Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Double Header - The Balvenie with Sam Simons

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Baron

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