Whisky Live is an annual tasting event that visits the mainland capitals of Australia. This year I had the pleasure to attend in Adelaide at Bonython Hall. Tickets were $99 which include 3 hours of tastings including more than 70 whiskies from 20 plus labels from numerous locations. The event is also catered with the Small Food Catering Company providing a range of gourmet foods throughout (the best in my opinion was the exquisite cheese platters and honey, but there wasnâ€™t a single dish that disappointed).
Bonython Hall is located at the Adelaide University, a great hall with high ceilings and beautiful wood panelling throughout. The hall was filled with vendors with a bar at the far end selling rare and vintage whiskies (at quite a price) and a few areas for catering. Water urns were placed throughout allowing you to cleanse your palate and glass with little difficulty.
There vendors included the usual suspects - Scottish Single Malts such as Glenfidddich and Laphroig, Americanâ€™s like Jack Daniels and Makers Mark, Japanese providers Suntory and Hibiki, and Australian Starward to name a few, as well as a variety of smaller distilleries and newly released whiskies. The variety was such that deciding what to taste is quite the challenge.
Whiskey is a divisive topic, even amongst whiskey connoisseur, and in Australia the debate has increased as more whiskies become available. There are two main distinctions for whiskey â€“ Malt or Grain â€“ that are then divided into Single Malt, Single Cask (or barrel), Blended Malt, Blended Whiskey, and cask Strength â€“ That are then divided by region of production. Iâ€™m a big fan of peaty Islay whiskies, but that doesnâ€™t mean I will only drink an Islay. Iâ€™ll take a Speyside, highland or lowland, Irish, Japanese, American or Australian. What matters most is that the whisky tastes good to me. I understand that sipping a beverage that tastes like a smouldering English village might not be to your taste but whiskey is so much more than just smoke, there is a cornucopia of flavours available in whiskey, the same as any other artisanal product, and that is precisely the intent of Whisky Live.
Over the three hours a friend and I tasted 43 whiskies served in 7.5ml shots (1/4 standard shot). If I were to describe all of them, it would take far too long and you would get bored. As such I will offer my opinion on a few, the Ugly, The Good and the Excellent.
Appalachian Gapâ€™s Kaffekask and KaffevÃ¤nâ€“ I was really excited to taste these, a Swedish style blend of coffee and spirit. Two handmade drinks from Vermont, USA, the end product does not match the marketing. The Kaffekask has a very simple body and conveys very little of the infusion of coffee. It tasted more mid-process than finished product, with low complexity which tastes just like cheap alcohol. The KaffevÃ¤n was slightly better, being a liquor white whiskey but still lacked the complexity and while lower in alcohol still had the same limited palate.
The good was a distiller called Bruichladdich whose whisky had some unique flavours. Bruichladdich takes the artisanal approach to whisky, producing a single source whisky called Islay Barley, and I had the pleasure of trying the 2007 with Barley from Rockside Farm. This is the third release of the series, with the barley for this whisky coming from the single farm, slow distillation for intensity of flavour. A lightly coloured whiskey, it has a range of floral notes, much more for an Islay than I am used to, with a lightly salted edge. For a young whiskey there is a lot of complexity to the palate providing a delightful experience. While this whisky isnâ€™t one that I would classify as a must have, it is a must try. Bruichladdich also offer the Octomore Scottish Barley whisky that hails as the most heavily peated whisky in the world. In its sixth release this is a very interesting experiment. I love the peatiness of Islay whiskies, and so I was very surprised by the mouth â€“ it started with a heady smoke which quickly gave way to salted caramelised fruits that continued well past the last sip.
Starward is an Australian distiller that prides itself on experimenting with Australian produce and casks to produce a world class whisky. They had three on offer, so I tried them all. The Single Malt was young with rich fruit and floral notes, but a short and sharp mouth. The Wine Cask edition was a better whisky aged in Shiraz casks. It had a complex nose, was less floral and more robust malts that lingered in the mouth. The real joy was tasting their Project X â€“ a clear whisky experiment based on the idea that you shouldnâ€™t need colour to impress a good flavour on your audience. They were right, in my opinion it was like the best parts of the previous two whiskies had been combined into a good table whisky that is well worth a try.
And to finish, Whisky Live offered me the opportunity to try a Glenrothes ladder. Glenrothes is a speyside distiller that provides a range of vintaged whisky. Speysides are generally full bodied sweeter whiskies and the Glenrothes range definitely fits that description. There were four on offer and I tried them all starting with 2001, a light and sweet whisky with light caramel overtones; the 1998, a well rounded good whisky, a peppered caramel that lingers; the 1997, ripe berries and spiced sparkle your senses and lightly singe the throat; and the 1995, a velvety whisky with honey notes that leaves you knowing youâ€™ve tasted it. The beauty of the Glenrothes is that each vintage is different, and offers a great exploratory experience. It is where I would recommend a person to begin their foray into the whiskey world as it shows the complexities that whisky can achieve without shocking the system and potentially scaring the inductee.
I was so impressed by the event that Iâ€™m eagerly awaiting next years to see what else I can try.