Whisky & Wisdom 2008 Glenfarclas

Glenfarclas single cask exclusive for whiskyandwisdom.com

A little over two years ago I wrote this post on a special single cask of Glenfarclas bottled exclusively for someone I’d describe as Australia’s single biggest Glenfarclas fan, Andrew Derbidge. He also happens to be the author of the ever-informative Whisky & Wisdom and thanks to the success of his first Glenfarclas bottling, he’s gone to tremendous effort to bottle and bring in a second release, exclusively for the Australian market.

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Why this isn’t any ordinary single cask selection

These days it seems that everyone is an independent bottler and with a little internet hype and a clever label design, it seems as though you can sell anything. But anyone who has tasted their fair share of single cask whisky will tell you that they’re not all created equally, and neither are the palates and the experience of those who select them.

Apart from being an avid author, Andrew has been an avid whisky appreciator for well over two decades and has been very active in the local industry for nearly as long. He’s the cellarmaster of the Australian branch of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, has presented more whisky tastings than I’ve had hot dinners and truly has a killer palate. So when he selects a single cask of whisky and brings the whole thing to Australia – not because it’s a lucrative investment, not because it was simply ‘available’ – but because he genuinely loves it, you know you’re in for a treat.

During an afternoon spent at Glenfarclas distillery last year, Andrew pored over a large selection of butts and hogsheads aged between 9 and 14 years old. The whiskies sampled that day included a range of 1st fill and refill casks, but it was this particular one that got his attention. Distilled in July 2008, cask 1270 – a 1st fill, European oak, ex-oloroso hogshead – has been bottled at the ripe age of ten years, at natural cask strength of 59.8%.

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The nose is everything you could want from an ex-sherry cask whisky. It’s clear and confident with dried fruit (raisins, apricots, figs and cherries), sticky orange liqueur, Christmas cake, tiramisu, baking spice and dark toffee.

The palate is just as convincing; a perfect reflection of the nose. I point that out, as it seems to be rarely the case these days where a fruity, rich nose translates to a juicy, sweet, balanced palate. But it does so here. Immediately oily and chewy, you get a brief reminder that this weights in at nearly 60% alcohol before the prickle explodes into juicy sweetness. Plump dried raisins, sweet chewy prunes and plum jam up front, followed by golden syrup and a rounded, lingering warming spice. It stays pleasantly sweet and fruity on the finish as some dark chocolate and marmalade notes start to creep in.

How you can buy your own bottle

As I wrote back in 2016 when I tasted his first release, not all sherried whisky is created equally and it’s increasingly rare these days to come across a truly harmonious cask free from flaws (such as sulphur taint or an abundance of drying, tannic oak). It’s also tough to find a single cask of whisky that is balanced through the nose, palate and finish – but yet again he has nailed it with this selection.

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If you’re looking for one single whisky that embodies Christmas in a glass – look no further – I can confirm that this is definitely it and the best part is that you can claim your very own bottle. Follow this link to Whisky & Wisdom’s webshop to grab yours today. I can’t think of another bottle currently available in Australia that delivers this level of quality for the price, so I’ll be putting my money where my mouth is on this one!

Chita Single Grain, by Suntory

Originally launched in Japan a few years ago, The House of Suntory has just announced that they’re bringing the Chita single grain whisky to Australia, adding to the current range of Yamazaki, Hakushu and Hibiki products that already grace our shelves.

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Distilled from corn, the Chita Single Grain is produced at Suntory’s Chita Distillery in Aichi Prefecture, near Nagoya, Japan. It’s said to have been matured in a combination of ex-wine, sherry and bourbon casks and is a fantastic warm-weather dram. I’ve had many Chita Highballs (Chita on ice, topped with soda) in Japan and can attest to their insanely refreshing (and oddly reviving) nature!

I’d love to tell you more about the Chita Distillery and how this whisky is made, but Suntory are rather secretive about those details, so we’ll have to save that for another time. Hopefully.

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Tasting the Chita single grain 43%

On the nose it’s sweet, yet fruity with notes of tinned tropical fruits, slightly acidic tropical fruit juice, vanilla custard, creme brûlée and floral honey. Nothing particularly leaps out of the glass at you, so I think the nose can be best described as delicate, but fragrant.

The palate is similarly restrained and quite mild in its delivery. It’s creamy, with some sweet honey and vanillas, some of the tropical notes from the nose, but delivered like a punchy aged grappa. Sweetness fades to some spicy bitter-sweet oak, and while the palate is rich and desserty, it’s also quite light.

It’s that composition that makes this a great summer sipper, but equally (if not more-so) enjoyable in a highball. I’d quite like to put this one through its paces in a few summery cocktails, so I’ll report back if that’s a success.

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The Chita single grain whisky, by Suntory, is available in Australia now at a recommended retail price of $89.99. Thanks to Suntory Australia for the sample pictured here!

 

 

 

Ardbeg Grooves Committee Release

Thanks to a pesky little thing known as the TTB database (the United States’ online database for liquor label approvals), the annual Ardbeg Day releases have become the industry’s worst kept secret, with mock-up labels leaking online months in advance of any official announcement.

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I too am guilty of scouring the database in moments of boredom, and when I spotted the mock-up for the 2018 Ardbeg Day release – Grooves – on there last year, I thought Ardbeg had well and truly lost the plot. What kind of name is ‘Grooves’ I thought? And how the hell are they going to craft a marketing story around the flower power movement? As more info has started to come out, it’s starting to make a bit more sense.

What’s in a name?

Breaking with the Gaelic and geographic naming used in their core range, the ‘Grooves’ reference has absolutely nothing to do with the psychedelic era, but has everything to do with the casks used in the maturation process. The official marketing word goes a little something like this:

“This year’s Limited Edition festival bottling is a deeply mellow dram.. It has been matured in ex-wine casks that have been intensely charred to form heavy grooves in the surface of the wood, releasing flavours of smoked spices, distant bonfires and chilli-seasoned meats”

I’d normally have to just sit back and be satisfied with that level of detail, but thanks to a little trip across the ditch to New Zealand the other week (for DramFest – more on that one soon!), I can bring you a little more.

Groovy groove grooves

Before lunch one morning, an impromptu little Ardbeg tasting took place in Christchurch and the guest of honour was none other than the creator of this very whisky, Dr Bill Lumsden himself. In one of three plain-packaged bottles, a mystery whisky awaited us. As we eventually made our way on to the third sample, it was revealed that we were actually the first consumer group in the world to be tasting the standard (46%) release of the new Ardbeg Grooves! Groooovy baby! (Sorry, you should’ve known that was coming at some point..)

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In taking us through the dram, Dr Bill elaborates ever so slightly on the marketing spiel above, but at one point he lets slip that Ardbeg sourced the uniquely grooved casks for this release from their friends at Brown Forman. That got the ‘ole cogs turning in my head. Didn’t someone else use a ‘grooved cask’?.. Indeed they did, and it was Jack Daniel’s with their Sinatra Select that came out a few years back.

In that story, Jack Daniel’s used “unique Sinatra Barrels that have deep grooves specially carved into their staves to expose the whiskey to extra layers of toasted oak”. If you’re struggling to picture what a ‘grooved cask’ looks like, here’s an image (I knicked off the web) of the casks Brown Forman created for the Jack Daniels Sinatra Select.

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You probably know where this is going, but Jack Daniel’s just so happens to be owned by Brown Forman! A bit of a coincidence, eh? I’ll let you draw your own conclusions, but despite the marketing descriptions being a bit different, I reckon there’s a fair chance the casks used in the new Ardbeg Grooves share a strong lineage with those used in Sinatra Select. Time to give this thing a proper whirl.

Tasting the new Ardbeg Grooves

I don’t normally comment on colour, but the new Grooves has an incredibly alluring copper hue. Sitting in the glass it’s warm and almost iridescent .

Straight away on the nose it has the hallmark Ardbeg dry smoke. Behind that though, I get charred citrus, a hint of liquorice, smoked muscles (the ones from Loch Fyne!) and a sweet element; perhaps a smoky orange marmalade and some apricot jam. Coming back to it over the course of half an hour, I find a certain mineral quality to it as well. Crushed gravel, graphite and stagnant rockpools. There’s a lot going on here.

On the palate it’s immediately oily, but suddenly hits with an effervescent, fizzy note. White pepper and tangy brine. A few moments in and I get what I can best describe as a briny black forest cake that’s been charred to a crisp (dark fruits, a saline mineral tang and heavy char, with a healthy dose of powdery dark chocolate and cherry jam). The finish is incredibly long and full of residual sweetness, sooty, tangy ash and leather. It never turns overly oaky or drying.

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The new Ardbeg Grooves will be released to Ardbeg Committee members this month (I believe), but at this stage I don’t have any further details on pricing. Post will be updated in due course. A big thanks to Moet Hennessey Australia for the advance-sample tasted here!

Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Ghost and Rare

The Johnnie Walker Blue Label has always been something of a luxury item, a bit of a ‘status whisky’ if you will, especially to the casual whisky drinker. It’s the bottle I’ve seen appear at many-a-wedding. The hero bottle on the back-bar at plenty of restaurants and the bottle mates will bust out at a party when they want to impress. Simply mention ‘blue label’ in front of even the most casual of whisky whisky drinkers and they’ll know exactly what you’re referring to. They know it’s expensive and they know it carries a certain mystique. So it makes perfect sense that when Diageo decided to blend together some of their rarest stocks, it would be done so as an extension of the Blue Label range.

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What’s in a name?

The new Blue Label Ghost and Rare gets its name from the eight malt and grain components it’s comprised of. Six of them are malt whiskies, two are grain whiskies and three of the eight come from ‘ghost distilleries’, ie distilleries that are no longer in production. I could probably whip up some cool little pie charts with those numbers, but hopefully you can follow along alright.

The Ghost and Rare features whisky from the active distilleries of Clynelish, Royal Brackla, Genlossie, Glenkinchie and Cameronbridge (Grain). The three ‘ghost’ distilleries featured in this release are Cambus (Grain) and Pittyvaich (both of which were closed in 1993), along with Brora, which was closed in 1983 and is arguably the hero component of this blend. If we pause for a brief moment there, there are two things buried in that info that I find rather interesting:

  1. No Islay whisky is present in the Ghost and Rare, which is interesting to me as Caol Ila brings the zingy peat-show to the standard Blue Label release.
  2. Working off those closure dates, we know that there’s some well-aged whisky in this blend as well (at least 24 years old for Cambus and Pittyvaich, and at least 34 years old for Brora)

When I saw all of the PR releases come out for the Ghost and Rare, I was initially a little bit apprehensive, thinking to myself ‘Is this just a clever marketing move, riding on the coat-tails of the closed distillery hype? And will it actually taste any different to the standard Blue Label?’ Only one way to find out…

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Tasting the Blue Label Ghost and Rare

The nose is quite rich and dense, and I get notes of pineapple, citrus, dark chocolate, hazelnuts, golden syrup and the faintest soft earthy smoke. Smoke probably isn’t the right term, it’s more like coal dust, or the burnt out, day-old embers left behind in a fireplace. There’s an interesting coastal note as well, not something I’ve picked up in a Johnnie Walker blend before. A saline mineral tang if you will.

The palate starts off creamy and oily, there’s an up front sweetness, but also notes of citrus, orange segments, tinned fruit and a herbal, earthy-yet-salty peat on the finish. Going back for a second and third sip, some darker fruits emerge, more of that coastal tang and some kelp, before fading to a savoury finish.

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So, clever marketing move? Sure. But more than that, it’s actually bloody good whisky, and yes, some of the contents in the bottle are indeed very rare. Any different to the standard Blue Label? My word it is. For starters it’s bottled at 46% and is non chill-filtered, so it carries a richness and weight that you don’t get in the the standard Blue Label, which noses and tastes lighter, fresher and crisper than this stately dram. The Ghost and Rare is very cleverly constructed, has a great story behind it and there’s a lot to like about what’s going on in the glass.

Just 270 bottles of the Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare will be made available in Australia at a recommended retail price of $480 through Dan Murphy’s, and other specialty retailers.

A special thanks to Diageo Australia for the special preview-tasting of this new release.

Abbey Whisky – 10th Anniversary whiskies

Tasting Abbey Whisky’s 10th Anniversary releases

When opening a recent delivery from the good people at Abbey Whisky I was super excited to see that a couple of wee samples had made their way into the parcel.

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What are they exactly? Well, Abbey Whisky recently celebrated their tenth year in business and to celebrate they released a trio of very desirable whiskies. The first release – a 1993 GlenDronach single cask – sold out in a flash, but was promptly followed by two additional anniversary bottles, pictured here in sample form.

Abbey Whisky Glenrothes 2006 Cask 5469

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First up we have a 2006-vintage Glenrothes, from sherry cask 5469. It was bottled at ten years of age at a ball-busting 67.1% ABV. Glenrothes can be a little bit hit and miss for me, and I don’t really pay any attention to their official releases, so let’s see where this one sits.

Nose – Big vanilla and caramel. You know it’s high ABV, but I would never have guessed this high. Vanilla slice (the kind you get at a good bakery, with passion fruit icing on top), packet custard, gummy cola lollies and delicious bread and butter pudding. Plenty of complex sweetness in this nose, but give it some time in the glass and an interesting minerality emerges.

Palate – The alcohol is a tad more present here, but brings with it bucket-loads of sweet juiciness! No-where near as brutal as I was expecting. Creamy vanilla custard, with an almost buttery texture. Confectionery sweetness, jammy fruit and sponge cake, finishing with hints of dark chocolate, a slight fizz and some grassiness.

One for those with a sweet-tooth, but wow. What a killer little pocket-rocket. The most exciting Glenrothes I’ve tried to date.

Abbey Whisky Anon. Batch 2 – Orkney 1999

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Next we have Abbey Whisky’s third tenth-anniversary release, this 17-year-old mystery malt released under their ‘Anon’ range. In case you haven’t picked it up from the label, that string of numbers is actually a set of latitude and longitude coordinates. Punch them into google and hey presto, it looks like our anonymous malt is actually from Highland Park distillery. So, unofficially, what we have here is something pretty exciting – a 17-year-old Highland Park, matured in a refill sherry butt and bottled at 53.8% ABV.

Again, when it comes to official releases, Highland Park isn’t a distillery I really pay any attention to these days as they’ve well and truly lost me with their multitude of odd viking-inspired series. That said, I’m very excited to try this.

Nose – Gentle and refined at first, but with an overarching ‘coastal’ note to it. There’s some honeycomb, soft spice and a light, sweet heathery-smoke (almost floral, in a way). Flinty minerals, crushed quartz rock, red apples, apple skins, grilled stone fruit and oily rope.

Palate – A lovely oily texture. Naturally sweet up front, with notes of bush-honey (it’s an Aussie thing), lavender and toffee. The peat is much more present here, delivering a smoky farm-yard – smouldering hay, floral tobacco and leather. It finishes with an earthy quality to it, some salted dark chocolate and a touch of sweet liquorice.

Complex and hugely rewarding. A really evocative dram that takes me right back to the far-north of Scotland. This is what Highland Park should be bottling themselves.

Get onto it!

At the time of writing, both of these are still available at Abbey Whisky. I put my money where my mouth is and bought a bottle of the Highland Park the second it came out. After now tasting it, I’m very glad I did and am now thinking I might just pick-up another.. and a Glenrothes as well. Hmm…

Cheers for the samples Mike! Not that I doubted your taste in the slightest, but a couple of absolutely cracking selections here. Seriously.