Teeling Small Batch & Single Grain

Luck of the Irish? More like skill of the Irish.

A nice little care package (complete with a tweed peaked flat cap) recently arrived from the generous folks at the Teeling Whiskey Company.

Teeling Whiskey

Whilst the Teeling family name is steeped in Irish whiskey making tradition as far back as 1782, these whiskeys hail from the current generation of Teelings who are in the process of setting up their very own distillery. When they run their stills for the first time in the next week or two, the Teeling Whiskey Distillery will be the first new distillery to operate in Dublin in more than 125 years.

Teeling Small Batch

The first of the two whiskeys is the flagship Teeling Small Batch, a blend of malt and grain whiskies that are aged for a minimum of seven and four years respectively. Selected casks are then vatted together and finished for a further six months in Flor De Cana rum barrels to give the Small Batch an extra layer of complexity.

Teeling Small Batch

On the nose it’s unmistakably rummy (and Irish). Breaking that down, I got notes of sweet green apple, orange concentrate and a soft malty sweetness that reminded me of sponge cake in quality. The nose was soft, round, mellow and completely approachable.

I found the palate immediately oily and tongue coating, but not thick or cloying. The mouthfeel gives way to the lightest tingle of spice followed by a sweet malty biscuit quality (almost pastry like), with syrup and a hint of citrus. A vanilla-rum sweetness hangs around on the finish.

Teeling Single Grain

The second of the two is the new (to Australia) Teeling Single Grain whiskey, made from corn (maize) and distilled in column stills, as opposed to the traditional copper pot still. The interesting thing about this one is that it’s been fully matured in American Oak ex-Californian Cabernet Sauvignon wine casks for around five to six years, giving it that alluring coppery-red hue.

Teeling Single Grain

On the nose I found this fairly recognizable as a grain whiskey and initially a little thin and muted. Letting it open up for a few minutes though I found some lovely sweet jam notes, brown sugar, new fresh oak casks (the smell of walking into a winery cellar – perhaps suggestive of the cask influence on this one as well)

As with the Small Batch, the mouthfeel is oily and tongue coating, opening up with a burst of vanilla and berry jam. The fresh young oak taste translates as well and it finishes quite dry and short.

This one is super easy to get along with and given its price point (around the AU$65 mark), I can understand how this won World’s Best Grain at the World Whisky Awards last year.

Some other thoughts

Whilst carrying the ‘Teeling Whiskey’ name, both of these were actually distilled at the Cooley Distillery, which also happened to be established by the Teeling family back in 1987.

I find rather interesting that Teeling have played around with cask finishing on these two, something you see a lot with Scotch whisky, but not quite as much of in the Irish whiskey world. I think they’ve been really clever here and it’s helped them release some young, but super enjoyable and characterful whiskey.

Another thing that really works in their favour is that both of these are bottled at 46% ABV and they’re both non chill-filtered. If that doesn’t mean much to you, have a read of this. Essentially though, it helps give both of these whiskeys a lovely oily character that’s full of flavour and I can’t imagine anyone not getting along nicely with these two.

The Teeling Small Batch and Single Grain are both available in Australia for around the $55 and $65 mark respectively and later this year they will also be joined by the new Teeling Single Malt expression!

SMWS 127.37 Dinosaurs dancing to Stravinsky

A young refill sherry Port Charlotte

This peated powerhouse is one pour away from the bottle graveyard, so I thought I’d document a few notes here before it’s gone for good. What you’re looking at is actually the first ever SMWS bottle I purchased, a nine year old Port Charlotte that I picked up back in 2013.

SMWS 127.37

If you’re not overly familiar with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) and these unique bottlings, have a flick through this. In a nutshell though, all SMWS bottles are single cask, cask strength whiskies, bottled without chill-filtering and without the addition of colouring. It’s whisky at its purest.

The whisky

On the nose I get thick, sweet and creamy vanilla notes, Stroopwafel (those Dutch caramel waffle biscuits), smoked honey, a slight BBQ char note and hints of that trademark putty/rubber glove scent that I always associate with Port Charlotte. Despite the strength, the nose is round and whilst there’s a prickle, it doesn’t quite give away the immensity of this dram.

On the palate I get an immediate prickle and burst of salivation that gives way to a big, juicy and oily mouth feel. There’s coal fired vanilla desserts and white pepper. It’s sweet, thick and creamy with salted crème caramel and char. As you’d expect, the finish is long and warming, but there’s also a lingering and comforting sooty ash note.

SMWS tasting glass

In case you can’t quite see it on the label, this bottle weighs in at a heft 66.5% ABV. I know some purists out there would happily tackle this sans water (Andrew, I’m looking at you) and indeed I have on many an occasion. However, I actually really enjoyed this one with the smallest dash of water.

If the high ABV spirit is the dinosaur, then I guess that quality sherry cask is Stravinsky, taming a big ballsy whisky and making it dance. It’s lovely stuff.

Was it open for too long?

From start to finish, this bottle was open for a good 12 months or more. Like most diehard whisky fans, I’ve read plenty of articles about the dreaded ‘oxidization’ of spirits and started to get a little paranoid about the numerous open bottles I had, such as this one. I went and bought sample bottles to decant them and picked up various inert gas sprays used by the wine folk to displace oxygen in open bottles. Then I started to realise that it was all a bit annoying and couldn’t be bothered.

I’m kind of glad I did, as this bottle is just one example of how much whisky can actually open up and evolve with some airtime. I’m sure not every bottle will be enhanced by air, but I’m convinced that some of them will be, and it can be quite a fun learning experience revisiting them over time and seeing how they evolve.

Benromach 100° Proof

Tasted alongside its sibling, the Benromach 10 year old

Like many distilleries in Scotland, Benromach has a rather interesting history of ups and downs over the years. It was originally founded way back in 1898, but over the course of the next hundred years or so it was sold, closed and re-opened more times than I care to detail.

That was until independent bottler Gordon & Macphail decided to give it some loving and embarked on a project to refurbish Benromach and put it back into production. It officially came back to life in October 1998 and in 16 short years has managed to conjure up a pretty impressive portfolio of whisky that seems to just get better and better (have you tried their latest ‘peat smoke’!?)

Knowing that they’re making some pretty tasty drams these days, I was very keen to try their new 10 year old, bottled at 100° proof. So you can imagine how chuffed I was when this nicely presented set showed up courtesy of the folks at Alba Whisky.

Benromach 100 proof

Thanks to this generous set, I’d have the chance to be able to taste the new higher proof 10 year old side-by-side with the original. After all, they are supposedly constructed in exactly the same way, with the only difference being chill-filtering and a different alcohol percentage. Time to see what kind of difference this really makes.

Benromach 10 year old 43% ABV

First up was the widely available 10 year old expression. It’s comprised of 80% ex-bourbon cask matured whisky and 20% ex-sherry cask matured whisky. These parcels are then vatted together and left to rest for their final year in an ex-Oloroso sherry cask before being bottled. Talk about labour intensive.

Benromach 10 year old

I found the nose quite heavy (as in, laden with plenty of layers), but at the same time it seemed bright and active. Honey, malty sweetness, crushed biscuits, dried pineapple, tangy and buttery with a whiff of smoke.

The more I came back to it, the more it changed, so take the above with a grain of salt. One thing I can confidently say is that there seemed to be quite a lot going on for your average 10 year old!

A nice lightly oiled mouthfeel for a 43%er. Hints of spice up front, sweetness, apple skins and sultanas with a fair amount of damp vegetal smoke on the finish. Not overly warming, but well balanced with a lot of flavour left behind on the palate.

Benromach 10 year old 100° Proof (57% ABV)

Many of you (especially if you’re reading this from the U.S.) would be wondering how 100° Proof equates to 57% ABV. You’d probably expect it to translate to 50% ABV, right?

The key is in the ° symbol, indicating the old imperial measurement of ‘degrees proof’, whereby 100° equates to 57.15% ABV. There’s actually a neat story linking this back to rum, naval times and the flash point of gunpowder (you can read more here). Anyway, I digress. Back to the whisky.

Benromach 100 proof

It’s not just the photo, but as you’d notice from the first image, the 100° proof bottling is noticeably darker in colour.

It’s immediately richer on the nose. Perhaps not as ‘lively’ as the regular ten, but it’s depth could easily make you think it’s older than it is. Malty caramel sauce, creamy, hints of vanilla, some spice and the red fruits you’d associate with sherry maturation. That little whiff of smoke is hardly evident.

BenromachLegs

Quite hot and prickly up front on the palate, but this transitions into a thick and creamy mouth-feel. Sweet honey, malty biscuits, spice and jammy berries. A dash of water tames the heat and enhances the sweet, creamy richness, but I found it detracted from the lovely nose, so experiment carefully.

The verdict

Both come across to me as very well made whiskies. What do I mean by that exactly? It’s a little had to articulate I suppose. They’re not necessarily in your face or memorable for one particular note, rather they just leave you with a general impression that they’re very well balanced, well thought out and crafted with precision. I like to think that’s a hallmark of something that’s well made.

With all that being said, Benromach still fly under many people’s radars a little bit. A bit of a shame really, as they’re producing some pretty smart whisky indeed.

The new Benromach 10 year old 100° proof is now available in Australia through specialty whisky retailers at around the AU$150-160 mark. Thanks again to Alba Whisky for the generous (and photogenic) samples.

Best of the rest 2014

It’s that time of year again where some things start to ramp up and hit full-swing, whilst others take a bit of a breather and have slowed down slightly. Sadly (though thankfully for my wallet), whisky tastings and whisky events are one of the things that seem to taper off around this time of year, so it’s a perfect opportunity to catch up on some posts.

The tasting

In late December it was time for one last hoorah when the Oak Barrel in Sydney held their end-of-year ‘Best of the rest’ masterclass. I went along to one the year prior and they had some killer drams, including what was perhaps my whisky highlight of 2013, a Glendronach 1978 single cask.

Could they match that stellar line-up again this time ‘round? Well, I’ll let you be the judge of that one. Here’s how the evening unfolded.

Mackmyra Brukswhisky

First up was a whisky from Swedish distillery, Mackmyra. Despite their young history, there are some truly fascinating facts and figures out there about Mackmyra. For example, did you know that most of their whisky is matured 50 metres underground in a dis-used mine? Nope, me neither. Pretty cool though, just like the Brukswhisky bottle.

Mackmyra

I found the Brukswhisky to be very light (and quite bright) on the nose. I got some hints of orange citrus, peppery juniper berries, crème caramel and vanilla. After some air-time, some notes of apple and pear.

The ‘light’ theme continued on the palate, with some vanilla notes toward the back of the palate and some lightly spiced, malty flavours giving way to a fairly tame – but warming – finish. Quite interesting and summery , but I thought it still had a bit of a banana new-make spirit note to it as well (certainly not off-putting, just an observation).

Adelphi Liddesdale Batch no. 5

This interesting offering comes from Adelphi, an independent bottler who purchase casks from distilleries then bottle and release the whisky when they feel it’s just right. Despite the name, there isn’t actually a Liddesdale distillery and the liquid in this bottle is from the Bunnahabhain Distillery on the Isle of Islay. Five different refill sherry butts went into this one to be exact, each at least 21 years of age.

Adelphi Liddesdale

Notes of rich wine gums or gummy lollies on the nose. Some grimy workshop oils, rubber inner-tubes, damp vegetal smoke, a ginger dustiness and well integrated sherry notes. The ‘dense’ theme continued on the palate, with this being noticeably heavier and oilier than the Mackmyra (which could be credited to many factors, but mainly due to the Adelphi being non chill-filtered and bottled at 46% ABV). Some spice presents right up front on the tongue before clearing to a warming, sweet – yet spicy – salted dark chocolate finish.

I’ve tasted this on many an-occasion (I have a bottle) and I find that I get the most out of this by sitting with it over a longer period of time. Something of a contemplative dram if you will.

Adelphi Highland Park

The third dram of the night was also from Adelphi, but we were now moving into cask strength territory with this well-aged, 26 year old single cask offering from Highland Park.

Adelphi Highland Park

I’m quite familiar with what the standard, official bottlings of Highland Park smell and taste like..and I found this to be nothing like those!

Tropical coconut and woody notes presented first up on the nose. I found this to be quite restrained and delicate with a difficult to describe underlying ‘tropical’ note that presented in a number of different ways, like green grapes, desiccated coconut, bees wax and a light forest/vegetal note. The tropical theme continued on the rich and oily palate with overripe soured berries, grapefruit and hints of liquorice ending in a somewhat drying and tannic finish that became malty and cloying (not oaky and bitter). Confused a little? I think I was too.

Glendronach Cask Strength Batch no. 3

We stayed in the cask strength territory with this next one too. A no age statement marriage of both Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry cask Glendronach, bottled at 54.9% ABV. I liked batch no. 1 better than no. 2 so it was going to be interesting to see how this stacked up.

GlenDronach

So creamy, sweet, rich and full on the nose. There’s nothing shy, restrained or delicate about this at all. It’s not an all out sherry monster, but there’s loads of juicy raisins, honey, vanilla, dusty 70% dark chocolate and some estery varnish notes.

Immediately oily and hot up front on the palate, but it gives way to sweet rich sultanas and raisins, crisp red apples, vanilla pods, candied ginger and spice. A super solid and enjoyable Glendronach.

Laphroaig 1976 Scotia Royale 35 year old

Yes, that’s right, the little heading above isn’t a typo! One of 211 bottles, this 35 year old Laphroaig was bottled at cask strength of 43.3% ABV. Forget nearly everything you think of when you think of Laphroaig, the whisky pictured below was super unique.

Laphroaig

Straight away it became apparent that this had a very deep and layered nose. Fresh mint, herbal and vegetative with tropical notes of papaya and overripe mango (I generally get traces of these last two notes in the standard 18 year old expression as well). It mellowed the longer it was uncovered, revealing coconut oil and a yeasty trace, but never became overly woody which was interesting considering its age.

Despite the low ABV, the mouth feel of this was still oily and rich. The palate stayed pretty close to the nose with lots of tropical fruit and vegetal mossy flavours giving way to a faint iodine and spice finish.

An undeniably interesting dram, but I personally struggle to think of a time when I’d go ‘ah yes, I feel like that flavour profile tonight’. It would be a special occasion pour, that’s for sure.

Port Charlotte PC8

If you’ve ever had something from the PC series (or even a standard Port Charlotte), then you know full well why this was the last dram of the evening.

PC8

Before the glass comes within 12 inches of your nose you already get a face full of smoky, salty, charred ashes. There’s freshly laid tarmac, putty, latex gloves and vanilla rich desserts… that have been set on fire… This stuff is pretty exciting.

The palate and mouth feel of this whisky are just as big as the nose. It’s oily, instantly warming and loaded with the flavours of a spicy, smoky coastal barbeque. Charred, cured meats and sweet butterscotch eventually give way to an ashy and slightly floral finish that lasts for ages.

Group

Thanks to Dave and all the friendly guys at the Oak Barrel for for holding a number of a fantastic tastings throughout the year (such as this and this). Looking forward to seeing what you have in store for us in 2015.

The Balvenie Craft Bar, Sydney

And the Australian launch of the TUN 1509

The Balvenie train rolled into Sydney late last year when their pop-up craft bar came to town.

The idea behind the ‘craft bar’ concept is very much based on Balvenie’s own dedication to their craft, making whisky. Although they produce in the region of 5.6 million litres of spirit each year (making them one of the bigger distilleries in Scotland) there are still many craft elements to their production process. Such as traditionally floor malting a portion of the barley that goes into making their whisky and using their own on-site cooperage to craft the casks that will go on to hold Balvenie whilst it matures.

Balvenie Craft Bar Sydney

The whole craft element is a tradition and association that they’re pretty proud of, so it’s nice to see them using that devotion to help local artisans on the other side of the world get some recognition as well. It’s not the first time we’ve seen this concept in Australia either. In 2013 the bar was set up in one of Melbourne’s many lane-ways and seemed to prove quite popular.

The setting for this year’s craft bar was Zenith Interiors, a creative warehouse space in the inner-Sydney suburb of Surry Hills. Entering the warehouse guests were greeted with a huge sand-box of barley (more on this later) whilst a smart trio of hosts served up some refreshing Balvenie cocktails.

Balvenie

There was also a craft bar, within the craft bar (inception style)

The Balvenie Craft Bar

The craftiness continued with these cool little Balvenie tasting boards, which neatly held a trio of glasses and allowed you to move around the space and check out the exhibits whilst enjoying a spot of whisky and some quality cheeses.

Balvenie Cheese Board

Speaking of exhibits, they were actually really visually interesting to inspect, ranging from the craft of traditional book binding, to tailoring, stone masonry, instrument making and more. These drums from Sleishman particularly piqued my interest. The way they’re made reminded me of the oak staves in a whisky cask. I’m not sure whether the association was intentional or not, but they oozed top quality craftsmanship.

Sleishman drums

The Balvenie had some of their craftsmanship on display as well, like this copper ‘dipping dog’ or ‘whisky theif’ (used to retrieve whisky samples) which was sitting atop one of their own oak casks.

Dipping dog whisky thief

By this point the Balvenie sample boards were looking a bit empty for some punters, so back to the bar to watch the bartenders exhibiting their craft.

Balvenie Old Fashioned

A take on the classic old fashioned this time ’round.

Balvenie Old Fashioned

Two measures of Balvenie 12 year old Double Wood, one measure of Pedro Ximenez Sherry, a dash of plum bitters and some simple syrup – all stirred down over ice.

Balvenie Old Fashioned

I’m not always the biggest fan of whisky cocktails (I often find cocktails in general to be too sweet for my personal tastes) but these were dangerously moreish and a big crowd pleaser!

The Balvenie TUN 1509

There was an extra perk of being invited along to the opening night of The Balvenie Craft Bar, and that was the official Australian launch of The Balvenie’s latest limited release, the TUN 1509.

The Balvenie Tun 1509

Keen single malt fans might be familiar with the ‘TUN’ moniker when it last appeared as the TUN 1401. Each iteration that came out quickly gained a cult following (and a collector price tag on the secondary market), with different batches destined for different markets around the world.

It was always very reasonably priced for what it was (a high proportion of the whisky in it was very well aged!), but after nine releases the range has been informally retired and replaced with the new TUN 1509 expression.

The term ‘TUN’ referent to a big oak vessel (almost like a giant cask) into which numerous casks can be emptied and left to marry and settle together before eventually being bottled. From what I’ve heard and read, TUN 1401 generally held in the region of 9 to 11 casks, whereas TUN 1509 can hold in excess of 42 casks, meaning more bottles for more fans.

Brand Ambassador, Richard Blanchard, gave a brief intro before the bottle was de-corked and waiters did the rounds with generous samples. I can’t say I’ll ever tire of the site of someone walking toward me with a tray like this.

The Balvenie TUN1509

TUN 1509 tasted

Tasting notes are always tough at events like this, but I managed to park myself on an Aeron desk chair (these creative people really know their seating!) and jot down the following.

The Balvenie Tun 1509

Nose

Fresh out of the bottle I found some rather unpleasant kerosene and metallic notes. Thankfully these dissipated and given some glass-time to open up the nose developed some nicely rounded notes of red apple skins, hints of spice, some honeycomb wax and old-style soft fudge. In the background; dusty library books and a hint of charred oak.

Palate

Initial entry onto the palate was quite light and delicate but it opened up swiftly to reveal a lot of those notes from the nose – waxy red apples, red stone fruit, dried fruit, honey and soft fudge.

Finish

Long and full of flavour with some spice and nicely balanced oak becoming more apparent as time went on.

The Balvenie TUN 1509 Batch No. 1 is available in Australia now (in very, very limited quantities) at a recommended retail price of AU$420.

Making my way out for the evening..

..it became very apparent that the barley pit had become something of a fun adult sand-box, with groups throwing handfuls of malt at each other and even making the barley equivalent of snow angels.

IMG_6160

And then one chap really figured out what it was intended for!

IMG_6182

One of the other great things about this whole set-up is that it wasn’t limited to a one-off launch evening. The craft bar was open for a four-day period, every evening and it was 100% free! I’m not sure whether they will be holding it again next year, but if you liked the sound of all this, head on over to The Balvenie website and sign up to their Warehouse 24 club to be the first to hear about all of the other events they’ve got going on, both in Australia and globally.

The Balvenie Tun 1509