Whisky & Alement open their cellar

Melbourne’s Whisky & Alement – arguably Australia’s best whisky bar – is doing something a bit special this festive season. Whilst they’ve had their little ‘bottle shop’ going for a while – a cabinet where you can purchase a selection of bottles that you may have tasted behind the bar – they’re upping their game, just in time for Christmas.

For the first time in eight years they’re opening their cellar to the public and you’ll have the chance to pick up some seriously cool bottles. From 1 December through to 22 December, owner Julian White will be on hand to talk you through some of the rarities and hidden gems they’ve collected over the years.

A small sample of some of the bottles available to purchase are pictured here (courtesy of Whisky & Alement). Whether you’re after a gift for someone else, or a special bottle for yourself on Christmas night, I have no doubt they’ll be able to sort you out with an absolute beauty.

So if you’re in the area and looking for something a little bit special, get in touch and pick up something memorable this festive season!

Whisky & Alement
270 Russell Street, Melbourne
(03) 9654 1284

Glenmorangie 1990 Grand Vintage Malt

Originally launched around 2010, the Glenmorangie 25 year old ‘Quarter Century’ has been Glenmorangie’s range-topping core expression ever since. The 25 year old was made up American Oak barrels, Oloroso sherry casks and even had some French Claret casks in the mix and whilst I never had a chance to try it myself, by all accounts it was one pretty luxurious malt. Earlier this year though the 25 year old ‘Quarter Century’ expression was discontinued for undisclosed reasons, but in its place, something equally interesting appeared, the Glenmorange Grand Vintage Malt 1990.

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Bond House No. 1 Collection

Where the 25 year old was more or less part of Glenmorangie’s core range, the new Grand Vintage Malt 1990 is part of new series, known as the Bond House No. 1 Collection. It’s series said to be focussed on luxury (something that LVMH know an awful lot about and do very well), but it also has another central theme to it. All of the bottles in this new series will be vintage dated (as opposed to age-stated) and if the first 1990 release is anything to go by, I’m sure they’re all going to ooze decadence and appeal very much to the well-heeled buyer who enjoys all things luxury.

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Thanks to the great team at Moet-Hennessey Australia, I was very generously invited along to try the 1990 Grand Vintage Malt recently, alongside accompanying drams of Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or and the 18 year old.

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The Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or is a long-time favourite of mine, with that sweet sauternes wine-finish working wonders with the bright and fruity Glenmorangie spirit profile. It somehow manages to take the lighter Glenmorangie house style and give it a great buttery, fat quality to it. I mean that in the best possible way – think of a french boulangerie – with loads of pastry, biscuits, honey, citrus and mineral elements. An effortlessly tasty dram with body.

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The 18 year old heads in a very different – though equally enjoyable – direction. Garth Foster, Moet Hennesy Brand Ambassador, filled us on the deliberate work that goes into constructing the 18 year old and it was genuinely interesting. At 14 years of age, 10-20% of the classic ex-bourbon matured Glenmorangie spirit is moved into ex-sherry casks for a further period of maturation. The process happens again at 16 years of age, so it’s not just a simple 6-month sherry finish we’re talking about here. There’s also a healthy dose of Glenmorangie’s ‘designer casks’ in the recipe, casks made of slow-growth American oak selected from the Ozark Mountains. When you put all of that together, you get a Glenmorangie with a richer sherry note with integrated dried fruits, vanilla and nuts (hazel nuts and brazil nuts). It’s creamy, nicely balanced and has good complexity.

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Glenmorangie 1990 Grand Vintage Malt

After tasting those two, it was on to the main show, the new 1990 Vintage, matured in a selection of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks for approximately 26 years before being bottled at 43% ABV.

On the nose I got notes of ripe juicy peach, tinned tropical fruits, dried apricot and crushed spice biscuits. The tropical notes continue to emerge with time, with firm cantaloupe, green stone fruits, perfumed honeysuckle and a touch of old waxed leather and tobacco.

On the palate the tropical theme continues. It’s soft, delicate and malty on entry with charred peach, firm green stone fruit, honey, a vegetal earthiness and something aromatic and floral in the background. The oak is there, but it’s nicely integrated and never turns overly drying.

One of the most complex Glenmorangie whiskies I’ve tried and also the one that is furthest from the ‘house-style’ I normally think of when I taste their other core range. It also works marvellously at the lower bottling strength they’ve chosen here. In short; luxurious liquid velvet.

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The new Glenmorangie 1990 Vintage is available in Australia now in very limited quantities and entry to the exclusive 1990 club will set you back a tidy $725 or so. A very special thanks to Moet-Hennessey Australia for the guest pass!

SMWS Exotic Cargo Review

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society are best-known for their ever-changing range of unadulterated, high-quality single cask Scotch whiskies. Whiskies that have been bottled straight from the cask with no dilution, colouring or chill-filtration. That’s been their ethos since they started back in 1983 and little has changed since.

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In more recent history they’ve branched out slightly, bottling grain whisky, Japanese whisky and Bourbon and in recent years they’ve even increased the number of non-whisky spirits they’ve been bottling, including rum and Cognac. But no matter what they’re filling into their iconic green bottle, there’s always been once central theme that’s never changed. Everything the Society bottles comes from a single cask and is bottled at cask strength. That’s always been the case – that is – until now.

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Say hello to Exotic Cargo, the Society’s first ever blended Scotch malt whisky. To quote the Society, Exotic Cargo is made up of “a selection of pre-blended Scotch malt whiskies, distilled in 2006 and matured from birth in exceptional first fill ex-sherry Spanish oak hogsheads for their full term”. The team responsible for its creation tasted the blended malt at a dozen different strengths before settling on 50% ABV, which they felt really brought out the best flavours in the whisky. It was then bottled at its natural colour without chill-filtration.

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The Society’s National Ambassador for Australia, Matt Bailey, tells us that the intention is for this to be part of an ongoing series, pointing out that the label proudly denotes that this is ‘batch number one’. As for the general profile of future incarnations? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see!

SMWS Exotic Cargo Review

Exotic Cargo is described as having “a deep yet delicate nose of warming nutmeg and cinnamon spice, followed on the palate by an intense sweetness, rich with moist ginger cake, treacle toffee, dark chocolate, marmalade and Turkish Delight, together with tannic wood, chilli spice, liquorice, walnut and leather”.

Being a big fan of ex-sherry cask whisky – and the Society in general – I was very eager to try the new Exotic Cargo and was fortunate to have the opportunity ahead of its official Australian release when Matt Bailey hosted an intimate gathering at Sydney’s best Society partner bar (in my opinion), Archie Rose. The intention of the get-together was to seek honest feedback from real members, so here’s what I thought:

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The nose was all things sweet and rich; sugared candy, frosty flakes, spun sugar, sweet juicy raisins and muscatel grapes. It’s deep, really juicy and syrupy, with notes of honey, treacle and maple drizzled over pancakes.

The excitement continues on the sweet and creamy palate. It’s just as clean as the nose, with loads of bright, juicy Oloroso notes. Big plump raisins, a touch of chocolate and some burnt brioche bread, all coated in sweet salted caramel. The faintest spice emerges on the finish, but it never turns overly drying or tannic – something you often find with heavily sherried, ex-European oak whisky.

In three words: Juicy, Sweet, Fun.

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I love single cask whisky, especially big sherry heavy-hitters, but generally speaking, with single casks something always gives slightly. Maybe the palate doesn’t quite live up to the nose, or the nose is hot and takes a long time to open up, or the finish turns overly tannic and highlights flaws. Whatever the case, single casks – while super fun and tasty – are rarely harmoniously balanced the whole way through. But that’s where Exotic Cargo excels. They’ve managed to take the best parts of multiple casks and deliver an overall package that works marvelously and is almost too drinkable.

The bits you need to know

Exotic Cargo from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society is limited to just 1,937 bottles worldwide, with around 120 being made available to the Australian and New Zealand market. It will be released in the first quarter of next year, exclusive to members of the Society, at a very reasonable price (I’m guessing somewhere in the region of $120 – $170 but final pricing is to be confirmed by the Society). Oh, and one last thing. The queue for a bottle starts behind me.

Ardbeg An Oa Review

Recently I received a nice little care package from Ardbeg Australia; a bottle of the classic Ardbeg Ten year old and the brand new Ardbeg An Oa along with a simple request – ‘please host a gathering of five people to enjoy this new release’.

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Unsurprisingly, it was pretty easy to find a whole bunch of people who were more than happy to get together and drink whisky, so that’s exactly what we did. Before we get into that though, a little bit about the whisky itself.

A new addition to the core range

With their annual Ardbeg Day releases and other special bottlings (such as the Committee bottles and the recent Ardbeg Twenty One) you’d be forgiven for thinking Ardbeg’s core range is massive, but it’s actually not. Since the official release of Ardbeg Corryvrecken in 2009, the core range has consisted of just three bottles – the Ten year old, Uigeadail and Corryvrecken, which makes An Oa the first permanent addition to the Ardbeg range in over eight years.

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Named after the Mull of Oa, it joins the latter two in having no age statement and is made up of whisky matured in a range of different cask types including new charred oak, PX sherry and first fill bourbon. These casks are then married together in what Ardbeg are calling a ‘gathering vat’ (sometimes commonly known as a marrying vat or tun), before being bottled with no chill-filtration at a very respectable 46.6% ABV.

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Some will no doubt criticise the enthusiastic marketing and story-telling, whilst others will have a whinge that it carries no age statement, but the only thing I really care about is whether An Oa tastes any good! I’ve always looked forward to new Ardbeg releases and even though I’ve enjoyed some more than others, for me their strike rate is pretty high. I find it hard to fault the value for money equation of their core range offerings, especially when you consider that their prices have hardly changed over the last ten years.

Ardbeg An Oa – The gatherings

So with two fresh bottles in hand I had a great time in joining forces with a couple of good whisky friends including Whisky & Wisdom, Dramnation and Sydney Cocktail Club to really put the new Ardbeg An Oa through its paces.

The first gathering had a group of us tasting the new An Oa against the Ardbeg Ten, which really highlighted the contrast between the two.

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The Ten year old – especially a freshly opened bottle – is a big, fresh and zesty beast. It’s got loads of crisp dry bonfire smoke, almost as if someone has thrown a bunch of firm lemons and citrus onto a blazing hot grill and has charred the crap out of them. There’s nothing shy about it and that’s what makes a freshly opened Ardbeg Ten so much fun! When put up against the Ten, An Oa can best be described as a softer, more subdued, mature offering – but part of me feels as though it’s a bit hard to really get to know it when drinking it alongside the brash Ten year old..

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Still yet to make up my mind on An Oa a second gathering was in order and this time it rather extravagantly involved a harbour-side studio, some deliciously smoky Ardbeg cocktails and more seafood and late night shenanigans than you could poke a stick at!

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As we settled in for the evening – with the soundtrack to Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic playing in the background – a round of An Oa was poured and as a group we heartily recited the oath:

“I swear this oathing stone to be true to my untamed spirit. To stand with peat beneath my feet; smoke on my lips; a dog by my side; and Ardbeg in my heart. Slainte!”

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Ardbeg An Oa review

Both nights were loads of fund, though perhaps not the best environments to really get to know the new An Oa, so I’ve since sat down with it a few more times and here’s what I reckon.

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On the nose it’s softer and subdued. Instead of big bonfire and citrus I get lots of oily maritime notes like charred oily fish, herring, prawn heads, caramelised salmon skin and liquorice. There’s smoky earthy weed in there (kelp/ seaweed?), cured meats, citrus and creamy vanilla custard.

On the palate it’s certainly softer on entry where that balance continues; smoked oily sea notes, saline, and pepper, but with a warming hidden sweetness of runny honey and vanilla. You definitely know it’s an Ardbeg on the finish when that dry smouldering ash note appears.

Some final thoughts

The new Ardbeg An Oa unmistakably carries the Ardbeg DNA. To me, it’s the most composed offering in their core range; it’s got the peat, maritime notes, citrus and ash, but it has been put together in a restrained way. I can imagine this appealing to a lot of people, including those who may have previously found some of the other Ardbeg offerings to be a bit too big and brash. It fills a gap that I didn’t know existed and does so in a very classy way.

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The Ardbeg An Oa is a permanent addition to the Ardbeg core range and can be found on shelves now for a recommended retail price of around $120.

A very special thanks to the team behind Ardbeg Australia for helping us host our own gatherings to celebrate the arrival of An Oa. Check out The Whisky Ledger on Facebook for a full gallery of images from the two gatherings.

Canadian Club 8 year old

Canadian Club probably isn’t the first whisky brand that comes to mind for the average reader of this site. But just because it’s not, doesn’t mean you should ignore the the history of the brand and the impact it’s had on whisky-drinking markets the world over. Long before it became a top-selling brand in Australia it had some seriously strong links to a very pivotal period in whisky history; the era of prohibition in America.

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After founding his distillery in 1858 in Detroit, prohibition (among other things) would prompt Hiram Walker to up and move across the border to what’s now known as Windsor, Ontario in Canada. Although there was a constitutional ban on alcohol in place, prohibition didn’t exactly hurt Canadian Club’s sales, far from it. They’d already made a name for themselves in the United States before 1920 thanks to their well-aged, ‘Canadian’ style of whisky.

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So when the laws kicked in and local whiskey became hard to find, Canadian Club would go on to become one of the most heavily smuggled brands, thus cementing itself as a solid whisky favourite once the laws were eventually repealed in the 1930s. By the 1940s Canadian Club was sold in over 90 countries; fast forward a further six decades and it continues to be hugely popular the world over.

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In recent years in Australia we’ve seen big-spend campaigns marketing ‘CC and Dry’ as a beer alternative and you’ll even find it pre-mixed on tap in plenty of venues around the country. It’s been hugely successful for the brand and has been responsible for attracting plenty of new people to the whisky category. In fact it’s done so well that that Canadian Club has recently become the fastest growing spirit brand in Australia. So whilst it might not be the single malt whisky-sipper’s whisky of choice, there’s no denying CC’s immense popularity. Thanks to this success, Canadian Club have recently chosen the Australian market as the global launch pad for their newest release, the Canadian Club 8 year old and have kindly sent over a bottle to Whisky Ledger HQ for a bit of a road test.

Canadian Club 8 year old

The new expression sits firmly between the standard release and the 12 year old (in terms of age), but I’m told that it’s not actually the same whisky. With the 8 year old expression, the mashbill of grains used contains a higher malt and rye content compared to its siblings, so I’m expecting to get some nice ‘rye spice’ notes on this.

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Tasted neat, the nose has plenty of caramel, creamy vanilla and a touch of baking spice. This same general profile carries through to the palate delivering flavours of creamy caramel, honey, pastries and baked goods and nice gently spice on the finish.

There’s a good chance this will be consumed mixed though, so I put it to the test in a classic highball (CC & soda with a squeeze of lime) along with the ever popular CC and Dry (ginger ale) and yep, they’re both pretty darn refreshing. Whilst it won’t convert me from being a beer drinker, I can definitely imagine this going down a treat in summer!

The Canadian Club 8 year old is exclusively available in Australia (for the moment, at least) at a recommended retail price of AU$50.