Kilchoman tasting with Peter Wills

A 10th anniversary tasting in Sydney

Kilchoman’s Peter Wills (youngest son of founder, Anthony Wills) was recently in Sydney as part of Islay distillery’s 10th anniversary celebrations (gee they’re growing up fast!) I first bumped into him over the weekend at The Oak Barrel’s Sydney Whisky Fair, whilst he was presenting as part of Island 2 Island’s trade stand.

Peter Wills

Understandably he was being mobbed by fans of the young Islay all weekend, so it was great to be invited along to The Wild Rover’s Campbell Corner Whiskey Co-operative the following Monday for an intimate and casual tasting.

Kilchoman tasting

Ten years can sound like a long time. Ten years in the same job is a good stint these days. A ten-year-old mobile phone makes it damn near ancient. Yet ten years in the whisky world seems like nothing, especially when you consider that your next youngest neighbour has been making whisky at least 124 years longer than you. That in itself makes the whole Kilchoman story that much more interesting and exciting to me.

It’s been a good while since we last attended a Kilchoman tasting, so I was quite looking forward to it. First up was a 100% Islay head-to-head, tasting the 4th edition against the 5th edition. Both are solely matured in ex-Buffalo Trace bourbon casks, both are bottled at 50% ABV and both are peated to around 20 parts per million (ppm). The difference then? The 5th edition is slightly older.

Kilchoman 100% Islay

I got soft smoke, a creamy vanilla sweetness and light, fruity malty notes on the 4th edition. This was backed up by an oily, tangy palate of fresh citrus (like grapefruit) and a heavy charred note. The 5th edition is certainly cut from the same cloth, but I found the nose to be brighter, with sharper citrus and acidic notes (like fresh cut pineapple), loads of tanginess with a more ashy char as opposed to soft smoke. This was backed up by a dryer, ashy palate with a bit more of a coastal theme going with tangy saline notes and drying smoked hay on the finish. A really interesting head-to-head.

Kilchoman Machir Bay

Next up was the mainstay in their range, the Machir Bay, which I’ve tasted (and enjoyed) on a number of occasions before. Bottled at 46% ABV with some ex-sherry cask in the mix, I find it softer yet richer, with sweet vanilla on the nose, ripe fruit, bananas, a faint hint of strawberry sponge and light peat. The palate is sweet and mellow at first, with a rich peaty tang at the back. I found it more earthy, combining tropical fruit notes with the peat being slightly less apparent than the 100% Islay expressions.

Kilchoman 2007 Vintage

The 2007 vintage six and a half year old was up next, again bottled at 46% ABV. I found this dryer and ashier again on the nose, but a bit more balanced than the 100% Islay. Ashy hay notes, fresh and zesty. The palate echoed the nose closely with earthy peat notes at the back and fresh zesty notes at the front (tropical fruits like green mango and pawpaw). The smoke wasn’t there, but the peat was evident on the finish, which was longer. This tasted the most mature of the lot.

Kilchoman Cask Strength

We then moved into full-proof territory, with the 59.2% Original Cask Strength. One nosing of this and I was hooked. Super creamy and round on the nose, smooth smoke, buttery vanilla, zesty lemon meringue desserts with a light alcohol prickle. I found the palate oily and rich, loaded with zesty charred flavours. It was ashy, dry and tangy, with salted caramel notes and a long, peat laden, cheek tingling finish.

Kilchoman at cask strength is a very enjoyable thing. I’ve had the pleasure of tasting a couple of single casks over the years and now the Original Cask Strength too, and I’m a fan.

Kilchoman Loch Gorm

We finished on the sherry-matured Loch Gorm (which I’ve tasted here and here), whilst Peter shared some great stories; like flooding the floor with new-make as Anthony was showing some potential investors around, to honouring the ‘barley-to-bottle’ claim of the 100% Islay 1st edition by hand-filling thousands of bottles with teapots.

Anniversary bottling?

If you’re wondering whether there’s going to be an anniversary bottling, the answer is yes. But it’s very unlikely you’re going to taste it. Kilchoman filled their first cask in December 2005 and auctioned off one single bottle from this cask when it turned three (the minimum legal age). That bottle sold for 5,500 and they plan to bottle another single bottle from that cask and auction it in December this year. So for those of us with shallower pockets, we might have to wait a little longer for a regular ten year old bottling to hit the shelves.

Happy anniversary Kilchoman

Thanks to Peter for coming all this way to share the story of Kilchoman with us and to The Wild Rover for hosting another great whisky tasting.

Peter Wills Kilchoman

Over the past decade, Kilchoman have achieved a lot and in my humble opinion and they’re making some great whisky. Yes it’s young and yes it rarely has an age statement. But it’s got loads of flavour and character and it’s fun! I’m looking forward to seeing what the next decade brings for this youngster, but part of me really hopes that they keep releasing these young, bright and vibrant Islays.

Check out @whiskyledger on Instagram for plenty more whisky and drinks photography.

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

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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!