Glen Garioch 21 year old for Abbey Whisky

I buy a fair amount of whisky from different retailers all over the world, but one of my favourite online stores would have to be Abbey Whisky. They’ve got a slick website, great prices and above all, the service – from communication, to packaging and delivery times – is absolutely top-notch.

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I recently bought a Springbank from them and noticed a little something extra in the box when my delivery arrived and it turned out to be a sample of their latest bottle from their Rare Casks series, a 1994 21 year old Glen Garioch. Here’s what Abbey Whisky have to say about it:

“We continue The Rare Casks story with this magnificent Glen Garioch, the sixth release in the series. Distilled in 1994 and fully matured in a refill hogshead until 2016, only 126 bottles have been filled exclusively for Abbey Whisky. As with each previous release in The Rare Casks series, the whisky has been bottled in it’s natural form, at full cask strength, without chill filtration or colour additives.”

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What I’ve got to say

On the nose it’s bright and citrusy, with fresh cut pineapple, lemon and grapefruit zest, a touch of honey and a mossy herbal vegetal note. Is that some peat influence in there?

On the palate it’s oily and thick, with the spiky citrus and honey hitting you first. Pineapple, custard and more citrus follow, with chalk and a sooty, grassy vegetal note arriving toward the finish.

This isn’t what you’d call an ‘obvious’ whisky, as in it doesn’t leap out of the glass at you, hitting you with big vanilla, or peat, or sherry. Instead, I get the hallmarks of a quality spirit, rested in a cask that allows the spirit to shine through, without being dominated by oak. A really nice change of pace, if you have the patience for it. The smallest amount of water (or a good amount of air) doesn’t go astray with this one.

Abbey Whisky’s 21 year old Glen Garioch is still available on their site now for a smidgen under a hundred quid, so go check it out. Thanks to Mike and the team for kindly slipping this one in with my delivery, it was a lovely surprise and is a top little dram!

Jägermeister, with Nils Boese

What do I know about Jägermeister? Very little if I’m being honest, which is why I jumped at the chance when I was recently invited along to a rather special dinner at Mjølner to find out more about this iconic liqueur.

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Like the vast majority of people, up until this point my experience with Jägermeister has been limited to two very specific drinking scenarios. Shots, or the Jagerbomb (Jägermeister + Red Bull). They both have their time and place and I’m sure these serving methods won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. But as a liqueur, it turns out that Jägermeister is a whole lot more versatile than you might originally think.

What is Jägermeister exactly?

Jägermeister is essentially a bitter herbal liquer (think of the Amaro category of liqueurs), one that’s been around since 1935. It’s made up of 56 different aromatics that are ground and steeped, then stored in oak for a year; a process that’s done not so much to age them, but more to marry the flavours together.Other familiar names in the category include Chartreuse, Benedictine and Unicum, but unlike its counterparts, Jägermeister is slightly sweeter.

An evening with Nils Boese

Unofficial Jägermeister ambassador and all-round cool guy Nils Boese was in town to open our eyes to its versatility, and school us he did. Nils, the owner/ operator of Manhattan Bar in Hildesheim, Germany, is based less than an hour away from the very home of Jägermeister in Wolfenbüttel.

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He’s the kind of guy that does things to perfection and is hands on in every respect, so when he’s not at home, Manhattan isn’t open. So it was a genuine privilege to have him here in Sydney doing his thing.

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The evening unfolded with multiple courses coming out of the Mjølner kitchen, each featuring Jägermeister and each matched with one of Nils’ signature Jägermeister cocktails. The premise was simple, but I can assure you the that the complex flavours in the moreish food and the amazing drinks were anything but.

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First up was a dish of Jägermeister-cured ocean trout paired with a ‘Pretty Amber’. If no-one told you, you’d never know there was Jägermeister in the mix, but at the same time if it wasn’t there this drink would’ve just been, well, a Gimlet!

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Adding a couple of barspoons-worth of the herbal liqueur to the gin and lime mix lifted the drink with a delicious, refeshing floral note. This one is definitely going into a spring/ summer cocktail rotation for me.

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Course two showed off Jägermeister’s versatility as the bitter agent in a Negroni, mixed with sweet vermouth and London dry as a ‘Count Mast’. We were asked to try the drink as-is, but before taking a second sip we were invited to express a lemon peel over the drink (I went the whole hog and dropped it it there). Sans-lemon the drink was great, albeit a tad on the sweet-side for me, but the addition of the lemon brought a whole new level of balance to it. A seriously tasty reinterpretation of the Negroni, this time paired with perfectly blushing duck breast.

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Course three paired a super moreish 14 hour Jägermeister-infused short rib with the ‘Jagerrye Old Fashioned’ – a concoction of Jägermeister, Old Forester Bourbon, Cointreau and lemon zest – which worked incredibly well in cutting through the richness of that meat.

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No epic dinner is complete without dessert and this particular one was absolutely cracking. Jägermeister and cherry truffle topped with mascarpone, macadamia and a touch of chocolate paired with the ‘Wake Up Call’, a combination of cold brew coffee and Jägermeister siphoned into a glass.

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This dessert and cocktail pairing was part black forest gateau, part tiramisu and 100% decadent.

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I’m not sure about you, but next time I see that iconic squat green bottle on a back bar, I definitely won’t be pigeon-holing it as a shooter. It’s so much more versatile than that. Big thanks to Nils and Jägermeister team for the eye-opening experience!

The Macallan 12 year old Double Cask

It’s Father’s Day here in Australia on Sunday 3 September and The Macallan reckon their new 12 year old Double Cask expression would make the perfect gift for any Dad. So, what better way to validate that then putting it to the test with my very own Dad!

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What Dad has to say

That’s a classy looking bottle! It’s got broad-shoulders and I like the colour and design on the box. It’s really eye-catching and the blue looks great with the gold accents on it. Very smart. What’s the ‘double cask’ thing mean?

What I have to say

Good question Dad! Not to be confused with the Macallan 12 year old Sherry Oak (or the 12 year old Fine Oak); the Double Cask is an entirely new expression that has only just recently hit Australian shores. The Double Cask gets its name from the fact that two different cask types are used in the maturation process; a mixture of both American Oak and European Oak casks, seasoned with sherry.

Keen Macallan fans might be aware that the 12 year old Sherry Oak expression from Macallan is also made up of a combination of American Oak and European Oak casks, so what’s the difference? The Double Cask reportedly has a higher proportion of American Oak in the mix, so along with the dried fruit sweetness from the sherry, I’m expecting to find some big honey and vanilla notes in there too. Only one way to find out!

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Dad’s tasting notes

“This has got a nice soft brown sugar note to it, a nice sweet smell. It’s really pleasing and warm. It’s got a really smooth and silky taste to it as well, nice and warm with a hint of a spice to it, almost like cinnamon or an all spice fragrance to it. Really nice and easy drinking.”

And with that, Dad poured himself a second glass, No, seriously, he did..

“I tell you what, that second glass is really smooth and warming, it’s very much the kind of whisky that would make me want to go back for more.”

My tasting notes

Quite a rich nose with warming honey, oak and light spice. I get notes of poached or stewed fruits and nuts (hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts), with a dose of brown sugar and candied orange.

The palate is thin initially, but with a bit of a citrus burst. I get flavours of orange marmalade, vanilla custard and honey and runny toffee; fading to a slightly bitter finish of oak and light spice.

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So if you’re still struggling with ideas for Dad (or if you just feel like spoiling yourself), keep an eye out for the Macallan 12 year old Double Cask which can be found on shelves now. A special thanks to The Macallan for the bottle pictured here. I’m pleased to say that it well and truly passed the Dad test.

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!)

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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.

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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!