Friday 31 May 2013

Tasted #23: Big Peat (#101drams)

I knew getting through the #101drams charitable challenge would be, well, a challenge, so I figured I'd need to find a number of different ways to try all the drams, and to keep it interesting. Sure I could probably go and smash through 60% of them in a few months at somewhere like Baxter Inn or Whisky + Alement (and don't get me wrong, bars like those are critical in helping me get through my list!), but I think sometimes I need to mix it up a bit.

So when the kind folks at Douglas Laing & Co (who have recently split into two separate companies) sent me a sample of Big Peat (#81 on my list), I was pretty happy to be able to tick another one off the list, without just going to a bar and paying for it (and in the comfort of my own home with my own Glencairn too)!

Big Peat is a blend of Islay malts, and includes Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore and Port Ellen. Being a big fan of these distilleries, I was interested to see how they went as a blend (albeit with No Age Statement)...

Big Peat Small Batch Islay Blended Malt Scotch Whisky (46%, NAS, Islay Scotland)

Nose: Light (for an Islay whisky). Big sea salt hit, hints of cinnamon and a slight nuttiness.

Palate: Equally light on the palate, and equally salty. Smoke comes through late in the piece, but the sea air wins out here. Very smooth and very drinkable, but not the big Islay "whack" I was expecting.

Finish: Initially very smoky, but not lingering like say an Ardbeg Galileo. A faint iodine taste lingers a little, but overall I'd call it a pretty short finish.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 88/100. Enjoyable, and very easy-drinking, but not quite what I was expecting (a lot lighter). Having said that, I think this would make an excellent whisky for someone just starting to explore the whiskies of Islay.

A very big thanks again to  Douglas Laing & Co for the sample.

 - Martin.

Monday 27 May 2013

PR #8: Eau de Vie and Bakery Hill partner up to create bespoke whisky

Anyone who's read this blog a few times would probably know that we're big fans of Eau de Vie - the Sydney and Melbourne cocktail bars who not only serve up arguably some of Australia's best cocktails and spirits, but are constantly pushing the envelope in terms of cocktail innovation.

So it came as no surprise to hear of their latest efforts - teaming up with Victorian whisky distillery Bakery Hill (whose Cask Strength Peated Malt we're big fans of) to create a bespoke whisky made specifically for the bar's "Bobby Burns" cocktail.

To quote the media release:
“The Bobby Burns is one of the worldʼs great whisky cocktails, and we wanted to do something special for our new cocktail list.” [Greg] Sanderson [EDV Melbourne Manager & co-owner] says. “Working with David Baker has been amazing and after a couple of months worth of sampling and experimentation I am very excited about the whisky blend we have created for our Bobby Burns.” 
“To craft a great cocktail not only is it important to have a vision as to what you are trying to achieve but also to develop the structure on which the cocktail itself is based. As the whisky is one of the most important structural components Greg and I spent months discussing, crafting and refining the flavour and aroma of the very whisky to be used as the foundation of this remarkable Bobby Burns”, says David Baker [Bakery Hill owner]. “Once this was achieved Sanderson applied his genius and the result is pure magic” 
Anyone who's been to Eau de Vie before knows they serve up some incredible cocktails, and the "Bobby Burns" is no exception. The whisky is stirred down with fig infused house blended vermouth, and a dash of D.O.M. Benedictine and Angostura bitters, and comes served with home-made shortbread. The full recipe is:
50ml Bakery Hillʼs Eau de Vie Whisky
20ml House blended vermouth infused with fig
10ml D.O.M. Benedictine
1 dash angostura bitters
Stirred, served on an antique side plate with doily and short bread cookie
For those who haven't heard of Bakery Hill, this quote from Jim Murray should sum it up:
"There are about 20 distilleries in Speyside that would die to be able to make whisky this stunningly integrated."
We'll be heading to Eau de Vie (Sydney) later this week to try the new dram - both neat and in the Bobby Burns cocktail. Expect a follow-up post shortly!

 - Martin.

Sunday 26 May 2013

PR #7: Nant Distillery's big plans for the future

Back in February we reviewed the Nant Distillery Whisky Bar in Brisbane (link), and a tasting of three of their excellent whiskies (link). Now known as the Nant Distilling Company Limited (NDCL), they've recently announced significant plans for future expansion, including:

  • The planned opening of 20 new Nant Whisky Cellars and Bars across Australia (over the next 3 years)
  • The construction of an onsite malting plant
  • The expansion of our brewing and distilling operations; and
  • Significant revenue growth (from just over $2m in 2012 to a forecasted $14.6m in 2015).

With Australian whisky enjoying something of golden period at the moment (a period sure to continue for quite some time), it's an exciting time for Nant, who are looking to raise $5m through a convertible note offering to help fund the above. This is in addition to Nant's existing barrel sale and investment programs.

For anyone interested in finding out more, further details can be found at:

As big fans of Aussie whisky, we wish NDCL the best of luck with their endeavour.

 - Martin.

Please note: We have no affiliation with NDCL or Nant Distillery, and do not plan to take part in the aforementioned offer. Whilst the thought of owning our own barrel of whisky, or indeed potentially part of a distillery is certainly enticing, at a $50,000 minimum investment, we'll leave this one to the professional investors, and limit our ownership to "bottles" rather than "distilleries". :)

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Shirt Bar Scotch Club - A Special Treat from Japan (April 2013) (#101drams)

A slight change in direction for Scotch Club this month - in that there was actually no Scotch to be seen!

There was nothing to fear though - and certainly no shortage of Whisky! April was all about Japan, with some rare drams that another full house was itching to try.

Led by World of Whisky (who we visited back in March), the tasting included a brief history of Japanese whisky (Family feuds! International love affairs!) before we got into the good stuff, namely:
  • White Oak Akashi
  • Hibiki 12yo
  • Yamazaki 12yo
  • Nikka All Malt (which just happened to be on my #101drams charitable challenge)
  • Ichiro’s Double Distilleries Blended 
I've been into Japanese whisky ever since I had the pleasure of visiting the JAL First Lounge at Tokyo Narita around 2008. I very nearly missed my flight after sampling "just a few" of their excellent lineup (from memory - Yamazaki 18 and Hibiki 21 were on offer, amongst others). Not knowing much about Japanese whisky at the time, I popped out briefly to see how much these amazing whiskies were duty free. A little shocked at the price, I retreated back inside and poured myself another dram...

But enough of my reminiscing..onto the whisky:

The Hibiki 12yo was up first. Founded in 1973 and famous for a wide range of aged and special release blends, I've always enjoyed Hibiki (especially the 17yo, a bottle of which capped off my final night in Malaysia with some colleagues a few years ago). The 12yo is a standard blend (i.e. malt and grain whiskies), and had a citrus/ginger nose, zesty, sweet peachy palate and short, tangy finish. I gave it 88/100 on my standard, completely non-scientific scale.

White Oak Akashi was up next - limited to just 4,500 bottles, with very few of those available outside Japan. The distillery only runs their stills for 1 month each year (efficient!) and combined 3 malts (7yo, 5yo and 4yo) to produce this vatted malt ("Pure Malt" in Japanese whisky language). To be honest, I wasn't a fan at all, and the youth really showed through (much, much more than say, Starward or younger Chichibus). The nose was (to me) a big hit of new make, with a bit of a sweet honey hint. The palate wasn't overly harsh, but didn't really have any shining characteristic. The finish was dry, tanin-y...nothing special. 76/100 for this one. I think the general feeling was "only 4,500 bottles? That's OK, someone else can have them..."

Onto the #101drams whisky for the night - the Nikka All Malt. We learned this was a blend of Yoichi and Miyagikyou whiskies (try saying that last one after a few Nikka All Malts...), bottled at 40%. The nose was light, with fruity, vanilla (almost bourbon) notes showing. The palate was warming sourdough, and the finish was lingering licorice. An interesting combination! This one seemed like a good everyday whisky - not overly complex, but a decent whisky you could sit and enjoy regularly. 89/100.

Next was Ichiro's Double Distilleries (46%), A vatting of 6yo Chichibu (Mizunara wood) and 20yo Hanyu (ex-Sherry cask). With a nutty, wooded nose, a complex but sweet palate and a strong finish - this one hit the spot. 91/100.

Last but not least, probably the most well-known Japanese whisky in Australia, the Yamazaki 12yo. Vanilla, toffee, pear, nuts, it was all here, right throughout. The highlight dram of the night for me - 92/100.

The night ended as it always does with Shirt Bar's excellent cheese and dip platter, but not before a very fitting sushi platter. Kanpai!

 - Martin.

Thursday 9 May 2013

Tasted #22:'s "Caskstrength & Carry On 'C' - Cutty Sark" release was one of the first whisky blogs I ever read, and one of the key blogs that got me into whisky blogging. I'm not sure why exactly, but Neil and Joel seem to blend (ha, blend) informative and fun posts in a way few other blogs can.

They also run their own events, and even bottle their own whisky - with a goal to work their way through the alphabet, creating 26 custom, limited edition "Caskstrength & carry on" releases

A was for Arran, B was for BenRiach, and C, you guessed it, is for Cutty Sark. Without going into too much detail (I'll let this post do that) the boys were quite involved in the process and the whisky was made available with quite a bit of fanfare in late March, via Master of Malt.

I was lucky enough to receive a sample (thanks to both and Master of Malt who generously sent me a dram - possibly the coolest little sample bottle around), and a very well-travelled sample it was too, hopping from the UK to Sydney, via America's Wang.

Caskstrength and Carry On (Cutty Sark) (51.4%, NAS, Blend, 500 bottles released)

Nose: Youthful, a hint of peppery spice, citrus, but not "sweet".

Palate: Big mouth feel - ABV% is evident. Big peppery hit makes it's way up the nose. A hint of nuttiness comes through too.

Finish: A hint of smoke (I didn't get it on the nose or palate, as the tasting notes suggested, but noticed it during the finish). Medium-length finish.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 87/100

Hats off to the boys for a great initiative - I can't wait to see what comes next (Dalmore? Dalwhinnie?) 

Who knows...? Maybe in a few years it might be possible for this blog to do something similar with one of the excellent Australian distilleries like Old HobartLark DistilleryThe Nant Distillery or New World Distillery.

 - Martin.

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Tasted #21: Brenne French Single Malt Whisky (Estate Cask) (#101drams)

When I started my #101drams Charitable Challenge, one thing I wanted to focus on was world whiskies. Sure the list has plenty of Scotch whisky, but I wanted a good selection of lesser-known whisky regions too - hence the likes of Czech Republic, Finland, Sweden...and even France.

I came across Brenne (the creation of whisky fanatic, spirits importer/exporter, and blogger - the very generous Allison Patel) on Twitter a few months ago. A French-made whisky aged in new French oak and finished in Cognac casks? Sounded impressive!

Brenne bottle all their whiskies from single casks (my sample was #259), and are NAS as the age varies with each release (though on average, the whisky is 7 years old). Distilled in Cognac, France, and distributed in the US, Brenne was only released in October 2012, and is quickly gaining a reputation throughout the US.

As Brenne isn't yet available in Australia, Allison was kind enough to send me a sample (which due to restrictions on sending alcohol, needed to route via Florida before it could make it to me in Sydney!), including a few tasting notes and a very nice hand-written card (take note, other boutique whisky producers looking to get the word out!).

Brenne French Single Malt Whisky (Estate Cask) (40%, NAS, cask #259, France)
Nose: Big creamy cheesecake hit. Sweet, but not in a sherried way like a big robust Speysider. Think dessert (really delicious dessert). I've never had a whisky with a nose like this, and I absolutely love it. Just makes you want to dive right in.

Palate: Initially light. In fact it remains light throughout. Flavours of almond cake, vanilla, shortbread, cookies and cream. This is really delicious. 

Finish: Just perfect. Medium length, the dessert notes start to fade and a very soft hint of spice hits at the end (the notes say peppercorn, I get cinnamon and a hint of oak.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. An absolutely delicious whisky, so easy to drink - a fantastic whisky for someone who's just starting out with whisky (a "gateway" whisky if you will), but equally suitable for seasoned whisky drinkers looking for something unique. A great Summer whisky too (sadly I'll need to wait another 7 months for that...)

 - Martin.

Friday 3 May 2013

The Oak Barrel - Nikka masterclass (#101drams)

Despite being a big fan of whisky and regular attendee at the various tastings around Sydney, I'd never managed to visit The Oak Barrel nor one of their tastings, so a few weeks ago I decided to fix that, and their Nikka Whisky Masterclass seemed like the perfect opportunity.

I'd never met a Japanese whisky I didn't like, and with the following lineup (including a #101drams whisky), it was hard to pass up:

Presented by Dave Withers (The Oak Barrel's fine spirits expert, author of upcoming Australian whisky blog Native Drop and all-round nice bloke), to a packed out tasting room, the tasting started with a background of Japanese whisky, going way back to the Scotch whisky roots of the 20s and 30s. I learnt a heap of interesting facts about Japanese whisky, such as despite Mizunara oak being specific to Japan, it's only used in around 5% of Japanese whiskies due to the immense cost (most are ex-Bourbon barrels, as they are in Scotland). We also learn that Japan has a 3 year rule (like Scotland), and that whisky must be aged in oak, and contain no colouring.

There were a number of whiskies to taste, and so after a bit more history (see here for more detail), it was on with the show. See below for my rough/brief tasting notes.

Miyagikyo 10 Year Old 45%
Floral, some very light peat smoke (up to 5ppm). Reasonably long finish that keeps coming back in waves. 89/100 on the very non-scientific scale of "how much I like it".

Takesturu 12 Year Old 40%
Sweet nose. Light, sweet stone fruit palate. Glazed pastries. Almost too light on the palate Pleasant finish but nothing that stands out. A very inoffensive Summer whisky! 88/100. 

Yoichi 10 Year Old 45%
Peated at 10ppm, evident on the nose. Palate shows some earthy, oaky characteristics. Light peat on finish - its key lingering characteristic. A few drops of water didn't change it much. 86/100.

Nikka Pure Malt ‘Black’ 43%
Light nose, but underlying complexity. Very smooth. Slightly muted palate? Very very light smoke at the end of the palate, with a nutmeg, lightly spiced finish. 88/100

Nikka from the Barrel 51.4%
Loved this. Nose - rich butterscotch, oily. Cinnamon. Palate - big, robust mouthfeel. Big hit of orange peel at the end, which continues through to the finish. Absolutely fantastic. 93/100 - my favourite of the night (and one of the cheapest on offer!)

Nikka Pure Malt ‘White’ 43%
An Islay/Japanese blend. Nose - no real peat elements. Palate - definite peat, not overpowering. Nutty complexity. The finish brought about waves of very pleasant, morish peat smoke, with a hint of iodine. Peat increased all over with a few drops of water.  88/100.


All up this was a great tasting, and I'll definitely be back at a future Oak Barrel event. Pretty sure I'm going to pick up a bottle of Nikka from the Barrel soon too - I'd tried it before, but now have a newfound appreciation for it (and that's what these tastings are all about - trying new and old whiskies, learning what you like)!

Check The Oak Barrel's events page for details of upcoming tastings (for both members and non-members).

 - Martin.

Thursday 2 May 2013

PR #6: SMWS' Australian Malt Whisky Tasting Championship 2013

We all hear about the various whisky and spirits competitions around the place (it seems there's a new one every week), but what about a competition that we, the average punter (or blogger) can get involved with?

Enter SMWS' AMWTC (try saying that 3 times quickly...)

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Australia are the Aussie branch of the global Scotch Malt Whisky Society, best known for releasing incredible single cask drams from almost every distillery you can imagine (they don't name the distillery but it's easy enough to work out), with names such as "Milano salami and a tropical fruit kebab" and "Pregnancy tea mix".

On 21st June this year they're running the Australian Malt Whisky Tasting Championship again, which in a nutshell involves novices and experts alike tasting 8 drams and matching them to a list of 9 drams (including one red herring), all in the amazing surrounds of the Australian Museum's Dinosaur Gallery. Who can say they've attended a whisky tasting with a T-Rex towering over them before? (Anyone who's been to previous AMWTCs I guess - it's always held there..)

Competitor entry is $125, spectator entry is $75 (both including a cocktail party afterwards), and there are prizes for the winners (a trip to Tasmania, whiskies, SMWS tasting events).

While I'm pretty much guaranteed to not win any of these, I've signed up as a competitor. Why not?Sounds like fun.

Hope to see you there.

 - Martin.

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Tasted #19 & #20: Glenglassaugh Revival & Glenglassaugh Evolution

Glenglassaugh might not yet be a terribly well-known distillery (at least, not in comparison to other Speyside distilleries), in part due to the fact that they closed in 1986 and only re-opened in 2008, but are increasingly becoming a common sight on bar menus, in part due to their unique, quality drams at reasonable prices.

The Revival is the first Glenglassaugh release since re-opening in 2008, and is a NAS 46% whisky matured in a mixture of first-fill and refill casks, and finished for 6 months in Oloroso sherry casks (available from Master of Malt).

The Evolution is the next release from the distillery, a 57.2% cask-strength NAS whisky, aged in George Dickel first-fill Tennessee whiskey barrels. It's production is limited to 6,000 bottles (also available from Master of Malt).

I noticed the Revival on the menu at  The Wild Rover in Sydney recently, and figured I should give it a try. The Evolution on the other hand was kindly given to me by Karen & Matt from the informative and universal Whisky for Everyone blog, passed on from the distillery themselves (thanks!).

Glenglassaugh Revival (46%, NAS, Speyside Scotland)
Nose: Young, but but not with the harshness you might expect. Interestingly, I got a real Mezcal hint on the nose (and then read the menu which also mentioned the same!)

Palate: Is that...peat smoke? Almost. It's there, but it's hiding, and only shows itself late in the piece.

Finish: Nutty, short, all hints of peat are gone.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 87/100.

Glenglassaugh Evolution (57.2% cask-strength, NAS, Speyside Scotland)

Nose: It's clearly young (evidenced also by the light colouring), but not harsh. Slight hints of new make, full-bodied Mezcal (like with the Revival), slight iodine scent, but not in a smoky, Islay way. 

Palate: Tastes more mature than the nose implies. Still tastes light for a whisky with this ABV%. Spicy and earthy initially, with hints of toffee, and the spice remaining after the rest has faded away.

Finish: Biscuity, chewy, slightly grassy at the end. 

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 86/100.  Looking forward to seeing how this one continues to "evolve"!

 - Martin.