Live streaming at 6pm on 30th April, and 7th, 14th and 21st May, OurWhisky Virtual Whisky Festival invites us to ‘Join some of the world’s best-known whisky makers in a series of virtual tasting sessions hosted by OurWhisky co-founder Becky Paskin‘. All profits from the OurWhisky Virtual Festival are to be donated to The Drinks Trust to support industry professionals affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Dram Team and Claxton’s were credited as part of the efforts to help bring the samples to our doors. A personal thank you to Becky for delivering my samples in person. That’s some Brightonian service! A handwritten note that accompanied the samples read ‘Get ready for an unforgettable journey’. Tonight’s theme is World Whiskies!
All the images here, are appropriately enough, screenshots from the broadcast. Just a heads up to tell you it’s tricky to listen, drink, take notes and ask questions, especially when you don’t know what’s coming up. So excuse my paraphrasing and brief observations/scratchings at the surface and inevitably some errors along the way. Comments in the box below, and remember, you can watch back for yourselves [link below].
I’m in the chat room for 15minutes before TheMaltCask appears. No one’s chatting, so I’m assuming none are barflies.
First up is an Irish Blend. I hoped it would be either Riverford or Chapel Gate – ‘The Irish Compass Box’ – and indeed, it’s Chapel Gate. Louise McGuane presents The Gael batch 2. Batch #1 was fine [WLP85].
J.J. Corry The Gael Batch 2  Ob./Chapel Gate [2800 bts] 46% WB90
The makeup in percentages:
- 40% 2010 9yo single grain
- 30% 2006 13yo single malt
- 26% 2002 17yo single malt
- 4% 1991 28yo single malt from an ex-sherry hogshead
- N: This starts on soft grainy fruity gingery grasses into light cocoa powder [perhaps] at first, but moving far closer to Caramac later on. [Caramac is, according to wiki: ‘condensed milk, butter, various flavourings, and sugar’. We’ve barley sugar too, the grain certainly talking, but the predominant malt content makes sure everything about this blend is in check.
- T: Typically the other way around, this distillate-forward blend tells us that a 60/40 malt/grain ratio is the right way to go. What this culminates in is a grassy-waxy barley floral tropical fruit and gingery chewiness.
- F: ‘Straight from the grain’ says Louise, who remarks that the finish is really long because of it. True that.
- C: Excellent blended whisky, a must for grain fans and whisk[e]y fans alike. Like with batch #1, ‘you can’t spot the seams’.
Scores 86 points
I pose a question: ‘Would Louise consider releasing a single cask bottling, if she found an exceptional cask in the library? Yes, is the answer and indeed Chapel Gate already did that with a 1991 vintage titled ‘The Chosen’ [WB] currently priced at £4990 at biwine!
#2 English Single Malt – could it be St. Georges, Cotswolds, Bimber? No, it’s The Lakes! [WLP]
The representative is no less than The Lakes master distiller Dhavall Gandhi who is in Lockdown in Edinburgh. He talks about how The Lakes are currently experimenting with three different yeast types to influence the character of the spirit and also, that they use slow water reduction methods [though still nothing by cognac standards] to shape the whisky. Dhavall tells us he uses up to 16 types of oloroso cask as well as PX, madeira and wine casks. The whisky presented for this virtual tasting is the Whiskymaker’s Reserve, matured in bourbon, PX and red wine casks.
- N: With a unique/complex sweet cask-driven pong, we’ve gone to STR and beyond, the well-considered sherry & wine-forward influence informing the whisky’s character and providing plenty of nasal variety. I preferred to add just a little water for the palate but given the high strength, the nose doesn’t need it at all. In part, that’s helped by the [pre-maturation] layered blending and the slow water reduction method, says Dhavall.
- T: Again, this expression is cask-driven but with the same consideration as on the nose. This offers up such a varied aromatic cask-character though with a reoccurring note of sherried toffee, so much toffee. Dhavall reminds us of his blending background. He is a blender-come-distiller, even blending the new make before the spirit enters the casks for maturation.
- F: Shorter than the J.J..but the toffee runs on.
- C: You can’t make this style of whisky accidentally. Clever stuff.
Scores 85 points
I’m thinking this whisky could really shine with more 2nd refill maturation and ageing. I ask if there are longer-term plans to steer the character profile for The Lakes whisky towards ages, say at 10, 15, 18 years? [Grammatically clumsily I know] ‘Yes’ is the answer. That’s the plan.
#3 Australian Single Malt – it has to be Starward.
Indeed, we are with David Vitale. Established in 2007, Starward pondered whether to follow whisky traditions/methods forged in the 1800s or try something new. They decided to carve a new path and make a contemporary whisky that was reflective of the locale. Given the climate, they typically age their whisky at 2 years minimum but have to age it an extra year if they are to sell in the UK. David presents Starward Nova which I’d not tried before.
- N: More red wine maturation and another toffee nose, but this is significantly more subtle than The Lakes cask-deliberate direction. We’ve plenty of flora & fauna notes too, subtly so, with an absence of the more leading STR/cask resinousness which I’d found in their 10th Anniversary bottling [WLP84]. Indeed, David says that at Starward they are looking for oak character not flavour from previous cask contents. For example, a wine cask used for 6-7 years might be too wine-dominated for whisky maturation and disguise the oak flavour.
- T: Pleasingly savoury < sweet and grassy to taste with a distillate chew all the way through, the cask influence just supporting and riding underneath. David says this comes from those soft red wine-casks being charred a-plenty to give a toasty-oak character. It works.
- F: With the cask influence stronger on the turn, we’ve a soft dryish waxy spirit-cask finish. At the death, I get a beautiful aromatic [and becoming fruity] black pepper note without any spice or heat. Furthermore, I pick out some tutti-frutti with some chopped nuts and the beginnings of a husky depth.
- C: Lovely contemporary whisky I could imagine craving for. Reminds me in part of Deanston’s Decennary [WLP88], but maybe the Whiskymaker’s Reserve had a part to play in that observation too. Like The Lakes, there’s a touch of ‘sweet-shop’ to their expressions [wine casks], but the distillery profile is coming on year on year.
Scores 84 points
I want to ask whether Starward mature their casks in temperate-controlled warehouses or part-allow the environment to influence the maturation/character, but the climate question has already been asked. Because of the hot climate, they lose water which brings the abv up too high. To combat this they fill their casks with spirit at a lower abv, typically 55%.
#4 Taiwan Singe Malt – it’s going to be either Kavalan & Nantou but my money is on the former.
Kavalan is owned by the King Car Group and Kaitlyn Tsai is Kavalan’s global ambassador. It’s just after 1am for her. Kaitlyn uses much of her time to encourage us to visit the distillery and she does a good job at convincing me how easy it is to get there. She introduces Kavalan’s classic malt which I last tried back in 2015, so this is a welcome revisit.
- N: We’ve a rather excellent ‘Scottish’ style whisky nose with a dunnage-y depth straight off the bat and some boozy fruit & ginger cake which Kaitlyn tells us [the fruitiness that is], comes from the distillate.
- T: With a sweet easy moreish dunnage-y depth, I’m amazed how well the 40% abv minimum works here, given we were at 60.9% with whisky #2. This is far more ‘Scottish’ than many of Kavalan’s more unique single cask [Solist] expressions, but it’s not Japanese whisky either, which has also be likened in many circumstances [forget your Chichibu’s and Karuizawa’s] to Scotch single malt. I ask [through Becky] whether Kaitlyn sees this expression as more ‘Scottish’ than Kavalan’s other expressions. Kaitlyn says some people at competitions have commented that this is like a Speyside whisky.
- F: Not long, on a barley waxiness with some oaky sugars complimenting, but with a measured youthfulness and certain depth and shape throughout. A lingering dunnage-ness at the death, a Kavalan-unique vanilla cask dunnage trait no doubt bound within the complexities that come from maturing whisky in Taiwan’s sub-tropical climate.
- C: A very decent all-occasions whisky given it is only around 4 years old though, in Taiwan, this is equivalent to 3/4 times the ageing. So this can be likened to 9-12 years says Kaitlyn, and I agree. I find this straight-ahead expression has vastly improved since I last tried it in 2015 [and yet another that has overtaken the current Balblair 12yo].
Scores 82 points
I pose the question ‘How have Kavalan’s recipe/methods changed since the early Jim Swan-inspired setup?’ The new make hasn’t changed. What has changed is the concentration on the quality of maturation and blending choices that are taken on by a dedicated blending team. After Jim Swan, Kaitlyn emphasised that the major concentration at the distillery was how to manage/get around the climate issues, trying to harness Taiwan’s heat, not see it as a problem.
#5 Kentucky Bourbon – again, like J.J. Corry, I just knew it was going to be Michter’s, can’t tell you how/why. Wishful thinking perhaps?
Andrea Wilson, master of maturation at Michter’s takes to the screen. Originally known as Shenk’s Distillery, when Lou Foreman took over, he created the Michter’s brand by combining his two son’s names – Michael and Peter. The distillery is now known as Michter’s
Michter’s Bourbon  Ob. Small Batch 45.7% WB84
- N: If I’d been told this was whisky, I’d have rolled my ‘god damn, not more ex-bourbon cask-driven contemporary Scotch nonsense’ eyes, but then I got myself in check and remembered Dave C Smith’s ‘terrible champagne, great prosecco’ lesson [WLP]. Of what I’ve tried of Michter’s, it’s their bourbon that shines the most and I simply marvel at the consistency of quality. Instantly there’s that Kentucky fungal depth with a biscuit sponge sweetness. That’ll pretty much do it for now. Enjoy, dive on in.
- T: This is delicious varnish-light, soft-rich small-batch pot still corn whiskey, the cask not dominating at all. “A soft hug”, as Andrea says, is right – a soft-yet-firm perfect straight-ahead article with a perfect sour touch.
- F: Gentle and balanced finish.
- C: Unwavering [affordable] excellence.
Scores 85 points
Nothing too complicated for the taster here, only enjoyment, but the processes to make this bourbon are far from it. Andrea explains, in part, the complexities that go into these small-batch releases.
- For the sour mash bill, part of the previous mash is brought into the next batch which helps balance the enzyme activity enormously, she says.
- Michter’s want to get rid of the bitter ‘grain’ elements from the new wood. Ageing helps as does lots of cask toasting. Andrea tells us there’s tons of science behind the process.
- Some seasonal warehouse heating also utilised. Furthermore, their custom chill-filtration is a really important aspect of the overall character of their bourbon.
That’s it! Good whisky, good people and like a roast dinner, an immense amount of planning, preparing and execution for a small window of social and sensory delights. Those who missed it can watch it back now:
With thanks to Becky and everyone involved.