Sunday 28 July 2013

PR #13: Whisky Live Sydney and Whisky dinner with Martine Nouet

We're lucky in Sydney - each winter we get 3 major whisky shows - The Whisky Show in July (see link for our review), The Oak Barrel's Whisky Fair in September, and nestled nicely in-between - Whisky Live, the only International show of the three.

Held in a new venue for 2013 (Paddington Town Hall), WhiskyLive returns to Sydney this Friday-Saturday (2nd and 3rd August) with over 110 whiskies on tasting. Looking through the list on the website, we're particularly looking forward to the Finlaggan (a #101drams whisky), Glen Grant Five Decades, Octomore 5.1 and Starward, not to mention a few surprise drams that we've been fortunate enough to hear about (cue nose tapping here).

Tickets are $95 and include a Glencairn crystal glass, hot food and all the samples you can (responsibly) enjoy. See the website for ticket purchases, and we may see you there on Friday!

...but if that's not enough for you...Whisky Live are also holding a dinner this Thursday 1st August, hosted by Martine Nouet - TV host, Whisky judge, contributor and former editor of "Whisky Magazine". Held at Sydney's Four Seasons hotel in conjunction with Executive Chef Jess Ong, the dinner will be a black-tie affair (who doesn't love a good excuse to don a tux?) and is a six-course degustation with six matched whiskies. No word on what the whiskies are, but given Martine's pedigree, I'm sure they'll be excellent and exquisitely matched.

Further information from Whisky Live's press release:
In Australia for the first time and considered one of the world’s five top whisky tasters, Martine has paired whisky and food for grand dinners across Europe, the UK, and the USA. She has a TV series called “Whisky Chef”, is senior contributor and whisky judge for Whisky Magazine in the UK and was Editor of its sister publication in France - where she is affectionately known as La Reine de L’Alambi (Queen of the Pot-Still). Martine has written food columns extensively for French newspapers, is author of a book on single malt whisky, Les Routes Des Malts and is a judge at the annual International Wine and Spirit competition in London.

In a personal pairing, Martine moved her life to the Scottish Isle of Islay and loves her home amongst eight of Scotland’s top single malt distilleries. She regularly pairs food with whisky at the Islay Whisky Festivals.

Four Seasons’ Executive Chef, Jess Ong trained initially and worked extensively in France. He has collaborated directly with Martine to deliver an extraordinary experience for both whisky and food lovers in Australia.

Tickets are available on line at or by telephone on (02) 83380032. Seat price, inclusive of whiskies and Ong’s six course degustation is $195 per person and are arranged in tables of ten.

 - Martin.

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Bar review #8: The Barber Shop (Sydney)

If you've ever enjoyed a "fortifying liquid" at Palmer&Co, a single malt on the balcony of ivy Level 6, a bubble tea cocktail at Ms Gs, or shotgunned a can of Tecate at El Loco, you'll be familiar with the work of Mr Mikey Enright.

Until recently, Mikey was Merivale's Group Bar Manager, responsible for the bar/drinks side of these (and many other) Merivale venues. Mikey recently left Merviale, joined forces with Julian Train and Chris Mills, and opened The Barber Shop in the heart of Sydney CBD (in what is fast becoming known as "Small Bar Street" - York St). Tonight was their first night open to the public.

The Barber Shop takes the "business up front, party down the back" concept to a new level with the "business up front" being an actual working business, unlike say Stitch, or New York's (RIP) Milk&Honey. In this case, you guessed it, that business is a barber shop.

Whilst small, the barber side of the business seats two in luxurious and authentic barber shop chairs, surrounded by mirrors, art and other curiosities, and offers haircuts, hot towel shaves, and even a self-made gin cologne. Oh, and plenty of Proraso (which is awesome, awesome stuff).

Climb the stairs to the left though, through the sliding door (described by one of our group as equal parts 007 and Get Smart) and be greeted by Sydney's newest small bar.

The bar is a larger space with soft lighting, shaving instruments and artwork on the walls, a selection of men's magazines (no, not those men's magazines) and a central tiled bar with plenty of seating and the talented Will Oxenham manning the stick. Pull up a chair and order a smoky Bobby Burns or rye-based Razorblade Rattlesnake (with lemon and fenel-seed honey - I preferred the Bobby Burns), and settle your post-work hunger pangs with a charcuterie board or hot soup (perfect for Sydney's recent cold snap). The gents will soon have a "gin tap" installed too - which we can't wait to check out. There's even a courtyard out the back (also accessible from Clarence St, right near the entrance to Baxter Inn) with heating for these cold winter nights.

The back bar has a very well-thought out spirits selection, which we understand is still growing. The whisky list contained a well thought-out spread of regions, including Benromach, Laphroaig and Springbank, and the Bourbon/Rye list was similarly varied. Throw in a few cocktail favourites like Luxardo, bartender favourite Amaro Montenegro (if you haven't tried this on ice with a wedge of orange - do) and the impending gin tap, and all your spirit bases should be covered. Or at least the important ones.

Being in the heart of the city, The Barber Shop gives new meaning to city workers ducking out to "the barber shop" in their lunch break. There's no doubt this is going to become another incredibly popular Sydney Small Bar, and the success will be well-deserved.

The Barber Shop - 89 York St, Sydney
Opening hours:
Barbers: Monday to Saturday, from 10am till 6pm.
Bar: Monday to Friday, from 2pm till midnight. Saturday from 4pm till midnight. Sunday closed.

 - Martin.

Sunday 21 July 2013

Tasted #34: Laphroaig 18yo (#101drams)

Thanks to two recent trips through Singapore's Changi airport, and two visits to the excellent Terminal 1 Duty Free store (I forget the name, but it's the one right near the "Social Tree" and the Changi Millionaire stand), I've been able to try a few fantastic whiskies that would otherwise be difficult (or expensive) to come across in Australia.

First up - Laphroaig 18 (conveniently a #101drams whisky). I'd tried the 15yo on this blog previously (and given it 90/100) so was keen to see how the 18yo stacked up.
Whisky Lovers' paradise - SIN T1 Duty Free sample cabinet
Laphroaig 18yo Original Bottling (48% ABV, 18yo, Islay, Scotland)
Nose: As with the 15yo, fresh fruit, slightly sweet, and with peat, but muted compared to the 10 and 15yo (unsurprising given peaty whiskies have a tendency to lose their overt peatiness over time in oak).

Palate: Big medicinal hit, as has come to be synonymous with Laphroaig. Still sweet, but that peat / "iodine" comes through. Incredibly smooth. I'd love to try the 25yo and see how it continues to mellow.

Finish: Mid-length (I expected slightly longer), and whilst the peat is subdued, it's still there in spades. The medicinal notes follow through to the end, with some residual sweetness.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. I considered buying a bottle (though after the Glenfiddich Age of Discovery Red Wine Cask, Glenfiddich 125th Anniversary, Glenmorangie Nectar D'Or and others there wasn't much duty-free allowance left!) 

 - Martin.

Tuesday 16 July 2013

Tasted #33: Ben Nevis 10yo (#101drams)

What? Another #101drams whisky? Yep, again thanks to The Auld Alliance.

Ben Nevis is on the list because back in 2009 on a tour of Scotland with my dad, we drove right past it and took a photo (probably on our way to one of the other 15 or so distilleries we visited!) and I still remember it, for a reason I'm not entirely sure. Anyway, ever since I've wanted to try a dram.

I actually got the opportunity a few weeks ago at the SMWS Sydney tasting (a 16yo SMWS release), but was keen to try the Original Bottling 10yo, as that's what I put on the #101drams list.

Ben Nevis 10yo (46% ABV, 10yo, Highlands, Scotland)

Nose: Sherried, with as strong scent of pastries - croissants, apple strudel.

Palate: Somewhat unexpected, but - vanilla ice cream and sweet, slightly salted caramel (sounds like something Gelato Messina would offer right!?)

Finish: Medium length, sweet to the end. Slight bitterness.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. Whilst I mightn't rush out and buy it, I can see the reason for the popularity of this whisky (and that is a very cool, old-school label).

- Martin.

Sunday 14 July 2013

Bar review #7: The Whisky Bar, Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia)

Our 7th bar review saw me in Malaysia, at the appropriately named "The Whisky Bar, KL". As much as I'd love to say I was in Malaysia to taste whisky...I was there on business (which is completely unrelated to whisky), and only managed to get out and visit one night by cramming about 15 hours of work into the previous night...oh well, the sacrifices we make!

I first stumbled across the bar a few years ago (it's bang in the middle of one of the liveliest parts of the city - Changkat Bukit Bintang) and remembered them having a great list, impressive display (of unopened bottles) and decent prices.

My visit this time coincided with an Auchentoshan tasting (which I'll write up in a separate post), but this post is mostly about the bar itself.

The bar feels similar to the Highlander chain of Whisky bars in Asia (especially the logo), but is apparently unrelated. It's a largeish bar, with seating broken up into a few areas (some large booths and some cosy nooks for couples), along with an adjoining restaurant with an impressive wine cellar. The decor is comfortable and classy, with appropriate lighting and noise levels to suit. The bar also has an impressive collection of whisky/whiskey posters dotted around the room, including some which would have to be a few decades old.

There's no region or whisky style that the bar specialises in, with an impressive range of Japanese, Scotch, Irish and other world whiskies. What I find particularly impressive is the number of unopened bottles around the place (presumably just for show) - including some very rare vintage Glenfiddichs, Balvenies (see right) and Nikkas.

Staff were all welcoming and more than happy to talk about whisky, and the way whisky is enjoyed in Malaysia (in a nutshell, typically with less focus on tasting and more focus on drinking!) As is common in Asia, bottle sales (for consumption on-premise) are available, with monthly specials coinciding with monthly tastings (typically for a particular distillery).

Prices aren't too bad for KL, with a Caol Ila 12yo going for around $11-12AUD/nip, and a Laphroaig 18yo around $23AUD. Or you could just go all out with a Bowmore White 1964 for a cool RM24,300 (around $8,500AUD)!

Of the three times I've visited now, I've enjoyed every visit, and (on a previous trip) Steph found the tasting flights especially handy for someone who (at the time) was just getting into whisky. There was also another work trip where a bunch of us got into a bottle of Hibiki 17yo on a Friday night...a few hours later I found myself scoffing down a few pieces of Durian, which I've sworn to never do again...

If you're ever in KL and looking for a dram or two, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better place than here. Just keep your wits about you when you walk outside - Changkat Bukit Bintang is a lot of fun, but is also one of the most busy/crazy streets in KL.

 - Martin.

Friday 12 July 2013

#101drams Charitable Challenge - first $100 donation

As I promised in my #101drams challenge, for every 20 whiskies I tick off the list, I'll donate $100 to Cancer Council Australia. So having just posted about the 20th dram (Auchentoshan Valinch), it was time to make my first donation...and here it is:

Here's to the next 20!

 - Martin.

Tasted #32: Auchentoshan Valinch (#101drams)

Another #101drams whisky I was able to tick off the list at The Auld Alliance - the Valinch is Auchentoshan's cask-strength, non chill-filtered version of their Classic, weighing in at 57.5% ABV. I was curious to try this as I've generally found the Auchentoshan's to be very  light (as most Lowland whiskies are), so I wanted to see how a cask-strength version fared.

Not overly detailed notes for this one...but long story short - I won't be buying a bottle...

Auchentoshan Valinch (57.5% ABV, NAS, Lowland Scotland)

Nose: Freshly cut grass.

Palate: Earthy, "gritty", spicy. Fair hint of cinnamon.

Finish: Medium length, slightly grainy, cinammon still present until the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 85/100. Not a huge fan.

- Martin.

Thursday 11 July 2013

PR #12: New Zealand Whisky Company launches design competition for 25yo Single Malt

Back in January this year, Steph and I visited The New Zealand Whisky Company, who bottle and sell a huge variety of single malts and blends. Of all their whiskies, I liked the 21yo single malt the best, and took home a bottle.

Well it seems the 21yo has grown up, and is now 25yo, making NZ only the fourth nation to produce a 25 year old single malt whisky. To commemorate the occasion, and to raise funds for the ongoing rebuilding of Christchurch, the NZ Whisky Company is holding a design competition to design the bottle's label (700mL, 375mL and 150mL).

Having absolutely zero design credibility myself (have you seen this site? The only nice part is the logo...and I didn't design it) I won't be entering, but if anyone feels they have the skills...jump in!

Here's the press release:
Oamaru, New Zealand– July 7, 2013 – The New Zealand Whisky Company is thrilled to launch its 25-year-old whisky, only the fourth nation to produce a 25-year-old Single Malt. To celebrate, the company is asking creative designers worldwide to conceive its’ packaging; and all to benefit a big New Zealand charity. 
To mark this milestone, designers are invited to enter this international competition. “So much whisky is being packaged in luxurious enclosures, lavish boxes and crystal decanters nowadays, but we want something that is elegant, eye-catching and authentically New Zealand; sustainable, re-usable, perhaps even recyclable. I’m not comfortable with how much money, carbon and landfill is wasted on whisky packaging, and would love for our whisky enclosure to be re-usable and a lasting memory to a memorable malt,” Ramsay says. 
So the challenge is on for designers across universities, design agencies, art houses and more, to design a suitable bottle and box label for this exclusive release. Designers can create their own theme. It could be classic, quirky or just fun, perhaps honouring Cyril Yates who worked at the distillery for near on 25-years, ‘Cyril’s Single Malt; 25years of blood, sweat and cheers.’ 
“We really want to capture the heart of the New Zealand Whisky Collection in this label,” explains Ramsay, “in a way that pays homage to the rich heritage of our whisky and blends this with a freshly modern style. We’re so excited to see what comes through with the creative talent available in this country. We have three bottles; 700ml, 375ml and a 150ml hipflask requiring packaging.” 
Designer Prize and Donation to the Christchurch Cathedral Restoration
The winner receives international exposure as well as a complimentary trip to the Cellar Door in New Zealand; and an important New Zealand charity is also set to be a ‘winner’. 
“We’re going to be donating the design fee that we would have saved, to the Christchurch Cathedral restoration,” says Ramsay, who has a special connection with the Cathedral. “My Great Uncle was construction foreman on the Cathedral back in the 1800s, and I’m so excited to see the design competition for its restoration.” 
“I’m really hoping that the fabulous modern interpretation gets the nod. Like our whisky packaging, it would be a fresh style for a forward-looking community, while paying homage to the site’s significant history. I hope lots of Cantabrians are viewing the options and having their say at 
The New Zealand Whisky Collection’s 25-year-old whisky release was distilled in 1988 at the famous Willowbank distillery in Dunedin. It has been maturing in American Oak barrels since 1987 and is a single malt whisky. [ME: Seems to be a slight discrepancy with the dates here, I'll follow up...]
Entry into Competition
Entrants are encouraged to become familiar with the New Zealand Whisky Company and gain inspiration from the World Whiskies Design Awards that are held annually. Past and present design winners can be viewed at 
For more information about the competition and to enter, visit, The Whisky Shop in Auckland, or WhiskyGalore in Christchurch. 
Alice Hansen
Mob: 0417818180

 - Martin.

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Tasted #31: Springbank 18yo

The 10yo was on my list, and I enjoyed it more than I expected, so on our recent trip to Singapore, I decided to try the 18yo at The Auld Alliance.

Springbank 18yo (46% ABV, 18 years old, Campbelltown Scotland)
Nose: Light, summer-y, as you'd expect from a Campbelltown whisky. I also got some fresh fruits (pears and citrus) as well as baked croissants!

Palate: More peppery than I was expecting, with a slight citrus tang

Finish: Medium to short, retaining the same peppery and spicy notes found on the palate.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. As with the 10yo, I wouldn't pay the asking price in Australia for it, but I'd consider picking up a bottle duty-free if the price was right.

 - Martin.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Tasted #30: Balvenie DoubleWood 17yo (#101drams)

Back in June I posted a PR release for this, and mentioned that tasting notes were hopefully soon to follow. Well, the guys at William Grant & Sons were kind enough to send me a (generous) sample, so here it is.

I actually didn't remember at first, but it turns out this was a #101drams whisky (just try remembering all 101 whiskies!), so not only was it sure to be a great whisky, it also helped me get one closer to my goal...

Balvenie DoubleWood 17yo (43% ABV, 17yo, Speyside, Scotland)
Nose: Rich and nutty, with a hint of...cucumber? Vanilla and oak influence and just a hint of smoke. Honey but not overly pronounced.

Palate: Rich, creamy. Huge mouthfeel initially (not dissimilar to the Balvenie 15yo) but seems to vanish quickly, leaving a lighter, fruitier taste. Notes of honey.

Finish: Lingering, oaky, with the honey lingering longer than any of the other notes.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. Balvenie have once again produced a stunning dram, and it's fantastic that it's now available in Australia. I would love to see it at 46-48% ABV though - I think with a bit more longevity on the palate, it'd be up around 94-95points. 

One thing I love doing with my glass is nosing it 15 or so minutes after the whisky is all gone. EVERY single Balvenie I've tried has left the most amazing aroma in the glass, and this one is no exception. Rich, honied, stunning.

- Martin.

Sunday 7 July 2013

The Whisky Show 2013 review

As we posted back in February, David, Ivan and the gents from World of Whisky in Double Bay booked their annual "The Whisky Show" again this year - in a larger venue with more exhibitors than ever. The show was held over Friday and Saturday last weekend (28-29th June).

Sir Stamford Circular Quay was the venue this year - spread over two levels and with exhibitors both local and international (including industry stalwart Dr Jim Swan), and with whiskies from Scotland, Australia, Ireland, US and Taiwan, there was something for everyone - from whisky nuts to beginners.

The show followed the usual format, with a number of tables, each typically representing a distributor or spirits brand like William Grant & Sons (representing Hudson, Balvenie & Glenfiddich), Brown Forman (Jack Daniels, Woodford Reserve) and Think Spirits (Jura, Dalmore), staffed by brand managers or ambassadors.

There were plenty of familiar faces - both behind the tables and throughout the crowd, with seemingly the whole Sydney whisky community out in force. Steph and I arrived just before the show started on Saturday night (the last session) and while it was quiet at first, within 30 minutes the place was packed and some of the queues were three deep. To be expected I guess.

There were over 50 brands represented (some with up to 8 whiskies) and as always, a number of special drams behind the tables for those in the know. This year also features two masterclasses - a whisky and cheese matching class, and a Kavalan masterclass, hosted by Dr Jim Swan (post to follow).

Standout tables/drams for us were:

  • Aberlour A'Bundadh - An oldy but a goody. Batch 45 was on tasting, with a heady (but not overwhelming) 60.2% ABV.
  • Ardbeg - Sadly no Alligator (one of my favourite drams), but a pretty fantastic range nonetheless,  with Ardbeg, Galileo, and the usual lineup (10yo, Corryvreckan and Uigeadail). A very popular table.
  • The Balvenie - no 17yo Doublewood on tasting, but keep an eye on this blog for a review soon.
  • Chivas - Both 18yo and Royal Salute (presented by the incredibly knowledgable Laura Hay)
  • Glenfiddich - The Malt Master (recently re-released and just as good as last time)
  • Glenmorangie - the whole lineup and the Ealanta.
  • Australian whiskies - Starward (who won the award for best Australiasian whisky), Hellyers Road, Overeem, Lark and Sullivans Cove.
  • Woodford Reserve (Aged and New cask Rye)
  • NZ Whisky Co (South Island 21yo)
  • SMWS (39yo Glenglassaugh - incredible. Post to follow.)
  • Talisker (finally, the Storm!)
  • Yamazaki (sadly no Bourbon Barrel finish, but the 12yo is always enjoyable)
  • Bruichladdich (Octomore Comus)
  • Nikka (Yoichi 15yo and Taketsuru Pure Malt)
  • Buffalo Trace - George T Stagg bourbon (a #101drams whisky).

Despite being the last of three sessions, most of those presenting managed to retain their enthusiasm, with special mention to the always-good-for-a-laugh Think Spirits chaps, Stuart from Brown Forman and Mark from William Grant & Sons.

Whilst the venue was bigger than last year, it seems they crammed as many people in as possible, which did make it hard to chat and learn about some of the whiskies at times. Responsibly, there was plenty of water available, and the food (mostly sandwiches) was nothing special, but tasty and plentiful enough. As with last year the show featured a fully-stocked shop, with special pricing available just for show-goers.

All up, another fantastic show, and considering tickets were available for as little as $27.50, an absolute bargain. We can't wait for next year's.

World of Whisky can be found at Shop G12, Cosmopolitan Centre, 2-22 Knox Street, Double Bay, (Ph: 9363 4212).

 - Martin.

Thursday 4 July 2013

Bar review #6: La Maison du Whisky (Singapore)

We might've only been in Singapore for a few days, but that didn't stop us visiting as many whisky (and cocktail) bars as possible. Along with The Auld Alliance, Steph and I dropped into La Maison du Whisky, the Singaporean branch of famed European spirits importers by the same name.

As well as being a shop (and at times, independent bottler) LMdW also have a a bar in their Singaporean outpost, situated in Robertson Quay.

The bar is a bit smaller than The Auld Alliance (reviewed here) but still has a brilliant selection of whiskies. Pricing was about on-par with The Auld Alliance, perhaps just a bit cheaper on average (with most of the drams we tried being around the $17-18AUD mark).

Encouraging to see was the large selection of Australian whiskies on offer, with at least a few special Larks available, and a few Hellyers Roads also on offer.
The bar also offers plenty of interesting world whiskies (Amrut, Penderyn, a large variety of Japanese malts and blends) as well as a few interesting gins, like Saffron Gin (which I haven't yet tried but am looking forward to). A small cocktail menu is available too.

It was relatively quiet the night we visited (Saturday night, around 9pm) and I wouldn't say the staff were as attentive as The Auld Alliance, but they were friendly enough.

If you're in Singapore and have time, it'd be worth dropping in for a visit. 

 - Martin.

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Tasted #29: Yamazaki Bourbon Barrel 2011 (#101drams)

On my recent visit to the Auld Alliance in Singapore (a pretty fantastic whisky bar), I made it a point to tick off a few #101drams drams (at least those that were reasonably priced - it's a great bar, but it's not cheap!)

I started with a Karuizawa 12yo (OB), then moved onto a whisky I hadn't seen in Australia before - the Yamazaki Bourbon Barrel finish (2011 release I believe). I expected it to be good (based on previous tastings of the 10, 12 and 18yo), but I didn't realise how just good...

Yamazaki Bourbon Barrel (48.2% ABV, NAS, Japan)
Nose: Sweet vanilla (as you'd expect being wholly aged in ex-Bourbon barrels), with a slightly hint of spice.

Palate: Wow, sweet. Dessert-like. Honey, vanilla ice cream, big rich creamy notes. Incredible. Really, really incredible.

Finish: Still sweet vanilla ice cream, with honey notes coming in and out. You'd have to call this a "dessert" whisky.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 95/100. Wow, what a whisky. I don't know which distillery they sourced the barrels from, or how they prepared them...but they did it right. Amazing - one of the best whiskies I've tried. I am going to HAVE to find a bottle of this.

 - Martin.

Monday 1 July 2013

Tasted #28: Ardbeg "Ardbog"

Earlier in June I posted about the brilliant day that was Ardbeg (Ardbog) Day 2013. As a follow-up, the organisers in their infinite generosity sent me a bottle of this fantastic whisky.


Ardbeg "Ardbog" (52.1%, NAS, Islay Scotland)

Nose: Sherry sweetness but also fresh laundry. The peat is there, but it's not the dominant characteristic. It almost takes a backseat.

Palate: Big mouthfeel and full of flavour - no shrinking violet with every % of the 52.1% ABV evident (in a good way). Slight citrus tang, with the same sherry sweetness as the nose. Peat still not overly pronounced (considering this is an Ardbeg), but definitely there.

Finish: Medium to long, residual sherry sweetness, with the peat (albeit not overly strong) remaining to the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. Overall an excellent whisky, and one with a very cool name and launch! For me though, I love Ardbeg for its complexity and smoothness, but also the strong Islay peat. The latter didn't come through as much in this, compared to say a Corryvreckan (which I have a bottle of at home and love). So a fantastic whisky, and definitely an Ardbeg, but there are Ardbegs I like better (the Alligator still ranks as one of my all-time favourite whiskies....I just need to find a bottle!)

 - Martin.