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Sunday, 26 April 2015

Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique Whisky Review!

Awards have an undeniable effect on the whisky world. These days, the results of the major whisky awards make international news, as well as flooding social media and forums. Famous whisky critic Jim Murray's last 'whisky of the year' award went to Yamazaki Sherry Cask from Japan, and the world's media instantly took this to mean that Scotch whisky had lost it's edge and was in trouble.

Obviously that's not true, but the award and media attention had a massive effect on the pricing and availability of not only the Yamazaki Sherry Cask, but all Japanese whisky in general. To the point where it is difficult to find, and very expensive to buy, in it's native country, where spirits are generally quite cheap.

It's important to remember that this award is one person's opinion, albeit a very experienced one. I'm sure it's good whisky, I can't say I've tasted it, but it's not going to be the best in the world for everyone's tastes and preferences. Besides, Japanese whisky has long been a worthy rival to Scotch, this isn't really anything new. Other awards are judged by a panel of experts or industry personalities, which gives a more balanced result, but this still does not guarantee you'll agree with their opinion. So while an award may indicate a  good whisky, or one to look out for, take the results with a grain of salt.
Nonetheless, whiskies from other parts of the globe, commonly known as 'world whisky', are certainly gaining traction and recognition amongst whisky folk. But if you had asked a whisky enthusiast to name their favourite world whisky only a few months ago, chances are very few would have named Taiwanese Kavalan whisky as the winner. And yet, after their Kavalan 'Solist Vinho Barrique' single cask, single malt won 'World's best single malt whisky' at the World Whiskies Awards, Kavalan (meaning 'flat-land people') has been thrust into the limelight, and is becoming more widely sought after. 

The Kavalan 'Solist' series are all NAS, cask strength, single cask, single malt whiskies. Obviously this means there are batch variations, most easily identified by the cask number and different alcoholic strength. The sample I'm reviewing today (purchased here) is a slightly older release, being 56.1% ABV rather than the apparent 58.4% of the recently awarded release, although it's difficult to confirm which batch / cask was actually awarded.  

The name 'Vinho Barrique' refers to a wine 'barrique' cask, with a capacity of 225 litres (for reference, a typical American bourbon cask is 195 litres in capacity). The casks were used to mature both white and red wine, before being internally shaved, toasted, charred, and filled with whisky. There is no age statement, but Kavalan whiskies are thought to be matured for around two years prior to bottling, which is very young, although we need to consider the climate factor, Taiwan gets some very high temperatures and humidity.  

Enough of all that, let's drink some Taiwanese whisky!
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique, NAS, 56.1%, Taiwan. 
Single cask, cask number W090220011. Cask strength, non-chill filtered, natural colour.

Colour: Dark amber

Nose: OK, colour me impressed! Super sweet, jammy and thick. Sweet, fruity wine. Oak tannins, and a little wooden spice and pepper. A lot of intensity, and yet quite balanced. Reminds me of a dessert wine or fruit liqueur which has been hitting the gym. Extra fruit, oak and spice. Becomes less sweet with time in the glass, taking on a little sourness. 

Texture: Syrupy, but also quite clean. 

Taste: Quite hot and a little harsh, but plenty of syrupy sweetness and a lot of oak- tannins and wood spice. Mixed fruit conserve. Reminiscent of Bruichladdich's Black Art 3, with a little extra heat and tannins, but slightly rough around the edges. Note that the Black Art is 23 years old, and the Kavalan is 2-3 years old, so that's really a compliment! 

Finish: Dried fruits now, becoming much less sweet, heading towards bitterness, but still jammy. Not a long one though, short-to-medium in fact. 

Score: 3.5 out of 5. 

Notes: The nose on this is incredible, and the taste is enjoyable, but the finish and slight harshness kills it slightly. A very interesting whisky though, very impressive for it's age, and definitely one to try. And from such a young distillery, this is one to watch. 

I'm looking forward to trying the sherry cask Solist release soon, and the fino release is highly regarded as well. Nippy Sweetie Whiskies are doing a taster pack containing all the notable Kavalan whiskies, at a very reasonable price. With prices creeping up on the full bottles, that's a good way to go if you're curious. 

On another note, my next review will mark the 1 year anniversary of Peated Perfection! It's come quite a long way already, and I have a fitting review lined up to mark the occasion. Until then...


Sunday, 19 April 2015

Ardbeg Supernova 2014 Whisky Review!

The one that (almost) got away!

Back in mid-2014, Ardbeg released a new 2014 bottling of their super-heavily-peated Supernova line, in Europe and the US. Skip to October/November 2014, when Australia finally received their allocation. The hype had died down, some reviews were glowing, some were mixed. It went on sale for AUD$240, on the Moet-Hennessy website. Expensive, NAS, and down to 55% (previous Supernova's were considerably higher), but with some sherry cask influence (the other releases were ex-bourbon cask only). Only a few lucky Australian bloggers had tasted it. I hesitated, I wasn't sure. And within a few days, it had completely sold out. Maybe it just wasn't meant to be, or maybe I had dodged a financial bullet...

Skip to New Year's Eve 2014, at Cobbler, and there it is. Ardbeg Supernova 2014, on the list of whiskies we were to taste as part of their NYE package. It was an awesome night, and there were a few whiskies enjoyed either side of the Supernova, so I can't be sure, but at the time I was very impressed with it. Come morning, it was the most memorable dram of the night (only beating the 25yo Laphroaig because it was new, mind you), and I was kicking myself for not buying a bottle a couple of months earlier. I accepted defeat and moved on.

However, thanks to a fellow Dram Full member with his finger on the pulse(thanks Zoltan), I received word that a large chain store was getting some 2014 Supernova in the near future. A couple of months later, I received my bottle. It had now cost me $300, but based on my hazy NYE memories, and the fact that it was very unlikely any stores/suppliers in Australia would be getting any more stock, I took the plunge. Given the increase in rarity (and price), however, I haven't opened my bottle yet. Or maybe I'm worried it won't be as good as my hazy memory says it was...

It was meant to be a 'committee release', meaning it was exclusive to the Ardbeg distillery's shop, and online purchase by members of the Ardbeg committee. This also means it doesn't come in a box, which sucks a little. Not one to store near a window, then. Regardless, it ended up being available to everyone in other parts of the world, in stores and on-line. It sold out very fast in official channels, as do all Ardbeg limited releases.

So, this review comes to you courtesy of Craig at Nippy Sweetie Whiskies, who generously threw a sample of the 'nova in with my last order. Slainte Craig!

There's been plenty said about the Ardbeg 'space experiment', and I mentioned it here in my review of the 2010 Supernova, so I won't go into that. It essentially has nothing to do with this release anyway. It will probably have some impact on Ardbeg's of the future, we'll have to wait and see. Anyway, a new Supernova release doesn't need any further marketing, in my opinion. Particularly one involving some sherry casks. It's exciting enough on it's own!
Ardbeg Supernova 2014, NAS, 55%, Islay, Scotland. 
Limited 'committee' release, around 100ppm, ex-bourbon and ex-sherry cask matured. 

(tasted neat and with a drop of water)
Colour: Pale straw, much lighter than Uigeadail, so probably not a great deal of sherry matured whisky in here. 

Nose: Trademark Ardbeg, but with a little extra depth, spice and heat. Salty sea air and fresh seaweed, sharp, slightly sour peat. A hint of spicy oak and salted caramelised butter. A little waxy and medicinal, with some typical Ardbeg sweetness. A little nippy on the nose, but also surprisingly light, not as bold and aggressive as I'd expect from a Supernova. Water brings out some more smoke, but that's about it. 

Texture: Big and warming, slightly buttery. Becomes quite creamy with water.

Taste: There's the smoke and peat! Initially quite sweet, then a big wave of peat and a dash of salt. Warming spice and oak. A little heat, but not as pronounced as on the nose. Water cancels the heat and brings much more smoke, and a big dollop of cream. Again, not as aggressive as I'd expect. Interesting...

Finish: Medium length, but softens considerably, and quite quickly. Wood spice, maybe some milk chocolate? A little burnt butter. Peat and sweet oak, slightly saline. 

Score: 3.5 out of 5.

Notes: I wouldn't say I'm disappointed, but my mind isn't quite blown. Not as big & bold as the 2010 (I had to check, just to be safe!). Obviously it's 5% down on strength, which is the most likely culprit. But maybe that slight sherry influence has softened it down, or perhaps there's some older stock in this one? 

I'm a huge fan of Ardbeg Uigeadail, particularly the slightly older batches, and I prefer those to this Supernova. If they had left the strength a little higher, and injected a bit more sherry influence, this could've become a suped-up (pun-intended) Uigeadail, and that would have been awesome. Maybe that's what they were going for, and missed the mark, or maybe they were trying to tame the Supernova beast a little, and were successful? Who knows. 

That said, it's still a very enjoyable Ardbeg. It's a different beast to the earlier Supernova's, and the 'core range', but is that so bad? It's still a very peaty whisky, with plenty to offer, and a different take on the straight ex-bourbon cask peat monster. Was it worth the $300 for my bottle? Probably not. The original release price of $240 was more reasonable, but still a little high. Also, you'd think they could put it in a damn box for that sort of money!

Nonetheless, it's one worth tasting if you can find one (or if you've already added one to your collection). I was very disappointed with the Auriverdes, last year's Ardbeg day bottling, and this 2014 Supernova, being the next new release Ardbeg I've tasted, is infinitely better than that, in every way. I regret buying the Auriverdes at all, to be honest, but I get no such feelings with this Supernova. 

Speaking of Ardbeg day, the next one is coming up, on the 30th of May, celebrating their 200th anniversary. The commemorative release has already been announced, it's named Perpetuum (Latin for continuous, as in perpetual motion), as is the current distillery-only bottling, but they are different whiskies, so far as I can determine. Head to your local Ardbeg embassy on the day to try and/or buy it. See you there!


Sunday, 12 April 2015

Amrut Peated Cask Strength Whisky Review!

From a 52yo Scotch Whisky, to a young (NAS) Indian Whisky!

Situated in Bangalore, India, Amrut is a relatively new player in Australia (debuting in 2009), but the company has actually been producing alcohol since 1948. Diversifying into malt whisky in the 1980's, they began producing a blended malt, made from un-malted and malted barley, and molasses, and blended with sugar cane alcohol. A little different from Scotch whisky, then!

They began producing single malt whisky in the early 2000's, launching in Europe in 2004, and after a difficult start are now widely recognised as a serious player in the whisky world. Amrut whiskies are NAS whiskies, and are of course young by Scotch standards, they are generally thought to be matured for 6 years and under. However, the climate and conditions in India (and other hotter and more humid climates, including Australia) results in the spirit maturing much faster than it would in Europe. Incidentally, these conditions also mean that the amount of liquid lost to evaporation during maturation ('the angel's share') is considerably higher than it would be in cooler climates. It's also worth noting that more water is lost to evaporation in these hotter climates, whereas in Scotland more alcohol is lost to the angel's share.

This Amrut 'peated cask strength' release is one I've wanted to try for some time, and although the peated barley is sourced from Scotland (there aren't many peat bogs in India!), it was distilled and matured in India, in oak casks. I grabbed a sample from SM Whisky, for quite a reasonable price. It's young, at around 4 years, it's peated to around 25ppm, and it's high strength at 62.8%. Sounding a bit like an Indian take on Kilchoman, perhaps? I doubt it, but let's find out!
Amrut Peated Cask Strength, NAS, 62.8%, Bangalore, India. 
Limited release, distilled from Scottish peated malted barley. Matured in oak casks for around 4 years.

(tasted neat)
Colour: Yellow gold

Nose: Are you sure this isn't an Islay? Very reminiscent of a slightly weird Ardbeg on the nose. So much so that I briefly considered the sample I had was mislabelled. But no, that's not the case. The peat is definitely from Islay though. Spicy & hot on the nose, the peat is medicinal and slightly sour, and quite dominant. Some leafy herbs, and salted butter.

Texture: Very aggressive and a little rough. Hot & spicy syrup.

Taste: Salted caramel, then a massive wave of chilli heat (think habanero), then backs off a bit to let the peat come through a little. Very spicy, and slightly oaky, as in bitterness rather than sweetness. Quite savoury actually. Certainly not an Ardbeg! Tried adding a little water to see what it would do, and it didn't do much.

Finish: Still spicy! Very long, but not much happening. The spices dominate the peat influence. Salted butter and more spice now, hot & savoury curry spices.

Score: 3 out of 5.

Notes: It's very interesting, but it just doesn't do it for me. Seems to be trying too hard to be an Islay whisky, and falls short. Compared to, for example, an Octomore, bottled at similar age and strength, there is no comparison! But that speaks more to the quality of the distillation and maturation of the Octomore, than it does to the failings of this Amrut.

I'd still recommend trying it if you're curious, there are plenty of bottles out there, and it's priced quite reasonably. But don't expect a great deal of complexity or balance here. It's interesting to taste such a spicy whisky, I just wish there was more to it. The alcohol heat will also turn many people away, this one isn't for amateurs! If you think you're getting a cold, this Amrut Peated Cask Strength will clear it right up. Unfortunately the distillation in particular seems quite rough and rushed on this one. I'd be curious to try the 46% version, just to see how much calmer it is.

There are definitely better Amrut's out there. I have no hesitation in recommending the 'fusion' bottling, which is distilled from a mix of Scottish and Indian malted barley, with a little peat influence. It's also the most widely awarded Amrut, as it happens. Keep an eye out for that one at a whisky show or bar, it's well worth tasting (and buying).

Amrut seem to be getting into a little experimentation as well, there are port- and sherry-cask matured Amrut's, and they've recently released a new whisky called 'Naarangi', which is the Hindi word for 'Orange'. Yes, a whisky with a lot of orange influence.

Adding oranges to the maturing whisky would be against the rules, and it couldn't be called malt whisky if they did, so Amrut came up with a very clever method to get around that. They've matured this 'Naarangi' whisky in casks which previously contained a concoction of Oloroso sherry and orange peel. Very clever, and very innovative. I don't think I'll be buying that one though...


Saturday, 4 April 2015

Macallan 1946 52 year old whisky & masterclass review!

I recently had the incredible privilege of attending a Macallan whisky masterclass, presented by Dan Woolley, Beam Suntory brand ambassador. Our venue for the evening was Malt Dining, in their awesome cellar, pictured below. Surrounded by ageing wine, polished wood and sparkling glassware, and presented with a chef-designed three-course menu to pair with the evening's whiskies. Not a bad night already, however...
...This masterclass also happened to include a taste of a very, very special Macallan. Distilled in 1946, matured for a massive 52 years in refill sherry casks, and bottled in 1998. Oh, and it's valued at around $30,000-40,000 a bottle!!!

Just let that sink in for a moment. The last bottle of this whisky to sell was sold at auction in Hong Kong, and it sold for approximately $40,000 Australian Dollars. That is an absolutely massive amount of money, more than enough for a good, brand new car, or a house deposit. You may think that is because of the rarity, after all it was bottled over 17 years ago, but even when released, a bottle would cost over $5,000, in 1997 money. Yep, this is one special whisky. And I'm lucky to be able to say it is, by a huge margin, the most expensive, the rarest, and the oldest, whisky that I have ever seen, and tasted. And, in all probability, that I will ever taste.

In fact, the Macallan whisky below, in it's fancy decanter, contains some 1946 vintage, and is one of the most expensive whiskies every sold. It sold for an absolutely insane $460,000 US, back in 2010. Luxurious is a slight understatement.
1946 was a interesting year. The entire world was still recuperating following the end of World War II, the massive physical, psychological and financial damage of that long-lived conflict was still very much in effect. The whisky industry was also recovering after shut-downs, financial hardship and staff issues, and they also had trouble sourcing one very important (to some distilleries at least) component of production: Coal.

So Macallan used an alternative, which had been used in whisky making for hundreds of years prior. Yes, I'm talking about our beloved peat! Macallan had of course used peat when they began officially producing whisky in 1824. But as coal became readily accessible during the late 19th century, they turned to it as a more efficient fuel. Indeed after the late 1940's they went back to using coal alone, and peat has not been used in the production of Macallan whisky since. This little factoid makes this era of Macallan whisky extremely rare, extremely collectable, and extremely expensive. Yep, pretty exciting!

While this stunning whisky was always going to be the star of the show, we also received some fantastic gourmet food from Malt's chef, designed to pair with three whiskies from Macallan's 1824 series. Our host from Malt Dining presented us with an entree of seared foie gras (duck or goose liver) paired with Macallan Amber, a main of rabbit two ways paired with Macallan Sienna, and a dessert of poached pears paired with Macallan Ruby, and all mixed in with Dan's amazing whisky knowledge, straight off-the-cuff. That is one fantastic line-up!

On the night we had the 1946 show-stopper at the beginning of the evening, before our palate's had been thoroughly exercised. I was really thankful for this, as I would not want to taint this experience with anything! In fact I nearly declined the arrival cocktail, but my lovely wife and I had just negotiated rainy Friday night traffic, and I couldn't turn it away. However, I'm going to make you wait 'til the end to read about the '46, because I can, and no scrolling or skimming! I'm watching you...
Macallan Amber, NAS, 40%. American White Oak, refill ex-sherry cask.
Bronze in colour, light and fruity with green apple, vanilla and honey on the nose. More honey sweetness on the palate, some dry sherry and stone fruit. Short, drying finish with a little heat. Paired with our excellent melt-in-the-mouth foie gras entree, earthy and creamy. 

Macallan Sienna, NAS, 43%. Mix of American and European Oak, refill ex-sherry casks. 
Polished copper in colour, generous red fruits on the nose, a hint of candied orange, marzipan and oak. More orange on the palate, spiced fruits. More body and complexity than the amber, and less heat on the finish, which had some toffee and bitter oak notes. Paired with our main of rabbit two ways, being saddles stuffed with prunes, and confit leg croquet. Outstanding quality of meat, super tender, slightly game-y and earthy. Delicious.

Macallan Ruby, NAS, 43%. European Oak, first fill ex-sherry cask. 
A great example of the influence of first-fill compared to that of refill casks. Rust red in colour, more rich and concentrated on the nose, with juicy berries and sweet stone fruit. More intense on the palate, lovely dry Oloroso sherry, slightly nutty on the longer finish. Definitely the star of the 1824 range. Paired with our dessert of pears poached in maple syrup and star anise, with warm dark chocolate sauce and hazelnut marscapone. Absolutely delicious, and not too heavy, a lovely end to the evening. My compliments to the chef! And now, our main event of the evening...
Macallan 1946, 52 years old, bottled in 1998. 40%, marriage of 5 refill ex-sherry casks.
Massively expensive, super rare and super collectable. How many bottles of this whisky are there in the world, and of those, how many have been opened and tasted? Not many.

Colour: Golden syrup.

Nose: Sticky toffee pudding, with spiced caramel sauce. Lemon oil, a little apple, stone fruit and brown sugar. A tiny hint of subtle, earthy-ness from the peat, which has done well to survive 52 years in the cask!

Palate: Super syrupy, oaky, and incredibly soft and gentle. Complex and engaging. Someone lock me in a room with a decent pour of this, and come back in a few hours. Sweet honey, a little red fruits, and a tiny hint of musty smoke. 

Finish: Long and quite subtle. Light spices especially cinnamon and white pepper. Slightly herbal and earthy. I was nosing the (sadly) almost empty glass throughout the evening, and it got surprisingly earthy and musty. 

Score: 4 out of 5, adjusted for price. 

Notes: A fantastic whisky, and an absolutely once-in-a-lifetime dram, but it's certainly not worth the sort of money it's going for among the collectors. As with all malts that become serious collectors items, the people who might possibly open and taste the whisky are priced out of the market. And are any of these 'super-luxury' malts really worth the sort of money being asked? 

That being said, as a drinker's / connoisseur's dram, this is pretty hard to beat. It's nearly impossible to be completely objective when looking at numbers like these, but I would still class this as a bucket list dram. It was a massive honour to taste a whisky such as this, and I'm very appreciative. 

The sheer rarity of this whisky, and the fact that we were in a cellar, surrounded by wood, stone, glass and ageing wine, while eating absolutely stellar food, paired with the 1824 series whiskies, made for one absolutely stellar evening. 

In fact, while walking towards Malt Dining I heard a bagpiper start up, on a rainy autumn evening, and nearly broke into a run! That is the kind of introduction you want for a whisky masterclass of the calibre, and should be imitated more often. 

As usual, our guide for the evening, handled the event perfectly. Deftly mixing knowledge, experience, passion and humour while managing to keep another audience, with varied experiences and expectations, engaged and entertained. I have to wonder, where would the whisky 'scene' in Brisbane be, without this guy? Certainly not where it is now, and probably not where it's headed either.

A big thanks to Dan Woolley, Malt Dining, Malt Traders and The Macallan / Beam Suntory for putting this event together, it was thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated. If you haven't yet checked out Malt Dining in Brisbane, add it to your list. Especially if there's a piper in attendance, and a 52 year old whisky on offer...

Until next time, cheers!