Bar White Oak

by Whisky + Alement

If you happen to follow me on Instagram (@whiskyledger), you may have noticed that I recently visited Japan. My trip was an incredible experience for a number of reasons, but right up there at the top of that list would have to be the incredible whisky bars. We simply don’t anything quite like them in Australia.

Bar White Oak 1

Well, if there is one bar here that comes terribly close, without a shadow of a doubt, it would have to be Melbourne’s Whisky + Alement. These guys just do everything right in my opinion. From the bar you can comfortably perch yourself at, to the knowledgeable and friendly bartenders to the ever-changing back bar of over 600 bottles. For a genuine whisky-lover, this place just nails it. As if there weren’t enough reasons to love them already, they’ve just gone ahead and given us another one. Bar White Oak.

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Bar White Oak

Owners Brooke and Jules and one of their bartenders, Kelvin, were avid Japanese whisky fans well before Japanese whisky became the cool kid on the block. Between them, this love of Japanese whisky has led them to curate one of the most impressive collections you’re ever likely to see. Given the craziness over all things Japanese whisky at the moment they could no doubt flip these bottles at auction for an eye-watering price, but that’s what separates whisky collectors or speculators from people like Brooke, Jules and Kelvin.

Bar White Oak 2

They bought these bottles with the sole intention of drinking them and have decided that now’s the right time to pop the corks. On top of that, they want whisky fans to join in on the experience as well. Enter; Bar White Oak – a consumable exhibition – inside Whisky + Alement.

Bar White Oak 4

Filling the tiny space in the front window of the bar, the Bar White Oak pop-up is a dark corner of awesomeness. The timber archway draws you into the large phone-booth sized nook, lined on both sides with around 150 different Japanese whiskies – the vast majority of which you won’t be able to find anywhere else in the country. There’s everything from old blends to entry level drams and a considerable range of true hero bottles like single cask Yamazakis, Karuizawas. You’ll also find award winners like the Yamazaki Sherry Cask. Pretty much every Japanese distillery is represented, including ones you’ve probably never heard of. Everything’s available by the full or half pour and everything is there to be opened, and more importantly, enjoyed.

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SMWS member’s preview

Whisky + Alement also happens to be an official partner bar of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) and through this partnership, SMWS members were offered and exclusive preview of Bar White Oak the other night. Two exclusive Japanese drams were poured on arrival; a rare cask strength Ichiro’s blend and an SMWS single sherry cask Miyagikyo. They were matched with some excellent sushi, great conversation and the chance to be the first soul to crack open any of the Japanese whiskies on the back bar. Yes, this was a Japanese whisky fan’s dream come true!

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What you need to know

Bar White Oak is now officially open and will run for six months. The bar will feature a rotation of Japanese whisky, with approximately 150 different Japanese bottles on the bar at all times. That’s more than any other bar in the country. Heck, even the best-stocked whisky bars in Japan don’t have that much Japanese whisky on offer. Seriously!

Bar White Oak
270 Russell Street, Melbourne VIC

Sunday & Monday – 4.30pm to 11pm
Tuesday to Friday – 4.30pm to 12.30am
Saturday – 7.00pm to 12.30am

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A special thanks goes to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and Whisky + Alement for the invitation to the preview night. I guarantee you’ll be seeing me again at Bar White Oak.

The Balvenie Craft Bar, Sydney

And the Australian launch of the TUN 1509

The Balvenie train rolled into Sydney late last year when their pop-up craft bar came to town.

The idea behind the ‘craft bar’ concept is very much based on Balvenie’s own dedication to their craft, making whisky. Although they produce in the region of 5.6 million litres of spirit each year (making them one of the bigger distilleries in Scotland) there are still many craft elements to their production process. Such as traditionally floor malting a portion of the barley that goes into making their whisky and using their own on-site cooperage to craft the casks that will go on to hold Balvenie whilst it matures.

Balvenie Craft Bar Sydney

The whole craft element is a tradition and association that they’re pretty proud of, so it’s nice to see them using that devotion to help local artisans on the other side of the world get some recognition as well. It’s not the first time we’ve seen this concept in Australia either. In 2013 the bar was set up in one of Melbourne’s many lane-ways and seemed to prove quite popular.

The setting for this year’s craft bar was Zenith Interiors, a creative warehouse space in the inner-Sydney suburb of Surry Hills. Entering the warehouse guests were greeted with a huge sand-box of barley (more on this later) whilst a smart trio of hosts served up some refreshing Balvenie cocktails.

Balvenie

There was also a craft bar, within the craft bar (inception style)

The Balvenie Craft Bar

The craftiness continued with these cool little Balvenie tasting boards, which neatly held a trio of glasses and allowed you to move around the space and check out the exhibits whilst enjoying a spot of whisky and some quality cheeses.

Balvenie Cheese Board

Speaking of exhibits, they were actually really visually interesting to inspect, ranging from the craft of traditional book binding, to tailoring, stone masonry, instrument making and more. These drums from Sleishman particularly piqued my interest. The way they’re made reminded me of the oak staves in a whisky cask. I’m not sure whether the association was intentional or not, but they oozed top quality craftsmanship.

Sleishman drums

The Balvenie had some of their craftsmanship on display as well, like this copper ‘dipping dog’ or ‘whisky theif’ (used to retrieve whisky samples) which was sitting atop one of their own oak casks.

Dipping dog whisky thief

By this point the Balvenie sample boards were looking a bit empty for some punters, so back to the bar to watch the bartenders exhibiting their craft.

Balvenie Old Fashioned

A take on the classic old fashioned this time ’round.

Balvenie Old Fashioned

Two measures of Balvenie 12 year old Double Wood, one measure of Pedro Ximenez Sherry, a dash of plum bitters and some simple syrup – all stirred down over ice.

Balvenie Old Fashioned

I’m not always the biggest fan of whisky cocktails (I often find cocktails in general to be too sweet for my personal tastes) but these were dangerously moreish and a big crowd pleaser!

The Balvenie TUN 1509

There was an extra perk of being invited along to the opening night of The Balvenie Craft Bar, and that was the official Australian launch of The Balvenie’s latest limited release, the TUN 1509.

The Balvenie Tun 1509

Keen single malt fans might be familiar with the ‘TUN’ moniker when it last appeared as the TUN 1401. Each iteration that came out quickly gained a cult following (and a collector price tag on the secondary market), with different batches destined for different markets around the world.

It was always very reasonably priced for what it was (a high proportion of the whisky in it was very well aged!), but after nine releases the range has been informally retired and replaced with the new TUN 1509 expression.

The term ‘TUN’ referent to a big oak vessel (almost like a giant cask) into which numerous casks can be emptied and left to marry and settle together before eventually being bottled. From what I’ve heard and read, TUN 1401 generally held in the region of 9 to 11 casks, whereas TUN 1509 can hold in excess of 42 casks, meaning more bottles for more fans.

Brand Ambassador, Richard Blanchard, gave a brief intro before the bottle was de-corked and waiters did the rounds with generous samples. I can’t say I’ll ever tire of the site of someone walking toward me with a tray like this.

The Balvenie TUN1509

TUN 1509 tasted

Tasting notes are always tough at events like this, but I managed to park myself on an Aeron desk chair (these creative people really know their seating!) and jot down the following.

The Balvenie Tun 1509

Nose

Fresh out of the bottle I found some rather unpleasant kerosene and metallic notes. Thankfully these dissipated and given some glass-time to open up the nose developed some nicely rounded notes of red apple skins, hints of spice, some honeycomb wax and old-style soft fudge. In the background; dusty library books and a hint of charred oak.

Palate

Initial entry onto the palate was quite light and delicate but it opened up swiftly to reveal a lot of those notes from the nose – waxy red apples, red stone fruit, dried fruit, honey and soft fudge.

Finish

Long and full of flavour with some spice and nicely balanced oak becoming more apparent as time went on.

The Balvenie TUN 1509 Batch No. 1 is available in Australia now (in very, very limited quantities) at a recommended retail price of AU$420.

Making my way out for the evening..

..it became very apparent that the barley pit had become something of a fun adult sand-box, with groups throwing handfuls of malt at each other and even making the barley equivalent of snow angels.

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And then one chap really figured out what it was intended for!

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One of the other great things about this whole set-up is that it wasn’t limited to a one-off launch evening. The craft bar was open for a four-day period, every evening and it was 100% free! I’m not sure whether they will be holding it again next year, but if you liked the sound of all this, head on over to The Balvenie website and sign up to their Warehouse 24 club to be the first to hear about all of the other events they’ve got going on, both in Australia and globally.

The Balvenie Tun 1509

The Campbell Corner Whisk(e)y Co-operative

A new way to enjoy whisky – The Wild Rover, Sydney

The other week I attended a great masterclass with Burn Stewart’s Ian MacMillan at one of Sydney’s newer bars, The Wild Rover in Surry Hills.

You’ll find The Wild Rover an easy five to ten minute stroll from Sydney’s Central Station behind this rather unassuming shop front on the corner of Campbell and Foster Street in Surry Hills. Despite the faded signage, there’s no shirts being measured and made behind that green door…

Outside

… just a whole lot of quality drinks and good times!

Downstairs

The copper-coloured bar, old railway destination boards and red and white candy-striped lamp shades work so well with the bare brick-work and those jungle murals – the place just pops with life. It’s such a warm and inviting space.

Downstairs

About the whisky though

Kim McDiarmid, Manager of The Wild Rover, explained that he’s rather wild about whisky & whiskey, so it makes perfect sense that the bar he manages would have a decent selection of the stuff.

He and the team have gone one step further though and created the Campbell Corner Whisk(e)y Co-operative (CCWC), which aims to bring like-minded enjoyers of whisky together over a dram of the glorious stuff.

Joining the CCWC will set you back $20, but for that you’ll get a dram of something special (to the value of $25), plus your very own personal “Inventory Of Whiskeys” – a passbook of 50 whiskies and whiskeys available at The Wild Rover that you can work your way through at your own pace.

Dram passport

The CCWC isn’t just about your own personal whisky adventure though. The dedicated fans who manage to tick off each dram will be granted privileged access to The Wild Rover’s reserve selection (a locked cabinet that’s about to go up on the wall) which already includes some pretty rare drops. Think Bushmills 12 year old Distillery Reserve (a distillery exclusive), Connemara Bog Oak and Teeling 21 year old Silver Reserve. For the Scotch Whisky fans, there’s also a Tamdhu 30 year old and plans for a tasty Port Ellen are in the works, along with some others.

If that doesn’t do it for you, Kim tells me that whisk(e)y buffs who get through their inventory will have access to these drams at cost price, a special thank you for their on-going support.

Being a CCWC member also grants you access to a bunch of ‘member only’ events to be held once a month. The first one held a couple of weeks ago was a Glendronach tasting, featuring Global Brand Ambassador from BenRiach and Glendronach distilleries, Mr Douglas Cooke. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it, but Martin from Timeforwhisky.com was there and has put together this excellent write up, so head on over and check it out.

Upstairs

This picture shows the upstairs set-up for the recent Ian MacMillan masterclass and I imagine it would look somewhat similar for their CCWC events. Such a great space to be enjoying your drams.

If you’re in Sydney and you missed out on the Glendronach tasting, fear not! The second CCWC event is being held on 10 March and features none other than the owner and Master Distiller of Kilchoman, Mr Anthony Wills. Not a member? Not to worry, you can join on the night, sip your special dram and enjoy the tasting.

Full details on The Wild Rover’s facebook page.

Nikka whisky tasting

A round of Nikka nightcaps at Shirt Bar in Sydney

A stroll from Sydney’s Wynyard Station in a small laneway separating Kent Street and Sussex Street, you’ll find a cosy coffee by day/drinks by night establishment called Shirt Bar. Oh I left one thing out, they also sell shirts – lots of them!

Shirt bar

According to their site, they’re all about three of the things they love ‘tailored shirts, freshly roasted coffee and great whisky’. Walk through the doors and it’s not hard to see this represented in the eclectic styling of the warm and friendly fit-out.

Shirt Bar - Menu

Anyone who knows me knows how much I enjoy a nicely tailored shirt and a good coffee. But on a miserable, rainy Wednesday evening, it was Shirt Bar’s third love that saw me perched at a table up the back with some like-minded company. See, they don’t just enjoy and serve great whisky, but they’ve gone one step further and have set up their own appreciation group aptly called Scotch Club.

Pouring

I always keep an eye out for drinks and whisky tastings in Sydney and I’d read a bit about Scotch Club. I’m on their mailing list and I’ve read some great reviews of their events by fellow whisky fans Martin and The Baron – but their events always happened to fall on a weeknight when priorities clashed, so I’d never actually been along to one.

This was about to change though. My first Scotch Club was all about some of the whiskies that come out of Japan’s Nikka distilleries, Miyagikyo and Yoichi. To take us through four of their whiskies, our host for the evening was their Australian brand ambassador, Taka.

Taka

I must admit I haven’t had a whole lot of exposure to Japanese whisky, so I was really looking forward to this tasting. Here’s what we got to taste.

Miyagikyo 12 year old

Miyagiko 12

First up was a single malt from the Miyagikyo distillery, which you’ll find in northern Honshu, near Sendai. Built in 1969, the Miyagikyo distillery produces a lighter style of whisky thanks to its steam-fired bell-shaped stills, which require a longer and gentler distilling process. Interestingly (for a whisky nerd like me), the stills also have an ascending lyne arm, ensuring only the lightest spirit is collected.

This was indeed noticeable when nosing and tasting. On the nose, I got some citrus, apple cider notes, pear and a touch of sweetness and spice. I also got a note that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but I jotted down ‘oddly meaty’ – whatever that means!

Fairly thin and light on the palate (surprising for a 45% ABV), reminded me very much of a Lowland style Scotch whisky. Soft sweetness, slight sourness, pears and quite a dry white wine-like finish.

Yoichi 15 year old

Yoichi 15

The next single malt came from the second distillery in Nikka’s portfolio, Yoichi.

In contrast to Miyagikyo, at Yoichi, they have a much faster and more intense distilling process, using direct coal-fired straight column stills fitted with descending lyne arms. Their water source is an interesting one too – using naturally peated water collected from an underground aquifer that lies beneath the distillery itself. All of these factors contribute toward producing a much heavier style of whisky.

On the nose I got a hint of sweet smoke, salted caramel notes and something a bit raisin-y. Much heavier on the palate than the Miyagikyo (they’re both bottled at 45% ABV) with some salty/saline notes, seaweed, light smoke and a bit of spice on the finish.

Taketsuru 12 year old

Taketsuru

The Taketsuru Pure Malt 12 year old is a blend of both Yoichi and Miyagikyo single malt whiskies (so there’s no grain in this one – similar idea to the Johnnie Walker Green Label).

Bottled at 40% ABV, this was the lightest of them all. I got some green apples and pears on the nose, vanilla notes and touch of spice. Reminded me a little bit of The Glenlivet 12 year old. Very smooth on the first sip, light sweetness, some gentle sour apple notes, maybe a touch of nuttiness, then bang – nothing. This has got to be the shortest finishing whisky I’ve ever come across. I think apple juice probably has a longer finish then this.

That’s not to say it’s a bad whisky (because its not), but I personally didn’t find it overly satisfying. I can see this being a great introductory whisky for a first-timer.

Nikka from the barrel

Nikka

The last whisky of the evening was also a blend of single malts from Yoichi and Miyagikyo, but this time there’s some aged grain spirit in there too – specifically, a grain spirit produced at Miyagikyo using imported corn from the US! The components are then married together and left to sit for a few months before being bottled.

Lovely and rich on the nose, sweet fruits, creamy, hints of spice and some faint bourbon notes. Big and juicy on the palate (it’s bottled at 51.4% ABV), caramel sweetness and some vanilla finish with pleasing spice notes.

I had only ever heard good things about Nikka from the barrel and it’s not hard to see why – it’s a mighty fine blend indeed.

Some final thoughts

Group

I should also mention that the tasting was accompanied by some quality food – individual servings of sushi, plus generously-sized charcuterie and cheese share plates.

As for the venue, Shirt Bar really is quite a cosy spot. The eclectic styling, interesting furnishings and odd bits of bar and tailoring paraphernalia make it an enjoyable spot to just sit back, relax and enjoy a few drinks, and that’s what the crowd seemed to do. Whatever your reason for being there, it looked like everyone was enjoying themselves.

The pours were a bit on the light side and I probably didn’t get to taste enough of each whisky to develop a proper opinion. But one thing I did get out of the evening was a real interest in exploring the world of Japanese whisky a whole lot more.

Whilst it’s a much younger industry (compared to the Scotch whisky industry), it’s still rich with history and great stories that make some of these whiskies truly fascinating.