Reviews, musings and whisky adventures.
Keep on waffling!
Reviewed by: Ted
Earlier this year I found myself hunting around for a passable quaffing Scotch to take away on our annual summer pilgrimage to Coles Bay (for those who are not familiar, Coles Bay, on the east coast of Tassie, is the town that sits on the edge of Freycinet National Park, home to the world famous Wineglass Bay. Check it out!).
M’colleague and I would define a quaffing Scotch as a whisky at the lower end of the price scale that manages not to taste like paint strippers and that you are more than happy splash around while in company. Like on a camping trip, for example.
After a bit of poking around I came across the Inver House Green Plaid Scotch whisky. On the face of it, the Inver House certainly looks like it fits into the sub-$40 (AUD) category (I think mine was about $35). Take four parts green tartan, add a crest, a couple of sprigs of Scotch thistle and a blurb about how Clan Donald is totally the bestiest evaaaa!!!, and there you have it.
But dig a little deeper and suddenly the Inver House starts to look a bit more interesting under the hood (apologies to my mother for this turn of phrase, but ‘under the bonnet’ just doesn’t seem to work as well somehow). Turns out Inver House Distillers Pty Ltd have quite a choice little stable of distilleries in their portfolio, namely – Pulteney, Balblair, Knockdhu, Speyburn and Balmenach.
Discovering that little nugget of information begs one the question: could this el-cheapo blend actually be a nugget of shining liquid gold??? Well… no. But it’s not too bad either.
As one might expect based on its (potential) components, the Inver House is fresh and bright, with a lick of grain, pear, apricot, grass and hazelnuts. Could that be a faint whiff of coastal air from Pulteney I detect… or just the result of my fervid imagination? It’s a tad rough, yeah, but not disastrously so.
The mouth is bright and pithy, with a generous hit of Lisbon lemons, butterscotch and wood polish. The finish makes your mouth pucker a bit like you’ve just taken a bite out of the aforementioned citrus fruits and then licked a metal spoon.
Look, the Inver House isn’t going to win any awards, regardless of its theoretical hidden pedigree. It’s kind of like when someone claims to be an Nth degree relation to the royal family. Cool, but there’s a lot of stronger contenders to get through before they get anywhere near the throne.
But for what it is, the Inver House is actually pretty good. You can happily drink it straight if that’s your groove, or if your mates want to mix it with coke then you’re not going to have to get your disapproving whisky-wanker face on. If you want a budget dram that you can share liberally with friends and have a good night of it, the Inver House has you covered.
Posted by: Ted
Things just got a little bit crazy in the Tasmanian distilling scene, with a new twist emerging in the furore surrounding embattled distillery Nant. Once a force to be reckoned with in the nascent Tassie whisky industry, the bottom appeared to fall out of the boat last year when Nant founder Keith Batt filed for bankruptcy and the distillery was taken on by Australian Whisky Holdings. At that time AWH promised that it would conduct a full audit and investigation of Nant’s finances and stock.
Now according to a bombshell article released today by national broadcaster ABC News, it is alleged that the audit has revealed that over 700 barrels purchased by investors were never actually filled. As part of its start up business model, Nant ran a barrel buy-back scheme where investors could purchase a number of barrels, with guaranteed yearly return of around 9%. After a period of around four years when the whisky had matured, Nant would buy back the barrels for bottling and sale. Happy days, drams all round.
However, in the period leading up to the crash there were worrying rumours going around about investors having trouble accessing the barrels that they had purchased or selling them back to the distillery. Once Nant passed into the hands of AWH, many investors were left unsure whether they would get anything back at all.
Now according to the ABC News article, while AWH have said that while many people will still get paid out, the owners of the non-existent barrels will have to take up the issue with Nant.
The tale gets ever twistier too, as apparently a large number of barrels have already been decanted and sold without the knowledge and remuneration of investors. Troublingly, many were also found to have their owner names and numbers sanded off. Weirdly, a significant number of barrels were found to be filled with new-make at an ABV of only 45%, well below the usual cask strength.
Where to from here remains to be seen, but hopefully investors left in the lurch will be able to find some sort of resolution to their plight. While this event may cause some concern for onlookers, they should rest assured that the Tasmanian whisky community as a whole is resilient and continues to be committed to crafting the highest quality, locally produced spirits.
Reviewed by: Nick
This unique little gem from Campbeltown’s Sprinkbank Distillery is a fascinating drop in that every time I sample it, it tastes different! No, I don’t think it is rapidly changing in the bottle, oxidising or degrading. I think it just messes with your head.
Let me just provide a bit of context. The Gaja Barolo Cask is part of the limited edition ‘Wood Expressions’ series which, as well as making me snigger immaturely, sounds rather interesting. The bottle in question takes the Springbank spirit and ages it for four years in refill ex-bourbon casks before being transferred into ‘fresh Gaja Barolo casks’ where it remains for a further five years in Campbeltown’s seaside atmosphere.
For the uninitiated (like me before I did my research), Gaja is an Italian wine producer and Barolo is a light red grape. Both aspects make this a very specific maturation for the whisky and one unlikely to be replicated any time soon.
Completing a list of tasting notes for this bottle is a tricky task due to the aforementioned chameleon nature of the dram. If I have just had a light Speyside number then I notice a whole heap of peat on the nose. If I’ve just had a highland dram then I discover raspberries and cream. The palate is sometimes spicy – it is bottled at 54.7% – but other times goes down smoothly and evenly. Occasionally I notice the oily maritime notes although often I find flavours of lemons and oranges. The finish usually lingers, with a wisp of smoke or hint of chocolate.
The bottom line is, no matter the flavours I get out of it, I’ve always enjoyed this dram. Sure, I haven’t been able to put my finger on its true nature, but that just adds to the fun. It is a mystery of a dram. I’ve still got a third of a bottle left – feel free to stop by and help me solve it.
(Although sometimes ****)
Reviewed by: Ted
Keen followers of Whisky Waffle (hello to our mothers and the other three of you) may remember that a while ago I reviewed a tasting pack from Speyside distillers Glenrothes. Well, to quote Prof. Farnsdale, “Good news people!”… there’s another pack!
Just to remind us all what makes Glenrothes interesting in the packed Scottish distilling scene, they like to release their expressions as vintages rather than age statements. While this means that you won’t be able to enjoy a, say, 12yo again and again, the upshot is that you are able to experience the unique nature of one particular year’s output (until it’s all sold out that is).
The pack I’m sampling today is pretty much identical physically to the previous one – nice box with buff lid and a shiny copper-coloured base containing three very handy mini-glencairns and three 100ml bottles of the good stuff.
Pack #1 featured the ’95 and the ’98 vintages plus the Select Reserve, the latter also featuring in this set. The two new drams that feature in pack #2 are the Alba Reserve and the 2001 vintage.
The Select Reserve is Glenrothes’ ‘house’ whisky, a vatted malt crafted to typify the Glenrothes flavour profile. The Alba reserve is another vatted release; while Glenrothes usually uses an mixture of Spanish and American oak, the Alba uses 100% American oak-matured spirit (the moniker deriving from the oak’s Latin name ‘Quercus alba’). The 2001 vintage was produced in 2001… I’m not quite sure what else you were expecting?On the nose the Select is fat and oozy, with a generous helping of dark chocolate, dried apricots, cinnamon, ginger and of course, raisins. In complete contrast the Alba is light and airy, with a fairly insubstantial waft of honey, coconut and pear. Finally, the 2001 is smooth and nutty, with an undertone of spice and aged oak planking.
On the palate the Select is rounded and nutty, with a cheeky citrus burst at the finish that lingers across the tongue. Again providing a contrast, the Alba is sharp and pithy, racing to the back of the mouth and leaving a slightly sour, metallic aftertaste. Unlike the actual Reserves, the 2001 is rather reserved, casually imparting a balanced mix of wood, nuts and dried fruit. The softness of the 2001 can likely be attributed to its 14yo age, having been bottled in 2015.
Tasting packs like this are a great way to try a range of drams from a particular distillery before you actually commit to one. Case in point: I would happily keep a bottle of the Select Reserve around as a casual dram and would derive pleasure from seeing the 2001 vintage nestled amongst my collection, but I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the Alba reserve. I suppose it does provide an interesting insight into how the addition of European oak can balance out a whisky though.
Hmm.. I think this requires a more thorough investigation. Can anyone point me in the direction of tasting pack #3?
Select Reserve ★★★
Alba Reserve ★★
2001 vintage ★★★
Posted by: Nick
Devonport nightlife getting a little dull? Looking for a bar with a real connection to its location? Have a thing for ceiling-hung pot plants? Well good news folks: Southern Wild Distillery is open for business.
George Burgess, with support from the Devonport Council, has been very canny in its creation. By day, Southern Wild is a working distillery where visitors can drop by to taste the wares and even organise a tour with the man himself if they enquire beforehand (firstname.lastname@example.org).
By night, Southern Wild is a classy and welcoming bar, the likes of which Devonport has not seen before. Available are a number of exciting cocktails featuring George’s own Dasher and Fisher gin as well as a range of Tassie wine, beers and spirits. Hungry? You can also find a superb range of bar food designed by Masterchef’s own Ben Milbourne.
Southern Wild Distillery is another exciting chapter in the ongoing story that is Tasmanian spirits – and one that Devonport is privileged to be able to host. If you’re interested in locally produced spirits, or looking for an alternative to Tapas Lounge Bar on a Friday night, call into Southern Wild and say Whisky Waffle sent you.
Southern Wild is located at 17 Fenton Way Devonport and is open Monday to Wednesday 10 until 5 and Thursday to Sunday 10 until late!
Reviewed by: Nick
Tastes like bourbon.
Ok, I freely admit, that statement alone does not do this dram justice. After all, this is whisky made at one of the oldest distilleries in the world! And yes, I do include Scotland in this claim.
Buffalo trace was founded in 1787 at a small settlement called Lee’s Town, a town presumably established by someone called Lee. The title ‘Buffalo Trace’ was given to it much later, but refers to the 18th century name for the distillery’s location: a trail forged by American bison as they crossed the Kentucky River. Buffalo Trace continued sending whiskey up the river across the ensuing centuries – even during prohibition when it was given a permit to produce medicinal whiskey. Unsurprisingly it was a very popular remedy.
But how does it taste?
But it’s good bourbon!
On the nose is, as you’d expect, sweet corn and vanilla, but also present are subtle notes of cinnamon and brown sugar. The palate is lightly spicy with grassy oak notes. The finish is medium in length with flavours of toffee and honey.
All in all, Buffalo Trace is a great example of a bourbon. It’s accessible and, all things considered, pretty darn smooth. Best of all, it’s a bourbon with a story. It allows you to cast your mind back to the late 1700s when settlers battled to survive – and make whiskey on the side!
And it tastes like bourbon.
Posted by: Ted
With an area of only 620km2 (ok, 619.6km2 if you want to be precise) Islay isn’t exactly a huge place. But what it lacks for in size, it certainly makes up for in the number of distilleries it has nestled on its shores, boasting a total of eight whisky makers. Excitingly though, in 2018 things are set to get even more squishy with the completion of a brand new distillery.
Taking the name Ardnahoe from the nearby loch from which it will draw its water, the new distillery will be built to the north of Port Askaig, nestling in between venerable stalwarts Caol Ila and Bunnahabhain, and will boast magnificent views across the Sound of Islay to neighboring Jura. The venture represents the first new distillery to be built on Islay since the opening of Kilchoman in 2005.
Ardnahoe is owned by the Glasgow based Hunter Laing & Co, an independent bottler and blender established in 2013. Run by Stewart Laing and sons Andrew and Scott, the company owns brands such as Old & Rare, Old Malt Cask and The Sovereign.
Ardnahoe will be the first distillery owned by the company and will not only allow them to directly tap into the global demand for Islay whisky, but also to have complete control over the whole spirit-making process. While announcing the project greenlight last year, Andrew Laing noted that: ‘Since starting our company we’ve seen a huge demand for Islay whisky around the world, and now is the perfect time to make the progression from blenders and bottlers to distillers, and secure our own supply of Islay single malt.’
To help with that transition, Hunter Laing & Co has managed to lure a local legend and bona fide rockstar of the Scottish distilling scene out of retirement to act as their Production Manager. Jim McEwan, until recently Master Distiller for Islay mavericks Bruichladdich, will play a pivotal role at the distillery, supervising everything from production processes to cask selection and even design of the equipment.
Reflecting on his choice to come out of retirement to work at Ardnahoe distillery, McEwan said: “I had intended to ride off into the sunset, but I’ve known Stewart for many years and have always been impressed with Hunter Laing whisky. When the call came in, it really excited me…
“It felt as though the stars were aligning; the amazing location, my history with Islay, my relationship with the Laing family, their passion for the project, the calibre of architect Iain Hepburn, plus my chance to get involved with the design of the distillery for the first time in my career, all made it feel like it was ‘meant to happen’.”
The Laing family are certainly excited about their choice of appointment too, with Andrew Laing proudly stating: “It’s hard to think of anyone better qualified than Jim McEwan to develop the character of the newest Islay malt whisky. Jim has lived and breathed Islay whisky his whole life and is bringing all of his passion and knowledge to Ardnahoe Distillery. The three of us are hugely impressed with the whiskies he’s produced in the past and can sleep easy knowing that he is in ultimate charge of whisky-making at Ardnahoe”
All that remains to do now is wait for the distillery to bear fruit. While that day is still many seasons away, you can guarantee that with Jim McEwan at the helm and Hunter Laing & Co’s passion for quality, the drams plucked from the tree of Ardnahoe will be very tasty indeed.
Reviewed by: Nick
If this website were not called Whisky Waffle, then I could sum up the Glenfiddich 18 Year Old in just three words:
Goes. Down. Nicely.
Of course, we all know that’s not how I roll and I’d like to expand on those three words just a little.
Goes: Of all 18 Year Old whiskies in the world, the Glenfid is probably the most accessible. I picked it up for 98 bucks here in Aus when it was on special – a pretty remarkable price for something that has been in ex-bourbon barrels (and a few ex-oloroso casks) long enough to be of drinking age.
Down: the 18 Year Old’s main drawcard is its drinkability. It is one smooth drop. For seasoned whisky fans this might even be a disadvantage – some might consider it a bit boring. Not me. My biggest challenge is looking down at my glass to find I’ve already polished it off.
Nicely: Yep – it tastes good. On the nose are apples, grapefruit and pears alongside a smidge of oak. The palate is soft with notes of honey, cinnamon and vanilla, while the finish is medium in length leaving lingering flavours of apple-based baked goods.
If you find it cheaply, this is worth getting – especially if you are looking for a whisky that, well, goes down nicely!
Posted by: Nick
Independent bottling in Tasmania is a relatively rare thing. Sure, there’s the mighty Heartwood leading the way and a few others coming on board, but by and large, it’s an unexplored market. One person who realised this a long time ago is whisky fanatic and Whisky Waffle guest contributor, Alex ‘Moorsey’ Moores. Despite maintaining a fledgling full-time career in law, he has achieved what most whisky lovers can only dream about – he has created his own whisky: Dark Valley.
Dark Valley was named after the area of Hobart in which Alex grew up, Glen Dhu. While the temptation was there to name his drams simply ‘Glen Dhu’, being a qualified solicitor he was aware of the legal dangers of such a Scottish sounding name. He instead opted to translate the Gaelic into English and name his bottles ‘Dark Valley’, setting the tone for the gothic labels and imagination-stirring individual release titles such as ‘Raven’s Roost’ and ‘Hunter’s Keep’. Importantly for Alex, he did not wish to tinker in any way with the whisky – he wanted to showcase it in as close to its natural form as possible. This meant no diluting, no blending, no finishing and no filtering. His aim was to create a whisky that was the next best thing to getting it straight from a barrel.
While the first releases from Dark Valley feature whisky distilled at Lark Distillery, it is Alex’s hope that one day all Tasmanian distilleries will contribute spirit for his range. He already has Redlands on board and northern-Tassie’s new boys Adams are next on the list. For now though, there are three different bottlings in existence, all of which I was lucky enough to try at Dark Valley’s Hobart launch.
The first I tried was the 60.3% sherry matured ‘Raven’s Rest’. My initial reaction was “Yes. Yes yes yes. Yes. Yes.” It was like cooking raspberry jam – so warm and fruity. Next up was the ‘Widow’s Watch’ – bourbon matured and 65.8%, it was full of vanilla and baked goods. I decided on cupcakes, with orange icing and poppy seeds. Finally was the port matured 62.7% ‘Hunter’s Keep’, and it was my favourite of the lot. It combined the flavours of the other two beautifully while adding hints of cinnamon and nutmeg, creating an effect I described as ‘mulled whisky’. It was superb.
The drawbacks of setting up a new whisky brand is, of course, the cost. Dark Valley will certainly not be going into mass-production any time soon. In fact, these releases came from tiny 20 litre casks, meaning just over 30 bottles of each were made. However, this doesn’t mean you’re unlikely ever to see sight nor sound or them. Alex’s very firm goal is to get Dark Valley into whisky bars – and not into the hands of collectors. He intends to get his product into various establishments in Melbourne and Tasmania, with a few in Hobart showing some interest after the successful launch. In the coming months, if you happen to be near a whisky bar in any of these locations, ask after Dark Valley, because once people discover how good it is it’s not going to last long.
Finally, on a more personal note, I’d just like to offer my sincerest congratulations to Alex for achieving the spectacular feat of getting his whisky to bottling stage. Moorsey is a genuinely top bloke and I know he’ll be another wonderful torchbearer for Tasmanian whisky.
Reviewed by: Nick
Yes, Tasmanian super-strength independent bottler Heartwood has come up with some fantastic names over the years: Vat Out of Hell, Release the Beast, Any Port in a Storm and Convict Resurrection. However, one of Tim Duckett’s most recent releases I think sums up the whisky producer better than all others: Dare to be Different.
Heartwood doesn’t do things by the book. If Tim doesn’t think it’s as good as it can be, he’ll beat it with a paddle, or stick it in the hot room, or transfer it to another barrel, or pour in a hundred litres of peated Lark new make! The goal here is not to create age statement or single cask releases. Tim simply aims to make the best darn tasting whisky he possibly can.
While Dare to be Different is one of the newer releases from Heartwood, chances are, by the time you read this, it’ll be sold out. That’s just the way Heartwood is, with only 200 or so bottles of each release available. Which is why whenever I visit the Lark whisky bar in Hobart, I can’t help but try what they’ve got.
Dare to Be Different is fittingly dissimilar from many other Heartwood bottlings. It’s darker, more savoury and meaty – and more complex, too. This is due, in no small part, to the 100% peated Lark spirit which has then spent eight years in ex-Oloroso sherry barrels.
The nose is lovely and… delicate? Is that even possible for a Heartwood? There are apples, flowers and a dash of… meat pie. Possibly. It might have been plums. The palate is unsurprisingly spicy and tangy (cheers 65.5%!) featuring tropical fruit flavours mixed with smoked meats and pate. The finish is long and punchy, and I mean this in multiple ways – it tastes like fruit punch and certainly packs a punch. Punchy punch. Enough said.
Across its entire history what the whisky industry simply cannot do without is innovators. People like Tim Duckett who really push the envelope and create peated sherry monsters one week and juicy port offerings the next, all between 60% and 75%. Heartwood dares to be different – and we’re all richer for it.