Glenmorangie Taghta

Glenmorangie “The Taghta”

The latest (and very special) release from Glenmorangie had its first Australian outing on 17th October when it was showcased as the Welcome Dram at the Spring Tasting of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Sydney.

 

As attendees entered the room for the tasting evening, they were handed a dram of this deliciously-amber looking whisky, but were not told what it was.

 

A short while later during the official welcome and introduction for the night, a quick straw poll was taken with the question, “Who liked this whisky?”   Every hand in the room went up, and it was then that its identity and story was told.

 

Glenmorangie Taghta (pronounced too-tah) is being billed as a crowd-sourced whisky.   It’s not all too dissimilar to what Glenlivet did with their Guardian’s release late last year.  The difference on this occasion is that the crowd (the so-called “Cask Masters”) came from 30 different countries and participated in every part of the process: The bottle design, the labelling, the photography, and – most importantly of all – the selection of the whisky.

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Cocktail

Whisky cocktails – are we doing the flavour a favour?

Have you ever tried a whisky cocktail?  I’m referring to something a bit more exotic than a Rusty Nail or a Manhattan.  The former – simply equal parts of whisky and Drambuie together – and the latter, a concoction of rye whiskey, vermouth, and bitters, are both time-honoured classics, but it would be wrong to compare them with the more complex, complicated, and dare I say, fashionable whisky cocktails doing the rounds in today’s bars.

 

Whisk(e)y cocktails currently carry the buzz in the industry at present, and it’s been the case now for at least the last four to five years.   Cocktails are seen as the introduction or stepping stone into whisky drinking.  “Don’t like whisky?  Here, have a sip of this colourful Highland Fling!”  The marketing guys have been working furiously in recent years to shed the industry’s image of whisky being an older man’s drink, and so the bar and cocktail scene is where they’re targeting their message to attract a younger and more gender-balanced demographic to the category.

 

I concede there is a logic to it.  We are in the latter (ending?) phase of the cult of the celebrity chef, and not everyone is hanging off every word and activity that the Gordon Ramsays and Marco Pierre Whites of the world get up to.  In their place – at least in certain circles – we are seeing the rise of the celebrity cocktail expert.  Or, to use the preferred parlance:  The Mixologist.

 

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Colin Scott

An afternoon with Colin Scott (Master Blender for Chivas Bros)

It’s not every day you get the chance to meet with and listen to a Master Blender, so when the good folks at Pernod Ricard Australia hosted an afternoon with Colin Scott recently, I was happy to accept their kind invitation.

 

I’ve actually spent a bit of time with some other Master Blenders: Richard Patterson of Whyte & Mackay; Tom Smith of Johnnie Walker; Robert Hicks of Teachers/Laphroaig/ Ardmore/Glendronach; Iain McCallum of Morrison Bowmore; Brian Kinsman of William Grant & Sons; and then other whisky creators like Jim McEwan (Bowmore/Bruichladdich) and Bill Lumsden (Glenmorangie/Ardbeg).   I’ve also had a few decent attempts at blending myself, having undertaken some formal blending sessions both in Scotland and here in Australia.  (And whilst my “attempts” have been decent, my results have been very indecent!)

 

What I’ve learned from these people and experiences is that (a) blending is incredibly difficult, and (b) the people who do it commit to a lifetime of learning and application. Colin Scott is no different.

 

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photo

Glenfiddich versus Glenlivet – who will win the heavyweight title bout?

If someone asked “What does a Speyside whisky taste like?” you could do worse than pour them a dram of either Glenfiddich 12yo or The Glenlivet 12yo.

 

Both exhibit that classic Speyside style of being grassy, floral, sweet and malty, with that little extra “zing” for good measure. With Glenfiddich, the zing comes in the form of pear drops, whilst Glenlivet, for me, has a wee hint of citrus tang.  Both drams are  textbook examples of Speyside whisky.

 

Depending on your age, and certainly if you were introduced to malt whisky a decade or two ago, then there’s a very good chance that one of these two whiskies was probably your first ever single malt.

 

The two brands are giants of the industry and mutually respected (and respectful) competitors on the playing field. Glenlivet is the single malt flagship of Pernod Ricard (via Chivas Bros), whilst Glenfiddich remains one of the last bastions of independent, family ownership, being the bedrock of William Grant & Sons.   Both brands command significant market share. The Glenlivet has been the biggest selling single malt in the USA for years, whereas Glenfiddich can boast the global title of being the biggest selling single malt in the world.

As these two heavyweights front up to do battle, let’s compare their credentials: Continue reading

Jim McEwan

SMWS Jim McEwan & Bruichladdich Masterclass

On 1st October, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (Australia) held a very special SMWS / Bruichladdich / Jim McEwan masterclass.

 

It’s hard to write an objective, even a subjective review of a tasting event when you were one of the co-hosts and facilitators of the event.  However, this was a fantastic evening, with so much whisky love in the air, and so one can’t help but give some account of the evening.  So forgive me if it comes across as a little biased…..

 

Jim McEwan, industry legend, is currently on a promotional tour across Australia to share the Bruichladdich story with whisky drinkers.  Trade and open-to-the-public tastings have been organised in most of the capital cities, and the Australian distributor, South Trade, has got Jim on an incredibly busy schedule, with up to three or four events each day for the next two weeks.  And Jim wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Australia LOVES to team up with distributors, distilleries, and “the big brands” where and when possible, and the planning was set in motion early to ensure we could deliver a corker of a night.

 

90-odd people squeezed into the Royal Automobile Club in Sydney, and were handed a gin & tonic on arrival.  Not your typical way to start a whisky tasting, but with the gin being The Botanist, distilled at Bruichladdich, it set the tone of the evening nicely.  Yours truly took care of the welcomes and introduction, before handing the reins over to Jim.  And from that point, the earth stood still for a few hours.

 

One of the things I love about Jim (having met with him and seen him in action many times over the last 10 years) is that he tells not just the story of the whisky, but of the people and the community who make it.  And so our audience this evening got not just a glimpse of Jim and his curriculum vitae, but also the people behind the scenes who live and breathe Bruichladdich each day:  The farmers, the Visitor Centre staff, the mashmen, the brewers, the distillers, the warehousemen, the people in the bottling hall, and even the young lady who inserts the promo brochure into the bottle tins.

 

The man has an incredible sense of humour and entertains his audiences with every word.  So much so, that it was almost possible to overlook the amazing whiskies that were poured before us.  Until you nosed and tasted them.  All the whiskies on the table were fantastic:  No caramel, no chillfiltration, this was REAL whisky and each one of them pushed my buttons.  If I’d been handing out scores on the night, they would all have been high – there were no duds in this line up.

 

It wouldn’t be an SMWS event without an SMWS whisky, and so we squeezed one into the line up.  The whisky menu on the night was as follows:

 

  1. The Classic Laddie Scottish Barley
  2. Islay Barley 2006
  3. Black Art
  4. Port Charlotte Scottish Barley
  5. Port Charlotte 10yo
  6. SMWS 127.39 11yo PC single cask from a Refill Sherry Butt at 66.7% ABV
  7. Octomore 6.1

And it didn’t stop there. Jim said some very kind words about the Society and what we’ve done locally in Australia to promote both Bruichladdich and the single malt category in general. In recognition of this, he elected to unveil – for the first time anywhere – a new expression of Octomore.

And so, with much fanfare, an eighth whisky was brought out for the night.  Roughly 5.5 years old, and matured in virgin French oak, this was a sublime whisky moment both in its sentiment and on the palate, and – I won’t lie – it brought a tear to my eye.  Jim pressed home the point that we were the first people in the world to taste this, and we were humbled and honoured. And, all sentiment aside, I have to say it was an incredibly tasty, flavoursome, and beautifully balanced whisky.  Was it my top scoring dram of the night?

 

 

 

 

Yes.

 

 

 

Thank you, Jim.

 

 

The evening concluded with Jim’s legendary traditional Highland toast, and those who were brave enough stood up on the chairs and placed one foot on the table for the delivery. I’d done this toast with Jim several times before, but on this particular evening, I couldn’t help but give it considerably more gusto!

Jim retreated to one side of the room and made himself available to sign bottles (everything that was up for tasting could be purchased there and then on the night) and to answer questions and pose for photographs.I’ve deliberately not gone into long-winded tasting notes for the whiskies. Other well-known and well-subscribed whisky bloggers were present on the night, and they’ll no doubt do the whiskies justice in their respective write-ups. (That’s a hint Matt, Jonathan, & Hendy). For me, the night was simply about spending time with a good friend, a whisky comrade, and to marvel at the passion, charisma, and skill he brings to the game.

Slainte, Jim.  

The Society is doing two other similar events with Jim on this visit in Brisbane & Melbourne respectively.

Thanks go to Gee, Eddie, & Tony at South Trade for teaming up with us and for collaborating to put on such a good show. Feedback from SMWS members on the night and in many, many emails we received the following morning testify as to just how good a night this was.

Nightmare

Your worst whisky nightmare (Int)

(There are two versions of this article:  One intended for Australian readers, and one intended for readers in other countries.   This is the International version.  If you’re reading this from Australia, click here).

 I should preface this piece by stating up front that it reflects the thoughts of an Australian and the general state of the whisky industry as it presented itself within Australia 10, 20, and 25 years ago.  Readers in other countries may have had different experiences and opportunities…

Picture the following two scenarios:

 

  1. You walk into your favourite bottleshop or off-licence looking to see if there are any new and exciting releases, or simply just to pick up new single malt expression that you’d recently heard about.  You head to the whisky section of the store, where there’s normally a selection of 30 to 40 different malts and brands to choose from.  You get there, only to find that the shelves have been stripped almost totally bare. The only whiskies left on the shelf for you to choose from are Glenfiddich 12yo, Glenlivet 12yo, Johnnie Walker Red and Black Labels, and VAT 69.
  2. Exiting the store in despair, you rush to your favourite whisky bar,  in need of a good Scotch to calm your racing pulse. You scan the shelf behind the barman, desperately looking for a juicy, non-filtered, cask-strength dram. Instead, you see only a bottle of Chivas Regal 12yo.

 

Is this your worst whisky nightmare?  No. It’s reality.

 

It’s what life was like in 1989.

 

I am genuinely thrilled and delighted in the boom that the whisky industry is currently experiencing.  Whisky is fashionable, it has an audience, it has a market, the distilleries are in full production, and people of all ages and demographics are flocking to its door.  There are thousands of web pages, internet groups, and discussion pages devoted to whisky; there are whisky clubs that meet throughout cities and suburbia each night of the week; and there are books and magazines galore.   Drinkers who are new to the category have never had it so good.  But it wasn’t always this way……

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Nightmare

Your worst whisky nightmare

(There are two versions of this article:  One intended for Australian readers, and one intended for readers in other countries.   This is the Australian version.  If you’re reading this from another country, click here).

 

Picture the following three scenarios:

 

  1. You walk into your favourite bottleshop or off-licence looking to see if there are any new and exciting releases, or simply just to pick up new single malt expression that you’d recently heard about.  You head to the whisky section of the store, where there’s normally a selection of 30 to 40 different malts and brands to choose from.  You get there, only to find that the shelves have been stripped almost totally bare. The only whiskies left on the shelf for you to choose from are Glenfiddich 12yo, Glenlivet 12yo, Johnnie Walker Red and Black Labels, and VAT 69.
  2. Exiting the store in despair, you rush to your favourite whisky bar,  in need of a good Scotch to calm your racing pulse. You scan the shelf behind the barman, desperately looking for a juicy, non-filtered, cask-strength dram. Instead, you see only a bottle of Chivas Regal 12yo.
  3. Convinced the world is coming to an end, you head around to your friend’s house. “All the great new Scotches have been removed from the shelves!” you exclaim, “But it’s okay, we’ll just drink some great, award-winning Australian whisky instead.”   Your friend calms you down, nods sagely and goes over to his drinks cabinet, returning with a tumbler filled with precious, golden nectar. Relieved, you grab it and hold it up to your nose for a sniff and a taste. Hang on, something’s not right here – it smells metallic, spirity, and like oxidised acetone. Suspicious, you have a sip, only to spit it out immediately, spluttering “what the hell is this?” Your friend looks at you strangely and says “It’s Corio, of course.   What did you think it would be?”

 

Is this your worst whisky nightmare?  No. It’s reality.

 

It’s what life was like in 1989.

 

I am genuinely thrilled and delighted in the boom that the whisky industry is currently experiencing.  Whisky is fashionable, it has an audience, it has a market, the distilleries are in full production, and people of all ages and demographics are flocking to its door.  There are thousands of web pages, internet groups, and discussion pages devoted to whisky; there are whisky clubs that meet throughout cities and suburbia each night of the week; and there are books and magazines galore.   Drinkers who are new to the category have never had it so good.  But it wasn’t always this way……

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Glenfiddich

Glenfiddich Excellence 26yo gets its Australian release

There are many things to like about William Grant & Sons and their whiskies.  One of the things I particularly like is that when they decide to do something, they do it well:   Can they make a classic, approachable Speyside whisky that has broad, mass appeal?  Check.  Can they make a rare, special release whisky that services the luxury end of the market whilst still delivering a sublime experience for the tastebuds and which justifies the higher retail price?  Check.  Can they put on a great event to showcase and launch this new expression?  Double check.

 

Tuesday 23rd September saw the launch of the new Glenfiddich Excellence 26yo expression in Australia.  Held at the elegant and ye-olde-world-charm Elizabeth Bay House in Sydney, the evening unveiled not just the new whisky, but also an incredible photography exhibition that captured and reflected the journey of the wood and the casks that contributed to the whisky.

 

Any whisky brand ambassador or even the typical whisky packaging that wraps most bottles will make a point of talking up the whisky’s “pure, soft water”; it will play on how they used only the “finest Scottish barley”; and they will give a nod to the “long and careful maturation in oak casks”.   But how often do we actually think about the casks?  Not just the fact that they sat in a warehouse for 26 years, but what about their life prior to that?  For example, the cask’s previous life where it sat in Kentucky maturing bourbon?  What about transporting it to Scotland for the second phase of its life?  Or what about the simple fact that it came from a tree in the US mountain ranges and was felled, quartered, and allowed to season before the coopers got their hands on it in the first place?

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Ardbeg SN2014

Ardbeg Supernova – 2014 release

Many whisky commentators today make reference to cult whiskies or distilleries with cult followings. As best as I can tell, such references really didn’t exist until 1997. Then Ardbeg was reborn.

 

Ardbeg has a weight, a brand, a persona, that is bigger than itself. It has a reputation for huge, bold, peaty whiskies, and its name travels so far and with such reverence that you could be forgiven for thinking it’s the biggest distillery on Islay. In truth, it’s actually one of the smaller ones. With just one pair of stills churning away, its potential annual production capacity is just a tick over 1.1 million litres.  But as we all know, size doesn’t matter:  It’s what you do with it that counts.

 

Fans of Ardbeg can rejoice this Christmas, with the distillery launching a new release of Supernova. Supernova is Ardbeg’s super-peated expression.  The malt used for “regular” Ardbeg is peated to a phenol level of 55ppm, whilst the Supernova-make ups the ante to over 100ppm.  It was first released in 2009, with a follow-up release in 2010.  After nearly four years’ absence from the scene, Supernova returns with a bang.

 

The return of this Ardbeg is timed with the return of another Ardbeg spirit – the widely publicised vial of Ardbeg that was launched into space in October 2011.  In a fantastic experiment designed to study the effect that gravity has on maturation, two identical vials of Ardbeg were created.  One, the base sample, was left on Islay; the other was sent into space where it has been orbiting the earth for just under three years aboard the International Space Station.  Having returned to earth this month, the space vial can now be reunited with its sibling, and the two will be sent to Houston, Texas for scientists to study and compare how the space spirit and the earth spirit molecules interact with charred oak.

 

Of course, most of us will be happy to let the scientists have all their fun in the lab. In the meantime, fans of heavily peated whisky can look forward to Supernova once more tantalising our tastebuds.  I was fortunate to receive a sample of the new Supernova this week (tagged SN2014), and I’ve given it a good thrashing to test its credentials.  My tasting notes for this are further below.

 

One of the reasons Ardbeg has such appeal is that, despite its high peating levels, it has never been one dimensional. In addition to the mandatory peat and smoke, Ardbeg’s whiskies typically deliver delicious complexity that take the form of sweetness, citrus, vanilla and floral notes.  In recent times, we’ve also been privileged to taste Ardbeg in many different forms and at various different peating levels.  Comparing Ardbeg with different levels of peat influence gives you some insight into the actual base spirit and the character of the distillery.  The original Kildalton release in 2004 (with spirit distilled in 1980) was the first OB to showcase very lowly peated Ardbeg (it was a vatting of both lowly peated and non-peated Ardbeg), and then Blasda came along in 2008 with the phenols downplayed to 8ppm.   Members of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society were particularly lucky, as the Society bottled quite a number of single casks from all three variants, i.e. Blasda, regular, and Supernova casks in 2011 and 2012.  All three types made it on to the Australia Outturn over that period.  Cask 33.118, released by the Australian branch of the Society in early 2013, was a young 7yo cask of Supernova-make Ardbeg, and no doubt from the same distillation runs that are contributing to this new 2014 Supernova release.   So how does this new release, bottled at 55% ABV, stack up?

 

Colour: The colour is pale, bordering on the lightest of straw gold, suggesting a relatively young age and/or bourbon-cask maturation.

 

Nose: Earthy peat and carbon notes waft out of the glass and hit my nostrils before I’ve even finished pouring my first dram.  The signature sweet creaminess and vanilla is immediately evident, and very soft lemon citrus follows shortly afterwards.  There are mint & pine sap notes wafting around, together with charcoal pine.  It’s that glorious aroma of waking up next morning and smelling the charred remains of the camp bonfire that was lit the night before.

 

Palate: Unmistakably Ardbeg! Whilst the nose put the peat to the foreground and the smoke to the background, the palate – and finish, for that matter – reverses the roles, and this is massively smoky.  The sweetness takes the form of dark chocolate (obviously, a dark chocolate that’s not overly bitter), and it strikes me immediately that this was dram would pair deliciously with any number of chocolate desserts.

 

Finish: The finish is dry and ashy, leaving the sort of oaky footprint more commonly associated with much older whiskies.  But that oakiness, regardless of age, is undeniably burned, seared, and charcoaled.  I’m not sure I’ve ever sucked on a lump of coal in my life, but I reckon the finish it would leave behind would be akin to this.

 

Comments: 55% ABV is the perfect strength for this whisky – it carries the weight superbly, and at no stage in the experience does one feel it overbearing, aggressive, or hot.  Instead, it is smooth, sultry, and delivers an experience not unlike liquid smoke wafting and draping over your tongue. I enjoyed this tremendously and found it worked both as a pick-me-up dram for a quick quaff, and also a contemplative dram for long and enjoyable assessment.

 

This dram is a winner. More importantly, it achieves and delivers precisely what it is supposed to do:  Give Ardbeg fans a massive whack of peat and smoke.  It’s a high-octane effort that differs significantly enough from the regular 10yo release to be an essential resident on your whisky shelf.   Given it’s a limited and special release, it’s unlikely to be widely available through regular retail stores, but you should look for it via the Moet Hennessy Collection at http://moet-hennessy-collection.com.au  in December.  Listed RRP is $240.

Angry

10 ways to annoy a whisky nerd

The growth and boom in the single malt industry in the last 15 years or so has given birth to the rise of the Whisky Nerd.   The sort of person who knows (or think they know) every last detail about a distillery, or a particular bottling, or the latest industry gossip.   They’ll be able to tell you which distilleries still use wormtubs; what year Laphroaig was founded; and – if you hand them a glass of anonymous whisky – they’ll sniff the glass and tell you which distillery it comes from; what its age is; and which warehouseman farted on the day the cask was filled.

 

They are the same people who can get very passionate if they hear you say something about whisky that they disagree with or believe to be incorrect.  Fights have started and blood has been spilt over such simple opinions like which vintage release was the best ever Ardbeg!  (Okay, readers, so was it the 1977 or 1974?)

 

So – if you’re the sort of person who likes to upset an OCD sufferer by visiting their house and tilting all of their hung pictures so that they’re crooked on the wall – here is a list of things you can say or do to annoy a Whisky Nerd:

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