Sunday, 13 June 2021

Teeling Revival 12 Year Old Whiskey Review!

It's been a while since I reviewed anything from Ireland. Or almost anything with the extra "e"! But this example is a great gateway into something different. And it's finished in cognac and brandy casks!

I don't often reach for an Irish whiskey. In fact off the top of my head you'll only find two bottles of Irish whiskey in my house, one of which being Connemara Turf Mor, the heavily peated double-distilled whiskey that is about as far away from a typical Irish whiskey as you can get without leaving Ireland. And the second bottle was a gift! That's not to say that some Irish whiskeys aren't great quality, they just don't generally do it for me - particularly those that are triple distilled, which tends to strip character and flavour while resulting in a lighter and more refined spirit. Even among triple-distilled Scotch whiskies, I only really go for those that have significant distillery character, Springbank's triple-distilled Hazelburn spirit and also Benromach's triple-distilled limited release, for example, release some excellent triple distilled single malts. But I find most examples of Irish whiskey to be too light and/or too sweet for my tastes, with one main exception that comes straight to mind: Teeling. While the majority of easily-accessible Irish whiskeys are bottled at 40% ABV and are chill filtered and artificially coloured, Teeling was one of the first to go against the grain (pun intended) across the board with their full range. From their entry-level 'Small Batch' blend through to the age statement limited releases, all are bottled at 46% and above without chill filtration or added E150a. Which is just the way it should be! Teeling are also a little more adventurous than most Irish producers when it comes to cask finishing, with the likes of rum, madeira, red wine, port, sauternes, PX sherry & stout cask finishes being on offer at various price points across their extensive range of different bottlings. Not to mention cognac and brandy casks, which is where the example that we're looking at today comes in. 

Before we get into that though, let's look at Teeling itself. The Teeling Distillery opened in 2015 in Newmarket in the centre of Dublin, with three copper pot stills and an annual capacity of around 500,000 litres of spirit. At the time it was the first new whiskey distillery to open in Dublin in 125 years, while Ireland has gone from having just two whiskey distilleries in the early 1980s to now having over forty, with many more in the planning stages. But the majority of Teeling's whiskeys were not distilled at Teeling Distillery. This family-owned company was actually founded in 2012 by brothers Jack & Stephen Teeling, whose father John had founded Cooley Distillery in 1987. A formerly government-owned potato alcohol plant, Cooley is located an hour's drive north of Dublin, and John Teeling converted it into a whiskey distillery before selling to Jim Beam (now Beam Suntory) in 2011. The sale price included 16,000 casks of maturing whiskey staying with the Teeling family, which they used to found the Teeling Whiskey Company - so the majority of Teeling products, so far, are actually independent bottlings, mostly distilled at Cooley. Cooley's main point of difference is the use of double distillation rather than the triple distillation which is more common in Irish whiskey, and the use of both column stills and pot stills. The single malt whiskeys are produced in the latter, while the blends are generally produced in the former. Brands such as Kilbeggan, Tyrconnel and the aforementioned Connemara are all made at Cooley, as well as a large number of other Irish whiskey brands that are (often undisclosed) independent bottlings. So far there has only been one product released that was actually distilled at the Teeling Distillery in Dublin, a 'Single Pot Still Whiskey', which is a 50/50 mix of malted and unmalted barley that is triple-distilled in pot stills and matured in a combination of virgin oak, ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. Why they've chosen to use triple-distillation I can't say, and I'm yet to try that particular bottling, but it's safe to say that it'll be very different to the double-distilled single malts that the brand has been built on and that have been very successful. I'm sure there'll be single malt whiskeys from Teeling Distillery coming in future, but I'm yet to see or hear anything about their release. Maybe they're already blending some of their own spirit in to the NAS releases? Either way, let's hope that at least some of them are only double distilled!

The Teeling whiskey that we're looking at today is a single malt, double-distilled at Cooley - although you won't find that written or acknowledged anywhere. This bottling is part of the company's Revival series, referring to the revival of Irish whiskey and the Teeling Distillery, and this 12-year old single malt was the fifth and final 'volume' in the series, and also the youngest. All five whiskeys in the series were single malts, all bottled at 46%, with the first being a 15-year old finished in rum casks, the second being a 13-year old finished in Calvados (apple brandy) casks, the third a 14-year old finished in French fortified wine casks, the fourth being a 15-year old finished in sweet Muscat barrels, and finally a cognac & brandy cask finish in this 12-year old fifth 'volume' that was initially released in 2018. Both cognac and brandy are usually distilled from grapes, with the main difference being geographical - cognac can only be made in the Cognac region of France, but it also must be distilled from white wine grapes and aged in French oak for a minimum of two years, while brandy is the general term that applies to any fruit-derived spirit and can be produced anywhere. There were 15,000 bottles released at a reasonable price of around $160 AUD, with the vast majority of the Australian allocation going to one large retailer which still has a small amount of stock in some stores. As mentioned above all Teeling whiskeys are non-chill filtered and naturally coloured. I also have to add that Teeling really know how to package a whiskey - the bottles and outer boxes in this series were all very well done. The sample for this review came from a generous fellow whiskey nerd, who keeps this bottle in his office, although it's lasted him quite a while! Let's get to it. 

Teeling Revival Vol. 5, 12-year old Single Malt, 46%. Ireland. 
Single malt, double-distilled at Cooley Distillery, initially matured in ex-bourbon casks, finished in Cognac & Brandy casks. Fifth and final 'volume' in the Revival series. 15,000 bottles released 2018. 

Colour: Yellow gold. 

Nose: Fresh, malty & floral sweet. Loads of dusty malted barley, bright & sweet lemon and toasted oak with some dried coconut & buttery, nutty caramel. Fresh sweet apple, aniseed and vanilla syrup with a touch of sweet fruit - dried pear and green banana. 

Texture: Lovely. Medium weight, quite oily. Sweet & creamy. No heat at all. 

Taste: Toasted nutty oak, vanilla, buttery caramel and burnt orange. Touch of dried pear and banana in the background, along with some sweet red apple and dry grassy barley. More caramel & sharp aniseed, black pepper and lemon. 

Finish: Medium length. Touch of raw spirit, but not hot or harsh. Quite floral. Then more gristy, dusty barley and more nutty toasted oak. Dried coconut again too. Touch of bitter aniseed, burnt orange and more buttery caramel. 

Score: 3.5 out of 5. 

Notes: There's plenty of flavour, and plenty of grassy, dry barley on show, but the cask influence is certainly there - the toasted oak, caramel and burnt orange is all very cognac in my book. The cask finish hasn't overwhelmed the grain, spirit and distillery characters though, but each seems to show itself at different times rather than being cohesive. This is a sweet whiskey overall, but with plenty of that oak, grassy barley and citrus helping to calm it down a little. And it's also helped massively by the 46% ABV and double-distillation, if you ask me. This is a young whiskey of course, and I'm guessing it needed a cask finish to give it a little character boost, but it's also more mature than I usually find the Teeling core range which can be a little undercooked. Then again, this 12-year old Revival was almost twice the price of the core range Single Malt expression, so you'd hope that was the case! 

Plenty of character and flavour, and a clear but not overwhelming influence from the exotic cask finishing. Not bad at all. Unfortunately it's going to be hard to find at a reasonable price, and personally I wouldn't go hunting for it at secondary prices. But if you're looking for a flavourful Irish whiskey with a little more character than some, Teeling is certainly worth a closer look. 


Sunday, 30 May 2021

Edradour 12 Year Old Chardonnay Cask Whisky Review!

A single cask bottling from one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland, and with a major point of difference - it's fully matured in a chardonnay cask! Now that's not something you see everyday!

Unlike the red equivalents, non-fortified white wine casks are still something of an oddity in Scotch whisky. Of course there are plenty of examples of Sauternes casks and other unnamed dessert & sweet wine casks, but when it comes to your standard dry & semi-dry / off-dry white wine casks the selection becomes much more narrow. Off the top of my head, only Glen Moray uses these seemingly unloved casks on a regular basis, and that's in an entry-level whisky that is only briefly finished in white wine casks, specifically chardonnay. Bruichladdich have dabbled occasionally, but mainly in either single cask one-offs or as a small part of the mix in larger vattings e.g. Octomore 10-year old second edition. Glenfiddich have more recently done a similar thing with their "Grand Cru", while closer to home Sullivan's Cove have released a single chardonnay cask special edition a couple of years ago that was not a cheap proposition, and the majority of those will probably never be opened. So why don't white wine casks get more love & attention? Availability does come into it, since a much smaller amount of these varieties of white wine actually spend a substantial amount time in wood, if any at all, in comparison with red wine. Stainless steel vats are much more common, and in general only the more robust varieties of white wine will be filled into wood, with barrel fermented wines being the main exception - notably those that will go on to become champagne or sparkling wine, and then chardonnay, which is referred to as either wooded or unwooded. As you might expect, unwooded chardonnay wines are lighter & fresher in character and lighter in colour, compared to wooded varieties with richer character & colour and a heavier mouthfeel. This little oddity that we're looking at today from the Highland home of oddities, Edradour, is a little different from all of those examples I mentioned in that it's served up at cask strength and has been fully matured in a single chardonnay white wine cask rather than simply finished or "double matured". Pitlochry's Edradour Distillery is something of an oddity in general, particularly when it comes to their  SFTC - meaning 'Straight From The Cask' - range of single cask bottlings. In the unpeated Edradour guise these 500ml single cask releases are more often matured or finished in sherry or red wine casks or occasionally sauternes sweet wine casks, while the same goes for the distillery's peated Ballechin range in the SFTC series.

Edradour is a fascinating little distillery, producing a heavy, rich and often funky & dirty spirit thanks to manual hands-on production through small stills equipped with downward-angled lyne arms and worm tub condensers. This more traditional condensation method is slower to turn the spirit vapours back into liquid, and provides less interaction with copper in the process which tends to result in a thicker, meatier, dirtier and sometimes outright sulphurous spirit, with more character and more texture. A worm tub condenser, pictured above, is a beautifully simple piece of equipment - they're a long coiled copper tube, generally tapering in diameter before heading to the spirit receiver. That tube is submerged in cooling water, meaning they're generally placed outside the walls of warm still houses. Famous distilleries like Mortlach, Cragganmore and even Talisker continue to use these older style condensers to great effect, long after the vast majority of the worldwide whisky industry switched to the modern, more efficient shell & tube condensers which are more predictable and more easily maintained, and also cheaper. It's a rare thing to be able to compare one type of condenser to the other at the same distillery, so it's difficult to pinpoint the exact difference in the finished whisky while ruling out other factors and variables. One of the only examples is Dalwhinnie Distillery in the Highlands, which changed from worm tubs to shell & tube condensers in the mid-1980s. But tellingly they switched back to worm tub condensers after the spirit character had changed, apparently becoming less complex & characterful. And let's not forget that Dalwhinnie is owned by Diageo, who you'd assume would be more in favour of lower costs and higher efficiency, but you'd be mistaken - of the 17 working distilleries that continue to use worm tub condensers in Scotland, nine are owned by Diageo. In fact only one of the company's 'Classic Malts' range uses shell & tube condensers - Islay's Lagavulin. Speaking of Islay, the Queen of the Hebrides finally has a worm tub distillery in her arsenal - while the rest have long been converted to shell & tube, newcomer Ardnahoe has been fitted with worm tubs. We're still at least a couple of years away from seeing their first whisky, but this will be one of the few substantially peated whiskies that has been through a worm tub condenser - Edradour in Ballechin guise, Talisker & Springbank are currently the only examples, with one limited release exception from Cragganmore - so the results from Islay's ninth distillery will be very interesting!

The single cask Straight From The Cask (SFTC) Edradour that we're looking at today is quite special to me - I grabbed this bottle from Pitlochry on my first trip to Scotland back in 2017 after tasting it at the distillery's tasting bar following my tour & visit that was courtesy of Edradour's Australian importer & distributor, The Whisky Company. I was basically given carte blanche over said tasting bar at the time, and even amongst a cask strength 21-year old, an ex-Port Ellen cask finish, and an excellent distillery-exclusive example of the heavily peated Ballechin that was matured in a Madeira cask, it was this chardonnay-matured example of unpeated Edradour that wowed me as something a little unusual and very surprising. I couldn't decide between the aforementioned Ballechin and this Edradour at the time, so I promised myself that I'd return to the distillery on the return trip from Inverness and nab one to take home to Australia. But with time pressing down on us on that return trip to the distillery was looking a little risky. Luckily the town of Pitlochry has an excellent whisky shop on the main street named Robertson's, and they happened to have a bottle of the exact same single cask sitting on the shelf, so that helped make my decision! This SFTC bottling of Edradour is a 12-year old from cask number #363, a chardonnay white wine hogshead, distilled in September 2004 and bottled in July 2017, with an outturn of 407 500ml bottles at a cask strength of 53.3% ABV. And as with almost all of the distillery's single malts (their entry-level Edradour 10-year old is the sole exception) this whisky is non-chill filtered and naturally coloured. Since this whisky has been fully matured in a chardonnay wine cask, I'm going to have to dedicate this review to a great mate of mine who is turning 40 today. I'll stop short of naming him here in the hopes of keeping my invitation to the pending celebration, but since he's such a huge lover of "chardy" - it's bordering on an obsession, really - I can't help but give him a mention in this review! Happy birthday mate! 

Edradour SFTC Chardonnay Cask Matured, 12-year old, 53.3%. Pitlochry, Scotland.
Distilled Sept 2004, fully-matured in a single chardonnay hogshead, bottled July 2017. Cask strength, non-chill filtered and natural colour. Cask #363, 407 x 500ml bottles. 

Colour: Dark bronze. 

Nose: Rich, fruity & spicy. Aniseed, melted butter & white chocolate cake frosting - but not as sweet as that might sound. Aftershave / cologne-like wood spices. Thick melted vanilla bean ice cream with toffee sauce. Touch of bright lychee liqueur and green banana. Hint of dry earthiness. 

Texture: Big, dense, rich & chewy. Sweet and spicy. Very little heat. 

Taste: Rich creamy vanilla, melted butter again, and toffee fudge. Aniseed & drying wood spices keeping any sweetness in check and working perfectly. Lots of old leather, some black pepper an lemon zest, touch of white chocolate. An interesting dry minerality in the background, like powdered stone / gravel! Touch of cherry jam too.  

Finish: Long length. Melted butter, lemon & a drop of tangy olive oil. Tropical fruit liqueur and that dry earthiness again - a peppery barrel char I'd say, or it could even pass for a slight touch of peat. Toffee chews, black pepper and baking spices to finish. 

Score: 4 out of 5. 

Notes: Delicious. It's a bit of an oddity; it's hard to pin down, and it's slightly crazy - well it is an Edradour after all! The thick chewy texture and big bright flavours (the latter is unusual for an Edradour) are very enjoyable, without an aggressive or overbearing wine influence or cloying sweetness. There's certainly wood spice, and quite a dark colour for a white wine cask, which makes me wonder if it was European oak? But I'm not sure how common that is for Chardonnay (maybe the birthday boy can tell us in the comments!?!). There's also a lovely dry peppery earthiness that could almost pass for a touch of peat, but Edradour isn't peated - that's where Ballechin comes in. Although it does make me wonder if this spirit run could've followed a run of Ballechin through the stills or spirit receivers before they were flushed out. Or maybe it's just barrel char. Either way, it works very well!

Hopefully we'll see more chardonnay cask matured whiskies in future where the spirit character can stand up to any cask influence and result in a very balanced whisky - Islay, I'm looking in your general direction here! I can see Bunnahabhain or Bowmore working well with this sort of cask influence. And if they can turn out like this Edradour SFTC has, they'll be winners. This is certainly the best dry/off-dry white wine (i.e. not dessert, Sauternes or fortified wine) cask whisky that I've tasted to date. And being a single cask bottling from a few years ago it's not likely to be easily repeated. That's both the beauty and curse of a good single cask! Happy birthday Mr. Chardy lover!


Sunday, 23 May 2021

Octomore 11.1 Whisky Review!

My first foray into the 11th series of Octomore! The ppm numbers are up over the previous series' bottlings, and there's a 10-year old rather than an 11.4, although virgin oak is still involved. But other than that it's basically business as usual. 

While I certainly enjoyed the 10-series Octomore releases, they were very unconventional as far as Bruichladdich's already-unconventional Octomores go. Significantly lower peat levels across the range, both in the ppm numbers and more importantly in the actual smell & taste where it counts, plus the ages being all over the place with an 8-year old 10.2, the change to a 6-year old Islay Barley with 10.3, and the absolutely bonkers 3-year old virgin oak-matured 10.4. And despite it being the least peaty of the pack the Sauternes cask-finished 10.2 is still my pick of the foursome. In fact it's the least peaty Octomore that I've tasted to date, with the possible exception of the bonkers X4+10 quadruple-distilled oddity. There were some that struggled with the concept of an Octomore that was not particularly peaty, and I can understand that, but the overall quality and depth of flavour was still there in spades. The 'entry-level' 10.1 was the most typical of the bunch, as they usually are, holding down the fort while the other three bottlings in the series were off on some wild acid-trip! Some were a little disappointed with this series, particularly with it being the 10th series of Octomore which is certainly something to celebrate. And while they're different styles of whisky it does seem that the peaty & punchy gap between Port Charlotte and Octomore is closing, with the former bounding ahead while the latter flounders. For some reason we're still waiting for Port Charlotte OLC01 to arrive in Australia despite it being bottled 14-15 months ago, but by all reports it's an excellent whisky - if it ever gets here I might be able to tell you! Since the packaging update and renewed focus on the Port Charlotte brand it really does seem to be going from strength-to-strength (take MRC01 for example!), and is certainly not playing second fiddle to Bruichladdich and Octomore any longer. Which is great to see!

Back to the topic at hand. It does seem like the 11-series is something of a return to the tried & tested Octomore formula; with a 5-year old 11.1 from first-fill ex-bourbon casks, a 5-year old 11.2 finished in red wine casks, a 5-year old 11.3 from ex-bourbon casks and with a healthy jump up to 194 ppm following 10.3's record-low (for an Islay Barley Octomore) 114, and a 10-year old filling in the fourth spot on the team - although it's had some virgin oak maturation thrown into the mix just to spice things up. So the entry level of the 11 series, the always satisfying _.1 Octomore, is another 5-year old single malt that has been fully matured in first-fill ex-bourbon casks. This time it was distilled in 2014 from barley peated to 139.6 ppm - do we really need the decimals, Bruichladdich? - and those first-fill casks were sourced from Jim Beam, Heaven Hill and Jack Daniels. One point in the blurb for 11.1 does stick out - they've used both the common Concerto barley and also Propino barley, a strain that I was not familiar with, and as far as I'm aware this is its first outing in an Octomore. From a little research it seems that Propino was once the most popular barley variety in Britain, but now makes up less than 5% of planted varieties. I do believe that barley varieties make a marked difference in whisky, but it's hard to compare apples to apples since a myriad of other variables could be just as responsible for any change in character. Regardless, with such relatively high peating levels as found in Octomore those differences are going to be harder to spot. But regardless, such details are all part of the provenance.

Octomore 11.1 was distilled in 2014 from that 139.6 ppm barley, and was bottled at 59.4%. Being a Bruichladdich product it's naturally non-chill filtered and naturally coloured. The sample for this review came from a generous fellow whisky nerd. Time to find out how the latest _.1 Octomore fares!

Octomore 11.1, 5-years old, 59.4%. Islay, Scotland.
Distilled 2014 from Scottish barley peated to 139.6 ppm, matured in first-fill ex-bourbon casks from Jack Daniels, Jim Beam and Heaven Hill. Non-chill filtered, natural colour. 
Colour: White wine, pale gold. 

Nose: Whoa, lemons!! Loads of fresh lemon rind, sweeter lemon oils and waxed whole lemons. A little ashy peat smoke, freshly-dried sweet malted barley, touch of salty, almost chalky minerality and black pepper. Some BBQ'd lemon & leafy green herbs on fresh white fish. Muddy peat behind.  

Texture: Medium weight, surprisingly clean for an Octomore, only lightly oily. A definite spirit-y heat to it but not unpleasant. 

Taste: Loads of oily, waxy lemon again, plus some vanilla cream. Spirit-y heat again alongside soft muddy peat and ashy smoke. Slightly farmyard-y and with a floral syrup sweetness. Leafy herbs and fresh red chilli, and a touch of sweet ripe pineapple. 

Finish: Medium length. Charred wood, chunky peat and black pepper. That spirit-y heat coming through again, giving the salivary glands a workout. Then a sweet floral honey sweetness and a touch of vanilla again. Dried red chilli now, with slight sweet stone fruit and a few fresh bandages over on the other side of the room. 

Score: 3.5 out of 5. 

Notes: The nose is the star of this show! Loads of lemon, more than I remember finding in any recent Octomore, and malty sweetness, and while more subdued than most _.1 Octomores, particularly the older batches (prior to batch 9), the peat is still there. Across the nose, palate and finish there are also touches of the farmyard-y, medicinal and coastal characters that Octomores show, but while they usually tend to lean in one of those three directions 11.1 is more of a balancing act between all three, so it comes off as a little muted in comparison. But it's not really, it's just more evenly balanced in character. And while 5-year old Octomores at ~60% ABV are never gentle drams, it's also considerably hotter, as in spirit-y/alcohol heat, than I remember 10.1 being, despite the strengths being quite similar (59.8% for the 10.1). There also seems to be less cask influence here, slightly less fruit and less vanilla, but still with the charred oak that these lower ppm _.1 bottlings seem to show. Or at least that the last few versions have shown. 

I think the _.1 bottling in each batch of Octomore tends to set the tone for the series, but each & every Octomore is still vastly different, so now, as usual, I'm going to have to chase down drams of the rest of the series. Despite there being over thirty different bottlings of Octomore to date (not counting Feis bottles, OBA and Futures, etc.), and despite the price increases and constant leaps in demand and popularity, the quality has remained high. The whisky in these slender, opaque bottles very rarely disappoints. 


Sunday, 16 May 2021

Belgrove Peated Rye Whisky Review!

 A crazy rye whisky from Tasmania's crazy Belgrove Distillery. And yes, it's peated! Crazy!

I don't often reach for rye whiskies / whiskeys, but when I do, it's usually a Belgrove! Peter Bignell's (pictured above) Belgrove Distillery is a tiny farm distillery located near Kempton in central Tasmania. From his standard Rye Whisky to the likes of cask strength rye whiskies aged in ex-Heartwood casks, rye whiskies aged in ex-Tasmanian red wine barrels, and the even more 'out there' bottlings like oat whiskies and the infamous 'Wholly Shit', using grain smoked with sheep dung and since made famous by non-other than Gordon Ramsay, Peter's products are not easily forgotten. Once you've met Peter and visited the distillery, which is still very much a working sheep farm, and seeing the grain growing in the fields, all in a beautiful natural setting, it really completes the picture. This is also one of the world's most sustainable distilleries, using recycled and repurposed equipment and materials wherever possible, including catching the rainwater from the farm buildings' roofs, and heating the copper pot still - which Peter made himself - with used fryer oil from nearby takeaway food shops. It's also one of the hidden gems of the Tasmanian whisky industry, and if you're headed down that way and are looking for a completely unpolished distillery visit where things are done differently, I can't recommend it enough. To my knowledge this is the only whisky distillery in Australia using equipment like a repurposed commercial clothes dryer as a malting drum, and a mash filter rather than a conventional mash tun, plus a direct-fired oil- or biodiesel-burning copper pot still that is controlled using a repurposed kitchen mixer. There's technically no visitor's centre or regimented tour schedule, but email Peter ahead (check out and see if he can show you around. 

I've reviewed a couple of rye whiskies in the past, namely from Copper Fox Distillery in the U.S, and one from Belgrove. You might be forgiven for thinking that all rye whiskies are the same, and that they've simply substituted barley for rye grain and called the spirit a rye whisky. But in reality there are a myriad of differences between the many rye whiskies / whiskeys that are out there, and while American rye whiskeys are still the most easily accessed and the most familiar to most 'brown liquor' drinkers, the regulations governing rye whiskeys offer a great deal of leeway. For example, to call your American whiskey a rye whiskey, you only need to use 51% rye grain in your mash bill (mix of grains), with the remainder being any other grain - most commonly corn, wheat or barley. There are also limits on the distillation strength and filling strength, but the basic gist of things is that these regulations are a copy of those used for bourbon whiskey, but with a minimum of 51% rye grain rather than the minimum of 51% corn that is required for bourbon. And like bourbon there is no minimum age requirement, unless you also want to use the word 'straight' on your labels and marketing, which then means you cannot blend your spirit with other types, and requires a minimum age of two years. Most of those are produced in efficient column stills or continuous stills rather than pot stills. The rye whiskies (note the different spelling) made in Australia are a little different. 

While Belgrove has been producing rye whiskies for many years and was the first to do so in Australia, quite a few Australian rye whiskies have hit the market since. The likes of Sydney's Archie Rose, regional Victoria's Backwoods Distilling Co, Melbourne's Gospel, and Western Australia's Great Southern Distilling Company (also referred to as Limeburners) - although the latter two chose to use the 'whiskey' spelling - have all released rye spirits that have gained solid reputations. Aside from Melbourne's Gospel, all the above use pot stills to distill their rye spirits, and a couple - mostly Archie Rose and Belgrove - are using 100% rye grain in their mash recipes. As far as regulations go, our advantage is the two-year minimum age requirement for both whisky and whiskey. So if your bottle of Australian rye whiskey / whisky is labelled as such, it is at least two years old. If it's labelled simply as 'rye' though, or simply as 'malt' or 'single malt' for that matter, without mention of whisky or whiskey, all or at least some of the contents will be too young to meet that minimum age requirement. 

There's only one peated rye whisky produced in Australia though, and that's what we're looking at today. Belgrove have only produced four different batches of this unique spirit, with the first iteration that was largely an experiment debuted back in late 2014 - followed by a three-year wait for the second batch. Some of those releases have been single casks, some have been cask strength and some have been watered down slightly. But all have been made from 100% rye grain, a mix of both malted and un-malted, where some or all of the malted rye was dried using peat smoke - which happens in Peter's repurposed commercial clothes dryer, remember! The Belgrove Peated Rye Whisky that we're looking at today is from the latest release, Batch 4, which was bottled in August 2020. It was bottled at 50% ABV, and is non-chill filtered and naturally coloured. Surprisingly it's still available at the time of writing, straight from Peter's website (click here) for $155 AUD (500ml), which is a very reasonable price.

Belgrove Peated Rye Whisky, NAS, 50%. Kempton, Tasmania. 
100% rye grain, the malted portion smoked with Tasmanian peat. Approx. 3 years old. Non-chill filtered, natural colour.  

Colour: Pale amber. 

Nose: Spicy, nutty & smoky. Rye bread dough (think slightly yeasty), over-toasted grains and some coffee grounds. Sweet & warm buttery caramel, a couple of cloves and cold, spicy smoke. A touch of ash underneath. Slight hint of spearmint around the edges, but far less prominent than I've found in many other Belgrove whiskies. 

Texture: Medium weight, full-flavoured. Smoky rather than peaty. Slight touch of heat but it works nicely. 

Taste: That buttery caramel again, but it's also milky here. Toasted rye bread, a slight spirit heat but it fades very quickly. Dry roasted peanuts, ashy cold smoke again that seems more wood smoke rather than peat smoke. Maybe down to the composition of the peat? Touch of semi-sweet milk chocolate too. 

Finish: Medium length. Still quite smoky, and the rye spice returns with more milky caramel. Roasted nuts and that semi-sweet milk chocolate. Slight hints of spearmint and honey around the edges, and still quite smoky with that cold, ashy smoke. Mouth-watering!

Score: 3.5 out of 5. 

Notes: Delicious stuff, and it's pretty unique, but not in a particularly outlandish way - provided you're familiar with both smoky whiskies and rye whiskies, anyway! It's surprisingly smoky in fact, and the cold and ashy smoke works well with the spicy & nutty rye grain. In fact I've found Belgrove's rye whiskies to be some of the most rye-forward examples that I've tried, and by that I mean you can actually taste the grain itself, like younger Bruichladdichs or Springbanks often do well in the Scotch malt whisky world. And in my mind that's what you want when you're drinking a rye whisky / whiskey, rather than overt cask influence / wood influence or too much sweetness - which is why I much prefer rye whiskies / whiskeys to bourbon whiskeys!

This bottle has become much more balanced after first opening a couple of months ago, and the smoke has calmed down - it was actually bordering on too smoky when first opened, since the smoke was so dominant that the other notes were almost hidden from view. Now there's a great interplay of smoke, rye grain, toasty and caramel notes that combine into something delicious! This is a unique whisky, but it's not as outlandish, or as "dirty", "funky" or farmyard-y as some of the Belgrove whiskies that I've previously tasted, which could be down to the peat? Regardless, if you're a fan of both smoky whiskies and rye whiskies, then this is a must-try. Great value for money at this price too. More of these please Peter!


Sunday, 9 May 2021

Collectivum XXVIII Blended Malt Whisky Review!

Back to school with Roman numerals! No, this is not a 28-year old blended malt, this is a blended malt comprised of whisky from each of Diageo's 28 operating malt whisky distilleries. What about Collectivum? That's Latin, of course, and it means "the Collective"...

Collectivum 28 was released as part of Diageo's Special Releases in 2017. As a cask strength blended malt - so no grain whisky, just different malt whiskies blended together - it was something new for the annual special releases which had previously only featured single malts or single grains, and it was followed in 2018's batch by An Cladach, Gaelic for "shore" or "coast", a blended malt consisting of the company's six operating coastal distilleries. There was no blended malt in the 2019 or 2020 line-ups though, so both of these could be one-offs. Blended malts can be excellent whiskies and are certainly nothing to look down on - in fact in some cases they can be more than the sum of their parts, which is the name of the game! That's even more the case when they are bottled at decent strengths, and with some decent casks in the mix, which is certainly the case here. This whisky wasn't exactly cheap though at $265 AUD, and despite being released nearly four years ago and receiving positive reviews at the time, it can still be found for sale at the original RRP here in 2021. That name, Collectivum 28, is a little cheeky if you ask me - some could easily assume that this is a 28-year old whisky. And there are plenty of examples where various companies and distilleries have done the same thing to an even larger extent, including some that happily print "50" in large plain numbers on their front labels, when the whisky is of course far, far younger. So including some roman numerals, and of course not mentioning "years old" etc. is a nice way of side-stepping that potential issue while still getting your point across. 

'Operating distilleries' of course means no Port Ellen or Brora in the blend, but there is no shortage of distilleries to choose from in Diageo's portfolio. 28 Scotch whisky distilleries, 17 of which are located in the Speyside region, including those that are almost never seen on their own, even in independent bottlings, or at least are never named. The likes of Glenlossie, Strathmill and Glen Spey, and Roseisle. That last one is very interesting, because Roseisle Distillery, Diageo's massive whisky plant near Elgin, only started producing spirit in late 2010 and no single malts have been released to date. In fact the distillery was designed to pump out spirit intended for blends, and the entire production process can be altered at will to produce almost any style of spirit, including mimicking the company's other distilleries. At the other end of the spectrum are single malt heavyweights like Talisker, Lagavulin, Caol Ila, Clynelish and Mortlach, and there are another 19 in the list, so I won't bother naming them all! Naturally we don't know what proportion of each distillery's whisky went in to this blended malt, and some of those distilleries could well be "teaspooned" in this blend rather than detectable or significant contributors. Diageo's blenders aren't silly though, and they do great & very consistent work with the company's huge range of blended whiskies and single malts. So I imagine it was quite the fun project for them to pull dozens, if not hundreds, of samples out of their cupboards and go nuts. That'd be a fun project for any of us, really!

So, a cask strength (57.3% ABV) blended malt released in 2017 and containing malt whisky from 28 different Scotch malt whisky distilleries - 17 of which are located in Speyside - without an age statement, but probably with a minimum age of 6-7 years thanks to the inclusion of Roseisle. Apparently it's also a mix of first-fill and refill American oak and European oak casks, which tells us basically nothing! Never mind, the tasting will have to do the talking. Since it's from Diageo's Special Releases I'm assuming that it is non-chill filtered and naturally coloured, since that's always the case with these cask strength bottlings, but neither is declared on the packaging. The sample for this review came from a generous fellow whisky nerd. Let's get to it!

Collectivum XVIII (28) Blended Malt, NAS, 57.3%. Scotland.
Blended from Diageo's 28 Scotch malt whisky distilleries. Cask strength, presumed natural colour and non-chill filtered. 

Colour: Amber gold. 

Nose: Soft & subtle to start with but opens very nicely. Very Highland region in 'feel'. Grassy malted barley, a drying chalky minerality and coastal salinity. Sweet red apples, aniseed and black pepper. Toffee chews, and a nice waxiness and meatiness - beef jerky and waxy green banana skins. 

Texture: Medium-heavy weight, rich & oily, great texture! Slight heat but not distracting at all. 

Taste: Rich, oily entry with sweet & grassy malted barley, more red apples, old machine oils and a slight touch of old leather. That chalky minerality again and a touch of soft earthy peat. Black pepper again plus some green chilli and a little sandalwood. Nice floral sweetness around the edges as well. 

Finish: Long length. Dried orange, and the black pepper & green chilli carry through, plus that waxiness and old machine oil. Dusty red apples and a couple of brown pears, aniseed again and that coastal chalky & salty note sitting in the background. 

Score: 4 out of 5. 

Notes: Very, very delicious! There's a lot of complexity here, as you'd expect with 28 different malts I suppose, but there's also balance, and the whole thing feels very well paced and unhurried. There are definitely shades of Talisker, Clynelish, Mortlach & Mannochmore making themselves known, but it's near impossible to accurately pick out distillery character when there are 28 constituents to choose from! There are also shades of Campbeltown here, which is the only Scotch whisky region where you will not find a Diageo distillery - although in fairness there are only three to choose from - by way of that oiliness, coastal influence and a touch of earthy dunnage character. There's only a little peat on the palate, and none on the nose to my senses, despite the presence of Talisker, Lagavulin & Caol Ila being in the mix somewhere - but don't get me wrong, it's not missing anything at all. The malty, peppery, oily & waxy notes give this whisky plenty of depth, and the mouth feel is just excellent!

Blended malts really do seem to be on the rise lately, and more power to them! If you're one of the "I only drink single malts" crowd, then you're really missing out. When bottled at a decent strength and naturally presented blends can wipe the floor with many single malts, even at similar price points. Great work by the blenders here, such a large blend - in terms of the sheer number of different whiskies in the mix - could've easily become a big mess, but in my amateur opinion they've nailed this one. Let's hope we see a few more cask strength blended malts in the Special Releases in future!


Sunday, 2 May 2021

Braes of Glenlivet (Braeval) 16 Year Old (Signatory Vintage 1979) Whisky Review!

My first experience with Braes of Glenlivet (a.k.a. Braeval Distillery) single malt, and it was bottled over 25 years ago!

Braes of Glenlivet, renamed to Braeval Distillery in 1994, is a relatively young distillery that was founded in 1972 in the Ballindalloch area of Speyside. Why the name change? To avoid any confusion or being associated with Glenlivet Distillery, which was and is owned by the same parent company as Braeval. It was founded by Chivas, then part of Seagrams, which became part of Pernod Ricard in 2000. As was often the case with these less famous and often neglected distilleries the new owners elected to close the distillery just over a year later, and it remained 'mothballed' for six years before resuming production. As is also often the case with these less famous distilleries, the vast majority of their production - over four million litres of spirit annually - goes in to the parent company's blended whiskies, in this case the likes of Ballantine's and Chivas Regal, and single malt official bottlings are almost impossible to find with only three examples in existence - a 25, 27 and 30-year old, released as part of Chivas Brother's "Secret Speyside" range of limited releases from their lesser known distilleries. Interestingly, despite being released within the last couple of years those official bottlings are labelled as Braes of Glenlivet, not Braeval, which seems a strange and somewhat dubious choice! Even independent bottlings aren't seen very often from this remote distillery. Braeval is not open to the public and has no visitor's centre, and it's production methods aren't particularly remarkable with six conventional pot stills, two wash and four spirit, all equipped with onion-shaped reflux balls and upward-angled lyne arms designed to produce a lighter spirit. The distillery's main claim to fame is that it is the highest in Scotland by elevation, albeit only surpassing Dalwhinnie by only a couple of metres. The latter is still often referred to as the highest in Scotland, probably only because very few people have heard of Braeval, let alone are aware of it's elevation. Does it really matter which is highest? No, of course not; it's essentially a marketing tactic. But higher elevation does have an effect on the production and maturation at those distilleries, thanks to differences in air pressure, humidity and temperature.  

There is more to the story of the name change though, since including the word "Glenlivet" was a much more common thing a few decades ago. In fact throughout the 19th Century the word was a generic term used to denote whiskies from the Speyside region, and it had started during the illicit distilling days, well before Glenlivet Distillery had been issued it's license following the excise act of 1823. Very famous distilleries like Macallan, Aberlour, Mortlach and Glenrothes were all hyphenated as "X-Glenlivet", e.g. Macallan-Glenlivet, right up until the 1980s-1990s. And this is also why Glenlivet Distillery is officially named "The" Glenlivet, which resulted from legal battles in the late 1800s. So if the distillery changed names in 1994 and this whisky was bottled in 1996, why is it labelled as Braes of Glenlivet and not Braeval? Because this is an independent bottling, and quite a few independent bottlers chose to bottle their whiskies under the original names of the distilleries that were responsible for the production of the spirit. In fact a couple, most notably Cadenheads, still choose to use the "X-Glenlivet" names that I mentioned above for many bottlings from those distilleries. The word Braes, by the way, essentially means hillside or slope, so Braes of Glenlivet means "Hillside of Glenlivet", which itself means "Valley of the Livet", as in the River Livet that runs through the area and is an offshoot of the River Spey. 

This particular bottling of Braes of Glenlivet was opened by a mate during his recent birthday celebration, and it was distilled in the year of his birth - yes, he's very old - making it a very special moment! This is a single cask bottling from independent bottlers Signatory Vintage, and it was distilled in June 1979 and bottled in February 1996 at 16 years of age. A single butt (500-litre cask), cask number 16045, yielded 380 numbered bottles at a strength of 43%. I'm assuming that was a refill sherry butt, but a reasonably active one. Having been bottled a quarter of a century ago, this certainly qualifies as what the whisky world calls a "dusty" bottle, meaning that it has survived unopened for a long time! Thankfully the cork actually came out in one piece, which was quite the surprise given the age, and the contents was showing great promise almost straight away. February 1996 was a very different time of course, Signatory Vintage had been founded back in 1988 but were still six years away from their purchase of Edradour Distillery, and the whisky industry would've been almost unrecognisable compared to the booming giant that it is today, particularly when it came to single malts. Personally I had only just started the final year of primary school back then and probably didn't even know what whisky was, so this is a real time capsule of a bottle! Despite being both distilled and bottled so long ago - don't forget, the friend who opened this bottle is very old - this bottle was actually relatively affordable, mainly because of the distillery being less widely known and less desirable than more famous names. But in my admittedly limited experience, older bottlings from this era are always worth trying, since they offer a glimpse in to a much different time in both the world and in the whisky industry. Let's do it!

Braes of Glenlivet 16-year old, Signatory Vintage, 43%. Speyside, Scotland.
Distilled June 1979, bottled February 1996. Single sherry butt #16045, assumed refill cask, 380 bottles. Unknown chill filtration or colouring, but likely natural colour.

Colour: Bronze. Quite hazy as well so I'd have to guess non-chill filtered. 

Nose: Warm, dusty & quite "old school", but also quite fresh. Herbal honey, dry grass, baked red apples with warm wood spices and a touch of runny caramel. Brown bread dough, dried orange slices and a touch of sweet under-ripe tropical fruit around the edges. Touch of dried ginger too. 

Texture: Light-medium weight, but doesn't "feel" diluted. Dusty & slightly chalky. No heat at all.

Taste: Sweeter & fruitier here. More orange slices but they're fresh now, and slightly bitter. Dusty malt, baking spices, dry grass & dried leafy herbs. Some runny caramel before that bitterness increases in volume-  think bitter orange, and with a few cloves and a touch of ginger thrown in. 

Finish: Short-medium length. Touch of liquorice and those baking spices, still that bitter orange, dry grass & dried leafy herbs. Dusty malt and runny caramel again. Some old leather and a touch of red apple skins. And that hint of tropical fruit around the edges again. 

Score: 3.5 out of 5. Edging towards a 3 though. 

Notes: A very interesting 'blast from the past' whisky this. It's both "old school", dusty & leathery, and fresh & grassy at the same time. Quite herbal too with plenty of orange & baking spices, but that bitterness that starts to show on the palate is allowed to steer the ship a little too much for my liking, and it seems to dull the finish a little. There are flashes of a nice sweet fruitiness around the edges though, and the bigger picture is quite enjoyable. Having not tried a Braes of Glenlivet / Braeval before it's hard to compare to contemporary whiskies, but I haven't come across this dusty, leathery "old" character in many modern Speyside or Highland whiskies lately. 

When trying these old bottlings you can't help but wonder what they would've been like at cask strength, or even slightly higher at 46%. But the whisky world was a very different place back in the mid-1990s, and such things were not high on the list of priorities for the majority of producers; even among single malts and even among independent bottlings. But then it also doesn't feel like it's lacking, exactly, so that's just a thought. Still a very interesting experience with this old bottling, and a great way to help celebrate the birthday boy's trip around the sun! 


Sunday, 25 April 2021

Talisker 8 Year Old Rum Finish 2020 Whisky Review!

 The new rum cask finished Talisker! The one we've all been waiting for! 

I've said it before, and I'll gladly say it again: I absolutely loved the 2018 Talisker 8-year old. It's still my favourite Talisker to date, and one of my favourite bottlings from the Diageo Special Releases to date. So when I heard about the 2020 Talisker 8-year old, I was very excited to get amongst it. And after the wait of nearly a full year after this whisky was released in Britain and Europe, it's finally here! There's a slight price increase, with the new addition sitting at around $160 AUD on the retail shelves, compared to $130 for the previous iteration. But that's fine, it's been two years (actually more) and there was an older 15-year old released in between the two at a higher price, so that's certainly not a deal-breaker. It's also slightly lower in strength at 57.9% compared to 59.4% ABV in the 2018. But that's really not all, folks. This is the first Talisker official bottling to ever spend time in rum casks! Carribean pot still rum casks to be exact, and while I assume the finishing period was relatively short, it's certainly had a marked effect on the finished whisky - pun intended. If I'm not mistaken this is also the first time that any of Diageo's single malts have been finished in rum casks, so this is quite the leap forward! Despite being one of the world's largest spirits corporations, don't let anyone tell you that Diageo is not willing to try something new. This is a very professional and very savvy company, and despite what the bitterer whisky geeks will tell you they really do know what they're doing when it comes to whisky. 

Rum cask finishes, when done well, can make for excellent drams, adding tropical fruit, dirty rum "funk" and brown sugar sweetness, but they do also seem to be quite hit & miss. While it's a growing trend, only a handful of distilleries have so far dabbled in this territory. Limited releases that I've tried such as Kilchoman's Australian Exclusive Single Cask, the Ardbeg Drum Committee Release, Springbank 21-year old 2018 and a Springbank single refill rum cask have been excellent, while others like Springbank 15-year old Rum Wood didn't quite meet my expectations, and the standard version of Ardbeg Drum (at 46%) didn't come close to my expectations. As you can see from that list, it does seem to mostly be peated whiskies that are filled into rum casks, perhaps because producers are worried that unpeated whiskies would become too sweet if put through the same treatment. Even the larger Scotch whisky industry's wild card entry, Bruichladdich, have only dipped their toe in the water when it comes to rum casks, although it's entirely possible that more are in the works for the future. I'm only guessing here, but from what I have observed one of the issues could be provenance - rum casks are very rarely traceable that like of the bourbon, sherry and wine industries - and by that I mean the quality of the rum that the casks have held, and the length of time that they held rum, and where that rum came from, and if those casks had previously held something else before they were filled with rum (usually bourbon). Not to mention if there was sugar added to the spirit, which is a very common thing in rum production, and what the base ingredient was i.e. molasses, sugar cane or demerara. Diageo does own Don Zapaca rum, which is produced in Guatemala, plus a Venezuelan rum called Pampero and also the lower-end rum brand Captain Morgan. But the rumour mill - the same rumour mill that was wrong about virgin oak being used in the 2019 15-year old, mind you - says that these rum casks were sourced from Jamaica. So who knows!

It's great to see the Isle of Skye's Talisker Distillery getting some time in the spotlight from the owners. The last three batches of Diageo's annual Special Releases have featured a cask strength Talisker, from the 2018 8-year old that was matured in deep-charred first-fill ex-bourbon barrels, to the 2019 15-year old that was matured in re-charred refill American oak hogshead casks (not virgin oak as many blogs and media releases incorrectly stated), and now the ground-breaking latest release with it's tropical twist. Since the cask strength 25-year old that was last released way back in 2009, prior to these three Special Releases there hasn't been a cask strength Talisker official bottling that was reasonably obtainable. The 57 North expression, which wasn't exactly cask strength but was close enough at 57% ABV, was discontinued a couple of years ago, and even the most recent distillery exclusive bottling was bottled at 48% ABV - only a slight boost over the distillery's standard strength of 45.8%. It's not easy to find a cask strength independent bottling of Talisker either, since there are very few independent bottlings in general from this distillery. So the debuts of these three special release bottlings over the last three years has been very exciting, and let's hope they keep it up! Right, enough talk. The 2020 Talisker 8 Year Old Cask Strength, bottled at 57.9%, non-chill filtered and natural colour, and finished in Carribean pot still rum casks. Oh and I have to add, the packaging on these last two batches of Special Releases really has grown on me. Very pretty, and it's great to see clear glass bottles in use for most of the bottlings. This young Talisker has some big shoes to fill after the 2018 8-year old, but it's also going to be a distinctly different experience, so I'll try to put that out of my mind!

Talisker 8 Year Old Cask Strength 2020, 57.9%. Isle of Skye, Scotland.
Finished in Carribean pot still rum casks. Non-chill filtered, natural colour. 

Colour: Very pale gold.

Nose: Sweet & sour and lighter than expected to start with, herbal and peppery. Opens up quickly with fresh green chilli, grassy dried herbs and a whiff of fresh petrol (which is a good sign!). Warm sea salt, a little printer ink and green peppercorns, then tropical fruit that quickly moves from green & sour to just under-ripe and sweeter - think green banana and under-ripe pineapple. Touch of toasted coconut around the edges as well? That would certainly be Carribean!

Texture: Medium weight, very oily, rich & peppery. Slight heat but it's very integrated and works well.

Taste: Clean engine oils and more fresh petrol (not that I've tasted petrol lately...), followed by charred green chillies, green & black peppercorns and warm baked sea salt. Touch of seaweed, a little pineapple & crystallised brown sugar. Fresh oily paint and a little burnt bacon. 

Finish: Medium-long length. Charred bacon, baked sea salt and fresh green chillies carrying through, followed by the banana, pineapple & petrol. Then the peppercorns return to dry things out, with a touch of lemon juice. Mouth-watering!

Score: 4 out of 5. 

Notes: Delicious. This is the only Special Release from the 2020 batch that I've tried so far, but even so I think it's safe to say that this Talisker could be the star of the show. Particularly when you factor in value for money. As expected it's very different to the 2018 8-year old, although the rum cask influence is relatively subtle - which is a good thing! In fact this is quite a balanced whisky overall, still showing plenty of distillery character with just a touch of extra sweetness, tropical fruit & rum "funk". They could've gone heavier on the rum influence here, like other distilleries have done before, but I'm glad they didn't. Maybe Talisker's spirit profile helped there, but then Ardbeg & Springbank's spirits aren't exactly wallflowers either. Undiluted, uncoloured and non-chill filtered Talisker is a glorious thing!

Talisker may no longer be the only distillery on the Isle of Skye, thanks to Torabhaig releasing their first single malt earlier this year, but they will always be the original, and any future newcomers are going to instantly face comparisons to drams like this. The 2020 8-year old certainly deserves its spot in the Special Releases, which comes as no surprise, but let's hope the success of this whisky helps keep the cask strength Taliskers coming in future batches. I look forward to seeing what they come up with next!


Teeling Revival 12 Year Old Whiskey Review!

It's been a while since I reviewed anything from Ireland. Or almost anything with the extra "e"! But this example is a great g...