Thursday, 31 January 2013

Tasted #7 & #8: Glenfiddich 125th Anniversary and Glenfiddich 19yo Age of Discovery Bourbon cask (#101drams)

It's a rare event when duty free works out to be cheaper in Australia than, well, anywhere else in the world, but that's what happened on a recent trip to NZ, so on return into SYD I picked up two 'fiddichs I'd been keen to get my hands on - the 125th Anniversary Edition and the 19yo Age of Discovery Bourbon cask finish. Both to join my shelf of "special 'fiddichs":

Having been a huge fan of the original AoD Madeira cask finish, and realising that the 2nd release (Bourbon cask) wasn't going to be available for regular retail sale, I was keen to get my hands on a bottle. As for the 125th Anniversary - a peaty, limited edition 'fiddich? Too interesting to pass up!

Both are presented in typical limited edition Glenfiddich fashion - i.e. very well, in sturdy and attractive boxes with (in the case of the 125th Anniversary) a few extra add-ons (call them gimmicks if you like, I think they're pretty nice) -  a signed certificate by Malt Master Brian Kinsman, a (very heavy) solid copper bottle stopper, and a small booklet on the malt.

..but enough of the small talk. How do they taste?

Glenfiddich 125th Anniversary Edition (43% ABV, No Age Statement)

Nose: Peat! Not in a "blow your head off" Ardbeg style (as much as we all love it), but not in the subtle "hello, I promise I'm here!" style of say the Caoran Reserve either. Certainly not what you expect from any Glenfiddich. Pleasant though. While the smoke is hard to ignore, it reminded me more of an Aussie peated whisky (like say, Hellyers Road Peated) than a subtle Islay. There's a slight fruity sweetness too.

Palate: Vanilla, smoke, again - reminiscent of the Hellyers Road Peated. Pleasant, but you can only just tell it's a Glenfiddich. Certainly the most different Glenfiddich I've tried.

Finish: All the vanilla, sweetness, fruitiness clears, and leaves smoke. Not overpowering, but definitely the dominant characteristic. It lingers, but doesn't overstay its welcome.

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

Fantastic presentation, as we've come to expect
from special edition Glenfiddichs 
The AoD Bourbon finish (left) is lighter than the
125th Anniversary, but not by much.

Glenfiddich 19yo Age of Discovery Bourbon cask finish (40% ABV, 19yo)

Nose: Vanilla - a big hit of sweet vanilla at first. Slight notes of banana, maybe a hint of pear?

Palate: Bananas, pear. The vanilla sweetness so evident on the nose is nowhere to be found.

Finish: Apple and pear. Not dissimilar to Glenfiddich 12yo, but much smoother. Not a long finish, but not too short either.

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

All up, two very enjoyable whiskies. While I slightly preferred the AoD Bourbon cask finish to the 125th Anniversary, I'm very glad I grabbed a bottle two bottles of the latter. If it's anything like the Snow Phoenix (just search eBay), it's sure to be a popular and highly sought-after dram!

 - Martin.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Tasted #6: Laphroaig 15yo

Most whisky fans would be all too familiar with Laphroaig's standard 10yo offering, and likely their Triple Wood and Quarter Cask releases too. Perhaps even their 18 and 25 year old releases, if lucky enough.

Not everyone would have heard of the 15 year old however, largely because it was discontinued some years back, replaced by the 18 year old.

Since then, bottles have been going for silly money through some outlets, so when I came across the chance to buy a bottle for a decent price last year, I jumped at it. I always enjoy having whisky with a backstory on my shelves, and if that whisky is no longer sold, even better.

Laphroaig 15 year old (Distillery bottling, 43% ABV, 15 years old)

Nose: Peat smoke, but not in your face as you'd expect with an Islay (especially a Laphroiag). Fresh fruit, sweet, but with a smokey undertone. Pleasant.

Palate: The peat is initially subdued, with the sweet characteristics found on the nose coming through. The peat quickly shines through, though not overpowering. 

Finish: Hmmm, odd. It's a long finish, but the smokiness only remains for a little while at the back of the throat, What really lingers is the spice. Warming, but not smoky in the way (say) an Ardbeg finishes. Pleasant, but different.

Jim Murray called this a "hugely disappointing, lacklustre dram" and "woefully short on complexity" but I can't agree. It's not my favourite malt, not even my favourite Islay malt, but it's unusual and complex in a way plenty of Islay malts aren't, and overall a very pleasant dram.

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

 - Martin.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

PR #1: Hudson moves to William Grant and Sons in Australia

While this blog will never become solely an outlet for press releases, as I mentioned from the outset, from time to time I do plan to include the odd press release, particularly if I think it's of note to you fine readers (and particularly if it relates to the Australian whisky scene). So on that note...
William Grant & Sons Australia have recently announced that the Hudson range of American whiskies (which you may been lucky enough to try if you visited Whisky Live last year) have transferred from Vanguard Luxury Brands to WG&S.

For those of you not familiar with Hudson, it's a range of craft whiskey distilled by New York based distiller Tuthilltown Spirits Company, consisting of two Bourbons, a Single Malt, Rye Whiskey and Corn Whiskey. Bottles are sold in 350mL format and, speaking from experience tasting the Bourbons, Rye and Single Malt, are all excellent whiskies produced with extensive experience and care.

To quote the WG&S press release:

Vanguard Luxury Brands based in Coogee and managed by James France, has been handling the brand in the Australian market for the past three years - taking it on prior to William Grant & Sons ownership - and has been successful in seeding the range into many of Australia’s top bars.
Said Brian Sharp, general manager of William Grant & Sons Australia, “James and the team at Vanguard have built a solid platform for Hudson in Australia. We are very pleased with the great job they’ve done to place Hudson carefully into high end on and off trade outlets, nationally. We sat down with James and agreed that it made sense for all if we were to take Hudson back into our own portfolio and release Vanguard to go ahead with the other projects and brands they’ve been keen to get started on.”

WG&S Australia plan to focus efforts on the Baby Bourbon and Manhattan Rye, and we can only hope this means seeing these in more bars and bottles hops in the near future.

 - Martin.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Bar review #1: Bulletin Place (Sydney)

In the interests of keeping this blog a little varied (while still focusing on whisky), on occasion I'll include the odd bar review. I mean we all need to drink that whisky somewhere, right?

With that in mind, I couldn't think of a place to start than the recently-opened Bulletin Place in Sydney's CBD. Opened in late December, Bulletin Place sits in a little-known laneway near Circular Quay (funnily enough called Bulletin Place). With the bar's increasing popularity (not to mention Tapavino next door, who'll supply the food for Bulletin Place), it won't remain "little-known" for long.

Bulletin Place is a labour of love from three of the industry's best bartenders - Tim Philips (some may know him as the 2012 Diageo Reserve World Class Global Bartender of the Year), Robb Sloann and Adi Ruiz, all three of whom passed through Melbourne's famed Black Pearl at one stage or another, and all of whom have held court behind the bar at some of the country's best cocktail dens.

With space for 50, Bulletin Place isn't a big bar, but it's a bar with a lot of heart. The focus is on fresh produce, and the cocktail menu changes daily based on what the guys can get their hands on. The back bar is all about quality over quantity, and there's a mid-sized but well-curated selection of whiskies (stored in a crate on the bar, rather than hiding behind it). Whiskies include Talisker 57deg North, Glenlivet 21, a few Ardbegs, Yamazaki 18yo and a very tasty cask-strength Bakery Hill. A great mix of regions and world whiskies for such a small bar.

Steph (my wife) and I have visited twice now (both times Tim wasn't around - the life of the World's best bartender is a busy one it seems!) and both times Robb and Adi really made everyone feel welcome. One thing that really struck me about these guys is that they always seem to know what we want in a cocktail, even with such vague instructions as "short and strong, please". It's the same thing I experienced when I was luckily enough to visit ivy's Level 6 on my buck's night just over a year ago - every cocktail Tim made back then was spot on.

At one stage, Steph asked Adi for something with Zacapa, and far from the usual Zacapa Old Fashioneds, Negronis etc...received what I can only describe as a Zacapa Bellini with honey. It was delicious, and combined 3 of Steph's favourite ingredients (Zacapa, honey and champagne). Spot on every time these guys...

Of course, they also have a small but well thought-out selection of wine and beer for those who like their drinks simpler.

The crowd seems to be a mix of city workers, bartenders and generally anyone looking for a friendly venue with great drinks (when we last visited, a few of the Chaser gang were enjoying drinks in the corner too). 9pm on a Friday was busy, but certainly not uncomfortably so (and most importantly, we were able to grab two seats at the bar - always sit at the bar!).

Bulletin Place is open Monday to Saturday, 4pm to midnight and is sure to only get more popular as word gets out. Add it to your list of Sydney bars to check-out this Summer!


PS:....oh, and on our last visit, they had the Stones cranking on the stereo. Does it get any better?

Saturday, 12 January 2013

The New Zealand Whisky Company visit

Happy New Year! I hope you all had a relaxing break and managed to spend some quality time with friends and family (and maybe even some friends of the single malt variety). 2013 looks to be a exciting year in the world of whisky, not just in terms of Scotch (which is always exciting), but world whiskies too.

..and on that note, onto our first post of 2013...

While planning a recent trip to NZ with my wife, I came across The NZ Whisky Company, a company who bottle and sell a variety of NZ single malts and blends under a few different labels. I'd actually tried their DoubleWood 10yo blend at the 2012 "World of Whisky" show in Sydney and found it interesting enough that we decided a visit was in order. Unfortunately there's no longer a distillery, so the visit was limited to the tasting centre (the barrel room was previously open to the public, but has since been closed). Regardless, with a diverse range of blends and single malts, how could we say no?

Located on the East Coast of the South Island in Oamaru (a 1.5hr drive from our Dunedin base of a few nights), we made the trip up and my wife kindly agreed to drive back. The town itself is actually very historic and has plenty of sights to see, but this blog post focuses on just the one..

The visitor centre offers individual tastings, barrel tastings, flights (focusing on blends, single malts, older varieties) and sells everything by the bottle too (including smaller bottles, which was perfect given I'd almost filled my duty-free allowance with pre-ordered whisky...). I started with a mixed blend/single malt flight, consisting of:

Diggers & Ditch Doublewood Blend (14yo, red wine barrel-aged, 41.5% ABV)
A big sherry nose and a big sherry hit on first tasting. If I'd tasted it blind, I'd have sworn it was a Tassie whisky (which shouldn't have come as a surprise, given I later learned it's a blend of Tassie and NZ whiskies). Not a bad drop, but I'd tasted better.
Rating: 84/100

South Island Single Malt 18yo (40% ABV)
Now this was more like it! Biscuity and light on the palate, with a light but very pleasant finish. A whisky I could happily sip all day.
Rating: 92/100

South Island Single Malt 21yo (40% ABV)
..even better. Building on the 18yo (they came from the same barrels), the 21yo had a much bigger mouth feel, with cinnamon and just a hint of peat (amplified with a few drops of water). This was my favourite of all the 10 I tried, and the one I took home.
Rating: 92/100

South Island Single Malt 24yo (40% ABV)
Given the impressive 18 and 21yo, I expected a similar profile, but with more character. What I got though was a nose of...fresh laundry? Weird, but that was my first thought. The palate was apples, sweet and fresh. Not what I'd expected. Not bad, but I preferred the 21yo.
Rating: 90/100
Steam train line running through Oamaru
We decided it was time to grab some lunch, check out a few other Oamaru sights, and return for a few more drams later in the afternoon...and so with palate cleansed and sights seen, it was onto round two. First up, a flight consisting of four single malts (3 at cask strength, listed as "anywhere from 49-60% ABV"): 

Milford Single Malt 15yo
To me, this had Glenfiddich (both 12 and 15yo) written all over it. Pear, a hint of cinnamon spice, with a bit of peat on the finish. One of my favourites of the day.
Rating: 92/100

Vindication Cask Strength 16yo
Similar pear/apple nose, with a taste that seemed younger than its 16 years, in comparison to the other aged whiskies on offer (considering all are aged in the same size barrels). Short finish too.
Rating: 89/100

1989 Cask Strength 22yo
As with the 16yo, but with peat on the palate and a lingering finish.
Rating: 91/100

1988 Cask Strength 23yo
This one had a lot going on, perhaps somewhat contradictory. Sweet, candy apple on the nose. Peaty palate and a long, warming finish. A few drops of water opened it right up and amplified the smoke.
Rating: 91/100

Doublewood 8yo "Preston's" (from the barrel)
This was an interesting one - very much an "in progress" whisky, they'd taken an 8yo Doublewood from a leaking cask, poured it into another cask, tapped it, and were offering drams straight from the barrel (quite generous drams for $4NZD too, I might add!)
Quite different to the 10yo DoubleWood, the nose on this was oranges...very pleasant. The palate was pretty much the DoubleWood 10yo, but with a hint of orange and raisins, and a softening from the 10yo (despite the whisky actually being younger). Not a terribly smooth finish, but all up a solid whisky, certainly worth a try, if for no other reason than the novelty value.
Rating: 88/100

Milford 20yr Single malt
Last of all was a complimentary taste of the Milford 20yo. Unfortunately, after so many whiskies my notes for this one just read "tried too many to be objective. Very nice."

Rating: Very nice/100 (hey, this was #10 after all...)

So after 10 drams and a few interesting stories about the history of NZ whisky, we were on our way. I can highly recommend a visit if you're ever in the area - there aren't too many NZ whiskies, nor too many places you can try such a diverse range of malts and blends from the one company, and it's always interesting to see what the rest of the whisky world has to offer. The staff were fantastic and (despite Sunday being their busiest day) always happy to chat about the Aussie and NZ whisky industries. 

A very worthwhile visit for some tasty and interesting drams!