Wednesday 11 December 2019

Starward Tawny [Tasted #477]

Christmas in Australia has never been synonymous with cold, cosy, dark, sit by the fire kind of season. In fact, Santa is often seen surfing and basking in the hot Australian sun.

And just because the weather is getting warmer, it doesn't mean that it's time to stash away those whisky bottles. In fact, some whiskies are more fun and more festive in summer. Take this decadent Starward Tawny as an example. The sweet and tantalising nature of this new release from Starward means that you can feature it as part of a Christmas feast or a festive dinner with friends. You can mix it up with some ice and tonic to make a fun Christmas cocktail but it's also great to have on its own.

Starward Tawny is Starward's first Tawny cask release. Small 100L tawny fortified wine barrels from Yalumba were used to mature its whisky and to provide a full-bodied taste. Tawny ports have always been known for its rich, sweet, elegant and smooth complex flavours and Yalumba Tawny is no different. Yalumba Tawny is known for its aromas of rich caramels, sweet figs, chocolate, liquorice spices, wood-aged nuttiness and dried fruits and nuts. So what do you get when you marry Starward's single malt whisky with Yalumba's Tawny casks? A rich and complex marriage of the two.

Starward Tawny follows Starward's key signature of ageing its whisky in small wine barrels. The Tawny is no different with the use of tawny port wine barrels. 

Starward's Head Distiller and Tawny cask innovator, Sam Slaney notes, ".. with a palate of rich dried fruits, brown sugar and nutmeg, Starward Tawny can be enjoyed neat, with food such as blue cheeses like stilton and Roquefort, or rich desserts or as a digestif." 

There were certainly loads of Christmas flavours that you do get from the Tawny. Everything from Christmas fruit cake, raisins, glazed cherries to the myriad of cakes. Starward has always been fun on the palate and the Tawny is no different. These flavours have partially been derived from the tawny casks as well as Starward's signature fruity DNA.

The bottle may look familiar to some, the label shares a similar design to the label of Starward's other limited edition releases including the Ginger Beer cask release as well as the Bourbon cask release. I had fun featuring this bottle with all sorts of Christmas ornaments for this post.

Now, whilst Starward's previous limited-edition releases including their Bourbon Cask release sold out in minutes, Starward Tawny has strategically upped its outturn with around 4,000 unique bottlings out there in the market. It does present a good opportunity for those wanting a bottle of the Tawny ahead of Christmas or any time really.

Starward Tawny (48% ABV, NAS, Blend, Melbourne, Australia, A$119)

Colour: Caramel

Nose: The nose is creamy. It is loaded with sweet cakes from sweet vanilla meringue, Christmas fruit cake with glazed cherries, cream, summer fruits, figs and some orange marmalade.

Palate: The palate is sweet with that slice of vanilla cake, some raisin, plums, stone fruits followed by dried spices; pepper and nutmeg and a hint of caramelised sugar.

Finish: The finish is long and dry, leaving a nice, sweet, tannic, spiced remnants which lingers for some time.

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

Thanks to Starward and Dialogue PR who kindly provided the Starward Tawny bottle for review.


Monday 9 December 2019

Highland Park Triskelion

It's been a big 12 months for Highland Park, most recently with the Valfather (which we recently celebrated the launch of in Taipei) and previously Valknut, not to mention the latest 50 Year Old and a number of other releases for Travel Retail.

The distillery has released one more for the year though, this time a NAS designed to celebrate "the combined wisdom and inspiration of three legendary Highland Park Master Whisky Makers" – Max McFarlane, John Ramsay and Gordon Motion (whom we had the pleasure of meeting recently).

Launched last month, the whisky comes from first-fill casks (sherry-seasoned Spanish oak butts, sherry seasoned American oak casks and bourbon barrels and hoggies), save for a small quantity from refill casks.

The three whisky makers, combining over 100 years' experience, each had a combined hand in the making of the whisky. To quote current whisky maker Gordon Motion: “It took us a while to agree on the final flavour profile, but we are very proud of the result – it tested our skill set, our craftsmanship but not our friendship!”

Priced at $2,200HKD and bottled at 45.1% ABV, Triskelion is available from the usual quality outlets in HK. Whilst we haven't yet tasted it (but hope to soon), the official tasting notes can be found below.

Appearance: Natural colour, deep russet, clear and bright
Aroma: Seville oranges, coriander seeds, crème brûlée, cloudy honey, lightly peated with a hint of rose.
Taste: Orange peel, apricots, cumin, vanilla and light smoke
Finish: Lingering sweet, citrusy and spice


Friday 6 December 2019

The Macallan Edition No 5 [Tasted #475]

Of the many releases each year from The Macallan, the "Edition" series has become an annual favourite, with fans guessing months in advance what the next release colour might be (so far: Brown, Orange, Yellow, Green, Purple).

Always residing around a central theme (structure, cask, nose, etc..), the whiskies are a fun and varied insight into the distillery, always offering a slightly different take whilst retaining an underlying Macallan familiarity.

More importantly for me though, the series represents one of the distillery's strongest forays into transparency, with plenty of detail on cask make-up (size, type, fill) provided, and even a bit more hidden detail if you know where to look.

For 2019's release (the 5th in the series), the focus is on colour (remember The Macallan never artificially colour their whisky), and to emphasise the point, the distillery even registered their own Pantone colour - "The Macallan Edition Purple". Whether or not you buy into this sort of marketing (personally we think it's a bit of fun, nothing more, nothing less), the focus is, and should be of course, on the liquid.

We've seen Edrington HK  hold a range of events for the series over the years, from the Edition No 2 launch dinner at VEA, to an evening with Roja Dove to celebrate Edition No 3, and last year's lunch launch of Edition No 4. Sadly this year Steph and I could't attend the festivities for Edition No.5 (fun though they looked), but whilst we waited for our bottles to arrive, we made our way over to The ThirtySix Bar & Co to try a bottle they had open in the whisky vault.

The Macallan Edition No 5 (48.5% ABV, NAS, Speyside, Scotland, $1,450HKD)
Colour: Golden treacle

Nose: Instantly a Macallan, with a a slightly floral bouquet, sweet and fresh, with some hints of stone fruit and a slight hint of hay.

Palate: There's that slight matchhead / flint note I find on some recent sherry-influenced cask Macallans, followed by a herbal earthy (yet very subtle) smoke, allspice, raspberry jam and a hint of cigar box.

Finish: Medium to long in length, with residual wafts of ginger, pot pourri, poached pears and toffee.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  90/100. A worthy entry into the series - approachable, enjoyable, and and sufficiently different enough to Editions 1-4 to earn its place.

Whether you're an avid Macallan collector, or looking to try your first dram, picking up a bottle of Edition No 5 won't disappoint.


Monday 2 December 2019

Mars Komagatake Limited Edition 2018 & 2019 [Tasted #473-474]

The world of Japanese whisky is a complex one, filled with delicious drams, yes, but also traps for the unsuspecting consumer. Whilst there are many categories (some of which are explained brilliantly in this infographic from Nomunication), including blends, single malts, single grains, blended malts, single cask blends, and even shochu labelled as whisky, in my view you can loosely bucket Japanese whisky today into three broad categories:
  1. "The OG's": The sort of whisky which filled the shelves just a few years ago, but now proves increasingly difficult and/or expensive to find. I'm including in here pretty much all age statement Suntory whiskies (e.g. Yamazaki, Hakushu, Hibiki), age statement Nikka whiskies (Yoichi, Miyagikyo, Taketsuru), closed distillery whiskies like the famed Karuizawa and Hanyu, and even Chichibu single malt (which even though is barely a decade old, definitely falls under the "difficult to find" and/or "expensive" banner).
  2. "Fake" Japanese whisky - aka whisky sold as Japanese, but containing whisky distilled outside Japan. Now to be clear, under Japanese law this is perfectly legal (and to be even clearer, many reputable whisky brands do this with complete transparency - e.g. "world whisky" like Suntory's "Ao" & Ichiro's Malt "World Blended Whisky"), but there are an increasing number of whiskies which seem to try to "fool" the consumer into thinking they're entirely Japanese; and
  3. Whisky distilled in Japan, yet is (relatively) available and affordable. Into this category falls whisky like "Nikka Coffey Malt", NAS Yoichi / Miyagikyo / Yamazaki / Hakushu (which seemed to be slightly more available on a recent trip to Japan), and Mars Whisky's range of single malt "Komagatake", including the two I'm reviewing today.
We tasted several Mars whiskies back in January this year (with President Hombo-san, no less) and this time around have two limited releases under the microscope - Mars Single Malt Komagatake Limited Editions 2018 & 2019.

It's not often you come across a (genuine) Japanese single malt, released in limited numbers, that you can easily buy, yet that's the case with these two, which are still readily available in Hong Kong (in fact I saw the 2019 edition at the airport last week!)

As non-chill filtered genuine Japanese single malts, bottled at a respectable 48% ABV,  they tick a lot of boxes on paper, but how do they stack up as whiskies to drink? Read on...

MARS Single Malt KOMAGATAKE Limited Edition 2018 (48% ABV, NAS, Japan, 1 of 10,000 bottles, $1,300HKD)
Originally tasted back in January this year, this limited release of 10,000 bottles was aged entirely in ex-Bourbon / American White Oak barrels, and is said to include both peated and unpeated spirit, matured in Shinshu.

Colour: Light yellow gold.

Nose: Vanilla and toasted oak, slightly smoky toasted banana bread, oat cakes and faint wafts of smoke.

Palate: Toffee and caramel, then some ripe plum, orange zest, pot pouri. With time, some floral pear notes emerge.

Finish: Long, citrus with a floral lingering smoke.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  88/100. A few new flavours discovered the second time around, but the score remains the same. A youthful, yet enjoyable dram.
MARS Single Malt KOMAGATAKE Limited Edition 2019 (48% ABV, NAS, Japan, $1,380HKD)
2019's release was distilled at Mars' Shinshu distillery and vatted from Bourbon barrels and "several other types of casks" (it literally says that on the box). The exact number of bottles released isn't known, but like its 2018 counterpart, it's a one-off limited release.

Colour: Light copper gold.

Nose: Instant fruit - pear, melons (rockmelon & honeydew melon), green apples and some oak.

Palate: Follows the fruitiness of the nose. Rockmelon, apricot, marmalade, some orange slices and hints of sweet Grand Marnier.

Finish: Apple flan, slight earthy "fruit smoke", peach pie.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  90/100. It's youthful and not overly complex, but it's also delicious and whilst great on its own, I imagine would make a great highball with a slice of apple.

Both 2018 and 2019 Limited Editions are available in HK from AFTrade, who kindly provided these bottles for review.


Friday 22 November 2019

Johnnie Walker Game of Thrones "A Song of Ice" and "A Song of Fire" (Tasted #471-472)

Diageo is continuing its Game of Thrones series with the release of two limited edition blends – Johnnie Walker "A Song of Ice" and Johnnie Walker "A Song of Fire". These two new releases are based on the overarching book series "A Song of Fire and Ice", of which Game of Thrones was part of.

A Song of Ice, containing malt whisky from Clynelish distillery, is described as having a ‘crisp, clean taste’ with a ‘green and grassy’ flavour and notes of ‘vanilla and tropical fruit’.

A Song of Fire containing peated malt whisky from Caol Ila distillery, is said to feature ‘subtle smoke tempered by a rich, rounded sweetness’, and is bottled at 40.8% abv

These releases follow the launch of "White Walker" by Johnnie Walker last year and Diageo's Game of Thrones Single Malt Collection earlier this year.  The latter was a series of eight limited edition single malts that represented the Great Houses plus the Night's Watch. Personally, there were some real highlights from the collection including the Lagavulin (Lannister), Oban (Night's Watch) and Dalwhinnie (Stark).

Now, the White Walker and the Single Malt Collection were launched in anticipation of the final season of Game of Thrones which aired in April 2019. However, both A Song of Ice and A Song of Fire have been released post the end of the final season. Whether this point to an upcoming Game of Thrones series, it hasn't been confirmed though there are rumours a prequel is in the works.

The bottle design have been inspired by the two great houses who face off in final season of the series - House of Stark (represented by the Direwolf) and House of Targaryen (inspired by Daenerys Targaryen aka Mother of Dragons). The sigil of both houses, a direwolf and a dragon were used on the bottle design.

Tasting notes aside, the bottles have been impeccably designed. A Song of Ice share the same colour and design as its White Walker release from last year. On the contrary, A Song Fire incorporates a bolder design featuring what looks like Drogon, one of Daenerys' dragons.

Tasting them side by side, is one tastier than another? They are both different and I personally, prefer the A Song of Ice over A Song of Fire though they may appeal to different taste buds.

Johnnie Walker "A Song of Ice" (40.2% ABV, NAS, Blend, Scotland, A$69.99)
Colour: Pale Straw

Nose: Herbaceous, fresh hay. There are some sweet treats from apple stew, stone fruits, vanilla and orange zest.

Palate: The palate is soft yet lightly spiced and has layers of flavours from oranges, vanilla, nutmeg and stone fruits. Although the palate is soft, it still packed quite a complex profile.

Finish: Short to medium, with warming spice and herbaceous notes.

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

Johnnie Walker "A Song of Fire" (40.2% ABV, NAS, Blend, Scotland, A$69.99)
Colour: Flame Amber

Nose: Orange, vanilla and black pepper. Very soft and light on the nose. There's a small hint of peat.

Palate: Light and soft. There's tannic when you first taste it which is then followed by vanilla, black pepper spices and a hint of peat. You would think this is the one with the Clyenish malt but no, the primary malt is in fact, Caol Ila.

Finish: Short, with warming fading notes. The spices also disappear quickly .

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 85/100.

At $69.99 a bottle, these new blends are great for those looking to fill Santa's stockings ahead of Christmas. Both Johnnie Walker A Song of Ice and A Song of Fire are now available from liquor stores nationwide.


A big thanks to Diageo and Fuel Communication for providing samples for review.

Thursday 14 November 2019

The Singleton of Glen Ord 12yo Sherry Cask launch dinner [Tasted #470]

The Singleton doesn't get a lot of attention in Australia, but it certainly does in parts of Asia - in Taiwan especially (where we're told it's the #1 selling single malt brand), but more recently Hong Kong, where the brand and its three distilleries are rapidly gaining a large profile.

Those three distilleries are Dufftown, Glendullan and Glen Ord, and it's the latter which recently gave us a new release for the HK market - The Singleton of Glen Ord 12yo Sherry Cask, released just last month.

To celebrate the new whisky, The Singleton held an elaborate dinner at the St Regis Hong Kong's Astor Ballroom, with a menu by lauded Singaporean chef Justin Quek.

The dinner saw 5 Singleton whiskies paired with a variety of dishes, many of them surprisingly well-matched (particularly given how hit-and-miss whisky pairings can be).

What was more unusual however, was the non-food pairing. A booklet on our table told us that we'd be given an "interpretive dance recital", telling the story of the whisky, with three dancers each interpreting the "European Oak Sherry Casks", "American Oak Bourbon Casks" and the final "Sherry Casks" used for marrying the whiskies together.

I'm not sure I really "got" the interpretation of cask type in dance, but it was certainly a unique and interesting take on the whisky dinner format, which often follows the exact same formula time after time.

At the front of the elongated, twin-tabled room was a chef's station where Chef Quek talked the 120 or so guests through each dish, with a live feed being broadcast over screens throughout the venue (it was significantly less Owellian than it appears in the photo below, and actually a nice touch).

You can tell when a "whisky pairing" dinner has been thrown together, and that certainly wasn't the case here. It was clear much thought had gone into matching the whisky with each dish, such as the trio of starters (House cured salmon/Royal Oscietra Caviar, Light Smoked Hamachi Fillet/Konbu & Gillardeau Oyster Fritter/Spanish ham/Mushrooms) which Chef Quek explained were specifically chosen to match elements of the whisky - the Oysters to represent Speyside, the Hamachi to represent the subtle smoke in the whisky, and the salmon to represent...The Singleton's logo! Fair play.

Taste-wise, the combo worked well with the new 12yo Sherry Cask, as did Wok Fried Maine Lobster with The Singleton of Glen Ord 15yo, with the whisky adding a sweetness to the Lobster that worked very well.

As is often the case, the dessert pairing (Chocolate variations and Singleton Whisky Ice Cream, paired with The Singleton of Dufftown 25yo) worked a treat. It's not hard to get a dessert and whisky pairing right, but this one worked particularly well, with a creamy, fruity sensation coming out in the whisky that wasn't as prominent on its own. The Singleton infused ice cream was a nice touch as well.

Despite enjoying 15, 18, 21 and 25 year old expressions of The Singleton, it was the Sherry Cask 12yo we were all there to celebrate, and I thought it fitting to give it a proper tasting on its own, before the dinner.

The Singleton of Glen Ord 12yo Sherry Cask (40% ABV, 12yo, Highlands, Scotland, $548HKD)
Colour: Deep copper/amber with hints of red.

Nose: Candied brazil nuts, cherries, with hints of cloves and a slight berry-laden wood spice.

Palate: Initially light, but quickly settling into rich berry notes (raspberries, cranberries) then a dustry dry-rub spice. Cherries, fresh raspberries, caramel and and hints of oak are rounded out with a subtle underlying smoke.

Finish: Longer than you might expect, with hints of oak spice and pot pourri and dried raspberries.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  88/100. A solid dram. It's nice to see a new release carrying a decent age statement for a change too.

MHDHK and their PR partners PRime Asia don't do things by halves here in Hong Kong, and this dinner was no exception - a beautifully curated event to suit an evening of highly enjoyable whiskies.

Martin. attended this event as guests of MHDHK.

Monday 21 October 2019

Gordon & MacPhail’s "Mr George Centenary Edition" 1956 Glen Grant 62yo [Tasted #469]

Continuing with 2019's theme of "trying incredibly rare and old releases from Gordon & MacPhail", a sample of G&M's latest "Mr George Centenary Edition" 62yo Glen Grant arrived recently, distilled way back in 1956 and matured in a single first fill sherry butt for 62 long years.

The whisky was bottled to celebrate what would have been the Centenary of "Mr George" Urquhart - the man said to be "the father, the originator, of the current success and appreciation of Scotch Malt whiskies" (Charlie MacLean's words). Joining G&M in 1933, George was a champion of single malt (at a time when the world's attention was on blends), and was the creator of the Connoisseurs Choice range in 1968 - nowadays one of the most legendary series of Independent Bottlings of the era.
Now, you might think a man with a legacy like George's would deserve a very special whisky...and you'd be right. Not only is this a 62yo whisky, it is an absolutely stunning 62yo whisky, presenting elegance, finesse, complexity and power you rarely see combined in a whisky, let alone one that has spent 62 years in a first fill sherry butt.

When it comes to old Scotch whiskies (50yo+), I generally have four checks - the further along the list the whisky makes it, the more impressed I am:
  1. Is it technically still "whisky" (i.e. >40% ABV)?
  2. Is it still drinkable (i.e. not reminiscent of chewing on an oak stave)?
  3. Does it actually have some discernible notes on the nose and palate other than "oak"
  4. Is it enjoyable?
I've tried one or two 50+ year old whiskies that haven't gotten past 2, and most generally top out at point 3 or 4. This whisky however blazes through the list, and goes somewhere else entirely. It's no exaggeration to say that, for me, this presents floral elegance and clean sherry power you very, very rarely see in a whisky. Think some of the best Karuizawas, or most stunning, cleanly-sherried vintage Speysiders. The sort of whiskies that come along once every few years, if you're lucky. We're talking rarified company here.

This is the best whisky I've tried in 2019.

Gordon & MacPhail "Mr George Centenary Edition" 1956 Glen Grant 62yo (51.7%ABV, 62yo, Speyside, Scotland, Cask #4455, One of 235 bottles, £5,000)
Colour: Deep orange walnut.

Nose: Power and elegance. There are big sherry notes - hazelnuts, ginger, rhubarb, and even some coconut, but also floral subtleties - pot pourri if you like. Everything combines harmoniously and no one character is competing for your olfactory senses. If someone told you it was a well-aged sherried Karuizawa, you'd believe them, such is the balance and finesse evident.

Palate: Initially very sweet, quickly settling into similar notes as found on the nose - floral elegance, coconut and ginger, with an underlying orange blossom note, and candied mandarin peel. After some time in the glass, raspberries and orange (flesh, not peel) emerge, along with some hints of sweet nutty chocolate.

Finish: Long, sweet, floral, with a residual smoky honey oak note.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  95/100. That's a big score (my biggest of 2019) but is entirely deserved. I feel my notes don't really do the whisky justice - this is simply a beautiful whisky - one that I hope every single bottle of gets opened and enjoyed.

A big thanks to G&M for a sample of a whisky that would no doubt make "Mr George" proud, were he around today.


Saturday 28 September 2019

Tasting Benromach's latest 50 Year Old 1969 Single Cask [Tasted #468]

"I don't always drink Benromach, but when I do..."

We've been pretty fortunate here at TimeforWhisky to try some old and incredibly rare Benromach releases over the years. The last we tried was a 46yo single cask from 1972 (one of only 75 bottles) and the one before that a 41yo single cask from 1974. One thing we found with each of these was that they were incredibly delicious, well-made whisky, bottled at just the right time.

The thing is, "delicious" and "well-made" seems to be something that applies across the Benromach range, right down to the entry level 10 Year Old. I've referred to Benromach as a distillery who just make incredibly good, honest whisky, and I still stand by that today.

..but the whisky we're tasting today isn't quite an entry level whisky. At 50 years old, the new Bemromach 50 Year Old 1969 Single Cask is the oldest current expression available from the distillery, and only 125 decanters are being released.

Distilled on 11th June 1969, the whisky spent 50 years (and one day) in a refill sherry hogshead (cask #2003), until it was bottled on 12th June 2019 at 44.6% ABV. Each of the 125 bottles will be available from 30th September for £8,000 / €9000 / $10,000USD.

Unlike recent releases (41yo, 42yo, 46yo etc..) this one has a nice round age statement which seems to be fairly deliberate, considering it was bottled exactly a day after its 50th birthday. So, does it still follow the ethos of delicious whisky bottled just at the right time? The distillery kindly sent us a sample to find out...

Benromach 50 Year Old Single Cask 1969 (44.6% ABV, 50yo, Speyside, £8,000 / €9000 / $10,000USD)
Colour: Deep mahogany-brown.

Nose: A nice balance of oak and fresh berries at first, then moving towards stone fruits - peaches and apricots most notably*. Mature oak, with warming cinnamon spice. I tasted the whisky in a Glencairn (as I always do) but saved some to try in a 1920's Blender's Glass, which I found toned down the oak on the nose, and turned up the fruity sweetness.

Palate: The first thing you get is that delicious and distinctive resinous note you only get on seriously old whiskies. Oak, but not overly dominant. Theres a subtle maltiness, coffee beans, then wafts of delicate woodsmoke complimented by apricot and a slight vegetal note (coriander). There's an underlying fruity sweetness, and (after some time in the glass), more stonefruit sweetness.

Finish: Mature oak and stone fruits - more of the apricot, peach and now some pear. There's noticeable oak at the very end but it's not overwhelming and doesn't detract from the other flavours.

Rating (on our very non-scientific scale):  91/100. Another fine example of a (very) well-aged whisky which has stood the test of time.

*Interestingly, both peach and apricot are called out in the official tasting notes, which I only read after writing mine!

A big thanks to Benromach, Gordon & Macphail & WS for the generous sample.


Friday 20 September 2019

Teeling 24yo heads up a trio of new releases for Australia [Tasted #465 - 467]

Teeling is a distillery that's been featured pretty heavily on the blog in the past, and with good reason. They bottle (and distill) a range of unique, varied and fantastic whisky, and seem to have a knack for clever cask finishing, which was clearly on show with three whiskies that recently showed up at HQ...

The first probably needs no introduction - Teeling Whiskey 24 Year Old, judged "World’s Best Single Malt 2019" at the World Whiskies Awards (one of the few competitions whose judging process I respect). The whisky spent 21 years in ex-Bourbon barrels, before undergoing 3 years of finishing in ex-Sauternes casks. This is actually the second time we've tasted the 24yo on the blog, with an earlier batch being tasted back in 2016.

Personally, my interest is always piqued when I see a respectable distillery finishing in something (relatively) obscure like a Sauterne cask, as the results can be hit or miss, but I figure with a whisky like this it's much more like to be the former.

The second hits a little closer to home for Aussies. The Teeling 17-year-old Single Malt Whiskey – Jim Barry Shiraz Cask Collaboration sees Teeling finished (for an unspecified period of time) in barrels which previously held red wine - specifically Jim Barry’s 2016 release of “The Armagh” Shiraz, a "Super Premium" Aussie Shiraz retailing for over $300AUD (the whisky itself comes in at only $200AUD/bottle).

Rounding out the trio is another collaboration and another interesting finish - Teeling Whiskey Imperial Stout Cask Finish, a NAS collaboration with the Galway Bay Brewery based on the west coast of Ireland. Described by Teeling founding brother Jack Teeling as a collaboration coming "full circle", the casks used to mature the brewery's "200 Fathoms Imperial Stout" were originally Teeling Small Batch casks. After maturing the beer once, they were then used to mature Teeling's much-loved Small Batch (see here for our review way back in 2013) once again.

Samples of each were kindly sent our way recently, and despite a leakage incident during shipping (impacting the 24yo sample no less!) there was just enough for Hendy and I to each review and give our thoughts. So without further ado...

Teeling Whiskey 24 Year Old (46% ABV, 24yo, Ireland, $600AUD)
Colour: Rich bright Orange Gold

Nose: Martin: Passionfruit with a dusting of icing sugar, followed by richer notes of maple syrup & blackberry and rounded out with some lemon citrus notes.
Hendy: A strong whiff of pineapple, tropical juice, breakfast cereal or perhaps barley. There is some honey and creamy vanilla mixed on the nose. The nose is light, especially compared with the extremely fruity 17yo.

Palate: Martin: Rich, creamy and mouth-filling beyond what its 46% ABV might suggest.  Passionfruit tart hits you first, then guava, then vanilla essence. There are hints of other tropical fruits (as are so often evident on good Irish drams of this age) - pineapple and kiwifruit. Just a delicious, rich fruity dessert.
Hendy: The palate is velvety and smooth, almost grandeur with layered fruits. The pineapple and tropical juice comes on the palate only very subtly followed by light berries jam. Pop rocks popping candy without the pop (is that possible). The palate is very very creamy, quite viscous and laden with vanilla and subtle hints of those tropical fruits. There's a tiny bit of citrus note that follows & comes through quite late, though the palate remains light and delicate.

Finish: Martin: Long, fruity and slightly smoked. Passionfruit lemon tart, with an almost-burn baked crust, and then some residual oak that hangs on until the end.
Hendy: Very gentle, very long, the fading of the notes is nice and slow and only soft fruity notes linger on.

Rating (on our very non-scientific scale):  93/100 (Hendy) & 92/100 (Martin).


Teeling Whiskey 17 Year Old Jim Barry Shiraz Cask Collaboration (46% ABV, 17yo, Ireland, $199.99AUD)
Colour: Orange gold.

Nose: Martin: Fruity! Oranges and passionfruit, then red berries. Slight hints of banana integrate well too. Fruit salad in a glass.
Hendy: The nose is very fruity. There is creamy mango with some bananas and topped with Ribena juice. There's that homemade danish pastry that have been topped with loads of berries. This nose is amazingly delicious.

Palate: Martin: The red berries are the first thing to hit you. Then there are some oats - creamy breakfast oats. Really creamy. In fact, you know those Uncle Toby's Strawberry Yoghurt muesli bars that Aussie kids often had in their lunch boxes as children? Exactly those. Then there's some white chocolate orange slices to round things out.
Hendy: I'm a big fan of tasting what you nose and this expression does not disappoint. The berries come through prominently with some vanilla and creamy mango ice cream. This is a real fun palate and followed by a slight oak bitterness that's there but does not detract from the fruit notes. After a while, the palate gets a little chalky before some spices hit the back of the palate.

Finish: Martin: Long, ever so slightly dry with notes of strawberry chocolate to the end.
Hendy: Dry and long, the sweet notes remain with slight tingly spices, almost like Pop Rocks popping candy (berry flavours). Overall, very enjoyable and very delicious.

Rating (on our very non-scientific scale):  93/100 (Hendy) & 91/100 (Martin).


Teeling Whiskey Small Batch Stout Cask Irish Whiskey (46% ABV, NAS, Ireland, $79.99AUD)
Colour: Light yellow gold.

Nose: Martin: In a word (or two): yellow fruits. Pear and peach at first, then some banana.
Hendy: Fruity and sweet, there's fresh honey dew and light citrus notes with quite prominent bright and hop nose.

Palate: Martin: Unusual. There's a hoppy, slightly astringent bitterness, then sweetness, then some lemon coming through, but more like lemon-scented cleaning products (that sounds bad, it's not in reality) and white grapes.
Hendy: Creamy and milky, there's a hint of roast coffee beans mixed with some milk chocolate followed by a subtle bitterness, perhaps more of that hops though the hops does not overtake the palate. The creamy stout profile comes through after a while and the bitterness stays on the palate for a while longer.

Finish: Martin: Short to medium in length, with that hoppy, subtle bitterness remaining to the end.
Hendy: The stout remains and becomes prevalent but it's a nice after taste, almost like the after taste you get after that first sip of a fresh cold lager. This is delicious stuff and is very different to the usual fruity Teeling notes.

Rating (on our very non-scientific scale):  91/100 (Hendy) & 85/100 (Martin). Clearly Hendy liked this one more than me!


Friday 13 September 2019

Tasting the "world's most uncollectable" whisky: Craigellachie 51 Years Old (Tasted #464)

Australian readers: See the bottom of this post for how you can win the chance to taste this incredible whisky next month.
As much as I dislike the word, there's definitely been a "premiumisation" of older whiskies in recent years, with ultra aged whiskies (typically those over 50 years) regularly coming in bigger and bigger boxes, fancier and fancier bottles, and with significantly higher price tags as the years progress. So much so that many would say there's now a complete disconnect between the quality of some of these whiskies, their price tags, and indeed reality.

...all of which makes it incredibly refreshing to see how Craigellachie handled the release of their "newest, oldest" whisky, which is coming to Sydney next month. Here's an incredibly long-aged whisky (51 years old), released in a standard bottle (if it wasn't for the 51yo and "single cask" on the label, you could mistake it for the 13yo), with no fancy packaging...and no price tag.

That's right - you can't buy the Craigellachie 51yo. The distillery is making all 51 bottles (they swear the outturn is a coincidence) available only via "Bar 51" - a pop-up bar held in only 4 cities around the world - London last year, New York earlier this year, Sydney next month, and an as-yet unannounced city in South Africa later this year.

The Duke of Clarence will host the experience for 80 lucky punters, for 3 days only from 23-25 October, and alongside the 51 Year Old attendees will taste the 13, 17 and 23 year old expressions in a private tasting led by Global Brand Ambassador, Georgie Bell.

We were fortunate enough to attend the launch for the 51 Year Old last week - especially fortuitous timing for me given I happened to be in Sydney that week, giving Hendy and I a rare chance to actually attend a whisky event together (and not just via video conference).


Taking over the incredible Firedoor in Surry Hills, Craigellachie had "both Georgies" (Georgie Mann, Australian Ambassador and Georgie Bell, Global Ambassador) hosting a small group of media and a who's who of the Sydney bar scene for a delicious meal (all cooked on an open flame) accompanied by a range of Craigellachie, including:
  • 51 Year Old
  • 13 Year Old
  • 17 Year Old
  • 23 Year Old
  • Exceptional Rioja Wine Cask Finish 23 Year Old Double Cask
  • Craigellachie Old Soul cocktail

In what was a really refreshing change for these types of events, the 51 Year Old was served first - before our palates were bombarded with various flame-cooked flavours, and before anyone lost their subjectivity having had 1-2 cocktails and 3-4 other whiskies. Bravo to whoever planned the menu.

Georgie (Bell) talked us through a brief history of the distillery and the whisky, explaining that way back on 22nd December 1962 when it was distilled, the distillery ran on 2 coal-fired stills, and at the time the refill ex-bourbon hogshead was filled, no-one would have imagined it would lay dormant for 51 years, to be bottled in 2014 at 40.3% ABV.

Craigellachie are often seen as an "unconventional" whisky distillery (just look at the ages of their core range), and Georgie explained that that ethos fitted perfectly with the idea of giving away such an old and rare whisky via free tasting events, rather than having it languish on a collector (or worse, investor's) shelf. It's a hard sentiment to argue with, and on that note, we lifted our glasses and got to it...

Craigellachie 51 Year Old Single Cask #001940 (40.3% ABV, 51yo, Speyside, Scotland, not for sale)

Martin's tasting notes:
Colour: Yellow/orange golden sunset.

Nose: A balance between citrus and oak, with orange oils and vanillin most noticeable, with some pineapple and hints of coconut making it equal-parts woody and fruity.

Palate: Oak at first. It's not "chewing on a lump of wood" oak like you get from some whiskies of this age, and it's balanced out by other notes, but for me it was the dominant note. There were also old leather books, damp earth, a slight floral perfume, and very subtle lemon notes. Woodspice remained throughout.

Finish: Long, slightly tannic, drying oak. After some time in the glass (30+ minutes) some noticeable notes of cigar box emerged. Lovely.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  90/100. For a whisky to make it to 51 years old (and still be "whisky" - i.e. above 40% ABV) is an impressive feat. For it to do so and still retain complex notes of fruit, earth, perfume and not be entirely dominated by wood is even more so. Yes, this is an oak-led whisky, but not at the expense of enjoyment or other notes.

Hendy's tasting notes:
Colour: Golden ale.

Nose: The nose is surprisingly fruity, light citrus and apple peels. The nose is oily, quite viscous and creamy. There's a hint of coconut and honey with some vanilla.

Palate: The palate is dry, waxy with a light oak wood character. It's also quite viscous and chewable, which follows the characters from the nose. There's more of the fruit characters; burnt orange, berries followed by dried fennel spice and a light tar.

Finish: The finish is long and dry with remnants of the dried spice that remain.

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

Truly an incredible, one-off experience, and one that 80 lucky whisky fans will get to experience in just over a month.

The competition for Bar 51 closes on Friday 11th October (Midnight AEST). To be in with a chance to be one of the lucky 80 winners to attend Bar 51 for a tasting of CRAIGELLACHIE 51, enter the lottery at

A heartfelt thanks must go to both Bacardi / Dewars / Craigellachie, both Georgies, and Wanderlustunion for a stunning event and a very, very special tasting.

Martin & Hendy.

Wednesday 4 September 2019

Lunch with a Master Whisky Maker: Contrasting Highland Park's "Viking Legend" Trilogy

Hot on the heels of the Highland Park Valfather launch festivities, a small group of media were invited to lunch at Taipei's Hotel Proverbs (home to the excellent East End bar) the following day, to re-visit Valfather in a more intimate setting, hear more about the whisky from Master Whisky Maker Gordon Motion and Designer Jim Lyngvild, and compare and contrast the entire "Viking Legend" trilogy.

..that we could do so over a delicious 5 course lunch was the icing on the cake.

Following a private interview with Gordon and Jim, we took our seats and started proceedings, as we so often do at these lunches, with a 12yo Highland Park. A reliable, solid whisky which always makes for a nice "aperitif dram" at a lunch like this.

Gordon (who joined Edrington in 1998 and worked throughout the portfolio, covering The Macallan, The Famous Grouse and Glenturret before moving onto Highland Park) talked us through the evolution of the series, explaining the close collaboration between he and Jim that punctuated all three releases (summary: they worked together very closely - this wasn't just a marketing exercise), the approach to cask selection (Valfather for example had to be a "lighter, ethereal" whisky reminiscent of heaven) and then explained how Valfather was also the distillery's peatiest release to date. 

Whilst that might seem like a contradiction to some, Gordon explained the differences between Orkney peat (lighter, earthier, heather notes) as compared with Islay peat (smokier, medicinal, maritime notes) and why even though this is the "peatiest Highland Park" to date, it's not going to be akin to an Islay peatbomb.

Diving into lunch, we started with Lettuce salad with Ricotta cheese, Serrano and truffle dressing, followed by a starter of Foie Gras, Mushroom and Fennel, Duck Jus and Peanut Powder. This wasn't a pairing lunch per se, so there were no rules around the whiskies and we were free to explore the Viking Legend trilogy at our own pace.

It'd been a "long time between drinks" so to speak, given I'd first tasted Valkyrie in October 2017, and Valknut in December 2018, so it was great to have them all lined up side by side. I always like it when I revisit a dram a months or years later, and find similar notes as I did originally, and that was the case here, with the stronger sherry notes of the Valkyrie still shining through, the nuttiness of the Valknut again being evident, and each whisky becoming progressively smokier than the last.

Jim Lyngvild (the Danish designer responsible for the box and bottle designs for the Viking Legends trilogy) took the stage next, and gave us an appreciation of Orkney's Viking history (himself having literally descended from Orkney vikings, 36 generations earlier). Whilst Highland Park has at times been criticised for pushing the "Viking story" a little too heavily, and for sure there have been a lot of viking-related releases, Jim emphasised that it's at least a story that has history and meaning for Orkney, and is therefore real and true. It's certainly a lot more than we can say for some of the marketing-driven stories we read from time to time...

Mains were next - and how can you beat a great piece of steak (USDA Prime Grain-fed Top Cap), cooked to perfection with a solid dram? Whilst this wasn't a pairing lunch, for me this was a great match with Valkyrie, with the sherry notes mixing brilliantly with the rare meat.

A similarly good pairing was found in the final course - Flan, Dulce de Leche and Candied Peanut which I found went very well with the lighter Valfather and its notes of apple and toffee.

Dessert was actually served with a second dram too - a mystery Highland Park which we could tell had some age on it, but couldn't quite guess how old or which release it was. Turns out there's a good reason for that - it was a brand new, as-yet unreleased Highland Park 21yo, to be released in Asia shortly. Whilst we'll save the detailed notes for another post, it was a subtle and elegant HP, and well-deserving of a place in the core range.

With drams finished and farewells said, it was time to bring to a close an immensely enjoyable two days in Taipei. With the Viking Legends trilogy now officially completed, we look forward to what Highland Park has in store for us next.

Martin. attended as a guest of Edrington, who provided flights and accommodation in Taipei. As always, a big thanks must go to the Edrington HK team, along with the Taipei and Singapore teams for their hospitality throughout the trip.