Reviews, musings and whisky adventures.
Keep on waffling!
Reviewed by: Nick and Ted
For many years now, Bill Lark has been the public face of Tasmanian whisky – for good reason too, as he is rightly credited with kickstarting the modern Tasmanian whisky industry. However, while he may be the most visible member of the Lark clan, Bill certainly isn’t the only distiller in the family; wife Lyn shares as much DNA in the original distillery as he does, son Jack has worked with several other whisky makers and daughter Kristy (now Booth-Lark) was Lark head distiller for a time, helping lead the way for female distillers in a historically male dominated industry.
After leaving Lark, Kristy has continued to forge ahead, starting her own distillery, Killara. Named after the street where she grew up, Killara is not only the first second-generation whisky distillery in Australia, but also the first to be fully owned and operated by a female – as Kristy would say, “it’s a one woman show”.
As well as producing a vodka and the acclaimed Apothecary gin range, Kristy is following in the family tradition by crafting single cask whisky. One of the first barrels to be bottled is KD03, a 20L ex-Apera (Australian sherry) cask. Presented in a dark green/black bottle with blue and silver livery and a Gaelic-knotwork style font, the release would almost look more at home on Islay than in Tasmania.
That’s where the similarities with the old country end however, as the spirit is distinctly Tasmania in character. The nose speaks of the small cask size and the Apera origin, with zesty oranges, cherry, nutmeg and glacé ginger. The mouth is savoury and meaty, with marzipan, aromatic spices and an earthy finish that has a subtle smokiness reminiscent of burnt brown sugar.
Having said that, we must remember that KD03 is only the product of one single 20L cask and that each successive Killara release will have its own unique and intriguing nature. This unpredictability doesn’t faze Kristy in the slightest however: “There’s so much variability in the process. That’s what I love about it, there’s a bit of science, a bit of passion and a bit of what we don’t know.” Considering what the Larks have already achieved so far in the short history of our local industry, it will be exciting to see where the new generation of the family takes Tasmanian whisky making next.
Posted by: Nick and Ted
Neil Gray and Bob Connor are getting the band back together, but this time instead of sweet 70’s tunes their new gig is turning out some fine Tasmanian whisky. The two guys met in their youth in Launceston through a shared passion for playing the guitar and are now continuing their friendship into retirement by founding Sandy Gray Distillery, currently Tasmania’s smallest distillery (until their new still arrives part way through this year that is).
The distillery takes its name from Neil’s father, Alexander ‘Sandy’ Gray, a Scottish physician who emigrated with his family to Tasmania in the 60’s. It was actually Bob who suggested using the name as Sandy had played an instrumental part in saving his finger, which was injured during a guitar-carpentry incident. After being shrugged off by one doctor and told to come back in a week, Neil asked Sandy to take a look and Bob was immediately referred onto finger-saving surgery. The recovered use of his digit meant that Bob was able to finish making the guitar which, through further good fortune, will one day adorn the distillery wall (if Neil ever gets around to expanding the shed).
The goal of the two distillers is to make the best whisky that they can on their own terms. Neil and Bob are not driven by profit margins or shareholder demands, they’re just two mates messing about in a shed and taking as long as they damn well please to fill some barrels using their tiny still. It’s all about the joy of the act, rather than any delusions of world domination.
They’ve currently filled four 20L ex-tawny casks, which is quite an impressive feat considering the fact that they have hitherto been working on a teensy 25L still. The barrels are all at various stages of maturity, but the oldest tastes like it is nearly ready, offering a hot, rich, spicy profile at cask strength and developing further caramel and stewed fruit notes when a splash of water is added, with a cheeky dash of elderflower on the finish (or is that sour plums?). It’s an exciting drop and a testament to the care that the boys have taken in crafting their spirit.
The story of Sandy Gray is very Tasmanian, chance meetings and happenings bringing people together – Neil and Bob met at a gig and went from starting bands to starting distilleries, Neil’s dad saved Bob’s finger meaning that he was eventually able to continue building a guitar which was then given to a girlfriend. Years later the same guitar was amazingly rescued from a tip and returned across the state lines to Bob, and will eventually adorn the wall of the distillery. Even this article is the product of sheer random luck – 40 years after playing in a band with Bob, Neil found himself playing a gig with Whisky Waffle’s very own Nick (also, turns out he was at school with Nick’s mum). It’s a small world sometimes, which seems only appropriate for a small Tassie distillery.
Posted by: Nick
Good news for fans of Tassie spirits on the North West Coast of Tasmania: Southern Wild Distillery has reopened their doors to the people! The makers of Dasher and Fisher Gin have been shut for over six months preparing to the make the move into their new Providore Place location – a more central and spacious premise than their old home. No longer will vats and racks of bottles encroach on customer elbow room – and the fabulous Southern Wild still fits the space nicely, rather than dominating.
The opening was celebrated with a launch on Sunday night and founder George Burgess paid tribute to the people that made it possible, in particular the Tasmanian local growers of the botanicals used in the gins. As the doors were opened, he took groups through, introducing the bar, the still and, excitingly, the laboratory upstairs where enthusiasts can book into gin-making sessions to create their own personalised product with their chosen list of botanicals. The new setting looked resplendent under lights, and the last-minute quest to find replacement plants for the replacement plants paid off superbly.
Bad news for whisky fans, however, as George confirmed that despite the extra space in his new venue, there is still no room for mash tuns, fermenters and other barley-based spirit making equipment. Sadly, it seems the wait for a new North West Coast dram must continue… Hopefully a couple of lads up the road in Spreyton might just be able to help with this! Stay tuned for our next article to find out more…
Reviewed by: Nick
Since the dawn of Whisky Waffle (way back in the dark ages of 2014) the Tasmanian whisky scene has completely blown up. I don’t mean that Bill Lark dropped a lit cigar in a bond store, I mean that it has taken the world by storm, impressing whisky critics and Jim Murray alike with its creativity, it’s unique flavour and it’s hard-to-buy-ness. The Tassie distilleries have largely achieved this by sticking to the Bill Lark model, using similar stills, grains, yeasts and cuts to those used by the man himself upon returning from his fishing trip. Except, from almost the beginning, there has always been an outlier; one distillery with a flavour profile sticking out like a delicious sore thumb.
That distillery is Hellyers Road from Tasmania’s north west. While many Tassie establishments chase the big broad zesty orange and caramel notes, Hellyers Road has always been about butter and vanilla and shortbread. While this is not necessarily to everyone’s tastes, most will agree it is certainly different and intriguing. And, upon closer investigation, most Hellyers Road critics have only tried the ‘Original’ before making up their minds and missed out on trying the stellar older releases.
It is one of those aged bottlings to which I turn my attention today, as Hellyers Road has recently released a 15 Year Old. Whisky Waffle have been pre-emptively excited for the release of this one ever since the arrival of the 12, and head distiller Mark Littler agrees, stating he and the Hellyers team are “very proud of what we have achieved”. I grabbed myself a bottle as a Christmas present in the best self-Santa tradition and have finally got a chance to stop and put my thoughts to digital paper.
I’ll start off by saying that it’s the best core-release Hellyers Road have produced. It takes all the good elements of previous Hellyers bottlings and makes them sexier. The nose is alluring, still buttery but with a fat dose of caramel nuttiness oozed over the top like a Belgian dessert. It’s smooth and slinky across the tongue; the vanilla is now accompanied by ginger and nutmeg, while any rougher notes have been ironed out by the extra years in oak. While the Hellyers Road finish has always had a distinct linger – their whisky is normally bottled at 46% or above – this one is subtler and leaves your palate with a Queen of England-style wave of the hand, rather than an energetic high five.
Claiming that the oldest release from a distillery is the best is truly an unoriginal standpoint and there’s a part of me wishing I could say ‘it’s not bad, but will never match the 10 for me’. But I can’t. This is where Hellyers Road is at in 2019 and I suggest you give it a taste before it runs out. That is, until the 18 Year Old is ready…
Posted by: Nick
In July 2018 I realised the ultimate Waffler’s dream and spent nine days travelling whisky’s motherland. I did not waste a moment.
9 days: 20 distilleries.
PART THREE: Islay – the western half
I had been through sunny Speyside and the spectacular Highlands (and Islands) and my whisky journey was nearly at an end. Of course, there was one crucial destination I had not yet covered. In fact, you could argue I’d left the best until last.
It is almost compulsory for any whisky fanatic to make the pilgrimage to the Isle of Islay. Nowhere in the world is there a higher concentration of top-quality distilleries within a short drive (or, in some cases, a short walk). I could not contain my excitement. The ferry took us into the beautiful seaside town of Port Ellen, sailing past some limewashed buildings where I could just make out the giant letters painted on their side, spelling Ardbeg, Lagavulin and finally Laphroaig.
However, the Port Ellen big three would have to wait. I had only two and a half days in this whisky-wonderland and not a moment to lose.
I began with the oldest distillery on the Island, Bowmore. I’ve been impressed with several bottles from this distillery but more often than not have been left underwhelmed and slightly confused. The tour satisfied the latter complaint – revealing the future core range to consist of a NAS, a 12 Year Old, a 15 and an 18 (don’t panic fellow ‘Darkest’ fans – this particular favourite is simply becoming THE 15 Year Old). The highlight of the visit however was the special release, the Warehouseman’s 17 Year Old. 51.3%, matured in bourbon, sherry and red wine, it was balanced and oozed sophistication like anyone wearing a pearl necklace, including David Bowie. In fact, like Bowie it was a bit psychedelic, a bit folky, a bit glam and a bit disco. It was the real star… man.
Breakfast whisky out of the way it was time for the next course. And lunch was the one and only Bruichladdich. If there was just one distillery I could recommend to visit for tastings it would be this one – if only for of the variety… and quantity! Their self-titled range is full of vibrant spicy malted barley notes, the Port Charlotte releases are smoky and bacony and the Octomores… Don’t expect them to smash you around the face with peat, peat and more peat. They are nuanced, balanced and complex – and packing enough fire to make Arthur Brown happy. They’re Audrey Hepburn with her cigarette holder in one hand… and a cigar in the other… at a bbq… under a volcano. Bruichladdich are such an exciting, progressive distillery. They have absolutely struck the right balance between NAS and integrity. You’ll find no mention of “flavour-led” here”, just bloody good drops – and plenty of them.
Remarkably, the destination I was most excited for was yet to come. Being a Tassie boy, there was one distillery that appealed above all others. Small-scale, paddock to bottle, on a working farm? It was like coming home. My final stop of the day was Kilchoman Distillery.
It was everything I’d hoped for: a tour that felt more like being shown around than hearing a rehearsed script, a peek at the entire production process from malting right through to bottling and a tasting packed with vibrant youthful whiskies that satisfied and intrigued me in equal measure. I had a chat with founder Anthony Wills and we bonded over how his own distillery’s paddock-to-bottle ethos compared to one back in my home state of Tasmania.
I returned to my tiny eco-hut in Port Ellen pleased as punch. It had been an amazing start to my Islay visit and I was still buzzing… yet I retired to bed (reasonably) early. You see, there was one day I had been waiting the whole trip for. And that was tomorrow…
Posted by: Nick and Ted
2018 has been a huge year in the Waffle-verse. It’s been crammed with trips to Japan, to Scotland, and 25 days of
Christmas Aussie Whisky. We conclude this action-packed twelve months with a reflection upon our favourite drams of the year.
That’s right – it’s the 2018 Waffle Awards!
So get ready for a series of deeply subjective and divisive decisions as we reveal the whiskies that impressed us throughout 2018!
The Isle of the Drammed Award for the best Tasmanian whisky
We are, as far as we know, the only whisky awards to have a category specifically for Tasmanian whisky. But with so many stellar drams coming out of our home state we think it deserves to be the latest chapter in Jim Murray’s whisky diary. This year the Isle of the Drammed goes to:
We visited Launceston Distillery out at their ex-Ansett hangar a few years ago, right when they were beginning their whisky journey. Now they finally have some product out and we’re happy to say – it’s been worth the wait! There are ex-sherry and bourbon releases out there, but our favourite is the port cask, or ‘tawny’ as it’s correctly labelled. And it’s fantastic – big, bold and fruity with flavours of chocolate and blackberries thrown in. It’s everything we love in a Tassie drop and is a worthy winner of the 2018 Isle of the Drammed.
The Tartan Slipper Award for the best Scottish whisky
So many amazing and interesting drams continue to come out of whisky’s motherland. And yet, they also produce a few simple drops that deserve more recognition than they get. With that in mind, this year’s Tartan Slipper goes to:
Glenfarclas 15 Year Old
Occasionally you find one of those drams that continues to impress every time you go back to it. It’s not necessarily blingy or in-your-face, it just quietly keeps on doing its thing and gives you a warm welcome whenever you drop by to say hello. For us, the Glenfarclas 15 Year Old is one of those drams. We’ve tried both younger and older releases from Glenfarclas, but none of them seem to have the balance and intangible x-factor that the 15 does. It has a dash of the liveliness of a younger dram, without being harsh, and retains a complexity of character that can sometimes get lost in the older, smoother drams. The best bit is that if you can get it on special, it’s also very forgiving on the wallet. The Glenfarclas 15yo is family-owned, heavily-Sherried whisky at its best.
The Pocket Pleaser Award the perfect pick for the parched penny pincher
We acknowledge that often the more expensive a bottle is, the higher the quality. But this perspective often sees cheaper gems overlooked. We love discovering tasty drops that don’t hit the wallet too hard. This year, the Pocket Pleaser goes to:
Dobsons Old Reliable
Dobson’s certainly come across on the cheap-and-cheerful spectrum whisky, nothing giving this away so much as the white wine bottle it is packaged in. But look past this and you’ve got an easy drinking buttery toffee dram which will displease no one. And as an Australian drop available for under $80 you cannot go wrong. It’s a top quality quaffing whisky – or, better still, a session whisky. It goes down beautifully when paired with an Australian summer.
The Weirdsky Award for the most WTF whisky
One of worst things a whisky can be is boring. So we have an award for the dram that pushes things in the complete opposite direction. Rarely is this award won by a favourite drinking drop, but gosh, it’s always fun to try. This year the Weirdsky Award goes to:
23rd Street Hybrid Whisk(e)y
Scotch whisky, blended with American bourbon, aged in Australia. There is no way this should work… and yet… it somehow does. The corn notes add a sweetness to a speysidey character and the overall effect is a pleasant easy-drinker. It’s an insane sounding drop, but definitely worth a taste.
The Bill Lark Award for service to the Tasmanian Whisky Industry
Every year we consider it a privilege and an honour to be a part of the whisky industry here in Tasmania. There are so many wonderful people involved and each year we like to acknowledge one for their contribution to the scene. This year, the Bill Lark Award goes to:
We’ve always swelled with pride over the fact that Tasmanian whisky makers are happy to help out one another and share their expertise with new distillers. No one on the scene demonstrates this more than Mathew Cooper of Fanny’s Bay. So many of the new players in the Tas whisky scene, particularly in the north of the state, have received invaluable wisdom and assistance from this man as they’ve got started, and others have simply gained the confidence that they’re on the right track due to a few kind words from Mat. He is generous with his time, his praise, and his pouring and he was even prepared to demonstrate the distillation process to a couple of Wafflers over the course of a few days earlier this year where much information was passed on and many drams shared.
However no mention of Mat Cooper could be complete without acknowledging the contribution of his wife, Julie. As well as designing the Fanny’s Bay labels and helping behind the scenes, she embodies the welcoming and generous spirit of the distillery and the Tasmanian whisky industry in general.
The Golden Dram for the best dram whisky in the world
This is it! The top drop! Out of everything we tried throughout 2018 what do we consider to be the best? So without further adieu the 2018 Golden Dram goes to:
Laphroaig PX Cask 13 Year Old
Sorry folks, you’re going to have a hard time finding this one. On my extensive tour of Laphroaig I was presented with the opportunity to bottle some 13 Year Old whisky straight from the cask! There were several cask options available, but I couldn’t go past this one. I mean, Laphroaig fully matured in sherry casks – how often do you come across that? Now I’ve got the bottle home and shared it with m’colleague we decided it was a wise decision to plump for this particular dram. It’s rich and complex, firey at 52%, and packed with all the smoke anyone could desire. It’s the dram of the year and one that I’ll be very sad when my 200ml runs out…
And finally, two little mentions to finish on:
We give an Honourable Mention to a couple of fantastic South Australian discoveries from Ted’s advent calendar: Fleurieu and Iniquity. We hope to find out some more about these two whiskies in 2019!
The Founders Reserve Award (AKA the dishonourable mention) is also split two ways: – to Yamazaki Distillery for failing to have any single-malt whisky for sale in their gift shop. Come on Japan, get your act together!
and to Tiger Snake Whiskey by Great Southern Distilling Co. for being so… meh. Allegedly it’s meant to be an Aussie take on bourbon, but it doesn’t really do its Southern inspiration justice. Doesn’t really do much for Australian whisk(e)y either. Such a shame when the Limeburners is so good.
Keep on waffling into 2019.
Nick and Ted.
Posted by: Ted
On the twenty-fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Iniquity Batch 11 whisky. Christmas day is here and it’s back to South Australia for the final day of the advent calendar and another drop from Tin Shed Distilling Co.! Christmas is definitely the day for being a bit naughty and over-indulging in a few glasses of the good stuff and the Tin Shed team agree, saying that we all deserve ‘one of life’s wicked pleasures’.
The Iniquity is made with local grain and uses local peat and Mallee stumps for smoking, as well as tapping into South Australia’s experienced coopering industry to source high-grade barrels for their small-batch releases. Batch 11 was aged in American Oak ex-sherry casks and has quite a meaty, oaky nose, with leather, tobacco, walnut and ginger, while the mouth is dry and chewy, with candied citrus peel and a finish that is spicy and rubbery with a dash of hot metal at the end. The Iniquity Batch 11 is laid back and decadent and is going down well on this lazy Christmas afternoon.
Posted by: Ted
On the twenty-fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Joadja Distillery Single Malt Release No. 2 whisky. Joadja is a historic ruined mining town in New South Wales Southern Highlands. Once abandoned, the town is now owned by Spanish ex-pats Valero and Elisa Jimenez who, along with running hertitage tours of the site, also founded and operate Joadja Distillery. The distillery is one of a rare breed of ‘paddock-to-bottle’ producers that uses barley grown on site and draws water from their own spring, imbuing the spirit with the unique terroir of their locale.
The Jimenez’s like to use their Spanish heritage to put their own spin on the whisky, using hand-picked ex-Oloroso and ex-Pedro Ximenez sherry butts from Spain to age their whisky. Release No. 2 uses the drier Oloroso style for the casking, giving it a rich, chocolate fudge, apricot, raisin, date and oak nose, while the mouth is spicy, with a green, fruity, citrusy character and a coppery finish that reflects the youthful nature of the spirit. An interesting drop that I think could use a tad more age to really shine, but shows great promise all the same.
Posted by: Ted
On the twenty-third day if Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Launceston Distillery Tawny Cask whisky. Ansett was once one of Australia’s premiere airlines, but it all went belly-up in 2001 when the company collapsed. It was one of those weird situations where the doors shut and everyone just walked away, leaving buildings and assets frozen in a moment in time. This was the fate of Ansett’s Hanger 17 facility at Launceston Airport, until a few years ago when a team of like-minded individuals decided to shovel out the mounds of stratified pigeon-poo and set up a premium whisky distillery. Under the guidance of head distiller Chris Condon, the distillery has taken off and the crew have recently celebrated their first string of releases, including the Tawny Cask.
Tawny is the Australian name for Port, as Port is now appelated exclusively to Portugal, and this release has been aged for 2.5 years years in 20L casks. The nose is fat and rich, with dark chocolate, blackberries, hazelnuts and toffee, while the mouth is dark and dripping with blackcurrants, prunes and spicy, meaty finish. Launceston Distillery is soaring high and is well worth spending your millions of defunct Ansett frequent flyer points on.
Posted by: Ted
On the twenty-second day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Dobson’s Distillery Empire 8 whiskey. More Victorian (as in the period, not the place) style funkiness from the New South Wales highlands ahoy! Dobson’s returns to the advent calendar, this time with a cask-strength creation. Stephen Dobson is not one to do things by halves or even multi-dimensional quarters, so the Empire 8 starts its life in stainless-steel vats with oak staves for four months before being transferred to a Shiraz cask for two years… then gets turfed into a Madeira casks for two years… aaannnddd then finally spending a couple of years in a Chardonnay cask! Phew!
The Empire 8 is triple-distilled in the Irish style (hence the whisk’e’y), which means that it is pretty smooth in spite of the cask-strengthing. The nose is soft and full of vanilla, caramel fudge and butter, while in comparison the mouth is narrow and sharp, with a definite note of vanilla topping and a hot, vapoury finish. It’s a really hard one to pick apart in terms of the multiple casking, which I think is modified by the effect of the triple-distillation and the strength. Another curious drop from the Dobson’s stable.