Reviews, musings and whisky adventures.
Keep on waffling!
Posted by: Nick
One of the most commonly asked questions I see around the whisky-scented part of the internet is “I’m new to whisky – which Scotch should I buy?” (It’s always Scotch – never which ‘Lark limited-release’ should I buy. But I digress).
We Wafflers rarely get asked this question – I assume because our frivolity and general tongue-in-cheek nature voids us from such serious inquiries – but regardless, I wanted to share my own two cents worth. Why? Because I am unequivocally and without a doubt correct.
It is a big call I know, but I challenge any other objective-minded whisky fan out there to name a better collection of widely available single malts for a newbie. To be clear, one whisky alone is insufficient to demonstrate the depth and breadth of flavours available so I have naturally selected the smallest possible number of bottles: three.
So here they are, in a particular order (that is, the order in which they should be drunk): my top three introductory whiskies:
Number one: Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Old
This is the gateway drug. Balvenie produce a smooth and yet interesting drop which is one of the tastiest going around. It is fruity and vanillary, and packed full of the sweet caramel that we associate with Speyside. It introduces the elegance that typifies Scotland’s largest whisky region while also touching upon cask types and maturation. Is there a more perfect first drop? No, I can safely say there is not.
Number two: Highland Park 12 Year Old
Speyside is not entirely what Scottish whisky is all about. There is a vast array of flavours to be discovered from south to north and the Highland Park 12 Year Old showcases pretty much all of them! It is a proper all-rounder of a whisky, with a little bit of sweetness, a little bit of salty sea air and a little bit of smoke lingering in the background. Even though it is technically from the Islands region, it represents the Scottish Highlands better than most mainland distilleries and it an obvious choice for this list simply for its wide reaching flavour profile.
Number three: Lagavulin 16 Year Old
Some people may claim it is unwise to include a heavily peated Islay malt among the top three introductory drams. Those people are of course wrong. Because upon taking one sip of the Lagavulin, the individual partaking in the tasting will either fall instantly in love – or decide very quickly that peated whisky is not for them and the Balvenie wasn’t so bad after all.
For m’colleague and I it was option number one – there is something truly special about peated whisky – and the Lagavulin 16 is the ideal selection. It is more than just a peated whisky – there are hidden flavours to be discovered due to a small amount of sherry maturation – and there are Nick Offerman videos to quote endlessly.
It may be divisive – but it may also be the key to truly ‘getting’ single malts. Plus this will give the opportunity for someone new to whisky to learn to pronounce ‘Islay’ correctly from the outset.
So there you have it: the ultimate top three introductory whiskies. Obviously it cannot be topped, but if you’d like to try, leave a reply in the comments and tell me your own top three. Or we could start a pointless twitter debate about it if that’s more your style.
If you are a whisky-newbie: you’re welcome. Check back in a couple of weeks when you’re a full convert and enjoy our other reviews!
Commence/keep on waffling!
Reviewed by: Nick
Thought that Scotland was the maker of all the peat bombs in world whisky? Well Connemera is here to prove that theory wrong. There really is nothing like a good peated whisky… and this is nothing like a good peated whisky. This is a different kind of peat altogether and although I’ve had this bottle for a fair while now, I’m still not sure if I like it…
Connemara, like most Irish Whiskeys, is not the name of the distillery. There is some conjecture here – while current releases clearly state ‘Kilbeggan Distilling Co’ on their label, my own bottle informs me it was made at Cooley Distillery, a good 120 km up the road. However, I haven’t been sold a fake – Kilbeggan and Cooley are both under the ownership of Beam Suntory and in possession of similar stills, meaning I assume the end product will taste fairly similar either way.
I want to get onto the tasting notes now, because unlike most other reviews I write, the flavours I’ve identified form an integral part of the point I’m trying to make. This whiskey is weird. On the nose I get a hugely specific tasting note – which Ted backs me up on (or at least humours me with). My tasting note is bicycle tyres. Yep. Bicycle tyres. Fresh new ones! It’s nutty, earthy and overall: rubbery. It’s an acquired smell if that’s a thing.
The palate presents some more conventional ham and cinnamon flavours, alongside, not fruit… but vegetables, though I can’t quite pin down which ones. Broccoli perhaps, or turnip maybe (I’ve avoided the Irish cliché of saying potatoes). The finish is where all the smoke can be found – again accompanied by a burnt rubber linger. It’s all a bit bizarre on the first taste… and the second… and the third…
Connemara is a world apart from the delicate floral whiskies produced by much of Ireland and for that I thoroughly commend it. However, as far as peated whiskies go, I think I’m going to have to award this round to Scotland.
Reviewed by: Ted
The history of life on Earth is patterned with extinction. Ever since the first cells formed from the primordial soup some 4 billion years ago, countless species have risen, only to be swept away by the tides of history. Some extinctions are so devastating that they shake the tree of life to its very roots; for example the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event approx. 252 million years ago is estimated to have wiped out around 90% of all species living at that time.
The rise of modern humans (Homo sapiens) some 200000 years ago certainly hasn’t helped matters. While perhaps lacking the immediate punch of an asteroid impact, humans have both directly and indirectly had a hand in wiping out hundreds of species during our time on Earth. Hunting pressure is hypothesised to have played a role in the disappearance of a whole bunch of megafauna species 10000-50000 years ago, while we know that was definitely what killed off species such as the Thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus), the Western Black Rhino (Dioceros bicornis longipes) and the Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) which, thanks to a merciless hunting campaign, went from an incredible estimated population of 3 billion to be completely wiped out in the space of the 19th century. Other factors influenced by human activity also play their hand, such as habitat destruction, pollution, disease and anthropogenic driven climate change.
Yet hope springs eternal and many species that look doomed to go the way of the Dodo (Raphus cucullatus) somehow continue to cling tenaciously to the brink, sometimes even managing to claw their way back a bit: The Orange-Bellied Parrot (Neophema chrysogaster) from Tasmania, the Merendón Mountains Snaileater (Sibon merendonensis) from Guatemala, the Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) from Australia, the Volcan Tajumulco Bromeliad Salamander (Dendrotriton bromeliacius) from Mexico, Eisentraut’s Mouse Shrew (Mysorex eisentrauti) from Equatorial Guinea, Green Spot Whiskey (Maculatum viridialis) from Ireland.
From its origins sometime between 1000AD -1400AD (although the fossil record is still unclear whether the common ancestor of whisk(e)y initially arose in Ireland or Scotland), by the mid 1800’s Irish whiskey (Phylum Hibernica) had ascended to become the dominant grain-based spirit on Earth, with Dublin alone producing around 45.5 million litres of whiskey per annum. The most popular style was Single (or Pure) Pot Still Whiskey (Order Bihordeales), made using a mixture of malted and unmalted barley (Hordeum vulgare) (sometimes also utilising a small amount of other cereals such as wheat (Triticum sp.) or oats (Avena sativa)) and usually triple distilled (Class Trinephela) as per the Irish tradition. The style had initially started as a way of dodging a 1785 tax on malted barley, but quickly came to surpass single malt whiskey (Order Monohordeales) due to its popularity.
By the early 20th Century however, the Irish whiskey industry was in massive decline due to a combination of factors. War (the Irish War of Independence, followed by a civil war and then a trade war where the British Empire, Ireland’s biggest market, banned import of Irish whiskey), prohibition in the US (cutting out Ireland’s second biggest market) and questionable political and management decisions all left the Irish industry hurting. In addition, the wide scale uptake of the Coffey still (Subclass Semperfluida), ironically an Irish invention, by the Scottish distilling industry led to the meteoric (pun intended) rise of blended Scotch whisky (Phylum Caledonica, Order Mígmales), which by the turn of the century had overtaken the Irish market. The population of Irish distilleries went into free fall, the hundreds of distilleries that had once operated during the 18th and 19th centuries gradually vanishing until by the 1970’s only two were left, themselves amalgamations of a handful of survivors who had banded together for survival and mainly focused on blends.
What then of the the king of the Emerald Isles, the Single Pot Still Whiskey, the keystone style in the Irish ecosystem? By the time the 80’s rolled around, only two lonely members of this once great lineage were left, one being Redbreast (Rubus pectales) and the other Green Spot (Maculatum viridialis), a curious beastie in it’s own right. Mitchell & Son est. 1887, wine and spirit merchants based in Kildare St, Dublin, would purchase single pot still-style spirit from the nearby Jameson’s Bow Street Distillery and then age it in their own bond store. For the first five years of maturation, half the spirit was kept in casks that had contained darker styles such as oloroso and PX, while the other half spent its time in casks that had been used for lighter finos. After this initial aging period the casks were vatted together and then put under oak again for a further five years before bottling.
Originally known as Pat Whiskey, it was rebranded as John Jameson & Son Green Seal in the 30’s, before becoming simply known as Green Spot. Due to its popularity, other Spot variants soon emerged, with the 10yo Green Spot joined by a 7yo Blue Spot (Maculatum caerulea), 12yo Yellow Spot (Maculatum flaveolens) and a 15yo Red Spot (Maculatum rubrum), the names apparently deriving from the practise of marking barrels with a daub of paint to differentiate between the various age statements. The plight of the Irish whiskey industry soon took its toll however, with only the Green Spot surviving of its relatives. Matters became particularly grim when John Jameson & Son, the source of single pot still spirit for Green Spot, merged with John Power & Son and the Cork Distilleries Co. to form Irish Distillers, basing themselves at the New Midleton Distillery. Fortunately Mitchell & Son were able to strike a deal with Irish Distillers to allowed continued production of single pot still spirit at New Midleton (where Redbreast is also made), saving the brand from extinction. A slightly controversial stipulation of the deal was that the spirit had to be aged on-site in Midleton’s own casks, but Mitchell & Son still retained exclusive rights to the brand and its distribution.
Modern Green Spot has evolved to become a non-age statement release containing 7-10yo single pot still whiskeys aged in a combination of new and second fill american oak ex-bourbon cask and the brand’s traditional sherry cask. The colour is probably significantly lighter than its original ancestor, but still has a burnished red-gold hue thanks to the continued presence of sherry casking.
The nose is warm and fruity, abounding with peach, banana, pineapple, lemon and coconut, as well as polished timber, grape seed oil, crushed grass and grains.
The mouth is moderately sharp, yielding honeycomb, apricot, salt, aromatic herbs, pinot and oak, as well as a curious smokiness that briefly appears in the first few sips. The finish is relatively dry and leaves a pleasant citrus tang with undertones of cinnamon, cloves and cassia.
Lovers of Irish whiskey should be grateful that careful conservation efforts have prevented Green Spot and the Single Pot Still style from dying out in the wild completely. In fact, the famed whisk(e)y naturalist Jim Murray has been noted as stating that Green Spot is “…to the true Irish whiskey drinker what the Irish Round Tower is to the archaeologist…Unquestionably one of the world’s great whiskies.” In even better news, the style is now starting to make a resurgence, with a small population of the rare Malaga-matured Yellow Spot 12yo (Maculatum flaveolens malagaensis) being rediscovered, as well as new producers such as Dingle (Family Parvosonitaceae) emerging.
In summary, everything comes to an end eventually right? Luckily on occasion the inevitable can be staved off for a while and second chances granted. As such, I highly recommend that you make it a goal to sample the Green Spot before your own personal extinction comes upon you.
BONUS – Alcohol Taxonomic Hierarchy
Ex. Green Spot
Domain – Alcohol – Spirita
Kingdom – Type – Whisk(e)y
Phylum – Origin – Hibernica
Class – Distillations – Trinephela
Order – Style – Bihordeales
Family – Distillery – Novaemidletonaceae
(Tribe – Independant bottler – Mitchellfileae)
Genus & species – Variety – Maculatum viridialis
Reviewed by: Nick
Ok, let’s get it out of the way now: upon reading the words ‘Black Bush’, who sniggered uncontrollably? I’ll admit that I definitely count myself amongst the sniggerers. I mean, come on… Black Bush? Snigger snigger…
Anyway, now we’re past that: onto the whiskey! It is important to note that Black Bush was not entirely made at Bushmills. A large chunk of it was – Bushmills claim 80% was aged for up to eight years in their Northern Ireland bond store – but the single malt is then blended with grain whiskey made down south at Midleton Distillery.
So Black Bush (snigger) is a blend. A cheap blend, no less, of a similar price to a Chivas or a Johnnie Walker Black Label. So there’s not going to be anything in here to get too excited about. Right?
Wrong. The Black Bush is a remarkable young whiskey punching well above its weight and displaying a depth of character not present in many Irish drams. The clue is in the name: the blackness of the bush (snigger).
This moniker refers to the maturation of the Bushmills single malt – part of it, at least – which has spent years aging in Oloroso sherry barrels. This variation in cask type has added a complex fruity element which really makes this whiskey stand out from its competitors.
The nose is packed with fruit and cereal, or perhaps fruit on cereal. Creamy strawberries nestle among grains, while marmalade and oak round off the edges. The palate is lightly spicy with the rum and raisin flavours from the sherry influence spreading out across the tongue. There are notes of dark chocolate and sweet pastries. The finish is quite dry with hints of red wine grapes and vanilla.
The Black Bush is far from smooth, but this actually works in its favour. Bushmills claim it only contains 20% grain spirit and the blender could have easily rounded off the edges by adding more. However the restraint shown adds complexity to the dram and gives the flavours within a chance to come to the fore.
In conclusion, if you are looking for an inexpensive blended Irish malt with a bit of character look no further than the Black Bush.
Reviewed by: Ted
Like all countries, Ireland has certain things that it is known for. Old guys in flat caps sitting at the end of the bar, four-leafed clovers (5000:1 odds of finding one), improbably placed containers of gold, rocks that you have to kiss upside down, a lack of spuds, complicated socio-religious interplay (although granted that one is pretty common in most countries). In terms of beer it’s Guinness – of course there are other brands, but everyone associates Ireland with the famous ebony nectar, the black custard of Dublin. So what about whiskey? Well, like Guinness, there’s one brand that people associate with the Emerald Isle above all others:
Jameson Irish Whiskey (or Jamoes to its friends) is the best selling Irish whiskey in the world, with around 78 million bottles purchased across the globe in 2017. There’s something iconic about that bright green bottle – I mean, there are other green whisk(e)y bottles around of course (here’s looking at you Laphroaig), but when you walk into a bottle shop and see that bright emerald colour, you instantly associate it with Irish whiskey.
The bottle claims that Jameson has been established since 1780, however the truth is a little more convoluted. The Bow Street Distillery in Dublin was actually originally founded by a family called the Steins in 1780. John Jameson, a lawyer from Alloa in Clackmannanshire, married Margaret Haig (the Haigs were a notable distilling family) in 1786, before moving to Dublin to manage the Bow Street Distillery for the Steins (who were relatives of Margaret). In 1810 John and his son, also John, took over the company and officially renamed it to the John Jameson & Son Irish Whiskey Company.
In its heyday, the Bow Street Distillery was the second largest in the country and one of the largest in the world. However, during the 20th century the Irish whiskey industry went into sharp decline, thanks a combination of factors including a devastating trade war with the British Empire and the rise of prohibition in the USA, locking Irish distillers out of their major markets. In 1966, John Jameson & Son merged with John Power & Son and the Cork Distilleries Company to form the Irish Distillers Group, basing themselves out of a new purpose-built facility at Midleton.
The modern Jameson Irish Whiskey is made using a blend of grain spirit and triple distilled single pot still spirit, all produced in-house on New Midleton Distillery’s massive pot stills and column stills. The spirit is then allowed to age between 4 and 7 years in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-oloroso sherry casks before being bottled at 40% ABV. The use of triple distillation, which is an iconic trait of Irish distilling (Scotland generally only distills twice), means that Jameson has a reputation for being incredibly smooth and easy drinking.
The nose is light and floral, with honey, beeswax, hazelnut, peach, apple, musk, mandarin and marmalade. There’s also a dash of sultanas lurking in the background from the Olorosso influence.
The mouth feel is extremely smooth for such a young whiskey, which can be attributed to the triple distillation ironing out some of the kinks as well as the neutral base provided by the grain spirit. The flavour is nutty through the mid palate before opening up to a spicy finish and a sweet aftertaste that lingers solidly at the back of the tongue.
The easy going flavours and smooth-as-a-baby’s-bum palate means that the Jamoes is not only an excellent introduction to Irish whiskey, but also to whisk(e)y drinking in general. Even the most novice of dram slayers should be able to find something pleasing to the senses in the contents of the green bottle. The voice of the great unwashed agrees too, with a pretty much universally high rating across online sellers. If you’re looking for an easy drinking whiskey that definitely won’t break the budget and tastes half decent to boot, then the Jameson Irish Whiskey has your back.
As the Jameson motto says, buy this one Sine Metu, or ‘Without Fear’.
Posted by: Nick
Learning about the history of Irish whiskey would be so much easier if we Waffle boys were able to actually be there to witness the highs and lows (and do a few tastings)! Luckily, through the medium of cartoon, we are able to travel back in time and discover the secrets of this triple distilled tipple for ourselves.
Introducing our heroes:
We begin our journey in the middle ages where Irish monks are distilling alcohol to create Uisce Beatha: the water of life!
There is even a suggestion that it was the Irish who introduced whisky to Scotland, though this is, of course, disputed. What is not disputed is that in the early 19th century, Irish whiskey was the most popular whiskey in the world! Led by establishments such as John Jameson & Son Distillery, the style known as ‘Irish pot still whiskey’ was sought after worldwide!
In fact, Irish whiskey consisted of 60% of worldwide sales. It was all going swimmingly until someone decided what Ireland really needed was a temperance movement.
Fortunately Irish whiskey held on through wars and famines, although they did kind of shoot themselves in the foot a little when a man called Aeneas Coffey came knocking…
Irish whiskey had survived a lot. But the worst was yet to come. What could possibly be worse than the Irish deciding to ban alcohol?
Losing America’s market share was a blow, but at least the Irish could count on sales in the British Empire, right?
By the 1960s, the Irish whiskey industry was nearly kaput. The remaining distillers got together to discuss a radical plan to help them survive.
Irish whiskey clung on, though there were still very few distilleries operating. By the early 21st century only three were alive: Bushmills, Cooley and Midleton (Irish Distillers). Between them they made every single Irish brand on the market.
The hard work paid off. The recent explosion of interest in whiskies from around the world has seen the number of Irish whiskey making establishments quadruple in the last ten years. Kilbeggan, Tullamore, Teeling, Dingle, West Cork , Glendalough, Walsh, Blackwater and more have recently opened their doors.
We now enter what is being billed as a new ‘golden age’ of whiskey production in Ireland. There are many willing customers around the world, eager to discover what these new distilleries are all about. Things are certainly looking up. Irish whiskey is back from the brink.
Images created with pixton.com
Posted by: Nick
As proud as we are of the little slice of online whisky irreverency that we call Whisky Waffle, there is clearly one glaring gap in our catalogue. Whether or not Ireland actually invented the water of life is a debate for another day, however in the lead up to St Patrick’s day we thought we would celebrate the spirits made on the Emerald Isle and try a few of their wares.
The week concludes with a huge live event in Burnie at the Chapel on the evening of the 17th – the latest in our series of Waffle nights which have proved to be ever popular – this one sold out in under 24 hours!
However, upon planning the event we discovered that we were a trifle short in the knowledge department in regards to Irish whiskey. So our quest throughout the week will be to educate ourselves sufficiently for ample waffling on St Patrick’s Day.
We hope you enjoy the posts that we deliver over the next few days – and perhaps we’ll all be able to learn about the rise and fall… and rise again of the Irish whiskey industry.
Keep on waffling to be sure!
Posted by: Nick
The Whisky Waffle Podcast is back! With an additional exciting new feature: episode titles! Episode 6 is titled: Five regions… and Campbeltown.
This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where we introduce Scotland’s five whisky regions… and Campbeltown
– The Whisky, where we taste two highland whiskies from very near Speyside, the AnCnoc 16 Year Old and the Glendronach 12 Year Old
– Whisky Would You Rather, where Ted makes Nick choose between his eyes and his stomach; and
– From the Spirit Sack, where we are asked a geographical question about whisky
Reviewed by: Nick
We’ve reached a point in the Tasmanian whisky industry where Tim Duckett can do whatever the hell he likes. Justifiably, too, having broken so many rules with his Heartwood series, resulting in the creation of whiskies so good and so bizarre you’d be forgiven for thinking they were taken straight out of a whisky nerd’s fantasies. However his latest project, under the innocuous sounding moniker Tasmanian Independent Bottlers (or TIB for short), seems to plant itself firmly in reality.
The first release was the product of only one distillery and only one barrel type and was originally intended to be released at 46%, before Tim caved and bumped it up to 48.4%. No poetic title is required – it is simply named after its cask number – and the label is classy and yet plain, lacking in the unique quirky artwork found on Heartwood bottles. Cosmetically this is the Beatles White album released directly after Sgt Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band.
However, Tim still holds the ace up his sleeve: a quality Tasmanian spirit and an intriguing barrel. The first TIB release is from midlands paddock-to-bottle-distiller Redlands, and it has been aged in a Muscat cask.
“That’s more like it Timmy baby!”
Sorry, I got a little carried away there. But you get me, right? Redlands spirit in Muscat barrels assembled by Tim Duckett? This bottle was a must have to me… and it doesn’t disappoint.
It has a big, broad nose full of toffee and oak. There are many tiny subtle aromas breaking through, including pepper, blackberry and spearmint leaves. The palate is quite sweet, loaded with sticky caramel, raspberry jam and dark chocolate. The finish is short and spicy – spicier than most Heartwoods ironically – with lingering raw sugar notes.
Inevitably anyone looking for the next Heartwood release in this bottle is going to go away disappointed – because that’s not what TIB is. This is a far subtler and gentler single malt which does not possess the x-factor of Tim’s other releases. This is not a bad thing, though – it’s a different thing, and a thing that will appeal to some people and not others. It is designed to be more accessible and perhaps easier drinking than Heartwood and every now and again this is exactly what I want. The Convict Resurrection, Vat Out of Hell and Calm Before the Storm are fantastic – but I’d also recommend getting to know their younger brother.
Reviewed by: Ted
This is about as hipster as I get. Leaning up against a rough-sawn wooden bar in a small craft beer joint in Kyoto and sipping some NYC bourbon poured from a 375ml bottle with a label that looks type-written. In fact, as I type these words, a number of Japanese gents wearing round steel-rimmed glasses and with beanies perched on their heads have just walked in. I am probably not cool enough for this place.
The bar is called Bungalow; the fact that it is separated from the busy street outside by only a clear plastic screen somehow makes it seem even more edgy. The vibe inside is very chill though, with friendly bar staff, a selection of Japanese craft beers and luscious funk tunes oozing from the speakers.
It also has precisely one whiskey, the Kings County Bourbon Whiskey. Apparently the owner is friends with the importer of the Kings County and is a fan, hence its presence as the only whiskey in a craft beer bar.
Kings County is apparently the oldest operating whiskey distillery in New York City… Est. 2010. It’s youth is due to the fact that it is the first whiskey maker in the Big Apple since prohibition ended. Based in the old Brooklyn Navy Yards, they craft spirit in their Scottish-made still using corn and barley grown on-site. It’s very much part of the dynamic and sustainable ethos that exists in Brooklyn today.
The spirit itself is a very dark copper colour and is bottled at a pleasing 45%. Being a bourbon it has that heavy, corn-driven punch, but in this case it’s pleasantly not overpowering. There’s a sweet, savoury sharpness that evokes some of the flavours that I have come across in Japan. Soy sauce, mirin, that sticky stuff I had on that grilled meat in that yakitori joint, a hint of salt and tuna sashimi. Of course, these flavours are super-subjective seeing as this is a through-and-through American spirit. I’ve just been exposed to a lot of eastern flavours this past week.
The mouth-feel is solid. The usual big, sweet corn flavours are there, but they are well controlled and even-tempered. It has a crispness and acidity that evokes a glass of Sav Blanc or Pinot Grigio, leaving a nice juicyness to linger on the palate. There’s a buttery, saltiness too, like that scallop I had in Kuramon Ichiba Market that was grilled over coals in its own shell.
The Kings County is a damn fine whiskey, perhaps made even better by dint of my current geographical location. Kyoto is a beautiful city, Bungalow is just my kind of bar and the Kings County is an excellent finish to the day. If you’re going to drink a whiskey you’ve never heard of in a bar in Japan that you stumbled across by chance, consider making it a Kings County.