Glenmorangie Tùsail

An evening with Dr. Bill Lumsden

Despite our proximity (or should I say, lack there-of) to Scotland, we’re still really quite lucky in Australia in that so many of the whisky greats make the time to come and visit us. Even in the last year or two, we’ve been to some fantastic tastings hosted by the likes of Kilchoman’s Anthony Wills and more recently, Jim McEwan from Bruichladdich.

The group tastings are fantastic, but getting to attend a private dinner with your whisky idols is a whole new level of awesome. So when such an invite came through just before Easter, there was no-way I was going to miss out, even if it meant flying back early from an interstate Easter Break.. especially when that person happens to be the revered Head of Distilling & Whisky Creation of Glenmorangie Company, Dr Bill Lumsden.

Glenmorangie Tusail

Dr Lumsden (can I just call him Bill?) was in town on a fleeting visit to launch his latest creation, the Glenmorangie Tusail. The setting for the evening was The Cut in the Rocks, Sydney, where we were greeted on arrival with The Long Zest..

Glenmorangie Cocktail

.. A refreshingly moorish cocktail of Glenmorangie Original, Fevertree ginger beer and treacle, topped with a burnt lemon twist. And yes, they went down an absolute treat!

Glenmorangie Cocktail

After chatting with some familar faces we headed over to our immaculately set dining table, found our seats (marked by laser-etched mirror place holders no less) and perused the amazing menu put together by The Cut’s Head Chef, Joseph Webb.

Menu

The menu was designed to be paired with key whiskies from Glenmorangie’s core range, but before the decadent spread arrived, Dr Lumsden walked us through a personal tasting of tonight’s star dram, the new Glenmorangie Tùsail.

Bill Lumsden 2

I’m actually really glad we got to taste Tùsail at the beginning of the evening, as I feel as though its quality lies in its subtleties and they could have been somewhat lost if we tasted it after the amazing meal we were about to enjoy.

I’d done my homework prior to attending and thought I knew most of what there was to know about Tùsail. It turns out I was quite wrong in that assumption and it was actually really interesting to hear about it from Dr. Lumsden, who was able to provide a level of insight you’re not likely to find in any press release.

If you’re aware of the five previous ‘Private Edition’ releases, you might already know that they’re all experiments of some kind; mainly in the areas of wood management and maturation (with the exception of Finealta, which used a proportion of peated malt). So when Tusail was announced, I simply thought it was just a play on the barley strain being used, but it turns out there was a little bit more to the story.

Glenmorangie Tùsail: The story

Back in 2003, Bill contracted some farmers to grow a crop of Maris Otter barley, a winter barley strain that rose to populatity in the late 60s/early 70s in the brewing industry (so not something you’ll find many whiskies made out of).

In 2004 the crop was harvested and traditionally floor malted at Glenmorangie. There was enough malt to produce just one week’s worth of spirit, before it was laid down to slumber in ex-bourbon casks for ten years. Bill told us that what he really wanted to see was the kind of difference this older winter barley strain would make when compared to their mainstay, the Glenmorangie Original (which is also ten years old).

Glenmorangie Tusail

On the nose I got sweet vanilla, some lemon zest citrus notes, peach and a slightly floral hint. All of this sat on a really malty base note of buttery plain tea cakes and scotch-finger biscuits. I thought this carried through to the palate pretty closely, with a chewy, oily texture of malty biscuits up front, followed by hints of baking spice and glace ginger giving way to a warm and slightly drying finish. Quite the contrast from the Glenmorangie Original.

It’s perhaps not quite a fair comparison though, as Tùsail is bottled at 46% ABV and is non-chill filtered (whereas the Original is bottled at 40% and is chill-filtered). Bill also filled us in on the cask make-up of the two, and where the Tùsail is approximately 50/50 first fill ex-bourbon/refill ex-bourbon, the Original is closer to a 60/40 split. So there you have it. Not quite comparing apples with apples, but close enough to make for an interesting experiment, that’s for sure!

Trout

Our amazing three-course experience soon followed and over the following hours we made our way through the likes of pepper-crusted venison carpaccio, confit ocean trout (pictured) and Rangers Valley flat iron steak. All expertly paired with Glenmorangie’s Quinta Ruban, Nectar D’Or and Lassanta. The venison + Quinta Ruban pairing really hit the spot for me. Quite stunning.

Dessert

We finished with this warm chocolate tart, old fashioned scented ice cream and a tobacco tuile, the flavour of which was intensely incredible!

Whisky + good company

In my books, whisky is most enjoyable when it’s shared in good company with good stories. There was no shortage of either of those things on this particular evening, especially with spirits writer, Mr Franz Scheurer seated opposite. Anyone who knows me also knows how much I appreciate a good timepiece, so I had to share this shot – a practical demonstration of what you do when you have a nice collection of watches and only two wrists on which to wear them. Two per day on a monthly rotation! Love your style Franz, just brilliant.

Franz Scheurer

On the topic of great company and story telling, Bill has to be up there with the very best and certainly wins the award for being the most animated and lively whisky figure I’ve come across. No story is told without passion (or hand gestures for that matter!) and he’s the kind of dinner guest you could listen to for hours.

Bill Lumsden

Bill played musical chairs throughout the evening, being incredibly generous and genuine with both his time and knowledge (I know this, because I managed to pick his brain on all things Glenmorangie and Ardbeg for a good part of the evening). From a genuine whisky fan, thank you most kindly for all the insights and for patiently fielding my endless barrage of questions!

Glenmorangie glass

Not a bad way to spend a Wednesday evening. The whisky was wonderful and the company, even better. The lighting was horrid though (so please forgive the photography for this one!) but all-in-all it was a brilliant evening. If you like the sound of the new Tùsail, it’s on sale now. Australian fans will be able to find it locally at a suggested retail price of AU$165 and is limited to just 200 cases in the country.

Ardbeg Day, Sydney

With Ardbeg Day 2015 rolling around in less than a month (May 30th to be exact), I thought it was about time I recapped last year’s festivities in Sydney. Pictures speak a thousand words, so I’ll let them do most of the talking.

Ardbeg Bunting

Sydney’s 2014 Ardbeg Day celebrations were held at The Mint, Sydney CBD’s oldest public building that once operated as a coin producing facility. Walking through the 19th century wrought iron gates, we were greeted by Shortie and his relatives. Pretty sure I’m in the right spot.

Ardbeg Shortie

Two steps further inside. Ah yes, I’m most definitely in the right spot.

Ardbeg Cocktail

I’m not generally a huge fan of whisky cocktails, but there were two variants on offer and one of them was a cracking, moreish concoction of Ardbeg 10 year old, pear nectar and simple syrup with a dash of vanilla and orange bitters to boot. I’m sure it had an official name, but I’m simply going to call it delicious peaty breakfast juice.

Ardbeg Cocktail

We all know what happens when you drink on an empty stomach but thankfully there was no chance of that happening with ample canapés doing the rounds, including dozens and dozens of freshly shucked oysters. If you’ve not yet samples oysters + a drop of peated whisky, take my word for it, it’s a stellar match.

Ardbeg Oysters

Before the day’s festivities even rolled around, we knew 2014’s Ardbeg Day release was called Auriverdes (meaning gold and green). We also knew 2014 happened to be the year the FIFA World Cup was being held in Brazil, so it came as no surprise to find the day heavily soccer themed.

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If you could drag yourself away from the Ardbeg, edible delights & live music, there were a bunch of soccer themed games and activities setup.

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I must admit that I didn’t really pay too much attention until I noticed some mates return with a loot of prizes. Then it was game on!

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I managed to score some Ardbeg coasters, a fob key ring and this neat cardholder – which is rather astonishing considering I have two left feet and zero sporting ability. If there’s a similar setup this year, mark my words, I plan on being a walking Ardbeg merchandiser by the end of the day.

Ardbeg Cardholder

The small Ardbeg-branded foosball table was good fun, but from the moment we first walked in, we all really wanted to see was this one in action. That’s right, a human-sized inflatable foosball table!

Ardbeg Football

Yes, we got to have a go at the end. Yes it was loads of fun. Yes, we all thought we were elite athletes when we were strapped in there. Speaking of which, former Socceroo, Chelsea and Man. United goal-keeper, Mark Bosnich, was on hand to award the winners with their trophy and help officially introduce Auriverdes to the crowd.

Mark Bosnich

And that’s when things really kicked-off!

Ardbeg Day

I don’t think I could ever tire of this sight – enjoyed responsibly, of course.

Ardbeg Auriverdes

Just in case you needed a top-up at all, there was an extra bottle on hand.

Ardbeg Auriverdes Gold

All this sport made many rather hungry, so this was a welcome sight to all. Spit-roast, salads and sides – all generously on the house.

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If you liked the look of this, then you really, really don’t want to miss Ardbeg Day 2015!

Ardbeg Auriverdes

Head on over to Ardbeg.com, register your details, become an Ardbeg Committee Member and be the first to get notified when Ardbeg Day registrations open. See you on the 30th… in the future.

Check out @whiskyledger on Instagram and Twitter for more whisky photography

Best of the rest 2014

It’s that time of year again where some things start to ramp up and hit full-swing, whilst others take a bit of a breather and have slowed down slightly. Sadly (though thankfully for my wallet), whisky tastings and whisky events are one of the things that seem to taper off around this time of year, so it’s a perfect opportunity to catch up on some posts.

The tasting

In late December it was time for one last hoorah when the Oak Barrel in Sydney held their end-of-year ‘Best of the rest’ masterclass. I went along to one the year prior and they had some killer drams, including what was perhaps my whisky highlight of 2013, a Glendronach 1978 single cask.

Could they match that stellar line-up again this time ‘round? Well, I’ll let you be the judge of that one. Here’s how the evening unfolded.

Mackmyra Brukswhisky

First up was a whisky from Swedish distillery, Mackmyra. Despite their young history, there are some truly fascinating facts and figures out there about Mackmyra. For example, did you know that most of their whisky is matured 50 metres underground in a dis-used mine? Nope, me neither. Pretty cool though, just like the Brukswhisky bottle.

Mackmyra

I found the Brukswhisky to be very light (and quite bright) on the nose. I got some hints of orange citrus, peppery juniper berries, crème caramel and vanilla. After some air-time, some notes of apple and pear.

The ‘light’ theme continued on the palate, with some vanilla notes toward the back of the palate and some lightly spiced, malty flavours giving way to a fairly tame – but warming – finish. Quite interesting and summery , but I thought it still had a bit of a banana new-make spirit note to it as well (certainly not off-putting, just an observation).

Adelphi Liddesdale Batch no. 5

This interesting offering comes from Adelphi, an independent bottler who purchase casks from distilleries then bottle and release the whisky when they feel it’s just right. Despite the name, there isn’t actually a Liddesdale distillery and the liquid in this bottle is from the Bunnahabhain Distillery on the Isle of Islay. Five different refill sherry butts went into this one to be exact, each at least 21 years of age.

Adelphi Liddesdale

Notes of rich wine gums or gummy lollies on the nose. Some grimy workshop oils, rubber inner-tubes, damp vegetal smoke, a ginger dustiness and well integrated sherry notes. The ‘dense’ theme continued on the palate, with this being noticeably heavier and oilier than the Mackmyra (which could be credited to many factors, but mainly due to the Adelphi being non chill-filtered and bottled at 46% ABV). Some spice presents right up front on the tongue before clearing to a warming, sweet – yet spicy – salted dark chocolate finish.

I’ve tasted this on many an-occasion (I have a bottle) and I find that I get the most out of this by sitting with it over a longer period of time. Something of a contemplative dram if you will.

Adelphi Highland Park

The third dram of the night was also from Adelphi, but we were now moving into cask strength territory with this well-aged, 26 year old single cask offering from Highland Park.

Adelphi Highland Park

I’m quite familiar with what the standard, official bottlings of Highland Park smell and taste like..and I found this to be nothing like those!

Tropical coconut and woody notes presented first up on the nose. I found this to be quite restrained and delicate with a difficult to describe underlying ‘tropical’ note that presented in a number of different ways, like green grapes, desiccated coconut, bees wax and a light forest/vegetal note. The tropical theme continued on the rich and oily palate with overripe soured berries, grapefruit and hints of liquorice ending in a somewhat drying and tannic finish that became malty and cloying (not oaky and bitter). Confused a little? I think I was too.

Glendronach Cask Strength Batch no. 3

We stayed in the cask strength territory with this next one too. A no age statement marriage of both Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry cask Glendronach, bottled at 54.9% ABV. I liked batch no. 1 better than no. 2 so it was going to be interesting to see how this stacked up.

GlenDronach

So creamy, sweet, rich and full on the nose. There’s nothing shy, restrained or delicate about this at all. It’s not an all out sherry monster, but there’s loads of juicy raisins, honey, vanilla, dusty 70% dark chocolate and some estery varnish notes.

Immediately oily and hot up front on the palate, but it gives way to sweet rich sultanas and raisins, crisp red apples, vanilla pods, candied ginger and spice. A super solid and enjoyable Glendronach.

Laphroaig 1976 Scotia Royale 35 year old

Yes, that’s right, the little heading above isn’t a typo! One of 211 bottles, this 35 year old Laphroaig was bottled at cask strength of 43.3% ABV. Forget nearly everything you think of when you think of Laphroaig, the whisky pictured below was super unique.

Laphroaig

Straight away it became apparent that this had a very deep and layered nose. Fresh mint, herbal and vegetative with tropical notes of papaya and overripe mango (I generally get traces of these last two notes in the standard 18 year old expression as well). It mellowed the longer it was uncovered, revealing coconut oil and a yeasty trace, but never became overly woody which was interesting considering its age.

Despite the low ABV, the mouth feel of this was still oily and rich. The palate stayed pretty close to the nose with lots of tropical fruit and vegetal mossy flavours giving way to a faint iodine and spice finish.

An undeniably interesting dram, but I personally struggle to think of a time when I’d go ‘ah yes, I feel like that flavour profile tonight’. It would be a special occasion pour, that’s for sure.

Port Charlotte PC8

If you’ve ever had something from the PC series (or even a standard Port Charlotte), then you know full well why this was the last dram of the evening.

PC8

Before the glass comes within 12 inches of your nose you already get a face full of smoky, salty, charred ashes. There’s freshly laid tarmac, putty, latex gloves and vanilla rich desserts… that have been set on fire… This stuff is pretty exciting.

The palate and mouth feel of this whisky are just as big as the nose. It’s oily, instantly warming and loaded with the flavours of a spicy, smoky coastal barbeque. Charred, cured meats and sweet butterscotch eventually give way to an ashy and slightly floral finish that lasts for ages.

Group

Thanks to Dave and all the friendly guys at the Oak Barrel for for holding a number of a fantastic tastings throughout the year (such as this and this). Looking forward to seeing what you have in store for us in 2015.

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

Glenfiddich 26 year old

Launched in Sydney, Australia

I’ve been dragging my feet a bit when it comes to updates. Not intentionally of course, but as much as I’d like it to be, whisky isn’t my bread and butter. So when the bread needs buttering unfortunately things on the whisky front sometimes take a back seat, but hopefully I’ll get back into the swing of things as the year starts to slow down a wee bit.

The Launch

Now to the reason you’re reading this post though. Back in September, the guys from William Grant & Sons held a rather lavish soirée to officially welcome Glenfiddich’s newest expression – the 26 year old – into the Australian market. This comes at a rather appropriate time considering they’ve just recently discontinued their 30 year old expression.

Elizabeth Bay House

The evening unfolded at Elizabeth Bay House in the Eastern-Sydney suburb of – you guessed it – Elizabeth Bay! If you’ve never been here (and no doubt most of you haven’t), it’s nestled among a mixture of art deco and modern apartment blocks in one of Sydney’s premier harbour-front suburbs. Directly across the road sits one of the most well manicured parks you’re likely to come across and beyond that, the sparkling waters of Sydney harbour.

Elizabeth Bay House

Entering the grand foyer, waiters circircled with canapés whilst a string quartet played ambiently in the background. There are many things that William Grant & Sons do well when they host an event, and without a doubt, food is always one of them. There must have been a dozen or so different dishes and I spent way too much time taking photos of them.

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Nestled under the main staircase, bartenders mixed a series of Glenfiddich-based cocktails, whilst neat pours of the core range were also on offer.

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Our host for the evening was Glenfiddich Brand Ambassor, and all ‘round legend, Mr James Buntin. This also happened to be one of his final public outings here as a week or so later he was off to the UK to take up his role as Balvenie’s newest Brand Ambassador. To all my UK friends, should you ever cross paths with the gent on the left, go say hello and tell him Sydney misses him!

Glenfiddich 26 year old

This handsome bottle wasn’t opening itself any time soon, so I took the opportunity to sneak off and explore a bit. After all, this is one of Sydney’s oldest historic houses and there was plenty of history to see. Eventually I descended the sandstone stairs into the house’s cellar. Here, the passageways and rooms were lined with a series of 26 photographs by Scottish photographer Simon Butterworth.

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It turns out that there was actually a really neat concept behind the photographs.

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To celebrate the release of the 26 year old, Glenfiddich commissioned Simon to take a series of 26 photographs capturing the production of the whisky itself. From the felling of the oak used in the original Bourbon casks, to the coopering process, barley malting, distilling and maturation.

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The images told a fantastic (and rather emotive) story of the whisky making process and the people behind it.

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The crowd soon followed suit and after some healthy sampling from the second Glenfiddich bar setup down in the cellars, it was time.

Glenfiddich 26 year old

James did the introductions, whilst waiters distributed ‘Excellence’ to those in wait.

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Whilst everyone cheers’d (is that even a word?) and enjoyed their pour of 26 year old down in the cellar, I retreated back up the stairs like the whisky nerd I am, to find somewhere peaceful and quiet to enjoy my dram contemplatively.

Walking into the now deserted foyer area of the house, I bumped into the cellar master of the SMWS, Mr Andrew Derbidge, who appeared to have had the same idea as me. At events like this, it’s far too easy to keep chatting and enjoying yourself. But given the exclusivity and price tag of this dram, I knew I wasn’t likely to be trying it again any time soon, so I made the effort to get some proper notes down.

Dram held to the nose in one hand, pen and notebook in the other, we both stood there in silence and got our nerd on.

Glenfiddich 26 year old

Nose

The main things I picked up right off the bat were those classic Glenfiddich baked pear and light fruity notes (well, that’s something I often associate with Glenfiddich). This time though, they were somewhat spicier, with hints of coconut and a certain dusty nuttiness I likened to marzipan.

Palate

I found the 26 year old had a fairly light body to it, but still managed to be oily. A fair whack of spice up front turned creamy, almost crème caramel like, revealing a nice full mouth of flavour. Sipping again, some of those older oak notes appeared – I got some kiwi, zest and coconut on the palate. I had to pick up the bottle to check that this was indeed a 43% ABV whisky as it carried a fair bit of heat with it, feeling like it had a higher ABV (a nice thing in my opinion).

Finish

The sweet creaminess lasted for a good while, however I found the dominant notes on the finish to be spice and tarty zest. As you’d expect of a whisky of this age, some drying oaky notes (some might say pencil shavings) became more apparent as time went on, but I never found them unpleasant.

Glenfiddich range

The Glenfiddich 26 year old is available in Australia now, with retail process starting at $499 a bottle. A sincere thanks to William Grant & Sons for the invite, a highly enjoyable evening that I still remember vividly.