Month: October 2016

Return to Redlands

Posted by: Nick and Ted

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They grow up so fast, don’t they? When we last visited paddock-to-bottle distillery Redlands in 2014, their spirit was still too young to be released and head distiller Dean Jackson was only just filling barrel number 42.

Fast forward two years and the shelves are stocked with elegant (cuboid) bottles of Redlands paddock-to-bottle Tasmanian single malt and Dean is busy filling bottle number 271. Oh, and did we mention that the distillery has moved 50km up the road to a new site?

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Knock knock! Wafflers at the door.

After the sale of the Redlands Estate property in late 2015, the distillery was faced with the challenge of finding a new home in just 21 days. After several weeks of stress-filled searching, they eventually settled on what they hoped would be the perfect venue: the heritage listed Dysart House in the small southern-midlands town of Kempton.

From the moment you push open the (heavy) front door you can tell that Redlands has fallen on its feet. The main house is built from beautiful sandstone blocks and the dark timbered interior houses the cellar door, kitchen, a sitting room with high backed leather chesterfields (careful not to slide off – Brigitte likes to keep them well polished) and a glorious blackwood table (which only made its way inside with help from Whisky Waffle’s muscle).

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The sitting (and drinking whisky) room

The distillery and bond store can be found in a red-bricked outbuilding off the side of the main house. Redlands’ continued growth is evidenced by the addition of a new still, with the (now) wash still, Heather, joined by new spirit still, affectionately known as the Mad Hatter. The bond store continues to expand, now housing hundreds of 20 and 100 litre barrels that once contained pinot noir, port, sherry and even Tokay.

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Heather and the Hatter

These days if you visit Redlands, you will be able to try some of the most elegant, drinkable and delicious whisky Tasmania has to offer. Redlands’ signature release is aged in Tasmanian ex-pinot noir barrels and is like drinking apricot jam. The unusual ex-tokay barrel release is broad and full across the palate, oozing with dark berries, while the ex-port barrel, which we tried at cask strength, offers marmalade, honey and vanilla.

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A wonderful room to drink wonderful whisky

Redlands has changed so much in the last two years, but they have even grander plans afoot for the near future. While the old brick outbuildings are charming and old-worldy, they simply don’t have any space for expansion as the distillery scales up production. The solution to this problem is the construction of a facility in the adjacent field, with work scheduled to begin in 2017. The new distillery will allow for a greater output, allowing the Redlands single malt to be enjoyed by a much larger audience.

The sale of the old Redlands estate could have easily spelled the doom of the distillery; instead it luckily seems to have made it stronger. Who knows what the future will bring, but you can be certain that Whisky Waffle will be back to find out.

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…and next time we’ll bring Dean a box to stand on in the photo!

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Rye Reaps Rewards: Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2017

Posted by: Ted

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It’s that time of year again folks. Everybody’s favourite golden eyed whisky critic (though to be honest, it’s probably just jaundice from cirrhosis after a lifetime of chugging drams) has sottedly rolled out of his all-expenses-paid cabin in the Kentucky backwoods like a panama-wearing bear and declaimed to the expectant masses his predilections for 2017. It’s like Groundhog Day if Punxsutawney Phil was a bottle of whisky and Bill Murray’s disaffected, grouchy journalist was instead played by another disaffected, grouchy journalistict Murray (oooo… I went there)!

Love him or loath him, Jim Murray’s yearly decreement of the world’s best drams in his ‘Whisky Bible’ never fails to set the whisky world aquiver with fawning adulation or frothing indignation. Last year’s selection of the Crown Royal Harvest Rye as top dog fell well into the latter camp, unleashing a raging wave of aggrieved whisky wankery around the globe. You still couldn’t find a bottle for love nor money five seconds later though…

So, what brilliant, laudable/despicable, corrupt choice has Mr Murray made this time then? Well, let’s just say that the Yanks will be (more?) insufferable (at least those in Kentucky. Tennesseeans will probably be unimpressed).

This year the big tinfoil crown goes to the Booker’s Rye 13yo 68.1% with a score of 97.5/100. Hmm, a rye again… maybe this really is Groundhog Day? Jim apparently described his new favourite as having a ‘brain-draining, mind blowing’ nose with a finish of ‘amazing depth’. Descriptions of trauma to the cranial region are probably not entirely unjustified; we previously reviewed the Booker’s Barrel Aged Bourbon 64.55% and found it delivered a solid punch to the face. To be honest, the extra age on the Rye probably does wonders for the balance, although that will be hard to verify seeing as it will be next to impossible to find by now.

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The Americans also took out third place with the William Larue Weller Bourbon (Bot. 2015), however the Scots are probably celebrating the hardest after finally cracking the top three after several years’ drought, with the Glen Grant 18yo taking second place. Glen Grant recently overhauled their range with a new line-up and fresh, colour-coded look (maybe they’ve been getting tips off The Macallan?). It would seem that the ploy has paid off, also earning the 18yo both the Scotch Whisky and Single Malt of the year.

Poor commoners rolling around in their muddy hovels with the pigs will be delighted to know that the 41 Year-and-Over (Single Cask) section was taken out by Gordon & MacPhail’s independently aged Glen Grant 1950 65yo. Maybe time to sell a few of those grubby little brats, peasants.

We can all give a great big disinterested ‘meh’ to the winners of the Blended Scotch NAS (Ballantines Finest), 5-12yo (Johnnie Walker Black 12yo) and 19-25yo (Chivas Royal Salute 21yo) sections. It’s hard to care much really.

Far more exciting is the winner of the Southern Hemisphere Whisky of the Year (most prestigious award of the lot, ammirite!?), Tasmania’s very own Heartwood ‘Any Port in a Storm’ 69.9%. Hooray for Mr Duckett and his obsession with bonkers cask strength releases! Sucks be to you though if you want a bottle, cos they’re already gone. Actually, I saw a picture today of someone who’d taken a bottle with them to Macchu Picchu and cracked it open for a cheeky dram. Probably for the best really…

Want to weep adoringly or fume indignantly at the best of the rest? Find the full list of Jim’s picks here https://blog.thewhiskyexchange.com/2016/10/jim-murrays-whisky-bible-2017-the-winners/

Rye Reflections: my visit to Belgrove

Posted by: Nick

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While casually scanning through the many varied barrels in the bond store end of Pete Bignell’s converted stables, I asked him what he thought his signature expression was. It was a tricky question – I mean, it must be hard to settle on just one drop in a place of such experimentation, innovation and creation. And he looked at me with a grin and told me that his signature expression was exactly that. Not a barrel type, or even a grain; but creativity. I guess when you think about it, what else could possibly link a champion sand sculptor with a leading whisky maker – but creativity?

As we continued to waltz through different age statements, grains, barrel types and peat levels (north-east peated malt: phwoar!) I realised that no two barrels were alike. Each one had its own history and its own story – and Pete knew ‘em all. It’s clear now that embracing the lack of uniformity and instead pursuing creativity is what Belgrove is all about.

A Rye look at Belgrove

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The much-extended old stables which house Belgrove Distillery

In our review we jokingly referred to Belgrove Distillery’s Peter Bignell as the da Vinci of distilling. When we visited him, we discovered that we were actually bang on the mark. Case in point was his method for powering the pump that injected homemade biofuel into the burner for the still: an old Sunbeam Mixmaster (usually on ‘Whipped Cream’ setting!).

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Apparently meringue-setting heated the still too much!

Our arrival at the distillery was actually rather hampered by some pesky road workers, who decided to dig up the highway in front of Peter’s driveway half an hour before we arrived. We had to call over a massive grader to flatten the surface enough to get the Alfa over (the troubles with low sports cars).

Belgrove distillery takes its name from the property, which is also a working farm. This was apparent as soon as we opened the gate and spied a flock of freshly shorn sheep, which we later discovered Peter had taught to eat leftover rye mash. Scattered around the old stables building that houses the distillery were various contraptions cannibalised from old washing machines, scrap metal and Russian Typhoon-class nuclear submarines.

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This one is made from the parts of Apollo 11 which fell to earth

The distillery, located just outside the southern midlands town of Kempton, is unique in Tasmania in that it predominantly produces its spirit using rye instead of barley. The story goes that Peter had a spare paddock full of rye that needed using and so decided to turn it into whisky. Rather than buy expensive new equipment, and prescribing to a reuse and recycle ethos, he instead decided to build everything himself.

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Including this glorious piece of copper!

We need to stress that home-made doesn’t mean rubbish; the malter/peat smoker crafted out of an old tumble dryer is a work of genius, and the mash tun is perfectly functional – until it gets clogged up by the huskless rye that is. Peter quipped that when this happens he has to put the old wooden paddle appropriated from his kids’ dinghy to work to unclog it (he’s changed both the handle and the blade three times apiece, but maintains it’s still the same paddle).

Peter has been a farmer his whole life, only turning to distilling seven years ago. He said that his university degree in agricultural science has been invaluable, allowing him to exploit the science behind the art, although he doesn’t downplay the role of the natural yeasts and bacteria that inoculate the mash, which he refers to as Belgrove’s unique terroir. Peter is completely hands on with the whole process, from growing the grain, to the distilling, the bottling and especially the tasting.

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Peter is clearly a hands-on farmer

Luckily enough we were able to join him in tasting a variety of interesting spirits, including rye, barley, apple hatchet (distilled apple cider), ginger hammer (distilled ginger beer) and even an experimental batch of eau de vie that Peter was trialling for Tasmanian Cask Company’s master cooper Adam Bone, who dropped by to check on proceedings. The range was varied, exciting and specific to Belgrove, and it was inspiring to be able to taste such contrasting flavours produced in the one place.

We did however have our favourites; the rye at 47%, Pommeau (apple hatchet cut back with apple juice) and especially the Pinot Noir matured rye at cask strength, of which we took home bottles #1 and #2 of a new barrel. However, revelation of the day was the 100% malted barley smoked with peat from the previously untapped bogs in the north-east of the state. Good people of the world, are you ready for Tasmania’s answer to Scotland’s Islay? Well, it’s maturing in Peter Bignell’s bond store at this very moment.

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Nick filling bottle number one!

While Peter is expanding the old stables to house a new still and larger malting equipment, he still resolves to remain stubbornly small scale, championing the merits of a hands-on approach. He muses that “big distilleries only care about how much whisky per kilo of grain they can get. I’m trying to get the most flavour.” From our all too brief visit, it is clear that he is succeeding in that vision.

Tasmania is home to many distilleries, big and little, but perhaps none is more eclectic and fascinating to explore than Belgrove.

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Don’t worry, Ted. Someone has to have bottle number two!

The Macallan Fine Oak 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

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I just can’t get my head around (The) Macallan. While I can very clearly visualise and appreciate the ranges of, say, Glenfiddich, Glen Moray or Glendronach, trying to form a coherent picture of what Macallan is about is as likely to give me a headache as drinking way too much of the stuff. And not just because it doesn’t start with the word Glen…

The contradictions are plentiful: many an old-time whisky drinker will cite Macallan as their go-to drop. Yet the distillery spent a fortune to get a bottle of 50 Year Old in a Bond film. And for some reason they recently ditched age statements in favour of… colours? And yet not too long ago there was also Macallan’s ‘Fine Oak’ range, one such bottle being the subject of today’s review.

I don’t get the point of the ‘Fine Oak’ series. As far as I can tell, it takes its name from the many “exceptional quality” oak casks the whisky was matured in. But… does that mean their older range was dumped into low quality barrels? Somehow I doubt it. It seems to be another rebranding dead-end left by the wayside by an impatient marketing team.

Despite all this, the whisky itself is great to drink. The nose is light, vibrant and contains finely balanced notes of vanilla and lime. The palate is sweet without being sickly and flavours of honey and malt take centre stage. The finish is short without being unsatisfying, with a creamy nuttiness that gently lingers: it’s Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut in whisky form! All up, it’s a brilliantly balanced dram, and one that you could confidently pour to a hesitant whisky drinker.

The biggest disappointment is that this bottle is no longer available – if I were to seek something similar I would have to try a different bottle in the Macallan range. As much as I enjoyed this particular drop, I’m wary to spend up on something else from the distillery. Macallan seems to be undergoing somewhat of an identity crisis and I’m probably unlikely to go and buy a bottle until they sort it out – that is unless I get some pretty convincing recommendations in the comments!

★★★