Diageo Special Releases

It’s that time of year again where Diageo bring out the big guns and introduce the Australian market to the latest bottles from their Special Releases collection. If you’re not familiar with the Special Releases collection, it’s essentially the one time each year where Diageo take a good hard look at their entire portfolio of distilleries – both open distilleries and long-closed distilleries – and release a series of bottles to celebrate the diverse range of flavours found at each.

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These bottles aim to showcase distilleries and flavour profiles that you’re unlikely to find in their core range products that are found on the shelves of retailers on a daily basis. Many of these are one off releases; bottles you’re not going to see again in this shape, form or vintage.

In its 18th year, we again see some familiar expressions like the Lagavulin 12 year old and an ‘unpeated’ Caol Ila (significant, given all of the standard releases from this Islay distilleries are quite smoky little numbers!) But there are also a number of other interesting bottles in Special Releases collection this time. Some that are interesting because they’re old and rare, and others because they’re young and unusual.

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Thanks to a generous invitation, I recently had the chance to taste six of the ten released this year in Australia. 

The Singleton of Glen Ord 14 year old

Up first was The Singleton of Glen Ord 14 year old. Ordinarily, whisky from Glen Ord distillery, or whisky bottled under the Singleton label hasn’t generally been a source of excitement for me. This promised to be a little bit different though, given it had been through a five-wood maturation and cask marriage regime and was bottled at 57.9%.

Rich notes of waxy honeycomb, mushy baked apples, zest and sweetness on both the nose and the palate, with a spicy sweet, yet minty dryness on the finish. I was too quick to judge this one. While not super complex, it was really enjoyable and dare I say it – quaffable!

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Inchgower 27 year old

You’ll be forgiven if you’ve never heard of Inchgower, as it has always been a significant component of blended whisky, including Bells and Johnnie Walker and is seldom seen as a single malt. Apparently less than 1% of production is bottled as a single malt, so this is an interesting addition to the lineup this year.

After the sweetness of the Glen Ord, I found the Inchgower to be quite dry and tight on the nose. It’s quite savoury, with some mossie salty earth notes, damp, coastal, spicy hessian sacks and leather. The palate was also savoury, but with some tropical fruit notes lurking in the background among quite a lot of drying spice. I can count the number of Inchgowers I’ve tasted on one hand, so I’m not sure what the ‘typical’ profile is. Something I’d quite like to explore further.

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Pittyvaich 28 year old

Like the Inchgower, you’d also be forgiven if you’ve never come across Pittyvaich before. Built in 1974, it was one of the youngest Speyside distilleries (most were built a good century or more earlier), but it was short-lived, closing in 1993.

On the nose it was quite waxy, with some flinty gingerbread notes, firm stone fruit in the background and a touch of coconut. The palate delivered notes of honey, rich spice, caramel, coconut and some of those tropical fruit notes in the background again (papaya, and green mango).

Oban 21 year old

In contrast to the previous two, the one probably doesn’t need much in the way of an introduction. Despite the small size of this western highlands distillery, Oban seems to be a gateway single malt for so many people. The Oban 14 year old was one of the very first single malts I ever purchased, but that’s pretty much where the core range ends in terms of Oban with an age statement on it. So I was quite looking forward to this one.

Matured in European oak butts, this has a great deep nose with notes of honey, stone fruit and creme brûlée, intertwined with coastal notes of sea-salt, minerals and damp rock. The palate had a nice connection with waxy honeycomb, creamy rich saline custard, caramelised sugars and ashy char. I really enjoyed this.

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Cladach

Cladach – Gaelic for coastline or shoreline – is a blended malt that runs with the coastal theme by including whisky only from Diageo’s six ‘coastal’ distilleries; Inchgower, Clynelish, Talisker, Oban, Caol Ila and Lagavulin.

I loved the nose on this, initially getting notes of wood-fired custard, sweet salty spice, zest and smoke, all delivered in a rich, fatty buttery way. The palate completely caught my by surprise though, delivering a big peaty whack, with a tangy saline youthfulness and loads of maritime notes.

Caol Ila 35 year old

It’s impossible to not get excited at the prospect of tasting a 35 year old Islay whisky. In previous years, the ‘old Islay’ whisky featured in the annual Special Releases collection was always from the now-closed (but soon to be re-opened) Port Ellen distillery. With stocks ever-dwindling and prices soaring, it seems as though Diageo are holding onto what they’ve got and will be releasing them via other avenues. That’s not bad news though, as this year it has opened the door for this well-aged example from Caol Ila.

I’ve had the pleasure of trying a few 30+ year old Caol Ilas and they’ve all been stunning. This bottle was no exceptions, offering a mature nose, notes of pine resin, waxy apples, freshly malted barely, distant peat, aniseed and brine. The palate was oily and rich, delivering waxy fruit, stone fruit, saline, spicy sugared nuts and an aromatic menthol eucalypt notes.

On their own, the notes sound bizarre, but the layers, depth and integration of flavour made this something very special in my mind.

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Diageo Special Releases collection – available now 

The full Diageo Special Release collection consists of the following bottles, available in Australia now:

  • Caol Ila ‘unpeated’ 15 year old – $179.99
  • Caol Ila 35 year old – $1,249.99
  • Carsebridge 48 year old (grain whisky) – $1,349.99
  • Cladach (coastal blend) – $249.99
  • Inchgower 27 year old – $499.99
  • Lagavulin 12 year old – $179.99
  • Oban 21 year old – $824.99
  • Pittyvaich 28 year old – $499.99
  • The Singleton of Glen Ord 14 year old – $179.99
  • Talisker 8 year old  – $129.99

Thanks as always to Diageo Australia for the invite and the opportunity to taste these special releases.

Sullivan’s Cove x Whisky & Alement

When these two get together, you know you’re in for something good

It’s our national day of celebration today – Australia Day – so I can think of no better day to post an article that celebrates an Australian whisky, and the fantastic people and bar that brought it to us.

If I had to pick a defining moment for Australian whisky in the last, say, ten years, one clear event comes to mind. It was when Sullivan’s Cove won the accolade as 2014’s ‘world’s best single malt’ in the World Whisky Awards competition. It was the moment the catapulted Australian whisky from being a thing that local whisky fans knew about, to a thing that everyone knew about. Articles started appearing in mainstream news, colleagues at work started asking if I’d tasted ‘the best whisky in the world’, and people who’d never even tried whisky – let alone an Australian whisky – started asking where they could get their hands on a bottle. It was a real zero to hero moment.

Sullivan's Cove Whisky and Alement

Just as Sullivan’s Cove played a pivotal role in catapulting Australian whisky into the mainstream, I’d argue that a certain Melbourne institution has played an equally sizeable one in defining the whisky-appreciation culture in Australia and really bringing it to life. That institution is Melbourne’s Whisky and Alement.

Whisky + Alement

Since opening their doors back in 2010 (originally known as Chez Regine), Whisky and Alement have quietly gone from strength to strength. With their whisky shelves overflowing back in 2013, they felt there was enough momentum and interest in whisky to take the leap and pigeon-hole themselves as a whisky bar. It made them unique and that gamble – along with loads of hard work – has paid off. It paved the way for Whisky and Alement as a bar, but also provided a place where they could educate a whole new wave of people who didn’t yet know they were whisky lovers.

Following on from their popular and educational Introduction to Whisky classes, the team started hosting The Story of Whisky: From old to new world’. Among plenty of other aspects, the story of whisky touches on the significance of single casks, but also explores the importance of blending and the notion that blends can produce something greater than the sum of their individual parts. And what better way to illustrate that to an audience than with your very own ‘blended’ whisky. And that’s exactly what W+A did with this Sullivan’s Cove collaboration.

A collaboration with Sullivan’s Cove

What you see here is quite a significant bottle. Julian White – one of Whisky and Alement’s owners – pitched this collaboration idea directly to Sulivan’s Cove Managing Director, Adam Sable. He tells me that it wasn’t just a case of ‘hey, it would be cool if we had our own bottle’, but rather he wanted to produce something with ‘purpose’. The ‘purpose’ was to help consumers understand that as unique and interesting as single cask whisky can be, they’re not always the complete package, so don’t automatically discount something that’s been ‘blended’ or diluted as being inferior. From my own experience, when done right, blends can definitely deliver something quite extraordinary. 

Sullivan's Cove Whisky and Alement

Adam was clearly on-board with the idea and a short while later Julian found himself at Sullivan’s Cove, surrounded by a host of un-marked sample bottles that gave nothing away as to their contents. The task – to put together a bespoke blend that met the brief, and could be proudly used in their masterclasses. After more than five hours of sampling, blending, nosing and sampling, Jules tells me that palate fatigue had well and truly set in, so after landing on something he thought might meet the brief, he called it a day. Returning fresh the next morning, a re-taste confirmed he was on the money, and this bottle was locked in.

What’s in the bottle?

Now it was time to find out what he’d actually blended and it’s a pretty bloody interesting one.

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Unbeknownst to Julian at the time, one of the casks he’d selected was HH042, which turned out to be Sullivan’s Cove’s oldest cask of whisky at 18 years of age, which clocked in at a staggering 76.7% ABV. The second component he landed on was TD0225, a ~10 year old French Oak tawny port cask at 69.6% ABV affectionately known as ‘Stubbs’, as it was rather short and stumpy after being re-coopered down to 180-190L. The idea of a blend clocking in at 70%+ ABV is a lot of fun, but doesn’t really make for the greatest drinking experience, so this was very sensibly brought down to 50.3% ABV, a perfect strength in my opinion.

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On the nose it’s thick, warming and comforting. A slathering of honey on hot buttered-toast, some dry oily grassy notes (like dried Australian native plant leaves), vanilla custard, those home-made chewy coconut biscuits and a some caramel fudge. 

On the palate it’s oily and textural, but without the distraction of a big alcohol whack. An amazing connection with the nose (which I personally love) with a good dose of thick honey, caramel pecan pie, pastry crusts and some dried fruit mix. The finish presents gentle baking spice with a slight eucalypt-menthol note.

I’m very much a sucker for single cask whiskies and the variability and fun they bring. But are they often a complete package? Are they always technically poised? Rarely. This on the other hand is. I’ve tasted quite a few Australian whiskies – not a huge number, but quite a few – and this is one of the very best I’ve come across. It nails the brief and is simply great whisky.

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Wherever in the world you’re reading this from – if you ever happen to find yourself in Melbourne, Australia, you should do yourself a favour and pay a visit to Whisky and Alement, or their sister venue upstairs, The Melbourne Whisky Room. And if you’re somewhat more local, full details on their great classes can be found here. I’m not sure if this bottle is currently on the bar to taste, but if you do ever get the chance, move it to the top of your list – I’m quite confident you won’t regret it.

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!

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.

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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!

Glenmorangie Spios

It’s that time of year again! Christmas is over, we’re back into the daily grind and then Dr Bill Lumsden and his team come along a drop the latest quirky experiment in their annual Private Edition collection.

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The ninth edition in this annual collection is known as Glenmorangie Spios (Scots Gaelic for spice) and has spent its whole life maturing in American Oak casks. What’s so unusual about that? Well, these aren’t the typical American Oak ex-Bourbon casks, instead, this has been fully matured in ex-rye casks. For the non-Bourbon and rye whiskey drinkers in the room, that might sound like a trivial point, but it’s really not. Here’s why.

Unlike scotch whisky (made from 100% malted barely), bourbon and rye use a mashbill of different grains to create the base spirit. To be called Bourbon, the mashbill must comprise at least 51% corn, with the remainder often being made up of rye, malted barley or wheat. You’ve probably guessed it, but to be called a rye whiskey, the mashbill needs to be at least 51% rye.

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I drink/ own a fair bit of rye whiskey and it can be quite an interesting beast. It still has that backbone of sweet syrupy caramel and char (that you find in Bourbons), but you often get forward notes ranging from baking spice and pastry, to pickle brine, mint and dill. Above all, the one characteristic I always get is ‘spiciness’ and I’m yet to meet a rye whisky I would describe as delicate. So given the forward character that rye whiskey often exhibits, I was very intrigued to see what kind of influence an ex-rye cask would have on the lighter, citrus, highland malt characteristics that Glenmorangie is so famously known for.

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Launch night in Sydney

From the basement theatre of Sydney’s QT Hotel we joined a live global cross to Dr Bill and his henchman, Brendan McCarron, in a secret whisky lair somewhere in Edinburgh. In introducing Spios, Dr Bill and Brendan explained that this was a project that came to life around 10 years ago when they sourced a parcel of casks through Speyside Cooperage that had previously held rye whiskey for six years. The rye whiskey they held was made from a mashbill of 95% rye (the remaining 5% was more than likely malted barley) and the aim was pretty much to see what kind of influence these casks would have on the ‘house style’ of Glenmorangie (ie the Glenmorangie Original).

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With that in mind, in was time to taste and after re-familiarising ourselves with the Glenmorangie Original and the (completely moreish) Nectar d’Or, it was time for the main event.

Tasting Glenmorangie Spios

On the nose I got notes of melon, citrus, stone-fruit and chewy caramels – make that caramel topping, the kind you’d put on ice cream. Going back for round two; shortbread biscuits, a bit of ginger heat, cinnamon and clove. One other aspect I loved is that after being bottled at 46% ABV, you also get this great fatty creaminess on the nose that I don’t personally get in the Glenmorangie Original.

On the palate, there was something slightly herbal and savoury, a faint touch of citrus and grassiness, but give it a very brief moment and it launches into a wave of soft spice. I don’t mean alcohol heat, but fragrant spice; clove, big red chewing gum, dark cherries, toffee and cereal grains. The finish was long, remained sweet, quite lush and flavourful, with nicely integrated oak.

Some final thoughts

Is it a huge departure from Glenmorangie Original? I wouldn’t say so, no. But then again, I don’t get the impression that was the point in the first place. After listening to Dr Bill and Brendan explain their thought process, you begin to understand that aim of the Private Edition series is to release experiments – one-off projects – that showcase what can be done with the Glenmorangie spirit by tweaking an element of the whisky-making process.

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We’ve seen them play with peated malt (in Finealta), use an old barley strain (in Tusail) and finish what’s essentially Glenmorangie Original in a variety of casks (in the likes of Bacalta, Companta and Milsean). And now, we’ve seen what happens when you ‘simply’ swap ex-Bourbon casks for ex-rye casks.

Fans of Private Editions that have been finished in wine casks (eg Artein, Milsean, Companta, Bacalta etc) might be a tad underwhelmed by the more subtle nature of Spios, but I really appreciate what’s been done here. It’s a hugely educational release, a tasty, enjoyable whisky and I think they’ve nailed the brief. I for one can’t wait to see what they come up with for the tenth release.

Cheers to Dr Bill Lumsden, Brendan McCarron and Moet-Hennessey Australia for hosting another great evening.