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.


Monday 13 November 2023

Benriach The Sixteen [Tasted #655]

Benriach Distillery boasts a rich and intricate history that dates back to its inception in 1898. Initially established as Longmorn's sister plant by the enterprising John Duff, it was named Longmorn No 2. Unfortunately, Benriach's early years were cut short when it ceased operations in 1900. It wasn't until 65 years later, in 1965, that the distillery resumed whisky production.

During the intervening years, Longmorn experienced various phases, and while it officially bottled as a single malt, it couldn't quite match the acclaim garnered by Longmorn or Glen Grant. In 2003, Benriach faced another period of closure, this time under Pernod Ricard. However, fate took a turn in 2004 when a South African consortium, led by former Burn Stewart managing director Billy Walker, acquired Benriach.

Under Walker's leadership, Benriach underwent a remarkable transformation. The distillery introduced a diverse range of malts, including rich and heavily peated whiskies. Over the years, Benriach emerged as one of Scotland's most captivating distilleries, renowned for its complex, spicy, and exhilarating whisky profiles.

Benriach's unique character stems from a longstanding tradition of distilling three styles of whisky: classic unpeated, Highland peated, and triple distilled. This, coupled with an eclectic selection of casks sourced globally, allows Benriach to explore a myriad of flavor possibilities in its single malts.

Also forming part of Benriach's history is their Benriach 16yo which was retired from Benriach's portfolio in 2016, directly after winning “Best Speyside Single Malt” at the 2015 World Whisky Awards. It was rumoured that the retirement might have been due to the fact that the liquid was needed for the 10, 12 and 21yo expressions that span Benriach's core range. Nevertheless it has now returned after an arguably brief hiatus. The last time I tasted the 16yo was in 2016 at the Sydney Whisky Show though I've seemed to have lost my notes but perhaps it was overshadowed with my fondness of the Batch 1 release at the time.

Going back to the Sixteen, the reintroduction of Benriach The Sixteen has been described as a very special moment for the distillery by Master Blender Dr Rachel Barrie as it now bridges the gap in Benriach's core range, squeezing in between Benriach 10yo, 12yo and 21yo. In fact, if you consider Benriach's entire range, it does fill the gap between the 10yo, 10yo smoky, 12yo, 12yo smoky, 21yo, 25yo and 30yo - you can find our write-up on the full Benriach range here.

Benriach The Sixteen sees the use of a three-cask maturation process for at least 16 years through three distinct types of casks: ex-bourbon, sherry, and virgin oak. This trifecta of wood is said to impart a range of flavours. The spirit is matured in a combination of bourbon barrels, sherry casks and virgin oak casks resulting in a creamy and nutty Benriach with stone fruits imparted within.

Dr Rachel Barrie, Master Distiller behind Benriach, describes The Sixteen as a richly balanced evolution of the distillery's signature Speyside style. With every passing year, the core flavour components of fruit, malt, and oak become more concentrated, offering a truly transcendent tasting experience.

Dr Barrie noted:

“The return of Benriach The Sixteen is a very special moment for the distillery as it is one of our most treasured expressions. Our signature Speyside style blossoms at ten years old, finding depth and richer layers of orchard fruit character as it turns sixteen. Our core flavour components of fruit, malt and oak become more concentrated, enriched with age at sixteen years old, bringing layers of stone fruit, smooth creamy malt, wild honey and nutty oak spice.”

So how does the newly launched The Sixteen taste? Balanced, gentle (perhaps amounting to the lower ABV) but still carries a complexity of flavours that you might expect from a slightly older malt and it certainly does fill in the middle gap nicely in Benriach's core range.

Benriach The Sixteen (43% ABV, 16yo, Speyside, Scotland, A$165)


Nose: The nose is sweet, filled with stone fruits; plum, dried apricot with some notes of cherry glaze, raisins, creamy hazelnut, creamy malt and macadamia nut honey. Good.

Palate: The palate is gentle, the body almost too soft but light. The sweetness carries through with creamy vanilla followed by stone fruits, plums or perhaps  baked apple pie. The nuttiness then reveals itself, similar to the nose, with macadamia nuts mixed with some honey, perhaps macadamia nut honey. There are some spices (and citrus) that caps it all off.

Finish: Moderately long finish, slightly sweet, soft but with remnants of spices and citrus that last a while

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

Benriach has partnered with The Whisky Club to bring their members exclusive first access to Benriach The Sixteen, available to add to monthly Whisky Club orders in November (orders have opened earlier this month). Following this, Benriach The Sixteen will be available nationwide from 1st December 2023.


Thanks to Brown Forman and different PR for providing a sample bottle for us to taste and review

Friday 10 November 2023

Ardbeg BizarreBQ [Tasted #654]

We've covered more than our fair share of limited release Ardbegs over the years - a decade's worth of Ardbeg Day releases and a smattering of other limited editions, which is where today's whisky, Ardbeg "BizarreBQ" falls.

Strange name, strange concept..and yet (to me at least) kind of intriguing. To quote Ardbeg:
"You start with a hare-brained idea, you bring together three unique casks, two masters in their own right, and a whole lot of heat and smoke… what do you get? You get the Distillery’s first ever barbecue-inspired whisky – Ardbeg BizarreBQ. Cooked up by renowned Master Distiller, Dr Bill Lumsden, alongside bona-fide god of the grill, Christian Stevenson (AKA DJ BBQ), this mouth-watering malt packs a meaty, peaty punch.

The same way it is with grilling, there’s one vital element in creating our first BBQ-inspired malt – fire. Toasting a selection of three casks, double charred oak casks, Pedro Ximénez sherry casks and BBQ casks, this combined recipe comes together to bring a sweet, tangy, smoky flavour… perfect for BBQ!"

(If like me you were curious about "BBQ casks", they're casks that've received extra charring)

For many years I defended the onslaught of Ardbeg limited editions, but even I'll admit the past few years of Ardbeg Day releases haven't quite been up to standard, in my opinion (not bad whisky, just a difficult value proposition in comparison to the excellent 10 Year Old). 

BizarreBQ had me curious though. A bit cheaper than recent Ardbeg Day releases ($955HKD, $145AUD) and from a few reports I'd heard, pretty decent. MHDHK were kind enough to send me a sample recently so I could see for myself...

Ardbeg BizarreBQ Limited Edition (50.9% ABV, Single Malt, NAS, Islay Scotland, $955HKD / $145AUD / £75 GBP)
Colour: Golden brown

Nose: A sweeter peat note, slightly herbal with hints of sea salt.

Palate: Much meatier and richer than the nose suggess (the PX influence shows through). Some berry fruitiness too, but it's subtle. Milk chocolate, coffee beans and a finely integrated smoke.

Finish: Long, with a soft red-berry smoke.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100 (Martin). Honestly? One of the better Ardbeg limited releases in recent years. If this is a sign of what's to come in the future, count me in.


Thursday 9 November 2023

High West Whiskey Tasting with Brendan Coyle [Tasted #653]

Late last month, we joined Brendan Coyle, Master Distiller of High West Whiskey who had visited Australia for the first time to talk through everything High West.

Brendan's passion for the whiskey game was evident as he talked about his journey at High West which began in 2006. 

High West Distillery, located in Park City, Utah, United States, is the first legally licensed distillery in Utah since the end of the American Prohibition. It was founded in 2006 by David Perkins, a former pharmaceutical biochemist, and his wife, Jane. The distillery operates in an old livery stable dubbed “The National Garage” and in the adjacent historic Ellsworth J Beggs house, which was built in 1907.

Brendan noted that American whiskey had been somewhat stuck in its old ways, with many distilleries churning out similar products. He felt that the traditional whiskey landscape in America was slow to change, with many producers following similar methods and High West saw a chance to shake things up, by focusing on innovation and dreaming about what whiskey flavours could be, not just what they were like back in the day. This is primarily why High West is more known for blending whiskey rather than distilling it. 

This unique approach to whiskey production sees High West producing its spirits only in small batches and they are known to source whiskeys from other distilleries to produce the base components of their whiskeys, focusing on blending different grain bills and ages to create a different whiskey profiles. Brendan noted that he has taken inspiration from global spirits like Scotch and Cognac, which are known for their artful blending of young and old spirits. The result is a diverse range of flavours and styles that make up their lineup. Their American Prairies Bourbon is a blend of straight bourbon aged between 2 and 13 years.

On the night, Brendan introduced us to a few High West highlights, including the Double Rye, Double Rye Tawny, American Prairie Bourbon and High West Campfire. The latter is an interesting blend of bourbon, rye, and peated malts from an undisclosed distillery in Scotland - though not the kind of peated malt you think of and certainly not from Islay. The High West Campfire presents a mix of sweet candied, honey notes from the bourbon, a kick of cookie spices and spicy rye, and a subtle smoke. The Campfire does make for a good base for cocktail making.

High West Double Rye Tawny Port Barrel (56.1% ABV, Park City, Utah, A$TBC)


Part of High West's Barrel Select Program, the High West Double Rye Tawny is a blend of 2-year-old MGP 95/5 rye whiskey and a 7-year-old High West rye whiskey with a mash bill of 80% rye and 20% malted barley.

Nose: The nose opens with notes of marzipan, raisins, baked (rye) spices, gingerbread like, vanilla, cherry. There's some burnt caramel, honey and light citrus notes.

Palate: The palate is gentle with rye spices, cinnamon, gingerbread. Some sweetness develops with vanilla notes and fluffy vanilla chiffon cake, there's white pepper and developing dryness

Finish: Moderately long finish, with peppery spices and dry finish

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


Thanks to Maven PR and High West Whiskey for having us at the High West Dinner with Brendan Coyle

Thursday 19 October 2023

Halcyon Spirits 32yo Single Cask 1991 Auchentoshan [Tasted #652]

A few months ago I tried the inaugural release from Halcyon Spirits, a family-owned Scottish-based Independent Bottler founded by the blokes behind Whisky Hammer & Still Spirit. A first-fill sherry 30yo single cask Macallan was a pretty strong showing for a first IB, and whilst it was a little left-field, it was much enjoyed.

Halcyon are back with their second release, and it's another strong showing - this time a single cask 32 Year Old Auchentoshan, distilled in 1991 and bottled at 48.7%

The cask yielded only 140 (individually-numbered) bottles, selling for £550 (£458 ex-VAT).

You won't find a lot of Auchentoshan on this fact there's only one (from over a decade ago), and my tasting notes ended with "not a huge fan". I've tried plenty since, and it's just a distillery I've never loved. I can appreciate a well-made, well-matured whisky of course, it's just not something I'd choose to drink.

That said...the beauty of an independently-bottled single cask is it often doesn't "fit the norm", and so I'm always happy to have another crack!

Halcyon Spirits "Halcyon Release #2" Auchentoshan Aged 32 Years (48.7% ABV, Single Malt, 32yo, 1 of 140 bottles, Scotland, £550)
Colour: Orange Gold

Nose: Instantly nutty, with coconut and sandalwood following. There's oak, but it's balanced out by spiced fruit, fruit compote (peaches, lots of apricots, pears) and vanilla bean.

Palate: Spicy, sweet and intense. There's ginger, honey, almonds, along with an intense, yet creamy vanilla. Loads of peach and a little spiced orange, with balanced oak throughout.

Finish: Long, apricot and oak spice.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100 (Martin). Well, here it is ladies and gentlemen. The first Auchentoshan I've enjoyed! Great work Halcyon Spirits.

A big thanks to Halcyon Spirits for the sample.


Saturday 30 September 2023

Women in Whisky, GlenDronach Tasting with Dr Rachel Barrie, inc GlenDronach Grandeur Batch 12 [Tasted #651]

In the world of whisky, few names resonate as powerfully as that of Dr. Rachel Barrie. With a career spanning over 28 years, she has left an indelible mark on the industry. Trained as a bio-chemist, Dr. Rachel Barrie began her journey under the mentorship of the legendary whisky figure, Dr. Jim Swan.

Before joining Brown Forman in 2017 as a master blender, she honed her skills at renowned distilleries such as Glenmorangie, Ardbeg, and Bowmore. At Brown Forman, she has been instrumental in crafting the unique identities of The GlenDronach, Benriach, and Glenglassaugh’s Single Malt Scotch whiskies.

One of her most significant contributions to date is the relaunch of Benriach’s entire core range as well as the recent Glenglassaugh Coastal series which we had reviewed earlier this year. This ambitious project is widely regarded as a testament to her vision and authority as a master blender.

Dr. Rachel Barrie’s influence extends beyond blending exceptional whiskies. She has played a pivotal role in shaping the future of each distillery through bespoke, considered maturation in quality oak casks. Her efforts have helped attract a more diverse audience to the world of whisky than ever before.

Often referred to as Scotch Whisky’s First Lady, Dr. Rachel Barrie’s contributions have not gone unnoticed. She is a proud member of Whisky Magazine’s illustrious Hall of Fame, a fitting recognition for a woman who continues to inspire many in the industry.

So when I found out she was making her way to Australia, I was excited. As often happens with Master Blenders, they get whizzed around the country to host a number of events and dinners while they are in town. Time for Whisky was extended the opportunity (thanks to Brown Forman and We Are Different PR) to join the Women in Whisky event with Dr. Rachel Barrie and given her superb contributions over the years, I knew this was a special panel.

The event featured a panel, hosted by Carmen Hartwich, Queensland-based Brand Ambassador for Brown Forman and featured Dr Rachel Barrie, Kathleen Davies, of Nip of Courage and Emily Cason, co-founder and director of The Whisky Club.  

Kathleen, as most would know, has over 30 years of experience in the industry, having founded Nip of Courage, Aussie Tipple Company and more importantly Women of Australian Distilling. Emily Cason, one of the co-founders of The Whisky Club has a background in the global drinks trade and publishing and has successfully founded The Whisky Club which has now grown far and wide to serve distinct whisky releases to the masses.

The panel discussion noted the progress and the importance of fostering diversity and inclusion within the whisky industry. A noteworthy trend is the increasing participation and leadership of women across various roles. Emily added that there has also been an ongoing evolution of the drinking culture, especially among younger generations, who are now exploring and developing an enhanced appreciation for quality whisky. Emily explained that over 65% of The Whisky Club's membership base consists of individuals under the age of 35. Furthermore, data underscores a distinct shift toward quality over quantity, with younger members willingly investing in premium, higher-quality whiskies.

The profound influence of female leaders like Dr. Rachel Barrie, Kathleen, Emily and Carmen cannot be understated. Their pioneering contributions have not only left an indelible mark on the industry but have also served as a wellspring of inspiration, nurturing the next generation of female whiskey lovers and enthusiasts. This past decade has witnessed a transformation in the whisky landscape, making it more accessible and enjoyable. This paradigm shift has effectively shattered stereotypes, rendering the industry more inclusive and inviting to individuals of diverse backgrounds, regardless of gender.

A number of highlights from the panel discussion:

Over my 30 years in the industry, it is encouraging to see the growth of diversity and inclusion in the whisky industry for women particularly. In 2021, we recruited Kirsten Ainslie into the role of assistant blender, so it’s been fantastic working and mentoring her, seeing the long term commitment to investing into and growing our single malts. 
- Dr Rachel Barrie, Master Blender at The GlenDronach, Glenglassaugh and Benriach 
“It's truly wonderful to witness the passion and enthusiasm that's drawing more people into the whisky category. The modern whisky drinker can’t be stereotyped by gender, affluence or age. What brings us all together is our shared passion for whisky, which transcends any basic demographic data or industry cliches.” 
- Emily Cason, The Whisky Club 
“My mission, as well as the mission of the board and our team, is to encourage these women to step forward, apply for positions they may not feel they are qualified for, and give them opportunities like speaking at events, which they often aren't invited to participate in. When I first started my career, I was one of 13 females amongst a pool of 500 men, and even though it was tough, I kept going and pushing forward. We are committed to encouraging these women to take the leap, improve themselves, and serve as a supportive cheerleading squad for them.” 
- Kathleen Davies, Women of Australian Distilling 
“It's about having a passion, curiosity, and the courage to put yourself forward. It's about continuously learning something new every day and just going for it. My approach is to ‘nurture the best nature’ of each distillery, fully understanding how each environment influences them. I’m always looking to raise the bar, raise expectations. 
- Dr Rachel Barrie, Master Blender at The GlenDronach, Glenglassaugh and Benriach

Following the panel discussion, Dr Rachel Barrie then hosted a tasting of three Glendronachs;

  • GlenDronach 18yo, also known as Allardice; named after the renowned founder of the distillery, James Allardice.
  • GlenDronach 21yo, aka the Parliament, aptly named after the 'parliament (colony)' of rooks that have been nesting in the trees that overlook the GlenDronach distillery for almost 200 years; and
  • GlenDronach 28yo 1994 single cask #1769
As a GlenDronach fan, the tasting was phenomenal as expected and it was great to have also gone through the tasting with Dr. Rachel Barrie, indulging in the very fine thing that she has spent day and night creating. To cap off the night, we were all given a mystery dram which was later revealed to be the 2023 GlenDronach Grandeur (Batch 12) Personally, I have never tasted the Grandeur prior so I knew this was special.

The GlenDronach Grandeur is a limited edition release and was originally released as a special edition whisky in association with the Kingsman movie franchise. The original release was known as The GlenDronach Kingsman Edition 1989 Vintage and was created in collaboration with Matthew Vaughn, the director of the Kingsman film franchise. The original release was produced from a selection of six casks distilled in 1989, matured in Oloroso sherry casks and finished in PX casks. There was also a subsequent release, the GlenDronach Kingsman Edition 1991, a 25yo.

The 2023 edition of the GlenDronach Grandeur, also known as Batch 12, is a 29yo, matured for almost 30 years in Oloroso casks and bottled at 49.2% ABV. 

GlenDronach Grandeur 29yo Batch 12 (49.2% ABV, Highland, Scotland, A$TBC)


A rich and opulent GlenDronach that has all the typical hallmarks of full-bodied sherried GlenDronach mixed with velvety elegance. As Dr Rachel Barrie described, the Grandeur series is rather “rich, indulgent, exuberant and full-bodied sherry cask style”. 

Nose: Velvety, the nose is filled with sticky date pudding with remnants of dates, creme brulee, rich custard, and a hint of vanilla slice. The nose is rich, sweet and opulent.

Palate: The palate is rather interesting, while there is the sweetness that follows from the nose, the initial palate is salty, salted caramel, espresso mixed with milk chocolate. It is a bit dry on the mouth but has a mixture of raisins and white pepper.

Finish: The finish is long, drying, and leaves nutty and mild spices on the palate

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

Thanks to Dr Rachel Barrie, Brown Forman and We Are Different PR for having us at the Women in Whisky special event. 


Tuesday 19 September 2023

Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection 1949 from Glenlivet Distillery 74 Year Old [Tasted #650]

It seems like only yesterday I posted a trio of incredible whiskies from Gordon & MacPhail (because it was, admittedly a little late on my part), but evidently time and new releases wait for no-one, because today I'm back to taste G&M's latest - which just happens to be the second oldest whisky I've ever tried!

Glenlivet & Glen Grant seem to both be whiskies that can take incredible age, so it's no surprise this whisky hails from the former. Distilled on New Year's Day 1949 and bottled 6th March 2023, the whisky slumbered for an incredible 74 years in a single refill Sherry butt under the care of G&M, who were able to produce 192 bottles at a very respectable 49.3% ABV.

Drinking whisky distilled before I was born is a rare treat these days. Drinking whisky distilled before my parents were born though? I honestly didn't know if I'd get the chance again...and yet here we are.

Dave Broom said of the whisky:
"To find a whisky of this age is absolutely extraordinary. What comes across immediately is the fruit - there’s richness and there’s depth. You have this wonderful interplay of distillery character, of oak and oxygen. It’s a gift that keeps on giving." let's see how I felt about it!
Gordon & MacPhail 1949 from Glenlivet Distillery 74yo Private Collection (49.3% ABV, 74yo, Refill Sherry Butt #11, Speyside, Scotland, One of 192 bottles, £35,000)

Distilled on 1 January 1949(!) and bottled 74 years later on 6 March 2023, this incredible whisky has matured over a longer period of time than most people spend on this earth! It also happens to be the last cask of 1949 Glenlivet from Gordon & MacPhail.

Colour: Copper gold

Nose: Waxy oranges, dunnage warehouse and clean, sweet sherry to start with. Then comes ginger, toffee, the slightest hint of leather polish, cinnamon spice, and with some air, peach and stone fruit compote.

Palate: Big and rich, it flits back and forth between spicy sherry and zesty fruity/citrus notes, with mandarin peel, flamed orange peel, a slight meatiness and dusty oak. A second sip shows some chocolate - both milk and dark, more oranges (whole this time), Christmas cake, and an emerging herbaceousness - mint, or is that tea tree? It's a beautifully complex palate. Dave Broom referred to its layers and complexity, and he's spot on. There's tonnes going on here, all working in harmony. The oak spice is an underlying theme, but considering this whisky spent 74 years in oak, it retains impressive balance.

Finish: Long, orange chocolate with a soft residual oak undertone.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100 (Martin).
Generally speaking, a whisky shouldn't normally make it to 74 years old and still be good. How G&M manage to consistently put out whiskies of 60, 70, 80 years old that aren't just "good", but "incredible" never ceases to amaze me.

For the past 19 days, the whisky has been available for purchase at Dubai International Airport. Launched in partnership with Le Clos on Friday 1st September, the Dubai airport store had an exclusivity period, but the whisky is now available worldwide as of today, priced at £35,000.