Saturday 29 April 2017

This week in whisk(e)y #36 - Ardbeg toasts beloved Manager, Glenmorangie Pride 1974

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...

Glenmorangie Pride 1974
Following the release of the Glenmorangie Pride 1978 in 2012, Glenmorangie has released another old and rare release, the Glenmorangie Pride 1974. Here's the official press release:
"The most prized Highland single malt whisky ever to emerge from Glenmorangie has become the inspiration for musical virtuoso Aaron Diehl, as part of a creative partnership with renowned piano maker Steinway & Sons.  The launch of Glenmorangie Pride 1974, the Distillery's oldest, rarest and deepest whisky, has led the celebrated Steinway Artist to compose a mesmerising work evoking its rare beauty. 
Glenmorangie Pride 1974 is the third and most prestigious expression in the Distillery's illustrious Pride series, which celebrates its most rare and treasured creations.  Matured for 41 years, just 503 crystal decanters exist of this intense, spicy, yet mellow limited edition.  
The exquisite single malt showcases spirit distilled in Scotland's tallest stills by Glenmorangie's legendary Men of Tain, and laid down on 30 October 1974, some in ex-bourbon refill casks, some in ex-Oloroso sherry casks.  This spirit spent decades maturing under the expert care of these select craftsmen, until Glenmorangie's inspired Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation & Whisky Stocks deemed that it had reached its very peak.  Only then, did Dr Bill Lumsden skilfully marry the two parcels together – realising his vision for Glenmorangie's oldest expression, deeper in colour and character than any other. 
Diehl, a Steinway Artist and graduate of world-renowned Juilliard School, visited the Distillery as part of Glenmorangie's partnership with Steinway & Sons.  His musical evocation of Glenmorangie Pride 1974 reflects their shared dedication to creativity and craftsmanship, established over generations.   
Diehl, 31, who will premiere his work alongside Glenmorangie Pride 1974, said: "In many ways, creating whisky is very similar to composing.  The rare beauty of Glenmorangie Pride 1974 combines years of uncompromising craft and painstaking attention to detail, with a creativity and passion any musician would recognise.  Its story inspired me to create a work echoing the whisky's depth of character, its long maturation and its astonishing tastes." 
Dr Bill said: "Glenmorangie Pride 1974 is the oldest and deepest Glenmorangie ever to be released.  Its age lends the whisky an enriched intensity, borne only of long maturation.  The result is an exquisite blend of salty, spicy aromas, leading to tastes of toffee, baked apples, oranges and brown sugar.  Aaron Diehl's inspired composition perfectly captures the spirit of Glenmorangie Pride 1974.  Each of us has created a rare moment of beauty – and at the whisky's premiere, they will be married together in exquisite harmony." 
Only 503 crystal decanters of Glenmorangie Pride 1974 will be released globally in May 2017."
Three cheers to an Ardbeg stalwart
Ardbeg fans were recently asked to raise a dram and raise a toast and give three cheers for Mickey Heads, Ardbeg Distillery Manager and also the Ardbeg Committee Chairman, who is celebrating his tenth anniversary as Distillery Manager.

We've certainly shared a few Ardbeg drams in celebration and lots of Ardbeg fans around the world also toasted and gave three cheers to Mickey, summarised well in this video, including a prominent display of local whisky figure, Andrew Derbridge.

#3cheers for Mickey from us at Time for Whisky, you've certainly transformed Ardbeg over the decade and we look forward to continuing to be part of the Ardbeg journey!!

Here's a bit more from the official PR release:
"It is ten years since Ardbeg's beloved Mickey Heads took charge of the single malt whisky's untamed spirit. To celebrate the acclaimed Distillery Manager's decade at the helm, the world's smokiest, peatiest Islay malt invites fans across the world to pour a dram of Ardbeg and give three cheers for Mickey, with a nose, taste and toast.

In 2007, when Mickey was appointed, Ardbeg was a very different place to the one the cult malt's loyal following knows today. Saved from extinction by The Glenmorangie Company only a decade previously, it would require years of devotion to complete the Distillery's resurgence on its remote Scottish island home. With Islay native Mickey at the forefront however, Ardbeg has gone from strength to strength. Today, it is the world's most highly awarded smoky malt, while Mickey was singled out as Distillery Manager of the Year at respected industry awards in 2014. 

In honour of Mickey's decade of dedication to Ardbeg's enduring spirit, the Distillery calls on smoky malt whisky fans to join in a worldwide three cheers, with a nose, taste and toast of their favourite expression, be it Ardbeg Ten Years Old, Ardbeg Uigeadail or Ardbeg Corryvreckan. Ardbeggians are invited to film and share their cheers with the hashtag #3cheers, to be part of a special anniversary surprise for Mickey which the Distillery is keeping under wraps for now.

Meanwhile on Islay, Mickey is holding some anniversary tastings of his own. In Ardbeg's first official tasting videos, he will nose, taste and toast Ardbeg's three Ultimate whiskies, giving his insight into the expressions that Islay's wilderness has inspired.

Mickey, who also chairs Ardbeg's loyal fan club, the Committee, said: "I've loved every minute of my years at Ardbeg. The Distillery has grown stronger and stronger in the past decade, and today its untamed spirit is enjoyed by Ardbeggians around the globe. Here on Islay, I'll be raising a glass of Ardbeg to celebrate how far we've come. I hope Ardbeggians will join me to toast The Ultimate Islay Malt. Sláinte!"
Until next time...

Martin & Hendy. 

Wednesday 26 April 2017

Diageo Special Releases 2016 Tasting in Sydney (Tasted #354 - 356)

Sometimes in whisky (as in life), things just work out perfectly.

Take the other week for example. An invitation arrives for a tasting at 2pm on a Tuesday, in Sydney. On any normal week, I'd be 1) in Hong Kong, and 2) Working at 2pm (although considering the invitation in question was for the Diageo 2016 Special Releases, I'd probably try to wrangle some time off and be there). In this case however, there was no wrangling required. I was in Sydney, with a free day. Perfect.

So along I went to Sydney's timeless Rockpool Bar & Grill, to join what was to be a very special tasting. I'd been fortunate enough to try a few of the 2016 releases a few months earlier in Singapore, and whilst I would have loved to try those same drams again, I was very happy to see three of the five drams on tasting were ones I hadn't tried.

Specifically, we were to taste:
  • Caol Ila 15yo "Unpeated Style" - Distilled 2000, 61.5% ABV
  • Cragganmore Limited Release - 55.7% ABV
  • Glenkinchie 24yo - Distilled 1991, 57.2%
  • Brora 38yo - Distilled 1977, 48.65 ABV
  • Port Ellen 37yo (16th Release) - Distilled 1978, 55.2% ABV

After a wonderfully refreshing Dalwhinnie 15 highball (with honey and malic acid), we took our seats to hear from Diageo Australia's newly-appointed National Whisky Ambassador Simon McGoram, who kicked things off with a brief history on the Special Releases (now in their 16th year), and how the much-loved Rare Malts of the 1990s gave way to the Special Releases of today.

Also of interest was the price of the 1st release Port Ellen - a mere £110! A far cry from the $5,000AUD of the 16th release we were about to taste.

(I remember back in 2009 picking up a catalogue from Park Avenue Liquor in New York, which I still have, with a whole range of Port Ellens from $200-$400USD. If only I'd had a little more foresight!)

For those unfamiliar with the Special Releases, it's basically Diageo's annual collection which shows off the various Scottish whisky distilleries, both malt and grain, within Diageo's immense portfolio. Typically the collection includes closed distilleries (like Port Ellen and Brora), operational distilleries (like Lagavulin and Talisker) and grain distilleries (like Cambus - also a closed distillery), and covers many of Scotland's whisky producing regions.

All bottles are bottled at cask strength, and the series has become increasingly popular with both drinkers and collectors alike. This year's collection runs from $170AUD (Caol Ila) to $5,000AUD (Port Ellen), so there's something for everyone.

You wouldn't usually expect to start a tasting of various Scottish regions with an Islay whisky, but in the case of Caol Ila's 15 year old "Unpeated Style", it was entirely appropriate. An annual release, this year's 15yo is from a batch made just once per year, in what Diageo call the "Highland Style", showing off the vibrancy of the Caol Ila spirit without the usual peat smoke.

Caol Ila 15yo "Unpeated Style" (Special Releases 2016) (61.5% ABV, 15yo, OB, Islay, Scotland, $170AUD)
Colour: Light yellow gold.

Nose: Dried seaweed. Lemon tart. Salty, maritime notes, with hints of fresh tropical fruit.

Palate: Allen's Pineapple lollies, more seaweed, a fair amount of malt. A few drops of water brings a little smoke, but nothing like you'd get on a regular Caol Ila, especially one at 61.5% ABV!

Finish: Medium in length, with some vanilla, caramel and popcorn. 

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 89/100.

The Cragganmore was next - the only NAS in the line-up. We're not ones to judge an NAS by its (lack of) age statement though - Diageo have proven (as we found with 2014's Clynelish) that they do NAS very, very well when it comes to Special Releases.

Cragganmore NAS (Special Releases 2016) (55.7% ABV, NAS, OB, Speyside, Scotland, Bottle #2,818 of 4,932, $750AUD)
Colour: Yellow-orange sunset.

Nose: Earthy - mushrooms, dried vegetation and almonds primarily.

Palate: Citrus and spice initially, followed by nutty, vegetal notes. Stewed fruits follow, with the spices wafting in and out. The cask make-up (a mixture of refill hoggies, rejuvenated hoggies, and European Oak) shows.

Finish: Long, smooth and spicy. Slightly vegetal.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. A fantastic match with Jamon Bellota, it turns out (and of course very good on its own).

Next was the Glenkinchie 24 - the oldest official bottling ever released, and also the first to be matured entirely in European Oak. Fair to say I was a bit excited to try this one.

Glenkinchie 24 Year Old (Special Releases 2016) (57.2% ABV, 24yo, OB, Lowlands, Scotland, Bottle #988 of 5,928, $520AUD)
Colour: Deep yellow gold.

Nose: Tropical fruit, Nutri-Grain cereal, milk chocolate, whilst retaining a floral lightness. Water brought out more of the fruit. It's a complex nose, for sure, but not one you'd immediately associated with a dram aged for 24 years in European oak.

Palate: Lightly spiced, with floral hints and some cereal notes from the nose returning. The tropical notes were there too - pineapple dusted with cinnamon.

Finish: Long, sweet fruity and fragrant spices. Walking through a spice market eating a sweet apple.

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

The Brora and Port Ellen rounded out the tasting, and I found very similar notes to when I'd tasted them a few months earlier (and unknowingly gave the same scores as then, too).

As expected, the Brora stole the show, with an incredible amount of complexity coupled with what I'll call "delicious elegance". The pick of the bunch, in my opinion, and a dram I could happily nurse for hours, seeking out more and more notes as time goes on.

As mentioned, nine of the ten 2016 Special Releases have been released in Australia (unfortunately, this year Australia misses out on the crowd favourite Lagavulin 12 Cask Strength, which we learned was very constrained due to "every market wanting to get their hands on the 200th Anniversary release". The nine available bottles are as follows:

AUCHROISK 25 year old, Distilled 1990, ABV 51.2%
3,954 bottles available worldwide. 216 for Australia.

BRORA 38 year old, Distilled 1977, ABV 48.6%
2,984 bottles available worldwide. 108 for Australia.
RRP $2,800AUD

CAMBUS 40 year old, Distilled 1975, ABV 52.7%
1,812 bottles available worldwide. 68 for Australia.
RRP $1,400AUD

CAOL ILA 15 year old, Distilled 2000, ABV 61.5%
450 bottles for Australia.

4,932 bottles available worldwide. 180 for Australia.

GLENKINCHIE 24 year old, Distilled 1991, ABV 57.2%
5,928 bottles available worldwide. 282 for Australia.

LINKWOOD 37 year old, Distilled 1978, ABV 50.3%
6,114 bottles available worldwide. 300 for Australia.
RRP $1,100AUD

MANNOCHMORE 25 year old, Distilled 1990, ABV 53.4%
3,954 bottles available worldwide. 240 for Australia.

PORT ELLEN 37 year old, Distilled 1978, ABV 55.2%
2,940 bottles available worldwide. 128 for Australia.
RRP $5,000AUD

With almost $10,000AUD worth of whisky across 5 bottles, it's fair to say this was no ordinary tasting, but it's one I was thrilled to join. A huge thanks must go to Simon, Diageo Australia and the team at Leo Burnett for the invitation and their hospitality during the afternoon.