Search This Blog

Monday, 28 December 2015

Bunnahabhain Ceobanach Whisky Review!

Finally, another peated Bunnahabhain! And with another challenging Gaelic name!

Bunnahabhain distillery's standard releases are basically un-peated, in contrast to most of it's fellow distilleries on Islay, but there have been a few limited release exceptions to the rule. The only peated expression I've tasted so far was the Toiteach, pronounced 'toe-chack' and meaning 'smoky' in English, which was brilliant, and my favourite Bunnahabhain whisky so far. So when another peated release appeared at a similar price point, I had to have it. 

This one is named Ceobanach, but it's pronounced 'ky-aw-bin-aach', which translates to 'smoky mist' in English. It's bottled at 46.3%, is non-chill filtered and naturally coloured, and doesn't carry an official age statement. So far, there isn't a lot of difference between the Toiteach and this newer release, but there were rumours that the Toiteach had been finished in ex-Manzanilla sherry casks, whereas this new expression is ex-bourbon cask only. It's also unofficially 'more than ten years' old, which I suspect is slightly older than the Toiteach. 

Bunnahabhain usually flies under my radar when it comes to Islay whiskies, partly thanks to their un-peated-ness, but also because there's no middle ground between their entry-level 12 yo, and the expensive 18 yo, as far as their standard releases go. And I find both of those to be a little lacking, personally. In fact even a 24 yo independent bottling I tried recently also left me wanting. I can't comment on the older OB releases, though, they're out of my price range. But thankfully these peated expressions seem to fall right in between the 12 & 18 yo, price-wise, and are also much more up my alley!
Bunnahabhain Ceobanach, NAS (but see below), 46.3%. Islay, Scotland.
'Intensely' peated, ex-bourbon cask, 'more than 10 years old'. Non-chill filtered, natural colour. Batch 1, limited release. 

Colour: Very pale gold. 

Nose: Dirty smoke, but quite light. Grassy & herbal, some lemon zest and aniseed. Dry & pungent peat, salted caramel. Drying seaweed, hot sand, brine, salty sea air. Very beach-y. 

Texture: Light-medium weight, no heat at all and plenty of flavour.

Taste: Big peaty punch straight away! Dry, spicy and intense peat. Big pinch of black pepper, a little chilli, lemon oil, and warm salted butter. Strong brine and ashy smoke. 

Finish: Medium-long. Still lovely & peaty right to the end, becoming a little more earthy & herbal but still intensely peaty. A little salted liquorice, dry grass and some sweet malt behind. Lovely.   

Score: 4 out of 5.

Notes: Not hugely complex or dynamic, but really very nice. Intensely peaty, pure and simple. A really enjoyable, straight-forward peated Bunnahabhain. In a similar vein to the Toiteach, but quite different as well. A worthy competitor to the Islay heavyweights, lined up against the likes of Ardbeg or Laphroaig, the Ceobanach will certainly hold it's own. 

While I did give the Toiteach the same score in my review, that was over 18 months ago, so I had to re-visit the older Bunnahabhain after tasting the Ceobanach, purely for research purposes! The Ceobanach wins the fight, and I think I'm right in saying the Toiteach is a little younger. There's more smoke and chilli, and less peat and salt when compared to the newer expression. They're both good, but the Ceobanach takes it for me. 

This one is a little scarce in Australia at the moment, but there is a second batch coming. For now, SM Whisky still has some stock available, and the excellent Nippy Sweetie Whiskies will have some Ceobanach (batch 2) and Toiteach available shortly. Both are well worth buying, and if you're a fan of peaty Islay's, the Ceobanach is definitely one to have on the shelf. And let's hope batch 2 is just as good! 


Monday, 21 December 2015

Heartwood Any Port In A Storm Whisky Review!

Another fantastic whisky from Heartwood! Can you guess which type of cask it's was aged in? There's a subtle hint in the title...

Prior to visiting mad scientist/alchemist/proprietor Tim Duckett earlier this year, I didn't know a great deal about Heartwood. I knew their whiskies had a good reputation, but weren't particularly widely known, and I had only tasted one of them once, years beforehand. It must have left an impression though, because Heartwood was at the top of my list of must-do's during our Tasmanian whisky adventure.

I've covered more of the details about our Heartwood experience, and about Heartwood in general, here. It was one of the highlights of the trip, and the write-up and review of 'Convict Resurrection' are well worth a read, in my humble opinion!

Mr. Duckett & his team have gained some more international attention since, with a few overseas companies trying to buy most of his whisky (don't do it Tim!). One of his malts, 'The Good Convict', recently won southern hemisphere whisky of the year in Jim Murray's notorious bible. Regardless of my opinion of 'the bible', that award is well deserved. That particular expression wouldn't be my number one pick of the range, but that's subject to personal tastes. It's still an excellent whisky.

But there have been a few new whiskies released since, so it's about time I reviewed another. As is often the case with Heartwood whiskies, this one has mostly sold out since it's release in September, but a couple of online stores do still have limited stock available. The sample I'm reviewing of Any Port In A Storm (which I purchased here) is from the winter release of just 172 bottles, with a summer release of the same 'recipe' currently in the works.

Technically this is a blended malt, although only just, consisting of 95% Sullivan's Cove / Tasmania Distillery 15 yo single malt, and 5% 7 yo single malt from Lark Distillery, the oldest operating distillery in Tasmania. Both component whiskies have been fully matured in ex-Port casks, before being rudely-awakened for bottling at a Brontosaurus-like cask strength of 69.9%. Like all Heartwood whiskies, it's also non-chill filtered and naturally (and beautifully) coloured.

Heartwood 'Any Port In A Storm', NAS (but see below), 69.9%. Tasmania, Australia.
95% 15 yo Sullivan's Cove single malt, 5% 7 yo Lark single malt. Fully matured in ex-Port casks. Natural colour, non-chill filtered, cask strength. Winter (first) release. 

Colour: Dark copper with red tinges.

Nose: Mega rich & fruity. Plum jam, juicy sultanas in rich syrup. Thick caramel sauce, a good pinch of pepper, a little warm oak. Apricots and candied orange, some coconut and a little cocoa. 

Texture: Huge, thick & syrupy. A little heat, but not what you'd expect for 70%. 

Taste: Dark fruit syrup, red grapes, milk chocolate, toasted oak. Warm spices as well, and some gunpowder / coal dust. 

Finish: Long. Chilli & white pepper initially, but they subside quickly. More fruits, flint (stone), drier now as well. More chocolate, and red berries - raspberry milk chocolate. 

Score: 4 out of 5.

Notes: Huge amounts of flavour again in this one, plenty of life & complexity as well. I do prefer the Convict Resurrection bottling to the Any Port In A Storm, there's not much in it, it's still excellent. It could definitely handle a little water, and that's probably how beginners should approach it initially. But it's still very drinkable neat, especially in small sips. You'll still get mountains (or dinosaurs) of flavour! 

I'm yet to try a Heartwood I haven't enjoyed. There's just so much body and intensity in these bottles, but there's also plenty of complexity and loads of flavour. I still believe that as far as value for money goes, there's no going past these babies. Especially when Sullivan's Cove French Oak is selling at $350 from the distillery, at 47.5% (albeit in a 700ml bottle - for the time being). You're getting a similar age spirit here, and at full cask strength (usually well over 60%), but you're paying around 30% less. Bravo. 

Mr. Duckett and team aren't resting on their laurels either, there are plenty of very interesting releases coming, and one particularly crazy one in the works. Bring it on! Keep an eye on their website, and follow them on Facebook for regular updates. But leave a bottle or two for me!


Monday, 14 December 2015

Caol Ila Stitchell Reserve Whisky Review!

This was always one Caol Ila expression I wasn't particularly interested in. Why? Because it's un-peated! But let's not judge this book by it's cover just yet.

There have been quite a few official releases of un-peated Caol Ila in the past, usually as part of Diageo's annual 'special releases' (along with Lagavulin 12 yo, and Port Ellen etc.) . Along with the Lagavulin, this is one of the more reasonably priced of the yearly releases. The 2013 release I'm reviewing here was named 'Stitchell Reserve' in honour of the impending retirement of Distillery Manager Billy Stitchell, after nearly 40 years at the distillery. 

I'm not sure why they chose this whisky to commemorate Stitchell's career, seeing as it's a departure from the 'house style', it's perhaps a little unusual and seems like a strange move to me. Would KFC name a beef burger the Colonel Sanders!?! But I could be being a little harsh, and I don't know the back story there.

It also seems to be quite young, or at least the majority of the contents seem to be. I'm only guessing here due to the lack of age statement, but there's quite a lot of alcohol and quite a bite in this one. It drinks far younger than even the youngest peated Caol Ila's I've had, including the brilliant Cask Strength, which is also NAS. This un-peated Islay probably could've used some added water, but I haven't done that in any of my more recent reviews, and didn't want to start now.

I basically knew before-hand that I wouldn't love this one as much as I do the 'normal' peated Caol Ila's, but I kept an open mind, and was interested to see how it would compare to other un-peated Islay's like Bunnahabhain 12 yo or one of Bruichladdich's brilliant 'Laddie' expressions. Although neither of those are bottled at cask strength, and both are non-chill filtered, while there's no mention of chill filtration on the Caol Ila, as is usually the case from Diageo. Regardless, let's have a crack at it!

Caol Ila Stitchell Reserve, NAS, 59.6%. Islay, Scotland. 
Un-peated, cask strength. Matured in American & European oak (original contents unknown).

Colour: Yellow gold.

Nose: Sweet & fruity, and a bit of bite (heat)! Honey, sweet malted barley, slightly under-ripe apples, some pineapple and under-ripe banana. A little spice and vanilla as well. 

Texture: Strong, hot & intense. Not quite rough, but certainly hot.

Taste: Fresh sweet malt, a big whack of hot chilli, plus some black pepper & hot cinnamon. Some vanilla and a little oak, more crisp apple and sweet under-ripe bananas. Hint of something coastal as well, a little salty air or brine.

Finish: Short. The chilli and bite are still there, and they wipe almost everything else out. A little fruit & malt are left behind, but not for long. 

Score: 2 out of 5.

Notes: It's semi-decent, but I think Caol Ila minus peat, equals not for me! When their peated whisky is so good, why mess with it? It's just too hot as well, probably because of that lack of calming & compensating peaty-ness. Nonetheless, it was an interesting experience to try it, although I'm glad it was only a sample rather than a bottle. 

If there had been more older stock in the mix, I suspect it would've been a slightly different story. This may not be grounds to judge the other un-peated Caol Ila releases though, there are eight other versions, and I can't say I've tried any of them. The other versions have all had age statements as well, so chances are they'll be quite different to this one. 

Again, I'm puzzled as to why they would choose to commemorate their long-serving distillery manager with a complete departure from the successful house style, not only by cutting out the peat, but also by dropping the age statement. Every peated cask strength Caol Ila I've tried, both from the distillery and from independent bottler's, has been truly brilliant. But like I said above, I don't know the full story there. 

One strong indicator that this one wasn't a great success, would be the fact that it's still quite readily available, at least in Australia, and that the pricing hasn't changed significantly after two years on the shelves. A quick google search gives three Australian stores with it available, with this one being the cheapest by far, and well under the original RRP. But as always, this is only my opinion on this particular whisky, so others may feel differently. The only way to be 100% sure, is to find out for yourself! 


Sunday, 6 December 2015

Springbank 12 yo Cask Strength Whisky Review!

We're back to Campbeltown, for another cracking whisky from Springbank!

I've reviewed Springbank's entry level 10 yo whisky before, so why am I now reviewing a 12yo Springbank? Surely there wouldn't be that much difference between that 10 yo and this 12 yo, right? Wrong! Why? Well mainly because of those two little words: cask strength.

The 46% offerings from Springbank distillery are good whiskies, but in my experience so far, the cask strength offerings are great whiskies. The 12 yo Springbank is produced in regular batch releases, with the resulting variations in both strength and level of greatness, but I am yet to taste one I haven't enjoyed.

The fact that this bottling is generally available for around $130-140 AUD (for some perspective, the 10 yo 46% bottling is around $100) is an added bonus. There aren't many cask strength single malts around for that sort of money, and even less that are (lightly) peated, non-chill filtered, naturally coloured and, perhaps most significantly, that carry an age statement. What about any made from floor-malted local barley, made using a direct-fired wash still, and matured and bottled on-site? I'd say this is just about your only option!

The sample I'm reviewing here is from an older release, batch 5, which was first released in early 2012, and matured in a combination of first-fill and re-fill sherry casks. But the batches are more easily identified by the strength, which in this case is a nice meaty 55.1%.

The more recent batch that seems to be most available in Australia was bottled at 50.3%, which is obviously a significant difference in strength. I have tasted that one previously though, and don't recall anything particularly negative about it. But a 5% difference in strength, is a 5% difference in strength!

(more recent batch pictured)
Springbank 12 yo, Cask Strength, 55.1%. Campbeltown, Scotland. 
Batch 5, released 2012. Matured in combination of first-fill & refill sherry casks. Non-chill filtered, natural colour. 

Colour: Copper.

Nose: Sweet malt, rich & dry sherry, a little salty and nutty as well. Stewed stone & tropical fruits, a little dry white wine? Could be a lighter style of sherry though, hard to say. Hint of orange oil, and earthy soft peat. 

Texture: Lovely. Big & meaty, but not aggressive. Very nice. 

Taste: Dry & crumbly peat, more prominent now than on the nose. Lighter sherry, and a caramel sweetness. Wet stone, a little chilli, a little orange-heavy marmalade. A hint of ashy smoke in the background. 

Finish: Long & warming. Mild dark chocolate, perhaps cooking chocolate. More chilli, a little fruit syrup. Peat embers & juicy malted barley go the distance.

Score: 4 out of 5.

Notes: Surprisingly peaty, at least compared to my expectations, especially after a little extra time in the glass. Excellent quality and great texture, with plenty of flavour as well. Not a sherry monster of course, and it's not meant to be, but the influence is there, and I suspect it's not all down to the usual suspect Mr. Oloroso. 

A fantastic malt, which all whisky fans should try, and a must-have for the cask strength and / or Springbank fans. The fact that it's great value for money is just icing on the cake. I will say that from what I remember, I do prefer this batch to the later 50.3% version, and I don't remember there being this level of peat influence in that newer release. Nonetheless, that's certainly not a reason not to try or buy it

Springbank distillery isn't cutting any corners, in production or otherwise, and I think it really shows in their whiskies. I'm yet to try any Hazelburn (triple distilled, un-peated Springbank), but all the Springbank and Longrow malts I've tasted have been very good. And this one definitely continues that trend. 


Sunday, 29 November 2015

Laphroaig 32 yo Whisky Review!!!

Yes, this one deserves extra exclamation marks! I've been lucky enough to get my hands on a sample of this incredible nectar, and what better way to celebrate my own birthday!

This thing of beauty is one of the oldest whiskies ever released by Laphroaig, which is fantastic enough, but it get's even better! This super-sexy liquid spent all 32 of those years in ex-Oloroso sherry casks. Yes, that's right, 32 year old (minimum!), sherry cask Laphroaig, bottled at cask strength. Oh, stop it...

I would say this would be one of the oldest (by age) Islay original bottling's from you can buy today, without having to go to auction or the secondary market. There's a 40yo bottling from Bunnahabhain, which is considerably more expensive than the Laphroaig, and is only 41.7%. And Diageo have no choice when it comes to the age of their annual Port Ellen releases, since the distillery closed in 1983, and of course those are very expensive and very collectible.

While the Laphroaig is a limited release, I understand there was around 6000 bottles produced, which has helped keep the pricing relatively reasonable. Not exactly cheap of course, with an RRP of $1500 AUD, but that's really quite reasonable for what you're getting. And it's selling for considerably higher overseas, which is the opposite of the usual situation here in Australia. Bravo! If I had the sort of disposable income required to sit at this table, I can tell you I'd definitely have a full bottle on the shelf, rather than a sample.

Laphroaig is celebrating their 200th anniversary this year, and this very special bottling is one of the last commemorative releases, along with the 15yo, the 21yo Friends of Laphroaig bottling, the super-rare 2015 Cairdeas, and the travel-exclusive 16yo. What a way to celebrate! Australia was also lucky enough to host legendary distillery manager John Campbell this year, who conducted a number of tastings during his tour, and was even subjected to an interview by yours truly! So to wet your Laphroaig whistle with a little insight into the distillery, and a review of one very special Cairdeas bottling, check this out!

Just to add a little extra anticipation, let's remember that sherry-matured Laphroaig is quite a rare thing on it's own. I'm a big fan of the 25 yo, and the Triple Wood has grown on me considerably since this early review, both of which contain a portion of Oloroso-matured whisky, but this Oloroso-only 32yo bottling is going to be a very different beast. Age may not be everything, but I'm thinking this is going to be one to remember...

Laphroaig 32 yo, 46.6% cask strength. Islay, Scotland. 
Fully matured in ex-Oloroso sherry hogshead casks, mix of first & second-fill. Assuming non-chill filtered and natural colour.  

Colour: Copper. Lighter than it looks in the official photos, probably down to lighting.

Nose: Wow - so fruity, and quite sweet as well! Is this fruit juice? Salty and sweet stone fruit, drying raisins & currants, wet brass / copper, toffee sauce & salted mild nuts (walnut, and maybe almond). More sherry influence develops later on, as does a hint of soft smoke & sweet dates.

Texture: Lovely. Nice and oily, and no sign whatsoever of any alcohol. Again, this could be fruit juice!

Taste: Interesting! Lots of spice - wood spice especially. Cologne, spicy and rich, dry peat, and a little chilli. Dried and slightly waxy fruit, more tropical now, a little soap, and a hint of coastal breeze. A good amount of peat influence for the age as well, very nice.

Finish: Long, with chilli, dry oak and more wood spices. Crumbly peat, a little soapy leather, creamy milk chocolate (but not so sweet). Gets quite soft, but then hangs around for ages, with powdered peat and bitter-sweet dark chocolate.

Score: 4.5 out of 5.

Notes: Very interesting, and very special! Totally different to the 'standard' 25 yo of course, and worth the extra dollars in my opinion. Very complex and engaging, while also being quite inviting and encouraging. If I'm honest though, I didn't particularly like that cologne note I got on the palate, and I can't recall experiencing that before, but that could be a fluke. Apart from that small chink in it's armour, this is a brilliant whisky, and as is everything Laphroaig touches, it's excellent quality.

They could've easily charged considerably more for this whisky (and put it in some fancy decanter), and it still would've sold like hotcakes, so I commend everyone involved for keeping it within reach of a larger audience. It seems a little understated and straight-forward in it's presentation and marketing, which is refreshing to see. Perhaps that's even a little Islay-like in a way? Like it has nothing to prove. Which it doesn't. I must get my hands on more of this!

If you have the sort of dollars required for entry, find yourself a bottle and buy it. Right now. Or, feel free to send it to me. I'll even call it a combined birthday & Christmas present, so I'm really not asking for much...

A big thanks to champion brand ambassador Dan Woolley for the sample, and a big thanks to Laphroaig, Beam Suntory and CCA for bringing this beautiful whisky into Australia. It's definitely a winner, and I must have more...


Sunday, 22 November 2015

New World Distillery (Starward) Ginger Beer Cask Whisky Review!

One of the most unusual cask finishings you'll find, and also a great Australian single malt!

While New World Distillery may not be a very traditional or romantic one, being based in a vast airport hanger in Essendon, Melbourne, and using modern equipment and techniques. But there's no denying they're producing a great value & affordable Australian single malt. Their Starward brand is one of the most affordable on the market, actually, and is unquestionably of better quality than it's nearest domestic competition.
I've covered a few details about Starward / New World Distillery whisky here, after a presentation/tasting with proprietor David Vitale at Whisky Live this year. But I didn't go into detail about another aspect of this distillery, which is quite exciting, and a little mysterious: New World Projects. The concept behind this brand is quite innovative as well, the distillery's production team is basically allowed to experiment with some whisky, and if the project is deemed successful, it goes to market as a single cask bottling. 

Some very different whiskies have carried the 'Projects' label over the last few years, including the mysterious 'Project X', which is a 3 year old colour-less malt whisky. But the project that caught my attention was the Ginger Beer Cask release. Basically, the distillery brewed a barrel-fermented alcoholic ginger beer, in a virgin oak cask. And once said cask had been emptied, it was filled with 3 year old Starward whisky, taken straight from the distillery's Solera vat (so some of the contents could be significantly older) at 50% alcohol. After a 3 month finishing in the ginger beer cask, it was bottled at 47.7%.

The sample I'm reviewing is from the second batch released, although both used the same production techniques and were bottled at very nearly the same strength. Unfortunately both are also totally sold out, thanks to small batch sizes, and very reasonable pricing at the time of release. Sorry!

(photo no longer available)

New World Projects Ginger Beer Cask, NAS, 47.7%. Melbourne, Australia.
Matured for minimum 3 years (Solera) in Apera (Australian sherry) casks, then finished for 3 months in ex. alcoholic ginger-beer cask. Non-chill filtered. Sample reviewed is from batch 2.

Colour: Copper.

Nose: Caramelised bananas, warm spices (cinnamon, mild clove, nutmeg), rich caramel sauce. Stone fruit & toasted mild nuts - maybe pine-nuts. With more time, toffee apples and some soft malt.

Texture: Quite light, but with plenty of spice (as in flavour, not alcohol heat). 

Taste: There's the ginger! A mix of crystallised (sugared) and dried natural ginger. With that proper ginger warmth/heat as well, it's quite dominant actually. More baking spices, wooded white wine and the standard Starward sweet bananas in the background. And that wooded wine is getting more prominent with time. 

Finish: Short-medium, and the ginger warmth and spices are still there! And when it does fade, it takes basically everything else with it. Slight hint of an apple orchard in summer, right at the end. 

Score: 3 out of 5.

Notes: That ginger beer must have been brilliant! The cask has certainly had a big influence on this one, and it's very enjoyable, but I'm not loving that white wine note I'm getting on the palate. Similar to an overly-wooded Chardonnay perhaps, which isn't really my thing. Love the ginger & spices though, it's weird, but it works. In fact I think this would make for a very enjoyable summer's day dram. Or dare I say it, to add a bit more punch to a ginger beer over ice! It's hot in Australia at the moment though, so that could just be the weather talking!

I've been impressed with everything I've tasted from Starward / New World Distillery so far, they're doing great work at very reasonable prices, and are putting quality Australian whisky within the reach of the more budget-conscious consumer. Which is exactly what needs to happen for Aussie whisky's domestic success to improve, in my opinion. Long may it continue

But who knows what this distillery will try next! Another weird (or weirder) cask-finished release, perhaps? Or more experimentation and messing with people's expectations? Regardless, I'll be keeping an eye out for it, and I suggest you do too! 


P.S. A quick teaser for next weeks' review, as I think it's going to be one to remember. I'll give you a hint: I'm turning 31 next week, but this whisky is a year older. And it's from Islay. Enough said! I Can't wait...     

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Arran Machrie Moor Cask Strength Whisky Review!

Another new distillery for me, but one that's perhaps a little closer to home, figuratively speaking.

The Arran Distillery is located in Lochranza, on the beautiful Isle of Arran, off the West coast of Scotland. The island is actually separated from the Hebrides (Isles of Islay, Jura etc.) by a finger of the Scottish mainland, so it doesn't enjoy the same cult status. Arran is the only legal distillery on it's namesake isle, in fact it's the first to operate on the island since 1837!

Arran is a young, privately-owned distillery, which only recently celebrated it's 20th birthday, having started production in August of 1995. The distillery is relatively small, having only a single pair of stills, and a maximum production capacity of around 750,000 litres per year, although their actual output is significantly less than that. Their whiskies do enjoy a small cult following, particularly the now-ended 'devil's punchbowl' series, which have become seriously collectable, and therefore seriously expensive.

Arran are producing mainly un-peated malt, but in a rather traditional way, using wooden wash-backs, with no adding colouring, and mostly without chill filtration. However, on the Western side of the island, you'll find the ancient peat bog named Machrie Moor, which is the stuff of local legend, largely thanks to a number of stone circles, which date back thousands of years. Quite a fitting name for a peated Arran whisky, then!

There have been a few releases of Machrie Moor peated Arran, all peated to around 20ppm, but only one release so far has been bottled at cask strength. It doesn't carry an age statement, but it's non-chill filtered, naturally coloured, and bottled at a natural 58.4%. It's also very well priced, at $125 AUD from Nippy Sweetie Whiskies, who generously supplied the sample I'm reviewing tonight. Considering it was released back in October 2014, and only 6000 bottles left the warehouse, it's not very easy to find. But somehow, Craig & team still have some in stock!

Arran Machrie Moor Cask Strength, NAS, 58.4%. Isle of Arran, Scotland.
Peated to 20ppm, non-chill filtered, natural colour. Batch 1, released 10/2014, 6,000 bottles.

Colour: Pale gold.

Nose: Lemon & herb oil, soft peat in the background. Scorched/burnt pineapple, floral soap, hint of dry dirt. Dried chilli flakes, and a little oak. Quite soft on the nose actually, but also a little spirit-y. 

Texture: Juicy, rich & powerful. Very nice.

Taste: Sharp earthy peat, more lemon oil but with chilli this time, and it's in the background now with the peat coming to the fore. More scorched pineapple, lime-flavoured boiled sweets/lollies, some wood ash and a little sharp/acrid smoke.

Finish: Medium. Chilli milk chocolate, with extra chilli! Then creamy peat, and some smoked fruit syrup.

Score: 3.5 out of 5.

Notes: Very impressive! The peat is quite dominant on the palate, but very soft on the nose, so it's walking softly while carrying a big stick. It's young, powerful, simplistic and spirit-driven, but I like it. It's not harsh or rough, but it is quite bite-y, and doesn't make any apologies. And for those of us who appreciate this style of whisky, it doesn't have to! 

With a little more age or cask influence I think I may have scored it slightly higher, but then again it could have lost some of that peaty power if that was the case, so perhaps not. I don't think I'd pick it as an island whisky in a blind tasting either, but not having tried any other Arran's whiskies, I can't say if that's just the way they are. So don't go into this one expecting a Ledaig or Islay-type experience, it has more of a peated mainland character, I think.  

For the price, and remembering that it's bottled at cask strength, it's really quite good value, and certainly well worth a buy. There's not a lot of similar competition at this price point either. I'd be interested to try the 46% versions, although I suspect I would still prefer this one. It looks like there's a second batch of the cask strength Machrie Moor being released shortly, so the popularity could be on the rise. Until that one arrives, Nippy Sweetie are the only Australian source for this first batch, at least that I could find. So get it while it's hot!


Sunday, 8 November 2015

Tomintoul Peaty Tang Whisky Review!

A completely new distillery for me, and quite an uncommon whisky in these parts. Tally-ho!

Located in Speyside, near it's namesake village, Tomintoul (pronounced 'tom-in-towl') is a relatively young distillery, having opened in 1964. With a production capacity of around 3,000,000 litres, it's a little smaller than it's closest neighbour, Glenlivet, although the majority of it's production goes into blends. There are also quite a few different single malt expressions available, ranging from a 10yo to a 23yo, along with a couple of cask finished expressions. Of particular interest to me, though, is their peated whisky!

Tomintoul 'Peaty Tang' is the only peated malt officially bottled by the distillery (they do produce another, sold under the name 'Old Ballantruan'), and doesn't have much competition from it's close neighbours in that regard. For now, at least. This bottling has actually done quite well for itself, having picked up a few awards & medals, including receiving a pretty good score from everyone's favourite hat-wearing reviewer (yes, that was sarcasm.) a few years ago.

It's a reasonably priced peated single malt, but unfortunately there's very little other information available. The distillery's own website and the label and packaging tell us basically nothing, other than the fact that it was made from peated malted barley. Very helpful!

Interestingly, the other peated whisky produced by the distillery, Old Ballantruan, is bottled at 50%, and is non-chill filtered. So I have to wonder why Tomintoul chose to deviate from that for their official bottling, and go for the lower 40% strength and chill filtration? Perhaps they're just trying to keep the price down, but I have no doubt it would be more successful at 46% and non chill-filtered, ala Benromach Peat Smoke. But enough of all that, let's taste it!
Tomintoul Peaty Tang, NAS, 40%. Speyside, Scotland.
Very little information available. Assuming it's ex-bourbon cask (probably re-fill) matured, and chill filtered

Colour: Light gold

Nose: Interesting! Old copper coins, wet grass, rotting root vegetables. Salted potato chips, something a little floral as well. Mild vanilla bean, and drying malt sweetness in the background.

Texture: Thin, and a little watery, but I've had worse at this strength. Should have been 46% though!

Taste: Vegetal peat, a little pepper, and a little dry, ashy smoke as well. Some more vanilla bean, a little green fruit, and more of those rotting root vegetables. Tastes better than that sounds, though!

Finish: Soft and quite short, as expected, but pleasant enough. Dry smoke, more vegetal peat, some dry white wine, and some grist-y malt.

Score: 3 out of 5. 

Notes: Certainly something different, and a little challenging! Not what I expected, especially considering it's Speyside origins! Some very interesting flavours there, which may not be for everyone, but that's probably the idea! 

Certainly good quality as well, but I can't help but wish it was bottled at 46%, and was non-chill filtered. I have no doubt it would've scored higher if that was the case. Which makes me want to try the other peated malt made by Tomintoul distillery, Old Ballantruan, which is 10 years old, bottled at 50% and is non-chill filtered.

But then, that bottling is nearly double the price of the Peaty Tang, so perhaps that's not a fair comparison. That said, even at this low price point (around $80 here), the Peaty Tang has some serious competition from some big players, namely the 10yo bottling's from Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Ledaig. But if you've had your fill of those, or if they don't push your buttons, and you're after something different, this peated Tomintoul definitely fits that bill. 

A big thanks to Craig from Nippy Sweetie Whiskies for the sample of this one, I'm very glad to have tried this very interesting malt! Craig & team are doing excellent work, constantly coming up with more hard-to-find bottling's, many of which are shipped direct from Scotland. Including some very interesting-looking independent bottling's from Cadenhead's, among many others (Laphroaig 21yo, anyone?). I highly recommend keeping tabs on their website. 


Sunday, 1 November 2015

Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask Whisky Review!

Something sweet this way comes... Or does it?

Taiwanese distillery Kavalan was thrust into the spotlight earlier this year, when their 'Vinho barrique' wine cask-matured version of their 'Solist' range won best single malt at the World Whisky Awards. I've reviewed that one previously, and found it to be decent, but it would not have been my choice for best single malt in the world. 

This (Oloroso) sherry cask version of the single cask Kavalan 'Solist' has won a few awards as well, but doesn't quite enjoy the massive prestige (and price tag) of the Vinho. These being single cask bottling's though, chances are what you're tasting isn't from the cask which was awarded anyway. I also touched on the effects of these awards in that previous review, so I won't go into that again. 

None of Kavalan's whiskies carry an age statement, and are doubtlessly young by Scotch standards, but thanks to the hot & humid Taiwanese climate, their whisky generally matures much faster than it's Scottish counterpart. The entire Solist series is bottled at cask strength, without chill filtration or added colouring, and is quite nicely presented. They're also quite expensive, which is why I'm reviewing from a sample! But unfortunately this is also why I don't have a cask number to refer to. 

The nice (very) dark red colour of this whisky is quite remarkable, and seeing as it's not artificial, is impressive, but also a little foreboding. There's obviously been a massive sherry influence here, and it may have overwhelmed the whisky. But Kavalan shave, toast and heavily char their casks before filling, which may have helped in that regard. I have heard rumours that these casks have been rinsed with sherry before use, just to coax some more colour out of the cask (and residual contents), but I can't say if this is true or not. While that wouldn't technically make it natural colour, they still haven't added any E150a colouring.
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask, NAS, 57.8% cask strength, Taiwan. 
Single Oloroso sherry cask, of unknown type/size. Non-chill filtered, no added colouring. 

Colour: Very, very dark reddy-brown.

Nose: Big hit of sherry. I would've guessed a mix of PX and Oloroso though. Rich and syrupy. Raisins, treacle, marmite, berries & cherries soaking in booze. A little spice, and a little nip of heat. Not particularly sweet either, reasonably well balanced in that regard, even leaning towards dry.

Texture: Big & punchy. Drying, and a little heat.

Taste: Medium-dry sherry mostly. Raisins again, some alcohol-soaked boiled pudding, with skin. A little rubbing alcohol, spiced cola, and cherry-flavoured cough syrup.  

Finish: Chilli heat, then rich & dry sherry. A hint of malt at the end behind the sherry. Doesn't hang around too long, and get's soft and fruity quite quickly. I'd call it a medium finish. 

Score: 3.5 out of 5. 

Notes: A decent showing, and as I expected, I prefer this one to the Vinho Barrique (wine cask) bottling. Although I did give it the same score! The sherry cask version doesn't have that bitter note that I didn't particularly like in the Vinho, and it's definitely a sherry monster. This was certainly one very active cask, perhaps even a little too active, even over the short maturation period. While that could have been a good thing, it doesn't leave a lot of room for the malt itself to shine through. 

But if you're after a slightly different sherried malt, from a slightly different part of the world, I'd be going for Amrut's Intermediate Sherry, previously reviewed here. While I do prefer it to the Kavalan, and did score it higher, my main reasoning here is that it's around $50 AUD cheaper, and is considerably easier to find. It's also bottled at a similar strength, and also without chill filtration or added colouring. So it's a bit of a no-brainer, really...


Sunday, 25 October 2015

Longrow 14 Burgundy Wood Whisky Review!

Longrow. Not a label everyone's familiar with, and not an easy label to find on the shelves. It is essentially a heavily peated version of Springbank, everyone's favourite Campbeltown distillery! So how about a 14 year old, cask strength, wine finished Longrow? Yes please...

Springbank distillery produces three different whiskies under the one roof: Hazelburn, which is un-peated and triple distilled, Springbank, which is lightly peated and distilled 2.5 times, and Longrow, which is heavily peated and double distilled. The peating level is altered by varying the amount of time that the malted barley is dried/smoked over peat, as opposed to hot air, ranging from zero to over 48 hours, depending on the desired character.

While I'm yet to try any Hazelburn bottling's, both Springbank and Longrow brands are excellent single malts, and are well worth sourcing. The Longrow and Hazelburn names are actually homage to two long-dead distilleries which were also located in Campbeltown. Once home to over 30 distilleries, it's now down to just 3, Springbank, Glen Scotia and Glengyle (sold as Kilkerran) and those two have only been revived relatively recently.

Springbank's whiskies are generally very good quality, and are quite complex. This totally independently-owned distillery does not chill filter or add any colouring to their whisky, and carries out the entire production process on site. This includes floor malting and milling their locally-sourced barley, as well as full-term maturation and bottling on-site. They're a very traditional distillery as well, in that they employ wooden wash-backs, a direct-fired wash still, and everything is done by hand.

This is in fact the first Longrow I've reviewed, although I have tried quite a few different bottling's. The 'Rundlets and Kilderkins' bottling in particular was fantastic, and of course is now impossible to find. For that matter, while I personally find red-wine finished whiskies to be a bit hit & miss, the two (of four) Longrow 'Red' whiskies I've tasted, all of which are finished or even fully matured in wine casks, have been excellent.

This Burgundy Wood bottling is slightly older than the reds, at 14 years of age, and is also an older bottling, being released back in 2011. It was also a limited release at the time, with a relatively small 7800 bottles making it onto the shelves.

There are quite a few of these different wood expression bottling's around, across the three different labels, and at cask strength they all represent quite good value. While they're readily available, at least. This one is pretty tough to find these days.

This one was aged in refill (second-fill) ex-bourbon casks for 11 years, and finished in fresh (first-fill) Burgundy red wine casks (of unknown variety) for 3 years. It was then bottled at a very respectable cask strength of 56.1%, and naturally (pun intended) it was bottled without any chill filtration or added colouring. So let's see how it goes!
Longrow 14yo Burgundy Wood, 56.1%. Campbeltown, Scotland.
Springbank distillery. Matured in second-fill bourbon casks for 11 years, finished in first-fill Burgundy red wine casks for 3 years. Non-chill filtered, natural colour. 

Colour: Dark reddish-copper.

Nose: Surprisingly sweet. Raspberry jam, juicy cherries, fresh doughy bread. Citrus rind, sweet caramel. Hints of soft earthiness, floral perfume and varnish.

Texture: Gorgeous. Thick, velvety and warm.

Taste: There's the peat! Earthy and dry peat, and a little dry, ashy smoke. Strawberry syrup, stewed stone fruit, malt biscuits, and a decent dab of (pleasant) chilli heat. 

Finish: Long and quite spicy & hot, then sweet berries and biscuit-y malt. Hints of dry smoke and earth. 

Score: 3.5 out of 5. 

Notes: Nice and enjoyable, and good quality (like all Springbank's), but not my favourite wine-finished Longrow so far. That title actually goes to the Cabernet Sauvignon version of Longrow Red. I wasn't expecting the sweetness I got from this Burgundy wood expression, but I'm also thankful the wine finish hasn't had too much influence. It's quite well balanced, actually. I was expecting a little more peat influence too, and I suspect it's been softened by the wine finishing. It's important to note that Springbank is a mainland distillery, so we shouldn't expect an Islay or island-style peat, but there's still a decent-sized mainland peaty punch to be found. Usually. 

So, another very good example of Springbank distillery's ability and diversity! They do brilliant work, and they aren't afraid to try something different using their traditional methods. If you're yet to try one of their whiskies, don't hesitate, get on it! You won't regret it. But if you do, feel free to send me what's left!


Sunday, 18 October 2015

Wemyss Velvet Fig Whisky Review!

Another 'sherry monster' this week, but one that's slightly different from the norm: it's a blended whisky!

Wemyss (pronounced 'weems') is a relative newcomer to the Australian whisky scene, but this family-owned Scottish company has a long history in fine whisky and wine. The Wemyss family also recently opened their own distillery, named Kingsbarns distillery, near their ancestral home (a castle, actually!) in the Scottish Lowlands. But they're currently better known as both an independent bottling and blending company. They've released some acclaimed, albeit hard to come by, independent single cask bottling's, and lately their blended whiskies have been gaining serious popularity.

This particular example is probably the most widely acclaimed of the lot. Like all of Wemyss' blends, is named 'velvet fig' after it's intended flavour profile. Sounds promising! As you may have guessed from the name, it's mostly sherried whisky in this one. It's a blended malt, meaning it contains only different single malts, and no grain whisky. There's no age statement to be found, but I can forgive Wemyss for that, because it's been bottled at 46%, without added colouring or chill filtration.

It was released in late 2014, and won best blended malt at the world whisky awards in 2015. There were only 6000 bottles released in the first place, and naturally it's now become quite hard to find. It was priced at around $100-110 at the time of release, which isn't cheap for a blend. I grabbed a sample here at Nippy Sweetie Whiskies, and it seems they've still got some in stock, for $10 each. That's a little more reasonable!
Wemyss 'Velvet Fig' Blended Malt, NAS, 46%, Scotland.
Blend of unknown single malts. Non-chill filtered, no added colouring. 6000 bottles released.

Colour: Bronze

Nose: Medium-dry sherry, Oloroso? But also quite nutty. A little rum like as well - raw sugar, caramelised bananas. Banana sherbet and a little cream. A little spirit-y as well. 

Texture: Nice, but a little heat there as well. 

Taste: Spicy, a little honey, and dry sherry now. A little spirit-y heat again, and not a great deal else. 

Finish: Quite short, and delicate. Young sherry and spirit-y young malt. Then it's all over. 

Score: 2.5 out of 5 (blend score). 

Notes: A bit of a let-down, really. Just a little lacking in depth and complexity, and a little young and spirit-y. A decent showing, but not in the same league as most of the sherry-heavy single malts I've tasted, at a similar price. And to accentuate that point, this blend was around the $100 AUD mark when it was readily available, which puts it at the same level as Glendronach 15, and quite a way above the 12. And there's just no contest there. 

That's not to say that Wemyss' malts and blends are not worth giving a shot, and of course these reviews are only my personal opinion. But for me, this one just didn't live up to the hype. 

A new peated expression, named Kiln Embers, which apparently contains twice the amount of peated malt of their standard peated blend, was released overseas recently, and sounds pretty good. Like the Velvet Fig expression, it's non-chill filtered, and is bottled at 46%. And that all sounds quite promising to me... 


Sunday, 11 October 2015

Glendronach 20yo Single Cask Whisky Review!

Starting a new job next week, so it's time to pull out something a little special!

In my opinion, Glendronach are producing the best quality, and best value, sherry-matured whisky available for a reasonable price. I know that's quite a big claim, but I stand by it!

Their excellent 15yo and 18yo Oloroso-matured malts, and the NAS Cask Strength bottling's, are all real 'sherry monsters', and are also excellent value for money. The distillery also regularly releases batches of single cask bottling's, matured in a range of different sherry casks, and bottled at cask strength. There are also a couple of recent bottling's matured in bourbon casks (not single casks), but I'm yet to try any of those. There's also a more heavily-peated expression in the works, which I'm really looking forward to.

This Highland distillery has had a slightly tumultuous past, having had many different owners since it opened in 1826. It was mothballed in 1996, before re-opening in 2002 under new owners, with a number of changes to their production process. They were even malting their own barley, using the traditional floor malting process, up to the closure. The malted barley was dried in-house, using a mixture of coal, and (drum roll please) a little peat, apparently to around about 10-15 ppm, which is similar to the level Benromach are currently using. It's a very subtle / barley detectable level though, especially after those sherry casks have done their thing!

Prior to the closure, Glendronach was one of the few Scotch distilleries still to employ direct-fired stills, where fires are used to heat the still from below, rather than the safer and more efficient 'indirect' steam heating that is more commonly found. Glendronach was also the last distillery in Scotland to direct-fire using coal, rather than gas. As you can imagine, direct-fired stills can be a little more unpredictable (particularly when using coal), but it's the traditional, artisanal method. There are still a few distilleries that are using direct-fired stills, such as Glenfarclas, Springbank, and Glenfiddich, while there are a few more using a combination of direct- and indirect heating.

Unfortunately when the distillery re-opened, these practices ceased. From 2002 the malt was sourced from local commercial malting's, and the distillery converted to indirect-heated stills in 2005. But, if you come across a bottling which was distilled prior to these changes, which if you consider the closure period is currently anything older than 13 or so years, you're really getting the old style Glendronach. In 2008, the distillery was purchased by current owners Benriach distilling company, and the deal included 9000 casks of maturing whisky, some of which dated back as far as the early 1960's. Like the company's other distilleries, they don't chill filter or add any colouring, and most expressions are bottled at 46% or above.

The sample I'm reviewing today (thanks Matt!) is from a UK exclusive single cask bottling, which was matured for 20 years in a Pedro Ximenez (PX) sherry puncheon (a squat ~500L cask). It was bottled in 2014, at a cask strength of 54.8%. This is actually my first PX-only Glendronach, so it'll be very interesting. But being cask strength 20 year old Glendronach, it's going to be good...
Glendronach Single Cask 20yo, 54.8%. Highlands, Scotland.
Cask number 2822, UK exclusive. Distilled 11/1994, bottled 11/2014. Matured in PX sherry puncheon, yielding 660 bottles. Bottled at cask strength, without chill filtration or added colouring.

Colour: Dark bronze, slight red tinges.

Nose: Mature PX sherry straight away - loads of juicy raisins, nice and rich but not overly sweet, dark caramel, a little spice. Some stone fruit as well. Golden syrup, hints of oak & pepper.   

Texture: Thick & syrupy, slight touch of heat.

Taste: Sweet honeyed barley, white pepper. Becomes drier & more spicy quite quickly. Rich dark fruits in syrup, and mildly bitter coffee. 

Finish: Medium length. Chilli dark chocolate, dry coffee grounds, spiced burnt caramel, malted barley.

Score: 4 out of 5. 

Notes: Very good and enjoyable, and nicely balanced. Some PX matured whisky can become overwhelmed by the cask, or can become very sweet, but this hasn't been the case here. Not quite the massive sherry monster I was expecting, either. Nonetheless, another great quality Glendronach!

But compared to Glendronach's standard 15yo, 18yo and Cask Strength (NAS) expressions, all of which can be found for around or under $150 AUD, I think these older single cask releases are a little too expensive. And you have to take the nature of the single cask beast into account, they can be a bit of a gamble after all. Some may be brilliant, some may be good, and some may only be decent. So it's important to do as much research as you possibly can before buying. 

Glendronach are making some brilliant whisky though, I haven't tasted a single one I haven't enjoyed. And they're amassing quite the hardcore fan base, for good reason. I can't wait for their peated release, either, as long as there's some sherry casks involved!


Friday, 2 October 2015

For relaxing times, make it Suntory time!

Ah, Japan. Without a doubt the favourite of the few overseas countries I've visited. Modern and innovative, yet traditional and reserved. Everything is efficient and concise, and clean and quiet (except for the pachinko bars). And humility, courtesy, and attention to detail, are omnipresent in Japanese culture. All this and more, I feel, is also expressed in Japanese whisky!

I was recently lucky enough to attend a Japanese whisky tasting at the ever-brilliant Cobbler, in Brisbane's West End. We were treated to seven whiskies from Suntory, including Yamazaki & Hakushu Distiller's Reserve's and 12yo's, and Hibiki Harmony, 12yo, and 17yo. Each whisky was also matched with a sashimi (raw seafood) food-pairing, custom-designed by our host, the walking, talking whisky library, and brand ambassador, Dan Woolley. I'll admit I'm not normally a huge fan of the usual sashimi, but these courses were delicious, and they matched very nicely with the light and clean whiskies.

Let's take a closer look at each of the whiskies and distilleries, and some of the history behind Suntory, Japan's largest spirits producer. They're also a big player by wider standards, particularly since acquiring Beam inc. in 2014, when they became the third largest spirits company in the world. Their Japanese whisky portfolio includes Yamazaki (pronounced 'yam-a-zaa-key') and Hakushu ('hack-ish-oo') single malt distilleries, Chita ('cheet-a') grain whisky distillery, and Hibiki ('hib-ee-key') blended whisky, which is a blend of the three aforementioned whiskies.

Whisky has been produced in Japan since the mid-19th century, when western culture was starting to become more popular. However, it was not wildly successful until the 1930's, with the arrival of a Japanese whisky that was tailored to Japanese tastes. Suntory released Kakubin, meaning 'square bottle', in 1937, and it has been Japan's biggest selling whisky for over 70 years. It was also recently launched in Australia, and although it's usually promoted as a mixer or cocktail whisky, it's also perfectly fine neat, especially when you consider the low pricing ($40-50)

Yamazaki is certainly the most widely known and available of the Japanese single malts, especially outside of Japan. The distillery was built near Osaka in 1923, by Suntory founder Shinjiro Torii, with the help of Masataka Taketsuru, who had learnt the art and science of whisky making at Glasgow university (he also worked at Hazelburn distillery in Campbelltown), and would later start rival whisky brand Nikka. Suntory was made famous by the movie Lost in Translation, which as it turns out was funded entirely by Suntory, and was released to coincide with the launch of Yamazaki in the USA.

The distillery features 12 stills, of different shapes and sizes, and uses 5 different types of cask to mature their malt, including Mizunara Japanese oak, which is very rare and expensive. In fact Suntory as a company are only permitted to cut down 10 Mizunara trees per year, to be made into casks. The different whiskies from each still and cask are then blended / married together to create Yamazaki single malt. We tasted two expressions on the night, the NAS Distiller's Reserve, and the 12yo. I believe both are chill filtered, as is the case with most Japanese whiskies.

Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve, NAS, 43%. A blend / marriage of all the different styles produced by the distillery, including some matured in Japanese oak. Complex and fruity on the nose, with plum and peach, wood spice, toasted coconut and caramel. Quite spicy on the palate, with a hint of sherry and caramel sweetness, while the finish was quite light and drying, with some light oak at the end. The Distiller's Reserve was paired with fresh salmon sashimi, with a light ponzu-style dressing.

Yamazaki 12yo, 43%. Brighter and fruitier than the distiller's reserve on the nose, with more tropical fruit, some citrus and wood spice. Nicely balanced and soft on the palate, with sweet syrup, baking spices, dark caramel and citrus peel. Drier and spicier on the finish, some baked apple and vanilla. Paired with king-fish sashimi, which was excellent, and matched brilliantly. This was in fact the first Japanese whisky I tasted, at an Izakaya (casual bar/restaurant) in Kyoto, a few years ago. Getting harder to find now, though.

Our next stop on the Japanese whisky train was Hakushu distillery, which is my personal favourite. Located high in the Japanese southern alps, two hours west of Tokyo, Hakushu was built 50 years after Yamazaki, and at the time was the largest distillery in the world. The distillery houses a whopping 36 stills of varying shapes and sizes, although only 12 are currently in operation.

Hakushu distillery produces a very different style of malt to Yamazaki, largely thanks to the different climate, altitude, and surroundings. The distillery also does not use any Mizunara oak for maturation, instead using mainly ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. They also use a slightly larger (although still small) amount of peated barley in their mash bill, and have even released heavily peated expressions in the past. I've tasted one of those, and it was excellent! But, like many Japanese malts these days (thanks Jim Murray!), it's also very rare, and, if you can find it at all, expensive. We tasted the two main Hakushu expressions on the night, mirroring the Yamazaki offerings.

Hakushu Distiller's Reserve, NAS, 43%. A blend / marriage of all styles and cask types produced by the distillery. Nose: lighter, fresher and brighter than the Yamazaki. Sweet and light, more tropical fruit - baked pineapple, green banana, fresh pear. Light and sweet on the palate as well, with honeyed green fruits, and a little light spice. The finish is quite soft and delicate, and slightly herbal. Paired with prawn sashimi, which I'll admit didn't sound appealing to me, but luckily it was blasted with a blow-torch, and was pretty tasty.   

Hakushu 12yo, 43%. Richer than the distiller's reserve, fresh green apples, slightly nutty, even a little subtle and soft smoke. Clean and fresh on the palate, tropical fruit, nutty again, and some soft spices. Soft and sweet on the finish, with very subtle smoke. Paired with freshwater scallop sashimi, which was absolutely mind-blowing. Definitely the best food pairing of the night for me, and the 12yo tied for my pick of the whiskies.

Our last stop for the evening was Hibiki, a blended Japanese whisky consisting of Yamazaki and Hakushu malt whisky, and Chita grain whisky. Interestingly, Hibiki is often finished in casks which have been seasoned with Umeshu (Japanese ume / plum liqueur), including some made from Mizunara. Hibiki translates to Harmony, which is what the blenders are looking for when they create an expression. While some may turn their noses up at blended whiskies, note that these are nothing like your typical Johnnie. Hibiki whiskies reflect the typical Japanese dedication to quality.

Hibiki whiskies are also well known for their bottle designs, which are really more like decanters. Each has 24 facets, representing the 24 seasons of the old Japanese lunar calendar, and a cork stopper (plastic screw caps are more commonly used by Suntory). And in the case of the 17, 21 and 30 year old bottling's, the labels are made from 'washi', a traditional Japanese paper. So these are very nicely presented whiskies.

This was actually my first time tasting the Hibiki 'Harmony', which is the latest release. I had tasted the 12yo and 17yo previously, although the latter was tasted not long after a dram of Heartwood, and that's quite a hard act to follow!

Hibiki Harmony, NAS, 43%. Rich and syrupy on the nose, with red and stone fruits, and a little spice. Meatier and warmer mouth-feel than the single malts, but still well balanced and clean. Plums in syrup on the palate, some wood spice and treacle. Soft finish with some more spice. Paired with yellow-fin tuna sashimi, which was a bit of a stretch for me, but did work nicely with the whisky.

Hibiki 12yo, 43%. More focused and concentrated on the nose, still fruity and lightly spiced. Impressive texture for the low strength. Sweet molasses / golden syrup on the palate, with some darker stone fruit. Soft on the finish again, with more darker fruits in syrup. This one was paired with sea urchin sashimi, wrapped in nori (dried seaweed sheets) with some sushi rice.

Hibiki 17yo, 43%. Sweeter and richer on the nose, lighter fruits now. Still with the same rich, weighty texture, despite the low strength. Balanced and quite complex on the palate, with more molasses, lighter stone fruit, some wood spice, and a hint of sherry. Longer and more complex on the finish as well, still quite rich and fruity. This one was paired with our dessert course, which was matcha (green tea) sponge with sweet red bean paste and matcha mousse. The 17yo tied with the Hakushu 12 for my pick of the evening's whiskies. Very nice.

The Hibiki 17 isn't particularly cheap, at around $180 AUD, but let's keep in mind that that's less than Johnnie Walker Blue Label, which is also inferior, in my opinion, and is bottled without an age statement and at a lower strength. Remember that age statements must reflect the minimum age of the whisky/whiskies in the bottle, so there will also be older stock in there. Plus with all of the Hibiki's, you're also getting a free decanter, once you've completed the horrible task of drinking the whisky!

So, while all of these Japanese whiskies were very enjoyable and are certainly great quality, the Hakushu 12yo and Hibiki 17yo were my personal picks of the night. And that scallop we were served with the Hakushu was absolutely incredible! It was a real flavour explosion, and a real credit to our chef and his team.

If you are yet to try a Japanese whisky, I highly recommend it. They're quite different to Scotch, I think. They're generally quite light and fresh, and most are quite well balanced. Both the Hakushu and Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve bottling's are quite well priced, and would make for an ideal introductory Japanese malt.

There are plenty of options for the more experienced enthusiast as well, including some heavily peated and some super-expensive bottling's. For an example, Cobbler has a bottle of very rare 25 year old Yamazaki behind the bar, which is priced at over $300, per nip! And if you can find a bottle for sale at auction, which is unlikely, you can expect to part with at least $5,000. Which is enough to buy four bottles of the recently released 32 year old Laphroaig. So it's really quite a rare thing!

Dan also shared plenty of his knowledge with us during the tasting, and I must admit my own knowledge of the history of Japanese whisky was a little lacking, at least prior to this event! As I mentioned earlier he also did a fantastic job designing our food pairings. Each course of sashimi was light and refreshing, with plenty of different textures and flavours to experience and explore along with the whisky. Next time you're enjoying some sashimi (or anything else, for that matter) at a Japanese restaurant, I suggest ordering a Japanese whisky with it, for something a little different. And for relaxing times, make it Suntory time...

A big thanks to Dan Woolley, Cobbler, and Beam Suntory / CCA for putting on another brilliant tasting, and for having me along. See you at the next one!