Ie Island Distillery, Okinawa

 So much for quarantine...

So much for quarantine...

Iejima is an island of a mere 23 square kilometers, a half hour ferry ride from the port of Motobu, Okinawa. Most folks go there for its crystal clear waters, the multifarious marine life, the rich history, to admire the chrysanthemums and lilies that flourish on the island or to climb the island's central peak; Gusuku-yama. Not this little black duck. I was there following up on intel gained from a local the day before. 

 The abandoned US runway that now links the north and south of the island. Imagine a P38, a Corsair, a B25 rolling down here, because they did. I didn't use it to rev out my Nissan Cube. Honest. Pitty I left the Hayabusa at home.  

The abandoned US runway that now links the north and south of the island. Imagine a P38, a Corsair, a B25 rolling down here, because they did. I didn't use it to rev out my Nissan Cube. Honest. Pitty I left the Hayabusa at home.  

I will digress briefly at this point to say that the Okinawan people are among the most friendly, helpful and engaging souls one could ever hope to meet. One of those helpful souls recommended a visit to the Iejima (jima = island) Distillery. Good advice indeed.

Alright,I was there for the diving as well. What a magnificent creature! The Whale Shark was moderately impressive too. 

Ie Island Distillery offer a tour of the facility and if you have any interest in distillation I suggest you take them up on it. Don't expect English to be spoken but with or without Japanese language skills it's an interesting experience. From 2006-2009 the distillery (owned by the Asahi beer company) was used for the production of ethanol using sugar cane grown on the island. Fortunately for us all, the distillery was then refitted to produce a product designed to enhance our existence rather than destroy our fuel systems.

 The engine room of the Starship Enterprise. Beat me up Scotty.

The engine room of the Starship Enterprise. Beat me up Scotty.

That product is marketed as Santa Maria Rum. The distillery produces three core products under the Santa Maria moniker; a white rum they call Crystal, a Scotch Whisky barrel matured Agricole Rum they call Gold and a cane syrup used as a flavourful sugar alternative and colourant.  

 Hitch employs a bung hammer to hide his most recent larceny.

Hitch employs a bung hammer to hide his most recent larceny.

The casks fall into two groups; those that are topped up with water every six months (this is a tropical island and heat means the angels get their share) and those which remain unsullied to be bottled at cask strength. Alas, the cask strength version sold out shortly after it went on sale. I know this because I offered to buy whatever they had after a sip of the Gold. The next cask strength release is due in November 2016.  

csr.jpg

After a brief period of mourning for the T9 cask strength, I accepted my lot would consist only of the 37%ABV Gold, and forked out a few thousand Yen for a bottle of mostly water. Sigh. 

 Our intrepid rodent has sniffed out the source of this goodness on the back of the casks....

Our intrepid rodent has sniffed out the source of this goodness on the back of the casks....

   Santa Maria       Gold Rum     NAS 37%ABV 2016

   

 

Colour: White wine; a refreshing lack of artificial pigment.

Nose: Lime cordial, grapefruit and kiwifruit, young spirit, bread and butter pudding and vanilla. Young, fresh, complex and delicate. 

 Hitch attempts to remove a Dilithium Crystal from the Warp Core. Unless that's the still.

Hitch attempts to remove a Dilithium Crystal from the Warp Core. Unless that's the still.

Palate: A complex, exotic, tropical fruit basket. Peaches and vanilla ice cream. Surprisingly mouth filling given its low ABV. Finishes with a hint of passionfruit and lingering vanilla; lovely. A lively, engaging tropical treat that combines youthful exuberance with a complex web of fresh fruit. With time a deeper layer emerges; those whisky casks don't overtly assert themselves but subtly bind the whole fruit shop together. Once recognised though, the Scottish influence on this fine spirit is always apparent. 

 Thanks very much to the wonderful folks at Ie Island Distillery. Sorry about the photo-bombing rodent. 

Thanks very much to the wonderful folks at Ie Island Distillery. Sorry about the photo-bombing rodent. 

That Ie Island Distillery has extracted this much flavour from only 37% ABV is both amazing and tragic (I can't wait to try the cask strength version). It exemplifies the terroir of its idyllic home, it's flavours concordant with the floral paradise in which it was created. The Scotch Whisky barrel influence entwines seamlessly with this tropical freshness to produce a spirit unlike any other. And it's right at home on Iejima. 

 Hitch enthusiastically boards the ferry to Iejima. I haven't seen him this excited since I dropped the Glendronach...

Hitch enthusiastically boards the ferry to Iejima. I haven't seen him this excited since I dropped the Glendronach...

Should you be fortunate enough to visit Okinawa, the ferry ride to Iejima and it's distillery will be well worthwhile. You should at least pick up a bottle of Santa Maria Gold for those steamy evenings on Okinawa; it's a great tropical apéritif. 

So, what is the point of reviewing a rum that isn't available locally on a blog about whisky? The point is, comrades, that experiment leads to discovery. A whisky drinker not bothering to visit this distillery because it only produces rum would have missed a great experience. A whisky drinker who doesn't experiment with other spirits will not only miss out on some amazing malt alternatives but will never fully appreciate the magnificence of Scotch Whisky. Ie Island distillery has plans to export worldwide. Should you see a bottle, it will be worth your consideration. 

85/100 

William Crampton

 Hitch thought he had found a private cabin well stocked with titbits....

Hitch thought he had found a private cabin well stocked with titbits....

 

 

 

More Rabbit Tales.... Glendronach Cask Strength Batch 4 54.7% ABV

Our favorite Bartender has a some great whiskies....and a rodent problem. 

Glendronach's fourth batch of their Cask Strength series was unveiled in April 2014, with a release comprising of 17,806 bottles presented at 54.7% ABV.  Comprised of whisky drawn from Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso Sherry casks, then bottled without chill filtration, batch four is gorgeously intense with notes of walnut and coffee cake, gingerbread and ripe plums.

Glendronach, one of my favourite distilleries, is now owned by  BenRiach; another distillery, I'm quite fond of, for their experimental casks. 
No age statement is of slight concern, given they state the age of the rest of their standard range, (12, 15, 18, 21) which are all exceptional whiskies.  
When I first opened this whisky, I had enormously high hopes, given my love for Glendronach, highland distilleries, sherry casks, cask strength whisky and Christina Hendricks bosom (that's not relevant to the whisky, I just thought it was worth a mention). I was terribly disappointed when I found it to be a hot, too young whisky with a finish as interesting as a 100m dash between Usain Bolt and Stephen Hawking (without the chair)

 

Fast forward 6 months. White Rabbit Cocktail Room, Canberra, I've all but forgotten this is on the shelf. It's a quiet night, the cold has scared off all the customers, so I tell my staff that we're going to do a blind tasting (as training of course). I volunteer to go first and head out to the kitchen, so as not to cheat. James calls me out front, I go through the motions. I look at the colour, I nose it (there's not a lot going on there) Not expecting much, I take my first sip... it's amazing! It tastes like... everything! Too much going on for my casual approach.  I get my serious whisky tasting face on. It's still amazing! An array of flavours, huge intensity and a finish that shows up late but strong. It tastes like Glendronach! But it's too big. And then I open my eyes and see a lonely, neglected, almost full bottle of Glendronach cask strength. l immediately get the same feeling as when I come home to find my puppy, stuck outside in the rain, staring at me through the window. I vow to never let this happen again. So I buy my dog a kennel. I'm kidding, I'm reminded of the beauty of scotch whisky and spend a large sum of money  acquiring more of it. Worth every cent. 

Nose: Very light, reminiscent of a low rye Rye whiskey, lemon peel, slightly floral, damp towel, soft vanilla notes, cinnamon and white pepper, soft but typical Oloroso sherry notes towards the end.

Taste: Honey, sweet sherry, toffee, fresh espresso, over ripened sultanas, Oloroso more dominant than PX, floral, more lemon peel and chamomile tea

Addition of water (Roughly reduced to 45-48% ABV)

Nose: Honey, cinnamon, malt, bigger Oloroso notes

Taste: Figs, very slight soapiness on early finish, toffee and fudge

The finish comes late but is full of complexity. This whisky will take a while to get your head around, but well worth it. 

 Hitch, unable to get his head around the whisky, gets the whisky around his head.

Hitch, unable to get his head around the whisky, gets the whisky around his head.

A magnificent whisky. I would love to see it with just a few more years in a cask. The nose lets it down slightly and the addition of water is almost unnecessary and slightly detrimental to this whisky. Not a beginners whisky but a great malt, none the less.  
89/100

Stu Inger

Bar Manager, White Rabbit Cocktail Room 

Down to your last forty bucks?

So, you have a mere forty dollars in your pocket and yet find yourself in the whisky aisle, longingly surveying its well stocked shelves. The kids can probably do without their antibiotics for a couple more days. The dog will dig up something previously stashed to eat. You really wanted to see just how far the car will go after the fuel light came on and, now that the euthanasia bill has passed, Gramps won't be needing his pills. So that $40 is free and clear to trade for a whisky. The shelves are minefields though; more disappointment lurks there than revelation. Those little notes of recommendation left by the staff here and there are sure to guide you to the most insipid liquid ever bottled. Your teeth spontaneously commence grinding when a helpful idiot offers his suggestion of something "really smooth". Thankfully, this evolving nightmare may be avoided, if you read on....

Of course, I write this from an Australian perspective. Those of you in Japan or the US of A will face no such budgetary dilemmas but here in Australia, where the government feels obliged to bend over backwards to reward people for breeding and to bend the rest of us over in the other direction to pay for it, spirits are heavily taxed. A whisky I paid $11 for in Tokyo costs $79 here. While there are whiskies to be had in Australia for well under $40 dollars, they aren't worth drinking. Fortunately for you, comrades, the $40 price point sees a lot of competition and also the regular appearance of more expensive whiskies on sale. Since the decline of Vat 69, Teachers, White Heather, Black Bottle and others and the current absence of the lovely Bailie Nicol Jarvie, the field has thinned somewhat. Still, the following drams are, at least, pleasantly drinkable. 

Suntory Kakubin Blended Japanese Whisky
40% ABV 2016

From Suntory, the whisky equivalent of Godzilla, this no age statement blend is simply presented in a medicine-style bottle of the type that the Japanese seem fond. 

Colour: Amber. Not a lot happening on the nose but a wee whiff of smoke, freshly sliced bread, citrus, cinnamon and vanilla. Very polite on the palate yet a slightly creamy mouthfeel. Banana custard, vanilla, marzipan and sour dough give way to pear, dried fruits and a faint hint of tobacco. Very light, polite and inoffensive while avoiding insipidity. 

79/100

Chivas Regal 12 Blended Scotch Whisky

40% ABV 2016

Regular Chivas 12 year old. Available everywhere from around $39. Owned by Pernod Ricard, who hold dominion over Ballantines, Jamison, Glenlivet, Scapa, Royal Salute, Aberlour and many others including Strathisla, which is prominent in this blend.

Colour: Deep gold. This one is more aromatic; Camomile tea, sultana and caramel. Sweet, earthy and familiar. Caramel, malt, tea, honey, orange and toffee on the palate. Heavy on the sweet caramel flavour profile; nothing to dislike. Again, very light, pleasant and forgettable. 

76/100

Dewar's 12 Blended Scotch Whisky  

40% ABV 2016

The standard 12 year old blend from Dewar's, successor to Dewar's "Double Aged" 12 Year Old. The 12 is still "Double Aged"; marketing jargon describing a period of six months the whisky is left to "marry" after its blending.

Colour:Amontillado Sherry. A nose of light peat, Brazil nuts, black tea and hot toast. Rather pleasing. The promise of the nose goes unfulfilled on the palate, which is quite pleasant nonetheless; Honey, grain, toast, brown sugar and thyme. More substance than the Chivas and Suntory. A safe bet but a little frustrating due to its unrealized potential. Please mister Dewar, can I have some more ABV?

79/100

Ballantine's 12 Blended Scotch Whisky
40% ABV 2016

 Ballantine's  is composed of over fifty different whiskies (that's only 80 cents each then) but Miltonduff and Glenburgie allegedly are the primary contributors. Given it sells for around $50 in the UK, it's pretty good value here at $40-$55. It has also been quite consistent of late.  

Colour: Deep gold. Smoke, malt, dark fruits and white pepper nose. A well balanced, mouth filling dram of butterscotch, tobacco, cherry, vanilla and nuts and honey. Finishes only slightly longer than the others here, which is to say, barely. Still, quite a decent whisky for forty bucks.

80/100   

Dimple 12 Blended Scotch Whisky
40% ABV 2016

A product of Haig, the distinctive Dimple "Pinch" bottle may feel awkward in the hand but is immediately recognisable. No doubt its selection as Walter White's drink of choice in Breaking Bad hasn't harmed it's popularity either. The Haigs are among the oldest of whisky families; the church recorded the sanction of Robert Haig in 1655 for operating his still on the Sabbath. In 1824 his descendant, John Haig, built the Cameron Bridge distillery in the Lowlands. His daughter, Margaret, married John Jameson who founded the Jameson Irish Whiskey Company; must have been one hell of a reception. Cameron Bridge began producing grain whisky in 1830. The distillery produced both grain and malt whisky using a combination of pot and column stills until 1929, when it shifted exclusively to the production of grain whisky. Cameron Bridge now has an enormous capacity of over thirty million litres annually. They also bottle a single grain whisky under the name Cameron Brig. This bottle of Dimple set me back $38 but if I had Walter White's cash, I'd look at a higher shelf. 

Colour: Deep copper. I've been waiting for the unfortunate nose on this to improve; it hasn't. Paraffin wax, ginger biscuits, spicy fruitcake and smoked ham. Doesn't show it's age. Caramel, vanilla, sweet ginger and white pepper. Grain whisky dominates. Generic, unremarkable, unchallenging and relatively inoffensive. As such it will appeal to many. 

75/100

Glen Grant The Major's Reserve Single Malt Scotch Whisky

40% ABV 2016

The Glen Grant distillery is named after founders, James and John Grant, who built the Speyside distillery in Rothes in 1840. After the deaths of James and John, James' son James inherited the distillery and built another across the road. Channeling his father's imaginative naming ability, James named the new distillery Glen Grant II (today known as Caperdonich). The only single malt in this comparison, this no age statement malt set me back the princely sum of $39. 

Colour: Yellow gold. Nose: Apples and pears. Fresh baked bread and malt. Green tea. Young and light on the palate with more red apples, vanilla, tea and caramel custard. This one even has a finish, be it ever so short, reprising the ripe red apple with which it began. A light, fresh single malt for the cost of a cheap blend. Bargain. 

81/100

Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 Blended Scotch Whisky

40% ABV 2016

Twenty million cases, give or take a few. Twenty million nine litre cases. That's how much whisky Johnnie Walker sells every year. What amazes me is how consistent JW products are, given that volume of production. Much like McDonald's. While JW products are the antithesis of the craft presentation that makes for characterful whiskies, they are masters of marketing a very refined (literally and figuratively) range of products. In 1820 John Walker started selling whisky in his grocery shop in Ayrshire. After his death in 1857, it was his son Alexander and grandson Alexander II who were responsible for establishing the popularity of the brand. In 1908, the company name was changed from "Walker's Kilmarnock Whiskies" to Johnnie Walker Whisky. Black Label is said to be a blend of over forty whiskies (given how much of it they make I'm not surprised) but Caol Ila and Talisker are apparently the main contributors (where did they hide the peat?). JW also introduced the no age statement whisky Double Black a few years ago. A cynic may conclude this was to take supply pressure off the twelve year old Black Label. Having suffered through a bottle of Double Black, I found it a contrived and inferior version of Black Label which should be cheaper, not more expensive.

Colour: Burnished. No lack of E150 colour in any of these whiskies, save perhaps the Glen Grant. Nose: Sherry, vanilla and oak. The merest hint of peat. Liquorice, coconut and black pepper. Already a beautiful balance is apparent. Surprisingly velvety mouthfeel. Water is Kryptonite to its flavour so nary a drop! Peat is easier to find on the palate than the nose and is certainly reminiscent of Talisker but JW are not going to let any potentially customer-alienating heavy peat flavours loose. Just enough peat to add another flavour dimension but less intense than it was in the Ballantine's. Sweet sherry. Brown sugar. Sweet, subtle, peat, vanilla, anise and oak. This is actually quite delicious. It's subtle, elegant. Light but but not vapid. For the $39.95 I paid, a remarkably good whisky; a budget-blending masterpiece. 

84/100

The Paper Bag Please....

The Suntory, Dewar's and Ballantine's stand appart from the lesser blends. The Glen Grant is inexpensive for a single malt and eminently drinkable; it's light, sweet and lively flavours are easy to like. But the Johnnie Walker Black Label is the only one that doesn't taste like a cheap (albeit decent) whisky. It's refinement and subtle complexity make it the stand out winner here. The question remains though, are these whiskies worthy of your palate? Well, if you find them satisfying, yes. If you use them as  palate-priming entrées to more substantial whiskies, yes. In the case of the Black Label, definitely yes. For me though, life is too short; drink less whisky, drink better whisky. Savour your whisky and the budget does not have to be large. As to this lot though, follow the example of Jon Snow: Take The Black. 

 Johnnie Walker Black was the favourite whisky (or, as he described it "delivery method") of the late Christopher Hitchens. One of the great thinkers of our time, Hitchens not only possessed a wit of surgical precision and devastating efficacy but the means to enjoy whatever whisky he desired. I had wondered why JWB was the drink of choice of such a man until I read this in his book Letters to a Young Contrarian:
"Be careful about upgrading too far to single malt Scotch: when you are voyaging in rough countries it won't be easily available". Consistent indeed, Mr Walker. 

William Crampton

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following the White Rabbit.

  Stu Inger (our favorite Alchemist) at work in the lab.

Stu Inger (our favorite Alchemist) at work in the lab.

Greetings Comrades! This week we are fortunate indeed to have Master Mixologist and White Rabbit Bar Manager Stu Inger musing on of some of his recent sippings from around the world. Sampling both the readily available and the really rare, Stu has the nose of a Bloodhound and the voice of Barry Manilow. Or was that the nose of Barry Manilow and the voice of a Bloodhound...Nevermind, just assume the Zazen posture, breathe deeply, relax and listen to The Master:

Glen Grant 10 Year Old
Region: Speyside, Scotland
ABV: 40%

An all round solid whisky that does everything well, without breaking the bank. It is a typical Speyside with a sweet nutty, caramel nose and a surprisingly exciting taste. Although it is very light and easy drinking, it has a robust and full flavour profile. It's fruity with some nut flavour and a long sweet caramel, vanilla finish.
A quality whisky, perfect for those starting their journey into whisky or a hard to beat every day whisky.

Hellyer's Road 10 Year Old
Region: Tasmania, Australia
ABV: 46.2%

A uniquely Australian whisky. This whisky is a bit of an oddball. It's all over the place but I can't help but love it. A generous proof give this whisky a beautiful, thick mouthfeel. The nose is just as odd as the rest. Reminding me of freshly cut timber or sawdust, followed by some predictable vanilla notes and some citrus and musk notes that tie it together. On the palate, you may find some big oak flavour with some sweet toasted cereal and nut notes. The strangest part is the finish which reminds me of the smell of wet dog. Almost off putting but somehow enjoyable. Although I am a dog person. Not exactly a beginners whisky, as it's complexity could be lost on some and become a muddy glass of confusion.  but a very enjoyable and unique whisky. Well done, Australia.

Bushmills 16 year old
Region: Ireland
ABV: 40%

Scotland meets Ireland with this whisky. A single malt whiskey (with an "E" as the Irish like to spell it) aged in Oloroso sherry casks, ex bourbon casks and then finished in port casks. This almost excessive ageing process, results in a very interesting whisky. With the irish characteristics still shining through, It brings a massive oak flavour with undertones of sherry, almonds, vanilla and caramel. The oak remains for the tasting process, beginning with some subtle sweetness and finishing with big dry spiciness and traditional cereal notes. The finish is long, still spicy and thoroughly enjoyable.

Rabbit Stu?

Sazerac 6 year old Rye
Region: Kentucky, USA
ABV: 45%

This superb whiskey comes out of the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky. Truly one of the best Rye's you can get your hands on, and at only 6 years of age. The nose brings notes of dough, dill pickle, caramel and oak. Once it hits your palate, you'll be experiencing spice, dominating some subtle sweetness. A tough whiskey to define, it should be experienced to be truly appreciated. It's herbaceous flavours gel with its softer sweet notes of caramel and vanilla, to create a truly wonderful Rye Whiskey.

Booker's Bourbon
Region: Kentucky, USA
ABV: 62.95%

This cask strength whiskey, for me is the benchmark for high quality bourbon.  A product of Jim Beam  (which can get a bad wrap from it's frankly hugely underwhelming white label) does everything a fantastic product should do. It's true to its brand, with a definitively Jim Bean flavour. it is unfiltered and untouched. With all the fantastically filthy parts poured straight from cask to bottle, it's a truly pure bourbon. Each bottle is unique and labelled accordingly with it's age, down to the month. The nose is immediately recognisable as a Jim Beam product, with oak and spice, vanilla and toasted nut aroma. It has massive flavour, huge spice is accompanied by oak,vanilla, more oak and spice as well as coconut and doughy sweetness. For an experienced whiskey drinker this is a tough one at cask strength. Some water does magical things to this bourbon. Dropping it's proof to your prefered level will make this a special experience. Don't be a hero, add some water,your taste buds with thank you. It also makes an old fashioned that will make you question your purpose in life.

Glendronach 21 Year Old, Parliament
Region: Highland, Scotland
ABV: 48%

 

This distillery is a personal favourite of mine. This whisky especial. Aged in two different sherry casks, Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso, they add exceptional features to this life changing whisky. The complexity is astonishing, with notes of berries, dates, plums, cedar and a coffee beans on the nose. The palate brings flavours of dates, raisins, honey and maple. The sweetness plays perfectly with the subtle spice. The proof is generous at 48% and quite honestly, that proof may be the peak for flavour and mouth feel. This truly is one of the best things you can put in your mouth and for the quality of whisky, is well priced.

Kavalan Solist: Vinho Barrique
Region: Taiwan
ABV: 57.1%

Winner of the World Whisky Awards Whisky of the year in 2015. That's hard to top. The nose suggests a bourbon influence, with sweet vanilla, oak and a hint of some red vino. The nose, quite honestly, doesn't compare to the rest of the whisky. Once some of this beautiful creation hits your lips, you will understand how it was given the title of the best whisky in the world, possibly the universe. The intensity of flavour is unbelievable. It begins with a hint of smoked oak with some hearty red wine, a perfect balance between spice and sweetness. The thick mouthfeel lasts for an eternity, ending with a soft musk flavour. Although it is tolerable at the bottled proof, it really shines at around 45-50%ABV. The lack of age statement begins as a concern but given the colour, the origin and the fact they are willing to bottle it at cask strength, as well as the final product, those concerns soon dissipate.

Laphroaig 32 Year Old
Region: Islay, Scotland
ABV:46.6%

Having tried over 300 whiskies now, I can honestly say, this one is one of the most memorable. If Laphroaig was willing to accept anything less than, and maybe including the price of my soul, I would pay it. If you go in, expecting anything like the savage (yet impressive) 10 year old Laphroaig, it's not going to happen. This whisky is aged in sherry casks for 32 years. 32 years! 32 years ago! That was 1984! If George Orwell was to write a book, the complete opposite of his hit dystopian novel, everyone would be drinking Laphroaig 32, all day, everyday. Unfortunately only 5800 bottles were produced worldwide. White Rabbit has one of them. The nose has a hint of cherry, some very light peat and iodine, give this tremendous whisky a definitive Laphroaig identity. The nose is special but once it hits your palate, you will understand why they pulled this whisky out of the casks after 32 years. It is so beautifully balanced. Some briny flavours hide around the cinnamon, cocoa and subtle peat flavours of this delicate whisky. The mouthfeel is like velvet, and although I hate to use this word to describe a whisky, it's incredibly smooth. Every element plays perfectly with each other. The result.. if you are a lover of whisky, especially Islay whisky. This whisky has to hit your lips.

Stu Inger

  That hairy varmint is drinking all my whisky! Hitch is helping himself too. 

That hairy varmint is drinking all my whisky! Hitch is helping himself too. 

The Best Thing From Jura Since

Well comrades, it appears you should steel yourselves for a significant digression....

Jura 10 40% Abv

Jura 16 40% abv

Jura Superstition 43% abv 

2015

In 1946 the editor of The Observer, David Astor, lent George Orwell a farmhouse on the isle of Jura to write the book we now know as Nineteen Eighty-Four. Indisputably one of the most significant novels of the 20th century, it may well be even more poignant in the 21'st. 

 

In the spring of 1946 Orwell was not in good health. WWII was over but his home had been destroyed by a V-1 flying bomb, his wife was dead, he was now a single parent. In the bleak environment of postwar Britain, afflicted with the Tuberculosis that would eventually kill him, Orwell was racing death to complete his masterpiece. His previous success was working against his literary productivity. He wrote: "Smothered under journalism, I have become more and more like a sucked orange." "Everyone keeps coming at me, wanting me to lecture, to write commissioned booklets, to join this and that, etc - you don't know how I pine to be free of it all and have time to think again." And so, the ailing Orwell fled to Jura.

Orwell's cottage on the east coast of Jura

Orwell revelled in the natural beauty and seclusion of Jura, although he described the winter as "quite unendurable" (the winter of 1946-47 was one of the 20th centuries' coldest). His clifftop cottage had no electricity. The peat-fed fireplace was his only source of warmth. Paraffin burning lamps lit the cottage at night. I started this paragraph with intent to describe a scene of privation and yet, I find myself feeling envious. 

 George's view, on a good day.

George's view, on a good day.

If you want to know why Orwell matters, you may consider reading, oh, I don't know, perhaps Why Orwell Matters by Christopher Hitchens

Here endeth the digression. 

The Jura distillery is located just a short ferry ride away from Islay but it's style is unlike anything from that neighbour to the south. Jura do produce peated bottlings from time to time but only one of their core range (Prophecy) is substantially phenolic. While Jura bottles proudly display an establishment date of 1810, the original distillery was dismantled in 1910 and not reconstructed until 1963. The marketing and presentation of Jura in 2016 is very much in the style its owners, Whyte and Mackay, appear to prefer; chill filtered, lashings of caramel colour and an unchallenging, inoffensive, yet pleasantly flavorful style. Independent bottlings of Jura are occasionally exceptional and exceptionally occasional. 

 Hitch a un nouveau crayon rouge. 

Hitch a un nouveau crayon rouge. 

Jura Origin 10, 40% ABV: A pleasant nose of malt, toffee and leather with a hint of wood-smoke. Toffee/fairy-floss, tobacco, orange and ripe pear on the palate with a decent malty finish. Surprisingly oily mouthfeel. It's a very likable whisky that has some remnants of character surviving in the bottle after it has been filtered, tanned and watered down. Speaking of which, H2O kills it, so one drop only, perhaps.  

82/100

Jura Diurach's Own 16, 40% ABV: Oh, what a shame to see this 16 year old, crystal clear, stripped of its barley oils and other delicious muck, with a colour as natural as Michael Jackson's. Quite different to the 10 with honeycomb, tobacco, apple and dark chocolate prevalent on the nose as well as something very much like an old book. That oily mouthfeel again but packing a more powerful flavour profile leaning more towards honey, leather and tobacco than the toffee that appears a little later in proceedings, intensifying into Turkish Delight and toffee apple. Jura describe the 16 as "rich and full bodied", which it is, in comparison to their 10 year old. Comparisons to other 16's though, would not be so favourable. Still, a very drinkable whisky that could have been, should have been, so much more. It also loves water like a sack full of kittens does; no H2O for this one.

83/100

Jura Superstition NAS, 43% ABV: Superstition is described by Jura as "lightly peated". On the nose that's exactly what it delivers; light, sweet-peat, salt, dry sherry, shoe polish and whiff of Kiwi Fruit. The most interesting of the trio. On the palate, peat arrives after a delicious orange/dark chocolate, tobacco/leather flourish. Yum. Those flavours merge into a lingering finish, eventually surrendering to the orange and chocolate. While the peat here is obvious, it should not serve to discourage those who would not describe themselves as Peatophiles; that's, Peatophiles, from enjoying Superstition. Speaking of superstitions, I predict a mark of 84/100 for this one.

84/100

In conclusion: These are all good value, everyday drinking whiskies. None of them are special but that's how they have been designed. And designed they are indeed. Whyte and Mackay make whiskies that everyone likes; Dalmore 15 and Dalmore Cigar Malt are excellent examples. We could bitch about the blatant commercialism here. Or, we could enjoy these whiskies for what they are and save our Epicurean paroxysms for something more deserving. If you like the 10 or 16, also seek out Jura Turas-Mara; a NAS 42% duty free offering that is a caramel charactered and coloured litre of fun. 

William Crampton     

Ready to post this one Hitch?



   



Beenleigh Double Barrel 5 year old Rum 40% ABV

*Later paraphrased by Meatloaf as "Two outta three ain't bad".

 

The Beenleigh Rum Distillery claims to be the oldest registered distillery in Australia, having commenced legal distilling in 1884. As the story goes, they went legit only because they got tired of moving the Moonshine still (known as the SS Walrus) between cane plantations to avoid prosecution. Situated on the Albert river (between Brisbane and Southport) it thrived, its pot stills fed by a plentiful supply of molasses from the Queensland sugar industry. The distillery faded in the late twentieth century, eclipsed by its competitor to the north, Bundaberg Rum. 

 

 

In 2003, Beenleigh Rum was sold to Vok Beverages, then to Diageo in 2007. Diageo apparently thought better of the deal and in 2012 sold Beenleigh Rum back to Vok for a six pack, a VT Commodore and a bag of boiled lollies.

The distillery produces only four products, including a white rum and a rum liqueur. This five year old, Double Barrel, is matured in brandy vats and finished in bourbon casks. The bottle is quite attractive and the slight flare at the top stops it sliding out of one's hand as one decides whether to buy bottle number 10267 or 45398. Yes, the bottles are individually numbered. My local Dan Murphy had bottles numbered up to 30-something thousand so it's not exactly a small batch, although the numbering of bottles is clearly intended to portray that illusion. My tasting notes are based on bottles 12068 and 12069. 

 Hitch takes both barrels and still looks happy.

Hitch takes both barrels and still looks happy.

Colour: Tawny. Nose: Salty caramel, toffee apple, rich vanilla, roasting coffee beans and a hint of aniseed. Lovely, if not complex and lacking intensity.

Rolls over the palate like a fast rising tide; creamy, soft, luscious mouthfeel. The brandy barrel has had a much greater influence than the bourbon and this rum is all the better for it; the balance is spot on. Plush caramel/coffee, vanilla and licorice again in the tail. A magnificent salted caramel/panna cotta dessert treat that will appeal to those who appreciate a good Muscat. Caramel coats every corner of the mouth while red fruits, licorice, coffee and eventually the oak play on the warmly lit stage it has set. Magnificent. It reminds me of Diplomatico Reserva 12 Rum from Venezuela, though not as sweet. And sweet this is but not excessively; much less so than Diplomatico Reserva, which I would have reviewed, had the bottle survived Hitch's ravenous appetites long enough (we seem to have gone all Fight Club here Hitch). Had I done so the Diplomatico Reserva would have rated a well founded 92/100. So, at half the price ($48 at Dan Murphy) how does Beenleigh Double Barrel rate?

 Yes, lets all get blind drunk and have a swim in the ocean! What could possibly go wrong?

Yes, lets all get blind drunk and have a swim in the ocean! What could possibly go wrong?

This would make an amazing Old Fashioned. Its a cliché, I know, but this is a rum for Scotch drinkers. If you like whisky but feel the call of The Dark Side, this is a good place to start. Beenleigh Rum have managed to fit 1000ml of flavour into a 700ml bottle. One can only imagine how good this would be at a higher proof.....

It's readily available.

It's only $48.  

And it's 84/100

William Crampton   

They didn't mean it literally Hitch!


 

 

Three Young Morays 40% ABV 2015

The West Brewery was founded in 1828 and operated until 1897, when it was converted into a whisky distillery with two stills. Thus Glen Moray was born. The Speyside distillery nestles on the banks of the  river Lossie (from where it draws its water), just outside the city of Elgin. Glen Moray was owned by Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessey until 2008 when it was purchased by La Martiniquaise. This period saw the arrival of various cask finishes, possibly as LVMH also owned Glenmorangie at that time. Now with four stills, Glen Moray has positioned most of its products at the budget end of the market, although older bottlings do sell for a lot of coin. All their whiskies are bourbon cask matured. 

The Glen Moray distillery. 

These three single malts are all sub-$50AU; decent malts for the price of a blend. The lack of fluoro-orange fake-tan hue suggests little or no added colouring, although, that is not claimed on the labels so can not be assumed. The whisky does look natural though. The darkest of the trio is the Chardonnay cask variant but even that looks like it truly did emerge from a Chardonnay cask with no further colour enhancement. The pink blush of the Port Finish isn't something I can imagine a whisky manufacturer even wanting to fake so kudos to Glen Moray. I just wish we could read about it on the label. All are bottled at the minimum allowable 40% ABV. They aren't expensive I suppose but I can imagine the Chardonnay cask in particular benefiting immensely from a more whisky/less Lossie bottling. The labels/packaging are in dire need of an update. They don't do justice to the content of the bottles and the staff at my local supplier couldn't tell the difference between the Classic and the Port Finish. Then again, they did have their heads up their arses. I added just a few drops of water to all three Morays for this tasting.  

The Lossie River. Most of the contents of your Glen Moray originated here. 

Let's start with the Glen Moray Elgin Classic. Selling for about $42AU, only Glen Grant sell a cheaper single malt in Australia (and then only by a dollar). A no age statement (NAS) whisky, it tastes about six years old to me and seems to be reasonably consistent. So why not call it a six year old? There are some great six year old whiskies! I digress. Let's see how good, or otherwise, the penultimate budget malt is.

Colour: Yellow gold. Nose: Herbal, grapefruit, vanilla, butterscotch, ginger and white pepper. Quite pleasant. More butterscotch and citrus on the palate, green tea, bitter-sweet, a little rock salt and a delightful cinnamon/mace finish.Forty bucks or so? Bargain.

80/100

Well, what happens when we put it in a port pipe for 8 months? Read on:

The Cooper's work is never done; Port casks being prepared for more interesting contents. 

Another NAS Glen Moray, the Elgin Classic Port Cask Finish will set you back a fiver more than the plain old Classic. 

Colour: Pink Champagne. I kid you not. Nose: Strawberry, vanilla,raspberry and lemon. A veritable red fruit basket with a citrus tang. The palate is somewhat more substantial than the Classic although, as one might expect, the flavours are similar, with an added layer courtesy of the Port finish. The finish suits the whisky well; not overwhelming but an interesting addition to the flavour profile. Mmmm, lovely, not complex but all those sweet red fruits counterpoint the citrus beautifully. Honey appears mid-palate. A little sour/bitter on the finish as the oak kicks in but not in an unpleasant, dead cask, way. The finish is somewhat short but the whole experience is quite pleasant and rather moorish. A good apéritif or summer evening dram. Not at all challenging but very drinkable.

82/100  

28/917 UPDATE: The Port Finish Moray has, I'm afraid, declined significantly. The Pink Champagne colour has faded to the merest hint of a blush and that fresh fruit basket nose is now last weeks lemons, wrapped in newspaper. A definite "dont buy". What a shame. 

75/100

Hitch enjoys a dram or three by the fire. 

Whatever happened to those big, oakey Australian Chardonnays of the 80's and those big, buttery non-oaked Australian Chardonnays of the 90's? They gave way to more fashionable Sauvignon Blanc and the like I suppose. A shame, but still, more for me. I mention this only because I wonder where Glen Moray sourced casks for their Chardonnay Matured 10 Year Old. France? California? One need only look to The New Zealand Whisky Co to see what the availability of good wine casks can do for a whisky. It is important to note that this is a full maturation, not a finish, in Chardonnay casks. The colour of this whisky is exactly what I would expect to see in an older Chardonnay. If Glen Moray have coloured this at all, it was minimally. Unfortunately, it has been chill-filtered. 

Colour: Deep Gold. Nose: Aged Chardonnay, citrus fruits, peach, pear, greengage. Another fruit basket but of a different complexion. Take your time with this one. The nose develops substantially over ten minutes or so. Barely ripe, sour pineapple. Oak, lovely, soft, oak. A very decent nose for a $50 whisky. On the palate: Bordering on decent mouthfeel. Young. Fresh. Sweet shop favorites including a little musk stick. Again, a great counterpoint to the sour/green character of the malt. This works so well. A green malt with a dominant sweetness. Sort of like ice cream and kiwi fruit (which is also a good description of the finish). An interesting, original, summer dram. 

84/100

In conclusion: All of these single malts are good value. The Elgin Classic is a simple, honest and light Green Malt that makes a good summer dram or session malt. The Port Cask Finish version adds a layer of fun like sticking a Redskin sweety in the Elgin Classic. You should buy this one. The Classic is a good value whisky that is cheap but common as muck but the Port Cask is a lovable novelty to be shared. The Chardonnay Cask Matured is the star here. In a Yellow Dwarf kind of way. I don't know of a better single malt (locally available) anywhere near its cost. It's unusual,interesting, available and cheap. Kind of like my first girlfriend, who also made my head hurt the next day. 

William Crampton  

28/9/17 UPDATE: The Port Finish Moray has, I'm afraid, declined significantly. That Pink Champagne colour has faded to the merest hint of a blush and the fresh fruit basket nose is now last week's lemons, wrapped in newspaper. Clearly, those port pipes have had passed their use by date. A definite "don't buy". What a shame. 

75/100

After too much Glen Moray Hitch appears to be feeling a little horse.....




Water,water, everywhere.

The Murrumbidgee River; one of Canberra's water sources and a tributary of the Murray River. 

Everyone but Jim Murray knows that water enhances whisky. How much water? That depends on your taste, the proof, age and style of the whisky. One can now buy water, allegedly bottled fresh from a highland spring, that is specifically suited to your whisky. And if they can sell you that it's the biggest marketing triumph since Bose.

Two triumphal events in the history of marketing the unmarketable and some water.  

But is your local tap water diminishing the smell and taste of your whisky or is bottled water simply a waste of money? Well, comrades, read on; the answer lies ahead. A recent series of gigs took me from Adelaide, to Melbourne, to Canberra within 48 hours. So, being both an intrepid experimenter and hardened skeptic I took the opportunity to secure a sample of tap water from each city, (bottled then refrigerated) a bottle of Evian and filtered Canberra tap water. If you really want a chemical analysis of these I'm sure you can find that information easily. I was not so much concerned what was in the water but what effect it had on the whisky. Unfortunately, my plan to use rainwater as a control was thwarted by the Magpies that decided to take a bath in it. All samples were placed in identical glass containers and stored for 48 hours before being tasted at 20 degrees C. They were also used to dilute four samples of Glenfarclas 15 at a ratio of 4 to 1 whisky to water to determine if there was any practical effect on that middle-aged, water sensitive whisky. I tasted the Glenfarclas myself but our three volunteers tasted the water blind. The samples were identified only by number and the entire test audio recorded. Below is a precis of their comments and mine, exactly as they were recorded. 

Hitch was unable to find so much as a molecule of alcohol and lost interest at this point. 

Sample 1: "Smells like graphite." "Chalky taste." "Slightly gritty but not offensive."

Sample 2: "Looks a little yellow." "Can't smell a thing." "It doesn't taste terrible but a little metallic."                   

Sample 3: "This one is even more yellowish" "Slight acetic acid smell" "Smells like a horse blanket." "Tastes gritty and metallic."                  

Sample 4: "Smells like soil but not as offensive as 3." "OH! 4 is disgusting!" "4 tastes like mud, YUK!"

Sample 5: "No smell at all." "Tastes like clean water." "Mmm, I like this best, certainly!"

In the Glenfarclas 15:

Sample 1: "Oh yeah, that's Glenfarclas 15, lovely stuff, why are we doing this again?"

Sample 2: "Wow, there's a whole heap of flavour from mid-palate missing, it's just gone. I didn't expect that."

Sample 3: "Seriously diminished flavour. Everything from the entry through to the finish."

Sample 4: "Oh, this one has really killed the whisky. It's not just taken flavour away, it's added its own ugliness. Dusky, dirty, cheap" 

Sample 5: "Mmm, we're back,ohh,lovely, Farclas 15 again. As good as 1....Ah, tasting 1 again.....no, just loses a little, very close.....Mmm, this one is the business. Just one more try of 1 and 5...yeah, 5 is delish, just better than 1." 

Loch Lomond. Go to Scotland. It is beautiful. And they have lashings of excellent whisky.

Well, Your Worship, I shall now reveal the identity of the offenders: 

Sample 1: Evian bottled water.

Sample 2: Canberra tap water.

Sample 3: Melbourne tap water.

Sample 4: Adelaide tap water.

Sample 5: Filtered Canberra tap water.

My conclusion? First let me say I was surprised by the results. I love being proven wrong, I really do; it's the scientist in me. The revelation of one's wrongness leads to an expansion of one's knowledge. And that has happened here. Last week I would have opined that tap water was fine and bottled water in whisky is bollocks. For those of you in Canberra, sipping from your melted snow and mountain streams, that isn't far from the truth. For those in Adelaide, however, your whisky experience will be seriously diminished by what is left in the River Murray after everyone else is finished with it and your desalination plant's outpourings regurgitated. I shared a bottle of JW Green label with friends in Adelaide on New Year's Eve and wondered why I wasn't enjoying it. Now I know. In Melbourne, things aren't so bad (except that it ain't Sydney) but still, your water is robbing your whisky of flavour. I did send a minion to Sydney to obtain a water sample for this post but she came back empty handed. I forgave her because she's gorgeous and I'm a pushover but as a kid from Manly I can tell you Sydney water is, at best, not awful.  

Given that a 30ml dram of Glenfarclas 15 will require no more than about 6ml of water (for most folks) that means premium bottled water will cost around 3 cents a dram. Glenfarclas 15 costs around $4.50AU a dram (assuming a bottle purchase) so is another three cents a big ask to ensure your appreciation of it? I have no doubt, however, that for the serious whisky drinker, whisky or rum bar, well filtered water is not only a good idea but a necessity. If that isn't practical, leaving tap water to evaporate off its chemical nasties for at least a day or two also works well.

Hey, we did the experiment. 

William Crampton      

bennevis.jpg

Ben Nevis: I snapped this shortly before being torn apart by midges. A species that aspires to, but falls well short of, being as objectionable as my ex-wife.