Drunken Essays

Dadwhinnie

Posted by: Ted

It’s my Dad’s birthday today. I suppose this day tends to make me a bit introspective because he died in 2013. Since then I’ve been finding my way through life in certain aspects without the guiding hand of a father, a fact that I regret more as I grow older and one that I didn’t appreciate enough as a callow youth. History and literature warn us of this condition of course, but I suppose it’s hard to understand at the time… and by then it’s too late.

The reason I first started this musing, over breakfast, as you do, was that I was trying to decide what dram would be best to toast to his health tonight (ironic as that is). I’ve mentioned this before, but for some reason I always associate him with Dalwhinnie 15 (whisky-wise at any rate). It’s a bit of a mystery why really, as it’s not like he was a great aficionado of Scotland’s highest distillery.

If anything, I should remember him by the 1L bottles of Johnnie Walker Red he used to keep in the pantry and swore by as a cold remedy. But the whisky snob in me has become jaded against the walking man in the red jacket I think, so while the memory is fond, the desire to imbibe from that particular cup is lacking.

I suppose, getting down to it, I think the real reason I entwine my father and the Dalwhinnie is purely a selfish one – I bought him the bottle. So, is it really a reflection of him, or of me? My own tastes overriding his in my memory?

To mount a defence against myself, the sentiment comes from a place of love. I bought him the bottle when m’colleague and I were first beginning our whisky journey, back before Whisky Waffle was even a thing. Back when we were in a Cold War arms race to impress each other with ever more interesting bottles.

During my teenage years and as a young adult, I had always struggled to talk with my father. I mean in the deep, honest and open sense, sharing the deeper parts of myself with him. We were quite different people, and it didn’t help that I was wrapped up in the arrogance of youth and he tended towards quietude and reserve.

I suspect that with the Dalwhinnie 15, my hope was that here was something that we could enjoy together. I know that I wanted to share my newfound interest with him and to talk with him about it, even though he probably found me slightly pretentious (still am?). The quality of the 15 would have been a good social leveller though. We did enjoy the occasional dram when I was around too, but whether it opened us up I’m not as sure.

I know from friends and the world at large that young men (hopefully) tend to develop a deeper, more equal and respectful relationship with their fathers as they grow older. I’m generally pretty sanguine about his death in itself, but I do regret that he is gone. With maturity and hindsight, I wonder what our relationship, perhaps even friendship (which is a nice thought), would be now. Alas, so many unanswered questions, so many things left unsaid.

I still have that bottle of Dalwhinnie sitting on my shelf. Of course I reclaimed it after the fact, it would be bad manners not to! It’s down to the dregs now, but for some reason I haven’t been able to finish it.

Part of me has just been avoiding writing a review about it. But perhaps, subconsciously, it’s because the bottle is wrapped up with other memories? Would another bottle make it easier to put pen to paper and record the facts as I see, smell and taste them? Perhaps.

Keeping that bottle alive in such a diminished state has been doing it no favours either. After at least five years rattling around the bottom, exposure to time and the elements will have irrevocably changed the nature of the spirit by a thousand tiny cuts… Huh, that’s quite a good metaphor for incurable cancer actually.

I am quietly an advocate for the right to die with dignity, to bring about closure while enough shreds of a person’s humanity remain. Or even just to be able to make choices about how and where you would like to die, assisted or not, if that luxury is able to be afforded to you. My heart broke enough with the gifts of time and the acceptance of Death’s ultimatum, so I cannot begin to fathom the world-shattering pain that suddenness would bring, although I have trodden the broken glass of its edges.

So, I think that the time has come to bring an end to my bottle. Another one can always be bought and the same memory attached to that mnemonic vessel time and again (as long as Diageo doesn’t decide to drop the 15). It is unfair to the ideals that I originally bought it, to share with my father, and the effort that went into creating the liquid itself, to allow it to moulder away on my shelf. Whisky is, of course, for drinking.

No, this one is for me, as my porridge grows cold in the microwave and a small voice in my head quietly screams that I need to get to work (luckily the commute is just to the back room, as I’m working from home during COVID-19). But overriding all else is Dad’s voice, growing fainter every year, which has derailed me on this day to come unbidden into my mind and drip bittersweet words onto the page.

Or maybe it’s just me, alone at the kitchen table.

Slainte Mhor, You.

I miss you.

Four reasons Archie Rose will take over the (Australian Whisky) world:

Posted by: Nick

Archie Rose Rye Malt Whisky

Hot take alert! Archie Rose will, sooner rather than later, be the most famous distillery in the country. Move aside Sullivans Cove, forget about Lark, no chance Limeburners; Archie Rose is best placed to bring quality Australian whisky to the world.

Alright, why am I so confident? Well, there are a number of reasons: four to be precise…

1) The location. Archie Rose are located in Rosebery, Sydney, mere kilometres from the CBD. If a tiny state like Tassie can build a whisky scene from the ground up then a city with a population of over 5 million – and a further 15 million tourists every year – is guaranteed to find more than a few willing customers. And Archie Rose is well placed to have the monopoly on them, being the first craft distillery set up in over a hundred years. Others have started up in Sydney since, but Archie Rose got there first. Throw in a classy bar, as well as educational tours and blending experiences and Archie Rose is set up beautifully as NSW’s distillery of choice.

Archie Rose Whisky 7

2) The marketing. While this isn’t the most romantic aspect of any distillery, it’s fair to say Archie Rose has nailed it. From their unique hexagonal box, to the seductive smoked tint, to the classically shaped bottle, they are well placed to stand out on a shelf. Their online presence is excellent and their website contains details of every cask that makes up a release, including data such as water source, grist size, duration of fermentation and the date each barrel was filled and emptied. This is manna from heaven for whisky nerds like myself!

3) The quality. Someone at Archie Rose knows what they are doing. From the very beginning there was never any thought of rushing a few 20 litre single casks out the door. Nothing is being released before it is ready – in fact, we’re still yet to see a single malt, although I am assured one is coming. Even the Rye Malt, in it’s 3rd iteration at the time of writing, is made using a solera system, where half of the previous batch has been gradually spending a whole lot more time in oak than the two and a half years that the youngest spirit in the mix has seen. It seems this approach is paying dividends, too, as this release has just won World’s Best Rye Whisky at the 2020 World Whisky Awards. A single cask sample of their single malt was also awarded a gold medal. It is hard to become a great whisky distillery without producing a great whisky, and it seems Archie Rose is well placed to produce exactly that.

Archie Rose Whisky 4

4) The variety. As is the case with many modern distilleries, Archie Rose is branching out into gins and vodkas which have also won various awards in their fields. Their whiskies are equally varied, with the first release being a Malted Rye, released to market, while their single malt matures in its own time. However, the experimentation doesn’t stop there, with the release of an Ironbark Smoked Rye Whisky, a variation on their rye whisky made using smoked water created by melting huge ice blocks with an Ironbark fuelled oven. It seems the distillery is not afraid to experiment, and several releases under their Archie Rose concepts label demonstrate the innovation and creativity occurring at the distillery.

While it is still early days for Archie Rose, they seem to have been a name we’ve heard about for a while. Like a chess master they have been flying under the radar, getting their pieces in exactly the right positions before pouncing with a decisive checkmate. Mark my words, these guys are going to be big…

Archie Rose Rye Malt Whisky Boulevardier

Oh, and I have to mention one more reason they’re destined for greatness:

5) They claim it to be “truly unique” and “one of the world’s most unique distilleries” which will annoy Ted something shocking. Always a great sign in my books…

On killing bottles

Posted by: Ted

There’s a bottle I need to kill. Actually, there’s a number of them, but this particular one is an old bottle of Dalwhinnie 15. It’s been sitting around on the shelf with about a good dram’s worth left in the bottom for at least a couple of years now. I have a suspicion this may turn out to be a problem.

Killin’ me slowly with his dram…

People tend to think of whisky as being very durable. When it’s aging in the barrel all sorts of funky interactions are happening of course, but stick it in glass, that delightfully chemically stable substance, and it’ll stay unchanged forever. Maybe… although that theory does seem to have been challenged recently by the number of very old, rare whiskies that have been tested and found to have somehow magically changed themselves into much, much younger, inferior whisky that is most definitely not (‘we are so sorry to have to break this news to you sir’) that phenomenally expensive 1880’s Ardbeg you bought as a sure-fire investment. Hmm, quite.

Getting back to the point though, nearly-empty bottles left to their own devices just never seem to taste as good (or at least not the same). The flavours are diminished and changed somehow. Oxidation, causing changes to the molecules through increased oxygen interaction, gets bandied around a bit, but sources on the repository-of-all-knowledge indicate that this may not actually play as much of a role as I previously thought. Another theory that I quite like is that because alcohol and other molecules in the whisky are volatile, evaporation and dissipation occurs every time the whisky is poured, meaning some of the flavours are lost and the balance of components is changed (a more detailed explanation here care of the excellently anorak-y Whisky Science blog).

That being the case, why don’t we just finish of all those damn dregs and move on to pastures new? The thing is, psychologically it can be quite hard to bring yourself to kill the bottle. Back when it was full, we splashed the contents around with great abandon, sharing it generously with friends and pouring stoaters without care. Once the level drops below the plimsol line though, you start to think ‘gosh, that’s getting low. Better go easy… maybe I’ll save it for a special occasion’. It can be even worse when you’re a somewhat slack whisky writer: ‘Oh man, I should really get around to reviewing this. Sometime. Hmm, I better leave some in there… I’ll definitely get around to it soon’.

To kill or not to kill…

Sentiment plays a part in prolonging the life of a bottle as well. The attachment of a particular memory to a particular bottle means that we can cling even harder to the remains, fighting against our natural urges as top predator in the whisky food web. For example, I bought that bottle of Dalwhinnie as a present for my dad over six years ago. When he died in 2013, I inherited it. The stupid thing in this case is that there isn’t any particular sentimental value attached to it. It wasn’t his favourite whisky, we didn’t spend a magical night bonding over it, or a wild night getting shit-faced on it.

Yet for some reason I haven’t been able to force myself to do the dirty deed and finish it off. It just sits there gathering dust and, stupidly on my part, potentially diminishing in quality and strength. Look, if I’m forced to dig deep for an honest reason for my reticence, I think I’ve just been using the tenuous sentimental value to put off having to write a review about it. Which come to think of it, is definitely the reason that I’ve been hoarding the last slick of my Nikka Yoichi 15 for too many years. Ugh, motivation, why are you such an indolent mistress?

Pity it’s not a full bottle these days…

Perhaps it’s just an excuse to keep buying new bottles?

So what is the point of this rambling musing? I think we need to be brave, to step up to the crease and face down that last dram before it’s too late. Sometime you’ve got to kill the things you love. It’s the kindest thing to do.

Just, some other time maybe…

The 2018 Waffle Awards

Posted by: Nick and Ted

2018 has been a huge year in the Waffle-verse. It’s been crammed with trips to Japan, to Scotland, and 25 days of Christmas Aussie Whisky. We conclude this action-packed twelve months with a reflection upon our favourite drams of the year.

That’s right – it’s the 2018 Waffle Awards!

So get ready for a series of deeply subjective and divisive decisions as we reveal the whiskies that impressed us throughout 2018!

1 The Isle of the Drammed Award Whisky Waffle

The Isle of the Drammed Award for the best Tasmanian whisky

We are, as far as we know, the only whisky awards to have a category specifically for Tasmanian whisky. But with so many stellar drams coming out of our home state we think it deserves to be the latest chapter in Jim Murray’s whisky diary. This year the Isle of the Drammed goes to:

Launceston Distillery Tawny Cask

2018 Isle of the Drammed Launceston Distillery Tawny Cask

We visited Launceston Distillery out at their ex-Ansett hangar a few years ago, right when they were beginning their whisky journey. Now they finally have some product out and we’re happy to say – it’s been worth the wait! There are ex-sherry and bourbon releases out there, but our favourite is the port cask, or ‘tawny’ as it’s correctly labelled. And it’s fantastic – big, bold and fruity with flavours of chocolate and blackberries thrown in. It’s everything we love in a Tassie drop and is a worthy winner of the 2018 Isle of the Drammed.

2 The Tartan Slipper Award Whisky Waffle

The Tartan Slipper Award for the best Scottish whisky

So many amazing and interesting drams continue to come out of whisky’s motherland. And yet, they also produce a few simple drops that deserve more recognition than they get. With that in mind, this year’s Tartan Slipper goes to:

Glenfarclas 15 Year Old

2018 Tartan Slipper Glenfarclas 15

Occasionally you find one of those drams that continues to impress every time you go back to it. It’s not necessarily blingy or in-your-face, it just quietly keeps on doing its thing and gives you a warm welcome whenever you drop by to say hello. For us, the Glenfarclas 15 Year Old is one of those drams. We’ve tried both younger and older releases from Glenfarclas, but none of them seem to have the balance and intangible x-factor that the 15 does. It has a dash of the liveliness of a younger dram, without being harsh, and retains a complexity of character that can sometimes get lost in the older, smoother drams. The best bit is that if you can get it on special, it’s also very forgiving on the wallet. The Glenfarclas 15yo is family-owned, heavily-Sherried whisky at its best.

3 The Pocket Pleaser Award Whisky Waffle

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

We acknowledge that often the more expensive a bottle is, the higher the quality. But this perspective often sees cheaper gems overlooked. We love discovering tasty drops that don’t hit the wallet too hard. This year, the Pocket Pleaser goes to:

Dobsons Old Reliable

2018 Pocket Pleaser Dobsons

Dobson’s certainly come across on the cheap-and-cheerful spectrum whisky, nothing giving this away so much as the white wine bottle it is packaged in. But look past this and you’ve got an easy drinking buttery toffee dram which will displease no one. And as an Australian drop available for under $80 you cannot go wrong. It’s a top quality quaffing whisky – or, better still, a session whisky. It goes down beautifully when paired with an Australian summer.

4 The Weirdsky Award Whisky Waffle

The Weirdsky Award for the most WTF whisky

One of worst things a whisky can be is boring. So we have an award for the dram that pushes things in the complete opposite direction. Rarely is this award won by a favourite drinking drop, but gosh, it’s always fun to try. This year the Weirdsky Award goes to:

23rd Street Hybrid Whisk(e)y

2018 Weirdsky 23rd St Hybrid Whisk(e)y

Scotch whisky, blended with American bourbon, aged in Australia. There is no way this should work… and yet… it somehow does. The corn notes add a sweetness to a speysidey character and the overall effect is a pleasant easy-drinker. It’s an insane sounding drop, but definitely worth a taste.

5 The Bill Lark Award Whisky Waffle

The Bill Lark Award for service to the Tasmanian Whisky Industry

Every year we consider it a privilege and an honour to be a part of the whisky industry here in Tasmania. There are so many wonderful people involved and each year we like to acknowledge one for their contribution to the scene. This year, the Bill Lark Award goes to:

Mathew Cooper

2018 Bill Lark Mat Cooper

We’ve always swelled with pride over the fact that Tasmanian whisky makers are happy to help out one another and share their expertise with new distillers. No one on the scene demonstrates this more than Mathew Cooper of Fanny’s Bay. So many of the new players in the Tas whisky scene, particularly in the north of the state, have received invaluable wisdom and assistance from this man as they’ve got started, and others have simply gained the confidence that they’re on the right track due to a few kind words from Mat. He is generous with his time, his praise, and his pouring and he was even prepared to demonstrate the distillation process to a couple of Wafflers over the course of a few days earlier this year where much information was passed on and many drams shared.

However no mention of Mat Cooper could be complete without acknowledging the contribution of his wife, Julie. As well as designing the Fanny’s Bay labels and helping behind the scenes, she embodies the welcoming and generous spirit of the distillery and the Tasmanian whisky industry in general.

6 The Golden Dram Whisky Waffle

The Golden Dram for the best dram whisky in the world

This is it! The top drop! Out of everything we tried throughout 2018 what do we consider to be the best? So without further adieu the 2018 Golden Dram goes to:

Laphroaig PX Cask 13 Year Old

2018 Golden Dram Laphroaig PX cask 13 year old

Sorry folks, you’re going to have a hard time finding this one. On my extensive tour of Laphroaig I was presented with the opportunity to bottle some 13 Year Old whisky straight from the cask! There were several cask options available, but I couldn’t go past this one. I mean, Laphroaig fully matured in sherry casks – how often do you come across that? Now I’ve got the bottle home and shared it with m’colleague we decided it was a wise decision to plump for this particular dram. It’s rich and complex, firey at 52%, and packed with all the smoke anyone could desire. It’s the dram of the year and one that I’ll be very sad when my 200ml runs out…

And finally, two little mentions to finish on:

We give an Honourable Mention to a couple of fantastic South Australian discoveries from Ted’s advent calendar: Fleurieu and Iniquity. We hope to find out some more about these two whiskies in 2019!

The Founders Reserve Award (AKA the dishonourable mention) is also split two ways: – to Yamazaki Distillery for failing to have any single-malt whisky for sale in their gift shop. Come on Japan, get your act together!
and to Tiger Snake Whiskey by Great Southern Distilling Co. for being so… meh. Allegedly it’s meant to be an Aussie take on bourbon, but it doesn’t really do its Southern inspiration justice. Doesn’t really do much for Australian whisk(e)y either. Such a shame when the Limeburners is so good.

Wafflers 4

Keep on waffling into 2019.

Nick and Ted.

#2018WaffleAwards

Irish Whiskey: a series of unfortunate events

Posted by: Nick

Learning about the history of Irish whiskey would be so much easier if we Waffle boys were able to actually be there to witness the highs and lows (and do a few tastings)! Luckily, through the medium of cartoon, we are able to travel back in time and discover the secrets of this triple distilled tipple for ourselves.

Introducing our heroes:

01 Nick

02 Ted

03 intro

We begin our journey in the middle ages where Irish monks are distilling alcohol to create Uisce Beatha: the water of life!

04 monks

There is even a suggestion that it was the Irish who introduced whisky to Scotland, though this is, of course, disputed. What is not disputed is that in the early 19th century, Irish whiskey was the most popular whiskey in the world! Led by establishments such as John Jameson & Son Distillery, the style known as ‘Irish pot still whiskey’ was sought after worldwide!

05 John pot still whiskey

In fact, Irish whiskey consisted of 60% of worldwide sales. It was all going swimmingly until someone decided what Ireland really needed was a temperance movement.

06 CTAS is cactus

Fortunately Irish whiskey held on through wars and famines, although they did kind of shoot themselves in the foot a little when a man called Aeneas Coffey came knocking…

07 Coffey for closers

Irish whiskey had survived a lot. But the worst was yet to come. What could possibly be worse than the Irish deciding to ban alcohol?

08 Woody

Losing America’s market share was a blow, but at least the Irish could count on sales in the British Empire, right?

09 Independence day

By the 1960s, the Irish whiskey industry was nearly kaput. The remaining distillers got together to discuss a radical plan to help them survive.

10 united

Irish whiskey clung on, though there were still very few distilleries operating. By the early 21st century only three were alive: Bushmills, Cooley and Midleton (Irish Distillers). Between them they made every single Irish brand on the market.

11 sharing is caring

The hard work paid off. The recent explosion of interest in whiskies from around the world has seen the number of Irish whiskey making establishments quadruple in the last ten years. Kilbeggan, Tullamore, Teeling, Dingle, West Cork , Glendalough, Walsh, Blackwater and more have recently opened their doors.

12 happy endings

We now enter what is being billed as a new ‘golden age’ of whiskey production in Ireland. There are many willing customers around the world, eager to discover what these new distilleries are all about. Things are certainly looking up. Irish whiskey is back from the brink.

13 coda

Images created with pixton.com

#IrishWhiskeyWeek

“We’ve never claimed they’re going to taste the same”: A musing on single barrel releases

Posted by: Ted

IMG_7096

I am sitting on a comfy leather chair in a cosy private tasting room. I have just tasted some whisky. Actually, it’s the second glass I have tried and I am feeling a mixture of surprise, curiosity and intrigue – not in a bad way mind you, I’ve just been caught a bit off guard. I put down my glass on the table which is crafted from half a 100L barrel and glance to my left at Nick. He raises his eyebrows, his expression reflecting my own inner turmoil. I turn to face our host, Fred, who flashes a broad smile and comments “We’ve never claimed they’re going to taste the same.”

To provide some more context, we were visiting Sullivans Cove Distillery in southern Tasmania. We had been invited down as part of Tasmanian Whisky Week 2017 to meet with Fred Siggins, Strategy Manager for Sullivans Cove, and tour their facility. After exploring the distillery Fred had invited us to sit down try some of their releases, where this particular story picks up.

Sullivans Cove Whisky Waffle 7

The reason for our intrigue was that we had just tried two glasses of the Sullivans Cove American Oak Cask (that’s the one with the black label for those who are interested). “And? What’s so weird about that?” I hear you ask. The funny thing was, despite being the same expression, the first glass had tasted very different to the second. The secret to the trick was that the drams had been poured from two different bottles, which in turn had been filled from two different barrels.

When we think about whisky (ie Scotch), we tend to think about consistency. For instance, I might buy a bottle of, say, Balvenie 12 Year Old and really like it. The next time I buy a bottle, I expect it to taste exactly the same as the first one. I am buying it based on a particular flavour profile that represents that expression. The problem for distilleries is that natural variation occurs between whisky barrels for all sorts of reasons, meaning that even if you start with exactly the same spirit and barrel variety, the end product will be slightly different. To get around this, the master distiller will mix (or ‘marry’) different barrels together in a tank (‘vatting’) until they achieve the particular flavour profile they are after. It must be pretty stressful trying to hit that same mark every time.

Sullivans Cove, like other Tasmanian distilleries, goes in completely the opposite direction. Consistent flavour profile be damned, let’s keep everyone on their toes by doing single barrel releases (excluding their Double Cask expression, which is a marriage of American and French oak)! Instead of vatting together a whole range of barrels, once a particular cask is determined to have reached optimal maturity it is decanted and bottled.

As we’ve already discussed though, the result of this approach is that any variations between barrels are laid wide open. Its not just down to the barrels either – thanks to the design of the Sullivans Cove still, which has a stainless steel bowl and a negative lyne arm, the relatively low copper contact means that the resulting spirit is big and meaty and full of character, which carries through into the final product. The ‘ready-when-it’s-done’ philosophy also means that each successive release will vary in age.

Sullivans Cove Whisky Waffle 6

Hence why when it came to the tasting, Fred had provided two bottles each of the American Oak and French Oak expressions, each representing a different barrel. Very handily, Sullivans Cove actually include the origin barrel on the side of the bottle, so you can tell exactly what you’re drinking.

Stepping up to the mark for team American Oak were barrels HH603 (16yo) and TD0056 (12yo), both bottled at 47.5%. On the nose HH603 had notes of aged apples, leatherwood honey, timber, beeswax and a rich bourbon characteristic running underneath. The palate was oaky and nutty, with a finish of oranges. In contrast TD0056 was slightly marine in nature, with a certain fresh, salty, fishy characteristic, mingled with notes of lavender and wood dust. The palate was grainy and bright, with flavours of pear, strawberries and coriander.

Vying for supremacy on team French Oak were barrels TD117 (11yo) and HH400 (15yo), also at 47.5%. TD117 was smooth and refined, with hints of chocolate, raisins and a whisper of sandalwood. The palate had a good chewy mouthfeel and left a dryness on the finish. In comparison HH400 was rich and luxurious, oozing white chocolate, peach, vanilla cake, ginger and leather. The mouth was fat and filling initially, then tapering off to a gentle finish with a nice linger.

Of course, we weren’t naive to the potential for this difference in flavour. We hear things, man, we’re down with the whisky geeks. We’ve had Sullivans Cove plenty of times before… but only in isolation. We’d never sampled different bottlings next to each other like that. It’s not like the bottles were from entirely different planets, there was still a certain Sullivans Cove-ness running through them all, but it really opens your eyes to how much variation can exist between barrels.

IMG_7157

Some people may be a bit put off by this approach or feel a bit cheated. “This isn’t what I had last time!?” “But I wanted barrel HH525!” they’ll huff. I on the other hand tend to think it keeps things fresh and interesting. Heck, there’s hundreds of whiskies in the world that will keep doing the same old thing every time, so it’s good to have something a bit challenging once in a while. Fred agrees: “I couldn’t imagine working at a distillery where I had to taste and talk about the same thing day in, day out. I’d get bored! The awesome thing with Sullivans Cove is that every time we do a bottling it’s going to be a new experience.”

 

A whisky identity crisis

Posted by: Nick

Warning: may seem like an actual blog article.

Good news, folks, the word of the Waffle is spreading. Our local paper The Advocate recently published an excellent article about the blog and the tasting nights we are running. My only issue? It seems Ted and I have inadvertently become Burnie’s most famous hipsters. Here’s the headline:

Advocate screen shot

So… am I really a hipster?

I mean, I have been known to grow a beard. I like brunch. And Ted’s glasses are a bit pretentious. But a hipster?

The label of course refers not to our occasionally-groomed facial hair but to our fanaticism to whisky. I mean, we kinda do run a successful whisky blog… This, coupled with the fact we’re under the age of thirty does kind of point towards hipsterdom.

The only problem is it’s not true – in my eyes at least. I am absolutely a whisky nerd, that title I cannot shake. I will even admit that I can veer wildly between drinking buddy and whisky snob (“My shout buddy! As long as you leave out the ice this time!”) But surely people referring to me as a hipster simply because I can recite all eight (and a half) distilleries on Islay is a step too far.

And then I realised. Just because people refer to me as a hipster, it doesn’t make me one. In fact, they probably just don’t have alternative terminology. So I shall boldly proclaim to the whisky loving public: I identify as a Waffler. I drink plenty of whisky and use plenty of words to talk about the stuff.

So let’s start a Waffly revolution! Let’s give those that call us hipsters an alternative title! Let’s Waffle on until our significant others roll their eyes and turn up MasterChef! Keep on Waffling, my friends. Keep on Waffling.

Confessions of a Geriatric Whisky Newbie Part 2

Posted by: Chris AKA the Geriatric Newbie

(Part 1 appeared here as ‘Queries from a first time Waffler’)

I’ve been a seasoned whisky drinker for over three months now, so it’s time to look back on the journey so far. If ‘seasoned’ is the right word to use, rather than just ‘pickled’.

To recap: I took up whisky drinking rather late, at the age of seventy, as part of a search for a relaxing and hopefully slightly disreputable hobby to help brighten up the declining years. Somewhat unexpectedly, what began as a plan to buy just two samples and test the waters rapidly expanded into a collection of over thirty bottles. Perhaps there was a need to make up for lost time in the search for the perfect drop. Or perhaps I was corrupted by reading Whisky Waffle? Yes, that must be it – it couldn’t possibly be all my own fault. But the two biggest factors have been that the research is fascinating and, it has to be said, it can be a lot of fun having a hobby that you can drink.

I can’t claim that money was no object – some whisky enthusiasts can apparently afford truly crazy money in pursuit of their passion – but I did have enough saved up to be able to build a small collection without being restricted to only the cheapest varieties. The whiskies I’ve accumulated include some single malts and (whisper it….) some blends. The least I paid was $35 for a Ballantine’s Finest and the most expensive bottle, so far, was $114 for an Aberlour A’bunadh.

For the record, I bought blends from Ballantine’s, Chivas, Dewars, and Johnnie Walker. And Irish Whiskey from Jameson, Bushmill and Teeling. The single malts range from the Lowlands of Scotland to the Highlands and some from Speyside, plus a couple from Islay. Finally, some from Penderyn – the only distillery in Wales.  I hasten to add that they’re not all open yet. Didn’t know that I was capable of such restraint. At least, I’m fairly sure there’s one still sealed somewhere… exploring other parts of the world, naturally including Tasmania, will come later.

But where should a newbie begin? One can only hope to scratch the surface of the hundreds, if not thousands, of whiskies now on the market. So many decisions to make. Do I want to become the sort of afficionado who will only sip the finest single malts, and actively enjoy getting snooty and sniffy about blends? Or will I aim to become a party animal who will try anything provided it’s sloshed into a glass with enough cola? Despite what I initially imagined, it appears that drinking blended whisky, and also adding some kind of mixer, is by far the most popular way of enjoying it worldwide. Apparently, historically it always has been. Despite the rise in popularity of  single malts over  the past few decades, over 90% of the output of the Scottish distilleries still goes into blended whisky.

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Attempting the correct style of snooty face

Soooo…. This whisky business might be more complicated than I thought. It seems that I will not only be chugging it down neat, delightful though that is. Maybe some long whisky drinks could be just the thing for summer. I could try some tentative experiments with some of that Ballantine’s or perhaps the Johnnie Walker Black Label. That’s not a hanging offence, is it?? I might experiment with a range of mixers – in particular, soda, dry ginger, cola and coconut water. Yes, apparently coconut is very big as a whisky mixer in some parts of the world. Green tea too. Who knew? Not me, until I started doing the reading. Of course, soda, dry ginger ale and other mixers have always been popular, even in relatively traditional circles. Adding soda or ‘dry’ to the whisky was certainly the mainstream fashion among adults when I was a boy. Admittedly that was back in the middle of last century, so things may have moved on a bit….

I bought a variety of whisky books, including a couple by the splendid Charles MacLean. Also The World Atlas of Whisky and Whisky: The Manual, both by respected whisky writer Dave Broom. All are good value, and they point out that whisky has a long and venerable history as a mixer. Indeed in the early days it was almost exclusively drunk mixed with a variety of herbs, spices and other ingredients. Maybe it was too rough to get down neat? So, mixing is neither recent nor sacreligious! Good to know that. Nick and Ted may disagree though. I may even get evicted from their Tasmanian Temple of Tippling for mischievous mixing. Holding my breath now…

Of course some drinkers have always liked their Scotch neat or with a splash of water, but the big marketing push to sell single malt Scotches to the world as a solo drink apparently began in the late 1970s and early 1980s. According to Charles Maclean and Dave Broom, two factors drastically reduced the demand from the whisky blenders who had previous bought the majority of the output from the distilleries.  Firstly, a slump in the global economy and secondly the rapid rise in popularity of competing spirits such as vodka, white rum, etc. and of course wine. So the makers needed to look for an additional way of marketing their products. Building new market images for their single malts was the answer. Lucky us. Even at this early stage I’ve sampled some very nice single malts that I probably won’t be trying with cola just yet.

But which styles will make the cut? Neat Johnnie Walker Green label? Auchentoshan Three Wood? Will Lagavulin and Coke make the grade? Ballantine’s and coconut juice? Place your bets now, and stay tuned. Many thanks to Nick and Ted for the chance to waffle on.

Cheers to all.  Chris.

Fortunately, as you can see, all this dedicated whisky testing has had no noticeable effect on me at all. Just lucky I guess.

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An ode to Islay

Posted by: Nick

port-ellen

Our week exploring the peated wonders of Islay has sadly come to a close. We’ve loved every drop and had some proper crackers. And lastly, we’ve reminisced about Islay itself – the beautiful Hebridean island which we would both return to in a heartbeat. To conclude our celebrations I wanted to share a poem I composed while on the island a few years ago. I was so taken with the place (and under the influence of several peated drams) that I thought I could only express myself in rhyme. Merry Christmas fellow wafflers!

Out in the Atlantic Ocean lies

an island of my hearts desire.

With salty air and peat smoke rife

the spiritual home of the water of life.

Its sunny skies and rugged coast

but friendly locals I’ll miss the most.

I’ll always long for that familiar burn

and hope one day I shall return.

A very waffly Christmas

#IslayWeek

#LetsGetPeaty

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.