Glenmorangie Bacalta Review

Around this time each year, Glenmorangie release a new, limited expression. An experimental and innovative whisky of sorts, if you will. It’s the one time of year Dr Bill Lumsden gets to showcase something a little bit different. A whisky that falls outside the bounds of what people normally think of when they look to Glenmorangie’s house-style. The whiskies released under this banner are known as the Private Edition releases and they’re always a bit of fun.

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Last year I reviewed the Milsean, a Glenmorangie matured in toasted ex-wine casks that was packed with sweet-shop flavours. The year before, I had the great pleasure of attending a dinner with Dr Bill Lumsden for the launch of Glenmorangie Tusail. Beyond that, I’ve tried (or owned) every one of the Private Edition releases, so you could say that I’m a pretty big fan.

This year marks the eighth Private Edition release and in a way, Dr Bill and his team have taken us back in time to the early 2000s when Glenmorangie had a Madeira ‘wood finished’ whisky in their core range. Enter, the Glenmorangie Bacalta.

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The launch event

Here in Sydney, we’re pretty far away from the Scottish Highlands, so throwing together a tasting with Dr Bill isn’t exactly the easiest task. However, the wonderful world of technology solves that for us and the other week I had the pleasure of attending a Google-Hangout tasting. Invitees assembled in the classy surrounds of the Old Clare Hotel in Sydney and as the clock struck 9.00pm here, it had just ticked over 10.00am in the Highlands. The live feed came up, guests joined in from Mumbai and Seoul and we were greeted with the ever-jovial voices of Dr Bill Lumsden and Brendan McCarron (Head of Maturing Stocks).

What is Madeira exactly?

To better understand the magic of Glenmorange Bacalta (Scottish Gaelic for ‘Baked’), it helps to understand what Madeira wine is and how it’s produced. Thankfully, Dr Bill gave us the 101 on both and it went something a little like this.

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Contrary to the way some people use the term, ‘Madeira’ isn’t really a form of wine in the same sense that sherry is. Madeira is actually an autonomous archipelago of Portugal found off the west coast of Morocco. On Madeira they make fortified wines from a variety of grapes, but the richest is Malmsey wine, made from the Malvasia grape.

What makes Madeira wine unique is the way in which it’s treated during maturation. Barrels are stored in the roof cavities of the bodegas where they’re heated by the sun and essentially ‘baked’ (hence the ‘Bacalta’ name). Leaving barrels of wine in these conditions has two distinct effects. First, it drastically changes the characteristic of the wine itself, oxidising it and bringing out the tart acidic characters that define Madeira wines. Secondly, the unforgiving conditions deteriorate the casks themselves and as time goes on, they actually start to fall apart and leak due to the harsh conditions.

With those harsh conditions very few ex-wine barrels make it out alive, so finding a consistent supply of casks in terms of quality and quantity is incredible difficult. It’s this challenge that ultimately led to the demise of the original Madeira wood finish expression back in the early 2000s.

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Piecing together the Glenmorangie Bacalta

Not one to give up though, around seven or eight years ago Dr Bill embarked on a challenge to try things again. This time though it would be a bespoke project, one where he and his team would control every aspect of the process. A wine producer was found and Speyside Cooperage were engaged to construct a series of 250L hogsheads from tight grain, slow growth, air-seasoned American Oak. The casks were heavily toasted and shipped to Madeira to be filled with Malmsey wine, where they then sat and seasoned for two whole years.

After being brought back to Scotland they were filled with ten year old Glenmorangie and were set aside for what Dr Bill thought would be a three to four year extra maturation period. He and Brendan McCarron began tasting the casks around the two year mark and believed that at that point they’d already hit the sweet spot they were looking for. One where the balance was just right between the strong notes of the Madeira wine and the house character of the Glenmorangie spirit. So for those who like numbers, the Bacalta is essentially 12 years old.

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Glenmorangie Bacalta Review

So with that context in place, we tasted our way through the Glenmorangie Original 10 year old, the Glenmorangie Lasanta (extra-matured in ex-sherry casks) and finally, the hero of the evening, the new Glenmorangie Bacalta.

Nose

On the nose there’s an immediate juxtaposition of aromas, from dryness (like oak, dried tobacco leaves and cedar wood spice), to sweetness (hard toffee, baked apples, tarte tatin and pastry dough), to an acidic element (citrus skins and aged sherry vinegar). It has a complex nose that flits between sweet and savoury.

Palate

Oily, creamy and sweet on entry, but immediately backed up by spice and stone fruit. Think peaches and apricots, orange marmalade, honeycomb, hard toffee and citrus zest. There’s a nuttiness on the finish with a peppery spice. The addition of water rounds out the palate and opens up the nose nicely.

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I’ve enjoyed each of the Private Edition expressions I’ve tried to date. Some more-so than others, but this year’s release has really stepped up to the plate. The Bacalta is genuinely, genuinely good. It strikes this wonderful balance between sweetness, acidity, fruit and oak. To my nose and palate it’s expressive, comes across as maturely integrated and nothing dominates too heavily. I’ve not tasted the original Glenmorangie 15 year old Madeira wood finish, but I struggle to imagine it being any better than this.

The new, limited edition Glenmorangie Bacalta is available in global markets now.

Chivas Regal Ultis Review

A new blended malt whisky from Chivas Regal

The House of Chivas would have to be best known for their Chivas Regal line of blended whisky; blends that contain both single malt and grain whisky distilled at the various distilleries owned by parent company, Pernod Ricard. In a first for Chivas Regal though, they’ve recently gone down the path of releasing a blended malt whisky, the new Chivas Regal Ultis.

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The new expression has been designed as something of a tribute to the five master blenders who have been in charge of the House of Chivas since it was first launched back in 1909: Charles Howard, Charles Julian, Allan Baillie, Jimmy Lang and current master blender Colin Scott. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), the Ultis is comprised of five malt whiskies from Pernod Ricard’s stable mates Tormore, Allt A’Bhainne, Longmorn, Braeval and Strathisla.

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It’s carries no age statement or specific cask information, but in describing the new blended malt Colin Scott points to the flavour profiles of the five malts as “crystalline freshness of Tormore, the contrasting hint of spicy warmth from Allt A’Bhainne, balance from Longmorn, the floral style of Braeval and the fruity sweetness of Strathisla”. I’m certainly not as well-acquainted with each component malt as Colin is, but I was recently invited along to the Sydney launch of the Chivas Ultis where I had the chance to rectify that.

Held at Palmer & Co. in Sydney, guests were greeted on arrival with a cocktail (or two) before making their way around the venue to explore five different sensory stations.

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Each one was setup to showcase the component malts that have gone into the new Ultis and was designated as either a nosing station or a tasting station. Ambassadors talked us through each malt and the desired characteristics that it ultimately imparts on the new Ultis, shedding some light on why each one was selected. I didn’t take copious notes on my tasting and nosing journey, but it really is quite interesting to get the chance to try these component malts and see how the richness of something like Strathisa or Longmorn sits against something a bit more estery and volatile on the nose like Allt A’Bhainne, or the honeyed floral notes of Braeval. I mean, when was the last time you tried a Braeval?! Exactly! It was pretty special.

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As has come to be expected with these kind of premium releases, the packaging and presentation of the whisky is top notch. The bottle shape references the current Chivas bottle profile, but the thick glass base has been etched with a ‘V’ (the Roman numeral for five) and has a perfume-esque dimpled glass effect, providing a tactile feature to it. The front opening gift box features the signatures of the five master blenders referenced above, whilst the cork closure has been designed to resemble a pen-clip, featuring – you guessed it – five engraved rings, a further nod to the five malts within and the five Master Blenders.

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Tasting notes

It wasn’t the most conducive environment to nerd-out and write down tasting notes (plus I was having far too much fun), but the following was my initial impression.

Nose: I found the nose to be quite balanced , rich and deep with notes of toffee, hard caramels, pears, dark chocolate and spice. Given a bit more time, spicy crystallised ginger, a hint of liquorice, star anise, baked apples and oak.

Palate: Surprisingly spicy at first, but it gives way to quite a rich, deep mouthfeel – notes that I picked up when tasting both the Longmorn and Strathisla earlier in the afternoon. The spice subsides, delivering a nice creamy wave of caramel, tea cake, dough, orchard fruits and orange zest, finishing quite tart and oaky. A dram I’d love to try again and spend a lot more time with next time our paths cross.

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The event also saw the launch of Chivas’ new ‘Win the Right Way’ campaign featuring none other than Captain America himself – Chris Evans – who has recently taken on the role of Asia Pacific Ambassador to demonstrate the power and impact of working together to achieve success.

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The new Chivas Regal Ultis is available in Australia now at most premium stockists (as well duty free) at a recommended retail price of AU$200 for the 700ml version. As always, a sincere thanks goes out to Pernod Ricard Australia for the generous invitation to come along and try this new tasty drop!

Check out Facebook.com/whiskyledger for more photo from the event and feel free to give us a ‘Like’ whilst you’re there!

Johnnie Walker Blender’s Batch Red Rye Finish

Tasting & Review

I think it’s fair to say that Johnnie Walker are best known for their mainstay blended whiskies, the kind you’re likely to find on pretty much every back-bar across the globe. They’re not one to put their feet up and stop experimenting though. Their quest to continue focusing on developing and understanding alternative flavour profiles has led them to the launch of the new sub-range known as the Blender’s Batch series.

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Johnnie Walker’s master blender, Dr Jim Beveridge, tells us that “At any one time, there are hundreds of experiments into flavour being carried out by our blenders which involve making adjustments to atmospheric conditions, the types of wood and grain used, cask finishes and other elements of whisky-making in the pursuit of exceptional new flavours.”

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The first release in the series is the Johnnie Walker 
Blenders’ Batch Red Rye Finish, which is the result of experiments that have been conducted into the influence of bourbon and rye whiskey flavours, on Scotch. For the non Bourbon and Rye drinkers in the room, American whiskeys can often be characterised by their particularly sweet nature, something that comes from their use of alternate grains like corn and wheat and also from the fact that they’re matured in heavily charred, virgin American oak barrels. Rye whiskey (where the grainbill is predominantly rye) often carries notes of fresh mint, spearmint or dill and has a general spicy character that sets it apart from a low-rye whiskey. So even before tasting this new expression, I suppose I had those notes in mind when I spotted that it had a ‘rye finish’
 
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Tasting notes

On the nose I got some sweet vanilla grain notes, runny caramel sauce and a hint of soft spice. Digging deeper, a touch of fresh pineapple, grilled peaches and maybe the faintest suggestion of mint. If I had to characterise the nose, I’d probably refer to it as round and creamy.
 
It’s fairly thin on the palate (to be expected given the low ABV), but it carries that creamy sweet grain profile nicely. A touch of spice (baking/ mixed spice), vanilla and some orchard fruits present themselves in what is a fairly balanced delivery.

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What’s in the bottle

As for what’s in the bottle? I’m not entirely sure to be honest! But we’re told it contains a decent amount of malt whisky from Cardhu (the backbone of most Johnnie Walker expressions), along with grain whisky distilled at the now-closed Port Dundas distillery. For those of you playing at home, Port Dundas closed in 2010 so the grain component would have to be at least 5 – 6 years old. The remaining malt and grain components could come from any number of Diageo’s other distilleries, but any guess on my part would be purely that. The components were all matured in first-fill American Oak casks, before being finished for up to six months in ex-rye whiskey casks.

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You’ve probably already guessed it from the photos, but I was recently invited along to the Australian launch held at the brand new Bouche on Bridge Street, Sydney. Sean Baxter, a man who’s equally enamoured with the idea of developing magical flavour profiles – as Jim Beveridge and his team – treated us to an evening of decadent food and cocktail pairings with some help from the Bouchon on Bridge team.

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Sean made no secret of the fact that the Red Rye Finish can be used as a perfect mixing whisky and we got to see this first hand in a series of pretty smashing cocktails, such as the;

Rye-talian: Johnnie Walker Red Rye Finish, Cascara Campari, blood orange and potato maple
Rye and Dry: Johnnie Walker Red Rye Finish, Capi ginger ale and basil
New Yorker: Johnnie Walker Red Rye Finish, lemon and grenadine
Red Rye Manhattan: Johnnie Walker Red Rye Finish, Dolin rouge, bitters
Whisky cocktails can be hit and miss in my opinion and rarely do I have a ‘wow moment’ when drinking them, but these were all executed to perfection in my opinion. Big props to Sean and Matt Linklater (pictured above) for brining us these seriously tasty treats.

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The new Johnnie Walker Blender’s Batch Red Rye Finish is already available in good bars and has started to hit shelves at a retail price of around AU$50 a bottle. For more cocktail inspiration using the Johnnie Walker Blender’s Batch Red Rye Finish, check out this link.
As always, a sincere thanks goes out to the team from Diageo and Leo Burnett for the generous invite to an enjoyably decadent evening.

Lagavulin 8 year old

One of Islay’s favourites celebrates its 200th anniversary

Lagavulin hits the big two-zero-zero this year and to celebrate the milestone they’ve released a trio of limited expressions. At one end of the spectrum there’s a 25 year old Lagavulin matured solely in ex-sherry casks. Then there’s the 18 year Feis Ile bottle that was only available at the distillery during the Feis Ile festival.

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They’re two expressions that sound absolutely incredible, but probably not what you’d describe as overly ‘accessible’ to the average Lagavulin fan. For that reason, I think Diageo has been rather clever in releasing a third expression, one that the vast majority of us fans will be able to access, afford and enjoy. Say hello to the 200th anniversary Lagavulin 8 year old.

Lagavulin to me

I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for Lagavulin. If I were to rewind the whisky clock a number of years, I can honestly say that the very first bottle of peated Islay whisky I ever purchased was the Lagavulin 16 year old. I vividly remember the first time I tried it. I was out to dinner for my birthday and being new to the world of whisky I thought I’d try something I’d never heard of. Out came a glass of this smoulderingly smoky, sweet yet salty whisky. At that point, my interest was well and truly piqued. It was the kind of whisky that made me riase an eyebrow each time I brought the glass close to my face and it was barely a couple of days before one of the three bottles on my shelf was a brand spanking new Lagavulin 16 year old.

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I’m not the only one who’s been charmed by it either. You still regularly see people post on facebook or message forums who’ve newly discovered the world of peat when trying their first Lagavulin. It’s quite incredible to think that the distillery has garnered such a fan base with essentially one core bottle; the mainstay 16 year old.

Lagavulin 8 launches in Sydney

So all of that being the case, I’ve been eagerly looking forward to trying the new 8 year old ever since it was launched overseas back in March and I recently had the chance when I was invited along to the Sydney launch event at The Wild Rover.

Sean Baxter

Diageo National Ambassador, Sean Baxter, was on hand to walk us through the 8, 12 and 16 year old expressions, but before we did so, we were treated to a sensory experience unlike anything I’ve encountered before – a 3D virtual tour of the Lagavulin distillery!

I’ve always found the whole 3D goggle thing to be a bit of a kitsch novelty, but using it for a virtual distillery tour? Now that’s pure genius! We donned our branded goggles, put on our headphones and were transported to the isle of Islay.

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Starting on the pier, we took in our surroundings before moving through to a field of barley, then to a malting room where the raging kiln was charged with peat. The still house was up next, followed by the warehouse and finally to the Lagavulin tasting room. I wish I could have somehow captured the tour itself in photos, but you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say it was pretty damn cool.

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Our visual and auditory senses weren’t the only ones being tantalised. As the tour progressed, a team of helpers (or as I like to call them, scent ninjas) introduced various scents to complement the scenes. Think being misted with sea spray when we were on the pier, the smell of oak and earth whilst we were in the dunnage warehouse and even the the burning of peat whilst we were checking out the kiln (damn it smells good).

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Oysters were shucked, canapés were served and some blazing libations were crafted to round out the evening, but not before the hero was sampled.

Lagavulin Cocktail

Tasting notes

The new Lagavulin 8 year old is solely matured in refill American Oak casks and bottled at 48% ABV. Before I get stuck into the notes, I’ve got to hand it to Diageo for releasing this at a very respectable ABV and with a young age statement boldly (and proudly) printed on the label. Well done chaps!

Nose

Where the 16 year old could possibly be described as round, even supple, I’d say this is bright, punchy and active. A clean pronounced sweet peat note, oily charred citrus zest, face-puckering lemons, fresh tart pineapple and a salty saline tang. It smells youngish, a tad mescal-ish, feisty and fun.

Palate

Again, compared to the 16 year old, the palate is noticeably oily and creamy in texture, thanks in large part to the higher alcohol strength and lack of chill-filtering (a very welcome addition in my books). It’s bright and hits the palate high with a sweet rock-salt tang, crisp smoke, smouldering coals and ash before some fruit kicks in (green pears and underripe peach). On the finish I felt it turned sweeter again, whilst being both drying and ashy, with very little in the way of oak or bitterness.

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The 200th anniversary Lagavulin 8 year old is available in Australia right now at a recommended retail price of $95. A big thanks to Sean and the team from Diageo for inviting The Whisky Ledger along as a guest.

Ardbeg Night, Sydney

The back-story to this year’s Ardbeg Day whisky – the Dark Cove – is one of smuggling, mystery and illicit activities. So it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Ardbeg Day event in Sydney was well and truly shrouded in a big cloak of mystery.

Ardbeg Dark Cove

In the lead up to the event I received a ‘save-the-date’ email simply with a date in it. No further details. Nada, zip. A week later, a credit card-sized golden token arrived featuring a number and an RSVP email address on the reverse side. There aren’t too many things in this world I would blindly RSVP to. But a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets James Bond gold card Ardbeg Night invitation? Yeah, that’s certainly one of them!

Boat

At this stage I knew I’d be catching a boat and that I had to be at the wharf for a 4.45pm departure. Beyond that, I had no idea what would be in store.

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Arriving at the wharf, Steve Zissou and I boarded our Wes Anderson-esque pleasure craft bound for the rocky shores of.. somewhere? We braved the chill on the upper deck, keeping an eye out for our destination. A-ha, thar she is! Good ole Goat Island!

Goat Island

Our Ardbeggian warehouse was decked out with back-to-back bars serving a trio of different cocktails prepared by the crack bartenders from The Whisky Room and Stitch Bar.

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All three offerings showcased the Ardbeg 10 year old, but the coconut fat-washed Ardbeg, Amaro Montenegro, pineapple concoction was a highlight for me.

Oysters

An oyster bar, roving waiters with canapés and a few different game stations were positioned around the space. As with previous years, the latter offered punters the chance to win themselves some pretty awesome loot like this Ardbeg Night t-shirt!

Ardbeg T Shirt

Well into the evening a smugglers soundtrack rang out and the caged Ardbeg stash was busted open, revealing the new Ardbeg Dark Cove. Cellarmaster of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Andrew Derbidge, talked us through the dram and with a hearty cheers we got to sample the new general release of the Ardbeg Dark Cove.

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I previewed the Committee Release here and now having sampled the general release I’m genuinely surprised at the difference 8.5% in ABV can make. The Committee Release hits you with that smoky cask strength oomph, whereas the standard release has a finessed balance to it that makes it almost too drinkable. Both delicious in my opinion and one of my favourite modern Ardbeg Day releases.

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Returning to shore we shook off those sea legs and made a bee-line for Stitch Bar, one of Sydney’s official Ardbeg Embassies, where the after party was in full force.

Stitch

Another Rehaboam (4.5 litres) of Dark Cove was behind the bar at Stitch, along with more great cocktails and fun times.

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Another truly epic Ardbeg Day (Night) celebration in Sydney. The crew at Moet Hennessey and EVH PR somehow manage to out-do themselves every year (see here and here). I dare say this was the best one yet! A sincere thanks goes to you both for smuggling me in.