Month: December 2015

2015 Waffle Awards

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Whisky Waffle Logo 1

Welcome one and all to the most prestigious imaginary awards ceremony in the world of whisky writing. The Waffle boys have ignored the Australian summer heat and donned their black tie to present a group of worthy winners with an assortment of atypical accolades. All winning whiskies have been sampled by the lads in 2015 for the first time – although surely (hopefully) not the last. So, ladies and gentlemen, please find your table, help yourself to the canapés and sit back and enjoy: the 2015 Waffle Awards.

1 The Isle of the Drammed Award Whisky Waffle

The Isle of the Drammed Award for the best Tasmanian Whisky

Yes, we are a Tasmanian-based whisky blog, so why not include an award to showcase drams made in our fine state? Especially when they are this good! So with no further ado, we are proud to announce that the Isle of the Drammed award goes to:

Heartwood: The Good Convict

2015 Heartwood The Good Convict whisky waffle

We don’t often see eye-to-eye with Jim Murray. But in the case of this cask-strength monster from the genius independent bottler Tim Duckett, both the Wafflers and the Whisky Bible writer are unanimous in our praise. I mean, what’s not to like about a 15 year old Sullivans Cove French-oak port barrel matured whisky at a humble 71.3%? It is stunning.

2 The Tartan Slipper Award Whisky Waffle

The Tartan Slipper Award for the best Scottish Whisky

Scotland is the spiritual home of whisky (see what I did there?). So it seems only fair to dedicate an award to it. Plus, then no cheeky English distilleries can take it away from them! The 2015 Tartan Slipper Award goes to:

Balvenie 21 Year Old Port Wood

2015 Balvenie 21 Port Wood whisky waffle

We make no bones here at Whisky Waffle Central that we love all things Balvenie, but they’ve really outdone themselves with the 21 Year Old Port Wood. Smooth, sensual and with a refined complexity that hits all the right buttons, this is definitely no every day drinker (unless you’re rich that is. Slosh down whatever takes your fancy m’lord.), but a perfect dram for celebrating that special occasion with the ones you love.

3 The Pocket Pleaser Award Whisky Waffle

The Pocket Pleaser Award The perfect pick for the parched penny pincher

Our bank accounts know all too well how expensive buying bottles of whisky can be. This award celebrates the bottles which we turn to time and time again because – well – we can afford to. It is not the best tasting whisky in the world. But likewise it is far from the worst. This year, The Pocket Pleaser Award goes to:

Glen Moray 12 Year Old

2015 Glen Moray 12YO whisky waffle

“Dear Whisky Waffle, I want to impress my friends by drinking single malts, but I am a poor uni student with only a blend budget to spare. What can I do?” Never fear, we are here to help. Meet your new best friend, the Glen Moray 12 Year Old, as far as we can tell the cheapest single malt Scotch going around. For less than the price of a bottle of JW Black Label you can have a bottle of bonafide Scottish single malt. Full of honey, butterscotch and gentle spices, it’s pleasant and easy to drink, perfect for the Scotch novice and budget-conscious drammer alike.

4 The Weirdsky Award Whisky Waffle

The Weirdsky Award for the most WTF whisky

The Weirdsky Award celebrates, unsurprisingly, weird whisky. The more bizarre the better. Trust us; we are always on the lookout for some unusual drams. But in 2015 the one that took the cake was:

New World Projects Ginger Beer Cask

2015 New World Projects Ginger Beer Cask whisky waffle

What on earth would whisky taste like if matured in ginger beer barrels? This was the question that we asked ourselves when purchasing this New World Projects creation on a whim. The answer, it transpires, was simple: ginger-whisky (gisky?). It is unlike anything we’ve ever tried, and we love it! We take our metaphorical hats off to the makers of Starward for their mad-scientist-like experimentation!

5 The Bill Lark Award Whisky Waffle

The Bill Lark Award for service to the Tasmanian whisky industry

Named after the godfather of Tasmanian whisky, The Bill Lark Award is not presented to a bottle but instead to a person who has worked tirelessly to make the whisky scene here in Tassie as special as it currently is. It gives us great pleasure to announce the 2015 winner of The Bill Lark Award is:

Peter Bignell

2015 Pete Bignell whisky waffle

“Renaissance man” seems to be the phrase that gets bandied about when talking about Peter Bignell, founder of Belgrove Distillery, but it’s well suited. A seriously talented individual, Pete has a true knack for innovation. “Hmm… who wants to make boring old barley based whisky, why not make it using rye? Or oats? May as well just grow it myself too, and dry it in this old tumble dryer I found. But instead of using electricity from the mains, I’ll power it using biodiesel that I’ll make myself out of cooking oil from the local takeaway shop. Should I build the stills myself too? Yeah, why not, and I can power them using the biodiesel. Coopering my own barrels, that doesn’t sound too hard, give it a crack eh? Simple. And just to keep things interesting, in my spare time I’ll be a world class sand sculptor.”

To be honest, Pete doesn’t just win the Bill Lark Award for the excellent whiskies he makes, his contribution to the Tasmanian industry or his stellar environmentally responsible ethos, but for just being a sterling example of a human being who we can all look up to. Good on ya mate!

6 The Golden Dram Whisky Waffle

The Golden Dram for the best dram whisky in the world

I don’t think anyone would be surprised to hear that we tasted a heck of a lot of whiskies in 2015. So choosing one that stands out as the best would surely be a nigh-on impossible task. Not so. There was little doubt in our minds as we sampled this dram that we had found the 2015 Golden Dram. Drum roll please. The winner of the Golden Dram in 2015 is:

Bruichladdich Aramone Cask 9 Year Old Micro-Provenance Series

2015 Bruichladdich Aramone whisky waffle

I (Ted) would like to start by quoting myself from the day we tried this epic dram: “This is one of the best things I have ever put in and around the vicinity of my face!” You just know instinctively when you meet one of those rare drams that make the stars align in the heavens. When sampling it we described it as a nose-masseuse, as wine-maturation as it should be done, and with an once-tried-never-forgotten finish – thanks in no small part to the 57% bottling strength. All credit to Bruichladdich for crafting such a well balanced, interesting and delicious whisky. It certainly made our year. Find a bottle (if you can track down one of the 500 that was made) and try it. Your face will thank you.

Honourable Mention: We couldn’t fit it into the awards but we have loved the Aussie port-monster that is the New World Projects Lui’s Bar release. Expect a review in 2016!

Dishonourable Mention: To keep things fair we included a dishonourable mention for a dram that deeply disappointed us throughout the year. And this year, unquestionably it was the Glenlivet Founders Reserve. Glenlivet – what were you thinking??? #SaveThe12

What did you think of our awards? Some good picks? Or are we totally full of it? And to what would you have awarded the Golden Dram? Let us know in the comments – it’s always a fun discussion!

2015 outtake 2 whisky waffle

 

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Distilled Not Diluted: a rebuttal from a cynical Scotsman

This article is a response to our article: A Brave New World

Posted by: The Cynical Scot

Cynical Scotsman

So Ted. The big boys are coming to town are they? The fathers of Scotch are looking at the colonials and are coming over to gobble us up?

Come off it!  ‘Big Industry’, ‘sharks circling’, ‘crusty entrenched old world?’ Diageo buying into Starward? A chance to get some big bucks into the Australian whisky industry? You do know that Diageo owns far more distilleries than they care to slap a name on the front of. They have done a very clever job of maintaining the branding and character of individual distilleries as the industry recovered in the ’80s and ’90s. They have reopened distilleries that had been moth-balled after not having a legitimate business case.

Saying Scotch is ‘weighed down by centuries of tradition’ misses not only the importance of the tradition, but also the dynamic changes that have taken the industry to what it is today. This has also created quality recognisable products (have a look in every duty free in every international airport in the world). Whisky is something that if you put a cheap and an expensive dram into plain bottles and labelled them both ‘whisky’ it would be difficult for the layman to differentiate between them. Selling of whisky involves more than just touting a nice tasting beverage. It is the selling of an image, a lifestyle, a legend and sometimes a dream. I don’t buy Diageo whisky, I buy Talisker, Caol Ila, Lagavulin and when I have to, Johnnie Walker.  http://www.diageo.com/en-row/ourbrands/categories/spirits/Pages/Whiskey.aspx

So it seems Australia is selling out. Diageo have bought in, and as a minority shareholder in a single distillery at that. So what?….  What’s in it for them and what’s in it for Starward?

Well, for Diageo they can dip their foot in the water and get a first hand look at the Australian business environment. They can get a taste for a new market and they have a fresh brand to expand and work with.

For the distiller they have the knowhow of a company that has many very successful whisky brands under its belt and certainly knows how to flog the stuff. Having a big producer on board will probably make it easier for them to weather ups and downs in demand. Not only that, an individual distiller with higher production could also better standardize their product. Don’t get me started on ‘vintaged’ releases.

It’s one distillery. It’s a minority share. I don’t think Diageo is going to weaken the idea of Australian whisky, but they may change it in time. They may produce an affordable Australian brand. No more expensive bottles you may ask? Not at all. You’ll still see 500ml bottles priced at over $150. What you will have is diversification into the wider market. Imagine being able to taste something from Bothwell in Tasmania and say ‘Yup, that’s definitely Nant. That’s how it tastes’, and it only costs $85 (or whatever). Well, then you could buy a bottle for a friend. Two years after you tasted the stuff you’d still know what they were getting!

This would be a move in the opposite direction from the Scottish market, which traditionally seems to have existed in the mass-produced signature single malt or blend. More recently there has been a trend for creating a broader high-end range and raiding the history books for thought provoking names (I’m thinking of Highland Park in particular here: http://highlandpark.co.uk/taste/). But that’s how whisky works isn’t it? A single recognisable product becomes the poster boy for the new entrant and the budget conscious enthusiast. Then you have a few fancy, expensive types that allow the distiller to show off the finer points of their art and the consumer to have something extravagant to crack open when Grandpa has his 80th. No bad thing.

But where do you want the growth within the sector to come from? Do you want the Australian industry to grow from the inside as demand rises and production increases to meet it? Or do you want a big boy from out of town to buy it all up and franchise the lot? I would say that one aspect that sets Australian whisky apart is the fact it is a small craft industry. You sell out from that you’re like an IT Startup selling out to Google. Sure you’ve made your money, but did you really care about your product or was it just a means to an end?

So many questions. Fortunately, the Australian distilleries I know of don’t seem to be like this. They’ve been founded by distillers who have often made their money elsewhere and are using that to fund a business in something that matters to them – whisky. And good whisky at that.

So hello Diageo. Welcome to Australia, there’s work to be done but let Australian whisky speak for itself and find its own formula. It already has its own character. I’d hate to think that Australian whisky just became another branch of the Scotch map – Speyside, Lowlands, Highlands, Islay and Australia. If it ever gets to that I’ll find an island somewhere that Diageo hasn’t heard of and start growing some barley. Maybe Bill Lark will already be there.

A Very Waffly Christmas

A very waffly Christmas

And so we reach the end of another year. There have been many drams downed, drunken selfies taken, and outrageous tasting notes invented. But stick around, there is so much more in store for Whisky Waffle! Soon we’ll be revealing the winners of the coveted Waffle Awards for 2015. We are debuting a new guest reviewer: the Cynical Scotsman himself! And we have a new ‘event week’ lined up for 2016. Until then, have a merry as well as a “merry” Christmas. Stay safe and keep on waffling.

Nick and Ted

A Brave New World: Diageo invest in Australian distillery

Posted by: Ted

The whisky scene in Australia, by its very nature as a young and emerging industry, has hitherto always been gloriously independent. Brave and adventurous souls carving out their own mark in this new frontier of whisky making, men and women free to pursue their own ideologies and dreams. Very different to the crusty, entrenched old world, where the multitudes of distilleries are weighed down by centuries of tradition and the idea of a truly independent producer is hard to come by in the face of hungry multinationals.

Diageo

It was always going to happen you know. Never a doubt. You can bet your bottom dollar that ever since Bill Lark emerged from the Tasmanian Highlands as an enlightened being, the big boys have been keeping a very close eye on developments in the antipodes. If the Australian whisky scene succeeded in its ambitions, and my word it most certainly has, the sharks were always going to be circling ready. There have been a few nibbles here and there over the years, but finally someone has taken a proper bite.

Diageo, global spirits bigwig and owner of globally renown brands such as Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff and Baileys, has decided to take a chance navigating by the southern constellations and bought a minority share in Victoria’s New World Whisky Distillery, makers of Starward whisky. Starward, with excellent releases such as the Apera cask single malt or the quirky ginger beer cask, has been making waves both at home and increasingly overseas, so it is no wonder that Diageo has considered it to be a worthy venture to invest in.

How this moment changes the landscape in Australia is yet to be seen. It is only logical that as the industry increases, the big boys will continue to invest in distilleries they consider to be appropriate extensions of their brand. To be honest this is actually a really good thing for Australia, as it will allow for much greater growth within the sector, solidify the local market, give better extension into new overseas markets and help whisky in this country mature and gain further acceptance as an world class product.

New World visit 5

But… at the same time we have to hope that this evolution doesn’t come at the cost of the attitude and culture that makes Australian whisky unique. It would be sad if that spark was lost through homogenisation and the finance-driven whims of corporate overlords. The whisky produced by Australian distillers is exceptional, a sentiment backed up by a slew of prestigious awards; if the quality of the spirit was diminished through bottom-dollar bean-counting it would be a slap in the face to the ideals of the men and women who have worked hard to bring this industry to life. Then again, even the hardest-boiled rager-against-the-machine has to admit somewhere along the line that these guys seem to have some vague idea about what they’re doing, so hopefully good stewardship and passion for the product will win the day.

Actually, come to think of it, something quite extraordinary may emerge out of all this. As we all know, Diageo’s flagship whisky is the Johnnie Walker, the highest profile blended whisky in the world. If Diageo keep adding Australian cup winners to its stable, who knows, maybe we’ll see the release of a true-blue Aussie blend! Strewth, prepare ya cakehole for the dinky-di Jonno Walkabout “MAAAAATE” travel-exclusive series, featuring the likes of the ‘Bronze Surfie’, the ‘Flamin’ Pink Galah’ and of course, the ‘Blue Bogan’.

The future is here and it’s a Brave New World. Watch this space.

Happenings at Hellyers Road

Posted by: Nick and Ted

“Twelve months ago, we couldn’t have foreseen the growth that has occurred”.

Hellyers Road Distillery has always been a welcoming and friendly place to we Whisky Waffle boys, a fact that was abundantly apparent when we sat down to lunch with Master Distiller Mark Littler and media manager Don Jennings.

Whisky Waffle and Mark Littler

In 8 to 10 years these babies are gonna taste great!

2015 has been a busy year for the distillery with sales increasing by 50% in Australia, as well as expanding distribution throughout 30 European countries and tapping a new market in Japan. Due to demand, Mark has fired up the stills once more, originally planning a 30 week brewing program which has now been extended indefinitely. 

One of the new priorities of the distillery is exploring the connection to its namesake Henry Hellyer. With the limited release Henry’s Legacy range continuing to fly out the door, and future releases in the pipeline, Don envisages an interpretation centre telling Henry’s story and pointing out his discoveries.

New Henry’s Legacy bottlings are not the only future releases to look forward to, as Mark tells us his new sherry barrel stock, while young, tastes amazing. Within the core range consistency and value are the priority, although this has led to depletion of 12 Year Old stocks. The 12 will soon only be available at the cellar door and in travel retail, so if you see one in your local bottle shop snap it up fast!

Dave Warner and Mark Littler

Obligatory cricket reference: this whisky hit Dave Warner for 6! Photo courtesy of Hellyers Road

Whisky isn’t the only spirit being made by the Hellyers Road stills. In partnership with Dean Lucas, the distillery is producing 666 Pure Tasmanian Vodka, a premium spirit which is part owned by Australian cricket vice-captain David Warner. Dave apparently caused a stir recently when he dropped by in a helicopter to see how his investment is made.

What resonated the most with us was the humble and generous nature of our hosts. It is fascinating that despite their growing success and international awards, the biggest whisky distillery in the southern hemisphere still consider themselves to be small-town Burnie boys, just enjoying making a bit of good quality whisky.

WW shirts

Mark doesn’t have any writing on the back of his shirt

The Glenlivet 18 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Glenlivet 18

The banks of the river Spey in Scotland’s north east are fertile ground indeed. Nearly half of the country’s distilleries are located in this region which has come to be known, rather appropriately, as ‘Speyside’. Upon my criminally short drive through the area my head continuously moved side to side reading road signs pointing towards yet another famous distillery. It must have looked like I was watching a grand-slam final between Nadal and Djokovic! This abundance of whisky excellence could be found nowhere else on earth.

Speyside whiskies are known for being the smoothest, the richest, and the most elegant drams that Scotland has to offer, a reputation well deserved. Perhaps the best example of a Speyside malt is the Glenlivet 18 Year Old. It is one of the classiest single malts going around – and at a price that practically every other 18 year old whisky cannot come close to.

The whisky’s colour alone is enticing: a golden amber which glints in the sunlight. The nose is better: full of caramel, vanilla and orchard fruits. It is a pleasantly balanced aroma, not favouring one flavour over another. The palate is rich – full of flavour without being heavy. There is honey, oranges and malty biscuits, along with the faintest hint of sherry. The finish is light and not as sweet as the initial flavours suggest, with plenty of oak imparted from its 18 years in barrels.

There are literally thousands of whiskies made within a few miles of the river Spey. But if you were only able to try just one – then you could make a pretty strong case for this one.

★★★★

 

Benromach Sassacaia Wood Finish

Reviewed by: Richard

Benromach Sassacaia Wood FinishThis one was recommended to me by a friend who knows my fondness for sweeter whiskies… So first up – a little bit about the distillery:

Benromach is a Speyside distillery founded by Duncan McCallum and F.W. Brickman in 1898 and currently owned and run by Gordon and Macphail of Elgin. It is situated near Forres in Morayshire and is fed with spring water from the Chapelton Springs in the Romach Hills beside Forres.

And now – on with the review:

This has been matured in a Sassacaia barrel, so an introduction to the wood is in order!
Sassicaia is one of the most sought-after Cabernet Sauvignon wines in the world and made history recently, being the first single wine to be granted its own DOC (Denominazione di origine controllata – quality assurance label for Italian food products, especially Italian wine and cheese)
The Sassicaia estate is located at Bolgheri and lies in the Province of Livorno in Tuscany, Italy.

So, shut up, tell us about the whisky…

This is a 2006 distilled expression and bottled this year – there’s an older 2005 release, a 2004 release and a few older bottlings.
All I can find out is that it’s put in an ex bourbon barrel for around 7 years, and then put in a Sassacaia barrel for around 29 months – just over 2 years.
The colour is golden pink! Well lightly pink – if the sun hits it just right…

Nose: It’s got a real soft nose – dry toasted oak, vanilla, fruity, toffee, nutmeg, and that definitive wine note.
The nose is right up my alley – really sweet and bold, but not sickly…
Now to stick it in my mouth!

Palate: Cherries, raspberries & vanilla, spices, subtle smoke, malty toffee, and wine!
The palate is quite dry, which I find a lot with red wine finishes for some reason… tannic influence maybe? I find they make my mouth water a bit…

Finish: A medium-long finish with hints of fruit and another whiff of smoke.

This is a session whisky (if there’s such a thing) for sunny afternoon, sitting under a tree, in the shade, with some olives, sourdough, semidried tomatoes, cheese and some good friends…I’m amazed at the influence the wine has made, the light smoke and the fruit notes. I’ve tried the standard 10yo Benromach, which is one of my favourites – this is better, not by a lot, but still, better, and juicier…
A bloody fine whisky to add to any collection!

★★★

Highland Park Svein

Reviewed by: Nick

Highland Park Svein

Highland Park have one clear advantage when it comes to marketing their whisky: Vikings. Nothing can drum up some interest liked a horned hat on the front of your bottle! Of course, Highland Park can quite rightly look to the Norse raiders when branding their products, as the Orkney Islands where the distillery is located have a proud Viking heritage.

The details of their arrival in the ninth century are told in the Orkneyinga Saga, a historical narrative with more twists and family betrayals than the best soap opera. Among the characters were a series of ‘warriors’ immortalised forever in travel retail by Highland Park.

Svein Asleifsson is the legend behind the entry level of the range – which is perhaps unfair to a man dubbed the ‘Ultimate Viking’. Svein was a charismatic chieftain known for his generous and hospitable nature, and the folk at Highland Park have attempted to create a whisky that mirrors these traits. While I cannot claim this to be exactly the case (it doesn’t pour generous nips of itself into your glass!) it is certainly a very drinkable drop.

While there’s definitely some smoke in there, there’s less on the nose than you’d expect from a Highland Park dram. Instead there are ripe oranges, red apples and plenty of malt. The palate is lightly spicy, with oak, strawberries and… burnt toast? The finish is creamy, malty and slightly bitter. All up, it is a light whisky, threatening to be inconsequential but with just enough to enjoy.

Highland Park have created an interesting series here. While Svein doesn’t stand up when compared to the wonderful 12 Year Old expression, it certainly gives you a greater picture of the flavours captured by the Orcadian Distillery. Sadly I have not got to sample any of the other warriors to broaden my mind!

★★