Craigellachie Bar 51 – Sydney

Your chance to try the world’s most uncollectable whisky

The latest release from Speyside’s Craigellachie Distillery has been a long time in the making. 51 years to be exact. But the best thing about this release is that it won’t cost you a fortune to taste it. In fact, it won’t cost you anything at all, because instead of packing this up in a crystal decanter and only making it available to the seriously well-heeled, Craigellachie have decided to break the mould and give this whisky away for free. 

Craigellachie 51

That’s right, instead of positioning this as another dust-collecting trophy bottle, Craigellachie have created what’s been dubbed ‘the world’s most uncollectible whisky’, a bottle that can’t be purchased, but one that available for whisky fans to try through Criagellachie’s Bar 51 tasting events.

The Bar 51 series kicked off in the UK late last year and after stops in London and New York it has finally made its way to Australia for its last stop in Sydney and a few days ago we were treated to a special preview tasting at Sydney’s Firedoor restaurant.

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The whisky

The Craigellachie 51 year old was distilled way back in 1962 when the distillery was operating a single pair of coal-fired stills and when they also floor-malted their own barley. The distillery was rebuilt between 1964-65, introducing four steam-heated stills, at which time they also ceased floor malting. So aside from this being an incredibly well-aged whisky, the production method of the liquid is rather different to that of the spirit flowing from the stills today. As such, in tasting this 51 year old, you really are consuming a little bit of genuine whisky history.

If you’re half paying attending at this point you might note that 1962 + 51 years doesn’t quite equal 2019 and you’d be exactly right. The refill bourbon hogshead that held this whisky was ‘discovered’ slumbering in their warehouses back in 2014, at which point it was transferred in bulk to glass at 40.8% ABV. Over the next few years whilst the team decided exactly what to do with it, the proof continued to decline until it was eventually bottled in 2018 at the natural strength of 40.3% ABV.

Everyone will have their own experience and thoughts on this majestic old malt, but here are mine.

On the nose it was still vibrant, fresh and fruity despite half a century in oak. Oily, tropical fruits, peaches, honey and waxed leather. The nose continued to open up and evolve, revealing more fleshy fruit, tobacco and other stately notes as the night went on. 

On the palate the first thing I noticed was the amazing texture. At 40.3% this is pretty much the same strength as any readily-available blend on the market, but the Criagellachie 51 year old carried immense weight, density and grippy oiliness to it. As a result, the palate delivered lots of waxy fruit notes, summer fruit fan, buttery pastry and surprisingly gentle oak on the finish.

A complex dram that would no doubt continue to evolve for as long as you could resist drinking it and an absolute pleasure to try.

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Other true stand-outs for me included the Craigellachie 23 year old and a very special bottle from their Exceptional Cask series, another 23 year old Craigellachie that had been extra-matured for 10 years in ex-Rioja red wine casks. Normally a whisky that had spent 10 years in a red wine cask would scare me a little (tannin overload!), but this was amazingly integrated and just delicious stuff with sweet toffee apples, red berries and dark dried fruit galore! Look out for this one if you happen to be traveling through international airports as it’s exclusive to travel retail.

Your chance to try the Craigellachie 51 year old

Craigellachie’s Bar 51 is officially coming to Australia next month (October) and everyone is able – and heartily encouraged – to be part of the action. To be one of the 80 Australians who will have the pleasure of trying the Craigellachie 51 year old at Sydney’s The Duke of Clarence, head on over to craigellachie.com and enter the free ballot. Each prize consists of two tickets where you and your guest will be treated to Craigellachie’s core range of whiskies (13, 17 and 23 year olds), along with the 51 year old.

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Bar 51 pops up in Sydney for three nights only (23-25 October) and entries close on Friday 11 October, so hop to it, visit craigellachie.com and enter today. It couldn’t be easier! 

A special thanks to Bacardi Australia and Firedoor for an evening of hospitality and delicious food and whisky. All images supplied. 

Glenmorangie x Kingsleys

A grain to glass whisky dining experience

Scottish Highland distillery, Glenmorangie, have teamed up with one of Sydney’s prime waterfront restaurants, Kinsleys, to deliver a special four-course menu designed to be enjoyed with some of Glenmorangie’s finest drams. It sounds like the perfect winter treat and I recently had the pleasure of experiencing it for myself – here’s a preview of what you can expect.

Grain to Glass

Perched right on the edge of the harbour at Sydney’s iconic Finger Wharf in Woolloomooloo, Kingsley’s are probably best known as a premium steakhouse and seafood restaurant. But for the rest of June, they’re offering diners another winter-warmer option with their Grain to Glass menu, delivered in partnership with Glenmorangie single malt scotch whisky.

Glenmorangie and tonic

A refreshing Glenmorangie Original + Tonic was served on arrival, which was a perfect palate awakener for the first course which was soon to arrive. Can’t say I’ve ever tried whisky and tonic before, but the combination was eye-opening and I think I’ve found myself a new summer drink.

Glenmorangie Oysters

Freshly-shucked Sydney rock oysters were served along-side Glenmorangie’s Quinta Ruban; a whisky finished in port casks for two years, after ten years of initial maturation in ex-bourbon barrels.

Glenmorangie Risotto

Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or was the next dram we were invited to explore, alongside a pearl-barley risotto of spanner crab, lemon, charred radicchio and almond. Extra matured in sweet wine barriques from Sauternes, France, this dessert-like whisky has long been one of my favourites. The chewy barley-texture of the risotto and smoky char of the radicchio played nicely against the malty sweetness of Nectar d’Or.

Glenmorangie Venison

The third course was venison (cooked two-ways) and smoked kipfler potatos. Glenmorangie Lasanta – extra-matured in Oloroso and PX sherry casks – was the accompanying dram here and was another solid choice in my opinion. The sweetness, dried-fruit notes and spice from the sherry casks helped tie the dish together, playing off nicely against the fermented cherry jus and rich gamey character of the venison.

Glenmorangie Signet

The savoury elements were enjoyable, but I’m a bit of a sucker for dessert and the caramelised brioche, date ice cream, pedro ximenez and hazelnut brittle was a great combination. Very happy to report that it tasted as good as it sounds, and paired along-side Glenmorangie’s flagship Signet whisky, it was a fitting end to a decadent meal.

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The Glenmorangie x Kingsleys Grain to Glass menu is available until 30 June for $130 per person. For full details, you can check the menu out here. Special thanks to both Glenmorangie & Kingsleys for the enjoyable evening.

Highlander Whisky Bar, Sydney

The iconic Sir Stamford, Circular Quay has brought a little bit of Scotland to Sydney

I’ve always loved the bar at the Sir Stamford hotel in Sydney’s Circular Quay. It’s grandiose, but without being stuffy. There’s polished oak, marble and old art at every turn, yet it’s clear that it’s not contrived, which is just one of the reasons I love this old glamorous space. So when I heard that it was to be given a rebirth as Sydney’s newest whisky bar, I was naturally very interested.

Highlander Whisky Bar Sir Stamford

The Highlander Whisky Bar opened its doors in the space the other week and it ticks all the right boxes for me. They’ve kept all of the elements mentioned above which make this such a great space, but have tastefully added a splash of tartan here and there. It’s the kind of place you can spend a few hours catching up with a friend, or share a nightcap after a great meal.

Highlander Whisky Bar

Sir Stamford partnered with David Ligoff, co-founder of Sydney’s World of Whisky and The Whisky Show series to help bring the concept to life with a curated selection of bottles that are sure to please everyone; from those starting to get into whisky, through to serious whisky fans looking for something a little out of the ordinary.

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For those looking for something a bit more than an after-work dram, a Whisky High Tea, complete with whisky-infused desserts and a matching whisky flight has recently hit the menu. They’ll also be offering a whisky of month, along with bi-monthly whisky masterclasses, each with a specific theme. 

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Check out the Highlander Whisky Bar on Facebook for all the latest info, or better yet, drop in for a dram next time you find yourself up that end of town.

Diageo Special Releases

It’s that time of year again where Diageo bring out the big guns and introduce the Australian market to the latest bottles from their Special Releases collection. If you’re not familiar with the Special Releases collection, it’s essentially the one time each year where Diageo take a good hard look at their entire portfolio of distilleries – both open distilleries and long-closed distilleries – and release a series of bottles to celebrate the diverse range of flavours found at each.

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These bottles aim to showcase distilleries and flavour profiles that you’re unlikely to find in their core range products that are found on the shelves of retailers on a daily basis. Many of these are one off releases; bottles you’re not going to see again in this shape, form or vintage.

In its 18th year, we again see some familiar expressions like the Lagavulin 12 year old and an ‘unpeated’ Caol Ila (significant, given all of the standard releases from this Islay distilleries are quite smoky little numbers!) But there are also a number of other interesting bottles in Special Releases collection this time. Some that are interesting because they’re old and rare, and others because they’re young and unusual.

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Thanks to a generous invitation, I recently had the chance to taste six of the ten released this year in Australia. 

The Singleton of Glen Ord 14 year old

Up first was The Singleton of Glen Ord 14 year old. Ordinarily, whisky from Glen Ord distillery, or whisky bottled under the Singleton label hasn’t generally been a source of excitement for me. This promised to be a little bit different though, given it had been through a five-wood maturation and cask marriage regime and was bottled at 57.9%.

Rich notes of waxy honeycomb, mushy baked apples, zest and sweetness on both the nose and the palate, with a spicy sweet, yet minty dryness on the finish. I was too quick to judge this one. While not super complex, it was really enjoyable and dare I say it – quaffable!

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Inchgower 27 year old

You’ll be forgiven if you’ve never heard of Inchgower, as it has always been a significant component of blended whisky, including Bells and Johnnie Walker and is seldom seen as a single malt. Apparently less than 1% of production is bottled as a single malt, so this is an interesting addition to the lineup this year.

After the sweetness of the Glen Ord, I found the Inchgower to be quite dry and tight on the nose. It’s quite savoury, with some mossie salty earth notes, damp, coastal, spicy hessian sacks and leather. The palate was also savoury, but with some tropical fruit notes lurking in the background among quite a lot of drying spice. I can count the number of Inchgowers I’ve tasted on one hand, so I’m not sure what the ‘typical’ profile is. Something I’d quite like to explore further.

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Pittyvaich 28 year old

Like the Inchgower, you’d also be forgiven if you’ve never come across Pittyvaich before. Built in 1974, it was one of the youngest Speyside distilleries (most were built a good century or more earlier), but it was short-lived, closing in 1993.

On the nose it was quite waxy, with some flinty gingerbread notes, firm stone fruit in the background and a touch of coconut. The palate delivered notes of honey, rich spice, caramel, coconut and some of those tropical fruit notes in the background again (papaya, and green mango).

Oban 21 year old

In contrast to the previous two, the one probably doesn’t need much in the way of an introduction. Despite the small size of this western highlands distillery, Oban seems to be a gateway single malt for so many people. The Oban 14 year old was one of the very first single malts I ever purchased, but that’s pretty much where the core range ends in terms of Oban with an age statement on it. So I was quite looking forward to this one.

Matured in European oak butts, this has a great deep nose with notes of honey, stone fruit and creme brûlée, intertwined with coastal notes of sea-salt, minerals and damp rock. The palate had a nice connection with waxy honeycomb, creamy rich saline custard, caramelised sugars and ashy char. I really enjoyed this.

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Cladach

Cladach – Gaelic for coastline or shoreline – is a blended malt that runs with the coastal theme by including whisky only from Diageo’s six ‘coastal’ distilleries; Inchgower, Clynelish, Talisker, Oban, Caol Ila and Lagavulin.

I loved the nose on this, initially getting notes of wood-fired custard, sweet salty spice, zest and smoke, all delivered in a rich, fatty buttery way. The palate completely caught my by surprise though, delivering a big peaty whack, with a tangy saline youthfulness and loads of maritime notes.

Caol Ila 35 year old

It’s impossible to not get excited at the prospect of tasting a 35 year old Islay whisky. In previous years, the ‘old Islay’ whisky featured in the annual Special Releases collection was always from the now-closed (but soon to be re-opened) Port Ellen distillery. With stocks ever-dwindling and prices soaring, it seems as though Diageo are holding onto what they’ve got and will be releasing them via other avenues. That’s not bad news though, as this year it has opened the door for this well-aged example from Caol Ila.

I’ve had the pleasure of trying a few 30+ year old Caol Ilas and they’ve all been stunning. This bottle was no exceptions, offering a mature nose, notes of pine resin, waxy apples, freshly malted barely, distant peat, aniseed and brine. The palate was oily and rich, delivering waxy fruit, stone fruit, saline, spicy sugared nuts and an aromatic menthol eucalypt notes.

On their own, the notes sound bizarre, but the layers, depth and integration of flavour made this something very special in my mind.

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Diageo Special Releases collection – available now 

The full Diageo Special Release collection consists of the following bottles, available in Australia now:

  • Caol Ila ‘unpeated’ 15 year old – $179.99
  • Caol Ila 35 year old – $1,249.99
  • Carsebridge 48 year old (grain whisky) – $1,349.99
  • Cladach (coastal blend) – $249.99
  • Inchgower 27 year old – $499.99
  • Lagavulin 12 year old – $179.99
  • Oban 21 year old – $824.99
  • Pittyvaich 28 year old – $499.99
  • The Singleton of Glen Ord 14 year old – $179.99
  • Talisker 8 year old  – $129.99

Thanks as always to Diageo Australia for the invite and the opportunity to taste these special releases.

Win the full Diageo Special Releases Collection

Are you based in Sydney? Are you free this Thursday? Would you like to win whisky – lots of whisky. Lots of very tasty, very expensive whisky? Here’s what you need to know!

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To celebrate the launch of the Diageo Special Releases collection in Australia, Diageo are giving one lucky person the chance to win the full set of bottles. Details are limited, but this Thursday (14 March 2019) a set of clues will be released throughout the day at 8am, midday and 3pm at Customs House, Sydney. These clues will help one lucky person decipher a code, which will in turn unlock the grand prize of the ten bottles pictured above.

Unfortunately I can’t make it on Thursday (which is good news for those entering, as I would be competing fiercely for this awesome prize!!), but I did get the chance to taste a few of these bottles last week – stay tuned for some of my tasting notes and thoughts soon.