The Last Drop Distillers

Tasting some seriously old liquid from the ‘rare spirit hunters’

Just prior to Christmas I was invited along to something that promised to be rather special. But I didn’t realise quite how special it would end up being until I arrived and scoped-out the rarities on the table. But more on that in just a few moments.

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The event was held to welcome The Last Drop Distillers to Australia, and their extremely limited range of very old, very premium (and rather pricey) beverages to Australia. You’re entirely forgiven if you haven’t heard of The Last Drop Distillers, as their whiskies aren’t exactly the kind of thing you’ll find on supermarket shelves. They greeted the world back in 2008; the brainchild of two pioneers of the spirits industry – James Espey OBE and (the late) Tom Jago – and their ethos was simple. They were going to source and bottle the world’s finest, rarest and most exclusive spirits. Ten years later, they’ve risen to the challenge and continue to only offer liquid that they firmly believe to be unique, delicious and extremely limited in nature.

The Last Drop in Australia

We were very fortunate to have Rebecca Jago, Managing Director and daughter of the late Tom Jago in Sydney to share the above, and some of her personal stories, while taking us through the following extraordinary line-up.

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First on our list was a 1971 Blended Scotch Whisky, that had an interesting back-story to it. This particular whisky was originally blended in 1983 as a premium 12 year old whisky for the American market, but after a portion was bottled, the remainder made its way back into 11 ex-Oloroso sherry butts where it sat un-touched for a further nine years. A small volume was again bottled at the age of 21 years, but for some reason a further parcel was held back; this time filled into nine ex-American Oak barrels. Another 24 years passed before the now dwindling parcel of whisky was discovered by The Last Drop, who then bottled it at 45 years old.

On the nose and palate this was completely convincing. A rich, flavourful blend that showed layers of complexity, no doubt brought about through a combination of great spirit, age and the complex cask treatment it had been through over the previous 45 years. Two minor issues with this one – 1) me consuming it with too much gusto, and 2) not having more in my glass to savour!

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Two very Glenrothes

If the blended whisky wasn’t special enough, we were also treated to two 1968 vintage Glenrothes, which form part of trilogy which The Last Drop will be releasing over three consecutive years. Approaching whisky of this age, I’m always quite skeptical as not all whisky can withstand 50 years in an oak cask and it doesn’t always end well. I’ve been very fortunate to try a number of whiskies aged between 40-60 years and there are only a handful that I’d genuinely want to drink again and again. These two fall into that category.

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The nose and palate were well and truly still alive with notes of earthen floor dunnage warehouses, old oak, and overripe tropical fruit, fleshy stone fruit, marmalade, liquorice straps, apple skins and baking spice. They both shared an awful lot in common and were an absolute treat to try.

The Centenario Port Duo

As dessert was served, Rebecca introduced us to something a little bit different, two Tawny Ports which represent The Last Drop’s first foray into fortified wine. The two bottles of port are presented as a set and hail from the Douro valley in Portugal.

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Why the two bottles? Well, to provide their lucky owners with the chance to indulge in what has to be a once in a lifetime kind of experience. One of the bottles is a 1970 vintage, which in itself is a mighty special thing. However, the other pre-dates it by 100 years and is an 1870 vintage. Yes, 1870, allowing you to taste the effect of 100 additional years of ageing. Having had the privilege to try both, side-by-side, I can confirm it’s a mighty special thing indeed.

The 1970 is still vibrant and full of bright fruit notes, honey, sticky plums, berries and the perfect amount of acidity. The 1870 vintage is almost like a reduced, caramelised version of its younger sibling. The viscosity is unreal; it’s syrupy, incredibly rich and is like a glass of liquid flame raisins.

If you’re in the market..

Apart from needing to taste exceptional, all releases that come out from The Last Drop have to have pedigree and flawless provenance and authenticity. Such is their criteria that since 2008, just 12 ‘last drops’ have been released, encompassing some incredibly rare Scotch whiskies (such as this 1967 Glen Garioch I tried a few years back), along with some very rare cognacs.

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The trio shown above will all be available through Dan Murphy’s here in Australia, starting at $5,000 RRP for the 1971 blend. Expect to see some further interesting releases from The Last Drop in 2019, possibly even including a super premium Bourbon!

Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Ghost and Rare

The Johnnie Walker Blue Label has always been something of a luxury item, a bit of a ‘status whisky’ if you will, especially to the casual whisky drinker. It’s the bottle I’ve seen appear at many-a-wedding. The hero bottle on the back-bar at plenty of restaurants and the bottle mates will bust out at a party when they want to impress. Simply mention ‘blue label’ in front of even the most casual of whisky whisky drinkers and they’ll know exactly what you’re referring to. They know it’s expensive and they know it carries a certain mystique. So it makes perfect sense that when Diageo decided to blend together some of their rarest stocks, it would be done so as an extension of the Blue Label range.

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What’s in a name?

The new Blue Label Ghost and Rare gets its name from the eight malt and grain components it’s comprised of. Six of them are malt whiskies, two are grain whiskies and three of the eight come from ‘ghost distilleries’, ie distilleries that are no longer in production. I could probably whip up some cool little pie charts with those numbers, but hopefully you can follow along alright.

The Ghost and Rare features whisky from the active distilleries of Clynelish, Royal Brackla, Genlossie, Glenkinchie and Cameronbridge (Grain). The three ‘ghost’ distilleries featured in this release are Cambus (Grain) and Pittyvaich (both of which were closed in 1993), along with Brora, which was closed in 1983 and is arguably the hero component of this blend. If we pause for a brief moment there, there are two things buried in that info that I find rather interesting:

  1. No Islay whisky is present in the Ghost and Rare, which is interesting to me as Caol Ila brings the zingy peat-show to the standard Blue Label release.
  2. Working off those closure dates, we know that there’s some well-aged whisky in this blend as well (at least 24 years old for Cambus and Pittyvaich, and at least 34 years old for Brora)

When I saw all of the PR releases come out for the Ghost and Rare, I was initially a little bit apprehensive, thinking to myself ‘Is this just a clever marketing move, riding on the coat-tails of the closed distillery hype? And will it actually taste any different to the standard Blue Label?’ Only one way to find out…

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Tasting the Blue Label Ghost and Rare

The nose is quite rich and dense, and I get notes of pineapple, citrus, dark chocolate, hazelnuts, golden syrup and the faintest soft earthy smoke. Smoke probably isn’t the right term, it’s more like coal dust, or the burnt out, day-old embers left behind in a fireplace. There’s an interesting coastal note as well, not something I’ve picked up in a Johnnie Walker blend before. A saline mineral tang if you will.

The palate starts off creamy and oily, there’s an up front sweetness, but also notes of citrus, orange segments, tinned fruit and a herbal, earthy-yet-salty peat on the finish. Going back for a second and third sip, some darker fruits emerge, more of that coastal tang and some kelp, before fading to a savoury finish.

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So, clever marketing move? Sure. But more than that, it’s actually bloody good whisky, and yes, some of the contents in the bottle are indeed very rare. Any different to the standard Blue Label? My word it is. For starters it’s bottled at 46% and is non chill-filtered, so it carries a richness and weight that you don’t get in the the standard Blue Label, which noses and tastes lighter, fresher and crisper than this stately dram. The Ghost and Rare is very cleverly constructed, has a great story behind it and there’s a lot to like about what’s going on in the glass.

Just 270 bottles of the Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare will be made available in Australia at a recommended retail price of $480 through Dan Murphy’s, and other specialty retailers.

A special thanks to Diageo Australia for the special preview-tasting of this new release.

Abbey Whisky – 10th Anniversary whiskies

Tasting Abbey Whisky’s 10th Anniversary releases

When opening a recent delivery from the good people at Abbey Whisky I was super excited to see that a couple of wee samples had made their way into the parcel.

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What are they exactly? Well, Abbey Whisky recently celebrated their tenth year in business and to celebrate they released a trio of very desirable whiskies. The first release – a 1993 GlenDronach single cask – sold out in a flash, but was promptly followed by two additional anniversary bottles, pictured here in sample form.

Abbey Whisky Glenrothes 2006 Cask 5469

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First up we have a 2006-vintage Glenrothes, from sherry cask 5469. It was bottled at ten years of age at a ball-busting 67.1% ABV. Glenrothes can be a little bit hit and miss for me, and I don’t really pay any attention to their official releases, so let’s see where this one sits.

Nose – Big vanilla and caramel. You know it’s high ABV, but I would never have guessed this high. Vanilla slice (the kind you get at a good bakery, with passion fruit icing on top), packet custard, gummy cola lollies and delicious bread and butter pudding. Plenty of complex sweetness in this nose, but give it some time in the glass and an interesting minerality emerges.

Palate – The alcohol is a tad more present here, but brings with it bucket-loads of sweet juiciness! No-where near as brutal as I was expecting. Creamy vanilla custard, with an almost buttery texture. Confectionery sweetness, jammy fruit and sponge cake, finishing with hints of dark chocolate, a slight fizz and some grassiness.

One for those with a sweet-tooth, but wow. What a killer little pocket-rocket. The most exciting Glenrothes I’ve tried to date.

Abbey Whisky Anon. Batch 2 – Orkney 1999

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Next we have Abbey Whisky’s third tenth-anniversary release, this 17-year-old mystery malt released under their ‘Anon’ range. In case you haven’t picked it up from the label, that string of numbers is actually a set of latitude and longitude coordinates. Punch them into google and hey presto, it looks like our anonymous malt is actually from Highland Park distillery. So, unofficially, what we have here is something pretty exciting – a 17-year-old Highland Park, matured in a refill sherry butt and bottled at 53.8% ABV.

Again, when it comes to official releases, Highland Park isn’t a distillery I really pay any attention to these days as they’ve well and truly lost me with their multitude of odd viking-inspired series. That said, I’m very excited to try this.

Nose – Gentle and refined at first, but with an overarching ‘coastal’ note to it. There’s some honeycomb, soft spice and a light, sweet heathery-smoke (almost floral, in a way). Flinty minerals, crushed quartz rock, red apples, apple skins, grilled stone fruit and oily rope.

Palate – A lovely oily texture. Naturally sweet up front, with notes of bush-honey (it’s an Aussie thing), lavender and toffee. The peat is much more present here, delivering a smoky farm-yard – smouldering hay, floral tobacco and leather. It finishes with an earthy quality to it, some salted dark chocolate and a touch of sweet liquorice.

Complex and hugely rewarding. A really evocative dram that takes me right back to the far-north of Scotland. This is what Highland Park should be bottling themselves.

Get onto it!

At the time of writing, both of these are still available at Abbey Whisky. I put my money where my mouth is and bought a bottle of the Highland Park the second it came out. After now tasting it, I’m very glad I did and am now thinking I might just pick-up another.. and a Glenrothes as well. Hmm…

Cheers for the samples Mike! Not that I doubted your taste in the slightest, but a couple of absolutely cracking selections here. Seriously.

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!