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.

Bar White Oak 5

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.

Bar White Oak 7

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!

Bar White Oak 6

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

Bar White Oak 3

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.

SMWS 127.37 Dinosaurs dancing to Stravinsky

A young refill sherry Port Charlotte

This peated powerhouse is one pour away from the bottle graveyard, so I thought I’d document a few notes here before it’s gone for good. What you’re looking at is actually the first ever SMWS bottle I purchased, a nine year old Port Charlotte that I picked up back in 2013.

SMWS 127.37

If you’re not overly familiar with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) and these unique bottlings, have a flick through this. In a nutshell though, all SMWS bottles are single cask, cask strength whiskies, bottled without chill-filtering and without the addition of colouring. It’s whisky at its purest.

The whisky

On the nose I get thick, sweet and creamy vanilla notes, Stroopwafel (those Dutch caramel waffle biscuits), smoked honey, a slight BBQ char note and hints of that trademark putty/rubber glove scent that I always associate with Port Charlotte. Despite the strength, the nose is round and whilst there’s a prickle, it doesn’t quite give away the immensity of this dram.

On the palate I get an immediate prickle and burst of salivation that gives way to a big, juicy and oily mouth feel. There’s coal fired vanilla desserts and white pepper. It’s sweet, thick and creamy with salted crème caramel and char. As you’d expect, the finish is long and warming, but there’s also a lingering and comforting sooty ash note.

SMWS tasting glass

In case you can’t quite see it on the label, this bottle weighs in at a heft 66.5% ABV. I know some purists out there would happily tackle this sans water (Andrew, I’m looking at you) and indeed I have on many an occasion. However, I actually really enjoyed this one with the smallest dash of water.

If the high ABV spirit is the dinosaur, then I guess that quality sherry cask is Stravinsky, taming a big ballsy whisky and making it dance. It’s lovely stuff.

Was it open for too long?

From start to finish, this bottle was open for a good 12 months or more. Like most diehard whisky fans, I’ve read plenty of articles about the dreaded ‘oxidization’ of spirits and started to get a little paranoid about the numerous open bottles I had, such as this one. I went and bought sample bottles to decant them and picked up various inert gas sprays used by the wine folk to displace oxygen in open bottles. Then I started to realise that it was all a bit annoying and couldn’t be bothered.

I’m kind of glad I did, as this bottle is just one example of how much whisky can actually open up and evolve with some airtime. I’m sure not every bottle will be enhanced by air, but I’m convinced that some of them will be, and it can be quite a fun learning experience revisiting them over time and seeing how they evolve.

An evening with Jim McEwan

Hosted by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Australia

I’ll start and end this post with the same basic comment. If you ever get the chance to go along to a tasting hosted by Bruichladdich’s Jim McEwan, don’t think about it, just do it.

I had such a chance the other night when the Sydney branch of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) held an evening with Jim McEwan at the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) in Sydney. If you’re not too familiar with the SMWS, who they are and what they do, check this out.

SMWS water jug

I wasn’t too sure whether I was going to blog about the evening. Part of me just wanted to just sit back and enjoy it like every other punter in the room. But in the days following, when I looked back at the pictures I couldn’t help but crack a smile. That made me realise, yeah, I’ve got to have a go at sharing this with those who couldn’t make it and to also put something up for those who just want to relive it. Here’s my account of how the evening unfolded.

Bruichladdich + SMWS

Walking into the Macquarie room at the RAC, waiters roamed with substantial canapés and gin and tonics. G&Ts at a whisky tasting aren’t really the norm I suppose, but these were made with Bruichladdich’s very own The Botanist Gin. I can tell you now, they were as good as any G&T can be and absolutely no one was complaining!

Ginandtonic

I soon found my seat and eyed off the evening’s tasting lineup, consisting of six core range expressions from the Bruichladdich distillery and something a little bit special from the SMWS’s archives.

Tasting lineup

Everyone loves a dram or seven, but truth be told, the whisky would be playing second fiddle for me this particular evening. The real reason I was there was to hear from a man – a legend – who I’d heard so much about. This guy.

Banner

Cellarmaster of the SMWS, Andrew Derbidge, soon took to the microphone.

“There are three people in the whisky industry you should move heaven and earth to see – one is Dr Bill Lumsden from Glenmorangie. The other is Richard Patterson from Whyte and Mackay – and even those two would go out of their way to see this guy here with us tonight. Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr Jim McEwan”

Jim McEwan Bruichladdich

It was at this point Jim stepped up and got right into it. We heard about the whisky, but perhaps more importantly – and this would become a theme of the night – we heard about the people. From the Dux of the local school on Islay who works as a Mashman to the inspiring Christine, who’s perhaps a little less fortunate than some of us. We learnt a lot about the institution that is Bruichladdich and how they’re very much a part of the community of Islay.

Bruichladdich: The whisky

I’m not going to weigh in with all-out, whimsical tasting notes, because I didn’t spend the night writing them down. Plus, Jim didn’t sound like the biggest fan of the things anyway! One thing you should know though, is that all Bruichladdich is non chill-filtered and bottled at its natural colour. It’s real whisky, made for drinking.

Bruichladdich

Laddie Classic Edition_01

First up was the Laddie Classic. Although a No Age Statement whisky, Jim tells us that it comes in at around seven years of age.

Laddie Classic

Really fresh, light and clean on the nose. Lots of vanilla, a slight sourness and some faint tropical notes that I often associate with younger, ex-bourbon matured whisky. This all translated pretty accurately to the palate – light and fresh with sweet vanillin finishing clean and creamy. I honestly think you could use this to introduce anyone to the world of proper whisky.

Islay Barley 2006

A pretty self explanatory one here, but Islay Barley is made with – you guessed it – barley grown on Islay! Barley to bottle, this one is all done on Islay.

Bruichladdich Islay Barley

Slightly more heat on the nose this time (50% ABV vs. 46% ABV on the Laddie Classic), but it also has this lovely, distinct cereal note that reminds me so much of porridge with honey. A stronger tropical fruit note – apples, pears, pineapple and banana – but pretty well balanced. Fuller mouthfeel, vanilla, citrus and malt on the palate finishing quite long and warming. Lovely stuff.

Black Arts 03.1

This next one was something I’ve been hanging out to try for a while. What can I tell you about it? Not much really. Jim won’t give away any details of the Black Art 03.1 other than its age (22 years) and its ABV (48.7%).

Black Arts

Nosing it and tasting it my initial reaction was ‘ah, ex-sherry’. But then I remembered that Bruichladdich probably have the biggest range of wacky wine-finished whisky on the planet, so who really knows what this is comprised of!

I found it sweet and jammy on the nose with berries and a touch of spice. It’s rich, fruity and dense. Thick and viscous on the palate, layered with all sorts of red fruit flavours, a slight nuttiness and sweet vanilla toward the end.

I may not know what it is, but it’s a pretty tasty dram, that’s for sure. I’m leaning toward a decent whack of wine cask in there, moreso than Oloroso or PX cask.

Port Charlotte 10 year old

‘Jim, this is the fifth whisky, what about number four?’

What?

‘the fourth whisky – you missed the fourth whisky!’

Yeah, yeah we’ll get to that one.

Okay then?.. so we moved on to whisky number five, the classic Port Charlotte 10 year old, peated to around 40 ppm.

Port Charlotte 10 year old

If there’s one note I personally get from all Port Charlotte whisky, it’s a distinct rubber washing-up glove note. That, or the smell of taking off powdered latex gloves, then sniffing your hands. Sounds weird? Try it! Some also describe this note a putty.

Don’t judge me, but I personally love the smell! Add in some vegetal peat, smoking coals, pepper and a certain freshness and that’s the Port Charlotte 10 year old to me. This all translates to the palate (minus the rubber glove note), along with charred meats, a big salty saline tang and a touch of something sweeter. Lovely stuff.

SMWS 127.39 ‘Intensely tasty’

This next one was a bit special. It’s an 11 year old Port Charlotte, distilled in 2002 and bottled by the SMWS at a whopping 66.7% ABV!

SMWS 127.39

There’s no hiding from that ABV, though it’s nowhere near as ferocious as you’d expect on the nose. A light prickle with some vanillin; it’s sweet, juicy and malty. I almost feel like this could be from the same base as the Port Charlotte Scottish Barley variant, but I guess we’ll never know. I thought it took a few drops of water quite well, bringing out my rubber glove notes.

Oh so warming on the palate, a fair whack of citrus tang and sweetness up front, with some spice developing up the back. It’s called ‘Intensely tasty’ and it certainly is – especially the ‘intense’ part. I currently have its younger sibling at home (SMWS 127.37) and I love the stuff.

Octomore 06.1

If there’s one line of whisky that the modern-day Bruichladdich distillery is best known for, it’s probably their fabled Octomore line, which pushes the boundaries of peating to a whole new level.

Octomore 06.1 weighs in at 167 parts per million (ppm) of peat. How much higher can they go? Jim tells us that they’ve just had their latest batch of malt tested and it has registered at a slightly crazy 240-245ppm!

I’m happy to admit that I haven’t enjoyed every Octomore that I’ve tasted, but I do rather like this one. I found it sweet and malty on the nose with well integrated vegetal notes. Nicely balanced in my opinion with some citrus, lemon sherbet and peppery spice. The kicker for me is the mouthfeel though. It’s so oily and sweet with this lovely smoke and char on the finish. More restrained than previous iterations, but I’d happily have a bottle of this one at home.

Mystery malt time

If that wasn’t enough, Jim had one further dram to share with us all. Waiters soon circled with trays of official society tasting copitas. In them a golden mystery malt of some description.

Mystery Malt

A quick nosing delivered a big waft of sweet peat, toasted wood chips, toffee and creamy honeyed vanilla. Marvelously oily, sweet and full on the palate with some tannins and loads of wood character which just seemed to work so well.

Holding glass

We’d go on to learn that we were actually tasting a work in progress Octomore, sitting at around 5.5 years in age, 67% ABV and peated to 175 ppm. What made this extra special though was the fact it was solely matured in Virgin French Oak (Limousin Oak) casks. Not only that, we were the first group in the world to be tasting it.

I can assure you that it wasn’t the whiskies before it talking, but this was genuinely lovely stuff. Jim assures us it will be bottled – and bottled soon – so watch this space. My only hope is that it’s a mainstream release that makes it way to Australia. Truly fantastic stuff and my personal whisky highlight of the evening.

A highland toast

It was at this point of the night where Jim invited everyone to get up and join him in a Highland Toast. One foot on the table, one on your chair, glass charged in your right hand.

Jim McEwan

And so with great gusto the room chanted. “up with it, down with it, away from me, towards me, drink it off and no other shall ever drink from this glass again”

Group toast

I’m pretty sure we were saying it in Gaelic. But if you can actually speak Gaelic, then you’d probably say we were all chanting gibberish. Whatever we did, I think we did an alright job of it.

Jim McEwan

As an aside, the whisky used in the toast was the Port Charlotte Scottish Barley, whisky number four that we missed earlier. And it was bloody fantastic. All the cracking elements of the Port Charlotte 10 year old, plus that malty porridge note from the barley just works a treat. Tasty underrated stuff in my opinion.

Signing bottles

Jim stayed around for a good while afterwards, signing bottles, chatting to fans, posing for photos and just being an all-round nice guy.

And so the evening came to a close

I hope this post doesn’t make it sound like we sat through a simple tasting and presentation. Because it was so much more than that.

It was the stories and the banter that made the night as enjoyable as it was. From Jacky losing his teeth in a cask, to Jim’s finger sniffing lost in translation moment in Japan, to Günter, the Nuremberg Highlander. It’s the kind of stuff you can’t really convey in pictures or words. You just had to be there. I could go on and on about the institution that is Bruichladdich and the legend that is Jim McEwan, but it would do neither of them justice.

Although Jim was billed as the evening’s guest, when he speaks and presents, it almost felt as though you were the guest at his tasting.

A sincere thanks to Jim McEwan and SMWS Australia and Southtrade International for making the evening a truly memorable one. To Jim, I genuinely do hope our paths cross again at some point. Perhaps in your hometown of Islay next time, instead of mine here in Sydney.

As I said at the beginning, If you ever get the chance to go along to a tasting hosted by Bruichladdich’s Jim McEwan, don’t think about it, just do it.

SMWS + Shirt Bar Sydney

The other week the Shirt Bar in Sydney held a very special Scotch Club event in conjunction with the Australian chapter of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS).

Shirt Bar sign

I’ve been to a few Scotch Club events before (here and here) and I’m also a member of the SMWS, so I knew this would be a winning combo. Even more so as the evening was being hosted by SMWS Australia’s Cellarmaster, the affable Mr Andrew Derbidge.

ShirtBar

For those who’ve never met Andrew, he has to be one of the most knowledgeable and approachable whisky figures I’ve come across. His presentations are always jam-packed with interesting info, yet never bore – irrespective of your level of whisky knowledge or interest.

What you need to know about The Society

If you’re not familiar with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, who they are and what they do, their website should be able to help solve that problem for you. In my opinion though, here’s what you really need to know:

  • All of their whiskies are bottled from single casks,
  • They’re all cask strength, natural colour and non-chill filtered.
  • Bottles will never be repeated, so when they’re gone – they’re gone!

SMWS pack

In the images to follow, you’ll note that the labeling contains an odd numerical code. Quick intro if you’re not familiar with the SMWS’s labeling system – the first number represents the distillery the whisky came from and the second represents the number of casks that have been bottled by the Society, from said distillery. The brilliant names? Well, that’s the domain of the chaps in the Society’s creative department I guess!

Table

On to the whisky then

The line-up consisted of six pretty special bottles, including two not previously seen as part of Australia’s quarterly outturn (yes, think yourselves lucky my UK friends, we’re a long way away from Scotland, so our Outturn is only quarterly).

Tasting mat

41.59 Appetizing and tantalizing

First up was this ten year old whisky from a Speyside distillery by the name of Dailuaine. You may not have heard of them, but chances are you’re consumed their whisky before. Dailuaine is owned by Diageo and the majority of their output ends up in the various Johnnie Walker blends.

A super small amount of this stuff is bottled as a single malt – let alone singe cask, cask strength – so it was pretty special to have this.

SMWS 41

Very fruity and quite light on the nose. Summer fruit salad, pineapples, pears, apples and some tart piney notes dominated, while some softer vanilla and sweet floral notes hid up the back. Quite a light nose with a decent amount of spirit prickle.

Light on the palate as well, yet rather oily at the same time. I found that it initially sat quite high before unleashing a decent amount of spice and some big tangy and tart pineapple notes that sent the saliva glands into overdrive. The finish was long with quite a bit of heat and some oaky spice, somewhat balanced by a noticeable vanilla note.

Back to where it all begins  

Before moving on to dram number two, Andrew paused for a moment to take us back a few steps, presenting whisky in its naked new make spirit form.

New make

He busted out this small sample of Glenmorangie new make spirit, which comes off the stills at an industry average of 63.5% ABV. I didn’t spend too long with this, but as you’d expect, it was very grassy, slightly dusty and botanical on the nose (they often remind me of Mezcal) and hot and saliva-inducing on the palate.

I had to have a chuckle when a guy near me nosed his glass and exclaimed to his mates ‘oh man, that’s smells like unleaded petrol’.

Not the most interesting new make I’ve tired, but I always find it really interesting to sample the building blocks of whisky, and trying new make from a hugely popular Scottish distillery is not something you get to do often!

121.68 Harvesting fruit on an Indian summer’s day

Next up was this 14 year old dram from a fairly young island distillery, Arran, which opened in 1995.

SMWS 121

A noticeably heavier nose on this one compared with the Dailuaine. Sweet esthery polish notes, sour green grapes, caramel – almost on the verge of burnt bitter caramel. Initially the nose seemed quite closed, but given some time it changed quite a bit, developing some meaty fermented grape notes and gummy lollies, in particular, strawberries and cream.

Creamy and oily on the palate, straight off the bat. Tropical fruits, sweet spice and overall, a very round profile. The back of the palate became almost drying, with a hint of kiwi and some slight salty notes. A long fruity finish (reminded me of tinned tropical fruits).

123.8 In the Spanish mountains

As far as I can tell, the Society has only ever bottled eight casks from this distillery, making it somewhat of a rarity and indeed a priviledge to be tasting. I’m talking about Glengoyne and this particular bottle was matured for 12 years in a refill port pipe.

SMWS 123

Quite a dense, heavy nose on this dram. Spice, Vegemite, a touch of salt, tart plum jam or plum butter (reminded me of my favourite Polish powidła) and some hazelnuts. Not overly sweet or sugary, but also not overly fruity. A very interesting nose, though I’m still not sure how much I really liked it?

Lovely oily mouth feel which was both rich and winey. Spice developed quite quickly, but a winey sweetness remained the whole way through. The finish is where I felt the port notes really showed, with some lingering plummy prune flavours, more spice and a decent oakiness.

An enjoyable and really interesting dram, but if I’m being completely honest, I think I prefer Glengoyne’s spirit when it’s been bourbon or sherry cask influenced.

132.5 Sweet and darkly beguiling

Not actually a Scotch, this next whisky hailed from one of Japan’s most revered and lauded closed distilleries, Karuizawa.

Big, rich and syrupy on the nose. Sweet raisins, stewed plums, figs and Christmas cake. So rich, yet surprisingly clean. I’m not sure how to describe exactly what I mean by ‘clean’, but despite the heavy sherry influence, the nose came across as really quite bright and active.

SMWS 132

The theme continues with a rich, creamy, syrupy palate. Tangy raisins and dark red fruit, there’s some spice, but I found it somewhat restrained for such a heavily sherried whisky. Slightly prickly, dense and a hint of old char smoke. A long and warming finish remains sweet and fruity with some oaky spice showing at the tail end. Such a clean sherry cask in my opinion.

I wondered whether this dram had star status in my eyes because I knew it was from a closed distillery and knew it was rare. But I’ve been fortunate enough to try it on two or three occasions now – on its own and up against a number of other whiskies I regard quite highly – and each time it has stood out as something pretty special.

If you’re a big Glendronach or Glenfarclas fan, this isn’t one to miss. A hugely enjoyable drinkers whisky (ie. collectors/investors, you’re seriously missing out!)

Time to bring on the peat!

It was around this time of the night that Andrew revealed his last sensory item for the evening, some freshly peated Ardbeg malt.

Ardbeg malt

I love the smell of Ardbeg, but this was something else. Burrying my nose right in there, the glass was full of cereal and grainy notes but they were overlayed with that amazing smoky sweetness. I know it would probably taste like rubbish, but in that moment I could have eaten that glass full of malt with a spoon. A rare treat to encounter Ardbeg malt in Australia, that’s for sure.

I have no idea how he got a big zip-lock bag of malted barley past Australian Customs on the way back in from his recent trip to Scotland, but I’m glad he did. Andrew – if you smuggled this in your jocks, I don’t want to know about it.

53.198 Wasabi on a California Roll

The last dram of the evening was also the oldest of the night, a lovely 18 year old coastal dram from Caol Ila.

SMWS ShirtBar

On the nose, I found this to be rather tangy and salty up front, with fragrant peat and a fairly light smokiness. A hint of iodine, but nowhere near as medicinal as the likes of Laphroaig. In a moment of poetic wankerism, I wrote down ‘a coastal BBQ with sea spray’.

More smoky on the palate than the nose, a lovely oiliness to the mouth with some spice, saline and drying hay. It had a certain fruity quality to it as well though, with grilled peaches (burnt perhaps?) and a tangy peat, sweet and savoury finish. Really quite lovely and balanced.

Phone picture

In true Shirt Bar fashion, the evening’s Scotch Club finished off with their trademark antipasto board & pies.

Antipasto

This round of Scotch Club was perfect for those who’d never been to an SMWS event and wanted to see what all the fuss is about. As an existing member, I took it as a perfect opportunity to get my SMWS whisky fix between Outturns and taste a few new expressions I hadn’t come across before. A seriously enjoyable tasting.

If you missed out

I was originally going to write something along the lines of ‘if you missed out, not to worry – there’s another one being held on August 13th’.

Group 2

But you can forget that. It went on sale the other day and completely sold out – in less than 24 hours! If you do have a ticket, I’m not sure that you’ll be tasting the above, but whatever Andrew brings, they’re bound to send those taste buds into overdrive!

If you didn’t manage to get yourself a ticket and want to find out more about the Society, head over to their website and keep en eye on their tastings and events page to see when an event is being held in your capital city.