Ardbeg Supernova 2014

Way back in April of this year I put up this post regarding what appeared to be the label for an all new version of the fabled Ardbeg Supernova. Then one day in September it all came to life for me when a surprise care package arrived at work from the kind people at Moet Hennessey. A whole two months passed before I could find the time to sit down and properly enjoy it, but I finally got that chance over the weekend. So as the mercury hit a positively nippy 42°c (107°f) here in Sydney, I drew the curtains, grabbed the camera, cranked the air-conditioning and got to it.

SN2014 mini

Many probably know the back-story to this bottling, but just in case you don’t, here’s what you need to know. A few years back, Ardbeg sent some tiny whisky samples into space for what would become known as the Ardbeg Space Experiment – analysing the effect of zero gravity. It seemed only fitting that to celebrate their return to earth a special whisky should be released. Enter: Ardbeg Supernova 2014 (SN2014).

The Supernova family

It’s not the first time Ardbeg have used the Supernova moniker before though. Ardbeggians would be well aware that way back on 20 January 2009, Ardbeg released 2,400 bottles of the original Supernova to Ardbeg Committee members. They promptly sold out in a matter of hours.

Given the success, the committee release was soon followed by a broader ‘Stellar release’ of Supernova (SN2009), bottled at 58.9% ABV and peated to ‘over 100 parts per million (ppm)’. By comparison, Ardbeg Ten is peated to somewhere in the region of 55 ppm. Clearly this went down well with peat fans, as it was followed up the very next year in May 2010 with another Supernova (SN2010) bottled at a hefty 60.1% ABV and again peated to 100+ ppm.

Speaking of PPM

Parts per million (ppm) is a scientific measurement and isn’t necessarily a good one when it comes to measuring taste or aroma. For example, you shouldn’t expect a whisky rated at 100 PPM to smell and taste twice as smoky or peaty as one rated to 50 PPM. Not quite sure why? Have a read of this blog post.

Ardbeg Supernova SN2014

With the cult following (and sometimes astronomical prices) of the two previous Supernovas, I’ve never actually tried them. As a result, I’m approaching this new SN2014 release with somewhat fresh eyes (and nose and tastebuds). That could actually be a good thing though, as I won’t be comparing this new release to the Supernovas of years gone by.

What’s in the bottle

So what do we actually know for certain about this whisky? Not a whole lot to be honest. It’s bottled at 55% ABV and is ‘limited’, but other than that, we don’t know its age or how many bottles were produced, nor do we know what kind of casks it’s comprised of, or the level of peating the malt has been subjected to (ppm).

Ardbeg Glass

On one hand the whisky nerd in me really, really wants to know all of this stuff and more. On the other hand though, not knowing isn’t such a bad thing I suppose. I’ll be drinking it because it’s Ardbeg and I know I like Ardbeg, but beyond that, there’s no other detail getting in my way, setting subliminal expectations or clouding my judgement.

Nose

When first poured I found this immediately smoky and charred. It’s ashy and peaty, but in a real dusty and earthy kind of way – not in a saline heavy, charred meat or medicinal fashion. A second nosing delivered hot coals, some hay/grassy notes and something akin to charred zesty lemons. After a good few minutes in the glass the smoke subsides (ever so slightly) and some sweeter vanilla notes become apparent. This become a lot more balanced, malty and complex with some air time.

Palate

First sip is oily, immediately followed by a decent amount and heat of spice right at the tip of my tongue, along with some sweet yet salty brine notes. As soon as you swallow that mouthful though – wow – hugely smoky, more so than the nose suggests. It’s bittersweet, immediately drying, tangy and charred.

Finish

I found the finish on this almost came around full circle, bringing to the palate those drying earthy hay notes from the nose. The peaty coal smoke lingers for the full length of the warming finish. I felt as though I could notice a definite lineage to the classic Ardbeg Ten, but there’s no way you’d ever confuse the two.

When, where and how much?

The Ardbeg Supernova 2014 goes on sale in Australia in December. It’s available through Ardbeg Embassies or direct from Moet Hennessey Collection online at a retail price of AU$240. Whilst I haven’t been able to confirm the exact number of bottles landing on our shores, I’ve heard rumours of it being in the hundreds, so no dilly-dallying if you want one!

Glenfiddich 26 year old

Launched in Sydney, Australia

I’ve been dragging my feet a bit when it comes to updates. Not intentionally of course, but as much as I’d like it to be, whisky isn’t my bread and butter. So when the bread needs buttering unfortunately things on the whisky front sometimes take a back seat, but hopefully I’ll get back into the swing of things as the year starts to slow down a wee bit.

The Launch

Now to the reason you’re reading this post though. Back in September, the guys from William Grant & Sons held a rather lavish soirée to officially welcome Glenfiddich’s newest expression – the 26 year old – into the Australian market. This comes at a rather appropriate time considering they’ve just recently discontinued their 30 year old expression.

Elizabeth Bay House

The evening unfolded at Elizabeth Bay House in the Eastern-Sydney suburb of – you guessed it – Elizabeth Bay! If you’ve never been here (and no doubt most of you haven’t), it’s nestled among a mixture of art deco and modern apartment blocks in one of Sydney’s premier harbour-front suburbs. Directly across the road sits one of the most well manicured parks you’re likely to come across and beyond that, the sparkling waters of Sydney harbour.

Elizabeth Bay House

Entering the grand foyer, waiters circircled with canapés whilst a string quartet played ambiently in the background. There are many things that William Grant & Sons do well when they host an event, and without a doubt, food is always one of them. There must have been a dozen or so different dishes and I spent way too much time taking photos of them.

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Nestled under the main staircase, bartenders mixed a series of Glenfiddich-based cocktails, whilst neat pours of the core range were also on offer.

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Our host for the evening was Glenfiddich Brand Ambassor, and all ‘round legend, Mr James Buntin. This also happened to be one of his final public outings here as a week or so later he was off to the UK to take up his role as Balvenie’s newest Brand Ambassador. To all my UK friends, should you ever cross paths with the gent on the left, go say hello and tell him Sydney misses him!

Glenfiddich 26 year old

This handsome bottle wasn’t opening itself any time soon, so I took the opportunity to sneak off and explore a bit. After all, this is one of Sydney’s oldest historic houses and there was plenty of history to see. Eventually I descended the sandstone stairs into the house’s cellar. Here, the passageways and rooms were lined with a series of 26 photographs by Scottish photographer Simon Butterworth.

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It turns out that there was actually a really neat concept behind the photographs.

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To celebrate the release of the 26 year old, Glenfiddich commissioned Simon to take a series of 26 photographs capturing the production of the whisky itself. From the felling of the oak used in the original Bourbon casks, to the coopering process, barley malting, distilling and maturation.

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The images told a fantastic (and rather emotive) story of the whisky making process and the people behind it.

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The crowd soon followed suit and after some healthy sampling from the second Glenfiddich bar setup down in the cellars, it was time.

Glenfiddich 26 year old

James did the introductions, whilst waiters distributed ‘Excellence’ to those in wait.

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Whilst everyone cheers’d (is that even a word?) and enjoyed their pour of 26 year old down in the cellar, I retreated back up the stairs like the whisky nerd I am, to find somewhere peaceful and quiet to enjoy my dram contemplatively.

Walking into the now deserted foyer area of the house, I bumped into the cellar master of the SMWS, Mr Andrew Derbidge, who appeared to have had the same idea as me. At events like this, it’s far too easy to keep chatting and enjoying yourself. But given the exclusivity and price tag of this dram, I knew I wasn’t likely to be trying it again any time soon, so I made the effort to get some proper notes down.

Dram held to the nose in one hand, pen and notebook in the other, we both stood there in silence and got our nerd on.

Glenfiddich 26 year old

Nose

The main things I picked up right off the bat were those classic Glenfiddich baked pear and light fruity notes (well, that’s something I often associate with Glenfiddich). This time though, they were somewhat spicier, with hints of coconut and a certain dusty nuttiness I likened to marzipan.

Palate

I found the 26 year old had a fairly light body to it, but still managed to be oily. A fair whack of spice up front turned creamy, almost crème caramel like, revealing a nice full mouth of flavour. Sipping again, some of those older oak notes appeared – I got some kiwi, zest and coconut on the palate. I had to pick up the bottle to check that this was indeed a 43% ABV whisky as it carried a fair bit of heat with it, feeling like it had a higher ABV (a nice thing in my opinion).

Finish

The sweet creaminess lasted for a good while, however I found the dominant notes on the finish to be spice and tarty zest. As you’d expect of a whisky of this age, some drying oaky notes (some might say pencil shavings) became more apparent as time went on, but I never found them unpleasant.

Glenfiddich range

The Glenfiddich 26 year old is available in Australia now, with retail process starting at $499 a bottle. A sincere thanks to William Grant & Sons for the invite, a highly enjoyable evening that I still remember vividly.

New World Projects PX Cask

Exclusive to Baranows Lounge in Hawthorn, Melbourne

Well, well well, what do we have here? An Australian single cask whisky? I’ve seen that before. Bottled at full cask strength? I’ve also seen that. An Australian single cask, cask strength whisky, fully matured in an ex-pedro ximenez cask direct from Spain? Now that I haven’t come across.

Baranows PX 1

Being the sucker that I am for whiskies with a heavy sherry influence, I knew this thing had my name written all over it.

New World Whisky Distillery 

If you’re reading this from Australia, you may have heard of these guys before. Or if you haven’t, perhaps you’re aware of their more mainstream whisky brand, Starward whisky. If you’re reading this from overseas, both names are likely to be completely foreign to you (though I’m sure that will change in the near future).

Founded in 2004, New World Whisky Distillery is the brainchild of former IT (e-learning) businessman, Mr David Vitale. Fast forward six years and it’s probably safe to say that Starward Whisky is one of the most affordable, approachable and accessible Australian single malts available in our local market today.

Whilst the brand Starward is reserved for their readily available offerings, David fully appreciates the fact that whisky geeks get all excited about limited release, cask strength bottlings. For that reason, he gave his employees the green light to setup New World Projects.

Think of New World Projects as an experimental department of the New World Whisky Distillery. They’ve released a number of single cask bottlings over the last 12 months or so, including some pretty interesting combinations. Think: a red wine cask with virgin oak lids. Or perhaps a ginger beer cask-finished whisky, where the cask was seasoned with ginger beer they brewed themselves.

The whisky: Baranows Selection #2 

So when I heard about their latest offering – this New World Projects PX cask, bottled exclusively for Baranows Lounge in Melbourne – I knew I had to try it.

Baranows PX 2

In case you thought the colour in the first picture was influenced by the background, here’s another, directly under a desk lamp. This is a serious Darth Vader whisky! Yes, it’s all natural colour as well.

One of the other great things I love about New World Whisky Distillery is that their Distillery Manager, Ian Thorn, keeps immaculate records on everything they produce as well. A short email exchange yielded some great info on this cask.

  • Single cask 110304-06-446 was a 50 litre re-coopered ex-pedro ximenez cask sourced from Montilla (Córdoba) CP in Spain
  • It was filled with new make spirit on 4 March 2011 at 55.7% ABV
  • It was emptied and bottled on 1 September 2014 at cask strength of 59.3% ABV (yes, in our climate water evaporates quicker than alcohol, leading to higher ABVs)
  • The cask lost a huge 26.5% of its contents over that three and a half year maturation period, meaning just 44 bottles of this whisky remained.

So in pictures and on paper, there’s little doubt that this thing looks and sounds pretty special, but as always, the proof is in the pudding.

Baranows PX Glass

Nose

After a short while in the glass, this is nothing but rich and desserty. Did I mention it’s rich? Crème brulee, complete with vanilla notes, caramel and a hint of that banana estery note that I often associate with Starward whisky. Sweet caramelized figs, prunes, brown sugar and some cinnamon. The nose on this is big, young and spritely – nothing closed or dusty about this, as you can sometimes find with older, full-term sherry matured whisky.

There is some alcohol (after all, it’s 59%), but it’s not as fierce on the nose as you might expect from something this young. I could seriously spend half an hour nosing this one. A true after dinner dram.

Palate

On first sip I got an instant burst of salivation – no avoiding the alcohol here, but it’s not unpleasant. It’s viscous, thick and full on the palate. There’s an initial burst of sweetness, but it’s a fair bit drier on the palate than you’d expect from the nose. More of that classic PX cask comes out now, with dried red fruits and those classic Christmas cake flavours (raisins, prunes, spice and a slight bitter nuttiness).

Baranows PX tears and legs

Putting the glass back down I couldn’t help but stare at it – check out those fat lingering legs! (that sounds really weird, doesn’t it?)

Finish

Really quite long and warming on the finish. It remains sweet throughout the mouth with lingering warmth, but minimal spice. I found a fairly strong vanilla note rolling in after a few seconds as well. Give it some time and there’s some bitter oak towards the end – call it pencil shavings or dusty, high cacao dark chocolate if you will.

With such an enticing nose and clean tasting palate, to me, this comes across as a really clean sherry cask. I didn’t come across any off-putting notes of rubber or sulphur what-so-ever.

When, where and how much?

The remaining bottles (and there aren’t many of them!) are available now, exclusively through Baranow’s Lounge in Melbourne at an RRP of AU$299. See here for more information.

The bottle reviewed was purchased by The Whisky Ledger.

An evening with Jim McEwan

Hosted by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Australia

I’ll start and end this post with the same basic comment. If you ever get the chance to go along to a tasting hosted by Bruichladdich’s Jim McEwan, don’t think about it, just do it.

I had such a chance the other night when the Sydney branch of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) held an evening with Jim McEwan at the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) in Sydney. If you’re not too familiar with the SMWS, who they are and what they do, check this out.

SMWS water jug

I wasn’t too sure whether I was going to blog about the evening. Part of me just wanted to just sit back and enjoy it like every other punter in the room. But in the days following, when I looked back at the pictures I couldn’t help but crack a smile. That made me realise, yeah, I’ve got to have a go at sharing this with those who couldn’t make it and to also put something up for those who just want to relive it. Here’s my account of how the evening unfolded.

Bruichladdich + SMWS

Walking into the Macquarie room at the RAC, waiters roamed with substantial canapés and gin and tonics. G&Ts at a whisky tasting aren’t really the norm I suppose, but these were made with Bruichladdich’s very own The Botanist Gin. I can tell you now, they were as good as any G&T can be and absolutely no one was complaining!

Ginandtonic

I soon found my seat and eyed off the evening’s tasting lineup, consisting of six core range expressions from the Bruichladdich distillery and something a little bit special from the SMWS’s archives.

Tasting lineup

Everyone loves a dram or seven, but truth be told, the whisky would be playing second fiddle for me this particular evening. The real reason I was there was to hear from a man – a legend – who I’d heard so much about. This guy.

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Cellarmaster of the SMWS, Andrew Derbidge, soon took to the microphone.

“There are three people in the whisky industry you should move heaven and earth to see – one is Dr Bill Lumsden from Glenmorangie. The other is Richard Patterson from Whyte and Mackay – and even those two would go out of their way to see this guy here with us tonight. Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr Jim McEwan”

Jim McEwan Bruichladdich

It was at this point Jim stepped up and got right into it. We heard about the whisky, but perhaps more importantly – and this would become a theme of the night – we heard about the people. From the Dux of the local school on Islay who works as a Mashman to the inspiring Christine, who’s perhaps a little less fortunate than some of us. We learnt a lot about the institution that is Bruichladdich and how they’re very much a part of the community of Islay.

Bruichladdich: The whisky

I’m not going to weigh in with all-out, whimsical tasting notes, because I didn’t spend the night writing them down. Plus, Jim didn’t sound like the biggest fan of the things anyway! One thing you should know though, is that all Bruichladdich is non chill-filtered and bottled at its natural colour. It’s real whisky, made for drinking.

Bruichladdich

Laddie Classic Edition_01

First up was the Laddie Classic. Although a No Age Statement whisky, Jim tells us that it comes in at around seven years of age.

Laddie Classic

Really fresh, light and clean on the nose. Lots of vanilla, a slight sourness and some faint tropical notes that I often associate with younger, ex-bourbon matured whisky. This all translated pretty accurately to the palate – light and fresh with sweet vanillin finishing clean and creamy. I honestly think you could use this to introduce anyone to the world of proper whisky.

Islay Barley 2006

A pretty self explanatory one here, but Islay Barley is made with – you guessed it – barley grown on Islay! Barley to bottle, this one is all done on Islay.

Bruichladdich Islay Barley

Slightly more heat on the nose this time (50% ABV vs. 46% ABV on the Laddie Classic), but it also has this lovely, distinct cereal note that reminds me so much of porridge with honey. A stronger tropical fruit note – apples, pears, pineapple and banana – but pretty well balanced. Fuller mouthfeel, vanilla, citrus and malt on the palate finishing quite long and warming. Lovely stuff.

Black Arts 03.1

This next one was something I’ve been hanging out to try for a while. What can I tell you about it? Not much really. Jim won’t give away any details of the Black Art 03.1 other than its age (22 years) and its ABV (48.7%).

Black Arts

Nosing it and tasting it my initial reaction was ‘ah, ex-sherry’. But then I remembered that Bruichladdich probably have the biggest range of wacky wine-finished whisky on the planet, so who really knows what this is comprised of!

I found it sweet and jammy on the nose with berries and a touch of spice. It’s rich, fruity and dense. Thick and viscous on the palate, layered with all sorts of red fruit flavours, a slight nuttiness and sweet vanilla toward the end.

I may not know what it is, but it’s a pretty tasty dram, that’s for sure. I’m leaning toward a decent whack of wine cask in there, moreso than Oloroso or PX cask.

Port Charlotte 10 year old

‘Jim, this is the fifth whisky, what about number four?’

What?

‘the fourth whisky – you missed the fourth whisky!’

Yeah, yeah we’ll get to that one.

Okay then?.. so we moved on to whisky number five, the classic Port Charlotte 10 year old, peated to around 40 ppm.

Port Charlotte 10 year old

If there’s one note I personally get from all Port Charlotte whisky, it’s a distinct rubber washing-up glove note. That, or the smell of taking off powdered latex gloves, then sniffing your hands. Sounds weird? Try it! Some also describe this note a putty.

Don’t judge me, but I personally love the smell! Add in some vegetal peat, smoking coals, pepper and a certain freshness and that’s the Port Charlotte 10 year old to me. This all translates to the palate (minus the rubber glove note), along with charred meats, a big salty saline tang and a touch of something sweeter. Lovely stuff.

SMWS 127.39 ‘Intensely tasty’

This next one was a bit special. It’s an 11 year old Port Charlotte, distilled in 2002 and bottled by the SMWS at a whopping 66.7% ABV!

SMWS 127.39

There’s no hiding from that ABV, though it’s nowhere near as ferocious as you’d expect on the nose. A light prickle with some vanillin; it’s sweet, juicy and malty. I almost feel like this could be from the same base as the Port Charlotte Scottish Barley variant, but I guess we’ll never know. I thought it took a few drops of water quite well, bringing out my rubber glove notes.

Oh so warming on the palate, a fair whack of citrus tang and sweetness up front, with some spice developing up the back. It’s called ‘Intensely tasty’ and it certainly is – especially the ‘intense’ part. I currently have its younger sibling at home (SMWS 127.37) and I love the stuff.

Octomore 06.1

If there’s one line of whisky that the modern-day Bruichladdich distillery is best known for, it’s probably their fabled Octomore line, which pushes the boundaries of peating to a whole new level.

Octomore 06.1 weighs in at 167 parts per million (ppm) of peat. How much higher can they go? Jim tells us that they’ve just had their latest batch of malt tested and it has registered at a slightly crazy 240-245ppm!

I’m happy to admit that I haven’t enjoyed every Octomore that I’ve tasted, but I do rather like this one. I found it sweet and malty on the nose with well integrated vegetal notes. Nicely balanced in my opinion with some citrus, lemon sherbet and peppery spice. The kicker for me is the mouthfeel though. It’s so oily and sweet with this lovely smoke and char on the finish. More restrained than previous iterations, but I’d happily have a bottle of this one at home.

Mystery malt time

If that wasn’t enough, Jim had one further dram to share with us all. Waiters soon circled with trays of official society tasting copitas. In them a golden mystery malt of some description.

Mystery Malt

A quick nosing delivered a big waft of sweet peat, toasted wood chips, toffee and creamy honeyed vanilla. Marvelously oily, sweet and full on the palate with some tannins and loads of wood character which just seemed to work so well.

Holding glass

We’d go on to learn that we were actually tasting a work in progress Octomore, sitting at around 5.5 years in age, 67% ABV and peated to 175 ppm. What made this extra special though was the fact it was solely matured in Virgin French Oak (Limousin Oak) casks. Not only that, we were the first group in the world to be tasting it.

I can assure you that it wasn’t the whiskies before it talking, but this was genuinely lovely stuff. Jim assures us it will be bottled – and bottled soon – so watch this space. My only hope is that it’s a mainstream release that makes it way to Australia. Truly fantastic stuff and my personal whisky highlight of the evening.

A highland toast

It was at this point of the night where Jim invited everyone to get up and join him in a Highland Toast. One foot on the table, one on your chair, glass charged in your right hand.

Jim McEwan

And so with great gusto the room chanted. “up with it, down with it, away from me, towards me, drink it off and no other shall ever drink from this glass again”

Group toast

I’m pretty sure we were saying it in Gaelic. But if you can actually speak Gaelic, then you’d probably say we were all chanting gibberish. Whatever we did, I think we did an alright job of it.

Jim McEwan

As an aside, the whisky used in the toast was the Port Charlotte Scottish Barley, whisky number four that we missed earlier. And it was bloody fantastic. All the cracking elements of the Port Charlotte 10 year old, plus that malty porridge note from the barley just works a treat. Tasty underrated stuff in my opinion.

Signing bottles

Jim stayed around for a good while afterwards, signing bottles, chatting to fans, posing for photos and just being an all-round nice guy.

And so the evening came to a close

I hope this post doesn’t make it sound like we sat through a simple tasting and presentation. Because it was so much more than that.

It was the stories and the banter that made the night as enjoyable as it was. From Jacky losing his teeth in a cask, to Jim’s finger sniffing lost in translation moment in Japan, to Günter, the Nuremberg Highlander. It’s the kind of stuff you can’t really convey in pictures or words. You just had to be there. I could go on and on about the institution that is Bruichladdich and the legend that is Jim McEwan, but it would do neither of them justice.

Although Jim was billed as the evening’s guest, when he speaks and presents, it almost felt as though you were the guest at his tasting.

A sincere thanks to Jim McEwan and SMWS Australia and Southtrade International for making the evening a truly memorable one. To Jim, I genuinely do hope our paths cross again at some point. Perhaps in your hometown of Islay next time, instead of mine here in Sydney.

As I said at the beginning, If you ever get the chance to go along to a tasting hosted by Bruichladdich’s Jim McEwan, don’t think about it, just do it.

Glenmorangie Tùsail

The sixth release in Glenmorangie’s revered Private Edition series

Label mock-ups for Glenmorangie’s latest Private Edition release have just appeared online and if the labels are anything to go by, Tùsail sounds like a rather interesting one.

Glenmorangie Tusail label

Unlike the five annual releases before it, Tùsail doesn’t appear to get its unique point of difference from the wood used in the maturation process. Instead, it looks like Dr Bill Lumsden and his team of boffins have had a crack at playing with the bare bones of this whisky instead, using a traditionally floor malted Maris Otter barley. Maris what? A brewers barley, developed in the late 1960’s and often used in the production of premium ales.

I personally can’t recall ever having tasted a Glenmorangie produced with traditional floor malted barley (well, not that I’m aware of anyway), so this could be interesting. As with previous Private Editions, it appears that Tùsail will again be bottled at 46% ABV and will be non chill-filtered.

No further info on price or release dates, but if previous releases are anything to go by, select northern hemisphere markets should expect to see this late December or in January 2015. Fingers crossed this makes it to Australia early next year.