Wednesday 11 November 2015

The Great Whisk(e)y Rumble (Sydney)

There's something to be said for an event involving four great whisk(e)y legends from around the world... 

Not many details were revealed by Beam Suntory prior to the event, held in early September, dubbed 'The Great Whisky Rumble' - other than that it was to be 'the bout of the year, a whisky bout that is'. Having attended other Beam Suntory events recently, we knew we could expect great things from Suntory's wide-ranging portfolio of brands; Hibiki, Laphroaig, Canadian Club and Jim Beam.

Joined by Suntory staff, fellow whisky lovers, whisky bloggers, media reps and others from the industry, we all converged at the Australian Technology Park ahead of the bout. Walking through the locomotive workshop was reminiscent of the time I spent at last year's Jack Daniel's celebration when the whole site was transformed into a spectacular bar - this "rumble" being hosted at the back of the Australian Technology Park. As we entered, we were graced by a spectacularly transformed space - lined with large feature windows, stacked bourbon barrels, old wooden artefacts and old Chev ute, the vintage decorated grand hall instantly transported us back to the early 1900s.

The four brands; Hibiki, LaphroaigCanadian Club and Jim Beam were each represented across the four corners of the hall, with each corner showcasing a good range from each brand including Jim Beam's Knob Creek, Booker's, Basil Hayden's; Laphroaig's classic 10yo, 15yo, Quarter Cask; Suntory Kakubin; and Canadian Club 12yo. The whisky legends behind these four brands stood by their corner, surrounded by their fans. One might have drawn a parallel between these scenes and those moments prior to a big boxing match, where legends are surrounded, supported and hyped by their fans... 

The four whisky legends that stood by their brands were:
  • Fred Noe, the seventh generation Master Distiller of Jim Beam
  • John Campbell, Distillery Manager of Laphroaig
  • Dan Tullio, Canadian Club  Whisky Master
  • Mike Miyamoto, Suntory Whisky Global Brand Ambassador
What was great about the night was that it was the first time that these four whisky legends were together in one place, to debate and battle it out in the 'Great Whisky Rumble.'


As guests awaited the commencement of the rumble, a range of cocktails were served. I took the opportunity to spend some time talking with Mike Miyamoto and John Campbell in their corners, whilst taking the opportunity to try the whiskies on offer



Opening up the rumble was John Rosair, Managing Director of Beam Suntory Oceania who introduced Dylan Howarth of The Drink Cabinet as MC for the night.

The charismatic Dylan explained how the rumble was to see the four great whisky legends go all out to present their brands, their stories and their whiskies - all set to take place on the main stage for the event - a real-life boxing ring.

As the curtains were pulled back, a boxing ring was unveiled - inside, contenders already going at it (although simply for show). Seated around the ring, we were all given a tub of popcorn to munch on whilst we waited for the main event.

It wasn't long until Dylan opened the main event, introducing the order for the night which saw Dan Tullio first up in the ring, followed by Mike Miyamoto, Fred Noe and finally John Campbell.

The rule of the rumble, MC Dylan Howarth explained, was that he would present a series of questions to the four whisky figures, who would be given an opportunity to present their stories and their whiskies. At the end of the night, the crowds were to nominate their favourite as the winner.

First contender of the night - Dan Tullio, Canadian Club Whisky Master:

Dan highlighted the history of Canadian Club, dating back to 1858 and began with the founding father Hiram Walker who at the age of 40, decided to make whisky in Canada. Roll forward to 2015 and Dan explained how over the years, Australia, as a market, had climbed up to the number three spot for Canadian Club in the world. The Canadian Club Classic 12 year old was presented by Dan for tasting.

On stage, Dan was highly engaging and it was entertaining to see the odd bit of banter being thrown around between Dan and Noe regarding Canada and America.

Mike Miyamoto led Round 2 - sharing similarities with the numerous whisky expressions he oversees; balanced and composed, Miyamoto spoke to the recently launched Hibiki Japanese Harmony. Miyamoto described the driver behind the Japanese Harmony expression and how the expression was inspired from the original Hibiki which was created in 1989 to commemorate the 90 year anniversary of Suntory.

As noted during the launch back in August, I found the Japanese Harmony to be a clean, simple blend that may not be as bold-bodied as the aged Hibikis, though able to stand up as your daily dram or as Miyamoto puts it, a versatile expression that you can introduce to those who have not tasted whisky before or are interested in Japanese whisky.

Fred Noe took the stage for round 3.

“The Rumble is the perfect setting to really hash out who has the best whiskey" noted Noe who then proceeded to laude the greatness of Kentucky bourbon whiskey in front of his global counterparts. 

Noe certainly took the stage well, presenting Jim Beam's small batch bourbon Knob Creek to rally the crowds. It was my first time sampling the Knob Creek and I loved it. I found it to be a big, rich, pleasant, palate engaging bourbon. The intense, rich and oaky characters of the Knob Creek showed some resemblance to the characters of Booker's, another small batch in Jim Beam's small batch range.

On stage, Noe was clearly proud of Jim Beam and its leading position in the global market. As Noe concluded "The future looks great for bourbon!" - and he is most likely right with all the exciting developments in the bourbon scene.

The final contender of the night was Laphroaig's John Campbell. Presenting the Laphroaig 10yo to the crowds; the epitome of the Laphroaig range, the 10yo carried the classic Islay traits, being heavily peated, buttery and layered with smoke and more smoke - the 10 yo, in my opinion packed a good punch to round up the four whisk(e)y variants and helped to seal the night.

John spoke to the newly released limited Laphroaig 15yo, noting the story of why the 15yo was resurrected following its discontinuation a few years ago (having been replaced by the Laphroaig 18yo).

John explained how Laphroaig fans have lauded the 15yo over the years, and especially once it got discontinued and how it became quite special to Laphroaig backers. This was certainly true, having spoken to few drammers that have confessed their love for the 15yo and even seeing a few old 15yo bottles for signing at the Laphroaig Masterclass (post coming up) - one such old bottle belonging to Martin.

Given the special status it held in the hearts of Laphroaig fans, the 15yo was unsurprisingly chosen as the expression that would be released to commemorate the 200 year anniversary of Laphroaig. One main difference with the newly released 15yo is that the new 15yo is made in smaller batches.

As the rumble wrapped up, the crowds were engaged to select a winner though from memory I recalled all the Whisky greats won the people's choice. Personally, I enjoyed the Knob Creek, it was a big, rich, intriguing bourbon. 

The dust may have settled, the crowd subsided but the legends lived on. The wisdom of the four whisky greats from the night will forever be ingrained with those that witnessed the rumble. For that this event will go down as one of the greatest whisky events this year. 

Overall, the Whisky rumble was loads of fun, entertaining, enlightening and insightful. Well done to the Beam Suntory team and Liquid Ideas for pulling this momentous event together and especially for Dan, Mike, Fred and John for banding together on the night to share their special stories. would like to thank Liquid Ideas anBeam Suntory for the invite to The Great Whisk(e)y Rumble.


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