Month: January 2018

Down the Track to Timboon Railway Shed Distillery

Posted by: Nick

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Josh Walker, head distiller of Timboon Railway Shed Distillery is a busy man. A typical day at the office consists of running a thriving restaurant, supervising a bond store, checking in with a range of staff and greeting his customers, all the while running a distillation with his beautiful 600 litre copper pot still tucked away in the corner of the cafe. Considering all of his responsibilities, it is a minor miracle that he was able to spare the time to meet with me on my visit to the area. However he managed to locate a small window in his diary and was able to show me around, let me taste the wares and tell me the fascinating story of Timboon Railway Shed Distillery.

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Timboon is a small town in rural western Victoria, about 20 kilometres north of some of the Great Ocean Road’s most famous sights. It has a remarkably similar origin story to my hometown’s own Hellyers Road: a group of dairy farmers looking to diversify and bring more people to the area. The Marwood family were unhappy with the price they were getting for their milk and branched out: first into creating ice cream, then into offering fine food, and then the final logical step – making whisky. They based themselves in a rustic railway shed which conveyed a sense of old world charm to all who visited. Before long, each facet of Timboon was thriving and head distiller Tim Marwood reluctantly made the choice to move on from the whisky side of the business.

Fortunately at this point, in stepped Josh Walker, a Timboon boy and self-confessed amateur brewer. He had spent some time in breweries and distilleries in America while running an agriculture contacting business in Timboon for ten years. However, when he learned the Marwood family were interested in handing over the distilling reins, Josh decided to “turn tractors into whisky” and began learning the ropes from Tim before purchasing the business outright in 2015. Finally Josh could pursue a long held dream and make whisky.

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This beautiful piece of artwork is actually at the new Timboon Icecreamery – the new hub of the Marwood’s businesses and also well worth a visit – especially for big boss ice cream!

The drams made at Timboon have similar characteristics to many Australian drops. Almost all expressions are matured in ex-port casks and the main bottlings are single barrel releases, coming from 225, 100 or even 20 litre casks. However, the temperature in outback Victoria sees the distillery battle with some particularly thirsty angels, regularly taking up to 7% of the barrel’s contents each year.

The whisky that makes it into the bottles, however, is well worth trying. The main expression is the Timboon Single Malt. ABV varies, due to the single cask nature of the whisky, but it usually hovers at around 43%. It is broad across the palate and full of punchy fruit flavours; apples and marmalade – not dissimilar to several drops made in my home state.

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The cask strength, titled ‘Christie’s Cut’, contains similar elements, but turns them up to 11. Accompanying the rich, fruity, almost quince paste flavour, is a nutty marzipan note. It is exceptionally smooth for its 60% and leaves a gentle finish of cardamon and cloves.

I was also lucky enough to try the ‘Governors Reserve’, a combination of two 20 litre American oak casks, one ex-port and one ex-bourbon. The result is a nose full of citrus, a palate full of creamy, custardy baked goods and a finish with ginger and nutmeg. The others were fantastic, but this was my favourite.

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That was, of course, until I visited the bond store. The Timboon bond store is tiny in comparison to many distilleries, however hidden amongst the few dozen sleeping barrels were some absolute gems. Josh was excited to share them and I was only too keen to try a range of incredible flavours; we could have continued tasting all afternoon if I did not have a schedule to keep.

Timboon Railway Shed may be slightly out of the way for the average tourist, however if you are even vaguely within the area it is well worth a visit. There is something for everyone: a delicious restaurant, shelves stacked with local products, a bar packed with Australian whiskies and an operational still in the corner. While you are there read about the history of the area and the distillery, taste the whiskies and say hello to Josh: one of the busiest – and one of the nicest guys in the business.

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A Tranquil Trip to Yamazaki Distillery

Posted by: Ted

1 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

If one distillery can be claimed as the home of the Japanese whisky scene, then Yamazaki Distillery is the natural heir to that crown. It was, after all, the first operating whisky distillery in Japan and progenitor of the thriving world-class industry that has blossomed in the 95 years since.

2a Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

Founded in 1923 by Shinjiro Torii, the distillery is located in the town of Yamazaki, a sleepy place nestled halfway between Kyoto and Osaka. Once you alight at the station, the distillery is a short walk away through the quiet streets, passing by traditional houses and shrines.

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From the outside, the distillery is not that much to look at, large drab brown buildings that blend in well with the surrounding forested hills but do not inspire any particular romantic notions. The old stills dotted around the leafy grounds are a nice touch though. The location is important however, as the distillery draws its water from the confluence of three local rivers, the Katsura, Uji and Kojo, the soft waters of which Yamazaki claims helps them make a refined spirit.

2 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

In comparison to the exterior, the inside of the visitors centre is a beautiful and interesting place to be, with timbered interiors, a cutaway still and washback, and shelving supporting row upon row of bottles with hand-typed labels containing various agings of spirit made by Yamazaki and other distilleries from around the world. There is also an interesting whisky walk with information about the distillery.

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Guided tours can be booked online, with a standard and a slightly longer special tour available. If you want to do the special tour you need to book early (which we didn’t) as it only runs on weekends and has limited spots. The tours are conducted in Japanese, but an audio guide is available if, like us, your Japanese only extends to a few much-overused phrases.

7 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

The standard tour, conducted on our visit by the youthful Nishiwaki and assisted by the older Tanaka, guides guests through the history and production processes at Yamazaki, taking in the mash room, the still house and the bond stores. A delicious smell of whisky permeates the facility, changing in nature depending on your location. For example, the still room with its 12 stills (there are another four somewhere else too) smells of fresh apples and lemons, while the bond store is dark and rich with the years of aging spirit.

4 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

As we walked back from the bond store we passed by a torii gate, which Tanaka amiably commented to me was over 1000 years old, which makes the distillery’s only 95 years look rather pale in comparison, a reminder that the Japanese whisky industry is still only a relatively young thing in an ancient culture.

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The tours conclude in the tasting room, an open, airy space where guests sit at wooden benches to be educated in the art of drinking Yamazaki. Four glasses of whisky were presented, a White Oak Cask, a Wine Cask and two glasses of the 12 Year Old, one for sampling and the other for doing as you pleased with (as part of the tasting you had the opportunity to make a whisky highball. I declined).

5 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

The White Oak Cask and Wine Cask were presented as examples of Yamazaki’s practice of crafting a base palate of different styles that are then married together to create a final release, such as the 12 Year Old. The distillery claims that this method allows them to create products that have a subtlety and nuance of flavour similar to a blended Scotch, but are comprised of whiskies that are made entirely on site at Yamazaki.

The two spirits were indeed quite different, with the light White Oak Cask evoking honey, lemon, green apple and rose on the nose, while the dark-gold Wine Cask gave notes of caramel, marshmallow, wine gums, oak, salt, red apple and apricot. On the palate the White Oak had leather, dark honey, polished oak, beeswax, malt and a sharp, herbal finish, while the Wine cask had a dark, rich, dry fruitiness, with red apples, brown pear, sour plum and salted caramel.

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A small selection of nibblies are also provided with the tasting, my favourite being the smoked nuts, which are smoked over chips made from old barrels. There are a number of friendly attendants on hand to guide you through the tasting and make sure you know what’s what.

At the completion of the tasting you are led back to the visitor centre where you have the opportunity to visit the gift shop (which has a distinct lack of Japanese whisky apart from the Chita single grain) or indulge in some further tastings such as older bottlings or distillery exclusives (I may have lashed out on the 25 Year Old).

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The atmosphere at Yamazaki was relaxed and Nishiwaki delivered a crisp and professional tour that was full of interesting and informative facts… at least I presume so seeing as I couldn’t understand a word of it. The audio guide was solid though and it was easy to keep up with the tour. If you want to get a grasp on the history and character of Japanese whisky, then Yamazaki is well worth your time to visit if you happen to be in the area.

9 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit