Saturday, April 4, 2015

Forward Thinking – Starward Whisky

Starward Single malt Whisky
These days the term New World Whisky isn’t just a phrase to be used anymore for whiskies outside of the generic Scottish, Irish and US whisky definitions. For sometime now here in Australia it is also a term we have learnt to associate with a distillery. That distillery is New World Whisky Distillery. Great idea for a name at the time as they appeared just before the massive boom in world whisky, but in hind sight also now confusing as the name falls into common phrase. How do we work around it? Well you could just use the letters NW as appears on the distilleries bottles, or more often than not I hear the name Starward Distillery in association but which is in fact inaccurate. Starward, the name of the whisky this post will be reviewing, is actually an expression of whisky produced by NW and clearly not the name of the distillery.

To ramble on a bit more about NW for those not yet delved into this distillery, New World Whisky Distillery is Melbourne based, born out the mind of founder David Vitale with an idea to develop a modern whisky, or as the distilleries byline suggests “Combining the best of old & new”. Active since 2004, NW have hit the scene running and released its first expression, Starward Whisky, 4 years or so later. I have never met David (not even at a tasting as I always miss the visits to Sydney), and though we chatted on rare occasion over Twitter, I would hope to meet the man himself and ,pre of the team hopefully someday soon. I would use the pun “our stars have not yet aligned” (boom tish) but that would really be cheesy and I am sure the cringe. not having met is a good excuse to get to the distillery at some stage for sure because there is a hell of lot going on down there at that. To digress a wee bit further NW have a reputation for big ideas and experimentation. This post is focusing on the standard release Starward but there is some wonderful ideas coming out of this distillery that can only be left for another time. Look into them if you have not already and watch the progress.

Up-start or start-ups it seems any new distillery (at this time) do not have to try and muscle in on the big boys anymore to get noticed. Why try to make a Scotch style whisky when you can just make your style whisky. Back in the early 2000’s the earlier Australian distilleries often talked about establishing a whisky based on a Scotch they liked. Not a line towed much anymore though I can see some of the reasoning for it. It was pretty hard to convince anyone back then Australia made whisky at all. Now we as consumers want and look for difference. It almost seems like simply doing something alternate will get the attention need right? Not really as you still have to do it well. I am not a distiller, I wish I was, but I am not and I can barely brew beer well in my back room. What I do know about making whisky here in Aus is our climate is a pain in the bum to work with. Too dry, too humid, too fluctuate, and just too bloody Australian. Our current whisky laws force all Australian whisky to be aged for at least 2 years. 2 years is a long time and not just from an economical point of view. Our environment really puts stress on the spirt and wood in that period but the dictation means it is just not going to be called whisky unless you can stretch the maturation point out that far. Our laws need to change to fix this issue. Until that time distilleries like NW need to go with it and that is what NW is really achieving with Starward.

Kudos to NW for the pricing structure. It is a rare thing to be able to get your fingers on an Australian whisky under $100. Starward is hitting the mark at $79.99. It would love to see it in the $50 ranks but Australian taxes suck at best and a crippling agent for achievable pricing. Also here is whisky in completely aged in Australian Apera wood (we cannot call it sherry in Austrian anymore) that is not a ridiculous sherry bomb or displaying that hard core rain sweetness. Yes! The label on the other hand I can see as a downside to face time on a shelf. I like it but I also know how consumers think. As a designer by trade I am all over these kinds of creatives as it delivers freshness to a shelf but, I also know how much of hard slog it is to go against expectations. Don't be put off by the label as it is just being different without being stupid. In time I think it will be appreciated much more.

Starward is, as far as I am told by some with relations to the distillery, a 2yo to 2 1/2 year old whisky at most. This youth is clear in the adolescent puppy fat aromas while the palate puffs out its chest and explodes with boyish pride. Our mainland environment seems to make young whiskies thick headed and in many ways this is a good thing. It defines the region. Bananas are a common theme in all NW whiskies I have tried (and it is only a few) and this can be off putting to a seasoned whisky drinker looking for oak refinement. I can say I often do not find the green banana effect great either but I sense a change in Starward. I do not use that term green bananas lightly either when speaking about Starward historically. Over the past few years through various tastings, reviewing my old notes and drawing on memories, I have always sensed an extremely green banana nose. Even through this I have persisted with Starward and try it again at every opportunity. They are young, things change and recently something has appeared to round out more. As I had discovered at a tasting recently the thought stuck saying “that’s different”. Soon after I went to my local Dan Murphy’s, as I knew they had a much older opened bottle, and tasted again. My exploration of this old bottle displayed a much greener banana nose. "yes" I thought "this is what I remember it as... so what did I have the other day". At this point I had to by a new bottle and put it to the test.

Distiller: NW / New World Whisky Distillery
Alcohol/ABV: 43%
Type: Single Malt
Barrels: re-coopered Apera (formerly known as simply sherry)

Colour: Maple syrup

Nose: At first fruity alcohol is vaporous and even a bit tenacious as it seems to just cling to the cereal caramel cliffs while the mildest traces of aniseed whip past and into the throat. Give it some time or have a wee sip and warm butter grilled banana bread with a dusting of icing sugar chews at the senses. No really… that is exactly what it tastes like for me. I challenge you to go make some banana bread then grill it with butter and you will know what I mean.

Taste: Very much toasted cereals tending towards warm overripe bananas, caramelised brown sugar and bacon fat and an effect of condensed milk sweetness. A wine chew that is mouth filling with a mild prickle developing on the lips.

Finish: Remarkably long with a fist fight between dry alcohols and maples syrup textures while a medium heat draws in the lower chest to cheer them on.

Overall this whisky (or at least this bottle) is well filling. Big bold textures with quiff of slicked flavours. Much like a greaser of the 1950’s it is certainly a young lad deliberately going against urban grounding and looking to make his place known. An iconic 30yo Marlon Brando would be much impressed by the harley this chap is riding into town. At this point I will give it a 5 out of 7 on the D.T.W.C. scale. In fact it would be higher because pricing is great but the shear fact I don’t know if this flavour shift is a pattern for the future or simply my appreciation changing that gives me reservation. I know if I was reading this as an interested party and I was to omit the intro and score I would be thinking “hell yes”.

Really looking forward to the new Starward Wine Cask ongoing expression recently announced and of course some of the insane experiments that get such cult favour.

The Baron.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Return to sender - Buntin Is Back (for wee bit)

Daniel and James at The Whisky Room
It is good to see old friends, especially those that are on an extended hiatus from our local whisky community to follow bigger dreams.

The past week has seen the legend James Buntin, now Brand Ambassador for The Balvenie UK, return to our shores for a dramming holiday. The evening of the 26th May 2015 saw James hustle up a small group or mates to hang out at The Clock Hotel’s Whisky Room to dram on with some tales and adventures, while tasting some extra special whiskies he dog dropped straight from 2 selected Balvenie barrels only a week or so before.

The Whisky Room, run by the ever suave Daniel Molnar, is one of those locations you look forward to visiting even if it is just for pint of craft brew. Located in the upper floor of The Clock Hotel in Surry Hills, The Whisky Room is an open bar with high ceilings, masses of natural light, green space, floor to ceiling windows and plenty of room to breath the clean air. One of the things I especially love about the bar is the rib high tables and comfortable stools. The height of the tables and stools deliver a well measured amount of social interaction and movement keeping noise levels to a minimum. Something missing from many of the dungeoned whisky bars around Sydney. If you have not been to The Whisky Room then I suggest getting over there at least once. Selections of whisky is ample and reasonably priced. Cold beers on tap, fantastic service matched to quality bar grub really makes it worth the trip each time. The hot tip for when visiting is order your food at The Whisky Room bar top and it will be delivered to your table.

The Balvenie 41yo Bourbon Cask and The Balvenie 33yo Sherry Cask
As we kicked backed to shoot the breeze James pulled a few tasty Balvenie samples from his bag for us to indulge in. Both drawn straight from the cask was a very exciting 33yo Sherry Cask and a 41yo Bourbon Cask. Always good be drinking something older than myself (only just) the Bourbon Cask had an ABV of was still a whopping 53.7% and offered malty creamy woody and coffee notes while still holding its own as a Balvenie expression. I was very impressed with this whisky especially for its age. The 33yo sherry cask was an exceptionally interesting whisky with some real balance still holding up against the intense sherry influence. With an ABV of 48.6% the colour was like syrup and though marginal getting over the hill (in my view) as the older woody mothballs start peaking in over those leather chairs, the raisins and rich dark cherries were sublime against the still retained grape sugars. A bit of chew meant this delivered a long mouth finish.

Always good to see El Buntin in our midst, it was also great to see so many of the Sydney whisky community turn out and I am certain it was not for the whisky.

I am sure one day the UK will be posting James back to us but until then a big thanks for the invite and hats off to Daniel for opening up The Whisky Room (again) to the Sydney rabble.

The Baron

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Future Comes - Ardbeg Day 2015

Ardbeg Perpetuum - Image sourced
Ardbeg Day 2015 is coming and it looks like robots could be on the cards? Ok maybe not robots but prosthetic limbs judging by the promotions to date.

For those not an Ardbeg Committee Member, and I am guessing this is very few, you will know that the the coming Ardbeg Day sees a special expression release each and every year. This year it is the Ardbeg Perpetuum.

What does this release mean? Well at this point very little has been made available on what profile this whisky is to have. Previous years have seen a pretty blurred line in genuine stand out uniqueness to the general releases of Ardbeg. I have always seen it as a celebration of Ardbeg rather than a some rarity in bottling sort after for years to come. A whisky to enjoy on the day.

This Ardbeg Day event, scheduled for the 30th May 2015, is always something to attend and never to be missed (if you can help it). This day (traditionally free to attend) is for Ardbeg lovers the world over with events held in various cities the world over. There is always festivities. There is always fun. There is always Ardbeg whisky.  To find out when this event registrations are to happen and what cities, be sure to sign up as a Committee Member so you don't miss out. It costs you nothing to register and the emails are few and far between so no spam in your inbox.

If you want to discover what goes on at an Ardbeg Day read up on our previous posts: A Day Gone & A Day To Come - Ardbeg Day 2014; What A Day - Ardbog Day Sydney 2013.

Very much looking forward to this years event and what the future is to bring.

The Baron

This is a non-sponsord announcement. For any further details please defer to the Ardbeg website.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

What do you use? - A Quick View Of Whisky Glassware

Displaying a wide range of glassware all with a 30ml dram fill. Image courtesy of Dramnation.
So there is no do’s & don’ts when it comes to a whisky glass. Not really anyway but there are some rules to apply to help guide you through. In time as your appreciation balloons, so too you will discover what is right for you.

For myself over time I have collected a fair range of glasses for personal use and or collected as gifts from distillers. What I have always found is that I narrow back towards one particular glass. My personal favourite is the fluted stem glass otherwise know as a Copita. We shall get to why that is my personal favourite later on.

There are many glasses on the market that will reign confusion, but what you really need to consider is how you hold a glass, nose the contents, and take your whisky ie. neat, iced, watered or stoned. Following are primary considerations for glass choice:

1. Do you like to hold your whisky to the light to look at the colour and viscosity (the legs that form around the sides of the glass)? Eyeballing the glass contents is a beautiful experience and one most whisky appreciators do naturally.

2. You may also be refilling your glass many times in a sitting so keeping the glass clear of finger prints can be important also (return to item 1. eyeballing). Who likes a grubby glass filled with a 21yo you Glenfiddich?

3. When holding a glass heat will also transfer into the liquid from your warm fingers. Typically fine crystal and brandy balloons are specifically designed to do just that but not everyone likes warm whisky.

4. Neat, on the rocks, ice balls, icebergs, and whisky stones to name but a few, will also determine the durability, weight and mouth opening of a glass. It is embarrassing to pour a glass of whisky only to fined you can’t fit a whisky ball into the opening or the ice swarms up the edges and blocks the mouth at every sip. Wide mouths open the aromas and dissipate intense alcohol burn while a narrow mouth intensifies flavours and alcohol.

These factors, regardless if you care for them or not, will pull you choices one way or the other. When you start attending whisky tastings (if your not already), watch how often others offer extensive experience manage the glassware as it can make for interesting viewing and education.

The Ardbeg tulip copita, Glenmorangie stemmed copita, Riedel Whisky tumblerImage courtesy of Dramnation.
Nosing whisky is pretty obvious in what that means. Bringing the glass to the nose, take in the vaporous aromas lifting off the whisky, and indulge the senses. Alcohol is a big factor in delivering the level of these aromas. By concentrating these aromas you will bring all the scents and notes typically recognised by that whisky into your system. A glass with a tapered mouth will deliver a concentration of these notes, while an open wide mouth allows the those notes to dissipate if they are too intense. Typically you will see Scotch whisky in served in a tapered mouth while a Bourbon whiskey is delivered in an open mouthed glass (don't take that as gospel though as it is just an observation). To get even more geeky, and even if you do not realise it yet, most people will have one nostril more sensitive than the other. Using a tapered mouthed glass can make it much easier to shift the scents to the favoured nostril. Many distillers release their own style of glasses so take note of this as it is clear indication what the master distiller is intending your experience to be.

The Glencairn Whisky Glass, Riedel Cognac XO,  Riedel Single Malt Whisky ThistleImage courtesy of Dramnation.
How you take your whisky can relate to the volume pored, is there ice or whisky stones, will water be added, or is the whisky taken neat. Consider volume first and what your pour naturally is. A 30ml dram/pour is typical and is easily recognisable as it generally fills to the centre bulb of a 120ml copita glass. 30ml in a tumbler barely breaks the bottom of the glass so you naturally fill the glass more, especially when adding ice. Ice or whisky stones will lean whisky to be served in a tumbler as noted in item 4. A large piece of ice is preferable to many smaller pieces as it does not melt off as quick. This in turn means a wider mouth to the glass to fit the ice cube. Whisky stones, as great an idea as they seem, do weigh a lot. Adding them to a stemmed copita will create the top heavy effect and the floor will be wearing your precious liquid at the slightest knock.

Look towards the images displayed through out this article. Each glass holds exactly the same measure of 30ml liquid. This displays a visual consideration as some are full while others look almost empty. When you have a guest over and wish to pour them a precious dram of your much loved whisky, you certainly don’t want them feeling stiffed after being handed a near empty tumbler. Considering what you should use at these times also can have consequences.

Glass vs crystal? Honestly that is your preference. Glass is durable while crystal can either be thick and heavy or fine and very breakable. This really comes down to a personal choice. Chances of lead leaching is not a factor though urban myths fable that you will slowly poison yourself.

The Glenmorangie Tumbler, Classic 120ml Stemmed Copita, SMWS Society GlassImage courtesy of Dramnation.
Without getting into lectures about what glass is better I’ll describe just what my natural selection is for a whisky glass. My personal choice is a 120ml stemmed copita glass with a tapered mouth. This style delivers a full looking glass with a 30ml measure, concentrates the aromas, stops heat transfer and grubby marks, and displays the whisky in the best light. If the situation requires more stability or I am walking around at a garden party then a more stubby based copita such as a Glencairn Whisky Glass will work fine. As much as crystal feels nice I avoid its use because I just break them too often. Crystal gets expensive. Spot the branded Glenfiddich glass amongst the images as this is my ideal all rounder whisky glass. Overall I have a glass for almost every situation but the reality is 95% of the time I reach for just one. On a special occasion I go for the Riedel Cognac XO stemmed copita.

In time you will find what is right for you and I am sure you will also build up a nice collection of glassware to share around. Fill your shelf with six of your favourite style as this will often be enough combined with a few special occasion glasses to see you through a few drams with mates.

Matt Wooler - Dramnation

Note: This article was originally written by Matt Wooler for Dramnation and has appeared on Watch & Whisky.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Double Tasting – Muirhead’s Silver Seal

Muirhead's Silver Seal 12yo and 16yo
Have you heard of Muirhead's Whisky? Possibly not as it is just starting to enter into the Australian market. We had been lucky enough in recent past to have received samples to showcase at our recent club meeting.

There is not a lot to say about this whisky from a market point of view here in Australia. What I have been able to find is that Muirhead’s is not a distillery but in fact a brand and a bit of transient brand at that. After establishment back in the early 1800’s under the name Charles Muirhead and Sons the brand has seen a handful of owners. Muirhead’s currently falls under the flag of Tullibardine Highland Single Malt Distillery who purchased the brand in 2008. In turn saw Tullibardin purchased by French spirits company Picard Vins & Spiritueux in 2011. Does the spirit in Muirhead's actually come from Tullibardine Distillery I cannot say though we would have to assume some of it at least would have too now. Maybe?

Muirhead’s is being distributed in Australia through Kollaras Group, one of the largest privately owned liquor organisations nationwide. Though Muirhead’s has a wide range of both blended and single malt whiskies, at the time of receiving these samples it was in was indicated that we should see the Muirhead’s Silver Seal 12yo, Silver Seal 16yo, and Silver Seal Chassagne Montrachet Wood Finish. I had asked several times about distribution details and pricing but alas had nothing supplied.

Muirhead's Silver Seal 12yo
Silver Seal 12yo
Producer: Muirhead’s
Location/Region: Speyside, Scotland
Alcohol/ABV: 40%

Colour: Thatch yellow

Nose: Fruity, floral and spicy with a strong touch of acetone to furniture polish. Delivers a very old school whisky nose.

Taste: Sweet and soft at first across the lips, old wood and varnish begin to appear soon after. Fruit notes remain across the palate in the sense of spices dry tropical fruits.

Finish: Long and burning in the chest that eventually gets spiked but a spice return in the palate.

Overall I find the nose off putting as it does not relevant even after a couple of sips. This is certainly an old school style whisky from yesteryear and very reminiscent of whiskies my parents use to have in the cupboard. Out of 7 I would be delivering a 4.

Muirhead's Silver Seal 16yo
Silver Seal 16yo
Producer: Muirhead’s
Location/Region: Speyside, Scotland
Alcohol/ABV: 40%

Colour: Sunny orange

Nose: Very nutty with a medium floral scent and dry smokey leaves. Very different nose to the 12yo and much more appealing. After a dram this all quickly turns into a much more pleasant pistachio nuts and vanilla ice cream with only hints of acetone we saw in the 12yo.

Taste: Old woods that get very dry turning into the results of cigar tobacco. Soft, sweet and cushioning overall the dryness intensifies as the finish decays.

Finish: Long and warming in the chest with a light dry spice on the tongue that outlasts the finish.

Overall much more rounded and balanced but dull. This whisky does not niggle at the senses like the 12yo and I feel I could happily sit and watch a movie with a dram and not think too much about what is happening in each sip. Out of 7 I would give this a 5.

Looking at how these whiskies ran on the night of the D.T.W.C. tasting the 16yo came out a clear favourite of the two. Samples of the 12yo were tried and not returned too by most while 3/4 of the 16yo was drammed happily. Members that have an affinity for Speyside styles of whisky certainly were very much drawn to appreciate these whiskies. For me they are an older style whisky reminiscent of what we expected our grand parents to be drinking. A much more aggressive flavour profile that may not appeal to the audience far more used to NAS finishes. In saying that it appears Muirhead's has several finishes in the family so it will be great to see how they are someday.

Thanks to Kollaras for the samples. We will be sure to give more clear distortion details when they are provided.

The Baron

D.T.W.C. was supplied a sample for review. All views and opinions are our own unless otherwise stated. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Hoist The Main Sail - Talisker On The High Seas

A whisky sling, a captain's hat, and Talisker Skye
The 3rd March 2015 saw myself and fellow Dramfull members boarding a Talisker racing yacht to sail the high seas of Sydney Harbour with a chalice of maritime love slung from my neck. It is one of those moments you just sit back and think "heck this is going to be a jolly good spot of fun eh chaps!".  I will also make no apologies about the rash amount of sea faring phrases embedded into this little story you are about to endure.

The designated meeting place for festivities to begin was Pier 9, Darling Harbour where the Talisker vessel named Spirit was moored ready for boarding for a 4pm cast off. Spirit competed in the 1992 America’s Cup and is one of 2 boats currently sponsored by Talisker. Watching the yacht pull in and with the Cargo Bar but a stones throw away, many of us were early turn outs only naturally cask our lines in for a few sneaky schooners to swap nautical sea shanties prior.

At the dock fellow Sydney Dramfull members and myself were greeted by our host Sean Baxter, National Johnnie Walker & Classic Malts Ambassador. May I interrupt at this point to take my hat off to Sean's nautical attire. Though I aimed to at least have some tailoring to the occasion, Sean had all the class needed to say “I am boat, here me moor”. I think I may have beat him with the captain's hat but that was a really nice lapel pin he was displaying and that jacket with the knee length shorts was spot on for the occasion. Classy outfits aside we were not knowing exactly what to expect before casting off. On inspection Sean issued us all with (for lack of better words) a Dram Sling or as fellow D.T.W.C. member remarked Dram Chaps. This ingenious dram chalice holding device was very reminiscent of a big game fish harness of old. So with deck shoes tightened I crowned my obligatory captain’s hat and stepped aboard to be momentarily enveloped with nostalgic images of Ernest Hemingway setting out for a spot of hard fought marlin hooking. Truly though was that a ships bell I could hear echoing the cry of gulls in the distance? Were the skies darkening to a bracing wind whipping around my flapping trouser legs as the soles of my shoes crunch against the salted decking? Is that fog I see drifting though with a glimpse of a mermaid… yes a mermaid nested on that rocky outcrop? Aye let us rattle the shackles of these ominous signs and be away. We have whisky to swill. May the spirit of Talisker protect us all.

Aboard the Spirit
Taking to the water we motored out into the harbour before the salty Dramfull crew were required to assist in hoisting the main sail. Hard earned work delivers a hard earned thirst, so with a yearning for a dram Sean launched the official tasting of the day, the soon to be released Talisker Skye. Talisker have been wading into the realm of NAS for some time now so it is no surprise we now see a entry level Talisker NAS on Australian shores. On query it is projected the pricing for the Skye will be at the same or marginally below that of the classic Talisker 10yo and will make it into major retail chains. Quick to add Sean expected that this whisky may not be so appealing for the already embedded Talisker appreciator. From my own tasting notes and experience I concur this view as you discover reading on.

Sean Baxter, National Johnnie Walker & Classic Malts Ambassador
Talisker Skye had a colour of flame yellow which I thought to be considerably different to that of other Talkers I have partaken in. On the nose was a balance of sweet smoke, vegetive bog, salts and iodine. Even though Sean expressed his view of typical Talisker sulphurs I failed to sense it. The taste was an initial sweetness that quickly swung to dry woods and smokes with a high spice prickle in the fore of the palate that built to a unfortunate bitterness. Bypassing the aft palate altogether the finish was weak and veiled with the spice bitterness building continuously to a permeating level. No sooner had this bitterness almost become annoying than was to recede leaving a rather one dimensional watered down sensation towards the mid and fore palate. Noting this whisky is bottled at the typical Talisker 45.8% ABV the lack of complexity would certainly make you think it was bridging the 40% marker. The nose was certainly more excitable than the taste. After the chalice was drained, the spirit that remained cupped gave a scent of pleasant cold charcoal. The Skye certainly lacks the complexity and character the classic Talisker 10yo shoulders, though I can certainly see how this whisky can be used as a bridge into the maritime effect so many of use love. The Skye is a very quick drinking, safe whisky. I personally like to get gripped by a whisky and would prefer a slow mature expression over what the Skye delivers. May I even say that this is a Talisker displaying tides out characteristics against other family expressions and its target entry target market is clearly defined. I do believe though I need to return again to a sample of the Skye as the environment itself, with the sea air brushing past, compounded by a plastic chalice, may have had a clear effect on my taste experience.

Just some wee drams to see us through the storm
Following our Talisker Skye tasting, Sean steered us through some of more mainstream Talisker expressions match up to a banquet of plump fresh Sydney Rock Oysters. Whiskies on taste were: Talisker 10yo; Talisker Storm; Talisker Port Ruighe (pronounced Port Ree); Talisker 18yo (delivered from Sean’s personal stock). The maritime effect found in Talisker whiskies would make one assume seafood is a even match. For me I have found, like many flavours, if they a similar profile then they cancel each other out. Previous experience told me that Talisker is of no exception to this nullification rule but I am quite partial to a fresh oyster, so when these suckers came out I was not shy of a few. True to form I found  the oysters hidden behind the Talisker profiles until they were matched with the Port Ruighe. Certainly the subtle notes of port and smoke really do emphasised the oyster experience. I would be very interested to see Talisker matched more towards a Kilpatrick style oyster allowing the crisp bacon fats and salts to meander with the whisky and emphasis the more smokey notes. I have made a port style Kilpatric before to astounding success but never with a port finished maritime whisky… mmmmmmm I might just have to try this.

Unfortunately all great voyagers must pass and no sooner had we claimed our last whisky prize then "land ho!" was cried. Finding our legs once more we departed the Spirit having our Whisky Chaps safely secured back in Davy Jones' Locker. Bummer I was really hoping I could have kept that whisky sling.

Overall it was a fantastic experience and ever so grateful for the opportunity to attended. The idea of the adventurous whisky tasting is an excellent concept and something I have been hoping to see more of here in Sydney for a long time. It brings both a personal element, shared experience, and memorable moment to reminisce on while enjoying a dram of your favourite Talisker whisky. Kudos to Diageo and Sean. May I suggest a 5 day 5 whisky cruise through the Whitsundays as a step up? Ahoy!

The Baron

D.T.W.C. was invited as a guest this event. All views and opinions are our own unless otherwise stated.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

An epic night off - Ludo Ducrocq and William Grant & Sons

Upstairs at The Wild Rover, Surry Hills.
On the 10th February 2015, I was invited to share an evening with  Ludo Ducrocq - Global Ambassador / Head of Brand Ambassador Advocacy for William Grant & Sons. Also at the table to equally share in the experience was Andrew Derbidge (Whisky & Wisdom and SMWS), and our local William Grants & Sons crew, Mark Little, Laura Hay, and Richard Blanchard.

The first time I met Ludo was back in 2012. Ludo here in Australia for a series of Grants line releases into the country. This first meeting started with a well structured tasting of the Grants family range that then proceeded to the official launch of the Grants 12yo. From back then I was extremely impressed with Ludo's passion for Grants whisky that only emphasised a remarkable event with an amazing setup to make the mouth water. If you would like to read more about that event jump over to Grant's 12yo Sydney Launch & Grant's Masterclass after this article. Unfortunately if you have a soft spot for the Grants 12yo then you should certainly start stocking up on it now as Ludo mentioned it has ceased production due to stock issues.

A Joe Davola in the making.
The initial meet and greet was the top floor bar at The Wild Rover set over in steps of Sydney city Surry Hills. The Wild Rover entertains the Speakeasy notion of plain package frontage then a saloon style bar on entry. It is one of those bars where everyone turns for a gander as the door swings open while the bar staff are quick to welcome and ask for your poison. Though I am well out from the city, I have been to The Wild Rover many a time now and find I cannot pass the front bar without at least wording a cold beer or a cocktail. Considering my early arrival this visit was no exception. I promptly had to order a cold brew from the tap plus a cocktail on the side. The cocktail was a Joe Davola consisting of Redbreast 12yo, smoked maple syrup and black walnut bitters served over a micro iceberg. mmmmm mmmm hot damn it was good! For those more local be sure to check out or get involved in the monthly whisky tasting events at The Wild Rover, Campbell Corner Whisk(e)y Co-operative.

So Ludo and Laura strolled in and we proceed upstairs to start the conversation while we waited the arrival of the other guests. Not realising at the time how intimate things were to be, the entire top floor was to be ours and ours alone. I was greatly appreciative on discovery as it meant time for one on one discussions. Ludo was quick to basically say lets just have some fun as it was his night off from work. Pulling out of his bag were 4 very speacial vials of hand drawn whisky from various William Grant & Sons stocks. If Ludo’s sense of a night off is this, I am all over it and inspired to do the same!

This is what Ludo cals a night off from work.
On the table we saw: Grants Nordic Oak; Kininvie 1996; Girvin Single Grain 21yo; Lady Burn 1973 41yo. I took some brief notes as follows:

Grants Nordic Oak - A blended whisky at 40% ABV and around 3 to 5 years. It displayed peaches and peanuts with a classic oak spice finish. Really well layered for a youngster with a perfumed nose, high palate sweetness that balanced against dry oak spices. Some interesting smokey textures came out a little later also. It seemed the longer the conversations went on the more often I returned to explore the mouth feel over and over again. Unfortunately you won’t be getting this in Australia as it is only available in the Nordic domestic markets. As them name suggest it is finished in Nordic, handpicked oak.

Kininvie 1996 17yo Batch 1  - Rich on the nose it was all warm butterscotch and hot house flowers for me. Tasting delivered elements of sour cherries, fruit salad, and crusty pork knuckle fats. At 42.6% ABV the finish still ended up evening out with a extended dryness a bit like a subtle warm wind. I was getting hungry sipping this and kept thinking about what I was to eat later in the night. You will note Kininvie is the 3rd great distillery that makes up the William Grant & Sons Speyside trifecta. The Kininvie single malt is rarely seen as a single malt due its prime purpose of blending into the Grants Whisky expressions, and the more recent Monkey Shoulder triple malt.

Girvan Patent Still Single Grain 21yo - A nose of dried straw and floral vanilla. Again in the palate lots of dry straw and vanillas but not as intense as the nose. True to form, in my experience with Single Grains, is that the a grain softens over time tending towards an even flattening out. The layers of flavour is like a stack of wafer thin paper where you have to peal them back one by one to discover what is in between. Situated in South Ayrshire, Scotland, Grivan Distillery is recognised as the worlds second largest grain distillery.

Ladyburn 1973 #3174 (bottled 2009) - Possibly the most evoking of the 4 whiskies this lass drew a lot of talk and attention from the get go. As we bantered descriptors t was unanimous a nose of flat cherry cola was prevalent. Tasting a peppiness of creaming soda exploded then rounded out with red roses and subtle leathers. Andrew had the most apt of descriptors that could classify the entire whisky into a piece of Hubba Bubba chewing gum. Perfect. The Ladyburn distillery, originally forming an extension to the Girvan distillery, is long gone and ceased operation in 1975 before demolition in 1976. William Grant & Sons still retain some stocks but as you will note they are getting old.

Interesting facts that pop up in discussion was, as noted earlier, that the Grants 12yo is now passing due to stock issues. Also of topic was the conversation about that fact the Scottish law states that any whisky sporting the term Single Grain must in fact have 10% malted barley in the mix. The Malted Barely delivers the enzyme catalyst for gains to start fermentation. Without it additional enzymes must be added which which laws do not allow to happen.

Dinner over the Harbour and that Ladyburn
Later that evening we proceed for a continued dinner at Cafe Sydney where discussions quickly turned from whisky into anything other than that. Ludo spoke often of family and the importance it plays against his roll and travel in William Grant & Sons while Mark revealed his in obsessions with really small dumplings. Of course we carried on eventually ordering later than expected. For myself, with those whiskies still in memory, I had to team up a delicious cool Moreton Bay Bug in thought of the Ladyburn, then dashed it against the rocks with a fatty crusty pork belly just to satisfy the craving from the Kininvie. Last views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House (depending on which side of the table you sat) our final dram for the night as we a Glenfiddich 17yo (or was it the 18yo? I must get the checked). A fitting end to a fantastic night.

William Grant & Sons is not just a business but, for all intensive purposes, they are a world wide family. I have said it many times but it is important to reiterate they clearly recognise their audience as part of this extended family. It is certainly what I felt on this night more so than ever. Many thanks to everyone on the epic night off work and for such a generous opportunity.

It is important to realise that the people that make up this world of whisky are as human as you and I. These are the times real faces are put to the industry.

Tha Baron

Saturday, February 7, 2015

A Day Gone & A To Come - Ardbeg Day 2014

Remebering Ardbeg Day 2014
So Ardbeg Day is coming again and the date is set for the 30th May 2015. To make this years event even bigger it is also the distilleries 200 Year Anniversary so we can only expect something magical to be happening at this years event.

Registrations are not yet open but rest assured that you need to be in fast as space is limited for the free world wide event. For Sydney news either watch the D.T.W.C. website, our facebook page, and or The Barons's twitter account and we will keep you informed of when Australian registrations are open. Even better sign up as an Ardbeg Committee Member and get word direct from the source.

Ardbegs Day’s reason for being is to unite the Ardbeg community and Committee Members in one big universal celebration of all things Ardbeg. Ardbeg Day world wide coincides with the Fèis Ìle Islay Festival Of Malt & Music. Fèis Ìle, now in its fourteenth year, is a week long event held on the island of Islay, Scotland, where all the islands distilleries open their doors over consecutive
 days to the public. It is like one big distillery crawl. The seventh and last day of the festival is when Ardbeg Distillery opens their doors. In turn, around the world, one big party is held in most major cities. Coinciding with Ardbeg Day we will be sure to see a new limited release bottling of an Ardbeg to be tasted on the same day (but more about that later).

The Shortie Dogs
Traditionally Ardbeg Day is a free event here in Australia. As I understand it Ardbeg / Moet Hennessy channel just about all their promotional funds into having this one big bash instead of lot’s of mini events through out the year. For a country of our population size this makes a lot of sense to me.

As with previous years various D.T.W.C members have attended this free event and we report on a lot of whisky things happening in the local dramming scene but so does everyone else these days. The community is thriving and I love it but it does deliver a bit of clutter. Instead of reporting on festivities after Ardbeg Day 2014 I thought to keep this review back as a bit of a teaser of what to expect in the coming event this year.

It is safe to say no Ardbeg Day is without a theme and last years was no different. It was the World Cup in 2014 so aptly Ardbeg Day was themed to the tune of Peat Football - the Ardbeggian take on the football World Cup. Held in the centre of Sydney city at The Mint, one of New South Wales Historic Houses and Living Museums, Osheen from Watch & Whisky and myself arrived early. Dressed in our most dapper jackets and peat pitch colours we were prepped for soiling. Soon to join us at the gate was El Capitan displaying slight jitters at the concept of a continuous supply of Ardbeg. Though the gates we peered in but nothing was to be seen though the sound of yapping dogs was not unchecked to our ears. As the crowd built many familiar faces nodded in acknowledgement though it was clear we were al itching to be in and at it.

Cocktails, Spit Pig, Foosball Pitch, and Watch & Whisky
As the gates swung open we entered the gardens of The Mint before our usher promptly directed us to the left and around the main historic sandstone building. It was soon very clear where the source of the dogs chatter was coming from. Before us and restrained by Ardbeg green leashes was a pack of Shortie Dogs aka Jack Russell’s, the mascots to the Ardbeg Brand. Though briefly encountered they were certainly one of the many memorable and unexpected moments of the day. I need a real one now.

Winning at shuffle the ball around blow up bottles of Ardbeg
Rounding the corner we entered the Peat Pitch filled with the typical fund games and activities we see at an Ardbeg Day. With cocktails in hand and a roasting spit pig to our right we claimed a table and rendezvoused with Mr and Mrs Gourmantic, Time For Whisky, and the Whisky Ledger to get our game plan together. Cocktails? check. Whisky? check. Gotta get me one of this Ardbeg Bags? check. Live band? check. Better take some photos? check. Uuummmmm there is a human size blow up fossball pitch over there… this is going to be fun.

The foosball team warming up, the band, the oysters
Time passed, we sampled our fine peated whiskies, and formalities played in. 2 teams entered the foosball pitch to play out a game of Peat Football. Lording from the balcony and commentating the match was the former Socceroo’s player Mark Bosnich (I had to be told who he was... sorry). Team skills could only be matched by those fitting of anyone that lacked an ability to kick a dead eye at the goal. We cheered, we laughed, we drank, and then Mrs Gourmantic and myself were completely smashed by a highball out over the field wall and straight into our well filled glasses. It was the cocktails too! Shattered glass and dripping from head to toe in red stuff little compassion from the crowd we delivered. I was not even delivered a comforting dram for the effort of taking one for the team. Bummed man that was my beverage.

With the game ending it was in shear delight the presentation of the official Ardbeg Day limited edition bottling fruited: Ardbeg Auriverdes. Garth Foster, local Brand Ambassador for Ardbeg and Glenmorangie, paraded a gold bottle of the Ardbeg Auriverdes (about the size of a 5 year old child) through the crowd pouring drams by the fist full to any willing to accept the liquid love. We had the privilege of trying the Auriverdes a few weeks prior to the release. To find out more about our thoughts check out the post: Pimped and loving it - Ardbeg Auriverdes Limited Release.

Human Foosball
As the crowd thinned and the Ardbeg souveniring began we thought where is everyone going? It seemed only the hard core Ardbegians were to remain and there was no stopping us building a team, then climbing into the foosball pitch for what looked like an easy win. Oh my were we all wrong. Heart thumping and Ardbeg pumping in our blood it was heart attack central. Who’s idea was this anyway? Watch & Whisky proceeded to take a few cracks at my heels (this guy) before our team thinned to the few players not yet going into cardiac arrest. You don't play human foosball when drinking whisky! It is safe to say we were all winners and we were all losers that afternoon.

Cannot stop for too long there is more Ardbeg things to do
As they day came to a close we limped or shuffled off to the local Ardbeg Embassy for one more dram, a meal (like all those oysters and roast pork was not enough), and a cold beer. It was a great day and plans were already in place for the coming year of 2015.

The final shots before Human Foosball killed us all
How do you get involved in the Ardbeg Day event? To get notifications you need to be signed up as a Ardbeg Committee Member. Committee membership is free with many perks to be had, notably Ardbeg Day access. For a break down of the welcome pack when becoming a Ardbeg Commitiee Member check it our this previous post: Ardbeg Abides – Becoming "The Ardbeg Committee" Member. These tickets go in a matter of days and even though the event is open to all, it will be you the Committee Member that gets the notification first.

We are really looking forward to what is to come for the 200 Year Anniversary of Ardbeg Distillery. It can only be a cracker! Hope to see you at Ardbeg Day 2015 and be sure to register.

Tha Baron.

This is a non-sponsord announcement. For any further details please defer to the Ardbeg website.

Monday, February 2, 2015

A truly is an excellent dram - Hellyers Road Pinot Noir Finish

Hellyers Road Pinot Noir Finish
As we get started let us be frank about habits we develop in our whisky adventures. I can assume you, I, and anyone to come is or will be guilty of writing off distilleries based on previous negative experiences. I know I have done it before in the past, though these days I make a point to return to those whiskies come distilleries to give them another go. Things change, distilleries develop new techniques, Head Distillers change guard, and so on. Hellyers Road is one of those distilleries I have returned to time and time again with a continued level of distraction at best. That is until late last year when I dug in and purchased  a bottle of the Hellyers Road Pinot Noir Finish. Give it another go I told myself. Give it a go did I what!

I have heard many things in the past about this expression, especially with the swag of awards it has slowly accumulated, notably the title of 'Best New World Whisky' in blind tastings held at Whisky Live Paris. It had been a few years since seeing Hellyers Road represented at any of the large whisky events in Sydney, so slowly it had pushed it to the back of my mind. The fool I am I for letting it happen.

A subsidiary of Betta Milk Co-operative Ltd., Hellyers Road is located in Burnie at the northern end of Tasmania. I am yet to visit Hellyers Road Distillery but I am looking forward to getting there this year with a return to Tassie. Too far north to be included in the Tasmania Whisky Tours at this time visitors can either walk in or book a tour directly through the distilleries website.

Unlike many of the other Australian Distilleries you can in fact buy Hellyers Road Pinot Noir Finish though the retail chains like Dan Murphy’s for a genuine bargain price of $74 AU a bottle. One of the few Aussie whiskies hitting the mark for general consumer pricing. Sporting the easily recognisable illustrated label, this whisky is packaged in a tall bottle with screw cap seal typical of Hellyers Road expressions. The tall bottle style is often seen used for Australian dessert wines so don’t be fooled into thinking it is simply misplaced on store shelves.

As the name suggests this is a is NAS (No Age Statement) Single Malt whisky built from the stocks of the Hellyers Road Original, then finished (officially for an undisclosed time) in Pinot Noir Wine Casks  sourced from a Tasmania winery (also officially undisclosed).

Hellyers Road Single Malt Pinot Noir Finish
Distiller: Hellyers Road
Location/Region: Tasmania
Alchohol / ABV: 46.2%
Finish: Tasmanian Pinot Noir Wine Casks

Colour: Sunrise flare.

Nose: A tantalising mix of creamy honey cereals, malt biscuits, rich oaks, and orange tea cake. I love nosing this whisky and will sit on a glass for a good 10min before tasting. After a dram I do find the nose takes on a green tomato vine prickle in the background.

Taste: Malt biscuits again a prevalent, caramelised edges of the orange tea cake, citrus zest, and rich spice. Very light in the mouth yet builds a kaleidoscope of delicious flavours.

Finish: Long and zesty with a invigorating spice flare.

Overall I found this whisky exceptionally enjoyable. Each night I looked forward to another night cap from the bottle knowing full well I have another put away for a raining day. Excellent value for money you cannot go wrong for an introduction into Australian whiskies at an affordable price. All these awards it has been winning are completely founded in my opinion. If I was to give a dram then a clear 6 out of 7 on our technical scale.

Not forgetting the reasoning discussed earlier of my initial ignorance of this dram, I did taste the Hellyers Road Original against the Pinot Noir Finish. I still don’t give The Original much chop in comparison and it is very much as I remember it. Clearly this whisky really responds to a finish influence and I hope we see more experiments like this in the future.

It truly is an excellent dram.

The Baron

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Closing 2014 - The Shirt Bar Frat Party

Shirt Bar end of year Frat Party 2014 - Adam & Louka
What is going on in Sydney with the whisky scene is truly epic and it is without question a golden era for the scene as a whole. Will it last who knows but right now lap it up. So what a day the 19th Dec was to be for us as we transitioned from one Christmas party to the next. Reluctantly leaving The Wild Rover Smoky Christmas in the southern steps of the Sydney (reluctantly because there was a lot of whisky), the Whisky Ledger and myself were committed to traveling onwards into the northern tip of city to attend the all time classic Shirt Bar end of year Frat Party.

For those regular readers, including D.T.W.C. members, you will note the Shirt Bar is all to often frequented by a few of us for whisky tastings. OK maybe also picking up the odd pocket square or lapel pin in a passing fancy. I like The Shirt Bar. I like it a lot. Ok so the whisky shelves are not weighted like some of the other bars but the choice is ripe, the beer is fresh and well priced, the shirts are smooth, the staff are fun, the digs is happening, and those cold cuts… oh my those cold cuts! If you have not attended even one Scotch Club Tasting Sessions (it is not always Scotch mid you) at the Shirt Bar it is about time you did.

YWatch & Whisky was on one side of the line and we, Whisky Ledger and myself, on the other. Any crossing was sorely frown on before ejection back into the street. No beer, a bag full of camera equipment, spitting rain, and memories of a party full of Laphroaig whisky we just vacated. It was not all that bad as a rocking band had setup right next to us and began to belt out some pretty sweet tunes. That line though. That infamous virtual line we could not cross while watching those brews being pulled by Adam. I will remember.
That virtual line we could not cross
es we could hear the party well before we arrived. Rounding the corner we were expecting a little delay as we had already had word the event was oversubscribed. To greet us at the virtual line was a bouncer who refused to show his face to the camera every time I whipped it around but still somehow had eyes in the back of his head.

Soon enough we were in and then things started to lock into place. Adam Hofbauer was dressed as a human keg and tapping Fat Yak into those obligatory red plastic cups we see on American TV shows, while Louka dished out free pizza as the staff near collapsing under the pressure of festive insanity.

The Shirt Bar as it was 30 sec after entry while Adam looks like he could do this all day long.
Decked out in stereotypical American paraphernalia the Shirt Bar was still open for business somehow! When else can you shop for a shirt or button hole pin and be server beer and pizza at the same time? Where tell me, where!

Slipping in and out of the store as the rain washed through, we sipped brews, and watched very poorly executed games of pingpong until Whisky Ledger did a Cuban cigar run. Yes he knew somewhere that could deliver on a night like this. Of note Watch & Whisky failed in a previous attempt but a quest is a quest and Whisky Ledger was determined. High fives all round. The whisky of choice was a Woodford Reserve Distillers Select matched to either the more subtle 1875 Romeo y Julieta or heavier Montecristo Yellow. The wind was blowing, the cigars were spluttering, Watch & Whisky was fretting about both, but the whisky was sweet, and the band played on.

Live band, cigars, and whisky
As the night rang to a close and the bar refused further orders we stepped back past that virtual line the bouncer had given up on hours before. It was a good night, it was a great night, so we thank the Shirt Bar for another fabulous event. Knowing the night was going to be wet I came prepared with a hip flask filled with the sweet fluid of Glenlivet 18yo. mmmmmm that ‘livet made the walk to the public transport well worth it.

Cheers Shirt Bar and see you again soon for another Scotch Club Tasting Session.

The Baron