Month: July 2015

Waffling at Whisky Live

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Whisky Live 1

That’s right, we got Whisky Waffle shirts!

“If you love whisky, it’s the place to be”, said Colin, whisky enthusiast and fellow drunkard. It was 4pm. We’d been imbibing the amber nectar for three hours. To be honest, conversations about the merits of whisky were not exactly hard to come by at this end of the afternoon. We, the Whisky Waffle boys, knew that we had come to the right place. And where was that you may ask? It could only be Whisky Live 2015, Melbourne edition.

As semi-amateur whisky journalists (just go with it, ok!) we were keen to make it to Australia’s premier whisky event, despite Jetstar’s best efforts to delay us. Oh, and Public Transport Victoria didn’t help us much, either. As a consequence, it was remarkable that we wandered into the St Kilda Town Hall a mere 10 minutes late.

We were greeted with green shoulder bags, complimentary Glencairns and more whiskies than you could poke a valinch at (it’s a whisky thing, look it up). Our first port of call was to familiar faces: we kicked off our whisky journey sampling some new make spirit with Dean Jackson (and soon-to-be-solo distiller Robbie) from Redlands Estate and sampled some glorious Lark Classic Cask with Tas Whisky Tours’ Brett Steel. Good to hang out with the boys from back home.

Whisky Live 2

Nick, admiring Brett’s beard

We then hopped across the pond to visit Greg Petry, whose strong North American accent clearly revealed that his product was made by the NZ Whisky Company. Go figure. Incredibly, his youngest single malt was a mere 23 years old. After lamenting that we could not combine the initial flavour of the Doublewood with the finish of the 27 year old, we jetted off once more, this time landing in Japan. Here we learned how to pronounce Hakushu (Huck-shoo), and impressed a man in comedic Japanese sushi bar attire that we actually were interested in trying the Suntory Kakubin neat rather than in its traditional highball form (soda water, lemon, ice).

Using the stars, we returned to the New World to discover… cocktails? That’s right, the Lads from Starward were making Old Fashioneds, although it was their single malt we had come to try. Despite their wine cask being aimed at ‘real’ whisky drinkers, we both agreed that we still preferred the apera cask. Shows what we know (we’re semi-amateurs remember!). We then had a ‘Rich’ conversation with our friend from William Grant and Sons about the Balvenie. Ted was pleased about knocking back some 21 Year Old Port Wood without lowering the level of his own bottle! Fred, Independent Beverage Consultant at large, talked us through the range of Glenfiddichs and produced, to gasps of awe, a bottle of 26 Year Old from behind the bar. Yes please, we said. Our new friends Adam and Adam spied the gold lettering from the other side of the room and were more than happy to join us for a nip!

Whisky Live 3

26 year old whisky is best enjoyed in the company of Adams

Never being ones to turn down a free feed, we relined our stomachs to see us through the rest of the afternoon. Our next destination: India, and the distillery of Paul John. We mentioned our India-based whisky writing colleague, the Whisky Lady, to master distiller Michael John D’Souza – India’s a tiny country, not many people – they’re bound to know her, right? (Yeah right). “You mean Carissa?” he replied. The whisky world is a small place indeed.

Whisky Live 4

The newest converts to the Paul John phenomenon.

The whisky itself was a revelation. In fact, it was brilliant! Particularly the aptly named Brilliance, which tasted like nothing else that day. The peated varieties also tickled our fancy, which unfortunately could not be said of the Dry Fly wheat whisky, makers of the infamous Washington Wheat. Admittedly we spent as much time waffling as tasting at this end of the afternoon, the lubricant effect of the whisky loosening our tongues somewhat.

The moment of truth arrived. It was time to try the Glenlivet Founders Reserve, the replacement for our beloved Glenlivet 12 Year Old. And it tasted… well… decent. Maybe there’s hope yet. The rest of the range impressed us, too, in particular the Naddura Oloroso (plus: “they have dried banana here!” enthused Ted). We moved down the line to the mysterious Finlaggen, the dependable Bowmore and the classy Auchentoshan (where Nick drunkenly confessed his undying love for the distillery… repeatedly: “when I went there…” “…my FAVOURITE 12 year old…” “…did I mention I’ve been there?” etc etc).

Ted then whisked him away to attend a master class with master tweed wearer Dan Hutchins-Read to talk about the merits of a whisky that has definitely impressed us recently: the Glenrothes. As there were only four attendees to the session, we had ample time to wax lyrical and Ted may have fallen into the same trap as Nick (“I’ve written a lot of nice things about Glenrothes…” “…I love how you’re all about the vintages…” “…did I mention I’ve written a lot of nice things about you?” etc etc).

Whisky Live 5

Fashionable as our WW shirts were, we couldn’t match Dan for style!

After Nick had calmed Ted down, we staggered off on a mission to find the dram we’d been waiting all day for: the Laphroaig 15 Year Old. To our dismay, we were informed by Australia’s number one whisky fanatic, Dan Woolley, that they had long since run dry. But after seeing our sad little faces, he took pity and muttered that if we were to come back straight after the session finished he might be able to find a little something for us. We consoled ourselves by pairing a glass of Laphroaig 10 year Old with some oysters and a meeting with legendary bourbon distiller and maker of Russell’s Reserve: Eddie Russell. We may have been a little enthusiastic at this end of the day, but Eddie was a true southern gent and took us in his stride.

4.30 ticked over. The bottles began to vanish from the stalls. We wandered around dodging the polite requests of the security guards to leave. We had a mission to complete: and boy was the 15 Year Old worth it.

Whisky Live 6

Laphroaig’s man of steel, Dan Woolley

As we stumbled out of the St Kilda Town Hall amongst hordes of whisky fanatics, en route to the closest pub, we mused about our day. We had come to Whisky Live expecting to find many great whiskies and we had not been disappointed (46 times over, in fact!). But to be honest, the real joy of the day was to celebrate whisky with a bunch of fellow wafflers. That in itself was worth the price of admission.

Whisky Live 7

Whisky Live. Good times.

Advertisements

Whisky Live to Hit Melbourne This Weekend!

Posted by Nick and Ted

Whisky Live promo pic

Scores of whiskies, two boys, one room… sounds like a decent weekend!

That’s right, the Whisky Waffle boys are making their way across the pond to the Melbourne leg of Australia’s premiere whisky festival. The session features whiskies from and home and and away, ranging from the Glenlivet Founders Reserve, the Hibiki 17yo and the new Laprohaig 15yo to the Starward Wine Cask Edition 1, the Dry Fly Straight Wheat Whisky, and the NZ Whisky Co 1987 27yo Single Malt. The boys are also very excited for the opportunity to meet Eddie Russell of the Wild Turkey distillery and Russells Reserve fame.

Stay tuned for increasingly creative tweets as the day wears on, and give us a shout out via Twitter or Facebook (or the blog) if you want a personalised on-the-spot review or musing about something on the day. We will be attending the (sold-out) Saturday (25/7) afternoon session starting at 1pm, although we believe there are still tickets left for Friday (24/7) and Saturday (25/7) evenings (don’t quote us on that).

For more information, including the full whisky list, you can visit the official event website here.

See you on the floor when the Whisky goes Live!

Ardbeg Perpetuum

Reviewed by: Ted

Ardbeg Perpetuum

200 years might not be infinity, but it’s certainly a long time to be producing whisky. Ardbeg distillery, nestled on the coast of Islay, is to be heartily congratulated for reaching such a momentous milestone.

The distillers at Ardbeg love a good special edition release, and in celebration of their big birthday they have brought forth the Perpetuum. The whisky celebrates the love, dedication and skill of its creators, acknowledging that while times and technology change, no machine will ever be able to recreate the spark of the human touch.

It’s certainly a beautiful object to gaze upon, with shiny silver labels, a Celtic braid infinity symbol and PERPETUUM surrounding the box in monolithic black letters. Oh my goodness the 47.4% spirit inside is a worthy representative of Ardbeg’s art. Just to look at it’s a gorgeous pale, silky gold with a subtle peach tinge.

The nose is delicate and creamy, and has delicious buttery shortbread infused with a hint of sea salt. Twining through is a touch of fine smoked meats, smouldering driftwood and hot malt. The first sip delivers rich, woody smoke to float over the tongue. Underneath sits a pool of salty mineral-rich water with the occasional mandarine bobbing around in it, counterpointed by a sharp bittersweet herbal finish that lingers on. As the bottle says, it almost seems to be never ending.

The Perpetuum is a snapshot of the last 200 years of whisky making at Ardbeg, and hints at the way forward into the next 200 years. Like the infinity symbol the represents it, hopefully we will be coming back to the Perpetuum, and indeed all Ardbegs, again and again for many years to come.

★★★

Navigating to the New World Distillery: meet the purveyors of Starward

Posted by: Nick

New World visit 1

Behold, the New World of whisky!

The New World Distillery is a whisky-making establishment like no other. Equal parts industrial warehouse, hipster bar and mad scientist’s laboratory, stepping through the door I felt like I had slipped down my very own rabbit hole into whisky-wonderland.

Located in Melbourne’s north, the distillery is just a stone’s throw away from the bustling international airport. This is appropriate as the building is a vast refurbished aircraft hangar. The huge room is separated into partitions by rows of whisky barrels – a particularly novel bond store! In one corner of the room is a classy-looking bar with shelves bearing a massive range of the whiskies made on site – each with a premise more curious than the last. It was clearly going to be a good evening.

New World visit 6

Is that a pumpkin spiced gin amongst that lot?

Before settling in at the bar for an extended tasting session, there was the small matter of the tour. My guide on this adventure around the immense room was Paul, a man who I discovered was no stranger to a bit of whisky waffling. While the whisky production at his distillery was covered in detail, we also got sidetracked with conversations about peat, barley farming, excise tax and wood-smoked barley.

New World Distillery has been operating since 2010, releasing their main product under the label Starward. While Starward was originally exclusively Apera matured spirit, they have recently released a second variety aged in ex-Barossa Valley Shiraz casks. These aren’t the only bottles being created here however. The people at New World enjoy pushing boundaries; if not breaking the rules, certainly bending them a little. The most successful of these are released as a special range known as ‘New World Projects’ and well worth checking out.

The tour is engaging and informative: in particular Paul’s analogies likening making wort to brewing a cup of tea and charring barrels to burning sugar, explaining these obscure concepts effectively. I also got a generous swig of the new make spirit which I found light and fruity without losing its typical high-alcohol warmth. All in all it was one of the more (dangerously) easy-drinking new makes I’ve tried.

New World visit 3

Whisky always tastes better when wearing a high-vis vest

New World also came across as one of the hardest working distilleries going around. With a staff of only five on the floor and three behind the scenes (and Dan), they still manage to conduct three distillations a day. This is achieved by long shifts, late finishes and shared responsibilities, as well as a basketball hoop to keep the staff sane. This hard working approach is one of the biggest factors in ensuring their product is one of the most affordable Australian whiskies going around.

New World visit 4 - Copy

Starward score a three pointer!

After the tour I took a seat at the bar near a toasty gas heater and sampled the products I had just learned about. First was a comparison between the two Starward bottlings: the Apera cask and the wine cask varieties. While the Apera matured whisky was syrupy and raisiny, the Shiraz aged drop was more savoury with oaky tannins. I still confess to preferring the original Starward release, but my friends who accompanied me on my visit unanimously favoured the wine cask.

New World visit 5

Different constellations for different casks

From here I moved onto the bar’s extensive range of New World Projects bottles. These ranged from the sublime – two magnificent port matured whiskies – to the ridiculous – a perfectly clear three year old whisky with all the coloured components of the drop removed. There was also a wonderful 56.3% ‘doublewood’ bottle which had been matured in both the wine and Apera barrels, and a Heartwood-esque whisky with an alcohol percentage in the sixties known as the ‘Smoke and Mirrors’.

New World visit

One day all this will be mine… if I save up enough money to buy every barrel.

I left the giant hangar at the end of the night inspired by the products made in my home country. I was once again amazed by the vast contrast in flavours that can be created within a drink which only contains three ingredients. There are some great things happening in the Australian whisky industry and the guys at New World Distillery are right at the forefront.

The New World Distillery is open for tastings and tours at their site at Essendon Fields on Fridays from 6pm and on Saturdays between 2pm and 6pm.

Starward Single Malt

Reviewed by: Nick

Starward

Regular readers of this blog would be forgiven for thinking that all of Australia’s world class whisky is produced in my home state of Tasmania. While I’ll still claim that most of it is, I will readily admit that some stellar drams are being produced on that tiny island up north, which some refer to as the Australian mainland.

One of the most exciting up-and-coming distilleries in the New World of whisky making is the appropriately named ‘New World Whisky Distillery’, which has been releasing whisky since 2013 under the name Starward. And there is a lot to like about it.

For a start, there’s the location. New World is based in Melbourne, the cultural hub of the country (sorry Sydney), and with a bar onsite at the distillery the city has gained a wonderful venue to sample spirits straight from the metaphorical horse’s mouth.

Secondly, there is the label. Starward is an alluring name for a whisky and the gold constellations streaking across a black background capture this image perfectly.

Thirdly there is the price. Australian whisky has the reputation for a remarkably full-bodied flavour, although at an equally remarkable full-bodied price. Starward bucks this trend, providing a local drop that will not break the bank (although perhaps dent the wallet a bit).

Finally, and unquestionably most importantly, there is the flavour. On the nose it is lively: this is a young whisky, but it is far from immature. There are notes of oranges, chardonnay and toffee. No doubting the country of this whisky’s origin.

On the palate there are certainly notes of the raisiny flavours emparted by sherry barrel maturation, although technically speaking, the barrels contained Apera: sherry made in Australia not Spain. Sweetness spreads across the tongue and the orange returns, this time with chocolate, giving a jaffa-like taste. I also picked up elements of glacé cherries and raspberry shortcake. As you do.

The finish is short, but not disappointingly so. There are hints of oak to be found as well as spicy, peppery elements. It is certainly pleasing enough to encourage a second sip!

While the Starward is not the most subtle or nuanced whisky you are ever likely to come across, it is undoubtedly really pleasant to drink. The distillery itself sums it up best with its claim: “Just like the country in which it is made, Starward is youthful, rich and bright”.

It is also just across the water. Whisky Waffle may have to pay it a visit sometime…

★★★