Wednesday 30 April 2014

Tasted #88: Macallan 21yo Fine Oak (#101drams)

#59 on the #101dram Charitable Challenge is The Macallan 21yo "Fine Oak", a 43% ABV vatting of The Macallan aged in three different cask types (Spanish sherry-seasoned oak, American sherry-seasoned oak and American bourbon-seasoned oak). A departure from The Macallan's typical 100% sherry-aged house style, this range no doubt came about (in 2004) due to the relative high costs of using 100% sherry casks (oh, and the need for a "lighter style Macallan" I guess..).

It's interesting to see the impact supply/demand has on various distilleries and their ranges - something that is particularly noticeable with a distillery the size of The Macallan. You only need to look at the rise of NAS whiskies (and The Macallan's own pioneering in this territory, which we covered extensively last year) to see the way the industry is being shaped.

With that said, I included this whisky on the list as I'd never been a big fan of The Macallan in the past (both sherried and Fine Oak ranges, right up to 18yo). I thought the 21yo may change my opinion (as the 1824 Series did later). So, did it?


The Macallan "Fine Oak" 21yo (43% ABV, 21yo, Speyside, Scotland, $330AUD)
Colour: Coppery gold.
Nose: Flint, very slight hints of smoke, passionfruit.
Palate: Smoke - surprisingly a lot of it. Citrus and lemon zest too.
Finish: Chalky, long, smokey, with hints of grapefruit.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. I really enjoyed this (and would have liked to have more than the 30mL sample I had, but not at $330AUD/bottle...) It didn't have the typical Macallan notes I don't normally like, and had plenty of complexity, with "smoky fruitiness" - something I don't often come across.

 - Martin.

Saturday 26 April 2014

Shirt Bar "Scotch" Club: Woodford Reserve (March 2014) - Tasted #86 & #87

It was all the way back in November 2012 when we first blogged about Shirt Bar's Scotch Club (which, like this post, was all about Woodford Reserve and nothing to do with Scotch at all!) and when we first met Stuart Reeves, Brown-Forman Australia's NSW ambassador (whose immense knowledge of whiskey we've come to appreciate and whose friendship we've come to enjoy). Fast forward to March 2014, and Stuart was back at Shirt Bar, again spreading the good word of Woodford Reserve.

A few things seem to be guaranteed when Stuart takes the stand for a Woodford tasting: a lot of (great) whiskey, an astounding level of whiskey knowledge, at least one rare/unique/hard to find expression, a cocktail, and take-home goodies. This session didn't disappoint. On tasting was:
  • Woodford Reserve New Make
  • Woodford Reserve Distiller's Select Bourbon
  • 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 Master's Collection Four Wood
  • Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Classic Malt 

...not including the single-nip Woodford Old Fashioned to kick off the night, and the take-home DIY Old Fashioned bags (complete with 50mL Woodford Reserve minis, 3.5mL Angostura bitters minis and swizzle sticks - very handy on a recent weekend trip up the coast)!

Given we've tasted the first 5 whiskies above previously, notes below are only for those we hadn't tried - the Four Wood and Classic Malt.  Suffice to say the others were all as good as memory served, and Steph still didn't like the New Make...

Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Four Wood (47.2% ABV, NAS, Kentucky USA, $250)
Produced by taking regular Distiller's Select at 7-8 years old, cutting it down to 55%, dividing into thirds and ageing in Maple (1yr), Sherry (6 months) and Port (6 months) casks.
Colour: Dark, vibrant copper.
Nose: Rich, berries, with a slight nuttiness.
Palate: Big creamy mouthfeel, definite sherry influence, but also very sweet. Definitely a Bourbon, with vanilla notes still showing through.
Finish: Long, with cherries and Christmas cake. Smooth to the end.
Overall: 92/100

Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Classic Malt (45.2% ABV, NAS, Kentucky USA)
Made with 100% malted barley. Yes, a "Single Malt" from Kentucky, USA!
Colour: Light, straw.
Nose: Muted, playdough. Slightly earthy.
Palate: Light and buttery, hints of breakfast cereal (Nutri-Grain?)
Finish: Short to medium, with some rubbery notes. Smooth and easy drinking though.
Overall: 90/100. Certainly interesting, though not a whiskey I'd choose to spend $100USD+ on. The biggest disappointment however was that we're not getting the other Single Malt ("Straight Malt") in Australia!

 - Martin.

Sunday 20 April 2014

Tasted #85: Ardbeg Auriverdes (Gold bottle)

We covered the new Ardbeg 2014 special edition "Auriverdes" a few times this month, but at the time were eagerly awaiting our sample to arrive.

Well last week it arrived...and what a "sample" it was!

Expecting a ~50mL sample bottle, Steph and I were both blown away to discover our "sample" was in fact a full 700mL bottle of Auriverdes, in limited edition media-only (as we understand it) gold. Talk about a fantastic looking bottle.

Unfortunately that afternoon we were off on a long drive up the coast, so had to wait an eager few days before opening it - which we did this evening.

A bottle (and whisky) this special deserves special tasting notes, so Steph and I both sat down with it today to document our own, separate tasting notes.

Like the sounds of it? As we mentioned last week, join the committee and you could be tasting it at Ardbeg Day Australia 2014 on 31st May.

Martin's tasting notes: Ardbeg Auriverdes (49.9% ABV, NAS, Islay, Scotland, $135.70AUD)
Colour: Yellow gold, rich, like a light bortrytis semillon.
Nose: Light smoke, pears, peaches, some apricots. Sweet, and slightly spirity.
Palate: Big smoke, but also very sweet. Sugarcane, banana bread, toast. Nutty.
Finish: Ashy smoke, but still sweet to the end. Medium to long finish.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. Very much an Ardbeg, but also very unique. A great mix of "sweet and smoky" (or a dram of two halves as the official notes explain it).

Steph's tasting notes: 
Ardbeg Auriverdes (49.9% ABV, NAS, Islay, Scotland, $135.70AUD)
Colour: Deep rich gold.
Nose: Toasty vanilla, peat smoke.
Palate: Peat smoke, slightly sweet, vanilla and caramelised bananas.
Finish: Long, sweet honied smoke.
Rating (on Steph's very non-scientific scale): 91/100.

 - Steph & Martin.

Thursday 17 April 2014

Tasted #84: Bain's Cape Mountain Whisky (#101drams)

We've been to SwedenAustraliaFrance, Japan, Scotland, India & Wales as part of the #101drams challenge (well not literally) where to next? South Africa sounds as good a place as any!

Bain's Cape Mountain Whisky, from the James Sedgwick Distillery in Wellington (South Africa) is a single grain whisky, aged for approximate 5 years in ex-Bourbon casks. It's also a #101drams whisky and sounds bloody interesting, so let's get on with the tasting shall we?

Bains Cape Mountain Whisky (43% ABV, NAS, Wellington, South Africa, $52AUD)
Colour: Honey gold
Nose: Light and floral, gaining complexity over time with some cake icing and coco pops coming through
Palate: Sweet, light, fruity, with some pineapple, apples, pears. Lots of tropical fruits. Incredibly smooth, with just the slightest hint of smoke after letting it sit and warm for a while.
Finish: Sadly too short and with a little too much burn.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. Very good - lots to offer for a relatively cheap and young whisky. I'd love to see it with a longer finish, perhaps in a cask strength variety.


Sunday 13 April 2014

Tasted #83: Mackmyra Small Casks 03 (#101drams)

Another for the #101drams list - this time from Sweden, aged in 30L casks (yes, 30L!) - a mixture of sherry, bourbon and new Swedish oak. As far as unique/interesting whiskies though, this pretty much ticks all the boxes...

Mackmyra Special Small Casks 03 (48.2% ABV, NAS, Sweden, $130AUD)
Colour: Light, bright gold.
Nose: Stewed pears, big alcohol burn, toffee apples, boiled sweets.
Palate: Light - wouldn't initially pick it as 48%+. Pears, toffee, coffee grounds. Special K!?
Finish: Long, with some burn. Hint of coffee.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 89/100. The nose is probably the highlight here - let down by the palate slightly. Overall though, an enjoyable whisky.

 - Martin.

Friday 11 April 2014

A trio of crafty Americans (Tasted #80, #81 and #82)

Ask the average punter about "American whiskey" and typically the first names that spring to mind will be "Jack" and "Jimmy". While there's no denying that both "Jack" and "Jimmy" have some excellent whiskies in their respective ranges (the former through the likes of Single Barrel Jack Daniels & Sinatra Select, the latter through the the small batch range such as Basil Haydens & Booker's), there's also no denying that the landscape has changed somewhat, and there are some new, much smaller, but very serious players on the scene.

Balcones. FEW Spirits, Koval. Heard of them? If you haven't, you surely will soon.

America is (actually has been for a while now) experiencing something of a craft distilling revolution. Gone are the days when "American Whiskey" simply meant "Bourbon from Kentucky" (or Tennessee Whiskey from Tennessee). Nowadays excellent American Whiskey can, and does, come from all over the USA. In fact just tonight at Papa Gedes bar in Sydney I tried a "Breaking and Entering" Bourbon bottled in California (admittedly, it is a blended Bourbon made from Kentucky whiskies).

Which brings us to the three whiskies featured in this post - none of which come from Kentucky or Tennessee (the FEW and Koval being from Illinois, the Balcones hailing from Texas, y'all).

It's pretty hard to ignore the impact Balcones has had on the scene during its relatively short existence - from winning a slew of awards, to being called the "finest new whiskey in the world" by Forbes Magazine. Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while might remember my highly-rated tasting of Balcones Baby Blue blue-corn whisky (which I later purchased).

While FEW and Koval (whose Four Grain and Rye we tasted a while ago) don't quite have the profile of Balcones yet, they could well in the future, and based on the quality of the spirits tasted below, I'd be surprised if they didn't.

Murray from HR Craft Beverages (who distribute Balcones, Koval and FEW in Australia) was kind enough to send me a sample from each distillery, including:
  • FEW Bourbon Whiskey (47%)
  • Balcones "1" Texas Single Malt Whisky (53%)
  • Koval Bourbon (47%)

FEW Bourbon Whiskey (47% ABV, NAS, Evanston IL, USA)
Colour: Dark, burnt orange.
Nose: BIG hit of pepper. Cinnamon, cloves, vanilla.
Palate: Youthful but not harsh. Pepper, spices, slightly dusty, but sweet. Mouth filling.
Finish: Short and hot, without being harsh.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100.

Balcones "1" Texas Single Malt (53% ABV, NAS, Waco TX, USA)
Colour: Bright coppery orange.
Nose: Honey, orange peel. Intense, fantastic.
Palate: Smooth, light, none of the nose's intensity. Sweet, toffee notes with oranges and oatmeal.
Finish: Malty, medium to long finish with orange peel at the very end.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100.

Koval Bourbon (47% ABV, NAS, Chicago IL, USA)
Colour: Rich but a paler orange compared to the previous two.
Nose: Sherbert, sweet, boiled lollies, but also leather!
Palate: Young, but again, no harshness. Candied fruit, boiled lollies, redskins and icing sugar.
Finish: Short, with vanilla the dominant characteristic.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100.

So there you have it. Three American whiskies, three incredibly different whiskies, none from Kentucky or Tennessee, but each of them incredibly good.

I'll go out on a limb and say this is only the beginning of an exciting new era for American whiskey. Watch this space.

 - Martin.

Tuesday 8 April 2014

PR #17: Ardbeg Day Australia 2014 and "Auriverdes"

We touched on Ardbeg Auriverdes last week, including information on the whisky itself, but at the time there was little to no information available about the Australian celebrations.

Well, now there is.

First some background. For those unfamiliar, Ardbeg Day is one of the absolute highlights of the Australian whisky calendar, however unlike a lot of the events that TimeforWhisky are fortunate enough to attend, it's one where the general public gets to join in on the fun. Well, if the general public signs up to the Ardbeg Committee that is (what? You're not a member? That's OK, go sign up now, we'll wait).


Signed up? Good.

Ardbeg Day will be held on Saturday 31st May this year in Sydney (venue TBC), and will be the first opportunity for Australian Ardbeggians to try Auriverdes, the new, limited release we mentioned last week.

Not sure if you really, really want to attend?

Trust us, you really, really do.

2012 saw Moët-Hennessy Australia launch the limited "Ardbeg Day" release by taking over Aqua Dining in Milsons point for the "Islay-lympics", with Ardbeg cocktails, Ardbeg drams, games, a swimming race (despite the Islay-like weather) and more Ardbeg prizes than you could poke a stick at (seriously good prizes too).

2013? Even bigger, with even better prizes, and just as many bagpipes. See here for our in-depth write-up.

See what we're getting at? Ardbeg Day is F-U-N, and with this year's theme being the Soccer World Cup (the "Auriverdes" name being taken from the Brazilian soccer team), there are sure to be some fantastic games on offer (see the games available at the Distillery for an idea of what we might be in for).

If you can't get to Feis Ile (what with it being, oh, 24 or so hours away, and booking out months in advance), then join in the next best thing. Sydney may even turn on the Islay style weather like it has in the past.

So to summarise:

Simple, right? We'll see you there.

Ardbeg Auriverdes will be available as a limited edition release in Australia from 31st May 2014, retailing for $135.70 (which is actually very reasonable, and cheaper than previous Ardbeg Day releases). It is non-chill filtered, aged in American Oak with uniquely toasted lids, and weighs in at 49.9% ABV.

 - Martin.

Monday 7 April 2014

Shirt Bar "Scotch" Club: Nikka Whisky (February 2014) - Tasted #76 - #79

It was just under a year ago that we attended Shirt Bar's first Japanese whisky tasting, and recently the Shirt Bar crew ran another, this time focusing on the Nikka Whisky portfolio, showcasing the:
  • Miyagikyo 12 yo
  • Yoichi 15yo
  • Taketsuru 12yo; and
  • Nikka from the Barrel (a favourite from previous tastings)
Proving as popular as the 2013 session, the tasting was run twice over two weeks, giving more of us a chance to try a great range of Nikka whiskies (and, importantly, a completely different line up to the previous tasting).

The tasting was a little more rushed than we're used to, and (after a late start) was over all too quickly unfortunately. It seemed we were barely finished nosing one whisky when the next was up for tasting, and before we knew it the food (fittingly, again some tasty sushi) was served.

Having attended probably 13+ Scotch Clubs though (and blogged about 7 of them to date) I'm pretty confident in saying this wasn't the norm, and the session we attended more recently (Woodford Reserve) was back to the usual quality we've come to expect from Scotch Club.

Not to say this was a bad session - not at all, just not the usual in-depth look at whisk(e)y we've come to expect. But no matter! We still got to taste 4 Japanese whiskies, 1 of which I hadn't tried, and 3 of which Steph hadn't.

Nikka Miyagikyo 12 Year Old (45% ABV, 12yo, Sendai Japan, $130)
Distilled with steam-heated stills
Nose: Vanilla, Bourbon-like, but also floral.
Palate: Oats, spice, vanilla and caramel.
Finish: Short, slightly salty, with final floral notes and pear.
Overall: 90/100

Nikka Yoichi 15 Year Old (45% ABV, 15yo, Hokkaido Japan, $220)
Nose: Bigger darker, more spice and more saltiness than the previous dram.
Palate: Big rich oily mouthfeel - big notes of chocolate eclairs.
Finish: Short, spicy, not a huge amount going on, but pleasant enough.
Overall: 90/100.

Nikka Taketsuru 12 Year Old (40% ABV, 12yo, Pure Malt, Japan, $100)
Nose: Apples, apples and more apples. I got absolutely nothing but apples on this one
Palate: Light and floral, reminded me of a Springbank. More apples.
Finish: Over so quickly I could barely take notes. Way too short.
Overall: 89/100. Not dissimilar notes to the last time I tried it.

Nikka from the Barrel (51.4% ABV, NAS, Blend, Japan, $70)
Nose: Vanilla protein powder, coffee creamer.
Palate: Spicy cinnamon, grains, big and mouth filling.
Finish: Long, spicy, not as smooth as I remember, but lots going on. Sweet, spice, with some citrus and fruity notes
Overall: 90/100 - still probably my favourite of the night, but not as good as I'd remembered it.

 - Martin.

Tuesday 1 April 2014

This Week in Whisk(e)y #7

As you might know if you read this blog regularly, we get a fair few interesting press releases and news articles here at TimeforWhisky, and usually try to feature them with our own spin, experiences or comments. Sometimes though, they come thick and fast, and we just don't have time to do them all justice.

So we've decided to take a leaf out of some other excellent whisky blogs, and feature a "PR roundup" every now and then - basically a wrap-up of relevant press releases we've received in the previous week (or other interesting whisk(e)y news Steph & I think you might enjoy). So on with it then...

Sullivans Cove wins "world's best whisky" at the WWA 2014
I'm sure everyone has heard about this now, but Tasmania Distillery's Sullivans Cove French Oak recently won the "world's best single malt whisky" at the 2014 World Whisky Awards (it certainly seems the eBay community has, with Sullivans Cove French Oak bottles going for $400+ at the moment, even those not from the winning cask HH525).

While the winning whisky was from a single French Oak cask (HH525), which produced only 516 bottles, it seems the world has gone mad, snapping up any and all French Oak Sullivans Cove whiskies available.

Sullivans Cove isn't my personal favourite Tassie whisky (that would go to Overeem on the OB front, and Heartwood on the IB front), but it has to be said - this is a huge achievement, and one which has really put Aussie whiskies on the world map. Credit where credit's due too - Tasmania Distillery have put in a huge effort over many years to spread the word about their whisky (it's still the most commonly-sighted Aussie whisky in my International travels), so it's great to see their hard work pay off. Well done.

Ardbeg announces "Auriverdes" and Ardbeg Day 2014
Ah, Ardbeg Day. The reason whisky fans the world over look forward to 31st May each year with great anticipation. While full details haven't yet been released about the celebrations, LVMH owned Ardbeg have announced the theme (Soccer World Cup), and a few details about the bottling, namely:
  • Aged in casks with toasted lids
  • 49.9% ABV
  • Said to have "creamy vanilla sweetness" with a "dark mocha coffee side"
  • £79.99 (so likely similar pricing in Australia as last year - $160 or so, while it's available)
The name comes from the Golden (Auri) whisky and the Green (verde) bottle, which also ties in nicely with the Soccer theme, given this year's World Cup is set in Brazil.

We can't wait to see what Ardbeg have in store for us on the 31st, although I imagine there may be a few soccer balls (and a sea of Ardbeg) involved!

anCnoc releases the "Peaty Collection"
Staying on the peat train, the Highland distillery of Knockdu has just announced a the release of a trio of (pretty stunning looking) bottles as part of their new "Peaty Collection".

Project Manager Stephanie Bridge commented on the prospect of the anCnoc
Peaty Collection being a window to the world of smoky whisky for drinkers who previously chose to drink unpeated malts:

“Rutter and our other new Limited Edition peated single malts will form an exciting collection to sit alongside our  core anCnoc expressions, offering drinkers a new and perhaps a first experience of peated whisky. These malts have all the exceptional qualities of anCnoc but with a depth and smokiness that will be appealing both to peat aficionados and to drinkers of lighter malts with an interest in finding a peated malt whisky that they understand and enjoy. We’re on a mission to bring our very modern take on the world of peated whisky to our drinkers all over the world and to entice customers to experience this new side of anCnoc.”

Far from being peat monsters, the whiskies are peated to between 11-15ppm, and were described as follows by whisky writer Charles Maclean:

“The difference between these three malts is subtle, but apparent. Their overall flavour – i.e. aroma and taste –is nicely balanced,  fresh and breezy; their smokiness subtle and understated, while their cheerful simplicity makes them very ‘more-ish’ and easy to drink.”

Further information on the range can be found here. No word yet on Australian availability or pricing.

New World Whisky Distillery launches inaugural single cask releases
Back in December, I was lucky enough to tour the New World Whisky Distillery (purveyors of Starward Whisky) and especially lucky to taste a few single cask samples. At the time, there was only one Starward release (this one), however after no doubt realising they were onto a good thing, the distillery invited representatives from four Australian whisky establishments (Whisky+AlementOak BarrelBaranows Lounge and Nicks/Vintage Direct) to select a cask, to be bottled and sold only through those venues.

While those in Melbourne have been lucky to taste the whisky already, those of us in Sydney will have to wait a few more weeks. The bottlings (officially released on 7th May) will sell for $100 (RRP), a bargain for such a rare, cask-strength bottling, and will no doubt sell out quickly. 

Until next time...sláinte.

 - Martin.