March Madness Round 2

Posted by: Nick

Ok, I know, technically it’s no longer March, but Whisky’s greatest elimination challenge continues unabated, pitting distillers from around the world in a series of tense and often unfair head to head bouts. Round 1 has been run and won and the results are as follows:

Round 2 Whisky Waffle March Madness

Click to enlarge

There were a number of tense tussles throughout the initial qualifying round – several of which involved local drams. In an all-Australian affair, Starward narrowly defeated recent award winner Hellyers Road by claiming 54% of the vote. Whisky Waffle also bid a tearful adieu to Bunnahabhain, defeated by Tassie champion Sullivans Cove which enjoyed 58% success. The other Tassie dram to bow out was Nant, defeated by regular pocket-pleaser Glen Moray.

However the fun does not stop there; as we fondly farewell 32 grand drams, we turn our attention to the subsequent 32. And my, what decisions we will have to make! The round is headlined by some all Australian bouts: Limeburners take on Overeem and Belgrove come face to face against the godfather himself! Elsewhere, the salty kings Laphroaig and Springbank go head to head and there is a battle of the Glens: Glenrothes vs Glenfarclas. A battle sneaking under the radar, but causing me much grief, is the number 3 seed Lagavulin taking on another favourite of mine: Glendromach. Holy. Crap.

How will it end? Who will triumph? YOU DECIDE! As with the previous round, leave your votes in a comment or on social media – or in an email to whiskywaffle@gmail.com

Vote for as many as you like, but feel free to leave any you’ve not tried. The more people who vote the better – and drumming up support for your personal favourite is most definitely allowed. Happy voting fellow Wafflers. Lets see who comes out on top!

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Tassie takes on the 2019 World Whisky Awards

Posted by: Ted

Winner of the Best Australian Single Malt

Tasmanian whisky has been smashing gongs on the world stage again. The winners at the World Whisky Awards in London, widely recognised as the pinnacle for the industry, have just been announced and little ol’ Tassie has strutted it’s stuff in style. Repeat offenders Sullivans Cove, widely lauded for picking up Best Whisky in the World in 2014 and launching our little state squarely into the spotlight, has picked up the award for Best Single Cask Single Malt for the second year running. The drop that seduced the judges this year was TD0217, a rich, spicy, fruity French Oak cask release.

Even closer to home for Whisky Waffle was the winner of the Best Australia Single Malt, with Burnie locals Hellyers Road taking home the award for their Slightly Peated 10yo. When I congratulated Master Distiller Mark Littler and his team on the win he told me that “all of us at the distillery are very excited about receiving this global gong for the Slightly Peated 10YO. It is a London seal of approval supporting not only the quality of our whisky, but also our vision to create a world class whisky business from the North West Coast of Tassie”.

Congrats to Mark Littler and the Hellyers Road team!

Also worthy of mention is the winner of the World’s Best Single Malt (aka, the best of the best), the Teeling Whiskey 24yo Vintage Reserve, the first time an Irish drop has picked up the prestigious award.

Check out the rest of the winners here: http://www.worldwhiskiesawards.com

Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition

Reviewed by: Ted

Beersky…?

What’s that stuff called when you chuck leaves in your whiskey and forget to distil it? Oh yeah, beer. Yep the difference in DNA between a pint and a dram is about the same as us and orangutans. Therefore, it stands to reason that the two should compliment each other quite nicely (and indeed they do, hence the existence of boilermakers).

Another thing that beer and whiskey share (at least sometimes) is being aged in oak barrels. So what happens if you pull a switcheroo on the barrels after they’ve been used? A conversation in a pub in Cork, Ireland, led the master distiller at Jameson Distillery and head Brewer at Franciscan Well Brewery to try to find out. Jameson barrels were sent over to the brewery to age stout and then returned again to create the Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition Whiskey.

On the nose the Caskmates Stout Edition has that light, smooth, honey and floral triple-distilled nose with a hint of mass production shared by the standard Jamo’s. The mouth is creamy, as stout should be, before finishing on a bit of a herbaceous note. Could that be the hops…? Nah.

Look, here is my problem with beer cask aged whiskeys. Because of that shared DNA, I just don’t think that the beer casking ever shines through enough, particularly with a stout cask, which is not terribly hoppy in the first place. Perhaps an ultra-hoppy American-style IPA would smash through… but would it be nice?

At the end of the day the Caskmates Stout Edition is a solid entry level Irish whiskey, but no better really than the original version, perhaps just a tad creamier. As of 2019, Fransican Well has apparently been replaced by Eight Degrees Brewing, but I’ve tried them both side by side and can’t report any discernable difference. The good news is that the Stout Edition is not much more expensive than the vanilla version, so if you like the novelty factor, go for it.

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Whisky Waffle Does March Madness

Posted by: Nick

Whiteboards across America are currently full to bursting with the scenarios and machinations of the National College Athletic Association Division One Championships, which is, apparently, a basketball tournament. Across the country sports fans go AWOL for the month as they construct their own brackets to try to predict the direction the results may take.

While the Whisky Waffle boys are not so interested in the basketball, we are somewhat curious about the format. So, with much excitement, we present our own spin on the competition: March Whisky Madness!

Round 1 Whisky Waffle March Madness

Click to enlarge.

Lagavulun vs Pappy Van Winkel! Ardbeg vs Kilchoman! Jack Daniels vs Knob Creek! Who wins? You decide!

Starting now, and finishing… whenever we finish, we’re putting the vote to the people! Through comments on this post and on social media we’ll tally up support for each whisky to decide who will progress to the next round. Then we’ll post the second round and go again!

There is no criteria to your vote – decide however you like! If you’ve not tried one before, bad luck for that whisky! If you don’t want to vote on every match up – just skip that one! If you own a bottle or two, why not set up a head to head tasting to truly decide!

Post a comment with the list of your choices, or if you don’t want everyone knowing your opinion, email us at whiskywaffle@gmail.com We’re also constructing an email list for each round, so send us an email if you’d like to be included.

It’s meant to be a bit of whisky-nerdery fun, so start voting and help us find the 2019 March Whisky Madness Champion!

Killara Single Malt

Reviewed by: Nick and Ted

Killara pic WW

For many years now, Bill Lark has been the public face of Tasmanian whisky – for good reason too, as he is rightly credited with kickstarting the modern Tasmanian whisky industry. However, while he may be the most visible member of the Lark clan, Bill certainly isn’t the only distiller in the family; wife Lyn shares as much DNA in the original distillery as he does, son Jack has worked with several other whisky makers and daughter Kristy (now Booth-Lark) was Lark head distiller for a time, helping lead the way for female distillers in a historically male dominated industry.

After leaving Lark, Kristy has continued to forge ahead, starting her own distillery, Killara. Named after the street where she grew up, Killara is not only the first second-generation whisky distillery in Australia, but also the first to be fully owned and operated by a female – as Kristy would say, “it’s a one woman show”.

As well as producing a vodka and the acclaimed Apothecary gin range, Kristy is following in the family tradition by crafting single cask whisky. One of the first barrels to be bottled is KD03, a 20L ex-Apera (Australian sherry) cask. Presented in a dark green/black bottle with blue and silver livery and a Gaelic-knotwork style font, the release would almost look more at home on Islay than in Tasmania.

That’s where the similarities with the old country end however, as the spirit is distinctly Tasmania in character. The nose speaks of the small cask size and the Apera origin, with zesty oranges, cherry, nutmeg and glacé ginger. The mouth is savoury and meaty, with marzipan, aromatic spices and an earthy finish that has a subtle smokiness reminiscent of burnt brown sugar.

Having said that, we must remember that KD03 is only the product of one single 20L cask and that each successive Killara release will have its own unique and intriguing nature. This unpredictability doesn’t faze Kristy in the slightest however: “There’s so much variability in the process. That’s what I love about it, there’s a bit of science, a bit of passion and a bit of what we don’t know.” Considering what the Larks have already achieved so far in the short history of our local industry, it will be exciting to see where the new generation of the family takes Tasmanian whisky making next.

★★★★

Kristy BL pic WW

The Whisky Waffle boys with Killara distiller Kristy and her husband Joe

Taking it slow at Sandy Gray Distillery

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Sandy Gray Logo

Neil Gray and Bob Connor are getting the band back together, but this time instead of sweet 70’s tunes their new gig is turning out some fine Tasmanian whisky. The two guys met in their youth in Launceston through a shared passion for playing the guitar and are now continuing their friendship into retirement by founding Sandy Gray Distillery, currently Tasmania’s smallest distillery (until their new still arrives part way through this year that is).

The distillery takes its name from Neil’s father, Alexander ‘Sandy’ Gray, a Scottish physician who emigrated with his family to Tasmania in the 60’s. It was actually Bob who suggested using the name as Sandy had played an instrumental part in saving his finger, which was injured during a guitar-carpentry incident. After being shrugged off by one doctor and told to come back in a week, Neil asked Sandy to take a look and Bob was immediately referred onto finger-saving surgery. The recovered use of his digit meant that Bob was able to finish making the guitar which, through further good fortune, will one day adorn the distillery wall (if Neil ever gets around to expanding the shed).

Sandy Gray lads

Our two heroes: Bob (left) and Neil

The goal of the two distillers is to make the best whisky that they can on their own terms. Neil and Bob are not driven by profit margins or shareholder demands, they’re just two mates messing about in a shed and taking as long as they damn well please to fill some barrels using their tiny still. It’s all about the joy of the act, rather than any delusions of world domination.

They’ve currently filled four 20L ex-tawny casks, which is quite an impressive feat considering the fact that they have hitherto been working on a teensy 25L still. The barrels are all at various stages of maturity, but the oldest tastes like it is nearly ready, offering a hot, rich, spicy profile at cask strength and developing further caramel and stewed fruit notes when a splash of water is added, with a cheeky dash of elderflower on the finish (or is that sour plums?). It’s an exciting drop and a testament to the care that the boys have taken in crafting their spirit.

Sandy Gray barrel

What sorta wood do this think this is made out of? Answers on the back of a postcard.

The story of Sandy Gray is very Tasmanian, chance meetings and happenings bringing people together – Neil and Bob met at a gig and went from starting bands to starting distilleries, Neil’s dad saved Bob’s finger meaning that he was eventually able to continue building a guitar which was then given to a girlfriend. Years later the same guitar was amazingly rescued from a tip and returned across the state lines to Bob, and will eventually adorn the wall of the distillery. Even this article is the product of sheer random luck – 40 years after playing in a band with Bob, Neil found himself playing a gig with Whisky Waffle’s very own Nick (also, turns out he was at school with Nick’s mum). It’s a small world sometimes, which seems only appropriate for a small Tassie distillery.

Return to the Southern Wild

Posted by: Nick

southern wild bar

Good news for fans of Tassie spirits on the North West Coast of Tasmania: Southern Wild Distillery has reopened their doors to the people! The makers of Dasher and Fisher Gin have been shut for over six months preparing to the make the move into their new Providore Place location – a more central and spacious premise than their old home. No longer will vats and racks of bottles encroach on customer elbow room – and the fabulous Southern Wild still fits the space nicely, rather than dominating.

sw goerge and still

The opening was celebrated with a launch on Sunday night and founder George Burgess paid tribute to the people that made it possible, in particular the Tasmanian local growers of the botanicals used in the gins. As the doors were opened, he took groups through, introducing the bar, the still and, excitingly, the laboratory upstairs where enthusiasts can book into gin-making sessions to create their own personalised product with their chosen list of botanicals. The new setting looked resplendent under lights, and the last-minute quest to find replacement plants for the replacement plants paid off superbly.

sw dasher and fisher

Bad news for whisky fans, however, as George confirmed that despite the extra space in his new venue, there is still no room for mash tuns, fermenters and other barley-based spirit making equipment. Sadly, it seems the wait for a new North West Coast dram must continue… Hopefully a couple of lads up the road in Spreyton might just be able to help with this! Stay tuned for our next article to find out more…

sw nick and still

Hellyers Road 15 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

hellyers road 15 year old

Since the dawn of Whisky Waffle (way back in the dark ages of 2014) the Tasmanian whisky scene has completely blown up. I don’t mean that Bill Lark dropped a lit cigar in a bond store, I mean that it has taken the world by storm, impressing whisky critics and Jim Murray alike with its creativity, it’s unique flavour and it’s hard-to-buy-ness. The Tassie distilleries have largely achieved this by sticking to the Bill Lark model, using similar stills, grains, yeasts and cuts to those used by the man himself upon returning from his fishing trip. Except, from almost the beginning, there has always been an outlier; one distillery with a flavour profile sticking out like a delicious sore thumb.

That distillery is Hellyers Road from Tasmania’s north west. While many Tassie establishments chase the big broad zesty orange and caramel notes, Hellyers Road has always been about butter and vanilla and shortbread. While this is not necessarily to everyone’s tastes, most will agree it is certainly different and intriguing. And, upon closer investigation, most Hellyers Road critics have only tried the ‘Original before making up their minds and missed out on trying the stellar older releases.

It is one of those aged bottlings to which I turn my attention today, as Hellyers Road has recently released a 15 Year Old. Whisky Waffle have been pre-emptively excited for the release of this one ever since the arrival of the 12, and head distiller Mark Littler agrees, stating he and the Hellyers team are “very proud of what we have achieved”. I grabbed myself a bottle as a Christmas present in the best self-Santa tradition and have finally got a chance to stop and put my thoughts to digital paper.

I’ll start off by saying that it’s the best core-release Hellyers Road have produced. It takes all the good elements of previous Hellyers bottlings and makes them sexier. The nose is alluring, still buttery but with a fat dose of caramel nuttiness oozed over the top like a Belgian dessert. It’s smooth and slinky across the tongue; the vanilla is now accompanied by ginger and nutmeg, while any rougher notes have been ironed out by the extra years in oak. While the Hellyers Road finish has always had a distinct linger – their whisky is normally bottled at 46% or above – this one is subtler and leaves your palate with a Queen of England-style wave of the hand, rather than an energetic high five.

Claiming that the oldest release from a distillery is the best is truly an unoriginal standpoint and there’s a part of me wishing I could say ‘it’s not bad, but will never match the 10 for me’. But I can’t. This is where Hellyers Road is at in 2019 and I suggest you give it a taste before it runs out. That is, until the 18 Year Old is ready…

★★★★

Scotland 2018: The Ultimate Whisky Adventure – Part Three

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.

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PART THREE: Islay – the western half

I had been through sunny Speyside and the spectacular Highlands (and Islands) and my whisky journey was nearly at an end. Of course, there was one crucial destination I had not yet covered. In fact, you could argue I’d left the best until last.

It is almost compulsory for any whisky fanatic to make the pilgrimage to the Isle of Islay. Nowhere in the world is there a higher concentration of top-quality distilleries within a short drive (or, in some cases, a short walk). I could not contain my excitement. The ferry took us into the beautiful seaside town of Port Ellen, sailing past some limewashed buildings where I could just make out the giant letters painted on their side, spelling Ardbeg, Lagavulin and finally Laphroaig.

However, the Port Ellen big three would have to wait. I had only two and a half days in this whisky-wonderland and not a moment to lose.

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I began with the oldest distillery on the Island, Bowmore. I’ve been impressed with several bottles from this distillery but more often than not have been left underwhelmed and slightly confused. The tour satisfied the latter complaint – revealing the future core range to consist of a NAS, a 12 Year Old, a 15 and an 18 (don’t panic fellow ‘Darkest’ fans – this particular favourite is simply becoming THE 15 Year Old). The highlight of the visit however was the special release, the Warehouseman’s 17 Year Old. 51.3%, matured in bourbon, sherry and red wine, it was balanced and oozed sophistication like anyone wearing a pearl necklace, including David Bowie. In fact, like Bowie it was a bit psychedelic, a bit folky, a bit glam and a bit disco. It was the real star… man.

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Breakfast whisky out of the way it was time for the next course. And lunch was the one and only Bruichladdich. If there was just one distillery I could recommend to visit for tastings it would be this one – if only for of the variety… and quantity! Their self-titled range is full of vibrant spicy malted barley notes, the Port Charlotte releases are smoky and bacony and the Octomores… Don’t expect them to smash you around the face with peat, peat and more peat. They are nuanced, balanced and complex – and packing enough fire to make Arthur Brown happy. They’re Audrey Hepburn with her cigarette holder in one hand… and a cigar in the other… at a bbq… under a volcano. Bruichladdich are such an exciting, progressive distillery. They have absolutely struck the right balance between NAS and integrity. You’ll find no mention of “flavour-led” here”, just bloody good drops – and plenty of them.

Remarkably, the destination I was most excited for was yet to come. Being a Tassie boy, there was one distillery that appealed above all others. Small-scale, paddock to bottle, on a working farm? It was like coming home. My final stop of the day was Kilchoman Distillery.

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It was everything I’d hoped for: a tour that felt more like being shown around than hearing a rehearsed script, a peek at the entire production process from malting right through to bottling and a tasting packed with vibrant youthful whiskies that satisfied and intrigued me in equal measure. I had a chat with founder Anthony Wills and we bonded over how his own distillery’s paddock-to-bottle ethos compared to one back in my home state of Tasmania.

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A trip to Islay’s west wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the beautiful Port Nahaven

I returned to my tiny eco-hut in Port Ellen pleased as punch. It had been an amazing start to my Islay visit and I was still buzzing… yet I retired to bed (reasonably) early. You see, there was one day I had been waiting the whole trip for. And that was tomorrow…

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Home sweet home

The 2018 Waffle Awards

Posted by: Nick and Ted

2018 has been a huge year in the Waffle-verse. It’s been crammed with trips to Japan, to Scotland, and 25 days of Christmas Aussie Whisky. We conclude this action-packed twelve months with a reflection upon our favourite drams of the year.

That’s right – it’s the 2018 Waffle Awards!

So get ready for a series of deeply subjective and divisive decisions as we reveal the whiskies that impressed us throughout 2018!

1 The Isle of the Drammed Award Whisky Waffle

The Isle of the Drammed Award for the best Tasmanian whisky

We are, as far as we know, the only whisky awards to have a category specifically for Tasmanian whisky. But with so many stellar drams coming out of our home state we think it deserves to be the latest chapter in Jim Murray’s whisky diary. This year the Isle of the Drammed goes to:

Launceston Distillery Tawny Cask

2018 Isle of the Drammed Launceston Distillery Tawny Cask

We visited Launceston Distillery out at their ex-Ansett hangar a few years ago, right when they were beginning their whisky journey. Now they finally have some product out and we’re happy to say – it’s been worth the wait! There are ex-sherry and bourbon releases out there, but our favourite is the port cask, or ‘tawny’ as it’s correctly labelled. And it’s fantastic – big, bold and fruity with flavours of chocolate and blackberries thrown in. It’s everything we love in a Tassie drop and is a worthy winner of the 2018 Isle of the Drammed.

2 The Tartan Slipper Award Whisky Waffle

The Tartan Slipper Award for the best Scottish whisky

So many amazing and interesting drams continue to come out of whisky’s motherland. And yet, they also produce a few simple drops that deserve more recognition than they get. With that in mind, this year’s Tartan Slipper goes to:

Glenfarclas 15 Year Old

2018 Tartan Slipper Glenfarclas 15

Occasionally you find one of those drams that continues to impress every time you go back to it. It’s not necessarily blingy or in-your-face, it just quietly keeps on doing its thing and gives you a warm welcome whenever you drop by to say hello. For us, the Glenfarclas 15 Year Old is one of those drams. We’ve tried both younger and older releases from Glenfarclas, but none of them seem to have the balance and intangible x-factor that the 15 does. It has a dash of the liveliness of a younger dram, without being harsh, and retains a complexity of character that can sometimes get lost in the older, smoother drams. The best bit is that if you can get it on special, it’s also very forgiving on the wallet. The Glenfarclas 15yo is family-owned, heavily-Sherried whisky at its best.

3 The Pocket Pleaser Award Whisky Waffle

The Pocket Pleaser Award the perfect pick for the parched penny pincher

We acknowledge that often the more expensive a bottle is, the higher the quality. But this perspective often sees cheaper gems overlooked. We love discovering tasty drops that don’t hit the wallet too hard. This year, the Pocket Pleaser goes to:

Dobsons Old Reliable

2018 Pocket Pleaser Dobsons

Dobson’s certainly come across on the cheap-and-cheerful spectrum whisky, nothing giving this away so much as the white wine bottle it is packaged in. But look past this and you’ve got an easy drinking buttery toffee dram which will displease no one. And as an Australian drop available for under $80 you cannot go wrong. It’s a top quality quaffing whisky – or, better still, a session whisky. It goes down beautifully when paired with an Australian summer.

4 The Weirdsky Award Whisky Waffle

The Weirdsky Award for the most WTF whisky

One of worst things a whisky can be is boring. So we have an award for the dram that pushes things in the complete opposite direction. Rarely is this award won by a favourite drinking drop, but gosh, it’s always fun to try. This year the Weirdsky Award goes to:

23rd Street Hybrid Whisk(e)y

2018 Weirdsky 23rd St Hybrid Whisk(e)y

Scotch whisky, blended with American bourbon, aged in Australia. There is no way this should work… and yet… it somehow does. The corn notes add a sweetness to a speysidey character and the overall effect is a pleasant easy-drinker. It’s an insane sounding drop, but definitely worth a taste.

5 The Bill Lark Award Whisky Waffle

The Bill Lark Award for service to the Tasmanian Whisky Industry

Every year we consider it a privilege and an honour to be a part of the whisky industry here in Tasmania. There are so many wonderful people involved and each year we like to acknowledge one for their contribution to the scene. This year, the Bill Lark Award goes to:

Mathew Cooper

2018 Bill Lark Mat Cooper

We’ve always swelled with pride over the fact that Tasmanian whisky makers are happy to help out one another and share their expertise with new distillers. No one on the scene demonstrates this more than Mathew Cooper of Fanny’s Bay. So many of the new players in the Tas whisky scene, particularly in the north of the state, have received invaluable wisdom and assistance from this man as they’ve got started, and others have simply gained the confidence that they’re on the right track due to a few kind words from Mat. He is generous with his time, his praise, and his pouring and he was even prepared to demonstrate the distillation process to a couple of Wafflers over the course of a few days earlier this year where much information was passed on and many drams shared.

However no mention of Mat Cooper could be complete without acknowledging the contribution of his wife, Julie. As well as designing the Fanny’s Bay labels and helping behind the scenes, she embodies the welcoming and generous spirit of the distillery and the Tasmanian whisky industry in general.

6 The Golden Dram Whisky Waffle

The Golden Dram for the best dram whisky in the world

This is it! The top drop! Out of everything we tried throughout 2018 what do we consider to be the best? So without further adieu the 2018 Golden Dram goes to:

Laphroaig PX Cask 13 Year Old

2018 Golden Dram Laphroaig PX cask 13 year old

Sorry folks, you’re going to have a hard time finding this one. On my extensive tour of Laphroaig I was presented with the opportunity to bottle some 13 Year Old whisky straight from the cask! There were several cask options available, but I couldn’t go past this one. I mean, Laphroaig fully matured in sherry casks – how often do you come across that? Now I’ve got the bottle home and shared it with m’colleague we decided it was a wise decision to plump for this particular dram. It’s rich and complex, firey at 52%, and packed with all the smoke anyone could desire. It’s the dram of the year and one that I’ll be very sad when my 200ml runs out…

And finally, two little mentions to finish on:

We give an Honourable Mention to a couple of fantastic South Australian discoveries from Ted’s advent calendar: Fleurieu and Iniquity. We hope to find out some more about these two whiskies in 2019!

The Founders Reserve Award (AKA the dishonourable mention) is also split two ways: – to Yamazaki Distillery for failing to have any single-malt whisky for sale in their gift shop. Come on Japan, get your act together!
and to Tiger Snake Whiskey by Great Southern Distilling Co. for being so… meh. Allegedly it’s meant to be an Aussie take on bourbon, but it doesn’t really do its Southern inspiration justice. Doesn’t really do much for Australian whisk(e)y either. Such a shame when the Limeburners is so good.

Wafflers 4

Keep on waffling into 2019.

Nick and Ted.

#2018WaffleAwards