Month: September 2014

Hellyers Road Pinot Noir Finish

Reviewed by: Nick

Hellyers Road Pinot Finish whisky waffle

Tasmania is rapidly becoming known as the ‘Whisky Isle’ of Australia. Not only are distillers here in my home state creating award winning produce, they are also experimenting with new methods to create unique whisky. Hellyers Road Distillery is no exception to this, and perhaps their most interesting expression is their Pinot finish.

The Tasmanian wine industry is already thriving, with cool climate wines such as Pinot Noir being made exceptionally well, particularly in the Tamar Valley. It is from here that Hellyers road sources barrels to transfer previously bourbon-aged spirit into for the final six months of its maturation.

The difference this process makes is marked. One glance tells you that this is a very different whisky to the Original release. Its colour is no longer light and pale; instead it is enticingly golden. The nose is equally varied. There are still the typical buttery notes to be found, but now these are infused with fruits such as raisins and dates. The palate is rather light, but gone are some of the sharper, rougher flavours of the Original. Instead there are dry, almost sour notes, competing intriguingly with the more expected flavours of vanilla and toffee. The finish is spicy, the added kick from the alcohol percentage of 46.2% clearly apparent. Finally, you are left with the trademark Hellyers Road buttery notes that remind me of not so much a cake, but rather uncooked cake batter.

The Pinot Noir cask is a fascinating malt. Undoubtedly more interesting and complex than its cousin, the Original, it is also smoother and easier to drink. While not yet a perfect whisky, it certainly shows that experimentation has more than paid off for Mark Littler and Hellyers Road.

★★★

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Hellyers Road Original

Reviewed by: Ted

Hellyers Road Original whisky waffle

We live in Burnie, a small town of around 20000 people on the North-West coast of Tasmania. A somewhat surprising, and pleasing, fact about our little town is that we have our own distillery: Hellyers Road.

Named after Henry Hellyer, one of the first Europeans to explore the NW coast, the distillery is slightly unusual in that it was purpose-built and is still wholly owned by the Betta Milk company located next door (best milk in the world!). The idea of dairy farmers setting up a whisky distillery is very NW Tasmanian. The distillery has certainly benefitted from the technical knowhow from the milk processing plant for setting up its own systems.

As the name suggests, the Hellyers Road Original was the first release from the company. A non-age statement release (Hellyers Road tells us that it is bottled between 7½ – 9 years age), the Original provided a platform for the distillery to build on while waiting for its whisky to come of age. The packaging and artwork is sensational, with a handmade look that is very much part of the ‘City of Makers’ arts-and-crafts vibe that exists in Burnie today.

Thanks to its relatively short time spent in American oak bourbon casks the Original is very light in colour, rather like the clear, crisp yellow of a white wine. The nose is all Hellyers Road, and is like nothing else around. You know it when you smell it. It oozes fat, creamy, buttery tones, very rich and comforting. Very befitting of a distillery that owes its existence to a milk factory.

The taste is where things get interesting for me. Unlike the warm, fuzzy nose, the palate is quite sharp and ‘green’ in flavour, with bitter herbal notes, and a not unpleasant hint of lightly burnt sugar underneath. The 46.2% strength that the Hellyers Road distillers have chosen to bottle at provides a nice sparkle across the tongue.

The Hellyers Road Original is a very curious whisky. Its disjunct nose and palate, and its somewhat sharp flavours suggest an unfinished, uncertain nature. But perhaps we can forgive it of this thanks to its young age and our knowledge that this is only the beginning, and that with time and maturity and experience a truly great whisky may emerge. This is no Scotch, but rather a creation of the new Tasmanian whisky landscape, one that speaks of the rolling green hills of Burnie and the enterprising people that abide there.

★★

Glenfiddich 15 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Glenfiddich 15 whisky waffle

This is more like it Glenfiddich! In my review of the Glenfiddich 12 Year Old, I described it as pleasant but unremarkable. The 15 Year Old release goes some way to rectifying this. If Glenfiddich were a wine, the 12 year Old would be a white, whereas the 15 Year Old would clearly be a red.

This whisky is created using a Solera vatting technique, where various 15 year old expressions are married together in a large ex-wash back. The vat is never more than half emptied meaning a percentage of the remaining whisky that makes up each bottle is very old indeed.

This is immediately a more enjoyable whisky than the 12 year old. Darker in colour and more complex on the nose, various aspects of its mixed-maturation can be found within. There is vanilla from the bourbon casks and green sappy flavours from the new oak. The biggest contributor, however, is the sherry casks. The spirit matured in these barrels imparts dried fruits, toffee, even cola upon the palate and leaves a long, dry and memorable finish.

While the 12 Year Old is the most popular, and the 18 Year Old the smoothest, when taking into account the balance between flavour and value for money, I believe it is almost impossible to go past the 15 Year Old. It is the most complex and interesting by far and crucially, it gives you the most to talk about.

★★★★

Glenfiddich 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Glenfiddich 12 whisky waffle

Glenfiddich is undeniably the most popular distiller of single malt Scotch whisky in the world. This is demonstrated in a number ways. Their long history dating back to William Grant himself. Their extensive range of expressions, which includes a fifty year old that is not impossible to come by. Their whopping 28 stills on site. Or perhaps, the simple fact that they sell more whisky than any other distillery in Scotland.

Their top selling bottle is their 12 Year Old. Its distinctive green packaging is synonymous with Scottish whisky. And it is a very drinkable malt. But cannot in any way be described as remarkable.

While the distillery will try and impress upon you a likeness to pears in this dram, the palate and especially the nose are in fact more floral in nature: more akin to a stroll through a florists than a greengrocers. Some spice and oak begin to develop before finally the merest hint of sweet fruit arrives at the very back-end of the finish.

Overall, this is a fairly light whisky in a pleasant and yet slightly disappointing way. After the build up concerning its popularity, the end result is somewhat of an anticlimax. Despite being the world’s best selling single malt whisky it does not convince me that it is also the best representation of Scotland.

★★

anCnoc 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

anCnoc 12 whisky waffle

During the warmer months a beer drinker will often turn to a lighter, more refreshing beer such as a pale ale. Well, for whisky drinkers that desire likely still holds true, and thus is created the perfect moment for the subject of this review: the anCnoc 12 year old.

Pronounced a-nock (or as we like to say… oh-cock), this summery little number is produced by Knockdhu distillery, found resting in the shadow of Knock Hill in the Highlands of Scotland. A bright clear gold in colour, the nose is light and dusty with a nice scent of grain that brings to mind fields of drying barley waving under the summer sun.

Slightly detracting from the bouquet is the occasional whiff of raw alcoholic notes, particularly when cold, but it isn’t disastrous and doesn’t spoil the overall experience. The taste is light and initially sweet, followed by more of those good dusty grain flavours and a pleasant sharpness that hits you on the middle of the palate and at the back of the nose.

If you find yourself basking in the remains of a warm summer evening and feel like relaxing with a dram, then you will find good company in the anCnoc 12. Drink with friends and with a damn good sunset on the horizon.

★★★

Talisker 10 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Talisker 10 whisky waffle

I will forever be filled with immense amounts of good will towards Talisker distillery and with good reason, as mentioned in this ‘whisky musing’ post. Of course, this could potentially leave me viewing their products through ruby-tinted glasses. However, my love affair with Talisker whisky began long before my visit, and was initially kindled by the quality drop that is their flagship release, the 10 Year Old.

There is something special about the way the Talisker balances smoke with sweetness. In fact, if this review were written on a more succinct whisky review site then it may be summed up in two (conveniently rhyming) words: sweet peat.

It’s there immediately on the nose. It doesn’t hit you over the head with smoke, but you know it’s there. The sweetness is akin to the scent of melting brown sugar. It’s spicy when it first hits the palate; a subtly higher bottling strength of 45.8% gives this whisky an extra layer of complexity. The flavours in the mouth are full and confident with notes of oak and pepper before the smoke makes a welcome return.

The finish is perhaps the highlight of this whisky. It’s lengthy and peaty, full of hints of the distillery’s island location and yet does not lose the toffee caramel notes. It’s memorable and long lasting, and certainly a more than appropriate selection to conclude a night of tasting.

The Talisker 10 year old is a fine whisky. It somehow combines the best elements of Islay and Speyside and assembles them into one impressive drop. I will always think fondly of this distillery, but despite everything, I think the main reason for this is simply the quality of their whisky.

★★★★

My trip to Talisker Distillery

There is a wonderful sense of community associated with whisky. I’ve witnessed it in many forms. A group of revellers at a bar in Scotland. A celebration between good mates. The support offered between establishments in the Tasmanian whisky industry. Talisker distillery.

The Isle of Skye is a breathtaking place full of beautiful scenery and quaint, friendly villages. Sadly, my time there was cut short, including my tour of the distillery Talisker. I was lucky to be afforded a half hour visit to cancel my booking and simply see it with my own eyes. While there, the distillery was able to fulfil my wishes and dreams, despite the shortness of my stay.

At Tallisker

Upon arriving I inhaled the wonderful sea air and hints of peat smoke emanating from the premises, and got a helpful tourist to provide photographic evidence of my presence. Then, upon entering the visitor centre, I told the tale of the unfortunate reasons behind my early departure from Skye and cause of my booking cancellation.

The response was immediate. “Have you got a couple of minutes”, one gentleman asked, and upon my positive reply escorted me into the maturation warehouse usually only seen upon a formal tour of the facility. We discussed their aging of the barrels and the variety of casks used in the process. He was interested in my little state of Tasmania and the whisky being created there. Then a tour group arrived and we quickly scurried back to the tasting area.

“While you’re here, you had better do a tasting”, he proclaimed. I did not protest. “I’ve tried the 10 Year Old,” I confessed “and liked it very much”. “Ok,” he replied “have you had the 18 Year Old?”

Twenty minutes later, and my visiting time elapsed, not only had I discovered my new favourite Talisker expression – but I had done so twice – for after the magnificent 18 Year Old, he produced a ‘Triple Matured’ dram only available to the ‘Friends of the Classic Malts’ several years prior to my visit. And this special Distillers Edition was exceptional. Smoke balanced with sherry, dryness balanced with typical Talisker brown sugar. A wonderful, memorable whisky, given to me at no charge.

Talisker, on this day, really solidified in my mind the community that comes with this great drink. In Scotland, or anywhere around the world where it is created, there is a sense of comradery and good will. In fact, as I write this I sip upon a dram of Talisker 10 Year Old, not belonging to me – my good friend Ross left a bottle here after a pleasant night of catching up and one or two (or more) tastings. He will likely only discover my cheeky nip upon reading this post, though I am confident that will embrace the spirit that I have mentioned here and simply say: “Sláinte”.

Glenlivet 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Glenlivet 12 whisky waffle

Some whiskies have absolutely blown me away when I’ve first tried them. Often, the most exciting drams I have ever tried I’ve been unsure if I liked when they first passed my lips. Some whiskies are challenging and different and interesting. But not all of them.

I begin this review as if a whisky that were to lack one or all of these qualities is in some way an inferior drink. However, when the Glenlivet 12 Year Old is concerned, this is just not the case.

Rarely have I found a distillery as reliable as Glenlivet. Nor, where its signature expression is concerned, one as good value. But the 12 Year Old is as dependable a dram as you will find in Scotland. It is the perfect just-got-home-from-work whisky.

It offers sweet oak notes on the nose, leaving you in no doubt you have a malt from Speyside. On the palate it provides an initial hit of honey and some heather before developing into glorious burnt caramel, brown sugar and just a hint of smoke. This makes way for a long vanilla-centric finish that leans towards creaming soda. It all adds up to create a distinctive and memorable, if not perfectly balanced, flavour.

Glenlivet have not produced a world changing whisky here. But that was not what they set out to do. In their 12 Year Old, they have created a dependable whisky, one that you can turn to time and time again without fear of emptying the bottle. Because if it were to run out you would, without hesitation, nip to the bottle shop for a replacement.

★★★

Post script:

Since writing this review the whisky landscape has changed and sadly not for the better. My review’s final claim that when my bottle runs dry I can simply nip to my local store for another no longer rings true. Tonight I downed the last of my trusty Glenlivet 12. It’s been a fun journey, but as they say, all good things must come to an end. Glenlivet 12 – it has been a pleasure having you as my go-to. You will not be forgotten.

Lark Port Wood Distillers Selection

Reviewed by Nick and Ted

Lark Distillers Selection

Tasmania has many different distilleries to choose from and whiskies to savour, but if you were to pick just one, this would have to be it. Lark distillery resurrected the fine art of small scale distilling in Australia, providing a foundation to the swiftly burgeoning scene that exists today.

The Distillers Selection does not provide an age statement, but as it is aged in ex port-wood quarter casks the maturation process is accelerated and the flavours speak for themselves.

Oranges. The true heart of the Lark flavour, a view endorsed by Bill Lark himself (we asked him in person). The nose provides a zesty citrus burst with smooth caramel undertones. This is a big whisky across the palate; full bodied and complex. The finish leaves a memorable taste of dark chocolate and orange rind, with a spicy zing from the 46% alcohol specific to this Lark release.

Across the range of Tasmanian whiskies you may find smoother, richer or more complex drams, but you would be hard pressed to find one that you could honestly describe as better. The Lark Distillers Selection speaks for Tasmania, and represents the start of a new chapter in the evolution of world whisky.

★★★★★

Lagavulin 16 Year Old

Reviewed by Ted

Lagavulin 16 whisky waffle

Balance. Subtlety. Lagavulin 16yr old. As George Takei would say: “Oh my…“.

Heralding from Islay, that near-mythical island of Scottish whisky making, the Lagavulin 16 is aged for most of its life in American oak bourbon casks, then finished in European sherry oak. The maturation sheds of Lagavulin distillery bear the full brunt of the winds and spray of the Atlantic Ocean, and these caress the barrels, imparting their spirit into the developing whisky.

The delicate nose of the Lagavulin 16 has wonderful hints of brine, sea air and mineral salts balanced against a warm brush of smoke and caramelised fruit. The colour is a very light amber, with almost a hint of green, like the first blush of patina on bronze.

After an initial warming hit of peat, the seaside elements make a return with engagingly salty, bitter, metallic notes tempered by nutty caramel and pear. Finally the lovely peat smoke glides across the back of the tongue and down the throat, leaving a peppery finish. This isn’t the usual hearty, roaring bonfire that so typifies many Islay whiskies, but rather the gentle, delicate smouldering of a seaside campfire in the soft golden light of a still dawn. A moment to reflect and savour.

If any of these flavours were too dominant, particularly those drawn from the ocean environment, then this expression of Islay would be diminished, perhaps even unpleasant. Yet in balancing all the parts so precisely against each other, and weaving them so subtly together, a magnificent tapestry is created. The skill of the Lagavulin distillers laid bare. This is a whisky for those quiet, contemplative moments in life, and a truly worthy addition to any collection.

★★★★★