Getting bent in Bendigo

19 03 2011

I haven’t been a whisky drinker for a very long time – “whisky drinker” in the sense of cultivating an interest in the drink, in its varieties, methods of production and so forth, as opposed to merely guzzling it whilst on a teenage bender and then having your high school classmates draw a Hitler-esque moustache and an assortment of male genitalia on your face. (Just for the record, I was neither the victim nor the perpetrator of such deeds…)

Therefore, I haven’t been to many whisky-related events. Last year I attended a small function to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Ardbeg Committee at Melbourne’s Der Raum cocktail bar. Moët-Hennessy Australia must have laid down a considerable sum of pesos to provide what was an astonishing amount of complimentary Ardbeg single malt, including a 4.5L bottle of Ardbeg Rollercoaster and an assortment of top-notch nibblies. And it turns out you can make good cocktails from a heavily peated whisky, despite whatever protestations the purists may proffer.

So, it was much to my delight that I came across a whisky event as part of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival this year. Regrettably it was the only whisky event amongst a multitude, or perhaps an excess, of wine and beer gatherings; surely this wasn’t indicative of whisky’s popularity (or lack thereof) when compared to other beverages? Plus, it was in Bendigo. A wonderful rural town, and by no means inaccessible, but not since visiting the Suntory Yamazaki distillery in Japan have I gone to such distances for the purpose of having a dram. I attended the Saturday afternoon session of the Whisky Degustation Dinner at The Dispensary Enoteca ($95, but I believe it was worth it), hosted by the affable Graham Wright of The Odd Whisky Coy – check out his website for a brilliant list of whiskies he has in stock. With only 12 places, it was an intimate tasting event. We leisurely plowed through the following over the course of 2.5 hours:

1) Glengoyne 10 43%
2) Auchentoshan 3 Wood 43%
3) Macallan 12yo Sherry Oak 40%
4) Talisker 1998 Distiller’s Edition 45.8%
5) Riverstown Laphroaig 12yo 1998 57.4%
6) Longrow 7yo Gaja Barolo 55.8%

A Saturday stroll around Scotland.

Following this, some generous chap shouted everyone a round of Highland Park 12, which was followed up by another Highland Park, I think it may have been a HP 1990 16yo.

Anyway, Graham furnished the session with a steady stream of whisky history and trivia, enough to satisfy both the recent whisky initiates and the seasoned malt fiends. I was unaware that Macallan and Springbank send much of their profits to charitable causes – all the more reason to drink good Scotch! As for the actual malts we tried, I was particularly impressed by the Riverstown Laphroaig; needless to say, Islay malts are renowned for their smoky and peaty characteristics, but I’ve never come across a whisky with such a colossal waft of tobacco ash on the nose. Remarkable stuff. I also greatly enjoyed the Longrow; it had the expected punch of a young peated whisky, although the nose and palate (presumably) resulting from its time spent in Italian Gaja Barolo wine casks was something completely new to me.  It’s apparently a spectacular wine, although I hear the price tag isn’t for the faint of heart. Of the remaining whiskies for the day, I was sold on the Glengoyne. Very clean, very light. Subtle but delicious.

Proceedings wrapped up at 5:30pm, but with an extra hour to kill until I had to hoof it to the train station I decided to change tack and hit the beer. I went for a Dead Guy Ale from the Rogue Brewery in Oregon, USA.

You know a purveyor of alcoholic beverages takes their trade seriously when they have branded glassware to match the drink.

Don’t ask me for tasting notes, I’m sure you can appreciate the fact that by this point, I simply couldn’t be arsed. Alternative, you could check out the official tasting notes here. What I will say is that I was enjoying this beer so much, I made it back to the train station in time to catch my return train to Melbourne with barely a minute to spare.

In closing, I’d like to extend my thanks to Graham Wright for hosting a solidly enjoyable afternoon and for selecting some excellent whiskies, and here’s hoping it all happens again next year.





The waft of an angel’s armpit

8 03 2011

March. The pious amongst us would be anticipating the imminent arrival of Easter. The slightly less pious amongst us would be anticipating the arrival of an immoderate amount of chocolate and a long weekend. Those of us who absolutely don’t give a shit will find Saint Patrick’s Day to be the only thing in March* vaguely resembling any sort of occasion meriting celebration; any opportunity to provide a pseudo-excuse for being liquored up to the eyeballs is welcome, frankly. The fact that I’m not in the slightest bit Irish (nor are 99% of the people who observe the day either, I suspect) is irrelevant. As it happens, the only hesitation I have concerning Saint Patrick’s Day is the fact that I’m partially colourblind – try to imagine pulling out an assortment of clothing from your wardrobe that you suspect to be green, only to be (repeatedly) told by your housemate, “Nope, that’s brown… brown… brown…”

*(Nota bene: I must also tip my hat and lend my support to the Sydney Mardi Gras and International Women’s Day. Having said this, whilst I may use Saint Patrick’s Day as a convenient pretext for getting blotto, it’s rare that I find myself seeking a convenient pretext to be gay or a woman… mostly rare…)

March also brings the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival for 2011. There are some rather curious events on the calendar (An Evening of Offal, anyone?), but unfortunately, attendance at more than a handful of these will be out of reach for anyone who isn’t raking in some good coin. However, last week I attended the soundly-priced and brilliantly-named The Smelly Gorgonzola at Terra Rossa on Flinders Lane. For $25 per head my cohort and I each received four different wines produced by Campbells of the Rutherglen region, and four different cheeses to match.

A well-rounded lunch.

So, the wine/cheese pairings were as follows…

Bobbie Burns Shiraz / Toma Piemontese, Liquid Gold Classic Rutherglen Topaque / King Island Ash Blue, Classic Rutherglen Muscat / King Island Roaring 40s, Merchant Prince Rare Rutherglen Muscat / ???… evidently I was enveloped in some sort of booze’n’cheese haze by the end so as to completely forget to note the name of the final morsel, all I recall is that it was an Italian blue cheese. The soft-spoken Italian curd-wrangler introducing his wares was barely audible over the din of the kitchen and other diners.

Whilst I tend to gravitate towards stronger flavours (likely some sort of fallout from eating far too much fiery food), I found the King Island Ash Blue to be particularly agreeable despite its profile being at the softer end of the spectrum of blue cheeses, and not simply due to any sort of affinity with its name.  Turns out it’s called “Ash Blue” as they roll the wheel in the ashes of burnt coconut husks, moreso for the sake of tradition now than any other purpose. Not to say I found any of the other cheeses – or any of the wines, for that matter – to be at all disagreeable. I know bugger-all about wine, frankly, although the shiraz was gentler than I had expected, and lived up to its claims of having “a core of raspberry and black cherry fruit”. Good stuff. The Merchant Prince Rare Rutherglen Muscat, weighing in at a purse-smashing $120 for a 375mL bottle (all thanks to a perfect 100 score in Wine Spectator magazine, thus placing this drop out of the reach of most people) was sublime. The colossally intense burst of raisins was reminiscent of the Pedro Ximénez sherries I occasionally drink, but had far greater balance and depth to it.

The waitress must have had some sixth sense for habitual elbow-benders in the immediate vicinity, as we were offered an extra glass of muscat belonging to some unlucky sods who had failed to materalise. No complaints there. I’m certainly keen to head back to Terra Rossa at some point in the future, as the venue and atmosphere was extremely comfortable.

There are a couple more events in the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival that I’ll be attending over the coming week… you’ll certainly be hearing about them here once I get my act together.