Month: August 2015

Henry’s Legacy continues: Hellyers Road release ‘Saint Valentines Peak’

Posted by: Nick

Hellyers Road St Valentines Peak Whisky Waffle

North West Tasmania boasts some of the most diverse and beautiful landscapes found in Australia. From Cradle Mountain to The Nut, there are no shortage of scenic vistas. Many of these landmarks were first discovered by the explorer that the state’s largest distillery is named after: Henry Hellyer. And it is this man who is honoured by Henry’s Legacy – a range of special release bottlings by Hellyers Road. The latest in the series is named after a local landmark discovered by Henry over 180 years ago: Saint Valentines Peak.

The release is limited to only 480 bottles and is a fiery 60.1% – reflecting the volcanic-like nature of the mountain. The single barrel that matured the spirit is an ex-port cask, imparting flavours of apricot, raisins and buttery dried fruit, or, in the words of head distiller Mark Littler: “delicious”.

Mark was rather pleased with his newest release when I caught up with him – and little wonder: the bottle has already received a silver medal at the World Whisky Masters. I couldn’t help but wonder however – with all this emphasis on the collectability of this bottle – will anyone actually dare to drink it?

“People will buy this bottle for a number of reasons,” admitted Mark. “Some people are looking to collect the whole Henry’s Legacy range, some are after a specific number bottle while some intend to hand it down to their children”. And of course others are pouring themselves the occasional dram and enjoying the flavours immensely!

St Valentines Peak Cordell Richardson

Saint Valentines Peak: the mountain of love…ly whisky     Image by Cordell Richardson

Saint Valentines Peak is rugged, windswept and not for the faint of heart. This whisky emphatically reflects this, bringing together a wonderful Tasmanian product with a spectacular Tasmanian landmark. It is, as the label claims, a dram “for those unafraid of experiencing great heights”.

You can find out more about the Henry’s Legacy range and purchase bottles at the Hellyers Road website.

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Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

Pappy Van Winkle 20YO

Its pretty common for distillers to lay down Scotch for long periods of time, with age statements in the range of 18-25 years in relative abundance. Bourbons on the other hand are a whole different kettle of fish. Warmer storage temperatures and the use of virgin oak casks means that bourbon reaches maturity and develops character far more quickly than its Scottish counterparts. Therefore, if you come across a bourbon that says it’s 20 years old, you know you’re looking at something pretty special.

The Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20 Year Old is an experience unto itself, a man amongst the boys. Now into its 4th generation, the dynasty began in the 1870s when Julian P ‘Pappy’ Van Winkle entered into the proud Kentuckian tradition of bourbon making. These days the Van Winkles make their spirit at the Buffalo Trace distillery, but they have not lost their dedication to crafting spirit of an exceptionally high standard.

Apart from the age, what makes Van Winkle bourbon special is that they use corn, barley and wheat instead of the more usual corn, barley and rye in their mash bill. They claim that the use of wheat creates a much softer, smoother spirit and helps with the aging process.

Compared to your standard ‘ol bourbon, the PvW Family Reserve 20yo is a far more delicate creature. You can still tell it’s bourbon when you take a sniff, but it doesn’t wave the fact in your face. Instead it gently strokes your nostrils with vanilla, ginger and Grand Marnier.

As you would expect for a spirit this age, it is superbly smooth with no alcoholic kick at all, which is interesting as it is still bottled at 45.2%. It feels very light and silky in the mouth, and if you draw some air through it goes all tingly, sending shivers down your tongue. Floral notes, particularly rose, mingle with sweet white grapes, maraschino cherries and alcohol-soaked cake. The finish is quite short and as smooth as a baby’s proverbial.

The PvW Family Reserve is the thinking man’s bourbon; gulping it down is simply not an option as it needs some time to respond in the mouth. At first glance it seems deceptively simple, however with some gentle probing it reveals more and more character. There are definitely interesting things going on, but you have to chase them down, work for the full flavour. The dedicated and thoughtful approach is worth it in the end though, as the reward is a spirit of epically elegant proportions.

★★★★

Bakery Hill: the final frontier

Posted by: Nick

Bakery Hill Tasting 5

Many bakers. Many hills.

Lark? Check.

Nant? Yep.

Limeburners? Sure have!

Hellyers Road? Of course.

Starward? Been there, done that.

Bakery Hill? Ah.

There it was: the one black mark on my record of Australian whisky tasting. I had never tried anything from Victoria’s acclaimed Bakery Hill Distillery. This had to be rectified. But how?

I decided to employ the tactic used by whisky drinkers throughout the ages: I would go to a bar.

The bar in question was the Woodlands Hotel in Coburg. And despite not being near any trees, let alone woods, it was an excellent establishment. As well as providing me with multiple pints of locally produced cider and one of the best burgers I’ve had in my life, they also stocked not one, not two, not even three, but four (I know, FOUR!) different bottles of Bakery Hill.

I glanced across the table at my friend and drinking-buddy-of-the-moment Viv, and nodded. Either by telepathy or the fact that we had previously discussed doing a tasting, we both knew: tonight was the night.

Bakery Hill Tasting 2

My drinking buddy Viv (sadly Ted was in the wrong state)

The four varieties were each as tempting as the next. There was the classically titled Classic Malt. Next to it was the doubly exciting Double Wood. I had a strong urge to try the Cask Strength. And finally, how could we resist the Peated Malt. One of each, we demanded.

One sip into the Classic Malt, I knew that I was onto something. It was an enormous revelation: an elation! Which was also my reaction upon trying it. Raisins, condensed milk, limes, dates. Deliciousness. Viv concurred, labelling it simply: “tasty” and admitting he could drink an entire bottle.

The Classic Malt smelt amazing, but the Double Wood smelt better with notes of vanilla, even dark rum! It was longer, more complex and nuanced. Viv decided it was “tastier”, and “what whisky should be like”.

The Cask Strength was next. And boy was the finish long. It was warm with caramel, spicy cinnamon – even garlic. Viv decreed it “tasty” and claimed that it was so smooth you would not think it 60%.

Finally came the Peated Malt. We possibly had saved the best til last. There was smoke and there was vanilla. There was smoke and there was fruit salad. There was smoke and there was… plenty. This was no Islay peat monster. It was subtle, without compromising on the smoke. Viv agreed: “tasty smoke”.

Bakery Hill Tasting 3

This is the one. Equal best. With three others…

We left the bar oblivious to the cold, kept warm by our whisky coats. It had been a fascinating night, tasting the range of Bakery Hill products vertically while not ending up horizontally. If you are ever near the Woodlands Hotel in Coburg, nip in for a nip. It is well worth it. I already had a huge level of respect for Australian whisky when I entered the bar. And I left it with even more.

Bakery Hill Tasting 1

Mmm… tasty…

Highland Park 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: NickHighland Park 12

Single malts. They’re a varied lot. Some people like peat monsters. Some like sherry bombs. Others enjoy their whisky light and floral. Others still prefer their drams sweet with hints of vanilla. Pleasing everyone with one drop, however, is a much harder task. Unless, of course, you happen to have a bottle of the Highland Park 12 Year Old on your shelf. This bottle truly is the great all rounder of Scottish whisky.

Highland Park also has the distinction of being Scotland’s northernmost distillery, located on the largest of the Orkney Islands, pipping its neighbour Scapa by under a mile. As the island group was settled long ago by Vikings, it should come as no surprise that the flavours on offer are a veritable smorgasbord.

Up first comes a nose with many varied elements: a whiff of grapes and malty biscuits. There is chocolate, so dark it is mostly cocoa, mingling with notes of pear and bubblegum. Finally is the smoke: far subtler than anything from Islay. It brings to mind smouldering vegetation, an attempt to create a fire from damp leaves on a drizzly day.

The palate is equally varied. It initially suggests a roast meal: beef, parsnips, even gravy, before giving way to mandarin, brown sugar and chocolate milk. The smoke lingers gently, now mostly burnt out and close to charcoal. Finally this all gives way to a long spicy finish with salt, tobacco and mint combining with flashes of caramel.

The Highland Park 12 Year Old is unlikely to be anyone’s number one whisky. It is not weighted in a particular direction to please one group of whisky fans over another. Instead, it sits squarely in the middle, a dram to be enjoyed by everyone no matter their preferences. This is a whisky that brings people together, and if that is not a glowing endorsement, I don’t know what is!

★★★

Bunnahabhain 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

Bunna 12

The world of whisky is a lexicological minefield, populated by distilleries and bottlings with all manner of weird and wonderful names. The birthplace of whisky in particular likes to play mind games with the innocent, wide-eyed bystander, the Scottish tongue bending words in ways you just wouldn’t expect.

A true prince of the pack is a distillery from Islay with a name that causes the unprepared mind to melt at the sight of it. Gather your wits dear reader and say hello to Bunnahabhain (phew!). Right, so just to be clear, that’s BOO-na-HAVen (but to really get it, here’s a helping hand from Brian Cox).

The Bunna, as it is more colloquially known, is one of the oldest distilleries on Islay, producing drams since 1881 in the village of the same name. Naturally, being from Islay means that Bunna drams are peated. Unlike other distilleries on the island, however, they aim for a far more subtle maritime nature, with the Bunna motto being ‘the gentle taste of Islay’.

Encased within a heavy black glass bottle emblazoned with the sailor logo and the Roman numerals XII (a numbering system used for their aged releases), the Bunnahabhain 12yo is the core release of the distillery. Made with water from the Margadale spring and bottled at that sweet spot of 46.3%, the 12yo brings forth a rich golden hue.

On the nose the 12yo is light, smooth, sweet and fruity, with ripe autumn apples, dates, plum jam, red grapes and raisins from the ex-sherry casking. Mixed in with the fruits are chestnuts, cashews, pistachios, dark chocolate, brine and rich oak. A veritable cornucopia indeed.

On the palate the liquid hits sharp, salty and dry, like taking a mouthful of seawater on a summertime dip. Underneath sits salted caramel, ginger, mixed peel, seaweed and a faint hint of driftwood smoke. The finish is again salty, and lingers on the tongue like the end of a day at the seaside, a mixture of brine, sweat and sunscreen.

Bunnahabhain is certainly not one of the Ileach peat monsters, choosing to keep that beast well chained in its cave. Instead it manages to sing an incredible song of its maritime environment, perfectly capturing the salt laden winds that blow in from the stormy Scottish coastal waters. The Bunnahabhain is indeed a whisky that is as complex in its nature as it is in its name.

★★★