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.

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).

Glengoyne 25 year old launched in Australia

A day in the Hunter with Glengoyne

A little while back I received a cordial invite to spend the day in the Hunter Valley, eating delicious food and tasting the full line-up of Glengoyne whiskies. Let’s just say that it didn’t take too long for me to RSVP.

Arriving in the Hunter Valley

After the two and a bit hour trek north, we arrived at the Glenguin Estate in one of New South Wales’ premier wine-producing regions, the Hunter Valley. The location may seem rather extravagant and somewhat out of the way for a tasting (hey, I wasn’t complaining!), but it was actually chosen for good reason.

You see, Glenguin Estate and Glengoyne distillery have a rather intimate family connection dating back well over one hundred years. The full story is explored here, but it essentially begins with Arthur William Tedder, born in Glenguin, Scotland to a Customs and Excise officer of the Glengoyne distillery.

Fast forward a few generations and we’re introduced to Arthur’s grandson, Lord Robin Tedder. After leaving Scotland in his teens Lord Robin, the third Baron of Glenguin, eventually settled in NSW’s Hunter Valley. Here he established the Glenguin Estate in 1988, thus giving us the wonderful reason to be here on a warm winter’s day.

Glenguin Estate
Image courtesy of DEC PR 

Being winter, the vines were rather bare and the property was perhaps not as lively as it would be at other times of the year. But one thing was still apparent, and that was how peaceful and serene this place was – can you believe that was a winter’s day!?

Jonathan Scott

Even Jonathan Scott – Glengoyne’s Asia Pacific Brand Ambassador – seemed pretty impressed.

In case you still doubted the Glenguin/Glengoyne connection, I spotted this interesting tube on the counter and dearly hoped we’d be tasting it.

Glengoyne 16 Glenguin

The story goes – around 2007, Glenguin sent 20 ex-shiraz casks over to Glengoyne in Dumgoyne, Scotland where they were filled with 16 year old Glengoyne whisky and left to work their magic. After being carefully monitored for a number of months, the ten best casks were selected and in June 2008, 3,800 individually numbered bottles were released.

Naturally I asked whether there happened to be a spare bottle lying around, but as I suspected, they’re all long gone. I wonder how the other ten casks are coming along?..

Jonathan Scott bringing Glengoyne to life

Re-entering the main room, it was time to take a seat with Jonathan and get down to business. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, yes, Jonathan is Scott by both name and heritage.

Scottish Kilt

Jonathan walked us through the history and heritage of Glengoyne, from Arthur Tedder’s days to the present. Personally, I love the history and stories almost as much as whisky itself, so here are some of the interesting tidbits that really appealed to my whisky nerdism:

  • Glengoyne have a staff of nine and produce in the region of 900,000 litres of spirit per year.
  • They also claim to have the slowest distillation in Scotland. Exactly how slow are we talking? Jonathan tells us that the spirit is collected at a flow rate of just 4.5 litres per minute.
  • Whilst strictly a Highland distillery, you could literally cross the road out the front, walk a short distance and you’d find yourself in the Scottish Lowlands, with distillery neighbours such as Auchentoshan.
  • Up until 1908, Glengoyne was actually called the Glenguin distillery
  • The full Glengoyne range is natural colour and all Glengoyne whiskies are matured in traditional dunnage warehouses, racked three barrels high.
  • Wondering how old their oldest stock is? Around the 40 year old mark.

Apart from getting my nerd on, we were lucky enough to taste through the whole core range. I’ll keep my notes limited to the following expressions as this is where I personally encountered the most notable variation in character.

Glengoyne 10 year old 

A make up of both American and European Oak, including around 30% from first fill American Oak casks. Bottled at 40% ABV.

Glengoyne 10 year old

On the nose I got clear toffee apple notes, some light honey and subtle nuttiness. Quite delicate and sweet while being very approachable. These notes translated fairly closely to thin, delicate palate with noticeable pear and apple sweetness, some grassy notes and a fairly short, pleasing finish. I thought this was actually very solid for an entry-level expression.

Glengoyne Cask Strength Batch 1

Again, a composition of both American and European Oak vatted as a small batch release and bottled at a respectable 58.7% ABV.

Glengoyne Cask Strength

On the nose, plenty of creamy honeyed vanilla notes, thick and rich with less of the apple and more zest, custard and a hint of spice. Creamy and mouth coating on the palate with richer sweet vanilla and more spice. A noticeably longer finish than the 10 year old (to be expected), but perhaps not quite as long as you’d expect from a dram at this ABV.

Glengoyne 18 year old

A higher percentage of ex-sherry casks in this expression, bottled at 43% ABV.

Much richer on the nose with more of those typical sherry notes, a lot more spice, some citrus peel, red apples and dried fruits. On the palate, some initial citrus notes (orange), more malty and oaky with a slight zestiness and more spice. This especially showed on the finish, which was slightly nutty with a hint of oaky bitterness and the very end.

Glengoyne 21 year old

Glengoyne 21 year old

A visibly different beast here, so no surprise that this is made up of 100% ex-Oloroso sherry cask spirit. Bottled at 43% ABV

Textbook sherried whisky here, with a rich ‘rounded’ nose of berries, dried fruit, toffee and gentle spice. The nose translated nicely to a palate of stewed red fruits and honeyed spice fading to a spicy and chewy finish.

I found all the flavours to be rounder than the younger expressions, pulling this whisky together as a much more balanced dram. In saying that, I feel as though this could benefit from a slightly higher ABV (not much – maybe 3% to 5%)

Hard work makes me hungry..

..which is a good thing, as a rather delicious lunch of was being quietly prepared in the background as Jonathan took us through our tasting.

Glengoyne main

Lunch consisted of a delicious main of dukkah crusted lamb loin, lamb shank croquette, smoked eggplant and thyme jus.

Glengoyne dessert

This was followed but a seriously decadent dark chocolate delice with confit of sour cherry and coconut ice cream.

Both courses were matched with some cracking Glenguin wines, including an amazingly tasty Ironbark Tannat. Not a varietal I’ve ever tried before, this red was super dusty, dry and tannic all while remaining somewhat fresh – which we’re told are hallmarks of this grape from south-western France.

The main event – tasting the Glengoyne 25 year old 

The moment we’d all been waiting for! Truth be told though, I was slightly concerned about the prospect of getting the most out of this dram from a short tumbler, but a small amount of ferreting around in one of the cupboards yielded some small copita glasses – perfect for getting a good nose and palate out of the 25 year old.

Glengoyne 25 year old

On the nose, ever richer (than the already rich) 21 year old, with some polished oak notes, wet brown sugar, toffee, more citrus and spice. This translated nicely to a much thicker, richer mouthfeel loaded with tart dried fruits, spice and a lingering oily sweetness. The finish was fairly long and rather oaky, but not in a bitter old wood sense.

No desire to add water to this one and that slightly higher strength of 48% seemed spot on to me. It really allowed you taste more of that complexity from the nose. A really satisfying and special dram.

Glengoyne 25 year old

The presentation of the Glengoyne 25 year old is rather special as well. The clear glass bottle differs from the core range with a thick weighted base, silver neck medallion and a weighty oak and metal stopper. This handsome bottle is then packaged up and presented smartly in an oak and card case.

Glengoyne 25 year old

You may have noticed a fair amount of chocolate popping up here and there in the images above. That’s because there was a whole lot of it and it wasn’t there by mistake either!

Glengoyne chocolate

We rounded out the day with a Glengoyne and Scottish chocolate pairing, including some delicious combinations like:

  • Glengoyne 10 year old + 54% dark chocolate with cranberries
  • Glengoyne 18 year old + Banana and pecan milk chocolate
  • Glengoyne 25 year old + Orange and cardamom dark chocolate

A highly enjoyable day and special thanks to our gracious hosts, Glengoyne, Jonathan Scott, Andrew Tedder and Klaus from Glenguin Estate and the kind folks at DEC PR. 

Fancy your own Glengoyne tasting?

The full Glengoyne range is currently available nationwide through Dan Murphy’s and select specialty retailers. The Glengoyne 25 year old will retail for AU$599 when it’s released in September as an online exclusive through Dan Murphy’s.

Glengoyne group

As an aside, if you happen in Melbourne this coming weekend (18th and 19th of July), you can catch Jonathan Scott and Glengoyne at Whisky Live in St Kilda.

Glendronach 2002 single cask

Distilled 2002, 10 years old, Cask No. 2022, 53.4% ABV, Pedro Ximenez Sherry Puncheon, Highlands, Scotland

If you read this blog for any length of time, it’s going to become quite apparent that I’m a fairly big Glendronach fan.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had the kind of moment where one particular bottle cements your love of a distillery, but I’ve had such a moment and it came for me after a few tastings of this particular Glendronach.

Glendronach 2002

This isn’t any ordinary Glendronach though. It’s a single cask expression bottled exclusively for the Netherlands after spending 10 years in Pedro Ximenez sherry puncheon number 2022. Not sure why the tube says ‘distillery exclusive’ on it though!

Glendronach 2002 tube base

The distillation date in July 2002 is a rather curious thing as well, as up until 14 May 2002 Glendronach had been closed for a good six years. That would make this one of their earlier distillates after re-opening in 2002.

That six years of being mothballed resulted in a few changes at Glendronach though and upon re-opening they began buying in their malt in (where they previously floor-malted their own barley).

A few years later they also switched to indirect steam-heated stills, but the distillate in this particular bottling would have still been produced using the direct coal-fired stills they were running at the time.

Glendronach 2002 tube

The presentation is similar to the official Glendronach single cask releases that are put out twice per year. The main difference though, is that the country exclusive bottles are presented in card tubes, instead of the rather more glamorous faux suede-lined cases. I say glamorous, but I’ve also had friends call them coffin boxes, so perhaps the card tube ‘aint so bad after all!

Did you know…

Apart from bottling special releases for specific markets, Glendronach also bottle single cask releases for specific stores, such as Royal Mile Whiskies in the UK, La Maison du Whisky in France and K&L Wines in California.

Glendronach’s biggest market though? According to their Regional Sales Manager, Douglas Cook, it’s actually Taiwan!

Glendronach 2002 label
Nose

Some esthery polish notes when first poured and not immediately sweet. This did open up considerably with some time in the glass, offering hints of bitter, high-cacao dark chocolate, dried tart raisins and some sweetness I’d liken to damp brown sugar. Mid-way through the dram and it became much more lively with a hint of ripe banana, orange and chewy caramel.

Quite a closed and not overly involving nose on this, but much more mature and rounded than I would have expected from a 10 year old whisky.

Palate

Immediately oily and viscous – it coats your tongue and offers nothing for a brief second then literally bursts with big sweet juicy raisin and plum flavours. Super jammy, thick and rich with candied orange rind and a syrupy bitter caramel sweetness. Very lively and bright on the palate.

Finish

Finishes long and warming and remains sweet for an awfully long time with some triple sec (orange liqueur) notes toward the end. I also caught the slightest appearance of oak on the back of the palate as well. 

Some final thoughts

A few drops of water opened up the nose slightly quicker, but killed off that explosive edge I found on the palate. For me, the palate is where I found the real character of this dram, so I decided to keep the water well away from this one.

Despite my overt fondness of this particular Glendronach, it’s not the best I’ve ever had, but it’s been hugely – and consistently – enjoyable, from the moment I opened it, to the very last dram. As much as I love some of their older bottlings, these young post 2002 bottles have so much to offer and can easily be added to that growing list of great young whiskies.

If Glendronach continue to release young bottlings, we’ll eventually see a 2005 bottle which will be the real test for me as it’ll use commercial malt and will have been produced using steam-heated stills. Will it hold up to the rich oily character of these earlier bottles? I guess time will tell.