Wednesday 26 May 2021

That Boutique-y Whisky Company "Australia" Series: Part 2 [Tasted #519 - 526]

Following on from Part 1 of our coverage of That Boutique-y Whisky Company (TWBC) Australia Series release, our Part 2 post will explore the series in a bit more detail.

The full lineup of TWBC's Australia series include 8 bottlings from distilleries that span across the mainland and Tasmania:

  • Black Gate 3YO Single Malt
  • Belgrove 4YO Rye
  • Tin Shed 3YO Single Malt
  • Fleurieu 3YO Single Malt (exclusive in Australia to The Oak Barrel)
  • Killara 2YO Single Malt 
  • Riverbourne 3YO Single Malt
  • Starward 3YO Single Malt
  • Bakery Hill 5YO Single Malt

The series sees bottlings from a collection of highly sought after, small-batch craft distilleries, many of which have not previously been available outside of Australia. Amongst this is Belgrove, a farm-to-glass distillery run by Peter Bignell, one of the most known and loved Distillers in Australia. Peter has been known for his unconventional equipment and techniques and is dubbed the 'Mad Scientist.' Peter's Belgrove Rye is renowned internationally due to the use of his own rye to craft his whisky.

Alongside Belgrove, the release also includes bottlings from Starward (whose presence has graced markets in the UK and US, Black Gate (whose total annual output is just 3000L) and Killara, founded by Kristy Lark-Booth - daughter of Bill Lark aka the ‘godfather’ of Australian whisky. Although Kristy has grown up around whisky, she originally wanted to be an Air Traffic Controller. The TBWC Killara label has her overseeing airspace that is filled with flying copper pot stills - an acknowledgment to her dedication to controlling the distillation process.

There is also bottling from Fleurie, a South Australian distillery run by ex-brewers Angela and Gareth Andrews whose site is famously an old train shed site and feature on the TBWC label. Angela and Gareth also took the pleasure to re-create the label by wearing the same outfit as the label during the Oak Barrel launch of the series. Fleurieu is also known for their copper pot stills which are modelled on those at Islay Distillery, Caol Ila and their super long (8 days) fermentation. 

The series also features bottlings from Tin Shed, Riverbourne and Bakery Hill. The Tin Shed release is particularly interesting given the use of ex-tawny port and ex-Pinot Gris casks. Tin Shed started producing in 2013 and is known for occasionally smoking their barley with mallee root, the root of a dwarf Australian eucalyptus tree.

The release from Riverbourne is also fairly unique with the use of re-charred ex-Australian wine casks. Another fun fact, Riverbourne is run by Australia's oldest distiller, Martin Pye whose root is actually in pharmacy with Martin being a third-generation pharmacist. He has been known to use a wide range of yeast strains and re-charred ex-wine casks for maturing the Riverbourne spirit.

Then there's Bakery Hill. Headed by David Baker, an ex-High School chemistry teacher who first built his still in an industrial unit in Bayswater Victoria in 1999. The label on the TWBC Bakery Hill bottling down right paints his earlier years, 'Breaking Bad' style - though no blue ice involved, only whisky. The label shows founder David Baker and his son Andrew in hazmat suit packing their Winnabago full of casks. Classic.

I sat down with each of the bottlings and here's my take on the series. My personal favourites included the Black Gate 3yo, the Belgrove Rye as well as the Killara 2yo.

Black Gate 3 Year Old (46%, 3yo, New South Wales, Australia, A$255) One of my favourite from the series. The nose is very floral, there are fruity hints, specifically stone fruits, peaches and green apples. There is vanilla. The nose reminds you of springtimes. The palate on the other hand adds a level of punch firstly with tar and soot which then mellows out to vanilla and creamy soda. There is that creme brulee or lemon tart that then develops into hot white pepper notes. The spices remain on the palate for some time.

Belgrove 4 Year Old Rye  (49.8%,  4yo, Tasmania, Australia, A$299) The nose is interesting and filled with agave (tequila?), it is nutty and there are peppermint notes and a whiff of light smoke. The palate begins with char, tar and lots of soot. It's very earthy. Once the big initial notes fizzle out, you get peanut brittle that's served with some spices, chilly, that agave returns and there is that smoke again. The finish is dry yet the smoke lingers and remains for some time.

Tin Shed 3 Year Old (48%, 3yo, South Australia, Australia, A$215)  Interesting mix with a combination of ex-Tawny and ex-Pinot Gris cask. Very musky nose with glazed bacon with an added maple syrup. It's rather stocky, meaty, bbq meat, there's a hint of smoke with some mild chilli. The palate is rather complex. Soft at first, with a gradual build-up of spice, caramel and bacon developing into a soft mushy pear. The finish is quite a bit of tannin, mild, heat and stays for some time.

Fleurieu 3 Year Old (49.5%, 3yo, Goolwa, South Australia, $190) (exclusive in Australia to The Oak Barrel) The nose is pungent, old linen, biscuits, pecan pie, honey, flour, caramel. The palate is creamy, gentle at start, spiced, chilli, pumpkin pie, more vanilla, salted caramel, chilli chocolate. The finish is full of spices mixed with chocolate and caramel, a tart finish and spice remnants.

Killara 2 Year Old (49%, 2yo, Tasmania, Australia, A$375) the nose is sweet with loads of gummy berries, vanilla, maple syrup on waffles, fruit tingles. The nose is fun and surprising given the relatively young age of the spirit. The palate is chalky at first which is then followed by some berries (raspberries), mango, and strawberry, some citrus/lemon notes and hints of black pepper. I must say, the palate is rather delicious and fruity, very balanced. The sweetness and tartiness linger for a while.

Riverbourne 3 Year Old (50%, New South Wales, Australia, A$239) Allspice hits the nose, there is heat, a hint of cinnamon and the heat keeps rising, chilli or perhaps chilli chocolate. There's oak and honey though plenty of spearmint and tannin. That heat continues but fizzles out after a while. Unique profile that may please traditional Riverbourne fans though might be different for some.

Starward 3 Year Old (56%, 3yo, Victoria, Australia, A$179) The Starward profile is clearly there on the nose with loads of gummy bear lollies, banana, raisins, dried fruits, apricot, nectarines. Very fruity at first and followed by cinnamon chai and caramelised sugar.      Those sweet lollies are ever-present again. Though there is also some salt and spice; salted caramel. The sweetness continues and the cinnamon spice grips. Very mouthful and settle into some citrus and oranges (naval) notes. The finish is gingery, the spice remains and fizzle out into spearmint after taste.

Bakery Hill 5 Year Old (50%, 5yo, Victoria, Australia, A$299) The nose is musky with oak remnants, some vanilla, leather. There is cherry ripe mixed with some spearmint. The palate is very gentle, soft and filled with oat biscuit, creamy marshmallow and there is a gentle nutmeg spice on the back of the palate. The spearmint lingers on the palate and slowly fizzle out.

The Australian Series is an extremely exciting set and so much so that the majority of the bottlings have been sold out. The Oak Barrels in Sydney as well as few select retailers in Australia still have limited stocks on some of the bottlings - so do get them while it lasts.


Monday 24 May 2021

67yo "Mr George Legacy" Glen Grant 1953 from Gordon & MacPhail [Tasted #518]

Over the past few years I've been fortunate to try some pretty incredible Gordon & MacPhail bottlings - many of them positively geriatric (including one in it's 70s - notes here), but my favourite by far has been the 62yo 1956 "Mr George Centenary" (tasted here). I called it my top whisky of 2019, and if I'm honest, it remained so across 2020 too. when G&M reached out and asked if I'd like to try the new "Mr George Legacy" 1st Edition - also a Glen Grant, but this time a 1953 bottled just after its 67th birthday, I wasn't going to say no!

Distilled on Christmas Eve 1953 and bottled on 5th Jan 2021, the whisky spent its whole life in a First Fill Sherry Butt, and retained a hefty (and frankly astonishing) 59.4% ABV when bottled after those 67 years. 

Bottled to celebrate the Legacy of "Mr George" Urquhart (second generation of the G&M family and the man who created the Connoisseurs Choice range which still remains hugely popular today), a total of 355 bottles are available. A fitting tribute to someone Charlie MacLean refers to as "The father, the originator of the current success and appreciation of Scotch Malt Whiskies" then!

Describing Mr George's influence on the company and wider Scotch whisky scene, Stephen Rankin, grandson and G&M's Director of Prestige said: “My grandfather possessed a passion for taking single malts beyond these shores. Over many decades, he built and nurtured close relationships with some of Scotland’s leading distilleries and proudly took as much as he could carry on his international trips. I have fond memories of joining him, meeting new people, and telling stories about the casks he’d chosen to bring out the best in the different types of spirit."

Gordon & MacPhail 1953 Glen Grant 67yo "Mr George Legacy" (59.4% ABV, 67yo, Cask #4209, Speyside, £5,000)

Colour: Intensely deep ruby-red copper.

Nose: Maraschino cherries and cough syrup, with old leather-bound books initially. Seriously "decadent", mature and complex. Sherry-soaked dates, furniture polish & hazelnuts. Water adds a little more nuttiness.

Palate: Zesty at first, with citrus spice, and cigar leaves soaked in orange. Grassy and with blackcurrant hints, the nearly 60% ABV does bring some heat, but it's a very composed and complex palate overall. There's some ginger and a plum sweetness, with mint notes towards the end. Water brings more of a meaty, earthen note.

Long notes of leather cigar pouch with residual earthy smoke and paprika.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 94/100. There's a huge amount going on here, and it's all delicious. A stunning dram - even more impressive when you consider that after 67 years in a 1st fill butt, there's no "off" notes - no overly-oaky tannins, no sulphur. A stunning cask and a testament to both Mr George and the wider G&M team.


Friday 7 May 2021

More Malternatives - Super old Armagnac and Cognac from Wu Dram Clan [Tasted #514 - 517]

If it seems like there's been a bit less content here over the past year, it's true, but it's also partly because there's more going up on our Facebook page, and especially our Instagram. The site hasn't been forgotten (far from it), but more timely content will typically be found over on our Instagram account @TimeforWhisky (if you already follow us, thanks! If not, give us a follow - there might even be some prize giveaways soon).

One of the things I love about Instagram is the whisky community - and how a simple like, comment or story reply can spawn a great friendship, or the discovery of something entirely new...which is exactly how I discovered Wu Dram Clan (@wudramclan.official), an "Independent bottler of high quality single malt whisky, cognac, armagnac & gin" run by two blokes from Germany and one from Japan. 

I think it was an Instagram story I'd posted of Wu Dram Clan's 1967 Vallein Tercinier (a stunner I'd tried at the excellent House Welley Bar), which prompted Boris (aka @the.whiskykingLagavulin collector-extraordinaire and half of the German side of Wu Dram Clan) to reach out about a few more brandy releases they had coming up, and kindly offer to send me a few samples. Next thing I know, I had 3 generous samples of the following:


Just a casual ~58yo Armagnac Chateau de Gaube 1962/2020, a ~54yo Armagnac Aurian 1966/2020 and a ~41yo Armagnac Aurian 1979/2020! Whilst my Armagnac knowledge is well behind my whisky knowledge, I always welcome the opportunity for further education, and this seemed like a good way to do it...

Armagnac Chateau de Gaube 1962/2020 (48.6% ABV, ~58yo, Ténarèze, One of 144 bottles)
Orange copper.

Nose: Fruity and musty, with some cereal notes. Intriguing. Old leather-bound books but with an undertone of overripe mango. A slight hint of sulphur, marmalade and coffee beans. 

Palate: Slight sulphur at first, but then more old leather and oak. Rainins, almonds, and a slightly "farmy" funk.

Finish: Long, old oak and vintage books, with a residual nuttiness.

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

Armagnac Aurian 1966/2020 (53% ABV, ~54yo, Armagnac, $2,880HKD / AU pricing not available)
Colour: Coffee-copper.

Nose: Fresh, floral and esther-y (nail polish), followed by a sherbet sweetness. With water came berries, lemon and after time, caramel-coated apples. 

Palate: Big on the esthers, initially, followed by nuts and pine needles. With water, some caramel apples.

Finish: Long, meaty and creamy. 

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 88/100. Suggest giving it a bit of time for the initial esthers to dissipate. Unique, but enjoyable.

Armagnac Aurian 1979/2020 (49.6% ABV, ~41yo, Armagnac, $1,980HKD / AU pricing not available)
Colour: Red coffee-copper.

Nose: A bit more youthful compared to the others - red fruits with slight esthers, and with water, an intriguing grassy herbaceous note. 

Palate: Strong oak influence - wood varnish, leather, and bitter orange. With water, a lot more sweetness with jelly babies (green and yellow!) and lemon.

Finish: Short to medium in length, with oak and some orange peel towards the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 86/100. 

Thanks to the generosity of a friend in the HK whisky community, I also recently had the pleasure of sampling another Wu Dram Clan cognac - their 1962 58yo "Cognac Jean-Luc Pasquet" bottled at 40.4%.

Cognac Jean-Luc Pasquet 1962/2020 (40.4% ABV, ~58yo, Cognac)
Colour: Dark copper orange.

Nose: Huge berries and an underlying earthiness/mustiness.  Camphour wood, acetone, milk chocolate and cocoa. 

Palate: Camphour, resin, varnish, then pineapple and peach! Chocolate-coated strawberrries, big mik chocolate and finally some big raspberry notes.

Finish: Long and slightly tropical, with peach, and dark bitter chocolate.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100. So much going on here. Great stuff.

A huge thanks to Boris (aka @the.whiskyking) and Wu Dram Clan for the samples - if you're looking for a fun and delicious Malternative, definitely give these some consideration (if you can still find them). Remember too that old, vintage brandy isn't (yet) priced anywhere near old, vintage get in while you can!