Whisky Live Adelaide 2015

Whisky Live Adelaide

Tasting LaphroigWhisky 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 wasn’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, American’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 – Malt or Grain – that are then divided into Single Malt, Single Cask (or barrel), Blended Malt, Blended Whiskey, and cask Strength – That are then divided by region of production. I’m a big fan of peaty Islay whiskies, but that doesn’t mean I will only drink an Islay. I’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 Gap’s Kaffekask and Kaffevän– 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 Kaffevän was slightly better, being a liquor white whiskey but still lacked the complexity and while lower in alcohol still had the same limited palate.

Bruichladdich Islay Barley Rockslide 2007The 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 isn’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 – 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 – a clear whisky experiment based on the idea that you shouldn’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.

Glenrothes 1995And 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 you’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 I’m eagerly awaiting next years to see what else I can try. 

 

February 22 2012 Australian Institute of Food Science & Technology Sensory Food & Wine Evening

I attended a food & wine sensory evening run by the AIFST at the Uni SA Health Sciences Sensory lab in Adelaide on Wednesday. The Sensory Lab is a new addition the school of Agriculture, Food & Science. It is small and the attendees were given a tour of three of the rooms – The Hub where lectures are held and we will be exploring taste, the kitchen/food preparation area which is a small kitchen with the ability to store and produce an array of foods and beverages with hatches lining one of the walls for food to passed through into the Tasting room. The tasting room is long with a number of booths along the wall, each with a hatch, a monitor for displaying and recording findings, and a range of coloured lights to obscure visual recognition of food and beverages.

The attendees tonight are predominately scientists working in the food sciences industry or associated fields. I need to point out that I am not one of these people. I am not a scientist, rather I am a lay person with a interest in science although I spent 15 years working in the Food & Beverage industry and it is from that perspective that I will approach this.

Our speakers this evening are Louisa Rose and Briony Liebich.

Briony opens the evening with the question: What is flavour? Most people would probably think that flavour is just the sense of taste, all in the mouth. Turns out flavour is far more complex than just the sense of taste, it is multi-sensory, incorporating sight, smell, texture, and sometimes hearing. The involvement of these senses on perception also come from the individual persons background – male or female (gender actually changes the perception of taste), industry (complex analysis) or consumer (simpler analysis ), genetic predispositions, history...

To highlight this Briony invites us to partake in an experiment involving three cups of lemon cordial labelled C, X, & Y. Visually the 3 cups look exactly the same. The experiment is as follows: Take a sip of C and take note of how It tastes, then take a sip of X and take note of the variation from C, then sip C again and see if anything has changed from the first sip, followed by Y and finishing with C.

For myself, C initially tasted like a very plain lemon drink, X was sweeter and Y was tart. C actually became blander as we moved through the experiment.

This experiment highlights something very simple when it comes to flavour – the senses can be confused – with flavour actually being suppressed. It is a fascinating way to start the evening.

Louisa steps up next to begin the meat of the evening.

She opens with a little bit of background on the creation of a wine. There are countless websites dedicated to wine and their creation that I won't go into great detail on the subject matter. Basically, each wine comes down to some very specific elements and processes and levels to get the product desired: varieties of grape, yeasts, phenolics, sugars, acids, carbon dioxide.

As all the liquid for wine comes from the grape, and within this liquid are a great many flavour potentials for the wine. Some of the compounds will modify with fermentation and others will remain virgin. Grapes vary in their variety, as well as within their variety by the environmental conditions they are grown in. Each season can subtly adjust the flavour profile of the grape and it is part this variation which allows for two growers to be very close together geographically yet have such differing results among the same grape. This is also the reason why you get variation in the colour of the styles of wine – variation in the grape that modifies the skins and seed and thus the colours of the wines.

Louisa comes across quite passionate when she speaks of building the flavours in wine but at no time more so than when she talks about the language wine makers use to describe their wines and the stories relating to it: Grass and Pepper, citrus and stone-fruits. The language of food and wine is mostly metaphor and as such becomes a dialect unto itself. Louisa tells of visiting an apple orchard and hearing apple growers speak using similar metaphors to describe their products, assigning differing meanings than the one she would have applied. It seems that apples aren't just apples the same way wines aren't just wines.

It is her that we learn of the wines we shall taste this evening. There are 6 selected from the Hill-Smith Family Vineyards.

  1. Pewsey Vale Riesling 2011
  2. Eden Valley Voigner 2010
  3. Dalrymple Pinot Noir 2010
  4. Smith & Hooper Merlot 2009
  5. Patchwork Shiraz 2008
  6. Heggies Botrytis Riesling 2011

It's quite a decent selection of wine and Louisa gives us their descriptions and flavour profiles before introducing us to the plates of food which we will be trying our wines with.

Plate 1: Chicken Terrine, Pork Pie, Sliced Apple & Rocket.

In front of us we have a pairing chart with the foods listed across the top and the wines down the left and this is where the fun begins – taste the 1st food with the 1st wine, take notes, taste the 1st food then the 2nd wine, take notes, and so on and so forth until you have consumed each of the foods with all of the wines.

Why is this the fun part? Besides the eating and drinking? It's fun because this is where things get surreal for your palate, where you taste a range of wines with same food running the gamut of potential from light to heavy, bitter to sweet. You are forced into combinations that you normally would not tread and it's all down to the nature of the experiment.

After finishing the plate and wines you would then discuss your results with others. This is fascinating and goes to show the variance between individuals. What you would find wonderful another might find it horrible. It gives you an appreciation of what must go into the description of commercial foods and wines, their food matching suggestions, and how to arrive at common descriptors that the majority of consumers may find useful.

This experiment reminds me of the best part of my time in the Food & Beverage Industry – exploring new food and drink. Below is a chart of my results. Be aware as you read it that the results are written in my own unique way and thus may offend any critics or professionals who prefer to use the appropriate dialect.

Sensory-mains

Plate 2: Cheddar Cheese, Blue Cheese, Pecorino, Walnut bread and sliced pear.

The process is the same as the first plate, only the foods are different. Where we were experimenting with a main dish now we are onto desserts. Below are my results.

Sensory-desset

In conclusion, an evening spent exploring taste and various combinations of food and wine is an excellent opportunity for any foody. It broadens your understanding of the subjective nature of taste. I think anyone who has an appreciation of food, or works in an industry associated with food should attend one. I am very much hoping to see what other gastronomic sensory evenings become available through the AIFST and can only hope for some of them to include some of the more boutique foods and beverages produced in South Australia.