Month: January 2016

Having fun at Fannys Bay

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Whisky Waffle at Fannys Bay

Our favourite kind of shed

As self-styled whisky adventurers we get to meet some really fantastic people in the whisky business – case-in-point are Mathew and Julie Cooper, founders of the rather fabulously named Fannys Bay Distillery. Residing on Tasmania’s North coast they have brought whisky making to a region hitherto bereft of locally produced drams. As far as we (and they) know, Fannys Bay is Tasmania’s smallest distillery, but all indications suggest they will be punching well above their weight.

The Whisky Waffle boys travelled to the remote community of Tam O’Shanter to visit the Coopers on a sunny Sunday afternoon – or at least it would have been sunny if it were not for the thick smoke haze left by the bushfires. Mathew and Julie invited us into the shed to see where the magic happens, a location they both hope to spend a bit more time in this year as they have both recently retired. Mathew used to be a coordinator at the TAFE, though he has not quite left his teaching roots behind – regularly receiving visits from wannabe distillers (and semi-amateur whisky writers!).

Julie told us that Mathew first had the idea to make his own whisky after trying some dodgy homemade stuff at a friend’s place. He woke up the next day with a sore head and thought “there must be a better way”. Being a very hands-on type of person Mathew built much of the distillery himself, including the gristmill and the still.

Matt and Juls Cooper of Fannys Bay Whisky Waffle

Today in metalwork… Matt built a still.

“To make a product how you want it, it starts with the basics,” Mathew told us as he enthusiastically filled a couple of glasses with new-make spirit – one made with Gairdener barley, the other with Westminster. The difference between the two was subtle but noticeable, with the former being richer and more floral, whereas the latter was lighter and more herbal. Both left us curious and excited about what Fannys Bay whisky would be like when mature. Unfortunately the oldest spirit had only been in barrels for 12 months and therefore cannot be called whisky for another year. Of course that didn’t stop us from having a small sample – for purely education purposes, naturally.

We were presented with a pinot cask, a possible sherry cask, and a definite port cask, and were hard pressed to choose our favourite. Their aim to create an easy-drinking malt that appeals to a range of people is certainly looking on track. Take note people – in 12 months time Fannys Bay will be one to look out for.

While Julie is slowly (but happily) being converted into a whisky drinker, Mathew is more than happy to sample the odd dram. He loses no sleep about the success of the product, happily stating: “If people want to buy it, we sell it. If they don’t – then I have a lovely room full of whisky!”

Find out more about Fannys Bay via our links page

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The Arran Malt Amarone Cask Finish

Reviewed by: Nick

Arran Amarone Cask

Traditionally, the world of Scottish whisky is very – well – traditional. When popping champagne for Ardbeg’s two hundredth year, we somewhat neglected the rather less impressive twentieth birthday of the Arran Distillery. But distilleries are only as good as the products they are currently creating, and there is a lot to like about the bottles presently leaving the Isle of Arran.

As well as a range of age statement whiskies they have a variety of cask finish expressions, and the one I happened to get my grubby little mitts on was finished in Amarone barrels. For the uneducated, which I will freely admit to being one of before buying the bottle, Amarone is a dry Italian red wine made from grapes such as Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. Yup, me neither.

I’ve had an up and down relationship with wine-matured whiskies, though one aspect I universally love is their amazing colours. The Arran is no exception – this whisky is the coppery orange of traditional creaming soda. The nose is alluring, giving the impression of alcohol soaked fruits eaten at Christmas time. There are cherries and strawberries as well as honey and syrupy cola.

The palate is rich and spicy, aided immensely by the higher bottling strength of 50%. It is delightfully creamy with large dollops of toffee, oranges and Turkish delight. The finish is dry with notes of oak and dark chocolate, and is pleasingly long and warming.

While the Arran Malt does not boast the long history of many distilleries, this should not in any way be held against it. A glorious Scottish past does not always equal quality in the present. Just ask Rangers Football Club.

★★★★

Flóki Icelandic Young Malt

Reviewed by: Ted

Floki

By all accounts Iceland is one of the most beautiful and beguiling places on earth, an ethereal land of glacial blue lakes, tumbling grasslands, rocky moonscapes, bubbling hot springs and ridiculously hard to pronounce volcanoes. Basically anywhere you look will create a feeling of awe and wonder at the raw majesty of it all. I myself once met an Inga from Iceland, which certainly left me with feelings of awe and wonder at the landscape…

Ahem… anyway, my Mum was in Iceland recently (lucky sod) so I convinced her to go on a mission for me. You see, apart from making you stumble over yet another lump of stunning wilderness with each step, Iceland also has another point of interest. Two of them in fact, as the island is home to two new whisky distilleries. The Scandiwegians are increasingly becoming known as avid makers (and drinkers) of whisky, with stills operating in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and now, with the opening of Thoran and Flóki, Iceland.

Fortunately, my Mum was able to locate a bottle of Flóki for me in the Iceland duty free. Eimverk Distillery, opened in just 2009, is currently the only Icelandic distillery with whisky available for purchase (Thoran has not yet entered full production at this point). It turns out that the team at Flóki are a crafty little bunch, hand making their own pot still. They also produce their whisky using 100% organic Icelandic-grown barley which, keeping with the craft approach, they malt by hand. Apparently, thanks to the Arctic climate, Icelandic barley is slow growing and low in sugars, meaning that the distillers have to use 50% more barley per bottle (compared more temperate climes I suppose), which they claim gives their product a unique taste.

Fortunately, thanks to my maternal benefactor, I have a bottle on hand to be able to verify said uniquity. The Flóki Young Malt, as its name hints at, is not their flagship release. The reason for this is a question of time rather than choice, as their spirit has not actually been under oak long enough for all systems go, with their Icelandic Single Malt to be unleashed later in 2016. Thankfully to get the ball rolling they released the Young Malt as a limited single barrel Iceland duty free exclusive.

The bottle is awesome (if too small. Curse you limited release!), with a wicked Viking-inspired crest and angular lettering on a textured black label. The liquid contained within is a rich amber-brown that catches your attention straight away. So no worries on the eye, but what does Iceland’s first whisky taste like?

Pretty good for such a young whisky it must be said. The nose is really curious; it’s really, really floral and fruity (pineapple, mandarin, pear) with a slightly salted caramel edge that keeps you sniffing. You know what, if you’ve ever had the chance to try some new-make spirit, then you’ll know what this smells like.

On the mouth the Flóki is sharp, slightly bitter and prickly. It pretty much jumps off its longship and starts jabbing away with its spear, although part of the reason for that is probably the 47% strength. The finish coats the tongue with that raw, grassy, hay-like quality that seems common amongst very young whiskies, followed by a lick of spicy fruitiness.

It’s certainly an interesting experience to try, but you can tell that the Young Malt is only the first step down the road for Flóki. It’s kind of like a teenager whisky, full of all sorts of raw, bubbling emotions and ideas, unsure about its place in life. Given time though it will gain maturity and understand what it really wants to be. Then again, we can’t judge it too harshly as it was never meant to be the be-all and end-all. This is but a glimpse of a whisky that I think will one day stand shoulder-to-shoulder with all the majesty of the Icelandic landscape.

★★

Old Pulteney 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: The Cynical Scot

Old Pultney 12 Year old Whisky Waffle

There are three places in the world where the merest mention of the name can take me back in heart and spirit. The first are the cliffs at Yesnaby on the mainland of Orkney. Here, the crash of the Atlantic is stalled by Earl Thorfinn’s walls and the salty air is scoured into the finest lines of the skin. The second is the Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye, where I have swum in the ice clear waters and tasted the pure heart of the Cuillins. The third, and the subject of this review, is the bond store at the Old Pulteney distillery in Wick.

I found myself here on an overcast Saturday in 2013. It was the third distillery on a self-guided tour which was to take me around the best parts of Scotland. My true blue Australian friend (who insisted on referring to the drink as ‘OP’) and I didn’t know then that it would be one of only seven distilleries we would visit on that trip. By the time we arrived in Pulteney town, we already had the creeping realisation that most large scale whisky making operations are done along similar lines. Coupled to this, we had satisfied ourselves that whisky makers send their whisky all over the place. Since then we have regularly enjoyed our whisky without feeling the need to visit the place of origin.

The Old Pulteney distillery was built in 1826 in a town built to support the herring trade. With a lack of foresight uncommon in the Scottish, James Henderson’s lads built the roof too low for the still. When the brand new copper pot still arrived, the swan neck kept clanging off the rafters. Without any ado they applied a choice piece of Scottish logic to the problem and sliced off the top of it. Job done, the still was installed, the top sealed and a pipe bunged on the the side creating the unusual appearance you’ll see today. The bulge further down the giant copper kettle also gave them an idea of how to shape their bottles.

You’ll see all this and more on the tour, proving beyond doubt it is a whisky making process. After you’ve seen the unusual squat stills you’re taken out to the bond store. On the day we visited it started raining at this point. We made a dash towards the barrels, which in my mind were stacked six high (my photographic record shows only four), and the door was shut behind us. While we learned about the maturation process we avoided the tears of the angels and breathed in their share of the whisky; a fine ethereal vapour floating in the salty air. Yes, we all smelt that whisky, we all knew what we were doing and we yes, we all found questions to ask to keep us there longer.

IMG_0689 (Copy)

Old Pulteney has the taste of the sea in it too, they say. I can’t taste things like that, but Wick is not too far away from the places where the mighty Atlantic meets the moody North Sea and that can’t happen without seriously affecting a drink as emotional as whisky. The salt, they said, coats the barrels and works its way through the grain and into the final product. This may very well be the case. Salt for me is something I put on chips and any other food. It’s never been more complicated than that.

As for taste of Old Pulteney 12 year old, it’s a fine single malt, very fine. I find it harsh on the nose, easy on the draw and the burn is frank and satisfying. It has a rich stickling after taste like bronze coins falling over a weir and I’ll always like it because it’s the whisky I drink with my father.

I asked Dad why he drinks this particularly spirit. As a seasoned Famous Grouse drinker, it turned out his discernment was a result of him acquiring a bottle at no cost from an appreciative work colleague. His opinion of ‘Aye, it’s a nice one that’ is fair if not particularly detailed or nuanced. I confidently predict that he will continue to drink this brand so long as it remains at his personal initial price point.

For me it’s not what goes into a bond store it’s what comes out. That day in Wick an amateur whisky drinker went into the bond store. After delaying as long as I could, a happier, more philosophical and more content amateur whisky drinker came out. The OP lads do the same with their whisky. They wait and they wait and after twelve years a fine drink appears. I don’t know what makes this my homely stand-alone bottle of go-to, or why at times, when I can neither get to Yesnaby nor the Fairy pools of Skye, I can have a drop of Old Pulteney 12 year old and be at both at the same time. It’s a mystery I don’t want to think through too much and if I ever need to know, I can just ask my dad. He knows.

★★★★

The Top 5 Islay Distilleries

Posted by: Nick

Streets of Bowmore whisky waffle

If I were to take four flights, one lengthy bus ride and a ferry crossing, as well as being broke and jetlagged, I would also be in my favourite place in the world, the mythical Isle of Islay. While my own home state of Tasmania contains many fantastic distilleries, I know that this Hebridean island will forever be: The Whisky Isle.

Islay is currently home to eight distilleries, which is not bad for a tiny island with a population that would fit into the MCG thirty times over. I do of course only speak hypothetically, because in real life the people of Islay would not deign to leave this most wonderful island – not even to attend the Boxing Day Test Match.

All eight Ileach distilleries make fascinating, varied and outstanding whiskies. But today I count down my top five favourites, those establishments that have helped shape the Whisky Waffler I am today.

5 Kilchoman

Kilchoman is the relative new kid on the block, only in operation since 2005, however the standard of whisky they are creating is astonishing. They take an old familiar flavour and reinvent it, producing something refreshingly new, and yet at the same time distinctly Islay.

One sip reflects the traditional Islay flavours that so perfectly accompany winter storms as they roll in off the Atlantic, testing the water proofing of the local cottages, and yet their whiskies are also bright, young, and energetic. They are surprisingly complex, and, most importantly of all, they are improving all the time. Kilchoman is that annoying combination of athleticism and brains: it is the top football star with the chiselled good looks that goes on to become a neurosurgeon. So with this in mind there is no doubt that Kilchoman is a distillery to watch out for in the future.

4 Bruichladdich

4 bruichladdich

Jim McEwan took over the then derelict Bruichladdich Distillery in 2001 and, after initially being called crazy, has seen it go from strength to strength. Known for its innovation, the distillery creates not one, not two, but three different series of bottlings, all with their unique style. Firstly and foremost are the lightly peated drams produced under their own name, Bruichladdich. Secondly, the more traditional and heavier-peated Port Charlotte, named after the long-since shut distillery that was once based a few miles away. Finally the famous (or infamous) Octomore range, marketed, correctly, as the most heavily peated whiskies in the world.

If I were to work at a distillery on Islay, this would have to be it. It combines traditional methods (the may-as-well-be-antique mashtuns) with experimentation (I heard rumour of a tequila cask hidden away in the bond store somewhere). Most of all, Bruichladdich are a community-focused distillery. Jim McEwan has achieved many great things across his career, but he claims the number of Ileach people he employs is the one that fills him with the most pride.

3 Laphroaig

3 Laphroaig whisky waffle

When you think Islay whiskies, you think peat – and no distillery on earth does peat like Laphroaig. The whisky produced here may not be to everyone’s taste, but it sure is to mine. One sniff transports me to bonfires, seaside camping trips and, as I discovered later, the sensation of getting out of the car on Islay and inhaling the peat-thick fresh air. The whisky made by Laphroaig is iconic and rightfully among the most famous made on the island.

Whiskies made at Laphroaig are unapologetic. If you don’t like your drams peated, run for the hills (if you can actually find any on Islay) as the manufacturers don’t care. I find this attitude appealing however. I know what I’m going to get from Laphroaig and I know that it will comfort me after a tough day at work or celebrate with me as I raise a toast with my friends.

While they have the second biggest output of any distillery on Islay, they still conduct traditional floor maltings and fire up their own peat kilns for a percentage of their product. I’ve been lucky enough to stand in the large kilns, and even luckier that this occurred while they were not operating! Laphroaig is Islay to a tee and an unmissable stop if you visit the island.

2 Lagavulin

2 Laga whisky waffle

First trying the Lagavulin 16 Year Old was a revelation in my whisky-drinking life. What was this spirit that burned like a roaring bonfire in my mouth? What were these charred-fruit flavours that followed? I’d certainly never tasted anything like it and I’ve certainly never looked back.

Several years later I have tried a range of peated whiskies and loved most of them. But the Lagavulin 16 is still up there amongst the best.

What separates Lagavulin from the rest is a sense of class. While other distilleries, rightfully, let the wild peat-monster roam free, Lagavulin has it well trained, even walking to heel. With some of the Distillers’ Editions it will even sit and roll over! This allows a magnificent balance between peat and sherry flavours which really sets it up as the classiest of Islay’s whiskies.

1 Ardbeg

1 Ardbeg whisky waffle

While all distilleries on Islay offer many brilliant and varied drams, it is Ardbeg that I believe captures the ‘spirit’ of the island the best. With a slab of peat, a splash of history and a smattering of actual magic, you cannot help but fall in love with the drams, the atmosphere and the portrait on the wall of Shortie the Dog, the Ardbeg mascot.

Ardbeg are famous for once a year releasing a frustratingly small amount of limited edition bottles which seem destined to sit unopened on wealthy collectors’ shelves. But on the rare occasion you get to try one, you will see what the hype is about: Alligator, Galileo and of course Supernova are all enticingly titled as well as deliciously flavoured.

Their regular bottles cannot be forgotten, either. In Uigeadail they have produced a strong candidate for worlds best peated whisky, the Coryvrekkan has one of the longest finishes going around (and around and around!) and as for their ‘entry level’ – is there a finer 10 year old bottle in world whisky? Possibly not.

Ardbeg is many people’s favourite distillery. And it is not hard to figure out why. Put simply, it is because it is among the best.

Nick at Port Ellen lighthouse whisky waffle

This list, of course, is only my (somewhat subjective) opinion. It is by no means definitive. What are your top five favourite Islay distilleries? Let us know in the comments and we will slam you for being wrong! Er… I mean, we will respect your opinion greatly! That’s the one!

The Fault in our Stars: an explanation of the whisky waffle rating system

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Waffle Selfie

Nick: Roll the dice, Ted! We need to come up with a score for the Glenfiddich 12!

Depending on what you’re after, whisky rankings can be a help or a hindrance. Some reviewers have highly thought out and complex ratings systems, whereas others tend towards simplistic and arbitrary methods, preferring to spend more time drinking the stuff than doing the maths.

Whisky Waffle fall squarely into the latter category, struggling to count any further than five after a couple of drams. Thus we award any whisky we review a rating of one to five stars. We don’t even bother with half stars, because, after all, that’s just a sneaky way of scoring out of ten isn’t it?

So keeping it simple is all well and good, but what does each score actually mean?

★ One star sounds bad… and that’s because it is. There are very few whiskies with zero redeeming qualities, but every now and then one rears its ugly head. Try it once and then never again.

★★ Two stars is in no way bad. But nor is it good, either. These are perfectly drinkable whiskies that for some reason have disappointed us, or left us underwhelmed. Try it once, and then try it again to be sure.

★★★ Three stars is our most complex category. Everything within this zone is good, however some just creep over the line whereas others are bordering on greatness. To work out which – well, you’ll just have to read the review! We would happily have a dram of one of these any day of the week (twice on Fridays!).

★★★★ Four stars are whiskies both literally and figuratively top shelf. These are the drops that have an x-factor, something that makes them stand out from the pack. They’d be a fine addition to anyone’s collection.

★★★★★ Five stars is probably the most subjective category for us. Obviously they’re all superlative whiskies in their own right, but often they might hold extra significance for us. These are whiskies that make all five stars align in the heavens.

For those who are interested, we created a page listing all our reviews by their score. You can check it out here.