Reviews

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.

★★★

 

Heartwood Calm Before the Storm

Reviewed by: Nick

Heartwood Calmbefore the Storm

Tim Duckett, the mad scientist inventor of Heartwood Whisky, puts out new releases as regularly as Ed Sheeran clocks up number 1 singles. But the latest new release, Calm Before the Storm, has created more interest than usual. Why? Because it was labelled by its creator as Heartwood’s ‘most complete whisky’. Rumour has it he’s also described it as his best. That’s a big call from the man who made the Convict series, the Any Ports in a Storm and the Vat Out of Hell. It made me wonder, after so many amazing envelope pushing releases, is there any room left to raise the bar?

Let’s just say I was keen to find out. When I discovered it at Tassie’s best whisky bar (AKA the Lark cellar door) I did not hesitate. This is what I found:

On the nose it has that full dark warm Heartwood aroma. There is caramel, fruit and like an Arrow hit-song from the 90s, it’s hot hot hot. The palate arrives in two stages: a strong hit of flavour before being overtaken by a wave of warming alcohol spiciness.

You’ve got to be quick to pick the flavours before the wave breaks: raspberry jam, brown sugar, sultanas before it kicks you in the throat… with size 12 boots. WHAM! CRASH! ZING! POW! It’s like a Roger Ramjet fight scene! The finish is, as you’d expect, long and warm with sweet orange notes.

Like I said, I was unsure if Heartwood could raise the bar. But it seems there are depths of flavour as yet unexplored, like a whisky Marianas Trench. I don’t think it’s my absolute favourite Heartwood – there are a couple of Convicts that still hold that mantle for me – but I could not argue with him if Tim were to officially describe it as his best.

★★★★

Inver House Green Plaid

Reviewed by: Ted

Inver House Green Plaid

Earlier this year I found myself hunting around for a passable quaffing Scotch to take away on our annual summer pilgrimage to Coles Bay (for those who are not familiar, Coles Bay, on the east coast of Tassie, is the town that sits on the edge of Freycinet National Park, home to the world famous Wineglass Bay. Check it out!).

M’colleague and I would define a quaffing Scotch as a whisky at the lower end of the price scale that manages not to taste like paint strippers and that you are more than happy splash around while in company. Like on a camping trip, for example.

After a bit of poking around I came across the Inver House Green Plaid Scotch whisky. On the face of it, the Inver House certainly looks like it fits into the sub-$40 (AUD) category (I think mine was about $35). Take four parts green tartan, add a crest, a couple of sprigs of Scotch thistle and a blurb about how Clan Donald is totally the bestiest evaaaa!!!, and there you have it.

But dig a little deeper and suddenly the Inver House starts to look a bit more interesting under the hood (apologies to my mother for this turn of phrase, but ‘under the bonnet’ just doesn’t seem to work as well somehow). Turns out Inver House Distillers Pty Ltd have quite a choice little stable of distilleries in their portfolio, namely – Pulteney, Balblair, Knockdhu, Speyburn and Balmenach.

Discovering that little nugget of information begs one the question: could this el-cheapo blend actually be a nugget of shining liquid gold??? Well… no. But it’s not too bad either.

As one might expect based on its (potential) components, the Inver House is fresh and bright, with a lick of grain, pear, apricot, grass and hazelnuts. Could that be a faint whiff of coastal air from Pulteney I detect… or just the result of my fervid imagination? It’s a tad rough, yeah, but not disastrously so.

The mouth is bright and pithy, with a generous hit of Lisbon lemons, butterscotch and wood polish. The finish makes your mouth pucker a bit like you’ve just taken a bite out of the aforementioned citrus fruits and then licked a metal spoon.

Look, the Inver House isn’t going to win any awards, regardless of its theoretical hidden pedigree. It’s kind of like when someone claims to be an Nth degree relation to the royal family. Cool, but there’s a lot of stronger contenders to get through before they get anywhere near the throne.

But for what it is, the Inver House is actually pretty good. You can happily drink it straight if that’s your groove, or if your mates want to mix it with coke then you’re not going to have to get your disapproving whisky-wanker face on. If you want a budget dram that you can share liberally with friends and have a good night of it, the Inver House has you covered.

★★

Sprinkbank Gaja Barolo Cask

Reviewed by: Nick

springbank-gaja-barolo

This unique little gem from Campbeltown’s Sprinkbank Distillery is a fascinating drop in that every time I sample it, it tastes different! No, I don’t think it is rapidly changing in the bottle, oxidising or degrading. I think it just messes with your head.

Let me just provide a bit of context. The Gaja Barolo Cask is part of the limited edition ‘Wood Expressions’ series which, as well as making me snigger immaturely, sounds rather interesting. The bottle in question takes the Springbank spirit and ages it for four years in refill ex-bourbon casks before being transferred into ‘fresh Gaja Barolo casks’ where it remains for a further five years in Campbeltown’s seaside atmosphere.

For the uninitiated (like me before I did my research), Gaja is an Italian wine producer and Barolo is a light red grape. Both aspects make this a very specific maturation for the whisky and one unlikely to be replicated any time soon.

Completing a list of tasting notes for this bottle is a tricky task due to the aforementioned chameleon nature of the dram. If I have just had a light Speyside number then I notice a whole heap of peat on the nose. If I’ve just had a highland dram then I discover raspberries and cream. The palate is sometimes spicy – it is bottled at 54.7% – but other times goes down smoothly and evenly. Occasionally I notice the oily maritime notes although often I find flavours of lemons and oranges. The finish usually lingers, with a wisp of smoke or hint of chocolate.

The bottom line is, no matter the flavours I get out of it, I’ve always enjoyed this dram. Sure, I haven’t been able to put my finger on its true nature, but that just adds to the fun. It is a mystery of a dram. I’ve still got a third of a bottle left – feel free to stop by and help me solve it.

***

(Although sometimes ****)

The Glenrothes Alba, 2001 and Select Reserve Box Set

Reviewed by: Ted

glenrothes-trio-2

Keen followers of Whisky Waffle (hello to our mothers and the other three of you) may remember that a while ago I reviewed a tasting pack from Speyside distillers Glenrothes. Well, to quote Prof. Farnsdale, “Good news people!”… there’s another pack!

Just to remind us all what makes Glenrothes interesting in the packed Scottish distilling scene, they like to release their expressions as vintages rather than age statements. While this means that you won’t be able to enjoy a, say, 12yo again and again, the upshot is that you are able to experience the unique nature of one particular year’s output (until it’s all sold out that is).

The pack I’m sampling today is pretty much identical physically to the previous one – nice box with buff lid and a shiny copper-coloured base containing three very handy mini-glencairns and three 100ml bottles of the good stuff.

Pack #1 featured the ’95 and the ’98 vintages plus the Select Reserve, the latter also featuring in this set. The two new drams that feature in pack #2 are the Alba Reserve and the 2001 vintage.

The Select Reserve is Glenrothes’ ‘house’ whisky, a vatted malt crafted to typify the Glenrothes flavour profile. The Alba reserve is another vatted release; while Glenrothes usually uses an mixture of Spanish and American oak, the Alba uses 100% American oak-matured spirit (the moniker deriving from the oak’s Latin name ‘Quercus alba’). The 2001 vintage was produced in 2001… I’m not quite sure what else you were expecting?

glenrothes-whisky-waffle

And it was produced here: Glenrothes Distillery

On the nose the Select is fat and oozy, with a generous helping of dark chocolate, dried apricots, cinnamon, ginger and of course, raisins. In complete contrast the Alba is light and airy, with a fairly insubstantial waft of honey, coconut and pear. Finally, the 2001 is smooth and nutty, with an undertone of spice and aged oak planking.

On the palate the Select is rounded and nutty, with a cheeky citrus burst at the finish that lingers across the tongue. Again providing a contrast, the Alba is sharp and pithy, racing to the back of the mouth and leaving a slightly sour, metallic aftertaste. Unlike the actual Reserves, the 2001 is rather reserved, casually imparting a balanced mix of wood, nuts and dried fruit. The softness of the 2001 can likely be attributed to its 14yo age, having been bottled in 2015.

Tasting packs like this are a great way to try a range of drams from a particular distillery before you actually commit to one. Case in point: I would happily keep a bottle of the Select Reserve around as a casual dram and would derive pleasure from seeing the 2001 vintage nestled amongst my collection, but I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the Alba reserve. I suppose it does provide an interesting insight into how the addition of European oak can balance out a whisky though.

Hmm.. I think this requires a more thorough investigation. Can anyone point me in the direction of tasting pack #3?

Select Reserve ★★★

Alba Reserve ★★

2001 vintage ★★★

Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Reviewed by: Nick

buffalo-trace

Tastes like bourbon.

Ok, I freely admit, that statement alone does not do this dram justice. After all, this is whisky made at one of the oldest distilleries in the world! And yes, I do include Scotland in this claim.

Buffalo trace was founded in 1787 at a small settlement called Lee’s Town, a town presumably established by someone called Lee. The title ‘Buffalo Trace’ was given to it much later, but refers to the 18th century name for the distillery’s location: a trail forged by American bison as they crossed the Kentucky River. Buffalo Trace continued sending whiskey up the river across the ensuing centuries – even during prohibition when it was given a permit to produce medicinal whiskey. Unsurprisingly it was a very popular remedy.

But how does it taste?

Like bourbon.

No!

Well, yes.

But it’s good bourbon!

On the nose is, as you’d expect, sweet corn and vanilla, but also present are subtle notes of cinnamon and brown sugar. The palate is lightly spicy with grassy oak notes. The finish is medium in length with flavours of toffee and honey.

All in all, Buffalo Trace is a great example of a bourbon. It’s accessible and, all things considered, pretty darn smooth. Best of all, it’s a bourbon with a story. It allows you to cast your mind back to the late 1700s when settlers battled to survive – and make whiskey on the side!

And it tastes like bourbon.

★★★

Glenfiddich 18 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

glenfiddich-18

If this website were not called Whisky Waffle, then I could sum up the Glenfiddich 18 Year Old in just three words:

Goes. Down. Nicely.

Of course, we all know that’s not how I roll and I’d like to expand on those three words just a little.

Goes: Of all 18 Year Old whiskies in the world, the Glenfid is probably the most accessible. I picked it up for 98 bucks here in Aus when it was on special – a pretty remarkable price for something that has been in ex-bourbon barrels (and a few ex-oloroso casks) long enough to be of drinking age.

Down: the 18 Year Old’s main drawcard is its drinkability. It is one smooth drop. For seasoned whisky fans this might even be a disadvantage – some might consider it a bit boring. Not me. My biggest challenge is looking down at my glass to find I’ve already polished it off.

Nicely: Yep – it tastes good. On the nose are apples, grapefruit and pears alongside a smidge of oak. The palate is soft with notes of honey, cinnamon and vanilla, while the finish is medium in length leaving lingering flavours of apple-based baked goods.

If you find it cheaply, this is worth getting – especially if you are looking for a whisky that, well, goes down nicely!

★★★★