Bar White Oak

by Whisky + Alement

If you happen to follow me on Instagram (@whiskyledger), you may have noticed that I recently visited Japan. My trip was an incredible experience for a number of reasons, but right up there at the top of that list would have to be the incredible whisky bars. We simply don’t anything quite like them in Australia.

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Well, if there is one bar here that comes terribly close, without a shadow of a doubt, it would have to be Melbourne’s Whisky + Alement. These guys just do everything right in my opinion. From the bar you can comfortably perch yourself at, to the knowledgeable and friendly bartenders to the ever-changing back bar of over 600 bottles. For a genuine whisky-lover, this place just nails it. As if there weren’t enough reasons to love them already, they’ve just gone ahead and given us another one. Bar White Oak.

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Bar White Oak

Owners Brooke and Jules and one of their bartenders, Kelvin, were avid Japanese whisky fans well before Japanese whisky became the cool kid on the block. Between them, this love of Japanese whisky has led them to curate one of the most impressive collections you’re ever likely to see. Given the craziness over all things Japanese whisky at the moment they could no doubt flip these bottles at auction for an eye-watering price, but that’s what separates whisky collectors or speculators from people like Brooke, Jules and Kelvin.

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They bought these bottles with the sole intention of drinking them and have decided that now’s the right time to pop the corks. On top of that, they want whisky fans to join in on the experience as well. Enter; Bar White Oak – a consumable exhibition – inside Whisky + Alement.

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Filling the tiny space in the front window of the bar, the Bar White Oak pop-up is a dark corner of awesomeness. The timber archway draws you into the large phone-booth sized nook, lined on both sides with around 150 different Japanese whiskies – the vast majority of which you won’t be able to find anywhere else in the country. There’s everything from old blends to entry level drams and a considerable range of true hero bottles like single cask Yamazakis, Karuizawas. You’ll also find award winners like the Yamazaki Sherry Cask. Pretty much every Japanese distillery is represented, including ones you’ve probably never heard of. Everything’s available by the full or half pour and everything is there to be opened, and more importantly, enjoyed.

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SMWS member’s preview

Whisky + Alement also happens to be an official partner bar of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) and through this partnership, SMWS members were offered and exclusive preview of Bar White Oak the other night. Two exclusive Japanese drams were poured on arrival; a rare cask strength Ichiro’s blend and an SMWS single sherry cask Miyagikyo. They were matched with some excellent sushi, great conversation and the chance to be the first soul to crack open any of the Japanese whiskies on the back bar. Yes, this was a Japanese whisky fan’s dream come true!

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What you need to know

Bar White Oak is now officially open and will run for six months. The bar will feature a rotation of Japanese whisky, with approximately 150 different Japanese bottles on the bar at all times. That’s more than any other bar in the country. Heck, even the best-stocked whisky bars in Japan don’t have that much Japanese whisky on offer. Seriously!

Bar White Oak
270 Russell Street, Melbourne VIC

Sunday & Monday – 4.30pm to 11pm
Tuesday to Friday – 4.30pm to 12.30am
Saturday – 7.00pm to 12.30am

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A special thanks goes to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and Whisky + Alement for the invitation to the preview night. I guarantee you’ll be seeing me again at Bar White Oak.

Teeling 15 year old Revival

Just over a year ago now I had my first encounter with Teeling Whiskey in the form of the Small Batch and Single Grain expressions. I was genuinely surprised by both of them; I was amazed that entry-level, highly affordable expressions could taste that great. A combination that I think I’m still yet to come across with Scotch whisky. This time though I’m taking a look at something from Teeling that’s a little higher up in their range, the new 15 year old Teeling Revival.

Teeling 15 year old Revival

Having recently opened their new distillery and once again brought the art of distilling back to Dublin, the Teeling Whiskey Company decided to mark the occasion by releasing something a little bit special. To quote Jack Teeling, founder of the Teeling Whiskey Company “The opening of our new distillery was a major milestone in the history of Teeling Whiskey. It took three years of planning, hard work and significant capital investment, but now Teeling Whiskey is finally home”.

Enter the Teeling 15 year old Revival. Distilled in 1999, The 15 year old Teeling Revival has been exclusively matured in ex-Rum casks and bottled at 46% ABV, with no chill filtering.

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Tasting notes

On the nose I immediately got notes of fresh cut grass and cereal grains, layered with a slightly drying, astringent note – plastic or acetone perhaps? Thankfully those notes settle and dissipate after a short while in the glass revealing a pleasant honeyed sweetness with plenty of under-ripe fruit salad notes (rockmelon, honeydew, green banana, peach lollies and tropical fruit juice). More air reveals a nicely integrated earthy note, something I’d liken to damp moss. It’s quite a complex nose, one that benefits greatly from air in my opinion.

The palate has a really nice delivery of fruity sweetness and spice, wrapped up in a medium oily mouth feel. I feel like the word ‘juicy’ is a good descriptor here. The honeyed sweetness presents upfront along with grapefruit, mango, pawpaw, fading to reveal a tempered spice on the edges of your tongue. Its nicely balanced and integrated though helping to add character, rather than detract from it. The finish is reasonably lengthy, keeping the tropical and sour fruit notes for a good amount of time, before turning slightly vanillic and tannic toward the end. Over-steeped jasmine tea comes to mind.

Teeling Whiskey Revival

The presentation of this is whiskey is pretty special. The packaging features an incredibly solid decanter-style bottle, phat brass-colour stopper and heavy card presentation box bearing plenty of gold embossing and even a wax seal on the inner lid. Whilst none of that has any bearing on the taste, I can’t recall any other Irish Whiskeys on the market at the moment –  especially in this price bracket – that are presented anywhere near as smart as this.

The Teeling 15 year old Revival is available in Australia now at a recommended retail price of AU $159.99. Thanks goes to Martin and the good folks at Teeling for the sample reviewed here.

Celebrating Australia’s newest Keepers of the Quaich

Keepers of the what now? No, it’s not that flying broomstick game from Harry Potter. A Quaich (pronounced something like ‘quake’) is a two-handled shallow drinking vessel of Scottish origin.

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They’re slightly medieval in appearance and have been used for centuries by Scottish Clans to offer a welcoming drink (often whisky) at Clan gatherings and occasions. As a result, the Quaich has rightly become synonymous with the enjoyment and conviviality of Scotch whisky.

Australia’s newest Keepers

Founded in 1988, The Keepers of the Quaich isn’t the kind of society you can just decide to join. Being invited to become a keeper is an honour bestowed on those who have made an outstanding commitment and contribution to the Scotch whisky industry, so it’s a pretty big deal. A few weeks ago, the society held it latest inductee ceremony at Blair Castle in Scotland where, amongst others, two Australians were inducted, Mr Ben Davidson and Mr Sven Almening.

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So, when such an honour is bestowed on two locals with an impressive background in the drinks industry, what are you to do? Throw a pretty sweet party of course! Sven kindly offered up his flagship bar, Eau De Vie, as the venue whilst Ben brought the goods from the Pernod Ricard stable of whiskies. Even before I walked through the doors, I knew I’d be in for a rather enjoyable Monday night.

Ben Davidson

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Ben earned his stripes in the drinks world as a bartender in LA back in the early 90s, before a career with the illustrious Rockpool Group that began on his return to Australia in 1997. That seems to have paved the way for a successful career with Pernod Ricard (going strong for over 10 years now), where he’s their longest serving ambassador. Having delivered thousands of training and tasting sessions, covering brands like The Glenlivet, Aberlour and Chivas Regal there’s no denying his commitment and that his contribution to the Scotch whisky industry has been considerable.

Sven Almenning

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A lot of Sydneysiders have probably know of Sven in his capacity as the head of the Speakeasy Group; the company behind some of the country’s most iconic cocktail and whisky bars like Eau De Vie, The Roosevelt and Boilermaker House. But there’s actually a lot more to his whisky background – a side that many wouldn’t know about.

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Prior to his Speakeasy days, Sven used to own and run a company called Behind Bars where he did a lot of work with whisky, particularly with Diageo and their Johnnie Walker and Classic Malts portfolio. He was instrumental in helping launch both Johnnie Walker Gold and Platinum labels into the Australian market and has done a lot of work on the Johnnie Walker brand over the past decade. He was involved in creating, managing and implementing tasting and training programs for both consumers and the bar industry with these initiatives reaching thousands of consumers and bartenders. No doubt furthering their understanding and appreciation of Scotch whisky.

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In exchanging emails with Sven, I asked him what drew him to Scotch whisky in the first place and his open and candid response really resonated with me. “I think what has lured me into whisky – in addition to the fact I love its taste – is its amazing history, and the immense opportunity for exploration, and continuing education. I also love how whisky can transform a rubbish day to a great day. Or a good moment to a memorable moment”. Now isn’t that the truth!

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The night was indeed a memorable one. As we took a seat, both Ben and Sven recounted their journey to Scotland and all of the side stories that came along with it. It almost felt as though we sitting comfy in a friend’s lounge room, sipping fine whisky and hearing about an epic holiday. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves on the drinks front, for this particular evening – and this post – really was all about the people in my opinion and recognizing they’re achievement.

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How one first gets on the radar of the Keepers of the Quaich is something I’ll never know. However, if anyone from the Keepers Society does happen to read this, I suggest you keep a very close eye on Australia and the people contributing great things to the appreciation of Scotch whisky here. Because along with Ben and Sven, I believe we have some very worthy candidates on our shores (Andrew, Brooke and Jules – I’m pointing at you for starters).

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For me personally, it was a privilege to be able to celebrate the achievements of these two local whisky legends, so I’d like to extend a special thanks to Pernod Ricard for the invitation and to Sven and the team at Eau De Vie for hosting us. If only more Mondays were like this.

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For an extended photo set from the evening, head on over to The Whisky Ledger’s new Facebook page and give us a like whilst you’re at it!

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

 

 

Glenmorangie Milsean

A review of Glenmorangie’s latest Private Edition

It’s that time of year again when Dr Bill Lumsden raises the curtain on Glenmorangie’s latest Private Edition expression. In it’s seventh year now, the Private Edition collection is Dr Bill’s chance to play with parts of the whisky production process and showcase the versatility of Glenmorangie’s spirit.

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Last year he brought us the Tusail, Dr Bill’s vision of an old-school Glenmorangie made with Maris Otter barley that rose to popularity in the brewing industry in late 60s/early 70s. Prior to that we’ve seen Glenmorangie made with lightly peated barley (Finealta), Glenmorangie matured in a host of different ex-wine casks (Artein, Companta) and even a 19 year old expression (Ealanta). And in terms of coming up with yet another crazy concoction, this year’s release is no different!

Milsean explained

The Milsean (‘meel-shawn’ – Gaelic for ‘sweet things’) starts life as regular Glenmorangie spirit matured in ex-bourbon casks for 10 years, before being further matured in ex-wine casks for an extra two and a half years. So whilst it doesn’t carry an age statement on the label, you can do the math on this one!

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The ex-wine casks in question are former red wine casks from Portugal that have been re-toasted specifically for this whisky. If you’re not familiar with the process of toasting, it involves heating the wood (in this case, with a direct flame) to scorch or lightly char the inside of the barrel. This process re-invigorates the cask and caramelizes both the natural sugars in the wood and those in the wine residue left behind. The result? Some super sweet toasty goodness, ready to impart bucket-loads of flavor into the Glenmorangie stored within.

Milsean: Tasted

The name Milsean translates to ‘sweet-things’ and the candy-striped packaging conjures up images of an old-school sweets shop, so I’m expecting this to be, well, pretty darn sweet. So is it?

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Very first impression on the nose? This thing is sweet. Confectionary sweet. Dig a little deeper though and its oh so rewarding. It instantly reminded me of a freshly opened bag of marshmallows, toffee nut brittle, gummy bears, sweet macerated berries and a hint of hot chocolate powder. There’s loads of creamy vanilla that reminds me of custard powder – the kind mum used to use when we were kids.

On the palate it’s got that classic Glenmorangie backbone you find in the ten year old, but it’s layered with an oily sweetness you definitely do not find in the ten year old. Oily chewy wine gum notes, honey, candied orange peel (including that bitter pith) and super ripe sugary plums. It’s followed by a fair whack of drying spicy oak on the finish, but I feel as though it’s accentuated by the preceding sweetness, which seems to linger into the finish as well.

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Australia has received an allocation of 200 cases of Glenmorangie Milsean and it’s available right now in both specialty retailers and through Moet-Hennesy Collection at a retail price of $150. If you – like I – have a bit of a sweet-tooth when it comes to whisky, I have a feeling this will be right up your alley.

Thanks goes to both Moet-Hennessy Australia and the great people at EVH PR for providing the bottle reviewed here.