Kilchoman tasting with Peter Wills

A 10th anniversary tasting in Sydney

Kilchoman’s Peter Wills (youngest son of founder, Anthony Wills) was recently in Sydney as part of Islay distillery’s 10th anniversary celebrations (gee they’re growing up fast!) I first bumped into him over the weekend at The Oak Barrel’s Sydney Whisky Fair, whilst he was presenting as part of Island 2 Island’s trade stand.

Peter Wills

Understandably he was being mobbed by fans of the young Islay all weekend, so it was great to be invited along to The Wild Rover’s Campbell Corner Whiskey Co-operative the following Monday for an intimate and casual tasting.

Kilchoman tasting

Ten years can sound like a long time. Ten years in the same job is a good stint these days. A ten-year-old mobile phone makes it damn near ancient. Yet ten years in the whisky world seems like nothing, especially when you consider that your next youngest neighbour has been making whisky at least 124 years longer than you. That in itself makes the whole Kilchoman story that much more interesting and exciting to me.

It’s been a good while since we last attended a Kilchoman tasting, so I was quite looking forward to it. First up was a 100% Islay head-to-head, tasting the 4th edition against the 5th edition. Both are solely matured in ex-Buffalo Trace bourbon casks, both are bottled at 50% ABV and both are peated to around 20 parts per million (ppm). The difference then? The 5th edition is slightly older.

Kilchoman 100% Islay

I got soft smoke, a creamy vanilla sweetness and light, fruity malty notes on the 4th edition. This was backed up by an oily, tangy palate of fresh citrus (like grapefruit) and a heavy charred note. The 5th edition is certainly cut from the same cloth, but I found the nose to be brighter, with sharper citrus and acidic notes (like fresh cut pineapple), loads of tanginess with a more ashy char as opposed to soft smoke. This was backed up by a dryer, ashy palate with a bit more of a coastal theme going with tangy saline notes and drying smoked hay on the finish. A really interesting head-to-head.

Kilchoman Machir Bay

Next up was the mainstay in their range, the Machir Bay, which I’ve tasted (and enjoyed) on a number of occasions before. Bottled at 46% ABV with some ex-sherry cask in the mix, I find it softer yet richer, with sweet vanilla on the nose, ripe fruit, bananas, a faint hint of strawberry sponge and light peat. The palate is sweet and mellow at first, with a rich peaty tang at the back. I found it more earthy, combining tropical fruit notes with the peat being slightly less apparent than the 100% Islay expressions.

Kilchoman 2007 Vintage

The 2007 vintage six and a half year old was up next, again bottled at 46% ABV. I found this dryer and ashier again on the nose, but a bit more balanced than the 100% Islay. Ashy hay notes, fresh and zesty. The palate echoed the nose closely with earthy peat notes at the back and fresh zesty notes at the front (tropical fruits like green mango and pawpaw). The smoke wasn’t there, but the peat was evident on the finish, which was longer. This tasted the most mature of the lot.

Kilchoman Cask Strength

We then moved into full-proof territory, with the 59.2% Original Cask Strength. One nosing of this and I was hooked. Super creamy and round on the nose, smooth smoke, buttery vanilla, zesty lemon meringue desserts with a light alcohol prickle. I found the palate oily and rich, loaded with zesty charred flavours. It was ashy, dry and tangy, with salted caramel notes and a long, peat laden, cheek tingling finish.

Kilchoman at cask strength is a very enjoyable thing. I’ve had the pleasure of tasting a couple of single casks over the years and now the Original Cask Strength too, and I’m a fan.

Kilchoman Loch Gorm

We finished on the sherry-matured Loch Gorm (which I’ve tasted here and here), whilst Peter shared some great stories; like flooding the floor with new-make as Anthony was showing some potential investors around, to honouring the ‘barley-to-bottle’ claim of the 100% Islay 1st edition by hand-filling thousands of bottles with teapots.

Anniversary bottling?

If you’re wondering whether there’s going to be an anniversary bottling, the answer is yes. But it’s very unlikely you’re going to taste it. Kilchoman filled their first cask in December 2005 and auctioned off one single bottle from this cask when it turned three (the minimum legal age). That bottle sold for 5,500 and they plan to bottle another single bottle from that cask and auction it in December this year. So for those of us with shallower pockets, we might have to wait a little longer for a regular ten year old bottling to hit the shelves.

Happy anniversary Kilchoman

Thanks to Peter for coming all this way to share the story of Kilchoman with us and to The Wild Rover for hosting another great whisky tasting.

Peter Wills Kilchoman

Over the past decade, Kilchoman have achieved a lot and in my humble opinion and they’re making some great whisky. Yes it’s young and yes it rarely has an age statement. But it’s got loads of flavour and character and it’s fun! I’m looking forward to seeing what the next decade brings for this youngster, but part of me really hopes that they keep releasing these young, bright and vibrant Islays.

Check out @whiskyledger on Instagram for plenty more whisky and drinks photography.

The Balvenie Craft Bar, Sydney

A winter wonderland of all things whisky

One thing I’ve always liked about The Balvenie is their proud association with all things ‘craft’. They take pride in telling us that they still craft their whisky in many of the same ways as they did over a hundred years ago. They also take pride in helping showcase and recognise the crafts of other artisans through their global ‘craft bar’ series.

Balvenie display

We last saw the craft bar in Australia late last year when The Balvenie took over a warehouse space in Sydney to launch the TUN 1509. This time around things were a little different when they recently returned for a four day pop-up series in the heart of the city’s shopping district, in the characterful Strand Arcade.

The Strand Arcade

I’ve always loved this building (it’s looks magical at Christmas) so I was rather excited to hear that this would be the location for the latest Balvenie Craft Bar.

At the launch on a recent Thursday evening, guests were greeted on The Strand’s lower level by Brand Ambassador, Mr Richard Blanchard, who was manning the brass-topped craft bar and greeting the public with samples of The Balvenie.

Balvenie Craft Bar

We said our hellos and he graciously revealed this bottle from under the counter. I’m not sure that this one was meant to be photographed, but it’s too cool not to share. A number of other people have let the cat out of the bag already, so if anyone breaks the internet, it wasn’t me!

Balvenie Single Cask

Yes, you’ve read that correctly. It’s a 1973 single cask, aged for at least 41 glorious years in what I suspect was an ex-Bourbon cask. Remarkably lively on the nose and palate, I found this to be brimming with beeswax, vanilla honey, varnished-wood notes and a vegetative earthiness. It was such a tremendously rare treat getting to taste something like this.

Laura

Moving upstairs shortly thereafter, we were invited to take a seat at The Balvenie’s Winter Picnic – A tasting of drams from The Balvenie’s core range, paired with artisanal food produce available from some of the many small retailers within The Stand. Brand Ambassador Laura Hay expertly walked us through The Balvenie 12 year old Double Wood, 14 year old Caribbean Cask and finally the 17 year old Double Wood.

Tasting set

Each was paired with the likes of candied macadamia nuts, crème brulee tart and the finest Haigh’s dark chocolate, really highlighting some intriguing notes in both the whisky and the small food items.

Balvenie nosing

Along with imparting her extensive knowledge of all things whisky and Balvenie, Laura also explained one of the reasons why The Strand was chosen as the venue for this year’s pop-up bar. Not only is The Strand a characterful building brimming with artisanal wares, it also happens to have been founded, completed and opened in the very same year as The Balvenie. Serendipitous? Maybe. A venue befitting The Balvenie? Most definitely.

Bar

The Balvenie Craft Bar ran from Thursday to Sunday, 25-28 June in Sydney and fans could attend the three whisky masterclass for just $15 with proceeds going to charity. To stay in the loop and find out more about these events – before they happen! – sign up to The Balvenie’s Warehouse 24 program, it quick, easy and free!

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.

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

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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.

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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