Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Tasted #457: Ardbeg Drum (46%)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, 7 June 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, 13 May 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

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

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

What's your threshold for "rarity"?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, 5 May 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Game of Thrones Single Malt Scotch Collection Australia Launch

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, 7 April 2019

Tasting the new Old Pulteney range with Distillery Manager Malcolm Waring (Tasted #450 - 454)

It's been a while since we've featured Old Pulteney on this blog. Over four years, in fact. Not because there's any issue with the whisky (quite the opposite), but mainly because we'd tried most of the core range, and there wasn't much new to speak of in that time, save a few travel retail releases, and a few fantastic single casks that I tried but never took decent notes on.

That all changed last year however, when Pulteney Distillery released an entirely refreshed core range - new ages, new labels, new names and (in many cases) new whisky. It's always a risk for a distillery to make major changes to its core line-up, especially when those changes involve discontinuing long-time fan favourites and award winners like the Old Pulteney 17 & Old Pulteney 21, but that's what they did, introducing a "new" 12, NAS, 15 and 18 year old in new packaging.

The new range took a little while to make its way to Hong Kong, but it's now here, and recently we were fortunate enough to join a tasting with distillery manager Malcolm Waring who talked us through his 30 years in the industry, the history of Pulteney and it's northern home of Wick, and the "quirky" character of their whiskies.

(Rather than write about the saline / salty characteristics found in Old Pulteney's whisky, which we only touched on very briefly during the tasting, I'll defer to Matthew Fergusson-Stewart's excellent Facbeook post which explores the topic and offers some insights from Malcolm.)

So...a new range with 3 age statements, a NAS, and the replacement of two much-loved whiskies. How does it stack up? Let's find out...

Old Pulteney 12 year old (40% ABV, 12yo, Highlands Scotland, $568HKD / $79.99AUD£25.83 ex-VAT)
New in label design only, the liquid inside the "new" 12yo is the same as the previous 12yo - 100% American Oak barrels, mostly re-fill, chill-filtered.

Colour: Yellow gold.

Nose: Floral, briney, with creamy notes of vanilla.

Palate: More vanilla (vanilla cream), slightly saline, with notes of grapefruit.

Finish: Medium in length with hints of grapefruit and a slight oak bitterness at the very end.

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

Old Pulteney "Huddart" (46% ABV, NAS, Highlands, Scotland, £36.50 ex-VAT / HK and AU pricing not available)
Named after the street on which the distillery resides, and finished in peated anCnoc casks. Non-chill filtered, no colouring. Interestingly this, like the 12, uses a type of Optic barley which can't be obtained anymore, as the farmer responsible no longer grows it.

Colour: Orange-yellow sunset.

Nose: Caramel, some earthy smoke and notes of dried/aged leather

Palate: Orchard fruits, confectionary, smoked pears and apricots.

Finish: Medium in length, with the peated notes coming through a little stronger. A little "thin", with some tannins showing. In fact, not dissimilar to Scapa Glansa, which was also finished in peated casks.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  86/100.

Old Pulteney 15 year old (46% ABV, 15yo, Highlands Scotland, £56.83 ex-VAT / HK and AU pricing not available)
Finished in Oloroso-seasoned Spanish butts ("for a number of years") in a dunnage warehouse. Non-chill filtered, no colouring.

Colour: Golden-orange amber.

Nose: Lovely. Milk chocolate, maple syrup, sweet vanilla bean and custard apple.

Palate: Oily, viscous, spicier than the previous two, with some red fruit (strawberries, raspberries) & freshly oiled leather.

Finish: Long, berries, oak and leather.

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

Old Pulteney 18 year old (46% ABV, 18yo, Highlands, Scotland, £93.33 ex-VAT / HK and AU pricing not available)
A combination of ex-Bourbon and ex-Spanish Oak sherry casks. Non-chill filtered, no colouring.

Colour: Copper gold.

Nose: Banana chips, wafts of sweet smoke and milk chocolate.

Palate: Big in the mouth initially. Crème brûlée, Allen's Bananas, barbecued bananas. Dark chocolate and a noticeable maltiness.

Finish: Long, smoked banana with a residual meaty note.

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

Malcolm was also kind enough to bring some New Make Spirit along, at 68.5%. I found it meaty on the nose, and fruity on the palate, with some noticeable hints of Grape Hubba Bubba bubblegum.

Old Pulteney 25 year old (46% ABV, 25yo, Highlands, Scotland, £231.54 ex-VAT / HK and AU pricing not available)
American Oak, finished in Spanish oak in Dunnage Warehouse No.6, where floor-malting previously took place. Non-chill filtered, no colouring.

Colour: Copper gold.

Nose: Grassy, orange, cherry, grapefruit, rich spice and dark chocolate.

Palate: Initially subtle, then opening up into notes of tobacco, cigar box, dark chocolate, sherry-soaked fruit compote (apricots, pears, peaches), and Brazil nuts. Those salty / saline characteristics are noticeable too.

Finish: Orange peel, dried oak, dark chocolate. Oak tannins are there, but minimal.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  92/100. Very nicely done indeed.

As mentioned, it's a risky approach to replace a well-known and much-loved core range, but Pulteney have done it very well - the new 15 and 18 are worthy replacements for the 17 and 21, and the Huddart explores an interesting twist which, whilst perhaps not to everyone's taste, certainly offers drinkers the chance to see Old Pulteney spirit in a new light.

A big thanks to Malcolm, Interbev, Whisky Magazine Hong Kong and Tiffany's New York Bar for the tasting.


Friday, 5 April 2019

Westward - getting to know Miles Munroe, Lead Distiller (Tasted #449)

Launching last month in Australia is a new single malt 'whiskey' from the Portland, Oregon. Well known for its hipster and craft culture, it is no surprise to see a craft single malt whiskey borne out of one of the most diverse, food-centric city in the United States. As a category, American single malts are still uncommon as compared to its bourbon brethren though the category is growing, riding on the wave of the boom in scotch and new world single malt whiskies globally. According to International Wine & Spirit Research (IWSR), the American single malts category grew 131% from 2014 through to 2017 which is a significant growth over a mere three years.

Craft distillation is also growing at a staggering rate in United States with different distillers driving a range of innovations to mold and shape the quality of their whisky. Miles Munroe, Westward Lead Distiller told us that Westward, like others, are continuing to explore various innovative techniques and have been given the freedom and flexibility through which they can do this in. Their latest bottling, Westward Stout Cask Finish is a result of a collaboration between Westward and various local breweries and he is also exploring cask finishes and other ways to alter the farm to table approach so as to influence the overall profile of the final whisky.

Those with keen eyes may have picked up that Westward has actually been in existence for some time. In fact, Westward has been making whiskey since Christian Krogstad, Founder of Westward founded House Spirits 15 years ago. Though the focus significantly changed in 2015 when, under the direction of current CEO and co-owner Thomas Mooney, Westward built its current Portland, Oregon distillery. Westward became the largest independent distiller of American single malt whiskey with a daily production quota of around 3,000 gallons of pale ale whiskey wash. Prior, releases have been single barrels and in smaller quantity. Facing the same challenges as smaller Australian distilleries, there was never enough barrels mature enough to blend and to supply the local and global markets. This all changed when production ramped up with the new Portland distillery.

Embracing the "farm to table, grain to glass" phenomenon worldwide, Westward is brewed and distilled using locally malted Pacific Northwest barley and ale yeast. The style takes inspiration from Portland's craft brewing culture and in fact, if you research Westward notes, it has often been said that Westward does exhibit beer like profile which makes it quite distinct though may detract some from the product. The production sees Westward double pot distilled and matured in American Oak newly charred barrels for a couple of years before being mingled in batches and bottled at 45% ABV (the ABV has remained the same since its single barrel days).

In September last year, Westward, shared similar news to another distillery with a similar name, Starward - they announced a strategic investment from Diageo via Distill Ventures; Diageo's independent spirits accelerator entity. The investment has accelerated investment in the brand, enabled capacity expansion by around 40% and allow Westward to meet its growing demand.

I sat down with Miles Munroe last month to hear more from him on the brand and what we can expect.
1. How did you become the Lead Distiller for Westward? 
As a bit of history, I've got a biology background but really I wasn' using it that much until I started managing this whisky bar in Kansas City, Missouri at the top floor of this ancient steakhouse, a classic roost there. I was given an opportunity to work with lots of single malt whiskies that I have never come across. 
Growing up in the states it was bourbon and if you wanted something nice, it was small batch bourbon so it was exciting to experience this massive collection so I decided to taste my way through. 
That's when I had this epiphany, it was something that I wanted to get involved with, to create and be part of. What struck me the most about single malt was its variability. Not only from region to region but from producer to producer, you can sense their style, technique and it's something I've ever experienced with whisky before. The whole thing actually started with Edradour, back in 2005. 
There was a lot kicking around at the time and I had this realisation on the limitless possibilities in the way you can modify barley during the malting process and how it can be handled in different ways. There are really limitless ways to create just from the one raw material. Growing up in the states, there's a lot of corn whisky and it's not something that really featured in the final spirit and this contrasts with barley where it does feature in the final spirit. That was what really kicked it off. 
The journey with Westward started when I became a brewer, going to tasting, eventually hosting tasting, talking to any brand ambassadors, reps I could find. I was reading this quote, essentially a good single malt is a beer first. If I wanted to be a great single malt maker and have something to contribute to the world of single malt,  I should become a brewer first, understand fermentation at that level, understand the nuances of the different yeast strains and what those can do as far as flavour profiles go. I went to Portland and studied at the American Brewers Guild and studied Brewing Science and Engineering and became a brewer. But the intention has always to get to distillation, single malt specifically. 
I brewed beers for a few years in Portland and worked for some great craft breweries. The idea was to brew in Portland for a while then move to Scotland, potentially Japan. But in the meantime, I started to hear about Westward. Whispers around town was about this distillery that was starting a single malt label. So obviously I was immediately fascinated and I started knocking on their door and bugging them about it and eventually I was brought on. 
It was an interesting time for Westward, they were just starting to build up the stock so they've started to bottle these half bottles, single barrel, half bottles, it was what was available at the time because we had do one barrel at a time. It wasn't an exvluexcl thing, it was what was there. 
When I was hired in March 2013, they actually hadn't turned the whisky still on since the previous October. I was brought on because of my brewing experience to help develop the flavour profile of Westward a bit more and actually produce a lot more of the spirit. At the time I was the only Production Distiller and there was a Distiller that hired me on but he had to take on operation duties so it was just me and the stills. I had no idea whether it was going to work. The Distiller that brought me on was an ex brewer, the founder, Christian Krogstad, was also an ex brewer so I knew I was in good hands. 
2. The number one challenge facing Australian whisky is the lack of supply. What are the biggest challenges you're facing at the moment? 
The first bottlings were put out six months before I was hired on. It wasn't very well known but for people that spotted it, it attracted an influx of collectors thinking it was a very exclusive thing but in fact it was our (limited) supply so we had to raise the price, almost to an absurd amount to slow down people from snatching it all up. 
We were conscious of that from the beginning, your supply needs to meet demand from the market. That's tough with whisky when you're not sourcing the spirit and when you're making it from scratch, grain to glass, that takes time, that takes money, takes patience and so I don't think we were ever short in supply as we never had overreach but over the six years that I've been there, we had fits and starts. There have been a few times where we had overreach a little bit here and there. 
I'm very thankful that I've always been trusted with the final say on when the whisky is ready. Even when we were trying to grow a little more in certain markets, in certain ways, it was up to me to decide when it was actually going to hit the bottle. Which I think is also a rarity, especially when you're talking about putting all this money into this product that just has to sit there and take time without a whole lot of revenue, without return on investment but I'm privileged to be in that position to have the final say.
On the contrary, we have also had other issue growing up as a distillery, there's this funny role reversal recently. In 2015, we built a distillery that was designed specifically to make a lot more of Westward. It was great to grow and design this facility the way we want to. The Director and I studied at the same Brewing School and we studied how to grow a distillery, the logistic and it was great to sit down and plot your dream distillery. We moved into there and started hiring more Distillers and we grew from about 4-6 barrels of whisky a month to 20 barrels a week, huge expansion. But that stock wasn't going to be ready for more years. Fast forward to early this year, there's almost a role reversal now where the stocks have been maturing for around 3 years and as of the last few months the view have changed from "when's the whisky ready, when's the whisky ready, please package more" to now where we are opening the floodgates. 
3. What do you think will be the next big thing on the whisky scene? and the American whiskey scene? 
I know what we would like to see people become more savvy, to rid of this stigma against blended whisky. In the US, we associate blended whisky with cheap Canadian whisky. There's demerit there. 
But I love what the Japanese have been doing for years now. It would be amazing to see more craft blended whisky in that (Japanese) style, some triple aged grain spirit with great old malt which makes some fantastic whisky. Because I think that's something that people, at least in the states tend to baulk at, we have access to so much whiskies and at such a low price. You can try something else, craft whiskies at a bit higher price but people get put off by it 
As far as the trend goes, and once people become familiar and shake off the idea that more age is better quality, they can then enjoy younger whisky. We are also featuring more of the raw material aspect and not age the whisky too much otherwise various elements will disappear. To see more blended style, make it more approachable, great entry whisky and you can bring the price down 
4. Without giving away any secrets, what are some of the styles or trends we might expect over the next couple of years? More finishing, more multi-cask bottlings, more single cask bottlings etc? 
We built this new distillery to build our core, our flagship. It's a lot of work to make that consistently at our scale. We get creative here and there. We're also Distillers, ex-Brewers and always keen to try something new. A couple of weeks ago we tried stout cask finish. 
We're also developing a partnership with a brewery in Oregon, Deschutes, to make a lot more of the stout cask finish bottlings. I'll be sending a couple hundred of recently empty barrels to them where they age the stock and they'll send back and as a second expression, get it outside the states and eventually outside the country and I'd love to send it here. 
Portland is in the Willamette Valley which is known for its Pinot Noir, excellent, excellent Pinot Noir and so there's plenty of winemakers and they also want to give us some of their barrels too and in the spirit of new world whisky and in the spirit of American single malt. Rather than putting our whisky in sherry or port, why not put our whisky in a local winery that is more renown. 
I find younger whisky responds a little better and again, we're so careful to not want to over oak or mask any of those grain and fermentation flavours that something a little less assertive than a sherry, something like pinot noir barrel elements, it's got a nice light toast on it, I think pairs perfectly with whisky and allow attributes to shine through without stepping all over it, like sherry flavoured whisky. we're doing some finish with some pinot 
We've also experimented here and there with 10% malted rye, 30% midnight wheat, just to see what comes out. 
As brewers, we have an idea of what the mash and fermentation are going to be like and we have a pretty good idea of what the new make is going to be like. 
We have been collaborating with other brewers around the city and around the states where we actually invite them and sit down with them to drink our whisky and rink their beer and we talk about what beer would make a good single malt. 
5. You've been with Westward, since 2013. If you had to pick one highlight moment, one moment that made you proud, what would it be? 
Highlights, I think, I have to say, the biggest highlight for me was being a part of the team to plan out and plot the new facility. Getting in there was exciting but our hands were tied financially, equipment wise, capacity - so being able to build the new facility ground up, that was incredibly exciting!

Here are my notes on the new Westward 'blended' single malt whiskey:

Westward 700mL (45% ABV, NAS, Blend, Portland, Oregon, A$129)

Colour: Bronze

Nose: The nose is striking, rich and sharp - you can smell a bit of beer here. Honey, molasses, treacle, cinnamon scroll, oak, caramel, vanilla, orange peel, mint

Palate: The palate is soft and light with growing orange citrus note, peppermint, dark chocolate butterscotch followed by cinnamon and black pepper,

Finish:  The finish is drying, waxing, there is a subtle herbal note that  slowly disappears leaving a trickle of, fresh peppermint

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

Westward makes its Australian debut via an exclusive partnership with Baranows Emporium, a premium spirits distributor that has been behind the rollout of brands including Diplomatico rum, Monkey 47 gin (prior to the Pernod-Ricard takeover), and Tapatio tequila.

Thanks to Miles Munroe for travelling all the way down to Australia and sharing his stories with us. I'd also like to thank Margo Jamieson from House Spirits, the team from Barranows for inviting us.


Saturday, 23 March 2019

Arbikie Highland Rye Single Grain Scotch Whisky (Tasted #448)

There's been a huge increase in the number of "craft", "startup" or just plain "new" Scottish distilleries over the past few years, which is awesome (and I wish them all immense success), but it's always nice to see someone doing something a little different.

...like what Arbikie Highland Estate have done, distilling the first rye whisky in Scotland in over 100 years. Single grain Scottish whisky is by no means a new thing, but when that grain is rye? That's unique.

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Not only that, but they've done so using "Arantes" rye grown on their own estate (52%, along with 33% wheat and 15% malted barley also self-grown), for a truly "field to bottle" whisky. Distilled in copper pot stills, the spirit has been matured in charred 1st Fill American Oak barrels, finished in ex-PX barrels, and is bottled with no colouring or chill filtration. Those casks must have been fairly active, because the whisky gives off a lovely colour for only ~3 years old.

...but how does it taste? Well Arbikie, along with good friends Leigh and Dea from 15PL (who run the Whisky Ambassador course in HK and other parts of Asia) were kind enough to send a generous sample all the way to HK, so I could find out.

Arbikie Highland Rye Single Grain Scotch Whisky (46% ABV, 3yo (distilled 2015), Highlands, Scotland, Casks #9, #11 and #16, 998 bottles, £250)
Colour: Rusty golden-copper.

Nose: Spicy orange, paprika, flamed orange peel and cloves. It's young, there's no getting away from it, but some nice notes have developed in a few short years.

Palate: Wow...the youth is nowhere near as evident here. Big, jammy, orange marmalade and less spicy than the nose suggests (it's there - paprika and white pepper, but less noticeable). Sweet, with thick treacle, honey, maple syrup. I'm not exaggerating when I say this is an incredibly delicious and moreish dram.

Finish: Medium to long in length, initially sweet, then the spice returns, and finally a slight hint of oak tannins from the first fill American oak casks.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  90/100. For a 3yo Scottish whisky, this is incredibly impressive. Flavourful, delicious, complex...congratulations to Arbikie Highland Estate for crafting a fantastic and unique Scottish whisky. If I wasn't saving the rest of this bottle to share with a few friends, it'd be empty by now.

Arbikie also have single malt on the way (in "a few years") and given the quality of this release, I can't wait to try it!


Tuesday, 19 March 2019

The Starward Journey (Tasted #447)

The Australian whisky industry has rapidly grown over the past couple of years and has established a formidable reputation globally. There is a deep interest in the category as David Vitale, Starward  Founder found during his time in Los Angeles last year, presenting his Starward story, the Australian whisky profile as well as introducing people to the notion of wine cask whisky maturation – a slightly foreign concept in the Bourbon-saturated market.

With over 200 distilleries in Australia (many producing whisky), the opportunity is ripe to build up the profile of Australian whisky abroad and Starward, together with a few other Australian distilleries are at the helm.

David mentioned during the Two Fold launch last year that it wasn't that long ago that there were only a handful of craft whisky distilleries in Australia, and that:
"We ought to owe it to Bill Lark for the booming craft whisky distillery industry that we now see. Bill questioned the 1901 Distillation Act and lobbied the government for the Act to be amended so as to allow acquiring of the distillation licence with no archaic requirement for large volume distillation. Lark then became the first distillery to open in Tasmania since 1839."

The story of Starward, on the other hand, began after David worked in a prominent Tasmanian distillery in 2007. David had set out to create a whisky that can bring together his love of food, craft beer, family and one that can reflect his hometown of Melbourne and that of Australia - from its culture to Melbourne's famed ‘four seasons in a day'.

When we sat down with David back in early 2013, and toured the distillery in late 2013, Starward Whisky was then known as the New World Whisky Distillery (NWWD, and before that, Victoria Valley Distillery). The whole operation stemmed from an idea in 2004 with NWWD beginning its operations in 2007 and filling their first barrel at the beginning of 2010. At the time, David and his team had the vision to create a whisky that was "just like the country it is made in - youthful, rich and bright".

Although distilling whisky in Melbourne (initially near Essendon Airport and now at Port Melbourne) actually dates back to 1862, as a country we're not well-known for having a long history of whisky, a fact which has given NWWD the perfect opportunity to create something unique.

This notion of whisky maturation is different here in Australia, as compared to Scotland or the United States. David believes that the difference is even more prominent in Melbourne with its weather complex and temperature differentials that can help mature whisky quickly and yet still produce a complex, flavourful and rich whisky.

The same can be said for many craft distilleries dotted across Australia. Unbounded by any maturation rules, the Australian weather has been a blessing (sometimes a curse) in the influencing of whisky maturation here in Australia. The final whisky can vary in profile though regardless, it is both exciting and different.

David's creation, dubbed 'Starward,' - a brand that is now synonymous with Australian whisky - is a whisky matured in Australian wine barrels for 3 “Melbourne Years” and was first launched in 2013. Following the launch, Starward was instantly recognised for its bold spirit and flavour, leading to it to become what is now the fastest growing Australian whisky brand, and one of the few Australian distilleries that can distil at scale. In developing Starward, David had to bring together brewers, ex-winemakers and fresh talents and the effort has seen Starward consistently commended for its quality and expressions.

Fast forward to 2019 with the recent launch of Starward’s two new bottlings; Starward Two Fold and The Seafarer.

The former, Two Fold was a significant milestone for Starward as it is the first blended grain whisky to be launched in Australia and at the same time, priced at a point that makes it quite accessible. David is keen to drive the strategy to make Starward the whisky of choice at every Australian's dining table. He is also a believer that there is a place in the world for Australian craft whiskies - which have given him focus to grow Starward abroad, in particular most recently within the United States. Since launched, Two Fold has garnered quite a reputation and was recently awarded whisky of the year by the Oak Barrel (Sydney).

The latter, the Sea Farer was launched in February 2019 and was borne out of a 225-litre French oak wine barrel filled with Starward and matured on the Queen Elizabeth’s ship deck for almost a year. The barrel experienced temperatures as cold as zero as it visited Helsinki, St Petersburg, Lisbon, Venice, Hong Kong, Penang and Cape Town. Temperature can be as balmy as 32 centigrade, as the barrel snaked its way across the globe over exactly 347 days.

The journey for Starward and Australian whiskies has just begun (in the grand scheme of things) and distillers across Australia are now banding together to raise the profile of the industry and the uniqueness within and personally, I'm excited about what the future brings.

Starward Two Fold Double Grain Australian Whisky 700mL (40% ABV, NAS, Blend, Scotland, $69.99)
Simple, clean and still tasty. A very different Starward release to their single malt bottling Nova. Whilst unmistakably blended, it is still enjoyable with lots of Starward classic flavours of vanilla, banana and berries.

Colour: Caramel

Nose: The nose is sweet and appealing. There is a mix of vanilla, banana,  berries combined with a hint of citrus, malted cereals and a subtle hint of peat smoke.

Palate: The palate is laden with honey, peaches, malt, white pepper, berries before becoming a bit tannic.

Finish:  The finish continues with a tannic, drying, medium long length.

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


Thanks to Starward and Dialogue PR for inviting Time for Whisky to the Starward Two Fold launch.