The Balvenie Craft Bar is back!

The Balvenie will be hosting their annual pop-up Craft Bar next week (25-28 August) at the historic Strand Arcade in Sydney. I went along last year and had a great time (you can check it out here!)

Balvenie display

This time ‘round the 12 year old Balvenie DoubleWood will be on taste alongside a series of craft masterclasses hosted by some very well-respected local artisans. From guitar makers, to book binders, to milliners and shoe makers, there’s bound to be something for everyone.

Bar

As always, it’s completely free, so if you like the sound of sipping a Balvenie whilst hearing about your favourite (or perhaps a new) craft, visit this link to see the full programme and sign yourself up!

 

 

Lagavulin 8 year old

One of Islay’s favourites celebrates its 200th anniversary

Lagavulin hits the big two-zero-zero this year and to celebrate the milestone they’ve released a trio of limited expressions. At one end of the spectrum there’s a 25 year old Lagavulin matured solely in ex-sherry casks. Then there’s the 18 year Feis Ile bottle that was only available at the distillery during the Feis Ile festival.

Lagavulin 8.jpg

They’re two expressions that sound absolutely incredible, but probably not what you’d describe as overly ‘accessible’ to the average Lagavulin fan. For that reason, I think Diageo has been rather clever in releasing a third expression, one that the vast majority of us fans will be able to access, afford and enjoy. Say hello to the 200th anniversary Lagavulin 8 year old.

Lagavulin to me

I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for Lagavulin. If I were to rewind the whisky clock a number of years, I can honestly say that the very first bottle of peated Islay whisky I ever purchased was the Lagavulin 16 year old. I vividly remember the first time I tried it. I was out to dinner for my birthday and being new to the world of whisky I thought I’d try something I’d never heard of. Out came a glass of this smoulderingly smoky, sweet yet salty whisky. At that point, my interest was well and truly piqued. It was the kind of whisky that made me riase an eyebrow each time I brought the glass close to my face and it was barely a couple of days before one of the three bottles on my shelf was a brand spanking new Lagavulin 16 year old.

Lagavulin 200 news

I’m not the only one who’s been charmed by it either. You still regularly see people post on facebook or message forums who’ve newly discovered the world of peat when trying their first Lagavulin. It’s quite incredible to think that the distillery has garnered such a fan base with essentially one core bottle; the mainstay 16 year old.

Lagavulin 8 launches in Sydney

So all of that being the case, I’ve been eagerly looking forward to trying the new 8 year old ever since it was launched overseas back in March and I recently had the chance when I was invited along to the Sydney launch event at The Wild Rover.

Sean Baxter

Diageo National Ambassador, Sean Baxter, was on hand to walk us through the 8, 12 and 16 year old expressions, but before we did so, we were treated to a sensory experience unlike anything I’ve encountered before – a 3D virtual tour of the Lagavulin distillery!

I’ve always found the whole 3D goggle thing to be a bit of a kitsch novelty, but using it for a virtual distillery tour? Now that’s pure genius! We donned our branded goggles, put on our headphones and were transported to the isle of Islay.

Lagavulin VR.jpg

Starting on the pier, we took in our surroundings before moving through to a field of barley, then to a malting room where the raging kiln was charged with peat. The still house was up next, followed by the warehouse and finally to the Lagavulin tasting room. I wish I could have somehow captured the tour itself in photos, but you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say it was pretty damn cool.

Peat.jpg

Our visual and auditory senses weren’t the only ones being tantalised. As the tour progressed, a team of helpers (or as I like to call them, scent ninjas) introduced various scents to complement the scenes. Think being misted with sea spray when we were on the pier, the smell of oak and earth whilst we were in the dunnage warehouse and even the the burning of peat whilst we were checking out the kiln (damn it smells good).

Lagavulin Oysters.jpg

Oysters were shucked, canapés were served and some blazing libations were crafted to round out the evening, but not before the hero was sampled.

Lagavulin Cocktail

Tasting notes

The new Lagavulin 8 year old is solely matured in refill American Oak casks and bottled at 48% ABV. Before I get stuck into the notes, I’ve got to hand it to Diageo for releasing this at a very respectable ABV and with a young age statement boldly (and proudly) printed on the label. Well done chaps!

Nose

Where the 16 year old could possibly be described as round, even supple, I’d say this is bright, punchy and active. A clean pronounced sweet peat note, oily charred citrus zest, face-puckering lemons, fresh tart pineapple and a salty saline tang. It smells youngish, a tad mescal-ish, feisty and fun.

Palate

Again, compared to the 16 year old, the palate is noticeably oily and creamy in texture, thanks in large part to the higher alcohol strength and lack of chill-filtering (a very welcome addition in my books). It’s bright and hits the palate high with a sweet rock-salt tang, crisp smoke, smouldering coals and ash before some fruit kicks in (green pears and underripe peach). On the finish I felt it turned sweeter again, whilst being both drying and ashy, with very little in the way of oak or bitterness.

Lagavulin

The 200th anniversary Lagavulin 8 year old is available in Australia right now at a recommended retail price of $95. A big thanks to Sean and the team from Diageo for inviting The Whisky Ledger along as a guest.

Jack Daniel’s celebrates its 150th

Jack Daniel’s, one of world’s iconic whiskey brands, celebrates it’s 150th anniversary this year. And even though Sydney Australia is a mighty long way from Lynchburg Tennessee, we were very privileged to have Chris Fletcher – Jack Daniel’s Assistant Master Distiller – in town recently to help us raise a glass and celebrate the milestone.

Old No 7

First time in Australia

Kicking of his first ever Australian tour in Sydney, I received an invitation to what was billed as a ‘time travelling whiskey experience’, one that would take us on a ‘journey through 150 years of craft and cocktail culture’. I’m not going to lie. When I first read that description I honestly thought it was just crafty marketing-speak for ‘come along to a rad Jack Daniel’s tasting hosted by Chris’. Boy was I wrong. Very, very wrong. I’m going to struggle to put this experience into words, but pour yourself a Jack, sit back and I’ll do my best to convey it.

The Jack Daniel’s range

The night started out along the lines of what I had originally expected. Arriving at Hotel Harry we were politely ushered upstairs to an ultra-rustic yet cosy room where tasting glasses lay in wait.

Chris Fletcher

Chris greeted us, filled us in on his background and ran us through the process of what makes Jack Daniel’s, well, Jack Daniel’s – their sugar maple charcoal mellowing process (check the link, there’s some pretty cool videos).

Jack Daniels Mellowing
Not only did we get to hear about this process, but we also had the chance to sample their new make spirit (aka white dog) both before and after charcoal mellowing. Having tasted the before and after samples I can attest to the difference it makes. Before mellowing, the new make has got some really pronunced grain notes, a prickly herbaceous quality to it (almost mezcal-like) and let’s be honest, it’s fairly sharp and somewhat astringent. After mellowing though it’s noticeably smoother, has a much rounder profile overall and really pronounced notes and favours of banana and apple. Fascinating stuff.

Gold27

Following the new make sampling, Chris moved us on to some current expressions from Jack Daniel’s core range; Gentleman Jack, the classic Old No. 7 and their Single Barrel Select. Last in the lineup was the limited release No. 27 Gold which we’d just taseted when the door swung open to the sight of a rather disheveled looking sleep-walker. That’s right, a stumbling character, mid-dream, dressed head to toe in his pyjamas.

Dreamer1

Prohibition

Unbeknownst to me at that stage, but our dishevelled friend was here to actually take us on that time-travelling journey through his memories of years gone by. We blindly obeyed, following him up some stairs whilst he theatrically reminisced about the early 1920s through to the days of prohibition. Before we knew it we’d rounded door number one where he encouraged us to enter, but only after giving a secret password.

Prohibition

We knocked, the door opened a crack. A shady-looking chap asked for the password and we were ushered inside where a bootlegging duo gave us some insight into the life of a booze-runner. We go the run-down on the origins of the Old Fashioned (apparently it used to be considered a breakfast cocktail?!), solved a puzzle using jars scattered throughout the room and then got to enjoy our very own Old No. 7 libation. It wasn’t long though before the door burst open once more and our dreamy friend had us on the move, leading us down a corridor this time to door number two.

Vegas baby!

Door number two looked remarkably like the first, but we’d travelled a few decades in the process and were greeted by none other than Mr Frank Sinatra.

Frank

It was now the 50s, Vegas was the place to be and Frank was chaperoned by a young dame with a heavy New Yorker accent (uncannily similar to that of George Costanza’s mother). Between their entertaining banter Ol’ Blue Eyes had us fix him a drink, just the way he liked it; two ice cubes, two fingers of Old No. 7 and a dash of water. Rumour has it that Frank was such a fan that he’s actually buried with a bottle of Jack.

FranksDrink

In our glasses though, we were treated to neat pour of the Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select, a premium expression containing barrels that were personally selected by Frank Sinatra Jr. Just as Frank broke into a ditty our dreamer entered once more, the actors froze and we were transported down the hall to room number three. We’d time-travelled a few more decades in the process and rock-n-roll awaited us.

Rock ’n’ Roll

Good old Jack ‘n Cola was the drink of the era and check out the presentation!

RocknRoll2

Our rocker friends Ziv and Sass welcomed us backstage and got us to come up with the name for their new band. I can’t remember what the winning name ended up being, but one lucky back-stager walked away with a bottle of Old No. 7 for their efforts.

Sass

Our time travelling was over for the evening, but not before cocktails and canapés were served back at the bar. The evening ended with each of us being presented with a very special bottle of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select, from a barrel that was personally chosen by Chris Fletcher to suit the Australian palate. I’ve not opened mine yet, but I’m told it’s rich, robust and full of flavour, so I can’t wait!

Here’s to Jack

So, did this live up to the promise of ‘time travelling whiskey experience’ that would take us on a ‘journey through 150 years of craft and cocktail culture’? You’re damn right it did. Each step of this journey I took a brief moment to scout the room and it was impossible to miss the grin on everyone’s face. This was a genuinely fun and memorable tasting experience that I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

Jack Daniels Chris Fletcher

A big thanks to Chris for making the effort to come and visit us down here in Oz and also to the Brown Forman and SoundCampaign teams for making it all happen and inviting The Whisky Ledger along for the ride.

This event was also free to the public and was advertised on The Whisky Ledger’s Facebook page, so if you like the sound of it and would love to be involved in future events, head on over and like our page to stay in the loop.

Whisky & Wisdom 2007 Glenfarclas

A private single cask Glenfarclas for whiskyandwisdom.com

I love sherried whisky. Auto-correct tells me that ‘sherried’ isn’t even a real word and it’s probably correct, but as a far as I’m concerned it should be. When I say sherried whisky, I’m referring to that gorgeous mahogany or ruby-coloured whisky that’s spent its life maturing ex-sherry casks, imparting rich notes of dried fruit, spice and sweetness.

Glenfarclas

I’ve been fortunate enough to taste many different sherried whiskies, ranging from three-month old spirit from an ex-sherry cask, all the way to a 1967 43 year old Longmorn that had the opacity of black coffee. In amongst all of those sherried whiskies I’ve also encountered the broad spectrum of what can make a sherried whisky great, and what can make some of them borderline undrinkable.

There’s sherried whisky out there that’s sulphur tainted, presenting notes of gunpowder, struck matches and – at worst – an eggy rotten gas vibe. I’ve also had the heavily oaked, tannic and overly bitter drams, ones that were totally out of whack and just didn’t seem to gel with the European Oak casks they were matured in. Or ones that were perhaps left in the cask too long. Then there’s the one-dimensional, super sweet, cloying drams that taste as though a good few litres of sherry was left in the cask before it was filled with spirit. The point I’m trying to make is that sherried whisky is incredibly alluring, but it can also be incredibly varied in quality. That’s especially the case when you’re talking about first fill, single cask offerings. Get it wrong and there’s nowhere to hide!

There are two distilleries that immediately spring to mind for me when I think of high-quality, heavily sherried whisky; GlenDronach and Glenfarclas. GlenDronach happens to be my vice and I find it hard to resist the urge to pick up a new single cask bottling whenever I come across one. I know someone who happens to feel the same about Glenfarclas, but he’s taken this love (or shall we say, obsession) one step further. He’s gone and bought himself half a damn cask! Enter; Andrew from whiskyandwisdom.com and his 2007 single cask Glenfarclas.

Glenfarclas 2

Nose

The nose on this thing is sherry magic. It’s so incredibly clean and clear (there isn’t a single hint of sulphur) with a nice balance of sweet and savoury notes. On the sweet front there’s plenty of classic dried fruit notes (saltanas, flame raisins, figs and dates), there’s damp brown sugar and a syrupy molasses/treacle element. On the savoury front, old leather sofas, tobacco, sour cherry scented solvent, furniture polish and cigar-box spice. There’s a faint herbal note too, maybe even some sooty coal, but only when you really go looking for it.

Palate

The palate is well-connected to the nose; it’s thick, chewy and has a great mouth-feel with syrupy toffee sweetness, dried fruit, sour plum jam and juicy raisins up front. The sweet notes give way to a rounded warming peppery spice and some oak. The heat from the alcohol is the last thing that greets your palate – exactly the way you would want it to.

Finish

Again, nicely balanced with a long warming finish, a hint of bitter citrus rind and some light peppermint/ menthol. Even on the finish it retains the syrupy notes from the palate, this time with some cinnamon spice.

I had to re-check the bottle. Yes, this is 60.5% abv but I honestly don’t think it noses or drinks like a whisky of that proof. It comes across as well balanced for something that’s a) so young, and b) from a single cask. Not that it needs it, but air only makes it better and despite being my first dram of the evening I’ve got no desire to add a dash of water.

Some final thoughts

This is textbook sherried whisky and I love it. When you see this thing in a bottle or in your glass you can’t help but notice the deep, rich colour. You know its natural and it screams sherry goodness. So often though that initial excitement is quashed when you cop a nose or palate of sulphur-taint, or something over-oaked, or even something that’s too sherry forward where there’s nothing but cloying jammy notes.

This, however, is none of the above. It delivers syrup-laden dried fruit, it delivers gentle spice and it does so in a marvellously chewy, oily and lingering way, leaving a big smile on your dial. I’m certainly no authority on the matter, but I know when I taste a quality, clean sherried whisky; one that ticks all the right boxes for me. And this is certainly one of them.

Whisky and Wisdom’s private bottling of Glenfarclas is available to purchase now through Whisky Empire. Thanks for the sample Andrew (but for the record, #GlenDronachForLife!)

Ardbeg Night, Sydney

The back-story to this year’s Ardbeg Day whisky – the Dark Cove – is one of smuggling, mystery and illicit activities. So it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Ardbeg Day event in Sydney was well and truly shrouded in a big cloak of mystery.

Ardbeg Dark Cove

In the lead up to the event I received a ‘save-the-date’ email simply with a date in it. No further details. Nada, zip. A week later, a credit card-sized golden token arrived featuring a number and an RSVP email address on the reverse side. There aren’t too many things in this world I would blindly RSVP to. But a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets James Bond gold card Ardbeg Night invitation? Yeah, that’s certainly one of them!

Boat

At this stage I knew I’d be catching a boat and that I had to be at the wharf for a 4.45pm departure. Beyond that, I had no idea what would be in store.

Zissou

Arriving at the wharf, Steve Zissou and I boarded our Wes Anderson-esque pleasure craft bound for the rocky shores of.. somewhere? We braved the chill on the upper deck, keeping an eye out for our destination. A-ha, thar she is! Good ole Goat Island!

Goat Island

Our Ardbeggian warehouse was decked out with back-to-back bars serving a trio of different cocktails prepared by the crack bartenders from The Whisky Room and Stitch Bar.

Cocktail1

All three offerings showcased the Ardbeg 10 year old, but the coconut fat-washed Ardbeg, Amaro Montenegro, pineapple concoction was a highlight for me.

Oysters

An oyster bar, roving waiters with canapés and a few different game stations were positioned around the space. As with previous years, the latter offered punters the chance to win themselves some pretty awesome loot like this Ardbeg Night t-shirt!

Ardbeg T Shirt

Well into the evening a smugglers soundtrack rang out and the caged Ardbeg stash was busted open, revealing the new Ardbeg Dark Cove. Cellarmaster of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Andrew Derbidge, talked us through the dram and with a hearty cheers we got to sample the new general release of the Ardbeg Dark Cove.

DarkCove

I previewed the Committee Release here and now having sampled the general release I’m genuinely surprised at the difference 8.5% in ABV can make. The Committee Release hits you with that smoky cask strength oomph, whereas the standard release has a finessed balance to it that makes it almost too drinkable. Both delicious in my opinion and one of my favourite modern Ardbeg Day releases.

Ardbeg pouring

Returning to shore we shook off those sea legs and made a bee-line for Stitch Bar, one of Sydney’s official Ardbeg Embassies, where the after party was in full force.

Stitch

Another Rehaboam (4.5 litres) of Dark Cove was behind the bar at Stitch, along with more great cocktails and fun times.

Stitch 2

Another truly epic Ardbeg Day (Night) celebration in Sydney. The crew at Moet Hennessey and EVH PR somehow manage to out-do themselves every year (see here and here). I dare say this was the best one yet! A sincere thanks goes to you both for smuggling me in.