Tasmania’s #1 whisky blog.
We drink way too much whisky.
Then use way too many words talking about it.
Enjoy our rambling!
Posted by: Nick and Ted
They grow up so fast, don’t they? When we last visited paddock-to-bottle distillery Redlands in 2014, their spirit was still too young to be released and head distiller Dean Jackson was only just filling barrel number 42.
Fast forward two years and the shelves are stocked with elegant (cuboid) bottles of Redlands paddock-to-bottle Tasmanian single malt and Dean is busy filling bottle number 271. Oh, and did we mention that the distillery has moved 50km up the road to a new site?After the sale of the Redlands Estate property in late 2015, the distillery was faced with the challenge of finding a new home in just 21 days. After several weeks of stress-filled searching, they eventually settled on what they hoped would be the perfect venue: the heritage listed Dysart House in the small southern-midlands town of Kempton.
From the moment you push open the (heavy) front door you can tell that Redlands has fallen on its feet. The main house is built from beautiful sandstone blocks and the dark timbered interior houses the cellar door, kitchen, a sitting room with high backed leather chesterfields (careful not to slide off – Brigitte likes to keep them well polished) and a glorious blackwood table (which only made its way inside with help from Whisky Waffle’s muscle).The distillery and bond store can be found in a red-bricked outbuilding off the side of the main house. Redlands’ continued growth is evidenced by the addition of a new still, with the (now) wash still, Heather, joined by new spirit still, affectionately known as the Mad Hatter. The bond store continues to expand, now housing hundreds of 20 and 100 litre barrels that once contained pinot noir, port, sherry and even Tokay. These days if you visit Redlands, you will be able to try some of the most elegant, drinkable and delicious whisky Tasmania has to offer. Redlands’ signature release is aged in Tasmanian ex-pinot noir barrels and is like drinking apricot jam. The unusual ex-tokay barrel release is broad and full across the palate, oozing with dark berries, while the ex-port barrel, which we tried at cask strength, offers marmalade, honey and vanilla. Redlands has changed so much in the last two years, but they have even grander plans afoot for the near future. While the old brick outbuildings are charming and old-worldy, they simply don’t have any space for expansion as the distillery scales up production. The solution to this problem is the construction of a facility in the adjacent field, with work scheduled to begin in 2017. The new distillery will allow for a greater output, allowing the Redlands single malt to be enjoyed by a much larger audience.
The sale of the old Redlands estate could have easily spelled the doom of the distillery; instead it luckily seems to have made it stronger. Who knows what the future will bring, but you can be certain that Whisky Waffle will be back to find out.
Posted by: Ted
It’s that time of year again folks. Everybody’s favourite golden eyed whisky critic (though to be honest, it’s probably just jaundice from cirrhosis after a lifetime of chugging drams) has sottedly rolled out of his all-expenses-paid cabin in the Kentucky backwoods like a panama-wearing bear and declaimed to the expectant masses his predilections for 2017. It’s like Groundhog Day if Punxsutawney Phil was a bottle of whisky and Bill Murray’s disaffected, grouchy journalist was instead played by another disaffected, grouchy journalistict Murray (oooo… I went there)!
Love him or loath him, Jim Murray’s yearly decreement of the world’s best drams in his ‘Whisky Bible’ never fails to set the whisky world aquiver with fawning adulation or frothing indignation. Last year’s selection of the Crown Royal Harvest Rye as top dog fell well into the latter camp, unleashing a raging wave of aggrieved whisky wankery around the globe. You still couldn’t find a bottle for love nor money five seconds later though…
So, what brilliant, laudable/despicable, corrupt choice has Mr Murray made this time then? Well, let’s just say that the Yanks will be (more?) insufferable (at least those in Kentucky. Tennesseeans will probably be unimpressed).
This year the big tinfoil crown goes to the Booker’s Rye 13yo 68.1% with a score of 97.5/100. Hmm, a rye again… maybe this really is Groundhog Day? Jim apparently described his new favourite as having a ‘brain-draining, mind blowing’ nose with a finish of ‘amazing depth’. Descriptions of trauma to the cranial region are probably not entirely unjustified; we previously reviewed the Booker’s Barrel Aged Bourbon 64.55% and found it delivered a solid punch to the face. To be honest, the extra age on the Rye probably does wonders for the balance, although that will be hard to verify seeing as it will be next to impossible to find by now.
The Americans also took out third place with the William Larue Weller Bourbon (Bot. 2015), however the Scots are probably celebrating the hardest after finally cracking the top three after several years’ drought, with the Glen Grant 18yo taking second place. Glen Grant recently overhauled their range with a new line-up and fresh, colour-coded look (maybe they’ve been getting tips off The Macallan?). It would seem that the ploy has paid off, also earning the 18yo both the Scotch Whisky and Single Malt of the year.
Poor commoners rolling around in their muddy hovels with the pigs will be delighted to know that the 41 Year-and-Over (Single Cask) section was taken out by Gordon & MacPhail’s independently aged Glen Grant 1950 65yo. Maybe time to sell a few of those grubby little brats, peasants.
We can all give a great big disinterested ‘meh’ to the winners of the Blended Scotch NAS (Ballantines Finest), 5-12yo (Johnnie Walker Black 12yo) and 19-25yo (Chivas Royal Salute 21yo) sections. It’s hard to care much really.
Far more exciting is the winner of the Southern Hemisphere Whisky of the Year (most prestigious award of the lot, ammirite!?), Tasmania’s very own Heartwood ‘Any Port in a Storm’ 69.9%. Hooray for Mr Duckett and his obsession with bonkers cask strength releases! Sucks be to you though if you want a bottle, cos they’re already gone. Actually, I saw a picture today of someone who’d taken a bottle with them to Macchu Picchu and cracked it open for a cheeky dram. Probably for the best really…
Want to weep adoringly or fume indignantly at the best of the rest? Find the full list of Jim’s picks here https://blog.thewhiskyexchange.com/2016/10/jim-murrays-whisky-bible-2017-the-winners/
Posted by: Nick
While casually scanning through the many varied barrels in the bond store end of Pete Bignell’s converted stables, I asked him what he thought his signature expression was. It was a tricky question – I mean, it must be hard to settle on just one drop in a place of such experimentation, innovation and creation. And he looked at me with a grin and told me that his signature expression was exactly that. Not a barrel type, or even a grain; but creativity. I guess when you think about it, what else could possibly link a champion sand sculptor with a leading whisky maker – but creativity?
As we continued to waltz through different age statements, grains, barrel types and peat levels (north-east peated malt: phwoar!) I realised that no two barrels were alike. Each one had its own history and its own story – and Pete knew ‘em all. It’s clear now that embracing the lack of uniformity and instead pursuing creativity is what Belgrove is all about.
In our review we jokingly referred to Belgrove Distillery’s Peter Bignell as the da Vinci of distilling. When we visited him, we discovered that we were actually bang on the mark. Case in point was his method for powering the pump that injected homemade biofuel into the burner for the still: an old Sunbeam Mixmaster (usually on ‘Whipped Cream’ setting!).
Our arrival at the distillery was actually rather hampered by some pesky road workers, who decided to dig up the highway in front of Peter’s driveway half an hour before we arrived. We had to call over a massive grader to flatten the surface enough to get the Alfa over (the troubles with low sports cars).
Belgrove distillery takes its name from the property, which is also a working farm. This was apparent as soon as we opened the gate and spied a flock of freshly shorn sheep, which we later discovered Peter had taught to eat leftover rye mash. Scattered around the old stables building that houses the distillery were various contraptions cannibalised from old washing machines, scrap metal and Russian Typhoon-class nuclear submarines.
The distillery, located just outside the southern midlands town of Kempton, is unique in Tasmania in that it predominantly produces its spirit using rye instead of barley. The story goes that Peter had a spare paddock full of rye that needed using and so decided to turn it into whisky. Rather than buy expensive new equipment, and prescribing to a reuse and recycle ethos, he instead decided to build everything himself.
We need to stress that home-made doesn’t mean rubbish; the malter/peat smoker crafted out of an old tumble dryer is a work of genius, and the mash tun is perfectly functional – until it gets clogged up by the huskless rye that is. Peter quipped that when this happens he has to put the old wooden paddle appropriated from his kids’ dinghy to work to unclog it (he’s changed both the handle and the blade three times apiece, but maintains it’s still the same paddle).
Peter has been a farmer his whole life, only turning to distilling seven years ago. He said that his university degree in agricultural science has been invaluable, allowing him to exploit the science behind the art, although he doesn’t downplay the role of the natural yeasts and bacteria that inoculate the mash, which he refers to as Belgrove’s unique terroir. Peter is completely hands on with the whole process, from growing the grain, to the distilling, the bottling and especially the tasting.
Luckily enough we were able to join him in tasting a variety of interesting spirits, including rye, barley, apple hatchet (distilled apple cider), ginger hammer (distilled ginger beer) and even an experimental batch of eau de vie that Peter was trialling for Tasmanian Cask Company’s master cooper Adam Bone, who dropped by to check on proceedings. The range was varied, exciting and specific to Belgrove, and it was inspiring to be able to taste such contrasting flavours produced in the one place.
We did however have our favourites; the rye at 47%, Pommeau (apple hatchet cut back with apple juice) and especially the Pinot Noir matured rye at cask strength, of which we took home bottles #1 and #2 of a new barrel. However, revelation of the day was the 100% malted barley smoked with peat from the previously untapped bogs in the north-east of the state. Good people of the world, are you ready for Tasmania’s answer to Scotland’s Islay? Well, it’s maturing in Peter Bignell’s bond store at this very moment.
While Peter is expanding the old stables to house a new still and larger malting equipment, he still resolves to remain stubbornly small scale, championing the merits of a hands-on approach. He muses that “big distilleries only care about how much whisky per kilo of grain they can get. I’m trying to get the most flavour.” From our all too brief visit, it is clear that he is succeeding in that vision.
Tasmania is home to many distilleries, big and little, but perhaps none is more eclectic and fascinating to explore than Belgrove.
Reviewed by: Nick
I just can’t get my head around (The) Macallan. While I can very clearly visualise and appreciate the ranges of, say, Glenfiddich, Glen Moray or Glendronach, trying to form a coherent picture of what Macallan is about is as likely to give me a headache as drinking way too much of the stuff. And not just because it doesn’t start with the word Glen…
The contradictions are plentiful: many an old-time whisky drinker will cite Macallan as their go-to drop. Yet the distillery spent a fortune to get a bottle of 50 Year Old in a Bond film. And for some reason they recently ditched age statements in favour of… colours? And yet not too long ago there was also Macallan’s ‘Fine Oak’ range, one such bottle being the subject of today’s review.
I don’t get the point of the ‘Fine Oak’ series. As far as I can tell, it takes its name from the many “exceptional quality” oak casks the whisky was matured in. But… does that mean their older range was dumped into low quality barrels? Somehow I doubt it. It seems to be another rebranding dead-end left by the wayside by an impatient marketing team.
Despite all this, the whisky itself is great to drink. The nose is light, vibrant and contains finely balanced notes of vanilla and lime. The palate is sweet without being sickly and flavours of honey and malt take centre stage. The finish is short without being unsatisfying, with a creamy nuttiness that gently lingers: it’s Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut in whisky form! All up, it’s a brilliantly balanced dram, and one that you could confidently pour to a hesitant whisky drinker.
The biggest disappointment is that this bottle is no longer available – if I were to seek something similar I would have to try a different bottle in the Macallan range. As much as I enjoyed this particular drop, I’m wary to spend up on something else from the distillery. Macallan seems to be undergoing somewhat of an identity crisis and I’m probably unlikely to go and buy a bottle until they sort it out – that is unless I get some pretty convincing recommendations in the comments!
Reviewed by: Ted
As I walked back through North Hobart to my hotel whilst on a work trip, I decided to stop into the Winston to rehydrate. Lo and behold, what did I find waiting on the shelf but a bottle of ‘Vat out of Hell’, one of Tim Duckett’s glorious cask-strength Heartwood creations.
Crafted from a delightful marriage of 10yo Lark sherry barrel and 13yo Tasmania Distillery bourbon barrel and bottled at a robust 67.4%, the Vat out of Hell, like most Heartwoods, is sadly no longer available for purchase. Therefore, stumbling across an open bottle constitutes a rare treat and a responsibility to try some for the betterment of humankind.
I gazed wistfully at the bottle on the shelf and thought ‘well… work’s covered the rest of my drinks tonight [I must admit that I had stopped for liquid sustenance at several other pubs along the way], so what the hell, I’ll treat myself.’
At this point I was feeling a little less analytical and in a bit more of a subjective frame of mind thanks to my nice warm beer coat, but I think that’s probably a good way to tackle a Heartwood. Ride the rush of emotions, don’t overthink it. So, without further ado, here’s what I thought (apparently. I’m glad I at least had the presence of mind to write this down):
The smell is… leathery, which is quite appropriate really… it’s like a box of sultanas left on the bench seat of an old Kingswood ute on a hot summer’s day… a walk through a meadow of spiked wildflowers… fruit leather made out of fruit cake… sun fermented orchard fruit… hot boat decking.
Tastes like timber should… if Easter eggs tasted like this, I’d probably eat them quicker… meat slow cooked for a looong time… dark brown as a flavour… attaches like a happy lamprey to your gums.
Yeah, so long story short, it was bloody good. Better than Meatloaf’s version… If you find some, think with your heart and not your wallet, and you’ll end up transcending to a higher plane of existence.
Reviewed by: Ted
It’s very rare that I come across a whisky distilled in the year of my birth; usually they seem to fall either side of it. While that’s probably just me not looking in the right places, it’s definitely rare that the dram in question is a single grain scotch whisky.
Lesson time: Single malt scotch whisky can be made using only malted barley, whereas grain whiskies (like it says on the tin) can be made using other grains, such as wheat, and can be malted or unmalted. You don’t generally tend to see single grain whiskies on their own in the wild because their normal purpose in life is to form the base of blended scotch whisky.
Alongside the prestigious single malt producers are a multitude of unsung distilleries pumping out grain whisky for use in your Johnnie Walkers and Dewars’ and the like. Case in point: Who’s heard of Invergordon? Nope, me neither, but turns out they’re a thing.
I actually came across this bottle while I was in an excellent Glaswegian bar called ‘The Pot Still’ (up the end of the mall if you want to find it). While chatting to the barman I challenged him to pour me something unusual, and so he did.
Produced at Invergordon as an exclusive bottling for the Pot Still (in celebration of something or other I think. I forget what) this particular bottle was distilled on the 3rd of March 1988 and aged for a rather astonishing 26 years in cask# 24975 (no idea what, but from the colour I’m guessing an ex-bourbon).
Bottled at a hearty 53.7%, the nose of the Invergordon is vibrant and zesty, zinging with lemon, pineapple, pine resin and wood polish. Underneath the initial sharpness sits a smoother, rounded layer of pear, plum, apricot, dates and nuttiness. Finally, gliding out underneath is a waft of vanilla.
The first mouthful hits hot and sharp, with more lemon and pineapple, and then slides down your throat with a burning coolness like you’ve just had a strong mint. A second attempt, giving more time to develop in the mouth, finds toffee, green wood and a bitter, grassy, herbal finish.
I am sorry (not sorry) to say that you are probably highly unlikely to find a bottle of this anywhere. I only happened to stumble across mine because I was in the right place at the right time and the barman still had a small stash behind the bar that he was willing to part with.
If you do have a bottle, or are in the Pot Still and they’ve got some left, well done you, you’re part of an exclusive club. As for the rest of you great and unwashed masses, I think that this serves as a reminder not to discount the humble grain whisky. While they don’t get the same love as their single malt cousins, with a bit of age they can hold their own any day.
Reviewed by: Nick
As whisky fans, we regularly battle to be objective in our tastings to ensure our feelings don’t influence our perceptions of a whisky’s quality. And yet other times we simply say “screw it” and go with our hearts. The Highland Park 18 Year Old has a long list of awards to its name, but for me, it’s a little more special than that.
The distinctive (duck-egg) blue wallpaper gracing the background of our review photos is part of my recently built library (AKA whisky room) in my recently built house. And throughout the exciting building process the Highland Park 18 was there all the way. It was the first bottle cracked under my roof – before the walls were even finished! It was brought out again and shared with m’colleague on the night I moved in. Then at the house warming, surrounded by my best friends, it came out once more and toasted my new abode.
So with all these great feelings associated with the bottle how could I possibly write an objective review? Put simply, I can’t. But you know what? Screw it.
The nose is delightfully coastal and sherried. It is particularly dry, and bursts with raisins, prunes and smoked salmon. A dash of smoke hits you on the palate before quickly subsiding and giving way to grapes, cherries, peppermint and salami. The finish is long and contains an oakiness which calls to mind old wooden furniture.
If I was served this whisky blindly at a tasting then who knows if I would have the same sentiments towards it? What’s important for me is that now I’ve made these associations, I will continue to enjoy this whisky whole heartedly. And maybe you’ll love it too – especially if the happy memories you attach are your own.
Reviewed by: Nick
In the United Kingdom, something that is passionately loved by half the population while fervently hated by the other is known as being rather ‘Marmite’. In Australia nothing sits more squarely in the love/hate status than Collingwood Football Club. In the movie world, the title goes to Napoleon Dynamite. And in the whisky world, the ultimate love-it-or-hate-it drop could be none other than Dalmore.
For every whisky drinker shouting Dalmore’s merits from the rooftops, I have met another who just cannot fathom the appeal. Even the usually serene waters of Whisky Waffle are rocked by this divide. While we normally agree on most matters whisky related, I am partial to a drop of the stag-bedecked highland malt while m’colleague Ted couldn’t care less that their founder saved King Alexander III from a deer once upon a time (actually, scrap that, he loves the story, just doesn’t want to drink the 12 Year Old)
I rather like the 12 – although I wouldn’t regard it as an everyday whisky. To me, it calls to mind a reasonable cognac (on the rare occasion that I’ve had the chance to try that stuff). I find it distinctly grapey and full of tannins – which I like. However, I get the impression that these same characteristics are what turn Ted – and many others – off the stuff. So my theory is thus: Dalmore is a red wine drinkers whisky. While the Speysides exhibit typical Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio lightness and crispness – this dram is heavy, complex and extremely dry.
On the nose I get equal measures of ham and raspberry jam – surely a combination that could only be found by a whisky drinker. The palate is slightly yeasty with red grapes and ashy notes. The finish is medium in length and warmth, leaving you with flavours of oak and pastry.
While I could happily sip on this particular drop for an entire evening, I can utterly understand where the Dalmore sceptics are coming from. This is not a whisky for everyone. You’ll either love it or hate it. However, for all those haters out there, can I recommend trying the Cigar Malt Reserve before writing off Dalmore forever – now that is a proper whisky.
And even if you still don’t like it – you’ve got to admit – Dalmore bottles are beautiful.
Nick’s rating: ★★★
Ted’s rating: ★★
Posted by: Nick
So you’ve travelled to Scotland. You’ve climbed to the top of Edinburgh Castle, eaten a plate of Haggis and failed to find the Loch Ness Monster. Your Scottish experience is complete but for one final destination. The country is synonymous with several things – including men in skirts and losing at football – but most famously of all, it is known for its whisky. Therefore on your travels it is compulsory to stop in at one or two distilleries and see exactly how the stuff is made. Of course, that means narrowing it down to one or two from the hundreds of options – not an easy task.
It was not long ago that I made a trip to whisky’s spiritual home (pun entirely intended) and thought I would share a few of my recommendations to check out after a hard day’s not-spotting Nessie.
This distillery is as accessible to visit as the whisky is to drink. Located just outside of Glasgow, Auchentoshan is right on the way for tourists looking to explore Loch Lomond or venture into the highlands. The distillery itself is extremely pretty and the friendly staff run a slick tour. The tasting session at the end covers the core range, though if you’re lucky they may find you something special to try behind the bar. The drams themselves are easy drinking and perfect for those who are slightly hesitant about whisky!
The ultimate fanboy distillery. If you’re keen on your peated whisky then a trip to Ardbeg should be the number one priority. Granted, it is on a little island off Scotland’s west coast, but is the most magical place when you get there. Every corner of the distillery emanates old world charm, and if you select a premium tasting session, some of the drams they bring you in their little back room are mind-blowing. Ardbeg are famous for producing rare one-off bottlings which, unless you happen to be mates with the distiller, you are unlikely to get to try too many of. Do the tour, however, and who knows what you may find – Ardbog, Alligator, Supernova, Dark Cove… one dram of any of these makes the price of admission worthwhile.
To get an idea about the scale of the Scottish whisky industry, do the tour at Glenfiddich. They are the largest producer of single malt in the country and their distillery, therefore, is huge! Twenty-eight stills are in operation, each big enough to make Lark’s copper pot look like a key ring. There really is a sense of awe as you walk among the machinery and through the bondstores. It’s certainly a popular one, with thousands of tourists going through the establishment each day, however if you spend a couple of extra pounds they’ll put you in a smaller, more intimate group and give you the added bonus of checking out warehouse 8 – the Solera facility – where you can see them vatting vast amounts of whisky to create, among other bottles, their 15 year old. The tasting that follows walks you through the 12, 15, 18 and 21 Year Old expressions – yes, that’s right, 21 year old! Not all distilleries churn out a 21 year old regularly on a tour.
A trip to Bruichladdich is the perfect whisky experience. Firstly, the staff are some of the coolest and most entertaining people in the business. Secondly, their equipment, in particular their mash tun, is all beautifully ancient. It’s like an antique shop where the gear comes alive at night when the owners leave! Finally, and most importantly, there’s the tastings. Oh man. Bruichladdich are famous for innovation and experimentation, the result of which is a large number of fascinating whiskies to try. A rum matured whisky – can I try that? Sure! A new Octomore – do you mind if I… Go for it! How about that double matured… Get it down you! In short, a trip to Bruichladdich is compulsory if you ever find yourself in the area – and by the area, I mean in the Northern Hemisphere!
These are, of course, just four of my picks based on one visit and I realise that as far as excellent distilleries go I am barely scratching the surface. So what places have you been to that you would recommend people make it along to? Let me know in the comments and I’ll see if I can hit them up on my next trip to the whisky motherland!