Sullivan’s Cove x Whisky & Alement

When these two get together, you know you’re in for something good

It’s our national day of celebration today – Australia Day – so I can think of no better day to post an article that celebrates an Australian whisky, and the fantastic people and bar that brought it to us.

If I had to pick a defining moment for Australian whisky in the last, say, ten years, one clear event comes to mind. It was when Sullivan’s Cove won the accolade as 2014’s ‘world’s best single malt’ in the World Whisky Awards competition. It was the moment the catapulted Australian whisky from being a thing that local whisky fans knew about, to a thing that everyone knew about. Articles started appearing in mainstream news, colleagues at work started asking if I’d tasted ‘the best whisky in the world’, and people who’d never even tried whisky – let alone an Australian whisky – started asking where they could get their hands on a bottle. It was a real zero to hero moment.

Sullivan's Cove Whisky and Alement

Just as Sullivan’s Cove played a pivotal role in catapulting Australian whisky into the mainstream, I’d argue that a certain Melbourne institution has played an equally sizeable one in defining the whisky-appreciation culture in Australia and really bringing it to life. That institution is Melbourne’s Whisky and Alement.

Whisky + Alement

Since opening their doors back in 2010 (originally known as Chez Regine), Whisky and Alement have quietly gone from strength to strength. With their whisky shelves overflowing back in 2013, they felt there was enough momentum and interest in whisky to take the leap and pigeon-hole themselves as a whisky bar. It made them unique and that gamble – along with loads of hard work – has paid off. It paved the way for Whisky and Alement as a bar, but also provided a place where they could educate a whole new wave of people who didn’t yet know they were whisky lovers.

Following on from their popular and educational Introduction to Whisky classes, the team started hosting The Story of Whisky: From old to new world’. Among plenty of other aspects, the story of whisky touches on the significance of single casks, but also explores the importance of blending and the notion that blends can produce something greater than the sum of their individual parts. And what better way to illustrate that to an audience than with your very own ‘blended’ whisky. And that’s exactly what W+A did with this Sullivan’s Cove collaboration.

A collaboration with Sullivan’s Cove

What you see here is quite a significant bottle. Julian White – one of Whisky and Alement’s owners – pitched this collaboration idea directly to Sulivan’s Cove Managing Director, Adam Sable. He tells me that it wasn’t just a case of ‘hey, it would be cool if we had our own bottle’, but rather he wanted to produce something with ‘purpose’. The ‘purpose’ was to help consumers understand that as unique and interesting as single cask whisky can be, they’re not always the complete package, so don’t automatically discount something that’s been ‘blended’ or diluted as being inferior. From my own experience, when done right, blends can definitely deliver something quite extraordinary. 

Sullivan's Cove Whisky and Alement

Adam was clearly on-board with the idea and a short while later Julian found himself at Sullivan’s Cove, surrounded by a host of un-marked sample bottles that gave nothing away as to their contents. The task – to put together a bespoke blend that met the brief, and could be proudly used in their masterclasses. After more than five hours of sampling, blending, nosing and sampling, Jules tells me that palate fatigue had well and truly set in, so after landing on something he thought might meet the brief, he called it a day. Returning fresh the next morning, a re-taste confirmed he was on the money, and this bottle was locked in.

What’s in the bottle?

Now it was time to find out what he’d actually blended and it’s a pretty bloody interesting one.

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Unbeknownst to Julian at the time, one of the casks he’d selected was HH042, which turned out to be Sullivan’s Cove’s oldest cask of whisky at 18 years of age, which clocked in at a staggering 76.7% ABV. The second component he landed on was TD0225, a ~10 year old French Oak tawny port cask at 69.6% ABV affectionately known as ‘Stubbs’, as it was rather short and stumpy after being re-coopered down to 180-190L. The idea of a blend clocking in at 70%+ ABV is a lot of fun, but doesn’t really make for the greatest drinking experience, so this was very sensibly brought down to 50.3% ABV, a perfect strength in my opinion.

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On the nose it’s thick, warming and comforting. A slathering of honey on hot buttered-toast, some dry oily grassy notes (like dried Australian native plant leaves), vanilla custard, those home-made chewy coconut biscuits and a some caramel fudge. 

On the palate it’s oily and textural, but without the distraction of a big alcohol whack. An amazing connection with the nose (which I personally love) with a good dose of thick honey, caramel pecan pie, pastry crusts and some dried fruit mix. The finish presents gentle baking spice with a slight eucalypt-menthol note.

I’m very much a sucker for single cask whiskies and the variability and fun they bring. But are they often a complete package? Are they always technically poised? Rarely. This on the other hand is. I’ve tasted quite a few Australian whiskies – not a huge number, but quite a few – and this is one of the very best I’ve come across. It nails the brief and is simply great whisky.

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Wherever in the world you’re reading this from – if you ever happen to find yourself in Melbourne, Australia, you should do yourself a favour and pay a visit to Whisky and Alement, or their sister venue upstairs, The Melbourne Whisky Room. And if you’re somewhat more local, full details on their great classes can be found here. I’m not sure if this bottle is currently on the bar to taste, but if you do ever get the chance, move it to the top of your list – I’m quite confident you won’t regret it.

The Last Drop Distillers

Tasting some seriously old liquid from the ‘rare spirit hunters’

Just prior to Christmas I was invited along to something that promised to be rather special. But I didn’t realise quite how special it would end up being until I arrived and scoped-out the rarities on the table. But more on that in just a few moments.

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The event was held to welcome The Last Drop Distillers to Australia, and their extremely limited range of very old, very premium (and rather pricey) beverages to Australia. You’re entirely forgiven if you haven’t heard of The Last Drop Distillers, as their whiskies aren’t exactly the kind of thing you’ll find on supermarket shelves. They greeted the world back in 2008; the brainchild of two pioneers of the spirits industry – James Espey OBE and (the late) Tom Jago – and their ethos was simple. They were going to source and bottle the world’s finest, rarest and most exclusive spirits. Ten years later, they’ve risen to the challenge and continue to only offer liquid that they firmly believe to be unique, delicious and extremely limited in nature.

The Last Drop in Australia

We were very fortunate to have Rebecca Jago, Managing Director and daughter of the late Tom Jago in Sydney to share the above, and some of her personal stories, while taking us through the following extraordinary line-up.

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First on our list was a 1971 Blended Scotch Whisky, that had an interesting back-story to it. This particular whisky was originally blended in 1983 as a premium 12 year old whisky for the American market, but after a portion was bottled, the remainder made its way back into 11 ex-Oloroso sherry butts where it sat un-touched for a further nine years. A small volume was again bottled at the age of 21 years, but for some reason a further parcel was held back; this time filled into nine ex-American Oak barrels. Another 24 years passed before the now dwindling parcel of whisky was discovered by The Last Drop, who then bottled it at 45 years old.

On the nose and palate this was completely convincing. A rich, flavourful blend that showed layers of complexity, no doubt brought about through a combination of great spirit, age and the complex cask treatment it had been through over the previous 45 years. Two minor issues with this one – 1) me consuming it with too much gusto, and 2) not having more in my glass to savour!

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Two very Glenrothes

If the blended whisky wasn’t special enough, we were also treated to two 1968 vintage Glenrothes, which form part of trilogy which The Last Drop will be releasing over three consecutive years. Approaching whisky of this age, I’m always quite skeptical as not all whisky can withstand 50 years in an oak cask and it doesn’t always end well. I’ve been very fortunate to try a number of whiskies aged between 40-60 years and there are only a handful that I’d genuinely want to drink again and again. These two fall into that category.

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The nose and palate were well and truly still alive with notes of earthen floor dunnage warehouses, old oak, and overripe tropical fruit, fleshy stone fruit, marmalade, liquorice straps, apple skins and baking spice. They both shared an awful lot in common and were an absolute treat to try.

The Centenario Port Duo

As dessert was served, Rebecca introduced us to something a little bit different, two Tawny Ports which represent The Last Drop’s first foray into fortified wine. The two bottles of port are presented as a set and hail from the Douro valley in Portugal.

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Why the two bottles? Well, to provide their lucky owners with the chance to indulge in what has to be a once in a lifetime kind of experience. One of the bottles is a 1970 vintage, which in itself is a mighty special thing. However, the other pre-dates it by 100 years and is an 1870 vintage. Yes, 1870, allowing you to taste the effect of 100 additional years of ageing. Having had the privilege to try both, side-by-side, I can confirm it’s a mighty special thing indeed.

The 1970 is still vibrant and full of bright fruit notes, honey, sticky plums, berries and the perfect amount of acidity. The 1870 vintage is almost like a reduced, caramelised version of its younger sibling. The viscosity is unreal; it’s syrupy, incredibly rich and is like a glass of liquid flame raisins.

If you’re in the market..

Apart from needing to taste exceptional, all releases that come out from The Last Drop have to have pedigree and flawless provenance and authenticity. Such is their criteria that since 2008, just 12 ‘last drops’ have been released, encompassing some incredibly rare Scotch whiskies (such as this 1967 Glen Garioch I tried a few years back), along with some very rare cognacs.

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The trio shown above will all be available through Dan Murphy’s here in Australia, starting at $5,000 RRP for the 1971 blend. Expect to see some further interesting releases from The Last Drop in 2019, possibly even including a super premium Bourbon!

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!