Sunday, February 7, 2016

Ardbeg Day 2016 Announced

Save the date for Ardbeg Day 2016
Ardbeg Day 2016 has been announced for Saturday, May 28th. This is a day not to be missed. Ardbeg Committee members from around the world will converge on selected location in capital cities to celebrate all things Ardbeg.

If you are a committee member watch your email for the eventual notification to register. Spaces are always limited at these events so be quick and be the first. Each event is themed and never the same as previous. Also included is a special committee release whisky in celebration of the day.

For non-committees members it is easy to simply jump over to the Ardbeg Website and register.

Are you an Ardbeg Committee Member yet?

The Baron

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

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Suntory Whisky have announced the release of the infamous Yamazaki Sherry Cask into the Australian market. This is the whisky form the family line that is seen as turbo boosting the Japanese whisky fever through late 2014 into 2015 when Jim Murray awarded the 2013 release World Whisky Of The Year (according to him of course). At that point Japanese whisky was already getting a lot of interest but not so much as once the media took hold of this announcement. Effectively it killed general access to most Suntory stocks which is a real pity in my books but it is what happens in all markets.

Unfortunately that release in 2013 was a limited run and in fact it did not see world release let alone release even in Japan. Specific targets were Europe only at that time. None-the-less Japanese Whisky fever hit hard and people were just buying whatever. I saw it first hand January 2015 in Narita airport. It was insane to say the least.

Now a new 2016 version has been released into Australia and priced at $450 AU. You will be guaranteed for a short time this releases price will rise almost immediately. If you are a collector aiming to resell this is a good thing but it should not be anything like the 2013 release pricing now sees.

Official reports from Suntory state this release is a blend of over 100 sherry cask aged Yamazaki Malts. Suntory select their own casks, char to a specified level, to then be filled with Spanish Oloroso for 3 years. After this initial seasoning period the casks are filled with Yamazaki malt for continued maturation. Details are sketching in regards to if it is already aged Yamazaki malt or new make spirit. My guess is probably both.

Following is the official details of the whisky. I have not tasted it so I cannot confirm or deny their suggested descriptors.

YAMAZAKI Sherry Cask 2016
Single malt whisky
Price: AU $450
ABV: 48% 96 proof

Tasting Notes:
Deep richness, mellowness and complexity of flavors.
Color: dark brown
Nose: raisin, sun-dried tomato, clove, cocoa
Taste: deep, rich, sweet and sour, chocolate with hazelnuts
Finish: long, bittersweet, sour

Suntory have been using and making sherried whiskies since almost the beginning of the distillery. Blends of both the Yamazaki and Hakushu whiskies in all their various facets go into making the equally famous Hibiki blends. On speaking with Mike Miyamoto during his various lists to Australia, he certainly said that some of the Yamazaki sherry casks do go into the Hibiki blends, or at least traditionally into the age statement blends.

Available at specialist Australian retailers as of Feb 2016 so if you are keen on a purchase get in now. Personally it would be great to taste as I am a big Suntory appreciator but we cannot have all things in life.

The Baron

Information quoted in this post has been provided to us as an official media release by Icon International on behalf of Beam Suntory.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Keeps Getting Better - Kilchoman Machir Bay 2014

Kilchoman Machir Bay
Only a few days ago we reviewed the Kilchoman Original Cask Strength by Kilchoman Distillery on Islay, Scotland. There is no denying it was a cracker dram but it would only be fare to follow that review up with the distilleries flagship expression Machir Bay.

Kilchoman is currently still the youngest of the Islay distilleries. With a new distillery comes new approaches and one of Kilchoman’s marketing directives has always been paddock to bottle where ever possible. Supporting the local farmers in growing Islay strains of barley means a boost to the islands economy but also the development of the island whisky terroir. Though we are not reviewing it here the 100% Islay release by Kilchoman is as the name suggest 100% made in ideally at every step. That is growing, malting, fermenting, distilling, ageing, and bottling.

The Machir Bay Single Malt was originally launched back in 2012. It carries a no age statement though indications from the distillery is that the whiskies it is built from are 5 to 6 years old. Kilchoman do not put an emphasis on age statements but opt for vintage or named expressions. Since 2012 I have seen a steady progress in flavour as the product rounds out. really it has just been getting better and better. Matured in both sherry and bourbon casks this whisky also supports a medium eating level of 20ppm to 25ppm. My original assumption was that Machir Bay would not remain the constant as it felt overly young and fruity on the first release. Now I question my logic of that assumption. Not only due to arm chair ignorance on my part but also once someone says “this is our core expression”, we naturally assume it will never change. It has changed (at least to my perceptive point of view) and it is progressing at an appreciative level.

Before reviewing I want to just bring some attention to presentation. Just look at the bottles Kilchoman are utilising. Classy, strong, bold, including an embossed badge for that regal element. The cork is wood capped and solid while the bottle shape squats the carter pf gravity lower giving a better chance of rebounding from a knock. I have always loved these bottles Kilchoman well before I began to appreciated the whisky. Not to stop there though as Kilchoman deliver just as much attention in the structural solid packing of the cardboard cartons. Full colour printing, embossing and foiling make presentation distinguished in the shelf.

Kilchoman Machir Bay, Single Malt
Distiller: Kilchoman Distillery
Region: Islay, Scotland
ABV: 46%
Wood: Ex-Bourbon & Ex-Oloroso Sherry Butts
PPM: 20 - 25
Vintage: 2014

Nose: Smoky fresh tropical fruits, with typical Kilchoman pineapple & ash.

Taste: Vibrant with large vanillas, fruit tending to caramelised pineapple. There is the obvious peat smoke nip but it is not to intense balancing against those fresher pineapple notes.

Finish: Long & lingering with sweet fruits and an intense pineapple sweetness.

Overall you will note I have spoken about pineapple in every aspect. This is certainly a signature characteristic that originally was extremely underpinned in the early days now tending towards caramelised wood fired pineapple. This has become a solid dram embodying the excitability of young peated whiskies. The ABV is not too low as a nice sticky oil is still retained in the liquid. If I was to give a dram 5.75 out of 7. The price does get hard to justify but the quality is obviously refined.

We are lucky enough to also be seeing Machir Bay enter the retail chain Dan Murphy’s which gives far wider access to the Aussie market. This has only come about I believe in 2015. Pricing is high at $109AU a bottle and it will be hard slog to get it over the line when so many other distilleries are pushing quality whiskies at below the $90AU mark. This price comes down to production and Kilchoman don’t make tremendous amounts of whisky. If you want to keep a look out for some of the more rare releases like the Original Cask Strength, Single Cask, Port or Madeira matured releases then check your local specialist like Oak Barrel or World Of Whisky here in Sydney.

The Baron

South Island 21 Years Old

South Island 21 Years Old
When it comes to New Zealand whisky distilleries they are few and far between (at this time). If the explosion of micro distilleries in Australia and the world is anything to go by then in short order New Zealand will be smashing out distilleries all too soon. Right now there is a handful of distilleries either producing small batch whisky or intending to produce whisky but I believe no dedicated distillery just making whisky. I would love to get my hands on some other spirit coming out of NZ but, for now here in Australia we are generally limited to what has been released by The New Zealand Whisky Company. At this point we might just compress New Zealand Whisky Company to NZWC from here on end as is a bit long to keep repeating.

NZWC don’t produce whisky through distillation or at least now yet. Initially a collective of investors led by Greg Ramsa purchased a sum of 443 mothballed casks of whisky produced at the closed Willowbank Distillery in Dunedin. Willowbank was purchased by Seagrams and in 1997 the distillery was closed with the stills and most of the spirit auctioned off. These few mothballed barrels existing were relocated and stored in Oamaru. Taking these barrels NZWC moved to get the ageing stock onto the markets as quick as possible repackaging as The New Zealand Whisky Collection. We saw a few of these whiskies hit the Dan Murphy’s shelves back in 2010 and to be quite frank I, as have several club members, have been scared ever since. No really the whiskies we tasted were outright paint stripper. They burnt, they were musty, and they felt wrong and there was little to gauge in anticipation of what the other casks were to give. I would like to give more details specifically on what products they were but, chances are they are no longer on offer and, if I got the name wrong now by matching it to something still being sold I would damage what may well be a great product currently on the shelf. I did write to the distillery several times to gain more insight and to give my feedback as I was receiving a lot of media from them directly at the time but alas they never ever responded.

Yes, even after those scarring experiences, I am happy to say things have changed for the better. Yes NZWC has been winning awards but I care very little for what value these awards give. I want to try these whiskies and know for myself where it sits.

In mid 2014 I was at the Lark Cellar Door bar. My guide for the day encouraged me try The South Island 21 Years Old Single Malt by NZWC after some discussions about past experiences. With trepidation I asked may I nose the whisky before I purchased a dram. To my surprise it was warm, rounded, with notes of cereal and butter. Wow what had changed? What was going on to display this as something so different. My advisor had made a few comments about NZWC getting some help in refining and blending casks better, how to pick them and when to release. Can I validate this? No. Regardless it was a spotlight bulb moment. This was really good!

South Island 21yo Single Malt
Distillery: Willowbank (deceased)
Distilled: Dunedin, New Zealand
Matured: Oamaru, New Zealand
Released by: The New Zealand Whisky Company
ABV: 40%
Wood: Ex-Bourbon American Oak

Colour: Drying wheat (The colour is goes where there is just a little green in the stalk)

Nose: Rich buttery malt biscuits, gentle light smoke, caramelised cereals, brown sugar, with delicate grassy textures with some cardboard boxes.

Taste: Malt biscuits, cereals, fruity and nutty, classic light aged american oak vanillas, marginal metallic banding and a slight dryness.

Finish: Medium dry with mellow stored furniture. Spices begin to tickle the front of the tongue shortly after.

Overall a great dram and a solid representation of what Willowbank was, could have been, but never will be thanks to the destructive winds of business. If I was to give a dram then a nice 5.5 out of 7 is deserved. At $99.99AU this was a good buy but I fear it may not be seen again as stocks of course are horribly limited. I wager any Scottish Speyside released at this quality and age would be hitting the $250Au mark easy if if you are keen for a dram then be on the mark now to get it.

It would be wrong to class this as a definitive example of New Zealand whisky but it is certainly a snapshot of a era past that could have continuing to this day had fortunes past differently. Well done New Zealand Whisky Company and thanks for redeeming my expectations against those earlier experiences.

The Baron

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Old Uncle Bow - Bowmore 12 Years Old

Bowmore 12 Years Old
Bowmore Distillery is a bit a legend in the stakes of Islay whiskies and I think sometimes overlooked by our club at tastings. Why? Possibly this because it is a whisky that remains constant in quality and style. Bowmore assumes the soft smoke breeze tainted with salted barnacles that is then layered with sweet malt to sherry textures. These nuances make Bowmore one of the lighter flavoured peated whiskies when compared to the bold assertiveness of something like an Ardbeg. Bowmore could be seen as the comfortable uncle always at the party, well dressed in a black pin stripe vest, a glass always half full in hand, never upsetting a sole. This is not a bad thing and in fact is one of the reasons I have always loved Bowmore. It is also worth noting through the mid 2000’s there was a point some may recall where Bowmore displayed a musty edge. Why I don’t know but it is certainly something of the past and has been rectified now. These days it is not often, if ever, you hear anyone saying a bad thing about Old Uncle Bow (Bowmore) which maybe also explains why our club does not indulge in its refinement enough.

So here I am examining the finer points of the Bowmore 12 years Old Single Malt. This whisky is the flagship expression by this legendary distillery. It sees a maturation in both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry oloroso casks for a minimum of 12 years while being peated on the lighter side at around 20ppm to 25ppm. Bottled at 40% ABV it is a little stretched and I would love to see it sitting into the mid 40’s at leasts. I have had the pleasure of several amazing SMWS single casks at cask strength and I know for a fact Bowmore can do with a bit more weight on the ABV. Bowmore is amazing at cask strength. Dashing ABV aside Bowmore gentle peat layering allows for wood textures to clearly appear that gives this whisky a historical whisky style.

Bowmore 12 Years Old, Single Malt
Distiller: Bowmore Distillery
Region: Islay, Scotland
ABV: 40%
Wood: Ex-Bourbon & Ex-Oloroso Sherry Casks
PPM: 20 - 25

Nose: Maritime breeze filled with beach smoke & salt air, boxed new leather shoes, mildly boggy with a citrus tang.

Taste: Sweet & salty seafood soup, warm toasted woods, honey, citrus zest, spicy tannins (earthy) and lanolin cream with wafts of smoke.

Finish: Easy & long with a lingering warmth. Develops an emerging prickle in the gums and a metallic belt on the tongue. Waves of salt continue to batter the palate long after the dram is done.

Overall this whisky displays an appreciable roundness. Not too strong, not too stiff, not too floral, and certainly not too peaty. If I was to give dram then it would be 5.5 out of 7. At $86.99AU a bottle it makes for pretty good value. The metallic elements certainly make me think bourbon casks have a higher influence over the oloroso sherry but I am appreciative of not letting things get too sherried all the time.

May may recall for a long time seeing the no age statement Bowmore Legend on the shelves. Though the  Legend is still purchasable at some retailers at below $50 I am happy this whisky has left Aussie shores to give the Bowmore 12 Years Old more time in the sun. We have seen the Bowmore Small Batch Bourbon Matured whisky at several of our tasting but this also is now being removed form the Australian market. I must emphasis that I also had a taste of the newer Bowmore Darkest 15 Years Old and it is a smashing dram.

It is now getting towards the end of Dramcember but I am not done yet and anticipate at least1 or 2 more posts to ring in the new year.

The Baron.

Packing Real Punch - Kilchoman Original Cask Strength

Kilchoman Original Cask 
Determined to ensure I have fulfilled my Dramcember obligations here is another short post on a whisky that will make you tuck into Islay’s youngest distillery. That is of course unless you already have tasted the fruits of their 10 years of labour.

Kilchoman Distillery is not an unfamiliar brand as far as our club is concerned. We have followed progress over the last few years ever since they started heading out to Australia  promoting their new product. Our original encounter was back in 2010 followed by, 2012, 2014, and then 2015. We as a club have had mixed reviews on this distilleries efforts. These reviews are a testament not only to our inexperience in dealing with younger whiskies, something that is now much more refined, but also a distillery finding its feet in positioning, marketing and of course product. I can recollect even back the first time I met founder Anthony (to really paraphrase now from early notes) he spoke about how they knew it was a good spirit but where it was to go in the next few years would be interesting. Earlier this year I had the privilege of attending another Kilchoman masterclass but this time with Peter Willis, son to the founder Anthony Wills. Not only has Peter brought a much more energetic and vibrant touch to the marketing but, in the whisky I have detected in all certainty a extremely mature development in where Kilchoman now stand and I love it.

There are some fantastic releases now on the table from Kilchoman and for me most notably it is the Kilchoman Original Cask Strength. According to Peter this is the whisky his father, Anthony, wanted to make but until recent times the distillery could not spare the spirit. Cask strength always puts a heavy strain on a distillery as it means less bottles sold. The upside is that the whisky is being released straight from the cask which is as pure as it is going to get. Distilled in 2009 and bottled in 2014 what we are tasting here is the first release of great things to come.

Kilchoman Original Cask Strength Single Malt
Distillery: Kilchoman Distillery
Location / Region: Islay, Scotland
ABV: 59.2%
PPM: 50ppm
Batch Release: distilled 2009, bottled 2014
Wood: Ex-Bourbon American Oak

Nose: Explosive citrus fruits, vibrant rich young peat with caramelised pineapple bubbling on an outdoor charcoal fire on a cold night. Gets a little wet doggy after a sip or two that just adds to the complexity. and where would Islay whisky be without that element of wet dog and bog marsh.

Taste: Oily thick cereal malt mouthfeel that continues to display ashy pineapple fruits and honey textures.

Finish: Bracing & lengthy delivering malt & ash that lingers before spice tingles drying to sweet fruits. A bit of bees wax and honey develop in the mouth. This will linger in the mouth a good half hour after tasting.

Overall extremely excitable and doubly complex packing real punch. These are not subtle complexities either as there is a true assault on the senses. I find it very moorish and makes me wanting for more. If I was to give a dram a true 6.25 out of 7. The cask strength on the nose is subdued by the youth but the flavour is just as explosive as expected.

This release is extremely limited but certainly something to make a point to try when you can. Other Kilchomans to experience now is the more rounded signature whisky Machir Bay, the 100% ex-sherry matured Loch Gorm, and the new 100% Islay releases using barley grown and malted on Islay.

Happy Dramcember from The Baron

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Spicy, Thick & Oily - Amrut Peated Single Malt

Amrut Peated Single Malt Cask Strength
Amrut is by far the most well know of the whisky brands coming out of India. It is not the only one but certainly the most well know here in Australia at this time.  This post also announces my first Dramcember post for 2015 as I have been totally slack this year.

Initially our clubs attention was drawn to this brand back in 2010 when Jim Murray's Whisky Bible nominated the Fusion Single Malt, Liquid Gold and 3rd Finest Whisky In The World, while the independent Malt Maniacs were dishing out awards for such an impressive performance. Around this time at the Whisky Live Sydney we had opportunities to taste the Amrut Fusion and it can be agreed it was not impressive in any way leading to a lot of criticism about what all the huff was about. The fact is what has been coming into Australia, and I am sure many will agree, that Amrut for some time has been a  bit of a hit and miss affair in maintaining quality. Luckily now I  am happy to say I have seen consistency for a couple of years with some cracker drams being released.

A few basics to consider when appreciating this New World Distillery from India. Amrut is an equatorial distillery. This means big juicy flavours combined with fast maturation. Tropical environments deliver monsoonal weather patterns as the year swings from humid to dry constantly. These climates influence heavy expansion and contraction of casks. Too much breathing will eventually create a very tannic over oaked spirit. This equatorial effect determines an average age of Amrut whiskies to be around 4 to 5 years. In short Amrut is designed to be young. Accept this and you will be happy to love what the distillery is giving.

Amrut do a range of whiskies from the now famous Fusion Single Malt which is a combination of both Indian and Scottish malted barley, peated whiskies to sherry finishes like the explosive Portnova and various cask strengths. For me Amrut excels at cask strength but you will find most Amruts are sitting towards the 50% ABV mark.

Amrut Peated Indian Single Malt, Cask Strength
Distiller: Amrut Distilleries
Location / Region: Bangalore, India
ABV: 62.8%
Wood: New American Oak & Ex-Bourbon Barrels

Nose: Thick with rich dark spicy raisins, floral and buttery with notable smoked oysters accompanied by a glass of Dr Pepper cola on the side.

Taste: Large thick oily malt characteristics, ripe fruit with wafts of smoke and dry wood

Finish: A smoky cole oven stokes the chest while the spice lingers on the lips and tongue topped with a teaspoon of brown sugar. Not so much ash but gritty coal dust mingles with the sweetness. Where many whiskies highlight the taste, this whisky displays a finish to savour. This whisky has a booty finish no doubt.

Overall the experience is thick and oily, intense and sweet, sugar and spice all wrapped together. Not a whisky to be just consumed on a whim but rather to be appreciated and respected for what it will deliver. a dram at a time There are assertive notes all over the place yet I am happy to say balanced. A excitable dram which I would be happy to give a good 6 out of 7. At around $140AU a bottle this is very good value as are most of the Amrut expressions.

If you are interested in another accessible quality Indian whisky be fire to look up Paul John Indian Single Malt Whisky as it becomes more available in Australia.

The Baron

Monday, November 16, 2015

Then And Now - Glenfiddich Original

Glenfiddich Original
It is a curious thing to see new but old expressions coming out form distilleries over the last few years. It can be a great way to get look in at the evolution of whisky brands and William Grant & Sons have done just that. June 3, 2015 saw the launch of the limited release Glenfiddich Original at the Lord Dudley Hotel, Sydney. We were lucky enough to attend with the launch and some club members returning for sit down master classes with the Glenfiddich Brand Ambassadors Laura Hay and Richard Blanchard.

The Glenfiddich Original is a throw back to how the brand was marketed and delivered outside of Scotland in the 1960’s primarily into the USA. This new release celebrates what launched the brand globally.

As a no age statement whisky there are reports from William Grant & Sons that the original release in the 1960’s was around the 8 year old mark. Does that mean William Grant & Sons has followed a similar path in blending stocks? Who knows but I don’t think that age matters in this case as Malt Master Brian Kinsman was aiming for a similar profile replication and not carbon copy facsimile.

William Grant & Sons launched The Original in June 2015 at The Lord Dudley Hotel. During this 4 day launch attendees could take a free masterclass and tasting of the core Glenffidich range as well as experiencing The Original in context. There is no more of a perfect way to take a retrospective look at where the whisky came from without tasting where the whisky is now.

The Glenfiddich Original new but old packaging
Glenfiddich Original
Distiller: Glenfiddich
Region: Speyside
Release: Limited but abundant

Nose: Typical vanilla oaks and fresh green pears. A much lower abundance of spice and florals you may be expecting in a Glenfiddich and a more malt cereal nose.

Taste: Again the pears appear as do apples and citrus but much lower in the spice profile the 12yo displays. Soft cereal malts and sweet honey in the background.

Finish: Semi extended and a clear nutty dryness

Overall this is a typical Glenfiddich but it displays as much unique character as every other family member should. It is neither extreme not exactly like any of the others. Naturally this is not going to rock you boat and give you a blast of something totally out of the ordinary but then why should it. If this is a representation of where Glenfiddich started their marketing as a single malt then it was a bloody good beginning. Naturally if you are a Glenfiddich fan then this is certainly something that should be tasted. It is cool to know the origins of what now marks one of the worlds biggest selling malts, the Glenfiddich 12yo and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Thanks to William Grant & Sons for the invite to yet another stand out event. If you would like to see more shots of the event then duck over to our facebook album.

The Baron

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Bang On The Money - The Balvenie 21 Years Old PortWood

The Balvenie 21 Years Old PortWood
On the eve of our next DTWC I think it is only appropriate we revisit the premier whisky at our last meeting, The Balvenie 21 Years Old PortWood.

It is fair to say that The Balvenie gets a good looking form time to time at our club and rightly so. It is a great distillery making a fine spirit. What I find with The Balvenie though is that it is a whisky to enjoy in isolation. Its refinement is pure so taint from other whiskies and or other environmental influences can distract the sensory experience.

I chose The Balvenie 21 Years Old PortWood for my hosting of DTWC because it displays wood characteristics very few other whiskies achieve in good order. Old oak is often worrisome for me. Often enough whiskies take on that mousey old tweed jacket sensation. In the case of The Balvenie 21 Years Old PortWood the consistency of character is excellent. This excellence is good wood management by David Stewart, Malt Master for The Balvenie.

Mr Stewart has been working with William Grant & Sons for 50+ years now so it is no surprise he knows every one of these barrels that goes into making up this whisky. Traditional aged Balvenie is then transferred into premium old port pipes and casks for additional maturation. The result is a refined honey, fruit and nut characteristic.

The Balvenie 21 Years Old PortWood
Distiller: The Balvenie
Region: Speyside, Scotland
ABV: 40%
Wood: Traditional oak and ex-Port Casks

An old sunset cresting into the evening.

Oaky love and fruit basket layered with straw. The nose is fine and light while being unassuming as to what is to come.

Bang on the money with refined old oak. A creamy light gesture of wood, honey, nuts and fruity spice. The tongue tingles in excitement.

Long and drawn out as the wood effects all aspects of the experience. Still vibrant well after a dram the tongue will continue to tantalise your tastes buds with what has passed.

Overall this is a cracker whisky and I have to give it a strong 6.75 out of 7. Priced at around $230AU consistency is always sound and appreciation is guaranteed. For really aged character this is one of my go to whiskies at that price point and age.

The Baron

Thursday, November 5, 2015

They're back - The Gentleman's Wager II

There is no denying Johnnie Walker make a good promotional flick. Back in 2014 we saw the silver screen legends Jude Law and Giancarlo Giannini in The Gentleman's Wager, a short film celebrating the finer things in life and of course Johnnie Walker Blue.

Now it is 2015 and the boys are back with the second instalment: The Gentleman's Wager II. The mood of the short film takes on much more detailed story of the characters entering into a wager over a vintage Delahaye 135S Tourer while racing to arrive at Monte Carlo to win the bet. In echo of the the first short film Jude Laws character is quoted as saying "I want this car. And I don’t want to buy it with money. I want to win it." Adding to the mix is Chinese actress Zhao Wei appearing as a more of a cameo to build a character sure to appear in the next instalment.

I hope you enjoy the flick.

The Baron

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