Tuesday 29 September 2015

Russell's Reserve Small Batch Launch with Jimmy and Eddie Russell (Tasted #218-219)

Wild Turkey Master Distillers Jimmy and Eddie Russell visited Australia in August to unveil the new Russell's Reserve Single Barrel Small Batch. The visit by the Russells also coincided with Eddie's recent promotion to the role of Wild Turkey's Master Distiller, where he will work closely with Jimmy on the production and to influence upcoming whiskies, especially in the Russell's Reserve line-up. It is amazing to see Eddie follow in Jimmy's footsteps, having worked his way to the top - from being a Relief Operator then spending many years as Wild Turkey's Associate Master Distiller.

This local launch was quite exciting as we saw the new Single Barrel Small Batch release join the existing Russell's Reserve 10 Year Old bourbon, and also the soon to be released Russell's Reserve Single Barrel Rye expression that was hinted by Eddie during the event. Though a US release only at the moment, we hope it is only a matter of time before we see the rye single barrel expression locally.

The event, held at Sydney's Four Seasons Hotel's Grain Bar, saw Jimmy and Eddie Russell mingle with bourbon lovers and whiskey advocates alike. Jimmy and Eddie were quite ecstatic being in Australia, noting that Australia is an important market to them, being the second biggest market for Wild Turkey outside US. It is always pleasing to hear the importance of the local market from Master Distillers as it can tend to influence future releases locally and also provide insight into the maturity of the local whisk(e)y market. Jimmy also spoke of the interesting change in the consumption of Wild Turkey (and other bourbon) since he started working at the Wild Turkey distillery in 1954 - back then bourbon being much more of a gentleman's drink.

The Wild Turkey Russell's Reserve Single Barrel expression has been curated from around 150 to 200 barrels that have been selected for each small batch. The inherent spice notes that come with all Wild Turkey and Russell's Reserve expressions are present with the Single Barrel and are complemented with creamy vanilla and subtle cherry sweetness notes.

Jimmy and Eddie Russell gathered all of us together halfway through the night to join in on the tasting of the Single Barrel Small Batch and also, a treat of the rather limited Wild Turkey 17 Year Old Master's Keep Bourbon expression, supposedly Jimmy's choice of dram before heading out.

Russell's Reserve Single Barrel Small Batch (55% ABV, NAS, OB, Kentucky, USA, $69.99AUD)
The Single Barrel Small Batch expression is big, rich and bold and prominently showcases the spice notes along with the sweetness of creamy vanilla and butterscotch. The 55% ABV also provides a nice warming sensation to the overall finish.

Colour: Deep copper (with an amber hue).

Nose: A whiff of 
peppermint that is followed by rich sweet notes, layers of honey, creamy vanilla, butterscotch and then some cinnamon and clove spices come through.

Palate: The palate is big and spicy, clove spice notes are initially present then followed by the rich sweetness from the nose, the creamy vanilla, caramel and some cherry notes.

Finish: The finish is long and warm, most likely from the high ABV and the big spicy note fizzles out into a lingering sweetness. Big, rich and bold.

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

.. and then the onto the Wild Turkey 17 Year Old Master's Keep Bourbon.

Wild Turkey 17 Year Old Master's Keep Bourbon (43.4% ABV, 17yo, OB, Kentucky, USA$199.99AUD)

Colour: Gold

Nose: The nose is less sweet than the Single Barrel Small Batch. There is
cinnamon roll in the glass with a hint of butterscotch and then some peppermint. Star anise spice notes follow.

Palate: The palate presents sweet nougat notes and it is almost chalky - with a slight grainy texture that transforms into black peppery spice.

Finish: Medium finish with a lingering sweetness.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 88/100.

Overall, the Single Barrel Small Batch is a great expression, even compared to the 17 Year Old Master's Keep expression. Then again, personally, I do love a rich, big and bold expression. The one thing I am looking forward to is the single barrel rye release here locally. Perhaps then we can line up the single barrel rye against the six year old rye and also with the conventional 10 year old bourbon.


TimeforWhisky.com would like to thank Trish Nicol Agency for the invitation to the launch event with Jimmy and Eddie Russell.

Monday 28 September 2015

PR #29: Master of Malt Whisky Advent Calendars

Hands up who loved the lead up to Christmas as a kid, excitedly opening up their little advent calendar windows, one each day (or more, if you were impatient like me) to get at the chocolate inside?

More than a few of you, no doubt.

You might be grown up now (and if you aren't, you shouldn't be reading this blog!) but that doesn't mean you have to give up the 25 days of joy that an advent calendar brings. Enter - Drinks by the Dram's Christmas Advent Calendars.

I remember a few years ago when these advent calendars were first released - there was only one (or maybe two), and while I really wanted one, I never got around to getting one (I have since sampled many a whisky through Master of Malt's 'Drinks by the Dram' samples however, which form the basis of these calendars).

Fast forward a few years and now there's a whole bunch of calendars - from the basic "Whisky Advent Calendar" (£149.95) to the "Premium Whisky Advent Calendar" (£249.95) and right through to the "Old and Rare Whisky Advent Calendar" (£999.95), which includes goodies such as the 60 year old Speysider (see our tasting notes here), an OB Port Ellen, an OB Macallan 25, an old Glenfarclas Family Cask, a single cask Ardbeg, Brora 35 and more. What a way to spend the leadup to Christmas....

There are even now "Ginvent", Rum and Cognac calendars, and even a "chilli vodka" calendar (the latter we think might be taking it a bit far...). You can see the full line-up of drams in each calendar if you really want to know, or keep it as a surprise.

Calendars are available for pre-order now, with shipping expected by the end of October. The full list of available calendars can be found here.


Tuesday 22 September 2015

This week in whisk(e)y #23 - Laphroaig Live returns home, Ardbeg in Space, New Bunnahabhain / Deanston / Ledaigs, New Johnnie Walker campaign, New Wemyss limited edition whisky, and more

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 so (including other interesting whisk(e)y news Steph, Hendy & or I think you might enjoy). So on with it then...

Laphroaig Live 2015 - Live Stream Friday 25th September
Laphroaig Live, that live annual celebration of all things Laphroaig, returns home to Islay this year, for the 200th Anniversary Celebration. Fear not though if you're not one of the 100 lucky folks to attend live though, there'll be a live webstream available and if it's anything like last year's (where over 60,000 people attended) it'll be a blast.

The action happens on Friday 25th September (this Friday!) in HK and Australia - 3am HKT / 5am AEST time (Thursday 24th September 8pm UK time). Of particular interest this year is the lineup to be tasted, which includes not a single bottle that was available this time last year! 2015 FoL Cairdeas, Laphroaig 15yo (2015 release), Laphroaig 21yo FoL release and Laphroaig 32yo will all be featured, introduced and tasted by a panel including Distillery Manager John Campbell (who Hendy met recently in Sydney) along with noted whisky writers and TV celebrities.

See http://www.laphroaig.com/live for all the action, where you can even download your own tasting mat to join in the fun.

Ardbeg in space - white paper released
From one Islay distillery story to another...

When we had lunch with Dr Bill Lumsden the other day, we learnt that his in-depth white paper on the "Ardbeg in Space" experimentation was due for imminent release.

According to the site, The key aims of the experiment were:
(i) To determine if conditions of micro-gravity would have an impact on the range of naturally occurring terpene compounds and on the extraction
of key flavour-active compounds in oak wood by Scotch malt distillate.
(ii) To assess the impact of maturation in conditions of micro-gravity on the flavour profile of oak matured distillate.
(iii) To investigate the presence of novel compounds and flavours in model maturation systems for Scotch malt distillate, as a result of conditions of micro-gravity.
The white paper now been released, and can be found here. You'll have to read on to find out the specific differences Dr Bill noted (suffice to say, there were many), but it makes for some interesting reading, especially if you like to geek out of the chemical side of whisky.

"Joy will take you further" - new Johnnie Walker campaign
Focusing on those who have found success through having a "joyful outlook on life", this new global Johnnie Walker campaign is set to be one of the largest the brand has ever launched.

The video (see below) represents a more energetic, "fun" angle than previous campaigns in our opinion - and there's nothing wrong with that.

"Launching globally on 16th September 2015 and set to go live in Hong Kong 17th September 2015, the pioneering campaign delves into the unique science behind whether happiness can help you succeed. For the study the brand is partnering with US-based psychologist and scientist Dr Matt Killingsworth, who has reviewed decades of scientific research in his study of the topic.
As an expert on the science, Killingsworth suggests that people need to re-think the conventional approach. “People sometimes think of happiness as a far-off, distant prize only to be won by their years of hard work or when they achieve conventional markers of success, like a higher income or a bigger house. But there is a growing body of evidence to say that enjoying happiness along the journey makes success more likely,” he commented. “While we can’t necessarily be happy all the time, the broad range of benefits happiness offers, gives us a new reason to pursue happiness at work and in life.”
Joining the campaign are some of the world’s most successful people, who are among a growing number of those advocating a new approach to life, fuelled by the belief that joy is a major key to progress. Names include McLaren Honda driver Jenson Button, Oscar-nominated actor Jude Law and Chinese actor Zhao Wei, who believe that happiness actually helps people achieve more.
Actor Jude Law said: “Keeping positive and finding joy every day in the job that I do is part of my philosophy and I think that’s one of the things that has helped me keep moving forward in my career.”
Guy Escolme, Johnnie Walker® Global Brand Director added: “As a brand Johnnie Walker® has always stood for progress – it’s been the story of our whisky since our founder John Walker started it all nearly 200 years ago. What two centuries of experience have taught us is that progress doesn’t have to be an endless uphill journey – we can enjoy the steps we take and the more happiness we find in them the more likely we are to achieve our goal. Evidence is confirming a conviction that sits at the heart of our brand: Joy Will Take You Further.”

Burn Stewart Distillers to launch second batch of Single Malt Scotch Whiskies
Burn Stewart Distillers is shortly about to release the second batch of three award-winning expressions from its single malt portfolio: Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach, Deanston 18YO and Ledaig 18YO. The new batch of Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach will be introduced at the end of October 2015, while the 18YOs will be released at the end of November 2015.

Quoting the press release:
"Each of the three expressions embody the craftsmanship and innovation for which Burn Stewart is known, and are amongst the last created by Master Distiller Ian MacMillan before he departs the company next month.
Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach has an unusually rich, complex character, marrying ex bourbon cask sweetness with intense Islay malt peatiness and subtle hints of the sea. Deanston 18YO displays the whisky’s signature profile of sweet, honeyed fruit, and is distinguished by its aromatic and balanced notes of American oak and hints of tobacco and nutmeg. While Ledaig 18YO is a wonderfully smoky island single malt which balances sweet and floral aromas with the richness and warmth of sea salt and smoke.
All three expressions are un-chill filtered, meaning that nothing is added or taken away, leaving the spirit exactly as nature intended. The new bottles will be  distributed across key international markets including: UK, North America, Europe, Asia and Australia."

Wemyss Malts launches limited edition "Kiln Embers" whisky
We've been fans of Wemyss whiskies for a while now, having tried a few cracking ones at Whisky Live London 2015. Recently announced is a new limited edition to complement the current line-up of blends - 'Kiln Embers', a smoky addition blended with double the amount of smoky Islay malt whisky than its sister whisky, Peat Chimney.

"Following its popular 2014 limited release, Velvet Fig, Wemyss Malts has created this no-age statement expression to offer an additional peaty dimension to its blended malt range. Kiln Embers is also non-chill-filtered and bottled at 46% abv. With a limited release of just 12,000 bottles globally, it is presented in a gift carton and will be available in specialist spirits stores at around £42 [No word on HK or AU pricing yet]
Like the rest of the Wemyss Malts blended malts selection, Kiln Embers is named after the whisky's natural flavours and aromas. The whisky's name and gift carton are inspired by the barley malting process where peat is added to a kiln to develop the smoky flavours found in this whisky. On the nose, snuffed smoke mingles with salted lemons and sweet cure bacon; while oats and orange peel toast over embers and heathery peat on the palate; resulting in a sweet smoke finish.
William Wemyss, Managing Director of Wemyss Malts, commented: "When I started this business in 2005, I never envisaged the amazing breadth of flavours to be found in whiskies. Our new "Kiln Embers" is even smokier than our existing smoky favourite Peat Chimney and is a fitting celebration of our ten years in the industry. "

Glenfiddich announces winner of Artists in Residence competition
Glenfiddich recently announced the winner of their inaugural "Artists in Residence" Australian competition - a competition which first began in Scotland in 2002 and has seen over 100 artists mentored and tutored during 3 month "in-residence" experiences at the Glenfiddich distillery.
"Glenfiddich is proud to announce dual Blackheath and Bondi resident Joan Ross as the winner of the inaugural Australian Glenfiddich Artists in Residence Competition.
Opened to Australian residents for the first time, the Glenfiddich Artists in Residence Competition invited artists to enter their work, using any array of mediums which include, but are not limited to print, photography, animation, performance and installation.
The judging panel lead by Glenfiddich Artists in Residence Curator Andy Fairgrieve and including the Sydney Contemporary International Art Fair Advisory Council, made up by Australian actress Rachel Griffiths, former Lord Mayor Lucy Turnbull AO, Sue Kato, Mark Hughes, Nick Tobias, Dr Gene Sherman and Evan Williams.

The judges were so impressed by the calibre of the entries they selected seven finalists instead of the originally planned five. The final seven included Joan Ross, Cameron Robbins, Marc Standing, Luke Storrier, Liam Benson, Deb Mansfield and Troy Emery.

Joan was chosen as the winner as her body of work not only demonstrates her technique and skill as an artist through her hand painted prints and digital animations, but each of her works tells a unique story about Australian colonisation. Her use of Hi Vis Fluro is a feature throughout her work which is something she noticed an influx of after 9/11, and it is according to Joan “alien to the landscape and a metaphor for colonisation.”

“Given the incredible standard and quality of the seven finalists, it was never going to be an easy task to choose just one to join our residency program next summer at distillery, however I feel we have an outstanding artist and personality with Joan,” said Glenfiddich Artists in Residence Curator Andy Fairgrieve.

The residency will take place in 2016 where Joan will have the opportunity to live and work for three months at the Glenfiddich distillery in Dufftown, Scotland alongside artists from Scotland, India, China Taiwan, Canada and Korea.

For more information visit http://www.glenfiddich.com/ or http://www.williamgrant.com/. For further information on Joan’s work visit Michael Reid Gallery or http://www.joanross.com.au/"

Thats all for this week. Until next time...


Sunday 13 September 2015

Distillery Tour #6: Amrut Distilleries (Bangalore, India) (Tasted #217)

If you were to say our Distillery Tour posts had a theme, it would surely have to be "Not Scottish" (don't worry, those tours have happened, they were awesome, and the posts will be up soon). So far we've covered distillery visits in Melbourne, Sydney, Japan (twice), and Taiwan, and now it's India's  turn.

This tour was originally planned for 2013, but after having to cancel a work trip to Bangalore for personal reasons, it wasn't until 2015 that another chance came up. I needed to make a quick Mon-Fri trip to Bangalore for work, and took the opportunity to ask Amrut Distilleries if I'd be able to take a look around the distillery on the Saturday. Thankfully they were more than happy to have me, and so the plan was set.

Saturday rolls around, and we (myself and a colleague) make the journey out to South West Bangalore (25km, a little over an hour) in a hotel car. We weren't quite sure what to expect, but we did learn that our tour would be conducted by Master Distiller Surrinder Kumar, who had kindly come in on his day off to show us around!

Surrinder, with a whopping 29 years of experience under his belt, started by talking us through the fascinating story of how Amrut Single Malt came to be, and how even though it makes up an incredibly small percentage of their total output (details further on), it's put them on the global map.

To most whisky drinkers, Amrut was unheard-of until their single malt started gaining a global following in the late 2000's. The company however has been actually been making spirit since 1948 (initially "IMFL", or "Indian-made Foreign Liquor" distilled from molasses), and was producing Indian "whisky" a long time before the single malt came along. In fact, an excess of malt whisky (previously used for blending popular local Indian blended "whiskies"), which the distillery noted was of significantly higher quality than most other Indian whiskies, was one of the catalysts for the launch of Amrut Single Malt.

3rd generation owner and son of current Chairman, Rakshit Jagdale (studying his MBA at the time in England) was asked to investigate launching a single malt product outside India, starting with the UK. The product was already there - they just needed to get it into the public's conscious. Research showed that the public perceived it to be similar in style to a 15-18yr old Speysider, and so a plan was drawn up to launch it in the UK - initially in Indian restaurants, taking the same approach as Indian beers like Kingfisher and Cobra.

After some time, volumes weren't picking up and the company considered ending the project, but (taking a renewed spirit of perseverance from the Gahdhi statue in London), Rakshit forged on, seeking importers for each country and...well the rest is history, with Amrut currently available in 22 countries (although still very limited in India).

I mentioned Amrut Single Malt being an "incredibly small percentage" of Amrut's total production. How small? Well, there are approximately 14,000 x 4.5L cases of Amrut Single Malt produced each year (a total of 63,000L), compared to 200,000 x 9L cases produced of all other products.....per month! In other words - 21,600,000L, making the single malt about 0.2% of total production. A very successful 0.2%, you'd have to say!

Unsurprisingly, Amrut can't keep up with worldwide demand for that 63,000L, and are currently increasing warehousing from their current 6 warehouses. They're also experimenting with temperature-controlled warehouses, like some Bourbon distilleries in the US, but for now it remains an experimentation only.

Just before Surrinder took us out to tour the operations, he mentioned that a new product was on the horizon - "Greedy Angel's Chairman's Reserve", at an incredible 10 years old ("incredible" considering the distillery experiences 10-12% Angels' share each year). That product has since been released (and likely sold out) - and comes with a 50mL cask-strength sample of the whisky at 71% ABV.

By this stage we'd spent a good 90 minutes with the clearly passionate Surrinder, and our tour was no less comprehensive, taking another 90 minutes and showing us into all facets of the operation, which employs hundreds of staff from Bangalore.

Production of all products occurs via two 7.5hr shifts each day, with the single malt being distilled on a Monday. Temperature controlled fermentation takes 1 week (kept under 30degC), and whilst we didn't get to taste the wash (at 6.5-7% ABV), we did taste the new make (73% ABV off the still, 63% ABV into the cask), which was fruity, oily, rich, subtly peaty (on the palate, not the nose) and incredibly smooth.

We got to talking about distillery visits, and Surrinder mentioned a visit to a popular Lowland distillery (he didn't mention it by name, but we figured out it was Auchentoshan) where he noted some tips for triple distillation. Despite only having two stills (that's them above), Surrinder experimented with triple-distilled Amrut about 3 years ago, and mentioned that it was currently ageing away in the underground "cellar" - possibly a year or two away from release...

...which of course, was my queue to try my luck, and ask if I could taste it. Before I knew it, Surrinder was asking one of the production managers to fetch a sample from the "cellar", and a few minutes later, this vibrant orange sample appeared:

Triple Distilled Amrut (name not yet known) (64% ABV, ~3yo, Karnataka, India, not yet available)
Colour: Intensely vibrant orange.
Nose: Light, citrusy. Lemon oil. Some esthers and some caramel chews.
Palate: Light, zesty. Lemon cheese cake. Young and hot, but very drinkable. In another 12-18 months I imagine it will be incredible.
Finish: Very long, lots of caramel chews.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. Can't wait to see how this turns out.

Exciting stuff. After a look at the malt mill, the delivery setup (which receives 16-17 trucks per day) and the fermentation tanks, it was time to venture into one of the warehouses.

Maturation Warehouse 1 (just next to the still room) is home to casks racked 5 high, including a few weird and wonderful whiskies which have featured in recent and soon-to-be-released (we hope) whiskies. Chief amongst these was this cask of Amrut "Naarangi", which saw Amrut age sherry infused with orange peels in the cask for 3 years, before emptying it, then ageing an already 3 year old sherry-matured Amrut for another 3 years in said cask. The resulting whisky is said to have some subtle, but noticeable orange notes, without being considered a "flavoured" whisky.

Next, it was off to the bottling and packaging floors, where I saw whiskies the likes of which I'd never seen before. How so? Take a look for yourself...

That's right - Tetra-pak "whisky"! This is an example of the local blended "whisky" Amrut produces for the local market, and sells for mere cents. The packaging line for these products runs 24 hours a day - such is the popularity of these throughout India.

Having seen the production, ageing and packaging facilities, it was time to visit Surrinder's "lab", with a variety of International and local whiskies, and several single cask samples (Amrut do a great private cask program, which was taken up by Dram Full with the recent Dram Full Amrut bottling - now sold out).

Amrut aren't allowed to sell any bottles from the distillery, but we were kindly gifted a 50mL mini each - continuing my tradition of collecting miniatures from distilleries I've visited.

..and with that, it was time to draw the tour to a close, and head back to the city, then the airport, then back to HK. An extremely informative and enjoyable day, and a tour I'm very glad I (finally) got to take.

A huge thanks must go to Surrinder, Ashok and Pramod for making this tour happen - especially Surrinder for spending so much time with us on his day off. If you ever find yourself in Bangalore and have some spare time, I can highly recommend booking a tour of this fascinating distillery.


Thursday 10 September 2015

Four Pillars Gin Tasting with Stuart Gregor at The Woods (Hong Kong)

"Gin?" you ask? Isn't this a whisk(e)y blog?

Sure, but unlike that other white spirit, gin is a spirit we find interesting, characterised by flavour (rather than the lack thereof), and enjoyable. Plus in this case, we're talking about a craft Aussie spirit (one of our favourite topics) that also happens to be bloody good.

Four Pillars hasn't been around for long (having started life as a crowdfunded project in late 2013), but has quickly established itself as a world class gin, taking out Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and a Silver at the London IWSC, as well as a recognition at Tales of the Cocktail. When the gents from Red Willow (purveyors of Four Pillars and other fine spirits & whiskies, and also the team behind the new Tramline Liquor Co shop in Kennedy Town) asked if I wanted to drop by one evening and share a G&T with Four Pillars co-founder Stuart Gregor, they didn't need to ask me twice. 

During a quick tour of HK, Stuart (also the President of the Australian Distillers Association) took some time to hold an informal session at The Woods, to introduce the brand, answer any questions, and let us taste the three core releases (and in his words, to "smash some G&Ts"). The gin lineup consisted of:

  • Four Pillars Rare Dry GIn
  • Four Pillars Navy Strength Gin (previously "Gunpowder Proof Gin")
  • Four Pillars Barrel Aged Gin

Four Pillars use a still ("Wilma" - her name's on the bottle) from Christian Carl in Germany, which Stuart says you'd "have to be an idiot to stuff up". Clearly it's working for them - with Four Pillars now second in its class in Australia (only 18 months after release), and getting attention on a world scale.

The gins use 10 core botanicals (though some releases, like the very limited Spiced Negroni Gin, use different botanicals) and the spirit comes off the stills at a hefty 94% ABV. The botanical basket is filled with orange halves during distillation, giving the gin a citrusy, but not bitter characteristic. No wonder it works so well in a Negroni!

The latest release, the Barrel Aged, sees the gin rest for 6-9 months in French Oak ex-Aussie Chardonnay casks from Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula. When asked how they know when to bottle, Stuart said that with a whopping 9 casks in total, they just taste each one - "takes about 20 minutes". Stuart described it as a "whisky drinker's gin", and he was spot on. I don't love every barrel aged/rested gin I've tried, but I did really enjoy this one.

The "Navy Strength" (previously "Gunpowder Proof") packs a punch at 58.8%, but works well in a variety of mixed drinks, as well as on the rocks.

All three were enjoyable (we were already huge fans of the Rare Dry in this household), and made fantastic and very different G&Ts. A gin for every occasion.

Thanks must go to Mark and Adam from  Red Willow / Tramline Liquor Co for the invite, and Stuart (and his lovely wife) for giving up their time to talk us through their gins. Four Pillars can be purchased from Red Willow's online store in Hong Kong, and all good bottle shops in Australia.


Monday 7 September 2015

Glenfarclas tasting with George Grant (Tasted #212 - 216)

Having run this blog for a few years now, we're lucky to get regular invites to various industry / media / trade events - many of which you end up reading about here. There's still the odd event though that we stumble upon completely by chance - this one being a perfect example. 

A few weeks ago I was at Tiffany's New York Bar in the Intercontinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong, enjoying a cold beer (respite from the stifling summer heat) ahead of an epic Islay whisky dinner, when I got chatting to their affable resident manager John. In the course of conversation, John mentioned that in just over a week, George Grant of Glenfarclas (Brand Ambassador and 6th Generation family member) would be hosting a tasting at the bar, and would I be interested in joining? You don't have to ask me twice! This would be the second noted Speyside figure I'd be meeting in Tiffany's in just a few months (the other being David Stewart of The Balvenie, back in June), and a good chance to speak to "the man behind the brand", after Steph and I had just visited the distillery a few weeks earlier.

There are some great whisky bars in Hong Kong, and Tiffany's (in our opinion) sits up there with the best of them. The range mightn't be the largest in Hong Kong (though it's quickly getting there), but they have an eclectic mix of IBs, OBs, and even some of their own cask finished whiskies (and if there was ever a bar with a décor that screamed "whisky bar", this would have to be it. Warm, welcoming, classy, elegant.)

Arriving on a hot Monday night, we took our seats and admired the lineup of drams, consisting of:
  • Glenfarclas 12yo
  • Glenfarclas 17yo
  • Glenfarclas 25yo
  • Glenfarclas 105
  • Glenfarclas "Mystery Malt" (which we knew was a Family Cask, and later turned out to be the 1995 Release IX)

Having been to our fair share of tastings over the years, we've discovered there are brand ambassadors / master distillers who really need to work to hold the attention of a room, and there are those to whom it comes naturally. George clearly falls into the latter group, with his open, honest and humorous demeanour befitting his family-owned distillery perfectly.

Explaining the family naming convention (John, then George, George, George, his father John, and George himself), George recalled being slightly shocked at first seeing a grave with "his" name on it (actually his grandfather's), but slightly more at ease when he walked into one of the warehouses and realised there were also 55,000 casks of whisky with his name on them (enough to put anyone's mind at ease, we think).

Translating to "Valley of the Green Grass", Glenfarclas remains wholly family-owned to this day, which makes their global reach (76 markets until they added the Caribbean, bringing the total to 102 countries) all the more impressive. It was interesting to note that Germany is their largest market, and was the sole driver for their recent "Trilogy" series. George also had some other interesting insights, such as the myth of the "great Chinese whisky market" (which in his opinion, doesn't exist) and the growth he's seen in whisky in HK, having previously lived here for 12 years.

After a few more anecdotes and (truly interesting) insights into different whisky markets, we dived into the tasting...

Glenfarclas 12 year old (43% ABV, 12yo, Speyside, Scotland, $600HKD / $89.95AUD)
Colour: Golden caramel (ironic given Glenfarclas' staunch lack of caramel colouring)
Nose: Flint, spice, a hint of smoke. Definitely sherried, but a "fresh" sherry - vibrant and youthful.
Palate: Spice, cinnamon, oat cakes and Brazil nuts. Slightest hint of smoke.
Finish: Medium length, spicy. Slightly "thin" towards the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. A simple, easy drinking, every day dram.

Glenfarclas 17 year old (43% ABV, 17yo, Speyside, Scotland, $1,100HKD / $160AUD)

Originally released exclusively for Japan, then HK, then other Asian markets, and now everywhere.
Colour: Orange gold
Nose: Well-rounded and sweet. Dried fruits, cherries. Almost port-like notes, and a lot of crème brûlée.
Palate: Smoother than the 12, but still with some of the spice the 12 showed. Much sweeter though, more "chewy", and more legs on the glass. More mouth-filling, more Oloroso notes.
Finish: Medium to long. The spice tones down and the Christmas cake notes amp up. Lots of Brazil nuts.

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

Glenfarclas 25 year old (43% ABV, 25yo, Speyside, Scotland, $2,400HKD / $189.90AUD)
Colour: Bright orange.
Nose: A hint of flint, orange peel, a little crème brûlée, and strangely, a hint of salty sea air.
Palate: Much more sherry influence than the nose suggests. Lots of raisins and other dried fruits, nuts, but also big citrus notes.
Finish: Long. Slightly drying, bitter dark chocolate-dipped orange slices.

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

Glenfarclas 105 (60% ABV, NAS, Speyside, Scotland, $790HKD / $119.95AUD)
George's grandfather's favourite apparently - so much so that he was secretly squirrelling away 6 bottles a week - 3 from George, and 3 from George's father!
Colour: Dark copper.
Nose: Huge toffee notes. Overwhemling(ly good). Dark chocolate. Thoughts instantly turn to dessert.
Palate: Big, slightly hot, lots of dark chocolate. A few drops of water adds some heat and orange zest.
Finish: Long, slightly hot, but smooth. Oranges and toffee.

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

Glenfarclas Family Cask 1995 Release IX (55.2% ABV, 17yo, Speyside, Scotland, no longer available in HK / AU it seems)
I tried this a few weeks earlier at the distillery, and enjoyed it just as much the second time around. As the notes show, quite different to the previous drams!
Colour: Dark dirty copper.
Nose: Sugary sweetness - cola bottle lollies, and some pine nuts. Quite a mix!
Palate: Honied sweetness gives way to Brazil nuts, all with an undertone of those cola bottle lollies (which I loved as a kid). Unique, different...which really is what you want when you're paying significantly more than the standard 17yo!
Finish: Medium to long, with some residual barbecued meat notes at the end.

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

Soon after the drams were tasted, out came a birthday cake - it turns out it was George's birthday! (Lucky him, getting to spend it with us.)

Happy Birthday George, and thanks for a fantastic tasting (and for signing my bottle of £511.19s.0d)!

Keep an eye out for our write-up of the Glenfarclas distillery tour shortly.


TimeforWhisky.com would like to thank InterContinental Grand Stanford Hong Kong for the invite, and George Grant for giving up his time (on his birthday no less).

Friday 4 September 2015

Tasted #211: Pappy Van Winkle 23yo Family Reserve (#101drams)

After a run of recent #101drams posts, it's time to continue...this time with one of with the big guns...

Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 23yo, from the "Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery" (which is actually not a distillery, but a company who contract distillation and bottling to the Sazerac Company at its Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky) doesn't need a whole lot of introduction. Retailing for $249.99USD each year, and selling out approximately 3 seconds after it goes on sale each year, this is about as rare and sought-after as Bourbon gets. If you found one for 3-4 times that price, you'd be doing incredibly well. Just look at how much a few bottles went for at the recent Bonhams Hong Kong auction.

I knew it wouldn't be easy to find when I added it to the list in February 2013, and it only got more difficult as time went on. I found it (for a reasonable price) on the menu at the Macallan Whisky Bar & Lounge, Macau, but sadly they ran out the week before.

Then when I heard that Archie Rose, who we visited back in April had a bottle, I knew that was my chance. It wasn't cheap, but this whiskey isn't exactly decreasing in price or rarity...

Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 23yo (47.8% ABV, 23yo, Bottle # F-2233, Kentucky, USA, maybe try your luck at the auctions. Bring your chequebook.)
Colour: Deep, dark, almost impenetrable copper. Some of the longest legs you've ever seen.

Nose: A big bouquet of floral, caramel vanilla at first. This is definitely a bourbon, and an exquisite one at that. A second nosing brings out some faint earthy notes - vegetation, with a slight dustiness.

Palate: Earthy, nutty, big caramel but also nougat. Leather and some oak (the latter being remarkably refined for such an old bourbon). The slightest hint of chlorinated pool water(?) - that was an odd one, but it was unmistakably there (no there were no cleaning solvents around me at the time...) - quite a lot going on here.

Finish: Long, lingering, vegetal notes with some boiled sweets. Cheese cake with a side of banana nougat. Lots going on here too - right to the very end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 94/100. An experience, for sure. A complex and delicious one, too.


Wednesday 2 September 2015

The Glenlivet Founder's Reserve Launch (Tasted #210)

The Glenlivet, as a single malt brand, has a remarkable global standing, being the second biggest selling single malt globally after Glenfiddich and also being the biggest selling single malt brand in the US and also here in Australia (Martin: Although according to the folks at Glenfiddich when we visited a few weeks ago, they've actually been overtaken, and The Glenlivet now holds the #1 global spot). Locally, the Glenlivet shares similar fanfare with its core range of the 12yo, 15yo and 18yo (as well as the Nadurra, 21yo and the 25yo XXV).

Its long-standing 12yo expression had remained a consistent winner locally with its sweet, pleasant and smooth notes at a price point that would not put much of a dent in the pocket. With the launch of the Glenlivet Founder's Reserve (a new NAS release), it has been confirmed that the 12yo will be phased out in Australia by year end - having been (technically) replaced by the Founder's Reserve. The 12yo will remain available in some markets globally (Hong Kong for one, where two different 12yo variants are readily available).

The new Founder's Reserve expression was described by Ben Davidson, The Glenlivet Brand Ambassador as an expression that was carefully curated by Alan Winchester, Master Distiller of The Glenlivet, to pay tribute to founder George Smith who had founded the distillery in 1824.

To celebrate the release and to preview the Founder's Reserve, Pernod Ricard held a launch event at an exclusive penthouse residence in Elizabeth Bay, Sydney. As with previous Pernod Ricard tastings and launch events, we knew that this event was not going to be an ordinary affair (back in 2013, Pernod Ricard hosted the launch of 'The Guardian's Chapter' at one of Sydney's top restaurants, Tetsuya's). Upon walking into the residence, the first thing I noticed was the sweeping view of Sydney harbour. The second thing I noticed was the Founder's Reserve bottle. Elegantly placed and presented, the single Founder's Reserve bottle was displayed as a feature in the lounge area amongst teal coloured candles - a beautiful sight.

Then there was this large Glenlivet ice sculpture which was placed next to the Bartender's table and attracted quite a bit of attention on the night -- especially from those who prefer their dram on the rocks (kidding). Various canapés, the Founder's Reserve Cocktail and the Founder's Reserve, neat, were served throughout the night and allowed guests a sneak preview of the whisky before the official introduction of the event and the Founder's Reserve expression by Pernod Ricard’s Marketing Manager, Sladjan Maksimovic and The Glenlivet’s aforementioned Brand Ambassador, Ben Davidson.

Sladjan spoke briefly to welcome guests to the event and Ben followed with a short presentation on the Founder's Reserve and its true attribution to George Smith's vision of establishing an exceptional, smooth malt whisky that was then named simply 'The Glenlivet'. Ben continued by providing a few intricate details regarding the Founder's Reserve, including the select use of ex-American oak barrels and ex-American oak first fill barrels to produce the final malt. Interestingly, the use of the American oak first fill barrels adds another level of sweetness to the final malt as all the vanillins from the American oak are absorbed by the malt, to which we shall attest shortly.

Ben pointed to a couple of features on the bottle worth noting; the first being George Smith's signature, emblazoned across the bottom of the bottle, signifying George's seal of approval on the malt; and the second being a signifier detailing the Packhorse Bridge that crosses the Livet River in the Livet Valley, signifying the birth of The Glenlivet in 1824. The intention being that these details may help to market the Founder's Reserve as a more modern whisky and also one that carries a notable backstory.

Shortly after the presentation, Ben suggested that we ought to pick up our share of the Founder's Reserve and take a moment to appreciate this expression.

The Glenlivet Founder's Reserve (40% ABV, NAS, OB, Speyside, Scotland, $49.95AUD)
A simple, delicate single malt whisky. The smooth and sweet profile of the Founder's Reserve makes it quite a nice dram that you can have any day of the week throughout the year.

Colour: Light gold

Nose: The nose is soft and there are hints of 
peach, vanilla, meringue, orange peel with a slight toffee and oaky notes.

Palate: The palate is delicate, smooth and sweet; vanilla ,toffee and caramel sweet. After some time, the sweetness on the palate then gives into hints of cardamon and orange citrus oil.

Finish: The finish is relatively short and simple, though the smoothness and the sweetness of the malt from the palate lingers for a while longer.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 88/100.

The Founder's Reserve is now available locally alongside other The Glenlivet expressions including the 12yo, though the 12yo will be discontinued after the end of the year.

Thanks to the Pernod Ricard Australia and Cav Con for having us as part of, what was undoubtedly, an excellent celebration to welcome the new The Glenlivet expression into the local The Glenlivet family.