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Saturday, 11 June 2016

Macallan & Laphroaig Tasting!

My typical action-packed Tuesday evening consists of watching TV, going to the gym (occasionally), and organising everything for work the following day and/or the rest of the week. And as much as I like my routines, it's not particularly exciting. So attending the recent Macallan and Laphroaig tasting at Cobbler, in Brisbane's West End, was definitely a welcome change...

Hosted by the ever-awesome Dan Woolley, we were treated to three whiskies from The Macallan, and four whiskies from my beloved Laphroaig, alongside some incredible food pairings tailored just for the event. Please also note Cobbler's awesome Laphroaig wall / shrine above (although I wish it was in my house), which I'm going to dub the Woolley Wall (extra points here for fans of the movie 'Get Him to the Greek'), which is very hard to resist. Along with Cobbler's 350+ other bottles, what better view to enjoy while having some whisky?

Speaking of which, our drams for the night were the three stars of The Macallan's 1824 series: Amber, Sienna, and Ruby, followed (after a palate cleanser, which was a very nice touch) by Laphroaig Select, Quarter Cask, Triple Wood, and the mind-blowing 25 yo. Like I said, definitely a welcome change from my typical Tuesday!

I hadn't actually visited Cobbler for quite some time (far too long - so many new additions!), so it was great to be back inside this Brisbane Mecca of whisky. It had also been a while since I had tasted any of these whiskies. In fact, the last time I tasted the 1824 series they followed this insane 52-year old Macallan from 1946, and I hadn't tasted these particular Laphroaigs since this incredible evening with Laphroaig's distillery manager, John Campbell. But they're all excellent drams, in fact I actually wrote the note "hello again, my pretty" for one of my old favourites!

An equal highlight of the evening were the food pairings, although I've been lucky enough to attend a few of these evenings at Cobbler now, and the food (and drink, naturally!) is always brilliant. Dan sits down with the chef each time, and they custom-design each course to work with the corresponding dram. And they really excelled themselves this time! It's worth noting that Cobbler does not normally serve food, and does not have a kitchen, which I'm sure adds an extra challenge for all involved when it comes to designing the menu. But this doesn't seem to hold them back at all, which is certainly a testament to their skills! So, let's get into the whisky, shall we?

The Macallan:

The expressions in the 1824 series are named after the whiskies' colour, which is natural, thanks to The Macallan not adding artificial colouring / e150a to any of their whisky. Which means that the casks used in these whiskies must be expertly married together to achieve the desired consistent colour, as well as flavour, between batches. 

All 1824 series expressions are matured exclusively in ex-Oloroso sherry casks, with the differences coming from the use of different origin casks, and the number of times those casks have been filled. And while these bottlings do not carry age statements, the walking whisky library (a.k.a. Dan) gave us the insider tip that they all contain whisky aged for between 10 and 17 years. 

Amber: 40%, refill American oak ex-Oloroso sherry casks. Soft, honey sweet and nutty on the nose, with some oaky vanilla and a hint of barrel char. Sweet and light on the palate, with honey, soft spices and a little spirit-y heat. Not unpleasant though, especially in winter.
The Amber was paired with out first dish, poached quail eggs rolled in leek ash, which was very interesting. These had almost a curried egg flavour, which helped offset the sweetness of the whisky. 

Sienna: 43%, mix of refill American and European (Spanish) oak ex-Oloroso sherry casks. More sherry-forward on the nose, and some syrupy sweetness, with a little floral perfume, toasted coconut and light citrus and spice. More spices on the palate from that Spanish oak, wood spices in particular, and hints of ginger and orange. Warming & sweet. The slightly higher strength definitely helps here, and this would be my pick of the 1824 range.
Sienna was paired with a beautiful piece of Black Angus/Wagyu-cross beef, with exotic mushrooms and truffle oil, which was absolutely stunning. An incredible rich, earthy umami flavour which balanced nicely against the sweetness and spice of the whisky. 

Ruby: 43%, first-fill European (Spanish) oak ex-Oloroso sherry casks. Sweeter and more intense on the nose, slightly nutty and spicy with sweet orange, pepper and ginger. Fuller and much spicier on the palate, with pepper and ginger again, plus some clove, red and stone fruits and oak.
This one was paired with two different cheeses: An incredible Spanish blue cheese, served on a Scottish oat cake with creamed honey. Good god this was good. Possibly one of the best blue cheeses I've ever tasted, and so much going on with the oat cake and honey alongside. The Second was a truffled French brie, which was just melt-in-the-mouth creamy yummy-ness. Note to self, must find Scottish oat cakes and Spanish blue cheese. An absolutely perfect match. 

We then had a refreshing palate-cleansing cocktail of Limoncello (Italian lemon liqueur), Fino sherry and orange bitters, thanks to Cameron, Cobbler's bar manager. Very refreshing, and it also worked!


On to what I would have to say is my favourite distillery in the world. These guys are doing some truly awesome work, and largely thanks to Dan and his colleagues, we're lucky enough to get a fair few of their limited releases in Australia (except the cask strength 10 yo - which we really need. Sad face).

For this tasting, we skipped the venerable 10 yo, going from the 'breakfast whisky' Select, to my old favourite Quarter Cask (which according to our host is the fourth-highest selling Islay whisky - seriously good stuff), then on to Triple Wood, and finally the incredible 25 yo as a night-cap. How good is that! 

Select: 40%, a mix of five different cask types, including virgin American oak, ex-PX and Oloroso sherry, and ex-bourbon barrels and quarter casks. Sweet and lightly medicinal on the nose, a little wood smoke, smoked salmon, light salt and vanilla. Light and approachable / quaff-able on the palate , and well balanced. Certainly a beginner's Laphroaig, considering the 10 yo is so divisive. For some it's love at first sight, while others can't stand it, and it puts them off peated whisky altogether! So this is the ideal first Laphroaig for the peat novice.
The Select was paired with a poached scallop with prosciutto and a smoked pipi (small shellfish with a similar flavour to a mussel). Laphroaig is always brilliant with seafood, and this was no exception.

Quarter Cask: This was the one. "Hello again, my pretty!" 48%, non-chill filtered, a mix of 5-11 year old Laphroaig, married together and filled into the quarter casks for 7-9 months. Rich and sweet, mildly spicy and oaky on the nose, and lightly medicinal with a little ash behind. Rich and full, sweet and peaty on the palate, with some ashy smoke, earthy peat and spiced vanilla. This would be my whisky pick of the night, unless of course one has the disposable income required to splash out on the last one! Actually, you'll need one of each...

This one was paired with a foie gras and duck pate tartlet, which I didn't expect to work so well, but it definitely did! The rich pastry and savoury pate matched nicely with the rich, peaty Quarter Cask loveliness. 

Triple Wood: 48%, non-chill filtered, follows the Quarter Cask maturation method but is then finished in European oak ex-Oloroso sherry casks. On the nose it has much more spice, but is softer otherwise with more complexity. Rich and peaty of the palate, with a little fruit and spice coming though. The taming effect of the sherry cask plus the extra age has made a big difference here. I recently tasted this one immediately after a dram of Lagavulin 16, and as much as I love the Lagavulin, it was destroyed by the Triple Wood (thanks to its higher strength and slightly younger age). 

This one was paired with our last course for the evening, and as I listened to Dan give the details on the Triple Wood, I noticed barkeep-extraordinaire Elliot doing something disturbing - he was setting fire to some Laphroaig! But don't panic, it was being flamed and reduced for drizzling over our dessert of poached pears with figs. Yet again, this was incredible! Relatively light, not too sweet or rich, excellent. 

25-year old: Our night cap for the evening, and a seriously incredible, and expensive, whisky. 45.1% cask-strength, matured in ex-bourbon casks for 18 years, then moved to refill ex-Oloroso sherry casks for 7 years. This one is probably the opposite of what most people would expect a Laphroaig to be. So gentle, soft and inviting on the nose, very fruity, floral, sweet and spicy. Light and soft on the palate, with plenty of fruit, warm spices, sweet citrus and some subtle dry smoke. Just gorgeous. It's pricey, but it's well worth it. Anyone care to donate $600-or so to the cause? I'll even let you taste it!
So yet another outstanding tasting from Mr. Woolley and Cobbler, which surpassed all expectation. These events really are well-worth both the mid-week excursion and the ticket costs, which are not even close to what the drams alone would cost in a bar, let alone the incredible food pairings alongside. 

Dan always keeps things relaxed and casual, and imparts real knowledge gleaned from first-hand experience at the distilleries (the lucky bugger). Regardless of your experience level, you're guaranteed to pick up as much whisky knowledge as you care to absorb, without it being compulsory for those who aren't really interested, and are just there to drink great whisky paired with some great food. Whichever side of that fence you sit on, you're bound to be thoroughly satisfied and certainly enjoy yourself. Highly recommended! 

A big thanks to Dan Woolley, Cobbler, Laphroaig and The Macallan for another outstanding evening. Hope to see you at the next one! 

While we have Laphroaig on the brain (a little more than usual, at least), I know I mentioned it in my review of last year's Cairdeas, but this year's release, which is finished in Madeira casks, is now available. Although like last year, it's being sold from the distillery website by ballot, which is now closed. But the distillery will release any unsold bottles from said ballot in a few days, and I'm sure they also have a few in reserve. No doubt it will be excellent, and I can't wait to try a Madeira-finished Laphroaig. Like most Australians I missed out on trying the 2013 Port cask-finished release, so I'm hoping this one will fill that void. 

Having said that, I've decided to hold off on purchasing, purely due to the duty and taxes involved (thanks, Australian government.), in the hope that a certain large chain will get their hands on some, like they have for the last couple of year's releases. Of course I could end up missing out and regretting that decision, in which case I'll have a dram of the 2015 mixed with my own tears. But fingers crossed!