Friday, October 11, 2013

And here's the rub – The Glenlivet Guardians Chapter Launch

The Guardians Chapter drams
Recently myself and fellow club member The Alchemist had the privilege of attending The Glenlivet – The Guardians’ Chapter Launch, hosted at Tetsuya’s Sydney. This was a pretty special event and all the stops were pulled to celebrate the first official public tasting and voting of these whiskies anywhere in the world. So what is The Guardians Chapter? Effectively it is an initiative instigated by The Glenlivet to gain input by appreciators of The Glenlivet whisky in the choice of what will be the next limited edition release. From there of course is the extended community you can become involved in on The Glenlivet website. A term often coined in these situations is to call it 'crowdsourcing' but I just find it cheapens the whole experience to use that term. So to introduce this article below is the direct quote from The Glenlivet website as well as the hype reel that accompanies it:

We're giving our most loyal followers, The Guardians of The Glenlivet, the opportunity to choose which whisky – Classic, Revival or Exotic – will become our next Limited Edition single malt.

Anyone can signup to be part of the guardians chapter as well as take part in the tasting exercise. Australian residents can get involved through the event partner Vintage Cellars who will be holding tastings. Customers can purchase tickets for $30 when accompanied with a purchase of any Glenlivet product. Participators will then get to try the 3 new expressions, Revival, Classic, and Exotic, then vote on which one they prefer. From the tallied votes around the word 2,000 bottles only of The Glenlivet’s Guardian Chapter expression will be released worldwide, and is currently scheduled for a March 2014 release. These expression and bottles now exists in lockdown until the global vote is done (mmmm so what about the other bottles…?). Dates are below for the Vintage Cellars tastings are:

20th and 21st September - Sir Stamford Hotel, Sydney
22nd and 23rd September - The Woolshed, Melbourne
25th September - Port Office Hotel, Brisbane
26th September - Sosta Argentinian Kitchen, Adelaide
27th September- Grosvenor Hotel, Perth
1st October- Char Restaurant, Darwin

Sounds great doesn't it? I was certainly bouncing with anticipation at such a exclusive opportunity. Now before we carry on I have had to let this post distill for a while to really figure out what should be discussed. Is this about the event, is it about the whisky, or is it about the experience? In the end there are things in my mind that have not abated so I fell some observations need to be explored about the experience even though they are not all that positive. In short the food was excellent but completely wrong, the whisky tasting was impressive but was rushed and served at the wrong time whisk in turn effected my tasting and voting. So let us break this down as things progressed.

The Glenlivet Ginza – PR photograph
On arrival at Tetsuyas a small informal meet and greet of the 38 guests was held prior to finding our allocated seating. A rather delicious cocktail named The Glenlivet Giza was severed in wide mouthed martin glasses. Being Tetsuyas it would not be right to not have a Japanese influence and the Sake was very well balanced with The Glenlivet 15yo whisky. So what's in the name Ginza? Truly a place to visit in the evening for the lights alone, The Ginza is often seen to be Tokyo's high class shopping and entertainment district. From Sumo to Noh Theatre, fashion to food, then of course the art galleries makes it a well worth visit. From my experiences this cocktail is oh so suitably named.  6 out 7 for this alone. See the end of this ramble for the recipe.

The menu and one happy Alchemist
And here's the rub...

Taking our allocated setting we had a small presentation by the man himself, Tetsuya. I had always wanted to experience his restaurant so I was even more amazed to know he would be doing the meal himself. Tetsuya certainly seemed humbled to be asked to have a go and matching his cuisine with The Glenlivet. Honestly he looked tired and was constantly having to rest against a table as he spoke. I wonder if the stress of the event was getting to him as this may explain what I have to say later. It was good to see the man himself though. Soon after we were seated and our 8 course degustation meal was served paired with a selection of The Glenlivet expressions; 12yo, 15yo, and 18yo. So it almost hurts my heart to poke at Tetsuya's ribs with a blunt stick and say I think the food pairing was a botched disaster. My palate was confused not only with the whisky but also with the food it was supposed to match. We were jumping from 12yo to 18yo back to 15yo then back and forth over and over again. Meanwhile we were expected to absorb the foods that were sometimes extremely conflicting. Quite honestly (like I have not been already) I just do not think the food worked at all. Overly complicated instead or short and complimentary. If anything 1 whisky for the whole meal is a much more sensible approach. Regrettably, and because I knew better, I had a scaring personal experience. The final main to be served was the Cape Grim Short Rib with Apple Eggplant & Fresh Green Peppercorns. Yes that's right whole peppercorns = Fatal. Compounded this was served right before the actual reason the event was to happen, tasting and voting for the whiskies. Caught up in the moment and busily writing notes I failed to remember a personal advice "Don't eat this dish". Bang! I ate a cluster of whole pepper corns searing my palate with intense spice. I literally freaked out at the table and could not taste anything else after that with any sense of reason. I felt like Gollum"it burns, it bites, it stings". Never before have I gargled whisky but in this case a big mouthful of 12yo served to try and quench the flames. Big time amateur mistake to serve anything spicy or hot when just about to do a whisky tasting. Major fail and believe me I know because other club members and myself have done this before. Do it once and never ever do it again. I partly blame myself because I knew better.

Tetsuya and Laura
At this point the evening was running hours late and the tables were hurriedly reset and the whiskies were delivered. Amid the rush the industry loved brand ambassador Laura Hay, some of you may know as The Whisky Girl on twitter as well, was looking a little stressed but carried on as the seasoned professional she is to talk us through what we were about to taste. Here is a person with a true passion for The Glenlivet and an inspiring force to aspire to in the passion for whisky.

Following is my initial notes hastily jotted down for each expression. I am not confident in these notes and would like an opportunity to try them all again as my palate suffered a very unfortunate catastrophe of biblical proportions.

Revival - ex-Bourbon and new White Oaks (I do not know the proportions). On the nose it smelt young with some high sweet barley sugar, peaches and sake notes but also a little cardboard dust. In the taste I received a punet of strawberries and toffy while the finish was medium with a mild burn in the throat.

Classic - ex-Sherry Spanish Oak and ex-American white oak with a 50/50 vatting. The nose presented intense caramels, cardboard dust again intensified, nuts and spices. The sherry was clearly present. To taste my palate was much more accepting of the smoothness and it became palate coating and chewy. Finish was warmer that left a tackiness in the mouth that became more dry the longer it was left.

Exotic - ex-Sherry Spanish Oak and ex-American White Oak with a 70/30 vatting. The nose was hit with intense caramels, dried apricots, furniture polish and christmas cake. The palate was delivered lots of nuts and ride fruits, with a very oily and chewy mouth feel. The Sherry was all in the from now. Finish was hot and long and way too over balanced. I lost all sense of The Glenlivet's more traditional expression at this point.

It was said that all bottling were at 48.5% but it is clear by the bottles displayed that the Classic was at 48.7%. I have chosen not to even bother scoring these whiskies as I cannot be certain about any of them.

The voting system
My voting was in order of how they were presented. Why? Because the sherry balance is all wrong for me. This is not an off the cuff "I don't like sherry" comment. I love some sherry finishes such as Glenmorangie Lasanta, or the sherry monster Aberlour A'bunadh. It is worth commenting that I do not believe these are finishes but infect 100% aged in the oaks. Jim Murray coined the phrase "Sherry can be the kiss of death" and I have heard him quote it several times. For me this holds true for what I tasted. The Glenlivet it such a delicate flower with such traditional honesties staying true to this is what has attributed so much to its enduring success. I was expecting something new of course but I was not expecting to see a sherry punch in the guts. Obviously my view is wrong as it seems over and over again the Exotic is winning favour. But should I trust my palate to have formed this opinion based on my experience? Probably not.

I am not a fan of the concept of 'crowdsourcing' and working in the design industry I know for a fact that the client is more often wrong than right. This is why professionals exist, that is to look at a market and make an assessments without bias for what is most appropriate. We all remember the debacle of Vegemite 'iSnack 2.0' do we not? Or did you just scrub that from the memory. I think this is the potential risk that The Glenlivet is taking but at least it is only 2000 bottles.

So in the end granted this was the first of many events to follow for The Glenlivet but it needs to be noted that the flow of the night was all backward. Really we should have arrived and sat straight down to get on with tasting. This way guests could absorb the whisky, talk amongst ourselves, share the experience and cast a vote when ready. It was meant to be a collective event after all but our isolation at the tables while being rushed to responded nullified the opportunity. Unfortunately, we sat, we ate, we ate more, drunk more whisky, ate more and so on until it got to the point people looked tired and bored and quite literarily full to the brim.

That lonely bottle of The Glenlivet 25yo
It could be noted that guests were so full lavish bottles of Glenlivet 25yo was opened at the end for our enjoyment. I know I was one of the last to leave this bottle appeared nearly untouched. Who leaves a bottle like this untouched? I did. So sad. Maybe this was the 2nd or even 3rd bottle but none-the-less a tear was in my eye when I left to see it there all alone unloved.

I really appreciate the opportunity no question and thank all involved. I hope what has been mentioned here actually helps to assist in developing the experience for others in the future and it is a sad fact in my books the launch could have gone a lot better and I am sure my experience very different.

The Baron

The Glenlivet Ginza

Glenlivet 15 year old stirred to perfection until ice cold with dry sake, plum wine and orange bitters served straight up in a frozen Cocktail glass.


45ml Glenlivet 15yo
10ml good quality Dry Sake
5ml Choya Plum Wine
2 drops orange bitters

Glass: Frozen martini Coupe

Garnish: Lemon Zest spray oil on drink then discard, Sanshō or Sichuan button or Edible flower
Method: Stir Manhattan Style, Double strain into a ice gold glass, garnish and serve.

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