Thursday 23 February 2017

Tasted #350: Bladnoch Samsara

Up until very recently, the majority of Bladnoch bottlings you'd see on shelves would be independent bottlings (from the likes of Gordon & Macphail, Duncan Taylor, Adelphi and SMWS amongst others), or older official bottlings, like this Diageo Rare Malts bottling.

That all changed in 2015 though, when Aussie businessman David Prior purchased Bladnoch Distillery, becoming the latest in a long line of owners over the distillery's nearly 200-year history.

After an initial launch of a NAS blended whisky ("Pure Scot"), the distillery has now released three single malts, all made available to the Australian market before anywhere else. Topping the range is the 25 year old Talia, followed by the 15 year old Adela, and finally the NAS Samsara.

Despite not carrying an age statement, distillery closure periods tell us the whisky in Samsara would have been distilled in at least 2008 (if not earlier), making it approximately 8 years old at minimum. The distillery has also taken the decision to bottle non-chill filtered, and at 46.7%. Two big ticks in my books.

There's no denying the bottle design (used for all 3 single malts) is stunning, with its thick glass base, weighty stopper and metallic label. It exudes quality and wouldn't look out of place next to a bottle of Hibiki (which is saying something).

...but ultimately, it's about the liquid inside.'s it fare?

Bladnoch 'Samsara' (46.7% ABV, NAS, Lowlands, Scotland, $129.99AUD)
Colour: Pale yellow gold.

Nose: Youthful and expressive at first. Peaches and mango, with a touch of dryness, and some Posca pens (remember those?!)

Palate: Apricots and marmalade. Sweet tropical fruit juice poppers (wow this is really bringing back some primary school memories). Hints of drying oak, and some crayons. After a good 20 minutes in the glass, the palate became a lot rounder and more creamy (still sweet) - actually quite moreish.

Finish: Long, slightly oaky, with a residual (and enjoyable) sugary-spice.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  88/100. A nice, smooth easy-sipping whisky - one which (after time) I came to really enjoy, and found myself going back to more and more. would like to thank Bladnoch for the review bottle pictured here.

Thursday 9 February 2017

Glenmorangie Bacalta Sydney Launch (Tasted #349)

The Glenmorangie Private Edition collection has seen different and unique expressions over the years - all driven by Dr Bill Lumsden's insatiable desire and curiosity to discover new flavours and ways of doing things. There have been a many excellent creations in the collection, with each creation uniquely derived through variation in the distillation or maturation process; be it barley type (Tùsail), wood type (Ealanta), composition (Artein, Finealta), rare wood finish (Sonnalta, Companta) and re-creation of a childhood dream (Milsean). That's right, Milsean was last year's Private Edition release and one that saw Dr Bill Lumsden compared to the likes of Willy Wonka (in my view anyway) as he strived to recreate the experience of being in a lolly shop surrounded by all those jolly good sweet things.

2017 sees a new Private Edition bottling release from Glenmorangie. The Glenmorangie Bacalta drew its inspiration from the Mediterranean island of Madeira, commonly known for its Madeira wines. Bacalta (Gaelic for "baked") is a reference to the the maturation technique used for producing Madeira wine, where the barrelled wine is heat matured over a period of time to oxidise the wine and build up its flavour profile. The heat maturation process can take years and involves storing the barrels in the roof/attic of the vineyard where it can get quite toasty, especially in the Mediterranean.

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Dr Bill Lumsden and Brendan McCarron shared some details of the Bacalta journey at the launch, which was held at The Old Clare Hotel, with Dr Bill and Brendan joining us virtually via Google Hangout. Times have certainly changed when you can have simultaneous global launch events with the one and only Dr Bill at Glasgow. Us folks in Sydney were joined by the folks in Mumbai and Seoul and there were likely other sessions rolling in straight after us.

The Bacalta journey started around seven to eight years ago when the first challenge was making a decision around what barrel structure would be used. The decision was made to go with a 250 litre American Oak hogshead barrel - a relatively small barrel size that can nicely influence any whisky through shorter wood contact time. Once Speyside Cooperage had managed to put together enough hogshead barrels, the subsequent challenge was in finding a Madeira wine producer that would "get in bed" with Dr Bill (in his words) - i.e. producer that would use and return his barrels for subsequent use.

It eventually happened and a Madeira wine producer agreed to season the hogsheads with its Malmsey Madeira wine, a rich and punchy Madeira wine, as compared with other types of Madeira wine. The barrels were then baked, emptied before being re-toasted and filled with Glenmorangie Original in preparation for Bacalta. Dr Bill described the extra maturation process as a rather delicate process that involved sampling the expression quarterly after the first eight months, until it was apparent to him and the team that the whisky had struck the right balance of flavours. The Bacalta is bottled at 46% ABV and is non chill-filtered.

This is certainly not the first time Madeira casks have been used for finishing, as we've seen both Kilchoman and Glenfiddich use Madeira casks for their Kilchoman Madeira Cask and Glenfiddich Age of Discovery Madeira Cask Finish expressions, both of which are well regarded.

The Glenmorangie Bacalta has been delicately planned, with everything from barrel structure to maturation process systematically thought out by Dr Bill and his team. So how does the Glenmorangie Bacalta stack up as a new joiner to the Glenmorangie Private Edition collection?

Glenmorangie "Bacalta" Private Edition (46% ABV, NAS, Highlands, Scotland, £78.95 / $154.99AUD / HK Pricing TBC)
Another stellar Private Edition creation that is enjoyable to drink for any occasion with its inherent sweet, floral and creamy notes.
Colour: Gold

Nose: Floral notes fill the initial nosing followed by notes of vanilla essence, honey, orange marmalade, sweet milk bread (few individuals around the table noted brioche), stone fruit and a hint of peppermint or menthol.

Palate: The palate is absolutely rich, velvety and divine, it is creamy with the notable Glenmorangie citrus notes coming through; orange peel, charred lemon followed by some vanilla stone fruit (fig) notes.

Finish: The finish is quite fresh and cooling with the minty, menthol notes, there are hints of eucalyptus, peppermint and the finish does linger for a while with a spiced and peppery finish

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. The first Private Edition release I tasted was not too long ago with the Túsail, followed by last year's Milsean and I have to say year to year, Glenmorangie has gone from strength to strength. The Bacalta continues that trend, being as delicious as last year's Milsean (if not more so), and certainly on par with my favourite core range Glenmorangie, Quinta Ruban.

A special thanks to EVH and the Moët-Hennessy team for having us at the Bacalta launch event with virtual Dr Bill Lumsden in Sydney.


Tuesday 7 February 2017

Tasted #343 - 348: Diageo Special Releases 2016 - Port Ellen, Brora, and others (#101drams)

My recent trip to Singapore's invitation-only Johnnie Walker House was special not only because it was a really impressive space, but also because at the end of my tour came a tasting...and not just any tasting - a tasting of 5 of Diageo's rarest 2016 Special Releases, and a stunning NAS Clynelish from 2014's Special Releases.

Port Ellen 37yo 1978 16th Edition (Special Releases 2016) (55.2% ABV, 37yo, OB, Islay, Scotland, Bottle #590 of 2,490, £2,083.33 / HK & AU pricing not available)
Colour: Vibrant yellow gold.

Nose: Perfumed. Light, elegant. No discernible peat. Leather, citrus and the slightest hints of lavender.

Palate: There's the peat smoke...but it's subtle, never imposing, never dominating. More barbecued meat smoke than coastal smoke. Lots of candied ginger, mint, mixed candied fruit peels and marmalade, and some herbacious seasoning. Think a smokey BBQ, sizzling a lovely rib eye, covered in rosemary and a sprinkling of paprika.

Finish: Long, sweet, honey-BBQ smoked.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. All-in, a very nice dram (and a #101drams dram too!) but not as memorable as the 12th Edition I tried a few years ago (the notes for which I just realised I never published). I did however find a few similar notes on the "Elements of Islay" PE5, which I gave the same score.

Brora 38yo 1977 (Special Releases 2016) (48.6% ABV, 38yo, OB, Highlands, Scotland, Bottle #1,507 of 2,984, £1,208.33 / HK & AU pricing not available)
Colour: Orange gold.

Nose: Whole oranges. Citrus oil and lemon zest. Smooth, faint smoke.

Palate: Oak, earthy smoke, more citrus (a little lemon rind and orange peel now). Some stewed pears and apricots. There's a waxiness to the mouthfeel, and everything is in such perfect balance. Expertly made whisky, without a doubt.

Finish: Long, smooth caramel notes turning to more citrus (back to whole oranges, some grapefruit slices). Hints of pot pourri at the very end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 94/100. Stunning.

Cambus 40yo (Special Releases 2016) (52.7% ABV, 40yo, OB, Lowlands, Scotland, Bottle #1,231 of 1,812, £737.83 / HK & AU pricing not available)
Colour: Golden sunset.

Nose: Grape!? Yes, lots. Wine gums, slightly acidic. You could tell me this was a Cognac, and I'd believe you.

Palate: More grape, only this time, it's Grape Hubba Bubba Bubblegum! There's a delightful freshness here - fresh laundry especially, but it's mostly about those vibrant grape characteristics, they really dominate, and it's wonderfully refreshing.

Finish: Medium in length, more wine gums and a perfumed lavender-like sweetness.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 95/100. This is an odd whisky, there's no doubt about it. It's so left-field, that even after spending a good 10 minutes with it blind, I wouldn't necessarily have pegged it as a whisky. But it's also beautiful. I'm always looking to be "surprised" when it comes to whisky, and this has plenty of surprised up its sleeve. Complement that with a wonderful nose and palate, and its earned its 95.

Linkwood 37yo 1978 (Special Releases 2016) (50.3% ABV, 37yo, OB, Speyside, Scotland, Bottle #1,378 of 6,114, £500 / HK & AU pricing not available)
Colour: Orange gold.

Nose: Muted at first, before some vanilla and sponge cake notes come through, along with some Chardonnay-like notes and tropical fruit salad.

Palate: Sweet and tropical. Pawpaw and pineapple dominant fruit salad, glacé cherries, apricot jam and a fair whack of vanilla overseeing it all.

Finish: Medium to long, carrying similar notes from the palate right through to the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. Another well-made, enjoyable dram, not dissimilar to other well-made, well-aged Speysiders.

Clynelish Select Reserve (Special Releases 2014) (54.9% ABV, OB, Highlands, Scotland, Bottle #2,877 of 2,946, £412.50 / HK & AU pricing not available)
Colour: Vibrant Gold.

Nose: Waxy, butterscotch-drizzled oranges.

Palate: Spiced oranges, cloves, with an overarching caramel, mouthfilling waxy smoothness. Just absolutely delicious. Water brought about a bit more spice, and a little more oak. I'd guess there's some fairly old Clynelish in here.

Finish: Long, smooth, toffee-like with residual hints of warming spice.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 94/100. Just a brilliantly made whisy, even if it is a £400+ NAS.

Mannochmore 25yo 1990 (Special Releases 2016) (53.4% ABV, 25yo, OB, Speyside, Scotland, Bottle #2,424 of 3,954, £208.33 / HK & AU pricing not available)
Colour: Deep amber gold.

Nose: Rich caramel, sherry-soaked raisins, red berries (Acai? Some Strawberries too) and milk chocolate.

Palate: Every bit a sherried Speysider - and a clean one at that. Smooth, soft Christmas pudding, Christmas spices and some mince pies. Brazil nuts and a hint of well-aged leather.

Finish: Long and full of vanilla-laden spices.

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

A huge thanks must again go to Diageo and Ketchum for their fantastic hospitality during my visit.


Thursday 2 February 2017

Tasted #341 - 342: Longmorn 16yo (2016 release) and Scapa Glansa

Two new single malts have launched in Hong Kong recently - Longmorn's new 16yo and Scapa's new NAS "Glansa". The latter I found a truly fascinating whisky which I want to tell you all about, but first the Longmorn...

It's fair to say that between Longmorn's distillery bottlings (like their previous 16yo) and their independent bottlings, the distillery has gathered quite a loyal fan base over the years. So understandably, some of those fans were a little put out when the new range was announced last year, and the price of the new 16yo jumped from ~£80 to ~£150 ($189USD / $1,580HKD).

The new 16yo was joined by an NAS (£45 rrp) and a 23yo ($1,087USD rrp), all of which featured new packaging and a re-positioning to show off the "luxury" side of the brand. Comparisons with Mortlach were inevitably made.

To be fair, the new 16yo and 23yo are both non chill-filtered, bottled at a higher-than-usual 48% (as was the old 16yo), and the new packaging is indeed very nice - the leatherette base in particular is a unique touch.

Ultimately though, it all comes down to taste and value for me. Forget what the old version cost, forget what other whiskies cost - simply put, is it a good whisky, and is it worth the asking price? Only one way to find out...

Longmorn 16yo (2016 release) (48% ABV, 16yo, Speyside, Scotland, $1,580HKD / AU pricing not available)
Colour: Bright sunny gold.

Nose: Apricots and raisins. Slightly floral, vanilla, pears. With some air comes a perfumed sweetness, and some creme brûlée.

Palate: Rich, zesty and buttery. Much sweeter than the nose hints at. Apple Tarte Tatin, and lots of pear. There are noticeable sherry notes, and they're all clean - no sulphur here!

Finish: Quite long, fruity and sweet. Hints of fruit tingles towards the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. A well-made, smooth and elegant speyside dram, without a doubt. There are a lot of characteristic Speyside notes here, and the cask selection has clearly been well thought out. For me though, for $1,580HKD / $189USD , I'm looking for something a little more. Maybe that's just my years of drinking weird and wonderful cask strength / single cask whiskies talking. This is a good whisky, and the asking price is not unreasonable. Note: Aussie fans of the previous 16yo can still find it at Dan Murphys for $113AUD.

Now, onto the Scapa Glansa - Scapa's first foray into peated whiskies. The Glansa new make spirit itself wasn't peated, rather the whisky has been finished in casks that previously held peated whisky (similar to expressions released by Balvenie and many others in the past).

It's not being pitched as a high-end malt in the same way Longmorn is, but it costs a very reasonable $598HKD / £40.95 rrp. I say "very reasonable", because I really loved this whisky! Sure, it's not the most complex malt in the world, and I'd like it to be at a higher strength than 40%, but for me, it has these notes that are eminently reminiscent of old bottles of Bowmore (to a small degree) like this beautiful 15yo bottled in the 1980s).

That might seem like a weird thing to say, but I've revisited it several times now, and I still get these slightly perfumed, earthy, "funky" subtle notes of smoke that I find very prominent on older Bowmore bottles...and that I really enjoy! I wonder if the peated casks used for finishing came from Bowmore...?

Scapa "The Orcadian" Glansa (40% ABV, NAS, Orkney, Scotland, $598HKD / £37.46 / AU pricing not available)
Colour: Toffee gold.

Nose: Earthy funk, with a hint of perfume. JUST like an old school Bowmore (for me, that's a very, very good thing)! Sour gummy worms, earthy burnt toffee and a little tropical fruit.

Palate: Floral and perfumed, with nectarines, apples and peaches. There are herbal notes, and a slight brininess. Put together those notes might not sound too appealing, but they come together brilliantly. I just wanted to keep going back for more. If I have only one complaint about the palate, it does feel a little thin - I'd love to see this at 46%.

Finish: Short to Medium in length, with a subtle, earthy, vegetative (not coastal) smoke.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  92/100. Just a really, really lovely drinkable dram. It can be a little "thin" on the palate, and it's not super complex, but I'll happily drink this on a regular basis (and in fact, I have been).

A big thanks must go to Pernod Ricard HK and Mazarine for providing the bottles for review.