Thursday 29 August 2019

Highland Park Valfather - Asia regional launch party, Taipei (Tasted #463)

Edrington certainly know how to throw a good party or dinner, but for Highland Park's latest release last week, they took it up a notch by holding a regional launch in Taipei, and flying in select media from various Asian markets. As one of four HK media outlets chosen to attend, we spent a fantastic 3 days in Taipei, covering 3 events all focused on the newest member of the Highland Park Family, Valfather.

The third and final in the "Viking Legends" trilogy (which began with Valkyrie and was followed by Valknut), Valfather is the disitllery's peatiest release yet, and represents the third collaboration with Danish Designer Jim Lyngvild. Bottled with No Age Statement and at 47% ABV, the whisky was matured entirely in refill casks.

Held at Brickyard 33 1/3 in the mountains surrounding Taipei, we weren't quite sure what to expect at first. Would it be a dinner? A tutored tasting? A booklet handed to us on the shuttle bus from the hotel (the stunning Humble House in downtown Taipei) gave a clue, outlining a number of activities we could take part in, to earn stamps and ultimately win Highland Park prizes.

The first involved having a picture taken with live Falcons (the more adventurous could hold the birds on an out-stretched arm too - see below). 

Alcohol and birds of prey - a winning combination!

Next was Highland Park's take on the beanbag toss...

 ..followed by an activity where guests could make their own personalised Highland Park keyring.

With all stamps collected, guests then needed to seek out a mysterious cloaked woman"who gave provided guests with their final prizes, an assortment of keyrings and other gifts.

With the games over, it was time for a Highland Park. Bar staff were kept busy all night serving a range of Highland Park drams, as well as a bespoke cocktail made specifically for the event - a twist on a Highland Park whisky sour.

After canapés and a few drams, guests congregated inside to hear from the two guests of honour - Gordon Motion (Highland Park Master Whisky Maker) and Jim Lyngvild (designer for the Viking Legends series).

Following a dramatic video introduction and an explanation of the Viking mythology and designs beheind the trilogy by Jim Lyngvild (himself a direct descendant of Orkney Vikings), Gordon Motion took the stage to talk us through a tasting of the new Valfather.

Designed to be a "light, ethereal" whisky to replicate Valhalla (Heaven), Gordon explained the whisky was matured entirely in refill butts and we all noticed it had a noticeably lighter hue when compared with the first two in the series.


Highland Park "Valfather" (47% ABV, NAS, Orkney, Scotland, $588HKD)
Colour: Pale yellow sunrise.

Nose: Citrus smoke at first. More noticeable peat than previous HPs, but still very much Orkney peat (think earthy notes and heather, rather than iodine or smoked kippers). Hints of apple, green bananas, and some orange vanilla cream biscuits.

Palate: Gentle, sweet smoke wafts in and out, surrounded by notes of apple, toffee, vanilla slice and Crème brûlée.

Finish: Long with a vegetal, slightly floral smoke.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale):  88/100. An enjoyable (and suitably unique) end to the series. See here for comparison notes: Valkyrie & Valknut.

The next day, following an interview with both Gordon and Jim we were able to compare and contrast the series side-by-side, over lunch with a special new Highland Park added for good measure. Posts to follow shortly.


A big thanks must go to Edrington HK for the invitation, and Edrington Taiwan / Singapore for the hospitality during our trip to Taipei.

Tuesday 13 August 2019

Tasted #460 - 462: Gordon & Macphail Summer 2019 Collection: Dallas Dhu 1969, Longmorn 1966, St Magdalene 1982

Those who have been following the blog for a while may have noticed we've been fortunate enough to try some incredible drams from Gordon & MacPhail lately. What started as a grocery business over 120 years ago has become a one of the most respected bottlers, distillers, retailers and wholesalers in the industry, with an enviable collection of casks that has allowed us to try beauties such as a 70 Year Old Glen Grant from 1948, a 50 Year Old Caol Ila64yo Glenlivet, a pair of 1961 Longmorns, a 46yo Benromach and many others.

Despite this ongoing stream of amazing whisky, it's always a nice surprise when another package arrives, such as it was last week when a box arrived containing a sample of these three gems:

Drinking whiskies at the ages of 36, 50 and 53yo is always going to be a special experience, but in this case especially so, as two of the three whiskies (the Dallas Dhu and St. Magdalene) come from closed distilleries - both having closed in 1983.

One thing I love about receiving these samples is cracking into them on the day they arrive (often mid-week). Some people say whiskies like these should be kept for special occasions. I say the special occasion is the fact that you have whiskies like these in front of you!

..and so it was that last Monday, I pulled out my trusty Glencairns (Crystal - these whiskies deserved it) and set to work, starting with the St. Magdalene... 

Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection 1982 from St. Magdalene Distillery (53% ABV, 36yo, Cask#2092, Lowlands, Scotland, 161 bottles, £1,000 / $13,000HKD)
Bottled from a refill American hogshead, cask #2092.

Colour: Pale yellow sunset.

Nose: Big and fruity (hello!). Pineapple, rockmelon, baked apple tarts, and a green apple waxiness. After time a sweet, herbal lozenge note emerges.

Palate: Big, sweet candied pineapple chunks, followed by vanilla cream, flambéed banana and Banoffee pie. More pineapple, then some caramel.

Finish: Long but lighter than the palate, with the herbal notes returning, the slightest hint of well-matured tobacco, then a vanilla cream puff. Long, long, long.

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

Next came the dram I was most excited to try - the Dallas Dhu. Ever since trying a Diageo Rare Malts Dallas Dhu in Italy, I've been hooked, always seeking to try as many different bottlings as I can.

Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection 1969 from Dallas Dhu Distillery (43.1% ABV, 50yo, Cask#1656, Speyside, Scotland, 176 bottles, £6,950 / $75,000HKD)
Bottled from a refill Sherry hogshead, cask #1656, filled on 10th June 1969.

Colour: Dark rusty copper

Nose: Probably one of the most unique noses I've ever experienced. First up - Vegemite (yeast spread)! Then lots of cola, walnuts, then rich espresso, tobacco and tangerine. A mixed bag, but an enjoyable one.

Palate: Just super elegant sherry - wood polish, cigar humidor, Dakr Fruit'n'Nut chocolate, and Brazil nuts. Then sultanas, and a very slight amaro bitterness. Incredible elegance overall for a 50yo though - no overly dominant notes drowning out the others, and everything in harmony.

Finish: Restrained oak, slight vegetal note. Clean to the very end, with a Vietnamese coffee sweetness emerging at the very end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 94/100. Clean, elegant and hugely complex. Truly a unique and incredible dram. 

Last of all it was time to move onto the oldest of the trio - the 1966 Longmorn, at 53yo.

Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection 1966 from Longmorn Distillery (46% ABV, 53yo, Cask#610, Speyside, Scotland, 398 bottles, £6,950 / $74,000HKD)
Bottled from a first-fill Sherry butt, cask #610.

Colour: Close enough to Coca-Cola. Deep brown mahogany.

Nose: Huge sherry notes (sultanas, muscovado sugar, glacé cherries, Christmas cake) but with an underlying herbal, almost spearmint note. After time, freshly cut flowers and sweet marshmallow.

Palate: Rich and creamy, yet subtle. All the trademark notes are there from a well-aged 1st fill sherry butt - coffee beans, sultanas, more Christmas cake, along with cherries, Espresso cream, some tobacco, caramel, rocky road and raspberries. 

Finish: Slight oak tannins behing to emerge, but a residual juiciness remains. Strong espresso notes round things out, with slightly dry oak at the very end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. A lovely sherried whisky made even more impressive by the fact that 53 years in a first-fill butt hasn't overpowered it! For me, not as complex as the other two, but still an impressive whisky.

A big thanks must again go to G&M for the drams, a diverse, unique and utterly delicious trio. The Dallas Dhu and St. Magdalene are likely to suit fans of the distillery (despite the latter being a departure from the often-sherried bottlings we see released), and the Longmorn is just a beautiful example of long-term sherry maturation done right.


Monday 5 August 2019

Tasted #459: The GlenDronach 1993 Single Cask #392 26yo (exclusively bottled for The Whisky List, Australia)

I don't really post about GlenDronach enough here on the blog, but it's one of my favourite distilleries and its single casks make up a not-insignificant portion of my whisky collection. Whilst the distillery has a few "defining years" in its recent history (1996: Closure. 2002: Production recommencement. 2005: switch to steam heating. 2016: Acquisition by Brown-Forman), amongst enthusiasts one year holds a special place: 1993.

I've never heard a definitive reason as to why 1993 is considered such a good "vintage", nor why it's better than 1992 or 1994 (production techniques and cask regimes remained the same through the period), but for some reason, 1993 casks hold a special place in the hearts of 'Dronach lovers - especially those from early 1993. In fact as I write these words, I'm enjoying a 1993 cask #397 23yo bottled for Kenny Hsu in Taiwan - incidentally distilled on the same day as the whisky I'm reviewing here. It's very good indeed.
But I digress. The bottle I'm reviewing today, also a 1993 Single Cask GlenDronach, is special for a few reasons:
  • The entire cask is exclusive to Australia (I could be wrong here, but I think that's a first. Sydney's brilliant Oak Barrel had a 2003 exclusive single cask a few years ago, but I believe it was split with Whisky Galore NZ).
  • It's a 26yo 1993, meaning it was bottled in 2019. Even the latest Batch 17 GlenDronach single casks from the distillery don't include a 26yo 1993 (there are 1993s, but they're all 25yo)
  • It was distilled on 12th Feb 1993 - the same day as some other very highly rated GlenDronach single casks.

An outturn of 659 bottles means someone took a pretty big punt on bringing this cask to Australia, and that "someone" is the team behind The Whisky List, who through their app and website "help Australians – from beginners to connoisseurs – discover, enjoy, and share great whisky".

(To be clear - the whisky is an Official Bottling, or OB, bottled by the distillery but exclusively for The Whisky List. GlenDronach have been doing this for a while now, bottling casks for whisky shops, clubs, events and even individual whisky lovers).

The whisky, from an ex-Oloroso Butt (like the best GlenDronachs in my view) has been bottled at 51.0% ABV in May 2019. Chris Ross, Co-founder at The Whisky List explained 
“Being a small market and far away from the US and the UK, Australia often is left to last - or just completely left out - of selecting any single cask bottlings from distilleries, forcing whisky drinkers and collectors in Australia to purchase these kinds of releases from overseas websites and auction houses. This is why we’ve partnered with Brown-Forman in selecting this delicious cask from GlenDronach.” 
He's not wrong - ask any GlenDronach fan in Australia (or HK for that matter) and you'll find that, apart from the official single cask "batches" (which you can pick up at the likes of Oak Barrel), they most likely purchased their single casks from overseas. In my case, all mine have come from Oak Barrel, Taiwan, or UK retailers. So it's indeed refreshing to see an official Aussie release, available exclusively on Australian shores.

...but enough about the background, how does it taste!? In a nutshell, very very good indeed...

GlenDronach 1993 Single Cask #392 (exclusively bottled for The Whisky List, Australia)  (51.0% ABV, 26yo, Highlands, Scotland, $700AUD)
Colour: Orange-red copper.

Nose: Rich, sweet and sherried but without the overly-domineering sherry / oak that some GlenDronach single casks exhibit. Quite perfumed - there are notes of pot pourri, followed by sweet toffee, then some Vietnamese coffee. Everything seems in harmony - there's an obvious sherry element (26 years in an ex-sherry butt will do that!) but there's also this elegant perfumed element that is far less common in GlenDronach single casks of this age. After a bit of time slight hints of sandalwood emerge. 

Palate: The palate follows the nose, with lots of toffee confectionary, a slight almond nuttiness, a little more sandalwood, candied almonds, sultanas and cinnamon. A sherry bomb this is not, and it's all the better for it. This has elegance and balance on a level not often seen.

Finish: Long and sweet, with only the slightest oak tannins at the very end. 

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. I'm not exaggerating here, this is one of the best GlenDronach single casks I've had*. In the pantheon of 1993 single casks, I'd rate #55 and #394 up there as some of my favourites, and this easily equals them, if not beats them (I haven't tried them back to back). I love that it hits all the right sherry notes, without being a bomb. Don't get me wrong - I love sherry bombs, but I also love whiskies that have more nuance and elegance, whilst still being bloody delicious. This ticks all those boxes and then some.

Now of course, $700AUD ($650AUD pre-sale) is not a small chunk of change for a whisky, but let's face it, GlenDronach prices have been rising for years now, as have whisky prices in general...and to put things into perspective:
  • An equivalent bottle in the UK, let's say Batch 17 1992 single cask #113 (also an ex-Oloroso at 26yo, at a similar 50.1% ABV) is £306, or $547AUD. If you had a UK friend pick one up for you and then ship it to Australia (at a cost of let's say $50AUD), you'd get stung with (give or take) around $120AUD in taxes, which would bring your total up to ~$717. Ok sure, if you managed to avoid the VAT it would come in slightly under $700AUD, but for me, the example highlights that the pricing isn't at all unrealistic given the current state of the market.

GlenDronach 1993 Single Cask #392 (exclusively bottled for The Whisky List, Australia) is available now via The Whisky List and to allow potential customers to try before they buy, The Whisky List in partnership with GlenDronach will host a number of tastings featuring the bottle in some of Australia's best whisky bars, including Archie Rose Distilling Co. (NSW), Hains & Co (SA), The Elysian (VIC), Whisky + Alement (VIC) and Halford Bar (WA). Tickets for these events will be announced via The Whisky List website, newsletter and social media. A limited supply of bottles will also be available to purchase at the upcoming Sydney Whisky Fair 2019 (the best whisky fair in Australia, if you ask me).

Thanks must go to the TWL guys for the sample, and we wish them all the best spreading the word of this lovely cask throughout the Aussie whisky community.


*If you're curious, the honour of the best GDs I’ve had goes jointly to these two bottles (both of which are vattings):