Dram Review: Dark Valley Lark Hunter’s Keep

[62.7%・770 Days Old・Bottled in 2016・Dark Valley Bottling・Single Cask Release of 34 Bottles]

Nose:

Dark.  Heavy oak presence with strawberry preserve, liquorice and squid ink with a sprinkle of ginger flower.

Palate & Finish:

Sweetness is excess but saved by the grace of the creaminess developed.  Caramel fudge, strawberry jam and cinnamon folded together, alongside lemon and lime zest.

Reverts to a soft milk chocolate finish with the tannins coming on, cotton candy and cinnamon sweets.

Thoughts:

A barely legal Lark that has been put on HGH in the form of a 20 litre Port cask, and despite the odds delivered in a way that’s thoroughly Australian.  Somehow I don’t think this is just beginner’s luck for Alex, the evolution of Lark’s distillation is also rather evident in this whisky.  Keep up the good work guys.

-Nicholas

Dram Review: Starward Ginger Beer Cask #3

[48.0%・NAS・Official Bottling・Single Cask Release]

Nose:

More cotton candy than ginger, ginger flowers effortlessly relaxing in the background.  Dried mango cubes and candy floss, hint of pepper and orange blossom, lighthearted but cute.

Palate & Finish:

Lemony and oozing of green apple sauce, together with the lime jelly it sets a refreshing summery tone.  The ginger provides a wee kick to the proceedings but disperses swiftly thereafter.

Traces of cured ginger in the finish mellowed by simple syrup, a nice follow through.

Thoughts:

For me personally, this is a great dram for those hot summery days, I reckon it will be very versatile as well, good for a highball I bet.  This batch certainly feels more structured, a real testament to Starward’s maturing techniques.

☆ [Recommended]

-Nicholas

Dram Review: Gordon & MacPhail Rosebank Cask No. 2112

[46.0%・18 Years Old・Distilled in 1991・Bottled in 2009・Gordon and MacPhail Bottling・Cask No. 2112・Single Cask Release]

Nose:

Ahhh, this is a fruit bomb, very jammy and absolutely gorgeous.  Caramel and fruit bouquet intertwining together to present a clean landscape, the subtle oak influence elevates the nose with the hint of charred oak going really well with the vanilla and star fruits.

Palate & Finish:

Clean and vibrant with an enchanting juiciness, crisp pears and elderflower, exceptionally delicious and mesmerising as the marvellous flavours are joined by coconut cream and fresh oranges.

The finish is subtle but shows finesse, the wee cask influence, chiefly of milk chocolate and lime twists, joins the chorus.

Thoughts:

What a wonderful dram, a classic fruity Rosebank, this one is sorely missed in particular.

☆☆ [Highly Recommended]

-Nicholas

Whisky Review: Silver Seal “Whisky is Art” Glenlivet 1979 35 Years Old

Style: Sherry and Complex

Nose:
Quince, dark prunes lightly veiled by surprising vibrant ginger spice at this archaic age. Brown sugar clusters around salted caramel pecans. Next we have raisins and roasted almonds. Multiple layers of red fruits on display here… Quite enjoyable.

Palate:
Effortless, elegant entrance, a mix of umeboshi and salted caramel sauce on the palate. Ginger spice surges while red fruits run deeper and resonates beautifully. Rather dense quince levitated by bright cranberry juice. Again, multiple layers of red fruits – ruby grapes, sugar roasted almonds, liquorice delivering at just the right balance. Soft, cereal malt to finish.

Finish:
Slightly winey, raisin chocolate opens up to more high flying ruby fruits and vanilla malt. Another touch of salt, nice finish.

Thoughts:
A beautifully aged sherry Glenlivet with a nice little twist, showcasing multiple facets of red fruits, smooth sweetness with splendid depth while the gingery spirit injects a nice vibrancy into the whisky. A very complete whisky, reaffirms my love of sherried Glenlivet, sheer elegance.

☆☆ [Highly Recommended]

[51.3% • 2014  Independent Bottling • Single Cask • Cask Strength • Non Coloured • Non Chill Filtered • Cask Number: 6100 • Bottle Number: 144 of 178 • Limited Release • **]

-Esmond

Dram Review: Starward Dram Full Single Cask #1

[58.0%・NAS・Official Bottling・Cask No. 160921-A・Single Cask Release]

Nose:

A frail grasp of lemongrass and vanilla from toasted oak staves, mildly fragrant with a underlying buttery note.

Palate & Finish:

Vanilla custard with traces of lemons, sultana and rockmelons. The juicy vibe ties well with the milk chocolate, followed by spices that come across quite loud but juxtapose well with the caramel at the bass.

Banana toffee and barley grist developing in the finish.

Thoughts:

An interesting “less is more” approach from the guys at Dram Full and Starward, valiant effort.

-Nicholas

Interview: Share a dram with Mr. Stewart Buchanan of BenRiach

Just a few weeks ago I have the pleasure to sit down and share a few drams with Mr. Stewart Buchanan, the global brand ambassador of The BenRiach Distillery Company recently acquired by Brown-Forman at Pocket Bar in Darlinghurst. During his travel to Australia, Stewart attended a few major whisky events including Whisky Live Sydney and the Whisky Show. We have a few casual drinks and a relaxed discussion about almost anything about BenRiach, Glenglassaugh and GlenDronach Distillery.

Many ponder about the prospects of the trio after the acquisition by Brown-Forman, one of the largest American-owned spirits and wine companies which has brands including the famous Jack Daniel’s from the talented hands of Mr. Billy Walker and BenRiach Distillery Company. In this one hour session, Stewart has discussed at length about the three distilleries and their future plans under the wings of Brown-Forman. This article is a pretty long read, so I will dice it up into three major sections and discuss the distilleries one by one as we did during the sit-down session.

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Photo credit to Mr. Matthew Wooler from Dramnation, a very dedicated whisky education and appreciation group active in Sydney

Glenglassaugh Distillery

“Quirky”… is the word

So let’s start with Glenglassaugh, maybe the less-known and a bit mythical among the three distilleries. Interestingly, Stewart uses the term “quirky” to characterize the distillery. “It is something that I cannot wrap my head around it. Maybe it is the unique location – bordering Speyside and Highland, 15 minutes from Sandend Bay, Glassaugh Spring (the spring water source they use) has such a high mineral content and we have one of the most unique fauna landscapes here… This place is meant to be making the sweetest and floral new make and above that, there is something so special that I just can’t put into words to describe it, somehow that has engraved into the DNA to produce such a distinct spirit.” He also says the newly-appointed whisky maker for the distilleries, Ms. Rachel Barrie resonates his view when she visited Glenglassaugh earlier this year. Back then, Glenglassaugh was regarded as a highly individual malt which deemed to be hard to accommodate in blends, while the single malt market was mostly undeveloped at that point, that might have contributed to its demise in 1986. As a result, the distillery was closed and remained silent until 2008, leaving a 22-year gap in stock supply.

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Stewart talking about Glenglassaugh

Coming Releases from Glenglassaugh

The current releases from Glenglassaugh feature a few non-aged works in progress, as well as occasional vintage bottlings from the previous era. Stewart indicated that the distillery will be continue to be experimental (on casks), there will be a small scale of port cask and virgin oak cask releases rolling out soon. Any plans to bring back the age statements? Stewart says, “Yes, when we reach 2018 some of the stock will be maturing for 10 years since the reopening of the distillery from 2008. We are looking to do a 10 years old version of Evolution and Revival next year.” For fans who love a taste of vintage Glenglassaugh, good news! The third batch of single cask bottlings are confirmed to be on the way, the tasting notes have just been completed so we can expect an official announcement soon.

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Very beautiful set up by Mr. Wooler

The BenRiach Distillery

Experimental BenRiach 

I always see BenRiach is big on experimentation. The recent releases on the market have all sorts of funky variations – Peated vintage with full Tawny maturation and you can even see triple distillations bottling from time to time… “Yes, it is quite experimental, and it is a real fruit-bomb whisky.” This is how Mr. Buchanan characterizes BenRiach. Indeed, it does feel the robust fruit character lays a strong foundation for BenRiach to be versatile on its releases. “Although with so many different, sporadic expressions it can be confusing at times.” He admits. “Now we want to stabilize the range, trim it a bit and consolidate our special releases under the name of “Warehouse 13” to give it more structure.” “But we are very much experimental.” He continues, “Probably on the contrary, especially when Rachel discusses her interpretations of BenRiach, how she mentions about the sound of the distillery name. The pronunciation of the distillery “Ben-Riach” has such a strong ring, it leaves a bold and valiant impression and that is how it should be… Such an interesting take, it is one of the best things we get with Rachel joining our team, to approach things in a feminine perspective – this is something that guys will never think of.”

BR Cask Strength Peated Batch 1 bottle in front LR.jpgThe latest release from BenRiach, the Peated Cask Strength Batch 1

Discontinued Releases and Brown-Forman

Then we discuss the now-discontinued BenRiach 12 Years Old Sherry Wood, which is one of my favourite releases from BenRiach, it is a bit sad to see it go. “You know, BenRiach 12 was originally designed for the Taiwanese market, but after picking up a few awards it became a global sensation. The problem was, we did not expect that and there was not enough stock to sustain the worldwide market so we have no choice but to discontinue it. We had the same dilemma with GlenDronach Octarine, which was originally made for the French market, but the demand exploded and it was impossible to keep up with.” So are you keeping the age statements? “Absolutely, We will keep all of them, from 10, 15, 20, 25 and all the way to 35 years old releases will all stay for many years.” That is where the discussion about Brown-Forman pops in. “Honestly, we are really happy with Brown-Forman which has been very supportive with our projects. They think everyone is doing a great job and encourage us go on and do whatever we are doing. It is very reassuring for us.” He continues, “There is no interference at all and we have even drafted up a production plan for the future 20 years.” Talking about the advantages under Brown-Forman, he adds, “The quality of our casks, and also it takes much less time to travel from America to our distillery, the freshness of the casks is very important.”

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The BenRiach 10 in cocktail, very nice…

The GlenDronach Distillery

Sherry Cask Shortage (?)

With not much time left for the one-hour session, I did not beat around the bush and started with a rather difficult question – Is Glendronach running out of its sherry casks after years of single cask releases? Stewart clutched his face in disbelief and probably with a hint of exhaustion, as if too many people has been bombarding him with the same question already. He says, “Really, now I don’t know what I was looking at in the distillery the other day, all those casks! We are not running out of sherry casks!!” He continues, “When Billy took over the distillery, we made sure we have purchased all the casks from third party owners. So don’t worry, we have no shortages.” I just check on Malt Madness it states that when BenRiach Distillery Company bought the distillery in 2009, 9000 of whisky maturing casks were included as part of the deal. You can do the math from here.

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(From left to right) Matt, Stewart and Mr. Stuart Reeves, Brown-Forman Australia spirits brand ambassador

The Cult-Dronach

We also talk about the stellar rise of GlenDronach. In many countries, including Australia, GlenDronach has reached a cult-like status. Stewart contributes the success of GlenDronach to Billy Walker, how he is very persistent on the way of making his whiskies. “When we were tasting the archive whiskies in GlenDronach back in 2008, Billy was so certain that we should recreate that kind of style and so we went for it… Even though we do not have direct coal fire heating anymore but we are keen to emulate that rich caramel profile by dispersing the heat spots around the stills.” It seems long-term planning is also in place for GlenDronach as well, within a couple of years’ time (or less), they are planning to bring back the Revival which was a sensational hit and forced to discontinued for 3 years since 2015. “We are looking to stabilize our regular expressions for many years.” Stewart added.

The New Whisky Maker – Ms. Rachel Barrie

Rachel Barrie Image.jpg

Ms. Rachel Barrie, the Whisky Maker for BenRiach, GlenDronach & Glenglassaugh in action

Signifying a Change of Times

A couple of months ago Brown-Forman announced the appointment of Rachel as whisky maker for its Scotch whisky portfolio which includes the BenRiach, The GlenDronach and Glenglassaugh distilleries, effective March 1, 2017. She succeeds Billy Walker who grows The BenRiach Distillery Company into one which is recognized throughout the industry for innovative and exceptional quality single malt Scotch whiskies. Walker will continue to support the distilleries and share his whisky expertise throughout the transition.

Rachel has served as master blender of Morrison Bowmore Distillers for the last five years where she led whisky creation for Bowmore, Auchentoshan and Glen Garioch, most recently including Laphroaig and Ardmore. Prior to joining Morrison Bowmore Distillers, she worked with the Glenmorangie Company for 16 years, eight of which were spent as whisky creator and master blender for Glenmorangie and Ardbeg single malts as well as James Martin’s and Bailie Nicol Jarvie blended Scotch whiskies. During her time at Glenmorangie, Brown-Forman had a minority ownership in the distillery and this new role brings her back to some of her earlier distilling roots with the company.

Any Changes with Rachel?

Talking about the changes that are brought forward by Rachel, Stewart comments, “Nothing. Really, when she first come into the distillery for our first meeting, with my notebook opened and ready. After a few minutes I realize that I don’t need to and simply set it aside. She is in the same wavelength as we are and we are basically completing each other’s sentences. Nothing has changed production-wise. Of course she will have her prints on the new products, everyone has a different palate, her interpretations and the casks she chooses for each expressions will be quite different to what Billy did.

Finally, A big thanks to Matthew of Dramnation setting this up and it was a very informative session! Cheers!

-Esmond

 

Dram Review: Lark The Revolution Release RR 04

[62.3%・3 Years 3 Months Old・Bottled in 2017・Official Bottling・Single Cask Release]

Nose:

Slightly dusty, with an unexpected ashy oomph of smoke that brings about a thickness to the scheme of things.  An interesting mush of brown sugar, liquorice, a wee ginger flower note, roast meat perhaps, and certainly oak.

Palate & Finish:

Sweet Yakult and white sugar, the peat smoke that unfolds into vanilla custard and apple jelly with quite an astounding elderflower syrup note.  The numbing spices overbear somewhat, nutmeg, cloves and black liquorice on the back palate.

Hint of ginger in the finish to go with some lime zest.

Thoughts:

Some aspects of this I quite like, but I guess most days you can’t have everything..

-Nicholas

Dram Review: Lark The Revolution Release RR 15

[69.3%・4 Years Old・Bottled in 2017・Official Bottling・Single Cask Release]

Nose:

Quite dry to begin, pungent Chinese massage oil with ginseng and lemon oil; but beneath that there’s a confectionary creaminess to it which really extends the depth, making room for citrus fruits and coconut cream.  The fruit peels then offer a bitter edge that allows a wee hint of smoke to pass through.

Palate & Finish:

A sticky affair, the syrupy hit draws out a concentrated orange note, the peat is distant but it provides this herbal note that draws out the buttery nature of the dram.

Softness of vanilla paired well with a wonderful citrus infusion, with a hint of burnt toffee lingering.

Thoughts:

The 14-day-fermentation process is obviously something that’s quite fascinating.  Perhaps it did offer brighter tone of flavours at the cask’s disposal, and the result is certainly funky.

-Nicholas

Whisky Review: Ben Nevis 25 Years Old Single Cask 98/35/5 

Style: Sweet and Composed

Nose:
Wow… Intoxicatingly aroma, rich plums, brown sugar sweetness laced so elegantly by a touch of smoke, mineral and dry spices. If you have a nostalgia for Yoichi Sherry casks, this is going to be your thing. A light dab of acidity opens up to a handful of roasted almonds, black currant pie, subtle floral tone overtime as very dense malt sitting deep at the back.

Palate:
Rose petals raining over a deep, resonating sherry juggernaut. Ruby grapes, dates and goji berries combine as thin smoke twists around them. Caramel sauce drizzles over more red fruits. Chilli flakes peak at the back, then the tone drops with the first sight of fuzzy malt. Walnut bread, doughy painting territory with traces of tannins. Vanilla drying up towards the end.

Finish:
Flour powdering on another black currant tart, red grapes in a tantalizing swagger while cereal malt echoing softly at the back.

Thoughts:
Somehow this reminds me of Yoichi so much. The majestic of the sherry in this dram is as identical as what you can get from my favourite Japanese distillery. The spirit is dense and composed, sweet and complex. Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise at all as they are under the same company. Is it because of the cask? The spirit? Or both? My guess there is something to do with both but probably more from the cask. The malt drops a bit too deep to my liking at the back. But overall, it is a very good whisky. You will love it.

☆ [Recommended]

[56.3% • 2010 Bottled • 1984 Distilled • Original Bottling • Single Cask • Cask Strength • Cask Number: 98/35/5 • Non Chill Filtered • Non Coloured • Double Wood Matured • *-]

-Esmond

Dram Review: Dailuaine Fragrances 2001

[45%・15 Years Old・Distilled in 201・Bottled in 2016・Silvano Samaroli Bottling・Cask No. 68・Single Cask Release of 340 bottles]

Nose:

Freshly plucked red apples and sweet pear nectar.  Plump barley emitting a joyous harvest time vibe, a delicate coating of wax to seal the freshness.  A perfectly comforting nose for those who values tranquility over excitement; mangos and jasmine providing enlightenment and the wild flowers gifting the nose a mesmerising imperfection.

Palate & Finish:

Clean stone fruits with the maltiness initially reserved but growing more robust.  Hint of menthol to go with the silky creaminess as the caramel effortlessly blends in together with the oak.  Orange oil and orange peels give the dram a spark, also lending a bitterness that accentuates the fruits.

Japanese peaches paired with a soft white tea, a brush of hazelnut cream that draws out the natural fragrances from the barley.

Thoughts:

A dram that is akin to going vanilla in a relationship, which for those who can appreciate that it is arguably most enjoyable..  it’s plausible that one can really commit to this.

☆[Recommended]

-Nicholas