Month: November 2015

Iwai

Reviewed by: Ted

Iwai

Japanese culture is intriguingly dichotomous in nature. On one hand you have a proud culture with ancient, beautiful and highly ritualised traditions such as the tea ceremony. On the other hand, as anyone who has had the confusing pleasure of watching a Japanese gameshow can attest, there is a definite kooky streak to the inhabitants of the Land of the Rising Sun.

This duality of nature can also extend to the whisky that the Japanese produce. Shinshu Mars Distillery, located in Nagano Prefecture, was built by the Hombo family in 1985 but was closed in 1992 due to a decline in the local whisky market. It reopened in 2011 and is apparently considered to be well respected in the Japanese market. So far so traditional; it’s the whisky that they produce that’s a bit weird.

Iwai, named after Kiichiro Iwai who designed the stills, is one of the base releases for Shinshu Mars. According to one of the few bits of information written in English on the packaging it is aged in small bourbon casks, which rather confused me when I first opened the box. Instead of the normal pale straw colour that you would expect from a bourbon barrel aged whisky, the Iwai is instead the deep, rich amber colour of a whisky aged in port or sherry casks… Or one that’s had E150 caramel colouring added to spruce it up a bit, which was a thought that crossed my mind until I stumbled across a rather curious nugget of information.

Turns out that mash bill for the Iwai is mostly corn, with malted barley making up the remainder. So for all intents and purposes, the Iwai is essentially a Japanese bourbon! How mad is that!? No wonder the colour is so dark. The flavours also make much more sense when considered in the context of an American whisky rather than the Scottish style that is predominantly produced in Japan.

The nose of the Iwai is dominated by sweet, buttery caramel which hangs fat and low. Underneath sits hints of rose petals, vanilla and almonds, with a touch of salt thrown in at the end. You occasionally hit a bit of a rough edge, but it doesn’t throw things out too much. On the palate the Iwai is thick and oily, with a dull spiciness that crawls over the front of the tongue. Sticky dried fruits, aromatic spices and a grating of fresh ginger stroll casually through the middle, while the finish is gentle and tingly, with a slight apple sign-off.

While the Iwai isn’t the best Japanese whisky you will ever taste, it’s certainly one of the most interesting. There definitely isn’t anything else like it kicking about in Japan (at least that I’ve encountered). To be honest, it’s probably better than quite a few cheap real Bourbons. But then, the Japanese have always been good at taking the ideas of the west, tinkering about with them a bit, and then adding their own quirky spin to make something that is all their own.

★★

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Canada takes the Crown Royal of Whisky: Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2016

Posted by: Ted

After a year of watching the earth from his secret moon base, built from the old Port Ellen spirit stills (and featuring a mash tun jacuzzi), the golden-eyed whisky-reviewing alien that is Jim Murray has returned to earth, and it seems that he comes bearing a message for Scotland. He must think that they’re a pretty rough, uncouth bunch, as not only has he snubbed them in his top five for a second year running, but he has decreed that the best whisky in the world comes from a country universally famed for its politeness… eh?

Golden eyed whisky alien

That’s right, Canadians rejoice, because according to His Murrayship you are now owners of the best whiskey on the face of the planet. The Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye scored a cool 97.5/100 on the Murrayometer, the man himself noting that “Rye, that most eloquent of grains… reaches new heights of beauty and complexity.” The win marks the first time that Canada has taken out the top Whisky Bible gong, and already the internet is aflutter about the merits of the winning horse from Crown Royal, owned by global spirits giant Diageo. Even Jim thinks that the choice will raise eyebrows, but hopes that people will be ‘blown away’ by its ‘uncompromising and unique beauty’ when they taste it. Seeing that a nod from Jim tends to cause any available bottles to evaporate immediately afterwards, sampling the Northern Harvest may be no easy feat.

Canada takes the Crown

Once again North America was well represented in the top five, with Maryland distillery Pikesville taking second place with its Straight Rye, while Kentuckian distillery Buffalo Trace returned for a second year running, moseying into fourth place with the 2014 bourbon from its premium William Larue Weller line. Potentially causing yet more angst in Scotland was the bottle standing in third place on the podium, with Irish distillery Midleton claiming success with its cask strength Dair Ghaelach expression. Like Canada, this is the first time an Irish whiskey has found itself swinging from the top of the Whisky Bible tree and shows that modern palates (or at the very least, Jim’s) continue to extend beyond the traditional stronghold of Scotch.

Last year the Big M gave the top spot to Japan’s Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013, creating ripples in Scotland’s zen, and rocketing the distillery into the limelight. Well, the sun has risen on Japan once again, with Yamazaki’s Mizunara Cask sliding into fifth place. If you want a bottle though, you’ll need to travel to Japan as it is only available on the local market. Whether Whisky Bible hype changes this situation is yet to be seen. Mizunara, the native Japanese oak, has been rising in popularity the last few years, and the Murray effect should help cement its place as a legitimate casking choice.

While absent from the top five, it wasn’t all doom and gloom for Scotland, with the (most definitely expensive) Glenfarclas Family Casks 1957 #2110 not only awarded Scotch Whisky of the Year, but also claiming the overall Single Cask Whisky of the Year. Other notables in the Scotch category include Single Malt of the Year Glen Grant 10yo and Scotch Blend of the Year The Last Drop 50yo (seriously, again, who has that kind of money!?). European Whisky of the Year (Multiple) returned to the English Whisky Co. for their Chapter 16 Peated Sherry Cask, while the (Single) category was awarded to the delightfully named Kornog Taouarc’h Chweec’hved 14BC from the ancient Celtic French region of Breton.

Closer to home (at least for me that is) Australia took the Southern Hemisphere Whisky of the Year crown back from the Kiwis, with Tasmania’s very own Heartwood distillery coming through strong with its Good Convict bottling. Strong is certainly the right word when it comes to Heartwood, with mad genius Tim Duckett mixing up an astounding array of cask strength creations in his laboratory. As Heartwood is an independent bottler, all of its releases are limited; once an expression has sold out it is consigned to the pages of history and fond memory. So if you happen to own a bottle of the 71.3% Good Convict, you are one of a lucky few.

The Convict was definitely Good

Of course, you are always welcome to take any Murrayitic pronouncements with a pinch of salt, but for a roundup of the who’s who of whisk(e)y in a given year the Whisky Bible is hard to beat.

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

New World Projects Ginger Beer Cask

Reviewed by: Mooresy

New World Projects Ginger Beer Cask

There are some interesting experimental drams in the market, often tucked behind the more famous and mainstream variant at a bar, or in old dusty collections held by people who bought a one off bottling at a garage sale. New World Distillery on the other hand is not tucking their experiments behind anything, and the operation is far from dusty being more akin to a well-resourced military installation. Housed in a disused aeroplane hangar is the cross between Willy Wonka’s factory and Area 51, although the focus is on whisky and not chocolate or alien secrets.

Being founded on the principle of showing the world what whisky can be, with a “sky’s the limit” attitude, it is no surprise that the team that brought us Starward would release something that stretches the concept of whisky to new heights.

On the nose, you’d be hard pressed to pick it as a whisky. But the same can be said for other expressions from many different distilleries that have played with different casks. It you’ve only ever drunk a bourbon cask Highland whisky, then putting the nose into a PX finished Islay might create the same level of confrontation and confusion when told that not only is it whisky but it is as single malt as the next dram. The information that can be beaten out of the loyal distillery workers reveals that it is a virgin cask that has been stained with fermented ginger beer that has its own secret recipe. Starward whisky is then aged for three months on top of its normal maturation to soak up the gingery goodness.

Ginger is really the buzz word here. So much ginger. It smells like ginger and when you stare at in your half empty glass it even starts to look like ginger. That might be the half empty element assisting with that. The classic tropical fruit that is a signature of the Starward is still present, however. Nice aromas of pineapple, banana and mango. A good amount of citrus that mixes will with the ginger smell to give it a spicy aroma. It also smells like ginger.

Once tasted it will continue to confuse and delight. The mouthfeel is particularly good and I’m sure the 47.7% alcohol by volume was very carefully chosen with the texture in mind. On the palate, you guessed it: cloves. Also ginger. There is a good combination of spice and fruit to create the feel of a cocktail and it may yet be a mixologist’s inspiration. It is naturally sweet with some light vanilla and the prickle from the spiciness brings that out even more, in the way that sweet and sour emphasise both rather than diminish either. The finish is nice and long, due to the intensity of a dominant flavour and also the not-insubstantial alcohol content.

It is probably plagiarism to sum up this whisky as weird and wonderful, as I am sure that many reviews would use the same phrase. It is something that I would look out for tucked away at a bar or nestled in among the fur stoles and incomplete jigsaws at a markets, but given that this modern and funky take on whisky is in such high demand – evidenced by the fact that this is the second batch – it is probably unlikely to be there. Better to head out to New World Distillery, bonk a cooper on the bonce, and run off with your own bottle.

P.S. Neither Mooresy nor the Whisky Waffle boys advocate violence towards people in the whisky industry. We love those guys. For obvious reasons.

★★★★

Longrow Cabernet Sauvignon Cask

Reviewed by: Nick

Longrow Cab Sav

As the abundance of sherry barrels diminishes, whisky makers are forced to look elsewhere for maturation options. The obvious solution, of course, is using the barrels of another grape flavoured product – no, not hubba bubba bubblegum – wine. Wine cask maturation is being used by distillers worldwide: some as a novelty but others as a serious addition to their main range.

The wonderful whisky makers of Longrow are no strangers to experimentation. One of their more intriguing bottles is the Cabernet Sauvignon Cask – aged for seven years in refill bourbon hogs heads and a further four years in Cab Sav barrels sourced from my very favourite wine region: South Australia’s McLaren Vale.

Warning: this is not a beginners whisky. Nor is it an easy drinking whisky. Nor, I believe, could I describe it as a ‘nice’ whisky. But it sure is a fascinating one. On the nose I detected, well, heaps. Initially a gentle smoke, reminding you that yes, Longrow do peat their barley. Once the smoke clears notes of grapes, banana and burnt orange rind flow through. Over all, it is complex and delicious.

The palate is a bit of a shock. Initially it is sweet with fizzy sherbet complimenting the peat. The red grapes make a return, along with other fruit such as melons and apricots. And then the spirit transforms. The finish is long, though not necessarily because of the slightly higher percentage of alcohol. It’s a little… soapy? This is a tasting note I (and seemingly I alone) seem to find in many wine-matured whiskies. There are other, nicer elements: smoked ham, salt, fish, bonfire ash, general seaside senses. This whisky is from Campbelltown, after all!

In no way do I regret buying this whisky. There’s a lot to like and a lot to discuss. But I didn’t love it. And that’s ok.

★★

An afternoon at The Angel’s Share

Reviewed by: Nick and Ted

As Tasmanians we tend to think that our locally produced whisky is rather great. Unfortunately, the opportunity to taste a good assortment of the state’s bottlings is fairly hard to come by, unless you happen to have really deep pockets or are friends with Jeff Kennett. Hold on, so why not open some kind of boutique store in a beautiful location, stocking a comprehensive range of Tasmania’s finest drams for people to sample at their leisure? Luckily, that is exactly what an enterprising ex-expat couple has done.

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Two Wafflers off with the angels

Louise Payne and Sam Humphries grew up in North West Tasmania but left the state to pursue the highlife in Sydney. But you know what they say: a change is as good as a holiday, and the couple swapped the nations’ largest city for a popular holiday destination: moving into an old bank building in the picturesque town of Stanley. Initially unsure of how to utilise their time, they saw an opportunity in the fledgling Tasmanian whisky market and seized it. Sam, member of local band ‘Charlie Don’t Surf’, described this business venture as: “riding the crest of a wave”.

Today the couple have transformed their old bank into a whisky drinking nirvana called ‘The Angel’s Share’, even converting the bank’s old safe into a whisky vault. As Stanley is only an hour’s drive from their hometown, the Whisky Waffle boys decided to pay Louise and Sam a visit – and sample a portion of their amazing range. Neither Waffler wanted to be designated driver, so they booked a cottage within stumbling distance of their destination. The only question when faced with an entire wall of Tasmanian whisky was: where to start?

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Sam Larking about

We decided to right a wrong and sample the wares of a distillery we had scarcely tried before: Belgrove. The creations of Tasmania’s mad scientist of whisky, Pete Bignell, were whiskies like we’d never tasted before and we were grateful for the opportunity to sample them. We then moved onto Nant, investigating some of their vatted malts: the Homestead and the Old Mill. After some musing we decided that, while pleasant, we preferred their cask-specific releases better.

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Small drams amuse small minds

What would a tasting of Tasmanian whisky be without Lark? We had a cask-strength face-off between the port and sherry-barrelled releases, which remained unresolved as Nick preferred the former while Ted the latter. Our languorous afternoon of whisky tasting concluded with the heavy hitting Heartwood. We’ve rarely seen such a range of Heartwood expressions – if you’re interested in trying Tim Duckett’s colossal creations, then this is the place to come. We tried the Devil in the Detail – Heartwood’s strongest release yet at a whopping 73.5% – and the Good Convict – a gorgeous Sullivans Cove-distilled number which we decided was probably the pick of the day.

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‘Hey baby, do you come here often?’

If you are curious to find out what Tasmanian whisky is all about, but you are unsure of what to purchase – or even where to start – then a trip to the Angels Share is a dram good idea. It gives you the rare opportunity of try before you buy thus avoiding spending large sums of money on whisky you don’t necessarily enjoy. The Tasmanian whisky industry and the bar have a symbiotic relationship: Louise and Sam will happily point you in the direction of distilleries you like, but the friendly atmosphere, stunning surrounds and of course the whisky itself will keep bringing you back to spend another lazy afternoon in the beautiful town of Stanley at the Angels Share.

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Louise giving us some support after an afternoon of sampling quality Tasmanian whisky