Southern Wild: open for business

Posted by: Nick

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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 (enquiries@southernwilddistillery.com).

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!

Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Reviewed by: Nick

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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?

Like bourbon.

No!

Well, yes.

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.

★★★

Big Score for Ardnahoe: Jim McEwan joins the team

Posted by: Ted

ardnahoe-distillery

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.

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Jim McEwan (second left) with the Ardnahoe team

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.

Glenfiddich 18 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

glenfiddich-18

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!

★★★★

Delving into Dark Valley: the launch of Tassie’s latest dram

Posted by: Nick

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Heartwood Dare to be Different

Reviewed by: Nick

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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.

★★★★

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2016 Waffle Awards

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Whisky Waffle Logo 1

World Whisky Awards? Not bad. San Fran World Spirits Comp? Alright. Jim Murray Liquid Gold? Ok, so long as it’s a rye. But we all know the big one is still to come – the award that whisky makers around the world crave above all others (even if they’ve never heard of us). That’s right folks. It’s time for the 2016 Waffle Awards!

This year the waffle boys have donned formal Scottish attire to award drams which they have purchased for the first time in 2016. So, ladies and gentlemen, help yourself to the complimentary champagne (we’ll email you some) and enjoy the 2016 Waffle Awards!

1 The Isle of the Drammed Award Whisky Waffle

The Isle of the Drammed Award for the best Tasmanian Whisky

As Tasmania’s number one whisky blog, we naturally have a category for the best Tassie dram. This year the Isle of the Drammed Award goes to:

Belgrove Rye Pinot Noir Cask

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We were lucky enough to visit Belgrove’s creator Peter Bignell earlier this year and were able to try some truly phenomenal drams while we were there. But this was the one that really seemed to represent Belgrove’s true flavour. The Pinot Noir barrels imparted a fruity flavour on the rye – drinking this is akin to strawberry jam on thick brown bread. Fantastic.

2 The Tartan Slipper Award Whisky Waffle

The Tartan Slipper Award for the best Scottish whisky

We had to create a category for Scotland, where some of the finest single malts in the world are crafted. Plus it makes a nice change for a non-rye whisky to win something. This year the Tartan Slipper Award goes to:

Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old 

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Usually Islay is all about the peat monsters, but a couple of distilleries buck the trend. Bunnahabhain explores the softer, earthier side of the island, which the phenomenal 18yo serves up in spades. Expect roasted nuts, ripe fruits, a good raisiny punch from the sherry casking and a mouth-pleasing hit of salt and soft peat to finish.

3 The Pocket Pleaser Award Whisky Waffle

The Pocket Pleaser Award The perfect pick for the parched penny pincher

As we said, we’ve bought bottles of all our award winners this year – and it’s an expensive business. So the Pocket Pleaser Award goes to a dram we won’t mind paying for again. And again. And again…

Ardbeg 10 Year Old

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Younger Scottish whiskies can be a bit hit and miss, but if a good hit of peat is thrown into the mix, it conjures some sort of dark, alchemical magic that can summon up a truly excellent dram. Hence our belief the that the Ardbeg 10yo is devilishly good… and great value at that. Sweetly peaty and wickedly smoky, the 10yo will please any lover of the Ileach drops. If you find it on sale, don’t even think, just whip out that wallet and buy, buy, buy.

4 The Weirdsky Award Whisky Waffle

The Weirdsky Award for the most WTF whisky

Weird whisky – weirdsky? Well there are plenty out there. This award celebrates the most unusual bottle we’ve obtained in 2016 and is awarded to:

The Pot-Still Exclusive Invergordon 26 Year Old Single Grain Whisky

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Grain whiskies tend to get a bit of a low rap to be honest. If people ever give them any thought, it’s just as the backdrop for single malts in blends. To be fair, young grains can be pretty rough too, but if you happen to let them sit around in barrels for long enough, special things can happen. Bottled as an exclusive for Glaswegian bar ‘The Pot Still’, the Invergordon 26yo Single Grain whisky is a really interesting drop. Far from its spikey, awkward siblings, the 26yo is pleasantly zesty and vibrant, with citrus and pineapple bursting in the mouth. You aren’t likely to find this bottling any time soon, but its definitely worth tracking down some decent grain whisky if you want to try something different.

5 The Bill Lark Award Whisky Waffle

The Bill Lark Award for service to Tasmanian whisky

Named after the man who started it all, the Bill Lark Award is dedicated to a person within the Tasmanian whisky scene who has really made a difference and put us on the map. This year, it gives us great pleasure to award it to:

Tim Duckett

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The mad scientist of Tasmanian whisky, Wafflers everywhere have a lot to thank this man for. He has brought us some of the most powerful whiskies in the world with his Heartwood creations. He has helped bring in a whole new crowd of whisky fanatics by co-founding the Tasmanian Whisky Appreciation Society. He has supported a range of Tasmanian distilleries by promoting them or buying their barrels. But, most crucially, he has created a legacy of experimentation and tinkering. Tim is not concerned with age statements or single cask releases. His aim is to make something that tastes bloody good, and if that means spanking his whisky with a wooden oar, then so be it.

6 The Golden Dram Whisky Waffle

The Golden Dram for the best dram whisky in the world

This is a tough award to decide on each year. We try a range of brilliant stuff and narrowing it down to one is almost impossible. It took an x-factor, an extra special connection to push it over the line this year. So may we present, The Golden Dram to:

Highland Park 18 Year Old

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There’s no doubt that this is a special dram. It is one of the most complex and interesting drops we’ve tried this year. But it also toasted the creation of Nick’s house from start to finish and played its part in creating many fond memories. Only the best drams of all do this.

An honourable mention goes to the dram that we couldn’t include because only Ted has had the pleasure of tasting it: the incomparable William Cadenhead Single Speyside Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 40 Years.

In fairness, we include a dishonourable mention as well, which this year is being renamed the Founders Reserve Award. And although it should probably go to the Founders Reserve again, this year it goes to the biggest misfire from a normally reliable distillery: Glen Moray Port Cask Finish.

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So what do you think of our awards? Some good drams? What would you include as your winners? Let us know in the comments and have a very happy new year.

Keep on waffling!

#2016WaffleAwards

An ode to Islay

Posted by: Nick

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Our week exploring the peated wonders of Islay has sadly come to a close. We’ve loved every drop and had some proper crackers. And lastly, we’ve reminisced about Islay itself – the beautiful Hebridean island which we would both return to in a heartbeat. To conclude our celebrations I wanted to share a poem I composed while on the island a few years ago. I was so taken with the place (and under the influence of several peated drams) that I thought I could only express myself in rhyme. Merry Christmas fellow wafflers!

Out in the Atlantic Ocean lies

an island of my hearts desire.

With salty air and peat smoke rife

the spiritual home of the water of life.

Its sunny skies and rugged coast

but friendly locals I’ll miss the most.

I’ll always long for that familiar burn

and hope one day I shall return.

A very waffly Christmas

#IslayWeek

#LetsGetPeaty

Lagavulin: 200 years of peated perfection

Posted by: Ted

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Here at Whisky Waffle we understand the gravitas of celebrating a bicentennial birthday. When we sprang into existence in 1988, we arrived just in time to witness Australia’s 200th year as a nation (although one of us saw a few months more of it than the other). Now we are all grown up and are excited to be able to witness another bicentennial milestone, the anniversary of a distillery that is rather close to our hearts:

Happy 200th Birthday Lagavulin!

Founded in 1816 by John Jonston and Archibald Campbell, Lagavulin has now entered the prestigious Islay old-boys club, joining the company of fellow veterans Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bunnahabhain and Laphroaig.

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Nestled on the shoreline just a couple of miles East of Port Ellen, the Diageo-owned distillery is classic Islay, with whitewashed walls bearing the name of the distillery in giant black letters on the seaward side and elegant pagodas peeking above the roof line. Inside, guests are greeted by age polished timber and leather chairs, painting a romantic view of yesteryear. Not forgetting of course the glossy copper stills and the ever-present scent of peat and spirit rising to meet the angels…

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To celebrate the big milestone Lagavulin has released a special edition 8 year old bottling, which aims to recreate a bottling sampled by historical Waffler Alfred Barnard in 1886. Now, bear in mind an 8 year old whisky was considered nigh-on ancient back in the day and Barnard described that one as as “exceptionally fine”.

With such high praise from the 19th century, Nick immediately decided to add it to his collection. However, seeing that 2016 marked a 200 year celebration he thought ‘why stop there’ and promptly bought the 2014 edition of the Lagavulin 12 Year Old Cask Strength. When Ted added his Whisky Waffle favourite the 16 Year Old into the mix, we had quite the ingredients for a special Lagavulin birthday bash! Or as we didn’t refer to it at the time but should have: a peat party!

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On the nose the 16yo was straight up coastal, with a salty, iodiny, seaweedy hit. But then we found… bananas? Perhaps banana chips, as well as dry-aged meat, terracotta, copper and crushed grass. The flavour was all about the tangy peat, but there were earthy notes such as mossy paving stones and singed oak branches.

After the subtle, balanced nature of the 16yo, the 8yo stopped us dead in our tracks and then made us jump up and down with excitement. The colour for one thing was crazy, like the palest white wine, certainly no Diageo caramel in sight there. The nose was decidedly new-makey. Raw. Ashy. A good deep breath delivered a big hit of green fruit. The flavour was fresh, crisp and bright, with the fire still burning across the palate. Summer peat. The finish was rather excellent, being sharp like a tailored charcoal suit. Everything about the 8yo served to highlight the smoothness of the 16yo.

Finally it was the turn of the cask strength 12yo, probably the dark horse of the bunch. Phwoar, what a whisky. It was young, exciting and complex, like a teenage poet. It was Bond, Die Hard and Crank… on Speed. The finish provided a peaty punch that really scratched that itch. There’s something about young peated whisky that just works.

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We’ve always had a connection with Lagavulin, even before we started the whole Whisky Waffle malarkey. To be fair, the 16yo was the first whisky that ever blew our minds and made us think that whisky was something more than an additive to Coke. Hopefully this gem of Islay continues another 200 years and beyond, but who knows what the future may bring. Maybe one day in the far flung future a descendant of Howard Carter will be leading an expedition to explore the ruins on a lonely island off the old Scottish coast. Perhaps they will discover a door sealed with a dusty cartouche bearing the legend ‘Lagavulin Distillery Est. 1816 Isla’ and upon gaining entry to the chamber within, will stumble across a hoard of barrels containing the fabled peated gold of Islay…

Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

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I would like to start out by saying that I am a big fan of Bunnahabhain (so this review is not going to be biased in the slightest). Yes, we all know that Islay is famous for its heavily peated drams, but I have a definite soft spot for this gentle islander.

I’ve actually been to the distillery, a few miles up the coast from Port Askaig, but to my eternal discontent I haven’t actually done the tour as we were pressed for time and had several other tours booked that day. The buildings may look rather grey and foreboding, but the people are so friendly and warm. Please pop by and say hello to them if you get a chance.

I really got a taste for Bunna on the ferry on the way over to Islay because it was the dram of the month and they were pouring doubles. Standing on deck in the blasting wind and watching the islands of Islay and Jura hove into view with a warming glass of Bunnahabhain in hand definitely leaves a lasting impression on a lad.

While I may have cut my teeth on the Bunna 12 Year Old, I recently acquired a bottle of the 18 Year Old and tell you what, it’s pretty exceptional. Bunnahabhain dials back the peat hit in favour of softer, earthier flavours. The nose is rather like tramping around the rolling interior of the island, bringing forth moss, springy peat-laden soil, wind-twisted woods and the occasional gust of salty sea breeze (plus the colour is like the dark waters of the lochs that stud the landscape).

Other flavours floating through the air include roasted chestnuts, dark chocolate, spit roasted lamb with salt and rosemary, stewed quinces and brandy-soaked raisins (sherry casking par excellence).

The mouth is quite salty, but strikes an elegant balance, like a high quality piece of salted caramel served with delicate slices of pear poached in butter and sprinkled with brown sugar. The finish is rounded, warm and comforting, like curling up on a squishy couch in front of a glowing fire on a cold night.

While I rather enjoy getting smacked in the face with a massive slab of Ileach peat, there’s something about the softer side of Islay that keeps drawing me back again and again. One day I will return to Bunnahabhain and explore it properly, but until then I will sit back with a glass of the 18 Year Old, close my eyes and be transported back to one of the most magical places in the world.

★★★★

#IslayWeek

#LetsGetPeaty