Monday 30 September 2013

Tasted #39: Glenlivet XXV 25yo (#101drams)

A few weeks ago Steph and I were generously invited to the worldwide launch of The Glenlivet's "The Guardians' Chapter" at Sydney's Tetsuya's restaurant. While the star of the show was no doubt the three "Guardians' Chapter" whiskies (see link for tasting notes), the night was capped off with a two Glenlivet XXV 25yo drams...which just happened to be on my list!

The Glenlivet XXV 25yo (43% ABV, 25yo, OB, Speyside Scotland)
Colour: A dark, rich, deep copper, completely distinct from any other original bottling (OB) The Glenlivet we tried on the night. I love it when whiskies look like this dark and "complex" without any caramel colouring.

Nose: Maple syrup, oaky but not overpowering. Rich, with a noticeable sherry influence.

Palate: Initially feels like it's carrying more than 43% ABV. Not harsh, just a big mouthfeel. Sharp flavour with strong berry undertones, and the sherry influence is again noticeable. Some toffee notes but for me, the berry notes were the strongest.

Finish: Lengthy as you'd expect, with the sherry notes remaining right to the end. Perfectly balanced though. I really couldn't think of a better way to cap off what was an amazing night. Sitting around, chatting to other whisky fans, while Steph and I clinked a final glass of this - heaven.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. A whisky with the substance to match it's packaging and prestige.

 - Martin.

Saturday 28 September 2013

Jack Daniel's - Celebrating Jacktember and "Raising a Jack to Jack"

Last week Brown Forman Australia invited guests to "Raise a Jack to Jack", to celebrate the month known as "Jacktember" at Sydney's brilliant Tokonoma.

No-one knows Jack Daniel's actual birthday, so each year the whole month of September is re-named "Jacktember" and set aside to celebrate Jack's birthday via a range of events around the world. In Sydney, guests enjoyed Jack Daniel's cocktails, Gentleman Jack, and a very special Jack Daniel's cake from Hartsyard (which was incredible), along with a seemingly never-ending stream of Tokonoma's fantastic canapés. 

It was great to meet the broader Brown Forman crew, and share a Jack with a few old friends too. It's good to see that even with the end of the Jack Daniel's Embassy (which was an awesome program), Brown Forman still know how to throw a great party!

 - Martin. 

Friday 27 September 2013

Tasted #38: Caol Ila 25 year old (#101drams)

The rise and rise of the Whisky bar in Australia has certainly helped me work my way through my list. This tasting comes thanks to Sydney's Baxter Inn...

Caol Ila 25yo (43% ABV, 25yo, OB, Islay Scotland)
Nose: Big peaty hit - I'd expected it to be a bit more muted given the age, and the tendency of big Islay whiskies to "soften" with age. 

Palate: Sweet - raising and apples initially, but eventually turning into hints of leather. There's the age showing!

Finish: Long as you'd expect from a 25yo whisky, but mild and pleasant, without the lingering, heavy peatiness of say an Ardbeg Corryvreckan. Which is consistent with Caol Ilas in general - being slightly more muted overall than the heavy-hitters like the Corryv. Pleasant. 

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. A nice whisky for sure, but not as significantly different (or significantly better) than the standard 12yo in my opinion.

 - Martin.

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Tasted #37: Yamazaki Puncheon Cask

To date, one of my top three whiskies is the excellent Yamazaki Bourbon Barrel. It's also incredibly hard to come across these days, being released in only very limited numbers in 2011 and 2012 (with 2013's release due out in November).

The Yamazaki Puncheon cask is also from an ex-Bourbon barrel, of sorts. A Puncheon is a larger type of barrel, in this case 480L (compared with a typical hogshead of ~230L), commonly used in the American whiskey industry.

So what does that mean for the whisky? Well you can assume that since there's more liquid in the barrel, there's going to be less wood contact overall, and so some of the flavours might be a bit muted compared to the Bourbon barrel. To be honest apart from that I wasn't really sure what to expect, but I knew I hadn't met a Yamazaki I didn't like, so in I went (on the off chance that I didn't like it, I was pretty sure I could follow up with something more to my liking given Whisky + Alement's excellent selection (see right).

Yamazaki Puncheon Cask (NAS, 48%, Japan)

Nose: Light. Slight fruit notes. Sweet but not to the dessert-like extent of the Bourbon barrel. No spice notes either.

Palate: Light on the palate - I'd have picked it as a 40% rather than a 48% ABV. Similar vanilla ice cream notes as the Bourbon barrel, but toned down, and less sweetness overall.

Finish: Still sweet, but again - lighter, fruitier. Sharp, but overall, a bit "less" than the Bourbon barrel.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. To be fair, almost anything going up against the TUN 1401 I tried just before this was going to struggle. Not a bad whisky by any stretch of the imagination, but not a touch on the 2011 Bourbon barrel.

- Martin.

Sunday 22 September 2013

Glenfiddich "The Pioneers" Cocktail Competition

It might have been a Monday night, but you couldn't tell from the way Sydney's Old Growler was heaving under the weight of another fantastic William Grant & Sons / Glenfiddich party.

We were all there to celebrate the Glenfiddich "Pioneers" cocktail competition and crown the winner. In a nutshell, some of Australia's best bartenders were asked to devise two "pioneering" whisky cocktails, inspired by a famous innovator or entrepreneur. The finalists' cocktails were then entered into the competition, and have also become part of a book to be distributed with bottles of Glenfiddich in the coming months (we've seen the full book and it looks great).

The ten finalists spent the final day of competition in Northern NSW before flying back to Sydney (by chopper of all things) for the announcement of the winner. While waiting for the announcements everyone enjoyed four (very different) cocktails from the booklet, along with fantastic canapés including Scotch Eggs and kangaroo.

The four cocktails on offer were:
  • RED RIGHT HAND (my favourite) - Glenfiddich 12 Year Old stirred with Antica  Formula, Campari and Joseph Catron Apricot (Evan Stanley, Black Pearl, Melbourne)
  • DOUBLE BUCK - Glenfiddich 15 Year Old shaken with cinnamon sugar and floated on a layer of Cherry Brandy (Blake Schill, Ravesi's, Sydney)
  • THE STAGS JULEP (Steph's favourite) - A minty concoction of Glenfiddich 12 Year Old  with salted caramel (Daniel Monk, The Toff in Town, Melbourne)
  • WISE OLD SAGE - A tall drink with Glenfiddich 12 Year and pear juice with a sage leaf garnish (James Connolly, Rockpool, Perth).

After plenty of the aforementioned food and cocktails, it was down to business as James Buntin (who should be no stranger to readers of this blog) announced the four winners:

  • 1st – Evan Stanley, Black Pearl, Melbourne
  • 2nd – Adam Bastow, Black Coffee Lyrics, Surfers Paradise
  • 3rd – Chad Hanson, Eden Dining Room and Bar, Adelaide
  • 4th – Phoenix Naman, Palmer and Co, Sydney

Evan and Adam will travel to Scotland to visit Glenfiddich (which speaking from experience is a brilliant experience) whilst Chad and Phoenix will take part in a Central Australian outback challenge involving outback quad-biking and of course Glenfiddich.

We all continued to enjoy cocktails and Glenfiddich well into the night and apart from a brief incident involving a candle and someone's handbag (which luckily Steph noticed well before the owner!) it was a fantastic night. Another success for the WG&SWeber Shandwick team.

 - Martin.

Monday 16 September 2013

The Whisky Fair Sydney 2013 review (#101drams)

In Sydney each year we have three main whisky shows - The Whisky Show (July), Whisky Live (August), and The Whisky Fair (September). In 2012 Steph and I attended the first two, but for some reason missed out on The Whisky Fair (perhaps we thought two was enough? Crazy talk...) This year we righted that wrong.

Whereas Whisky Live is mainly about readily-available whiskies, aimed not necessarily at the whisky enthusiast, and The Whisky Show is a mix of enthusiast drams and readily available whiskies, The Whisky Fair is very much aimed at real whisky enthusiasts, with plenty of drams you won't see anywhere else. While the show does include plenty of well-known distilleries, the drams they offer are typically from the upper end of the portfolio - e.g. William Grant & Sons were offering The Balvenie 17yo Double Wood, Glenfarclas were tasting the 40yoPernod Ricard had a wide selection from their portfolio, including Longmorn and the excellent The Glenlivet Nadurra, and Think Spirits were offering The Dalmore King Alexander III.

But while those are all excellent whiskies, it was the rarer, more "boutique" drams I was really excited to try - and the The Oak Barrel didn't disappoint, with their cavernous CBD store occupied by the likes of the Balcones (will the popularity of this Texan distillery ever stop growing?), FEW Spirits, masters of experiment KovalBelgrove (making its aged Rye debut), and Australian independent bottler Heartwood, with their incredible 72.5% "The Convict Redemption". Not to mention an Overeem bottled especially for the fair, thrown in for good measure.

With so many drams on offer it was hard to know where to start, so first order of business was to get around and say hi (over a dram or two) to all the friends Time for Whisky has made over the past year.

Whilst there genuinely wasn't a bad dram in sight, it's pretty hard to list every one we tried, so in no particular order, these were the more unique, interesting, quirky, or downright fantastic drams we enjoyed:
  • Belgrove - I'd read a bit about Belgrove and was genuinely keen to try it. Peter Bignell (distiller and owner) talked us through his Tasmanian Rye - made via a real self-contained production process, with the ryecorn home-grown on his farm, the pot still built from scratch, heating from home-made biodiesel and cooling from his own dam! Both unaged and (minimum) 2 year barrel aged varieties were on tasting, and both were very impressive. One to watch.
  • Balcones - I'd tried the Baby Blue Corn Whisky earlier and was keen to try the rest of the range. Luckily H&R Craft Beverages were at the show, with not only the Texas Single Malt (a #101drams whisky) and Baby Blue, but also the True Blue 100 proof and Brimstone. A quick taste of each confirmed what I'd suspected - that the Baby Blue wasn't just a fluke - all Balcones' whiskies are fantastic.
  • Heartwood, along with Belgrove, was the other Tassie entrant I was particularly keen to visit. (To my knowledge) the only Australian independent bottler of Australian whisky, Heartwood bottle a range of Aussie whiskies, at cask strength, and sell them in 500mL format with names such as "Vat out of Hell", "Release the Beast" and "Velvet Hammer". But it was their 72.5% "The Convict Redemption" that stole the show. Tim (owner and Lark Distillery board member) was passing around drams to comments such as "wow", "full bodied" and "flavoursome" - presumably mostly from people who didn't realise they'd just tried a 72.5% ABV whisky. That's how smooth this whisky really is. Steph tried it, and (no stranger to cask strength whiskies, having recently gotten into SMWS bottlings) guessed it to be around 55-60%. A stunner.
  • Limeburners Single Malt West Australian-whisky (another #101drams whisky)
  • Overeem - a Tassie favourite of mine, with 200mL bottlings of their Oak Barrel exclusive cask for only $44. We're big fans of the Port cask Overeem (and also the Sherry), and can't wait for their next release.
  • Brown Forman were again on hand, this time with the most impressive stand they've had in a long time. Sure Woodford Reserve and Jack (Unaged Rye) were there, but so were some of the rarer Woodford Master's Collection (including the Four Wood). As if the stand wasn't packed enough, brand ambassador Stuart had also managed to whip up a batch of barrel aged Old Fashioneds!

...hold up - 6 distilleries/whiskies mentioned, and not one of them Scottish? Such is the quality of world whisky I guess! But on the topic of Scotland, half-way through the show a bagpipe procession formed, and James Buntin of William Grant & Sons (a.k.a The Whisky Ambassador) prepared the highlight of the show - fresh haggis, served with neeps and tatties, and a Glenfiddich 14yo Rich Oak.

After a quick haggis break, it was onto all things Scottish:

  • While I'd tried The Balvenie 17yo Double Wood before, I'd never tried it injected into a chocolate truffle. An amazing match.
  • Innis & Gunn beer. Beer? Well all whisky is basically beer at some stage in its life, right? This Edinburgh-based brewery had a few varieties on tasting, but it was their 6.6% ABV "Original" that really impressed me. Aged for 77 days in American Oak, it was honied, smooth and perfectly balanced. Couldn't leave without buying a few bottles!
  • Dalmore King Alexander III - a brilliant (#101drams) dram, complete with impressive artwork (below). Who knew the Think Spirits guys had so much talent?
  • Macallan - the full 1824 Series was on tasting, ahead of its November release in Australia. The Sienna was Steph and my pick of the bunch.
  • Scotch Malt Whisky Society - it wouldn't be an enthusiasts' whisky show without SMWS! Andrew (NSW Ambassador, Director and Australian Cellarmaster) and Murray (Australian tasting panel member and super friendly bloke) were busily handing out drams and converting people to the joys of single cask, cask strength whisky. On taste were a number of gems, including the incredibly light but flavoursome 21.27 (39yo Glenglassaugh), a sublime lightly-peated Ardmore (which was recommended to me by one of the other stalls) and a Craigellachie which I sadly missed (of particular note as they don't even bottle this as an OB Single Malt!).


It was hard to believe 4 hours had passed so quickly, but sadly it had, and on that note we said our farewells and walked out into the unusually hot Sydney September. If we can only attend one whisky show next year, this will be it without a doubt. Congrats to Dave and the guys from The Oak Barrel for putting on such a fantastic show.


Time for Whisky attended as guests of The Oak Barrel.

Sunday 15 September 2013

"My take on Whisky" - by Steph

While Steph (my wife) has been a regular contributor to this blog in the form of support, joining me at the many, many tastings/events/tours, and allowing my growing Whisk(e)y collection to take over the living room, this is her first post. Hopefully the first of many!

If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be immersed in all things whisky at this point in my life, I would have given you an odd look and walked the other way. Whisky had the reputation, at least with me, of being an old man’s drink that even my father wasn’t interested in. When Martin, my boyfriend at the time (now husband) ordered  a dram at Marble bar a good few years ago I turned my head in revulsion and demanded to know why he would choose to drink something that smelt (and presumably tasted) like Iodine?! My taste buds have shifted since that day.

Whisky tastings are a great way to spend a weekday night, and a nice way to explore different varieties. I love it when the structure of tastings change and evolve because I am so sick of hearing how whisky is made!

I love whisky fairs now that we know so many of the people there. I love the energy, passion and humour of many brand ambassadors that we have been lucky enough to get to know. I particularly love when stands have high quality chocolate sitting alongside the bottles of whisky (HELLO Glenfiddich!) I am always frustrated when exhibitors discredit me and my interest in whisky and talk solely to my husband. Gender inequality much?

Coincidently, many whisky fairs often occur around the time of my husband’s birthday (October) which allows me the opportunity to observe what he enjoys before I make an excuse to use the ladies while I race around to the shop and buy him what he covets (I bought him 4 bottles in 2012). It makes birthday present shopping a breeze!

My favourite time to drink the stuff is on a rare Friday night that I happen to be home alone. I put on my pyjamas, cue up a girly rom-com, and explore our liquor collection. I'll either stick with my old favourite (Lagavulin 16), try something that I know I like (Laphroaig PX cask, Balvenie 15, Gentleman Jack) or explore something different (e.g. One of the Glenfiddich special editions, a Scotch MaltWhisky Society interestingly-labelled bottle - Pulled Pork with Chocolate Mousse - anyone?)

These days I still can’t handle the strength and bitterness of new make (please don’t tell me it’s smooth because how can something so strong that it burns my throat be ‘smooth’?) and I do add a few drops of water when the alcohol strength shocks my system. I prefer the aged whiskies, particularly when they are aged in a sherry, sauternes or port casks.  I appreciate a good Islay whisky as I have developed a taste for the smokiness.

I am thoroughly enjoying this journey into whisky and the great people that we are meeting along the way. I am proud of my husband for his dedication to his blog, which is opening up more opportunities for him to be further immersed into the whisky world, while taking me along for the ride.

- Steph.

Saturday 7 September 2013

The Glenlivet "The Guardians' Chapter" tasting and launch at Tetsuya's

When it comes tastings and product launches, it seems Pernod Ricard don't do things by halves...

A month or so ago I received an invite for The Glenlivet "The Guardian's Chapter", an event to be held at Tetsuya's in Sydney (once considered one of the World's Top 50 Restaurants, and still very much one of the best restaurants in Sydney). You don't say no to an invite like that...

The event was held this past Tuesday, and Steph and I showed up (arriving by Über, which Pernod Ricard had kindly supplied) not entirely knowing what to expect. Some canapés and a tasting perhaps? We did know that we were there to taste (and vote on) three new expressions, only one of which would become the next global limited release of The Glenlivet. We also discovered that this was the first public release of these expressions anywhere in the world!

Stepping into Tetsuya's private upstairs dining room, it was clear this was going to be a special, intimate sit-down dinner, with a chance to try not only the new expressions, but the core Glenlivet range with a menu designed by Tetsuya Wakuda himself, matched to the whiskies with the expert advice of The Glenlivet's Australian Brand Ambassador Laura Hay. And on the topic of not doing things by halves, this wasn't just any dinner menu, but a 9 course degustation.

The Glenlivet Ginza was served on arrival, as guests mingled and we got to meet some of the friendly and passionate Pernod Ricard staff. After seats were taken, Laura and Tetsuya introduced the menu, explaining the process behind selecting the courses and matching The Glenlivet expressions. Steph and I had great company at our table, including Andrew and Laura from Pernod Ricard, and Simon Leong of Simon Food Favourites. Laura's stories of growing up in an around The Glenlivet distillery kept us well entertained throughout the night.

The next 3 or so hours involved working our way through the first 6 courses and matched whiskies, which included:

The Glenlivet 12 year old
Salad of the Sea
Notes: A match which brought out some real ginger and spice notes. 
The Glenlivet really added to the flavour of some of the Sashimi, especially the Kingfish.

The Glenlivet 18 year old
Foie Gras with Dried Fruits
Notes: I'm not usually a big fan of Foie Gras but this was fantastic. 
The dry fruits were completely amplified by the whisky - a great match.

The Glenlivet 15 year old French Oak Reserve
Ostrich with Dwarf Truffled Peach
Notes: Probably my favourite dish of the night. 
The Glenlivet & Truffles are clearly a perfect match. Strong sesame notes.

The Glenlivet 12 year old
Marinated Tasmanian Salmon with Miso, Orange, Garlic & Ginger
Notes: The best match of the night.
Interestingly, I got slight smoky notes, which complemented the sweet miso flavour brilliantly.

The Glenlivet 15 year old French Oak Reserve
Loin of Venison with Beetroot & Pomegranate
Notes: Again a match that brought out some real spicy notes.
The Glenlivet seemed to cut through the fruitiness of the pomegranate somewhat and the venison really lengthened the finish of the whisky.

The Glenlivet 18 year old
Cape Grim Beef Short Rib with Apple Eggplant & Fresh Green Peppercorns
Notes: I'm not usually a fan of peppercorns but they were muted here. 
Overall the dish matched the whisky quite well I thought.

At this point we could hardly believe 3 hours had already passed, but it had, and it was time to taste the whiskies we all came to taste. Tasting mats and whiskies were set up and voting cards handed out. Laura Hay got up to present the whiskies, and explained a bit more about concept, which involves three new expressions from The Glenlivet, selected by Master Distiller Alan Winchester and classified according to taste:

Revival - A regard and passion for past styles, reinterpreted with a contemporary twist.
Classic - The quality of timelessness and enduring excellence
Exotic - The quality of rich diversity and enigmatic depth

We learned the malts are being taken on a global tour, with votes to be tallied from a number of regions. The winning expression will be released as "The Guardians' Chapter", a non-chill filtered, NAS limited edition of only 2000 cases (globally), to be released in March 2014 (see the bottom of this article for details on how to get involved in a tasting session).

After being told this would be "the most important vote we make this week" (slightly tongue-in-cheek, given we have a Federal Election this Saturday), we put our voting caps on and got down to business. 

Revival (ex American and Sherry oak barrels, 48.5% ABV) - Light in colour, with a youthful and apricot nose. No youth on the palate though, with smooth, fruity and slightly sweet notes coming through. The finish is lengthy, with a real tropical fruit finish, and some almonds. A dash of water increased the tropical fruit notes on both the palate and finish. 91/100.

Classic (ex American and Sherry oak barrels, 48.5% ABV) - Darker than the Revival, and with much more complexity on the nose. Spice and Christmas Cake notes dominated the palate, with a hint of pineapple. I found a shorter finish on this one, even with a dash of water (which accentuated the palate). As the name suggests, this was the closest to the standard core range. 92/100.

Exotic (ex American and Sherry oak barrels, 48.5% ABV) - The darkest of the three (so fair to say it also has the most sherry cask influence). Incredible nose, with sweet dessert-like notes, but complex nutty and dried fruit notes too. Sherry notes on the palate, with shortbread, spongecake and vanilla macarons. A light, but complex and lengthy finishes rounds out what is an excellent whisky. The clear winner in my books. 93/100.

It seems I wasn't alone in my voting, as the Exotic won out (with 14 votes), from the Revival (12 votes) and Classic (13 votes). A close call, and it will be interesting to see how the rest of Australia (and the world) votes.

It was then time to finish the menu, with:

Lychee Granita with Strawberries & Coconut

The Glenlivet 18 year old
Chocolate Cake
My second favourite match of the night.
The whisky added complexity to an already very complex, rich and nutty dessert. Heaven.

Petit Fors

By this stage it was past midnight, but most attendees were able to stick around for a tasting of the 25 year old The Glenlivet XXV (the sacrifices we make right?) - or for those waiting for our Über rides, perhaps two (tasting notes to follow).

Overall an incredible night - one which would have required a lot of planning and passion to set up. A huge thanks to the Pernod Ricard Australia and Cav Con teams for the invite, and for the take-home gifts (The Glenlivet 18, Riedel whisky tumblers) which were icing on an already amazing cake.


For anyone wanting to try these whiskies, Australian tastings will be run in conjunction with Vintage Cellars, and are being held on the following dates:
  • 20th and 21st September - Sir Stamford Hotel, Sydney
  • 22nd and 23rd September - The Woolshed, Melbourne
  • 25th September - Port Office Hotel, Brisbane
  • 26th September - Sosta Argentinian Kitchen, Adelaide
  • 27th September- Grosvenor Hotel, Perth
  • 1st October- Char Restaurant, Darwin 
The iconic Tetsuya's in Sydney's CBD

Sunday 1 September 2013

Tasted #36: Balvenie TUN 1401 Batch 5 (#101drams)

It's been about two weeks since my last post, but the good news is I've tasted some pretty fantastic whiskies in that time, and have some even more fantastic events coming up, so September should be a month of interesting posts.

To kick start the month - a #101drams whisky I've been eagerly awaiting - Balvenie TUN 1401. For those unfamiliar with the TUN 1401, the story goes: David Stewart (Balvenie's Malt Master) selects a number of exceptional (often very old) casks, marries them together in TUN 1401 for a certain timeframe (3 months in the case of this Batch 5), bottles them at cask strength, and the result is a fantastic whisky.

$250-$300AUD (give or take) may seem like a lot for a NAS (No Age Statement) whisky, but given the excellent reviews each and every TUN 1401 has received, and the age range of the casks (oldest: 46 years, youngest: 21 years), I was pretty confident it would be a great dram. Also, given I tried this at the excellent Whisky + Alement in Melbourne, my "price of entry" was only $24 or so. Not much for what I was pretty sure would be one of the better #101drams whiskies!

Not every batch makes it to every region, which makes this Batch 5 interesting in that it was never officially released in Australia (I believe it was mainly released in the US). Batch 8 (the latest release) has been officially released in Australia, but in very limited quantities.

Balvenie TUN 1401 Batch 5 (NAS, 50.1%, Speyside Scotland)
Nose: Lots going on here. I don't always pick up as many notes as some of my friends and colleagues when nosing whiskies, but on this I got fresh cream, bananas (but not in a youthful whisky way), and...flint? Hints of smoke, but definitely muted. Complex, brilliant.

Palate: Rich, big mouthfeel - reminiscent of the 15yo cask strength (one of my all-time favourite whiskies), but more subdued than 15yo. The bananas continue, with a sweet, sharp caramel flavour at the forefront. 

Finish: Long (as you'd expect given half of these whiskies are 40+ years old, and one is 46 years old!) Caramel sweetness lingers, with a small amount of smoke evident at the back of the throat.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 94/100. Did not disappoint in the slightest. Unfortunately now, I'm going to be on a mission to taste the rest of the range...and one day I'll probably buy a bottle in a duty-free shop somewhere in a moment of weakness. This could get expensive!

- Martin.