Whisky & Wisdom 2008 Glenfarclas

Glenfarclas single cask exclusive for whiskyandwisdom.com

A little over two years ago I wrote this post on a special single cask of Glenfarclas bottled exclusively for someone I’d describe as Australia’s single biggest Glenfarclas fan, Andrew Derbidge. He also happens to be the author of the ever-informative Whisky & Wisdom and thanks to the success of his first Glenfarclas bottling, he’s gone to tremendous effort to bottle and bring in a second release, exclusively for the Australian market.

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Why this isn’t any ordinary single cask selection

These days it seems that everyone is an independent bottler and with a little internet hype and a clever label design, it seems as though you can sell anything. But anyone who has tasted their fair share of single cask whisky will tell you that they’re not all created equally, and neither are the palates and the experience of those who select them.

Apart from being an avid author, Andrew has been an avid whisky appreciator for well over two decades and has been very active in the local industry for nearly as long. He’s the cellarmaster of the Australian branch of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, has presented more whisky tastings than I’ve had hot dinners and truly has a killer palate. So when he selects a single cask of whisky and brings the whole thing to Australia – not because it’s a lucrative investment, not because it was simply ‘available’ – but because he genuinely loves it, you know you’re in for a treat.

During an afternoon spent at Glenfarclas distillery last year, Andrew pored over a large selection of butts and hogsheads aged between 9 and 14 years old. The whiskies sampled that day included a range of 1st fill and refill casks, but it was this particular one that got his attention. Distilled in July 2008, cask 1270 – a 1st fill, European oak, ex-oloroso hogshead – has been bottled at the ripe age of ten years, at natural cask strength of 59.8%.

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The nose is everything you could want from an ex-sherry cask whisky. It’s clear and confident with dried fruit (raisins, apricots, figs and cherries), sticky orange liqueur, Christmas cake, tiramisu, baking spice and dark toffee.

The palate is just as convincing; a perfect reflection of the nose. I point that out, as it seems to be rarely the case these days where a fruity, rich nose translates to a juicy, sweet, balanced palate. But it does so here. Immediately oily and chewy, you get a brief reminder that this weights in at nearly 60% alcohol before the prickle explodes into juicy sweetness. Plump dried raisins, sweet chewy prunes and plum jam up front, followed by golden syrup and a rounded, lingering warming spice. It stays pleasantly sweet and fruity on the finish as some dark chocolate and marmalade notes start to creep in.

How you can buy your own bottle

As I wrote back in 2016 when I tasted his first release, not all sherried whisky is created equally and it’s increasingly rare these days to come across a truly harmonious cask free from flaws (such as sulphur taint or an abundance of drying, tannic oak). It’s also tough to find a single cask of whisky that is balanced through the nose, palate and finish – but yet again he has nailed it with this selection.

Whisky & Wisdom Glenfarclas Edition 2 - Christmas_1.jpg

If you’re looking for one single whisky that embodies Christmas in a glass – look no further – I can confirm that this is definitely it and the best part is that you can claim your very own bottle. Follow this link to Whisky & Wisdom’s webshop to grab yours today. I can’t think of another bottle currently available in Australia that delivers this level of quality for the price, so I’ll be putting my money where my mouth is on this one!

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.

New World Projects PX Cask

Exclusive to Baranows Lounge in Hawthorn, Melbourne

Well, well well, what do we have here? An Australian single cask whisky? I’ve seen that before. Bottled at full cask strength? I’ve also seen that. An Australian single cask, cask strength whisky, fully matured in an ex-pedro ximenez cask direct from Spain? Now that I haven’t come across.

Baranows PX 1

Being the sucker that I am for whiskies with a heavy sherry influence, I knew this thing had my name written all over it.

New World Whisky Distillery 

If you’re reading this from Australia, you may have heard of these guys before. Or if you haven’t, perhaps you’re aware of their more mainstream whisky brand, Starward whisky. If you’re reading this from overseas, both names are likely to be completely foreign to you (though I’m sure that will change in the near future).

Founded in 2004, New World Whisky Distillery is the brainchild of former IT (e-learning) businessman, Mr David Vitale. Fast forward six years and it’s probably safe to say that Starward Whisky is one of the most affordable, approachable and accessible Australian single malts available in our local market today.

Whilst the brand Starward is reserved for their readily available offerings, David fully appreciates the fact that whisky geeks get all excited about limited release, cask strength bottlings. For that reason, he gave his employees the green light to setup New World Projects.

Think of New World Projects as an experimental department of the New World Whisky Distillery. They’ve released a number of single cask bottlings over the last 12 months or so, including some pretty interesting combinations. Think: a red wine cask with virgin oak lids. Or perhaps a ginger beer cask-finished whisky, where the cask was seasoned with ginger beer they brewed themselves.

The whisky: Baranows Selection #2 

So when I heard about their latest offering – this New World Projects PX cask, bottled exclusively for Baranows Lounge in Melbourne – I knew I had to try it.

Baranows PX 2

In case you thought the colour in the first picture was influenced by the background, here’s another, directly under a desk lamp. This is a serious Darth Vader whisky! Yes, it’s all natural colour as well.

One of the other great things I love about New World Whisky Distillery is that their Distillery Manager, Ian Thorn, keeps immaculate records on everything they produce as well. A short email exchange yielded some great info on this cask.

  • Single cask 110304-06-446 was a 50 litre re-coopered ex-pedro ximenez cask sourced from Montilla (Córdoba) CP in Spain
  • It was filled with new make spirit on 4 March 2011 at 55.7% ABV
  • It was emptied and bottled on 1 September 2014 at cask strength of 59.3% ABV (yes, in our climate water evaporates quicker than alcohol, leading to higher ABVs)
  • The cask lost a huge 26.5% of its contents over that three and a half year maturation period, meaning just 44 bottles of this whisky remained.

So in pictures and on paper, there’s little doubt that this thing looks and sounds pretty special, but as always, the proof is in the pudding.

Baranows PX Glass

Nose

After a short while in the glass, this is nothing but rich and desserty. Did I mention it’s rich? Crème brulee, complete with vanilla notes, caramel and a hint of that banana estery note that I often associate with Starward whisky. Sweet caramelized figs, prunes, brown sugar and some cinnamon. The nose on this is big, young and spritely – nothing closed or dusty about this, as you can sometimes find with older, full-term sherry matured whisky.

There is some alcohol (after all, it’s 59%), but it’s not as fierce on the nose as you might expect from something this young. I could seriously spend half an hour nosing this one. A true after dinner dram.

Palate

On first sip I got an instant burst of salivation – no avoiding the alcohol here, but it’s not unpleasant. It’s viscous, thick and full on the palate. There’s an initial burst of sweetness, but it’s a fair bit drier on the palate than you’d expect from the nose. More of that classic PX cask comes out now, with dried red fruits and those classic Christmas cake flavours (raisins, prunes, spice and a slight bitter nuttiness).

Baranows PX tears and legs

Putting the glass back down I couldn’t help but stare at it – check out those fat lingering legs! (that sounds really weird, doesn’t it?)

Finish

Really quite long and warming on the finish. It remains sweet throughout the mouth with lingering warmth, but minimal spice. I found a fairly strong vanilla note rolling in after a few seconds as well. Give it some time and there’s some bitter oak towards the end – call it pencil shavings or dusty, high cacao dark chocolate if you will.

With such an enticing nose and clean tasting palate, to me, this comes across as a really clean sherry cask. I didn’t come across any off-putting notes of rubber or sulphur what-so-ever.

When, where and how much?

The remaining bottles (and there aren’t many of them!) are available now, exclusively through Baranow’s Lounge in Melbourne at an RRP of AU$299. See here for more information.

The bottle reviewed was purchased by The Whisky Ledger.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.