The St Agnes XO brandy trio – 15, 20 and 40 year olds

St Agnes brandy.jpg

Since a single cask expression of Sullivan’s Cove French Oak won the world’s best single malt in the 2014 World Whiskies Awards, Australian whisky has taken the world by storm and demand for many Australian malts now outstrips supply. This success has largely been buoyed by heightened global interest in whisky which is nothing short of a renaissance. Another spirit, which is viewed by many as a “malternative” to whisky but has not yet had a renaissance of its own, is brandy.

Continue reading “The St Agnes XO brandy trio – 15, 20 and 40 year olds”

Nub 464 Cameroon Torpedo Cigar (Nicaragua)

 Nub

Name: Nub 464 Cameroon Torpedo Cigar
Rating:  ★★★★
Origin: Nicaragua  
Cigar info: The Nub 464 Cameroon Torpedo Cigar is handmade using a Nicaraguan binder and filler, and, a wrapper from Cameroon.  The tobacco that is grown in Cameroon, and subsequently used as cigar wrappers, is the Sumatran black tobacco plant which was introduced into the African nation after World War II.

The idea behind the Nub cigar, and the reason it is so short at 4 inches, is because it is designed to give a smoker the “sweet spot” taste of a cigar from the first puff, a point which typically occurs an inch of so into a full sized cigar. With its fairly wide ring gauge the cigar delivers a cool smoke with lots of complex flavour, rather than the hot draw that is commonly experienced as some cigars near their end. Be sure to cut this cigar conservatively and not shave too much off at first, and adjust as needed. It smokes just as long as most regular sized cigars, despite its size.       

Draw: Excellent
Burn: Excellent
Construction: Excellent
Strength: Medium
Flavours: After experiencing 42°C heat in Melbourne, the city went cold – people had exchanged their shorts and thongs (what we call flip flops, sorry to erase any erotic images from any American minds) for jackets and jeans. With my belly full of ribs from TGI Friday’s and the weather being suitably cold for a warming cigar, I had an urge to toast a cigar. I plucked a Nub cigar from my humidor, got the dog on a lead, and off I went to enjoy a beautiful Melbourne night. So there I was walking along Melbourne’s SouthBank puffing away my Nub cigar, walking a tiny Chihuahua and taking meticulous tasting notes on my smart phone. 

With the first few puffs, very little harshness was noticeable. It was almost as though I was smoking a block of 99% Lindt dark chocolate – cocoa, buttery cereal notes and the darkest espresso coffee hit my palate. Each draw produced a faint flicker of bonfire, which quickly faded into that 99% cocoa dark chocolate flavour profile which lingered on the palate for a few minutes. The cocoa was entangled with buttered burnt toast, and with each draw the cigar’s flavour profile became more and more interesting with an increasingly grassy and earthy theme. The taste of fresh coriander stalks bundled with bunched parley and mild spice soon became interlaced with the cocoa, then came poppy seeds in bursts together with alfalfa, snow pea sprouts and seeds, and, the distant taste of bitter orange with dried citrus peel. The finish also became more complex, and together with the cocoa were notes of twig, mild campfire and the curious aftertaste of a whipped cream éclair with the flavour but not sweetness of a banana lolly/candy. Gin came to mind as I reached the end of the cigar, with its botanicals.

The Nub was a very enjoyable cigar with prominent notes of cocoa, coffee, wood, mild earthy herbs, spice and a soft creaminess. Delicious.    

Having my second Nub cigar, the flavours were very consistent as the first though I could detect more fennel at first, then earthy espresso, bark, nutmeg and bay-leaf, rosemary, charcoal, sweet paprika, white ash, pencil shavings and sooty overtones. Overall it was enjoyable, elegant and very complex. The bite of rocket leaf and a somewhat meaty/ savoury flavour also became more noticeable. This is a seriously complex cigar.

Format: Torpedo
Match with: The Nub would pair nicely with a variety of spirits, whether peated whisky or gin. It seems like a versatile cigar with a flavour profile that would accentuate a number of drinks, including a coffee with a nip of cream liqueur, a Navy style rum rich in coffee and brown sugar notes, any number of peated whiskies that do not have overbearing maritime notes or a good quality sipping gin, whether William McHenry & Sons London Dry Gin, Bulldog Gin, Hendrick’s or if you’re game, a gin martini with an olive or lime twist. My pick of the lot for this cigar would be to pair it with a gin martini, or a peated malt. 
Bottom line:

Buy it, if you want to try the delights of a Cameroon wrapper and you enjoy a cigar that offers big chocolate and coffee notes with undertones of wood and a complex tapestry of earthiness. It is a cigar rich in flavour, but easy to smoke. 

*Thank you to cigarscity.com for the stick! 

The Ugly Side of Australian Whisky

When a single cask expression of Sullivan’s Cove French Oak (barrel no. HH0525) won the award for world’s best single malt at the World Whiskies Awards 2014 it was a wonderful time for Australian whisky. The atmosphere was electric, charged by the realisation that Australian whisky had come of age. It did not take long for the Sullivan’s Cove French oak to disappear from bottle shop shelves, and for bottles of them to appear on online auction websites – one bottle of HH0525 even sold for $1,150 through Lawsons. People who had Sullivan’s Cove French Oak from other barrels also tried their luck, doing their darndest to pass off whatever barrel number they happened to have as “the world’s best” or tasting the same as the “world’s best”. Now, even Sullivan’s Cove seems to be getting in on the action as they try to pass off ALL their whisky as the world’s best.

wpid-screenshot_2014-11-04-09-37-55.png

It needs to be remembered that a single cask expression of Sullivan’s Cove’s French Oak recently won world’s best single malt at the World Whisky Awards – barrel no. HH0525.  The truth is that whisky does vary between casks, because the wood making up each cask is different and even the distillation runs, fermentations and micro climate within a distillery may fluctuate. Just look at Jim Murray’s varied scoring of Sullivan’s Cove from different casks. This means that the Sullivan’s Cove whisky that won the world’s best single malt at the World Whiskies Awards is from ONE CASK, and it is likely to be different to whisky drawn from other casks. Unless the Sullivan’s Cove whisky is from the same cask as the whisky that won the award, it appears to me that the Sullivan’s Cove marketing spin (captured, left of screen) is designed to mislead and deceive consumers in my opinion – it looks like shameless profiteering, telling half truths to make a product more desirable. In the screenshot left of screen, on my reading Sullivan’s Cove even try to pass off their ex-bourbon matured whisky as the world’s best, when in fact it was the French Oak that won the award. This is the ugly side of Australian whisky. I can see how a consumer would be misled by the representations made, because it seems that people unaware of the way different casks produce different whisky might just think they’re buying “the world’s best whisky”.  Buying this product, the sales pitch goes, can make the dream of owning the world’s best whisky a reality but what is not mentioned is that the whisky that won the World Whiskies Award was from just one barrel and that the dream – unless you find HH0525 – won’t ever be a reality. It begs the question: why did Sullivan’s Cove even bother mentioning that consumers can own a barrel of the world’s best whisky if the whisky that won the title is most likely all sold out? I think you can figure that one out for yourself.

It seems that shameless profiteering in response to the World Whiskies Awards may have cast a dark cloud over Australian whisky. I hope that dark cloud clears very soon, and there weren’t too many people who handed over their hard earned cash for the “world’s best whisky”.

So, what do you think? Would you have been misled by Sullivan’s Cove?

Crazy Uncle Moonshine

wpid-wp-1414901669128.jpeg

Score: – 

Reaction: 😐

ABV: 40%

Origin: Western Australia, Australia

Price: $70 (Aus) 

Whipper Snapper is one of Australia’s newest whisky distilleries. While its whisky quietly sits maturing in barrels, the distillery has decided to release some of its new make spirit into the market. This new make spirit is creatively named Crazy Uncle Moonshine.

Being “new make”, Crazy Uncle Moonshine is spirit and not whisky. It is put in bottles right after Whipper Snapper distill their wash (fermented grain, similar to a beer), without first putting the spirit in oak barrels to get colour or flavours from oak. This is a fairly common practice for start-up distilleries, which try to sell either gin or vodka to inject their businesses with cash. In this case Whipper Snapper have released their new make, which is basically vodka without filtration through carbon or lots of polishing (this means the new make tends to retain more of the grain flavours from the wash).  

Crazy Uncle Moonshine immediately strikes me as quite a clean new make, beaming with that nutty and husky grain typical of newly distilled grain spirit but softened by underlying hues of crusty bread, pitted Kalamata olives, sugary honey, vanilla, plum jam and blackberry confectionery with mint toothpaste and anise notes. The ethanol seems more pronounced on the palate and the alcohol itself is very sweet and sugary, though what is perhaps most interesting about this new make is its apparent design – heavier more pungent alcohols commonly found in the lower tails of a distillation run seem to have been kept at a minimum, while cleaner and lighter (but not necessarily better) spirit seems to have been preferred. The spirit itself is quite sweet on the entry, and then dries with a bitter bite at mid-palate which fades into a pleasantly long finish of re-surging sugars.

Overall, Crazy Uncle Moonshine is an impressive new make spirit that is easy to drink either neat, in a mixed drink or in a cocktail. It is the kind of spirit that holds up quite nicely in a tumbler mixed with lemonade, a wedge of lime and some sprigs of fresh mint but it is neither a whisky nor the typical example of a vodka – do not expect the oak driven complexity of a whisky or the super polished neutral ethanol rich profile of most vodka. This is grain spirit, so those grain notes do tend to shine through most mixers. While this is very good new make, it is still new make – the boring younger version of whisky before it is placed in oak to mature. Crazy Uncle Moonshine is not something I would buy, but it does offer a glimpse into Whipper Snapper’s new make spirit and the flavour profile of the distillery’s signature character. If it is any indication of what the distillery is putting into barrels for maturation, I cannot wait to see the finished product. This is a new make that I think would mature nicely in oak barrels, but in my opinion it will be quite prone to becoming over-oaked. I will keep my fingers crossed that the distillery nurtures this excellent new make correctly so that it grows up to become a delicious mature (not woody) whisky (or perhaps a “whiskey” with an “e”, as Whipper Snapper have opted to spell the it).  

Whipper Snapper just might bring about some competition in the years to come. I am definitely going to keep my eye on this distillery, because its new make is impressive. I hope its wood policy and maturation is just as good.

Limeburners M90 “Director’s Cut”

Limeburners

Score: 94/100

ABV: 61%

Origin: Albany, Western Australia

Price: $350

Match with: Rare beef, macadamia nuts, mushroom based dishes

Limeburners is a brand of whisky produced in the southern tip of Western Australia, in a place called Albany. Malt Mileage has been fortunate to receive a sample of Limeburners M90 “Director’s Cut”, a single cask offering that is bottled at a ferocious 61% ABV. The M90 was matured in an American Oak Barrique and finished in an old in-house brandy cask.

On the nose the whisky offers undertones of doughy whole meal loaf shining through vanilla, buttery herb bread, chocolate coated raisins, Christmassy fruit tart, herbal notes, celery, nuts, satay, water chestnuts, strawberry seeds, red candy, glazed cherries, and the burn of wasabi. The palate presents with a surge of crystalline brown sugar, very rummy and herbal in character, with a big hit of medium-dry brandy and underlying notes of luscious malt, vanilla, butter, toffee and raisins that gradually dry into the finish. The Limeburners distillery character comes out in the finish with a malty note that underpins sweet pastry and lingering vanilla, caramel and raspberry flavoured candy as the burn of wasabi peas and that delectable dry brandy are a praiseworthy finale.

Overall, Limeburners M90 “Director’s Cut” is an Aussie dram with a rumbling fire in its belly – the drying kick of an old in-house brandy cask is cushioned by soft vanillas from the American oak, and all the while the distinctly malty (and downright delicious) Limeburners distillery character shines through it all. The age of the brandy cask Limeburners used to finish this whisky is unknown, but it certainly seems “old” given the curious herbal rancio notes that glow on the nose and the palate. Those herbal notes add a different dimension to this whisky, that, together with a nice solid kick in the teeth by an old brandy cask that is softened by vanillas, fruit and a rich underlying juicy malt makes the Limeburners M90 one of the most enjoyable Australian whiskies to pass my lips – not only is it lip smacking whisky, but it is distinctly Australian lip smacking whisky. Its price of $350 is perhaps some indication that this whisky was made with little expense spared – the most selective cuts and casks seem to have been used, and the result, as the director already knows, is pretty darn special whisky. It is expensive whisky though, perhaps a little too expensive one thinks.