Friday 26 June 2015

The Balvenie Craft Fair & Winter Picnic

The (now annual) Balvenie Craft Fair has come early this year. For this year's Craft Fair, The Balvenie has partnered with one of the most elegant and majestic Victorian city arcades in Sydney, The Strand Arcade. The partnering has revealed an interesting parallel between the two great icons. Both The Balvenie (distillery) and The Strand Arcade were founded in 1891 and were both completed in 1892. Coincidence, I certainly believe so.

Titled "The Balvenie Craft Fair & Winter Picnic", this year's craft fair will not only showcase the classic Balvenie whisky core expressions with different artisan craft products (similar to last year's craft fair) but also artisan food products from the resident stores at the Strand Arcade. The food products that are being showcased over the next few days include olive oil (by Pendolino), mulled wine (by Gewürzhaus) to the freshly roasted cashews (by The Nut Shop).


With The Balvenie (William Grant & Sons - WG&S) being the sponsor, the brand will open up a Balvenie 'pop-up' bar in front of the Strand Hatters, near the George Street entrance of the arcade and also host a series of The Balvenie masterclasses throughout the next three days (Friday 26 June through to Sunday 28 June) every hour, by the hour.

The bar and the masterclasses will be hosted by the awesome duo whisky specialists from WG&S, Laura Hay and Richard Blanchard. Richard, being the bar/cocktail specialist, will most likely man The Balvenie pop-up bar, serving up sample of the Balvenie 12 YO DoubleWood to those passing through The Strand Arcade whilst Laura, with the masterclasses, will be educating individuals on the history of The Balvenie and the artisan pairing with The Balvenie classic core expressions, including:
  • The Balvenie 12 YO DoubleWood;
  • The Balvenie 14 YO Caribbean Cask; and
  • The Balvenie 17 YO DoubleWood

I have had the opportunity to preview The Balvenie Craft Fair & Winter Picnic as well as The Balvenie Masterclass tonight and I have to say that both, the craft fair and the masterclass, showcased what the Strand Arcade has to offer from an artisan craft and food perspective and also The Balvenie core expressions, which we all love here at Time for Whisky. 

I for one, have been visiting Gumption, a resident artisan coffee store at the Strand Arcade over the years. Gumption have consistently delivered excellent coffee using beans from Coffee Alchemy in Marrickville and at the fair, Gumption will host a bean bar to provide people with the opportunity to sample their different coffee expressions.

The Balvenie Masterclass being previewed tonight was hosted by the lovely Laura Hay, WG&S Whisky Specialist. Laura was given the opportunity to pair up the Balvenie 12YO, 14YO (Caribbean Cask) and the 17YO with the different artisan food products from a number of stores at The Strand, food products that complemented the three Balvenie expressions nicely.

To symbolise and celebrate the craft fair, Laura also spoke about the little ant figurine she is holding in the photo above. Named after the Master Coppersmith at the Balvenie Distillery, Denis McBain, the ant figurine represented the crafty nature of ants and Denis had been chosen given his creative, refined and talented skill in maintaining the giant copper pot stills for over fifty years at The Balvenie distillery.

The Balvenie 12YO DoubleWood had been paired with a couple of candied macadamia nuts from The Nut Shop. The candied macadamia nuts added a layer of caramelisation and vanilla to the palate of the 12YO and transformed the pairing into a beautiful creme brûlée on the finish -- it was an interesting pairing to the 12YO. Laura had also elaborated on the history of the Nut Shop, having been open for more than 75 years, the Nut Shop is one of the oldest store at the Strand Arcade and had previously prepared and roasted various nuts on-site, though the preparation and roasting have now been moved to Waterloo in the East. Below is a photo of Daniel, the grandson of the founder of the Nut Shop with his son and daughter at the pop-up version of the Nut Shop.

Laura then described how she had paired the Balvenie 14YO Caribbean Cask with a slice of creme brûlée from the Sweet Infinity patisserie at The Strand and having experienced the creme brûlée note from the last tasting, it made the transition from the 12YO to the 14YO quite nice. The pairing of the creme brûlée with the 14YO Caribbean Cask had managed to bring out the rum notes and also a hint of cinnamon. The 14YO on its own, is quite remarkable and the creme brûlée simply elevated the notes on the palate.

The last pairing in the masterclass was the pairing of the excellent Balvenie 17YO DoubleWood with the equally excellent Haigh's chocolate (52% cocoa) frog. Why the frog you ask? Haigh’s Chocolates have supported a number of research projects to protect Australia’s endangered frog species and their fragile environment and as such, represented Haigh's value. The 52% cocoa was chosen by Laura as Laura felt that the chocolate balanced well with the 17YO which, on its own, is quite an elegant Balvenie expression with lots of toffee and vanilla notes to complement the chocolate.  


The Balvenie Craft Fair & Winter Picnic festival is definitely worth checking out over the next three days (see the festival hours here) and The Balvenie Masterclass will also be running throughout the festival hours, and can be booked via Eventbrite (tickets are $15 per person and proceeds will be donated to the charity Soldier On).

- Hendy.

Wednesday 24 June 2015

Distilery Tour #5 and Bar Review #16: Archie Rose Distilling Company (Sydney, Australia) (Tasted #193-194)

If you fancy yourself a fan of whisky, especially "world whisky", you'll no doubt know that Australian whisky has been exploding in popularity of late (and with good reason - for the most part, it's bloody good stuff).

Despite the fact that many people automatically associate "Australian whisky" with "Tasmanian whisky", there are a number of quality whiskies (or soon-to-be whiskies) being produced in other states, including Victoria (New World Whisky DistilleryBakery Hill), Western Australia (Great Southern Distilling Co) and now right in the heart of Sydney, New South Wales, with the recent opening of Archie Rose Distilling Co.

When I first heard about Archie Rose, I've got to admit I was more than a little excited. A new whisky distillery, right in my home city of Sydney, with Dave Withers (formerly of The Oak Barrel and one of the most knowledgable whisky folk I know) at the helm of production? How could we Sydney whisky fans not be excited?!

The excitement grew when I started seeing pictures and hearing more about the distillery, including the amazing bar, the tours, and the spirits being produced.

Fast forward to Easter time, when Steph and I were back in Sydney and the aforementioned Dave was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to give us an in-depth tour and tasting of the spirits being produced. It was my fourth distillery tour in 5 months, across 3 different countries (none of them Scotland, although that's happening next month)...and easily the one I was most looking forward to.

Archie Rose is located in Rosebery, in the same former industrial complex as Kitchen by Mike and Black Star Pastry. The impressive space is conveniently split into two by a walkway - on one side, the production and cask storage, on the other, the (hugely impressive) bar, designed by the same team behind The Grounds of Alexandria (where we attended the Tullamore D.E.W tasting last year).

We (wisely) started our tour on the production side, where Dave talked us through a number of interesting points about the distillery, including:
  • The two different maltings currently used - malted barley and malted rye
  • The equipment - including the hopper which takes a 600kg mash, is hand spun and is a "pain" when working the rye
  • The mash tun and stills, created by Peter Bailly of Tasmania (who also produced Old Hobart Distillery's stills)
  • The Italian-made fermenters, with water jacketing to control temperature
  • The two main stills (the steam-heated wash still - the largest in Australia at 3,600L, and the spirit still at 1,700L),
  • The smaller (300L) gin still - a modified Carter-head still through which 14 botanicals impart the gin's flavour, including Lemon myrtle, blood lime, juniper, angelia root, ginger and orange.
  • The use of "Loch Rosebery" water - aka Sydney town water (although Sydney town water that's been twice carbon-filtered and passed through a UV filter, mind you.)

The new make spirit comes off the stills at 70% ABV, and is described as robust due to the short, squat stills and narrow necks. Dave (who it has to be said, has a fantastic palate / nose) describes the foreshots as having notes of "permanent markets", the hearts as "honey" and the tails as "lamb fat". Very distinctive then!

Interestingly, the (white) rye currently being sold isn't exactly the same new make as goes into the barrels for aging - it's a spirit made specifically to be enjoyed unaged, by ensuring a lower temperature towards the end of fermentation. For the spirit that is aged though, Archie Rose vat 4-5 barrels' worth at a time, and use virgin oak for the rye (and a future bourbon release), and Buffalo Trace barrels (re-charred in Tasmania) for others.

Steph and I were fortunate enough to taste Archie Rose's Rye that had been aged for a whole 1 day. Whilst not a whisky, and only at 27% ABV, it was an interesting insight into what the future might hold...

Archie Rose 1 day old Rye (27% ABV, 1 day old, Sydney, Australia)
Colour: More than you'd think for one day old (I guess the virgin oak helps). Pale straw.
Nose: Banoffee pie with thick rich caramel.
Palate: More Banoffee pie / banana notes. Sweet.
Finish: Short as you might expect, with some toffee and caramel notes at the end.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. Not overly complex (c'mon, it's a new born and only 27% ABV), but incredibly smooth, absolutely no harshness whatsoever, and with the potential to turn into a robust, complex and fantastic whisky. If it's this good after 1 day, I can't wait to try it with a few years under its belt.

Dave went on to explain that, under current legislation in New South Wales, a distiller can't apply for a licence until the entire operation is pretty much ready to go. Building acquired and equipment purchased and installed. That's a pretty significant outlay for someone to make with no guarantee of a licence! Luckily, there were no such concerns with Archie Rose. For what it's worth, in our opinion a destination like this can only be a good thing for Sydney - not just to put NSW back on the "Aussie Whisky" map, but from a City of Sydney tourism perspective too.

Archie Rose run tours where they open the distillery to the public, allow visitors to see the production and even taste some of the product, during and after production. At $10AUD (tour) or $20 (tour + tasting), it's pretty good value. Details here.

With our tour over, it was onto the bar....

...and what a stunning bar it was. With a copper bar and booths that look like large wooden mashtuns, the spirits theme clearly runs right throughout the venue (and just in case you forgot where you where, there are barrels stacked 4 high and 12 wide right above said booths).

With a large education / function space upstairs, expert mixologists mixing cocktails from 12pm to 10pm 7 days/week, and an incredible spirits selection (don't fancy an Archie Rose white rye, gin or vodka? How does a Pappy van Winkle 23 grab you? Or a Smith's Angaston 14yo?), the bar is the sort of venue you could happily call your local (and from what we saw, it seems many already are).

Given we were inside a distillery though, it would have been rude not to try the line-up (Vodka, Gin and White Rye). All were smooth, very sippable and impeccably made, but this is a whisky blog after all, and so we'll focus on the White Rye here.

Archie Rose White Rye (40% ABV, unaged, Sydney, Australia)
Colour: As naked (clear) as the day it was born.
Nose: White chocolate.
Palate: Rich, thick, chewy. Chocolate and hazelnuts, with some meatiness. Robust and complex for an unaged spirit.
Finish: Some slight vegetal notes (asparagus?!), more hazelnuts and a short to medium length.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. There are new makes I can't stand, and others I could happily sip neat. This definitely falls into the latter category.

If you're a whisky fan living in Sydney (and even if you're not a whisky fan), we highly recommend dropping by Archie Rose at least for a drink, if not for a tour. Judging by the number of (non-whisky fanatic) friends I've seen having a great time here on Facebook, Archie Rose are onto an absolute winner here, and we can't wait to see what goodies they produce in the coming years.

All the best fellas.

Time for Whisky would like to thank Archie Rose (and especially Dave Withers) for taking the time to give us an in-depth tour and tasting. 


Tuesday 23 June 2015

PR #28: Hibiki Japanese Harmony launches in Australia and "The House of Suntory" exclusive takeovers return

Hibiki Japanese Harmony launches in Australia

At Time for Whisky we're big fans of Japan, the Japanese whisky/bar scene and Japanese whisky in general, and right up there amongst our favourite whiskies are those by Suntory - not only their excellent single malts, but also their famous blend Hibiki.

Last year Suntory launched the NAS Yamazaki and Hakushu "Distiller's Reserve" (along with the official launch of the rest of the range, Hibiki 12 and 17 included), and this year it's Hibiki's turn for a NAS (No Age Statement) release, with the "Japanese Harmony" just having been launched in Australia.

With Hendy having attended the Sydney launch last night, and myself having attended a tasting in Tokyo with Suntory's Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo last month, we'll have our own thoughts up on the Japanese Harmony soon. Until then, here's the press release...
23 June 2015 – Japanese whisky lovers will be delighted with the launch of Hibiki Japanese Harmony whisky, the latest masterpiece from the award-winning House of Suntory, available in the Australian market from June 2015. 
Hibiki Japanese Harmony is a meticulous and refined blend that offers a symphony of more than 12 malt and grain whiskies from Suntory’s Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita distilleries, developed by third-generation Master Blender Shingo Torii and fourth-generation Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo. 
The entrepreneurial spirit and discerning palate of Shinjiro Torii, founder of Suntory and Japanese Whisky, gave rise to the creation of Hibiki in 1989 to commemorate the 90 year anniversary of Suntory. Distilled with the purest waters and the most refined techniques, it is no surprise that the oriental nuances and complex, distinct character of Suntory’s whisky is the drink of choice for whisky connoisseurs the world over. 
Hibiki Japanese Harmony, thoughtfully presented in the classic 24-faceted glass bottle symbolizing the 24 seasons of the old Japanese lunar calendar, pays tribute to the original Hibiki blend. 
Fukuyo meticulously used the exact malt and grain whiskies that went into the first Hibiki blend; American White Oak malt whiskies form a solid base, which are accentuated by the rare Mizunara (Japanese oak) and Sherry malt whiskies. 
These exceptional malt whiskies are the backbone of the award-winning Hibiki range – Hibiki 17yrs, 21yrs, 30yrs and now, Hibiki Japanese Harmony. Grain whiskies from Suntory’s Chita distillery act as the “dashi” or broth, to complete the personality of the malt whiskies and enhance the overall harmony of flavour of Hibiki. 
The newest member of the House of Suntory is extremely versatile, recommended to be enjoyed neat, blended with water, mixed as a cocktail, or served with a hand-carved ice ball for the ultimate Japanese whisky experience, and enhances any dining experience. 

Whilst I love the Hibiki 17, anyone with a passing interest in whisky would have to recognise the constrained supply of aged malts (impacting whisky producing nations all over the world), and the related increasing prices (or in the case of Nikka - entire deletion of age statement malts!), so it's good to see Suntory responding by ensuring we can continue to enjoy Hibiki well into the future. It's also pleasing to see they've kept the stunning Hibiki bottle design for "Japanese Harmony"!

Hibiki "Japanese Harmony" retails in Australia for $95AUD.

The House of Suntory Exclusive Takeover Returns

As if the launch of a new Hibiki wasn't enough, Suntory are bringing back their "House of Suntory" bar takeovers in 2015, giving whisky fans in both Sydney and Melbourne a chance to enjoy the range in
22 June 2015 – Suntory, the pioneer of Japanese whisky, once again invites Australia into The House of Suntory Exclusive Takeover this winter. Following huge success in 2014, the sophisticated pop up will also celebrate the introduction of The House of Suntory’s newest member, Hibiki Japanese Harmony.
The award winning distiller welcomes consumers into The House of Suntory to discover the art of Japanese whisky and experience an evening of utmost omotenashi; the Japanese spirit of hospitality. A specially designed three and six course paired menu created exclusively for the pop up will explore the marriage between Japanese whisky and cuisine, including bespoke Suntory Whisky cocktails and izakaya style bar food.
Launched last year to celebrate an expanded portfolio of luxury whiskies, the one-night-only event sold out at venues across Australia. To welcome Hibiki Japanese Harmony, The House of Suntory will this year run on each Wednesday of July and August, first at Melbourne’s award-winning Japanese bar and dining room, Hihou, in July before arriving in Sydney at the new Japanese small bar, Tokyo Bird, in August. 
“We have expanded The House of Suntory Takeover series to allow even more Australians to be acquainted with Suntory Whisky. In line with true Japanese hospitality, we want everyone to enjoy the subtle complexity of Suntory Whisky and experience the range in the style its founder, Shinjiro Torii intended it to be consumed; alongside beautiful Japanese cuisine,” said Narelle McDonald, Beam Suntory Australia Group Marketing Manager.
“We are excited to welcome a new whisky masterpiece to this year’s events, Hibiki Japanese Harmony. It’s a harmonious blend reflecting the craftsmanship and delicate nature of the Japanese. With its honey like sweetness, it is perfectly paired with complex flavours and desserts. The full Suntory Whisky portfolio will also be available The House of Suntory, including the gently smoky Hakushu and our flagship single malt, Yamazaki. Consumers who attended last year will also welcome the return of the highball - whisky mixed with soda, ice and a mint or lemon garnish - which has been incredibly popular.” said McDonald.
The House of Suntory Exclusive Takeover returns as consumers interest in Japanese whisky continues to rise. An increasing desire for luxury experiences and experiential drink offerings has amplified the popularity of Japanese whisky with Australian consumers. Last year also marked the first time a Japanese whisky was awarded the Whisky Bible’s whisky of the year, with Suntory Whisky’s Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 being awarded top honour.
The House of Suntory will launch at Hihou on Wednesday 1 July and will take over the venue each Wednesday evening during July. Consumers can celebrate the arrival of the new Hibiki Japanese Harmony and enjoy on a hand-carved ice sphere. Prices are $55 per person for a 3 course tasting menu, while a 6 course dinner will cost $120 per person. Suntory Whisky drinks with matching bar snacks will also be available daily throughout the month of July.

Tokyo Bird owners Tina and Jason are good friends of this blog, and have quickly established themselves as the place to go in Sydney for authentic Japanese whisky, cocktails and yakitori. We have no doubt these events will be well worth the (quite reasonable) prices.


Saturday 20 June 2015

Ardbeg Day 2015 Sydney review (Tasted #192)

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Ardbeg Distillery in 1815. Over the years (but particularly since its revival by Glenmorangie in 1997) Ardbeg has undoubtedly become a household name amongst whisky drinkers, aficionados and lovers alike. In fact, through the global Ardbeg Committee program, Ardbeg has gathered quite a large stronghold globally, in excess of 100,000 Ardbeg fans alike - or as they are better known, Ardbeggians!

To celebrate this 200th anniversary, Ardbeg first announced the date for the Ardbeg Day back in February 2015, then it launched ARTbeg in May, an interactive art exhibition showcasing Ardbeg’s past, present and future. In early May, Ardbeg Day 2015 was finally unveiled with the notion that we ought to look forward rather than look back, 'to look forward to the next 200 years.


Ardbeg Day 2015, or rather Ardbeg Day 2215 was held at the White Bay Cruise Terminal, a futuristic designed cruise terminal. I have personally never been to this side of Rozelle, away from the bustling Darling Street. The White Bay Cruise Terminal is rather secluded along the south-eastern fringe of Rozelle and lines the narrow White Bay. It was here, in this futuristic, spacious terminal that we and hundreds of Ardbeggians alike gathered to kick off the Ardbeg Day 2015 celebration.

Given the futuristic theme, upon walking in, you are greeted by hostesses donning futuristic hair and make-up, resembling figures that may have travelled from a time in the distant future. Inside the terminal segways, hoverboards, futuristic giant Ardbeg light helium balloons and robo-Shorties were scattered throughout, oh and there’s the DeLorean — having travelled from 1985, then to 1885 then to 2015 (and finally to 2215, arriving at the Ardbeg Day celebration). Ardbeggians were allowed access to the DeLorean where they were able to put on super slick sunnies and have their photos taken using an old school polaroid camera.

Then there were these cake pops, arriving on a decadent lush forest clad wooden block - something that may perhaps have been brought out by Heston Blumenthal out of his Heston's Feasts show. Luscious, exciting, delicious and futuristic.

At the corner of the room was also a table of produce and a large platter of Mushroom gnocchi to complement the canapés being served.


I arrived late to the day and missed out on the official launch of the Ardbeg Perpetuum by Andrew Derbridge of the SMWS, though Garth, LVMH Ambassador was kind enough to source me a serve of the Perpetuum - tasting notes below. On first taste, the Perpetuum is lighter and more delicate than the other Ardbeg expressions - though still retaining the Ardbeg smoke.

These are Ardbeg Haars, or the Ardbeg vaporisers. These Haars were out to play on the day. Manned by the man in a lab coat, they looked quite scientific and rather cool. I missed trying out the Haar at the Whisky Show in May and I was looking forward to trying them out when I saw them. The Ardbeg Haar makes use of the Ardbeg 10 year old and converts the liquid Ardbeg into its vapour form. A straw is given to you through which you inhale the sweet, glorious Ardbeg 10 year old vapour just like a cigarette. Sweet, glorious and peat filled vapour. I have to say, the Ardbeg 10 year old vapour is a lot better than the Ardbeg 10 year old in its liquid form.

Following all the inhaling, photo-taking and dramming, the Ardbeg Day celebration came to a close at the Terminal. We were informed that another celebration was kicking off at one of the Ardbeg embassies, the Stitch Bar in the Sydney CBD. A shuttle bus couriered us Ardbeggians that decided to kick-on straight to Stitch Bar.

Stitch Bar, as one of the Ardbeg embassies, also donned Ardbeg Day gear from the neon-lit Ardbeg Day sign, to all the bar-staff wearing Ardbeg Day t-shirt and also making another appearance - the Ardbeg Haar.

The Haar was still being prepared when the crowd arrived though was in full swing later that night and became quite a spectacle with the crowd.


Similar to last year and the year before, Ardbeg Jeroboam (4.5L) bottles were visible throughout the day and with the Perpetuum, it was no different. The Perpetuum Jeroboam was present at Stitch Bar, providing us all with additional tasting opportunities of the Perpetuum.

So what is the Perpetuum like?

Ardbeg Perpetuum (47.4% ABV, NAS, Islay, Scotland, $169AUD)
A nice, balanced and gentle Ardbeg, wait -- did someone say gentle?! A nice dram to have on a mild winter night when you crave an Ardbeg though prefer, perhaps, a Speyside on the palate. Nevertheless, the Ardbeg smoke lingers throughout.

Colour: Light brass

Nose: There's that wet moss and damp grass that builds up to hints of iodine, sea salt and oh, the light  gentle peat comes through (quite surprising for an Ardbeg).

Palate: The palate is wet and mouth coating, translating the wet moss from the nose to the palate. There's dark bitter chocolate, seaweed, brine, a touch of vanilla and builds onto gingerbread crumbs.

Finish: The finish is medium long, mouth-coating and fresh. The finish leaves you with light spices and also leaves you salivating for more.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100.

Continuing the Ardbeg Day celebration, I took on the opportunity to savour other Ardbeg expressions at the bar, from Uigedail to Corryvreckan. The night lingered and the Ardbeg adventure continued. Ardbeg Day 2015 was a fun day, similar to the fun we had last year and the year before

Over the past two hundred years, Ardbeg has become quite a revered name globally in the whisky industry and its various releases are innovative and tantalising, especially recently with Auriverdes, Supernova and this year's Perpetuum. As Ardbeg has noted, we all ought to look forward rather than backward and if the future is anything like the past 200 years, the next 200 years will undoubtedly be more fun and exciting - so here's to the next 200 years!

If you missed this year's celebration, you can always join in on the fun at next year's Ardbeg Day. Make sure you sign up to the global Ardbeg Committee to be updated with new releases, events and more.

Happy Ardbeg Day 2015!


Wednesday 17 June 2015

'Ladies who Whisky' launch at Hullett House

We’ve been fans of Hullett House’s Whisky@Stables bar since it opened in 2014 - for the whisky selection and theme that seamlessly ties the menu, décor and drink to produce a relaxed space to enjoy a dram or few. What’s new and interesting is a new series of tasting evenings called ‘Ladies who whisky’ (which we originally mentioned back in May) that aims to celebrate whisky with the fairer sex. As a "lady who whiskies", I went along to the sample night / launch to check out what this event was all about.

The sample class was run by John of the Aroma Academy, our kilt-wearing friend who enjoys a variety of whisky-based roles here in HK as an Aroma Academy presenter, distributor of Hepburn's Choice, and Asia Pacific importer of Glencairn glasses. The intimate space of the Whisky@Stables bar was full of a diverse selection of women from different careers, backgrounds and experiences with whisky - and a fair few men came along for the ride too. The majority of attendees admitted that they were new to the world of whisky, so they were in the right place.

John talked the group through whisky vocabulary, how to recognise aromas, what aromas may be detected in whisky, and how our past experiences with smells influence what we now pick up. We were given various oils to smell and guess the scent, and then as a group matched scent profiles to a whisky. On the whole it was a lot of fun with great company, delicious canapés and a tasty dram to finish on.

The future sessions run fortnightly throughout throughout June, July and August and contain some interesting pairings, such as whisky and cheese, whisky and fashion, whisky and caviar and even and whisky and lipstick! See this link for more information.

- Steph.

Monday 8 June 2015

The Balvenie Masterclass with David Stewart (Tasted #187 - #191)

It's no secret that we're all huge fans of The Balvenie here at TimeforWhisky - Steph, Hendy and myself. For me personally, Glenfiddich may have been the malt that got me into whisky in the first place, but The Balvenie has since taken the mantle as my favourite whisky in the William Grant and Sons stable.

It was therefore with much excitement that I went along to Tiffany's New York Bar at the Intercontinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong last Friday, to meet The Balvenie Malt Master (and industry legend) David Stewart. We've mentioned David a few times in this blog before (when we met Sam Simmons, and when we were fortunate enough to try a 1973 40yo The Balvenie pulled from the warehouse just weeks earlier), but this was the first time we'd met him. David had been in Shanghai to launch the new range of single barrel releases (12, 15 and 25) and luckily for us, made a brief stopover in Hong Kong for a few events.

This event was attended by a mix of media and industry, and was a full house, with every seat at every table taken with people keen to hear David talk about the whisky he's worked with (most of the time, creating) for an incredible 53 years.

Starting off with a dram of The Balvenie 12yo DoubleWood, guests chatted and explored the exhibits placed around the bar, showcasing the various elements that make up The Balvenie (copper from the stills, wooden staves from the oak barrels, malted barley, even some peat etc...) while enjoying substantial canapés from Tiffany's New York Bar kitchen.

After half an hour, it was time to take our seats and soak up some of David's wisdom. David started by talking us through some of the background of The Balvenie (being one of only 6 Scottish distilleries that still performs its own in-house malting, using Barley grown from their own fields around the distillery, as well as barley brought in from elsewhere) and his background within it - from starting off as a teenager, through to being William Grant and Sons' master belnder, through to his current (part-time) position as The Balvenie Malt Master.

David also explained the significant variety The Balvenie has in their "core" lineup - wine finishes (21yo Portwood), rum finishes (14yo Caribbean Cask), DoubleWoods (12, 17), single cask (15) etc.. something for everyone.

After the introduction, it was time to start tasting. We've tasted all of this lineup before (here, here and here) but it's always a special experience to taste a range with the Malt Master who created it (and hey, re-visiting a line-up like The Balvenie's core range is never a chore)! First up, the 12yo...

The Balvenie DoubleWood 12 (40% ABV, 12yo, Speyside, Scotland, $488HKD / $87.99AUD)
Aged in American oak ex-Bourbon casks and finished in first fill sherry casks for between 6 and 9 months.
Colour: Light, golden honey
Nose: Big honey, and some vanilla. Trademark ex-Bourbon cask aged whisky really. Has a slight hint of a fuller, richer nuttiness too.
Palate: Initially light, but growing in intensity. Some citrus, lots of vanilla and plenty of honey, but not just average honey - richer, creamier, honey. Manuka honey almost.
Finish: Medium length, sweet and with some spice at the very end.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. A dram you'd happily sip every day.

The Balvenie Carribean Cask 14 (43% ABV, 14yo, Speyside, Scotland, $980HKD / $115.99AUD)
Interestingly, The Balvenie have introduced a number of rum-finished 14yo releases in the past - Golden Cask, Cuban Cask and this Carribean Cask. David explained that they mainly differ in the rum used, and that the casks for the Carribean cask are filled with rum for 6 months at The Balvenie, before being used for finishing.
Colour: Orange gold - darker than the 12.
Nose: Rounder, fuller and more sugary than the 12. Plenty of toffee, but no spice and hardly any of the honey that was so evident on the 12.
Palate: Fuller, richer than the 12. A lot of Demerara sugar and some brief citrus notes. Still some honey, but it's in the background, not the foreground like with the 12.
Finish: Medium to long length. Toffee-like sweetness.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. Very different to the 12 but equally enjoyable.

The Balvenie DoubleWood 17 (43% ABV, 17yo, Speyside, Scotland, $1,468HKD / $163.99AUD)
Made using a similar method to the 12 - ex-American Oak aged whisky finished in first fill sherry for 6-9 months.
Colour: Golden - somewhere between the 12 and the 14.
Nose: The honey is there, but it doesn't hit you in the face like the 12 does (not that it's a bad thing in the 12!). It's sweet, but there are also some vegetal notes.
Palate: Smooth, oaky and lots more caramel and toffee than honey or vanilla. A hint of BBQ meat (?) - a nice complex palate which still retains trademark The Balvenie characteristics.
Finish: Longer, oakier, and extremely moorish.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. Fantastic.

The Balvenie 21 Portwood (40% ABV, 21yo, Speyside, Scotland, $1,968HKD / $229.99AUD)
Finished (for only ~4 months) in 40yo 600L port casks. One of David's favourites.
Colour: Noticeably red-amber.
Nose: Rich, with lots of sultanas and toffee.
Palate: Big and bold (I'd love to try the 47.6% duty-free version!). Lots of Christmas cake, sultanas, and some mulled wine, but with a backbone of vanilla all the way through.
Finish: Sweet, honied, but with cake icing at the very end.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. Please, could I have another?

Finally, it was time for the pinnacle dram of the night - The Balvenie Thirty. No fancy finishing with this one, just good old fashioned aging of a quality spirit in high quality wood (bottled non-chill filtered).

The Balvenie Thirty 30yo (47.3% ABV, 30yo, Speyside, Scotland, $6,480HKD / $899.99AUD)
Non-chill filtered (anything below 46% from The Balvenie is chill-filtered) and laid down to rest in the 80s.
Colour: Rich amber.
Nose: Furniture polish and leather. Honey. 75% cacao chocolate. Whole oranges, mandarins, even some almonds. So much going on. So complex. So wonderful.
Palate: Big mouthfeel, oily, lots of citrus and honey, with a constant undertone of oak (though not overpowering), brazil nuts and hints of leather.
Finish: Long, subtle honey and vanilla - almost back to the key notes from this same whisky in its youth! Much smoother though, and much longer. Slight hints of bitter dark chocolate at the end.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 94/100. Marvelous, the sort of dram you'd enjoy every day if you could afford it! Complex and robust, but also very approachable.

After an interview with David (which will be up on the blog soon), it was time to head home, content in the knowledge that I'd just thoroughly enjoyed 5 of my favourite drams with the man who's been making them for longer than I've been alive. A fantastic evening.

Time for Whisky would like to thank Telford for the invitation and for putting on such a wonderful event.