What better way to spend a weeknight than with some fine whisky. That’s exactly how a recent Wednesday evening panned out for me, with the Oak Barrel in Sydney holding their final whisky masterclass for the year – The best of the rest.
Throughout the year, Dave (the Oak Barrel’s grand whisky master – probably not his title, but we’ll pretend it is) puts on a series of different masterclasses and 2013 saw some stunners. Among others, there was the Glendronach single cask masterclass at the beginning of the year. The smoke stack and smoke signal classes, exploring all things peaty (not just Islay peat) and the sherry and sherried whisky class – pairing sherried whiskies with their sherry counterparts (think fino, oloroso, pedro ximenez etc.)
As the year draws to an end though, there were some great whiskies discovered in 2013 that hadn’t had their chance to shine, so this was their night. Here are some short notes on the six tasted.
Powers John’s Lane
12 years old, 46% ABV, Bourbon & Oloroso sherry cask, single pot still, Ireland
First cab off the rank was one I’d head of, but never considered trying. Not that I have anything against Irish whiskey, but I think sometimes it can be really easy to get caught up in hype surrounding Scottish single malts and inadvertently ignore some of the other fantastic whiskies out there. Thankfully, this single pot still Irish whiskey brought that to my attention and has made sure that I wont be making that mistake again!
On the nose, this Powers was quite soft and creamy, yet fruity (in a fresh fruit salad kind of way). This was followed by some whiffs of spice (think cinnamon) and a hint of honey. A really enjoyable, delicate nose on this one for sure. The palate blows you away – coating your tongue with rich, oily fruit and big cinnamon and spice notes. This fades to a creamy vanilla and subtle sweetness on the finish. So surprising given the delicate nose!
Dave really nailed it when he simply described this one as ‘elegant’.
1992, 21 years old, 52.4% ABV, American Oak ex-sherry cask, Oak Barrel Sydney exclusive, Scotland
Adelphi are known for some of the finest independent bottlings out there and this one was no exception, bottled exclusively for the Oak Barrel in Sydney. As far as I’m aware, they’re the only bottle shop in Australia that’s had their own bottling done, so it’s pretty special!
It was a great example of an older Longmorn from the days when their stills were coal fired (ie. when some poor bloke had to shovel mounds of coal into a fire under the still to keep it running).
On the nose, the main note I got was sourness. Not in an unpleasant way, but think sour green apples in candy format crossed with apple cider vinegar and hints of toffee sweetness. I’ve never nosed a whisky like this before – really quite interesting. The nose translated to massively palate – big initial alcohol spice, followed by chewy toffee and mild oak notes fading to a creamy soft finish.
Glendronach Cask Strength
Batch 1, released 2012, NAS, 54.8% ABV, Oloroso & Pedro Ximenez cask, Scotland
Boom! (yes, I did actually write that in my whisky ledger) This has a rich nose. Think high cacao dark chocolate, rich raisins and leather. Despite a higher ABV than the Longmorn right before it, the alcohol really wasn’t that apparent on the nose. This huge nose carries through to the palate, with plenty of dark fruits and cinnamon spice.
Interestingly, Glendronach spirit is actually slightly peated to around 14 parts per million (ppm) – peat monsters like Ardbeg and Laphroaig are around 45 ppm – yet time in quality sherry casks really pulls it back and takes away that peat edge.
Heartwood Convict Redemption
Batch 1, bottle No. 72, released 2013, 12 years old, 72.5% ABV, Port cask, Australia
I guess you can think of Heartwood as an Australian independent bottler; they buy up some highest quality casks they can find then mature some of the finest Tasmanian whiskies in those casks, bottling them when they think they’re just right.
That ABV is not a typo (check the picture!), The Convict Redemption was indeed bottled at a humungous 72.5%. How’s that so? It turns out the angels in Tasmania are a bit different to those in Scotland and like to help themselves to a big chunk of water each year. This was originally casked at around 63%, but after 12 years of maturation it lost more water content than alcohol, resulting in this massive ABV.
Very expressive on the nose. There’s no hiding from that alcohol, but you also get some earthy notes, rich fruits from the port cask maturation and weirdly, a hint of garlic? Yes, garlic! The garlic doesn’t carry through to the palate (thankfully), but that massive ABV does, stunning your tongue and making you salivate, helping release those chewy toffee and fruit notes hiding underneath.
I must admit, this was a little bit too full-on for me, but I can understand why this is sold out and has a local cult following. I’ll definitely be keeping my eye out for future Heartwood releases.
Glendronach 1978 single cask
1978, 33 years old, Cask No. 1068, 52.9% ABV, Oloroso sherry puncheon, Scotland
Next up was the 1978 single cask Glendronach, which had me all kinds of excited.
Look at that coca-cola colour! If I were to try and sum up the nose on this in one word, I would simply say ‘deep’. I felt like I couldn’t jam my nose deep enough into that glass, I just wanted to nose it more and more and more.
I don’t know that I ever really understood the concept of a ‘complex nose’, but after nosing this, I fell like I finally get it. The more you sniffed, the more the nose changed and the more you got out of it – and not just one scent profile. Think kiwi fruit, rich figs, dark chocolate, wet brown sugar and antique furniture – yes, you really could smell those things. Quite amazing really.
This translated to rich, yet soft palate that started off with an almond nutty-bitterness, followed by rich red winter fruit and brown sugar (minus the sweetness – if that’s possible?) You really could get lost in this whisky.
Kilchoman Loch Gorm
1st release 2013, NAS (5 years old), 46% ABV, Oloroso sherry cask, Scotland
The final whisky of the night was the recently released Kilchoman Loch Gorm. Kilchoman is the first distillery to be opened on the island of Islay on 124 years and their young whiskies have come out swinging. I first became acquainted when I met their Machir Bay and it well and truly took me by surprise. So when I heard about this new offering, matured in oloroso sherry casks for five years, before a further two months in fresh sherry casks, I couldn’t wait to try it.
I approached this expecting something like Ardbeg Uigeadail – sherry and peat – and I was way off the mark. Despite that amazingly rich sherried colour, the nose is surprisingly void of sherry notes?! Instead, I got rich peat smoke, almost bbq like with some meaty notes in there and some saltiness.
Interestingly, the sherry influence pops up and says hello when you taste it – rich sherry sweetness, smoke and tobacco flavours fading to a long, lingering wood smoke finish. This one really, really took me by surprise. The Kilchoman range is a great example of how good young whisky can be.
What a great way to round out the year. The Powers was the biggest surprise for me and I’ve no doubt I’ll add a bottle to the cabinet at some point. But the 1978 Glendronach was the highlight of the evening for me. Not because it was old, not because it was rare and not because it was expensive. But because it really was an eye-opening whisky, with so many layers and just so much going on – something you don’t encounter often and are never sure when (or if) you’ll ever encounter again.
Thanks again for your time and effort Dave. See you in 2014!