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

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Thick, Rounded & Voluptuous – Maker's 46

Maker's 46
Summer is well and truly here and I have been holding onto this sucker for sometime now. I love my bourbons in the humid summer months. Clearly then I have been patiently waiting to crack the wax seal on my Maker’s 46, sit on the deck, and sip away though the Christmas break. This is my last Dramcember post as well with the new year now in full swing. The wait was well worth it.

At a glance this is much more sophisticated bottle than the more squat Maker’s Mark we are used to seeing. The wax seal noticeably heavier is almost draping like a velvet cloak down over the seal. The glass is thick, rounded, heavily based and voluptuous. Certainly being quite a looker as bottle styles go, it displays its booty gloriously. No paper label either, with rather with printing directly onto the glass and a wax logo floating towards the neck. I like it!

Reading the glass printed label you will be quick to notice the ABV is at 47%. Here in Australia it is often found the bourbons that grace our shelves are watered down variations of the US releases. Regularly reasoning sighted for this is that our taxes on liquor make imports overly expensive. Maker’s Mark is one of those such bourbons that see a cut in the ABV, down from 45% to 43% and now to 40%. I have been quoted twice now by Maker's Marks reps here in Australia (the last being in 2013), that Australia consumes sum 40%+ of the yearly quota the distillery produces. This level of consumption adds to the requirement to make it stretch a bit further globally. If you would like to try the original Maker’s Mark at 45% ABV head over to the online Aldi Liquor store to make a 1L purchase for $56.85AU.

So what makes Maker’s 46 so different form the standard release? Finishing. Yes even a bourbon can be finished and why not. In this case we see Maker’s 46 gently finished in barrels containing seared French Oak staves. The staves are inserted into the inner cavity of barrels previously seasoned with bourbon, then refilled with Maker’s Mark. The barrels are then warehoused and left to age for several months during the winter period. The introduction of French oak imparts a much bolder, spicier, complex flavour profile. It is assumed that with the ageing during the winter months the wood reacts in more subtle ways, leaving a lot of the earthy bitter tannins found in French Oak behind.

Thick wax seal, suspended logo, and printed glass
Maker’s 46
Distiller: Maker’s Mark
Region / Location: Kentucky, USA
Alcohol/ ABV: 47%
Finish: Toasted French Oak Stave Inserts

Colour: Rusty nails

Nose: Elements of the typical Maker’s Mark wheats are present but now only part of flavour facet. Rich vanilla oaks, touches of dried fruits and cranberries topped with hints of wet wood coals.

Taste: Bold (and I don’t use that term loosely). Rich oaky vanillas, dried apricots and dense spices. Marginally tacky with a light mouth chew.

Finish: Long and spicy that leaves a little coal fire in the chest while the sweetness lingers on the tongue.

Overall this is a great bourbon and an obvious step up from the standard release of Maker’s Mark. The spiciness and sweetness is clear and lingering well on after a sip. Don’t mistake the term spicy with which you get in a rye whisky either. The rich vanillas and caramels do need this added spice the french oak delivers. It is neither dry not bitter.

If I was to give a dram 5 3/4 out 7. The package as a whole is lovely though dragging it down is the price which is nearing $70AU a bottle. That is asking a lot unfortunately but we cannot do a lot about our alcohol taxing system. Counter the comment about price our local retailer runs out of stock on a very very very regular basis so its popularity is solid I am guessing. It is a sipping whisky and you will enjoy it.

I say go try it if you like your bourbons but would appreciate a twist and turn to a staple classic.

The Baron

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Smoky Christmas – The Wild Rover Meets Laphroaig

A Smoky Christmas
The Wild Rover has been building their own whisky scene for over a year now with their Campbell Corner Whisk(e)y Co-operative. Though I have only made the trek over to The Wild Rover twice before this afternoon (The Hills is a long way out) it was good to see their Christmas party contained whisky. Titled Laphroaig Smoky Christmas your would expect just that right?! In fact I think it only contained whisky thanks to the generous nature of Laphroaig, The Wild Rover, and the dramming hands of Dan “Fingers” Woolley.

Islay Oysters
Held in the upper bar of The Wild Rover, arrival was greeted with, well, whisky and Islay oysters. Before me was presented a nostalgic weights tray filed with fresh shucked oysters, rock salt, and eyedroppers filled with Laphroaig to lace the oyster at your own whisky level. Even though I arrived on time the joint was packed to the rafters. As a live Swamp Delta Blues Slide Guitar Duo set up in the far corner, Penicillin cocktails flowed and Islay oysters were slurped, but where was that crafty Dan “Fingers” Woolley and those pours of Laphroaig.

Laphroaig Eye Droppers
Nestled against the far wall past all the crowd, a cask head was set with a fine selection of Laphroaig 10yo, Laphroaig Select Cask, Laphroaig Quarter Cask (my favourite), and tucked inside the barrel the Laphroaig 25yo. BOOM BABY! Serving out the drams of course was the original rock'n'roller Dan. Simply you can’t get more dedicated to the water of life than a man with WHISKY tattooed across his fingers. Regardless if you choose to flee Dan’s prison breaker appeal (after a Laphroaig pour of course and saying thank you a lot) or see through the mighty exterior to cuddle the mighty bear (and there was a lot of cuddles being given out especially by the ladies), you will find his veins seep with the scent of whisky. Never miss an opportunity to query for insights and tips. The pours were heavy and the drams were fine and at that time there was no where else I wanted to be.

Penicillin Cocktails
Flighting the floor were all faces and names of industry individuals alike. Too many to mention and all old chums in some way or form. It was good everyone was comfortable with each other because if you weren't rubbing a bum or a check with the slightest movement you were not in room at all. I found a comfy spot next to the band and prompt remained rooted for a good duration of the afternoon.

The band cranked up with some pretty cool old school rock while the crowd literally pushed at the walls and whisky plashed the wooden floor like a heaving salt crusted man-of-war. Thunder cracked outside with the skies looming large. As time passed I knew I ‘had’ to attend the next Christmas party that evening. I was committed. Grabbing my trusty Whisky & Wingback’s partner in crime, Whisky Ledger, we departed reluctantly to head for other end of the city. A Frat Party was starting up at the famous, soon to be infamous Shirt Bar. That story is for next time.

Thanks to Laphroaig, Dan Woolley, and The Wild Rover for putting on a classic and all too generous spread. Sláinte.

The Baron.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Chasing The Dream - SIA Blended Scotch Whisky

Founder Carin Luna-Ostaseski and that unique SIA Scotch Whisky bottle
What makes someone want to create their own blend of whisky and how to approach such notion? Why now try crowdsourcing a start up whisky company and see how it goes! That is exactly what SIA Scotch Whisky did. When there is so many whiskies now in the market we have to assume there must be a driving force filled with a passion and ambition to make a go of it. So kudos to Carin of SIA (pronounced See-a, Gaelic for Six) for getting it right.

Carin Luna-Ostaseski, founder of SIA Scotch Whisky, pretty much chased the dream and funded the business through her Kickstarter campaign back in mid 2013. The target was to gain $39,000 USD to purchase enough whisky to fill 250 cases / 1500 bottles at 750ml each, order glass, etch, package and then distribute. Exceeding the target within 40 days, Carin managed to get the product off the ground and sell the first 1500 bottles. SIA is now in its 2nd run of 3500 bottles has the intention of a 3rd release of 5000 bottles soon. Unfortunately we are yet to see the product distributed and sold into Australia. If you want to discover the full story check out Carin’s story: How I Funded my Company with Kickstarter.

SIA is a self styled “superior blended Scotch Whisky” created to appeal to the modern consumers palate. Take it neat, iced, or in a cocktail the preference is yours. The bottle is elegant and well designed with a label displaying a lush feminine touch. Carin worked with with Douglas Laign and Co. Ltd. to created a Scotch whisky matured, blended and bottled in the mother country. The contents are a blend is a ratio of 40% malt to 60% while the region percentages range from 50% Speyside, 40% Highland, 10% Islay malts and grains. Bottled at 43% ABV and priced at $49.00 USD per 750ml bottle I can imagine, with how Australia’s tax work, we would easily see this bottling hit the $70+ AU mark if it ever makes its way here.

SIA Scotch Whisky
SIA Blended Scotch Whisky
Location / Region: Scotland
Alcohol / ABV: 43%
Blender: Douglas Laign and Co. Ltd.

Nose: Vibrant and fruity, vanillas, spice, maple wood, citrus, pears, green tomatoes then also  and a light mix of smoke and iodine thus giving it a mild maritime feel. There is a lot going on in the nose and the maritime effect is much more apparent after the initial sip. On a first pour though I find the whisky is locked up and a bit of air needs to be swilled through to open it up but it is not an uncommon effect to be seen.

Taste: At the beginning it is smooth to the lips which lets go to become a little mouth puckering. A spice tingle starts at the lips and moves all the way to the back of the tongue. Pears and green tomatoes again make an appearance but the fruitiness is more stewed with the vanillas maple woods before the drier smoke wafts through.

Finish: Long and drawing on the breath. Not necessarily hot as can be expected with a blend but certainly a fire is smouldering deep down as the palate dries out even more. The spice lingers in an enjoyable way.

Overall there is a lot of vibrancy in the scotch whisky blend as a whole and much more than I have found in others I have tasted recently. I find this blend quite reasonable as the palate remains excitable long after the last dram. I enjoyed it neat though I can see it working very well in a cocktail as it holds a complexity that won’t be moved to the background when mixed. Unfortunately my sample was only enough for 2 medium drams so I did not attempt making a cocktail out of it. I would love to see it make its way into Australia.

I have to pass thanks to Carin for sending me the sample and correspondence that has followed all the way from the US. This blend is a real challenger not only to the palate but against many mainstream blends on our shelves. Lets hope we see it soon.

The Baron

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Bit Of This & A Bit Of That – Label 5 Gold Heritage

Label 5 Gold Heritage
Label 5 is not the most common names that comes up in Australia when mentioning a Blended Scotch Whisky even though it is ranked in the top 10 sales of a blended whisky in the world. We have seen a rise in the brand over the last few years on shelves  locally but in asking around I have found still it can get a bit of a look over. The more common bottle you would be familiar with is the Label 5 Classic Black or the Label 5 12 Year Old. This bottling, Label 5 Gold Heritage, is yet to be seen on our shelves and is the brands most recent release. Graciously supplied to us for tasting by La-Martiniquaise, a French based group and the 2nd largest spirits company in France at this time.

If you recall La-Martiniquaise has come up before when we have reviewed launches and reviews of the Scotch Single Malt and distillery Glen Moray. La-Martiniquaise purchased Glen Moray back in 2008 from Glenmorangie, so it is no surprise when Glen Moray’s Distillery Manager Graham Coull’s name is attributed to the creation of Label 5 Gold Heritage. Graham also takes the title also as Master Blender of Label 5. I had the pleasure to speak in length with Graham Coull in August 2013 at the launch of the Glen Moray 25yo: A taste of things to come - Glen Moray 25yo Syndey Launch. Graham has been taking Glen Moray in a great direction so I recommend you keep a good eye on the brand over the coming years. If you have not tried it also I recommend delving in the Glen Moray 10yo Chardonnay Cask Matured to get a better idea of what is being offered by the distillery and the malt that makes up the bulk of the Label 5 blends.

Moving on we best look a little closer at the Label 5 Gold Heritage. There is is no question the name signifies an approach into the higher echelons of the premium blend market. The bottle is tall and angular with thick glass and an embossed crest. On opening a plastic pourer is fitted much like what we see in other premium blends. On any Dan Murphy’s shelf you will find Label 5 commonly shelved higher than most lower grade whisky blends. I can speculate when the Label 5 Gold Heritage makes it to Australia it will be sitting directly next to the Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve. Dan Murphy’s, as I understand it, is the exclusive importer of Label 5 and Glen Moray through the Woolworth’s import brand Pinnacle Liquor Group.

Other details available on the Label 5 site claim there is anything up to and over 20yo malt whiskies being blended into the mix of this product. That sounds great but the reality is that this happens all the time for many many blends and malts but it is certainly nice to know. We can also assume being a NAS (No Age Statement) that some very young whiskies also make it into the mix. Again not a big issue but certainly something to consider.

Label 5 Gold Heritage
Distiller & Blender: Label 5 / La-Martiniquaise
Location / Region: Scotland
Alcohol/ ABV: 40%

Nose: Thick, rich and sweet with a side of egg sandwiches. A bit leathery and no doubt I am getting some smokiness. Grains are prevelant and sweet while a heavy hit of alcohol burn will sting if you nose too closely or vigourously. After the fist sip though the nose burn subsides in a much more festive fruity character.

Taste: Light, fruity(ish) and exceptionally smooth at first. It easily goes down but the sweetness falls into the central back pallet before a typical blend burn seeps down the throat. A bit smokey like tabbaco smoke, a bit of citrus, a bit of spice, and a bit of wood creep. It gets watery fast and the flavour is one dimensional which is unfortunate. Not embracing to the senses, this whisky has been clearly designed this way to simply be sipped easily.

Finish: Hot at first and a bit of mousey woods develops in the palate.

Overall: I have to say not challenging and malt drinkers will be hard pressed to approve. Blend drinkers on the other hand wanting to move slightly up the ladder would appreciate what it is offering as the typical grain burn and intense sweetness is mellowed by the malts blended.

This is a blend offering smoothness over character. It is a bit of a fence sitter. If I was to give a dram 3 1/2 out of 7. It does not fall into the category of our clubs flavour profile appreciation and I fear neither that of any malt drinkers. As I said though a dedicated blend drinker would probably enjoy this.

Thank you to La-Martiniquaise for the opportunity to examine and review the Label 5 Gold Heritage. I have reserved the bottle contents for presentation at our next clubs meeting to get further input.

The Baron

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

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Sharing a Dram – John Quinn & Tullamore D.E.W

Tullamore D.E.W & John Quinn
Ireland is a country where its people are know for their love of whisk(e)y. Yet its has always amazed me that you could count the number of the countries distilleries on one hand. Add one more to that handful. On the 27th June 2014, I had the opportunity to interview John Quinn Global, Brand Ambassador for Tullamore D.E.W. At the time we spoke word was the brand was to have its own new distillery due to open in the coming months. That is BIG news in the Irish distilling front yet we have heard nearly no chatter about it locally. Many things will come of this equaling assumed changes in flavour profile (in time as production fully shifts from the current location, New Midleton Distillery), more new unique or experimental expressions, and a significant ramp up in production to name but a few. A curious fact many may not realise is that the site of most of Tullamore D.E.W’s current production, the New Midleton Distillery, is owed by Pernod Ricard, while the brand Tullamore D.E.W is owed by William Grant & Son’s.

An overloaded table of whisky and the nostalgia of the location.
What is exciting about recognising Tullamore D.E.W’s new distillery is what else is going on with the Irish whisk(e)y scene. In this ever expanding whisk(e)y bubble the positive side is that it is allowing distillery after new distillery to either reopen, be reinvented, or appear out of seamless thin air. Not a week goes past when we are no hearing of a new distillery somewhere in the world opening. It is a good thing. But what also comes of it is styles and brands somewhat veiled by their own historical presence on store shelves starting to change things up a little. The true players that have been in it for the long haul start to creep back into our interests expression by expression. Irish whisk(e)y used to be big. Real big. Bigger than scotch before the United states era of Prohibition and it would seem it is making a come back again now. OK so you should know this already. Yet, for all these Irish brands arriving on Australian shelves, many do not realise they are all coming from 1 of 4 distilleries and have a long history of production. Note that several Irish distilleries are on the rise but many have yet to be able to significantly age their spirt to be called whisk(e)y. Exciting times to come.

With John's arrival an intimate dinner staged in the Potting Shed's Lock In room at The Grounds of Alexandria. This is an outstanding location and I highly recommend you make the trip over for a lunch of dinner. On arrival I was amazed at the table setting. It was seriously near to over flow with whisky glasses prepped for tippling. Not 5, not 6, but 8 glasses filled our tasting mats so this was no simple tasting. While enjoying a cocktail named 'The Moondance', I had the opportunity to take in our full surroundings. In the low light deathly shadows were cast across the glassware, as souls of dead animals peered down on us from mounted locations on walls worn brick Vintage brink n brac laced the surrounding tables and cabinets lined with old bottles filled with god knows what (it certainly was not drinkable) gave a sense of historical nostalgia.

John is a easy going lad and you got this sense from the moment he shook your hand. Clearly a confident excitable speaker John began the evening by announcing that this was not to be a sales sales pitch in anyway. Simply speaking he wanted the evening to be a night to discuss and enjoy whisk(e)y surrounded with those of equal mind.

Many whiskies on our mats were in fact samples drawn directly straight from the casks for the evenings enjoyment.

1. Tullamore D.E.W Original 40% ABV: citrus and pineapples with vanilla woods.

2. 71% ABV grain: grapes, molasses and corn. Delivered a real punch.

3. 61% ABV Malt: Generated a intense profile of raspberries and boiled sweets.

4. Pot Still 60% ABV: Intense butterscotch overtones followed by cream, and chocolate. If there was ever a whisky to counter Baileys Irish Cream this would be it.

5. Make your own: I added blended about 60% malt, 20% grain and 20% Pot Still. A really unpleasant attempt at blending. Never use these ratios!

6. Tullamore D.E.W 10yo 40% ABV: Fruit Punch and leather.

7. Tullamore D.E.W 12yo Special Reserve 55% ABV: Smooth silky caramel creams.

8. Tullamore D.E.W Phoenix 55% ABV: Dark chocolate and nuts, rasins, toffee creams, vanilla oaks.

Through the tasting we were served a wide selection of entree sized meals ranging from quail breast to scollops to a rich black pudding. Towards the end John asked us to make up our own blend using the cask drawn whiskies provided. My blend was downright disgusting but delivered a fun exercise in appreciation of the whisky blending craft.

Look a punching bag... John starting taking a few swings at it.
After forcing John to take a few swings at the punching bag we than had a quiet seat to chat. In speaking with John I had queried him specifically on boutique to small batch distilleries in Ireland. John had said there was literally none to mention at the time. Maybe the current distilleries just do such a good job there is no incentive for smaller operations to set up shop. Who knows but it is a curious fact micro distilleries do not yet have a place (yet). Also a fun fact and something to be laughed upon is that John had spent a good deal of time in Australia through the 80's and was the man responsible for introducing the West Coast Cooler. Yes that cooler wine our parents stocked the party fridges with. I thought he was joking at first but the way he had said it was so sincere. “Your probably too young to remember but I was responsible for West Coast Cooler. It was very successful in the 80’s…”. I almost fell off my chair with laughter and promptly told him it was a big hit with my mother and that it is starting to make a come back again in Australia with new branding. John also made comment about how I kept calling the whisky and distillery 'Tully' instead of Tullamore D.E.W. I had to say it is just what we do here in Australia and it is more an endearing term more than anything else.

It was truly a great night and thank you William Grant & Son’s, Weber Shandwick, and of course John Quinn for sharing a dram. Hopefully we will see John back in Australia again soon and he won't be leaving it another 20+ years to return.

The Baron

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

Jacks Back For Christmas 2014 - Engrave a Bottle of Gentleman Jack

Engrave a Bottle of Gentleman Jack
So Christmas is coming and whisky gifts need to be given. Brown Forman and Jack Daniels Distillery is offering the Engrave A Bottle Of Gentleman Jack for Christmas 2014 to Australian Residence.

The engraving service is now operating and will be available up until December 17, 2014. A total of 3 lines of text at 18 characters per line is available to generate your message. It is simple and it is fast to do.

To place your order and Engrave a Bottle of Gentleman Jack head over to the official web page to purchase online. Bottles are available in 700ml only at RRP $64.99 compete with engraving.

Full details, contact enquiries and updates can all be found over at the Gentleman Jack facebook page.

The Baron

Information quoted in this post has been provided to us as an official media release by FRANK PR - Australia on behalf of Brown Forman Australia.