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.

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

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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

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.