Top 5s

The Top 5 Islay Distilleries

Posted by: Nick

Streets of Bowmore whisky waffle

If I were to take four flights, one lengthy bus ride and a ferry crossing, as well as being broke and jetlagged, I would also be in my favourite place in the world, the mythical Isle of Islay. While my own home state of Tasmania contains many fantastic distilleries, I know that this Hebridean island will forever be: The Whisky Isle.

Islay is currently home to eight distilleries, which is not bad for a tiny island with a population that would fit into the MCG thirty times over. I do of course only speak hypothetically, because in real life the people of Islay would not deign to leave this most wonderful island – not even to attend the Boxing Day Test Match.

All eight Ileach distilleries make fascinating, varied and outstanding whiskies. But today I count down my top five favourites, those establishments that have helped shape the Whisky Waffler I am today.

5 Kilchoman

Kilchoman is the relative new kid on the block, only in operation since 2005, however the standard of whisky they are creating is astonishing. They take an old familiar flavour and reinvent it, producing something refreshingly new, and yet at the same time distinctly Islay.

One sip reflects the traditional Islay flavours that so perfectly accompany winter storms as they roll in off the Atlantic, testing the water proofing of the local cottages, and yet their whiskies are also bright, young, and energetic. They are surprisingly complex, and, most importantly of all, they are improving all the time. Kilchoman is that annoying combination of athleticism and brains: it is the top football star with the chiselled good looks that goes on to become a neurosurgeon. So with this in mind there is no doubt that Kilchoman is a distillery to watch out for in the future.

4 Bruichladdich

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Jim McEwan took over the then derelict Bruichladdich Distillery in 2001 and, after initially being called crazy, has seen it go from strength to strength. Known for its innovation, the distillery creates not one, not two, but three different series of bottlings, all with their unique style. Firstly and foremost are the lightly peated drams produced under their own name, Bruichladdich. Secondly, the more traditional and heavier-peated Port Charlotte, named after the long-since shut distillery that was once based a few miles away. Finally the famous (or infamous) Octomore range, marketed, correctly, as the most heavily peated whiskies in the world.

If I were to work at a distillery on Islay, this would have to be it. It combines traditional methods (the may-as-well-be-antique mashtuns) with experimentation (I heard rumour of a tequila cask hidden away in the bond store somewhere). Most of all, Bruichladdich are a community-focused distillery. Jim McEwan has achieved many great things across his career, but he claims the number of Ileach people he employs is the one that fills him with the most pride.

3 Laphroaig

3 Laphroaig whisky waffle

When you think Islay whiskies, you think peat – and no distillery on earth does peat like Laphroaig. The whisky produced here may not be to everyone’s taste, but it sure is to mine. One sniff transports me to bonfires, seaside camping trips and, as I discovered later, the sensation of getting out of the car on Islay and inhaling the peat-thick fresh air. The whisky made by Laphroaig is iconic and rightfully among the most famous made on the island.

Whiskies made at Laphroaig are unapologetic. If you don’t like your drams peated, run for the hills (if you can actually find any on Islay) as the manufacturers don’t care. I find this attitude appealing however. I know what I’m going to get from Laphroaig and I know that it will comfort me after a tough day at work or celebrate with me as I raise a toast with my friends.

While they have the second biggest output of any distillery on Islay, they still conduct traditional floor maltings and fire up their own peat kilns for a percentage of their product. I’ve been lucky enough to stand in the large kilns, and even luckier that this occurred while they were not operating! Laphroaig is Islay to a tee and an unmissable stop if you visit the island.

2 Lagavulin

2 Laga whisky waffle

First trying the Lagavulin 16 Year Old was a revelation in my whisky-drinking life. What was this spirit that burned like a roaring bonfire in my mouth? What were these charred-fruit flavours that followed? I’d certainly never tasted anything like it and I’ve certainly never looked back.

Several years later I have tried a range of peated whiskies and loved most of them. But the Lagavulin 16 is still up there amongst the best.

What separates Lagavulin from the rest is a sense of class. While other distilleries, rightfully, let the wild peat-monster roam free, Lagavulin has it well trained, even walking to heel. With some of the Distillers’ Editions it will even sit and roll over! This allows a magnificent balance between peat and sherry flavours which really sets it up as the classiest of Islay’s whiskies.

1 Ardbeg

1 Ardbeg whisky waffle

While all distilleries on Islay offer many brilliant and varied drams, it is Ardbeg that I believe captures the ‘spirit’ of the island the best. With a slab of peat, a splash of history and a smattering of actual magic, you cannot help but fall in love with the drams, the atmosphere and the portrait on the wall of Shortie the Dog, the Ardbeg mascot.

Ardbeg are famous for once a year releasing a frustratingly small amount of limited edition bottles which seem destined to sit unopened on wealthy collectors’ shelves. But on the rare occasion you get to try one, you will see what the hype is about: Alligator, Galileo and of course Supernova are all enticingly titled as well as deliciously flavoured.

Their regular bottles cannot be forgotten, either. In Uigeadail they have produced a strong candidate for worlds best peated whisky, the Coryvrekkan has one of the longest finishes going around (and around and around!) and as for their ‘entry level’ – is there a finer 10 year old bottle in world whisky? Possibly not.

Ardbeg is many people’s favourite distillery. And it is not hard to figure out why. Put simply, it is because it is among the best.

Nick at Port Ellen lighthouse whisky waffle

This list, of course, is only my (somewhat subjective) opinion. It is by no means definitive. What are your top five favourite Islay distilleries? Let us know in the comments and we will slam you for being wrong! Er… I mean, we will respect your opinion greatly! That’s the one!

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5 Whisky Waffle Winter Warmers

Posted by: Ted

I said, brr, its cold in here, there must be some… low pressure systems, high precipitation rates and perhaps even the formation of snow caused by the seasonal polar tilt of the earth away from the sun, creating wintertime meteorological phenomena in the atmosphere. What, you weren’t expecting ‘Bring It On’ were you?

Yes folks, it’s winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and while for the most part that may not entail quite the same level of bone aching crazy cold that our Northern kin have to endure, it’s still enough to send us shivering. Well, what better way to beat the winter chills than a nice warming dram of whisky? And there’s one class of the amber stuff that does it better than any other: cask strength. So without any further ado, here are five cask strength whiskies that will help spread a warm glow inside your belly this winter:

 

5. Glenfarclas 105

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If you need to get warm in a hurry, then why not have a giant gorilla sit on you? Well, not really, but that’s what the experience of drinking a drop of the Glenfarclas 105 is like. Bottled at 60%, this family-owned drop from Speyside is big, bold and will cause you to beat your chest like a silverback as its powerful sherry-driven flavours rampage through your veins. Drink while entertaining thoughts of scaling tall buildings.

4. Glenlivet Nàdurra

Glenlivet-Logo

Meaning ‘Natural’ in Gaelic, this 16yo dram from Glenlivet is the logical solution for warming up on a frosty night. Indeed, I can vouch for its efficacy, as I sipped a dram of it while watching a meteor shower on a cold, clear night (the shower was a bit of a damp squib, but the whisky was certainly good). The Nàdurra is taken from the barrel at a 54-55% strength guaranteed to put a rosy glow in the cheeks. Drink while pondering the natural order of the cosmos.

3. Nikka from the Barrel

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Japan certainly sees its share of cold weather, but not to worry, the gods saw fit to create a dragon spirit to fight the frost. It may come in a small package, but the Nikka from the Barrel packs a big dragony punch. Bottled at 51.4%, this fiery little blend is packed with hefty dollops of sweetness and spice backed up with a wicked sherry kick. Drink while watching ninjas fight in a snowy forest (well, at least it will keep you occupied as you fail to spot any of the combatants).

2. Talisker 57° North

Talisker logoWant hot coals to smoulder and smoke away inside you? Then what you need is some peated whisky, and what could be better than a ‘special strength’ release out of the wind-and-rain lashed Isle of Skye? As its name hints, the Talisker 57° North is bottled at… well… 57% and is full of Talisker’s trademark mixture of sweet and maritime flavours. Drink while wearing a blue knitted fisherman’s turtleneck in front of an open log fire.

1. Lark Port Wood Cask Strength

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Need to feel your toes again on a chilly Tasmanian night (which to be honest, can happen in high summer. Thanks maritime climate!)? Well, how does drinking hot, spiced orange sound? That’s certainly what it feels like sipping some of Lark’s 58% Port Wood release. If Lark can revive the Tasmanian distillery industry, then it certainly shouldn’t have any trouble getting you back on your feet. Drink while huddled in a wooden hut in the Tasmanian highlands.

Slàinte mhath!

Spirited Resolutions: 5 whiskies I would like to try in 2015

Posted by: Ted

The year is coming to a close dear friends, and while there have been good times and bad, one thing that I have consistently enjoyed is drinking whisky. The drams have been varied, and thankfully the overwhelming majority have been at least good, while quite a few have been interesting and some even down-right exciting. With a new year swiftly encroaching, it is time to cast the mind forward and ponder one of the big questions in life: what to drink next year? Well, after some cogitation, here are five whiskies that I would like to get to know a little more intimately in 2015:

  1. The Balvenie PortWood 21yo

balvenie whisky waffleI love the stuff that Balvenie puts out (the 12yo DoubleWood for example). They’ve always got great character that brings out the best of Speyside; smooth, sweet, oaky and a variety of spice and fruit from the different finishing methods they use. Quite frankly, the thought of a 21yo Balvenie finished in 30yo port pipes makes me twitch in a slightly manic way and want to use my outside voice indoors (such a rebel I know). I suspect it will be super smooth with an amazing depth of character for its age thanks to the port influence.

  1. Johnnie Walker Green Label

JW whisky waffleOK, I’ll make a small confession: I have actually tried the Green Label before. But in my defence it was quite a while ago when I wasn’t as educated about whisky and it was only really a sip, so I have no memory of it to speak of. Therefore I’m just going to pretend that the whole thing never happened and start anew. If you followed our Johnnie Walker Week event you’ll know that the Green is no longer produced, and that our tame writer Moorsey and plenty of other people around the traps rate it very highly, ranting about it in superlatives and even going so far as to commit poetry. So I’m really rather keen to see how it stacks up when I eventually stumble across a bottle.

 

  1. Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23yo

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Here at Whisky Waffle we haven’t really delved into the world of bourbons yet. I’ve tried various bits and pieces here and there, but I’ve never had one of the older, super-handcrafted numbers. I’ll reserve judgement on the bourbon genre as a whole for the moment, but I will say that I have strong suspicions that the older, rarer drops are a much different kettle of fish to their younger kin. By all accounts the Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 23yo is a big deal, a man amongst the boys. Part of the reason for its inclusion on this list is that I’ve actually seen a bottle of it on a bar shelf in my area. A nip will cost me a pretty penny, but odds are that it’s worth it.

 

  1. Penderyn Madeira Finish

Penderyn whisky waffle

Wales. Not the first place you may think of for whisky (but certainly not the last. Who knew Liechtenstein makes the stuff, but there you go). Penderyn is the first and only Welsh distiller in over 100 years and uses a novel single-still method, so I’m quite curious. Madeira casking is never a bad thing, and you know what the best bit of all is? I actually own a bottle. Nick gave it to me after he returned from the UK, so it’s waiting ready on my top shelf for the perfect moment.

 

  1. Redlands Estate “…?”

Redlands Estate Distillery whisky waffleSo this one is probably a bit of a stretch, but I’d be so excited to try it. Redlands Estate is a new distillery in Southern Tasmania which we visited earlier this year. According to Dean Jackson, the head distiller, the first barrels are slated for release in 2015. I know chances are slim to none of me getting my hands on a bottle as they’ll all be snapped up in an instant, but I’ve tasted the new-make and smelled the delicious vapours rising from the Tasmanian ex-pinot noir barrels in the bond store, and they make me very excited. Plus a new release from a Tasmanian distillery is always something to look forward to.

 

So there you have it. How successful I will be in my quest I’m not sure, but it’ll be fun to try. Onwards into the future!

Five Golden Drams: 5 whiskies to drink at Christmas time

Posted by: Nick

If all the tinsel strewn about the place and the cheesy background music in supermarkets hasn’t been enough of a giveaway, I’m here to tell you it is very nearly Christmas! This means a number of things: countless family dinners, last minute gift-shopping, pine needles all over the house, and of course, holidays!

I’m extremely keen to have a bit of free time this Christmas to spend relaxing: feet up, Glencairn in hand. But what, I hear you ask, is contained within this glass? The short answer is: whisky. But they don’t call us Whisky Waffle for nothing. So here is the long answer. Ladies and Gentleman, I present to you: Five Golden Rings – I mean drams.

5. Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 Year Old

As you may or may not be aware, m’colleague Ted and I are from the rather little state of Tasmania in the rather large country of Australia, both of which can be found in the southern hemisphere, meaning that Christmas falls squarely in the middle of our summer. Now, to you from The North the concept of a sunny Christmas must be a completely bizarre one, but to us here, BBQs, beers, bicycle riding and baking hot weather are natural Christmas day occurrences. So my number five whisky reflects this.

5 Balvenie whisky waffle

The Caribbean Cask (either through its flavour profile or by the power of suggestion) has a very tropical taste reminiscent of a banana smoothie. It is the perfect summer’s day drop and is easy to knock back while basking in the sun in the early afternoon after a big Christmas lunch.

4. Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Solera

This drop is a little more traditional in its connection to Christmas. It finds its place on this list, as its flavours suggest sultanas, raisins, plums and other dark fruits. It is the perfect dram to savour in the late afternoon with a slice of dessert – because, quite simply, this dram is Christmas pudding in whisky form.

4 Glenfiddich whisky waffle

3. Hellyers Road 12 Year Old

This one is more of a personal connection. Having only been recently released, Australia’s first 12 Year Old age statement bottling is a superb drop and one I am coming to appreciate more and more with every taste. It is smoother than anything so far created by the Burnie distillery but still contains a unique buttery shortbread flavour that is so specific to Hellyers Road. It is also very reasonably priced compared to most other Tasmanian products and for that reason alone is a very good option as a stocking filler for the discerning whisky drinker.

3 Helllyers Road whisky waffle

2. Auchentoshan Three Wood

I’ll be honest, if any drop were to make me think of Christmas, it’s this one. It’s not just the Christmas pudding, but the brandy butter, too. It is smooth and extremely drinkable, but complex and long lasting. It’s accessible to non-whisky drinkers but also interesting enough for seasoned veterans. In this way, it brings unity to your grandparents’ crowded living room at the end of the day. If you needed just one bottle to share with the people you love the most at Christmas, this would have to be it.

2 Auchentoshan whisky waffle

1. Ardbeg Uigeadail

Although I will have spent my Christmas day bathed in glorious sunshine, people back in the traditional home of whisky are unlikely to be so lucky. In fact, the early pioneers of the water of life probably spent many Christmases shut away in small uninsulated huts in the snowy highlands with nothing but a peated dram to keep them warm. This selection is for them.

1 Ardbeg whisky waffle

There are very few better examples of a warming peated whisky to be found anywhere in the world. And who else but Ardbeg could provide us with a complex, sherried, spicy and warming dram such as this. The Uigeadail (or Oogie, and m’collegue and I refer to it as) is simply one of the world’s best readily available whiskies. A portion of my final paycheque before the 25th of December was dedicated to this bottle, and when sitting back in a comfortable armchair after a long but pleasant day of food, presents and family of all ages, I’ll claim that nothing goes down better than a generous nip of Ardbeg Uigeadail.