Label 5 – Gold Heritage

As someone who is firmly entrenched (and ensconced) in the world of malt, I don’t concern myself too readily or seriously with blended whisky.

But don’t misread that last sentence.  By the same token, I make a fairly concerted effort to ensure I don’t fall into the trap of being a malt snob, or dismissing blends without giving them due regard.   There are some tremendous blended whiskies out there, and it would be both arrogant and folly to write off an entire category of whisky, simply because one’s tastebuds have developed beyond the likes of Vat 69 or 100 Pipers.

So, when the good folks at La Martiniquaise in France offered to send me a bottle of their newly released Label 5 “Gold Heritage”, I felt obliged to give it a fair hearing….

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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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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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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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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.

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As these two heavyweights front up to do battle, let’s compare their credentials: Continue reading “Glenfiddich versus Glenlivet – who will win the heavyweight title bout?”

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.