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.