Friday, 10 September 2021

Berry Bros & Rudd's new bottle design (and a very special 1989 Bunnahabhain) [Tasted #541]

The whisky world (in particular the Scotch whisky world) talks a lot of provenance and history - as well it should. With whisky distillation legally sanctioned in Scotland in 1823, and distilleries commencing operations very soon thereafter (and many, like Bowmore and Glenturret, well before), there's a rich history to draw upon.

~200 years may seem like an impressively long time to be in business (and let's face it, it is), but it pales in comparison to Berry Bros & Rudd, Britain's oldest wine and spirit merchant who have not only been in operation since 1698, but have traded from the same shop the entire time. 

323 years is an incredibly long time to be in business (especially trading from the same location), but in all that time, Berry Bros have never had their own bottle design, with the "Own Selection" whiskies and spirits using a relatively standard design. Until now...

Launched in July this year, Berry Bros & Rudd's whiskies (and other spirits) now have a bottle worthy of the liquid, with a bespoke design by label designer Stranger and Stranger referencing the Berry Bros & Rudd shop's iconic arched windows.

As Guy Pratt, Design Director from Stranger and Stranger explains:
“The premises on St. James' in the heart of London’s West End is inextricably tied to the history of old London and the host of famous and extraordinary people who have passed through its doors. It was the famous arched windows of the facade that provided a way to express the merchant’s prodigious spirit credentials within the mould of the bottle itself, added to the base of the bottle they echo both the iconic facade and the scalloped decoration you might typically find on a heavy spirits glass. In this way we were able to celebrate the brand and the home it has occupied since 1698 in a single mark. For appreciators of fine spirits who unfortunately cannot visit the shop itself, Berry Bros & Rudd have just brought the shop to you!”

BBR's "Summer Release 2021" series is the first to be bottled in the new design, and features 6 diverse spirits from across the world - 5 Single Casks (a 2010 peated Bruichladdich, 2000 Clyenlish Sutherland, 2014 Guyana rum-finished Laprhoaig Williamson, a 2010 Islay-finished Diamond Rum from Guyana, and (the coolest of all) a 2016 Lark from Tasmania), alongside a "Small batch" whisky in the form of a 2009 12yo Linkwood - at only £60.

When BBR kindly offered to send me something to celebrate the new bottle design, I assumed it would be a few samples of the above - or perhaps even one of the bottles if they were feeling particularly generous. What I didn't expect was an entire bottle of single cask 1989 Bunnahabhain, labelled with my own name (or a slightly misspelt version of it) front and centre, adorning the new bottle design!

Incredibly generous and unexpected! Whiskybase suggests the cask (#5738 from 2015) was originally bottled for Shinanoya, but presumably they didn't take the whole cask, and a few fortunate souls were lucky enough to receive a personalised bottle in the new bottle design.

Of course, as lovely as the new bottle design is, ultimately it's all about the liquid inside, and so to that end, upon receiving the bottle I immediately ripped the cork out and poured myself a dram...and I'm glad I did!

Berry Bros & Rudd Single Cask 1989 Bunnahabhain (43.4% ABV, 1989-2015, 25yo, Hogshead #5738, 1 of 115 bottles Islay Scotland)
Colour: Bright yellow gold.

Nose: Rich yellow fruits - peach, pair, hints of lemon.

Palate: Zesty white chocolate, lemon pie. Creamy vanilla pie. Viscous mouthfeel, with marzipan and yellow jubes.

Finish: Long, with hints of pear and peach.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. Extremely drinkable, complex, and entirely enjoyable.

A big thanks to Berry Bros & Rudd for this beautiful personalised gift, and congratulations on a stunning new bottle design and range!


Thursday, 2 September 2021

Tasting the world's oldest whisky: G&M's Generations 80 Year Old from Glenlivet Distillery [Tasted #540]

We've featured our fair share of Gordon & MacPhail whiskies over the years - from the "Connoisseurs Choice" range (which, no hyperbole, deserves a lot of credit for bringing single malt whisky into the spotlight back in the 1960s) to the rare and always-exceptional "Private Collection" range. With whiskies ranging up to 70 years old, it's fair to say we've had some incredible tasting experiences.

One range we've never featured though is G&M's "Generations". Retained for only the longest-matured, most exclusive whiskies, there have only ever been 4 previous releases - two of which broke the record at the time as the oldest Scotch whisky ever bottled.

Since the last "Generations" release (a 75yo Mortlach in 2015), there's been quite an increase in incredibly-aged malts hitting the market (one distillery in particular has released no fewer than five 70+ year old whiskies since 2018), but to date, the oldest whisky ever commercially bottled has topped out at 78 years old.

Today though, G&M are regaining the crown, with the release of the world's first 80 Year Old Single Malt WhiskyGenerations 80 Year Old from Glenlivet Distillery.

It would be easy to simply focus on the age of such a whisky, given how rare it is for whisky to remain in oak for so long and still legally be whisky, but that would mean brushing aside some incredible facts and figures, like:
  • This whisky was distilled during World War II (1940), when production at Glenlivet (and all Scottish distilleries) reduced by two-thirds due to Govt-imposed restrictions before almost halting entirely/. Peat was also commonly used, even in distilleries that don't today produce "peated" whiskies.
  • This incredible cask was looked after by four generations of the Urquhart family (who still own G&M to this day); and
  • This whisky matured for 40% of the lifespan of The Glenlivet distillery!

The spirit for this release was filled into a 1st Fill Sherry Butt (which initially held mosto (freshly pressed grape juice), then sobretables (new wine post fermentation) before being filled with mature Sherry at Bodegas Williams Humbert) on 3rd February 1940, and was laid down in Elgin by George Urquhart (aka "Mr George") and his father John, to mature well beyond their own lives - all the way to 5th February 2020, when it was bottled as the very first 80 year old Single Malt Scotch.

I was incredibly fortunate to taste the whisky recently, over a 1:1 Zoom with Stephen Ranking - eldest member of the 4th Generation of Urquhart family and G&M's Director of Prestige. Speaking to Stephen and hearing him tell the story of this whisky and G&M's 125 years in business was fascinating, and a testament to G&M's long-standing relationships throughout the industry. 

For example, G&M were only able to obtain Glenlivet new make (going back to well before this one was bottled) due to long-standing relationships with the distillery - both business relationships (G&M would provide the distillery with business, casks and warehousing) but also personal relationships, as both families were close. Similarly, as a close personal friend of Alexander Williams of Bodegas Williams Humbert at the time, "Mr George" was able to secure quality casks and ensure they were prepared as required.

(Side note: one fact I really love about G&M is they still, to this day, only buy new make spirit and fill their own casks themselves, unlike most other independent bottlers who also buy mature casks for further maturation. Of course there's nothing wrong with buying mature casks, but G&M's approach affords significantly more control and oversight of the whisky's maturation. Due in no small part to their extensive relationships, they've been able to do this for over 100 Scottish distilleries throughout their 125 years.)

As Stuart Urquhart (Operations Director and member of the fourth generation of the owning family) explains of the spirit:
“Glenlivet’s style of spirit is often highlighted as a classic example from Speyside – smooth, light, fruity and slightly floral. Spirit from Glenlivet can withstand long term ageing, managing to retain its delicate character. It is imperative for us to select quality casks, made to our exacting specifications, to ensure the spirit is not overpowered. Typically, we use Sherry casks for spirit earmarked for long-term maturation, with bourbon casks deployed for shorter term expressions although there are always exceptions to the rule."
When reviewing a whisky, I'll be honest - I don't typically like to give a lot of attention to bottle and packaging design on the blog, but in this case, it warrants an exception. For the fifth Generations release, G&M looked to partner with someone who shared their values of ‘artistry’, ‘legacy’ and ‘craftsmanship', and they found him in Internationally acclaimed architect and designer, Sir David Adjaye OBE.

Not having an architect's eye myself, my first thought upon seeing the design was "yeah, that looks really cool", but speaking to Stephen highlighted the level of thought and planning that went into the designs:
  • The decanter, with its "lenses" on the sides, is intended to cast the whisky in a different shade, showing off the different colours it goes through during maturation (the lenses are also functional, serving as handgrips. You wouldn't want to drop one of these!)
  • The oak case (handmade in sustainable timber by Wardour Workshops) is intended to "open like an oak forest letting light through its branches".
  • The blackened top of the handblown Glencairn crystal decanters is intended to echo a charred cask.


Generations 80 Year Old from Glenlivet Distillery officially launches today, as a release of 250 decanters bottled at 44.9% ABV. Interested parties won't be able to purchase one just yet however, as decanter #1 is going under the hammer for charity, with Sotheby's holding an auction on 2nd October in Hong Kong. In addition to the first decanter (and oak case and two tumblers), the winner will also receive:
  • A unique & rare whisky tasting experience for four in London, tailored to the buyer, conducted by Stephen Rankin and attended by Sir David Adjaye OBE.
  • The cask head of cask 340 which cradled the spirit for eight decades, presented in a bespoke frame.
  • Sir David Adjaye OBE’s original, signed concept drawings for the decanter and oak case, presented in a bespoke frame.
Proceeds from the auction (minus costs) will be donated to Trees for Life, a Scottish charity with a mission to rewild the Caledonian forest, with whom Gordon & MacPhail colleagues have been actively involved in helping with tree planting, including native oaks, at their site at Glen Affric in the north of Scotland.

Pricing and availability for the remaining 249 decanters will be announced following the auction.

So, a historic and incredible feat of whisky-making, no doubt, but how does it taste? Many would claim (and I wouldn't disagree) that on average, Scotch single malt hits its "sweet spot" around 15-25 years old, and that for a whisky to make it to 40, 50, 60, 70+ years and 1) still be whisky and 2) still taste good is an incredible feat.

..but what about 80 years? Has 8 decades in a First Fill sherry butt rendered something of an oak bomb? Read on...

Gordon & MacPhail Generations 80 Year Old from Glenlivet Distillery (44.9% ABV, 80yo (3rd Feb 1940 to 5th Feb 2020), First Fill Sherry Butt #340, 1 of 250 decanters, Speyside, Scotland, pricing TBC)
Colour: Rich, deep burnished copper.

Nose: Initially coconut, followed by cigar box, some mint & sandalwood. You get some of those woody notes that let you know a whisky has spent some time in-cask, but they don't dominate at all - far from an "oak bomb". Nose it for a bit longer (I spent 45 minutes on the nose alone) and you'll find pot pouri, lavender, and some caramel cream.  With a little drop of water, I found port, more sandalwood, rooibos tea and some orange.

Palate: Viscous and full-bodied, there's initially some citrus-infused oak, dried fruits (sultanas, papaya), pressed flowers, fig and hints of grassiness and mint. You get big "vintage whisky" notes (cigar box, leather) without the "old bottle effect" notes that often accompany whiskies of this era from decades gone by. Water brings out a little orange peel, some very slight tannins, more mint and after 40 minutes, the faintest hints of smoke appear. The layers in this are incredible - some of these notes only showed themselves after 20, 25, 30+ minutes. If you looked up "complex whisky" in the dictionary, you may well find a picture of this.

Finish: Incredibly long and mellow. Ginger tea, sandalwood, incense and orange peel.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 94/100. Just incredible - not only because this whisky made it to 80 years and still retained 44.9% ABV, but because it retains such balance and complexity. An absolute pleasure to experience - I sincerely hope whoever is lucky enough to purchase one of the 250 decanters opens it up and enjoys it with good friends.

A tremendous thank you must go to Stephen Rankin for generously giving up his time to take me through the whisky, and Gordon & MacPhail and Petrie PR for allowing me this incredible opportunity.


Saturday, 28 August 2021

Gordon & MacPhail launches 7 new Glenlivet Expressions, including Private Collection 1976 [Tasted #537 - #539]

Ahead of the September release of the oldest single malt Scotch ever bottled, Gordon & MacPhail's Generations 80-Years-Old from Glenlivet Distillery, G&M is launching seven new Glenlivet expressions across both its "Private Collection" and "Connoisseurs Choice" ranges.

The bottles, which range from £104 to £1,750 include:
  • Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection 1975 from Glenlivet Distillery, Refill Sherry hogshead
  • Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection 1976 from Glenlivet Distillery, Refill American hogshead
  • Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection 1976 from Glenlivet Distillery, First fill Sherry hogshead 
  • Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection 1980 from Glenlivet Distillery, Refill American hogshead
  • Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice 1993 from Glenlivet Distillery, Refill American hogshead
  • Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice 2003 from Glenlivet Distillery, Refill bourbon barrel
  • Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice 2004 from Glenlivet Distillery, Refill bourbon barrel

Keep an eye on the blog for more details on the Generations 80 Year Old soon, but ahead of that, G&M were kind enough to send through samples of the Private Collection 1976 (American Oak hogshead), Connoisseurs Choice 2003 & Connoisseurs Choice 2004 so we could share our thoughts.

Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection 1976 from Glenlivet Distillery (43.9% ABV, 45yo (30th Jan 1976 to 8th Feb 2021), refill American hogshead #1565, 1 of 124 bottles, Speyside, Scotland, £1,750)
Colour: Yellow gold.

Nose: Subtle pears, green apples and vintage oak spice. A creaminess emerges, vanilla milkshake-like, then apple pie with cream.

Palate: Leather (new leather) at first, remaining throughout and quite dominant. Honey-drizzled apple slices and licorice follow, with some maple syrup after some time. There's a slight milk chocolate note too after a while, but the leather remains throughout. 

Finish: Honied apples, a lingering nutty slice, and lemon zest.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. Different notes to what I was expecting, based on the specs alone, but a very enjoyable and unusual dram, with a fantastic nose (an excellent candidate for the 1920s Blenders Glass, if you have one). The years have imparted some varied and interesting flavours, and it all works well together.

Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice 2003 from Glenlivet Distillery (46% ABV, 17yo (1st Jul 2003 to 14th Jun 2021), refill bourbon barrels #800356 & 800358, 1 of 510 bottles, Speyside, Scotland, £127)
Colour: Light yellow gold (Riesling-like)

Nose: Green apple and paprika spice. There's a slight dustiness, and with time, some peaches and then apple crumble.

Palate: Follows the nose, with peaches and apple, but there's a creaminess to it - almost like a vanilla apple pie. After time a slight herbaceousness follows.

Finish: Herbaceous, with lingering vanilla cream.

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

Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice 2004 from Glenlivet Distillery (46% ABV, 16yo (10th Nov 2004 to 21st Jun 2021), refill bourbon barrels #800671 & 800672, 1 of 510 bottles, Speyside, Scotland, £104)
Colour: Light yellow gold (Riesling-like)

Nose: Green apple and spice like the 2003, with a bit more meatiness - some tangy fruity BBQ sauce, with white pepper. After 20 minutes, vanilla cream emerges.

Palate: Banana, apple, pears, custard pie with vanilla cream. Slight hints of pineapple and pear.

Finish: Herbaceous, with a very slight meaty smoke.

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

All seven whiskies are available now, from the usual UK outlets including The Whisky Exchange (no word yet on Hong Kong or Australian availability or pricing). A big thanks to G&M and ANMComms for the samples.


Friday, 27 August 2021

SMWS & Starward: Distillery 148 lands with two impressive releases [Tasted #535 & #536]

I heard a funny comment about the Scotch Malt Whisky Society the other day - that technically only one quarter of their name fully describes what they do. They no longer bottle only Scotch whisky, they no longer bottle only malt whisky, they no longer bottle only whisky...but they are still a Society (one of which I've been a devoted member since 2013).

Some may think the inclusion of grain whiskies, world whiskies and other spirits has changed the Society, and I agree - it's changed it for the better. This blog was always about enjoying whisky (and the occasional dark spirit) on its merits and flavour alone, regardless of where it comes from or how old it is, and that's a philosophy SMWS really take to heart.

So when SMWS started bottling whiskies from "new world" whisky countries like TaiwanIndia, England, Denmark and Sweden, to me it wasn't a case of "Oh no, they're deviating from their roots!" it was a case of "OK, so when will we see an Aussie distillery?" 

That question was answered last month, when Luke McCarthy's excellent Oz Whisky Review broke the news that, finally, an Australian SMWS distillery code had been announced. Distillery 147 (Sydney's excellent Archie Rose) had the honour, with their 2yo 147.1 "Jacaranda Jam". Long-time readers might remember that time Archie Rose let me make a nuisance of myself by "helping" them "make whisky" one morning back in 2015 (long story short: it was great, educational fun).

Photo credit: SMWS Australia

They say "good things come in threes" and that's certainly the case here, as is pleased to be the very first to break the news that hot on the heels of 147.1 comes 148.1 (and in 2022, 148.2) - from none other than Melbourne's Starward!

Further down you'll find further details and my tasting notes on both releases (a huge thanks to Matt Bailey for the samples & opportunity), but I felt this was a good chance to revisit some key events in the history of Starward, and pull out a few highlights Hendy and myself have experienced over the years.

2013 was the year Starward's first whisky was released (matured in Australian ex-Apera casks), and was the result of 6 years of hard work, stemming from founder David Vitale's vision to create a quality, accessible, distinctly Australian whisky. It seems obvious now, but looking at Starward's recent success and immense following, but back then it was a big gamble.'s friendship with the distillery goes back to early 2013, when David was kind enough to give up an hour during a flying visit to Sydney to sit down and talk me through the (then) "New World Whisky Distillery" over a coffee at Shirt Bar. David generously gave me a 200mL bottle of the whisky, and my tasting later that evening confirmed this was one to keep an eye on! 

Fast-forward a few months to late 2013, and David was again kind enough to give me an in-depth, private tour of the distillery (the old Essendon Fields-based distillery, before the move to Port Melbourne), tasting the various stages along the way - wash, new make, and maturing cask samples. 

For me this it was a fascinating insight into this new Aussie distillery, and a real eye opener as to the differences between UK and Aussie distilleries - which was never more apparent than when I asked about the "spirit safe". David showed me the open, sheet-metal fabricated box (below) where the spirit ran off the stills, and asked if I'd like to have a taste - by cupping my hands underneath and scooping some up! Something you could never get away with in Scotland!

It wasn't long after that that Steph and I moved to Hong Kong & expanded into Asia, and Hendy came on-board to continue the Aussie coverage. Moving to HK meant leaving behind 99% of our whisky collection and taking only 1 bottle each, but for me the choice was easy - Starward's very first "New World Projects" Single Cask Release #1. I figured this had to be the only bottle in HK (if not Asia), and I used it to spread the good word of Aussie whisky until the bottle was emptied. 

I stayed in touch with David, and the following year had the pleasure of arranging Starward's very first tasting outside Australia, with David taking a small group of HK whisky lovers through an eclectic mix of Starward whisky, new make and gin. By that point, the Starward range had grown to encompass two core bottlings (a red-wine matured whisky sitting alongside the original ex-Apera product), along with a few weird and wonderful "New World Projects" releases.

Funnily enough, 6 years on I still regularly have whisky catch-ups with some of the same people (often at the same venue) only now they're bringing Starwards to the tastings themselves (not an easy feat, considering Starward still isn't officially distributed in Asia)!

It's hard to believe that was 6 years ago, but since then it's seemed the distillery can do no wrong, with the move to brand new distillery right in the heart of Melbourne (the main reason for my 24hr trip to Melbourne in 2018), multiple new release whiskies (some limited, like the recent Unexpeated and the ever-popular "Ginger Beer Cask" series, some permanent, like the innovative Two-Fold blended "Double Grain", which Hendy had the pleasure of seeing launched at the Distillery in 2019), and even a bottled cocktail series, including 2019's delicious "Red Manhattan".

...which brings us to today. It's probably fair to say that as a young distillery, having your stock sought by independent bottlers is a clear sign of your popularity, and Starward has (in the last year alone) been bottled by no less than 3 well-respected "Indies": Berry Bros & Rudd, Adelphi and That Boutique-y Whisky Company (the latter tasted by Hendy back in May).

Now however, Starward can add another feather to their cap: being bottled not just by another independent bottler, but by the world's leading whisky club, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

SMWS 148.1 Starward "Apera for Everyone!" will be the first release, a 6yo single cask "dot one" distilled on 27 November 2013 and matured in a 1st Fill Apera barrique. Sitting in the "Deep, Rich & Dried Fruits" flavour profile, this is the oldest independently bottled Starward ever released, and was distilled at the original Essendon Fields distillery. Bottled at 58.3%, it will be accompanied by a special historical write-up and released in the October Outturn, launching via regular and ballot release on Friday 1st October at midday AEST. From an outturn of 210 bottles, 174 will be made available to Australian members (the remaining 36 will be heading to the UK).

SMWS 148.2 Starward "Kirsch Me Quick", from the "Spicy & Sweet" flavour profile will follow in early 2022. A 3yo single cask bottled from a 1st Fill red wine barrique, it was distilled on 27 April 2017, weighs in at 55.5% and will see 274 bottles released (238 for Australia, 36 for the UK). 

So enough do they taste!?

SMWS 148.1 Starward "Apera for Everyone!" (58.3% ABV, 6yo, Melbourne, Australia, Pricing TBC, Available from 1st October via
Colour: Golden-brown treacle.

Nose: At first, that big fruity Apera hit, but then a nuttiness emerges, along with a slightly leathery herbaceousness. After time, some berries and cherry notes With a few drops of water, more fruit, with pear and some peach showing through. 

Palate: Initially: wow. Big apricot and peach notes, then chewy milkbottle lollies, caramel chews, fresh toffee and Manuka honey. Water adds a little herbal smoke and vanilla cream. Incredibly complex and delicious.

Finish: Warming, soft, and lasting for days, with apricot and fruit compote.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. Super complex, AND super delicious. Starward casks set a high barrier as it is, but this goes well beyond. An absolutely unique and stellar dram.

SMWS 148.2 Starward "Kirsch Me Quick" (55.5% ABV, 3yo, Melbourne, Australia, Pricing TBC, Available early 2022 via
Colour: Reddish golden-amber.

Nose: Fresher than the .1, with more red fruits & some dried fruits. There's a slight herbal note and dehydrated orange wheels. Water doesn't change it much.

Palate: Spice, soy, herbs, cigar tobacco - it reminds me a lot of other ex-red wine Starward single casks I've tried. The complexity and balance is excellent for a 3yo. There's a slight BBQ meatiness too, and with water, a more tannic / drying note, with more spice and less fruit (IMO, it's better without water).

Finish: Salted chocolate, long and slightly drying with berry-like tannins.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. Closer to the single casks Starward fans know and love than the "dot one". Very good, and instantly recognisable as a Starward.

It's been my immense pleasure to break the news of this pairing of my favourite whisky club and one of my favourite distilleries, and equally great to see Starward come so far over the years. Well done to all involved, and a big thanks to Matt Bailey and the SMWS for the opportunity to taste and talk about these whiskies.


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Saturday, 21 August 2021

Sakurao 1st Release Cask Strength Single Malt Japanese Whisky [Tasted #534]

Following our reviews of the Komagatake x Chichibu "Malt Duo" & Kanosuke First Edition, as part of our look into the current state of Japanese whisky, we're moving onto another exciting new First Release - Sakurao "1st Release Cask Strength Single Malt Japanese Whisky".

Seemingly continuing the trend of Japanese distilleries locating themselves in picturesque locales, Sakurao Distillery is located in the town of Sakurao, on the coast of Hiroshima facing the historic Itsukushima Shrine and its "floating Torii gate" off Miyajima Island. Now sure, location doesn't necessarily dictate the quality of the whisky, but a location like this does make the distillery pretty accessible for tourists, which can only be a good thing for both the distillery and Japanese whisky in general.

What's interesting about Sakurao (formerly Chugoku Jozo) is that they've actually being producing whisky for several years (as well as gin) - but until establishing Sakurao Distillery, they weren't distilling it in Japan. The "Togouchi" brand (which many would know as that short, rounded bottle containing Scottish / Canadian whisky aged in a former railway tunnel in Hiroshima) made up the entirety of the company's whisky, but now they're distilling both malt and grain right in Japan.

(The excellent Nomunication blog has a detailed write-up on the topic which is worth a read.)

Somewhat confusingly, they've actually launched two Japanese-distilled single malt brands - Sakurao (which I've tasted below), and Togouchi single malt, a domestic-only product for Japan. So as it stands, "Togouchi" is both a Japanese-distilled single malt brand, and a world blended whisky brand! The former is matured at the coastal distillery, the latter in the aforementioned Togouchi railway tunnel.

Photo credit: Sakurao Distillery

Confusion aside, we applaud any Japanese whisky producer who wants to "go legit", so let's see how their first release stacks up...

Sakurao 1st Release Cask Strength Single Malt Japanese Whisky 2021 (54% ABV, 3yo, Sakurao Japan, $2,080HKD available from AFTrade)
Colour: Rich amber-honey.

Nose: Sandalwood, quite active oak, dark chocolate & orange peel

Palate: Sweet, creamy vanilla essence (intense - almost vanilla-pod like), milk chocolate drops, then a subtle earthy smoke forms, and sticks around. There's chocolate raspberries, cherries, and a little salinity.

Finish: Medium in length, with the sweet choc-cherry notes running through to the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 89/100. If I'm honest, I haven't loved many of the Togouchi blended whiskies I've tried (although their new Coffee liqueur is pretty tasty, and a steal at $168HKD). This Japanese distilled Sakurao though is very enjoyable, and shows a lot of promise for what's to come.

Thanks to AFTrade Hong Kong (importers / distributors of all Sakurao spirits in HK) who provided the whisky for review.


Wednesday, 18 August 2021

Komagatake x Chichibu Malt Duo Blended Malt Japanese Whisky [Tasted #533]

Continuing our look into the current state of Japanese whisky, and following my recent tasting of the Kanosuke First Edition, we move onto Mars Whisky next (and uh, Chichibu as well), in the form of the Komagatake x Chichibu "Malt Duo" Blended Malt Japanese Whisky.

A blended malt may not seem that special, but in the world of Japanese whisky, it kind of is. Unlike Scotland, the Japanese whisky industry doesn't really have a history of cask trading. Yes, there are blends and blended malts, but they're typically either Scottish/Japanese (or "world") blends, or blends of whiskies from within one company's portfolio (Suntory's "Hibiki" being a good example of the latter, containing Yamazaki malt, Hakushu malt and Chita grain).

What makes this "Malt Duo" so special is it's a blend of two different malts from completely separate whisky distilleries, and two cult Japanese distilleries at that - Chichibu and Mars Shinshu

The story goes that in in 2015, Mars Shinshu Distillery and Venture Whisky's Chichibu Distillery began exchanging malt spirit and maturing it in their respective locations, and 5 years later in 2020, we have the result. This particular release was matured at Mars Shinshu distillery (and therefore contains Shinshu-matured Chichibu), whilst another release was matured at Chichibu (containing Chichibu-matured Komagatake in the blend). Still with us?  

10,918 bottles of this "Komagatake x Chichibu" were released, whilst the "Chichibu x Komagatake" was a 10,200 bottle release. 

Official HK importers of Mars Whisky, AFTrade were kind enough to provide a sample of the whisky for review. Having tried quite a few Mars whiskies on the blog previously, I was very keen to see how this one fared.

Komagatake x Chichibu "Malt Duo" Blended Malt Japanese Whisky (54% ABV, Over 5yo, Japan,  available from AFTrade)
Colour: Golden amber.

Nose: A little heat initially, then pear, some grassiness, some herbal notes and then milk chocolate.

Palate: Personally I'd call this more "Komagatake" than "Chichibu" - I got notes of green apples, melon, chewy caramel, a youthful nuttiness, chocolate and maple syrup.

Finish: Medium in length, with the sweet maple / caramel notes quickly becoming spiced - almost like subtle chilli, with some slight oak tannins at the very end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 89/100. A tasty whisky, but more importantly, a historically important, and quite unusual bottle in the Japanese whisky market, and hopefully an indicator of thigns to come. More of this please, Japan! 

Thanks to AFTrade for the sample.


Saturday, 14 August 2021

New Australian independent bottler "Old Master Spirits" & their 1957 Cognac [Tasted #531 & #532]

Instagram can a wonderful place for whisky lovers. Sure, there's content galore, but more than that, it's a place for like-minded fans to meet, share stories / thoughts / tasting notes, and in many cases develop real-world connections.

I'd been following David (@whisky.nerd) on Instagram for a while, occasionally chatting here and there, recognising a similar appreciation for whisky as myself (especially those from Japan, Scotland and Australia), when he noticed that I'd recently posted about Cognac, and its growing interest from whisky lovers. David mentioned he was bottling a few Cognacs independently for the Aussie market, and would I be interested in reviewing them?

(Well of course!)

Old Master Spirits is the result, and their launch bottlings aren't your every day Cognacs, with both a 1957 (63yo) and 1984 (36yo) to be released next month. 

The Cognacs (the 1957 a Fins Bois, the 1984 a Grande Champagne) come from Jean Luc Pasquet who act as both a distillery/producer, and negociant (and saviour of old, rare Cognac casks from the hands of blenders). These two bottlings come from JLP in their latter capacity, and thanks to Old Master Spirits' desire to share the stories of not only the Cognacs but the people behind them, there's some great detail behind each one.

We know for example the 1957 was distilled by Jean Aubineau (who is still alive and releasing incredibly rare Cognac today) and the 1974 by Claude Hillaire, who together with his wife Arlette, took over his father's vineyards in the 1970s and now see their grandchildren continuing to tend to the vines and produce Cognac in Angeac-Champagne. 

There's more about each cognac on the Old Master Spirits website.- worth a read for anyone who might be interested.

Unlike whisky, Cognac over a certain age can be transferred from cask to glass demijohns, and can legally continue to "age" from then until bottling (for example, a 1900-distilled Cognac transferred from cask into demijohn in 1980, and bottled in 2000, could legally be called a 100yo Cognac, despite "only" spending 80 years in oak). 

I asked Deni Kay, co-owner of Old Master Spirits about this, and he mentioned both their Cognacs had spent their entire life in oak casks prior to bottling - noting it was an important factor for them. 

Also unlike whisky, Cognac can (and very often does) contain additives other than caramel colouring, including sugar and Boisé (a goo made by boiling wood chips....yes really). Plenty of commercial, big-name Cognacs will contain these, but enthusiast cognacs, often bottled as single casks, generally remain unadulterated. It goes without saying that these two Cognacs fall into the latter camp, having been bottled with no added colour/sugar/additives, at natural cask strength, without chill filtration and from single casks.

It's not hard to see that the team behind Old Master Spirits are true dedicated whisky / spirits lovers.

So, provenance, age, purity and branding, tick (not to mention extra kudos for starting a new independent bottler label in Australia), but how's the liquid? 

Let's find out....

Old Master Spirits 1957 Fins Bois Cognac Jean Luc Pasquet (47.6% ABV, 63yo, Saint Simeux, France, $429AUD)
Colour: Firey orange-gold.

Nose: Earthy stone fruits at first, with creme caramel and sweet toffee chews. With time things become more tropical - pineapple, green grapes and mango. There's a slightly grassy note, and after a while a slight sea saltiness. A very complex and enjoyable nose.

Palate: All the fruit from the nose carries through to the palate, with mature citrus fruit as well. There's an "old malt whisky" like note of wood polish and vintage cigars, though the oak is very much in balance and not overpowering - impressive considering the Cognac spent 63 years in it.

Finish: Pineapple and guava, peaches and a lingering sweetness.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100. A very well-made, complex and delicious Cognac, with none of those "acetone" notes I've found on some Cognacs (even some near this age).

Old Master Spirits 1984 Grande Champagne Cognac Jean Luc Pasquet (53.8% ABV, 36yo, Angeac-Champagne, France, $229AUD)
Colour: Golden-orange copper.

Nose: Fruit-driven, with strawberries and cream, slight citrus spice, red jelly babies and hints of mint.

Palate: Sweeter than the 1957, with more confectionary notes - fairy floss ("cotton candy" for our American readers), pink jelly beans, and some slight wood polish notes. Raspberries follow, with 

Finish: Mint at first, then sweet oak, ripe apples, pears and a residual strawberry sweetness.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. Not as complex as the 1957, but far from simple and absolutely delicious. A great contrast to the 1957.

(It should be noted that whilst Old Master Spirits provided generous samples of both Cognacs for this review, I enjoyed them so much I've ordered a bottle of each.)

Both Cognacs are being released on 1st Sept (7pm AEST) via Old Master Spirits' website, and due to the very limited quantity, are being released in 500mL bottle format (70 bottles of the 1957, 168 bottles of the 1984). Sign up to their mailing list for 24 hour presale access here.