Friday 31 March 2017

Distillery Tour #7: Joadja Distillery (NSW, Australia)

Whilst I often try to fit some "whisky tourism" into my trips where possible (a distillery tour, bar or whisky show for example), I wasn't expecting to do so on a recent trip back to Australia, considering I was only there for 3 nights for a mate's wedding and to visit my folks in their new Southern Highlands home.

Turns out my parents had a different idea though, and had sneakily booked a tour of Joadja Distillery, in the historic town of Joadja (about 40 minutes from Bowral). The distillery wasn't open that day, but the lovely Valero and Elisa Jimenez (Directors, owners and operators of the Distillery and Joadja Heritage Tours) kindly agreed to open up and show us around.

Even if you're familiar with the Australian whisky scene, you may not have heard of Joadja before. That's because they haven't actually released a whisky yet - although they have produced whisky (and from what I tried, it was very nice indeed - more on that below).

The trip to Joadja takes you on ~10km of (relatively easy-going) dirt road, passing several ancient buildings hinting at the town's historic roots. Upon arrival at the distillery, Elisa and Valero (who also run non-whisky focused tours of the historic town) told us a little about the history of the area - founded in the 1870s as a shale mine and refinery, and staffed at the time by a large population of Scottish shale miners, who not only distilled shale oil, but also their own illegal spirit, or "sly grog", on the side.

So...historical significance - tick!

The Jimenez family (as the name might suggest) have Spanish heritage, with Elisa herself having a direct family connection back to Jerez, enabling them to source high quality ex-Sherry (Oloroso and PX) casks for maturing their whisky.

So, access to high quality sherry casks too - tick, tick!

It was these factors (coupled with some convincing from the Godfather of Australian Whisky Bill Lark) that convinced the family to establish the distillery in 2014, having purchased the site years earlier, seeking a change of lifestyle after running a backpacker's hostel in Sydney. 

It's interesting to note that there was actually a distillery in Joadja previously, on the same site, which had all the equipment but never produced a drop. Those stills however were removed, and made their way to New World Whisky Distillery (aka makers of Starward), whilst Valero and Elisa procured new equipment for their distillery.

Soon after arriving at the distillery we were greeted by an immense downpour - so heavy that we couldn't even hear Valero speak. When things quietened down, and we were taken on a tour of the town, the local spring (supplying all the water used in the distillation) was flowing. No concerns about water availability then!

The distillery uses an 800L spirit still, and produces a powerful but nuanced new make. Maturation occurs in the same location,  just a few metres away, mostly in 32L casks which previously held Oloroso or PX Sherry (the distillery also sells the sherry which came from the casks, and it's very tasty stuff).

As with most young Australian distilleries, Joadja are also producing and selling new make ("Outlaw"), Anis, and a Dry Gin, all of which are available now. Their whisky is not yet available, although Bottles #1 and #40 will be given away at the upcoming Brigadoon festival in Bundanoon - Bottle #1 to Scottish-Australian legend Jimmy Barnes, and #40 to be raffled off at the event. It's expected the whisky will be available for sale to the public this year.

I was fortunate enough to try a dram of the first cask (JW001), at a cask-strength 60.8% ABV, and whilst I've promised not to post detailed tasting notes (as what I tasted was still a 'work in progress'), I can confirm it was an impressive dram for only 2 years old, and reminded me very much of other Australian distilleries in their younger years - distilleries which have since gone on to produce world-class whiskies.

Certainly a distillery to keep an eye on.

Whilst the distillery is a bit of a trek from Sydney, it's one I can recommend making - make it a day trip and include a tour of the historic town too. You can't taste any of the whisky during the tour, but you can see the equipment up close, and try the sherry which seasoned the casks that are now maturing the whisky.

You can also see Kangaroos, and really, how many distilleries can lay claim to that!?

A huge thanks must go to Elisa and Valero for their immense hospitality during our visit, and for generously allowing us to taste their spirits. Personally I'm excited to see another NSW distillery producing high-quality spirit, and can't wait to see this distillery grow and no doubt go onto great things.


Sunday 26 March 2017

Tasted #353: Bunnahabhain Rubha a' Mhail (Feis Ile 2015)

I had the opportunity to sample this special limited edition Bunnahabhain Rubha a'Mhail as part of a recent Bunnahabhain tasting hosted by whisknick.

The name 'Rubha a'Mhail' is taken from a local Islay tale of a ship that crashed into the rocks at Rubha A' Mhail with the skipper spending 11 days trying to free the ship (which still remains at the same place to this very day). The name and the story certainly make for a good dram.

The Bunnahabhain Rubha a'Mhail malt has been aged for 11 years in Spanish Manzanilla sherry butts and bottled for the Fèis íle 2015 Islay festival. I do have to say that this is another stellar Fèis íle bottling, just like the Port Charlotte SMWS 127.44 bottling I had reviewed earlier. The Manzanilla sherry butts have positively influenced the rich flavours of Bunnahabhain with its light Manzanilla salty and briny notes.

Bunnahabhain Rubha a' Mhail (57.4% ABV, 11yo, Islay, Scotland, One of 1200 bottles, £149.95 or directly at the distillery)
A lovely, rich and creamy bunny that is packed with flavours and a dram I would have to celebrate a momentous occasion.

Colour: Gold with amber tinge

Nose: The nose is rusty and nutty and mixed with burnt caramel, toasted banana bread. There are hints of stone fruits including plums and figs.

Palate: The palate is creamy, rich, filled with sweet and maritime notes with a mixture of rich caramel and brine (salted caramel). This is then followed by cinnamon spice with hints of stone fruits.

Finish: The finish is long, woody and creamy - delicious.

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


Friday 24 March 2017

Tasted #352: Ardbeg 21 (2016 release)

If there's a trend present in recent distillery-bottled Ardbegs over the past few years, it would be that they're all on the (relative) younger side. Not "young", not "immature", not even "simple"....but when the oldest age-statement whisky in a core range is 10 years old, I think it's a fair comment. Of course, there are older Ardbegs (the distillery has bottled quite a few old single casks over the years, there are plenty of 21 year old independently-bottled Ardbegs, and there was even an OB 21 year old from years ago), but in recent years, if you wanted an OB age-statement Ardbeg, the 10 year old was it. it was all the more exciting then, when late last year Ardbeg announced an official bottling of a 21 year old, from a parcel of casks Moët Hennessy (LVMH) acquired with the distillery in the late '90s. You may remember we originally brought word of the new release back in September.

The whisky for this 2016 release was distilled in 1993 and 1994 and comes from ex-Bourbon casks, bottled at 46% ABV with no chill-filtering. It was available in Australia for $565AUD...for about 90 seconds, as it literally took that long for the 90 allocated bottles to sell out. 

Luckily, we got our hands on one, quickly brought it to HK, and immediately cracked it open.

Ardbeg 21 year Old 2016 release (46% ABV, 21yo, Islay, Scotland, $565AUD RRP but now sold out)
Colour: Yellow gold.

Nose: Tropical, like many older Islay bottlings, but perhaps not as full on as some Ardbegs from the '80s. Peach, peat and mango at first. Then blackberries, fresh laundry, sea air, and (with time) a slight earthiness.

Palate: Smooth and light initially. There's citrus tingle, and then comes the peat, wrapped in a chewy caramel layer, followed by some chocolate orange. There's some damp earth, and everything is in perfect harmony. A drop of water brings hints of mandarin and mint. A mixed bag, but one that brings everything together beautifully.

Finish: More like the modern-day Ardbegs we've come to know. Ashy BBQ peatsmoke, with a hint of citrus zest. A little oak.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  94/100. It would be easy for the distillery to produce an average release, and still sell out in a matter of minutes. But they haven't. They've produced a beautifully balanced, complex Ardbeg, with plenty of brand DNA, but enough differentiation to make it a unique whisky - and a beautiful one at that.


Sunday 19 March 2017

Tasted #351: Brora 30yo 6th release (distilled in 1977)

Most whisky fans would no doubt say that a trip to Singapore would not be complete without a visit to the well known and well regarded whisky bar, The Auld Alliance (which Martin reviewed back in 2013, in its old location). As luck would have it, I had planned a trip to the lion city with the family at the end of last year and it was then I finally had the chance to check it out. Let's just say that I was thoroughly impressed with the overall experience, from my own excitement at glistening through pages and pages of different (often rare) whiskies on offer, the bar setup and ambience as well as the generosity of knowledge of the bar staff.

I met up with Natasha, the Bar Manager on the night whom Martin had recommended to me and we chatted away on how the bar came about, the extensive range of whiskies and some of their unique independent bottlings. I won't dive in deeper about the bar, but you can read Martin's review from 2013 here, and he's also planning a detailed write-up of the new location soon (needless to say, it's even better).

I came across the Brora 30yo 6th Release during my chat with Natasha and she mentioned that the 1977 Brora was a special one given 1977 was the last year before Brora began using lightly peated malt, in 1978. Though one would still question the effect of time on the peat level irrespective of how peaty a whisky can be at the outset - I was curious to try this 6th release from Diageo.

Brora 30 year old 6th release

Brora 30yo 6th Release  1977/2007 (55.7% ABV, 30yo, Highland, Scotland, OB, bottle #2215/2858, no longer available but 2010's 30yo release is $1,999AUD)
A lovely, rich, creamy and complex whisky that is generous with every mouthful. Despite the age, this particular Brora is superbly balanced, you do get the dry woody notes though not without it being complemented with plethora of other sensories including peat, citrus and maritime notes.

Colour: Light gold.

Nose: The nose is 
pungent, earthy, ladened with scent of damp forest floor, perhaps reminiscent of raw peat in its origin, ripe banana and overlaid with a small note of metallic paint and heavy thick bonfire smoke.

Palate: The palate is rich, very rich, creamy and viscous. The palate is charred, woody and dry. Then there's the peat and citrus notes, loads of peat and citrus fruit notes before the maritime notes arrive, the salty, briny notes. After a while, the palate then slowly fizzled out with a subtle numbing (cardamon) spice.

Finish: The finish is long, dry, woody and well spiced.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 95/100.


Saturday 18 March 2017

The Elysian Whisky Bar (Melbourne, Australia)

This article on The Elysian Whisky Bar isn't a bar review (though we have 21 of those and counting), for the simple fact that we haven't yet visited - the bar being in Melbourne, us being in Hong Kong and Sydney.

Having said that though, we don't need to visit to know this place is going to be fantastic. With Kelvin Low and Yao Wong at the helm (both ex-Whisky+Alement, another brilliant Melhourne whisky bar we reviewed here), a constantly-refreshed selection of incredible independent bottlings, great cocktails and the vibe/feel of a Japanese whisky bar, all in the heart of Fitzroy, it has all the makings of a gem of a bar (and the many reports we've heard since it's December opening have all confirmed - it's more than earned its stripes).

If that doesn't scream "awesome Japanese-style bar, we don't know what does!"
Kelvin and Yao have built up a "modest but eclectic" selection of whiskies, in a way that's only possible with indie bottlings. They've even got their own single cask Indie bottling coming out soon - a 19yo First Fill ex-Sherry Glenrothes, bottled for The Elysian along with 2 bars in Taiwan, a bar in China, and 2 bars in Japan (including the brilliant Mash Tun Tokyo, where owner Suzuki-San does not select bad casks!) Not bad for a 3 month old bar...

In their words, Kelvin and Yao
"want to bring the feel of the kind of cosy bar you would find in Japan and transport that feeling to Fitzroy…which we felt needed a whisky bar. Many of the great cocktail bars you visit in Japan would have a killer whisky selection and the whisky bars there would absolutely blow you away. We just wanted to bring a taste of that Japanese bar culture back here and maybe jog a bit of nostalgia in those that have been over there and experienced it.”
Having experienced Japan's brilliant whisky scene first hand on many occasions (including once with Kelvin and Yao, at Whisky Live Tokyo 2015), we know exactly what they mean.

Both Sydney and Melbourne continue to show an insatiable appetite for whisky tastings / masterclasses, and The Elysian have stepped up in that regard too, having already hosted a tasting with independent bottler Eiling Lim (whom we recently had the pleasure of meeting in Hong Kong), as well as a Kilkerran WIP tasting, and an upcoming Signatory Vintage tasting with The Whisky Company.

Whilst the focus is clearly on whisk(e)y, Kelvin and Yao haven't neglected the food (nor wine/beer/cocktail) side of things by any means:
"there are seasonal fruits and herbs focused cocktails, a tight wine list and a small constantly rotating beer list. The capacity of the bar is relatively small (about 35) but is specifically designed to enhance the personal interaction between patrons and the bartender. There is a small offering of snack items focusing on charcuterie and cheeses that will be on frequent rotation. We are also working with Chef Ryo Kitahara (of Assiette de Parti), a chef that Kelvin used to work with in his previous restaurant (Heirloom), for some bar snacks. Chef Ryo is providing us with some tasty Chicken Liver Parfaits, Home-made Pork Rillettes, and Slow Cooked Lamb Shoulders."

With The Elysian joining Boilermaker HouseWhisky+Alement, the new Melbourne Whisky Room, Melbourne now has a range of fantastic whisky bars which all offer a slightly different take on whisky. Which one should you visit? That's easy - all of them.

The Elysian Whisky Bar is open Tuesday to Saturdays, 4:30pm to 1am, and is located at 113 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. See Facebook for more details and The Elysian website to subscribe to the newsletter. Phone: +61 3-9417 7441.


Thursday 9 March 2017

Lalique Legacy Collection - Charity auction to feature one-off complete custom set of "Macallan in Lalique" decanters

Last year we were incredibly fortunate to attend the launch of (and taste) the "Macallan in Lalique" 65 year old - the sixth and final release in a series of six rare Macallans, aged from 50 to 65 years old and released in extremely limited numbers over 11 years (2005 - 2016).

At the time, we mentioned 2017 would see parent company Edrington auction off one complete set in Hong Kong, and that time has now come, with Sotheby's due to hold the charity auction on 2nd April 2017.

As you might expect, for a one-off set as rare as this, bidders will be bidding on more than just the 6 decanters. To quote the press release:
"...this special Legacy Collection is housed in a unique, bespoke cabinet in natural ebony created by Lalique, which will also hold six Macallan Fine and Rare miniatures; two from each of the 1937, 1938 and 1939 vintages (signifying the zenith of Lalique’s contribution in the French Art Deco period). 
This cabinet will feature six pairs of Lalique Macallan glasses, each serial numbered to commemorate this unique partnership.  To complete the collection, autographs of the masters behind the collection will be included inside the cabinet, and will allow for the buyer to have their own name engraved within it."
None of which changes the whisky of course, but if our own experience with the 65yo is anything to go by, these are already incredible whiskies in their own right. Not just old, but old and very good.

No word on which charity or charities are being supported here, but we'll try to find out. An estimate of HK$2,000,000 – HK$4,000,000 has been placed on the lot, which is obviously significant, but considering The Macallan's continuing dominance in the whisky auction / rare whisky market, not unexpected.


The auction takes place on Sunday, 2nd April 2017 at Hall 5, The Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, 1 Expo Drive, Wanchai, Hong Kong.  For assistance in bidding at this auction, please contact Sotheby’s on +852-2822-8142