Month: October 2014

An evening at Hellyers Road: 12 years in the making

Posted by: Nick and Ted

The Whisky Waffle boys watched with bated breath as Mark Littler, head distiller at Hellyers Road in Burnie, turned to the guest of honour. “What do you see in your glass?” He asked, offering a dram of Australia’s first 12 Year Old single malt.
“I see fluid!” came the rumbled reply.

When the guest of honour is Jeff Kennett, former premier of Victoria, recent president of Hawthorn Football Club, current chairman of beyondblue Australia, and whisky fanatic in general, you can be assured of an entertaining night of pithy banter, some of it directed at the crowd (we were dubbed the ‘Blue Ties’ for the striking colour of our neck adornments supporting beyondblue, as the charity was to be the beneficiary of the nights proceeds).

Mark Littler and Jeff Kennett investigating the "excellent leggings" in the glass

Mark Littler and Jeff Kennett investigating the “excellent leggings” in the glass

The Whisky Waffle boys were at Hellyers Road in an official capacity, though to be honest wild Celts could not have kept us from attending. On Tuesday the 28th of October 2014 we were both delighted and proud to have the opportunity to attend the official launch of the distillery’s new 12 Year Old single malt, a milestone achievement for Tasmanian whisky.

The night was hosted by Julian O’Brien, editor of local newspaper The Advocate, although he claimed not to be there as a reporter (Jeff: “But I’ve met journalists before.”). Guests were treated to a five course degustation menu pairing local produce with whisky (Hellyers Road of course!). We must admit to being slightly sceptical about the concept of deliberately pairing whisky with food (surely a good malt goes with anything!) but we were more than willing to be won over. Helping the meal to go down was the stunning view from the Hellyers Road visitors centre restaurant out across the Emu Valley.

First cab off the rank was Hellyers Road’s only previous age statement whisky, the 10 Year Old, a drop that Mark Littler referred to as “possibly Australia’s number one selling single malt”, and was matched with a delicate dish of natural Tasmanian oysters. On our first attempt at food and whisky pairing we decided that one did not overpower the other, and the saltiness in the oysters accentuated the sweetness in the whisky.

Course 1 whisky waffle

Tasmanian oysters usually come armed with a tiny fork. Naturally.

After the oyster course came the moment that we were all waiting for, the unveiling of the new 12 Year Old. Mark invited his guests to not just taste the whisky, but to ‘chew’ it, claiming they would find greater depths of flavour if they did so. “Are you with me?” he asked.
“Only out of sheer curiosity,” replied Jeff, who had joined him for the tasting.

We are delighted to say that we were very impressed by the excellent quality of the 12 Year Old. Ted thought he could detect a familiar flavour in the scent: “Macadamias?”
“Very astute,” returned Jeff “And most certainly wrong!”
The 12 was paired with a dish of Petuna hot-smoked ocean trout, the whisky’s natural oiliness working well with the fish.

Course 2 and Nick whisky waffle

Nick: a slightly fishy character

The next course was the Hellyers Road Pinot Noir Finish coupled with a sumptuous dish of duck, however our pairing notes were cut short at this point because the guest speaker began his formal address.

Course 3 whisky waffle

We took to this course like ducks to water

Jeff Kennett began by praising the quality of the Tasmanian whisky industry. He revealed that he had a long time association with Hellyers Road and was pleased they had done so well and come so far, admitting that it was “a hell of a risk for a bunch of dairy farmers to start up a distillery.”

He also regaled us with a number of humorous tales, telling us of his ‘Man Cave’ which contains a large proportion of his 700-odd strong collection of single malt whiskies. Julian then commented that the Whisky Waffle boys might like to pay a visit to the ‘Man Cave’ to sample the wares. “Not wearing those ties!” retorted Jeff.
“beyondblue!” we protested.
“Well in that case you’re definitely invited.” We are pleased to say there were over 50 others present to witness this offer.

Jeff says that beyondblue is by far the thing that he is most proud of and will always be, unless (as he claims) he lives to 150 and something else overtakes it. His one wish is to end discrimination, and if we can do this he feels that we’d be much happier as a society.

Having spent much time in Tasmania he is passionate about the future direction of the state. Julian asked “If you were Premier for the day, what would you do?”
“Well, to be honest it would only take half a day!”
On a more serious note Jeff feels that if the Tasmanian whisky industry is properly supported then it could become a major drawcard for the state, helping to provide much needed money and jobs and raise its global profile.

The fourth course of the night was a curious combination of King Island Dairy triple-cream blue brie with quince paste on honey spice bread. For this dish Hellyers Road brought out their whisky best suited to complement the rich flavours on offer, the excellent Port Cask. We were both very impressed by this single-barrel release, which combined the typical Hellyers Road buttery notes with rich winter fruit flavours.

Course 4 and Ted whisky waffle

Ted: a cheesy character

As we sipped our Hellyers Road whisky cream liqueur and nibbled on our final course: orange vodka fudge tartlets, we mused on our evening. The whisky was definitely a highlight, but perhaps even more so was meeting the people that made it, and the passion and delight they radiated when sharing their craft with others. We hope to continue this friendship, as we all share the same hopes for Tasmanian whisky, and are proud to have a local distillery producing drams of such quality.

course 5 whisky waffle

Cows with guns: at the end of the night, this stuff goes down dangerously smooth

At the end of the evening Mark Littler, and Hellyers Road visitor centre manager Sharon Deane, presented Jeff with a bottle of the 12 Year Old. “One to add to the collection Jeff?”
“Collection? No chance, I’ll have drunk it by the time I get home!”
You certainly couldn’t say fairer than that.

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Hellyers Road Officially Launch 12 Year Old

The new Hellyers Road 12 Year Old expression may have been available for a short while already, but Head Distiller Mark Littler has something special in mind for its official launch.

Hellyers Road Logo

Held at the distillery on the 28th of October, the night will feature many treats for Tasmanian whisky fans, including a master class session on the 12 Year Old and a four course degustation meal with each serving paired with a different single malt.

The night also features a high profile guest speaker and is appropriately titled: ‘An evening with Jeff Kennett’. The ex-Victorian Premier and former president of Hawthorn Football Club is also chairman of beyondblue and all proceeds from the evening will go to the charity. Kennett is fond of a dram or two and has been a fan of Hellyers Road for a number of years.

The boys at Whisky Waffle have been intentionally avoiding tasting the 12 Year Old until this very night and will post their thoughts on the new expression, as well as the whole event in the coming days. If you have any questions for Mark Littler or for Jeff Kennett, post them in the replies and we will endeavour to get some answers!

For more information about the event, consult the Hellyers Road official site.

Nant Port Wood 43%

Reviewed by: Nick

Nant Port Wood 43% whisky waffle

One day, Nant is going to take over the world.

It started out as a fairly innocuous venture. Queensland businessman buys small country estate in the tiny country town of Bothwell, Tasmania. But all is not what is seems.

Bothwell as a town is in fact a tribute to Scotland; it is built on the ‘Clyde’ River and, heart-warmingly, features tartan street signs. The Estate’s new owner is the business-savvy Keith Batt, and only ten years after purchasing the property, he has built a distillery, exponentially expanded its output, opened a successful chain of Whisky Bars around the world, and along the way, produced some truly wonderful whisky. This was never going to be a small-scale boutique distillery…

Fortunately for Nant, in this quest for success and recognition they have not compromised the quality of their product; instead producing batches of frequently excellent whisky. While they may not yet be a truly worldwide product, they can count among their fans one Jim Murray, author of the iconic (and egotistically titled) yearly publication: ‘The Whisky Bible’. Surely it is only a matter of time before Nant goes global.

Nant mature their whisky in various cask types, though there is something special about the ‘Port Wood 43%’ release. Lightly amber in colour, it is sweet on the nose with hints of raisins coated in white chocolate. It is gloriously rich on the palate, featuring cloves, nutmeg and other spices. It is still sweet, but also creamy, and has strong notes of citrus fruit; particularly oranges. The finish is warm, pleasant and creamy. The fruit cake characteristics remain, along with cherries and maple syrup. When you drink this whisky not only do you get flavours of Christmas pudding, but brandy butter, too.

While this whisky is complex and interesting, it is also smooth enough to be enjoyed by non-whisky drinkers. It is unique, memorable, and well worth seeking out.

Of course, it is also built upon the most successful business model seen within the Tasmanian Whisky industry. When trying a drop of Nant, you are not only drinking a whisky – you are drinking an empire.

★★★★

Strathisla 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

Strathisla 12

Some people say that nothing that comes out of a medicine bottle ever tastes good. Well, I would argue that is not always the case, especially when the bottle contains Strathisla 12 Year Old.

Now, I’m not saying that whisky is medicinal (although my dad always had a glass if he felt a cold coming on), but the Strathisla 12 captures the look of a Victorian medicine bottle, with beautiful dark green glass, embossed lettering, several fonts, and a lovely etching of the distillery.

Strathisla is owned by Chivas Brothers, makers of the well known range of Chivas Regal blends. According to the box the distillery itself is ‘The oldest distillery in the Highlands’, although we would debate this fact slightly. Not the age mind, but the location, because when you look on a map you would be forgiven for thinking that Strathisla is smack bang in Speyside.

A sly Speyside imp certainly dances into the character of the Strathisla 12. The nose is light and sharp, with notes of hard fruit, grain, and crushed grass. The taste is crisp and green, with strong bitter herbal flavours that cut across the tongue, leaving a lasting dryness. There’s a raw, untamed edge to this Strathisla that suggests a younger whisky than its 12 years. Perhaps a few more years in the barrel would coax it into bloom.

If you are one of those people that are of the opinion ‘It’s herbal, so it must be good for you’, then you will probably find a better bet in the Strathisla 12 than downing some concoction of random weeds pulled from the garden. The bitterness will definitely be a turnoff for some people, but sometimes that’s just what you want. In fact, come to think of it, the herbal qualities may even make it an excellent component for a cocktail. Take a walk into the leafy green garden of Strathisla and see if it’s just the tonic you’re looking for.

★★

Laphroaig Quarter Cask

Reviewed by: Nick

Laphroaig Quarter Cask whisky waffle

At the time, this was the most expensive bottle of whisky I had ever bought. My best friend, co-writer and co-drinker Ted, had just bought a bottle of Lagavulin 16 and I convinced myself I needed to follow suit with something equally special. So I parted with more money than a uni student like me would normally spend in a month, and took the plunge into the world of Islay whiskies. I was not disappointed.

While this whisky may be younger than 10 years (no age statement is provided, so it’s hard to be sure) it has been matured in smaller ‘quarter’ casks, hence the name of the expression. The reduction in barrel size ensures the spirit has had more contact with the wood than it would usually be allowed (Laphroaig claim 30% more!) and suddenly a more complex, more dynamic whisky is born.

There is still plenty of peat on offer here. However, while the 10 Year Old is merely smouldering, the Quarter Cask is burning intensely: it is the whisky equivalent of a blazing bonfire.

Coastal elements are present on the nose; a sea breeze of salt, brine and seaweed. The fire transfers to the palate: the increased bottling level of 48% gives this whisky the kick and spice that the 10 Year Old lacks. Sweeter flavours come through: toffee, treacle, cocoa, even caramel. The finish is lengthy and memorable. Huge gusts of smoke roll across the palate, and linger for minutes afterwards.

Peated whisky is made by many distilleries. But rarely has one got it as right as this. There is without doubt still a sense of rawness about it. In no way can it be described as the smoothest, most elegant, or even the best whisky you will taste. But all these elements, remarkably, work in its favour. This is peated whisky. This is Islay.

★★★★

Amrut Fusion

Reviewed by: Mooresy

Amrut Fusion
Keen not to be left behind, India’s first single malt was launched in 2004 by Amrut Distilleries and has had a meteoric rise to success in the world market over the last decade. Not trying to imitate Scotch, Indian whisky brings its own special something to the field.

True to its name, this variant is a fusion between the traditional methods of the Scots and the experimental, unshackled approach of Indian distillers. Like a child who has moved out of home in defiance but is still keen to impress the parents, Amrut whiskies are a reminder to the world that independence can lead to innovation in a way only ex-colonial powers demonstrate.

For long-time drinkers of Scotch whisky who are yet to stray into the realm of Australian, Japanese or any other countries, Amrut Fusion will be a surprising drop. On the nose there are hints of spice and sweetness, pushing the mind to thoughts of chai and other familiar Indian flavours.

After a short while, the intensity fades and, I for one, was left with the clearest smell of warm cinnamon doughnuts. On a cold night sitting on a balcony somewhere looking over the ocean, one would feel they were right there at a carnival surrounded by cotton candy, caramel popcorn, and of course the doughnuts.

To taste it gets more traditional, the fruitcake and chocolaty flavours, with the vanilla notes almost inescapable in bourbon-matured drams. The Scottish barley has arguably its biggest influence on the palate through the peat it brings to Fusion, giving a nice smoky kickback to whisky’s origins. Nothing overpowering, just enough to affect the finish and push it out that little bit longer.

There’s a moderate finish, but it’s hard to identify the length because once finished there is a strong desire to just top up the glass a little more and keep the sensation alive. Imagine opening a box of 12 cinnamon doughnuts: you never eat just one.

In the same way that Suntory exhibits qualities archetypal to the qualities of the country in which it was made – precision, exactness, and patience – there is something of the same in Amrut. A busyness and complexity that may make it hard to pin down individual flavours at first but given time all come together and paint a picture everyone can enjoy. There are few whiskies where the phrase “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts” is so applicable.

Amrut has several variants including a peated and a cask strength version of their original single malt, but Fusion is delicious, readily available, affordable, and has a hedonic quality that so far differs from all other Indian whisky (not to mention Scotch whisky) in a charming and moreish way.

★★★

The Whisky Waffle community

Posted by: Nick

The more I discover about the Tasmanian whisky scene, the more I appreciate the close-knit little community that has developed. People are friendly, enthusiastic and willing to help out one another to ensure this thriving industry continues to boom. Our website is only a tiny part of the bigger picture but we would love to help foster this sense of community.

And on that note, we would like to announce the next writer upon Whisky Waffle: YOU! Well – it could be you! If anyone has a piece they are keen to share with the world, or a dram they are desperate to review, send us an email at whiskywaffle@gmail.com and let us know!

So with no further ado may I introduce our first guest contributor: Mr Alex ‘Mooresy’ Moores!

Mooresy and Nick are in 'good spirits' after meeting Jim McEwan. See what I did there?

Mooresy and Nick are in ‘good spirits’ after meeting Jim McEwan. See what I did there?

I met Mooresy while attending the Jim McEwan night last Thursday and was impressed by his enthusiasm and passion for the water of life. His first review will hit the site tomorrow and I assure you, it’s a cracker of a read. Make sure you stop by to check it out!

Until then, keep waffling!

 

Photo provided by the TWAS. Used with permission.

The Greatest Whisky In The World (Conditions Apply)

Posted by: Ted

Whisky is one of those drinks that can instantly transport you back to a time and place (this is not the same as having the conviction that you are Doctor Who after downing one too many nips). The variety of flavours and feelings and imagery that come from different drams lend themselves well to creating waypoints in your mind. If you’re lucky, hopefully most of those memories are good and don’t induce too much of a mental cringe.

One of my all-time favourite whisky drinking memories is the time that we discovered ‘The Greatest Whisky In The World’. Bold call I know. But in that time and place it really was; a legend in the patchwork of our lives. Now, I’m sure everyone is biting the edge of their keyboards in anticipation of discovering the identity of this fabled drink. “What golden nectar, what ambrosia of the Gods, what mystic secret of the ancients are you going to reveal to us Ted?” I hear you cry. Well my friends, agonise no longer, for here it is (drum roll please):

The Greatest Whisky In The World:

The Claymore Blended Scotch Whisky (Conditions apply)

(Much, much later…)

Ok, now that most people have stopped shouting and/or crying, and those of you who stormed out of the room have slunk back in, let me provide you with some context, for context is king in situations like this. Hold a moment while I switch on the Flux Capacitor and power this story up to 88mph.

Flashback

Date: 5/10/2013                Location: Cambodia

Proof that Ted was definitely in Cambodia

Proof that Ted was definitely in Cambodia

Nick, our mate Stretch, and I (Ted) were skulking about in the duty free section of Siem Reap airport, having just spent a fantastic week exploring Cambodia. I will admit that I was in a small amount of disgrace; after we stumbled back to the hotel in the wee hours on our big last night out in Siem Reap, I had checked the tickets and declared that our flight left at 3:10pm. Pity that it was actually 5:10pm (I am super glad that it wasn’t the other way around. Nick and Stretch probably would have tied me up and left me there).

Hence the reason why we were prowling the duty free section; plenty of spare time. Asia is a great place to pick up some quality whiskies at wallet-pleasingly low prices. I will probably be forever haunted by the fact that I decided not to get the Lagavulin Distillers Editions that day (fool). As we made our way around for what was probably the 5th circuit of the shelves, our eyes suddenly lit upon a truly majestic sight. It was as if a ray of golden light had lanced down from the heavens.

Enter The Claymore Blended Scotch Whisky. Contained within a duty free sized 1 litre bottle. And all for a mind-blowingly, jaw-droppingly low price of US$8!!! The thing that we found truly unbelievable was that this wasn’t just some methanol-laced bottle of local stingos. The Claymore is a real honest-to-God kilt wearing Scotch whisky (I had further confirmation that Claymore is legit a few months later when I noticed the great DI Gene Hunt watering his liver with some on the TV show ‘Ashes to Ashes’, the sequel to ‘Life on Mars’).

Hardly daring to believe our good luck, we swiftly purchased a bottle. To express our emotions as an Aussie: Bonza! The next leg of our trip was a week-and-a-bit stay in Vietnam, meaning that we wouldn’t be able to take the Claymore back to Australia with us. No worries! We figured that even if we didn’t finish the bottle, for 8 bucks we were still well and truly up on the deal.

For the next week the Claymore was like another member of the crew. It was certainly a good companion during our many games of cards and Yahtzee. The morning after one particularly big night, when we were all feeling a bit ratty, someone coined the immortal phrase: “Claymore. Like a sword to the face.” Good stuff.

Ted, with a half-finished pint of Claymore. Ok, it's beer, we just didn't take any photos of us drinking whisky. Error, I know.

Ted, with a half-finished pint of Claymore. Ok, it’s beer, we just didn’t take any photos of us drinking whisky. Error, I know.

Then there was the time we smuggled it aboard on a back-packers cruise through Ha Long Bay. Sneaking back to the cabin to liven up a glass of coke added a certain daring element to the trip, and it sure beat the crappy stuff they had on board. The second night of the cruise was spent on a tropical castaway island; sitting under a palm canopy listening to the waves roll onto the white sand, with a good crew and a cheeky dram, we knew life was good.

To be honest, the Claymore wasn’t that great a whisky. Just a pretty bog-standard cheap blend, fairly sharp and raw on the palate. But for me it brings back memories of warm nights spent wearing baggy happy pants on hotel balconies, cracking jokes with my best mates, and playing cards while listening to the busy Asian night life. And therein lies the heart of my reasoning: for the size, and the price, and the good memories left afterwards, at that time The Claymore Blended Scotch Whisky was truly ‘The Greatest Whisky In The World’.

The Whisky Waffle boys, observing a minutes silence in Hanoi to mourn the finishing of the bottle.

The Whisky Waffle boys, observing a minutes silence in Hanoi to mourn the finishing of the bottle.

Jim McEwan: the Rock-Star of Whisky

They say you should never meet your heroes. But in the case of Jim McEwan, master distiller of Bruichladdich, they could not be more wrong.

On Thursday the 9th of October, in Howrah of all places, I had the great pleasure to meet an absolute legend of the whisky world. His introductory spiel described him as “a man you should move heaven and earth to see”. He himself informed us that after six drams I would be thinking of him as a rock star. That wasn’t true. In my eyes, he was a rock star before I had touched a single drop.

The only photo I managed to get taken before my camera's memory filled up. Typical.

The only photo I managed to get taken before my cameras memory filled up. Typical.

Upon walking into the venue I could have been forgiven for feeling out of place. I was possibly the first person to ever wear a bow tie into the Shoreline Hotel. But I quickly realised I was right where I intended to be after spotting a who’s who of Tasmanian whisky: Tim Duckett. Dean Jackson. Casey and Jane Overeem. Richard Stewart. And of course, Robbie from Lark.

The person we had come to see, however, was from slightly further afield and made his entrance in a style befitting of a master Scottish distiller. Clad in a black suit with Bruichladdich-Blue shirt and tie, he marched into the room to the sound of blaring bagpipes. And there he was, the self-proclaimed ‘cask whisperer’ himself (he confessed he enjoyed talking to his whisky barrels with phrases such as: “you are so beautiful”).

Once our applause had died down, he congratulated the piper, Heath, handing him a dram of Islay’s finest. Upon watching Heath sample the whisky, he commented: “Never have I seen a piper take sips!”

Heath was quick to reply: “I was expecting it to be good!”

Jim laughed and grabbed a bottle to refill the glass and did so – right to the top!

It was a night full of similar banter and hilarious anecdotes providing many laughs for all in attendance. Jim confessed that when he begins nights such as this he doesn’t know what he’s going to say, much like fellow Scotsman, Billy Connolly. Hence, many rambling tangents were followed – and some great stories developed from them.

So many whisky fans in one room!

So many whisky fans in one room!

He began with praise for Tasmania, which filled my heart with pride. He had just attended what he described as his “twentieth tasting in two days” and was impressed with the Lark and Heartwood that he tried. Tasmania, he said, has many similarities with Scotland, and while at first this induced some home sickness, he confessed that after six drams of Lark whisky his pining was miraculously cured. His spiel concluded with the highest praise of all, confirming a belief many Tasmanians hold: “Tasmania is the new Islay”.

The tales continued throughout the night, and we heard the story of how Jim followed his heart to the closed and neglected Bruichladdich distillery and re-employed much of the same crew that used to work there: getting the band back together, Blues Brothers style.

He mentioned how the decision to make gin saved the distillery in financially troubled times, using the “traditional Scottish tactics of bribery and corruption” to convince a fellow gin maker from Birmingham to provide some know-how. ‘The Botanist’ is now a highly regarded product – even by me, the non-gin drinker!

Other stories were less relevant, but just as entertaining. For example the time in the 60s he met psychedelic rock star, Donovan.  Donovan had, remarkably, been sent to Islay to get ‘clean’; the result of which was many shouted drams for the locals, and Donovan leaving the island in an ambulance.

There were many, many more tall tales told as the whisky flowed: creative use of Heinz salad cream bottles – and Big Angus’ wellies, tasting notes for Japanese students that were lost in translation, advice for every male present to seek themselves a ‘man-cave’, and of course the knock on the door of Gunta (just after Scotland had defeated England 7-0 in the world cup final).

Perhaps the most poignant of all, however, was Jim’s belief in his community. Bruichladdich employs over 70 people on Islay. Many larger distilleries have no more than 6 staff members. It was that sense of the island coming together that instilled Jim with more pride than anything else he had achieved. I mentioned to him afterwards that of all the distilleries I had been to, Bruichladdich had the best people. “And isn’t that what counts?” he said, clearly chuffed.

Half a dozen drams - a quiet night for Jim McEwan!

Half a dozen drams – a quiet night for Jim McEwan!

The whisky, while not the main attraction of the night, was exceptional. The Laddie Classic was lightly salty, reflecting the conditions in which it was matured, but it was also floral and fruity. The Islay Barley was next, maltier, stronger, and one of Jim’s proudest accomplishments, having been grown, distilled and bottled all on site. “How many distilleries in the world can lay claim to that?” he asked. Redlands’ Dean Jackson just sat quietly.

This was followed by the Black Arts 03.1 – a whisky described by Jim as a “protest whisky”. It was his raised middle finger to the marketing team, to whom he would not reveal its cask types. He challenged us to guess for ourselves. The popular answer was sherry, although he was quick to point out that this was not the sole ingredient. “How many people have actually bought a bottle of sherry in the last six months?” he asked. In the entire room only two people raised their hand. “Sherry is dead in the water. We need to look further”. There were certainly some wine notes in amongst this whisky – it reminded me strongly of the Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve.

Curiously we then diverged from the tasting order. We moved straight to whisky number five, which was the Port Charlotte 10 Year Old. Named after a long since closed distillery, this whisky was coated in delicious swirling, but not overpowering, peat. There were apricots and other stone fruit flavours to be found and reminded me of Bruichladdich’s neighbour, Kilchoman. Jim told us he tracked down an aged old man who many years in the past had worked at the original Port Charlotte distillery. Upon being asked if he remembered the taste of the whisky, the response was: “Aye aye aye aye aye. Aye aye. Aye aye aye. Aye. It tasted good!”

Whisky number six was the famous Octomore 6.1, the most heavily peated whisky in the world. I must confess to having sampled this dram before and adoring it – although this experience was slightly different to the way I previously tried it. Jim encouraged us to take a generous glug, hold it in our mouths for 30 seconds before swallowing. He compared this sensation to Usain Bolt bursting from the blocks and after trying it, I could understand the analogy.

I must confess that I could not tell you much about whisky number four. At that point in the evening, Jim declared we were to do a highland toast. Left foot on a chair, right foot on the table we enthusiastically repeated many (mispronounced) Gaelic words, waving our glass about (trying not to spill any), before taking a generous swig. Amazingly, even after the quantity of whisky that had been consumed, no glasses (or bones) were broken, much to the relief of the nervous looking bar staff.

Allof us up on the table - and Jim was the most spritely!

Out of all of us, Jim was the most spritely!

The night concluded with a rendition of the Scottish national anthem – or so we thought until the Proclaimers ‘I would walk 500 miles’ blared through the speakers. Jim stood up the front and conducted our raucous chanting.

As the people filtered from the venue at the end of the night, I left enlightened, inspired and thoroughly entertained. Never had the community that accompanies whisky drinking been so apparent in Tasmania. We were united as one, all in awe of a man who we regarded as an idol: the master distiller. However at the same time upon meeting him and discovering how humble and down to earth he was, we were also able to describe him with the highest praise an Australian could give: Jim McEwan is a good bloke.

This bottle was coincidentally the same colour that Jim was wearing! And a bottle I will treasure forever.

This bottle was coincidentally the same colour that Jim was wearing! And a bottle I will treasure forever.

Yamazaki 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

Yamazaki 12 whisky waffle

If you stood at the top of Ben Nevis in the highlands of Scotland and turned your eyes eastwards, then you would probably just see quite a lot of Scotland to be honest. However, if you had truly exceptional eyesight, even better than the elf eyes of Legolas, then in the far East you may be able to see a mighty chain of islands under the rising sun (this is of course assuming that your amazing eyes can penetrate Scottish rain!).

The islands of course form the ancient nation of Japan, a place of legends and gods, samurais and ninjas, geisha girls, and very strict tea parties. A curious thing you may not have expected to find in Japan is a fully fledged whisky industry… and yet Japan is the third largest producer of the amber drop behind Scotland and America, and is home to some of the greatest whiskies in the world.

As a country, Japan has only a relatively short history of making whisky, and like Australia the modern scene has its origins in a conscious decision to start an industry. After the introduction of Scotch whisky to Japan in the late 1800’s, a primordial ooze of distillers formed, but it wasn’t until 1923 that the first serious attempt emerged with the founding of Yamazaki distillery by Shinjirro Torii.

Apparently the initial releases were not favourable and so Torii hired a fellow countryman by the name of Masataka Taketsuru. Taketsuru had studied in Scotland in the early 1910’s, and after marrying Kirkintilloch girl Jessie ‘Rita’ Cowan, worked at Hazelburn distillery for several years before returning to Japan. The in-depth knowledge of whisky making Taketsuru gained in Scotland provided the crucial spark that Torii needed to make a worthy dram.

Thanks to the work of Torii and Taketsuru, modern Japanese whisky shares much in common with Scotch whisky, helped by the fact that Japan has a similar climate and terrain to Scotland. Yamazaki distillery (owned by Suntory, one of the two major players in the Japanese whisky industry) is located in the outskirts of Kyoto on Japan’s main island of Honshu.

The Yamazaki 12yr old was the first Japanese whisky I ever tried, and it piqued my interest in the malts of those eastern isles. The colour is a burnished gold that would be at home in a Japanese shrine. The nose is sweet and intensely fruit driven, with a strong scent of red pears backed with a light hint of mandarins.

The flavour is bright, and bursts in a wave across the tongue and roof of the mouth. After an initial sweet hit, sharp tangy citrus flavours dominate the tastebuds and charge up to the back of the nose. The finish is lightly dry with a slight bittersweetness, and brings to mind the feeling left after eating a green chewy lolly.

Although the bright, sharp flavours may not be to everyone’s tastes, the Yamazaki 12 is a great starting point for anyone wanting to try Japanese whisky, and not only because it comes from the oldest commercial distillery in Japan. The Yamazaki 12 provides a glimpse into the mind of a new whisky culture, one forged out of the soul of an ancient civilisation. Kampai!

★★★