Bladnoch Samsara Review

Tasting the first new release from Bladnoch Distillery

In 2017 the Bladnoch distillery celebrates its 200th year on the banks of the river Bladnoch, two hours south of Glasgow in the Scottish Lowlands. Bladnoch enjoyed more than 100 years of family ownership until it was temporarily closed in 1938, an event that seems to have been the beginning of a series of changes and hurdles in the following 100 years of its history. In the decades after 1938 Bladnoch Distillery changed owners numerous times, was doubled in size and was then closed again in the early 1990s when it was turned into a heritage centre.

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That wasn’t to be the distillery’s fate though and after six years of hard work it was brought to life once more in the year 2000 by the Armstrong brothers from Northern Ireland. It never quite returned to its former glory though and after years of fairly low annual production, the stills eventually stopped flowing again in 2008. Six years passed and an unfortunate irreconcilable family dispute saw the distillery eventually placed into liquidation in early 2014.

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It was a sad end to that chapter in Bladnoch’s history, but one that has since paved the way for Bladnoch’s rebirth thanks to Australian businessman, David Prior, and his team including former Master Distiller & Blender for Burns Stewart, Ian MacMillan. It’s therefore entirely fitting that Bladnoch’s first release under its new ownership is called Samsara; the cycle of death and rebirth referenced in Buddhism and Hinduism.

Bladnoch Samsara Tasting Notes

There isn’t a whole lot of information available about the contents of this bottle, but given that the last distillate produced at Bladnoch was back in 2008, the minimum age of the whisky in Samsara would have to be eight years. It’s bottled at 46.7% ABV and is non-chill filtered.

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Nose

The nose is immediately expressive and forthright, with a bouquet of macerated overripe stone fruit like peaches, nectarines, plums and apricots. You could almost call it jammy. There’s sweet orange liqueur, runny honey, vanilla and a top-note that akin to sour buttermilk. There’s also some dry, dusty oak in the background.

Palate

The palate is just as forthcoming. It’s rather oily and viscous upfront with effervescent juicy oranges, citrus, tinned pineapple, honey, vanilla and baking spice. Sweetness lingers for a good while before the finish turns dry, with more of a pronounced oak note.

I haven’t tasted a whole lot of Bladnoch in the past, perhaps half a dozen different – mainly single cask – expressions. But the new Samsara carries a considerably different profile to the lighter, crisp, almost grassy Bladnoch I recall. To me, Samsara is much more open, with a full bouquet from the get-go.

This is pure speculation on my behalf, but I’m thinking that there could be some ex-port or ex-wine casks in the make-up of this whisky. The overripe fruits and strong jammy notes are something that I personally associate with ex-port/ wine maturation, so it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s something other than ex-bourbon or ex-sherry in the mix. If you’ve ever tasted an Australian ex-port matured whisky (such as Lark), there’s a good chance you’ll find some familiar notes in the Samsara. If you happen to be reading this Ian MacMillan, please feel free to confirm or deny my suspicions!

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I couldn’t photograph and write about this whisky without mentioning the bottle and overall presentation. Whether or not the design happens to be your personal taste, there’s no denying that its appearance is completely decadent and rather stunning. From the heavy base decanter-esque bottle, to the high-polish metal stopper and gold on black branding. Picking up this bottle and pouring a dram feels like an occasion… even if in reality you’re just sitting in your tracksuit pants watching some telly. Classy!

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The Bladnoch Samara is available in Australian retail now for a recommended retail price of AU$129.99. It’s also currently joined by the 15 year old Adela ($179.99) and the limited 25 year old Talia ($499.99). Further global distribution is on the cards and the UK should start to see the trio on shelves from February.

A sincere thanks to Bladnoch for supplying the bottle pictured here.

Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades Review

The second release in the Master’s Keep range

Wild Turkey Master Distiller Eddie Russell has just notched up a not-insignificant 35 years in the family business. To celebrate the momentous occasion he’s put together a rather special release, recently unveiling the Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades, just in time for Christmas! If the presentation of this one looks familiar, that’s because it’s the second limited release in Wild Turkey’s Master’s Keep series, the follow-up to last year’s 17 year old.

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Don’t think of it as merely a follow-up to the the 17 year old Master’s Keep though, as this is an entirely different beast. Whilst this one does’t carry a specific age statement like last year’s, the ‘Decades’ reference is a nod to the fact that it’s comprised of quality bourbons aged for between 10 to 20 years, some of the oldest to be bottled by Wild Turkey to date.

The barrels that have gone into this release were all matured in Wild Turkey’s McBrayer Rickhouse. We’re told that “unlike other wooden rickhouses on the distillery’s property, the McBrayer Rickhouse is located at a lower elevation on the property where the temperature does not fluctuate as much, allowing for a higher proof and deep, bold flavour”. I’m no authority on the subject, but after tasting this bottle I’ll take them at their word on that claim – the Master’s Keep Decades is one rich, tasty bourbon, but more on that soon.

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I know when it comes to whiskey that it’s really all about the taste, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t give two hoots about the packaging and presentation of my whiskey. And on that note, the presentation of this one is really on the money in my opinion. From the front-opening gift box, to the thick, weighed bottle base, raised-embossed turkey motif and that copper and wood stopper. It’s probably one of the best looking bourbon bottles I’ve seen. So, we’ve established that this thing looks good, but how does it actually taste?

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Tasting notes

Nose: Straight of the bat with notes of caramel, hard toffee, dark dried fruits, peanut husks, sawmills, flaky dry pastries and baking spice. The nose is quite deep and complex, opening up and changing with airtime, but overall I’d characterise it as rich and dry.

Palate: Immediately this is oily and viscous on the palate, with a nice chew to it. Creamy honey-sweet notes role across the tongue before I got big notes of peanut brittle and caramel. A few seconds later, dried dark fruit and hints of fresh minty-rye spice that turn almost cooling-menthol in character. The finish on the palate stays sweet but turns leathery and drying with old oak coming through. I can’t say I’ve ever had a Wild Turkey quite like this before. It’s rich and complex and is the kind of bourbon I’d be happy to spend quite some time with.

Overall verdict? For me, the higher proof (52% abv) on this is a very welcome addition. It helps carry the rich, bold flavours of this well-aged bourbon and in conjunction with this being non-chill filtered it gives it a wonderfully chewy, oily mouthfeel. A few drops of water open it up slightly quicker than having it to air and whilst I personally don’t add ice to my whiskey, I imagine this would cope pretty well if you decided to add a rock or two. A really enjoyable release in my opinion and very different to last year’s Master’s Keep.

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With the silly season just around the corner the new Master’s Keep Decades would no doubt make a great Christmas gift for the bourbon-fan in your family, especially given how darn good it looks and tastes. Oh yeah, and a 10 – 20 year old bourbon, that’s actually accessible, for AU$200? I can’t think of anyone else who’s doing that this Christmas! A pretty unique offering.

A special thanks goes out to Wild Turkey Australia for providing the bottle pictured (and enjoyed) here and for letting me write up my own thoughts and opinions.

Johnnie Walker Blender’s Batch Red Rye Finish

Tasting & Review

I think it’s fair to say that Johnnie Walker are best known for their mainstay blended whiskies, the kind you’re likely to find on pretty much every back-bar across the globe. They’re not one to put their feet up and stop experimenting though. Their quest to continue focusing on developing and understanding alternative flavour profiles has led them to the launch of the new sub-range known as the Blender’s Batch series.

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Johnnie Walker’s master blender, Dr Jim Beveridge, tells us that “At any one time, there are hundreds of experiments into flavour being carried out by our blenders which involve making adjustments to atmospheric conditions, the types of wood and grain used, cask finishes and other elements of whisky-making in the pursuit of exceptional new flavours.”

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The first release in the series is the Johnnie Walker 
Blenders’ Batch Red Rye Finish, which is the result of experiments that have been conducted into the influence of bourbon and rye whiskey flavours, on Scotch. For the non Bourbon and Rye drinkers in the room, American whiskeys can often be characterised by their particularly sweet nature, something that comes from their use of alternate grains like corn and wheat and also from the fact that they’re matured in heavily charred, virgin American oak barrels. Rye whiskey (where the grainbill is predominantly rye) often carries notes of fresh mint, spearmint or dill and has a general spicy character that sets it apart from a low-rye whiskey. So even before tasting this new expression, I suppose I had those notes in mind when I spotted that it had a ‘rye finish’
 
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Tasting notes

On the nose I got some sweet vanilla grain notes, runny caramel sauce and a hint of soft spice. Digging deeper, a touch of fresh pineapple, grilled peaches and maybe the faintest suggestion of mint. If I had to characterise the nose, I’d probably refer to it as round and creamy.
 
It’s fairly thin on the palate (to be expected given the low ABV), but it carries that creamy sweet grain profile nicely. A touch of spice (baking/ mixed spice), vanilla and some orchard fruits present themselves in what is a fairly balanced delivery.

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What’s in the bottle

As for what’s in the bottle? I’m not entirely sure to be honest! But we’re told it contains a decent amount of malt whisky from Cardhu (the backbone of most Johnnie Walker expressions), along with grain whisky distilled at the now-closed Port Dundas distillery. For those of you playing at home, Port Dundas closed in 2010 so the grain component would have to be at least 5 – 6 years old. The remaining malt and grain components could come from any number of Diageo’s other distilleries, but any guess on my part would be purely that. The components were all matured in first-fill American Oak casks, before being finished for up to six months in ex-rye whiskey casks.

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You’ve probably already guessed it from the photos, but I was recently invited along to the Australian launch held at the brand new Bouche on Bridge Street, Sydney. Sean Baxter, a man who’s equally enamoured with the idea of developing magical flavour profiles – as Jim Beveridge and his team – treated us to an evening of decadent food and cocktail pairings with some help from the Bouchon on Bridge team.

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Sean made no secret of the fact that the Red Rye Finish can be used as a perfect mixing whisky and we got to see this first hand in a series of pretty smashing cocktails, such as the;

Rye-talian: Johnnie Walker Red Rye Finish, Cascara Campari, blood orange and potato maple
Rye and Dry: Johnnie Walker Red Rye Finish, Capi ginger ale and basil
New Yorker: Johnnie Walker Red Rye Finish, lemon and grenadine
Red Rye Manhattan: Johnnie Walker Red Rye Finish, Dolin rouge, bitters
Whisky cocktails can be hit and miss in my opinion and rarely do I have a ‘wow moment’ when drinking them, but these were all executed to perfection in my opinion. Big props to Sean and Matt Linklater (pictured above) for brining us these seriously tasty treats.

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The new Johnnie Walker Blender’s Batch Red Rye Finish is already available in good bars and has started to hit shelves at a retail price of around AU$50 a bottle. For more cocktail inspiration using the Johnnie Walker Blender’s Batch Red Rye Finish, check out this link.
As always, a sincere thanks goes out to the team from Diageo and Leo Burnett for the generous invite to an enjoyably decadent evening.

Lagavulin 8 year old

One of Islay’s favourites celebrates its 200th anniversary

Lagavulin hits the big two-zero-zero this year and to celebrate the milestone they’ve released a trio of limited expressions. At one end of the spectrum there’s a 25 year old Lagavulin matured solely in ex-sherry casks. Then there’s the 18 year Feis Ile bottle that was only available at the distillery during the Feis Ile festival.

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They’re two expressions that sound absolutely incredible, but probably not what you’d describe as overly ‘accessible’ to the average Lagavulin fan. For that reason, I think Diageo has been rather clever in releasing a third expression, one that the vast majority of us fans will be able to access, afford and enjoy. Say hello to the 200th anniversary Lagavulin 8 year old.

Lagavulin to me

I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for Lagavulin. If I were to rewind the whisky clock a number of years, I can honestly say that the very first bottle of peated Islay whisky I ever purchased was the Lagavulin 16 year old. I vividly remember the first time I tried it. I was out to dinner for my birthday and being new to the world of whisky I thought I’d try something I’d never heard of. Out came a glass of this smoulderingly smoky, sweet yet salty whisky. At that point, my interest was well and truly piqued. It was the kind of whisky that made me riase an eyebrow each time I brought the glass close to my face and it was barely a couple of days before one of the three bottles on my shelf was a brand spanking new Lagavulin 16 year old.

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I’m not the only one who’s been charmed by it either. You still regularly see people post on facebook or message forums who’ve newly discovered the world of peat when trying their first Lagavulin. It’s quite incredible to think that the distillery has garnered such a fan base with essentially one core bottle; the mainstay 16 year old.

Lagavulin 8 launches in Sydney

So all of that being the case, I’ve been eagerly looking forward to trying the new 8 year old ever since it was launched overseas back in March and I recently had the chance when I was invited along to the Sydney launch event at The Wild Rover.

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Diageo National Ambassador, Sean Baxter, was on hand to walk us through the 8, 12 and 16 year old expressions, but before we did so, we were treated to a sensory experience unlike anything I’ve encountered before – a 3D virtual tour of the Lagavulin distillery!

I’ve always found the whole 3D goggle thing to be a bit of a kitsch novelty, but using it for a virtual distillery tour? Now that’s pure genius! We donned our branded goggles, put on our headphones and were transported to the isle of Islay.

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Starting on the pier, we took in our surroundings before moving through to a field of barley, then to a malting room where the raging kiln was charged with peat. The still house was up next, followed by the warehouse and finally to the Lagavulin tasting room. I wish I could have somehow captured the tour itself in photos, but you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say it was pretty damn cool.

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Our visual and auditory senses weren’t the only ones being tantalised. As the tour progressed, a team of helpers (or as I like to call them, scent ninjas) introduced various scents to complement the scenes. Think being misted with sea spray when we were on the pier, the smell of oak and earth whilst we were in the dunnage warehouse and even the the burning of peat whilst we were checking out the kiln (damn it smells good).

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Oysters were shucked, canapés were served and some blazing libations were crafted to round out the evening, but not before the hero was sampled.

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Tasting notes

The new Lagavulin 8 year old is solely matured in refill American Oak casks and bottled at 48% ABV. Before I get stuck into the notes, I’ve got to hand it to Diageo for releasing this at a very respectable ABV and with a young age statement boldly (and proudly) printed on the label. Well done chaps!

Nose

Where the 16 year old could possibly be described as round, even supple, I’d say this is bright, punchy and active. A clean pronounced sweet peat note, oily charred citrus zest, face-puckering lemons, fresh tart pineapple and a salty saline tang. It smells youngish, a tad mescal-ish, feisty and fun.

Palate

Again, compared to the 16 year old, the palate is noticeably oily and creamy in texture, thanks in large part to the higher alcohol strength and lack of chill-filtering (a very welcome addition in my books). It’s bright and hits the palate high with a sweet rock-salt tang, crisp smoke, smouldering coals and ash before some fruit kicks in (green pears and underripe peach). On the finish I felt it turned sweeter again, whilst being both drying and ashy, with very little in the way of oak or bitterness.

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The 200th anniversary Lagavulin 8 year old is available in Australia right now at a recommended retail price of $95. A big thanks to Sean and the team from Diageo for inviting The Whisky Ledger along as a guest.

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.

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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.

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Nose

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.

Palate

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.

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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).

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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 the-blend.com.au, 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.