Thursday 30 April 2015

Tasted #181 to #184: Yamazai 18, Yamazaki 25, Ballantine's 17 and Bowmore 18 (#101drams)

When Steph and I visited the Hakushu Distillery we made the most of the ridiculously good value tasting bar on offer (twice), but couldn't taste everything we wanted to (else they'd be rolling us out the door...)

So when we visited the Yamazaki Distillery a week or so later, we made up for it, including, conveniently, two #101drams whiskies (for a combined total of $7AUD / $43HKD).

...but before those, it would have been rude not to try the malt made at the very distillery we'd just visited...and heck, while we're at it, why not try the entire standard age range - 12, 18 and 25? When the 25yo is around $25AUD ($155HKD) for a dram, why not indeed?

Yamazaki 18yo (43% ABV, 18yo, Japan, $399AUD / $2,680HKD)
Colour: Deep copper-gold
Nose: Rich sherried notes. Christmas cake, with strawberries on the side.
Palate: Thinner than expected. Spicy. Slight peppery. Quite malty and slightly oaky.
Finish: Long and dry. Some leathery notes.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 89/100. Very different to the 12. More complex, without a doubt, but I think I prefer 12 overall.

Yamazaki 25yo (43% ABV, 18yo, Japan, Not currently available in AU / $16,800HKD)
Colour: Dark, dark (DARK!) copper. Look at it!
Nose: Rich thick chewy Christmas cake. Raisins soaked in sherry for days. Put simply - Christmas in a glass.
Palate: Slightly earthy at first. Then raisins and fruit compote, and still loads of Christmas cake. This dram has soaked up every inch of Sherry notes from the cask over its long 25 years. At a guess, I'd say ex-Oloroso.
Finish: Drying, oaky, with some malt. Medium to long finish. Dry to the end.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. Not an every day dram. Big, intense, special. All the hallmarks of a big sherry bomb.

Ballantine's 17yo (40% ABV, 17yo, Blend, Scotland, $88.99AUD$820HKD)
Colour: Dull yellow gold.
Nose: Bananas at first. Then sherbet and strawberries, with a slight mustiness.
Palate: Smooth and oily. Light on the palate. Malty, with a slight taste of...Sao biscuits??
Finish: Short to medium length, slightly spicy.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 89/100.

Bowmore 18yo (43% ABV, 18yo, Islay, Scotland, $149.99AUD / $1,380HKD)
Colour: Orange gold
Nose: Equal parts peat smoke and seaweed. Like a campfire on the beach.
Palate: Muted peat, and very sweet - honey and caramel, with hints of vanilla and crème brûlée.
Finish: Some initial floral notes, ending in a long, sweet finish with a hint of peat.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. A beautiful dram - could easily double as a daily sipper or a special occasion dram (depending on your wallet)!


#101drams Charitable Challenge - third $100 donation (drams 41-60)

I need to pick up the pace...only 20 #101drams drams in the last 13 months...

As I promised in my #101drams challenge, for every 20 whiskies I tick off the list, I'll donate $100 to Cancer Council Australia. Having made my way through 60 drams now, here's the third $100 donation:

Again, having seen first hand the devastation that cancer can take on a person (not to mention their loved ones), I'd really encourage everyone to consider donating to a charity like Cancer Council Australia.

 - Martin.

Wednesday 29 April 2015

Tasted #175 to #180: GlenDronach 12, 15, Cask Strength Batch 3, 18yo Single Cask, 22yo Single Cask and 24yo 'Grandeur'

The first time we covered GlenDronach was back in February 2014, when Martin attended the inaugural launch of The Wild Rover's "Campbell Corner Whiskey Co-Operative" (CCWC). Roll forward one year later and here we are, re-united with the graceful GlenDronach once again. As many people would attest, GlenDronach is quite well known for its heavy sherry influence, often becoming people's 'sherry-bomb' favourite, along with the Macallans, Aberlour A'bunadh and the like.

Truthfully though, over the past year, I have grown fond of sherry cask matured whiskies - notably as I find the use of sherry casks tend to add a beautiful lightness and sweetness to the final expression - a treat for any occasion. Though this isn't necessarily true in all cases, as with the Glenmorangie Taghta, which was matured in an ex-Manzanilla sherry casks and exhibited a more salty, maritime profile to the expression.

So, after hearing about GlenDronach over the year and with my curiosity on the heavy sherry influence, I jumped at the opportunity [Martin: about time!] to sit in on the GlenDronach tasting when the masterclass was announced by The Oak Barrel.

Dave Withers of The Oak Barrel, now the Distillery Manager at Archie Rose Distilling Co in Sydney introduced the GlenDronach range, only after confessing to being a big GlenDronach fan himself. 

The GlenDronach line-up on the night included:

GlenDronach 12 Year Old "Original" (43% ABV, 12yo, Highland, Scotland, $79AUD)
A rich, sweet and creamy single malt expression that has been matured in ex-PX and Oloroso sherry casks.

Colour: Dark copper

Nose: Vanilla at first, building up to some maltesers and toasted oats.

Palate: You can taste the sherry influence immediately, creamy, hints of orange rind, dried spices and cherry ripe.
Finish: The finish is reasonable, dry with a lingering toffee sweetness.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. A nice and balanced expression, one that you could perhaps drink on any night of the week.

GlenDronach 15 Year Old "Revival" (43% ABV, 15yo, Highland, Scotland, $105AUD)
A deep, sweet and leathery single malt expression matured in Oloroso sherry casks.

Colour: Dark 'burnt' caramel

Nose: Loads of raisins.

Palate: The palate is rich of sultana and raisins, hint of orange peels and dried spices.
Finish: The finish is dry.

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

GlenDronach Cask Strength - Batch 3 (54.9% ABV, NAS, Highland, Scotland, $160AUD)
A lovely No Age Statement expression, both on the nose and on the palate derived from the mixing of malt aged in Oloroso and PX casks.

Colour: Rich, dark caramel

Nose: Raisins and rich dark chocolate.

Palate: The palate is full of sultanas and raisins with a hint of citrus, perhaps orange peels and a note of that chocolate from the nose.
Finish: The finish is long, extremely long and dry with dried spice remnants that linger with you for a while and more. Stunning.

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

GlenDronach 1995 18 Year Old Cask #3025 (51.1% ABV, 18yo, Highland, Scotland, not available in Australia)
A truly remarkable single cask expression with a concoction of sweet cocoa, spices and PX sherry. My favourite expression of the night and one for any occasion.

Colour: Dark caramel.

Nose: The nose opens to cinnamon, cloves, a hint of tobacco and after a while, there's smoked ham in there also.

Palate: There is loads of sherry on the palate, which is creamy, rich, with a coating of dried spices. The palate gradually develops to notes of raisins and sweet cocoa.
Finish: Similar to Batch 3, the finish is extremely long with lingering spices and cocoa.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100.

GlenDronach 1991 22 Year Old Cask #1346 (52.1% ABV, 22yo, Highland, Scotland, not available in Australia)
Loads and loads of sherry, all derived from the PX cask in which this whisky was gracefully aged.

Colour: Amber, almost with a red hue.

Nose: The nose is filled with honey notes that develop into Christmas cake, icing sugar and sweet caramel.

Palate: Loads of sherry on the palate, then there's that hint of tobacco, black peppercorn and some sweet cocoa.
Finish: The finish is dry and long leaving a nice malt on the palate and some peanut butter?!

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

GlenDronach 'Grandeur' 24 Year Old - Batch 5 (48.9% ABV, 24yo, Highland, Scotland, no longer available in Australia)
An old and wise GlenDronach, one of 600 bottles of this supple, soft-sherry laden expression.

Colour: Amber hue

Nose: The noes smells of cocoa, dried fruits and some tobacco.

Palate: Soft and complex that starts with dark orange chocolate, then the honey notes begin to reveal itself before leaving sweet hazelnut chocolate notes on the finish.
Finish: The finish is long and sweet, nutty with an overlay of dried spices.

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

- Hendy.

Monday 27 April 2015

Distillery Tour #4: Suntory Yamazaki Distillery (Japan)

It's taken a while to get around to writing this post, but on the same JapanTour14 trip where Steph and I visited the Suntory Hakushu Distillery, we also visited Yamazaki, located about 30 minutes from Osaka  (15 min from Kyoto) by JR train. Our visit again came thanks to some help from Suntory Australia.

As Japan's first malt whisky distillery, Yamazaki was established by Suntory founder Shinjiro Torii in 1923, making use of the town's "famous" water from the foot of Mount Tenno to (eventually) make a whisky to suit the delicate Japanese palate.

As a tour, the Yamazaki offering doesn't differ too greatly in format or sights to the Hakushu tour. There's a small visitor museum with plenty of historical bottles (including the first Suntory SMWS bottlings - 119.1 and 120.1), and the famous Yamazaki Library - which is worth a visit to the visitor centre on its own. There you'll find thousands and thousands of bottles of Suntory single malt, aged in a variety of different casks, at a variety of ages, and even some flavoured whiskies. We even saw a Lavender Yamazaki, and a Yamazaki Rye! Sadly all are for show and none are for tasting, but the distillery does have an excellent bar like Hakushu - more on that later.


Apart from that, you get the same guided tour, with an audio guide for non-Japanese speakers (which was actually the same recording as Hakushu in parts), a brief walk around the facilities and grounds (getting up close and personal in some areas, like the barrel house, and not so close to others, like the stills or washbacks), and a guided tasting / highball at the end.

As a distillery though, Yamazaki differs immensely to the much more modern Hakushu, and feels much more like a traditional Scottish distillery, with none of the automated cask management found at Hakushu. The distillery does feel big though - and gives the feeling of a large factory set amongst tranquil country side. 2013 saw Yamazaki install 4 new stills, bringing the total to 16, and while the distillation room was closed for maintenance, what we saw made it clear that this is a large operation.

We'll let the photos do the talking...

The barrel house provides some great photo opportunities, and also includes a little Japanese whisky history - casks first laid down in 1924! The eagle-eyed can also spot a few Chita (grain whisky) casks aging away too.

The shop is slightly smaller than Hakushu's, and doesn't include any unusual or distillery-edition bottlings (though you can buy bottles of Chita single grain). As with Hakushu, the bar is definitely worth spending some time at, with a very similar menu at the same excellent prices. If you've ever wanted to try Yamazaki 18 or 25, and not break the bank, this is the place. In fact, you can even try Hibiki 35yo, but at 15,000¥ (~$975HKD or $160AUD) for 10mL, we passed... 

The tour itself isn't going to blow the minds of hardcore malt fanatics, but as an entire experience (the tour, the library, the tasting bar, the museum) it's definitely worth a visit, especially if you happen to find yourself in Osaka or Kyoto with half a day to spare.

Steph & Martin.

Tuesday 14 April 2015

Tasted #174: Georgia Moon Corn Spirit (#101drams)

Years ago, when dad and I first visited Scotland and the UK, we noticed a curious-looking "whiskey" called "Georgia Moon"at The Whisky Exchange in London (a shop I recently returned to and was pleased to see it was as much an enthusiast destination as before).

The "whiskey" caught my eye because:
  1. It came in a jar (and this is before drinking alcohol from a jar became de rigueur in Hipsterland)
  2. It was clear (so presumably a new make or very close to it)
  3. It proudly boasted that it was "Less than 30 days old" (0 is less than 30, right?)
..and so, despite the fact that it's effectively a Heaven Hill-distilled Bourbon new make, and surely a joke more than a serious product (designed to look, feel and taste like "moonshine"), it was deemed interesting enough to be added to the #101drams list.

Georgia Moon spirit (40% ABV, "less than 30 days old", Kentucky, USA, £3.61 for a sample)
Colour: Clear as water.

Nose: Spirity, doughy (as in bread-like), with some slightly pleasing corn notes and some far less pleasing detergent notes.

Palate: Smooth enough (though some burn at the back of the throat presents after a while), oats, Kelloggs Nutri-Grain, and an off-putting chemical taste I couldn't quite put my finger on.

Finish: Chemicals, stale bread, corn flakes. Not too long (thankfully).

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 77/100. Unsurprisingly - not very good.


Monday 13 April 2015

Annandale Distillery - A Spirit reborn

One the same weekend I attended Malt Masters HK, TimeforWhisky was also invited to a presentation of the Annandale Distillery project, organised by Eddie Nara, Co-founder and Chairman of Malt and Grain Whisk(e)y Society Hong Kong. Martin sure picked a busy (whisky) weekend to be away!

The presentation was led by Professor David Thomson, Founder and chairman of the Annandale distillery project. David’s lovely wife, Teresa Church who has worked closely with him in each step of the project greeted all guests and appeared genuinely interested in learning about the backgrounds of all attendees. The event was the first time Annandale’s new make ‘Rascally Liquor’ had been launched in Hong Kong.

David’s whisky passion developed and grew over time as his wife gifted him with bottles of whiskies for birthday and Christmas celebrations. He read about Annandale in the book ‘Scotch Missed’ by Brian Townsend and went on to purchase, renovate, and re-build the Annandale brand. Hailing from marketing, market research and brand development background, David and Teresa purchased the building in 2007, commenced restoration in 2011 and started production in late 2011. Conveniently located on the England-Scotland border, Annandale was one of the oldest legal distilleries in Scotland and was previously owned by 3 families, one of which was John Walker and Sons (1895-1918).

David took the group on a photo journey of the grounds and production process, and detailed the creation of the branding of the ‘Rascally Liquor New Make’ (63.5%) which comes in both peated and unpeated varieties. The peated new make aims to be smoky and complex and the spirit is currently being matured in second fill bourbon and sherry casks. The unpeated new make aims to be fiery and fruity, and uses different yeast to what is used in the peated process. Each will be sold as new makes to give consumers a taste of what is to come [Martin: and to no doubt provide some income until such time the distillery starts offering "whisky"].


The names and branding of each single malt (which will be ready for purchase and consumption in 3 years time) reflect both the rich maritime history of Annandale, as well as prominent local individuals including King Robert Bruce, the 7th Earl of Annandale who was also a warrior and liberator of Scotland; and Robert Burns, Poet, song writer and Baird of Scotland (and excise man of Annandale). The Man O’Swords (peated single malt) and the Man O’Words (unpeated single malt) will be sold at 46% alcohol by volume.

Despite not typically sharing Martin's enthusiasm for new make, I found myself enjoying these - especially the peated version. It will be interesting to see how these turn out as "whiskies" when they are released as such in 3 years time!

- Steph

Sunday 12 April 2015

Tasted #173: Glenfarclas 1979 34yo Family Cask for Shinanoya Tokyo

During our recent visit to Campbelltoun Loch, Tokyo (part of our JapanTour14), we were keen to try as many good drams as (sensibly) possible, but especially those which were either unique to Japan, or very difficult to find elsewhere. One that placed a big tick in that first box was this 34yo Glenfarclas Family Cask release, bottled specifically for Shinanoya (a bottle shop in Japan) on 31st July 2013 and distilled in 1979.

Glenfarclas 1979 34yo Family Cask bottled for Shinanoya (52.1% ABV, 34yo, one of 209 bottles from cask 8800, Speyside, Scotland, no longer available)
Colour: Light gold

Nose: Steph and I walked past a lolly (sweet / confectionary) shop earlier in the day, and this smelled exactly like that - big sugary confectionary notes - boiled lollies most predominantly.

Palate: Easily one of the most unique whiskies I've ever tried. The notes on the nose carry right through, giving big notes of sour warheads and sour gummy worms (Steph got green frogs). There were some honey notes, but they took a big back seat to the sour lollies.

Finish: Medium to long, and sour to the very end. Certainly not what I was expecting.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. Really good. But REALLY odd. But really good.

Martin (and Steph).

Saturday 11 April 2015

Bushmills Tasting at PJ's Irish Whiskey Bar with Simon McGoram (Tasted #168-172)

Having tasted the Jameson series just before St Pat's day a few weeks back at the CCWC, I was looking forward to embarking on another Irish whiskey journey through the Bushmills whiskey dinner at PJ's Irish Whiskey Bar in Sydney. Given the rising (and continuing) success of Scottish single malt whiskies globally, it will be interesting to see if the Irish distillers follow the path and push through innovative expressions, such as what we have seen recently from Teeling Whiskey Company.

PJ's Irish Whiskey Bar is a whisky bar housed in the upper George Street Irish branded venue, Jacksons on George (as owned by the Gallagher Hotels). The bar itself features your classic Irish whiskies - from Jameson, Tullamore D.E.W, New Middleton, Powers to a range of Bushmills (as featured on the menu for the night). The bar also showcases other whisky expressions from Scotland, America, Japan and Australia.

The Bushmills whiskey dinner was hosted by avid whisky enthusiast Simon McGoram, former Porteño Bar Manager and Co-Owner of the Neighbourhood Bar / Restaurant in Bondi. Upon arriving, we caught up with Simon and checked out the Bushmills line-up for the night:
  • Bushmills Original
  • Bushmills Black Bush
  • Bushmills 10yo
  • Bushmills 16yo
  • Bushmills 21yo
The Old Bushmills distillery is renowned as the oldest distillery in Ireland, and in the world -- out-aging even the oldest distilleries in Scotland - Glenturret and Bowmore. Founded in 1608 in County Antrim, Ireland, the Old Bushmills distillery has had its fair share of success and chaos. The distillery survived the introduction of the malt tax in the 1800s, destruction of by fire, the tumultuous prohibition era, and world wars. The distillery had recently been featured on Irish banknotes to mark its 400 years anniversary.

The inherent flavour profile of the Bushmills expressions is said to be rather sweet and honey-laden. Like most of its Irish whiskey brethren, Bushmill is triple-distilled in pot stills from unpeated barley. A number of expressions, including the original Bushmills have grain whiskey blended together with the malt whiskey.


The Bushmills whiskey dinner paired the Bushmills range with a set of delectable whiskey inspired dishes from light smoked salmon / creme fraiche to match the light Bushmills Original to a reuben, as complemented by the Black Bush and a simple bread and butter pudding finished with a whiskey custard -- taking the flavour profile from the 16yo. The sweet and decadent 21yo was nicely paired with a traditional oatmeal cookie, topped with an Irish Cashel Blue cheese, honey and muscatel raisins. The five course menu was designed by Executive Chef Ronny Ghantous.

So then, onto the series of Bushmills whiskies...

Bushmills Original Irish Whiskey (40% ABV, NAS, Antrim, Ireland, $40AUD)
A standard, light blended Irish whiskey expression. Much like a number of the light Jameson expressions tasted at CCWC a couple of weeks back.

Colour: Pale amber

Nose: The nose begins with some honey with a citrus peel edge and then some vanilla
Palate: A light, sweet vanilla begins to build on the palate which is then followed by a hint of citrus and toffee and a touch of honey
Finish: Not as long running, rather it was a short finish

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 87/100. It's light, sweet, easy on the palate though fairly un-interesting.

Bushmills Black Bush Irish Whiskey (40% ABV, NAS, Antrim, Ireland, $48AUD)
A richer NAS blended whiskey with higher malt than grain in the blend and aged in a higher percentage of American oak Oloroso sherry casks.

Colour: Dark caramel

Nose: The Black Bush smells of sherry coupled with crumbs of banana bread, a hint of vanilla of some spices
Palate: The palate is light, though smooth and creamy and exhibits that sherry profile with a hint of vanilla, honey and cinnamon
Finish: Medium finish with heat from the dried spices and lingers with some sherry

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. It's light, smooth, creamy and carries a nice sherry profile -- might be a good candidate for a breakfast Irish whiskey

Bushmills 10 Year Old Irish Whiskey (40% ABV, 10yo, Antrim, Ireland, $60AUD)
A light and creamy single malt Irish whiskey matured in two woods, bourbon and sherry casks

Colour: Light gold

Nose: The nose smells of pears, vanilla and is that chocolate eclair in there
Palate: Similar to the Black Bush, the palate is light, creamy, vanilla sweet and honey laden. There palate is also slightly nutty towards the end
Finish: A smooth and creamy medium finish and hint of black pepper that lingers on

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 89/100. It's a nice light, creamy and sweet expression; quite a simple expression

Bushmills 16 Year Old Irish Whiskey (40% ABV, 16yo, Antrim, Ireland, $110AUD)
A rich and creamy single malt expression aged in olorosso sherry and bourbon casks and finished in port wine casks.

Colour: Rusted nail

Nose: The nose hints of chocolate and honey, quite sweet
Palate: Creamy and leathery. There is that hint of sherry, citrus with sweetness from chocolate and custard. The palate then develops into a more nutty toffee profile.
Finish: Quite a long finish that opens up for more

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. The three wood aging process adds to the complexity of the expression though the expression is rich

Bushmills 21 Year Old Irish Whiskey (40% ABV, 21yo, Antrim, Ireland, $230AUD)
Only 900 cases of this expression are produced annually. An intense, smooth and creamy single malt expression that is aged for 19 years in ex-bourbon and ex-oloroso sherry casks and finished for two years in madeira casks.

Colour: Dark caramel

Nose: Vanilla, chocolate with a hint of citrus and banana
Palate: At first tasting, you can taste the creaminess of the expression with some orange rind, raisins and salted caramel. The palate then proceeds to those malty flavours; toffee, cinnamon, cloves, raisins and a hint of sherry. There is also a touch of licorice towards the end.
Finish: The finish is sweet and dry and lingers on for a bit though not too long.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. A rich, old Irish whiskey that you can have by the fireplace or to complement a rich after-dinner dessert.

When compared to the Jameson expressions, the Bushmills expressions exhibit a more interesting taste profile, with a richer, sweeter note. As the oldest Irish distillery, Bushmills are well-placed to showcase what great expressions Irish distilleries can offer.

- Hendy would like to thank Red Agency for the invitation to what was an enjoyable and insightful night at the PJ's Irish Whiskey Bar, Jackson's on George.