Glenmorangie Bacalta Review

Around this time each year, Glenmorangie release a new, limited expression. An experimental and innovative whisky of sorts, if you will. It’s the one time of year Dr Bill Lumsden gets to showcase something a little bit different. A whisky that falls outside the bounds of what people normally think of when they look to Glenmorangie’s house-style. The whiskies released under this banner are known as the Private Edition releases and they’re always a bit of fun.

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Last year I reviewed the Milsean, a Glenmorangie matured in toasted ex-wine casks that was packed with sweet-shop flavours. The year before, I had the great pleasure of attending a dinner with Dr Bill Lumsden for the launch of Glenmorangie Tusail. Beyond that, I’ve tried (or owned) every one of the Private Edition releases, so you could say that I’m a pretty big fan.

This year marks the eighth Private Edition release and in a way, Dr Bill and his team have taken us back in time to the early 2000s when Glenmorangie had a Madeira ‘wood finished’ whisky in their core range. Enter, the Glenmorangie Bacalta.

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The launch event

Here in Sydney, we’re pretty far away from the Scottish Highlands, so throwing together a tasting with Dr Bill isn’t exactly the easiest task. However, the wonderful world of technology solves that for us and the other week I had the pleasure of attending a Google-Hangout tasting. Invitees assembled in the classy surrounds of the Old Clare Hotel in Sydney and as the clock struck 9.00pm here, it had just ticked over 10.00am in the Highlands. The live feed came up, guests joined in from Mumbai and Seoul and we were greeted with the ever-jovial voices of Dr Bill Lumsden and Brendan McCarron (Head of Maturing Stocks).

What is Madeira exactly?

To better understand the magic of Glenmorange Bacalta (Scottish Gaelic for ‘Baked’), it helps to understand what Madeira wine is and how it’s produced. Thankfully, Dr Bill gave us the 101 on both and it went something a little like this.

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Contrary to the way some people use the term, ‘Madeira’ isn’t really a form of wine in the same sense that sherry is. Madeira is actually an autonomous archipelago of Portugal found off the west coast of Morocco. On Madeira they make fortified wines from a variety of grapes, but the richest is Malmsey wine, made from the Malvasia grape.

What makes Madeira wine unique is the way in which it’s treated during maturation. Barrels are stored in the roof cavities of the bodegas where they’re heated by the sun and essentially ‘baked’ (hence the ‘Bacalta’ name). Leaving barrels of wine in these conditions has two distinct effects. First, it drastically changes the characteristic of the wine itself, oxidising it and bringing out the tart acidic characters that define Madeira wines. Secondly, the unforgiving conditions deteriorate the casks themselves and as time goes on, they actually start to fall apart and leak due to the harsh conditions.

With those harsh conditions very few ex-wine barrels make it out alive, so finding a consistent supply of casks in terms of quality and quantity is incredible difficult. It’s this challenge that ultimately led to the demise of the original Madeira wood finish expression back in the early 2000s.

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Piecing together the Glenmorangie Bacalta

Not one to give up though, around seven or eight years ago Dr Bill embarked on a challenge to try things again. This time though it would be a bespoke project, one where he and his team would control every aspect of the process. A wine producer was found and Speyside Cooperage were engaged to construct a series of 250L hogsheads from tight grain, slow growth, air-seasoned American Oak. The casks were heavily toasted and shipped to Madeira to be filled with Malmsey wine, where they then sat and seasoned for two whole years.

After being brought back to Scotland they were filled with ten year old Glenmorangie and were set aside for what Dr Bill thought would be a three to four year extra maturation period. He and Brendan McCarron began tasting the casks around the two year mark and believed that at that point they’d already hit the sweet spot they were looking for. One where the balance was just right between the strong notes of the Madeira wine and the house character of the Glenmorangie spirit. So for those who like numbers, the Bacalta is essentially 12 years old.

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Glenmorangie Bacalta Review

So with that context in place, we tasted our way through the Glenmorangie Original 10 year old, the Glenmorangie Lasanta (extra-matured in ex-sherry casks) and finally, the hero of the evening, the new Glenmorangie Bacalta.

Nose

On the nose there’s an immediate juxtaposition of aromas, from dryness (like oak, dried tobacco leaves and cedar wood spice), to sweetness (hard toffee, baked apples, tarte tatin and pastry dough), to an acidic element (citrus skins and aged sherry vinegar). It has a complex nose that flits between sweet and savoury.

Palate

Oily, creamy and sweet on entry, but immediately backed up by spice and stone fruit. Think peaches and apricots, orange marmalade, honeycomb, hard toffee and citrus zest. There’s a nuttiness on the finish with a peppery spice. The addition of water rounds out the palate and opens up the nose nicely.

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I’ve enjoyed each of the Private Edition expressions I’ve tried to date. Some more-so than others, but this year’s release has really stepped up to the plate. The Bacalta is genuinely, genuinely good. It strikes this wonderful balance between sweetness, acidity, fruit and oak. To my nose and palate it’s expressive, comes across as maturely integrated and nothing dominates too heavily. I’ve not tasted the original Glenmorangie 15 year old Madeira wood finish, but I struggle to imagine it being any better than this.

The new, limited edition Glenmorangie Bacalta is available in global markets now.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

Teeling 15 year old Revival

Just over a year ago now I had my first encounter with Teeling Whiskey in the form of the Small Batch and Single Grain expressions. I was genuinely surprised by both of them; I was amazed that entry-level, highly affordable expressions could taste that great. A combination that I think I’m still yet to come across with Scotch whisky. This time though I’m taking a look at something from Teeling that’s a little higher up in their range, the new 15 year old Teeling Revival.

Teeling 15 year old Revival

Having recently opened their new distillery and once again brought the art of distilling back to Dublin, the Teeling Whiskey Company decided to mark the occasion by releasing something a little bit special. To quote Jack Teeling, founder of the Teeling Whiskey Company “The opening of our new distillery was a major milestone in the history of Teeling Whiskey. It took three years of planning, hard work and significant capital investment, but now Teeling Whiskey is finally home”.

Enter the Teeling 15 year old Revival. Distilled in 1999, The 15 year old Teeling Revival has been exclusively matured in ex-Rum casks and bottled at 46% ABV, with no chill filtering.

Teeling

Tasting notes

On the nose I immediately got notes of fresh cut grass and cereal grains, layered with a slightly drying, astringent note – plastic or acetone perhaps? Thankfully those notes settle and dissipate after a short while in the glass revealing a pleasant honeyed sweetness with plenty of under-ripe fruit salad notes (rockmelon, honeydew, green banana, peach lollies and tropical fruit juice). More air reveals a nicely integrated earthy note, something I’d liken to damp moss. It’s quite a complex nose, one that benefits greatly from air in my opinion.

The palate has a really nice delivery of fruity sweetness and spice, wrapped up in a medium oily mouth feel. I feel like the word ‘juicy’ is a good descriptor here. The honeyed sweetness presents upfront along with grapefruit, mango, pawpaw, fading to reveal a tempered spice on the edges of your tongue. Its nicely balanced and integrated though helping to add character, rather than detract from it. The finish is reasonably lengthy, keeping the tropical and sour fruit notes for a good amount of time, before turning slightly vanillic and tannic toward the end. Over-steeped jasmine tea comes to mind.

Teeling Whiskey Revival

The presentation of this is whiskey is pretty special. The packaging features an incredibly solid decanter-style bottle, phat brass-colour stopper and heavy card presentation box bearing plenty of gold embossing and even a wax seal on the inner lid. Whilst none of that has any bearing on the taste, I can’t recall any other Irish Whiskeys on the market at the moment –  especially in this price bracket – that are presented anywhere near as smart as this.

The Teeling 15 year old Revival is available in Australia now at a recommended retail price of AU $159.99. Thanks goes to Martin and the good folks at Teeling for the sample reviewed here.