We have touchdown

I’ve been missing in action for a wee bit, but there will be plenty of fresh posts in the coming weeks. For the time being though, I’ll leave you with a few shots of a nice little care package that recently arrived from out of space.

Peering into the galactic black bag, I was met with a rather stellar sight

Ardbeg Supernova mini

A small wooden crate. You could say the presentation was out of this world.

Ardbeg Supernova

I think we better pry this open..

Ardbeg Supernova 2014

Sorry, that one was out of focus.. or was it

Ardbeg Supernova 2014

Ardbeg’s latest Committee Release, the new Ardbeg Supernova 2014. Tasting notes and more info soon at The Whisky Ledger.

Available in Australia from December through your local Ardbeg Embassy or at Moet-Hennessy Collection.

The Balvenie TUN 1401 gets a new sibling?

The Balvenie Tun 1509 and other new offerings from William Grant & Sons

It looks like the good folks at William Grant & Sons have been rather busy of late. If these label approvals are anything to go by, we might be able to expect a couple of new offerings from two of their stalwart distilleries, plus a well-aged offering from one of their a rarely seen, long-closed distilleries.

The Balvenie TUN 1509

First up is The Balvenie TUN 1509 – a younger brother to the fabled TUN 1401 perhaps?

TUN1509

‘Younger’ is purely my own speculation. But given the average age of the various TUN 1401 batches is often around the 30 year mark, I can’t imagine The Balvenie would be releasing another vatted malt into their line-up that was any older.

We’ve seen nine batches from the TUN 1401 series now and the Taiwanese exclusive TUN 1858 has also seen two releases over the last few years. So what to make of this latest release? A third permanent offering in the revered TUN series? A replacement for the others? Your guess is as good as mine, but there’s one thing we can be fairly sure of, and that’s the fact that this will fly off shelves.

Glenfiddich ‘The Original’

This next one sounds like an interesting concept. As you’ll read on the label, Glenfiddich looks to be releasing a new no age statement expression inspired by their original Straight Malt. If you’re unsure of the significance, in 1963 the Glenfiddich Straight Malt was pretty much the first single malt whisky to be actively branded as such and exported around the world.

GlenfidOrig

Although label details have only recently been released, I came across this curious blog post which indicates that this project may have been in the works for a number of years. Was the Glenfiddich ‘The Original’ tested on distillery visitors under the working title of Glenfiddich ‘Retro’? It certainly sounds like it!

Ladyburn ‘More than 40 years old’

If you’ve never heard of Ladyburn, there’s a pretty good reason for that. The final casks of this Lowland malt were laid down 39 years ago, back in 1975. Adding to that, the distillery itself was operational for a mere 9-10 years in total.

Print

From what I can tell, the last official release was a 1973 Ladyburn bottled back in the year 2000 at 50.4% ABV. Aside from a handful of independent bottlings since (sometimes under the name Rare Ayrshire), this is malt that’s rarely seen indeed.

Nice to see a new official bottling of Ladyburn from William Grant & Sons, but some might find the 40% ABV a tad disappointing (if indeed, that’s what it ends up being).

SMWS + Shirt Bar Sydney

The other week the Shirt Bar in Sydney held a very special Scotch Club event in conjunction with the Australian chapter of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS).

Shirt Bar sign

I’ve been to a few Scotch Club events before (here and here) and I’m also a member of the SMWS, so I knew this would be a winning combo. Even more so as the evening was being hosted by SMWS Australia’s Cellarmaster, the affable Mr Andrew Derbidge.

ShirtBar

For those who’ve never met Andrew, he has to be one of the most knowledgeable and approachable whisky figures I’ve come across. His presentations are always jam-packed with interesting info, yet never bore – irrespective of your level of whisky knowledge or interest.

What you need to know about The Society

If you’re not familiar with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, who they are and what they do, their website should be able to help solve that problem for you. In my opinion though, here’s what you really need to know:

  • All of their whiskies are bottled from single casks,
  • They’re all cask strength, natural colour and non-chill filtered.
  • Bottles will never be repeated, so when they’re gone – they’re gone!

SMWS pack

In the images to follow, you’ll note that the labeling contains an odd numerical code. Quick intro if you’re not familiar with the SMWS’s labeling system – the first number represents the distillery the whisky came from and the second represents the number of casks that have been bottled by the Society, from said distillery. The brilliant names? Well, that’s the domain of the chaps in the Society’s creative department I guess!

Table

On to the whisky then

The line-up consisted of six pretty special bottles, including two not previously seen as part of Australia’s quarterly outturn (yes, think yourselves lucky my UK friends, we’re a long way away from Scotland, so our Outturn is only quarterly).

Tasting mat

41.59 Appetizing and tantalizing

First up was this ten year old whisky from a Speyside distillery by the name of Dailuaine. You may not have heard of them, but chances are you’re consumed their whisky before. Dailuaine is owned by Diageo and the majority of their output ends up in the various Johnnie Walker blends.

A super small amount of this stuff is bottled as a single malt – let alone singe cask, cask strength – so it was pretty special to have this.

SMWS 41

Very fruity and quite light on the nose. Summer fruit salad, pineapples, pears, apples and some tart piney notes dominated, while some softer vanilla and sweet floral notes hid up the back. Quite a light nose with a decent amount of spirit prickle.

Light on the palate as well, yet rather oily at the same time. I found that it initially sat quite high before unleashing a decent amount of spice and some big tangy and tart pineapple notes that sent the saliva glands into overdrive. The finish was long with quite a bit of heat and some oaky spice, somewhat balanced by a noticeable vanilla note.

Back to where it all begins  

Before moving on to dram number two, Andrew paused for a moment to take us back a few steps, presenting whisky in its naked new make spirit form.

New make

He busted out this small sample of Glenmorangie new make spirit, which comes off the stills at an industry average of 63.5% ABV. I didn’t spend too long with this, but as you’d expect, it was very grassy, slightly dusty and botanical on the nose (they often remind me of Mezcal) and hot and saliva-inducing on the palate.

I had to have a chuckle when a guy near me nosed his glass and exclaimed to his mates ‘oh man, that’s smells like unleaded petrol’.

Not the most interesting new make I’ve tired, but I always find it really interesting to sample the building blocks of whisky, and trying new make from a hugely popular Scottish distillery is not something you get to do often!

121.68 Harvesting fruit on an Indian summer’s day

Next up was this 14 year old dram from a fairly young island distillery, Arran, which opened in 1995.

SMWS 121

A noticeably heavier nose on this one compared with the Dailuaine. Sweet esthery polish notes, sour green grapes, caramel – almost on the verge of burnt bitter caramel. Initially the nose seemed quite closed, but given some time it changed quite a bit, developing some meaty fermented grape notes and gummy lollies, in particular, strawberries and cream.

Creamy and oily on the palate, straight off the bat. Tropical fruits, sweet spice and overall, a very round profile. The back of the palate became almost drying, with a hint of kiwi and some slight salty notes. A long fruity finish (reminded me of tinned tropical fruits).

123.8 In the Spanish mountains

As far as I can tell, the Society has only ever bottled eight casks from this distillery, making it somewhat of a rarity and indeed a priviledge to be tasting. I’m talking about Glengoyne and this particular bottle was matured for 12 years in a refill port pipe.

SMWS 123

Quite a dense, heavy nose on this dram. Spice, Vegemite, a touch of salt, tart plum jam or plum butter (reminded me of my favourite Polish powidła) and some hazelnuts. Not overly sweet or sugary, but also not overly fruity. A very interesting nose, though I’m still not sure how much I really liked it?

Lovely oily mouth feel which was both rich and winey. Spice developed quite quickly, but a winey sweetness remained the whole way through. The finish is where I felt the port notes really showed, with some lingering plummy prune flavours, more spice and a decent oakiness.

An enjoyable and really interesting dram, but if I’m being completely honest, I think I prefer Glengoyne’s spirit when it’s been bourbon or sherry cask influenced.

132.5 Sweet and darkly beguiling

Not actually a Scotch, this next whisky hailed from one of Japan’s most revered and lauded closed distilleries, Karuizawa.

Big, rich and syrupy on the nose. Sweet raisins, stewed plums, figs and Christmas cake. So rich, yet surprisingly clean. I’m not sure how to describe exactly what I mean by ‘clean’, but despite the heavy sherry influence, the nose came across as really quite bright and active.

SMWS 132

The theme continues with a rich, creamy, syrupy palate. Tangy raisins and dark red fruit, there’s some spice, but I found it somewhat restrained for such a heavily sherried whisky. Slightly prickly, dense and a hint of old char smoke. A long and warming finish remains sweet and fruity with some oaky spice showing at the tail end. Such a clean sherry cask in my opinion.

I wondered whether this dram had star status in my eyes because I knew it was from a closed distillery and knew it was rare. But I’ve been fortunate enough to try it on two or three occasions now – on its own and up against a number of other whiskies I regard quite highly – and each time it has stood out as something pretty special.

If you’re a big Glendronach or Glenfarclas fan, this isn’t one to miss. A hugely enjoyable drinkers whisky (ie. collectors/investors, you’re seriously missing out!)

Time to bring on the peat!

It was around this time of the night that Andrew revealed his last sensory item for the evening, some freshly peated Ardbeg malt.

Ardbeg malt

I love the smell of Ardbeg, but this was something else. Burrying my nose right in there, the glass was full of cereal and grainy notes but they were overlayed with that amazing smoky sweetness. I know it would probably taste like rubbish, but in that moment I could have eaten that glass full of malt with a spoon. A rare treat to encounter Ardbeg malt in Australia, that’s for sure.

I have no idea how he got a big zip-lock bag of malted barley past Australian Customs on the way back in from his recent trip to Scotland, but I’m glad he did. Andrew – if you smuggled this in your jocks, I don’t want to know about it.

53.198 Wasabi on a California Roll

The last dram of the evening was also the oldest of the night, a lovely 18 year old coastal dram from Caol Ila.

SMWS ShirtBar

On the nose, I found this to be rather tangy and salty up front, with fragrant peat and a fairly light smokiness. A hint of iodine, but nowhere near as medicinal as the likes of Laphroaig. In a moment of poetic wankerism, I wrote down ‘a coastal BBQ with sea spray’.

More smoky on the palate than the nose, a lovely oiliness to the mouth with some spice, saline and drying hay. It had a certain fruity quality to it as well though, with grilled peaches (burnt perhaps?) and a tangy peat, sweet and savoury finish. Really quite lovely and balanced.

Phone picture

In true Shirt Bar fashion, the evening’s Scotch Club finished off with their trademark antipasto board & pies.

Antipasto

This round of Scotch Club was perfect for those who’d never been to an SMWS event and wanted to see what all the fuss is about. As an existing member, I took it as a perfect opportunity to get my SMWS whisky fix between Outturns and taste a few new expressions I hadn’t come across before. A seriously enjoyable tasting.

If you missed out

I was originally going to write something along the lines of ‘if you missed out, not to worry – there’s another one being held on August 13th’.

Group 2

But you can forget that. It went on sale the other day and completely sold out – in less than 24 hours! If you do have a ticket, I’m not sure that you’ll be tasting the above, but whatever Andrew brings, they’re bound to send those taste buds into overdrive!

If you didn’t manage to get yourself a ticket and want to find out more about the Society, head over to their website and keep en eye on their tastings and events page to see when an event is being held in your capital city.

The Balvenie 14 year old Caribbean Cask

Official launch, Sydney Australia

Attention Australian Balvenie fans – The Balvenie 14 year old Caribbean Cask has just been launched locally!

In true William Grant & Sons style, this was cause for celebration, so on a recent Monday evening, celebrate we did. Where should The Balvenie hold an event for the release of a rum-finished whisky? A specialist rum bar of course, so it was off to Sydney’s The Cuban Place/Parke Davis.

Balvenie Craft Bar

Guests approaching the venue knew they were in the right spot when they spotted this hand-crafted Balvenie sign at the entrance and were greeted by the sound of authentic rasta-sounding steel kettle- drums.

Parke Davis

Descending the half dozen stairs into the swanky sub-ground Parke Davis, we were greeted by our ever consummate host – The Balvenie’s Sydney brand ambassador – Mr James Buntin.

James

James’ partner in crime for the evening would be Melbourne-based Dick Blanchard, who I’d had the pleasure of meeting a few day’s prior at the Australian Malt Whisky Tasting Championships (post to follow shortly).

It should be said that Dick has a knack for crafting some rather special whisky-based cocktails and had put together this Balvenie-inspired duo to get the evening started.

Menu

A handful of friendly hellos were exchanged before a handful of Balvenie was received, your choice of a cocktail or perhaps something from The Balvenie’s core range? The 12 or 17 year old double wood, the all new 14 year old Caribbean Cask or perhaps a healthy dram of the luscious 21 year old Port Wood (if you happened to bump into the right person!) They were all on offer and the crowd made a good dent in their stocks!

I started with a Balvenie-inspired Dark & Stormy and Parke Davis’ bartenders made short work of mixing a couple down.

Balvenie Stormy

Oh yeah, they’re also pretty efficient at pouring a mean Beachcomber or two…

Pyramid

Balvenie – a story of craftsmanship

The Balvenie don’t just place pride in their liquid, but also in the craftsmanship that brings it to life. From the partial onsite maltings, to the in-house cooperage that prepares their barrels, they take a very hands-on approach to whisky making. As such, they also display an appreciation for those who exude the same passion in their own craft.

Drum

To really highlight that connection, The Balvenie had invited along Charles Moller to present a short, but genuinely fascinating, intro into the world of crafting steel kettle-drums. It’s not the first time The Balvenie has been involved with local artisans either, setting up a craft bar in Melbourne’s famous laneways back in November 2013.

Release the rum-finish

We were here for a particular reason though and that was to see the official release of this fine dram into the local Australian market.

Balvenie trio

So with a short enthusiastic toast from the captivating Mr B. we welcomed The Balvenie 14 year old Caribbean Cask to Australia.

Balvenie toast

So what’s it like?

In short, pretty damn enjoyable. So enjoyable in fact that I totally forgot to jot down any tasting notes on the night.. bugger.. The geniuses at Balvenie obviously figured as much and had the forethought to but together these goodie bags, complete with a crafty hand-labeled sample.

Goodie bag

After mulling this one over for a while, I got sweet syrupy malt on nose, layered with brown sugar. Whether the label is prompting me to look for it, I’m not sure, but I also get some golden rum notes too. Searching a touch longer, it’s not hard to find the classic honeyed-apple Balvenie notes buried underneath. A very round and perfectly approachable nose.

Sample

Fairly thin on the palate and immediately sweet, yet drying at the same time. Oaky wood spice develops quickly along with bitter dark chocolate and a hint of orange pith. These tart drying notes are nicely balanced by a rounded sweetness, which almost comes across as confectionary like at some points (think lolly bananas and fresh marshmallows). Add to that some hints of vanilla and a noticeable rum note, both of which come out toward the back of the palate and remain on the finish which turns oaky and drying once more.

I think the main take away from this is to not expect a rum flavoured whisky. It’s not a flavouring (thank goodness for that) – it’s a finish – one which builds on the underlying approachable character of Balvenie, creating something a bit more special.

Having also tried the 14 year old Cuban Cask, I admit that I did notice a difference between the two and the Caribbean Cask is certainly my pick of the duo.

Warehouse 24

If you liked the look of this event, you too can get involved!

Whilst some distilleries have mailing lists, or token membership groups, The Balvenie’s Warehouse 24 program genuinely makes an effort to connect with their fans the world over. Regular competitions are mostly open to international entrants and special events are held in major cities everywhere.

Group

In fact, invites to the Caribbean Cask launch were extended to Australian Warehouse 24 members – just for being members! Whether you’re reading this in Australia or abroad, it’s worth checking out.

Where, when and how much?

The Balvenie 14 year old Caribbean Cask is bottled at 43% ABV will be available in Australia from the finest liquor retailers from August at a recommended price of AU$115.

Balvenie 14

Big thanks to The Balvenie and William Grant & Sons for hosting such an enjoyable evening. And to James, farewell from your Australian fans, thanks for all the laughs and we hope you have a blast in the UK.

Laphroaig PX Cask.. or is it?

A number of distilleries come up with some pretty interesting releases for the travel retail/duty free market. Sometimes it’s just a bigger bottle, a higher ABV or non-chill filtering, but there’s also a healthy selection of travel retail exclusive expressions that you won’t find anywhere else.

So when a relative was going on a recent overseas trip, I asked them to pick me up a couple of travel-retail exclusives. Whiskies that I knew I wouldn’t be able to try elsewhere. At the top of that list was this one – the pedro ximenez finished Laphroaig PX Cask.

Laphroaig PX Cask tube

I’ve always enjoyed a good Laphroaig and was excited to see what kind of influence a pedro ximenez cask finish would have on their trademark medicinal peat notes. That excitement was somewhat short-lived though when I excitedly popped the top off the tube and had a peek inside…

Laphroaig Quarter Cask bottle

That’s right, at some point someone had swapped the bottle of Laphroaig PX for a bottle of Quarter Cask!

That’s kind of like unwrapping your Christmas present to find the box for a GI Joe action figure, complete with sub-machine gun and a big hunting knife, then opening the box to find a Ken doll with board-shorts and some sunglasses. Well, that’s probably a bit too harsh, but you get the idea – where’s my sherried Laphroaig!? Fiddlesticks!

It was by no means a total loss though, for I now had a whole litre of glorious Quarter Cask to work my way through.

Laphroaig QC label

Laphroaig updated their packaging around May 2013, but this bottle is still in the older style, with a textured matte-paper label and the slightly older font.

Quarter cask is a No Age Statement (NAS) whisky (ie. there’s no age written on the label). But rumour has it that this expression spends the first five years of its life maturing in standard bourbon barrels before being moved into quarter casks for a period of around seven to eight months.

Laphroaig booklet

Thanks to this bottle, I’m now now a Friend of Laphroaig and also an international land owner, with my very own square foot of Islay! You just follow the instructions in this little booklet and Laphroaig send you your very own certificate of land ownership. Time to head over there and start excavating that square foot – Grand Designs style!

Quarter casks

So what’s a quarter cask? The name’s fairly self explanatory I guess – it’s ‘a quarter of a cask’. But then I thought, hang on, what sized ‘cask’ are we actually talking about here? A standard sized bourbon barrel? A Hogshead? A butt?

I hit the interwebs in search of an answer and came across responses ranging from 40 through to 125 litres. I was still no closer to the truth, so I decided to get in touch with the folks at Laphroaig directly. I’ve since been reliably informed by a Brand Ambassador that the quarter casks they use are indeed 125 litres in size. They start life as a 42 stave once-used American Oak butt, before 15 staves are removed, reducing their overall size down to 125 litres.

Nose

Oily and coastal on the first pass. Brine, smoky seaweed, maybe some diesel and a vegetal cigar note. We’re well away from smoked meats, bonfires and BBQs with this Laphroaig – A real ‘dockside’ scent to this one in my opinion. Digging deeper I got some vanilla, some fresh zesty/tangy notes of lemon and something anise in character – black jelly beans or liquorice perhaps?

Palate

A medium oily mouth feel gives way to a decent burst of spice – baking spice and cigars. The anise note from the nose shows through slightly on the palate, along with a certain sweet ashy flavour and loads of peaty tang.

Smoke was apparent when the bottle was first opened, but months down the track it has dissipated significantly. The palate also seems to have gone from being fairly pointy and aggressive to a lot more rounded and slightly closed.

Finish

I thought this had a fairly good length to the finish and remained cheek-suckering for a few moments. I also got a certain drying vegetal tobacco spice right at the end, like the aftertaste of puffing a cigar.

I never did get to try the Laphroaig PX Cask..

..and just to rub a bit more salt into the wound, from what I’m seeing online it looks like everyone who’s tried it seems to rather enjoy it. It also looks like it’s slowly been removed from duty free stores around the world, so my chance may have come and gone.

All wasn’t lost though, as the Laphroaig Quarter Cask really is an enjoyable whisky. The fact it’s part of their core range and is bottled at 48% ABV non-chill filtered is a big plus in my books. If you’re already a fan of the classic 10 year old, this bigger winter warmer is definitely worth a try.