Tuesday 19 February 2019

Tasted #433: John Walker & Sons "Private Collection" Midnight Blend

The fifth and final release of the Johnnie (or rather, John) Walker & Sons "Private Collection", the prestige series from Johnnie Walker was released in Sydney last week.

The final release, named "Midnight Blend" is set to represent all the different profiles that were explored in the previous four releases - A Unique Smoky Blend (2014), Rare Fruit Character (2015), Fine Honeyed Notes (2016) and Mastery of Oak (2017). Each of the previous "Private Collection" releases explored different aspects of a Johnnie Walker blend, be it maritime and smoke (Unique Smoky), rich, exotic fruits (Rare Fruit Character), honey and vanilla (Fine Honeyed Notes) as well as the various characters that are typically derived from the different oak types that are used in the maturation process (Mastery of Oak).

It was a rather exciting release, as Simon McGoram, Diageo National Whisky Ambassador noted - a "Luxuriously smooth and complex whisky". The four previous releases are completely different liquid and are there to paint a picture of the final release, the Midnight Blend - a whisky that McGoram summed up as one that's greater than sum of its parts.

As part of the launch, Simon was fortunate enough to have secured all the previous bottlings from the Private Collection series so as to give all of us an opportunity to review the entire series before finishing up with the Midnight Blend.

To celebrate the release of the Midnight Blend, a pairing menu was created by Black Bar & Grill Head Chef, Dany Karam in consultation with Simon containing menu items that have been paired against the five individual Private Edition releases.

The results were excellent as we saw the combination of spanner crab with the sweet Fine Honeyed Notes (2016), savoury duck breast with Mastery of Oak (2017), Striploin Angus Beef complemented by A Unique Smoky Blend (2014), a Chocolate & Hazelnut with Rare Fruit Character (2015).

Having first tasted the entire series for the first time - I have to say the 2014 private edition release, the Unique Smoky Blend is unlike any other John/Johnnie Walker blend I have had in the past. It was certainly very unique and I would guess, considered to be one of the smokiest whiskies from the Walker portfolio. I did note whilst trawling through our old posts that Charles Maclean, renowned whisky writer described the 2014 edition as "flawless"

The John Walker "Private Collection" series is considered rare in the grand scheme of the Johnnie Walker universe given the limited bottling that is made available with each release. The first three releases were limited to 8,888 bottles, the Mastery of Oak limited to 5,588 bottles and the last and final release, the Midnight Blend, limited to 3,888 bottles. Do note the prominent use of the number 8 in the total number of available bottles. The number 8, in Chinese culture is the luckiest number as the number carries similar sounds to "wealth" and "prosperous". Multiples of eight are even better with a double 8 meaning double happiness, 888, triple happiness and as you may have guessed, 8,888 means quadruple happiness. Whether or not this is coincidental with the numbering of available bottles or the fact that this week is the Lunar New Year week - the interpretation is for each of us to determine.

One aspect that is different in this final release (as well as with others in the portfolio) is the inclusion of an age statement - 28 years. The Midnight Blend is said to contain rare whiskies aged for a minimum of 28 years.

Whilst there's limited information on the whisky that makes up the blend, Simon McGoram mentioned that this final release contains a large amount of Clynelish, Cambus and Strathmill whiskies. The prominent characters that come through the nose and palate are representative of those distilleries with waxiness that you typically get from Cynelish, toffee and butterscotch from Cambus grain and the sweet fruits and spices that you often get from Strathmill.

What's in a name? The name "Midnight Blend" has been chosen to represent the fact that the flavours lend themselves to be enjoyed after-dinner, or approaching the 'midnight' hour I'd say it's enjoyable any time of the day though given the rarity and price point - though perhaps it's more sensible to enjoy it after dinner or on special occasions.

Johnnie Walker Master Blender Jim Beveridge commented:
“Whiskies aged for 28 years are rare, and very special. In our search to find the flavours and characteristics necessary for a rich, indulgent Scotch like Midnight Blend, we were very lucky to have access to some of the most mature reserves drawn from the four corners of Scotland. Each individual malt and grain used in the final whisky adds layers of flavour to the 28 Year Old Midnight Blend, leaving hints of fruit, sweet and spice and making it a wonderful final addition to the Private Collection.”

John Walker & Sons Private Collection Midnight Blend 700mL (42.8% ABV, 28yo, Blend, Scotland, $1000AUD)
A very fine and luxurious release to cap off the Private Collection series. The combination of the different facets explored through previous editions is evident in this final edition. There is a balance of sweet and spice, depth and warmth.

Colour: Gold

Nose: The nose is sweet and appealing. There is a mix of vanilla, berries combined with a hint of citrus, malted cereals and a subtle hint of peat smoke.

Palate: The palate is juicy, refreshing. It is round, balanced and lightly spiced with a bit of wax (Clyenish?). Loads of sweet fruit and citrus notes, from creamy vanilla and mango pudding, candied orange, strawberries followed by light spices, cloves, all-spice tannic spice. The malt from the nose also grows more fondly along with creamy syrup and rich toffee.

Finish: The finish is extremely long and warming. The finish is sweet, mixed with candied orange and leaves a lightly wax, subtle peat that slowly fades.

Rating (on Hendy's very non-scientific scale): 95/100

Thanks to Leo Burnett Sydney for having us at the launch.


Thursday 14 February 2019

Tasted #432 - Casks of Distinction Clynelish 1983 35yo for Dram Good Casks (Cask #2566)

Private cask ownership - for many whisky lovers, the ultimate goal...

We first came across Diageo's "Casks of Distinction" programme during our visit to Johnnie Walker House in Singapore in 2016, and since then we've seen some impressive bottles bottled from some of Diageo's best malt distilleries, including Port Ellen and Lagavulin. The program, more or less a private cask ownership program, sees Diageo offering up a small selection of high quality casks (literally "Casks of Distinction") each year for private ownership.

Having tried 7 or 8 "CoD" bottlings so far (including an excellent HK-exclusive Lagavulin, for which we'll post notes shortly), I personally haven't been disappointed by any of them. This Clynelish however was something really special. Distilled in 1983 and bottled in 2018 (at 35 years old), it is easily the most impressive modern Clynelish I've ever had the pleasure of trying.

This particular cask (Hogshead #2566) was bottled by our good friends Dram Good Stuff, under their "Dram Good Casks" label. DGS also had a small portion of the outturn bottled for Aaron Chan of whisky bar Club Qing, as well as for Bank of Singapore, but the remainder (and the majority) was bottled under the "Dram Good Casks" label you see above.

Clynelish fans in HK and Singapore should definitely give this a look-in, as this one truly is a "cask of distinction" and will no doubt impress even the most hardcore Clynelish fan. See my notes below.

1983 Clynelish 35yo "Casks of Distinction"Single Cask #2566 exclusively bottled for Dram Good Stuff (52.2% ABV, 35yo, Highlands, bottle 144 of 144)
Colour: Yellow golden sunset.

Nose: Opening with enticing, invigorating clean, fresh waxy green apple notes (yep, it's definitely a Clynelish), you then start to experience wafts of earthy smoke, sweet pot-pourri-like floral notes, and baked apple pie (with a slightly burnt crust). This is a nose that warrants sitting on for a while - revisit it many times over a 20-30 minute period and you'll be rewarded with a changing and constantly delicious profile.

Palate: Starting with vanilla orange cream, much like the nose it then starts to evolve over time - with marmalade and mandarin notes showing at first, then a slight junipery-pepper note, more green apples and some of the floral notes from the nose returning. There's oak, but never too much, and it works in perfect harmony with the many other notes that appear over time. As with the nose, this is a dram that rewards time - the more you spend with it, the more you'll get from it.

Finish: Long, waxy, with hints of oak (never dominating), grassy freshness and finally back to those delicious green apple notes. An incredibly satisfying end to a beautiful dram.

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

A limited number of these bottles are available - contact Dram Good Stuff (mention TimeforWhisky.com) or contact us and we'll be happy to put you in touch.


Friday 8 February 2019

Tasted #430 - 431: Gordon & Macphail Connoisseurs Choice 1988 Mortlach and 1990 North British

Gordon & MacPhail's "Connoisseurs Choice" range is surely one of the most enduring and well-recognised series of IBs out there, with some amazing bottles going back over the past 50 or so years. The range underwent a facelift recently, and has since seen a number of impressive (and impressively-aged) bottles released.
When G&M sent me a sample of their 70yo 1948 Glen Grant "Private Collection", the package contained a sample of these two as well - a 30yo malt from the "Beast of Dufftown" (Mortlach) and a 28yo Grain from North British.

I always love trying an IB take on Mortlach, not to mention well-aged Grain, so these two were right up my alley.

Gordon & MacPhail "Connoisseurs Choice" from Mortlach Distillery 1988 Cask #4839 (48.8% ABV, 30yo, Speyside, Outturn of 129 bottles)
Colour: Yellow/orange gold.

Nose: Stone fruits and spice. Stewed peaches and toffee at first, then some honeycomb.

Palate: Stewed apples, pears, candied ginger and cardamom. Robust and full-bodied, with spicy and sweet fruity notes working together nicely.

Finish: On the shorter side, with a slightly herbal bitterness and some ginger notes.

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

Gordon & MacPhail "Connoisseurs Choice" from North British Distillery 1990 Cask #73847 (61% ABV, 28yo, Lowland, Outturn of 181 bottles)
Colour: Dark copper brown.

Nose: An initial matchhead flintiness gives way to sweet, BBQ meaty notes with a touch of pepper.

Palate: Sweet red berries at first, then grapes. It's intense, rich, oily and mouth filling, with lots of the sherry notes we've all come to know and love (dried fruits, pot pourri, leather). Then it gets sweeter, turning to Crème Brûlée and milky sweet Vietnamese coffee. Water turns up the sweetness again.

Finish: Long, sweet roasted coffee beans.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  91/100. Intensely sherried, but if you like that sort of thing (I do) you'll probably like this dram, especially if you like a little sweetness too.


Sunday 3 February 2019

The Balvenie x Blue Butcher Valentine's Day Dinner: "An Edible Story of Whisky Making"

For Valentine's Day this year The Balvenie have teamed up with Sheung Wan institution (and temple to all things meat) Blue Butcher to bring diners an "Edible Story of Whisky Making" - a 4-course menu featuring Balvenie-infused ingredients echoing 4 stages of whisky-making. Paired with 4 whiskies from The Balvenie (12 Doublewood, 14 Caribbean, 17 Doublewood and 21 PortWood), the menu is available only on Valentine's Day and costs just $520HKD/head.

A few nights ago I had the pleasure of trying two dishes from the menu, paired with two drams of The Balvenie. First was The Balvenie & Earl Grey smoked salmon with creme fraiche, charred eggplant, roasted nuts and puffed barley paired with The Balvenie DoubleWood Aged 12 Years. Designed to echo the malting process, the dish contained crunchy barley pieces which made for a nice textural counterpoint to the soft salmon, as well as providing a slight nod to The Balvenie being one of the few Scottish distilleries still with its own malting floor.

Next was the gargantuan The Balvenie 21yrs aged Grass Fed Australian sirloin with Hollaindase sauce and aged fat roasted potatoes, paired with The Balvenie 21 PortWood. Easily a whole meal in its own right, the theme here was "maturation" - with the sirloin having been aged in Blue Butcher's special drying room for extra rich flavour. The Balvenie 21 PortWood might seem like an interesting choice (it's more commonly paired with dessert), although it worked well here, bringing out a sweetness to the meat.

Whilst we didn't try the other two courses (the full menu can be found below), what we did try was more than enough to confirm that this meal should make any whisky-loving couple happy, and at $520HKD/head? Bargain.

Those looking to further the whisky-theme for Valentine's Day could do worse than gifting a bottle of The Balvenie 12 DoubleWood too - which for a limited time and at certain retailers will come with a solid cologne "inspired by the key notes in The Balvenie 12 DoubleWood". Don't worry, it doesn't make you smell like you've bathed in whisky, but it does have nice fruity honey notes.

The Valentine’s Day menu is only available on the 14th February 2019. Reservations can be made via e-mail to reservations@bluebutcher.com. TimeforWhisky.com attended as a guest of Telford Wine & Spirits and Maximal Concepts.


Full menu (from press release):
"The first step is called Malting, introducing the starter The Balvenie & Earl Grey smoke salmon with creme fraiche, chard eggplant, roasted nuts and puffed barley paired with The Balvenie DoubleWood Aged 12 Years. The barley grain is stepped in water, germination will turn the starch in the barley grain into sugar. The Balvenie’s malt men will regularly turn the barley by hand using a wooden shovel to ensure the grains germinate equally. It is one of the few distilleries to still operate a malting floor.
 The second step is Fermentation, using Buffala burrata with kalamata tapenade, charred baby fennel, fermented melon and arugula. Post malting, the barley is dried in the kiln then milled. Hot water is added 3 times to extract out the sugar and yeast is added to the cooled down sugar solution. The fermentation process will produce a liquid with alcohol content of around 6-8% known as “wash”. The fermented melon exact echoes the fermentation process in whisky making. This crafted dish is a perfect match with The Balvenie Caribbean Cask Aged 14 Years. To refresh the taste buds, the third step is Distillation. The “wash” is distilled 2 times in copper pot stills into a new make spirit of 60-70% alcohol content. The shape of the pot stills in is a key contributing factor to style of the whisky. The Balvenie employs its own team of coppersmiths to maintain this important asset. Refreshing Citrus Zest Sorbet is paired with The Balvenie DoubleWood Ages 17 years to set your dinner into the spotlight of the main course. The sorbet is created using a distillation process to extract citrus concentrate.
 Maturation is the forth step of whisky production, and Blue is demonstrating this important process with The Balvenie 21yrs aged Grass Fed Australian sirloin with Hollaindase sauce and aged fat roasted potatoes. The meat aging process is carefully monitored by the Chef just as The Balvenie’s Malt Master, David Stewart MBE watches over his whiskies. The new make spirit is put into oak barrels for maturation. The type of casks selected for maturation is the key factor which affects the flavours of the whisky. Each year around 2% evaporates, as some calls it “Angel’s Share”. David is skilled at using different types of wood to create unique flavours for each expression of The Balvenie. The succulent steak is paired with The Balvenie PortWood Aged 21 Years to enhance the savoury experience.
 To make a great ending to this romantic night, Blue presents Dulce De Leche Rocher with apple pie and The Balvenie infused chocolate sauce with hazelnut on top. Which will definitely wrap up the dinner with a sweet touch, enjoying The Balvenie PortWood Black Cherry Flip specially created by our in house mixologist."