Monday, July 28, 2014

Copper Giraffes & Naked Twister - Touring Old Hobart Distillery

Casey & Jane Overeem
On my recent Tasmanian Whisky Extravaganza I made it out to the Old Hobart Distillery, aka the Overeem family shed. And what a nice shed it was too. Unbeknown to me at the time it was to be one of the very last public tours Old Hobart Ditillery was to be running at its current standing facilities. In the coming week following my visit the stills were to be broken down and moved to their new home over at Lark Distillery's Mt Pleasant site. I am so glad I got to meet the original makers of Overeem Whisky while catching a glimpse room this famous whisky was born out.

Waking early from a previous evenings impromptu cider tasting, I hopped a bus to shoot out to the Old Hobart Distillery in Blackmans Bay from Hobart with an approximation of where to be. Old Hobart Distillery was not on the map, it made sense, it literally was a purpose built distillation shed on the Overeem family property. Really who wants crazy whisky aficionados rocking up for a tour and a cup of coffee at the family diner table? Calling Jane Overeem (head of Marketing & Distribution, sometimes distiller, and always daughter to Casey Overeem) I noted exactly where I was on the map right down to the house number. Curiously only moments before this call I swear I could hear Janes voice in close proximity. "Keep going up the road to number X, we have a long driveway. It was to be a classic case of accidental misdirection (or was it). I kept walking up the hill, I kept walking along the road, I walked until the houses stopped and the paddocks began. When horses started appearing out of the scrub I thought it was time to call Jane just to make sure where I was. "I think I sent you the wrong way, I'll send mum up to get you "Janes says. "...he's just laughing" was one of the last comments from Jane to an obvious listening audience before the sound of the phone clicked. So that is how my tour at Old Hobart Distillery began: local fauna and flora; horse paddocks; and a ride in the family car. "She's so blonde sometimes" quoted Jane's mother as we trundeled back down the road an up the drive way I was literally standing in front of when I made the initial call. Thanks Jane your the best! I needed a work out. Really it could not have been a better start for the day as the ice was broken and morning atmosphere was relaxed while chatting over coffee at the Overeem kitchen table. Other guests had arrived by the time I made my appearance, all of whom I would later see that night at the Overeem Malt Vault event.

As mentioned, what was the Old Hobart Distillery, was in fact Casey's shed on the family property. Purpose built for the task it was painted typical Australian generic garden green with 2 large burgundy doors, with a foot print at a maximum size of 35sqm that was legal for a hobby distiller. As small as the space was in turn this dictated the size and height of the stills to be installed which ultimately has influenced the flavours we so admired from an Overeem whisky.

Upclose with the copper giraffes
Walking into the distillery was like discovering 2 giraffes in an awkward moment of naked twister. Standing silent with necks craning to the roof, the wash and spirt stills were intertwined to make the most of the small space. Around the room were all Casey's tools of the trade creating an extremely lived in ambience. I found it to be a pretty typical view of Australian's current golden golden era in whisky distilling. Something to be cherished. Casey and Jane were clearly proud of their space making us all feel like part of the family. With space at a premium the chairs that could be found offered some seating, where benches cleared some leant or like me stood amounst the dwarf copper wildlife. Cosily crammed in Casey and Jane then took us through a run down of the ins and out of Old Hobart Distilley.

As the tour progressed, we turned our heads left, we turned our heads right (because if you swung a cat you would probably break something), drams from various Overeen expressions were offered for tasting including some exciting new make spirit. Casey was all to open to discuss any questions posed and we found our discussions diverging into all manner of discussion about whisky production. Probably one of the more interesting items of discussion related to how Casey mentioned he add a lot of water to the spirit run to slow down the distillation process noting that this was one of the characteristics that improves the spirit. At this point of the tour now knowing the distillery was moving I asked about water source. Casey simply pointed to the filters on the wall noting that it did not mater too much about the source on this site as their water was getting filtered prior to the distillation run. Also you should note Lark Distillery has always done the mashing of the malted barley for Old Hobart Distillery. This basically means there is no change to the malting and mashing for Overeem Whisky even with the site merger. Good news indeed.

The ins and outs of Old Hobart distillery
In the corner of the room was a steal drum containing the fores and faints of the distillation process. This is cuts before and after the pure spirit has completed distillation. It is an important part of the distillation process as this is the stuff that makes you go blind, poisons the blood stream, causes comas, and ultimately death if you drink it in any considerable enough quantities. It needs to be cut out of the process. The contents of the barrel was green from the copper stills and smelt somewhat harsh and astringent. Casey asked if anyone wanted to taste it. "I will" was my reply with just a finger dip at that. I still recall a bit of a look of horror on Jane's face as she questioned Casey about should we really be doing this. I can confirm it was pretty nasty stuff with a nose and taste of heavy copper, apples, and barley. Rub an old penny or 2 cent coin on your fingers then lick your fingers as they is pretty much what it tasted like. I won't be doing that again any time soon as it left the mouth instantly dry and metalic. I had always thought these cuts were simply dumped but amazingly it goes back into the still on the next run and will continue to be recycled several times until it gets a bit too nasty.

Proud parent Casey Overeem and going into details about his product  
In finishing up a few photos were posed for before Jane had said this was the last official tour. Was there a tear in the eye and sob in the voice? I think there was. Casey seemed nonchalant to the moment which to me simply says they have achieved what they set out to do and proud of the fact. I am so glad to have been there for this tour as I really do believe that these kinds of 'hobby' distilleries (as Casey called it) are going to be a thing of the past very soon for Australia. Money, tourism and investment are key words when talking about the growing whisky industry Australia wide. As the newer distilleries come online it is clear they are being built for the tourism factor as much as to make whisky. The same thing happened with the Australian wine industry back in the 80's as interest grew in discoveringand visiting the source of what was in the bottle. It is a natural progression for whisky to do the same thing. Still these are the places were legends are born and dreams come true. Old Hobart Distillery is proof that great things really do come from small things.

It was not the last I would see of the Overeem's that day, the Malt Vault Bourbon in the Bond Store event was only hours away, but let us leave that post for another day.

Thanks so much to Casey and Jane for the time. It was a swell time.

The Baron

Friday, July 25, 2014

Distill Your Feelings - Jack Daniel's & Fathers Day 2014

Father's Day 2014 is fast approaching. In Australia we see it celebrated on the 1st weekend of September each year making the 2014 festivities on the 7th September. For me whisky is always on the list and I guess if your reading this and a father then your probably the same.

These days it is becoming more common for distilleries to be offering personalised engraving services as a way of enhancing a gift. Jack Daniel's has now opened it's internet doors for engraving this year on bottles of Gentleman Jack. With 3 lines of 18 characters each I am sure a you can figure out something to say like "Remember who gave you this", "Sharing is caring", "At this line, tides out, call for a lifeline" and or "Don't open this without me".

Ordering will be found on the official Gentleman Jack Australia Promo website or on the official Gentleman Jack facebook page. Get in quick as the first 500 bottles ordered online get free shipping also.

The Baron

Information quoted in this post has been provided to us as an official media release by Gentleman Jack.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Glenfiddich's 2014 Fathers Day Competition

Glenfiddich have a Fathers Day comp for Australia! It is not often we see exclusive competitions in Australia for whisky so when there is one you need to know about it.

The rules are basic and simple to follow. Use the link below to get started. If your not a Glenfiddich Explorer (on the email list ensure you check the box), in 25 words or less explain what knowledge you would like your dad to share (presumably at the exclusive whisky tasting), and fill in your contact details.

The official line for the promotion is as follows form the Glenfiddich site:

Join us today and tell us what knowledge and skills you would like to learn from your father for your chance to earn tickets for you both to an exclusive Glenfiddich Whisky Masterclass. There will be 50 winners in each state. After all, knowledge passed down through your family deserves a whisky passed down through ours.

Enter the Glenfiddich competition here

Good luck!

The Baron

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

Friday, July 11, 2014

Whisky Touring Tasmania - Where To Stay in Hobart

Montacute Boutique Bunkhouse. You look forward to seeing this sign everyday.
Warning: You will be wanting to stay at the Montacute Boutique Bunkhouse by the time you finish reading this.

It is a hard choice traveling to a new city or country and not knowing where to stay. Ensuring access to food, transport, facilities, and local culture is imperative. Sure budget can be a big thing but who wants to stay in stale, sterile, unsparing hotel room that delivers nothing but 4 walls and a bed with a hefty price tag with an attached restaurant you would not even take your mother-in-law to. So you want quality, class and style? You need inspiration? You insist on location location location? You want access to bars, pubs, restaurants that serve 1kg steaks, gourmet delis, weekend markets where whisky distilleries even have stalls, night life, and some of the beast coffee and breakfasts Hobart has to offer all within a stones throw? You like the authentic heritage old town feel in every glance? Off street parking, that is if you actually just don't walk everywhere which you can? Want a social environment to retreat too after a hard days touring and tasting? Expect the owners/managers to be friendly, open, and share a cider or four or just happy to hang and chat at every moment? Enter the Montacute Boutique Bunkhouse. Located in the heart of old town Battery Point just off Salamanca Place, everything you need for a short or long stay is delivered with little more you can ask for. For me I needed a place I could stage my whisky tours from over the 4 days in Hobart and seriously there could not have been a better choice!

Some of the rooms in Montacute
Montacute Boutique Bunkhouse, as the name suggests, is a bunkhouse with shared rooms and facilities.  No more than 4 persons per room, priced at the time $40 a night per person, you will find custom made king size single double bunks that have a comfort factor you wish you had at home. No single rooms are available but there are some doubles with queen sized beds for couples priced at $100 a night for the room. Everything is provided for including heaters, linen, pillows, reading lamps, ample power points, towels, and privacy screens. Let's not forget wifi throughout of course. Chillaxing rooms are found all over Montacute with very very very comfy chairs, as well as a large dining area, and an extra large kitchen with fridges plus storage cupboards if you want to cook or grab takeaway instead of eating out. Hopefully by now you will realise this IS NOT a hostel/back packers, so don't write it off because you need to share. Contrary to what you may initially assume luxury is the key word at every step.

It tasted as good as it looks.
Montacute Boutique Bunkhouse is perfect for the single gourmet traveller but if you travel in couples or plan to do a group tour of Tasmania, especially if your planning a whisky tour, then this is the place to stay. Owners Antony and Rose have a background in food, beverage, and marketing with a keen interest in the sailors old devil Gin. Of course don't that stop at talking Gin to impress your new found family away form home. I am sure you will be discovering (as I did) an urge haul back to the bunkhouse bottles of cider, beer, wine, cheese, cold cuts, curries, bread, spreads, sausages and even oysters (yep I ate those before I got back) as this bubbly couple will be all to happy to assist in it's partaking while shooting the breeze all afternoon long. Take this time to grab any advice you need on where to eat and drink as Rose and Antony have the all digs on what's what in the neighbourhood.

Just some of the action in a moments walk from Montacute.
I chose Montecute based on price and locality to access the Lark Cellar Door as that was where my whisky travels with Tasmanian Whisky Tours would begin. I was completely unaware of what else was around Montacute but I knew I did not want to stay in a shady hotel room with no social aspect. I firmly believe there would be very few other locations in Hobart that could provide what you can get from Montacute Boutique Bunkhouse for the dollars spent.

Now I am not saying that you should stay here but if you don't then expect a knuckle sandwich when you least expect it from me if you pass up the opportunity. If I was to give a dram then it is a clear 7 out of 7. I could go on about how great an experience I had here but really you just have to try it for yourself. I loved it so much I booked aroma for next years 2015 whisky trip. Get on it now!

The Baron

Friday, July 4, 2014

Knockin on heavens door - On Tour with Tasmanian Whisky Tours

A rock star moment on the Tasmanian Whisky Tours. All we needed was some groupies.
Want to go touring Australian Whisky distilleries in Tasmania but don't know where to start? Regardless if you an Australian resident or overseas tourist Tasmanian Whisky Tours is a solution to problem.

These days it is pretty much impossible to not think of whisky when someone speaks of Tasmania. Over the years we have all, at one time I am sure, considered hitting up the distilleries. Where to start though? Drive to Melbourne then hope a boat to Tassie? Fly in to Hobart, rent a car then drive around? Who is the designated drive, you? NO way we are here to taste whisky not sniff it! Then there is what to expect when you get to a distillery? Can you even get your foot in the door? All this is a bit of minefield with disasters or disappointments bound to happen. Without a hell of a lot of forward planning your going to find it a waste of time. Remember most of these Tassie distilleries are not much bigger than a large back yard sheds with very few even prepared for guests to just rock up. Visitors centres are more or less non-existant These are all the problems I had to sort through over the years and is what has held me back... until now. Enter The Tasmanian Whisky Tours (TWT). On a whim I got the bug to just go recently, and thanks to TWT I could literally just do it. True to the word I booked a room, booked a flight, book some tours all within 15 min. 2 weeks later I was off for rock star treatment whisky distillery touring.

Kicking off with a breakfast dram at the Lark Cellar Door.
Before going further it is worth noting there is an initiative by Discover Tasmania called The Tasmanian Whisky Trail. A trail it is not and the naming of the site is going to add further confusion. A great site and if your looking to do more than a few days in Tasmania and or wanting to get a good overview of the island state then both (especially over seas travellers) then the Discover Tasmania & The Tasmanian Whisky Trail sites are worth a look in. Be aware there is NO 'trail' so to speak of unlike what you will find in the US such as The Kentucky Bourbon Trail program.

TWT is the brain child of Brett Steel tour operator. Barely running 6 months when I took the tours Brett has a plan to get you around to as many distilleries in a day as is possible while considering the distance that must be travelled and fitting in a gourmet lunch. There is nothing else like this in Tasmania at this time but that is not a bad thing. Brett does it right and there is little else you can ask for that is not all ready factored in. Possibly a whisky bar in the back of a stretched Hummer is the next step?

Tearing it up through the highlands the scenery just got better and better.
TWT focuses much more on a general view of Tasmanian distillery history with tours accessing behind the scenes action where possible while giving a pretty good geographic talk through the whole trip. With groups of anything from 3 to 12 individuals the tours are lively, comfortable, and just plain good fun. Brett's relationship with the distilleries is clearly close with the Tasmanian distilleries very open and willing to accept TWT as one of their own. Brett's knowledge is not just of whisky and the educational aspects of local culture and environment are there every step of the way.

1st leg of the tour The Nant distillery. 
Noting all the work Brett puts in, TWT still is at the mercy of the distilleries. If they choose not to open then that is what happens but Brett's communication with the distilleries is solid so Brett will always do what he can to fit something else in instead. As an example, to pack in as much as I could on my trip, I had booked 2 days of tours to get to as many distilleries as possible. When Overeem needed to close it's doors for another event on the Friday I was booked in for, Brett gave me a call discussed my options and still hooked me up for a half day Lark Distillery tour guided with the always jovial Mark Nicolson and his Drambulance. The half day Lark Distillery tour was just fantastic and so glad he could get this fixed for me but lets leave that post for another day.

New distilleries are coming online in Tasmania soon while others like Overeem and Lark have merged, this will mean what you maybe reading here now for distillery access will change soon. Currently TWT gains you behind the scenes access to: Lark Cellar Door; Lark Distillery; Redlands Estate; Old Hobart Distillery / Overeem; Belgrove Distillery; Nant Distillery; Tasmanian Distillery / Sullivans Cove; William McHenry and Sons Distillery; Shene Estate. TWT tours groups / public tours cost $185.00AU and currently run on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. Private 2 person tours cost $495.00 in total that run almost any day of the week on booking request.

Lunch at Redlands Estate before starting the 2nd leg of the distillery tours.
For my Sunday tour we set out at a sparrows fart with a breakfast dram at Lark Cellar door doing a meet and greet with other fellow tourers. There was 6 of us all up + Brett. Climbing into the bus we set off for a first stop at the Nant Distillery doing a full tour of the facilities and grounds before a sampling of various Nant whiskies. Following was a drive up into the Tasmanian highlands for a gourmet lunch in front of open fireplace on the Redlands distillery site coupled with a complete tour of Redlands Estate distillery chatting and sampling with head distiller Dean Jackson. Following we headed off for an all access pass to Belgrove distillery to have an intimate tastings and unique barrel samplings with Peter Bignall, the Australia's Renaissance Distiller. Break downs on each tour in following posts.

The 3rd leg and last distillery on the days tours was Belgrove Distillery.
My recommendation is to use Hobart as your beachhead to stage gourmet assaults on the country side. Schedule 2 days of tours so you can access as many distilleries as possible. If your not completely keen on visiting some of the same distilleries twice then organise a half or full day tour with Lark Distillery on the alternate day so you can really dig into the grain to barrel experience. Also keep in mind Tasmania is cider country and a gourmet travellers delight so be sure to make time in-between tours to get some of the local food, wine, beer and cider action. You won't be lost for activities in Hobart either and if you need a whisky fix daily the Lark cellar door has a range of whiskies that beat most Sydney whisky bars while the Nant Bar is also only a extra long stones through away.

A cold brew back at the Lark Cellar Door before rounding off the days activities.
In perspective what did this trip cost me? All up I managed to get 4 nights accommodation at The Montacute Boutique Bunkhouse (cannot recommend these guys enough) right in the heart of the Hobart action and within walking distance of the Lark Cellar Door (review to come), flights return to Sydney on Jetstar, and 2 days of tours for the bargain price of $650 AU (food not included). That rocks! I have been so impressed with what I have gotten out of these toursplus what can be achieved in Hobart in so few days I have already booked by accommodation for next year 2015. Oh yes I will be back and I will be knocking on Tasmanian Whisky Tours door again for sure. Or should I say knock knock knockin on heavens door.

If I was to give a dram then it would be a solid 7 our of 7. Tasmanian whisky tours does it all so sit back and enjoy the ride as Brett will fix you access most won't get. If Brett is not running Cider, Cheese, and Oyster tours by the time I get there next year there is going to be words had. Please sir can I have some more…?

The Baron

Thursday, July 3, 2014

New Release - Highland PArk Dark Origins

Official press shot from Highland Park facebook site
Highland Park's latest release may actually be something worth tucking into for a change. We have not seen a great deal of success with all the limited releases from HP over the years and the pricing that followed has delivered questionable value. That said there is no doubting the standard releases from Highland Park are just fantastic that set a benchmark for anything else there release to be gauged by.

Now we see Highland Park Dark Origins. A NAS (No Age Statement) using twice as much first fill sherry casks as the Highland Park 12yo. With no caramel colouring or chill filtering, it retains natural colour and bottled at 46.8% abv.

Setting the pricing scale at £64.95 / $118.06AU we need to consider the taxes it may incur on importing so add another $20AU to the price just to be sure.

Official tasting notes from Highland Park are:

Colour: Rich mahogany

Nose: Sherried spice and ripe bananas combine with toasted hazelnuts and baked apple

Palate: Well-balanced, dry peat at first mellowing out to maraschino cherries, warm dark chocolate entices the palate

Finish: Enduring sweet smoke

Yet to be released in Australia we would hope to see it in a couple of months based on what Highland Park has said on Facebook.

I personally am getting over sherry and have for a while, but if the 12yo is anything to go by the sherry influence is going to be more minimal than some of those saturated releases by other distillers. Looking forward to trying this and soon.

The Baron

This is a non-sponsord promotion. For any further details please defer to the Highland Park website.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Seagulls & Whisky - A Night With Bowmore & Gordon Dundas

The evenings Bowmore family lineup
Yesterday evening, 19th June 2014, I took the opportunity to do a dedicated tasting of the Bowmore family as part of a joint SMWS (Scotch Malt Whisky Society) and Oak Barrel Sydney event. Held at the RAMC (Royal Auto Mobile Club) Sydney, we were treated to extensive while sometimes humours profiling of the Bowmore family with Brand Ambassador Gordon Dundas.

Tastings are fun things to do and I do enough of them these days, but anytime a high rolling Brand Ambassador is steering the evenings ship I try to make as much effort as I can to attend. This is the first time I have seen Gordon present and he exudes a seasoned confidence in presenting the brand while being very animated at the same time. Effortlessly Gordon took as on a tasting path of Bowmore, interjecting a quick wit that held the attention of the floor the whole way though. A great thing listening to Gordon was that he was happy to openly discuss those things often other distilleries would gloss over or shy away from discussing in an open forum. To me it simply says that Bowmore makes a great product and their methods reflect this fact.

Before delving into the tasting there is a few things of note I picked up during the presentation:

  • Yes Bowmore does use some colouring in their whiskies to maintain consistency.
  • Most Bowmore is chill filtered except the higher proof releases
  • 35% of Bowmore is still traditionally floor malted on the premises
  • Bowmore is peated between 20ppm to 30ppm
  • Lightly toasting European Oak opens up woods for more whisky to pass in and out of the barrel during maturation where as a method such as the aggressive alligator char used in Bourbon barrels would close the wood down.

Note the cheeky new make spirit on the right
The evenings tastings consisted of Bowmore's: New Make Spirit; Small Batch (yet to be released); 12yo; 18yo; 10yo Tempest IV Cask Strength; 23yo Port Cask; 14yo SMWS 3.198 (Scotch Malt Whisky Society release). It was a pretty awesome line up displaying the multiple dimensions Bowmore can be. Following you will find some brief tasting notes I took in order to reflect on in the future:

Bowmore New Make Spirit - At 69.3% it is not a shy dram at all. Yet to hit wood the nose it is super sweet with hints of seaweed. Tasting releases a honey sweetness giving way to elements of salt and smoke. The finish is long, hot, and spicy.

Bowmore Small Batch Bourbon Matured - This is a new release yet to hit the shelves in Australia. I found this a feisty bugger but still enjoyable. It is young that is for sure with the ABV at 40% it still holds its own. The colour is Champagne Crystal and the lightest Bowmore I have ever seen. Considering they do some colouring you can imagine just how light this maybe coming straight from the barrels. The nose is woody and a bit metallic with a medium dry peat smoke and salts. To taste it is very smooth with sweet malts in the fore, a typical metallic banding of bourbon casks in the centre, then closing with a dry edge of fruity spice. Finish is long and spicy that sits high in the palate finally releasing some dried coconut after the first dram.

Bowmore 12 Years Old - With an ABV of only 40% the nose still brings light medicinal peat smoke with citrus oranges. To taste I found delicate sweet spots of honey and vanilla, salts, light smoke and a dry citrus spice. Finish is a medium heat while high spices are released very quickly that gets a little ashy on the end. This is back in a big way and if you have been put off in the past by the odd mustiness encountered it may all be a thing of the past (interestingly this was a subject discussed on the night also). I have never been overly impressed with the 12yo or the Legend in the last few years but this is a sea change worth exploring again. Buyer beware though as you may still encounter some older releases of this expression from less wholesome years if the bottle has been on the shelf for a couples of years. Best to ask for the very recent deliveries only.

Bowmore 18 Years Old - At 43% we are starting to see a rise in ABV but it is not much and I don't think it needs to really be higher either. The nose delivers baked custard apples and caramelised sugars, a light smoke with a medium spice. To taste it is super smooth holding a creamy texture until the sherry spice and raisins appear. Finish is short and soft in the throat but leaves a long spice on the palate. A great balance of spice, oak, smoke, and cream.

Bowmore Tempest IV 10 Years Old - Not to be taken lightly this cask strength devil delivers a punch at 55.1% ABV. Now entering the non-chill filtered region of Bowmore you get an immediate oiliness on the nose with salts, apple skins and mints compounded by vanillas. The taste is super creamy, oily and minty but also has a tart berry note about it. Finish is long and warming with an overall balance perfect for a cask strength. This was the best of a great bunch in my books and topped the night.

Bowmore 23 Years Old Port Cask Matured - This yet another higher ABV at 50.8% non-chill filtered spending 100% of its maturation in Port Pipes. Nose is typical salts and smokes of Bowmore, some dried fruits but oak is becoming prevalent as camphor and leather is also appearing. To taste smooth and woody with port wine sweetness, raisins and dried oranges. It is getting a bit leathery for me though but holds a clear sophistication. Finish is long and rich leaving a chewy tackiness in the palate.

SMWS 3.198 Smoker's tooth powder and dentists' chairs - This was the independent single cask 57% cask strength sherry refill bottling by SMWS to make an appearance. Ideal to see an alternative view of when to bottle a Bowmore. The nose was medicinal with malt vinegar, salts and a hint of liquorice while having a medium smoke component. To taste brine water (think of canned tuna water) spicy, peat oils, apples and vanilla malts. The finish was long, salty, spicy and drying holding a mild ash right at the end. Best description is Salt & vinegar chips, or maybe just by sitting the ocean woofing down a news paper wrapped parcel of fish and chips with a lashing of malt vinegar. Watch out for those seagulls though when you open the bottle.

The soon to be released Bowmore Small Batch Bourbon Matured
Overall the event was really good and happy to have been lucky enough to have purchased a ticket. Well done to Oak Barrel and SMWS for puttin on the show. The RAMC Sydney is a great location to be holding tastings like this as the space is airy while being comfortable and sophisticated. Even with so many people in the room it still did not feel cramped. Lastly I highly recommend if you can do a tasting of Bowmore with Gordon Dundas you should as you won't leave disappointed. Gordon certainly likes a good story, especially about Islay or Bowmore, so be sure to bring your best yarn as well.

The Baron

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Location! Location! Location! - The Whisky Show 2014

So another Whisky Show Sydney has been and gone for 2014 and let us hope things improve next year. Yeah ok that is a downer of a comment to begin with but I think it is fare once you get to the end of this review.

For us punters and with so many whisky events happening in Sydney we have come a long way from hanging a whole year in anticipation of attending one single whisky event. Yes 6 years ago Whisky Live Sydney was all we had to choose from but now things are very different. For me outside of product launches and small tastings I actually choose just to go to one main event a year for a miriade of reasons. Primary reasons are that these big events are generally all the same vendors, showing all the same thing, while giving the same spiel over and over again. Compounded by the fact after the 5th or 6th whisky you cannot taste anything anymore I end up asking the question "what is the point of going to all of them" and "Is this money well spent"?

Jack Daniel's Sinatra Select and Scallywag.
This year I had chosen to do The Whisky Show again as last years event proved be a good one as it was centrally located, well priced, and held a good selection of vendors. Again this year the pricing was great at a bargain $32 AU a ticket but the price was overshadowed by the locality. Held at the Stamford Plaza Sydney Airport Mascot meant a 2hr journey by bus (or train) from outer Sydney each way and then a 15min walk to the event from drop off. You really have to think about this in context if you are actually keen to buy anything when at this event would you really be wanting to make the hike home at 10am in the evening with expensive alcohol in arms… not really. As I understand it the main reason World Of Whisky had chosen the location was so they could do sales on the day. They needed a location that was licensed to do so and the Stamford Plaza offered this. Locality was the same criticism he had of Whisky Live when it was held at the Royal Randwick Racecourse back in 2010. Last year I gave World Of Whisky praise (see review here) for the locality but this year it is massive 2 thumbs down.

On arrival at the Stamford I met up with fellow club members The Proxy, The Dog, and El Capitan and like the a scene from Wizard Of Oz we skipped merrily into the foyer to show tickets and get cracking. Unfortunately the foyer was a shambles with massive delays as everyone shuffled to be admitted by a fearful 2 staff taking tickets. One for tickets and one for putting on the arm bands.

Pushing through we were then clear and we were greeted with a rather refreshing Glenmorangie cocktail that the staff could not tell me too much about. Apparently from what I hear there was a cocktail comp of some description and this was one of entries, maybe a winning one, but honestly I cannot say and don't think it is worth chasing up much further unfortunately. It was a big success though and many people thought to souvenir a glass to take home as there was no where to set the glasses down when you were done and bags were provided so the obvious happened. Many were to leave disappointed as excessively aggressive bag checks were forced on everyone leaving the event to the point we were actually checked 3 times and an additional chase down in the street (highly illegal I suspect) to be checked again. Were they looking for glasses or was there something more to it? All I know is that added yet another dampener to the day.

The hall was great with wide open space and the vendors lined around the walls. Some water stations were made available which was also fantastic but only 2 high benches to rest on and no seating apart form some limited space outside. 4hrs of standing can really get to you but there was more than enough space to move out form the 5 body deep crowds to nose and sample your whiskies in relative comfort. This open space and high ceilings also benefited by dissipating the heat effectively so overall the comfort factor was good.

Bruichladdich Octomore 5.1 and Islay Barley 2006.
There was a good selection of vendors to choose from with some great interactivity going on. Personally the best tables I found was the lads from Bruichladdich and the SMWS (Scotch Malt Whisky Society). The Bruichladdich lads really knew there stuff and could really give the ins and outs about the whiskies on show. Meanwhile over at the SMWS table a very large selection of whiskies were on offer to taste but mind you always being Cask Strength you have to keep them short.

It was a pity we only saw 2 Tasmanian whiskies on the floor, that being Overeem and Lark, and I did find it a little odd that Starward were right over in the far corner. Keeping the Aussie vendors together would have been smart to me but then where were the others anyway? Starward themselves need to lift their game as the chap at the table really could not express too much confidence in the product and the the table was bare with virtually no presentation at all. Locality being where they were I am sure many missed them altogether. I was really hoping to see some of the other releases and experiments Starward have been getting a name for but nothing else was on offer. Others have said they did see the Ginger Beer Cask Finish but when I had asked I was told that only the NAS expression was on offer.

Within seconds this was the view of the few and far between single platters that came out to feed the punters.
If what I said has not been enough the utmost disappointed by far was the far or there lack of. PATHETIC is an understatement at best. This was by far the worst supplied event I have ever been too. People were virtually snatching and pushing to get to a single platter of sandwiches, muffins, or meat balls. Word was some nasty egg and bread rolls got around too and I am glad to have avoided that. No this really was appalling and it has already made my decision not to go to next years Whisky Show. A long time ago I had learnt my lesson about eating prior to events like this and so I made a point of it to eat before entry at a local Mcdonalds 15min walk away. For every one else though I really do pity what happened considering we were at the 12pm session. The location has access to no food unless you want to walk a good 15min to 20min away from the venue. The fact is food was promised and not delivered is the main point not the quality. It would have been a different case if they had said food would not be provided. RSA was heavy handed for a change and that was at last a good but 4hrs of drinking and no food would have left even the most robust of drammers in a spin. Poor form World Of Whisky very poor form.

A Well Oiled Baseball Glove. By far the most intriguing of whiskies on the day.
Top whiskies for the day for me was the Bruichladdich Octomre 5.1 which I was surprised to even see considering its limited availability and price. Also being able to taste the Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2006 and Bruichladdich Organic side by side was a treat. Islay Barley has some really interesting earthy depth about it. The Jack Daniel's Sinatra Select was a cracker and had a great tangy note of cranberries about it. Lastly something that really hit the mark or curiosity was the SMWS 121.65 A Well-oiled Baseball Glove. I still don't know if I liked it or hated it but I certainly have not forgotten it as it seriously tasted like leather and polish. Very interesting indeed. Biggest let down of whiskies was the Scallywag from Douglas Laing & Co. I was so looking forward to this after such an amazing success they have had with Big Peat. Unfortunately my palate is tuned to this whisky and all I got was horrible musty sherry casks and sour wine. A bad bottle? Maybe as others said it was great. I will certainly be on the hunt to try it again to confirm or deny my initial findings.

The lads and myself did have a good time as had each other for company while darting off for drams and then meeting back in the centre form time to time. I would say If I was there by myself then I probably would have left within an hour of arriving as the management of the event leaked disappointment. Location! location! location! This cannot be said enough about these events. There is too much to choose from now for these event organisers to just 'assume' we will go anyway. And for the love of Queen get the food situation sorted.

As you would see I took very few pictures and decided to simply focus on discovering those whiskies I had never had before and I must say I did a good job of it leaving a happy man for doing so. Overall though if I was to give a dram then it would be a 3 out 7 for this event. Plenty of room for improvement.

The Baron

This is a non-sponsord promotion. For any further details please defer to the Whisky Show website.

Bringing The Swagger Back - Suntory Launches into Australia

Suntory- The Art Of Japanese Whisky
There has been a lot of talk recently about Suntory Whisky with its acquisition of Beam Global. What has come off the back of this acquisition is the launch of Suntory Whisky as a major whisky player in the world whisky industry. Not that they weren't to begin with as Japanese whisky has always had its place on the top shelves of many a commercial and private whisky bars. I for one rate the Suntory Hibiki 17yo as possibly the best blended whisky I have ever had and have yet to find a challenger that comes close.

Suntory in all its glory
Though a few Suntory whiskies could be found in Australia at the larger retailer chains, notably Yamazaki 12yo, we have generally been limited to either buying duty free ourselves, see my post In And Out - Buying Whisky Duty Free In Japan, importing in small orders from online retailers, or relying on the high prices charged by the specialist shops (having to do pretty much the same thing anyway with a mark up). Now Suntory Whisky is here in Australia in a big way and here to stay.

Exceptional presentation of the Suntory Whisky bottles
Monday 19th May 2014 saw the official launch of Suntory Whisky into Australia with a amazing House Of Suntory sensory experience at the Art Gallery of NSW, Upper Asian Gallery. If any brand can be said to have swagger then Suntory Whisky is at the top of the list. Dressed in our best black suite and ties The Proxy and myself arrived to be dually checked in and handed champagne flutes filled Suntory Hibiki 12yo mixed with Perrier mineral water. Though the effervescent glass of whisky matched to mineral water was a nice touch it left me thinking very quickly "where's the whisky at". Before the crowds of VIPs, well to do's, journalists, bloggers, and gate crashers alike (yes there was a few), we explored our surrounding enclosure to take in the scene of plinth mounted bottles of whisky stretching from one end of the gallery to the other. A very nice touch that made me still feel underdressed for the occasion. Note to self: next time a bow tie is in order.

The extraordinary tasting room
Before long we were ushered into one hell of an incredible tasting room that I think most of us failed to even notice what was before our eyes on entry. WOW what a setup! Row upon row of bench tops tiered with 6 Suntory whiskies ready for a tasting: Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve; Yamazaki 12yo; Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve; Hakushu 12yo; Hibiki 12yo; Hibiki 17yo. Scrambling for a row up front I think all us bloggers and writers had the same idea as we found ourselves packed into central one table. How do you do Mr and Mrs Gourmantic, Time For Whisky, and The Whisky Ledger. As great as these sessions are we never have enough time to actually make comprehensive tasting notes so lets just say there was not a drop left in any of my glasses and The Proxy and I were very grateful for the VIPs that did not turn up to leave those untouched glasses next to us.

Mike Miyamoto, Suntory Global Brand Ambasador
Guest speaker Mike Miyamoto, Suntory Global Brand Ambassador, walk us through a complete tasting of all expressions while enlightening us on the history and traditions that make up the global brand. A very knowledgeable chap to be sure considering his 35+ years working though various roles for Suntory Whisky. I am glad I had the opportunity to hear Mike speak on this night as I also saw him the following evening and he was looking pretty tired. It is clear Mike loves what Suntory Whisky has created and was happy to chat during the reception to anyone that wished to ask questions or give praise.

Those pesky monocles!
On a more humorous note, through the tasting a considerable amount of clinks and crashes could be heard around the room as the near invisible monocles covering each glass were knocked onto the table tops and floor. What was initially a mild distraction turned to outright laughter by the crowd as yet another monocle went flying. No really it got ridiculous and even though the crowd got a little raucous over it who could blame them.

All the action coming out of the kitchen
Following the tasting we descended into open kitchen and reception area to be treated to probably some of the best cocktail food pairings I have seen in a long time. Flowing from the kitchen were perfectly presented platters of short rib of beef marinated in teriyaki sauce, parmesan and herb gnocchi, white anchovies with mint aioli on grilled soda bread, smoked salmon risotto with avruga caviar, duck liver parfait, rare veal on witlof, and seared scallop with passion fruit. There was a really awesome dark chocolate truffle block kind of thing as well but I have no idea what it was called.

Some of the action at the Suntory Bars
To compliment the food and extend the sensory experience 3 Suntory Bars were scattered about the upper reception floor serving up an array of Suntory Whisky: All expressions neat; on the rocks; as a highball. Pick and choose what you will and enjoy the fun and if the whisky got too much trays of iced water flowed amongst the crowds.

The flow of food and water was outstanding
Highlights of the night was certainly the tasting of the Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve and Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve. Priced at the lowest end of the Suntory family my feeling is they beat the age labelled single malt expressions hands down. A real eye opener and so glad we will be seeing them here on Aussie shelves soon. For me Suntory Hibiki 17yo still hit the spot as best in show.

We who attended
Overall a fantastic night and the best whisky launch I have seen yet. It is exciting times for Japanese whisky and I hope we will be seeing a lot more presence very soon. Well done to Suntory Whisky and ICON International Communications for the invite, you did a great job!

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 3, 2014

Elegance In A Bottle - Glenmorangie Companta

Glenmorangie Companta - 5th release in the Private Edition

Being a Glenmorangie tragic it may be no surprise that the day I opened my bottle of Glenmorangie Companta I fell in love with this expression instantly. That being said though this really is a cracker of whisky hands down regardless of previous experiences with Glenmorangie.

Another creation of the famous Dr Bill Lumsden’s Head of Distilling & Whisky Creation at Glenmorangie, Companta is the 5th release of what is classed the Private Edition. Previously we have seen the Sonnalta PX, Finealta, Artein, and Elanta. All exceptional in their own way though the Sonnalta PX had to be one of my favourites until now. To find out more about what makes Dr Bill Lumsden tick check out his Cabinet Of Curiosities over at the Glenmorangie website.

What's in the name? I am sure you can't throw a stone in Scotland without hitting a bottle of whisky named after a Gaelic word or phrase. According to Glenmorangie, Companta is Gaelic for 'Friendship', and the name was drawn from inspiration of the marriage of 2 cask types from French vineyards: Grand Cru casks from Clos de Tart; and a fortified wine from Côtes du Rhône (name not revealed).

Glenmorangie Companta
Distiller: Glenmorangie
Location Region: Tain, Scotland
Type: Highland
Alcohol / ABV: 46%

Colour: Red Wood. We must ignore the colour profile though because Glenmorangie do colour their whiskies. This is a shame because I would be sure a good level of this colouring is natural in this whisky, but knowing the fact colouring is used is must be set aside in my books.

Nose: Chocolate, cherries, warm baked figs with brown sugar & cream. On second dram wet oaks and winter spices become pronounced. Insane stuff.

Taste: Initial dram is as good as the nose tells you it should be. Lot's of spice is immediate but then there it is all over again with cherries, baked figs, brown sugars and a slight tacky raisin and oak. There is the familiar notes of the Glenmorangie Original and the port wine finish of the Quinta Ruban but much more complex. If you dram it too fast it can get a little dusty in the back of the throat so sip gently and all will be revealed.

Finish: Long and the spice really lingers in this one creating a great balance to the wet oaks and baked fig sugars expanding in the palate.

Overall the balance is really fine with complexities you can continue to explore over and over again. If I was to give a dram than it is a solid 6 1/2 out of 7. Truly elegance in a bottle.

Would I buy Companta again. At $165.00 AU the answer is no not for myself, or at least not too often, as it gets too expensive. Credit given though this is far better priced than many other limited edition whiskies getting around. I would certainly buy it as a special gift for someone else though especially if they are into their wines. This is the kind of whisky to really enjoy for a special occasion and not an every day dram. Being of such rarity and finesse also calls for it to be appreciate in a short time before those tips and tails are lost as tends to happen to any whisky open for too long. If you cannot afford the Companta but still want to find out what Glenmorangie does best then go out and buy the Quinta Ruban as a elegant substitute for affordability.

The Baron

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