Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Pleasures Are To Be Had - Old Pulteney 12 Year Old

Old Pulteney 12 Year Old Single Malt

Here is a surprising and enjoyable dram any whisky lover needs to experience, the Old Pulteney 12 Year Old Single Malt. We, as a club, were sent this bottle recently to open and experience at a recent D.T.W.C. members meeting. It should be noted from memory everyone enjoyed what it had to offer with high praise around the table. I do believe at that stage not one member had yet had a Old Pulteney expression.

Old Pulteney is a Scotch single malt distillery located in the far reaches of Scottish Highlands in the town of Wick and is currently owed by Inver House Distillers. Founded in 1826, Old Pulteney drew it's name from 'Pultenytown', a small township setup to house the local fisherman of Wick. The distillery can lay claim as being one of the most northerly distilleries of the Scottish mainland, expressing its unique nautical pleasures from the local environment and sea air blowing across from the North Sea. It can be assumed that the air dried ex-bourbon casks are indeed being infused with regions sea air adding to that mild maritime saltiness.

I have not seen a lot of the Old Pulteney in Australia at all which is a really pity now I have experienced it but if your on the hunt then try your local Dan Murphy's and you may be able to pick it up for around $74.99 a bottle. Current Dan Murphy's listing only display the 12yo as being the old expression available. I am sure independent specialists will of course be securing their own stocks but I will leave that search up to you.

Old Pulteney 12 Year Old Single Malt
Distillery: Old Pulteney Distillery
Region / Location: Highland, Wick, Scotland
Cask: Air Dried Ex Bourbon
Alcohol: 40% ABV
Colour: Golden Honey

Nose: High florals, sweet light woody honeys, green cut grass, gently laced with salty spiciness. There is a note of smoke but ever so mild. This smoke effect may actually be coming from the charred bourbon casks more so than the whisky making process.

Taste: Soft and buttery at first with the same woody honeys quickly rounding into mildly medicinal salty spices.

Finish: Very long warming with a medium dry effect in the throat that triggers that pavlov's dog effect as the palate gets excited for more.

Overall: Genuinely good balance. The salty notes are just enough to trigger the tastes buds to explore more while the ever so mild smokiness offsetting the sweetness. A whisky where the nose and taste are very similar and with so much flavour present, I was assuming the ABV to be much higher than 40%. In a nutshell it is the love child of a The Glenlivet and Talisker.

This whisky is not going to rock your boat so to speak and make you see stars in the heavens but its clean comfortable character will always leave you with a familiar warming memory. Something you can settle down to on a cold winters night and know the pleasures are to be had.

If I was to give a dram then it would  be 5 3/4 out of 7. Truly enjoyable and I personally would buy it again. I am certainly now on the hunt for the other varied expressions the distillery has to offer.

Thanks to Alembic Communications Ltd and Inver House Distillers for the delivery of the bottle. It was greatly appreciated by all the D.T.W.C. crew.

The Baron

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Double Header - The Balvenie with Sam Simons

Sam Simons - Global Brand Ambassador for The Balvenie
Playing catchup on so many things is leaving me with posts half completed and others not even started. This one is the latter, and is a Balvenie double header at that. In one day, on Thursday, 7 November 2013, I attended sit down lunch come tasting with The Balvenie Global Brand Ambassador Sam Simons AKA Dr Whisky at the Royal Automotive Club Of Australia Sydney City, followed in the evening with another private dinner again with Sam at the Chiswick restaurant in Woollahra, Sydney. Same dude, same socks, 2 very different events.

Sam was out in Aus promoting The Balvenie as one would do when carrying the title Global Brand Ambassador and as I understand it this was Sam's first trip out to Australia. Though his main goal of the trip was to launch The Balvenie Craft Bar in Melbourne the following week, it was great Sam had the time to mingle with the whisky community here in Sydney also. If Sam's name sounds familiar to you on this blog, you may remember Sam's name from an event review made in December 2012: The Balvenie – Celebrating David Stuart's 50 Years. Being one of the very lucky few in attendance, I had first meet Sam and Master Distiller David Stuart appearing as 2 whopping bobbing heads on a screen the size of living room wall during a live web hookup. Big smile, mischievous eyes, and flamboyant character makes Sam a man hard to forget.
The spread at the Royal Automotive Club Of Australia
Tackling the Royal Automotive Club tasting first saw us arrive to a broad open bar with an array of tables set brandishing capped tasting glasses, crackers, cheese, cured meats and spiced pickles. A great choice of nibbles and a perfect setting for what was going to be a great afternoons tasting. Set at the table was very healthy drams of The Balvenie: 12 Year Old DoubleWood; 15 Year Old Single Barrel; 17 Year Old DoubleWood; 21 Year Old PortWood; Thirty Aged 30 Years

Greeted at the door was a the familiar face of James Buntin AKA The Whisky Ambassador who would go on to start the afternoons tasting and introduce Sam to the floor.

Sam made for an excellent afternoon as he really took control of the floor and led us on a little education adventure into not just the world of The Balvenie but also the world of whisky. He had no qualms about discussing other distilleries and distilling methods. At no time did any of this feel like a sales pitch preaching to the converted but rather a group of good mates enjoying a dram or four. Sam's character was comical, energetic, and excitable which allowed for the whole room to interact in some way. This is how tastings need to be run.

As this afternoons event was an open call on Facebook via The Balvenie Facebook page there was a mixture of guests from whisky store sales staff, mixologists, bar staff, bloggers and general public. Even so the turn out was not impressive and I pity those that did not turn up or those unable to take advantage of the opportunity as there was many an empty seat to be seen. No worries though as we all shared a good few extra drams between us all as we kicked on after for a chat.
Getting setup as guests arrived at Chiswick
With a brief interlude, a few bus hops and a good book found me later sitting in the garden of the Chiswick restaurant while the next Balvenie dinner was setup. The Chiswick restaurant is owned and operated by local celebrity chef Mat Moran. The Chiswick can be found in the leafy inner Sydney suburb of Woollahra. Being the first in the door gave me an opportunity to take in the scene, grab a good seat, have a couple of beers, and chillax as the crowds rolled in. A very different setup to the tasting earlier in the day, the Chiswick specialises in shared platters so our tables were long and cramped. I think every local whisky blogger, writer, and industry personality were packed into the space. For pre-dinner if you were not having a cold brew on tap or a glass of wine, a blood orange coloured cocktail made the rounds but I found it less than impressive. Dashed if I know what was in it or what it was called but it look more impressive than it tasted.
An extensive menu somewhat overtaking the whiskies themselves
As Sam arrived we were seated our our tables with a spread of whiskies to taste. As per earlier in the day we saw The Balvenie: 12 Year Old DoubleWood; 15 Year Old Single Barrel; 17 Year Old DoubleWood; 21 Year Old PortWood; Thirty Aged 30 Years; a unlabelled 40yo Single Cask Cask Strength 1973 (drawn from the cask 8556 only days earlier). Instead of a dedicated tasting, Sam's interjections between the drams was part casual to part educational though I think there was better interaction at the earlier event (probably due to less distractions). Still he worked the floor more than professionally bottle on head and all.
Just some of the extensive share plates hitting the tables
Food was excellent but the table got pretty messy as plates had to be handed around due to the cramped conditions. Looking at the menu we were treated to Oregano and garlic focaccias; Hairloom tomato, watermelon; Ceviche of kingfish, chilli, lime; Risotto of asparagus, pecorino, nasturtium; Fish & prawn tagine with saffron cous cows; Roast Holmbrae chicken, broad beans , potatoes, and mint; Wood roasted Moran family lamb, chickpeas, za'atar, mint; Steamed greens, lemon, olive oil; Balvenie chocolate mousse with honeycomb, hazelnuts and orange. Big meaningless words and can;t blame you if you just skipped that entire list. I cannot say the food had any matching links to the whisky at all but I was seriously stuffed by the end. Reality is it was great food and did not stifle a good tipple.
The Balvenie 40yo 1973 Cask 8556
As the night was running over and I had to dash Sam scored me an early tasting of The Balvenie 40yo he had tucked away for the evenings final tasting. This whisky was drawn only days before from the barrel 8556 and at that time had neither a name nor label except something printed off on the office inject printer. Note the electrical tape sealing the cork and look at that colour in the bottle. Wow! Best description I can give it is the colour of ruby burgundy. Drawn from a single cask aged in 100% French Oak Sherry Cask, it is clear where that colour is coming from. At 46.7% this is cask strength and of pretty good ABV for its age. I had notes, I lost them, but what I can say is on tasting I did find it underwhelming. But then this is an old whisky and my pallet is not developed enough to interact really well on this plain. Very drinkable and mellow to the palate I still enjoyed drinking a whisky older then me (be it marginally a matter of months).
Food never stopped the whole night
Sam's the man that is for sure. His knowledge on the subject of whisky, The Balvenie, William Grant and Son's, whisky history, and industry knowledge in general is next to none. Coupled with a great sense of humour and flamboyant nature make for an intriguing character. I mean who else could pull off purple/pink sox, matching pocket square and a nipple pink shirt while balancing a bottle on his head and still be taken seriously?

Thanks to all involved for making a great day and extra thanks to The Balvenie, William Grant and Son's, Sam Simons, James Buntin, and Weber Shandwick. Now when are we seeing The Balvenie Craft Bar pop up here in Sydney?

The Baron

Ardbeg Day 2014 Is Kicking Off - Ardbeg Day Sydney 2014

Shortie Ball
Once again Feis Ile is upon us and what comes with that is the official global Ardbeg Day celebrated the 31st May 2014. Feis Ile, now in its thirteenth year, is of course Islay's week of Malt & Music where each distillery opens it's doors in celebration. Running for one week from 23rd to 31st May 2014, Ardbeg culminates the weeks festivities as the last distillery opening to the public. Recognising that the limited few can make it to Islay, Ardbeg took this a step further to celebrate their open day on a world wide scale with the official global Ardbeg Day (though for some of us Ardbeg Day is every day). Fellow D.T.W.C. member The Grey Bush and myself had the opportunity to attend last years event renamed Ardbog Day. Too much fun was had leaving us anticipating what is to come this year with keen interest.

This Ardbeg Day will be the 3rd such event held worldwide. Sydney's event time and location is yet to be specified but it should be noted in your diaries that the day will certainly be Saturday 31st May 2014.

How do you get involved in the free 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.

Ardbeg Day is always themed with this years being no different. With the football (soccer) World Cup on, it has inspired the theme for Ardbeg Day: Peat Football - the Ardbeggian take on the football World Cup. According to the official line from the Ardbeg site the reasoning for this theme is as follows:
"Football has a rich and noble history in mainland Scotland where kings and lords would take to the pitch and teams were made up of gentlemen. However many of these gentrified teams would come a cropper during Islay fixtures, unused as they were to playing knee deep in our peaty pitches."
Ardbeg Auriverdes
But Ardbeg Day has become something more than good times, good whisky, and a bucket of peat. Each year as part of the event Ardbeg releases a new limited edition bottling. This year we will see the newcomer to the game Ardbeg Auriverdes - named after its golden whisky (auri), and unmistakable green bottle (verde). So what can we expect in this bottling? If previous years are anything to go by then it will be something delicious. What is making this release unique is a new technique instituted by Ardbeg. The American oak casks have had the specially made lids toasted to a char finish that has imparted a mocha coffee flavour profile. Bottled at 49.9% it is no shortie and we should be getting a tasting at the Ardbeg Day event. If you are unable to attended the event and or want a bottle for yourself it will be available in limited release with a price tag of around $135AU.

PR release material delivers some notable quotes from Dr Bill Lumsden, Director of Distillation and Whisky Creation:
“When creating Auriverdes I had a distinct flavour profile in mind that I wanted to achieve, so I specifically created the heart of the recipe to bring that to life. It is a unique expression of Ardbeg which has exceeded all my expectations - it has the trademark Ardbeg undertones with a distinct new taste experience. Ardbeg Auriverdes has an explosive mouthfeel which gives way to complex flavours of coffee grounds, liquorice, maple smoked ham, malty/biscuit notes, white pepper and a good sweet/salty balance.”
Seriously this is not an event to miss. Sign up for the committee membership if you have not already and keep checking for the event day registration to get involved.

The Baron

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Hopeless Romantic For Hibiki - Suntory Hibiki 12yo

Suntory Hibiki 12 Years Old - 24-facet bottle

The first time I drammed and reviewed the Suntory Hibiki 12yo was back in December 2011 with a sneaky purchase through Master Of Malt's Drink By The Dram. Prior to that I had experienced the love that was Hibiki 17yo on many an occasion. Now, with a recent trip back to Japan, I took the liberty of stocking up on my Japanese whiskies and it is high time this bottle was cracked, sampled, and reviewed.

As you will see from the photo I have given this whisky a good hard slug over the last week and I have to say I am loving it. Before we commence though my previous post was not so complimentary and I had noted sediment in the 50ml sample I had acquired through Master Of Malt. I can happily say there is no sediment in this bottle and the colour is pure, while the flavour and texture is quite extraordinary.

Suntory Hibiki 12yo is a blended Japanese whisky. Suntory of course have a array Single Malts and Vatted Malts but all whiskies in the Hibiki family are blends. Though I do not know much about where the whisky that makes up this lady come from, Suntory do state that some of the malted barley is aged in plumb brandy barrels (a profile you will clearly experience and if not get out and try some Japanese plumb brandy prior), while including other barley and grain aged for a minimum if 12 years but anything up to 30 years. Suntory tend to speak about the Hibiki family in terms of "embodying delicate sensitivity". The Hibiki family is marketed as premium whisky and I think you will find that is true in every sense of the word.

Looking at the dent in the hip pocket, no need to be flustered, this expression in Japan will set you back just $35 - $40 AU duty free. Really it can't be beaten as the Hibiki 17yo is double that. If your going to be traveling to Japan soon and need the lowdown on being this whisky in Japan or at the air port you had better check out my earlier post In And Out - Buying Whisky Duty Free In Japan.

Opening scenes of Lost In Translation and the Suntory Hibiki 17yo Billboard
Like all of the Hibiki's this expression comes in the signature 24-facet bottle, making a great centre piece to any whisky spread. Heavy to handle the faceted bottle is meant to symbolise the unique 24 season Japanese lunar calendar. A stand out bottle regardless of meaning and instantly recognisable. For those that saw the classic movie Lost In Translation you will instantly recognise the Hibiki bottle as it saw many a product placement throughout the flick. Yeah alright how can you not mention Lost In Translation post 2003 when speaking about Suntory Hibiki? For me it is one of my Whisky Movies I just have to have a dram in hand when watching.

Suntory Hibiki 12 Years Old Blended Whisky
Distillery: Suntory
Location / Region: Japan
Alcohol / ABV: 43%

Colour: Amber orange.

Nose: Rich sweet caramel, mellow char toasted oak, honey, fresh straw, butters, flowers and plum jam. Just like last time I find the nose an amazing sensual experience. Truly one of those drams that just keeps on repeating a winning hit.

Taste: Soft and smooth that quickly releases a spicy citrus zest across the tongue and palate. This whisky becomes much more fruity after the first dram as the plumb jam effect mellows releasing apples and raspberries to move back and forth. A complex mixture of excitable notes. The malts are strong and there is no overhang of sharp sweet grains.

Finish: Much like last time I find it longish, dry and spicy, with an oily metallic tint if you allow the whisky to fall below your tongue. Not fantastic in comparison to the nose.

Overall: I have enjoyed this much more than previous and would certainly buy it again. Not as complex as the 17yo Hibiki but it has a charming character making it a unique blend amongst world whiskies. The nose depletes fast after a dram so savour the nose as long as you can (something I discovered previously also). If I was to give a dram 5 3/4 out of 7. Great balance especially in the flavour and nose even if the finish can be a bit of a let down.

So yes I am just a hopeless romantic for whisky, Suntory Hibiki and all things Japanese. I do not think this is going to stop anytime soon as I have a bottle of Suntory Hibiki Mellow Harmony to also open, so you will be hearing more about the Hibiki line soon.

The Baron

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Not feeling the love - Kilchoman

The Kilchoman line up
Anthony Wills was out here again in Aus discussing the virtues of Kilchoman. I attended a small tasting at The Wild Rover to get the low down on where this younger distillery is heading.

As D.T.W.C. members may recall some of us did a tasting at the Oak Barrel, Sydney, about 2 years ago when Anthony Wills was also out (read a review of the evening by The Converted). At that point I had a real keen interest is finding out more about Islay's youngest distillery at the time. We had heard many good things about the distillery including awards it had started to be accumulating. Unfortunately as some members would remember our experience of the whiskies and the presentation were not great. Since then a disinterest from our club pretty much left Kilchoman off out tasting board so to speak.

The Wild Rover in Surry Hills, Sydney, has recently started its own whisky tasting club called the Campbell Corner Whisky Cooperative, and this evening (though I did not know at the time) was its second hosted event. As I was not there investigating the club I will not going to go into extensive detail so saving that review for another time.

Complimentary whisky sour
On arrival we gathered in the main bottom floor bar to hang for a while until things were setup on next level. While waiting we were offered a complimentary Whisky Sour cocktail made with Kilchoman 100% Islay and a dash of almond syrup. Not too bad really with the peat smoke was not overly intense for its appearance in the cocktail. Really though for the price you pay for Kilchoman, cocktails are not the way to be experiencing the whiskies.

Moving upstairs we took our seats and set to work on preparing for what was to come. The Wild Rover have a good casual setup with ample tasting glassware, comfy seating, and interesting decor. The space has great airflow so it never gets stuffy with all the bodies, though a small amount of street noise will persist at a constant level and even the smallest amount of chatter amongst the crowd tends to drown out the speakers voice. Oysters were served during the tasting but they had no actual place nor did they fit the whiskies profiles but I am not one to pass up on quality seafood. After the event additional foods were served downstairs but the oily bar food does not mix well with whisky so a few tweaks needed there but if I was dropping a pint or 2 = perfect. The Wild Rover are yet to develop a good format but it is only their second session so things will come in time.

Setting the scene at The Wild Rover
To get started I have said it before and I will say it again, Anthony Wills is a bit of whisky cowboy and his nature in presentation has not change since last we saw and spoke with him. Unfortunately this time round I did not get the opportunity to speak directly with Anthony outside of the tasting. Still my opinion stands as previous that maybe Anthony is not the best face to be presenting the companies whiskies regardless if he is the distilleries founder. Anthony is very direct, to the point, and business mater of factuality. If Anthony has a real passion for whisky outside of business it does not shine, leaving a feeling the distillery to be cold, moody, and sales focused. Anthony knows his stuff no question, but there is just no warmth or passion emanating that draws me in and get involved. A personal viewpoint of course.

Just about the entire presentation was business focused towing a very similar PR line to the last time I saw Anthony. I did get to field a few questions during the presentation with what I felt were questionable results. Firstly I had asked about how the still sizes (smallest on Islay) were part of the reason for Kilchomans unique flavour profile and did they know the stills would be so successful when they set them up. Anthony responded saying that no he did not realise how successful they would be, especially in getting a young whisky to market, and if he did he "would have ordered more stills at the time".

Anthony Wills in action
The second question I had then gone onto ask about how their stills have been the focus of replication of other new distilleries and I had heard that even one Australia's distilleries had taken the lead from Kilchoman. Anthony somewhat grimaced at the question and had said "Well, I should be taking that as a compliment" but darkened on the matter and quickly gave an example of another distillery in Europe copying their setup while finishing with "I wish they would bloody well just get on with making whisky". It was really hard to take the context as I was asking these questions in a complimentary explorative way but somehow it all just turned on it's head unexpectedly. I was not inclined to ask anything else at that point.

So looking at the whiskies themselves we had a lineup of 3 expressions to try: 100% Islay; Machir Bay; Loch Gorm. This was a really good spectrum of where Kilchoman are going and nice to see 3 very unique styles. There is something for everyone just in these 3 expressions alone.

100% Islay - This is a 3 to 4 year old whisky from 1st fill bourbon casks. At 50% ABV, like most whiskies of this age, the alcohol did not seem too intense at all so it was very drinkable. Colour was sparking straw with a nose of cut grass, mild toasted oaks, peat smoke and fresh cereals. Taste was silky sweet, lots of caramel toasted oaks, and ripe bananas. The finish was long, spicy and had the obvious ash finish I have come to expect of Kilchoman. My favourite expression out of all 3 sampled.

Machir Bay - The flagship whisky of Kilchoman being an expression aged in 1st fill bourboncasks for  3 to 4 years then finished for 2 months in sherry casks with a final bottling at 46% ABV. A nose of citrus oranges and pineapple, vanillas, and fresh peat smoke expressing youthful feistiness. On tasting it moves through the mouth a bit like water before a hit of vibrant oranges and honey cream followed by a shot of tangy spices. Finish is long but is ruined by a harsh mouthful of ash and spice burn in the upper throat. I think as Kilchoman distillery matures this version of Machir Bay will fall out of favour for something less assertive and more rounded.

Loch Gorm - Aged for 5 years in 20 year old Oloroso sherry casks it is bottled at 46% ABV. This is not the intense sherry hit you may be expecting. A nutty nose and mild peat, almonds and citrus stood out the most. On tasting it was super smooth on the tongue with sweet stewed fruits and light peat smoke in the background that then delivered a medium finish with spices returning to the palate. Not quite a fruity christmas cake as one might expect and the typical ash finish appeared at the end. Very easy drinking. An enjoyable whisky for being 100% sherry cask aged. Despite this release and Anthony confirming a port cask expression coming soon he says he "believes bourbon casks will be the better bet for Kilchoman" for future bottelings.

I like young whiskies but I do not overally enjoy Kilchomans take on them. It raises my interest to pursue exploring in more detail why young whiskies are not released more often. Is it actually harder to make a young malt whisky taste good? Does mean it need to be tamed by age?

I do not think I will write about Kilchoman again or at least for some time as I have no inclination to go out and buy a bottle based on my experiences. Maybe in 5 years to see how things are going but for now it does not look to be a distillery genuinely making any waves in my ocean. The whiskies are not bad but more so I just don't get enjoyment out of them. Kilchoman, as a distillery, needs to dust that chip off its shoulder it is carrying about being a young distillery making young whiskies, put the cold business stance aside, embrace its uniqueness, while becoming more warm and loving to its prospective audience.

The Baron

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Hand crafted with a touch of class - Woodford Reserve Distillers Select

Woodford Reserve Distillers Select
If there is any bourbon whisky currently released in Australia that displays a sense of premium nobility it would be Woodford Reserve. I was first introduced to Woodford Reserve many years ago now when our club first had it's beginnings and have always enjoyed a drop now and then. A clever bit of word smithing allows Woodford Reserve to describe itself as the following quoted line from the official website:
"Woodford Reserve isn't manufactured, it's hand crafted in small batches. This artisanal process allows us to craft it at all five sources of bourbon flavour giving it its distinct taste and crisp, clean finish."
Woodford Reserve is classed as a Small Batch, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey and is currently under the ownership of the Brown-Forman Corporation. Woodford Reserve is also considered as one of the oldest Kentucky distilleries still operating, beginning production around 1780, it has seen its share of owners. A respite saw it in the mothballs for some time before then being repurchased by Brown-Forman and returning to production in 1993. The distillery took on the name Woodford Reserve in 1996.

At this time Woodford Reserve pretty much releases 3 specific whiskies: Woodford Reserve Distillers Select; Woodford Reserve Double Oak; Woodford Reserve Masters Collection. The bottle for the regular is iconic in itself but if you ever have the opportunity to own a bottle of the Masters Collection (which at this time I do) it is just as iconic, taking the form of a potstill reflecting the stills used to makes all Woodford Reserve whiskies today. I cannot recall ever trying the Double Oak but the opportunity is coming up very soon to do so and I am very excited about that indeed.

To find out more about just how Woodford Reserve do things check out the official movie released. It is well made and give enough explanation without getting bored of the facts. Note the shape o f the pot stills imported from Scotland and the triple distillation process.


Distiller: Woodford Reserve
Location / Region: Kentucky, USA
Alcohol: 43.2%
Batch: 35
Bottle: 3477

Colour: Rich Amber

Nose: Butter spice, sweet corn syrup, caramel oak.

Taste: Full bodied with toasted cereals, honey, sweet corns and a rye hit on the tail to give it a balanced kick. The thickness it offers is very cushioning but not chewy like a full rye whiskey could be yet it still fills the mouth in the same manner. I even get the dusky dryness right on the tip that a rum develops but don't associate this in any way to a rum.

Finish: Quite long and the heat of the spices returns developing a toasted almond scent and copper tang after the first dram.

Overall the corn sticks and the mouth swells with the intensity of flavour making it an enriching whisky for the senses. Nothing to complain about as I am always happy to sip a Woodford Reserve on those balmy evenings.

Look, this is a special kind of bourbon whisky no doubt, though some may find the sweetness a little over powering. Woodford Reserve claims their rye content of 18% is high for a bourbon, which it is, but the corn is prevalent through out which is understandable at 72%. Still the balance is good and they do retain a characteristic different from the other Bourbons potentially due to its triple distillation and pot stills. Also being small batch means slight variations each time but that is something I look forward to enjoying.

If I was to give a dram then it would be 6 out of 7. Well worth the purchase especially if you want to impress your bourbon drinking associates with a touch of class.

The Baron

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Great Expectations - Highland Park 18yo

Highland Park 18yo
We all know Highland Park as the northern most distillery in Scotland, located within the Orkney Isles. At the time of writing, the distillery is owned by The Edrington Group, which also boasts The Macallan single malt distillery and blends such as The Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark.

I bought this whisky after accumulating some in-store credit with a particular bottle shop here in Australia. I had previously tasted the whisky and choose it on the basis of my fond memories (as well as an underwhelming range of whisky in store). Whether it was my over-reaching expectations (admittedly it was a very long time ago when I tried this expression and I have tasted a lot more whisky since then), but I found the experience a little disappointing. I am not really sure what I was expecting, but this is what I found…

Nose: the Sherry influence hits immediately, dried fruit, Christmas cake, orange liquor, vanilla, maybe some cinnamon and oak. Your nostrils don't take a beating with this whisky so dig your nose in deep. The smoke is very subtle, almost undetectable. You can sense the whisky is delicate.

Taste: very supple and soft as the Sherry flavours form immediately. In the back and sides of your mouth you feel a salty citrus bite that almost feels youthful, but is probably the peaty-iodine influence. It is somewhat contradictory to the Sherry flavours dominating the front of the mouth. I wouldn’t say this whisky is short, but not sure I would say it is long either. Its age obviously makes it a very smooth dram...I am thinking you could drink a lot of this (responsibly of course)!

Overall, the Highland Park 18yo is incredibly delicate given its age and Sherry finish, making it incredibly easy to drink. If I was to give a dram then I would rate it a subjective 5.5 from a possible seven. Would I buy it again? Probably not. For the price I would be looking for something bolder and more interesting, but that's just me. You should try it and form you own opinions!

Keep dramin,
The Diplomat

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Stranded Man - Wild Turkey Spiced Bourbon

Wild Turkey Spiced Bourbon is discovered
Wild Turkey Spiced Bourbon… ok ok don't groan I know what your already thinking. So called spicing a drink such as rum makes something more drinkable or so it is assumed. In most cases you would be thinking along the same lines as I am. When I heard that Wild Turkey had released a Spiced Bourbon to the local market it left me curious but also skeptical.

"Really?" I thought, Wild Turkey is already good enough so what are they trying to achieve here? It's a mixer no two ways about it and it makes a pretty damn good one at that but it also is ok neat. Australia is a top consumer of bourbon even if the main portion of the population drinking it only takes it with cola. With the rise and ever rising cocktail scene it makes sense that companies like Wild Turkey tap this market too.

Wednesday, February 26, offered me the opportunity to attend the official launch of the Wild Turkey Spiced Bourbon here in Australia. Held on the 10th floor of the Campari headquarters in St Leonards Sydney, we were treated to an afternoon of Wild Turkey Spiced Bourbon: Neat or on the rocks; mixed with cola or dry ginger ale; blended into a spoil of cocktails.

In and around the Capari Headquarters bar
The official line is that Wild Turkey Spiced Bourbon (WTSB to us Kentucky islanders) is recommended to either be served mixed with cola (the lead service option) or neat over ice. Though it was OK neat it is really the cola that brings out the vanillas, caramel sugars and spices. Speaking of spices, WTSB takes it's name from the 3 additional spices added to the bourbon being vanilla, cinnamon, and cardamon. Encourage by the quoted term "island-inspired aroma", as the afternoons theme was obvious, these spices a clearly predominant through out and for a bourbon at a mere 4 to 6 years old they did do a good job of balancing out the corn richness.

Ollie mixing it up
At the counter our barman and National Brand Ambassador for the afternoon, Oliver 'Ollie' Stuart, "it has been a long time since I was called a bartender" Ollie shot off at me, bashed, mashed, sliced, and swizzled the obvious choices as stated above from behind a clearly overstocked bar that needed some serious punishing. Not stopping at the simple mixes Ollie delivered a cocktail of fresh juiced granny smith apples, ice and WTSB. It was a very simple cocktail and I did feel it needed a spike of some sort but it was certainly refreshing and drunk all too quickly. On asking what the cocktail was called Ollie was lost for words though we bantered some names around (unofficially of course) and I settled on either calling it The Itchy Granny or The Granny Snatch. With a wild smirk on his face and a screamed "NOOOO" Ollie was not impressed with either titles. Hey rumour has to start somewhere and you heard it here first. As the afternoon slid by on, plastic palm trees leant, blue clam shells cracked open, sand dusted the bar, and the heavens opened up to a monsoonal downpour, we also saw the impromptu WTSB Old Fashioned hit the counter. On sampling it left me tasting intense pork, chives and coriander dumplings with orange dipping sauce flavours in the mouth! It was like eating... but not.

The Stranded Man and Ollie hamming it up.
With ample food of cheeses dips, mini pies and sausage rolls making the rounds, It was time to really get the ball rolling. Set at the entry to the bar was a a comical island setting of blow up bright orange and green coconut palms, kids clam shells filled with sand set on fake grass turfing the floor. With the pantomime scene set, entering the grassed stage was the hero of the hour The Stranded Man, played by local Brand Ambassador Jordan 'Jay' Berger. Taking his newly rehearsed character as serious as any Hollywood method actor would, unshaven, smelling of whisky (that is an assumption as I tried not to get too close), with script and skanky looking bottle in hand, The Standard Man immersed us into the story of how he unearthed the story of Wild Turkey Spiced Bourbon on the Island Of Kentucky. Dodging between hand held goPro island footage and a direct passionate presentation The Standard Mans quotes of "Awesome!","A little bit of true escape", "Crazy story, eh?" made hard to not believe how true this story really was. H. G. Wells would have been proud.

Yep... the unmarked bottle you found in the sand may just have been that lost sample of milked walrus piss Dr Moreau misplaced all those years ago. That one all important bottle that would have saved the degenerative effects of his Beast Folk. But when your The Stranded Man sometimes you need to take the bullet and risk it all for a drink. This time is payed and Wild Turkey Spiced Bourbon was found.

The Stranded Man playing the role 
Overall it was a great story and good event to be attending. A refreshing drink Wild Turkey Spiced Bourbon is not taking itself too seriously and knows it's place in the whisky world. I would honestly be more inclined to by a bottle of this at $49.99 RRP over a spiced rum any day even if it was just for mixing. Thanks to Campari and Men At Work Comms for the invite and hope to come again soon.

The Baron

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A fitting introduction - GlenDronach & Douglas Cook

The GlenDronach 31yo Grandeur
GlenDronach is not a whisky we see get a lot of dram time here in Australia in comparison to other scotch whiskies. So when the Oak Barrel put on a GlenDronach show with Douglas Cook, Regional Sales Manager and all round Nice Guy, it was a chance not to be missed. It has been a while since I was back at the oak barrel so it was good to be in familiar territory again.

GlenDronach Distillery is located in the Aberdeenshire of the Scottish Highlands. In 2008 GlenDronach it was purchased by BenRiach Distillery so now once again proclaiming the pride of being a privately owned once more. Classed as being somewhat as The Grandfather Of Sherry Casks Matured Whisky, prior to the 2008 purchase, GlenDronach has had a chequered history of ownership including a mothballing from 1996 to 2002. GlenDronach does not hide the fact either that a minor percentage of its whisky goes out to blenders making up a part of the familiar Teachers and Balantines brands in the past. Primarily maturation in Spanish ex-sherry casks make up the bulk of the GlenDronach ageing process though there is a few alternate casks used for experimentation or still remaining from the previous owners floating around.

Douglas Cook of GlenDronach Distillery
Douglas presented himself well providing a wealth of knowledge about the distillery and the processes of making whisky to all those willing to ask and listen. Douglas's reputation had proceed him in regards to how he liked to talked so it was no surprise my note pad was 6 pages full before we even got to taste the first whisky (I really need to develop better hand writing skills). Douglas described an interesting story about how it is recorded that GlenDronach's original marketing strategy in the 1800's was built on word of mouth by notable ladies of the night working the Edinburgh streets. Is also refreshing to hear Douglas class GlenDronach as a "craft distillery" which is a term I have not heard used of any Scottish Distillers themselves. Like most distillers of course they use no artificial colouring or chill filtration. All their whiskies are unpeated and they use a 3rd party malting facility as GlenDronach dose snot have its own matlings floor. It is also worth a note that they fill their casks at around 62% ABV and that their oldest cask at this time was laid down in 1968 and is still a high enough proof to be considered whisky.

Chocolate and a GlenDronach 12yo
After the event Douglas was more than willing to answer a series of queries I had scratched down in my trusty note book. Though I asked many a question Douglas was stumped on a few and noted that they really needed to be directed  to the Master Distiller, Bill Walker. Bless Douglas though he did his best as I hounded him on anyway. Following is some of my questions and answers by Douglas though I must point out I hastily was scrawling away so I would be paraphrasing in most cases in the responses.

Are GlenDronach Whiskies all 100% matured in Spanish ex-sherry? "About 90% of out casks are ex-sherry but we also have Port, Madeira, and Sauterne in small quantities. We also have some ex-bourbon casks remaining".

How long has sherry casks been the focus of Glendronach's maturing process? "Record's show Glendronach has been using sherry casks since the 1800's. More modern times, not sure, maybe 1960's".

How much does it cost for a spanish sherry cask? "About £600 pounds"

Why do the sherry casks cost so much? "There is too many distilleries buying casks which is making the prices rise".

GlenDronach is a key ingredient in Balantines and Teachers whiskies. What percentage of GlenDronach is retained for the distilleries own single malt range? (I commented straight after maybe 80%) "A good guess. I Would say yes about 20% is sold for blending in the past". Douglas has since confirmed with Billy Walker that 100% of GlenDronach is now kept for bottling as The GlenDronach Single Malt Scotch Whisky.

How are you finding Australia's response to GlenDronach? "Good. From when I was here 2 years ago Australians are asking more questions about quality, more about our limited releases, and the stores (bottle shops and staff) are more tuned in about whisky".

When was the change from using coal to fire the stills to steam. And do you think it has improved the character of the whisky? "2006 we changed to steam"."At this time we have nothing to profile as these whiskies have not reached full maturity. You will have to ask Billy about that in more detail". Douglas then went on to comment about how the coal fire (being much hotter) would create a caramelisation in the still which steam does not.

The evenings lineup
A standing room event only saw us arrive to a tidy little dram of GlenDronach 12yo being handed out which we sipped a bit too quick as it was a good 15min before out host took the stand and by then we had already emptied the glass. This compounded a problem as the whiskies were served out of sequence for the remainder of the night against Douglas's tastings. A few of us did manage to hold onto our drams and made the effort to get back on track to what was being talked about. Dram for dram was poured back into the same glass as well. With no real way of cleaning out the glass I felt it did upset nosing and tasting with taint of the previous whisky in the background.

On tasting was the GlenDronach 12yo, 15yo Revival, 18yo Allardice, and 31yo Grandeur. Following is some brief notes I took on the night:

GlenDronach 12yo
ABV: 43%
Matured: in ex-sherry Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez casks with the higher percentage of maturation in Oloroso.
Colour: Red Amber

Nose: Sweet florals, raisins, vanillas and creams and a slight oily character.

Taste: Dark chocolate, almonds, creme brulee. A full bodied nature with carbon and ginger spice in the lower palate.

Finish: Medium and dry.

GlenDronach 15yo Revival
ABV: 46%
Matured: 100% Oloroso. This is considered the "House style".
Colour: Toffee caramel

Nose: High clove spices, warmed sherry, cola and toasted cereals.

Tasted: Silky smooth on the lips before the nose again is initially spiked with something liked crushed ferns that then gives way to the palate developing a citrus tang. Full bodied with hot ginger and mint spices leading to mouth puckering.

Finish: Long and chest warming

GlenDronach 18yo Allardice
ABV: 46%
Matured: 100% Oloroso
Colour: Burnt toffee

Nose: Heavy sherry wine influence in the forefront, large raisin, orange citrus and fruit spices.

Taste: Dark chocolate and oranges, really dry and chewy with some spiky spices prickling the lips.
Finish: heavy and sits high in the throat. Loses it's sweetness very fast.

GlenDronach 31yo Grandeur
ABV: 45.8%
Matured: 100% Oloroso
Colour: Ruby red.

Nose: Sour grapes, furniture polish with mild brown sugar sweetness and subdued cherries.

Taste: Coffee, almonds and spiced ginger. A little chewy and the furniture polish still remains.

Finish: Medium, nutty and uninteresting.

Overall it was a fitting introduction to GlenDronach. They were very pleasant whiskies and for ones being aged in 100% ex-sherry casks I encountered none of the horrible syrupy unbalanced sweetness so many distillers are making the mistake of these days. The casks are clearly picked for exceptional quality to impart enough influence without reducing nuances that make singe malt whisky what it is. Douglas noted he feels that as the whiskies matured exclusively under the new ownership come online these expressions are only going to get better. Bring it on I say.

The Baron

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Welcome To The Tap Kingdom - Tap King

The Tap King out of the box.
As a country Australia may not make a lot of whisky (though we should) but we sure as hell make a lot of beer. In light of this as always I am keen to extend our clubs range of undistilled whisky knowledge. Sit back and let us examine a little more about one of our countries greatest inventions of the 21st Century, the Tap King.

When I heard about this release mid last year I could not believe it was actually true. I just had to get out there and purchase a Tap King as a Father Day Present to myself, then of course for my father and yes also the father-in-law The Grey Bush. I mean seriously, a beer tap in the fridge is a dream come true for any domesticated male. As quoted from the Tap King website "Tap King is not just the greatest technological breakthrough since the wheel, it’s also a way of life. Welcome to the Tap Kingdom". Move aside Game Of Thrones my frosty kingdom is now my trusty refrigerator and it welcomes me daily.

The Tap King is a Lion product and was released in July 2013. Lion, formally Lion Nathan until 2011, is considered Australia's largest beer brewer. At the time of the Tap King release we saw a series of 6 beers that were available to purchase in single or double keg packs: Tooheys New; XXXX Gold; Tooheys Extra Dry; Hahn Super Dry; James Boags Premium; James Squire Chancer Golden Ale. To this date this has not changed but it would be great to see some other beers come to the party. It is safe to assume until Lion licences to other parties the Tap King system it will only be additional Lion family brands released. Still for everyday drinking beer the line up is great. Regular every day beer on tap and leave the bottles for the craft brews.

The advertising campaign for Tap King is outstanding in my books and absolutely classic that they were able to secure Lionel Richie to play the part and sing that classic song "Hello". If you read comments across the internet it is believed Lionel Richie has enjoyed a renewed interest in the music scene globally due to his appearance in this ad campaign. How true is that? Maybe not that much and I could not find and solid source to prove it. Anyway the dude is pretty cool back in the 80's to now and if anything he has brought instant respect to the product.

Of course Lionel Richie may not be supporting this brand forever so Tap King has it's secondary characters Charles The Firth, played by Charles Firth, and Harry Wizenhiemer Professional Tap King Instructor. Both of who introduce the Tap king in a series of short videos taking you through the ins and outs of using your Tap King.

Economically it is still cheaper to by the beer in the bottle as it works out to be 10 bottles of beer to a 3.2litre keg. So why is it not cheaper as the shipping, storage, and packaging is less? Just have a look at the plastic kegs themselves, the mechanism for locking in and the CO2 cylinder contained within every keg. Personally I think the pricing is actually quiet good for what you get and the convince of having Lionel Rich hand you a beer every time from the fridge (metaphorically speaking).

So let us unpack the system and just look at what you get and how it works. The Tap King is made up of 2 integral parts: the Tap King Dispenser, retailing around $33.99AU; a plastic 3.2 litre keg, retailing between $18.99 up to $52.49AU depending on contents.

Unpacking the Tap King
Installing the Tap King dispenser is a pretty simple task. On opening the well presented dispenser box is a foam insert with simple to use instructions, retractable dispenser drip tray, magnetic dispenser badge, and plastic keg release handle used for recycling the kegs (not really needed as you can screw it off by hand anyway), and then below is the all in one dispenser itself. Pull it out and your already 50% of the way there. Turning the dispenser over and looking inside it is also all pretty straight forward on how it works. complete the setup by attaching the retractable drip tray, you will find some grippy handles for easy management in and out of the fridge. Apparently the whole thing is also washable though I would caution submerging it in anything apart from beer.

From start to finish
The kegs themselves are also very easy to store and connect to a dispenser. Each keg comes with its pre fitted connector that simply peals away to revel the pluggy bits and a large silver arrow makes it dead easy to know just which way to match it into the dispenser. Once the keg is married to the dispenser a simpler leaver is pulled down that makes the final airtight connection.

The last stage is simply laying into the fridge in a position that is easy to get at and start dispensing liquid gold. I have found it is good to let the keg rest a few minutes if you don't want a massively foamy head. First pours are usually foamy anyway as the pressure is needed to equalise though I have noticed a varied level of pressure from keg to keg so some will foam a lot on first pour while others hardly at all.

The Tap King Setup and ready to dispense.
When a keg runs dry it is simply a case of pulling out your next keg (that has been previously chilled in the fridge), then taking the Tap King dispenser and releasing the locking handle, pulling out the old keg and inserting the new, pull back down the handle. For the used keg unscrew the cap so the plastic keg can go in the recycle.

So how long does a keg last? Well if your like me usually a couple of weeks at best. It is recommended to drink within 21 days of tapping but I have found after going on a recent holiday that it retains pressure well and truly past that time period. Outstanding!

Easily fits into any standard fridge.
I am very happy with my Tap King. It is a hands down right on the mark product that is presented well, fills a clear market gap, and has very little that could go wrong with it. From box to fridge you could be poring a draught beer within 2 minutes provided you chilled your kegs prior. Swapping out a keg for a new one can be done is less than 30sec easy. If I was to give a dram an easy 6.75 out of 7.

If you do not have one of these I certainly encourage you try. Hello ladies!

The Baron