Month: January 2015

Jim Murray rates Tasmanian whiskies as liquid gold

Posted by: Nick

Not the whisky bible whisky waffle

An early dust-cover for the 2015 Whisky Bible which did not make the final printing

Here at Whisky Waffle we don’t take our rating system too seriously. We’re certainly a far cry from individual nose-ratings, and can barely count to 100, let alone score out of it! We are far more, in a word: wishy-washy (yes, ok, that was two words, but like I said, we have problems counting).

For some people however, wishy-washy doesn’t cut it, and a nice tangible score out of 100 is the way to go. One such man is Jim Murray, who did not quite squeeze into the quartet of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and decided to write his own bible. About whisky. Appropriately titled: The Whisky Bible.

This man has tasted and rated over four thousand whiskies for his latest edition, and apart from having the best day job in the world, he also has a half decent palate. This, apparently, is enough justification for distilleries to go gaga when he attributes high scores to their products.

Whiskies to which he deigns an award of 94 points or higher are granted the impressive-sounding moniker: ‘liquid gold’, not to be confused with Macallan Gold, which is another matter entirely (and one not nearly as impressive-sounding, despite what the PR guys at Macallan try and tell you).

There are two points, however, that Jim Murray and I see eye to eye on. The first one is our love for trade-mark headwear which, while a fascinating discussion, is not relevant to the current article. Our second is our love for whisky made in Tasmania. While I may have proved time and time again that I am slightly biased on the subject, Jim’s love is purely objective (with the possible exception of Nant).

Trademark headwear whisky waffle

I am rarely seen without my trademark top-hat. DISCLAIMER: this statement may or may not be true

The Tasmanian distilleries who have produced liquid gold bottles for the 12th edition of the Whisky Bible are Lark and Sullivans Cove, and I offer them both my sincerest congratulations. Sullivans Cove received a score of 95.5 points for its American Oak bourbon cask release, until now the neglected younger brother of the coveted French Oak port cask. Lark received 94 points for its cask strength release, which makes me exceptionally happy, partly because it is a wonderfully deserving distillery and partly because I happen to own a bottle.

My precious whisky waffle

My precious…

Elsewhere in Australia the wonderfully obscure Limeburners distillery from Albany, Western Australia has also been awarded liquid gold status, due to both being a fantastic drop and to being from a region of the world where it can get hot enough to melt actual gold.

These bottles join a number of Australian products to receive this honour. In Tasmanian alone Overeem, Heartwood and Nant, as well as other Sullivans Cove and Lark releases have been given the tip of the panama hat. And if this isn’t enough justification to my Scottish friend that this country makes a damn good dram then I don’t know what is.

In the end, however, it’s just one man’s opinion. And this whisky blog is simply another. The most important critic of a whisky’s quality is you. If you try a drop at the right time in the right place with the right people, then that is all the justification you need. Like I said, wishy-washy. But they do call it liquid gold after all…

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White Oak Akashi + 12yo

Reviwed by: Ted

White Oak Akashi vs White Oak 12 Year Old

Akashi White Oak

Just a quick review hastily scribbled down at the bar about two whiskies out of Japan. Founded in 1888, White Oak Distillery is one of the lesser known distilleries outside of its home country, only selling to the local market until 1984. Apparently though, White Oak was the first distillery in Japan to gain an official license, pre-dating Suntory and Nikka, the two major players in the Japanese whisky scene.

White Oak releases are less common in Australia, particularly aged releases. Luckily the bar that I am currently at had the presence of mind to have not one, but two of them hiding on the top shelf, prompting this on-the-spot review. The two White Oak examples perched on the bar before me are the Akashi Non Age Statement (NAS) and the 12 Year Old.

I cannot provide much more background to the two bottles as all the information is (unsurprisingly) written in Japanese, but I can reveal that the Akashi is much lighter in colour than the 12yo, which has a nice amber tone. On the nose the Akashi is fairly insubstantial, with only a light sweetness coming through. In comparison the 12yo has a strange sulphuric tang. It’s almost smoky at first, but quickly turns chemical.

The chemical vibe continues on the palate, with a smoky sulphuric quality that tastes like the water could have been drawn from a mineral-rich hot volcanic pool on the side of a Japanese mountain. Against this the Akashi tastes lightly bitter/sweet, not venturing too far in either direction.

In conclusion, the Akashi, while pleasant, is a bit of a non-event, showing a rather bland personality. In complete contrast the 12yo is full of character, but unfortunately the sort of unpleasant character that you might meet down a dodgy alley on a dark night. While curious to try, the 12yo definitely won’t be to everyone’s tastes, and the Akashi certainly won’t turn any heads down the street. It seems that White Oak is more miss than hit, but whether it’s older releases can redeem it will have to wait for another day.

Akashi: ★

12 Year Old: ★★

 

Glenfarclas 105

Reviewed by: Nick

Glenfarclas 105

You never forget your first time. The insecurity as you take the plunge, the fire in your belly, the lasting satisfaction afterwards. I am of course referring to the first time you tried cask strength whisky.

Most whiskies sold commercially have been diluted down to an ABV deemed acceptable to public consumers of alcohol, usually 40-43%. This is undoubtedly a good thing, or us whisky drinkers would be permanently sloshed and unable to string multiple sentences together, let along write eloquently worded whisky blogs. However, there’s just something a bit special about trying a whisky as it can be found in the barrel.

These whiskies are called ‘cask strength’ and usually sit somewhere in the mid to high 50s percentage alcohol wise, although can rise as high as the low 70s. Trust me, when you are drinking one of these, you know about it.

Glenfarclas are a wonderful family-owned Speyside distillery who use mainly Sherry barrels to mature their spirit in. They release a range of (impressively affordable) age statements as well as the 105, their cask strength, which is bottled at a nice round 60%. And it’s an absolute monster. Although a monster in the vein of King Kong, in that it can be brought under control (at least temporarily, before storming off to climb the Empire State Building).

On the nose the sherry influence is prominent, notes of grapes, raisins and other dried fruits coming through along with several sweeter aromas of treacle and iced tea. It’s pleasant, although if your nose ventures too far into your Glencairn, you will receive an eye-watering whiff of the alcohol to come.

The palate is where you first notice the power of the whisky. Hot, spicy, tangy and sharp, it’s far from the smoothest drop you are likely to try. But once past the shock there are plenty of pleasing flavours to be found, such as oak, marmalade and stewed fruits, such as apricots and quinces. The finish of a cask strength whisky is often the highlight and the 105 is no exception. It is dry, long lasting and ever so warming. Not just in your mouth, but after you have swallowed it, within your entire chest. This whisky is a viable alternative to paying heating bills.

Many advocate the need to add water to cask strength whiskies. In a lot of ways they are right. With only a few drops of water, the Glenfarclas 105 becomes immediately smoother and presents new floral aromas and flavours of honey and cloves. But it also loses the fire contained within its 60% self. That wonderful warming sensation is gone, along with some of the magic of the drop.

The Glenfarclas 105 is a fantastic dram, and a great example of a cask strength whisky. It is certainly not for the faint hearted, but is well worth it if you can make it back for a second sip.

★★★★

Hanging out at Hellyers Road: our trip to the North West Coast’s first distillery

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Waffling at the bond store whisky waffle

A bit of ‘bonding’ time for the Whisky Waffle boys

Hellyers Road is the ultimate modern distillery. You will find no creaky wooden washbacks or hand beaten copper stills here. It takes multiple glances to realise it is even a distillery at all. However, there is one tell-tale giveaway: the smell. As soon as the door separating the visitor centre and distillery is opened you are greeted with the unmistakable scent of the angel’s share escaping. There can be no doubt: whisky is made here.

Located in Burnie on the North West coast of Tasmania, the architecturally modern visitors’ centre is incongruously wedged between beautiful rural countryside and the looming industrial hulk of a dairy factory. You can guess which view Hellyers Road have made the most of, with large floor-to-ceiling windows looking out across the Emu Valley.

The good view whisky waffle

The better of the two view options

Our tour begins with a friendly introduction to the distillery by our guide Dianne, detailing the history of the establishment. Hellyers Road is owned by the Betta Milk Company next door and is the result of their desire to diversify their product range. Already possessing the production knowhow, they laid down their first barrel in 1999. Flash forward to today and the company proudly distributes to 26 countries, in particular supplying the major emerging market in Europe.

Ted checking out the milk factory... er I mean distillery whisky waffle

Ted checking out the milk factory… er… I mean distillery!

Hellyers Road have certainly used their knowledge of production lines to full effect, with the capacity to produce more whisky than any other Australian distillery. Indeed, their bottling machine, sourced from Italy, is capable of churning out up to 2000 bottles per hour. This is just one example of their ultra-modern approach to equipment. Elsewhere stainless steel takes the place of the traditional oak and copper, and the neck of the still follows an unusually horizontal angle. The entire distillation process can even be controlled remotely by head distiller Mark Littler, wherever in the world he happens to be.

The oddly shaped still neck whisky waffle

The oddly shaped still neck – Glenmorangie it is not

An excellent view of the bond store is provided by a balcony on the second floor, revealing hundreds of barrels quietly maturing thousands of litres of Hellyers Road whisky. Most are ex-American oak, although directly below our vantage point are a number of sherry butts, a recent addition to the Hellyers Road stable. We cannot wait to sample some of this whisky, though we are fully aware we may be waiting for some time!

Many barrels whisky waffle

We learned how to read the numbering system on the barrels – and instantly felt like we were part of a secret society!

Nestled on the second floor are two barrels that Hellyers Road are kind enough to allow their guests to sample a dram from. The varieties on offer are the Original and the Peated expressions, and as they come straight from the barrel they are of course at a powerful cask strength. Hellyers Road also offers those that do the tour the chance to fill their own bottle straight from the cask before sealing it with hot red wax. Both Wafflers will confess to each having a sealed bottle sitting at the back of their cabinets from an earlier visit.

Fill a cask whisky waffle

The dairy theme continues with a chance to milk a whisky cow!

We enjoyed sampling the Original cask strength expression, and after some prolonged prognostication can provide a panoptic portrayal of the product:

Hellyers Road Original 3219.03 Cask Strength 68.6%

Nose: fresh and caramelised apples, raisins, walnuts, orange and cherry ripe. Faint Hellyers Road buttery notes, but masked by spicy alcohol.

Mouth: Sour high strength alcohol notes, pan browned butter, oakiness and some slight briny seaside influences. Leaves the mouth quite dry.

Nick pondering the meaning of life over the cask strength whisky waffle

Nick enjoying the cask strength with all his friends

Hellyers Road is a thoroughly contemporary beast, combining state-of-the-art technology with ancient techniques to produce a whisky of the modern age. While the distillery itself may lack the rustic charm of the Old World, the friendly folk who inhabit it and the exceptional products they produce make it well worth your time to visit. As Jeff Kennett would say: “not bad for a bunch of dairy farmers!”

 

 

While at the distillery, the boys at whisky waffle also conducted a blind tasting of six different Hellyers Road expressions. Stay tuned to find out how they did!