Reviews, musings and whisky adventures.
Keep on waffling!
Posted by: Ted
There’s a bottle I need to kill. Actually, there’s a number of them, but this particular one is an old bottle of Dalwhinnie 15. It’s been sitting around on the shelf with about a good dram’s worth left in the bottom for at least a couple of years now. I have a suspicion this may turn out to be a problem.
People tend to think of whisky as being very durable. When it’s aging in the barrel all sorts of funky interactions are happening of course, but stick it in glass, that delightfully chemically stable substance, and it’ll stay unchanged forever. Maybe… although that theory does seem to have been challenged recently by the number of very old, rare whiskies that have been tested and found to have somehow magically changed themselves into much, much younger, inferior whisky that is most definitely not (‘we are so sorry to have to break this news to you sir’) that phenomenally expensive 1880’s Ardbeg you bought as a sure-fire investment. Hmm, quite.
Getting back to the point though, nearly-empty bottles left to their own devices just never seem to taste as good (or at least not the same). The flavours are diminished and changed somehow. Oxidation, causing changes to the molecules through increased oxygen interaction, gets bandied around a bit, but sources on the repository-of-all-knowledge indicate that this may not actually play as much of a role as I previously thought. Another theory that I quite like is that because alcohol and other molecules in the whisky are volatile, evaporation and dissipation occurs every time the whisky is poured, meaning some of the flavours are lost and the balance of components is changed (a more detailed explanation here care of the excellently anorak-y Whisky Science blog).
That being the case, why don’t we just finish of all those damn dregs and move on to pastures new? The thing is, psychologically it can be quite hard to bring yourself to kill the bottle. Back when it was full, we splashed the contents around with great abandon, sharing it generously with friends and pouring stoaters without care. Once the level drops below the plimsol line though, you start to think ‘gosh, that’s getting low. Better go easy… maybe I’ll save it for a special occasion’. It can be even worse when you’re a somewhat slack whisky writer: ‘Oh man, I should really get around to reviewing this. Sometime. Hmm, I better leave some in there… I’ll definitely get around to it soon’.
Sentiment plays a part in prolonging the life of a bottle as well. The attachment of a particular memory to a particular bottle means that we can cling even harder to the remains, fighting against our natural urges as top predator in the whisky food web. For example, I bought that bottle of Dalwhinnie as a present for my dad over six years ago. When he died in 2013, I inherited it. The stupid thing in this case is that there isn’t any particular sentimental value attached to it. It wasn’t his favourite whisky, we didn’t spend a magical night bonding over it, or a wild night getting shit-faced on it.
Yet for some reason I haven’t been able to force myself to do the dirty deed and finish it off. It just sits there gathering dust and, stupidly on my part, potentially diminishing in quality and strength. Look, if I’m forced to dig deep for an honest reason for my reticence, I think I’ve just been using the tenuous sentimental value to put off having to write a review about it. Which come to think of it, is definitely the reason that I’ve been hoarding the last slick of my Nikka Yoichi 15 for too many years. Ugh, motivation, why are you such an indolent mistress?
Perhaps it’s just an excuse to keep buying new bottles?
So what is the point of this rambling musing? I think we need to be brave, to step up to the crease and face down that last dram before it’s too late. Sometime you’ve got to kill the things you love. It’s the kindest thing to do.
Just, some other time maybe…
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 FOUR: Islay – the east and the north
If I were to be completely honest with myself, I would admit that three of my top five distilleries in Scotland are just outside of Port Ellen. If I were to be even more completely honest then I would revise that to three of top three. And these three, the holy trinity of Islay, were to be my destination on my final full day in Scotland. As all three were within a short walk of one another I coined this day as ‘the world’s greatest pub crawl’. The only question was, where to start? Due to a combination of tour times and proximity to my accommodation (a three-minute walk, no less) I began my epic day at Laphroaig.
The tour was in-depth and the tastings phenomenal – three barrels were lined up ready to be valinched into our glasses – the first a quarter cask on steroids, the next a 14 Year Old bourbon cask, before finally, the pièce de résistance, a 52% 14 Year Old whisky which had spent it’s time equally in bourbon and Amontillado sherry. I was fortunate enough to take home a 200ml bottle of the latter, and my colleague was suitably impressed. I also claimed the rent for my square foot of land and learned to pronounce Cairdeas (hint: think Steve Macqueen).
Fifteen minutes up the road was Lagavulin, a crucial distillery in Whisky Waffle history and I wasted no time ensconcing myself in their new tasting centre. While there are not many varied Lagavulin releases on the market, if you find yourself at the distillery then you’ll be treated to a range of rare special editions created for Feis Isle celebrations and Jazz festivals. The pick was the 54% Double Matured Distillery Exclusive. At this point of the day my tasting notes were starting to get creative. I have noted: “like sitting in a cart pulled by a noble steed. Or in a palanquin carried by muscular Persians sweating in the Arabian sun”.
Unbelievably, the best was yet to come. Several things influence one’s enjoyment of a tour: the quality of the distillery (and therefore the whisky), the engagingness of the guide and the friendliness of the people on the tour with you. Well, once in a while the stars line up and you get all three, and that was the case with my Ardbeg ‘tour at two’, commencing, funnily enough, at two o clock. And it was one for the ages. Our guide, wee Emma (apparently there are two Emma’s who work at Ardbeg and we got the smallest – and the best!) was friendly and knowledgeable about peated whisky – an islander through and through. The tour itself was thorough but individualised – it didn’t feel like a re-tread of all that had come before. And the group was amazing. We settled ourselves down in a bond store for some tastings and when the drams started flowing (Grooves, Alligator and any number of single cask releases) we took it in turns to chat about our backgrounds, favourite drams and that first bottle that opened our eyes to whisky. We could have stayed there longer – but a knock on the door to the warehouse by the production boys alerted us to the fact it was 5 o clock and the tour was meant to have finished an hour ago. “Sorrynotsorry” was everyone’s response. It was a magical experience and one I feel truly reflects a wonderful distillery. I can say, hand on heart, it was the best tour of the trip and remains a fond memory in my Waffly heart.
I woke the next day with a heavy heart. Partly because of the number of drams I’d consumed the previous day, but also because it was my final day on this spectacular island. My ferry left at 3pm which gave me just enough time to fill in the gaps I’d left. Despite feeling a little tender I could not resist tasting a few distillery exclusives at Caol Ila. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this giant distillery but what I found was a warm welcome and delicious whisky.
My welcome was just as warm at Bunnahabhain, who, despite building work preventing me from touring the distillery, gave me an extensive tasting (which I was able to transfer most of each glass into small bottles – my liver thanked me later) and fantastic conversation. It was one of the friendliest distillery experiences I’d had in the previous eight days and I cannot wait to go back and visit these guys again.
Then, before I knew it (after a sneaky couple of photos at Ardnahoe), I was back on the ferry and leaving Islay.
I can say with certainty that my visit to Islay had been the pinnacle of my whisky journey. The people, the scenery and the peat gave it the edge, but despite the size of some of the operations it just felt like I was on a tiny whisky-centric island which hadn’t changed much since the first dram had been distilled there. Sitting on a small rise of land across the road from my Airbnb looking out at the view (Port Ellen on one side, Laphroaig distillery on the other) I felt as connected to a place as I ever had. The pun writes itself, but I truly mean it when I say it was a spiritual experience.
And thus my whisky journey was at an end. Despite Islay’s dominance in my writing, every aspect of the trip was phenomenal. As a whisky fanboy, the range of flavours across one little country inspired me. But the biggest impact was made by the people behind the scenes, making and promoting the drams I loved so much. Their warmth and generosity (and patience with all my questions) was a credit to the industry and made this Waffler very happy multiple times over.
So would I go back? Oh, you bet I would – in a heartbeat. I’d probably stick the anticlockwise trajectory – like the best tastings you’ve got to start with Speyside and end with Islay. I hit up some amazing distilleries and crossed off a few bucket list items, though left a few remaining (I’m looking at you Campbeltown, Orkneys and Edradour). If you’re about to embark on a trip to the motherland I absolutely recommend the anticlockwise direction and all of the establishments I found myself at – though I’m sure there are some wonderful places I missed (if so please let me know!). However, sitting on the train taking me towards Glasgow (Prestwick) airport I was a contented Waffler with a heart full of fulfilled dreams.
Complete distillery list:
Reviewed by: Nick
Speyside: home to smooth, elegant, subtle and well-balanced whiskies. Whiskies that represent the graceful and sophisticated flavours that this Scottish spirit has to offer.
And then there’s this one.
The Glenlivet name their cask strength range ‘Nadurra’, Gaelic for natural. While they have made bourbon-aged versions, the one that is most widely available is matured in first fill Oloroso casks and it has rapidly carved out a niche in the market previously dominated by Aberlour A’bunadh and Glenfarclas 105. This is possibly because The Glenlivet, being a huge distillery even by Scotland’s standards, can put out a good quantity of bottles at a reasonable price. What this means, however, is that the product released is quite young and… um… what’s the opposite of subtle?
If most Speyside drops are a Haydn violin concerto, the Glenlivet Nadurra is the Arctic Monkeys first album. It’s like bringing home to meet your mother that guy with tattoos, piercings and parole conditions.
The nose is probably the most refined aspect of the whisky; grape notes dominate alongside butter, apricots and leather car seats. It smells like it could be a cheap brandy, although having had very few expensive brandys in my life, I suppose it could smell like them, too.
The palate is where you get kicked in the face. The sherry is clearly the biggest factor at play here with rich dark fruits coating your tongue while elements of chocolate fudge, liquorice and oak try in vain to keep up. The finish is long, spicy and full of fire, and contains stewed apple flavours and a bitter piney note.
“So we get that it’s rough,” I hear you cry “but check the label, you berk – it’s freaking 60.3%! Surely a drop of water will fix this?”. I did try, fellow wafflers, I promise – and it actually didn’t help much. It lessened the burn, sure, but it was still heavy and volatile, confirming my suspicions about the youthful nature of the whisky.
Having read all the way through this review, you are probably expecting me to give it a fairly negative score. But, in a shocking Christie-esque twist, I’m actually not. I definitely think there is a place for an angsty teenage whisky on my shelf. It’s doesn’t skimp on flavour, it warms your entire insides, and goes well in a hipflask on a fishing trip (or cricket match if you’re sneaky enough). Although it’s far from being objectively good, there’s something to like about it. It’s a cheeky puppy that is so adorable that you don’t mind when it won’t come when it’s called. Don’t kid yourself that it’s a work of art – just drink it…
…in small doses.
The bottle I reviewed was part of Batch OLO615
Reviewed by: Ted
After I’d spent a good amount of time polishing the bottles with my eyes (and probably corroding the text away by the end), the barmen started throwing around some potential choices. Most I’d had before, until: “Have you tried the Fossey’s stuff yet?” “Nope! Never heard of them?” “Really new stuff from a crew in Mildura. Well worth a try. Keen?”
“Sure, lets do it!”
I was presented with two single cask bottlings, F1, a port casking at 49.3% and FP1, a curious peated sherry casking at 57.6%, both aged between 2-4yrs. Putting my body on the line in the name of scientific inquiry, I bravely made the decision to sample both (what a hero, I know).
Good decision – the Fossey’s are great! Both were very Australian in their character, that hot, rich small-cask/high-temp/short-aging profile you get in a lot of our new world whiskies.
On the nose the port cask is meaty and fruity, with stewed apricots and peaches topped with buttery crumble, followed by prunes, muscats, orange rind, cocoa nibs, leather and old timber polished with beeswax. It’s a satisfyingly dark and rich smell. In comparison, the peated sherry starts with a note that I have coined as ‘peat-nut butter’, a smoky, oily, nutty sort of vibe. The peating is fairly light and nicely balanced, sitting over warm honey and raisins. There’s also a feeling of hot, ash-coated chimney bricks and smoked fish.
On the mouth, the port cask is dry and spicy, with honeycomb and cinnamon wandering through. The body starts meaty and low before getting warm and crackly on the finish. All in all a very savoury dram. Unsurprisingly, the sherry cask starts off ashy, before launching into this funky cherry syrup taste and ending with a relatively thin, lingering finish.
Later I decided to go looking for some more info about the distillery and what I had been drinking, but the Fossey’s website is currently devoted to their well-established gin brand, so I got in touch with Steve Timmis Esq, Master Ginnovator at Fossey’s Distillery.
Turns out the whisky is a collaboration between Steve and long-time mate Brian Hollingsworth, of Black Gate Distillery fame (whose name appears as the distiller on the Fossey’s Whisky bottles). While based in Mendooran these days, Brian used to live a mere 300km up the road from Steve in Broken Hill (as opposed to over 800km away now). The two guys bonded over racing Harleys against each other back in the day and have been friends now for over 30 years.
Currently they have been using 100L barrels cut down at Andrew Stiller Cooperage in Tanunda from externally sourced casks, but due to the expansion of the industry it is becoming increasing difficult and expensive to acquire high quality casks in Australia. In response to this problem, Steve says they have taken the bold step of laying down thousands of litres of their own port, allowing vertical integration of supply within the business and enabling consistency of flavour and style moving forward.
Another problem with aging spirit in Australia, particularly when you get to inland areas like Mildura, is the high summer heat. Steve says that winter is perfect, down to low single digits most nights and up over late teens to low 20s during the day, allowing the barrels to do plenty of breathing. In summer however it gets pretty hot, meaning they need to insulate the cellar and try to protect it as much as they can from the extreme heat, otherwise the angels can get pretty greedy and drink most of the whisky.
When I asked Steve about the Fossey’s philosophy and the meaning of the tagline on the bottle, “Mellowed to perfection”, he responded that it’s all about doing things your own way and having a crack: “We mellow [the whisky] until its perfect (in our view) – maturing whisky in the Australian outback has its challenges, but like all of the things we do, Gin etc, we do it to satisfy our own palates, and not too much by the rule book. For example, whisky matured here is exceptionally good at 2.5 – 3 years, if it wasn’t, we would leave it in [for longer]. You’ll never never know if you never have a go. Our guiding philosophy is old school quality, the best we can produce, use local stuff wherever we can.”
While the whisky is hot off the press, Steve tells me the ‘jump’ from gin to whisky was about five years in the planning and he has plenty more good stuff to come. Australian whisky fans should keep an eye out over the next 18 months for more straight and peated single malt Fossey’s releases, as well as a solera-cask single malt. Apparently there are also plans for a sub $100AUD 40% ABV blend, as well as some interesting experimentation with locally grown barley and red-gum coal smoking instead of peat… watch this space!
Moral of the story here I think is, get into a decent whisky bar from time-to-time, you never know what you’ll find!
Thanks to Steve and Brian for making the whisky and the staff at Whisky Den for the solid recommendation. Alice, if you’re reading this, I hope you figured it all out.
Peated Sherry ***
We return to the airwaves with another whisky-fuelled ramble about the big topics in the whisky world – specifically: what’s in our glass!
This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where we discuss how to actually make the spirit we love!
– The whisky, where we look at a new Aussie whisky with a specific tasting note; and
– From the Spirit Sack, where we consider entry level whiskies from a variety of countries
Posted by: Ted
What does a South American superfood with a weird name have to do with WWII bomber pilots? Well, in a round-about way: whiskey. Before we get into why though, let’s take a slight tangent.
By definition, whisk(e)y is a grain based spirit. In terms of the most common grains that are used, the holy quaternity is barley, corn, rye and wheat. Alone or in combination, these four star in the vast majority of whiskies. Beyond that, there is a whole panoply of random grains that rarely (if ever) get a look-in due to reasons such as rarity, expense and difficulty of use.
One such grain is quinoa. You know, the one that you think is pronounced ‘kwinoa’ until some posh git swans by and says “no no, it’s ‘keeen-wah’ daahling”. A staple native grain in South American, quinoa can now be found lurking in expensive salads in the West. To be fair, it is very good for you. Turns out it has other uses beyond feeding hipsters though.
Most of the established whisk(e)y distilling cultures wouldn’t dream of going anywhere near something like quinoa. Tradition is tradition after all. You need to go somewhere where the industry is fresh and young and willing to experiment with new things. Like Australia for example.
Whipper Snapper Distillery, based in Perth, Western Australia (WA), is an outfit that is not afraid to mess around. The roots of the distillery go back to WWII, where an Aussie and a US pilot bonded over a love of bombers and making whiskey. Vic, the Aussie half of the duo, took the recipe they had developed home and continued to distil in his back shed. The recipe was eventually passed onto his young neighbour Al and his mate Jimmy and thus Whipper Snapper was born. Keeping with the American connection, the distillery’s flagship release is the Upshot, a bourbon-style whiskey with an Aussie twist.
Sounding rather like a top-secret WWII program, Project Q is Whipper Snapper’s experimental quinoa-based whisky, only the second ever quinoa release world wide (the other is from Corsair Distillery in America). We first heard about it here at Whisky Waffle HQ a few years ago when they released an early test version, but sadly we were never able to get our mitts on a sample. Fast forward to 2019 and the lads have refined their process and unleashed their first official batch on an unsuspecting world.
Made using a mash bill of 65% quinoa, 25% corn and 10% malted barley, all the grains are locally sourced from WA. The Project Q is aged for just under three years in the distillery’s own ex-Upshot barrels and bottled at (at least for Batch 1) 46.5%.
Flavour-wise, the Project Q is like no other whisk(e)y I have ever tried. I sprang it on m’colleague blind and he almost broke his brain trying to work it out. The first guess was rye, which actually wasn’t entirely ridiculous as there is an earthy, nutty (quinoa-y?) quality to the nose that remindes me a bit of Belgrove’s Brown Rye. Beyond that though, there’s this weird combo of rose-water and what I can only describe as tobacco-infused old car. It’s like leather and oil and ciggies and sun-aged dash. My dad’s old MKII Jag or my 1985 BMW 325i.
The mouth has tannic sweetness underneath that I reckon comes from the corn, while over the top sits this ashy, spicy grain layer. The finish is fruity, a distilled cherry/plums/grapes feel that kind of brings to mind brandy or cognac. There is a lingering wisp of incense that coils around the tongue for a little while after.
To be honest I’m not really sure what to make of it. The Project Q is definitely not a beginner’s whiskey, that’s for sure, with its complex melange of flavours. Due to the high cost and relatively low local production levels of quinoa, the Project Q is unlikely to be anything more than a quirky rarity, but one I think is worth tracking down to experience something unusual. It won’t be to everyone’s taste for sure, but I certainly think it still deserves its moment in the sun. I hope Whipper Snapper, and others, continue to experiment with new grains and flavours that challenge our palates and minds.
FYI, it’s still totally kwinoa.
Posted by: Nick and Ted
It’s been a wild ride, fellow Wafflers. 64 distilleries began the journey (back when it was actually March) and, like Antony Green, now it’s election night we’re prepared to call it.
On this most auspicious of nights, with the world celebrating not one but three major events, namely the Australian Federal Election, World Whisky Day and Eurovision Finals, we can finally reveal what you, our faithful followers, voted as the number one whisky in the world.
It came down to a clash between two Islay titans, but like Highlander (… Islander?), there can be only one winner. Break out the laurel wreaths, because the winner of the Whisky Waffle March (and April… and May) Madness bracket is:
Over 200 years old and one of the Islay big three, Ardbeg is, as it proudly states on the bottle, the maker of the ‘Ultimate Islay Single Malt Whisky’. But in this case, also the world. Ardbeg claims our heart with its character: smoky, peaty and full of fire but also genuine, accessible and unpretentious. They win us around with the dependable 10 Year Old, the mind blowing Corryvreckan and then stick the landing with the glorious Uigeadail – and then bring out something excitingly new every year to please the fanboys!
Did the right distillery win? Too bad if not, you guys voted for it, so it’s your fault if it’s wrong. But let us know your thoughts anyway!
Thanks all who voted. Keep on waffling.
Posted by: Nick
Finally our March Madness bracket reaches the final round: the Grand Final. Yes, what started out six weeks ago with 64 distilleries (technically 63 distilleries and 1 independent bottler) has been whittled down to just two. And our finalists?
In the red corner: Bruichladdich!
On the road to the final Bruichladdich overcame the number one seed, Glenfiddich, Tassie favourite Overeem and in a nail biting semi final they defeated the peated powerhouse Laphroaig by a margin of 59% to 41%.
And, in the blue corner, they will be facing: Ardbeg!
Ardbeg have taken down some sherried Scottish superpowers along the way with Glendronach, Balvenie and recently Glen Moray falling victim to the peat monster.
So now it all comes down to this: Bruichladdich vs Ardbeg. Two Islay dynamos duking it out to become Whisky Waffle’s inaugural champion distillery – but who will win?
Voting has never been easier! We only need one name! Leave your vote in the comments or on our social media platforms.
Happy voting and keep on waffling!
On the eve of battle, Whisky Waffle prepare for the army of the dead by releasing a podcast!
This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where we discuss Diageo’s new Game of Thrones-themed whiskies
– The whisky, where Ted brings something that may not be whisky, but has a subtitle in its name, which makes up for it
– Mystery Whisky, where Ted springs a surprise bottle and Nick muddles up his latitude by one degree; and
– Smash, Session or Savour, where Nick hurts Ted’s soul
Posted by: Nick and Ted
And then there were four. In a matchup of biblical proportions, David came up against Goliath and against all odds, slew the beast.
That’s right, the ridiculous strength of the Tasmanian independent titan, Heartwood, was no match in the end for the Speyside pocket-pleaser, Glen Moray. Tim Duckett wasn’t the only Tasmania to fall, with elegant Overeem roundly smashed by indie Islay outfit Bruichladdich. In fact, there’s potential for an all-Islay showdown in the final, with Ardbeg seeing off Glenfiddich’s little sister Balvenie with ease and Laphroaig narrowly fending off the Orkney vikings from Highland Park. First we have to get through the semi-finals though and there’s some tough choices ahead. It really comes down to sweet vs peat – where do you fall in the battle? Cast your votes now at http://www.whiskywaffle.com or on our social media platforms.