Whisky randomness

SMWS ‘Waxing a Hot Woodsman’ 1.209 64.9%

Reviewed by: Ted

In terms of independent whisky societies, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society is the tweed wearing, pipe smoking, large-moustache sporting (great?) uncle of the bunch. Thing is, he’s a pretty cool guy. He’s a seasoned raconteur with a house full of exotic artifacts from around the world and family rumour has it that he was a spy during the war. You know that a visit to Uncle SMWS is always going to be an interesting experience.

The SMWS started off as a group of mates chipping in to buy a barrel of Glenfarclas in the late 70s, before morphing into a full-blown membership society open to the public in 1983 with the purchase of their first property, the famous Vaults in Leith, Scotland.

The M.O. of the SMWS is the purchase of single casks from various distilleries in Scotland and around the world, which are then released to members when deemed ready by a tasting panel. The Society generally doesn’t reveal which distillery a particular release came from, instead using a somewhat arcane two-part numbering system on the bottles.

The first number refers to a particular distillery, while the second is the sequential barrel number from that distillery (eg. 5.12 would be distillery no. 5, barrel no. 12 purchased from there by the Society). If you manage to find out what the first number means, then you know what distillery you are drinking. Simple.

Another thing that the SMWS does is give the releases exotic names such as ‘A coal bucket of marshmallows’ or ‘An Orkney beekeeper’s dram’ along with some often rather whimsical tasting notes. Facing down a wall of green SMWS bottles (the sheer range of bottlings is dazzling) can be a daunting task, but the Society helps by adding a stripe of colour to the labels. Each particular colour relates to a certain flavour profile, such as ‘sweet, fruity & mellow’ or ‘light & delicate’, helping you narrow things down depending on your preferences.

I was checking out the range at the Grumpy Piper in Launceston the other night and entirely on a whim decided to go with a dram of ‘Waxing a hot woodsman’ . The bottle number was 1.209, which if you’ve been paying attention means that it’s from barrel 209 from Glenfarclas Distillery. According to the label it was a 7yo aged in ex-bourbon hogsheads and bottled at a zesty 64.9%, with the yellow stripe indicating it was a ‘spicey & dry’ style.

Is it just me or is it getting rather warm in here?

The spice was certainly front and centre on the nose, reeking of cinnamon, clove, corriander seed, spruce and resin, as well as a daub of beeswax and dark honey. Down lower was a slightly bitter herbal complex, with a few sprigs of oregano and thyme, before a fruity finish of unripe apples and pears.

If the nose claimed the cap for Team Spice, then the mouth was on the side of Team Dry. The start was hot and dry, with a sprinkle of that spice, before going bitter and metallically clean through the mid. The finish was a medley of sour, pithy citrus notes that would probably be too astringent for some people. The whole effect put me in mind of something a bit Japanese, maybe Hakshu?

Ok, so, despite what the label claims, this is not Waxing a Hot Woodsman at all. That’s a sticky, messy, painful and distinctly hair(e)raising experience. No, this comes afterwards when he’s supine and exhausted from the ordeal, his skin all smooth and raw. This is the aftershave lotion that you slap on his burning skin, a tonic to make him feel invigorated and alive and ready to handle some wood in a manly way.

The Hot Woodsman is yet another interesting insight into how single barrel, indpendent releases can mess around with the flavours you’ve become familiar with from a particular distillery. I wouldn’t say it’s to everyone’s taste, but that’s all part and parcel of a visit to Uncle SMWS’s place – there’s always something new and strange to discover.

***

You can sign up to the SMWS here, or if you’re in Australia like us, here.

Advertisements

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 12

Big news for listeners of the Podcast – we’re bringing back the old episodes! We’re purchased some more upload space and a remastered back-catalogue will be appearing soon! Keep an eye out in the next few weeks and travel back to where it all begun! In the meantime, however, enjoy our latest episode which includes:

– The Waffle, where we discuss our recent experiences throughout Tasmanian Whisky Week;
– The whisky, where we taste our new bottles of Hobart Whisky and Adams Distillery Slosh Cask; and
– Smash, Session or Savour where we are forced to smash drams we’d otherwise savour

 

Adams Distillery Pinot Noir Slosh Cask 46%

Reviewed by: Nick

Adams Pinot Slosh WW

What is the most important aspect of a whisky?

a) The region it hails from;

b) The age statement;

c) The prettiness of the bottle; or

d) What it actually tastes like.

While there’s a lot to like in options a) to c) (I’m a sucker for a pretty bottle!), when it comes down to it, the best thing about whisky is that you can drink it and therefore flavour is by far the most important factor.

Which is what the Adams of Adams Distillery had in mind when trying to squeeze every last tasty morsel out of cask AD0086, a French oak ex-pinot noir barrel. But before we get to option d), let us discuss a) to c).

Adams Distillery is based in the North of Tasmania at Glen Ireh Estate in Perth, just outside Launceston. They’ve been expanding the distillery since… well, pretty much since day 1, and the first few of their releases are only just entering the market.

This whisky is in no way old – by Scottish standards at least – but the smaller casking and hotter conditions in Tasmania require an earlier release. To maximise the flavour in each bottle the Adams developed the ‘slosh-cask’ technique, which simply involves regularly rolling the barrel from one side of the bond store to the other – the idea being that the process encourages greater interaction with the wood of the cask, forcing more of the barrel influence into the spirit.

The bottle is particularly pretty as well and is sure to stand out on bars with its distinctly-shaped neck. However, the most beautiful aspect is the colour of the whisky itself: a rich brown which when held up to the light glows ruby red.

It is an appropriate colour when you consider the creation of the dram. Unlike most whisky-makers in Tasmania who stick to a fairly standard grain (usually pilsner malt), Adams has experimented with using a percentage of dark crystal malt in their mash. It could be the power of suggestion… but I can’t help but feel it imparts coffee notes throughout the dram’s flavour.

On the nose there is oodles of chocolate, vanilla and stewed fruits, alongside hints of green grapes. It’s all coated in a thick layer of toffee which continues onto the palate, and is vibrant and viscous, almost chewy. There are also notes of strawberries and chocolate orange, while the finish contains strong coffee fudge flavours. For my fellow North West Coast Tasmanians, Anvers do one that this strongly reminds me of.

This whisky is not subtle – not even a little. But that’s not the point of the dram. The Adams have put flavour first and this is the result. It couldn’t be described as easy drinking and does take some taming. But like a whisky-swilling St George, I’m happy to take on this dragon. It’s exciting and moreish and most importantly of all, something a little different for Tasmanian whisky.

★★★★

Destination Cellars Arran tasting night in Burnie (or, Legless at the Chapel)

Posted by: Ted

The other night I grabbed my crutches (see here for that particular whisky-fuelled drama) and hobbled down to The Chapel Cafe in Burnie for a spot of whisky tasting. While my wife was still suspicious of my ability to stay upright after a few cheeky drams, I on the other hand was confident and keen not to miss out on sampling the range of Arran whiskies being offered by Destination Cellars that night.

Photo: Todd Morrison

Destination Cellars is a family-run business based in Hobart, offering a huge range of whiskies (and other drinks) and regularly holds tasting nights showcasing various products. Todd Morrison from Destination had made the trek up to the North West, glad to leave “the monsoonal conditions in Hobart” behind. Todd revealed to the crowd of 20-odd attending the tasting that Burnie had been the site of a certain important life event for him. It was at the ‘luxurious establishment’ (his words) called the Burnie Caravan Park that a young Todd tried whisky for the very first time. In town as part of a sporting tour, the weather was poor, so a bottle of Grants was procured to liven up the night. A game of spin-the-bottle ensued and a wretched Todd didn’t touch the golden spirit for another 20 years. Luckily he’s cured now apparently.

Also along for the ride and to share his knowledge of the Arran was industry stalwart, top bloke and bona-fide Scotsman Craig Johnstone. He’d been to Burnie before, but was a little surprised at the current municipal decorations littering the streets, quipping “what’s with all the trollies everywhere?” (Answer: probably ships’ crews coming into town from the port to do their shopping and dumping the trollies afterwards). Craig mentioned that the drive up had made him again appreciate the similarities between Tassie and Scotland, although apparently “the mosquitos here are much worse than the midges back home”.

We finished off with the Arran Gold, a whisky cream liquer

On offer that night were six drams from Arran Distillery (as well as Andrew’s excellent peated ale, definitely worth a try if you visit The Chapel). Craig whipped up a hand-drawn map to show everyone the location of the Isle of Arran, down off the South West coast, using handy references to help us home in on it, such as: “Edinburgh, here, is where all the best people are from, while Glasgow, here, is where all the idiots live” and “if the Campbeltown region is the bell-end of Scotland, then the Isle of Arran is the nut sack”.

First up was the Lochranza Reserve 43%, Arran’s basic workhorse, a NAS marriage of 1st- and 2nd-fill ex-bourbon casks. Named after the distillery’s home town on the north of the island, the Lochranza was sweet and grassy on the nose, while the mouth was buttery, with citrus, red jelly and a chewy caramel finish. Nothing really to write home about, but serviceable as a basic dram.

Checking out the colour

Before we got stuck in too much, Craig led us through some whisky drinking basics with his five step assessment. First up we eyeballed the glass and took note of the colour, which “nine times out of ten means bugger all, but holding the glass up to the light really makes you look professional!” Next we sleazily checked out the legs running down the side of the glass, which apparently “some people reckon they can use to tell the maker, cask type, age and what the distiller had for breakfast. If you meet someone like that, don’t get in a car with them because they’re definitely pissed.” The remaining steps, nosing, tasting and the finish, were completed studiously and without incident by the crowd.

Next up were two wine cask finishes, the Amarone 50% and the Côte-Rôtie 50%. Both are part of the Arran ‘Cask Finishes’ range, with the Lochranza used as a base before being finished in various wine casks (others include Sassicaia and Sauternes) to create limited edition releases. While both are red wines, the Amarone and the Côte-Rôtie imparted very different flavours on the spirit. The Amarone was dry and earthy on the nose, with a hint of grapes and damp moss, while the Côte-Rôtie was sticky and jammy, with quince paste and arrowroot. On the mouth, the Amarone was fruity, almost like Starburst chews and had a finish reminiscent of Cognac, while the Côte-Rôtie was very sharp, with almond paste, maraschino cherries and a salt water finish. Craig noted that Arran goes for wide, shallow flavour in its spirit, then uses the finishes to create depth.

Todd whips the troops into a frenzy. Photo: Craig Johnstone

The fourth dram on offer was something a bit special, the limited edition Master of Distilling II: The Man With the Golden Glass 51.8% (the releases are themed – last time was Hitchcock apparently). Created by Master Distiller James McTaggart (who Craig knows and apparently likes ‘shit beer, great whisky and fine wines’) to celebrate his 12th anniversary with Arran, the 12yo whisky is finished using rare Palo Cortado sherry casks. Craig was quite enthused about the unusual finish, noting “this isn’t a thermonuclear sherry bomb missile, but it is one of the weirdest sherry cask whiskies I’ve ever had.”

The flavour was indeed interesting, with hazelnuts, damp leaf litter, ginger snap biscuits, chocolate brownie, oiled metal and raisins on the nose. The mouth was biscuity with salted caramel, sultanas, and liveliness that ran right across the palate. The sherry finish was very distinct, with Craig commenting that it was “the most honest sherry-influenced whisky I’ve ever had”. It’s something that’s definitely worth a try if you come across it.

Not visible: my broken leg propped up on a chair. Photo: Todd Morrison

After we had finished dissecting the Master of Distilling II, we were ordered by Todd to “get your pipes and smoking jackets, because we’re going to slip into some peaty whiskies”. Machrie Moor, a peat bog on the western side of the island, gives its name to Arran’s range of peated whiskies. Todd admitted that he wasn’t always the biggest fan of peaty whiskies: “There’s warnings in nature – colours, smells and flavours that say ‘stay away!’. That was peated whisky to me.” These days he’s a convert and was keen to get stuck in.

The two Machrie Moor expressions on offer were essentially the same, but one was bottled at 46% while the other was a cask strength at 56.2% (to appeal to the French market apparently). According to Craig, back in the day most of the distilleries on Arran were illicit and made heavily peated whiskies as peat was the only fuel source, but now the style is the exception.

The smoke in the 46% was soft on the nose with a medicinal/rubbery texture and a hint of metal and smoked fish. In comparison, the cask strength was oily and resinous, with an intense aroma of freshly sawn timber, almost like Huon pine, followed by vanilla milkshake, home-made marshmallow and sea stones. On the mouth, the 46% was sweet and light, with raspberries on the fore and a curl of smoke on the finish, while the cask strength was hot and bright, with smoky bacon and smouldering green coastal vegetation. Both were very moreish, and the delicate 46% would make a great whisky to start a peat novice on.

Craig gets loose with the gang. Photo: Todd Morrison

At the end of the night the hosts took a vote to see what everyone’s favourites were, with Todd drily commenting that “this is going to be a somewhat North Korean voting system. The end result doesn’t actually matter, but we’re going to make you do it anyway”. Despite voter confusion and some potential rigging, every dram got some love, but the runaway winner was the Master of the Distilling II, with the cask strength Machrie Moor the runner up.

The night was a great success, particularly because I managed to get home again without breaking my other leg. Thanks to the enthusiasm shown by the local whisky fans, Destination Cellars will be back at the Chapel again on September 21 with a new range of whiskies, potentially lining up a selection of sherry bombs. Big thanks as always to Andrew at The Chapel Cafe for supporting whisky events in Burnie, to Destination Cellars for inviting me along as their guest, and of course to Todd and Craig for being damn fine hosts.

Photo: Todd Morrison

See you all next time!

Ironhouse Release Tasman Whisky

Posted by: Ted

Whisky Waffle IH Launch book

With Tasmanian Whisky Week just around the corner, it is only fitting that another distillery has joined that ever-growing band of Tassie producers offering mature whisky to the people. East Coast outfit Ironhouse Brewery & Distillery recently launched into the scene with the first release of their ‘Tasman Whisky’ label.

Better known (currently) for their Ironhouse beer range, the brewery and distillery (brewstillery?) is located at White Sands Estate, just north of Bicheno. Brainchild of head brewer and distiller Michael “Briggsy” Briggs, the distillery came into existence as a way to utilise excess wash generated by the brewery. According to Briggsy “we had a plan to sell our excess wash to whisky producers, but we hit a load of roadblocks along the way, so in the end we said ‘bugger it, we’ll just make our own!'”

Whisky Waffle IH Launch Briggsy

Whisky Waffle recently had the chance to sample the fruits of that decision at the North West leg of the official launch series, luckily held in our hometown of Burnie. Burnie might seem an odd place to host a whisky launch for an East Coast outfit, but this is Tasmania, and there is always a local connection to be found.

Craig ‘Spilsy’ Spilsbury, Ironhouse Brand Ambassador and Briggsy’s right-hand man, grew up in Burnie and was excited to be able bring his new baby back to his old stomping grounds. “I got most of the scars on my head working at the Beach Hotel in Burnie back in the 80’s,” he quipped to the crowd assembled upstairs at the historic APPM paper mill building at South Beach. The venue was fitting in the context of local connections, as Briggsy revealed that his in-laws had met at the paper mill, while both fathers of the Whisky Waffle lads were employed there in the past too (and no doubt a good chunk of the audience could claim similar connections).

Whisky Waffle IH Launch crowd

Our hosts were keen not to waffle on too long though (good thing we weren’t hosting) and instead let the whisky speak for itself. Briggsy revealed that the decision to brand the spirit as ‘Tasman Whisky’ rather than Ironhouse came from the intimate connection they share with the Tasman Sea, which provides the spectacular coastal setting for the brewstillery.

The Tasman Whisky first release consists of three different vatted cask expressions: bourbon, sherry and port, all bottled at roughly 47% ABV. We agreed that the bourbon cask, a light, sweet drop with a bit of a spearmint/menthol prickle, was quite Scottish in nature, with hints of its American heritage popping through occasionally.

The quirky sherry cask would have been at home in a sweet shop, sporting a fruit, malt and dark Lindt chocolate nose (milkshakes anyone?) and a fruity mouth reminiscent of red snakes and wine jelly. The winner for us, and most others too when a vote was held at the end, was the port cask. Much more classically Tasmanian in nature, the port was robust and spicy with fat fruity jam notes across the palate.

Not only does the Tasman Whisky range taste good, but it also looks good, thanks to the use of some rather *ahem* novel packaging. The box has been designed to look like a book, complete with first page, and will make an elegant addition to any collection. A rightfully smug Briggsy informed us that “it’s all about the story, about where we came from, hence the packaging looking like a book.” Spilsy chipped in with a useful bit of advice, noting that “it’s also useful for sneaking it past the trouble & strife”.

The evening concluded in a somewhat dramatic fashion, with Whisky Waffle’s own Ted trying to execute a dance move, in memory of attending a paper mill dance at the venue with his dad when he was 5, and instead managing to do a pretty comprehensive job of breaking his leg. Luckily the Tasman Whisky proved to be an excellent source of pain relief and kept spirits buoyed as the hours spent in the emergency department wore on.

For those looking to use Tasman Whisky recreationally rather than medicinally, bottles will begin to be released to the public in the next few weeks. Briggsy and Spilsy have always intended their whisky to drunk by humans rather than hidden away within the glass cabinets of collectors, and the price is therefore thankfully within reach of we regular people.

Tasmania’s whisky history is becoming richer and more storied with every passing year. It is with great pleasure that we officially welcome Tasman Whisky: the start of a brand-new chapter.

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 11

We’re back with another semi-drunken rambling… I mean podcast!

This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where we discuss gear! That is, distillation gear!
– The whisky, where we look at a fancy blend which we don’t know how to pronounce; and
– Mystery Whisky where Ted guesses every location except for the one the whisky is actually from!

 

Dalwhinnie Lizzie’s Dram

Reviewed by: Ted

Mama, just killed a dram,
Put a glencairn against its neck,
Poured it out, now the bottle’s dead…

Avid Whisky Waffle followers may remember that I was recently musing about how I needed to bite the bullet and finish off a bottle of Dalwhinnie that I’d had sitting around for far too long. Well, you’ll be pleased to know that the world is now minus one bottle of Highland single malt. Just not my bottle…

So, I was visiting friends last night and at the end of the evening the host whipped out a bottle of Dalwhinnie he bought in Scotland recently-ish and declared an intent to finish it off between the group. Naturally, everyone declined (you’ll need to install a sarcasm filter to read that properly).

The bottle in question was the interestingly named Lizzie’s Dram, a limited edition distillery exclusive non age statement release. No, the Lizzie in question is not the Queen, but instead one Elizabeth Stewart. Working at Dalwhinnie for over 30 years, she was apparently a trailblazer for women in an historically male-dominated industry as one of the first female Scottish malt distillery operators. After her retirement in 2018, Diageo, owners of Dalwhinnie, chose to honour her contributions to the whisky industry by creating a special release in her name.

Lizzie’s Dram is aged exclusively in selected refill American white oak bourbon cask and released at 48% as a limited run of 7500 bottles. The colour is darker than you’d perhaps expect for refill bourbon casks, but then this is Diageo we’re talking about, who are quite fond of going to town with the E150a caramel colouring.

The nose is pure Dalwhinnie – very first thing I detected was that classic smell of apples. My companions at the table, more casual whisky drinkers than me, were quite effusive in their agreement and thankfully I was backed up by the bottle notes. See? We don’t always talk rubbish (mostly). Also to be found are lemons, straw, vanilla and green sapwood. The addition of a couple of drops of water also draws out some caramel. All in all quite a pleasant olfactory experience.

The mouth is a different kettle of fish. It’s very sharp for some reason, with a metallic, Myer lemon body going on. The whole effect is very bright across the palate, with a lingering finish. I think it’s kind of like sword swallowing – it’s pretty difficult and can impress your friends who don’t know the trick, but in reality it’s uncomfortable in the mouth and you’re glad when it’s over. A couple of drops of water soften the blow, but then annoyingly a bit of the pizzaz and drama disappears. A difficult dram indeed.

Look, this is a NAS we’re talking about, so it’s likely that a good chunk of the release is made with relatively young whisky. I suspect that some of the jaggy edges on the mouth would have been smoothed out if the barrels had been allowed to work their magic for a bit longer. It’s a shame really, because I enjoyed what was going on with the nose and wish it could have translated across the entire experience.

Thumbs up to Diageo and Dalwhinnie for celebrating the undeniable achievements of one of their own, thumbs down for not backing it up with an entirely worthy dram. Of course, this is just me grouching with my Whisky Waffle hat on. In the moment, with good company and a dram in hand, we killed that bottle like a cadre of smiling assassins. When it’s someone else’s bottle and they’re pouring generously, one should not protest too hard.

Any way the whisky flows…

**

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…

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)

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