Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Two Blues - Blue Hanger & Penny Blue

Blue Hanger & Penny Blue
Recently I received 2 samples bottles from Wine & Spirit Merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd, one being a Blended Scotch Malt Whisky (aka Vatted Malt), the other a Single Estate Mauritian Rum, and both a label of the parent company.

Berry Bros. & Rudd, as the name suggests is a Wine & Spirit Merchant. Being Britain's oldest wine and spirit merchant their experience in picking and choosing what makes a good product we can assume is next to none. From a whisky perspective in Australia you will be aware of the brands The Glenrothes and Cutty Sark. Cutty Sark, originally in the BB&R portfolio was essentially traded with The Eddington Group for The Glenrothes. The Glenrothes in turn is an essential blending element that makes up The Glenrothes.

Blue Hanger Blended Scotch Malt Whisky

Blue Hanger, 9th Release, Blended Malt Scotch Whisky 

Blue Hanger (the first of our reviews) as the story goes takes its name from the clothes worn by William ‘Blue’ Hanger. William was long time and loyal customer to BB&R towards the end of the 18th century and was know for his impeccable sense of dress. Though it is undisclosed, Blue Hanger is blend of different single malt whiskies from several distilleries. I am speculating The Glenrothes must be in there somewhere but don;t take my word on that.

Blue Hanger, 9th Release, Blended Malt Scotch Whisky 
Merchant: Berry Bros. & Rudd
Location/region: Scotland
ABV: 45.6%
Bottled: 2013

Colour: Weat

Nose: Sweet woody notes, biscuits, typical light vanillas with fine dry smoke. Some older sherry influences displaying ham and peanuts. I found it hard to discern extremely pronounced notes on the nose with everything muddling together.

Taste: Textural across the tongue with a lot of sweetness and old decaying oranges (certainly not fresh).

Finish: Long and spicy that turns to a very smoky dry mouthfeel.

Overall I get the impression this is a distinctly and deliberate old style whisky vatting. It would be very appealing to an audience liking the traditions of spirit heat, spice burn, and lip tingle while wood finish is mingled throughout. The blending is characteristically fine. With the emergence of world whiskies being extremely robust and assertive it is nice to know some things don’t change and traditions are being held onto by companies like this.

Penny Blue XO Single Estate Rum

Penny Blue, XO Single Estate, Batch No. 2, Mauritian Rum 

What’s in the name? First of all it clearly indicates this is an extra old rum. Exactly how old I cannot say but it is not often that when a spirit sports the label XO is it actually said how old it is. ‘Single Estate’ is referring to the fact this spirit sees products completed from start to finish. This includes cane farming, distillation, maturation and bottling on the one property/estate. ‘Batch’ of course meaning it is the second run or bottling and release. ‘Mauritian’ or Mauritius is an island nation in the Indian Ocean about 2,000 kilometres off the southeast coast of the African continent. That is a lot to fit into one name.

What the name is not telling you is that this is a vatting/blending of 22 casks of rum with a ratio of 30% Whisky cask, 30% Cognac cask and 30% Bourbon cask. The final 10% is made up of spirit from the previous batch of Penny Blue. It is non-chill filtered, naturally wood coloured, and contains no additional sweeteners. That is some pretty cool maturation and blending going on here but how does it all work out? Let us make it clear here that I have never been a rum fanatic so there will always be a bias to my appreciation.

Penny Blue, XO Single Estate, Batch No. 2, Mauritian Rum
Distiller: The Indian Ocean Rum Company, Medine Distillery, Berry Bros. & Rudd
Location/region: Mauritius
ABV: 43%
Wood: 30% Whisky, 30% Cognac and 30% Bourbon

Colour: Toffee

Nose: Spirity and bold with big vanillas, oranges and typical florals. The barrel influence is extremely obvious with a sort of blended wood effect.

Taste: Waxy sweet vanilla sugars and heavily palate drying. There feels like common influences of the cognac but it is clearly rum the whole way through. Some residual light fruit cake textures and flavours appear.

Finish: High and dry.

As rums go it is delicate and refined. No question about it. Rum though is not my thing at the best of times as I find the high levels of dryness excessive and hard to mask. The barrel ageing has added levels of wood balance but it still is rum through and through. I do enjoy a whisky finished in a rum barrel where minor influences appear so of course I can appreciate opportunities to try these refined rum products.


Thanks to Daniel Hutchins-read and Berry Bros. & Rudd for the samples.

The Baron

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

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Cloaked in Velvet - Teeling 21yo Silver Reserve Single Malt

Teeling 21yo Silver Reserve Single Malt. Note bottle unavailable to shoot. Package tube from Teeling Small Batch.
Teeling Whiskey have been making grounds in Australia releasing both the Small Batch and Single Grain to critical applause. Now, to add another level to the family, we see the release of the Teeling 21yo Silver Reserve Single Malt into Australia.

I do not have too much detail right now on this whisky nor even a pack shot as we only received 50ml to sample. Current indications is the Teeling 21yo Silver Reserve Single Malt will be on Australian store shelves mid 2015. This small batch release of 5,000 bottles saw maturation in ex-Bourbon before a final finish in Sauterne wine casks.

What we can pretty much say is that even though Teeling have opened their doors to the new Dublin Distillery, plans for this release and the next 20 years to come will be using spirit distilled at the Cooley distillery. If Teeling could innovate this way under another distilleries roof imagine what is to come from their own house. Very much looking forward to how this turns out.

Teeling 21yo Silver Reserve Single Malt
Distiller: Teeling Whiskey Company
Location / Region: Dublin, Ireland
Type: Single Malt
ABV: 46%
Wood: Matured in ex-Bourbon. Finished in Sauterne wine casks.
Colour: woody honey

The nose is a delivery of thick caramel, essences of emptied wine barrels, woody oaks, smoked bacon and paprika. May I say some resonance to the Balvenie 21yo Port Wood but much sweeter and bolder.

I almost did not want to move to the taste as the nose had already delivered so much love. A neat sip had an essence of woody dryness from the start but with a heavy coating of caramel and wine. Not sickly sweet but instead a heavier port wine sweetness less the grape sugars. A bit nutty around the edges and a crisp popiness (if that is a word) on the tongue. Dry smoked paprika appears making me almost think this is lightly peated. Potentially think of the sherry and smoke of a Highland Park. Everything is big in the mouth feel but still well balanced. Dear lord I want more.

Finish: Big, vast and warming with some spirit heat returning to the throat. The dryness lingered but was constantly being countered by caramel cloak it wears devilishly well. That puff of smoke is still there and I would be amazed if there was no eating at all in this.
Teeling 21yo Silver Reserve Single Malt Official bottle shot.
Overall this is a lush whisky with a big nose draped in sweet caramel velvet. It lurks in the corner of a crowded room seen but not seen. Only once you know it is there well.. it is hard to take your eyes off it. If I was to give a dram then a solid 6.5 out of 7. Curious about the smoke elements? I need to find out more about this.

Priced at $199.99AU and like all Teeling Whiskey in Australia, it is exclusive to Dan Murphy’s first followed by bar tops later. Thanks to Martin Lynch and Teeling for the sample. It is a stunner for sure.

The Baron

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

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Getting Crafty - The Balvenie Craft Fair & Winter Picnic Festival

The Balvenie Craft Fair & Winter Picnic Festival
The Balvenie has been developing a persona of hand craftsmanship for many years now. Rightly so as their whisky typifies the excellence craftsmanship can deliver to the water of life. But The Balvenie is not a selfish inward looking marketing monster. The brand loves to celebrate crafts people all over the world, from all walks of life, that have the same passion to think creatively and mould these ideas into something tactile with their hands. Each year William Grant & Son’s establishes the The Balvenie Craft Bar pop up in one of Australia’s capital cities. Last year say The Balvenie Craft Bar appear in Sydney and the year before in Melbourne. Held over 4 days from Thursday June 25th until Sunday June 28 2015, this year has seen the concept adapted, renamed and reapplied to appear as The Balvenie Craft Fair & Winter Picnic Festival.

Chocolate frogs and The Balvenie
Popping up at Sydney’s iconic Strand Arcade, The Balvenie has put on a series of The Balvenie Master Classes. With only 14 places per session, the master classes were located on the 1 floor overlooking the expanse of the victorianesque location. Hosted by local brand ambassador Laura Hay, revellers tasted 3 of The Balvenie’s finest core whiskies paired against a choice selection nibbles, oils, cold cuts, dips and breads created locally from The Strand Arcade’s artisanal proprietors. The whiskies tasted were: The Balvenie 12yo DoubleWood paired with candied crusted macadamia nuts from The Nut Shop; The Balvenie 14yo Caribbean Cask paired with a wedge of creme brûlée and short crust pastry from Sweet Infinity; The Balvenie 17yo DoubleWood paired with a chocolate from from the Haigh’s Chocolates. A nice pairing of all and when combined with the additional food stuffs all we were missing was the red and white chequered blankets, bags of lettuce, and lashings of ginger beer to complete the picnic theme. Tickets to the master classes were $15 with all funds being donated to charity.

A section of nibbles paired with The Balvenie core family range
If punters failed to get a space in master classes The Balvenie pop up bar was displaying on the ground floor at the main entrance to The Strand Arcade off George Street. Visitors and passers by could stop for a quick dram and shortened master class with our other fondly know brand ambassador from Melbourne, Richard Blanchard. Serving small tastes of The Balvenie 12yo DoubleWood guests were welcome to take their dram and explore the various artisan displays put on by The Strand Arcade stores.

The match up with The Strand Arcade was an excellent idea as it allowed the guests to take in the craftsman in an environment we are all naturally prone to explore. I love going to the Strand Arcade whenever I am in town and where ever possible utilise the arcade to cross through the city just to have a look at the stores on the way through. I hope we get to see The Balvenie appear here again, maybe for a mid summers eve supper (hint hint). Top marks to The Balvenie and The Strand Arcade for a perfect winter festival.

The Baron

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

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Another Big Beast - Bruichladdich Octomore 7.1

Octomore 7.1 Image from Bruichladdich website
As word spreads this morning about the Bruichladdich​ Octomore 7.1 the questions are always raised about when is too much peat too much?

I love the Octomore range with its sweet ashy textures. I was not overly impressed though with the super heavy peated Octomore 6.3 at 258PPM finding it has finally started to simply lack balance, that is when tasted against the Octomore 6.1. Now the 7.1 is being released at 59.9% ABV with a 208PPM. Granted each batch is different so we are not going to know what this is like until we try it, but I have started to have some reservations about what I am really buying. Octomore in some ways has become a try before you buy product so I will be looking forward to a tasting I am sure is to come in the near future.

I hope one day we see a return to the early days of Octomore 1.1 where some real balance was in tune and reservations were considered even though Jim McEwan had said even back then he thought it had more to give. To paraphrase Jim when I first spoke with him, my old notes say he had mentioned that as the barley is peated the finer qualities shut down and the sugars are lost. In turn it means it is harder to created wash as the required enzyme reactions cannot take hold during the mashing process. Peating at these levels is extremely difficult. Additional enzymes cannot be added to Scotch Whisky and must rely on the natural reaction of the barley, so there is risk each time the heating goes higher and higher.

Certainly we have seen things change with this whisky and I can say Bruichladdich are not shy in varying the concept greatly so a wider market has had a chance to find something the really enjoy. Consider the cask variations and the move to Islay Barley as just two in this Octomore family. This is a good thing I think and something I expect to see more and more in the future from other distillers.

Flat fact is I very much doubt I will ever fall out of love with Octomore. Let us see where this one goes when it hits our shelves and looking forward to the results.

The Baron

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

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Changing Of The Guard - Suntory Hibiki Harmony Sydney Launch

22nd June both fellow DTWC member The Proxy and myself saw the launch of the Suntory Hibiki Harmony into Australia. This change of the guard has been eagerly anticipated by many as rumour spreads about the removal of the age statement Hibiki's from our shelves. It is true the whisky has been available to purchase at some retail chains some weeks prior to this date, though this launch can be considered the official start date. Mike Miyamoto, Global Brand Ambassador for Suntory, returned to our shores to present the whisky while affording us the time to also deconstruct the whisky in a stand up tailored tasting. Read more about Mike Miyamoto’s last visit to Australia: Bringing The Swagger Back - Suntory Launches into Australia.

The Suntory Hibiki Harmony is a NAS (No Age Statement) created firstly to patch the problem of stock issues for the brand globally, as well as amend the profile to fit the target audience. Yes that is right “amend the profile” deliberately for Japanese consumers. In speaking with Mike after the presentation, he expressed that he feels that the home land audience should always be considered first. Though the original Suntory Hibiki was in fact a NAS in it’s original form, since the early 90’s it has developed into those amazing blends we all so know and love. I cannot in anyway confirm what the original tasted like as I have only been appreciating the virtues of the Hibiki 17yo for the last 13 odd years. One has to assume in 25 years things have evolved considerably.

These developments from the original blend though had created short comings for the local markets tastes. This opportunity to solve the stock related issues also allowed for changes to the Hibiki formula. During the presentation, as well as after when I spoke with Mike, he indicated a series of blind tastings within the Japanese audience preferred the profile of this current Hibiki Harmony over the Hibiki 12yo. Indeed this whisky is actually between 8 to 12 years old but the formula has obvious differences in nose and taste. A high vanilla sweetness and low spice are combined to deliver a shallower mouth feel and pillow like finish.

During the presentation Mike deconstructed or one might better say constructed the Hibiki Harmony with a tasting of 3 primary foundation whiskies. These whiskies were: Chita Grain Whisky; Sherry Cask Malt Whisky; Mizunara Cask Malt Whisky.

The Chita Grain Whisky was presented at 55% ABV. Striking similarities on the nose to a Teeling Single Grain with huge vanilla ice cream scents. With such similarities I can assume corn is the primary base for the grain but I failed to ask the question of Mike when I had the chance. The palate though was ordinary with some dryness and very little spice or alcohol warmth. The Chita Grain Whisky was noted as being a primary ingredient in all of the Hibiki family. I must say even before tasting this whisky, my pre-nosing of the Suntory Harmony displayed extremely obvious vanilla grain highlights.

The Sherry Cask Malt Whisky was a bit of a an outstanding item. At 50% ABV the nose was huge with sherry that instantly reminded me of a Glendronach cask strength. This truly was a whisky to be enjoying for the nose alone. A pity we have not seen it released on it’s own merits but reading on you may understand why. The taste though was a bit of a let down with the same typical smoothness and mellow finish as the Chita Grain. Clearly this whisky is designed for the mellow profile displayed in the Suntory Harmony, and also why it probably would never be considered to be bottled independently. Mike did comment there is not enough of this Sherry Cask Malt Whisky to bottle independently anyway.

The Mizunara Cask Malt Whisky was also presented at 50% ABV and displayed far more juiciness in the palate with notes of grated fresh coconut. The nose of course had the seasoned plum wine effect with an exceptionally smooth finish. Again the mouth feel was slight and soft as the previous 2 whiskies. Mizunara is historically a cask used to age particular plum wine. The wood though has major flaws in its make up and tends to leak a lot. To age whisky for any period of time in these casks would mean more was lost through capillary action than it would through the angels share.  Often these casks always see plum wine added first to season the wood and plug up the grain enough for whisky maturation.

Now to looked to the Suntory Hibiki Harmony bottled at 43% ABV. Nose is sweet with vanilla while the body is velvety reasonably interesting but lost a lot through an average finish with almost no spice. Rounded and mellow but characteristically a bit empty that lacked wood refinement. It is hard not to criticise this whisky in the negative because I really love the Hibiki 12yo and Hibiki 17yo. Because it carries the family name of Hibiki it does make for certain expectations. Is it fitting my tastes as well as the age statements do? Clearly not but this is not to say it is of poor pedigree. On its own merits it is a great blend priced just below $100 AU. I cannot put it into the classification of one of the best blends I have ever tasted unfortunately as I must retain this for the Hibiki 17yo, but I won’t deny myself a bottle purchase here and there in the coming years. Obviously the Japanese market has spoken and kudos to Suntory for looking after their own first. Mike said to myself that we may see the Hibiki age statements return in 5 or so years but this should be taken very much as speculation until stocks are sound.

Mike Miyamoto is a great guy to chat with and it had been over a year now since we last meet. I was amazed at how Mike recalled who I was and how I had spoken with him including my questions about the bottle of Suntory Mellow Harmony I had squirrelled away. Mike was also obliging to sign a couple of bottles I lugged into the city. The look on his face when I pulled out the Hibiki 17yo was to die for. Clearly access to the 17yo is getting to be a pretty rare thing the world over and Mike could not help but ask where I got it from. I think he almost fell over when I mentioned how many other bottles I have stowed into storage to weather the coming years. If I only open one bottle a year I may just last the drought that is about to occur.

Closing off this post we cannot forget the location itself. Suntory spend a great deal on presentation. Not only are the bottles icons in themselves, but the company never holds back on ensuring the utmost attention to detail in all they do. The event space was as fabulous as last years launch though ever so smaller in size. No gimmicks to be seen and the space allowed for the whisky to have its moment. The food was excellent with many items created specifically to match the Suntory Hibiki Harmony. It would have been great to sample the new and the old Hibiki's side by side but I have  few bottles of my own so I can wait until then.

Thanks to Beam Suntory and Mike Miyamoto for the amazing night and hope to see you again sometime in the future.

The Baron

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

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Staying in Tokyo - The Society & The Park Hotel Tokyo

The Society bar and Park Hotel Tokyo
Japanese whisky is in the now but the fact is it always has been around & for much longer than many seem to think. I have been traveling to Japan for many years & the whisky is something I have always looked forward too. Even though great whisky is made in Japan it has always been somewhat inaccessible in Australia until very recent years. Now we have seen a bit of a golden era in Japanese whisky supply in Australia but even that is starting dry up fast. Japan on the other hand has a thriving bar scene that supports the local product, though finding actual retailers stocking shelves with Japanese whisky by the bottle is very few in comparison in Tokyo. It has been noted to me on several occasions that there is 2 main factors why this is so. Firstly people just don’t have shelf storage in the cities, while secondly eating & drinking out on a daily basis sort of negates the concept of buying for home. This issue of shelf accessibility Makes things rather complicated for the foreign whisky appreciator looking to score a good deal.

Don’t be too alarmed by what I am saying as there are many solutions to solving this problem. One of the best solutions is to simply stay at a hotel that has an awesome bar while being located in a area that can get you to those need to see whisky vendors. Enter the Park Hotel Tokyo with a top shelf bar called The Society. If you are a SMWS (Scotch Malt Whisky Society) Member (as I am), you will know at least something about the few SMWS Bar/Cellars that have been setup around the world. The Society is one of these such bars and one you simply must visit when in Tokyo.

From here I am going to break this post into 3 parts. Each part has a relevance to the rest but needs some detail on their own: The Scotch Malt Whisky Society; Staying In Tokyo - The Park Hotel Tokyo; The Society Bar Tokyo.

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society

First let us define exactly what SMWS is. Established in Edinburgh in 1983, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society is a business trading cask strength single barrel whisky to a membership of over 26,000 members world wide. A tasting panel hand selects, then purchases single casks of whisky from all over the world before laying them down to age until they are defined as being ripe for bottling. Each bottling is non-chill filtered and comes from a single cask. Being bottled at cask strength delivers profiles in whiskies never to be seen again and often overlooked as not fitting the profiles of the major brands.

Membership is annual while it is also required to be a valid member in order to purchase the whiskies. Members are distinctly passionate about the SMWS and all share a dream for something unique. Chapters of the SMWS are all over the world with members bars in many major cities. For Australians to get involved in becoming a member it is as simply as signing up membership at the SMWS AU website. Once you a member you will have access to purchase whiskies available in your country. While members are travelling, local & international, instant access is granted to any SMWS Bar or Cellar to purchase whiskies buy the bottle (depending on the location) or draw a few drams at members pricing.

Specifically speaking about SMWS in Japan, the fact of the matter is that SMWS in Japan is the oldest SWMS chapter outside of the UK being started back in 1993. Looking at this history it is no surprise that there is more than a few official sampling bars through out Japan. Though this list is in Japanese, I am sure if you are keen, you will find what you are looking for.

The Park Hotel Tokyo rooms and views

Staying Tokyo - The Park Hotel Tokyo

Secondly let us look at accommodation & locality. Regardless if you are in town for business or pleasure staying in Tokyo can be a bit of drama if you do not know where to go. For any whisky lover The Park Hotel Tokyo will get you what you need and it will deliver you your whisky fix. Every hotel has a bar right? But not every hole has a dedicated whisky bar let alone a dedicated SMWS bar. The Park Hotel Tokyo is a luxury hotel with a focus on traveling international guests. Located in the district of Shiodome, just off the stylish Ginza, your access to Tokyo is a stones throw to the local train & subway stations.

Facilities at the hotel are ultra modern, balanced against the art and nature exhibits throughout. On entry to reception at the 25th floor I was marvelled by the 10 floor high skylight atrium. Banked by floor to ceiling windows opening out for a view of the city, direct onto Tokyo Tower, & on a good day Mt Fuji far off in the distance. Through out the atrium reception a display of Japanese modern art including a 10 story high digital projection exhibits all year long.

The Park Hotel Tokyo hosts a series restaurants, bars, bakeries, and salons. 3 restaurants and The Society bar haunts the 25th floor which also includes: Art Lounge Restaurant (International); tateru yoshino bis (Casual French); Hanasanshou (Japanese Kaiseki cuisine and 50+ types of Sake); The Society bar (Japanese and SMWS whiskies and cocktails). It is without question you will find it hard to eat out when your staying at the Park Hotel Tokyo as the food and service at the bar restaurants is outstanding. In the mornings the Art Lounge turns into a breakfast buffet serving the best of fresh breads, continental, Japanese, and western styles to suite the hungry needs of all. If you stay be sure to get the breakfast package.

The Park Hotel Tokyo Foyer and installation artwork
Situated throughout the 10 top floors the hotel occupies, you will find the rooms are clean, modern, fresh & ultra quiet with evening views of Tokyo that are hard to beat (especially if you have a room with a  view of the stunning Tokyo Tower). I found the rooms to be very well kept & no doubt, if I was to stay in one of the Artists Rooms, I would be overly impressed (maybe next time I will add one of these rooms to my list).

Access from the Park Hotel Tokyo into the city is excellent and one of the main reasons to choose this hotel (apart from The Society bar). Walk to the Ginza for a bit of street life or take the underpass into the train stations for immediate access all around Tokyo. Truly the way to move through the city is via train so shopping for a hotel within walking distance is a must. Looking at locality from a whisky point of view there is too many bars to count as you wander down into the Ginza & surrounding districts. In particular take the journey from the Park Hotel Tokyo for a evening of whisky delights at the Camplbeltown Loch (find out more about it at our mates at Time For Whisky). Easily a 15 min stroll, you can still take a meal and a whisky at the Park Hotel Tokyo, and make it to the Campbelltoun Loch for a night of stunning malt adventures.

Even if you not completely taken by bar hopping, taking a walk proves to always be worth the adventure. One telling adventure of mine on my way back to the hotel. A small wine retailer along the Ginza had a sign out saying wine & sake tastings. Sparking my interest (I love both wine and sake) I stepped in only discovered a small collection of whiskies on the shelf. A bottle of Nikka 17yo Pure Malt lay open for tasting for ¥500 (that is about $5.10 AU). Asking for taste I was expecting 15ml but instead my dram easily topped 100ml. Bargain! Yes I had another but I was getting late for a meeting so 2 drams it was.

Just some of the SMWS bottles tasted over the 3 nights

The Society Bar Tokyo

Lastly let us move onto The Society bar in full order. There is not too many SMWS bars around & certainly not with the wealth of section The Society has on offer. The Society bar is located in the foyer of the Park Hotel Tokyo next to both the Art Lounge & Tateru Yoshino Bis Restaurants. Dark and mysterious on the interior it is still easy to spot the bars location by the opaque white glass door sporting a large SMWS logo.

On entering you will not miss the bar top as a standout feature. U shaped & with a sunken floor, the top itself is under lit, casking a warm amber glow though out the room. As a guess the bar could comfortably seat 15 while 2 corner tables will deliver around another 8 guests at a squeeze. If your keen for a cigar you will also find someone usually partaking in one of the corner tables.

Taking a seat at the bar is a little like a secret handshake all SMWS members know. Flash your members card & a menu of SMWS bottling as long as your arm appears. Not that you need to know this menu to see how many bottles are open for tasting either. Simply turn around to discover a cryogenic crypt of deathly hallowed drams lying instate just waiting to be awakened.

Koji Nammoku mixing up cocktails
Through the 3 nights stay I had at the Park Hotel Tokyo I spent a good deal of time as a bar fly at The Society. In that time I got to know bar manager Koji Nammoku while seeing in detail how the bar operated on any given night. Koji is an amazing barkeep with an intimate knowledge of every SMWS bottling open at the bar. Of course being a SMWS member himself it is not surprising his passion in whisky surrounds the brand. Koji is a young 27yo and has been managing The Society bar for 3 years at the time of this interview Jan 2015. He noted very passionately that he always wanted to be in the bar scene ever since his school days. Koji discovered the virtues of SMWS though friends & has been a SMWS member for 8 years (well before working at The Society bar). Koji oversees what’s on & behind the bar as well as bar service. Be sure to order something with ice spot you can enjoy his skills in iceball chipping. Nominating for a seasonal cocktail menu, it is Japanese whisky appearing as the core ingredient for general guests as a way to balance out against the flavour profiles of the SMWS bottling.

Over the time I sat at the bar Koji served some fantastic SMWS drams in my direction including the following wish I kept record of:

1.181 Vintage Car In A Rose-Garden
66.51 Hospitals On Guy Fawkes’ Night
121.65 A Well-Oiled Baseball Glove
132.5 Sweet And Darkly Beguiling
3.225 Galleon Attacked By Pirates
31.28 Going Nuts In A Rugby Club Changing Room

Iceball chipping with Koji. I took too many photos and his hands began to freeze.
Not to let just the SMWS bottling shine, Koji had his moment displaying his skills making a me both a Bamboo Leaf Martini & a deliciously fresh Forest Highball.

To cap off a fun filled couple of days Koji completed the stay with a fantastic ice chipping display to fashion a hand made iceball. What a show! When SMWS bottling's are unique from one to next next it needs to be recognised Koji displayed an intimate knowledge of each an every bottle opened for tasting. People such as Koji & his staff that make bars like The Society a destination when visiting Tokyo.

David Croll of Whisk-e
Before closing off I also had the privilege of speaking with David Croll of Whisk-e Limited, the current custodians of SMWS in Japan. Whisk-e has been managing the SMWS Japan since 2001

David had specifically mentioned if anyone is traveling to pan and in Kyoto tp be sure to look up Bar Keller. "The owner (Bar Keller) is a very long-standing member and one of, if not the, key man in the whisky market in Kyoto" as David quotes. David goes on to comment about Bar Keller saying "It's a very different type of welcome, very Kyoto. But Society members won't be disappointed"​. For more information on Bar Keller check out Nonjatta.com.

In speaking about the local market approach of the SMWS Japan David commented "We just try to offer alternative ways to enjoy Society whiskies whilst not looking to deter the hardcore fan. By that I mean tastings such as Whisky & Sushi, Whisky & Cigars, Whisky & Craft Beer, etc. We also did a blending once at the top of Mt Fuji with Dave Broom."

I also asked David about the Highball trend many have become fascinated with here in Australia and why has it become so popular in Japan. David commented "The highball crowd are largely a new whisky audience, rather than the traditional drinkers. There's been some flow into mainstream whiskies, although largely into entry level products. However this reinvigoration of what had been in danger of becoming a bit of a staid scene has been very good for the market I believe".

A big thanks to Koji Nammoku and The Society bar, David of Whisk-e, and Mitsuru Narasawa of Park Hotel Tokyo. Your hospitality was greatly appreciated and your time welcomed.

The Baron

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Dublin On The Rise - Teeling Single Grain

Feeling Single Grain
I have been working the Teeling magic for sometime so it is about time I actually documented it officially. At our previous club(s) tasting I showed up the virtues of the Teeling Small Batch with its delicious rum cask finishing. Here I present the Teeling Single Grain. Quite simply liquid raspberry ice-cream. What a profile!

To begin though a wee bit about Teeling itself. Teeling is an old name in the Irish whiskey community with ties to whiskey production dating back to the 1780’s. Until recently all Teeling whiskey was being produced under the Cooley distilleries celling. Now, with the new Teeling distillery constructed and it’s doors about to open to the public, Dublin sees its first new distilled active in 125 years. Teeling's goal is “to revive the independent spirit of Dublin” through small batch releases of interesting and flavoursome bottlings.

This whisky, the Single Grain, has been an award winner since it saw release nabbing the title of World’s Best Grain at the World Whiskies Awards, 2014. With full maturation in Californian red wine barrels, the whiskey takes on a lush red berry nature. I have presented the Single Grain now in several public whisky tastings and can confirm it is a true crowd pleaser every single time.

As the name suggest it is single grain being primarily made of corn. There is a small amount of malted barely that goes into the mash in order to create a natural catalyst to start the sugar break down process. Under EU law a single grain can have up to 10% malted barley if required. You may start to associate corn with bourbon but let me tell you there is no resemblance except they are both whiskies. Corn is in fact one of the most widely used grains in the world for distillation and not just relegated to the bourbon industry as urban myth tells.

Teeling Single Grain
Distiller: Teeling Whiskey Company
Alcohol/ABV: 46%
Type: Single Grain
Region: Dublin, Ireland
Barrels: Californian Cabernet Sauvignon
Bottled: 10/2014

Nose: Light coffee, raspberries, creamy vanillas & spice mingling to make fresh liqueur white chocolate.

Taste: Soft rounded mouth feel that gets spicy with exciting mixed berry and vanilla ice cream.

Finish: High cardboard dryness with a medium heat that causes palate chew with lingering sweetness.

Overall this is an amazing whiskey and oh so well priced at $64.00AU a bottle. Considering it is coming in at 46% ABV, displaying excellent packaging, and outstanding spirit quality, makes it a sure winner. If I was to give a dram an easy 6 out of 7. It may have taken some time since the end of Prohibition in the US which caused the decay of the Irish whiskey market but, I think we can surely say Irish is on the rise again with crackers like this.

At this time Teeling it is only available by the bottle through Dan Murphy’s but will now also be seen over bar tops too. Keep an eye out for the Teeling Small Batch (review to come), Single Malt, and 21 Year Old.

The Baron.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Whisky Round Up - Whisky Show Sydney 2015

The Whisky Show Sydney 2015 has now passed and some of us D.T.W.C. members made an appearance once more.

We have been attending The Whisky Show for many years now and have seen some significant changes as the format builds. For a whisky event it is well priced and the first of the major showcases to be appearing on Sydney's whisky calendar each year.

Held at the Stamford Plaza, Sydney Airport, Mascot, this show saw 3 main event times running from: Friday 4pm to 8pm; Saturday 12pm to 4pm; Saturday 5pm to 9pm. Friday evening was certainly the time to go with approx 250 attendees, while Saturday saw max capacity crowds of 500 attendees at both sessions.

In the time I spent at the show I found the selections of whiskies underwhelming, but when I have tasted as many whiskies as I have through the years this can be expected. There was some crackers to be had and some new releases raising their heads including tasting of the limited re-release Laphroaig 15yo. This is not the 15yo you may remember. It had a very high dryness and flatness to the palate.

For the Brown-Forman appreciators the new Woodford Reserve Double Oaked was a big winner as was the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir Finish (hows that for a title), followed by a very popular Jack Daniels Sinatra Select.

Pernod Ricard unveiled the plans of scrapping the classic Glenlivet 12yo from our Aussie shelves and replacing with the less than impressive Founder’s Reserve which left a heavy heart for myself. Find out more about my thoughts on this here: RIP to a classic. My sorrows were cradled by tasting the Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso packing a punch at 60.7% ABV with a fabulous array of cinnamon, dark chocolate, honey and apricots.

I was mightily impressed with the Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon at 55% ABV from Wild Turkey. I will be looking forward to seeing this on our shelves later this year.

For the first time Gentleman’s Cabinet set up shop with a range of Cuban cigars that quite literally flew off the table. I was enviously watching as punters wandered the crowd nosing a cigar while sipping a whisky. No question I will be doing that next year!

Also on display was the new Denver & Liely Whisky Glass. I had been hearing a lot of talk over the last few months on its release and know a few people who have invested the dollars in buying one or tow glasses. Designed to allow multiple nosing levels of appreciation by matching the size of a tumbler to the nose of a sniffer. The concept is certainly interesting to contemplate. On picking up a glass though the weight alone made me shift uncomfortably as it felt awkward and unbalanced. As it was during the break I had a full 30ml of Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso so I transferred my sample into the D&L glass for an experiment . The nose was clearly lessened and no matter how much I was being told this was an enhancement I failed to find it. Wrong environment to really be testing the idea so I will shelf opinions until I can borrow one at some stage. At $50 for a glass it is too pricy to discover I don't like it. Looks fantastic though, especially on a black table cloth and very impressive from a distance. Well done to the Aussie lads for taking on the world with this one.

Lastly we sampled the Starward Shiraz Wine Cask which was delicious and confusing at the same time. Big flavours typical of a heavy sherry cask whisky exploded in the mouth while the stewed bananas, typical of starward single malt, settled in the background. Considering the standard Starward Single Malt is actually the true sherry cask leaves you wondering how long before wine cask truly overtakes sherry in the global market. Go Australia!

Moët Hennessy had a Ardbeg vaporiser on hand to effectively allow you to inhale Ardbeg 10yo. What is not to love about that?

Our biggest gripe is the location. It just takes too long and it is too far to make your way out to Mascot. Trains through to the airport are expensive each way and busses easily can take over an hour too and from the city with no direct routes outside the city centre.

Access to food in the area is limited to just the inflated prices in the hotels restaurant or a 10min walk to the McDonalds. The Whisky Show have solved some of the food problems in the past with a food bag which guarantees everyone gets their share. Well done on this part.

I would allspice to point out the much more amped up security and restrictions on drunken behaviour this year by the staff at The Whisky Show. Really obviously and tight. I only experienced one or 2 rather intoxicated individuals while serving at the event and as a punter. Well done on this part no doubt.

Overall a great event was had and a fair few whiskies were on show. Things were let down though by what felt like a poor vendor turn out as their presence was clearly down. On the positive side the vendors that were there were swamped beyond belief. I should know as I was helping serve on the  Brown-Forman table during both Saturday sessions.

The Baron

Monday, May 18, 2015

RIP to a classic – The Glenlivet 12yo on the way out fast

Move over The Glenlivet 12 Year Old. In time your memory will fade.

For those not aware the classic Glenlivet 12yo has been confirmed to be leaving Australian shores and being replaced with a less than interesting Founder’s Reserve expression. Though we knew some markets would be losing it, I personally did not think Australia would be one of them. Hell we are a small country, could we impact that greatly on stocks? Well it seems this is not an aged stock issue at all. I had heard rumour of Australia taking the hit but, hearing it from the Pernod Ricard reps confirms without doubt.

In my tasting experience, at the recent Whisky Show Sydney, I found the Founder's Reserve to be a poor substitute for such a classic whisky. Pernod Ricard sight that an educated market does not need to have age statement whiskies anymore but, can appreciate a whisky without knowing how old it is!! No wait should that not be the other way around?

Let as not mistake the fact I like many NAS (No Age Statement) whiskies and in fact there is probably more I can appreciate than not. This issue though is not about low stocks nor about a replacement with a better product. The point is it is an iconic whisky of exceptional quality at a great price point now being replaced with a more expensive, lower grade product in taste and texture.

I can see this as a bit of a reaction by Pernod Ricard wanting to maintain market shares as they lose ground in an expanding global market. Reports have continued to circulate that there is not an aged stock issue driving this move. An interesting article written by Oliver Kilmek over at Dramming.com, written back in Feb 2015 when the news first hit, covered off many of these issues. I suggest you have a read.

I can imagine that these big players will in fact return to age statement whiskies soon enough once our markets are flooded with NAS whiskies by the micro distillers popping up. Unfortunately the damage may have already been done. Remember what has happened to the general feeling now on The Macallan 1824 Series core NAS range in Australia. Big price, flat profile.

It it a real pity to be seeing this happen so if you a keen Glenlivet 12yo enthusiast, start buying a few cases now. Yes a few cases and pop them in the cellar. Though it will still be available in some markets you can imagine the price increase locally will increase significantly once the removal occurs in much the same way as when the JW Green label also left our shores.

How long before we see the 15yo and 18yo also disappear? The Glenlivet are going to have to start working pretty hard to win me over on this issue. In the meantime I have started stocking up.

The Baron

This is a non-sponsord announcement. For any further details please defer to the Glenlivet website. We have not been supplied any official press information on the release of the Founder's Reserve. All views and opinions are our own unless otherwise stated. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

For Charity – Glenfiddich Original Masterclass

Official image taken from the Glenfiddich website.
Have you tasted the new release of Glenfiddich The Original? William Grant & Son's Australia are putting on a  series of masterclasses here in Sydney to get you to grips with this throwback release. To be held over a series of days, all proceeds from the classes go to the Soldier On Charity. Following is the official extract on the promotion:

To celebrate the launch of Glenfiddich The Original we are hosting a series of masterclasses. Sampling the Glenfiddich range from the 12 year old to the 21 year old, including of course a tasting of The Original. This will be one of the first opportunities to taste this unique limited edition whisky. All proceeds will be going to www.soldieron.org.au a charity caring for physically and psychologically wounded members of our defence force.
If you have been following our tastings with William Grant & Son's over the few years you will note their level of hospitality and generosity in public engagement is next to none.

Cost is $25 and the location is the Lord Dudley Hotel, 236 Jersey Road , Woollahra, NSW 2025 Australia. Dates are from 4th June until 7th June. Complete times can be found on the event bookings page here.

We will be there. Will you?

The Baron

This is a non-sponsord announcement. For any further details please defer to the Glenfiddich facebook page.