABV, 5yo, Islay, Scotland, $1150HKD)
Colour: Deep Amber
Nose: Campfire smoke and raspberries.
Palate: Deep intense smoke, but not in a "bite your head off" style like some other younger Islay malts. but not bite your head off. Toasty cinnamon with some berries.
Finish: Long, smoky and earthy.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. An improvement on the 2013 release I think - less bananas and youth, and more of a well-rounded, full-bodied Sherried Islay whisky. Can't wait to try future releases.

Samaroli Rhum Agricole - distillery unknown (45% ABV, Guadeloupe, $1800HKD)
Colour: Orange golden
Nose: Citrus - lemon and grapefruit mostly.
Palate: Smooth, very smooth. Very light and "thin" when compared to the previous whiskies. Boiled lollies predominantly. Very easy-drinking.
Finish: Medium to long, with oranges, apples and a hint of toffee at the end.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100.

Whilst none of the whiskies in the photo below were tasted, I noticed this 40yo OB Laphroaig on the shelf and just had to include a photo (the company it keeps isn't too bad either). Bottled in 2000 at 42.4%, it's not too often you see an OB Laphroaig that was distilled in the 1960's!


Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Glenfiddich Excellence 26 year old Launch in Sydney (Tasted #125)

The Australian launch of the specially crafted Glenfiddich Excellence 26 was matched with an intimate story of the journey of the casks from which this single malt was bottled. The story, captured through a series of 26 delicate images by the celebrated Scottish landscape photographer Simmon Butterworth, explains the life of the casks from their humble beginning to their final home in Scotland.

Held at the old, splendid and well preserved Elizabeth Bay House, the folks at William Grant & Sons Australia have not only allowed the elegance of its new expression to shine, but also allowed the intricate and fine details of the house be appreciated. Once a private house, the house is remarkably delicate and beautiful with sweeping staircases, lavish interiors and furnishings (the perfect setting for the launch of such a whisky). Over the years, the house  has been converted into a museum and is now open for public viewings throughout the year.

Matching the elegance of the house were a number equally elegant and more commonly appreciated expressions including the Glenfiddich 12yo, Glenfiddich 14yo (Rich Oak), Glenfiddich 15yo, Glenfiddich 18yo and the Glenfiddich 21yo. Also making an appearance on the night was the "And see my baby" cocktail - finalist cocktail from the Pioneers Cocktail Competition last year, also served at the 125 years of pioneering spirit dinner TimeforWhisky attended in 2013.

Following the warm embrace of the welcoming cocktails and canapes, we were ushered into the cellar for the second part of the night. Located below the house, the original sandstone cellar was delicately used to showcase the 26 photographs which visually narrated the voyage of the casks from Kentucky through to their resting place in Scotland. The American Oak was originally used to age bourbon whiskey for 3 years in Kentucky, before being transported, refreshed and used as basis for maturation of this single malt in Scotland.

James Buntin, the Glenfiddich / Balvenie Australian ambassador (and soon to be Balvenie ambassador in the UK) presented the star of the night, the 26 year old final result of the journey, the Glenfiddich Excellence 26. James described the Glenfiddich Excellence 26 as one of his favourite, with a particularly long, deep and complex finish - the underlying character that warrants the value of such malt.

A hug and a kiss of the bottle by James before we dove into the tasting. At first glance, the Glenfiddich Excellence 26 appears quite lighty coloured for its age. Then again, Glenfiddich does tend to control the colouring of its whisky across certain expressions (Martin: When you're the world's number 1 selling single malt, people expect you to be consistent!). On the nose, this expression is quite light and sweet though the fieriness soon arrives on the palate. As James hinted, the finish was incredibly long, peppery and lasted for quite some time.

Glenfiddich Excellence 26 (43% ABV, 26yo, Speyside, Scotland, $590AUD)
Nose: Light and golden
Nose: Gentle, sweet pudding, honey
Palate: Very light (for the age) at first, peppery, fiery then vanilla
Finish: Incredibly very long finish with lingering pepper
Rating (on Hendy's very non-scientific scale): 93/100.

The launch of this new, beautiful 26 year old expression along with the exhibiting of the 26 remarkable photographs was astounding. The retail price of this expression is $590AUD, higher priced than other Glenfiddich expressions though suitably justified given its delicate craftmanship and final characters.

The Glenfiddich Excellence 26 is available in Australian stores from early October.

A big thanks to the William Grant & Sons Australia for what was another successful event.

- Hendy.