Month: April 2015

Glendronach 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Glendronach 12 Year Old

Now, be honest with me. Raise your right hand if you have bought, with your own money, in the last six months, a bottle of sherry? Anyone? I thought as much.

The once proud sherry industry is declining slowly, but surely. While on the surface this may not seem to really affect we drinkers of distilled barley, there is, in fact, much cause for concern. Because without sherry, specifically, without the barrels that once contained the stuff, many of the most wonderful whiskies in the world would not exist.

Case in point: the Glendronach 12 Year Old. And it is a great little drop. Vibrant, spicy, balanced and heavily sherried. The latter is not a subjective tasting note. The whisky does indeed possess a highly sherried character because it has been matured in a mixture of Pedro Ximinez and Oloroso sherry barrels.

The flavour this imparts is obvious on the nose in the form of sweet creamy raisin aromas. There is a golden syrup-like quality, too, alongside dried figs and orange peel.

On the palate the flavours are, surprisingly, not as sweet as the nose suggests. However it has a smooth mouth feel and the creaminess is still present. There is a nuttiness about it as well, and more dried fruit with perhaps a touch of glace cherries. Little wonder sherry-matured whiskies are regularly likened to fruitcake.

The finish is short, disappointingly, as up to this point I was immensely enjoying the ride. Wait – there it is, ever so subtly lingering at the back of the throat with the remnants of the grape flavours. I had to go searching for this one, but I found once discovered it glows faintly, like the last few embers of a campfire.

The sweetness of this whisky is nice, although it would probably discourage me from having too many drams of this in the one night. Instead, this is the perfect choice to directly follow a bourbon-aged malt at a tasting, to really show just how radically different sherry matured whisky is.

We may as well enjoy it for the time being. Because as time rolls on there will be fewer and fewer sherry barrels around to put whisky in.

★★★

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Tasmanian Whisky Tours: a story worth telling

Posted by: Nick

Before there were convicts there was whisky.

But before there was Tasmanian Whisky Tours, there was a distinct lack of access to Tasmanian whisky distilleries.

Enter Brett Steel, a man with a vision. He realised that Tasmania was entering a “golden age” of whisky creation and wanted to give the public a chance to travel to these distilleries, meet the people that make the whisky and hear their stories. Thus Tasmanian Whisky Tours was born.

I caught up with Brett to find out a bit more about the tours.

WW1 TWT Brett

“From my first visit to Tasmania in 2008 I fell in love with the place”

Brett grew up, not among whisky makers, but instead with a strong wine background. This is hardly surprising, as he lived near the great wine region of McLaren Vale. He moved from South Australia to Hobart in 2011 with intentions of starting up a bar selling Tasmanian whisky, assuming that once he was in the state there would be easy access to the distilleries making the product he intended to sell. However, he quickly found this was not the case.

As more distilleries opened up, Tasmania rapidly became a join the dots puzzle. The state suddenly had a whisky trail! And Brett? Well he had a car! He realised that no one in their right mind wanted to drive themselves to distilleries and now there was a real touring opportunity. So Brett took the plunge and decided to become… a professional designated driver!

There is, of course, more to it than that. Brett is a man after our own hearts. He is a waffler. As well as tasting the flavours of the drink, he was passionate about hearing the tales told by the people behind the whisky.

WW2 TWT at Redlands

“I wanted this to be about storytelling, as much as whisky”

Brett’s aim for the tours is not so much to give an educational and scientific description of how whisky is made. Instead he is more interested engaging with the people who make the product and hearing about the struggles and adventures they have had along the way. After all, the whisky-makers are just ordinary people doing something they love and they certainly have a tale or two to tell. Brett believes that whisky and story-telling are “perfect bed-fellows” and his guests, after meeting the story-tellers themselves, cannot help but agree.

WW3 TWT at home base 2 bnw

“The trick is to try to cater to all levels and not to have anyone feel excluded”

Brett’s first tours began running in early 2014 and the business has been growing in popularity ever since. The rise in profile of whiskies made in the state has given the business a boost, and Brett has found himself chaperoning journalists, whisky experts, and even cartoonists!

The tours run on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays and visit a wide range of southern distilleries – and also get to taste some from further afield. Sessions begin at 9am at the Lark cellar door, and proceedings commence by reclining in comfortable chairs and chatting about the history of Tasmanian whisky. Guests are then loaded into the van and driven around the beautiful Derwent Valley or Tasman Peninsula.

There are many highlights on each tour for Brett: the picturesque setting at McHenry’s Distillery in Port Arthur, the paddock to bottle experience at Redlands Estate, and the unforgettable yarns spun by “renaissance moonshiner” and “champion sand-sculptor” Pete Bignell at Belgrove.

Of course, much like everyone has a favourite whisky (or gin, or brandy, or apple schnapps – which are also sampled on various tours) everyone has a favourite stop, and you won’t know which is yours until you travel there.

WW4 TWT at Nant

“To me whisky is the perfect social lubricant”

I absolutely adore this quote and cannot agree more wholeheartedly. Brett believes, as we do, that whisky is a very social experience, and when presented with context, such as the people who create it and the processes they use, guests will get so much more out of every sip.

He says that sharing the narrative of Tasmanian whisky, past, present and future, is half the experience of the tour. The characters that are met along the way and the real passion they exhibit, gives true meaning to the boutique hand-crafted product that we at Whisky Waffle love.

WW5 TWT at Bothwell

Brett, like all of us, confesses to loving Tasmanian whiskies and their rich flavour. But he is also fascinated by the history and stories behind each of the distilleries.

“When you put the two together and add the dynamic of a mix of different people, it’s pretty hard to beat that experience – no matter where in the world you travel.”

Find out more about Tasmanian Whisky Tours at their website.

Photos by Andy Wilson at  Everything Everything.

William Grant & Sons come to Burnie

Posted by: Nick

William Grant & Sons logoI could be forgiven for thinking I’d come along to the ‘Burnie’s Best Beards’ convention, as upon arrival I was met with some of the most impressive facial hair this side of Ulverstone. This could only be a whisky tasting!

But it was no ordinary tasting. We were sampling drams created by the third largest producer of whisky in the world: William Grant & Sons; guided through the evening by Rich Blanchard whose job title literally was ‘Whisky Specialist’. Unfortunately this qualification does not teach him which way round the 1 and the 2 go on the tasting notes, and we discovered that we would be beginning with a 12 year old whisky, not a 21 year old!

Grants in Burnie editied whisky waffle

Rich: “And then you pour it down your throat. I told you this tasting business was easy!”

The tasting consisted of many drops I had sampled before, although never in quite so meticulous an order. Being a Grant’s night we began with the self-proclaimed saviour of single malts: the Glenfiddich. We tasted a range of ages: the famous 12 Year Old (where the pear cliché was immediately rolled out), the 14 Year Old Rich Oak (which, true to its name was distinctly oaky: akin to tasting old furniture), the 15 Year Old Solera Vat (still a favourite) and the 18 Year Old (undoubtedly the smoothest).

We then paused to refill our glasses, and Rich delivered his two minute spiel about how whisky is made – in five minutes. He also told us a little of the history of William Grant, detailing his purchase of stills from Cardhu for his own distillery, which was family built – literally. School holiday projects for the Grant family were a little more serious than building a cubby-house.

Rich then mentioned the mastery of recently retired Grant’s head distiller David Stewart, highly regarded still-man, double-maturation pioneer and generous whisky pourer. I made a metal note to try and meet this man one day.

This brought us nicely to Grant’s other crown jewel: The Balvenie. Again beginning with the 12 Year Old (not the 21) before moving onto the 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask (with no reveal as to the source of the barrels – though we ruled out Cuba!).

The final two drops were undoubtedly the highlights. The 17 Year Old DoubleWood I regard highly, so much so to award it the prestigious ‘Tartan Slipper’ in the 2014 Waffle Awards. Finally was the 15 Year Old Single Barrel: sherry cask. I’d had the bourbon equivalent of this drop before but it had not prepared me for what I found in this one. Could it be… peat?

Rich revealed that, yes, the Balvenie did peat their barley, albeit slightly. It was an intriguing drop and a perfect way to finish the night.

As I left to commence my walk up the hill (always easier after eight drams) I could not help but feel a little bit pleased. A proper whisky tasting in my little home town! A massive thanks must go out to Steve Kons for organising the night and to the people at William Grant & Sons for making the journey to the North West.

Springbank 10 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Springbank 10 Year Old

Welcome to Campbeltown. I shall begin by clarifying to my fellow Tasmanians that I am referring to the town in Scotland, not the eternal toilet stop halfway between Hobart and Burnie.

Campbeltown is located at the tip of the suspiciously shaped Kintyre peninsula in the south of Scotland and was once known as the ‘whisky capital of the world’, being home to as many as twenty-eight distilleries. Sadly (at least for the sailors who make port there) this is comprehensively no longer the case. Several distilleries, however, are still going as strong as ever.

Springbank, Longrow and Hazelburn are all based in Campbeltown. In fact, they are all based at the same distillery. And despite being located at the same premises, all three make many varied and fascinating drams. Longrow whiskies are heavily peated, and often aged in unusual and quirky barrels. Hazelburn whiskies are triple distilled, and as smooth and creamy as their similarly produced Irish counterparts. Springbank, the biggest and most well known of the three, makes whisky with a maritime influence, harking back to drams made in the nineteenth century when the town was in its pomp.

Their entry level is the 10 Year Old and it is a perfect dram to demonstrate what they are about. The nose is oily and buttery with a sweet seaside edge. This is whisky doing salted caramel. There is also the faintest hint of smoke, of course nothing like the Islay peat monsters which linger only a small stretch of water away.

It is bottled at, in my opinion, the optimum level for whisky: 46%, and the slightly higher alcohol percentage gives this whisky a pleasantly light spice across the tongue. The flavour is slightly fishy, and I mean this literally, instead of labelling it ‘suspicious’ (although some people would take this claim to be very suspicious indeed).

The Springbank 10 Year Old has been matured in both ex-bourbon and sherry barrels, and the sherry in particular is notable on the finish where raspberry jam flavours mingle with the slightly smoky notes creating something memorable and completely unique to Campbelltown.

While the flavours in this dram are all fairly gentle and subtle they combine nicely to create a pleasant and easy drinking whisky. It therefore serves as a perfect introduction to the lost whisky region of Campbeltown and to the wonderful drops made there by Springbank and its two sister distilleries. Of course, if the 10 Year Old is a little light and inconsequential for your liking, you could always jump straight to the 15 Year Old – now there is a dram that means proper business…

★★★

Whisky and Chocolate: why has it taken me so long?

Posted by: Nick. Photos courtesy of Craig Johnstone

Whisky. Chocolate. Two undoubtedly magnificent creations. Why, then, has it taken me so long to realise that combining the two is the best idea hit upon since a particular Bill Lark fishing trip?

Enter Ian Reed, organiser of tenuous themes for Whisky Business, who decided the night’s proximity to Easter was as good an excuse as any to bring along chocolate bunnies to the next gathering.

While the selection of whiskies was sure to be excitingly varied, the selection of chocolate turned out to be less so, although this was through no fault of mine or Craig’s, who both brought some excellent blocks (disclaimer: mine was slightly more excellent). Ian gathered everyone together. It was time to begin.

Whisky n Chocolate dram 1

Whisky number one, it transpired was the Scapa 16 Year Old, a lovely and easy drinking Orcadian drop. However tonight I couldn’t help but notice an intriguingly pleasant bitterness about it, so selected an equally bitter 70% dark chocolate to accompany it. My results were as follows:

Bitter + bitter = not bitter!

Strangely enough, together the two bitter flavours cancelled each other out and left smooth and sweet strawberry and melon notes I hadn’t noticed before. A win for the paring!

Whisky n Chocolate dram 2

Whisky number two was immediately picked by Craig as a rum barrel finish, which was either a lucky guess or proof that he knows his stuff. The whisky was a 15 Year Old BenRiach, which had indeed been finished in rum barrels. I selected a Lindt Salted Caramel to accompany it.

Rum barrel + salted caramel = tropical punch!

Apparently the secret to unlocking the fruit flavours in the rum finish was a block of salted caramel chocolate! Two out of two for the chocolate paring!

Whisky n Chocolate dram 3

Whisky number three had been matured in sherry casks, this much I could tell. I quickly ruled out Glenfarclas and took a stab at another famously sherried whisky: Glendronach. Imagine my pleasure (read: smugness) when it turned out to be the Glendronach 18 Year Old (Big Sam) Allardice. One sip gave away the Olorosso maturation. It was dry. As in really dry. And I loved it. I went for the strong stuff. 90% dark chocolate. No messing around here.

Dry whisky + dry chocolate = the Sahara desert.

I suspected that one ingredient may make the other sweeter in comparison. I was wrong. This combination could not even be crossed upon a camel. And I loved it. Three out of three.

Whisky n Chocolate dram 4

After a short break filled with science jokes from Bish, and vaguely Easter-themed jokes from Rosie, we moved onto whisky number four: the clue from Ian being that its name was Gaelic for ‘natural’. Because I speak fluent Gaelic (or because I’ve read it on the internet) I immediately realised we were trying the cask strength Glenlivet: the Nadurra. I needed a feisty chocolate to compete with this, so selected my own contribution: a fancy and fully-flavoured Anvers salted caramel chocolate.

Strong whisky + strong chocolate = Pirates of the Caribbean!

Ok, yes, by this stage of the night my pairing notes were starting to get, shall we say, ‘creative’, but hear me out. I mean this in a way that these two flavours did not go together. At all. In fact they clashed. In fact, they clashed entertainingly, one might even say ‘swashbucklingly’ (if one could pronounce such a word at this end of the evening). Hence: Pirates of the Caribbean.

Whisky n Chocolate dram 5

Whisky number five, the final dram of the evening, was wonderful. There was subtle peat on the nose, mild sweet spices on the palate, and a warm lingering finish. It had to be Laphroaig, and as it turned out, it was the 18 Year Old. It was a wonderful dram and I paired it with the 70% dark chocolate. At this point of the night, the equation was simple:

Whisky + Chocolate = awesome.

I don’t think I really need to explain this one.

Five out of five.

 

Whisky Business: a perfect pair…ing night

Posted by: Nick

It must be the time of year. My usual whisky-dominated musings are competing for attention with another glorious consumable: chocolate.

Whisky Easter

Imagine my delight when I discovered that the upcoming Whisky Business night was going to pair these very ingredients: a quest to find the finest whisky and chocolate combination on the planet! I quickly decided that I was up to this challenge.

Of course, if you find yourself in Hobart on Tuesday the 7th of April then you too can take on this most scientific of missions! Just get yourself along to the Lark cellar door at 7pm with $30 to cover (at least) five different drams throughout the evening. Also, if you are prepared to bring along some of your Easter stash to share around as part of the pairing-quest, please do. It’s all in the name of science, you understand.

Until then, have a great Easter and keep on waffling, even with mouthfuls of chocolate!

Miyagikyo 12 Year Old

Posted by: Ted

Nikka Miyagikyo whisky waffle

More Japanese whisky? Bring it on! For your delectation (or mine rather, seeing as I’m the one drinking it. Go find your own) we have another drop from Nikka, one of the two big players in the Japanese whisky market.

Because Japan is a collection of islands, Nikka and its rival Suntory each own a bunch of distilleries scattered around the archipelago, with each providing its own special character and techniques.

Miyagikyo distillery is based in Sendai on Honshu, the largest of the islands. The distillery was founded by the legendary Japanese whisky maker Masataka Taketsuru. Quite unusually, Miyagikyo apparently makes both single malts and grain whiskies at their site.

The peculiarities don’t stop there. According to Nikka, Miyagikyo uses steam heat distillation to create their product, a process where steam is introduced into the distillation apparatus to carry the volatised compounds into the condensation flask. Whether this changes the flavour in any significant way I will leave up to you.

On the nose the Miyagikyo has that hot and sour Japanese vibe, like honey and lemon tea with a hint of ginger. As it first enters your mouth the spirit is silky smooth, quickly turning dry and dustily spicy. Pepper, caramel, metal, sour plum (which seems to be a common factor in Japanese drams) and lemon drops crawl fuzzily across the tongue. Tartness and sweetness make well balanced bed-fellows.

The Miyagikyo is a very laid back Japanese drop. Probably something best drunk while contemplating the universe in a garden of falling cherry blossom.

Rising Sun spirit/

Tranquil Miyagikyo flows/

The zen of amber/

★★★