The Glen Moray Mastery

Glen Moray celebrates its 120th anniversary this year and to mark the occasion they’ve released something pretty special. But I’ll get to that in just a sec.

My experience with Glen Moray

I was first introduced to Glen Moray in a slightly unconventional way after tasting their whisky bottled as a single cask for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS). On paper, the whisky I tried sounded fairly pedestrian. It was from a refill bourbon cask and was mid-teens in age, but the spirit quality that came through on that particular cask really caught my attention. SMWS have gone on to release some pretty stellar casks from Glen Moray and I’ve bought many of them (especially those toasted oak releases).

Snapseed

Trying big, punchy single casks is all well and good, but it dawned on me a little while ago that I haven’t really tasted that many of Glen Moray’s original bottlings, the ones you can easily find on the shelf at your favourite bottle shop. That’s been on my to do list for a little while now and thankfully I recently had the chance when Master Distiller, Graham Coull made the trek to Sydney to launch his latest creation.

Mastery launch time

I was generously invited to a long-lunch one Friday, held at The Roosevelt in Potts Point to taste through not only the core range, but also the range-topping, limited release known simply as the ‘Mastery’.

Snapseed

On arrival we were treated to the flare that’s synonymous with The Roosevelt, enjoying a nitrogen Glen Moray ‘Triple Wood’ cocktail, garnished with a thistle and served alongside a moreish haggis oatcake. That would have done me just fine, but moving through to the dining space we were in for a treat as a five course meal followed, each dish paired with a whisky from the core range, including whiskies from the Classic range, along with their age-stated siblings.

Snapseed

I didn’t take detailed notes on each, but it was great to be able to taste them all back-to-back and be able to form some general observations. I genuinely like the spirit character of Glen Moray and feel as though it lends itself well to ex-bourbon cask maturation. The young Glen Moray Elgin Classic was spritely and fresh, whilst the older age stated expressions like the 12 and 15 year old definitely showed more maturity and depth.

Snapseed

The Chardonnay cask is really quite interesting, bringing an earthy oakiness to what’s normally quite a light fresh spirit, whilst the port cask finish is entirely moreish (to me, anyway). Graham let us in on some interesting info on this one, informing us that it starts life as a five year old ex-bourbon matured Glen Moray before being finished in a port pipe for a whole year. Why a year? Well, in Graham’s words “If you’re finishing something, you should always give it a full summer as that’s when the real wood interaction happens”. A super drinkable dram that comes in at only $50 a bottle! I’m struggling to think of another whisky at that price point with that level of flavour.

Snapseed

Graham also let slip that there are a few other finishes being added to the Classic range in the near future, include whisky finished in Cab Sav, Rum and Sauternes casks, so keep an eye out for those!

The Glen Moray Mastery

Back to the main subject of this post though, Glen Moray’s 120th anniversary and the new Mastery! The whisky can best be described as a multi-vintage single malt, which combines Glen Moray distilled in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Graham wanted to include some of the oldest stocks in the warehouse when putting this together, so 20% of the make-up includes ex-Port cask whisky distilled in 1988, whilst 80% of the whisky in the Mastery was distilled in 1994 or earlier. The heart of the whisky was finished in Madeira casks and to really lift the sweetness even further Graham also blended in some ex-sherry casks from the 1990s. That’s about as much as I can tell you, as Graham insists on keeping the final recipe of The Mastery a closely guarded secret!

Snapseed

On the nose it’s completely different to any other Glen Moray I’ve tried. It’s rich and deep, with notes of beeswax, dried fruits and chocolate. It’s jammy, with raisins, apricots, toasted nuts and even something a touch smoky, like dried tea leaves or coal ash. Super inviting stuff and a dram you could nose for hours.

On the palate it’s thick and oily, with a chewy sweetness of dried fruit and dark jammy flavours. There’s a touch of spice, some dark chocolate and oak, but not in an overwhelming way. The port casks used in this really shine through nicely.

It’s a properly tasty whisky, but then again, you’d hope it would be considering it comes in at a cool $1,400 a bottle. Just eight of the individually numbered decanters will be arriving in Australia, so if you’d like to get your hands on The Mastery, get in touch with your nearest Dan Murphy’s flagship store.

Snapseed

A special thank you to the truly down to earth Graham Coull and his lovely wife Faye for making the trip down here to present this great experience. I look forward to seeing you both again, hopefully at Glen Moray next time.

Ardbeg Supernova 2014

Way back in April of this year I put up this post regarding what appeared to be the label for an all new version of the fabled Ardbeg Supernova. Then one day in September it all came to life for me when a surprise care package arrived at work from the kind people at Moet Hennessey. A whole two months passed before I could find the time to sit down and properly enjoy it, but I finally got that chance over the weekend. So as the mercury hit a positively nippy 42°c (107°f) here in Sydney, I drew the curtains, grabbed the camera, cranked the air-conditioning and got to it.

SN2014 mini

Many probably know the back-story to this bottling, but just in case you don’t, here’s what you need to know. A few years back, Ardbeg sent some tiny whisky samples into space for what would become known as the Ardbeg Space Experiment – analysing the effect of zero gravity. It seemed only fitting that to celebrate their return to earth a special whisky should be released. Enter: Ardbeg Supernova 2014 (SN2014).

The Supernova family

It’s not the first time Ardbeg have used the Supernova moniker before though. Ardbeggians would be well aware that way back on 20 January 2009, Ardbeg released 2,400 bottles of the original Supernova to Ardbeg Committee members. They promptly sold out in a matter of hours.

Given the success, the committee release was soon followed by a broader ‘Stellar release’ of Supernova (SN2009), bottled at 58.9% ABV and peated to ‘over 100 parts per million (ppm)’. By comparison, Ardbeg Ten is peated to somewhere in the region of 55 ppm. Clearly this went down well with peat fans, as it was followed up the very next year in May 2010 with another Supernova (SN2010) bottled at a hefty 60.1% ABV and again peated to 100+ ppm.

Speaking of PPM

Parts per million (ppm) is a scientific measurement and isn’t necessarily a good one when it comes to measuring taste or aroma. For example, you shouldn’t expect a whisky rated at 100 PPM to smell and taste twice as smoky or peaty as one rated to 50 PPM. Not quite sure why? Have a read of this blog post.

Ardbeg Supernova SN2014

With the cult following (and sometimes astronomical prices) of the two previous Supernovas, I’ve never actually tried them. As a result, I’m approaching this new SN2014 release with somewhat fresh eyes (and nose and tastebuds). That could actually be a good thing though, as I won’t be comparing this new release to the Supernovas of years gone by.

What’s in the bottle

So what do we actually know for certain about this whisky? Not a whole lot to be honest. It’s bottled at 55% ABV and is ‘limited’, but other than that, we don’t know its age or how many bottles were produced, nor do we know what kind of casks it’s comprised of, or the level of peating the malt has been subjected to (ppm).

Ardbeg Glass

On one hand the whisky nerd in me really, really wants to know all of this stuff and more. On the other hand though, not knowing isn’t such a bad thing I suppose. I’ll be drinking it because it’s Ardbeg and I know I like Ardbeg, but beyond that, there’s no other detail getting in my way, setting subliminal expectations or clouding my judgement.

Nose

When first poured I found this immediately smoky and charred. It’s ashy and peaty, but in a real dusty and earthy kind of way – not in a saline heavy, charred meat or medicinal fashion. A second nosing delivered hot coals, some hay/grassy notes and something akin to charred zesty lemons. After a good few minutes in the glass the smoke subsides (ever so slightly) and some sweeter vanilla notes become apparent. This become a lot more balanced, malty and complex with some air time.

Palate

First sip is oily, immediately followed by a decent amount and heat of spice right at the tip of my tongue, along with some sweet yet salty brine notes. As soon as you swallow that mouthful though – wow – hugely smoky, more so than the nose suggests. It’s bittersweet, immediately drying, tangy and charred.

Finish

I found the finish on this almost came around full circle, bringing to the palate those drying earthy hay notes from the nose. The peaty coal smoke lingers for the full length of the warming finish. I felt as though I could notice a definite lineage to the classic Ardbeg Ten, but there’s no way you’d ever confuse the two.

When, where and how much?

The Ardbeg Supernova 2014 goes on sale in Australia in December. It’s available through Ardbeg Embassies or direct from Moet Hennessey Collection online at a retail price of AU$240. Whilst I haven’t been able to confirm the exact number of bottles landing on our shores, I’ve heard rumours of it being in the hundreds, so no dilly-dallying if you want one!

Glenmorangie Tùsail

The sixth release in Glenmorangie’s revered Private Edition series

Label mock-ups for Glenmorangie’s latest Private Edition release have just appeared online and if the labels are anything to go by, Tùsail sounds like a rather interesting one.

Glenmorangie Tusail label

Unlike the five annual releases before it, Tùsail doesn’t appear to get its unique point of difference from the wood used in the maturation process. Instead, it looks like Dr Bill Lumsden and his team of boffins have had a crack at playing with the bare bones of this whisky instead, using a traditionally floor malted Maris Otter barley. Maris what? A brewers barley, developed in the late 1960’s and often used in the production of premium ales.

I personally can’t recall ever having tasted a Glenmorangie produced with traditional floor malted barley (well, not that I’m aware of anyway), so this could be interesting. As with previous Private Editions, it appears that Tùsail will again be bottled at 46% ABV and will be non chill-filtered.

No further info on price or release dates, but if previous releases are anything to go by, select northern hemisphere markets should expect to see this late December or in January 2015. Fingers crossed this makes it to Australia early next year.

The Balvenie TUN 1401 gets a new sibling?

The Balvenie Tun 1509 and other new offerings from William Grant & Sons

It looks like the good folks at William Grant & Sons have been rather busy of late. If these label approvals are anything to go by, we might be able to expect a couple of new offerings from two of their stalwart distilleries, plus a well-aged offering from one of their a rarely seen, long-closed distilleries.

The Balvenie TUN 1509

First up is The Balvenie TUN 1509 – a younger brother to the fabled TUN 1401 perhaps?

TUN1509

‘Younger’ is purely my own speculation. But given the average age of the various TUN 1401 batches is often around the 30 year mark, I can’t imagine The Balvenie would be releasing another vatted malt into their line-up that was any older.

We’ve seen nine batches from the TUN 1401 series now and the Taiwanese exclusive TUN 1858 has also seen two releases over the last few years. So what to make of this latest release? A third permanent offering in the revered TUN series? A replacement for the others? Your guess is as good as mine, but there’s one thing we can be fairly sure of, and that’s the fact that this will fly off shelves.

Glenfiddich ‘The Original’

This next one sounds like an interesting concept. As you’ll read on the label, Glenfiddich looks to be releasing a new no age statement expression inspired by their original Straight Malt. If you’re unsure of the significance, in 1963 the Glenfiddich Straight Malt was pretty much the first single malt whisky to be actively branded as such and exported around the world.

GlenfidOrig

Although label details have only recently been released, I came across this curious blog post which indicates that this project may have been in the works for a number of years. Was the Glenfiddich ‘The Original’ tested on distillery visitors under the working title of Glenfiddich ‘Retro’? It certainly sounds like it!

Ladyburn ‘More than 40 years old’

If you’ve never heard of Ladyburn, there’s a pretty good reason for that. The final casks of this Lowland malt were laid down 39 years ago, back in 1975. Adding to that, the distillery itself was operational for a mere 9-10 years in total.

Print

From what I can tell, the last official release was a 1973 Ladyburn bottled back in the year 2000 at 50.4% ABV. Aside from a handful of independent bottlings since (sometimes under the name Rare Ayrshire), this is malt that’s rarely seen indeed.

Nice to see a new official bottling of Ladyburn from William Grant & Sons, but some might find the 40% ABV a tad disappointing (if indeed, that’s what it ends up being).

The Balvenie 14 year old Caribbean Cask

Official launch, Sydney Australia

Attention Australian Balvenie fans – The Balvenie 14 year old Caribbean Cask has just been launched locally!

In true William Grant & Sons style, this was cause for celebration, so on a recent Monday evening, celebrate we did. Where should The Balvenie hold an event for the release of a rum-finished whisky? A specialist rum bar of course, so it was off to Sydney’s The Cuban Place/Parke Davis.

Balvenie Craft Bar

Guests approaching the venue knew they were in the right spot when they spotted this hand-crafted Balvenie sign at the entrance and were greeted by the sound of authentic rasta-sounding steel kettle- drums.

Parke Davis

Descending the half dozen stairs into the swanky sub-ground Parke Davis, we were greeted by our ever consummate host – The Balvenie’s Sydney brand ambassador – Mr James Buntin.

James

James’ partner in crime for the evening would be Melbourne-based Dick Blanchard, who I’d had the pleasure of meeting a few day’s prior at the Australian Malt Whisky Tasting Championships (post to follow shortly).

It should be said that Dick has a knack for crafting some rather special whisky-based cocktails and had put together this Balvenie-inspired duo to get the evening started.

Menu

A handful of friendly hellos were exchanged before a handful of Balvenie was received, your choice of a cocktail or perhaps something from The Balvenie’s core range? The 12 or 17 year old double wood, the all new 14 year old Caribbean Cask or perhaps a healthy dram of the luscious 21 year old Port Wood (if you happened to bump into the right person!) They were all on offer and the crowd made a good dent in their stocks!

I started with a Balvenie-inspired Dark & Stormy and Parke Davis’ bartenders made short work of mixing a couple down.

Balvenie Stormy

Oh yeah, they’re also pretty efficient at pouring a mean Beachcomber or two…

Pyramid

Balvenie – a story of craftsmanship

The Balvenie don’t just place pride in their liquid, but also in the craftsmanship that brings it to life. From the partial onsite maltings, to the in-house cooperage that prepares their barrels, they take a very hands-on approach to whisky making. As such, they also display an appreciation for those who exude the same passion in their own craft.

Drum

To really highlight that connection, The Balvenie had invited along Charles Moller to present a short, but genuinely fascinating, intro into the world of crafting steel kettle-drums. It’s not the first time The Balvenie has been involved with local artisans either, setting up a craft bar in Melbourne’s famous laneways back in November 2013.

Release the rum-finish

We were here for a particular reason though and that was to see the official release of this fine dram into the local Australian market.

Balvenie trio

So with a short enthusiastic toast from the captivating Mr B. we welcomed The Balvenie 14 year old Caribbean Cask to Australia.

Balvenie toast

So what’s it like?

In short, pretty damn enjoyable. So enjoyable in fact that I totally forgot to jot down any tasting notes on the night.. bugger.. The geniuses at Balvenie obviously figured as much and had the forethought to but together these goodie bags, complete with a crafty hand-labeled sample.

Goodie bag

After mulling this one over for a while, I got sweet syrupy malt on nose, layered with brown sugar. Whether the label is prompting me to look for it, I’m not sure, but I also get some golden rum notes too. Searching a touch longer, it’s not hard to find the classic honeyed-apple Balvenie notes buried underneath. A very round and perfectly approachable nose.

Sample

Fairly thin on the palate and immediately sweet, yet drying at the same time. Oaky wood spice develops quickly along with bitter dark chocolate and a hint of orange pith. These tart drying notes are nicely balanced by a rounded sweetness, which almost comes across as confectionary like at some points (think lolly bananas and fresh marshmallows). Add to that some hints of vanilla and a noticeable rum note, both of which come out toward the back of the palate and remain on the finish which turns oaky and drying once more.

I think the main take away from this is to not expect a rum flavoured whisky. It’s not a flavouring (thank goodness for that) – it’s a finish – one which builds on the underlying approachable character of Balvenie, creating something a bit more special.

Having also tried the 14 year old Cuban Cask, I admit that I did notice a difference between the two and the Caribbean Cask is certainly my pick of the duo.

Warehouse 24

If you liked the look of this event, you too can get involved!

Whilst some distilleries have mailing lists, or token membership groups, The Balvenie’s Warehouse 24 program genuinely makes an effort to connect with their fans the world over. Regular competitions are mostly open to international entrants and special events are held in major cities everywhere.

Group

In fact, invites to the Caribbean Cask launch were extended to Australian Warehouse 24 members – just for being members! Whether you’re reading this in Australia or abroad, it’s worth checking out.

Where, when and how much?

The Balvenie 14 year old Caribbean Cask is bottled at 43% ABV will be available in Australia from the finest liquor retailers from August at a recommended price of AU$115.

Balvenie 14

Big thanks to The Balvenie and William Grant & Sons for hosting such an enjoyable evening. And to James, farewell from your Australian fans, thanks for all the laughs and we hope you have a blast in the UK.