Saturday, July 30, 2016

A Whisky Adventure

As an international man of leisure now that my family are on holiday back home in Cornwall (please come back soon!), I attended a “whisky event” here in Melbourne yesterday.

I don’t normally go to these type of things, not just due to family commitments and priorities though. It’s simply not really my thing, I guess. Blokes, cologne, more blokes, all getting in between me and the whisky. Because theoretically I should of course love these events – lots of whisky, some of it really good, and a chance to talk to those who make it (or, more often, work for those that do, but that’s cool, more often than not they know their stuff).

But there’s just so much bloke. And cologne. And beard.

Anyway, I went (on a bus!) to this thing which was a showcase of independent bottlers of whisky – predominantly Scotch, but also some Irish, Australian, and whatever we’re classifying Couvreur’s as these days.

Three years ago, this event could have been held in a large phone booth (a small glassed-in room in the middle of the street where you put actual coins into a huge, non-functioning metal phone – ah fuck it, google it), so few indie bottlers were there to be found in Australia. But did you know there was a whisky boom?

So previously where for years we saw primarily just Gordon & Macphail, Adelphi, SMWS (if you’re a member) and Cadenhead (all of whom were represented at this tasting except, disappointingly and curiously, Cadenhead), we’re now increasingly seeing more and more of the UK and Europe’s independent bottlers being imported directly into the country. Signatory (only very recently), Berry’s, Hyde, Rest & Be Thankful, Couvreur, La Maison du Whisky (including the Artist Series and The Ten) are all now in the country officially. These were all represented at this tasting.

This is a good thing. Of course it is, the more indie whisky the better. The problem, for me, is the normalisation of seemingly ridiculous pricing. Now, I’m not one to bang on about pricing too much, although of course I’ve done my fair share. I buy expensive (to me) malts from time to time, largely from Europe. I don’t collect a lot of whisky (my supplies are considerably smaller (I imagine) than many other whisky obsessives), but I try to buy what I like.

[Whisky is still very much a drink for me. I can’t drink wine or beer anymore (due to complicated, boring intolerance issues) so when I want a drink, eight times out of ten it’s whisky (the other occasions it’ll be gin or, if i'm desperate, vodka). Sure, of course I love to geek out on whisky, sit down with it and explore, enjoy and discover. But I also just like to drink it. So I go through a bottle a little faster (I imagine) than many others.]

Some of the prices on these indie imports are beginning to seem pretty speculative though, both in comparison to their prices in the EU and UK, and just within the wider Australian context. Sure, we’re used to seeing some big numbers from SMWS and Adelphi, but often these are reasonably equivalent to their prices in other markets – with the additional impost and duties they attract when they land here.

But a quick scan through EU and UK stores shows some glaring mark-ups (again, yes, still factoring in the aggressive tax and duty regime here) on some of these new arrivals mentioned above. Something interesting is going on with some of the new batch of Adelphis too. (Signatory and their distributors here should be applauded, though, for they seem to have kept their prices at a reasonable level).

“It’s the market, idiot.” Yes, I know. But if people start buying at these bloated prices, it casts a signal to the rest of the market, ie. distilleries and their official bottlings. Anyway, we’ll wait to see if they move – it’s still early days.

Anyway, the whisky. Any good ones? Yes. Some not so good ones too.

No real notes (and the photos were all crap so I've just dropped the least shitty one in), but here’s a few of the whiskies I tried (I've listed some prices, others I'm too lazy to look for or just aren't yet available):

SMWS C1 – Cognac! This was a surprise. Lovely exotic spices carry from the nose through to the rich palate. Quite nice. 

SMWS 71.41 Curious and intriguing 57.2% - Sherried Glenburgie. Sweet, then rubber, sulphur and dirt, and mint and dried fruits. Pretty polarising. I liked it though.

Heartwood 2 of 3, Vatted Tasmanian Malt (Tasmanian Distillery and Lark), 68.1% - Outstanding vatting. Peat, Sherry and Port casks. Balance is impeccable. Probably long gone, but this was great (around $300 probably). It's a blend of one 16 YO Tasmanian Distillery cask and two Lark casks (8 and 6 YO).

Berry Bros. Clynelish 1996, 18 YO, 46% - Very waxy, archetypal Clynelish. No faults.

Berry Bros. Auchroisk 1998, 15 YO, 46% - This was awful. Metallic and musty.

Adelphi Highland Park 1989, 26 YO, 47% - Amazing. Bourbon cask HP delivering spicy fruit on nose and waves of tropical fruit on palate with tannins for structure on finish. Pity it’s so expensive ($515). Fantastic though.

Adelphi Clynelish 1993, 15 YO, 60.1% - One of the older bottlings that Adelphi have brought over this time. Solid bourbon cask Clynelish. Absolutely ridiculous price ($375). It was bottled in 2008, I get it, but the prices on this and the 11 YO Ben Nevis ($345) are insulting.

Signatory Glenlossie 1992, 22 YO, 57.1% - Nice fruity Speysider. Mouth coating, long and spicy ($200).

LMdW Artist #5 Ledaig 2004, 11 YO, 60.4% - Beautiful sherry cask. Sherry fruits, tobacco, salt, caramel, peat. Fantastic finish on this. This was great. But again, pricey ($265).

Rest & Be Thankful Octomore 2009, 6 YO, 66.9% (Lafite Cask) – Admittedly, this was never going to be my kind of thing, but this was so unbalanced, a mess of peat and hot red (wine) fruits. ($500!)