Ardbeg Day 2015: Sydney

Ardbeg Day in Sydney is always a feast for the senses, so strap yourself in, pour a dram and get ready for a pictorial onslaught. Here’s a little glimpse into how Ardbeg Day 2015 unfolded in Sydney.

Ardbeg Day Sydney

Rocking up to the passenger ship cruise terminal at White Bay in Sydney, a small group of keen Ardbeggians – clad in their best tartan – had gathered ahead of the starting time in anticipation. The eager group didn’t have to wait long before passing through the glass doors and approaching the metallic silver curtain we’d been eyeing off from outside.

Ardbeg Day Sydney

Our event was guarded by a duo of intergalactic hostesses and a gang of awesome little space Shorties.

Ardbeg Day Sydney

Welcome to the future.

Ardbeg Day Sydney

The future greeted us with cocktails – a berry, rosemary and tonic concoction, or a peach, agave and citrus number – whichever took your fancy. I sampled both (purely for research purposes, of course), but just like last year, the peach + peat combo won hands down in my book. Very moreish stuff.

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

I soon found some familiar faces, plonked my bag down and surveyed the room. In keeping with the 200th anniversary theme, the vast space was dotted with glimpses into both the past and the future. Anyone who was alive in the 80’s cracked a big smile at the site of this stainless bodied DMC-12 DeLorean, which acted as a photo-booth (of sorts) on the day.

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

Release the inner child, pretend your Marty McFly for a few minutes then collect your retro polaroid as a memento.

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

How about a quick punt around a circuit on a Segway? A game of space invaders, or perhaps some robodog racing?

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

I had a shot and eventually coaxed my little plastic friend over the finish line, which entitled me to a pick from the generous prizes on offer. I scored myself a classy Ardbeg umbrella (perfect as we’re coming into winter here in Sydney), choosing it over what I thought was just an ordinary t-shirt..

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

..but ordinary t-shirt it wasn’t, these things were loaded with futuretastic LEDs! Looking past Tron man, I soon noticed a queue forming in front of an interesting little gazebo. Inside, the Ardbeg Haar, a crowd-pleasing contraption that vaporized Ardbeg, allowing you to inhale the peated fog.

Ardbeg Haar

If you needed a short sit down, guests could pull up an egg chairs and have a quiet chat or sit back and contemplate. These things looked like they were straight off the set of Men in Black.

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

LVMH ambassador Garth (centre) was on hand, looking sharp as always in his Broadway/ Daft Punk/ welding get-up!

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

DJ Ardbeg Day (I’m quite sure that wasn’t his name..) kept the beats going throughout the day and queued up Sprach Zarathustra to ring in the hero of the day, the new Ardbeg Perpetuum.

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

Waiters stepped forward out of the mist and Andew Derbidge (of the SMWS) was on hand to do the official introductions. Andrew informed us that Perpetuum is almost like a collection of Ardbeg’s greatest hits. Made up of classic ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks, in Andrew’s words, it also contains “a smattering of new French oak casks from Corryvreckan, some un-bottled Alligator casks, a few Manzanila sherry casks from Ardbog, the odd Marsala cask” for good measure.

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

I’m hesitant to attempt any sort of comprehensive notes myself, as I only tasted the smallest amount on the day. In terms of first impressions though, I found Perpetuum to be a lighter, more summery Ardbeg. Soft peat on the nose, some sweetness and citrus followed, but far punchier on the palate, especially from the peat and smoke point of view (which should keep the peat-heads happy!)

Ardbeg Day Sydney #ArdbegDay

As with last year, there was no shortage of good food on offer, with plenty of canapés and small bites.

IMG_9270 copy

As well as a team of chefs cooking up a mother load of mushroom gnocchi

IMG_9266 copy

As the day drew to a close, a complimentary shuttle bus ferried us back across the bridge into town and we had a choice of two points of departure. The train station. Or the after party at Sydney’s Ardbeg Embassy, Stitch Bar. Tough decision indeed..

Ardbeg Day Sydney Stitch Bar

Descending the stairs into the train station, it soon became apparent I got off at the wrong stop and was indeed at Stitch. How that happened, we’ll never know.. I found myself in an Ardbeg den, where the party was still going strong and the Ardbeg generously (but responsibly) flowing!

Ardbeg Day Sydney Stitch Bar

The Stitch team were all kitted up, getting into the fun spirit of the day.

Ardbeg Day Sydney Stitch Bar

The Ardbeg Haar made another appearance, keeping plenty of people entertained at the bar

Ardbeg Day Sydney Stitch Bar

Good mate Wonder & Whisky was on hand to share in a Perpetuum boiler maker

Ardbeg Day Sydney Stitch Bar

Before Stitch dynamo, Mattia, cranked out a special Dark Side of the Moon cocktail for me, a science experiment of peach ice cream + Ardbeg Ten + Liquid nitrogen

Ardbeg Day Sydney Stitch Bar

Ardbeg Day Sydney Stitch Bar

Come early evening, I said my farewells but I’m fairly sure the party was going to be cranking well into the night.

Here’s to the next 200 years

Sydney Australia might be some 17,017km from Ardbeg’s home in Islay, but hey, what’s a few kilometres between friends. It’s not going to stop us celebrating with you. Sláinte mhaith Ardbeg, here’s to the next 200 years!

Ardbeg Day Sydney Stitch Bar

If you like the look of this and want to be part of the fun next year, head on over to Ardbeg.com, sign up to become a committee member (it’s free!) and you’ll be the first to hear about exclusive Ardbeg events happening in your neck of the woods. They’re really not to be missed!

Glenmorangie Tùsail

An evening with Dr. Bill Lumsden

Despite our proximity (or should I say, lack there-of) to Scotland, we’re still really quite lucky in Australia in that so many of the whisky greats make the time to come and visit us. Even in the last year or two, we’ve been to some fantastic tastings hosted by the likes of Kilchoman’s Anthony Wills and more recently, Jim McEwan from Bruichladdich.

The group tastings are fantastic, but getting to attend a private dinner with your whisky idols is a whole new level of awesome. So when such an invite came through just before Easter, there was no-way I was going to miss out, even if it meant flying back early from an interstate Easter Break.. especially when that person happens to be the revered Head of Distilling & Whisky Creation of Glenmorangie Company, Dr Bill Lumsden.

Glenmorangie Tusail

Dr Lumsden (can I just call him Bill?) was in town on a fleeting visit to launch his latest creation, the Glenmorangie Tusail. The setting for the evening was The Cut in the Rocks, Sydney, where we were greeted on arrival with The Long Zest..

Glenmorangie Cocktail

.. A refreshingly moorish cocktail of Glenmorangie Original, Fevertree ginger beer and treacle, topped with a burnt lemon twist. And yes, they went down an absolute treat!

Glenmorangie Cocktail

After chatting with some familar faces we headed over to our immaculately set dining table, found our seats (marked by laser-etched mirror place holders no less) and perused the amazing menu put together by The Cut’s Head Chef, Joseph Webb.

Menu

The menu was designed to be paired with key whiskies from Glenmorangie’s core range, but before the decadent spread arrived, Dr Lumsden walked us through a personal tasting of tonight’s star dram, the new Glenmorangie Tùsail.

Bill Lumsden 2

I’m actually really glad we got to taste Tùsail at the beginning of the evening, as I feel as though its quality lies in its subtleties and they could have been somewhat lost if we tasted it after the amazing meal we were about to enjoy.

I’d done my homework prior to attending and thought I knew most of what there was to know about Tùsail. It turns out I was quite wrong in that assumption and it was actually really interesting to hear about it from Dr. Lumsden, who was able to provide a level of insight you’re not likely to find in any press release.

If you’re aware of the five previous ‘Private Edition’ releases, you might already know that they’re all experiments of some kind; mainly in the areas of wood management and maturation (with the exception of Finealta, which used a proportion of peated malt). So when Tusail was announced, I simply thought it was just a play on the barley strain being used, but it turns out there was a little bit more to the story.

Glenmorangie Tùsail: The story

Back in 2003, Bill contracted some farmers to grow a crop of Maris Otter barley, a winter barley strain that rose to populatity in the late 60s/early 70s in the brewing industry (so not something you’ll find many whiskies made out of).

In 2004 the crop was harvested and traditionally floor malted at Glenmorangie. There was enough malt to produce just one week’s worth of spirit, before it was laid down to slumber in ex-bourbon casks for ten years. Bill told us that what he really wanted to see was the kind of difference this older winter barley strain would make when compared to their mainstay, the Glenmorangie Original (which is also ten years old).

Glenmorangie Tusail

On the nose I got sweet vanilla, some lemon zest citrus notes, peach and a slightly floral hint. All of this sat on a really malty base note of buttery plain tea cakes and scotch-finger biscuits. I thought this carried through to the palate pretty closely, with a chewy, oily texture of malty biscuits up front, followed by hints of baking spice and glace ginger giving way to a warm and slightly drying finish. Quite the contrast from the Glenmorangie Original.

It’s perhaps not quite a fair comparison though, as Tùsail is bottled at 46% ABV and is non-chill filtered (whereas the Original is bottled at 40% and is chill-filtered). Bill also filled us in on the cask make-up of the two, and where the Tùsail is approximately 50/50 first fill ex-bourbon/refill ex-bourbon, the Original is closer to a 60/40 split. So there you have it. Not quite comparing apples with apples, but close enough to make for an interesting experiment, that’s for sure!

Trout

Our amazing three-course experience soon followed and over the following hours we made our way through the likes of pepper-crusted venison carpaccio, confit ocean trout (pictured) and Rangers Valley flat iron steak. All expertly paired with Glenmorangie’s Quinta Ruban, Nectar D’Or and Lassanta. The venison + Quinta Ruban pairing really hit the spot for me. Quite stunning.

Dessert

We finished with this warm chocolate tart, old fashioned scented ice cream and a tobacco tuile, the flavour of which was intensely incredible!

Whisky + good company

In my books, whisky is most enjoyable when it’s shared in good company with good stories. There was no shortage of either of those things on this particular evening, especially with spirits writer, Mr Franz Scheurer seated opposite. Anyone who knows me also knows how much I appreciate a good timepiece, so I had to share this shot – a practical demonstration of what you do when you have a nice collection of watches and only two wrists on which to wear them. Two per day on a monthly rotation! Love your style Franz, just brilliant.

Franz Scheurer

On the topic of great company and story telling, Bill has to be up there with the very best and certainly wins the award for being the most animated and lively whisky figure I’ve come across. No story is told without passion (or hand gestures for that matter!) and he’s the kind of dinner guest you could listen to for hours.

Bill Lumsden

Bill played musical chairs throughout the evening, being incredibly generous and genuine with both his time and knowledge (I know this, because I managed to pick his brain on all things Glenmorangie and Ardbeg for a good part of the evening). From a genuine whisky fan, thank you most kindly for all the insights and for patiently fielding my endless barrage of questions!

Glenmorangie glass

Not a bad way to spend a Wednesday evening. The whisky was wonderful and the company, even better. The lighting was horrid though (so please forgive the photography for this one!) but all-in-all it was a brilliant evening. If you like the sound of the new Tùsail, it’s on sale now. Australian fans will be able to find it locally at a suggested retail price of AU$165 and is limited to just 200 cases in the country.

Ardbeg Day, Sydney

With Ardbeg Day 2015 rolling around in less than a month (May 30th to be exact), I thought it was about time I recapped last year’s festivities in Sydney. Pictures speak a thousand words, so I’ll let them do most of the talking.

Ardbeg Bunting

Sydney’s 2014 Ardbeg Day celebrations were held at The Mint, Sydney CBD’s oldest public building that once operated as a coin producing facility. Walking through the 19th century wrought iron gates, we were greeted by Shortie and his relatives. Pretty sure I’m in the right spot.

Ardbeg Shortie

Two steps further inside. Ah yes, I’m most definitely in the right spot.

Ardbeg Cocktail

I’m not generally a huge fan of whisky cocktails, but there were two variants on offer and one of them was a cracking, moreish concoction of Ardbeg 10 year old, pear nectar and simple syrup with a dash of vanilla and orange bitters to boot. I’m sure it had an official name, but I’m simply going to call it delicious peaty breakfast juice.

Ardbeg Cocktail

We all know what happens when you drink on an empty stomach but thankfully there was no chance of that happening with ample canapés doing the rounds, including dozens and dozens of freshly shucked oysters. If you’ve not yet samples oysters + a drop of peated whisky, take my word for it, it’s a stellar match.

Ardbeg Oysters

Before the day’s festivities even rolled around, we knew 2014’s Ardbeg Day release was called Auriverdes (meaning gold and green). We also knew 2014 happened to be the year the FIFA World Cup was being held in Brazil, so it came as no surprise to find the day heavily soccer themed.

IMG_1758 copy

If you could drag yourself away from the Ardbeg, edible delights & live music, there were a bunch of soccer themed games and activities setup.

IMG_1644 copy

I must admit that I didn’t really pay too much attention until I noticed some mates return with a loot of prizes. Then it was game on!

IMG_1660 copy

I managed to score some Ardbeg coasters, a fob key ring and this neat cardholder – which is rather astonishing considering I have two left feet and zero sporting ability. If there’s a similar setup this year, mark my words, I plan on being a walking Ardbeg merchandiser by the end of the day.

Ardbeg Cardholder

The small Ardbeg-branded foosball table was good fun, but from the moment we first walked in, we all really wanted to see was this one in action. That’s right, a human-sized inflatable foosball table!

Ardbeg Football

Yes, we got to have a go at the end. Yes it was loads of fun. Yes, we all thought we were elite athletes when we were strapped in there. Speaking of which, former Socceroo, Chelsea and Man. United goal-keeper, Mark Bosnich, was on hand to award the winners with their trophy and help officially introduce Auriverdes to the crowd.

Mark Bosnich

And that’s when things really kicked-off!

Ardbeg Day

I don’t think I could ever tire of this sight – enjoyed responsibly, of course.

Ardbeg Auriverdes

Just in case you needed a top-up at all, there was an extra bottle on hand.

Ardbeg Auriverdes Gold

All this sport made many rather hungry, so this was a welcome sight to all. Spit-roast, salads and sides – all generously on the house.

IMG_1823 copy

If you liked the look of this, then you really, really don’t want to miss Ardbeg Day 2015!

Ardbeg Auriverdes

Head on over to Ardbeg.com, register your details, become an Ardbeg Committee Member and be the first to get notified when Ardbeg Day registrations open. See you on the 30th… in the future.

Check out @whiskyledger on Instagram and Twitter for more whisky photography

Longmorn 12 year old

Bottled by Gordon & MacPhail

One evening, well over a year ago, I was browsing the online catalogue of a major drinks retailer when I spotted a few whiskies in their ‘Clearance’ section. One of them happened to be this 12 year old Longmorn bottled by Gordon & MacPhail, so I picked it up for around the AU$50 mark and thought I’d give it a go.

Longmorn bottle

Aside from the official 16 year old (which is the only current official bottling), we don’t really see that many Longmorn expressions in Australia, not even indie bottles. The distillery itself has quite a high capacity (around 3.5 million litres per year) with most of it destined for Pernod Ricard blends, like the Chivas range. With a production capacity of that size, there seems to be plenty of whisky going to the independent bottlers out there and some of them are bottling expressions that are well worth trying! (I’ve tried some fantastic Longmorn in the past).

Longmorn 12

Not an awful lot of information on this one apart from the 12 year age statement and 40% ABV. I’m almost certain it’s been chill-filtered and if I had to guess, I’d say it’s more than likely made up of refill bourbon casks with a smattering of refill sherry casks in there. I’d probably consider this to be somewhat of an entry level malt if you will.

Notes

On the nose I got all of those classic soft Speyside notes like green pears and apples, freshly cut grass, some light zesty notes and a mild honey sweetness. There’s also a hint of funky cardboard.

Very thin on the palate, with some mild baking spices up front, followed up green apples, some barley/cereal maltiness and a hint of marmalade. It finishes quite dry with some oaky spice and powdered ginger, whilst that cardboard note from the nose seems to work its way in there too. Overall I found it very mild and mellow with lots of soft pleasant notes, but also a couple of oddities that unbalanced it slightly.

Longmorn box

The bottom line

It’s not the most complex dram (but then again, I wasn’t expecting it to be), but it’s still quite an enjoyable, light, summertime whisky. I’d probably consider it as a pleasant alternative to the likes of the Glenmorangie 10 year old, or Glenfiddich/Glenlivet 12 year olds, perhaps a tad less-refined though. Nice work Gordon & MacPhail, looking forward to trying more from your range in the near future!

SMWS 127.37 Dinosaurs dancing to Stravinsky

A young refill sherry Port Charlotte

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

SMWS 127.37

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

The whisky

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

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

SMWS tasting glass

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

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

Was it open for too long?

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

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