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Sawford Distillery: Welcome to the family

Posted by: Ted

“Sorry I’m a bit late!” exclaims Jane as she sweeps into Sawford Distillery, “The kids have just had their nap and are now at the park with my sister.”
“Everything revolves around nap time these days” laughs husband and head distiller Mark, chipping in on the conversation as he checks the stills.

Family is core to everything at Sawford Distillery, but that idea isn’t just limited to blood relatives. It also extends to the relationships and community that Mark and Jane Sawford want to create around their distillery.

Mark and Jane Sawford relaxing in front of their shiny stills

Jane herself is the scion of a famous Tasmanian whisky family. Most people would know her as Jane Overeem, the daughter of one of the founding fathers of the modern scene, Casey Overeem. During Whisky Waffle’s recent visit to Sawford, we are immediately struck by that rich sense of heritage and connection as soon as we enter the bond store.

Sporting something of a Cold War chic (one can imagine secret agents hurrying through, clutching top-secret counter-espionage dossiers), the bond store has an important place in Tasmanian whisky history: “This was originally Bill Lark’s back in the very early days,” Jane tells us, “But after he left, my dad was quick to snap it up. This room is where we used to bottle the Overeem. Mum used to do the bottling, Dad did the labelling and I did the packing. Then I had to take the boxes down to the local post office to send off. It was all part of building the Overeem brand!”

The old Overeem bottling bench. In a few years time it’ll be Sawford’s turn.

While the bench may still be covered in Overeem bottles, these days all the barrels in the next room are filled with Sawford spirit, meaning that one day in the near future it might be Jane’s kids helping to pack their own namesake whisky. That day is still a little way off though as, unlike a lot of Tassie distilleries, the Sawfords are taking the slow approach.

“This place is quite cool and has a very stable climate, allowing for a much longer, gentler maturation” comments Mark as he clambers up onto the top of the racks to thieve some whisky.
“Dad always said that he wanted his spirit to taste like whisky and not oak,” adds Jane, “And we’ve really taken that on board. That’s why we’re mostly using l00L-plus barrels and playing the long game to get the best out of the spirit.”

While we’re down in the bond store, Mark and Jane are kind enough to share some of the fruits of their labour with us (when in Rome, eh?). Mark taps barrel #002, a 100l port cask that’s been down for about 2.5yrs (#001 is off limits as it’s been “getting sampled a bit too often”) and it’s good. Like, really good. Unfortunately we get a bit distracted drinking the whisky and forget to write down any tasting notes, but I remember thinking at the time that if this stuff is cracking after only 2.5yrs, imagine what it’s going to be like on its release around 2022.

Back when Mark and Jane were first toying with the idea of starting their own distillery, there was some resistance from a surprising source, with Jane revealing “Dad strongly encouraged us to put up a solid business plan first, as it’s very expensive – and a long time before you see any return. But we worked through it all, and now he’s very supportive and excited for us!”

Mark has been grateful for the support and whisky making know-how of his father-in-law, having come into the Overeem family past-time as an outsider. “When Jane and I first got together Casey kept an eye on me, as prospective father-in-laws do. But we get along really well, we like to have a beer together. Casey mentored me when we started Sawford. He was there to help me in the first few months and then slowly stepped back as I started to get a good grip on things.”

Mark’s own background is in hospitality, with several properties in the Kingston Beach area, but these days he spends a lot of his time running the stills at his distillery. “The reason I can spend five days a week here at the same time as running three businesses is because I have a good team around me.” Putting in that effort means that Mark is currently able to coax around 40 000L of spirit a year out of the stills and after 2.5 years, already has a couple-of-hundred barrels down. “I don’t want to have the same problem as Casey did back in the day and be saying ‘I wish I put down more spirit down’.”

Back out on the distillery floor, the digs are modern and airy, sharing a wall with the White Label contract distillery, which Sawford helps source barrels for and for which Jane is the sales manager. Taking pride of place on the Sawford side are the Knapp Lewer-built 1800L wash still and 800L spirit still, inspired by the original Overeem stills. “We’re very sensory with our cuts,” comments Mark, “I’m always trying to improve instead of just going through the motions.”

Mark getting ‘sensory’ with the cuts

The stills themselves are brightly burnished, almost purple, and rippling with a rainbow sheen; keen Instagram followers will know that this gleam is the result of a ‘family still polishing day’ a few months ago. “We like to think that the way we present our stills and our distillery is a representation of who we are,” Mark tells us proudly as we gaze at our reflections.

Another representation of who Mark and Jane are is the large silver monogram adorning the back wall in the distillery. According to Jane, ‘S&O’ (Mark Sawford & Jane Overeem) stands as a symbol for “who we are as a couple – two families coming together to make something beautiful.”

Being based in the ‘romantic’ Huntingfield industrial estate means that Sawford is unlikely to pick up any location awards, but Mark isn’t fazed: “We didn’t want to go down the location bent, we want to celebrate the people instead. We wanted our brand to be real, not to pretend that we’re something that we’re not. What we really value is building relationships.”

Jane backs him up on that idea all the way: “Back in the day we had to go knocking on everyone’s doors to try to sell the Overeem and convince them to take a chance on Tassie whisky. We’re going to have to go through all that again with Sawford, not necessarily because people need convincing these days, but because we want to build that personal relationship up with all the bars and businesses and the community. Having those connections with people is something that is really important to us.”

“Oops, sorry guys, I’ve got to go, the kids need picking up!” exclaims Jane apologetically as she hurries out the door again. Our time is up as well as we have an appointment to keep on the other side of the wall, so we say our goodbyes to Mark and ride off into the sunset (aka, around the corner to White Label).

You know, despite their hectic lives, the Sawfords really do walk the talk and go out of their way to make you feel like part of the community that they’re trying to build. Which is lucky, because at a time when the Tassie whisky industry feels like it’s growing by the minute and the big sharks are starting to circle, hopefully it’s people like Mark and Jane who will ensure that we never lose that sense of family.

Old Kempton First Release Solera Cask

Reviewed by: Nick

Old Kempton Solera WW

There are many positive, glowing and indeed, highly complimentary words you can use to describe the Tasmanian whisky industry: flavourful, innovative, even simply: delicious. However, the word ‘consistent’ is not one that leaps to the top of that list. Due to the single cask nature of most of Tasmania’s small distilleries, it is highly likely that a bottle released by a producer this year is going to be vastly different to one released in two years’ time… or even one the next month. This is ok; most distilleries embrace the variety, although the approach can sometimes confuse return customers.

Old Kempton Distillery in Tasmania’s Southern Midlands is one such keen subscriber to the single barrel release method. Recently however, they have started trialling a Solera system in a huge 500L port puncheon. The contents of 24 smaller barrels have been emptied into this 100-year-old behemoth and left to mix and mingle until the tasting team at Old Kempton determine it to be ready. Crucially though, not all of the barrel’s contents will be emptied: half will remain to marry with the next batch of premium Old Kempton whisky added, before the process is repeated time and time again, creating a reliable flavour profile (and the intriguing premise that the finished product will include an amount of whisky, however infinitesimally small, which is very old indeed).

Old Kempton Solera cask WW

The first bottles out of the tun are about to be released exclusively to Old Kempton whisky club members and with it they have created something unique to not only their own distillery, but to the whole of the Tasmanian whisky industry.

Upon first inspection, you can tell there’s something different about it. It’s so obvious: the colour! It’s far darker and redder than any Old Kempton release I have ever seen, no mean feat considering its (relatively) modest bottling strength of 49%. The colour is surely due to the maturation time in the giant ex-port reciprocal being used to facilitate the Solera process. One sniff indicates the cask has affected the flavour, too.

Old Kempton Solera WW dram

The nose is full of juicy fig notes with large dollops of ripe plums, glace cherries and stewed fruit. It’s rich and dark and features subtle flavours of nutmeg, pears and vanilla custard. The palate continues this theme: rich and broad across the mouth with sweet gooey notes halfway between sticky date pudding and thick gingerbread. The finish is long but without a single note of spicy astringency or over-oaking.  Instead it is sweet and fat, like a ganache where the chef has gone rather easy on the cream.

This is a fascinating whisky. Comparing it to other releases from the same distillery is an experience that is confusing in the best possible way. You find yourself speculating on important questions such as ‘how do they do it?’, ‘what will the solera be like in few years?’ and ‘with a colour like this, why are they not called Redlands anymore?’. While we might not be able to provide satisfactory answers to these ponderances, at least we have a delicious dram to mull them over with.

★★★★

Join the Old Kempton Whisky Club before November 5 and you will go into the draw to win a free bottle of Old Kempton First Release Solera Cask!

What you could buy for the price of the record-breaking Macallan

Posted by: Nick

Big Mac WW

It’s official: we have a new most expensive whisky in the world. A bottle of Macallan (who else) has just sold for 1.5 million pounds! That’s 2.8 million Australian dollars! The bottle in question, the Macallan ‘Fine and Rare 60 Year Old’ sold to an anonymous buyer (wise) at the auction house Sotheby’s.

Now, I thought about sticking in a bid for the bottle to get a review up on Whisky Waffle (mainly just to annoy collectors by actually opening it) but quickly realised my meagre collection of fivers in the jar labelled ‘drinking money’ wasn’t quite going to cut it. So I thought I’d change the article around a little and come up with a list of some alternative purchases you could make with the money required for just one bottle…

47 bottles of G&M Mortlach 75 Year Old

70 bottles of Glenfiddich 50 Year Old

282 bottles of Hibiki 30 Year Old

805 bottles of Pappy Van Winkles 23 Year Old

2015 bottles of Glenfarclas 40 Year Old

2566 bottles of Sullivans Cove French Oak Cask

2822 bottles of Ardbeg Alligator or 1st/2nd release Supernova

5651 bottles of Laphroaig 25 Year Old

15, 755 bottles of Laphroaig Lore

23, 501 bottles of Lagavulin 16 Year Old

31, 344 bottles of Balvenie 12 Year Old Double Wood

41, 472 bottles of 1.25 Litre Famous Grouse

51, 378 bottles of Glenlivet Founders Reserve

58, 752 bottles of Glenlivet 12 Year Old in 2015

74, 214 bottles of Johnnie Walker Red Label

94, 035 bottles of Ballantine’s (so called) Finest

***

5 Ferrari 488 GTB Coupes

16 BMW M4 Coupes

80 Mazda MX5s

132 Toyota Corollas

9 Robinson R-22 Helicopters

1128 English Bulldogs

15, 234 pairs of Ray Bans

2043 return flights from Melbourne to London

10 consecutive years staying at the Hilton in Sydney

This beachfront house in Queensland

***

A personally signed photograph of Whisky Waffle (it’s a really good one, with squiggly signatures and all!)

***

What do you think Wafflers? Is the price tag worth it or would you spend your money elsewhere? What is the best whisky deal on the list? Let us know in the comments!

White Label: contract to distil

Posted by: Nick and Ted

White Label 1

With bottle prices soaring and demand never higher, surely it’s time for you – yes you! – to get into the Tasmanian whisky production scene. But hold your horses for a moment son, start up costs for a distillery are astronomical: you’ll need to splash a few hundred grand on stills and equipment, enter into ridiculously expensive rental agreements on a warehouse and only then you can start thinking about the rising cost of ex-fortified wine barrels. Suddenly a spot of homebrew is looking like a far the better option – or perhaps a hobby-shift into bee-keeping.

If only there was a business out there specifically set up to help you produce your own whisky, managing the hands-on aspects while you focus on creating your own unique flavour profile…

White Label 1.5

Enter White Label, Tasmania’s first contract whisky distillery. It has been specifically set up to provide businesses and start-ups with the opportunity to get distilling without bankrupting themselves trying to manage the setup costs. While many other distilleries may offer contract distilling opportunities, White Label is the only one to specialise in it. As there will never be a ‘White Label’ whisky (Dewars have already claimed that one), there is not an on-shelf brand to build; the focus will be solely on the needs of the client.

White Label 2

The man at the helm is Anthony ‘Sags’ White, a former farmer from Bothwell who cut his distilling teeth at Nant Distillery when the Tasmanian industry was just getting into its stride. While he is happy to cater to his customers’ needs, he is also passionate about making a good product and figuring out each step of the process, claiming “the whole basis of my life is to try to work out why and how things happen and then improve them. I love fixing shit that breaks.”

White Label has created their own house-style of new make spirit, available to customers less interested in the technical factors in brewing and distilling, although clients will also be allowed to put their own spin on things. For example, regular customer Spirit Thief elects to use a different yeast in the fermentation process which results in a subtly different wash, a slightly different feints cut and a very different new make spirit – and both versions are delicious!

White Label 3

The house style is crisp and light with a dash of citrus and perfect for taking on the characters of most cask types, whereas the Spirit Thief is heavier and oilier and ideal for soaking up the flavours of the wine barrels commonly used by the brand.

While Anthony is in charge of the spirit production, he hands over to Jane and Mark Sawford for barrel sourcing from Australia’s best cooperages. They are able to offer everything from traditional ex-bourbon and sherry through to as-yet-untried wine barrels such as Grenache or Mataro. The team will work with the client to source the barrels that will best match the desired flavour profile for the final product. White Label also offers space in their bond stores where they will look after the maturing spirit.

White Label 4

Consultation is a very important part of the whole process general. White Label will try as much as possible to ensure that the product meets the specifications requested while ensuring that the end product will be of the best quality, which they will work through with the client. While White Label will shoulder most of the heavy lifting on the production side of things, the client will have most of the responsibility for things like barrel selection, maturation lengths, branding and marketing. To enable the best chance of success, mentorship from leading industry figures such as Casey Overeem is provided to help overcome the pitfalls and challenges in creating a successful Tasmanian whisky brand.

While Anthony isn’t prepared to compromise the high-quality of his new-make spirit by sticking peated malt or juniper berries into his stills, if there is enough interest and demand White Label is fully prepared to look at future expansion to allow projects that go down a smoky or gin-based route.

So don’t be put off, fellow whisky lovers – the ability to create a single malt whisky is no longer restricted to those who possess their own stills and distilling licence. Whether it’s a chance to start your own brand without breaking the bank or as a speciality gift for high-end businesses, White Label offers an opportunity unique in the local whisky industry. Start your whisky journey with White Label today…

White Label 5

Straight Batt 44%

Review by: Ted

Investing can be a tricky business – if it goes right then life is good, but there’s always the danger that things can go very, very pear-shaped and people get left empty-handed (and extremely pissed off). Unfortunately the Tasmanian whisky scene has witnessed the tragic side of investing in its short history, with the very public and messy collapse of a well-known distillery in 2016, that left investors bereft of their money, whisky (and cows).

Harry van der Woude was one of the lucky ones. His father Pieter had done some barrel investing when Harry was younger and when the opportunity to re-invest together came up, the younger van der Woude decided “Ah yeah, I’ll get in on that.” After hearing early rumours of trouble at the old mill, they decided to claim their spirit, ‘ambushing’ the distillery by rocking up out of the blue one day armed with the correct paperwork and a couple of empty replacement barrels to swap. Amazingly, they managed to walk out with their two barrels of partly-aged spirit, which is more than a lot of people managed when shit really went down (if the spirit ever existed in the first place in many cases).

After contemplating keeping it for themselves or selling it on as a lot, Harry and Pieter eventually decided to bottle their whisky as a limited-release special-edition run. According to Harry, one of the best aspects of the project was the chance for some quality father/son bonding time. While not being whisky experts themselves, handy friendships and family connections meant that they were able to access mentorship from some of the leading names in the local industry. Crucially, this allowed them to get expert advice about things like maturation lengths, bottling strength and flavour profiles.

The end result is the Straight Batt Single Malt, a limited run of 400 bottles created from a marriage of the two casks liberated by Harry and Pieter. After aging for six years, the 100L French oak ex-tawny and American oak ex-bourbon casks were married together then cut down to 44%. According to Harry, “We tried it at a variety of strengths and that’s just where the sweet-spot happened to be.”

Thanks to the origin of the spirit, the Straight Batt is relatively light in style. The nose is spicy and dry with light oaky notes, beeswax, aniseed, honey and ginger. The overall smell is like a soothing balm for the sting of mishandled investments. The palate is light and fairly smooth, with a slight herbal, almost minty note. The finish is relatively short, with a dry blue-metal and grape linger. The delicate body and ease of drinking would make it a good choice for helping to swallow bitter pills.

The label, designed by Hobart-born artist Alexander Barnes-Keoghan (aka Albarkeo), features a drawing of an old-style cricketer playing a cross-bat shot, instead of the straight bat(t) shot that the name suggests. According to Harry, the artwork is a bit of a visual joke and subtle dig at the main architect of the collapse (who is referenced in the name), who he feels should have played it straight with investors but instead took the wrong approach and got bowled out, taking the whole team with him.

Harry is keen to assure people that the label and the release are all about sticking it to the establishment and are not meant to denigrate those who lost their money: “I want people to see it as at least a small bit of good to come out of a dark time in Tasmanian whisky.”
“A lot of people say ‘Ah, I’d die to be in that position’ and you realise how lucky you are to be able to build something positive out of a misfortune.”
“That’d be the ideal thing for me really, if a few people who got left behind in the fallout reached out and got to at least see something out of the situation. This is solidarity for those who got burned.”

***

Turner Stillhouse nears completion

Posted by: Ted

The Tamar Region of Tasmania has always been known for its wineries, but recently the distilling industry has been making a spirited push into the area. In fact, one of the biggest wineries in Tassie has a new next-door neighbour just a stone’s throw from their cellar door.

Visitors to Tamar Ridge Winery will soon be able to wander over to meet the crew at Turner Stillhouse. The outfit was founded by Justin Turner, a Northern Californian hailing from a wine-making family, who made the trek down under after meeting his Tasmanian-born wife. Also on the team is Tassie lad and distiller Brett Coulson, who used to work for the State’s biggest brewery before jumping aboard the good ship Turner.

The site was a hive of activity when we dropped by recently for a visit, with a team of builders working hard to transform the old Gunns Ltd building into a functioning distillery. As well as the production floor with the still, fermenters and bond area, the site will also include a cellar door and bar area where visitors can sample the products and check out the action. “We just want it done by summer!” exclaimed Brett as we surveyed the organised chaos in front of us.

Taking pride of place in the space is the towering 3000l hybrid pot/column still, a synergy of stainless-steel and copper. “It’s probably one of the only American-designed and -made stills in Australia,” commented Justin proudly. The lads are hoping that they can fire it up by the end of the year and start pumping out some spirit.

As well as a ‘traditional’ Tassie single malt, Justin is keen to showcase the whisky from his own part of the world, with plans for American-style corn and grain whiskies, noting that “because of the column, the still will make a lighter spirit, which will work really well with that style of whiskey.”

Justin and Brett will use virgin oak and ex-bourbon casks sourced from America for aging, but are also hoping to make use of the plentiful supply of wine barrels from next door. “It will be cool for people to come along this road and go to the Tamar Ridge cellar door and try the wine, then walk over here and try a whisky from the same barrel the wine was aged in.”

Justin (L) and Brett looking forward to when the construction is finished so they can do some distilling

While the whisky is still a few years off, Turner Stillhouse currently produces a couple of gins which are available for purchase. Hopefully by the end of the year visitors will be able to kick back at the bar with some cheeky drinks and take in the view over the Tamar Valley. Watch this space!

Glenfiddich Experimental Series #04: Fire & Cane 43%

Reviewed by: Ted

While it may hold the title of best selling single malt in the world, Glenfiddich can also be pretty divisive. I think that people tend to fall into one of five broad camps:

  1. People who don’t know any better and for whom single malt = Glenfiddich (this is what they get if they want to be posh and step up from the Johnnie Walker). Products of William Grant & Sons’ decades of advertising or ‘Mad Men’ fans, they will definitely ask for it served on the rocks.
  2. Fence sitters who don’t really care one way or the other. Would probably drink with coke if you let them (Philistines).
  3. Mad haters who loathe Glenfid because it’s ‘big whisky’ and ‘such a cliche’. Probably wears a moustache and likes single origin American ryes that you’ve never heard of or underground independent release.
  4. Tourists, because when in Scotland, the UK… (“Waidammit, hey honey, is Scotland in the Ewe-naa’ded Kingdom?” “Ah honestly don’t know Earl, is that the same as Enga-land?” Scots: “Not for long if we can help it!” #brexit #bullshit #freedom!)
  5. People who genuinely like Glenfiddich and recognise that while they might be a cliche, they actually make some pretty decent drams. Are probably fans of the 18yo, have eyed off an Age of Discovery in duty free and will half-heartedly defend the 12yo against the haters.

I definitely fall into the latter category and in addition to the above, I also like to keep an eye on what’s going on outside of the core range. In recent years Glenfid have been releasing what they have dubbed their ‘Experimental Series’, which they claim to be ‘game changing’ and ‘ground breaking’ (as mentioned previously, they’re also quite good with the marketing guff).

Once you get past the superlatives, the Experimental Series is all about interesting finishes, barrel combinations and playfulness. Brain child of Master Malter Brian Kinsman, past alumni include the IPA Experiment (of which I own a bottle and really must get around to reviewing), Project XX v1&2 and Winter Storm. The most recent release, #4, is called Fire & Cane and it’s a dram that is blatantly provocative.

Why? Because it says it right there on the bottle: “Fire & Cane – the whisky that will divide you”. Glenfid claims the reason for this is the two warring flavour profiles in the spirit, which splits people into two distinct camps, much like the great blue/gold dress debate of 2015 (just so you know, it was definitely blue, so there).

Team Fire: unusually for a Glenfid, the Fire & Cane is smoky (a fact you probably guessed from the name), a vatting of peated whisky and malts aged in ex-bourbon casks. Glenfid uses Highland peat in this, giving it a softer, friendlier profile than the medicinal/elemental Island peats.

Team Cane: What do you make out of cane? Wicker chairs of course! Oh, and rum. To give the release a big, sweet and spicy kick, Mr Kinsman used a variety of rum casks sourced from across South America to finish off the spirit for three months, thus creating the coal-ramel slice that is the Fire & Cane.

Glenfiddich are so conviced that people either taste the smoke or the sweet that they actually provide two sets of tasting notes with the bottle, offering you a choice depending on which side you fall. So where do I fall?

The nose is a suprisingly complex melange of tropical fruits like pineapple, guava, feijoa, papaya and banana, as well as caramel, straw and hot metal. That Highland peat is not really present as smokiness (“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not on Islay anymore”), but more of a savoury note that sits underneath the fruit. It’s kind of like a fresh fruit salsa on some smoky BBQ Caribbean jerk meat.

The peat is much more obvious on the palate, starting off as a tingly, ashy layer with pepper and cured meats before giving way to sharp and sour notes of mead, lemon, and underripe plums. The finish is bright and fairly dry, with a burnt-herb linger and a tickle of orange at the end.

Rather than falling squarely into one camp or the other and staying there like the Glenfid marketing team wants me to, I kind of feel like Harvey Dent/Two-Face flipping his coin. Sometimes I go one way and sometimes I go the other, getting smoky or sweet notes on different tries (whereas if I was Rozencrantz or Guildenstern, I’d be wondering why I kept getting the same flavour every time #obscuremoviereferences).

The Fire & Cane is a really good demonstration of how you can mess around with one of the best known whisky flavour profiles in the world to create something interesting and new. Traditionalists will probably turn their noses up, but for me, I like it. It’s zesty and fresh with a smoky twist and puts me in mind of camping at the beach in the tropics. If you can find a bottle, take a crack and see which side of the fence you fall on.

***

Let us know if you’re #TeamFire or #TeamCane

Signatory Vintage Tormore 1995

Reviewed by: Nick

Tormore sig 2

So, you’ve tried a single malt from every Scottish distillery you can get your grubby little mitts on and are now feeling slightly deflated and wondering what to do next? Good news, the answer is at hand: you can find some independent releases and go around again!

Independent bottlings are a wonderful x-factor in the whisky world – they amuse whisky nerds and confuse whisky noobs in equal measure – from a dusty old ‘Douglas Laing’ bottle right through to some ‘That Boutique-y Whisky Company’ with a comical and yet fitting label. Additionally, they also provide an opportunity to access some of the whisky made at lesser known distilleries; in this instance: Tormore.

Tormore is a vast monolithic-looking distillery a kilometre south of the river Spey, and is known mostly for providing spirit for Chivas-related blends. It was one of the very few distilleries built in the mid-20th century and is tricky to find iterations of outside of duty free. Unless, of course, it’s been independently bottled!

My particular independent bottler is Signatory Vintage, which I know next-to-nothing about – and freely confuse its logo with a bottle of Springbank. It would certainly fail to stand out on a shelf in a bar, which is why I think I have unearthed a bit of a hidden gem.

Stats! Something every whisky nerd can’t live without (no wonder we haven’t handled the transition to NAS releases particularly well)! This bottle of Tormore sat in ex-bourbon hogsheads between 1995 and 2016, making it 20 years old and is a marriage of cask 3907 and 3908. My particular bottle is number 394 and sits at a gentle 43%. And it’s rather tasty.

Tormore sig deets 2

The nose is oozing with sweet caramel alongside barley sugar and stewed figs. It subtly hints at oak, along citrus and melon notes. The palate is as surprising as it is delicious, full of tropical fruit characteristics. Banana stands out the most, as well as creamy vanilla and chopped nuts – it’s basically a banana split in whisky form! The finish is medium in length and gently earthy – not smoky but at least slightly cured – while vanilla custard flavours delicately linger.

This is a lovely little drop; one that perfectly accompanied the Tasmanian summer and BBQs that ensued and if it were not for an independent bottler setting aside a cask here or there, it’s not one many of us would be able to enjoy. So, if you’ve been holding back and sticking to the distillery’s own releases – well, maybe it’s time to give something independent a try.

★★★★

SMWS ‘Waxing a Hot Woodsman’ 1.209 64.9%

Reviewed by: Ted

In terms of independent whisky societies, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society is the tweed wearing, pipe smoking, large-moustache sporting (great?) uncle of the bunch. Thing is, he’s a pretty cool guy. He’s a seasoned raconteur with a house full of exotic artifacts from around the world and family rumour has it that he was a spy during the war. You know that a visit to Uncle SMWS is always going to be an interesting experience.

The SMWS started off as a group of mates chipping in to buy a barrel of Glenfarclas in the late 70s, before morphing into a full-blown membership society open to the public in 1983 with the purchase of their first property, the famous Vaults in Leith, Scotland.

The M.O. of the SMWS is the purchase of single casks from various distilleries in Scotland and around the world, which are then released to members when deemed ready by a tasting panel. The Society generally doesn’t reveal which distillery a particular release came from, instead using a somewhat arcane two-part numbering system on the bottles.

The first number refers to a particular distillery, while the second is the sequential barrel number from that distillery (eg. 5.12 would be distillery no. 5, barrel no. 12 purchased from there by the Society). If you manage to find out what the first number means, then you know what distillery you are drinking. Simple.

Another thing that the SMWS does is give the releases exotic names such as ‘A coal bucket of marshmallows’ or ‘An Orkney beekeeper’s dram’ along with some often rather whimsical tasting notes. Facing down a wall of green SMWS bottles (the sheer range of bottlings is dazzling) can be a daunting task, but the Society helps by adding a stripe of colour to the labels. Each particular colour relates to a certain flavour profile, such as ‘sweet, fruity & mellow’ or ‘light & delicate’, helping you narrow things down depending on your preferences.

I was checking out the range at the Grumpy Piper in Launceston the other night and entirely on a whim decided to go with a dram of ‘Waxing a hot woodsman’ . The bottle number was 1.209, which if you’ve been paying attention means that it’s from barrel 209 from Glenfarclas Distillery. According to the label it was a 7yo aged in ex-bourbon hogsheads and bottled at a zesty 64.9%, with the yellow stripe indicating it was a ‘spicey & dry’ style.

Is it just me or is it getting rather warm in here?

The spice was certainly front and centre on the nose, reeking of cinnamon, clove, corriander seed, spruce and resin, as well as a daub of beeswax and dark honey. Down lower was a slightly bitter herbal complex, with a few sprigs of oregano and thyme, before a fruity finish of unripe apples and pears.

If the nose claimed the cap for Team Spice, then the mouth was on the side of Team Dry. The start was hot and dry, with a sprinkle of that spice, before going bitter and metallically clean through the mid. The finish was a medley of sour, pithy citrus notes that would probably be too astringent for some people. The whole effect put me in mind of something a bit Japanese, maybe Hakshu?

Ok, so, despite what the label claims, this is not Waxing a Hot Woodsman at all. That’s a sticky, messy, painful and distinctly hair(e)raising experience. No, this comes afterwards when he’s supine and exhausted from the ordeal, his skin all smooth and raw. This is the aftershave lotion that you slap on his burning skin, a tonic to make him feel invigorated and alive and ready to handle some wood in a manly way.

The Hot Woodsman is yet another interesting insight into how single barrel, indpendent releases can mess around with the flavours you’ve become familiar with from a particular distillery. I wouldn’t say it’s to everyone’s taste, but that’s all part and parcel of a visit to Uncle SMWS’s place – there’s always something new and strange to discover.

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You can sign up to the SMWS here, or if you’re in Australia like us, here.

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 12

Big news for listeners of the Podcast – we’re bringing back the old episodes! We’re purchased some more upload space and a remastered back-catalogue will be appearing soon! Keep an eye out in the next few weeks and travel back to where it all begun! In the meantime, however, enjoy our latest episode which includes:

– The Waffle, where we discuss our recent experiences throughout Tasmanian Whisky Week;
– The whisky, where we taste our new bottles of Hobart Whisky and Adams Distillery Slosh Cask; and
– Smash, Session or Savour where we are forced to smash drams we’d otherwise savour