Month: November 2014

Blind tasting: Johnnies Night

Posted by: Nick

I like to consider myself somewhat clued up about whisky. Over my time I’ve had a dram or two. I dare to think of myself as an experienced whisky drinker. And I would like to believe that just maybe, I could tell a $200 bottle from one costing pocket change.

But then there was one night. One terrible night. One awful night when everything I knew about whisky hung in the balance. I am referring to: Johnnies Night.

Spooky Johnnies Whisky Waffle Nick and Ted

DRAMATIC MUSIC!!!

Johnnie Walker is the best selling maker of blended Scotch whisky on the planet. Despite this, or maybe because of it, my colleague Ted and I have never truly cared about any of their products. This of course was most likely a result of our dabbles as younger, broker men, when we frequently ‘tasted’ the Red Label multiple times an evening at various social events we attended, and then were too stingy to seek out their more expensive and esteemed bottles. Slowly and surely, however, we built up a collection: through our own purchases, our fathers’ purchases, and purchases by our generous friend Stephen who provided the two most valuable bottles (things haven’t changed that much – we still can’t ordinarily afford a bottle of Blue simply for a blind tasting night!)

The task was simple – six expressions of Johnnie Walker: Red, Black, Double Black, Gold, Platinum and Blue, were to be blind tasted and we would predict which dram was which. Now, I say simple. This turned out to not be the case.

Close up whisky waffle

An artsy close up of our un-whisky friendly glassware. They have colour-coded tags, though!

I’ll make the excuse here and now that we had never tried several of the expressions before – but this could not explain our poor showing when the results came in.

I won’t go into the detailed statistics of the night, partly because it would make tedious reading, and partly because we are far too embarrassed to share them with the world. Suffice to say that we rated the blue far lower than it’s worth and overvalued the red label. The Platinum and the Gold didn’t fare any better, while the Double Black proved popular.

Maybe this says that we do not have as expensive taste as we claimed. Or perhaps it says we do not have as developed palates as we think. Eager to prove this latter fact wrong, Ted and I had a second attempt, this time correctly identifying the Red, Black and Double Black, but then mixing up the upper three.

Lots of Johnnie Walker – some would say too much…

At the end of the night, we were confused, but not perturbed. It was the first blind tasting we had ever done, and we finished the night with a better understanding of blended whisky. The results had turned up the fact that the Gold and Platinum bottles did not appeal greatly to us, nor justify their price tags. The Blue Label was slightly better received, although embarrassingly, so was the Red. Finally, the biggest revelation of the night was our discovery of, in our opinion, the best Johnnie Walker expression.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you some actual consumer advice.

Taking into account flavour, value, personal preferences, and the level of inebriation we had reached at the conclusion of the night, we found the best bottle of Johnnie Walker colour expression to be the Double Black.

That said, I’d take a bottle of Glenlivet any day.

#johnniewalkerweek

Whisky Waffle announce: Johnnie Walker Week

Posted by Nick and Ted

The Whisky Wafflers are chuffed to announce their first ever ‘event week’! Over the next seven days they will be sampling each of the main expressions of Scotland’s most famous and renowned blended whisky. I am of course referring to: Walkers Kilmarnock Whiskies!

What’s that? It’s not called that these days? Well what is it then? Oh. I see. I stand corrected.

I am of course referring to: Johnnie Walker!

Whisky Waffle considering Johnnie Walker

If you are a Scotch whisky drinker, it’s likely that at some stage in your life, you will have tried a Johnnie Walker product. If you are not a Scotch whisky drinker, it’s even more likely that at some stage in your life you will have tried a Johnnie Walker product – and it put you off.

Regardless, be sure to tune in over the next seven days for our light hearted and occasionally tongue in cheek opinions of all six main expressions, as well as the story of our darkest whisky drinking day.

With all that and more coming up, be sure to visit the page over the next week and find out exactly what we think of the best selling whisky in the world!

#johnniewalkerweek

Caol Ila 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Mooresy

Caol Ila

Caol Ila is a deceptive drop, both in pronunciation and in presentation. The Scots will tell you, aggressively, that there is one way to pronounce Caol Ila and that is “Cull Eel-a” blurred into one word. You’ll be lucky if spellcheck doesn’t turn it into Coal Ikea, but stay well away from that and do not be fooled by your non-Gaelic upbringing.

It is also deceptive on appearance. The box is black, but in particular the bottle is darkened grey glass, as if the Islay smoke itself was swirling inside staining the bottle like the wind lashes coastal cliffs. But once the dram is poured, the liquid is pale as if pulled straight from a virgin oak barrel.

Caol Ila means Sound of Islay but is not one of the best well known of the Islay malts and, despite being the largest Islay distillery, it is not in the Islay triumvirate. I am leaving Bowmore out of the triumvirate if anyone is struggling to narrow it down to the big three.

On the nose, there is the smoky peat smell that makes it quintessentially Islay. There are hints of peppermint and the fresh fruit leaf smell coming through but most surprising is how the brine – more subtle than many an island whisky – adds an intensity without being overpowering.

This translates onto the palate where, combined with a caramelised sugar sweetness, the peak hit comes back for a second round. Despite the colour and viscosity on appearance, Caol Ila is quite an oily whisky and arrives like a malt older than its twelve years but without the punch of those elders. It is disappointingly only bottled at 43%.

The finish is long and the oily quality stays in the mouth for round three of peat hit. But don’t get me wrong, this in not the kind of peat that will clear a room from smell alone. Unlike the infamous (and exceptional) Octomore, you don’t wake up the morning after trying to remember when you smoked a cigar the night before. But it has just enough to be an excellent easy-drinking Islay malt.

Perhaps the most endearing element of the Caol Ila 12 is what, I suspect, it contributed to the now deceased blended malt Johnnie Walker Green Label, but that is a story for a future musing.

★★★

Yamazaki Distillers Reserve

Reviewed by: Nick

Yamazaki Distillers Reserve whisky waffle

Even the most diehard Scotch whisky traditionalists can no longer argue that countries other than Scotland cannot produce top quality single malts. Japan has become one of the leaders in New-World whisky-making and recent awards, such as the number one spot in Jim Murray’s 2015 whisky bible, suggest that the status quo is changing – slightly – but noticeably.

The establishment responsible for the latest-greatest single malt is Yamazaki, Japan’s oldest distillery. Some of their products are undoubtedly spectacular and produce flavours that will stand out in any collection. Others, however, are more content to blend into the background.

The Yamazaki Distillers Reserve features younger spirits matured in ex-red wine casks married with older sherry and Japanese oak (mizunara) casks. The results are pleasant, although certainly not world-beating.

Dark fruits are immediately noticeable on the nose along with some sappier floral notes. There is also a slight dollop of vanilla with subtle hints of wood shavings. It is lively across the palate – spicy and challenging and certainly not smooth. Although far from sweet, it contains notes of stewed apricots and raspberry jam, but these compete for attention with oaky tannins and form an intriguing but overall unbalanced flavour. There is a bitterness to the finish which partially hides the more pleasant fruitier notes and the overall impression is one of ‘so close, but yet so far’.

The Yamazaki Distillers Reserve is far from a bad whisky. It is interesting, challenging and uniquely Japanese. It is, however, far from Yamazaki’s best drop and certainly lacks the balance of flavours found among the distillery’s more accomplished products.

★★

Storm in a Glencairn glass: Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2015

Posted by: Ted

The high priest of whisky tasting, Jim Murray, has just brought his newest amber gospel down from the mountain, Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2015. This year’s edition has created somewhat of a stir in the whisky world, as in a surprising turn of events there is nary a Scotch whisky to be found in Jim’s pick of the top five whiskies in the world!

Jim Murray: single handedly keeping Panama hat making companies in business since 2004

Jim Murray: single handedly keeping Panama hat companies in business since 2004

The number one spot in this edition goes to a Japanese whisky, The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013, a drop that has certainly proved popular since its release last year. Now that Jim has placed it on the top of the pile stocks will undoubtedly deplete faster than a packet of Tim Tams at a kids birthday party, so the discerning collector should act quickly to secure a bottle. Yamazaki is no stranger to high accolades, with the 18yo picking up a slew of gold medals at the prestigious San Francisco Spirits Competition in recent years and the 25yo placing first in the World Whisky Awards in 2012.

The winning whisky! Now being sold for extortionate prices everywhere!

The winning whisky! Now being sold for extortionate prices everywhere!

The number two and three rated whiskes come out of the Americas, with Jim selecting the William Larue Weller 2013 bourbon and the Sazerac Rye 18yo respectively. As with the Yamazaki, bottles of these are already quite hard to come by apparently, so you will be one of a lucky few if you do happen to locate them after this.

In the Scotch category the dram of the year goes to a blend, The Last Drop 1965, which as you can probably imagine based on the age is rather expensive. For the rest of us mere mortals the winners of the more reasonably priced sub-categories of blends, non-age statements, and ages up to 21 years included drops from well known distilleries such as Highland Park, Glen Grant, Glenmorangie, Ardbeg, anCnoc, Balvenie and Ballantines.

Something that is likely to bring a few pained tears to Scottish eyes is the fact that the winner of the Best European Whisky section was an English distiller! Yes, that’s right folks, The English Whisky Co.’s Chapter 14 Unpeated is rated by Jim as the current pinnacle of European whisky. This is a huge moment for English whisky and a turn of events that will likely have Scottish whisky boffins racing back to their drawing boards

In a category closer to home, the trans-Tasman war between the Aussies and the Kiwis will likely heat up, as a New Zealand drop has been named as the Southern Hemisphere Whisky of the Year: The New Zealand Willowbank 1988 25yo.  Fortunately for the Aussies, the Willowbank distillery in Dunedin closed down in 1997, meaning stocks of this champion dram will dwindle ever lower while the new Australian boom will continue to take the world by storm. In fact, Jim is rather fond of the whisky coming out of Australia and generally rates it quite highly .

The Whisky Bible is always worth a look if you want a great overview of the hundreds of whiskies available around the world, and can be ordered online at the official Whisky Bible website: here.

A full run down of the winners of each category can be found here.

Hellyers Road 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick and Ted

Hellyers Road 12 Year Old whisky waffle

Hobart vs Launceston. Cascade vs Boags. Mount Wellington vs Cradle Mountain. Gagebrook bogans vs Ravenswood bogans. Tasmania is often spoken about by locals as being a very parochial state. We have the North/South divide, with each half of the state engaged in a long running battle about who has the best stuff. In the new game of Tasmanian whisky, the cards are very much stacked on the side of the South, with eight of the nine distilleries in the state residing there.

However, the North cannot be swept off the board that easily, as it has a very impressive golden ace up its sleeve. Hellyers Road, located in the North-West city of Burnie, has officially launched its 12 Year Old whisky, making it the first distillery in Australia to release an expression of this age. In 2012 the company released a 10 Year Old single malt which showed promise of greatness, and now two years later that potential is being realised. Pleasingly the extra years spent sleeping in oak have helped smooth out the edges without compromising the creamy, buttery flavours unique to Hellyers Road.

Compared to the white wine colour palate of the Hellyers Road Original, the longer time in the barrels has imparted a rich golden hue to the 12. The nose opens with vanilla from the American bourbon oak, followed by the creamy nuttiness of macadamias, cashews and almonds. There are also elements of candied citrus peel and melted butter to be found. The overall effect is of vanilla cupcakes coated in orange and poppy seed icing.

On the palate the 12 is smoother and yet more complex than other Hellyers Road expressions, with delicate honeyed undertones that are reminiscent of the lightly burnt sugar on top of a crème brulee. Complementing the sweetness are subtle herbal notes and spice that bring to mind the leaves of the Tasmanian native pepper berry bush. The finish is light and imparts a soft warmth to the back of the throat.

When we asked Hellyers Road head distiller Mark Littler if the 12 was everything he intended it to be, his simple reply was that “it’s more”. Two years may not seem a long time to us, but to this whisky that short period is incredibly significant and adds a high class edge of silk into the mix. The 12 year old is the defining expression of Hellyers Road, and an exciting move forward for Tasmanian whisky. As Northern boys we’re proud to say that the golden ace has been played with style in our end of the state, and taken the game to a whole new level.

★★★★

 

Inaugural Young Whisky Enthusiasts Event

Posted by: Mooresy

Throw away your soft-caps, pipes and tweed vests, it’s time to bring whisky out of the dusty gentlemen’s clubs and into the open where it belongs. Whisky is unique in that it’s both an ancient and emergent industry at the same time. Old recipes hold their timeless elegance and modern distillers are creating experimental creations: between them there is a flavour for everyone.

Increasingly more young people are keen to get into the whisky scene. They either know what they like and are excited to try more, or they are new to the drink and want some guidance. Either way, they often don’t want to attend tastings full of middle-aged people with years of knowledge, and they often don’t speak up when they think they have guessed a flavour or a smell.

This is a great loss, and I want to change that.

That is why I started the Young Whisky Enthusiasts, to encourage interested people to get more involved. The tastings have been small but due to the support they have received, we are moving venues and getting bigger. Through the generous in-kind support of the Lark Distillery, we are saying farewell to small tastings and welcoming bigger and better things.

Mooresy: "there is a lot of whisky in this photo"

Mooresy: “there is lots of whisky in this photo”

The first of our tastings at the new venue will be held at 7:30 PM on 5 November 2014 at the Lark Cellar Door in Hobart. There will be rare and expensive whiskies on the tasting table, so contact me (0417 382 542, alexandermoores@gmail.com, or on Facebook) to secure your ticket. Price is $30 and includes at least 5 special drams.

At this first distillery tasting we will do a world tour of whisky taking in many countries and flavours, as well as voting on the name of our group and doing a people’s choice award which will help shape the next tasting.

It’s your community too, so get involved and help us forge a future for young whisky enthusiasts.