Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Big Guns - Dramtacular at The Whisky Room

Dramtacular setup at The Whisky Room, The Clock Hotel
Sydney has become an exceptionally vibrant place for whisky tasting experiences with many bars now running their own events. As the industry expands so too bars are looking for alternate was to generate ideas no how to interact with this growing whisky audience. Quite simply whisky is not the den of older gentrified drinkers but instead a vocal, colourful and very enthusiastic and educated audience. Key word here us “educated”. Of course we want to know more about how the whisky is made but also who makes in and why they do the things they have done. Access to these makers and brand ambassadors has become and imperative requirement in the current dramming light.

The evening of Monday 17th August saw one of our favourite dramming locations, The Whisky Room at The Clock Hotel in Surry Hills, Sydney host an almost micro conference on whisky titled Dramtacular. This event was managed jointly with South Trade and The Whisky Room to deliver likes of Martin Lynch, Brand Ambassador for Teeling Whiskey, David Vitale founder of New World Distillery and creator of Starward Whisky, and Gee David Brand Ambassador for Bruichladdich, banter it out over their products and whisky in general to a crowded room of 40 or so individuals. All 3 brands currently fall under the South Trade portfolio distribution throughout Australia, so it is no coincidence the 3 big guns have come together in one Dramtacular evening.

Speakers and audience
For event situations like this it is not important to focus on what exactly is being tasted so we are going to avoid listings the settings and describing the profiles of each whisky. Really what we get out of opportunities like this is a chance to meet, greet, and interact with a suite of knowledgeable, influencing individuals that make this whisky community so electric.

Through the evening we had some insightful looks into distilleries from the perspective of the Starward founder David Vitale, to the brand ambassadors Gee and Martin. Each speaker had their own style of presentation, but all were relaxed in their own way. Playful banter crossed the floor between speakers with points of facts often deferring to one or the other. The evening finished with a few more pours of whisky to make the rounds and the speakers mingling in the crowd or sharing a cigar in the balcony.

Just a few of the drams and eats on the tables
The Whisky Room, as a location for events like this or rocking in for a dram is simply fantastic. Large high ceilings, creative yet balanced decor, big wide doors and windows opening onto a balcony suspended into a green spaced outdoor atrium. Dániel Molnár and staff are always friendly and very knowledgable about the whiskies on the shelf and the beers on tap. The whisky list is creative but not ridiculously extensive so the bottles are turning over at a good rate. Often you will find the duty free gem relaxing on the shelf just waiting for the seal to be cracked. A nice list of boiler maker match ups between beers and whiskies is on hand while the bar top food is excellent and the wine list diverse. We recommend ordering your eats over the Whisky Room bar for prompt fast delivery to your table. The burgers are delicious.

Thanks to South Trade, Dániel and the lads at The Whisky Room, David, Martin, and Gee for a fantastic evening.

The Baron

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

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Space Aged Whisky - Ardbeg In Space

Ardbeg Space Aged Whisky
Anyone who knows anything about whisky knows Ardbeg and the distillery that holds the same name. Love its deep peaty waters or shudder at the thought of smokey whisky, it is irrelevant to the fact we all all know the distillery. This can be emphasised through the iconic Ardbeg 10yo, or the fact Ardbeg is synonymous with peat, that Dr Bill Lumsden progresses the distillery through experimentation or the point of the quirky PR promotions and PR campaigns that we look forward to rolling around each year.

So to be announcing Ardbeg as the first distillery to officially send whisky into space for experimentation would be like opening the gate after the horse has bolted. You know it has happened already. So let us look at where this experiment is at now. After seeing a vial of Ardbeg placed on the ISS (International Space Station) in October 30th 2011 and, and after 3 years of orbiting the earth at 17,227 miles per hour, 15 times a day for 1,045 days, the whisky has returned to terra firma. That is one hell of a round trip that now needs to be poked and prodded like an Area 51 Alien crash site.

Not without a control subject at the same time an identical vial was retained at Warehouse 3 at the Ardbeg Distillery. On return earth the 2 samples have been collected in a Houston, Texas laboratory to examine the difference in maturation.

10ml of this precious liquid has been making a globe trotting exhibition from country to country and now, June to July, we see this 10ml appear in Aus for the first time.

David White presenting and discussing the space whisky experiment
On show in Sydney’s Dan Murphy’s Double Bay store, this sample of the whisky has been displayed in what is being called a “zero-gravity display case”. Much anticipation has been queried about this display and what “zero-gravity” really meant. How does it float? Was it a large magnetic levitation tool? Well truth be told it neither floats nor is it zero gravity. In fact it is a cleaver illusion where by the vial is sandwiched between layers of clear plastic and polished to a near perfect transparency. Either way the capsule looks pretty cool.

As part of the launch David White, International Business Director at The Glenmorangie Company, presented the display while leading us through a thorough discussion on Ardbeg, Dr Bill Lumsden’s involvement, and what this experiment hoped to achieve.

The focus of the research is to look at the impact of zero-gravity as on the whisky maturation process. We cannot say right now how this experiment was conducted or even if the whisky was contained in glass, stainless steel, or wood, as details on the research have not been made public. The final white paper will be available in September 2015 according to current sources.

The crowd enjoying cocktails and Ardbeg 10yo
Following is an extract of Dr Bills Lumsden, Ardbeg’s Director of Distilling and Whisky Creation and lead researcher, words on the subject.
“Ardbeg is known for taking risks in its development of some of the most coveted whiskies in the world, so it is fitting that it is the first distillery ever in space. We are now close to finding answers to something previously unknown which is truly exciting.” 
“We hope to shine new light on the effect of gravity on the maturation process and are
very excited to bring the Ardbeg Space Installation to Australia, as one of only ten
locations around the world”.
In conclusion of the experiment a small measure of this whisky will be actioned off to the highest bidder. As sort after as this whisky sample will be, we can very much doubt it will be tasted. If it is consumed then we can be sure it will be an experience out of this world (cough cough bad joke).

To conclude let us be clear it is certainly not the first spirit sent into space and, probably not the first whisky (smuggling contraband into space has been happening since the Apollo missions and earlier), but it is the first with a specific scientific purpose. Maturing whisky in space is an interesting concept, be it a very expensive concept.

Thanks to Ardbeg, Moet Hennessy Australia, and EVH PR for the invitation.

The Baron

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

Friday, August 14, 2015

We Shaped It - The Bar That Jack Built

The Bar That Jack Built
The year 2014 saw Jack Daniel’s Australia pioneer the what is considered the world’s first crowd-sourced bar. Built in celebration of Jack Daniel’s birthday, the concept was a bar built on the back of hard labour and material donations donate by the public in return for Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey. From chair sat on to the wood of the bench top served from, it truly was The Bar That Jack Built.

Now, the year 2015, sees The Bar That Jack Built return but with an original twist. This bar build will be hitting up 6 destinations from Sydney to Melbourne, while Jack aims to wrangle the locals into helping hit those nails, sand those corners and donate the props to once again, build the Jack Daniel’s bar. Get involved and get paid in bottles of Jack, then kick back and attend the bar launch when it comes back into town all over again.


So the concept (as mentioned) is a celebration of Jack Daniel’s the man, the legend, our hero’s birthday. But when was Jack born? Sketchy details means no one really knows. Rumour of his birthday may or may not have been in September but, it would seem this reasoning is as blind as to why Old No.7 got its title. So pick a date, any date, and you could be right. Otherwise go with the flow, believe in what Brown-Forman is telling us and let the whole month of September simply be Jack Daniel’s birthday instead.

Getting setup for the build
August 6 saw a select group of media and whisky appreciators team up to be the first in to start contributing to The Bar That Jack Built. Luckily for me I was on that list. Arriving early (as I prone to doing) I had to wade my way through a warehouse in Marrickville that was filled with props used for supply to various events and media. Some pretty cool stuff to be sure with many arriving and instantly commenting on the dragons leering over the stairs to the upper loft. A quick climb was to discover an open studio prepped with various tools and tables ready to get us started on the bar build.

Our chief carpenter, Josh Pinkus, lay in wait ready to to give us the ins and out on what we were building and how to go about it in a safe orderly manner. Josh’s hands-on easy approach left everyone confident in the tasks nominated while adding in his guidance where needed.

My contribution to the bar, along with side kick Chris Calcino of APN Australian Regional Media, knocked out 2 shelves and a bench-top over a quick hour period. Chris claimed little knowledge in carpentry but whistled a mean dock workers tune while he laboured away. Not to be forgotten Chris and myself hastily scratched out names into the bench top and racks hoping to track the items down when the bar returns to Sydney in late September.

Building that bar
A hard earned thirst was built up by all as dust and shavings chocked out parched throats (cough cough must… have… Jack). No better way to quench this thirst than with Jack Daniel’s Old No.7 neat or Jack in a cocktail two. On offer was a rather delicious Lynchburg Lemonade (based on the lemonade served at the Jack Daniel’s Distillery) or the Tennessee Mule, another favourite by mixing ginger beer and Old No.7. The Brown-Forman Brand Ambassador, Grant Shearon, was on hand from Queensland to guide us on a tasting tour of Jack Daniel’s Old No.7 before a swag of hot dogs, gherkins and hot pastrami reuben sandwiches were dished out to the hungry revellers. I ate too much but it was a good too much. Love a good reuben.

No hard work goes without gratitude in The Bar That Jack Built. Closing off the night our handy work was graced with a payment in bottle of Jack Daniel’s Old No.7 to thank for the efforts. I say “Thank you Jack Daniel’s”.

Tasting and after party
To get involved in The Bar That Jack Built Australian Tour be sure to turn up at one of the following locations on the listed dates. Times are not listed (yet) but current expectations are to haul in midday to late afternoon and contribute to the cause.

Thursday 10th Sep: Towradgi Beach Hotel, Wollongong
Friday 11th Sep: Walsh's Hotel, Queanbeyan
Saturday 12th Sep: Kooringal Hotel, Wagga Wagga
Sunday 13th Sep: Birallee Tavern, Wodonga
Monday 14th Sep: The Overland Hotel, Shepparton
Tuesday 15th Sep: Grovedale Hotel, Geelong

Official location dates
Once the tour is complete the bar will be open for business. If you are in one of the following locations then it is Jack time. Federation Square, Melbourne from 18-20 September, and Parramatta Park, Sydney from 25-27 September. Even if you could not be involved in the build the bar is still going to be open to the public at certain times. Live music and entertainment including all things Jack will be at the bar for you to enjoy.

For additional enquiries and to follow the status on the The Bar That Jack Built On Tour watch the official facebook page.

Thanks to Brown-Forman, Jack Daniel’s, Josh Pinkus, and Red Agency for getting us involved and help shaping the bar. We will be seeing you are the Parramatta Park bar for sure.

The Baron

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

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Crooked Tailor - Whisky Bar In The Hills

This article original appeared on Dramnation.com and was written by D.T.W.C. member Matt Wooler.


The time has come where a dedicated cocktail & whisky bar comes to the The Hills!

The Crooked Tailor is the 6th bar addition to the larger Pocket Group. The Pocket Group is a grouping of bars literally built from the ground up by co-owners Karl Schlothauer and Christophe Lehoux. Over the past few months we have been watching in anticipation for the bar to open its doors. A quick glance in would see both Karl and Chris cutting the wood and hammering the nails. Now you will catch them at the bar sipping a beer, cocktail, or whisky.

Slightly quirky in feel The Crooked Tailor seats 91 patrons. The menu is seasonal with an (American) Diner style cut to the eats. At this time The Crooked Tailor is looking to start opening for lunches so watch their facebook page for more info.


With the bar only just opening, the back shelf is still filling up but even now we see a handsome range of whiskies taking shape. Scotch is a primary component but there is just as much Bourbon and Rye whiskies to attract the hungry whisky traveler. The anticipation is to have a fine selection of rare malts to compliment the daily drams.

With our frequent trips to the bar we can say the food is pretty outstanding. A hell of a bite is given to the cheeseburger while the soft shell pull pork tacos are a big winner and both perfectly matched with a barrel proof bourbon.


We queried Ryan O’Keefe, Group Operations Manager, from The Pocket Group to give a first hand account of what the bar is all about, plus what whiskies are going to be on offer.

Q. Whisky styles?

Ryan. All bases covered here, we do have a particular focus in Scotland & will regularly be bringing rare malts, noted I have a soft spot for American whiskey so there is a fair bit on the back bar as well.

Q. Drinks styles from cocktails to beer to wine?

Ryan. Craft Beers, Concise boutique wine list, Cocktails are rotated fortnightly based on what produce is presenting best at market. We have a supplier whom we work closely with who accesses the markets everyday and grabs us the fruit/veg/herbs that are at the peak of their season which we then play around with and hero in our cocktail menu. We are blessed to have a very talented team whom are all capable of making any number of classics beyond our list & incorporate punter tastes/wants/moods to put together something delicious. Expect things like Mandarine sours, Rhubarb Boulevardiers & Cauliflower fizzes running at them moment.

Q. Motivation for opening in the hills?

Ryan. We identified a gaping hole in the market for good food & drink in a welcoming, comfortable environment. The main goal for CT was to create a space where any demographic from the local community can feel comfortable visiting and expect top shelf service & offerings.

Q. What kind of events we might see in the future?

Ryan. it is still early days in this regard - we are trying to be as responsive to the locals as possible. We do have some ambitious plans up our sleeves but they will stay there for now - all developments will be updated via our social media pages.


In these early days Ryan has been seen working The Crooked Tailor bar with the boys as well as managing operations across the entire Pocket Group. With already so much attention arriving nightly at The Crooked Tailor, it is a good idea to be getting in early for a seat at what we are are already fondly calling The Penny Top Bar. No really the bar top has hundreds upon hundres of US coins lacquered to the surface. This bar top has to be seen to be believed.

Opening Times:
TUES - SAT : 4pm - 12am
SUN: 4pm - 10pm

Location:
LOT 7/250 Old Northern Rd, Castle Hill, NSW

To follow The Crooked Tailor on social media  and get all the details on upcoming events, menu changes, and bar editions be sure to find them on:

Facebook: facebook.com/crookedtailor
Instagram: @crookedtailor_bar

It certainly is a fantastic time to be getting into whisky out in The Hills Districts with bars of this quality on our doorsteps.

- Matt Wooler (aka The Baron) founder of Dramnation

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