Reviews

White Oak Tokinoka

Reviewed by: Ted

Tokinoka

Japanese whisky is meant to be the best thing since sliced sushi right? A freshly caught blue fin tuna at the fish market would blush at the prices commanded by even a basic Japanese dram (if it still had any blood left that is). So why the bloody hell isn’t this one any good?

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, as I have a history of being disappointed by releases from White Oak Distillery. On my previous tasting attempt I found the Akashi NAS to be a forgettable cup of blah, while the 12yo had this weird sulphuric, mineral hot-pool vibe going on.

Needless to say, I set my bar very low when it came to trying the Tokinoka and it met my expectations with aplomb… by which I mean it would be a definite contender for winning a limbo competition, if you get my drift.

The nose is distant and it takes a really good deep sniff to actually capture anything. The eventual effect is like a walk past an orchard in summer… if the orchard was on the side of a volcano. That weird sulphury thing from the 12yo makes an unwelcome return as well as a whiff of hot metal. The palate is actually quite spicy… for about two seconds, after which you are left with a vague oiliness. It’s not terribly satisfying and the finish hints of glycerol (which I’m sure is not in there, but that’s what it feels like).

Hard-core Japanese whisky otaku may as well give the Tokinoka a try for the lolz. Everyone else, just grab yourself a good cup of green tea, you’ll feel a lot better afterwards.

Tokinoka 2

 

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Catto’s Blended Scotch Whisky

Reviewed by: Nick

Catto's Blended Scotch

I’m not going to lie to you, fellow Wafflers. I bought this bottle of distinctly bottom-shelf blended scotch for numerous reasons – none of which concerned actually drinking the whisky. Firstly, it was the most Aussie sounding bottle I’ve ever seen (try saying it in an Australian accent – it’s very satisfying); secondly, you can’t look past a $30 price tag; and lastly because there was a sick masochistic part of me hoping I could label it the ‘worst whisky in the world’!

I was left rather disappointed. For the first time in my life I was disappointed that a whisky was better than I had thought. Instead of being completely putrid, it was merely rather awful.

Sweet honeyed notes accompany the alcohol burn on the nose while vanilla toffee struggles to break through. The palate is rough; spicy and leafy with flavours of barley sugar amid the burn. The finish is unpleasant and too long for my liking with a lingering sweetness that I found myself longing for it to dissipate.

There you have it folks. Who would have thought, a blend called Catto’s is simply dreadful rather than being soul-destroyingly disgusting. And despite all my criticism and complaining, if you have a look at the photo, you’ll see the bottle is nearly empty. Sometimes a bit of rubbish bottom shelf is exactly what you need.

Ardbeg add An Oa to the Family

Posted by: Nick

Ardbeg An Oa Whisky Waffle

We’re big Ardbeg fans here at Whisky Waffle so you can image the look on our excited little faces upon hearing the announcement that our equal favourite Ileach distillery is adding a brand spanking new release to its core range. Joining the ever reliable 10 Year Old, the bonfire-in-your-mouth Corryvreckan and the serious contender for world’s best dram Uigeadail will be the An Oa.

Similarly to the other two impossible to spell bottlings, the An Oa is named after a local landmark, in this case the Mull of Oa, a peninsula in the island’s south famous for the iconic (and possibly a little bit phallic) American Monument. The biggest mystery, apart from the pronunciation, is what will this new release taste like?

Early indications suggest it may be lighter on the peat that other Ardbeg bottlings. The distillery describes it as being “singularly rounded whose smoky intensity is softened by a delectable smooth sweetness”. Rounded is probably a good call when you consider the An Oa is a vatting of a vast array of barrel and char types (basically whatever Dr Bill Lumsden has floating around in his back room) married together in Ardbeg’s intriguing sounding Gathering Room.

The other mystery, of course, is why? Ardbeg are famous for putting out more bottlings than any blogger can keep up with while remaining relatively sober. And yet here comes another one. We can only hope that it doesn’t spell the end of the Corry or the Oogie or push their price to unobtainable extremes. Although perhaps these fears are unfounded and the An Oa will prove to be a worthy addition to the range. After all, we can never have too much Ardbeg, can we?*

Find out more about the An Oa at the Ardbeg website.

*This question is rhetorical. Of course we can’t.

 

Bushmills 10 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Bushmills 10 Year Old

The truth behind the murky origins of whisky varies depending on one simple factor: whether you are Scottish or Irish. While the heartland of the water of life will always be Scotland, the Irish have an equally legitimate claim as to the creation of the spirit.

Ireland’s ace up its sleeve is Bushmills Distillery, by some accounts the world’s oldest (legal) distillery. Bushmills in Northern Ireland was founded in 1608 when they were granted a license to distil by King James I (or VI, again depending whether or not you are Scottish). While they have not been open continuously all this time, they have produced whiskey for a large chunk of it.

Unlike other (and by other I mean cheaper) Bushmills expressions which blend their whisky with grain spirit from Midleton, the Bushmills 10 Year Old is a single malt, distilled three times, as is the tradition in Ireland. This creates a gentle, easy drinking dram which, while bordering on unexciting, is far from uninspiring.

The nose is delicate with light notes of oranges and mandarins. There are stewed apples to be found, and shoe polish, also light and gentle. The palate is not as delicate as the nose, with the oranges making a bold return alongside strong woody notes which give the impression of old floorboards. The finish is spicy with lingering notes of custard and leather. This is an interestingly balanced whiskey – too light to scare anyone away, but with enough depth to keep it interesting.

So who do I believe? Which country was it that created this wonderful spirit? Simple. It depends if I’m talking to an Irishman or a Scotsman!

★★★

Hakushu Distillers Reserve

Reviewed by: Ted

Hakushu Distillers Edition

It can be a tricky and expensive task getting hold of age-statement Japanese whisky these days. If you’ve been paying attention to global whisky trends over the last five years-or-so, then you’ll know that Japanese whisky has been bang on-point and very much in demand by the smart set. The boom in sales, both locally and overseas, and a slight lack of foresight around barrel management has seen distillery stocks dwindle, so much so that that the two major players, Suntory and Nikka, have had to temporarily discontinue certain aged releases from their distilleries.

Naturally, the shortage in stocks has caused prices to skyrocket. I mean, just the other week I had the opportunity to buy a Yamazaki 50yo 3rd Edition 2011 Release for the low, low price of $157,763.99USD (I lashed out and got three)! Now, admittedly that is a bit of an outlier on the super-premium end of the scale, but even 12yo releases (if you can find them) are generally no less than $150AUD and more often than not well over $200.

So what does a common-or-garden whisky drinker do if you want to own a Japanese whisky without having to count your kidneys? Well, as it happens, there is an answer. These days most Japanese distilleries offer a Non Age Statement release of their product. While superficially a marketing device, the NAS releases are actually crucial for the ongoing survival of the distilleries, allowing continued market access by marrying dwindling older barrels with younger stock coming online.

An example of this is the Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve. While you can still find the 12yo for around $180, the distillers edition is available for a far more wallet pleasing $110. Located NW of Tokyo near Hokuto, an unusual feature of the Suntory owned Hakushu is that it boasts a bird sanctuary within its leafy grounds at the base of Mt Kaikomagatake in the Southern Japanese Alps.

Apparently the Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve marries younger lightly peated malt and heavily peated malt around the 8yo mark with American oak-aged spirit of around 18yo. Or so the internet, repository of all things, tells me; you certainly wouldn’t pick it as being peated if you tried it blind.

On the nose the Distiller’s Reserve is bright, fresh and zingy, delivering a satisfying bouquet of crunchy green apples, sour plum, lemon grass, mint and citrus (Yuzu if you want to get technical according to Hakushu). The scent is clean and light, like a crisply pressed kimono, although after a bit of breathing time it develops a softer, creamy edge.

On the palate the spirit is sharp, clean and metallic, like a samurai sword across the tongue, and delivers a hit of hard, sour stone fruits and a twist of lemon rind. The finish is lingering and herbal, with perhaps a touch of green tea. Couldn’t find that smoke though I’m afraid, although to be honest, with the flavour profile presented by the Distiller’s Reserve I didn’t miss it either.

People quite often get a bit salty about the concept of NAS releases, considering them to be inferior to age statement releases (often without real justification… although sometimes merited for sure, but we won’t go into that particular Reserve here). I am pleased to say however, that in this case the NAS epithet is not a negative one.

But that’s what the Japanese do isn’t it? They take a thing, study it with care and then make not just a copy, but something that is even better than the original. Which is lucky really seeing as the Distiller’s Reserve will be about all we can reasonably get our hands on from Hakushu for the foreseeable future. In conclusion, if you want to see a NAS done right, then look no further than the Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve.

★★★

Auchentoshan Heartwood

Reviewed by: Ted

Auchentoshan Heartwood

If you’ve ever flown overseas, then chances are you will have wandered through the duty free section and marvelled at the huge selection of booze available. For some reason the brand marketers have decided that what the Jetset crowd really crave are exclusive releases that are not worthy of the wingless plebs on the street. Indeed, a whisky fan can spend hours gazing at all the fancy labels, musing about the unusual caskings and trying to decide whether to get that 1L bottle of NAS Scotch, or lash out and buy that rare Japanese number in the gorgeous bottle.

The thing is, are these exclusive bottlings actually any good compared to their standard counterparts?

Let’s take the Auchentoshan Heartwood as an example (not to be confused with the Tasmanian Heartwood brand). Hailing from the Lowlands of Scotland, the Non Age Statement Heartwood edition is produced ‘exclusively for the global traveller’ (that’s you). Auchentoshan itself is notable for being one of the only distilleries in Scotland to triple distil its whisky.

The packaging for the Heartwood is pretty much the same as the standard range, just bigger thanks to the 1L bottle size (aww yeah!). ‘Heartwood’ refers to the dense wood at the centre of a tree, which Auchentoshan rather tenuously links to bourbon and sherry casking being at the heart of their whisky (yeah, they had to torture that one a bit).

Marketing guff it may be, but the bit about using bourbon and Oloroso casks is true. The colour certainly suggests that sherry barrels have been in the vicinity; Auchentoshan claims that the particular hue of the spirit is ‘dark honeycomb’. I on the other hand think that it looks, well, orange, rather like that other most Scottish of drinks: Irn-Bru. A tad heavy on the E150 perhaps? (I’ve since found this great article by LittleTipple noting that the colour of Auchentoshan looks rather similar to bodybuilders who have got a bit excited with the fake tan. Good times).

The nose is dull and heavy, oozing over the rim of the glass like an exhausted slug. After a while the dark brew starts to present toffee and almonds (praline perhaps?) and Terry’s chocolate orange.

The mouth is thick and sweet, with a dense oakiness that lives up to its namesake. The finish offers a lingering hit of burnt orange that is oddly unsatisfying.

In conclusion, buyer beware. The exotic looking jewels of the duty free section may appear tempting, but on closer examination you might just discover that all you really have is a poor imitation of the original. Still, you can’t deny they’re fun to look at. Happy flying, and good luck!

★★

Glen Grant The Major’s Reserve

Reviewed by: Nick

Glen Grant Majors Reserve

I freely admit, as I begin this review, that my primary motivation when purchasing this bottle was the fact that it was cheap. In fact, I recall as a broke uni student I had bought it for exactly the same reason. I also remember not being overly impressed. However, these days, with a more… ahem… experienced palate, surely I would find something to enjoy in Glen Grant’s entry level release. Surely there was more to this whisky than simply being cheap.

Upon opening the plain packaging I discovered a rarity in the single malt world: a screw top lid. Now, I can forgive them this because, after all, they’re indirectly saving the planet with such an approach, however this fact did nothing to shake the ‘cheap’ tag. Only one thing could: the flavour… and it let me down.

The nose has that cloying red-label-esque sweetness of lemon dish detergent alongside toffee-apple and honey notes. It is passable but not memorable. The palate is pretty rough, though offers some nice barley notes set against oak and vanilla. It is typical Speyside fare, though far from one of my favourites. The finish is spicy, malty and a little buttery. Again, nothing offensive but equally, nothing special.

The Glen Grant Major’s reserve is a whisky that epitomises its price point. It doesn’t punch above its weight but it also remains fairly quaffable. It is a cheap single malt and tastes as such. But hey, on the plus side, at least it doesn’t cost much!

★★

Mendis Old Arrack

Reviewed by: Mum’s the Word

Mendis Old Arrack

Foreword by Ted:

Long-time readers of Whisky Waffle will know that I occasionally mention my mother on the blog, usually after she’s sourced something for me while travelling. Behind the scenes I usually run articles by her just to make sure the grammar is correct and there are no spelling mistakes.

Well, in a surprise move, Catherine has jumped down the rabbit hole and submitted a review all of her own after a visit to Sri Lanka. Arrack (not to be confused with Arak) is a South-East Asian spirit distilled from fermented coconut flower sap, although the precise methods and ingredients vary from place to place. The Sri Lankan version reviewed here is actually made rather like whisky, with the sap fermented in wooden washbacks before being twice distilled and finally aged in halmilla-wood vats for up to 15 years.

Now, Whisky Waffle purists will note that Arrack doesn’t contain a grain as its base and therefore is outside the usual remit of our blog. I on the other hand suspect it is rather poor form to turn your mother down when she has gone to the effort of writing you an article, so we’re more than happy to make the exception. And Arrack is sometimes known as Sri Lankan whisky, so there! So, sit back and enjoy this fresh article by Mum’s the Word:

Sri Lanka

When I have occasionally had a sniff of whisky, and a bit of a taste, my sinuses are generally cleared instantly and my taste buds and palate set on fire.

Not so on this occasion. In the spectacular setting of Ella in Sri Lanka I tasted Arrack – a Sri Lankan spirit made from the fermented juice of coconut flowers. The particular version I tried was the Mendis Old Arrack 100% Pure Coconut Arrack, naturally aged in halmilla (wood from the Tricomalee tree) vats.

The nose was mild (did not offend the sinuses) and faintly perfumed – coconut flowers? The first sip was sweetish with subtle flavours of … coconut? [Ed. Are you surprised?] The general flavours were reminiscent of Mum’s rice pudding or a delicate crème caramel (the WW boys would find many more descriptive words, but they have the ‘experience’ AKA the gift of the gab!) but there certainly was an alcoholic kick – especially after the third slug.

I think the subtle flavours would have been lost if diluted with ice/coke/soda as some of the group had, but served neat for me was delicious. It paired very well with a home-cooked Sri Lankan curry meal, the flavour being savoury, mildly spicy and certainly not sweet.

A certain Whisky Waffler son admitted a sneaking suspicion that he had tried Arrack before … “I say sneaking because I’m pretty sure I was kinda wasted at the time,” so anything he may be able to contribute on the subject may not count [Ed. Oh, and may I enquire just how much you had to drink, eh?]. I was planning to buy some Arrack in Sri Lanka duty free for further tasting with the expert advice of said son, but they didn’t have any!! Weird and disappointing.

Arrack would be a great start for the novice whisky/spirit drinker who did not want to be knocked off their seats.

★★★★  (but who am I to say?).

Floki Young Malt Sheep Dung Smoked Reserve

Reviewed by: Ted

Floki Sheep Dung Matured

Iceland loves a good renewable energy source. Sitting out in the wild northern reaches of the Atlantic Ocean, approximately 900km away from the UK and Norway, means that the island is cut off from the major power infrastructure of the continent. Luckily Iceland has a red-hot spade tucked up its sleeve. Thanks to its position directly over the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the island is rife with volcanism (fun fact: apparently Iceland’s 30-odd volcanic systems have contributed around a third of global lava output over the past 500 years. The more you know eh?). Sure, this of course means there’s a decent risk of a fire mountain going boom and causing all sort of havoc (remember Eyjafjallajökull? And that was pretty small in historic terms as it turns out – check out Lakagígar), but the big upshot for the locals is that there are bag loads of geothermal and hydrothermal energy to tap into, with around 80% of energy production coming from these sources in 2016.

Iceland WW 7

Historically, like many other places in the region, the islanders would have probably burned peat as their energy source; around 10% of the island is actually covered in the stuff. These days people are generally more familiar with peat in the context of whisky making (or sticking it in the garden) rather than using it for heating or cooking, with places such as Islay and a number of other islands off the west coast of Scotland famed for their smoky drams. As it happens, Iceland has a couple of recently opened whisky distilleries, although only one has actually released any product.

Iceland WW 5

Eimverk Distillery, located in Reykjavík (unsurprisingly, seeing as about two thirds of the population lives in the capital region), are the makers of Flóki. While the official release hasn’t debuted at this point in time (the first release at 3yo is due in November 2017), Eimverk have previously tantalised the masses with a limited duty free pre-release for the Reykjavík International Airport. Thanks to my mother happening to be travelling in Iceland at the right time, we were amazingly able to try the Flóki Young Malt early last year and found it full of intriguing promise.

So, when I heard Eimverk had released a smoked version of their Young Malt I was instantly curious. The Icelanders have been smoking stuff like fish for centuries, so they should know a thing or two about the practise. Now, you would think that they would use local peat to smoke their locally grown barley, but not so. Well, I mean it’s not a particularly renewable source of energy now is it (peat bogs can take thousands of years to form, generally accumulating at an average rate of around 1mm per year)? And collecting it would mean digging up chunks of the astounding landscape that Iceland is famed for. So what was Eimverk’s creative solution?

You know what else Iceland has bag loads of, apart from renewable energy sources, interesting geology and indie bands that is? Sheep. First brought over by the Vikings circa the 9th or 10th Centuries, there are around 800 000 of them wandering about the island these days, approx. 2.5x the human population. Now sheep are a pretty good renewable resource – you can get wool, milk and meat from them, and they seem to do a rather good job of replenishing themselves with new little sheepies every year. There’s something else sheep make though, in great quantities every day: Shi… ahem, sorry, poo.

Iceland WW

As it happens, when you dry sheep poo you can set it on fire and use it as a fuel source. Humans have actually been practising this sort of pyroscatology (and if that isn’t a word then it damn well should be!) all around the world with all sort of interesting varieties of poo for millennia. If it has one flaw though, burning poo does tend to be rather smoky… which on reflection could be just the thing for smoking some barley! And that, my friends, is exactly what Eimverk have done!

Introducing: the Flóki Young Malt – Sheep Dung Smoked Reserve. Now, while you may find this all a bit weird, Eimverk note that in Iceland there has been a tradition of using sheep poo for smoking for centuries, so I think it’s only fair that we all remain open minded and give it a shot. Being rather geographically distant from the Reykjavík duty free, my initial excitement about this new release was somewhat tempered by the fact that it would probably be a very long time before I was able to try it. Therefore I was rather astounded (as was m’colleague when I whipped it out unannounced in front of him one night… the Flóki I mean!) to discover that I was able to source a bottle through local outfit Sigrún Whisky, who seem to specialise in Scandi drams.

Iceland WW 1

According to Eimverk, the Smoked Reserve is ‘a limited reserve of a selection of single barrel bottling (sic) from our distillery’. Visually the 500ml Smoked Reserve bottle is almost identical to the original Young Malt release: a dark textured label with the cool white runic design and angular font, although the background in this case is of rough homespun wool cloth, the only other real difference being a small red square on the cork seal.

The nose is very grassy and metallic; if Philip K Dick’s androids really do dream of electric sheep, then this would be the smell of the organometallic grass that the sheep are eating. There is also a big, punchy acidic layer, like mainlining a tin of pineapple, under which sits a fug of chocolate and leather.

The taste is sharp and hot, drying the tongue like strong citrus or tart fruit. Straight afterwards you get a sluggish hit of dull, ashy smoke. Think a pub any time before the smoking bans. Or perhaps it’s like walking past a smoking shed where they’re burning sheep poo (I can’t profess to have ever done so)? The finish is shiny and metallic, akin to drinking strong spirits from a cheap tin mug.

Iceland WW 6

Look, it isn’t the easiest whisky to drink admittedly, but then it isn’t really whisky is it? It hasn’t aged long enough to legally earn that title and it shows. Perhaps they used bigger barrels for the Smoked Reserve, so it hasn’t hit the same point of maturity at the same age as the original Young Malt was released at? I would definitely like to come back to this in a few years’ time and see what it’s like after the barrels have had time to work their magic.

As for whether the sheep poo was a good idea… well the flavour was definitely different to your normal smokiness in a whisky. But again, the spirit really needs to age further before we can properly judge the true subtleties of its nature. If you’re absolutely hell bent on possessing a unique Icelandic (almost) whisky then there can be no substitute for the Flóki Young Malt – Sheep Dung Smoked Reserve. For everyone else, perhaps give this one a miss for the time being and instead save your pennies for a trip to experience Iceland’s true natural wonders.

Iceland WW 8

Say what you will about the whisky – it’s a bloody beautiful place, isn’t it?

The Glenlivet Master Distiller’s Reserve

Reviewed by: Nick

Glenlivet master distillers reserve

The Glenlivet is one of the grand old boys of Scottish whisky. A distillery whom Whisky Waffle considered reliable, safe and go-to. Of course, all this changed when they replaced their 12 Year Old with the Founders Reserve. Sigh. What were they thinking?

But, never fear fellow Wafflers! If, like us, you have lamented the lack of 12 Year Old in bottle shops near you, then we have your solution: The Glenlivet Master Distiller’s Reserve, named for Alan Winchester, Glenlivet’s own master distiller since 2008. Now, this bottle was once upon a time only available to frequent flyers buried in duty free, however many online liqueur stores <cough> perhaps one that shares a name with this reviewer <cough> have procured stock and let me tell you, it’s well worth it.

It’s not a complex dram: it’s only 40% and has been triple matured in American oak, ex-sherry casks and ‘traditional oak casks’ (whatever that means). On the nose are apples and pears, but also creamy notes, like particularly milky tea. The palate isn’t smooth per se, but it’s easy to drink. There are flavours of vanilla, oranges and choc chip biscuits. The finish is nutty and pleasantly long and, again, particularly creamy.

I’m not claiming the Master Distiller’s Reserve is a masterpiece – simply that it is interesting, reliable and nice to drink – everything the Founders Reserve is not. This is NAS whisky done well.

★★★