Ardbeg Night, Sydney

The back-story to this year’s Ardbeg Day whisky – the Dark Cove – is one of smuggling, mystery and illicit activities. So it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Ardbeg Day event in Sydney was well and truly shrouded in a big cloak of mystery.

Ardbeg Dark Cove

In the lead up to the event I received a ‘save-the-date’ email simply with a date in it. No further details. Nada, zip. A week later, a credit card-sized golden token arrived featuring a number and an RSVP email address on the reverse side. There aren’t too many things in this world I would blindly RSVP to. But a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets James Bond gold card Ardbeg Night invitation? Yeah, that’s certainly one of them!


At this stage I knew I’d be catching a boat and that I had to be at the wharf for a 4.45pm departure. Beyond that, I had no idea what would be in store.


Arriving at the wharf, Steve Zissou and I boarded our Wes Anderson-esque pleasure craft bound for the rocky shores of.. somewhere? We braved the chill on the upper deck, keeping an eye out for our destination. A-ha, thar she is! Good ole Goat Island!

Goat Island

Our Ardbeggian warehouse was decked out with back-to-back bars serving a trio of different cocktails prepared by the crack bartenders from The Whisky Room and Stitch Bar.


All three offerings showcased the Ardbeg 10 year old, but the coconut fat-washed Ardbeg, Amaro Montenegro, pineapple concoction was a highlight for me.


An oyster bar, roving waiters with canapés and a few different game stations were positioned around the space. As with previous years, the latter offered punters the chance to win themselves some pretty awesome loot like this Ardbeg Night t-shirt!

Ardbeg T Shirt

Well into the evening a smugglers soundtrack rang out and the caged Ardbeg stash was busted open, revealing the new Ardbeg Dark Cove. Cellarmaster of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Andrew Derbidge, talked us through the dram and with a hearty cheers we got to sample the new general release of the Ardbeg Dark Cove.


I previewed the Committee Release here and now having sampled the general release I’m genuinely surprised at the difference 8.5% in ABV can make. The Committee Release hits you with that smoky cask strength oomph, whereas the standard release has a finessed balance to it that makes it almost too drinkable. Both delicious in my opinion and one of my favourite modern Ardbeg Day releases.

Ardbeg pouring

Returning to shore we shook off those sea legs and made a bee-line for Stitch Bar, one of Sydney’s official Ardbeg Embassies, where the after party was in full force.


Another Rehaboam (4.5 litres) of Dark Cove was behind the bar at Stitch, along with more great cocktails and fun times.

Stitch 2

Another truly epic Ardbeg Day (Night) celebration in Sydney. The crew at Moet Hennessey and EVH PR somehow manage to out-do themselves every year (see here and here). I dare say this was the best one yet! A sincere thanks goes to you both for smuggling me in.

Auchentoshan American Oak

Auchentoshan is a unique distillery in that they practice the process of triple distillation – something that no other Scottish distillery currently does. If you’re thinking that sounds interesting, but have no idea what that means – please read on!

The process of triple distillation

If you’re not familiar with how whisky is made, get ready for a really crude, highly-unscientific crash course that should help put the concept of triple distillation into perspective. To make whisky, you essentially start with a beer-like solution of malted barley, water and yeast which you run through a still. Liquid goes into the still, it simmers away (like a big ‘ole kettle) and the lightest, purest vapours rise to top. These vapours are condensed back into liquid and are kept aside to be run through a still for a second time.

Auchentoshan American Oak

Most Scottish distilleries do this twice, but – you guessed it – Auchentoshan distil their spirit three times, in three different size and shape stills no less. That’s pretty much it in a nut-shell. If you’d like a technically accurate description of triple distillation (unlike mine!) I can highly recommend this great article from Whisky and Wisdom.

The Auchentoshan profile

Each time you distil something you’re essentially purifying it. So generally speaking, something distilled thrice is going to be cleaner and purer than something distilled twice. I’ve tasted a few Auchentoshans before and a couple of descriptors that always come to mind are the words ‘clean’ and ‘light’. Perhaps even delicate.

That’s not to say that everything coming out of Auchentoshan can be (or should be) labelled as ‘light’ in nature. But it’s a characteristic I tend to expect when approaching their whisky, something that I suspect comes from their triple distilled process.

With this in mind (or not), let’s take a look at their newest release in Australia – the Auchentoshan American Oak – a no age statement whisky matured solely in first fill ex-bourbon barrels and bottled at 40% abv.

AM copy


The nose is thin, but also quite fresh and bright; far more so than I expected (in a really good way). I got some lovely bright jammy notes up front, apricots, stone fruit, orange and lemon citrus and some light vanilla crème anglaise. There’s a light dose of malt in the background and some faint toasty coconut and oak.


The palate is rather thin and silky on entry, but still delivers plenty of soft flavour. There’s a fair amount of vanilla and toasty coconut and oak from the first fill casks, but those notes are nicely matched with a wave of gentle spice and soft, creamy, sweet custard flavours. Orange peel, apricots, white peach and vanilla join midway through before the palate fades to a fairly short sugary finish.

Are you distilled different?

Beam Suntory have partnered with their Australian bartender society – The Blend – to showcase three things I genuinely love; whisky, cocktails and photography. Running until 30 June 2016, the #DistilledDifferentAU campaign aims to track down Australia’s best bartenders who are up for the challenge of mixing up something special featuring the Auchentoshan American Oak, whilst pairing it with some inspirational photography. The winning bartender team and photographer score a killer prize including a trip to Scotland and gallery event showcasing their work.

Whisky Sour

I don’t meet the entry criteria, but that wasn’t going to stop me mixing up a few classic libations of my own. I’m happy to report that the Auchentoshan American Oak works an absolute treat in a whisky sour or a bastardised Rob Roy (I subbed in a touch of Grand Marnier and orange bitters to boost the citrus notes).

Rob Roy

If I can crank these out I’ve got no doubt our local talent can easily put me to shame. Australian bartenders; head on over to, sign up, check out this competition and show-off your skills. You’ll be in the running for something pretty awesome!

A big thanks goes out to Beam Suntory for kindly supplying the bottle featured here.

World Whisky Day

This Saturday, May 21st is World Whisky Day. I tried to write my own description of what World Whisky Day means to me, but the people behind the official site have said it so eloquently that I’ll let them do the explaining.

Green Label

“World Whisky Day is all about making whisky fun and enjoyable. It’s not about being exclusive or prescriptive. You can drink it however you enjoy it (ice, water, mixer – whatever works for you). We want to be all inclusive and that means any kind of whisky/whiskey from anywhere in the world.”


Ain’t that the truth! So this Saturday, do yourself, your friends and your family a favour, pour a dram of the water of life and share in the fun of whisky!

The good people at Diageo are big supporters of World Whisky Day and kindly sorted me out with a few goodies to help me and my closest celebrate in style! So if you – like me – are on social media and find yourself enjoying a dram on Saturday the 21st, tag your photos with #WorldWhiskyDay and #LoveScotch and share in the fun.


Compass Box Flaming Heart and This is Not a Luxury Whisky

You may not be overly familiar with John Glaser and his company Compass Box whisky, especially if you’re reading this in Australia (as distribution is rather limited here). But I feel like you should be and here’s why.

Compass Box and their whisky philosophy

Compass Box are what you could broadly describe as an independent bottler of whisky. What I mean by that is that they don’t actually distil their own whisky, rather they acquire whisky from other, established distilleries then bottle it under their Compass Box brand. Well, that’s how most independent bottlers work, but in the case of Compass Box I’ve just oversimplified it by a fairly big margin.


A good deal of the independent bottlers out there cater to the segment of the market that enjoy single cask whiskies. They literally get a cask, fill as many bottles as they can, then sell it as is. When it comes to Compass Box though, rather than simply describe them as an independent bottler, the term ‘whisky maker’ is perhaps a better descriptor. Whilst they don’t distil their own whisky, they don’t just ‘bottle’ whisky either. They like to create.

John Glaser and his team have built their reputation on the back of creating some exceptional blended whisky. Add to that their brilliant packaging design and you’ve got a pretty unique product. Another aspect that sets them apart from many others in the industry is that they’re quite happy to actually disclose what goes into their revered blends. If it’s got some 30 year old Caol Ila blended in there, they’ll tell you. Likewise, if the blend contains 12% 8 year old Glen Ord, they’ll also tell you.

The Scotch Whisky Transparency Campaign

Well, that’s what they used to do (and that’s what they’d still like to do), but that recently got them into a bit of hot water with the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), the governing body of the Scotch whisky industry. Why? Well, the SWA’s guidelines actually prohibit this level of transparency. Sounds a tad crazy, doesn’t it?

This brings me to another reason why I believe you should familiarise yourself with Compass Box. Rather than sit back and live with the SWA’s decision, they’ve decided to do something about it. I’ll let John Glaser do the explaining.

The good people at Bruichladdich were the first to put their hand up and say, ‘yep, we support you!’ Soon after, independent bottler the Boutique-y Whisky Company announced that they would start adding age statements to all of their bottles as well, so it looks like Compass Box aren’t the only ones who believe in transparency.

As John says in the clip, if you think whisky produces should have the option (but not necessarily the obligation) to tell you all about the whisky in your bottle, head on over to the Compass Box website and lend your support.

Compass Box: The whisky

Just in case I haven’t given you enough of my opinion for one post, how about some thoughts on two of their latest releases, the Compass Box Flaming Heart 5th Edition and This Is Not A Luxury Whisky (one of the coolest whisky names in recent times in my opinion!)

Compass Box Flaming Heart 5th Edition

This is actually a fifteenth-anniversary bottling of Flaming Heart and at it’s heart, it’s comprised of 38.5% 14-year-old Caol Ila, 27.1% 30-year-old Caol Ila, 24.1% 20-year old Clynelish and 10.3% seven-year-old blended malt. That blended malt, inside this blended malt is made up of whisky from Clynelish, Teaninich and Dailuaine. How’s that for transparency!


My first reaction on nosing this one was ‘Ahhh!’. Lots of sweet and dry sooty ash notes. There’s a hint of salty sea spray and some waxy honeycomb notes with a hint of vanilla notes. It’s fairly bright and punchy, but quite well balanced.

Lots of medicinal mossy peat on the palate. I didn’t get much in the way of smoke, but there’s a fair salty tang with a lemon rind/ herbal bitterness and some damp soot. To me, it tasted a lot more mature and older than it nosed.

Compass Box This Is Not A Luxury Whisky

Such a great name. I actually think this is a luxury whisky, but not in the collectable, put it on a shelf and stare at it sense. If that’s what you’re doing with this bottle then I’m sorry, but you’re totally missing the point. No doubt the bottle looks pretty sweet, but the contents, now that’s where the fun really is!

Again, thanks to Compass Box’s transparency, we also know what’s in this one. 79% of the liquid is 19-year-old Glen Ord aged in first-fill sherry butts. 18% is 40-year-old-grain whisky from Strathclyde and Girvan and some 30-year-old Caol Ila (4%) has been blended in there as well.


The nose is quite dense and closed, even with some airtime. I got notes of cereal grains (coconutty?), old leather, polished timber, fragrant dried flowers and some cedar wood spice. Given some time, more tropical fruit notes (think pawpaw, papaya and green banana skins) and faint honeycomb sweetness. There’s a mossy peat note in the back there too. Quite a complex nose, one that’s hard to pin down (the power of clever blending!)

On the palate it’s much more lively. Loads of those tropical fruit notes from the nose, some juicy vanilla, spice, honeycomb sweetness and oak. The faint peat notes make it almost meaty and mossy toward the finish, where a lot more of the oak comes out.

Compass Box in Australia

The good news for Australian Compass Box fans is that both of these expressions will go on sale here in the very near future. The bad news is that only a minuscule number of bottles are being brought into the country, so if you want one, start making friends with your flagship Dan Murphy’s store now. And if you want to see more of these here, follow the lead of Compass Box, be a little bit vocal (in a nice way, of course) and let your local store know.



Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee Release

Plus Ardbeg Day 2016.. or should we say, Ardbeg Night

It’s that time of year again when Ardbeg start to tantalise us with cryptic clues of their yearly celebration that is Ardbeg Day. Last year they took us to the future. The year before that saw a human foosball tournament and that infamous golden bottle. They’re always bucket loads of fun and the team are promising that this year’s event will be like no other!

Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee

Things will be done a little differently in 2016 though. For starters, Ardbeg Day is now Ardbeg Night and to keep it exclusive to true Ardbeg fans, only select Ardbeg Committee Members will be lucky enough to attend. To be in the running to score yourself tickets, you first need to be an Ardbeg Committee member. It’s simple and it’s free, so if you’re not one already, what are you waiting for!? Visit this link and sort yourself out post-haste!

Secondly, you need to purchase yourself a bottle of the new, Ardbeg Committee exclusive Dark Cove, only available through the Moet Hennessey Collection site (hint: you’ll need your Ardbeg Committee details handy to make your purchase). Each bottle purchased up to 17 April will put you in the running for tickets to Ardbeg Night 2016 and the lucky recipients will be notified by 20 April.

If you happen to miss out, or if your hip pocket doesn’t permit a bottle purchase at the moment, fear not! Other events will be held at Ardbeg Embassies nationwide and you can find your nearest embassy here.

Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee Release 55% ABV

This year’s celebratory Ardbeg Day bottling is Dark Cove, which is said to pay homage to the shadowy past of Ardbeg’s coastline. Traditionally, the Ardbeg Day celebrations have been the launch pad for the annual celebratory bottling, with all bottles being well and truly embargoed against early release.

As you’ve probably gathered from the opening though, Committee members have been a bit spoilt this year and can actually purchase the special Ardbeg Committee version of Dark Cove now! That being the case, let’s see how it tastes.

Ardbeg Dark Cove

The second that sample bottle was cracked I had an ear-to-ear smile. Sweet, smoky peat notes waft out of the glass immediately. Campfires, sweet sooty embers and savoury smoked meat served with quince paste and sweet onion jam. There are some caramelised berry notes, but the sherry doesn’t dominate. Nicely integrated.

Sweet, sour, salty and peppery on the palate all at once. It has that drying herbal Ardbeg backbone, but with a certain zesty fruitiness. There’s hay smoke, more aged meat notes but with a drying, crisp smokiness to the finish that lingers for a long time.

Too often these days whisky fans online get a bit too caught up in the numbers game. When any new release comes out the same questions come thick and fast; how old is it? How many bottles were produced? How many bottles are available in our country? etc. I’ll be the first to admit that I too wonder about these things. But the one question that people don’t seem to ask nearly as much is ‘does it taste any good?’. At the end of the day, isn’t that the most important thing? It is to me and the new Dark Cove is a winner in my books. Very, very enjoyable.

Dark Cove Tag

The Dark Cove Ardbeg Committee release (55% ABV) is available exclusively to Committee members through the Moet Hennessey Collection now. The general release of Dark Cove (46.5% ABV) will be available from 28 May at a recommended retail price of $169.

I pounced on a Committee bottle the day it was released and after tasting this sample generously supplied by Ardbeg Australia, I’m so very glad I did. Here’s hoping my full-size bottle comes with a winning ticket to Ardbeg Night 2016!