The Macallan 12 year old Double Cask

It’s Father’s Day here in Australia on Sunday 3 September and The Macallan reckon their new 12 year old Double Cask expression would make the perfect gift for any Dad. So, what better way to validate that then putting it to the test with my very own Dad!

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What Dad has to say

That’s a classy looking bottle! It’s got broad-shoulders and I like the colour and design on the box. It’s really eye-catching and the blue looks great with the gold accents on it. Very smart. What’s the ‘double cask’ thing mean?

What I have to say

Good question Dad! Not to be confused with the Macallan 12 year old Sherry Oak (or the 12 year old Fine Oak); the Double Cask is an entirely new expression that has only just recently hit Australian shores. The Double Cask gets its name from the fact that two different cask types are used in the maturation process; a mixture of both American Oak and European Oak casks, seasoned with sherry.

Keen Macallan fans might be aware that the 12 year old Sherry Oak expression from Macallan is also made up of a combination of American Oak and European Oak casks, so what’s the difference? The Double Cask reportedly has a higher proportion of American Oak in the mix, so along with the dried fruit sweetness from the sherry, I’m expecting to find some big honey and vanilla notes in there too. Only one way to find out!

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Dad’s tasting notes

“This has got a nice soft brown sugar note to it, a nice sweet smell. It’s really pleasing and warm. It’s got a really smooth and silky taste to it as well, nice and warm with a hint of a spice to it, almost like cinnamon or an all spice fragrance to it. Really nice and easy drinking.”

And with that, Dad poured himself a second glass, No, seriously, he did..

“I tell you what, that second glass is really smooth and warming, it’s very much the kind of whisky that would make me want to go back for more.”

My tasting notes

Quite a rich nose with warming honey, oak and light spice. I get notes of poached or stewed fruits and nuts (hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts), with a dose of brown sugar and candied orange.

The palate is thin initially, but with a bit of a citrus burst. I get flavours of orange marmalade, vanilla custard and honey and runny toffee; fading to a slightly bitter finish of oak and light spice.

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So if you’re still struggling with ideas for Dad (or if you just feel like spoiling yourself), keep an eye out for the Macallan 12 year old Double Cask which can be found on shelves now. A special thanks to The Macallan for the bottle pictured here. I’m pleased to say that it well and truly passed the Dad test.

Wild Turkey Master’s Keep 1894

Wild Turkey are probably best known for their easily accessible and affordable bourbons, things like the classic Wild Turkey 101, their Rye and the Rare Breed expression. But every now and then they come along and surprise us with what can best be described as a premium release.

The great thing about their ‘premium’ releases though is that they’re not show-pony bottles of unobtainium; things that look good on a shelf, but that you’d never actually enjoy. Rather, they’re generally bourbons that carry the classic Wild Turkey profile, but give us something a little bit different to the core offerings. And the best part? They’re still accessible and affordable.

In recent years we’ve seen a few premium releases such as the Master’s Keep 17 year old (2015) and then last year’s Master’s Keep Decades release (hugely enjoyable – tasted here). At that point it became apparent that the ‘Master’s Keep’ was going to be an ongoing series, but that wasn’t always going to be the case. According to Eddie Russell, the Master’s Keep was never intended to be an ongoing release, but once they saw how nice the new bottle design had turned out, they knew they wanted to keep using it.

So ever since the Decades release last year, many bourbon fans have been patiently waiting to see what the next instalment would be in the Master’s Keep collection. Well, say hello to the new Wild Turkey Master’s Keep 1894.

The man himself, Mr Eddie Russell, made the trip all the way down here to Australia to launch the new Master’s Keep 1894 and I had the pleasure of being invited along to an intimate dinner at Chiswick to celebrate the occasion. If you ever thought Kentucky was south, trying coming all the way down here to Australia. It’s about as south as you’re going to get before you hit Antarctica, so I genuinely mean it when I say that it’s always a delight when distillers make the effort to come and visit us.

A delicious meal ensued whilst Eddie talked us through tastings of the two previous Master’s Keep releases, along with the new 1894.

What’s in a name

The previous Master’s Keep expressions were fairly self-explanatory in terms of their names corresponding to what was in the bottle. The Master’s Keep 17 year old was just that; some super old Wild Turkey that had been aged for 17 years (in brick warehouses) before being bottled. The Master’s Keep Decades was a nod to the fact that the whiskey inside was a blend of bourbon aged between 10 and 20 years. So when the Master’s Keep 1894 was announced, I struggled to make the connection.

Google wasn’t a whole lot of help, but thankfully Eddie filled in the blanks with a bit of a back-story behind the significance of 1894. It was in that year that the oldest rickhouse at Wild Turkey was constructed, now simply known as Rickhouse A. Fast forward nearly 100 years to the year 1981. A spritely 21 year old Eddie Russell has just started his first job at the distillery in the summer as a General Helper (yes, that was his official title!), pocketing the princely sum of $6.58 an hour.

He’s been there for a full week now and on his second Friday of work, he noticed a group of guys knocking off around 3.30pm and heading into one of the rickhouses. The invite him along and it’s here that he gets his first taste of whiskey straight from the barrel. That warehouse was Rickhouse A. To this day, Eddie claims it was the best bourbon he’s ever tasted and so he decided to dedicate this release to that memorable moment. You may have guessed it already, but all of the whiskey in the new Master’s Keep 1894 has been hand-selected by Eddie Russell, exclusively from Rickhouse A.

The nitty gritty from the man himself

I had the chance to sit down and ask Eddie a bit more about the 1894 and whether there was a specific profile he was searching for when he put it together. He happily tells me “I knew there was a parcel of 2003 vintage barrels in Rickhouse A that had this amazing fruit profile – full of pears and apple spice – so when I was asked to create the 1894, I knew I wanted to use these”. These barrels were around 13 years old and were eventually paired with a parcel of barrels from 2005 and 2011. So for those who like to know the nitty gritty, the new Master’s Keep 1894 can be described as a vatting of 13, 11 and 6 year old bourbons.

Master’s Keep 1894 Review

Bottled at 45% ABV (90 Proof) the nose is very much the way Eddie describes it – fruity! I got notes of honey, slightly underripe banana, stewed rhubarb, dried pears and apples. These notes were balanced nicely with lashings of caramel, spice and vanilla.  The palate is quite thin, but delivers more of those fruit notes, almost like a fruity banana/ apply split with sweet creamy vanilla ice cream, soft rye (baking) spice, runny caramel and whipped cream.

Now, depending on where you’re reading this from, there’s some good news and some bad news. If you’re reading this from Australia, the good news is that 10,000 bottles of the new Master’s Keep 1894 have just landed in the country and should start hitting shelves soon, so keep an eye out for them!

If you’re reading this from somewhere other than Australia, the bad news (for you) is that the new Master’s Keep 1894 is exclusively for the Australian market. Fear not though! A fourth installment of the Master’s Keep series will be released next year (yes, this one will reach other markets), along with another special project that Eddie is working on with actor – and Wild Turkey Ambassador – Matthew McConaughey.

An experience like this is not one I’ll forget anytime soon, so a sincere thanks goes out to Wild Turkey Australia for the generous invitation and to Mr Eddie Russell himself for making the effort to come all the way down here.

Auchentoshan & Ale

I’ve heard of drinking beer and whisky as a boilermaker combo, but beer ‘in’ whisky? Apparently it is a thing and the folks at Auchentoshan are big fans. So much so that they recently hooked me up with the essential ingredients to make their signature cocktail, the Auchentoshan & Ale. I actually tried this very cocktail at the distillery a little over a month ago and really enjoyed it, so let’s break it down.

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Start by adding two teaspoons of sugar to a cocktail shaker. If straight sugar isn’t your thing, try making up a batch of sweet honey-syrup (that’s what they used at the distillery and it worked a treat!) Squeeze over the juice of half a lemon and stir.

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Add 30ml of your favourite Auchentoshan (I used the American Oak expression), top with ice and shake away.

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Strain into a chilled mule mug topped with fresh ice.

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Top with your favourite ale.

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Finally, garnish with a lemon twist or wedge, sit back and enjoy.

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Whisky & Wisdom 2007 Glenfarclas

A private single cask Glenfarclas for whiskyandwisdom.com

I love sherried whisky. Auto-correct tells me that ‘sherried’ isn’t even a real word and it’s probably correct, but as a far as I’m concerned it should be. When I say sherried whisky, I’m referring to that gorgeous mahogany or ruby-coloured whisky that’s spent its life maturing ex-sherry casks, imparting rich notes of dried fruit, spice and sweetness.

Glenfarclas

I’ve been fortunate enough to taste many different sherried whiskies, ranging from three-month old spirit from an ex-sherry cask, all the way to a 1967 43 year old Longmorn that had the opacity of black coffee. In amongst all of those sherried whiskies I’ve also encountered the broad spectrum of what can make a sherried whisky great, and what can make some of them borderline undrinkable.

There’s sherried whisky out there that’s sulphur tainted, presenting notes of gunpowder, struck matches and – at worst – an eggy rotten gas vibe. I’ve also had the heavily oaked, tannic and overly bitter drams, ones that were totally out of whack and just didn’t seem to gel with the European Oak casks they were matured in. Or ones that were perhaps left in the cask too long. Then there’s the one-dimensional, super sweet, cloying drams that taste as though a good few litres of sherry was left in the cask before it was filled with spirit. The point I’m trying to make is that sherried whisky is incredibly alluring, but it can also be incredibly varied in quality. That’s especially the case when you’re talking about first fill, single cask offerings. Get it wrong and there’s nowhere to hide!

There are two distilleries that immediately spring to mind for me when I think of high-quality, heavily sherried whisky; GlenDronach and Glenfarclas. GlenDronach happens to be my vice and I find it hard to resist the urge to pick up a new single cask bottling whenever I come across one. I know someone who happens to feel the same about Glenfarclas, but he’s taken this love (or shall we say, obsession) one step further. He’s gone and bought himself half a damn cask! Enter; Andrew from whiskyandwisdom.com and his 2007 single cask Glenfarclas.

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Nose

The nose on this thing is sherry magic. It’s so incredibly clean and clear (there isn’t a single hint of sulphur) with a nice balance of sweet and savoury notes. On the sweet front there’s plenty of classic dried fruit notes (saltanas, flame raisins, figs and dates), there’s damp brown sugar and a syrupy molasses/treacle element. On the savoury front, old leather sofas, tobacco, sour cherry scented solvent, furniture polish and cigar-box spice. There’s a faint herbal note too, maybe even some sooty coal, but only when you really go looking for it.

Palate

The palate is well-connected to the nose; it’s thick, chewy and has a great mouth-feel with syrupy toffee sweetness, dried fruit, sour plum jam and juicy raisins up front. The sweet notes give way to a rounded warming peppery spice and some oak. The heat from the alcohol is the last thing that greets your palate – exactly the way you would want it to.

Finish

Again, nicely balanced with a long warming finish, a hint of bitter citrus rind and some light peppermint/ menthol. Even on the finish it retains the syrupy notes from the palate, this time with some cinnamon spice.

I had to re-check the bottle. Yes, this is 60.5% abv but I honestly don’t think it noses or drinks like a whisky of that proof. It comes across as well balanced for something that’s a) so young, and b) from a single cask. Not that it needs it, but air only makes it better and despite being my first dram of the evening I’ve got no desire to add a dash of water.

Some final thoughts

This is textbook sherried whisky and I love it. When you see this thing in a bottle or in your glass you can’t help but notice the deep, rich colour. You know its natural and it screams sherry goodness. So often though that initial excitement is quashed when you cop a nose or palate of sulphur-taint, or something over-oaked, or even something that’s too sherry forward where there’s nothing but cloying jammy notes.

This, however, is none of the above. It delivers syrup-laden dried fruit, it delivers gentle spice and it does so in a marvellously chewy, oily and lingering way, leaving a big smile on your dial. I’m certainly no authority on the matter, but I know when I taste a quality, clean sherried whisky; one that ticks all the right boxes for me. And this is certainly one of them.

Whisky and Wisdom’s private bottling of Glenfarclas is available to purchase now through Whisky Empire. Thanks for the sample Andrew (but for the record, #GlenDronachForLife!)

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!

Boat

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.

Zissou

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.

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

Oysters

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.

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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.

Stitch

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

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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.