Sunday 26 May 2024

Glen Moray Masterclass with Iain Allan [Tasted #663 - #668]

To kick off Sydney’s Whisky Month, we joined Iain Allan, Global Ambassador for Glen Moray Distillery, and Judith Zhu, bartender at Door Knock, at Grain Bar for a Glen Moray masterclass. The session featured Glen Moray whiskies from their Cask Explorer range, including the delicious Glen Moray 10yo 'Elgin,' released as part of the Queen’s Jubilee celebration. Two limited-edition Glen Moray releases; Whisky List exclusive, a Glen Moray Rioja Cask Finish and a Peated Glen Moray Rioja Cask Finish, completed the tasting set.

It's been a while since we have had a full Glen Moray tasting. Back in 2013, Graham Coull, Glen Moray Distillery Manager led a Glen Moray whisky & cheese matching in Sydney as part of Whisky Live. Since then we have seen Glen Moray evolved, both as a distiller as well as with their flavour profile.

During the session, Iain explained that Glen Moray is situated in Elgin, midway between Aberdeen and Inverness in the Speyside region, known for producing lighter, sweeter whiskies with a bit of spice. Established in 1897, Glen Moray began as a brewery before converting into a distillery. With its long history, Glen Moray benefits from the resources around Elgin, including water from the River Lossie. Though unlike Sydney winter, Iain humorously addressed complaints about the cold weather in Sydney, comparing it to Scotland’s colder winter and noting that whisky is used to keep warm in Scotland.

Glen Moray is known for its traditional production methods, utilizing copper pot stills and oak casks for aging. They commonly use a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks but also enjoy experimenting with non-conventional casks such as madeira, port, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, rum, and rioja. In fact, Iain noted that Glen Moray has recently rebranded its core range from the classic collection to the 'cask explorer' collection - the latter denoting Glen Moray's piqued interest in experimenting with different casks. 

Despite the use of different casks, Iain did note that Glen Moray’s history of cask exploration has remained since 1897, noting that while experimentation with various cask types constitutes about 20% of their production, the remaining 80% relies on the consistent quality of bourbon cask maturation. 

Glen Moray's ownership by La Martiniquaise-Bardinet, a French spirits company, has significantly expanded the distillery's global reach while maintaining its traditional roots. Under La Martiniquaise, Glen Moray has grown from a small export range to a more global presence, with expansions increasing production capacity to 8.5 million litres, positioning it as a medium-sized distillery.

Back to the masterclass, complementing the Glen Moray whiskies were three beautifully crafted cocktails that Judith invented, combining Glen Moray whiskies, including the two Rioja Cask releases, with Australian native ingredients. Along with the 10yo Elgin, I enjoyed the Peated Rioja Cask release, which had big aromas and flavours with sweet, savoury, and big smoked meat notes.

Glen Moray Shiraz Cask Finish (40% ABV, NAS, Speyside, Scotland, A$57.90)

An Australian market-exclusive whisky, part of the newly rebranded Explorer Range, previously known as the Classic Range. Initially aged for six years in bourbon casks and finished for two years in European Shiraz casks. Iain noted that this gives the benefit of the French oak's nutty, hazelnut character and the floral, fruity notes of Shiraz.

Nose: The aroma opens with the quintessential characteristics of Speysidy, featuring a rich combination of sweet vanilla and luscious honey. There's a subtle hint of meaty undertones, adding depth and complexity. Light notes of currants and raisins, accompanied tannins that lend a slight dryness, reminiscent of well-aged oak.

Palate: On the palate, there's a delicate and inviting profile. Initial flavours of creamy vanilla and golden honey take centre stage, creating a smooth and comforting sensation. A nutty character emerges, bringing to mind freshly roasted almonds and hazelnuts, complemented by the taste of buttery sweet bread, evoking the warmth of a bakery. The vanilla base provides a consistent thread of sweetness, while a touch of perfumed spices—perhaps cinnamon and nutmeg—adds an intriguing, aromatic layer.

Finish: The finish is long and indulgent, with the delightful taste of hazelnuts leaving a lasting impression. There's a decadent Nutella-like sweetness that lingers on the tongue, making for a satisfyingly rich and nutty conclusion to the tasting experience.

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

Glen Moray 12yo (40% ABV, 12yo, Speyside, Scotland, A$65.95)

Described by Iain as a quintessential expression of the distillery’s traditional style, matured in bourbon casks for a minimum of 12 years. This aging process strikes a balance between the spirit’s natural flavors and the influence of the oak, creating a sweet and slightly spicy profile typical of Speyside whiskies. The 12 Year Old is described by Iain as the distillery’s flagship whisky, offering an approachable yet complex taste that appeals to both new and seasoned whisky drinkers. Despite production challenges, such as having to allocate the 12 Year Old due to high demand, the whisky remains a cornerstone of Glen Moray’s heritage and identity.

NoseThe aroma greets you with a delightful combination of honey and a rich nuttiness. The honey provides a sweet, floral fragrance. A warm, nutty scent follows, reminiscent of toasted almonds and hazelnuts. The presence of vanilla adds a creamy, comforting layer. Delicate notes of fresh berries, such as raspberries and blackberries, introduce a subtle fruity complexity.

Palate: On the palate, there's a light and well-balanced profile. The initial taste is smooth and nutty, bringing forward the rich flavour of hazelnuts that's mixed with the sweetness of vanilla. The vanilla is creamy and indulgent, providing a lush base that ties the flavours together. The mouthfeel is light yet satisfying, with the nutty elements creating a comforting, familiar sensation, akin to a warm, nutty pastry.

Finish: The finish is dry, leaving a lingering impression of creamy vanilla and nutty flavours. The dryness adds a refined touch. The nutty finish, with its hints of toasted almonds and hazelnuts.

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

Glen Moray 10yo 'Elgin' (46% ABV, 10yo, Speyside, Scotland, no longer available)

Glen Moray's limited edition Shiraz Cask Finish Launched last year in Australia and now no longer available, it was intended to celebrate Elgin potentially becoming a city and later commemorated Glen Moray's 125th anniversary. This unique whisky, aged six years in bourbon casks and two years in European Shiraz casks, showcases the distillery's hallmark toffee apple sweetness and a nutty, fruity profile. Despite its popularity, the whisky is nearly sold out, with only a few bottles left (none in Australia). Iain  fondly recalls the unexpected discovery of Chardonnay casks in 2008 which we actually tasted in 2013 as they were bottled as the Glen Moray 10yo Chardonnay casks.

Nose: The nose opens with a rich, inviting scent of creamy vanilla, immediately evoking the warmth of freshly baked pastries. This is complemented by buttery undertones. Sweet notes of golden honey blend seamlessly with a subtle freshness from peppermint. The minty elements provide a refreshing contrast.

Palate: On the palate, this whisky is luscious, with a rich buttery texture and sweet flavours of caramelised sugar, reminiscent of the crisp topping on a crème brûlée. The creamy vanilla persists, adding depth. Flavours of fluffy marshmallows and freshly baked loaf bread evoke a sense of home comfort. The taste of toffee apples introduces a fruity sweetness, complemented by a drizzle of thick syrup. A surprising hint of peppery rocket adds a subtle spiciness, balancing the sweetness and adding complexity.

Finish: The finish is long, leaving a lasting impression of dry, creamy vanilla and the sweetness of marshmallows. The marshmallow note lingers pleasantly, providing a light, airy conclusion to the tasting experience. This extended finish allows the rich flavours to gradually fade.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100 (Hendy)

Glen Moray 18yo (47.2% ABV, 18yo, Speyside, Scotland, A$148.99)

Nose: The nose of this whisky is rich and inviting, opening with the sweet, golden scent of honey that immediately draws you in. This is followed by a deep maltiness, reminiscent of freshly milled grains, adding a wholesome, earthy quality. A delightful aroma of toffee and sticky caramel pudding brings a decadent sweetness, evoking the comforting scents of a dessert kitchen. The presence of vanilla essence adds a creamy, aromatic layer, rounding out the nose.

Palate: On the palate, the whisky presents a complex profile. The taste of nougat emerges first, offering a chewy, nutty sweetness that is both rich and textured. This is complemented by creamy vanilla, which provides a smooth and luscious base. Herbaceous notes add an intriguing layer of depth, with hints of fresh, green herbs that balance the sweetness. A touch of mint introduces a cool, refreshing element, while the subtle spice of ginger lollies adds a warm, invigorating kick.

Finish: The finish is medium to long. It begins with a drying sensation, which provides a refined, clean finish. The creamy vanilla lingers on the palate, maintaining a sweet, comforting presence. This extended finish allows the rich flavours to gradually dissipate.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100 (Hendy)

Glen Moray Rioja Cask Matured (59.8% ABV, NAS, Speyside, Scotland, A$199)

Part of the Glen Moray Warehouse 1 series, this Rioja cask matured Glen Moray showcases the Glen Moray's commitment to cask exploration. Warehouse 1, a dedicated space for experimental casks, houses a diverse range of barrels including sherry butts, port pipes, and wine casks. Unlike other more regimented warehouses, it reflects Glen Moray's innovative spirit. The Warehouse 1 series, is now available globally after being a UK exclusive, features unfiltered, natural colour whiskies. Each release is unique, with current offerings including two distinct Rioja cask maturations.

Nose: The nose is a captivating blend of aromas, starting with a distinctly herbaceous quality that brings to mind freshly crushed herbs. This is complemented by a peppery spiciness that adds an invigorating kick. Creamy vanilla weaves through the scent, providing a smooth, sweet balance. Intriguingly, there is a unique hint of black Kalamata olives, adding a savoury, briny depth. Fruity notes of ripe peach and juicy plums round out the nose.

Palate: On the palate, the whisky delivers a robust and complex flavour profile. The initial taste is spiced, with a bold intensity that awakens the senses. This is followed by the savoury richness of salted rubbed meat, evoking the flavours of well-seasoned charcuterie. The sweet, juicy taste of plums emerges next, harmonizing with subtle hints of peaches, which add a delicate, fruity sweetness. Caramelised sugar imparts a rich, burnt sweetness that enhances the overall depth. A touch of nutmeg introduces a warm, aromatic spice, while a hint of peppermint provides a refreshing, cool finish.

Finish: The finish is dry and lingering, leaving a lasting impression of smoked ham that evokes the savoury, smoky flavours of cured meat. This creates a complex and satisfying conclusion, with the smoky, savoury notes gradually fading, leaving a warm, subtly spiced aftertaste.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100 (Hendy)

Glen Moray Peated Rioja Cask Matured (59.8% ABV, NAS, Speyside, Scotland, A$209)

In November 2024, Glen Moray released a new peated whisky from their Warehouse 1 series, marking a significant departure from their traditional Speyside style. Initially skeptical about peated whisky, the distillery began experimenting with it in 2010, using local peat to create a unique smoky profile distinct from Islay whiskies. This particular release, an 11-year-old whisky aged nine years in bourbon casks and finished for two years in Rioja casks, offers a complex flavour with notes of smoky bacon, Umami, sweet smoke, red fruits, and subtle hints of citrus, toffee, and vanilla. Iain noted despite being Glen Moray's first internationally released heavily peated whisky, there are only small batches annually due to the labor-intensive cleaning process required to switch between peated and non-peated production.

Nose: The nose opens with an enticing aroma of smoked bacon, evoking memories of a hearty breakfast on the coast. This is swiftly followed by the briny scent of seaweed and a touch of sea salt, conjuring the freshness of a coastal breeze. The marine notes are beautifully balanced by the sweetness of caramel, adding a rich, buttery layer. A hint of BBQed tomato emerges, offering a smoky, umami twist.

Palate: On the palate, the whisky delivers a robust and savoury experience. The initial taste is reminiscent of salted cold meat, bringing a rich umami flavor that mingles with a pronounced sea saltiness. This is followed by the deep, smoky flavour of charred steak, enhanced by a drizzle of sweet maple syrup that adds a caramelized richness. A hint of chili introduces a spicy warmth, while honey adds a smooth, sweet counterbalance. The nuttiness, akin to roasted almonds, provides an earthy depth that enriches the overall palate experience.

Finish: The finish is long and satisfying, characterised by a dry, lingering spiciness from the chili. Vanilla adds a creamy sweetness that softens the finish. The final notes of lingering nuts, reminiscent of toasted hazelnuts and walnuts, leave a warm, nutty aftertaste that invites you to savour each moment.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100 (Hendy)

Overall, the Glen Moray masterclass was a delightful journey through their innovative whisky range. The blend of tradition and experimentation in their whiskies, complemented by Judith's creative cocktails, made for an unforgettable tasting experience.

To follow on the tasting yesterday, Glen Moray will be available exclusively at Grain Bar from 24th May to 16th June as part of their ‘Fireplace Seduction’ experience which will also run alongside Vivid Sydney in June. Grain Bar will feature an exclusive flight of Glen Moray whiskies. The Whisky List will also have Glen Moray present at the Melbourne Whisky Show on the 6th July as well as the Brisbane Whisky Show on 14th of September.

Friday 17 May 2024

Starward Bourbon Cask #1 and #2 [Tasted #661-662]

Earlier this week Starward released their second bourbon cask release, officially dubbed, the Starward Bourbon Cask #2. This second release follows the first Bourbon Cask which was released in mid 2018 and only saw an outturn of around 1,200 bottles. For this second bourbon cask release, Starward fans alike can join Starward’s ballot system to secure an allocation. It's not known how many bottles there are in the outturn.

I was fortunate enough to join David Vitale, Starward Founder and Charlie Dyer, Starward Blender this week to sample the Bourbon Cask #2. In fact, the tasting also featured the first bourbon cask release, Starward Nova (their OG red wine cask release) as well as a sample of their wash and new make spirit to give people a sense of evolution of the liquid. It was fascinating to contrast the Bourbon Cask #2 with Bourbon Cask #1, side by side, and while they share the same ABV, they are both distinctly unique. You’ll find my tasting notes on both down the bottom but I thought it would be good to recap a bit of Starward’s history.

Time for Whisky has always been a friend of Starward, dating all the way back to early 2013 when David met Martin in Sydney while David was in Sydney to introduce the “New World Whisky Distillery;” was then renamed Starward. 2013 was also the year Starward’s first whisky was released, Solera, matured in Australian ex-Apera casks and the initial release embodied David’s vision of creating a distinct, tasty yet uniquely Australian whisky. 

Since then Starward has gone strength to strength, having attracted funding from Diego in 2015, followed by the relocation of their distillery from the old Essendon Fields to Port Melbourne in 2016, expanded their core range to include Two Fold Double Grain whisky (dubbed the everyday whisky) in 2019 and receiving numerous gold medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, underscoring the success of their approach and the quality of their products. Over the years, Starward’s spirit has also evolved, having begun with a somewhat estery profile due to  the small-scale distillation and over time, improvements in their brewing, fermentation, and distillation have led to a more balanced spirit.

Despite their growth, Starward have very much retained their unique fruit notes, in particular, the banana note. In fact, this distinct fruit profile was what David proudly attribute to what makes Starward unique, The fruity profile, in particular the banana note has been a hallmark of Starward whisky, which David has committed to retain while enhancing balance. David’s ethos has always been on how to best produce a distinctly Australian whisky that reflects the local climate, ingredients, and culture. 

Many of Starward’s releases since have been inspired by the vibrant culture and the regional influences. Starward has always had a focus on using local ingredients, including Australian malted barley and locally sourced wine barrels. In addition, Melbourne's 'four seasons in a day' climate has been said to influence the Starward whisky aging process. Allowing for faster maturation compared to traditional regions and David has termed the maturation years as the “Melbourne years”

Since the beginning, Starward's signature play was with the use of red wine barrels for aging, which added unique fruit and oak characteristics to their whisky. The use of red wine barrels has been a significant factor in creating a unique flavour profile, contributing to Starward's distinctive character.

So then, what's the fuss with the bourbon cask release?

The first Starward Bourbon Cask release, known as Starward Bourbon Cask 1, was released in mid 2018 with an outturn of 1,200 bottles. Bourbon Cask #1 was Starward's experimentation with different types of barrels to create unique whisky expressions. This release marked their venture into using ex-bourbon barrels for aging their whisky, differing from their usual practice of using red wine barrels. In fact, their first foray into bourbon cask got them to work on the second bourbon cask, almost immediately after.

The use of ex-Wild Turkey and ex-Maker Mark's bourbon casks imparted distinct flavours to the whisky, adding vanilla, caramel, and subtle spice notes. This contrasted with the fruit-forward profile typically associated with their red wine barrel-aged expressions. The whiskey retained the characteristic balance of spirit, oak, and fruit that Starward is known for, but with the added complexity from the bourbon cask influence. Overall, the first Starward Bourbon Cask release was a significant milestone for the distillery, and as such paved the way for this subsequent significant milestone for Starward, their second Bourbon Cask release.

Starward Bourbon Cask #2 has been described as an inverse to their highly awarded and signature red wine barrel maturation style. With a 52% ABV, one might think both bourbon cask releases are identical but the decision on the ABV was made to showcase the whisky as what the Blender has intended to showcase. Starward's second Bourbon Cask release sees their malt fully matured in bourbon barrels for five 'Melbourne years'. Similar to Bourbon Cask #1, Bourbon Cask #2 also saw the use of ex-Wild Turkey and ex-Maker's Mark bourbon barrels.

As Charlie Dyer, Starward Blender noted, ‘there’s nothing to hide behind with bourbon barrels’ and these casks provided the perfect, neutral canvas to let the Starward new make spirit shine. Expect all those deliciously tropical fruit notes from the fermentation process to shine through. 

It took Starward nine years to release their first Bourbon Cask in 2018, and another six years to release Bourbon Cask #2…. who knows if there will be another.

Starward Bourbon Cask #1 (52% ABV, Port Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, A$199)

The inaugural bourbon cask release has its own complexity.

Nose: The nose opens with a rich, inviting note of vanilla, followed by a more concentrated vanilla essence that adds depth and sweetness. A comforting note of cereal emerges, reminiscent of freshly milled grains. Juicy berries add a burst of fruity freshness, while the honeyed sweetness of Weet-Bix cereal blends in. A cool, refreshing hint of peppermint provides a crisp, clean finish to the nose profile.

Palate: The initial palate reveals subtle yet creamy vanilla notes, setting a smooth foundation. This is quickly joined by the tart, vibrant flavor of raspberries, which adds a lively contrast. A hint of Starward's banana note is followed by honey which introduces a tropical sweetness, complemented by pineapple notes that bring a bright, citrusy touch. Rich molasses adds a deep, caramel-like sweetness.

Finish: The finish is relatively short but leaves a lasting impression of sweet berries. The prominent tannin creates a dry, lingering sensation.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100 (Hendy)

Starward Bourbon Cask #2 (52% ABV, Port Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, A$169)

So what was my impression of their second bourbon cask, in summary, delicious, a lot richer, flavourful and more vibrant, when compared side by side with their first bourbon cask release.

Nose: A delightful medley of aromas greets you, starting with the sweet, nutty scent of nougat and the floral, delicate notes of rosewater. Vanilla essence provides a creamy undertone, while a fresh burst of peppermint adds a cooling sensation. The herbaceous hints bring a touch of earthiness, complemented by the tropical scent of coconut shavings. Subtle whispers of raspberries and banana introduce a fruity sweetness, rounded out by the rich, caramelized aroma of grilled pineapple.

Palate: The first sip delivers a vibrant burst of mixed berries, enveloping the palate with their juicy sweetness. This is followed by a zesty Sunburst orange note that adds a refreshing citrusy twist. Black pepper provides a spicy kick, balanced by a cool hint of peppermint. The flavors evolve into a creamy strawberries and vanilla shake, offering a smooth and indulgent experience. A subtle hint of pineapple lingers, adding a final touch of tropical fruitiness.

Finish: The finish is exceptionally long, leaving a lasting impression of ripe berries and smooth vanilla. The tropical essence of coconut shavings adds a delicate, nutty sweetness, while the finish concludes with a satisfying tannin that provides a dry, lingering end, leaving you with a well-rounded, memorable taste experience.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100 (Hendy)

Given the limited edition release, Starward has opened their ballot system for everyone who's wanting to secure a bottle to register on their website. Starward fans alike can register themselves into the ballot which will be open until 2nd June