Dramnation’s Southern BBQ Boilermakers

We’re pretty lucky here in Sydney when it comes to whisky tastings. It’s seems like every other week there’s a tasting happening somewhere catering to all tastes and all levels of whisky appreciation, from beginners to diehard fans. That’s great for the consumer, but it also means that the ‘market’ can feel a little saturated at times and some of the different offerings seem to meld into one. There are a few that continually stand out though and one of those are the events hosted by Dramnation.

Mainly based in Sydney’s Hills District (but also holding events closer to the CBD), Dramnation have carved a nice little niche for themselves by really focussing on the enjoyment of whisky, especially when it comes to enjoying it alongside food and other beverages.

Dramnation’s Southern BBQ Boilermakers

Ive been to a couple of their events now and was recently invited along as a guest to their Southern BBQ Boilermarkers session. The premise here was simple; three bourbon or rye whiskies matched with three craft beers and three bourbon inspired bites. For this particular event, the whiskey came courtesy of Brown Forman stable and the beers were all from Mountain Goat, so we knew we were in for some quality drinks.

As we entered the old pub section of The Fiddler we were treated to the Dramnation take on a Kentucky Mule, a refreshing and ridiculously drinkable cocktail made with bourbon, ginger beer fresh lime and mint.

A brief introduction followed before we jumped right in to the first pairing (is it still a pairing when there’s three items?). Old Forester’s original 86 proof bourbon was lined up with Mountain Goat’s Pale Ale and a fresh batch of Southern BBQ Beans. These were no ordinary beans though, jam-packed with flavour, a healthy dash of Old Forester bourbon and further cooked in the smoker for an hour with the lid off. Delicious!

Brown Forman’s Stuart Reeves led us into the second tasting, talking us through the classic Woodford Reserve Bourbon before Dramnation’s Matt Wooler explained the flavour matching with Mountain Goat’s Summer Ale and his bourbon-injected, rubbed, smoked chicken wings.

Rounding out the afternoon was my favourite of the trio, Woodford Reserve Rye paired with Mountain Goat’s Fancy Pants (a fantastically malty English style amber/ red ale) and Matt’s very own bangers and mash. Not just any old bangers and mash though! I’m talking sour cream whipped mash with a hot-smoked pork sausage, bourbon onion gravy and a sprig of rosemary. Seriously one of the most comforting things I’ve eaten in a long time!

I had to take off not long after, but the afternoon finished off with a lucky-door draw for a portable charcoal BBQ and I’m told many stayed put for a couple more rounds and some good banter.

I really like classroom or educational-style tastings, they definitely have their place and they’re great when you really want to sit down and study a dram. But let’s face it, the vast majority of the time when you pour a whisky at home that’s not the kind of environment you’re in. You’re more likely to be in an environment like this, one with some tasty food around or a cold brew on hand and Dramnation have really nailed it, playing nicely to that relaxed, comfy vibe – all for the very reasonable price of just $55, or even less ($45) if you booked yourself an early-bird ticket.

For good whisky, good food, good venues and good times, jump onto dramnation.com and book yourself and a couple mates into one of their many upcoming events. You won’t regret it.

Glenmorangie Bacalta Review

Around this time each year, Glenmorangie release a new, limited expression. An experimental and innovative whisky of sorts, if you will. It’s the one time of year Dr Bill Lumsden gets to showcase something a little bit different. A whisky that falls outside the bounds of what people normally think of when they look to Glenmorangie’s house-style. The whiskies released under this banner are known as the Private Edition releases and they’re always a bit of fun.

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Last year I reviewed the Milsean, a Glenmorangie matured in toasted ex-wine casks that was packed with sweet-shop flavours. The year before, I had the great pleasure of attending a dinner with Dr Bill Lumsden for the launch of Glenmorangie Tusail. Beyond that, I’ve tried (or owned) every one of the Private Edition releases, so you could say that I’m a pretty big fan.

This year marks the eighth Private Edition release and in a way, Dr Bill and his team have taken us back in time to the early 2000s when Glenmorangie had a Madeira ‘wood finished’ whisky in their core range. Enter, the Glenmorangie Bacalta.

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The launch event

Here in Sydney, we’re pretty far away from the Scottish Highlands, so throwing together a tasting with Dr Bill isn’t exactly the easiest task. However, the wonderful world of technology solves that for us and the other week I had the pleasure of attending a Google-Hangout tasting. Invitees assembled in the classy surrounds of the Old Clare Hotel in Sydney and as the clock struck 9.00pm here, it had just ticked over 10.00am in the Highlands. The live feed came up, guests joined in from Mumbai and Seoul and we were greeted with the ever-jovial voices of Dr Bill Lumsden and Brendan McCarron (Head of Maturing Stocks).

What is Madeira exactly?

To better understand the magic of Glenmorange Bacalta (Scottish Gaelic for ‘Baked’), it helps to understand what Madeira wine is and how it’s produced. Thankfully, Dr Bill gave us the 101 on both and it went something a little like this.

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Contrary to the way some people use the term, ‘Madeira’ isn’t really a form of wine in the same sense that sherry is. Madeira is actually an autonomous archipelago of Portugal found off the west coast of Morocco. On Madeira they make fortified wines from a variety of grapes, but the richest is Malmsey wine, made from the Malvasia grape.

What makes Madeira wine unique is the way in which it’s treated during maturation. Barrels are stored in the roof cavities of the bodegas where they’re heated by the sun and essentially ‘baked’ (hence the ‘Bacalta’ name). Leaving barrels of wine in these conditions has two distinct effects. First, it drastically changes the characteristic of the wine itself, oxidising it and bringing out the tart acidic characters that define Madeira wines. Secondly, the unforgiving conditions deteriorate the casks themselves and as time goes on, they actually start to fall apart and leak due to the harsh conditions.

With those harsh conditions very few ex-wine barrels make it out alive, so finding a consistent supply of casks in terms of quality and quantity is incredible difficult. It’s this challenge that ultimately led to the demise of the original Madeira wood finish expression back in the early 2000s.

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Piecing together the Glenmorangie Bacalta

Not one to give up though, around seven or eight years ago Dr Bill embarked on a challenge to try things again. This time though it would be a bespoke project, one where he and his team would control every aspect of the process. A wine producer was found and Speyside Cooperage were engaged to construct a series of 250L hogsheads from tight grain, slow growth, air-seasoned American Oak. The casks were heavily toasted and shipped to Madeira to be filled with Malmsey wine, where they then sat and seasoned for two whole years.

After being brought back to Scotland they were filled with ten year old Glenmorangie and were set aside for what Dr Bill thought would be a three to four year extra maturation period. He and Brendan McCarron began tasting the casks around the two year mark and believed that at that point they’d already hit the sweet spot they were looking for. One where the balance was just right between the strong notes of the Madeira wine and the house character of the Glenmorangie spirit. So for those who like numbers, the Bacalta is essentially 12 years old.

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Glenmorangie Bacalta Review

So with that context in place, we tasted our way through the Glenmorangie Original 10 year old, the Glenmorangie Lasanta (extra-matured in ex-sherry casks) and finally, the hero of the evening, the new Glenmorangie Bacalta.

Nose

On the nose there’s an immediate juxtaposition of aromas, from dryness (like oak, dried tobacco leaves and cedar wood spice), to sweetness (hard toffee, baked apples, tarte tatin and pastry dough), to an acidic element (citrus skins and aged sherry vinegar). It has a complex nose that flits between sweet and savoury.

Palate

Oily, creamy and sweet on entry, but immediately backed up by spice and stone fruit. Think peaches and apricots, orange marmalade, honeycomb, hard toffee and citrus zest. There’s a nuttiness on the finish with a peppery spice. The addition of water rounds out the palate and opens up the nose nicely.

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I’ve enjoyed each of the Private Edition expressions I’ve tried to date. Some more-so than others, but this year’s release has really stepped up to the plate. The Bacalta is genuinely, genuinely good. It strikes this wonderful balance between sweetness, acidity, fruit and oak. To my nose and palate it’s expressive, comes across as maturely integrated and nothing dominates too heavily. I’ve not tasted the original Glenmorangie 15 year old Madeira wood finish, but I struggle to imagine it being any better than this.

The new, limited edition Glenmorangie Bacalta is available in global markets now.

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.

Chivas Regal Ultis Review

A new blended malt whisky from Chivas Regal

The House of Chivas would have to be best known for their Chivas Regal line of blended whisky; blends that contain both single malt and grain whisky distilled at the various distilleries owned by parent company, Pernod Ricard. In a first for Chivas Regal though, they’ve recently gone down the path of releasing a blended malt whisky, the new Chivas Regal Ultis.

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The new expression has been designed as something of a tribute to the five master blenders who have been in charge of the House of Chivas since it was first launched back in 1909: Charles Howard, Charles Julian, Allan Baillie, Jimmy Lang and current master blender Colin Scott. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), the Ultis is comprised of five malt whiskies from Pernod Ricard’s stable mates Tormore, Allt A’Bhainne, Longmorn, Braeval and Strathisla.

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It’s carries no age statement or specific cask information, but in describing the new blended malt Colin Scott points to the flavour profiles of the five malts as “crystalline freshness of Tormore, the contrasting hint of spicy warmth from Allt A’Bhainne, balance from Longmorn, the floral style of Braeval and the fruity sweetness of Strathisla”. I’m certainly not as well-acquainted with each component malt as Colin is, but I was recently invited along to the Sydney launch of the Chivas Ultis where I had the chance to rectify that.

Held at Palmer & Co. in Sydney, guests were greeted on arrival with a cocktail (or two) before making their way around the venue to explore five different sensory stations.

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Each one was setup to showcase the component malts that have gone into the new Ultis and was designated as either a nosing station or a tasting station. Ambassadors talked us through each malt and the desired characteristics that it ultimately imparts on the new Ultis, shedding some light on why each one was selected. I didn’t take copious notes on my tasting and nosing journey, but it really is quite interesting to get the chance to try these component malts and see how the richness of something like Strathisa or Longmorn sits against something a bit more estery and volatile on the nose like Allt A’Bhainne, or the honeyed floral notes of Braeval. I mean, when was the last time you tried a Braeval?! Exactly! It was pretty special.

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As has come to be expected with these kind of premium releases, the packaging and presentation of the whisky is top notch. The bottle shape references the current Chivas bottle profile, but the thick glass base has been etched with a ‘V’ (the Roman numeral for five) and has a perfume-esque dimpled glass effect, providing a tactile feature to it. The front opening gift box features the signatures of the five master blenders referenced above, whilst the cork closure has been designed to resemble a pen-clip, featuring – you guessed it – five engraved rings, a further nod to the five malts within and the five Master Blenders.

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Tasting notes

It wasn’t the most conducive environment to nerd-out and write down tasting notes (plus I was having far too much fun), but the following was my initial impression.

Nose: I found the nose to be quite balanced , rich and deep with notes of toffee, hard caramels, pears, dark chocolate and spice. Given a bit more time, spicy crystallised ginger, a hint of liquorice, star anise, baked apples and oak.

Palate: Surprisingly spicy at first, but it gives way to quite a rich, deep mouthfeel – notes that I picked up when tasting both the Longmorn and Strathisla earlier in the afternoon. The spice subsides, delivering a nice creamy wave of caramel, tea cake, dough, orchard fruits and orange zest, finishing quite tart and oaky. A dram I’d love to try again and spend a lot more time with next time our paths cross.

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The event also saw the launch of Chivas’ new ‘Win the Right Way’ campaign featuring none other than Captain America himself – Chris Evans – who has recently taken on the role of Asia Pacific Ambassador to demonstrate the power and impact of working together to achieve success.

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The new Chivas Regal Ultis is available in Australia now at most premium stockists (as well duty free) at a recommended retail price of AU$200 for the 700ml version. As always, a sincere thanks goes out to Pernod Ricard Australia for the generous invitation to come along and try this new tasty drop!

Check out Facebook.com/whiskyledger for more photo from the event and feel free to give us a ‘Like’ whilst you’re there!

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.