Whisky randomness

Scotland 2018: The Ultimate Whisky Adventure – Part Four

Posted by: Nick

In July 2018 I realised the ultimate Waffler’s dream and spent nine days travelling whisky’s motherland. I did not waste a moment.

9 days: 20 distilleries.

PART FOUR: Islay – the east and the north

WW 0 still

If I were to be completely honest with myself, I would admit that three of my top five distilleries in Scotland are just outside of Port Ellen. If I were to be even more completely honest then I would revise that to three of top three. And these three, the holy trinity of Islay, were to be my destination on my final full day in Scotland. As all three were within a short walk of one another I coined this day as ‘the world’s greatest pub crawl’. The only question was, where to start? Due to a combination of tour times and proximity to my accommodation (a three-minute walk, no less) I began my epic day at Laphroaig.

WW 1 Lap

The tour was in-depth and the tastings phenomenal – three barrels were lined up ready to be valinched into our glasses – the first a quarter cask on steroids, the next a 14 Year Old bourbon cask, before finally, the pièce de résistance, a 52% 14 Year Old whisky which had spent it’s time equally in bourbon and Amontillado sherry. I was fortunate enough to take home a 200ml bottle of the latter, and my colleague was suitably impressed. I also claimed the rent for my square foot of land and learned to pronounce Cairdeas (hint: think Steve Macqueen).

WW 2 casks

Fifteen minutes up the road was Lagavulin, a crucial distillery in Whisky Waffle history and I wasted no time ensconcing myself in their new tasting centre. While there are not many varied Lagavulin releases on the market, if you find yourself at the distillery then you’ll be treated to a range of rare special editions created for Feis Isle celebrations and Jazz festivals. The pick was the 54% Double Matured Distillery Exclusive. At this point of the day my tasting notes were starting to get creative. I have noted: “like sitting in a cart pulled by a noble steed. Or in a palanquin carried by muscular Persians sweating in the Arabian sun”.

WW 3 Laga

Unbelievably, the best was yet to come. Several things influence one’s enjoyment of a tour: the quality of the distillery (and therefore the whisky), the engagingness of the guide and the friendliness of the people on the tour with you. Well, once in a while the stars line up and you get all three, and that was the case with my Ardbeg ‘tour at two’, commencing, funnily enough, at two o clock. And it was one for the ages. Our guide, wee Emma (apparently there are two Emma’s who work at Ardbeg and we got the smallest – and the best!) was friendly and knowledgeable about peated whisky – an islander through and through. The tour itself was thorough but individualised – it didn’t feel like a re-tread of all that had come before. And the group was amazing. We settled ourselves down in a bond store for some tastings and when the drams started flowing (Grooves, Alligator and any number of single cask releases) we took it in turns to chat about our backgrounds, favourite drams and that first bottle that opened our eyes to whisky. We could have stayed there longer – but a knock on the door to the warehouse by the production boys alerted us to the fact it was 5 o clock and the tour was meant to have finished an hour ago. “Sorrynotsorry” was everyone’s response. It was a magical experience and one I feel truly reflects a wonderful distillery. I can say, hand on heart, it was the best tour of the trip and remains a fond memory in my Waffly heart.

WW 4 Ard

I woke the next day with a heavy heart. Partly because of the number of drams I’d consumed the previous day, but also because it was my final day on this spectacular island. My ferry left at 3pm which gave me just enough time to fill in the gaps I’d left. Despite feeling a little tender I could not resist tasting a few distillery exclusives at Caol Ila. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this giant distillery but what I found was a warm welcome and delicious whisky.

WW 5 CI

My welcome was just as warm at Bunnahabhain, who, despite building work preventing me from touring the distillery, gave me an extensive tasting (which I was able to transfer most of each glass into small bottles – my liver thanked me later) and fantastic conversation. It was one of the friendliest distillery experiences I’d had in the previous eight days and I cannot wait to go back and visit these guys again.

WW 6 Bunna

Then, before I knew it (after a sneaky couple of photos at Ardnahoe), I was back on the ferry and leaving Islay.

WW 8 Ard

I can say with certainty that my visit to Islay had been the pinnacle of my whisky journey. The people, the scenery and the peat gave it the edge, but despite the size of some of the operations it just felt like I was on a tiny whisky-centric island which hadn’t changed much since the first dram had been distilled there. Sitting on a small rise of land across the road from my Airbnb looking out at the view (Port Ellen on one side, Laphroaig distillery on the other) I felt as connected to a place as I ever had. The pun writes itself, but I truly mean it when I say it was a spiritual experience.

WW 7 Bunna

And thus my whisky journey was at an end. Despite Islay’s dominance in my writing, every aspect of the trip was phenomenal. As a whisky fanboy, the range of flavours across one little country inspired me. But the biggest impact was made by the people behind the scenes, making and promoting the drams I loved so much. Their warmth and generosity (and patience with all my questions) was a credit to the industry and made this Waffler very happy multiple times over.

So would I go back? Oh, you bet I would – in a heartbeat. I’d probably stick the anticlockwise trajectory – like the best tastings you’ve got to start with Speyside and end with Islay. I hit up some amazing distilleries and crossed off a few bucket list items, though left a few remaining (I’m looking at you Campbeltown, Orkneys and Edradour). If you’re about to embark on a trip to the motherland I absolutely recommend the anticlockwise direction and all of the establishments I found myself at – though I’m sure there are some wonderful places I missed (if so please let me know!). However, sitting on the train taking me towards Glasgow (Prestwick) airport I was a contented Waffler with a heart full of fulfilled dreams.

Crossroads WW

Read PART ONE here

Read PART TWO here

Read PART THREE here

Complete distillery list:

Glendronach

Balvenie

Glenfiddich

Aberlour

Glenfarclas

Cragganmore

Glenlivet

Macallan

Glen Moray

Benromach

Talisker

Oban

Bowmore

Bruichladdich

Kilchoman

Laphroaig

Lagavulin

Ardbeg

Caol Ila

Bunnahabhain

(Ardnahoe)

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Glenlivet Nἁdurra Oloroso

Reviewed by: Nick

Glenlivet Nadurra WW

Speyside: home to smooth, elegant, subtle and well-balanced whiskies. Whiskies that represent the graceful and sophisticated flavours that this Scottish spirit has to offer.

And then there’s this one.

The Glenlivet name their cask strength range ‘Nadurra’, Gaelic for natural. While they have made bourbon-aged versions, the one that is most widely available is matured in first fill Oloroso casks and it has rapidly carved out a niche in the market previously dominated by Aberlour A’bunadh and Glenfarclas 105. This is possibly because The Glenlivet, being a huge distillery even by Scotland’s standards, can put out a good quantity of bottles at a reasonable price. What this means, however, is that the product released is quite young and… um… what’s the opposite of subtle?

If most Speyside drops are a Haydn violin concerto, the Glenlivet Nadurra is the Arctic Monkeys first album. It’s like bringing home to meet your mother that guy with tattoos, piercings and parole conditions.

The nose is probably the most refined aspect of the whisky; grape notes dominate alongside butter, apricots and leather car seats. It smells like it could be a cheap brandy, although having had very few expensive brandys in my life, I suppose it could smell like them, too.

The palate is where you get kicked in the face. The sherry is clearly the biggest factor at play here with rich dark fruits coating your tongue while elements of chocolate fudge, liquorice and oak try in vain to keep up. The finish is long, spicy and full of fire, and contains stewed apple flavours and a bitter piney note.

“So we get that it’s rough,” I hear you cry “but check the label, you berk – it’s freaking 60.3%! Surely a drop of water will fix this?”. I did try, fellow wafflers, I promise – and it actually didn’t help much. It lessened the burn, sure, but it was still heavy and volatile, confirming my suspicions about the youthful nature of the whisky.

Having read all the way through this review, you are probably expecting me to give it a fairly negative score. But, in a shocking Christie-esque twist, I’m actually not. I definitely think there is a place for an angsty teenage whisky on my shelf. It’s doesn’t skimp on flavour, it warms your entire insides, and goes well in a hipflask on a fishing trip (or cricket match if you’re sneaky enough). Although it’s far from being objectively good, there’s something to like about it. It’s a cheeky puppy that is so adorable that you don’t mind when it won’t come when it’s called. Don’t kid yourself that it’s a work of art – just drink it…

…in small doses.

★★★

The bottle I reviewed was part of Batch OLO615

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 10

We return to the airwaves with another whisky-fuelled ramble about the big topics in the whisky world – specifically: what’s in our glass!

This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where we discuss how to actually make the spirit we love!
– The whisky, where we look at a new Aussie whisky with a specific tasting note; and
– From the Spirit Sack, where we consider entry level whiskies from a variety of countries

Whipper Snapper Project Q Batch 1 46.5%

Posted by: Ted

What does a South American superfood with a weird name have to do with WWII bomber pilots? Well, in a round-about way: whiskey. Before we get into why though, let’s take a slight tangent.

Project Q is part of the new Dalek masterplan

By definition, whisk(e)y is a grain based spirit. In terms of the most common grains that are used, the holy quaternity is barley, corn, rye and wheat. Alone or in combination, these four star in the vast majority of whiskies. Beyond that, there is a whole panoply of random grains that rarely (if ever) get a look-in due to reasons such as rarity, expense and difficulty of use.

One such grain is quinoa. You know, the one that you think is pronounced ‘kwinoa’ until some posh git swans by and says “no no, it’s ‘keeen-wah’ daahling”. A staple native grain in South American, quinoa can now be found lurking in expensive salads in the West. To be fair, it is very good for you. Turns out it has other uses beyond feeding hipsters though.

Most of the established whisk(e)y distilling cultures wouldn’t dream of going anywhere near something like quinoa. Tradition is tradition after all. You need to go somewhere where the industry is fresh and young and willing to experiment with new things. Like Australia for example.

Whipper Snapper Distillery, based in Perth, Western Australia (WA), is an outfit that is not afraid to mess around. The roots of the distillery go back to WWII, where an Aussie and a US pilot bonded over a love of bombers and making whiskey. Vic, the Aussie half of the duo, took the recipe they had developed home and continued to distil in his back shed. The recipe was eventually passed onto his young neighbour Al and his mate Jimmy and thus Whipper Snapper was born. Keeping with the American connection, the distillery’s flagship release is the Upshot, a bourbon-style whiskey with an Aussie twist.

Sounding rather like a top-secret WWII program, Project Q is Whipper Snapper’s experimental quinoa-based whisky, only the second ever quinoa release world wide (the other is from Corsair Distillery in America). We first heard about it here at Whisky Waffle HQ a few years ago when they released an early test version, but sadly we were never able to get our mitts on a sample. Fast forward to 2019 and the lads have refined their process and unleashed their first official batch on an unsuspecting world.

Made using a mash bill of 65% quinoa, 25% corn and 10% malted barley, all the grains are locally sourced from WA. The Project Q is aged for just under three years in the distillery’s own ex-Upshot barrels and bottled at (at least for Batch 1) 46.5%.

Flavour-wise, the Project Q is like no other whisk(e)y I have ever tried. I sprang it on m’colleague blind and he almost broke his brain trying to work it out. The first guess was rye, which actually wasn’t entirely ridiculous as there is an earthy, nutty (quinoa-y?) quality to the nose that remindes me a bit of Belgrove’s Brown Rye. Beyond that though, there’s this weird combo of rose-water and what I can only describe as tobacco-infused old car. It’s like leather and oil and ciggies and sun-aged dash. My dad’s old MKII Jag or my 1985 BMW 325i.

The mouth has tannic sweetness underneath that I reckon comes from the corn, while over the top sits this ashy, spicy grain layer. The finish is fruity, a distilled cherry/plums/grapes feel that kind of brings to mind brandy or cognac. There is a lingering wisp of incense that coils around the tongue for a little while after.

Batch 1 people, get in quick for some quirky quinoa action

To be honest I’m not really sure what to make of it. The Project Q is definitely not a beginner’s whiskey, that’s for sure, with its complex melange of flavours. Due to the high cost and relatively low local production levels of quinoa, the Project Q is unlikely to be anything more than a quirky rarity, but one I think is worth tracking down to experience something unusual. It won’t be to everyone’s taste for sure, but I certainly think it still deserves its moment in the sun. I hope Whipper Snapper, and others, continue to experiment with new grains and flavours that challenge our palates and minds.

FYI, it’s still totally kwinoa.

***

March Madness: The Final Result

Posted by: Nick and Ted

It’s been a wild ride, fellow Wafflers. 64 distilleries began the journey (back when it was actually March) and, like Antony Green, now it’s election night we’re prepared to call it.

On this most auspicious of nights, with the world celebrating not one but three major events, namely the Australian Federal Election, World Whisky Day and Eurovision Finals, we can finally reveal what you, our faithful followers, voted as the number one whisky in the world.

It came down to a clash between two Islay titans, but like Highlander (… Islander?), there can be only one winner. Break out the laurel wreaths, because the winner of the Whisky Waffle March (and April… and May) Madness bracket is:

ARDBEG

Ardbeg Win!

Over 200 years old and one of the Islay big three, Ardbeg is, as it proudly states on the bottle, the maker of the ‘Ultimate Islay Single Malt Whisky’. But in this case, also the world. Ardbeg claims our heart with its character: smoky, peaty and full of fire but also genuine, accessible and unpretentious. They win us around with the dependable 10 Year Old, the mind blowing Corryvreckan and then stick the landing with the glorious Uigeadail – and then bring out something excitingly new every year to please the fanboys!

Did the right distillery win? Too bad if not, you guys voted for it, so it’s your fault if it’s wrong. But let us know your thoughts anyway!

Thanks all who voted. Keep on waffling.

March Madness Grand Final

Posted by: Nick

Finally our March Madness bracket reaches the final round: the Grand Final. Yes, what started out six weeks ago with 64 distilleries (technically 63 distilleries and 1 independent bottler) has been whittled down to just two. And our finalists?

In the red corner: Bruichladdich!

On the road to the final Bruichladdich overcame the number one seed, Glenfiddich, Tassie favourite Overeem and in a nail biting semi final they defeated the peated powerhouse Laphroaig by a margin of 59% to 41%.

And, in the blue corner, they will be facing: Ardbeg!

Ardbeg have taken down some sherried Scottish superpowers along the way with Glendronach, Balvenie and recently Glen Moray falling victim to the peat monster.

Round 6 Whisky Waffle March Madness

Click to enlarge

So now it all comes down to this: Bruichladdich vs Ardbeg. Two Islay dynamos duking it out to become Whisky Waffle’s inaugural champion distillery – but who will win?

YOU DECIDE!

Voting has never been easier! We only need one name! Leave your vote in the comments or on our social media platforms.

Happy voting and keep on waffling!

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 9

On the eve of battle, Whisky Waffle prepare for the army of the dead by releasing a podcast!

This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where we discuss Diageo’s new Game of Thrones-themed whiskies
– The whisky, where Ted brings something that may not be whisky, but has a subtitle in its name, which makes up for it
– Mystery Whisky, where Ted springs a surprise bottle and Nick muddles up his latitude by one degree; and
– Smash, Session or Savour, where Nick hurts Ted’s soul

March Madness Semi Finals

Posted by: Nick and Ted

And then there were four. In a matchup of biblical proportions, David came up against Goliath and against all odds, slew the beast.

Round 5 Whisky Waffle March Madness

Click to enlarge

That’s right, the ridiculous strength of the Tasmanian independent titan, Heartwood, was no match in the end for the Speyside pocket-pleaser, Glen Moray. Tim Duckett wasn’t the only Tasmania to fall, with elegant Overeem roundly smashed by indie Islay outfit Bruichladdich. In fact, there’s potential for an all-Islay showdown in the final, with Ardbeg seeing off Glenfiddich’s little sister Balvenie with ease and Laphroaig narrowly fending off the Orkney vikings from Highland Park. First we have to get through the semi-finals though and there’s some tough choices ahead. It really comes down to sweet vs peat – where do you fall in the battle? Cast your votes now at http://www.whiskywaffle.com or on our social media platforms.

March Madness Quarter Finals

Posted by: Nick

It’s getting serious now! After what I can only assume were many sleepless nights of pondering the impossible choices presented in round 3 we have 8 winners! And they are:

Round 4 Whisky Waffle March Madness

Click to enlarge

Some big results, fellow wafflers. Overeem win the battle of Tassie dominance, the two remaining Islay behemoths narrowly overcome their opponents and Highland Park knock out champion Tassie distillery Sullivans Cove, all by only a couple of percentage points. It was an unbelievably close round, with many results only decided by the final few votes.

And now our quarter finals take shape. Bruichladdich have not had too much trouble dealing with opponents so far, but will Overeem prove a sterner test? Glen Moray, everyone’s favourite underdog have scraped through so far, but face Tasmanian independent title favourites Heartwood in the next round. Elsewhere, Highland Park take on Laphroaig and two Whisky Waffle favourites in Ardbeg and Balvenie go head to head.

Who will win? YOU DECIDE! It’s getting easier to vote these days – just send us four names via a comment, email or social media and we will add them to collection of votes!

If you haven’t already, check out our podcast where we discuss the results up to round 3.

Happy voting and keep on waffling!

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 8

Posted by: Nick

After a longer than planned absence, the Whisky Waffle Podcast is back with more slightly-tipsy rambling from the two Waffle boys, discussing serious and silly whisky topics in their typical tongue-in-cheek style.

This episode contains:

  • The Waffle, where we discuss the results of our March Madness bracket
  • The whisky, where we sample some cask strength Edradour
  • Whisky Would You Rather, where Nick poses two unlikely but true scenarios; and
  • Smash, Session or Savour, where Ted presents three whisky-ish options