The Balvenie Craft Bar, Sydney

A winter wonderland of all things whisky

One thing I’ve always liked about The Balvenie is their proud association with all things ‘craft’. They take pride in telling us that they still craft their whisky in many of the same ways as they did over a hundred years ago. They also take pride in helping showcase and recognise the crafts of other artisans through their global ‘craft bar’ series.

Balvenie display

We last saw the craft bar in Australia late last year when The Balvenie took over a warehouse space in Sydney to launch the TUN 1509. This time around things were a little different when they recently returned for a four day pop-up series in the heart of the city’s shopping district, in the characterful Strand Arcade.

The Strand Arcade

I’ve always loved this building (it’s looks magical at Christmas) so I was rather excited to hear that this would be the location for the latest Balvenie Craft Bar.

At the launch on a recent Thursday evening, guests were greeted on The Strand’s lower level by Brand Ambassador, Mr Richard Blanchard, who was manning the brass-topped craft bar and greeting the public with samples of The Balvenie.

Balvenie Craft Bar

We said our hellos and he graciously revealed this bottle from under the counter. I’m not sure that this one was meant to be photographed, but it’s too cool not to share. A number of other people have let the cat out of the bag already, so if anyone breaks the internet, it wasn’t me!

Balvenie Single Cask

Yes, you’ve read that correctly. It’s a 1973 single cask, aged for at least 41 glorious years in what I suspect was an ex-Bourbon cask. Remarkably lively on the nose and palate, I found this to be brimming with beeswax, vanilla honey, varnished-wood notes and a vegetative earthiness. It was such a tremendously rare treat getting to taste something like this.

Laura

Moving upstairs shortly thereafter, we were invited to take a seat at The Balvenie’s Winter Picnic – A tasting of drams from The Balvenie’s core range, paired with artisanal food produce available from some of the many small retailers within The Stand. Brand Ambassador Laura Hay expertly walked us through The Balvenie 12 year old Double Wood, 14 year old Caribbean Cask and finally the 17 year old Double Wood.

Tasting set

Each was paired with the likes of candied macadamia nuts, crème brulee tart and the finest Haigh’s dark chocolate, really highlighting some intriguing notes in both the whisky and the small food items.

Balvenie nosing

Along with imparting her extensive knowledge of all things whisky and Balvenie, Laura also explained one of the reasons why The Strand was chosen as the venue for this year’s pop-up bar. Not only is The Strand a characterful building brimming with artisanal wares, it also happens to have been founded, completed and opened in the very same year as The Balvenie. Serendipitous? Maybe. A venue befitting The Balvenie? Most definitely.

Bar

The Balvenie Craft Bar ran from Thursday to Sunday, 25-28 June in Sydney and fans could attend the three whisky masterclass for just $15 with proceeds going to charity. To stay in the loop and find out more about these events – before they happen! – sign up to The Balvenie’s Warehouse 24 program, it quick, easy and free!

The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve

Official launch, Sydney Australia

The Glenlivet – Australia’s best selling single malt – recently launched their newest expression in style at an intimate gathering held in a private penthouse in Sydney’s Elizabeth Bay. The Founder’s Reserve is a new, No Age Statement (NAS) single malt which has been introduced to replace the classic 12 year old expression as the entry point into The Glenlivet’s extensive core range.

The Glenlivet - Fireplace

The evening’s guests ascended to the penthouse in a mirrored elevator. The doors opening to reveal a lavish space filled with oversized art, the flicker of a fireplace and floor to ceiling glass offering up stunning views across Sydney harbour.

Glenlivet - fan

Around the corner, our private bartenders whipped up trays of ‘Founders Keepers’ cocktails. Think of them as The Glenlivet’s homage to the classic Tom Collins. Served tall, the recipe comprised of The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve, peach liqueur, Lillet Blanc, apricot jam and lemon juice, topped with a splash of soda. They were refreshing and balanced and I can already see this recipe being featured a lot as the months get warmer.

The Glenlivet - Ice

DJ Alice Quiddington set the mood, whilst a duo of chefs appeared to work effortlessly in the penthouse’s stone-clad kitchen, serving up some amazing canapés throughout the evening. The likes of which included herb crusted ballotine of salmon with Avruga caviar, milk fed veal crudo, and quince star anise orange tart tartin.

Canapes

An hour in, Pernod Ricard’s Marketing Manager, Sladjan Maksimovic offered guests an official welcome before The Glenlivet’s brand ambassador, Ben Davidson, took centre stage. Ben walked us through a private tasting of the Founder’s Reserve, putting it into context by offering up historical overview of The Glenlivet brand.

So with a raise of the glass we toasted ‘sláinte mhaith’ (to good health) and welcomed The Founder’s Reserve into the fold.

Glass

The nose presented me with tart apples, tinned pears and sweet tropical fruits, on a bed of sweet vanilla pastry. I also got a hint of citrus and some wood-bark oak notes at the back. I found the palate creamy and juicy, offering up more of those tinned tropical fruits, toffee sweetness and vanilla, with hints of bitter pith and a fair amount of drying wood.

As the evening drew to a close, guests were invited to sample some of The Glenlivet’s finest.

The Glenlivet - lineup

I’ve been fortunate enough to taste many of the expressions in this lineup before, but there were two that had eluded me, the new Nadurra Oloroso (at 60.7% ABV) and the elder statesmen, the XXV.

Glenlivet Nadurra

Some have griped at the loss of the 16 year age statement found on the ex-bourbon cask expression, but age statement or no age statement, this new Nadurra Oloroso really is a fantastic whisky, especially when you consider the price point. A casual conversation with Ben and Sladjan revealed that fans of the cask strength Nadurra range can look forward to further one or two expressions in the near future, including one that really breaks with tradition – it’s going to be mildly peated!

The Glenlivet XXV

Finishing the evening with a dram of The Glenlivet XXV, I stepped out onto the penthouse’s terrace, surrounded by fellow whisky lovers and had a few good laughs whilst looking out at the rippling waters of Sydney Harbour as the moon sat full in the sky.

The Glenlivet XXV is a truly luxurious and decadent whisky and it was an absolute treat to sample it. You know what though? At that moment in time, it would have made no difference to me whether I had the new entry-level Founder’s Reserve, or the range-topping 25 year old in my glass, as after all, simply sharing a tasty dram in great company is what whisky is all about, isn’t it?

The Glenlivet

The new Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve is available in Australia now at a recommended retail price of $64.99. A sincere thanks goes to The Glenlivet for having me as your guest.

Eigashima Sakura

A quick glance at the label on this bottle confirms that this is a bit of an interesting one.

Eigashima Sakura

Distilled in July 2010, the Eigashima Sakura was matured in an ex-Shochu cask and a hogshead for a combined period of three years, before being finished is a red wine cask for a further one and half years before being bottled at 58% ABV.

I don’t know about you, but there are a few words on this label that I wasn’t immediately familiar with, namely the words Eigashima and Shochu. I have heard of both, but I must admit I had to hit the books (aka Google) and do a bit of research to really understand and appreciate this one.

Eigashima

We’ll start with Eigashima. You may not have heard of Eigashima, but you may have heard of another small Japanese distillery called Akashi. Well, in basic terms, they’re kind of one and the same.

Located just our of Kobe, Japan, Eigashima is the parent company that runs the White Oak Distillery, who produce whisky bottled under the Akashi brand. Interestingly, they only produce whisky for two to three months a year and with a team of just four people, they’re the smallest whisky distillery in Japan.

Eigashima Sakura

So if they’re only making whisky for a couple of months a year, what are they doing the rest of the time? Well that leads us to that second word I wasn’t overly familiar with..

Shochu

You see, Eigashima’s core business is producing two of Japan’s favourite distilled drinks, sake and shochu. Sake is essentially a brewed rice wine, but shochu is quite a bit different. It’s first brewed, then distilled and can be made from a variety of different ingredients including sweet potatoes, barley, buckwheat, rice, sweet corn or even brown sugar. After distillation it’s then matured for a relatively short time (compared to whisky), in either stainless steel tanks, clay pots or – you guessed it – wooden casks!

There’s a lot more to it and the history and production is quite fascinating, so feel free to check this out for further info.

Eigashima Sakura

Now that we know a bit more about Eigashima and Shochu, I’d say it’s time we taste. Kanpai!

Eigashima Sakura

When first poured, I’d say that the Sakura isn’t immediately recognizable as whisky. I get more of a plum wine and Slivovitz top note on a bed of raw white grain spirit and as it sounds – it’s not great. Air is its friend though. Fifteen minutes in the glass opens this dram right up to reveal a rich, thick nose of runny toffee, marmalade, balsamic reduction and heavily charred figs. I get a hint of potpourri, char and dark soy. It’s not sherried, it’s almost like an older complex Armagnac, but that grainy vodka-like spirit notes pokes it head through here and there.

On the palate it’s immediately oily giving rise to a burst of spirit heat which quickly fades to deliver sweet, chewy berry notes, brown sugar and a slight fizz. The residue is almost savory though, with a saline tang turning very dry and tannic on the finish with a slight bitter waxiness.

I would never pick this as a sub-five year old whisky and despite the young age and high proof, I have no desire to add water to this one. There’s so much going on which makes me think Eigashima have been very clever with their cask selection here. However, as is often case with heavy wine finishes, the drying bitter finish isn’t quite the crescendo I was looking for.

Eigashima Sakura

Having never tasted Shochu, I can’t really comment on the influence the shochu cask has had on this whisky. However, even before reading up on it, I did get a distinct white grain/potato spirit (almost vodka-like) note on the nose. I don’t know what type of shochu cask was used in the finishing (sweet potato, barely, brown sugar etc.), but this was a really interesting note, in a really interesting whisky.

Ardbeg Day 2015: Sydney

Ardbeg Day in Sydney is always a feast for the senses, so strap yourself in, pour a dram and get ready for a pictorial onslaught. Here’s a little glimpse into how Ardbeg Day 2015 unfolded in Sydney.

Ardbeg Day Sydney

Rocking up to the passenger ship cruise terminal at White Bay in Sydney, a small group of keen Ardbeggians – clad in their best tartan – had gathered ahead of the starting time in anticipation. The eager group didn’t have to wait long before passing through the glass doors and approaching the metallic silver curtain we’d been eyeing off from outside.

Ardbeg Day Sydney

Our event was guarded by a duo of intergalactic hostesses and a gang of awesome little space Shorties.

Ardbeg Day Sydney

Welcome to the future.

Ardbeg Day Sydney

The future greeted us with cocktails – a berry, rosemary and tonic concoction, or a peach, agave and citrus number – whichever took your fancy. I sampled both (purely for research purposes, of course), but just like last year, the peach + peat combo won hands down in my book. Very moreish stuff.

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

I soon found some familiar faces, plonked my bag down and surveyed the room. In keeping with the 200th anniversary theme, the vast space was dotted with glimpses into both the past and the future. Anyone who was alive in the 80’s cracked a big smile at the site of this stainless bodied DMC-12 DeLorean, which acted as a photo-booth (of sorts) on the day.

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

Release the inner child, pretend your Marty McFly for a few minutes then collect your retro polaroid as a memento.

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

How about a quick punt around a circuit on a Segway? A game of space invaders, or perhaps some robodog racing?

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

I had a shot and eventually coaxed my little plastic friend over the finish line, which entitled me to a pick from the generous prizes on offer. I scored myself a classy Ardbeg umbrella (perfect as we’re coming into winter here in Sydney), choosing it over what I thought was just an ordinary t-shirt..

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

..but ordinary t-shirt it wasn’t, these things were loaded with futuretastic LEDs! Looking past Tron man, I soon noticed a queue forming in front of an interesting little gazebo. Inside, the Ardbeg Haar, a crowd-pleasing contraption that vaporized Ardbeg, allowing you to inhale the peated fog.

Ardbeg Haar

If you needed a short sit down, guests could pull up an egg chairs and have a quiet chat or sit back and contemplate. These things looked like they were straight off the set of Men in Black.

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

LVMH ambassador Garth (centre) was on hand, looking sharp as always in his Broadway/ Daft Punk/ welding get-up!

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

DJ Ardbeg Day (I’m quite sure that wasn’t his name..) kept the beats going throughout the day and queued up Sprach Zarathustra to ring in the hero of the day, the new Ardbeg Perpetuum.

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

Waiters stepped forward out of the mist and Andew Derbidge (of the SMWS) was on hand to do the official introductions. Andrew informed us that Perpetuum is almost like a collection of Ardbeg’s greatest hits. Made up of classic ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks, in Andrew’s words, it also contains “a smattering of new French oak casks from Corryvreckan, some un-bottled Alligator casks, a few Manzanila sherry casks from Ardbog, the odd Marsala cask” for good measure.

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

I’m hesitant to attempt any sort of comprehensive notes myself, as I only tasted the smallest amount on the day. In terms of first impressions though, I found Perpetuum to be a lighter, more summery Ardbeg. Soft peat on the nose, some sweetness and citrus followed, but far punchier on the palate, especially from the peat and smoke point of view (which should keep the peat-heads happy!)

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

As with last year, there was no shortage of good food on offer, with plenty of canapés and small bites.

IMG_9270 copy

As well as a team of chefs cooking up a mother load of mushroom gnocchi

IMG_9266 copy

As the day drew to a close, a complimentary shuttle bus ferried us back across the bridge into town and we had a choice of two points of departure. The train station. Or the after party at Sydney’s Ardbeg Embassy, Stitch Bar. Tough decision indeed..

Ardbeg Day Sydney Stitch Bar

Descending the stairs into the train station, it soon became apparent I got off at the wrong stop and was indeed at Stitch. How that happened, we’ll never know.. I found myself in an Ardbeg den, where the party was still going strong and the Ardbeg generously (but responsibly) flowing!

Ardbeg Day Sydney Stitch Bar

The Stitch team were all kitted up, getting into the fun spirit of the day.

Ardbeg Day Sydney Stitch Bar

The Ardbeg Haar made another appearance, keeping plenty of people entertained at the bar

Ardbeg Day Sydney Stitch Bar

Good mate Wonder & Whisky was on hand to share in a Perpetuum boiler maker

Ardbeg Day Sydney Stitch Bar

Before Stitch dynamo, Mattia, cranked out a special Dark Side of the Moon cocktail for me, a science experiment of peach ice cream + Ardbeg Ten + Liquid nitrogen

Ardbeg Day Sydney Stitch Bar

Ardbeg Day Sydney Stitch Bar

Come early evening, I said my farewells but I’m fairly sure the party was going to be cranking well into the night.

Here’s to the next 200 years

Sydney Australia might be some 17,017km from Ardbeg’s home in Islay, but hey, what’s a few kilometres between friends. It’s not going to stop us celebrating with you. Sláinte mhaith Ardbeg, here’s to the next 200 years!

Ardbeg Day Sydney Stitch Bar

If you like the look of this and want to be part of the fun next year, head on over to Ardbeg.com, sign up to become a committee member (it’s free!) and you’ll be the first to hear about exclusive Ardbeg events happening in your neck of the woods. They’re really not to be missed!

Glenmorangie Tùsail

An evening with Dr. Bill Lumsden

Despite our proximity (or should I say, lack there-of) to Scotland, we’re still really quite lucky in Australia in that so many of the whisky greats make the time to come and visit us. Even in the last year or two, we’ve been to some fantastic tastings hosted by the likes of Kilchoman’s Anthony Wills and more recently, Jim McEwan from Bruichladdich.

The group tastings are fantastic, but getting to attend a private dinner with your whisky idols is a whole new level of awesome. So when such an invite came through just before Easter, there was no-way I was going to miss out, even if it meant flying back early from an interstate Easter Break.. especially when that person happens to be the revered Head of Distilling & Whisky Creation of Glenmorangie Company, Dr Bill Lumsden.

Glenmorangie Tusail

Dr Lumsden (can I just call him Bill?) was in town on a fleeting visit to launch his latest creation, the Glenmorangie Tusail. The setting for the evening was The Cut in the Rocks, Sydney, where we were greeted on arrival with The Long Zest..

Glenmorangie Cocktail

.. A refreshingly moorish cocktail of Glenmorangie Original, Fevertree ginger beer and treacle, topped with a burnt lemon twist. And yes, they went down an absolute treat!

Glenmorangie Cocktail

After chatting with some familar faces we headed over to our immaculately set dining table, found our seats (marked by laser-etched mirror place holders no less) and perused the amazing menu put together by The Cut’s Head Chef, Joseph Webb.

Menu

The menu was designed to be paired with key whiskies from Glenmorangie’s core range, but before the decadent spread arrived, Dr Lumsden walked us through a personal tasting of tonight’s star dram, the new Glenmorangie Tùsail.

Bill Lumsden 2

I’m actually really glad we got to taste Tùsail at the beginning of the evening, as I feel as though its quality lies in its subtleties and they could have been somewhat lost if we tasted it after the amazing meal we were about to enjoy.

I’d done my homework prior to attending and thought I knew most of what there was to know about Tùsail. It turns out I was quite wrong in that assumption and it was actually really interesting to hear about it from Dr. Lumsden, who was able to provide a level of insight you’re not likely to find in any press release.

If you’re aware of the five previous ‘Private Edition’ releases, you might already know that they’re all experiments of some kind; mainly in the areas of wood management and maturation (with the exception of Finealta, which used a proportion of peated malt). So when Tusail was announced, I simply thought it was just a play on the barley strain being used, but it turns out there was a little bit more to the story.

Glenmorangie Tùsail: The story

Back in 2003, Bill contracted some farmers to grow a crop of Maris Otter barley, a winter barley strain that rose to populatity in the late 60s/early 70s in the brewing industry (so not something you’ll find many whiskies made out of).

In 2004 the crop was harvested and traditionally floor malted at Glenmorangie. There was enough malt to produce just one week’s worth of spirit, before it was laid down to slumber in ex-bourbon casks for ten years. Bill told us that what he really wanted to see was the kind of difference this older winter barley strain would make when compared to their mainstay, the Glenmorangie Original (which is also ten years old).

Glenmorangie Tusail

On the nose I got sweet vanilla, some lemon zest citrus notes, peach and a slightly floral hint. All of this sat on a really malty base note of buttery plain tea cakes and scotch-finger biscuits. I thought this carried through to the palate pretty closely, with a chewy, oily texture of malty biscuits up front, followed by hints of baking spice and glace ginger giving way to a warm and slightly drying finish. Quite the contrast from the Glenmorangie Original.

It’s perhaps not quite a fair comparison though, as Tùsail is bottled at 46% ABV and is non-chill filtered (whereas the Original is bottled at 40% and is chill-filtered). Bill also filled us in on the cask make-up of the two, and where the Tùsail is approximately 50/50 first fill ex-bourbon/refill ex-bourbon, the Original is closer to a 60/40 split. So there you have it. Not quite comparing apples with apples, but close enough to make for an interesting experiment, that’s for sure!

Trout

Our amazing three-course experience soon followed and over the following hours we made our way through the likes of pepper-crusted venison carpaccio, confit ocean trout (pictured) and Rangers Valley flat iron steak. All expertly paired with Glenmorangie’s Quinta Ruban, Nectar D’Or and Lassanta. The venison + Quinta Ruban pairing really hit the spot for me. Quite stunning.

Dessert

We finished with this warm chocolate tart, old fashioned scented ice cream and a tobacco tuile, the flavour of which was intensely incredible!

Whisky + good company

In my books, whisky is most enjoyable when it’s shared in good company with good stories. There was no shortage of either of those things on this particular evening, especially with spirits writer, Mr Franz Scheurer seated opposite. Anyone who knows me also knows how much I appreciate a good timepiece, so I had to share this shot – a practical demonstration of what you do when you have a nice collection of watches and only two wrists on which to wear them. Two per day on a monthly rotation! Love your style Franz, just brilliant.

Franz Scheurer

On the topic of great company and story telling, Bill has to be up there with the very best and certainly wins the award for being the most animated and lively whisky figure I’ve come across. No story is told without passion (or hand gestures for that matter!) and he’s the kind of dinner guest you could listen to for hours.

Bill Lumsden

Bill played musical chairs throughout the evening, being incredibly generous and genuine with both his time and knowledge (I know this, because I managed to pick his brain on all things Glenmorangie and Ardbeg for a good part of the evening). From a genuine whisky fan, thank you most kindly for all the insights and for patiently fielding my endless barrage of questions!

Glenmorangie glass

Not a bad way to spend a Wednesday evening. The whisky was wonderful and the company, even better. The lighting was horrid though (so please forgive the photography for this one!) but all-in-all it was a brilliant evening. If you like the sound of the new Tùsail, it’s on sale now. Australian fans will be able to find it locally at a suggested retail price of AU$165 and is limited to just 200 cases in the country.