Friday 30 November 2012

World Class Australia 2013 - First Round Qualifier was lucky enough to be part of the Diageo Reserve World Class Australia 2013 First Round Qualifier last week, to experience 12 of Australia's best bartenders battling it out for 4 coveted positions in the 2013 Final.

Guests were asked to try 12 cocktails (3 from each category, based on Ketel One vodka, Tanqueray No. TEN gin, Bulleit bourbon and Ron Zacapa Rum) and vote for their favourite in each category via a clever passport (with voting slips) provided on entry.

We'll focus on the Bourbon cocktails (for obvious reasons), but to quickly cover a few standouts in the other categories:

  • Rob Libecans' "The Fly & The Loaf" Martini (Black Pearl, Melbourne) - Ketel One vodka, Lillet blanc, Liquor 43 vanilla liquor and reposado tequila. Served with carbonated grapes (which had to be tasted to be believed), this was not your usual Martini.
  • Andrew Bennett's "The Tanqueray Toffee Apple" (The Classroom, Perth) - Tanqueray No. TEN, apple cider reduction, grapefruit marmalade served with a toffee apple. Sweet and candy-like, exactly as the name implies.
  • Christian Blair's "Finca la Perla Zacapacino" (Eau de Vie, Sydney) - Ron Zacapa 23, coffee liquer, maple and chocolate bitters topped with aerated banana and toasted rice-infused tres leches sauce. We're big fans of Zacapa, but even we had no idea it was so versatile. An incredible cocktail.

Being a Whisk(e)y blog though, we (my wife and I) took particular note of the Bulleit cocktails - which were equal parts Americana, childhood memories and twisted classics.

First up (and our favourite) - Jessica Arnott of Gardels Bar's "1965 - An American Cocktail", which definitely wins the award for the best presentation. Created in the style of a Happy Meal, this wasn't just a cocktail, but a whole tray of goodies - including smoked peanut brittle, "Elvis" cake, and a toy (we got toy cars). The cocktail itself was made with Bulleit (duh), pumpkin-pie infused spirit, smoked maple syrup and chocolate bitters. Every bit a "Gardels' Bar" drink, if you've ever been. About as Rock-n-Roll as they come.

Next was Chris Hysted of Black Pearl's "The To-Go Drink" (sidenote - if you get the chance to try Chris' "Grounds for Divorce", do so. Talisker and Porter, with walnut liqeur and creme de cacao - magic.) Chris explained that the famous "Flip" class of cocktails was the partial inspiration for this, coupled with his experiences in New Orleans where cocktails could be taken on the trip home, "to go". Bulleit, spiced apple, vermouth and almond, this was a tasty number, made all the more fun by the fact that any onlookers would simply think you're drinking a takeaway espresso! Full marks for ingenuity.

Lastly was Tim Laferla of Mechanic's Institute's "A Diplomatic Resolution" - a heady number with Bulleit, cranberries, spice and "whiskey barrel smoke", pumped over the cocktails with a smoking gun (something I hope to have of my own soon!) I love a smokey cocktail, and an unexpectedly smokey cocktail even more so, so this was a winner in our books.

After guests had tried all 12 cocktails, the night ended with the lucky door prizes (in which yours truly won the above bottle of Zacapa!) and the announcement of the winners, namely:

  • Ketel One: Luke Ashton (The Roosevelt, Sydney)
  • Tanqueray No. TEN: Krystal Hart (Canvas, Brisbane)
  • Bulleit: Jessica Arnott (Gardels Bar, Sydney); and
  • Ron Zacapa 23: Christian Blair (Eau de Vie, Sydney).

All up, a fantastic night, and we can't wait for Round 2 in 2013! 

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Tasted #3: Glenfiddich 18yo

Continuing on from the 1975 Private Vintage tasting, here's the second in my series of Glenfiddich "Tasted" posts.

Glenfiddich 18yo Ancient Reserve - a staple of the 'fiddich lineup for quite some time now. Not necessarily an everyday drinking whisky at $125AUD, but if you happen to be in a bar that serves it, you may find it's barely more expensive than the standard 12yo. I know of at least one bar that for a long while, was charging $12 for a Glenfiddich 12yo, $12 for a Glenfiddich 15yo, and $13 for the 18yo. $1 well spent if you ask me.

Anyway, we'll keep this one short, so on with the tasting...

Glenfiddich 18yo Ancient Reserve (43% ABV, batch 3301, $125AUD)
There's a subtle nose on the 18yo, but it's clearly a 'fiddich - sweetness with a hint of spice. On tasting, there's a big spicy first taste, which lingers to the very end. . If the 1975 is all about sweet nuttiness, this is all about spiciness. One standout characteristic is the short finish, especially in comparison to the (significantly older) 1975.

There's more subtlety  here than with the '75 - largely I imagine due to the lower ABV. The flavour does open up significantly with a drop of water, which may or may not be to your taste (I recommend trying every whisky with a drop of water at least once - especially non-chill filtered whiskies, if for no other reason than to see the  cloudy effect!).

Overall this is a solid Glenfiddich. If you're a fan of the distinct Glenfiddich taste, you'll find the 18yo a subtler, smoother version of the ever-popular 12yo. Highly recommended.

Rating: 93/100

 - Martin.

Monday 19 November 2012

Tasted #2: Glenfiddich Private Vintage 1975 (Cathay Pacific)

As promised, this is the first in my series of Glenfiddich "Tasted" posts.

A few years after starting to collect Glenfiddich, I was flying to Hong Kong for work and noticed the in-flight magazine had an interesting bottle of Glenfiddich - a 1975 Private Vintage (no age listed), bottled from a single cask exclusively for Cathay Pacific.

Being a fan of Glenfiddich and interesting/rare spirits in general, I decided it would make a nice addition to the collection and ordered a bottle for my return flight. It was also significantly cheaper than other Private Vintage Glenfiddich releases (like this 31yo 1975 release for $600), at around $220AUD.

The bottle didn't list an age (nor did any of the documentation), and while it was obviously  "old", I was curious how old. I sent off an e-mail and got a reply a week or so later from Ian Millar (Glenfiddich's global brand ambassador), confirming it was bottled in 2007, making it a 32 year old Glenfiddich.

So on with the tasting...

Glenfiddich Private Vintage 1975 - Specially selected for Cathay Pacific (50.7% ABV, 700mL, 32yo)
Surprisingly sweet on both nosing and first taste. The first whiff confirms it's clearly a higher ABV than regular (12, 15, 18 etc..) Glenfiddich, and the taste confirms it. At 50.7%, it's almost bang on-par with Glenfiddich's cask strength 15yo Distillery Edition. This isn't a subtle whisky.

The sweet start turns into a complex, nutty taste, that sticks around for an incredibly long finish. I tasted this alongside a Glenfiddich 18yo (itself a great drop - tasting to be posted shortly) and what really struck me was just how long the 1975 lingered compared to the 18. The thing is - long after finishing the last sip, the main thing I remember is the alcohol strength, rather than any subtleties of flavour.

So, is it a good drop? Yes, absolutely. Is it an interesting, well-presented Glenfiddich you'd be happy to display? Yep again. Is it the best Glenfiddich I've ever tasted? No, to be honest I think I prefer the Age of Discovery 19yo Madeira finish (tasting to be posted shortly).

Rating: 91/100


 - Martin.

Thursday 15 November 2012

Shirt Bar Scotch Club - Woodford Reserve (November 2012)

Scotch Club at Shirt Bar - a brilliant concept where every month or so, a bunch of like-minded spirits fans get together to taste dark spirits (usually Scotch, but occasionally rum, Australian whisky, or in the case of this Scotch Club - Bourbon whiskey). Usually led by a Brand Ambassador or the distillers themselves, they're informative sessions where attendees get to not only taste some top-shelf and often rare spirits, but also learn the inner secrets of distillation, and sometimes taste the product during its lifecycle (and then soak it all up with a pies, quiches, and a generous platter of breads/cheeses/olives and dips!).

Woodford Reserve was this month's focus, led by spirits guru and Brown Forman / Woodford Reserve Brand Ambassador Stuart.

Walking in and seeing only three empty seats (ours - apologies to Adam and Stuart for being late!), it was clear this was going to be a popular Scotch Club. It wasn't hard to see why either - with a  set of 6 tasting glasses in front of every seat, AND a 50mL take-home WR Distiller's Select for everyone.

Bourbon fans would probably be familiar with the regular WR (Distiller's Select), but rest of the range is rarely seen in Australia (typically limited to specialist shops like World of Whisky in Double Bay), so it was a treat to not only try 4 of the rarer releases, but also some fresh-off-the-still new make (aka "White Dog").

All up, we tasted:
  • Woodford Reserve new make ("White Dog")
  • Woodford Reserve Distiller's Select
  • Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Seasoned Oak Finish
  • Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Maple Wood Finish
  • Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Aged Cask Rye 
  • Woodford Reserve Master's Collection New Cask Rye

Woodford Reserve new make ("White Dog")
If you've tried new make before, you'll probably know what I'm about to say. A pure expression of the ingredients that go into the basic "spirit" (it's not a bourbon yet at this point), new make is crystal-clear and comes fresh off the still, before being placed into barrels for aging. It's potent, has a somewhat ethanol scent, and usually pretty rough (although in this case, surprisingly smooth). You wouldn't want to drink it every day, but it's worth trying at least once.

Woodford Reserve Distiller's Select (46.2% ABV)
It's amazing what 7 years of sitting in a barrel can do. Smooth, honey notes replace the harsh, raw taste of the new make. This is something you can easily drink every day.

Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Seasoned Oak Finish (50.2% ABV)
Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Maple Wood Finish (50.2% ABV)
Woodford talk about the "5 sources of flavour" (grain, water, fermentation, distillation, and maturation) and change just one of these for each of their MC releases. For these two  it's the maturation - aged for an extra 2 years (total 9 years), and in seasoned oak and maple wood barrels respectively. The Seasoned Oak has a deep mahogany colour and spice comes through clearly in both nosing and tasting, whereas the Maple Wood (to me at least) had strong leather characteristics. Both brilliant bourbons you could happily sip and savour all night long.

Aged Cask - you can see
how light it is due to being
aged in used barrels.
Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Aged Cask Rye (46.2% ABV)
Woodford Reserve Master's Collection New Cask Rye (46.2% ABV)
These were interesting - sold as a pack of 2 x 350mL bottles, these 100% rye whiskies only differ by the type of cask they're aged in. Hearing "100% rye" I was expecting something pretty overpowering, but was surprised at just how drinkable these were neat (at around $250AUD/pack, you probably wouldn't be mixing too many cocktails with them...). Smooth, rounded, and with none of that harsh bite you can get with some ryes. Opinions around the room were pretty evenly split as to the preferred rye - for me it was the Aged Cask.

Before finishing the night we were given a few interesting facts about Woodford Reserve, including:
  • ABVs all end in 0.2% (see above)
  • WR actually make their own barrels; and
  • Barrels are stored in temperature-controlled warehouses, which are purposely heated and cooled during the aging process.
All up a fantastic combination of great whiskey, great food and great conversation. I highly recommend checking out both Woodford Reserve and the next Scotch Club if you haven't yet!

 - Martin.

PS: Google also tells me Australia is shortly getting the next MC release - "Four Wood". Can't wait to try it!

Monday 12 November 2012

The Glenfiddich Collection

It was Glenfiddich that got me into single malt whisky in the first place, and while my tastes have branched out since (especially in the direction of Islay), I still count Glenfiddich amongst my favourite.

Looking at my spirits cabinet the other day, I realised I've amassed a bit of a Glenfiddich collection (including a few that aren't too common in Australia) and figured they'd form a good basis for an on-going series of blog posts. The collection (mostly collected during travels) currently has 13 bottles:

  • Glenfiddich 12yo
  • Glenfiddich 12yo Coaran Reserve
  • Glenfiddich 12yo Toasted Oak
  • Glenfiddich 15yo
  • Glenfiddich 15yo Distillery Edition
  • Glenfiddich 18yo
  • Glenfiddich Age of Discovery Madeira Cask 19yo
  • Glenfiddich 21yo
  • Glenfiddich 1975 Private Vintage for Cathay Pacific (32yo)
  • Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix
  • Glenfiddich Malt Master Edition Sherry Cask
  • Glenfiddich Cask of Dreams 2011 Limited Release
  • Glenfiddich Malt Whisky Liqueur (not pictured)

So mixed in with all my other posts over the next few months, I plan to include "Tasted" posts for all the above Glenfiddichs. Nothing too formal - really it's just an excuse for me to break them out and try them (some of them haven't been touched for a few years)!

 - Martin.

PS: I'll update this post with links to specific "Tasted" posts once they're up.

Sunday 4 November 2012

Infusions: Banana Jack Daniels

Step into a number of cocktail bars around the world these days and you'll be greeted with a list of spirits you probably never knew existed. Bacon Maker's Mark? Popcorn Goslings? Earl Gray Hendricks? Raspberry Tanqueray? Banana Jack Daniels? Welcome to the fun and experimental world of infusions.

Infusions are, in a nutshell, the mixing of a flavour with a spirit. They can be done in a number of ways depending on the ingredient - either by simply soaking the ingredient in the spirit for a number of hours/days, or by fat washing, whereby the fat from the ingredient (say lamb, duck or bacon) is infused with the spirit. Once the infusing is done, usually all that's left to do is strain, bottle and enjoy!

About a year ago I was at Gardel's Bar in Sydney (part of the excellent Porteño restaurant) and noticed they had a "Banana Old Fashioned" on the menu, made with Banana-infused Jack Daniels. Intrigued by the idea and blown away by the taste (and having a mostly-full bottle of JD at home), I was keen to give it a go. The bartender told me all I needed to do was soak some bananas in JD for a few days, strain it out, and I was good to go.

I should have asked which type of bananas...

After 5 days, I ended up with some incredibly alcoholic bananas, and about 30mL of banana-infused JD. The bananas had soaked up pretty much all the JD, leaving me with practically nothing. Squeezing, mashing, straining the bananas did nothing but make a horrible mess either.  I enjoyed the nip and resigned myself to the fact that the bananas had stolen my JD.

Fast forward about 6 months, I was chatting to a bartender at Newtown's great little Corridor Bar, who told me the trick was to use dried organic bananas. Not banana chips, but dried whole bananas. I rang a few Sydney organic shops and tracked them down at Taste Organic in Crows Nest, NSW ("Organic Mountain" brand if anyone is interested).

I cut them in half (each is about as big as an index finger), popped them in a container, poured JD over them (only 250mL at first, in case this attempt also failed) and let it sit for 5 days. I decided to use JD 1907 White Label, because it's about $10 cheaper than JD (good for if you're not too confident), and I figured the slightly lesser ABV (37%) might help the banana taste shine through.

Success! After a taste test confirmed this was very much banana JD, I gave it a quick strain (first with a colander, then with and funnel and cheesecloth), then poured in back into the bottle. Repeating the process with the remaining 500mL, I had an (almost) full bottle about 4 days later (the bananas still soaked up about 20-25% of the JD).

So - what to do with it now? I'd love to hear suggestions anyone has. Regular maple syrup with a few dashes of bitters seems to work pretty well, but I'm always open to ideas!

 - Martin.