On a particularly cold Friday evening I ventured into the Melbourne Good Food and Wine Show on Glenfiddich’s invitation to board the Glenfiddich Whisky Wanderer, a 1972 vintage bus which has been converted into a whisky bar on wheels! Australian chef Matt Moran introduced us to what he loved about Glenfiddich and then the distillery’s brand ambassador, Luke Sanderson, took us on board for a very special evening of whisky tasting and blending, and to craft our very own Glenfiddich single malt from the three core ingredients used to create Glenfiddich’s 15 year old solera.
Melbourne’s whisky bar scene has been booming over the last few years, buoyed by what can only be described as a popular fascination with whisky. Whisky, and whisky bars, are now in vogue. Unlike ten or even five years ago, there is no shortage of specialist whisky bars to choose from. Whether you are looking for a smoky malt to warm the cockles of your heart, or a flight of Speysiders to satisfy your sherry cravings, any number of Melbourne’s whisky bars will have you covered. But, that’s where the oversupply of whisky goodness ends. Whilst Melbourne has a fine selection of whisky bars to choose from, only a few of these bars offer theatre and a culinary experience that transports you to a whisky-based utopia.
Among the plethora of whisky bars now on Melbourne streets, the jewel in Melbourne’s crown is Boilermaker House. Boilermaker House is located at 209-211 Lonsdale Street in Melbourne, across the road from QV.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On Wednesday 8 October 2014 over one hundred people gathered within the walls of the iconic Kelvin Club in Melbourne to meet a man who has been involved in the production of whisky for half a century. That man, ladies and gentleman, is Jim McEwan. The vast majority of people may utter the words “Jim who?”, but anyone who enjoys a dram or two (or who knows what “dram” means) will know that the name “Jim McEwan” belongs to a man who is perhaps the world’s most famous whisky distiller. Starting his career at the Bowmore distillery at the age of 15, Jim went on to learn the craft of cooperage (making or assembling barrels) before becoming the Master Distiller at the Bruichladdich distillery in Scotland, where he now plies his trade. His career in whisky has spanned half a century, and while at Bruichladdich he has gained a reputation for producing whisky that is innovative, exciting and that tastes darn good!
Over the past week or so Jim has embarked on a much anticipated national tour of major Australian cities where he has conducted a tasting of whiskies from Bruichladdich, and the scene for his visit to Melbourne was the Kelvin Club. Malt Mileage was very fortunate to secure a ticket to Jim’s visit to Melbourne.
On arrival at the Kelvin Club guests were greeted with gin and tonic, made with Bruichladdich’s The Botanist Islay Dry Gin – a gin made using classic aromatics that tend to be used for gin such as orris root, cassia bark and coriander seed, and, 22 other botannicals hand picked on the isle of Islay in Scotland (where Bruichladdich is located). As the bottles of gin were slowly emptied, a progression of people began to eagerly make their way to the upstairs room where Jim would be conducting the whisky tasting. The room was large, and an energy filled the air as people looked around for anyone who even remotely resembled Jim. It soon became clear that Jim is not a man to enter a room unnoticed, and to the bellowing sound of bagpipes Jim entered the room marching proudly behind a bagpiper dressed in a traditional Scottish kilt. He had arrived, and the room fell silent. “Hello”, he said happily. “Hello!”, he repeated. With a gesture of his hands, not dissimilar to the one made by an old friend who wants a hug and not a handshake, the crowd realised its mistake and finally responded “Hello Jim!”. That set the tone for what was a hilarious evening. It was not the formidable legend Master Distiller McEwan up there, ready to teach everyone about whisky. It was Jim, ready to share half a dozen drams with us and talk whisky.
One of the first points Jim made was that the colour of a whisky is meaningless, because caramel (the oft-called “E150”) may be added to whisky and therefore its colour is not a reliable indicator of its age or the type of casks that were used to mature the whisky. This was demonstrated by Jim pouring cola into a glass of whisky, which darkened it, and with this altered colour he sarcastically observed whether the whisky – now dark in colour – was matured in Fino sherry casks for a number of years. This was a good point made by Jim, but it was also a confusing point given that Bruichladdich do not add caramel colouring to their whisky. The colour of Bruichladdich whisky therefore is a clue as to what casks were used to mature the whisky, though admittedly Jim is correct that a whisky’s colour reveals nothing about its age.
On tasting were whiskies in the Bruichladdich range – the Laddie Classic, Islay Barley 2006, Black Art v3, Port Charlotte Scottish Barley and Octomore 6.1. All whiskies were impressive and thoroughly enjoyable, and my picks of the evening would be the Islay Barley 2006 and Black Art v3 (curiously both of which are – despite Islay being the heartland of peat – made without peat) and the Octomore 6.1 which, despite having a terrifying 300ppm as the world’s most heavily peated whisky, is surprisingly well balanced and complex.
With wobbly knees from all the whisky and a measure of gin, we were made to stand with one foot on the table and one foot on our chairs while yelling out a Scottish toast which lasted several minutes (and almost saw me fall face first into some leftover Octomore – yes please!). The evening then ended, and the mood soon deflated. Everybody had to go home, but I get the feeling no one really wanted to – there was still plenty of whisky, and Jim’s jokes and humour left us all in a state of constant laughter (it was either Jim, or the whisky).
Overall, Jim’s visit to Melbourne was a fun-filled journey through the Bruichladdich range that was filled with laughter, jokes and some whisky education in between. If you see Jim, tell him Gunta is at the door – he’ll know what I mean!
Whisky Live is a whisky festival where people can taste a selection of different whiskies at the ticketed price of $99. The venue for Whisky Live Melbourne 2014 was the St Kilda Town Hall, where about 100 whiskies sat waiting for a horde of thirsty whisky drinkers no doubt keen to get their moneys worth. This year, I attended Whisky Live Melbourne on Friday 18 July 2014 and tasted (a little too many of) the whiskies on offer.
On my first glance at all the whiskies on offer for tasting my feeling of excitement quickly faded. While vast, the selection of whiskies on offer was predictable and mostly reflected what is available at Dan Murphy’s (which is certainly good but hardly pushes the boundaries). An “Old and Rare” bar was available offering for sale measures of, you guessed it, old and rare whisky (a concept I struggled to understand particularly because it cost $99 to get into the venue in the first place and, last I checked, most bars don’t have a $99 door charge). There was also a Duty Free section featuring various Travel Retail whiskies and an interesting stall set up by the bar Whisky & Alement, but hardly anything to prompt curiosity and excite the senses in any significant way. That said there were notable brands missing – Laphroaig, Sullivan’s Cove, Nant, Ardbeg, Macallan, and Glenmorangie weren’t there, and despite NZ Whisky Co being listed on the Whisky Live Melbourne website not a single Kiwi whisky passed my lips that night.
I swooped on expressions that I had not tasted for a while or those with which I was not intimately familiar. The selection of whiskies on offer – despite being so predictable – was vast and included some expensive expressions available for tasting, including the delectable Glenlivet XXV. I only got a chance to taste these expressions properly towards the end of the evening, because by that stage the venue was less crowded and I was able to finally get my whisky glass noticed! There was also plenty of food available to match with whiskies or to help clear the palate, though the best of it was very quick to vanish.
Overall, Whisky Live Melbourne was a fun way to spend Friday night. For those who are relatively new to the whisky world Whisky Live seems like an exciting event that provides a great opportunity to explore different whiskies available on the Australian market. For the whisky enthusiast already familiar with Whisky Live, that $99 may be better spent at a specialist whisky bar buying nips of whatever poison tickles your fancy.