12 year old

Hakushu Distillers Reserve

Reviewed by: Ted

Hakushu Distillers Edition

It can be a tricky and expensive task getting hold of age-statement Japanese whisky these days. If you’ve been paying attention to global whisky trends over the last five years-or-so, then you’ll know that Japanese whisky has been bang on-point and very much in demand by the smart set. The boom in sales, both locally and overseas, and a slight lack of foresight around barrel management has seen distillery stocks dwindle, so much so that that the two major players, Suntory and Nikka, have had to temporarily discontinue certain aged releases from their distilleries.

Naturally, the shortage in stocks has caused prices to skyrocket. I mean, just the other week I had the opportunity to buy a Yamazaki 50yo 3rd Edition 2011 Release for the low, low price of $157,763.99USD (I lashed out and got three)! Now, admittedly that is a bit of an outlier on the super-premium end of the scale, but even 12yo releases (if you can find them) are generally no less than $150AUD and more often than not well over $200.

So what does a common-or-garden whisky drinker do if you want to own a Japanese whisky without having to count your kidneys? Well, as it happens, there is an answer. These days most Japanese distilleries offer a Non Age Statement release of their product. While superficially a marketing device, the NAS releases are actually crucial for the ongoing survival of the distilleries, allowing continued market access by marrying dwindling older barrels with younger stock coming online.

An example of this is the Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve. While you can still find the 12yo for around $180, the distillers edition is available for a far more wallet pleasing $110. Located NW of Tokyo near Hokuto, an unusual feature of the Suntory owned Hakushu is that it boasts a bird sanctuary within its leafy grounds at the base of Mt Kaikomagatake in the Southern Japanese Alps.

Apparently the Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve marries younger lightly peated malt and heavily peated malt around the 8yo mark with American oak-aged spirit of around 18yo. Or so the internet, repository of all things, tells me; you certainly wouldn’t pick it as being peated if you tried it blind.

On the nose the Distiller’s Reserve is bright, fresh and zingy, delivering a satisfying bouquet of crunchy green apples, sour plum, lemon grass, mint and citrus (Yuzu if you want to get technical according to Hakushu). The scent is clean and light, like a crisply pressed kimono, although after a bit of breathing time it develops a softer, creamy edge.

On the palate the spirit is sharp, clean and metallic, like a samurai sword across the tongue, and delivers a hit of hard, sour stone fruits and a twist of lemon rind. The finish is lingering and herbal, with perhaps a touch of green tea. Couldn’t find that smoke though I’m afraid, although to be honest, with the flavour profile presented by the Distiller’s Reserve I didn’t miss it either.

People quite often get a bit salty about the concept of NAS releases, considering them to be inferior to age statement releases (often without real justification… although sometimes merited for sure, but we won’t go into that particular Reserve here). I am pleased to say however, that in this case the NAS epithet is not a negative one.

But that’s what the Japanese do isn’t it? They take a thing, study it with care and then make not just a copy, but something that is even better than the original. Which is lucky really seeing as the Distiller’s Reserve will be about all we can reasonably get our hands on from Hakushu for the foreseeable future. In conclusion, if you want to see a NAS done right, then look no further than the Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve.

★★★

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Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

bunna-18

I would like to start out by saying that I am a big fan of Bunnahabhain (so this review is not going to be biased in the slightest). Yes, we all know that Islay is famous for its heavily peated drams, but I have a definite soft spot for this gentle islander.

I’ve actually been to the distillery, a few miles up the coast from Port Askaig, but to my eternal discontent I haven’t actually done the tour as we were pressed for time and had several other tours booked that day. The buildings may look rather grey and foreboding, but the people are so friendly and warm. Please pop by and say hello to them if you get a chance.

I really got a taste for Bunna on the ferry on the way over to Islay because it was the dram of the month and they were pouring doubles. Standing on deck in the blasting wind and watching the islands of Islay and Jura hove into view with a warming glass of Bunnahabhain in hand definitely leaves a lasting impression on a lad.

While I may have cut my teeth on the Bunna 12 Year Old, I recently acquired a bottle of the 18 Year Old and tell you what, it’s pretty exceptional. Bunnahabhain dials back the peat hit in favour of softer, earthier flavours. The nose is rather like tramping around the rolling interior of the island, bringing forth moss, springy peat-laden soil, wind-twisted woods and the occasional gust of salty sea breeze (plus the colour is like the dark waters of the lochs that stud the landscape).

Other flavours floating through the air include roasted chestnuts, dark chocolate, spit roasted lamb with salt and rosemary, stewed quinces and brandy-soaked raisins (sherry casking par excellence).

The mouth is quite salty, but strikes an elegant balance, like a high quality piece of salted caramel served with delicate slices of pear poached in butter and sprinkled with brown sugar. The finish is rounded, warm and comforting, like curling up on a squishy couch in front of a glowing fire on a cold night.

While I rather enjoy getting smacked in the face with a massive slab of Ileach peat, there’s something about the softer side of Islay that keeps drawing me back again and again. One day I will return to Bunnahabhain and explore it properly, but until then I will sit back with a glass of the 18 Year Old, close my eyes and be transported back to one of the most magical places in the world.

★★★★

#IslayWeek

#LetsGetPeaty

The Macallan Fine Oak 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

macallan-fine-oak-12-year-old

I just can’t get my head around (The) Macallan. While I can very clearly visualise and appreciate the ranges of, say, Glenfiddich, Glen Moray or Glendronach, trying to form a coherent picture of what Macallan is about is as likely to give me a headache as drinking way too much of the stuff. And not just because it doesn’t start with the word Glen…

The contradictions are plentiful: many an old-time whisky drinker will cite Macallan as their go-to drop. Yet the distillery spent a fortune to get a bottle of 50 Year Old in a Bond film. And for some reason they recently ditched age statements in favour of… colours? And yet not too long ago there was also Macallan’s ‘Fine Oak’ range, one such bottle being the subject of today’s review.

I don’t get the point of the ‘Fine Oak’ series. As far as I can tell, it takes its name from the many “exceptional quality” oak casks the whisky was matured in. But… does that mean their older range was dumped into low quality barrels? Somehow I doubt it. It seems to be another rebranding dead-end left by the wayside by an impatient marketing team.

Despite all this, the whisky itself is great to drink. The nose is light, vibrant and contains finely balanced notes of vanilla and lime. The palate is sweet without being sickly and flavours of honey and malt take centre stage. The finish is short without being unsatisfying, with a creamy nuttiness that gently lingers: it’s Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut in whisky form! All up, it’s a brilliantly balanced dram, and one that you could confidently pour to a hesitant whisky drinker.

The biggest disappointment is that this bottle is no longer available – if I were to seek something similar I would have to try a different bottle in the Macallan range. As much as I enjoyed this particular drop, I’m wary to spend up on something else from the distillery. Macallan seems to be undergoing somewhat of an identity crisis and I’m probably unlikely to go and buy a bottle until they sort it out – that is unless I get some pretty convincing recommendations in the comments!

★★★

Dalmore 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Dalmore 12

In the United Kingdom, something that is passionately loved by half the population while fervently hated by the other is known as being rather ‘Marmite’. In Australia nothing sits more squarely in the love/hate status than Collingwood Football Club. In the movie world, the title goes to Napoleon Dynamite. And in the whisky world, the ultimate love-it-or-hate-it drop could be none other than Dalmore.

For every whisky drinker shouting Dalmore’s merits from the rooftops, I have met another who just cannot fathom the appeal. Even the usually serene waters of Whisky Waffle are rocked by this divide. While we normally agree on most matters whisky related, I am partial to a drop of the stag-bedecked highland malt while m’colleague Ted couldn’t care less that their founder saved King Alexander III from a deer once upon a time (actually, scrap that, he loves the story, just doesn’t want to drink the 12 Year Old)

I rather like the 12 – although I wouldn’t regard it as an everyday whisky. To me, it calls to mind a reasonable cognac (on the rare occasion that I’ve had the chance to try that stuff). I find it distinctly grapey and full of tannins – which I like. However, I get the impression that these same characteristics are what turn Ted – and many others – off the stuff. So my theory is thus: Dalmore is a red wine drinkers whisky. While the Speysides exhibit typical Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio lightness and crispness – this dram is heavy, complex and extremely dry.

On the nose I get equal measures of ham and raspberry jam – surely a combination that could only be found by a whisky drinker. The palate is slightly yeasty with red grapes and ashy notes. The finish is medium in length and warmth, leaving you with flavours of oak and pastry.

While I could happily sip on this particular drop for an entire evening, I can utterly understand where the Dalmore sceptics are coming from. This is not a whisky for everyone. You’ll either love it or hate it. However, for all those haters out there, can I recommend trying the Cigar Malt Reserve before writing off Dalmore forever – now that is a proper whisky.

And even if you still don’t like it – you’ve got to admit – Dalmore bottles are beautiful.

Nick’s rating: ★★★

Ted’s rating: ★★

Hellyers Road Peated

Reviewed by: Ted

Hellyers Road Peated

So, you’re a big fan of peated Scottish single malts, but in order to save the world from certain destruction (just go with it, ok?) you have to buy a Tasmanian whisky. What are you going to do? Never fear, Hellyers Road has your peat needs covered with their appropriately named Peated expression

When it comes to peated whisky in Tasmania, the situation is a little more complex than first meets the eye. Tasmania actually has its own peat bogs, however the smoke is quite different to the Scottish stuff, being softer, gentler and more rounded. It is also restricted to a few distilleries that own leases to the bogs (the rest is locked up in national parks and the like).

In Hellyers Road’s case they don’t have access to a native bog, so instead they import peated barley all the way from maltings in Inverness, Scotland. The side-effect of this is that Hellyers Road Peated is much more closely aligned to Scottish drams than other Tasmanian malts (side note: Hellyers Road use local grown barley for their non-peated expressions).

Nosing the Peated expression is like standing in a grain storehouse, grabbing a big handful of peat-smoked barley and taking a deep sniff. Underneath the big, fat, bold, smoky cereal flavours can be found cocoa, black currants, pencil shavings and smouldering leaves.

The first layer of taste is what you would probably expect from a heavily peated whisky – strong, thick smoke that billows around the mouth, a bit like standing on the wrong side of the campfire. When you clear away the smoke however, you are left with a light, smooth and slightly sweet dram, without too much else going on. The finish is long and smoky, but gentle. In fact, the smoke probably rounds out the feel of the dram as a whole, smoothing out some of the harsher edges that can be found in a younger whisky such as this.

When compared to a traditional Islay single malt like Laphroaig or Ardbeg, the Hellyers Road Peated perhaps misses some of the strong coastal flavours that punch through from underneath, but makes it up in other areas. A light whisky, heavily peated, this Hellyers Road expression delivers a different experience to anything else available from Tasmania.

★★★

HR n Ted

Tasmanian whisky: One state. Three ingredients. Unlimited flavour.

#TasWhiskyWeek

Old Pulteney Navigator

Reviewed by: Ted

Old Pulteney Navigator

It is no great surprise that Old Pulteney distillery takes inspiration from the sea, seeing as it resides on the rugged north coast of Scotland. In fact, Pulteneytown, the area of Wick from which the distillery takes its name, was a major player in the 19th century herring boom and harboured (ahem) a bustling harbour.

Old Pulteney isn’t just happy to let their love of the sea infuse their whisky, oh no. You know it’s a serious passion when you sponsor a vessel in the world’s longest round-the-world yacht race. The Clipper round-the-world race tests teams across a lazy 40000NM, demanding great effort from its participants.

To celebrate its maiden voyage in the ’13-’14 race, the aptly named ‘Old Pulteney’ clipper carried a special cargo on board, the first barrel of a new limited edition NAS whisky named the ‘Navigator’, crafted from a marriage of younger aged bourbon and sherry casks.

On the nose the Navigator tacks against bursts of chocolate and salted bacon before having its sails filled with malty biscuits, while oak decking creaks underneath.

Sharp, salty waves break over the palate, prickling across the back of the tongue. A juicy citrus burst through the middle keeps away the scurvy, followed by a warm trade wind that soars down the throat.

The Old Pulteney Navigator is a dram worthy of its nautical namesake. Its youth helps enhance its maritime nature, evoking the tempestuous seas that govern life along the north coast of Scotland. If you are a maritime whisky fan then the Navigator will definitely float your boat.

★★★

Ted the Navigator

How it compares:

The Navigator is the wild, ever-changing sea, whereas the 12yo is the calm, smooth safety of the harbour, welcoming the weary sailor home. Both have their own allure, but you don’t necessarily want to be tossed about in the old briny every day.

Auchentoshan Classic

Reviewed by: Nick

Auchentoshan Classic

If you’re fortunate enough to visit Glasgow (like me) and are somewhat interested in the odd dram (like me) then you simply must pay a visit to Auchentoshan Distillery (like me). The triple distilling Lowlands champions have been producing some lovely drops for a while now and a tour of the establishment that creates them is well worth it. The tour concludes, as all the best do, with a tasting – sampling Auchentoshan’s core range. The 12 Year Old is among those offered, as is the fantastic Three Wood. Up first, however, is the Auchentoshan Classic – a Non Age Statement whisky.

Upon my visit I got the impression that the staff were keen to skip past this one and get stuck into the 12 Year Old – as if they were saying, “but enough of this folly, time for some real whisky”. I mean, admittedly our trusty guide was right – the 12 blows the Classic out of the water. But there’s still something to say for the lowly old (young?) NAS bottle.

The Auchentoshan Classic is lighter in colour than other releases from the distillery and demonstrates very clearly its bourbon maturation. On the nose it is sweet, grassy and with a touch of honey. It is pleasant and summery. The palate is similarly sweet with notes of fruit-based confectionery. I also got the faintest hints of peanut butter, cloves and marmalade. The finish is short but strangely rather fitting for this gentle dram.

This is a feather-light whisky.  A Pinot Noir rather than a Shiraz. But every now and again, that’s alright. Especially if you’re on the distillery tour and the 12 Year Old is up next!

★★

Classic Nick

How it compares:

The 12 Year old is so much more vibrant than the Classic. They are both light and sweet, but the 12 Year old has depths to explore – whereas with the Classic what you see is what you get. The finish is similarly short with both drams – and while this is a disappointment in the 12, the abrupt finish seems to suit the Classic. Still, though, I think I’d rather have the Three Wood.

The Glenlivet Founders Reserve

Reviewed by: Nick

Founders Reserve n waffle

In 2015 we farewelled a Whisky Waffle favourite son, the Glenlivet 12. It was there to share the laughs when we held cards nights, to comfort us when we’d had a rough day at work and raised high when we rung in the New Year. Sadly Glenlivet, in their ultimate wisdom, have retired the 12 for the foreseeable future. But fear not – they have introduced a direct(ish) replacement! It comes in shiny blue packaging so it must be good, mustn’t it? Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Glenlivet Founders Reserve.

It would be so easy to do a straight comparison of the two whiskies, but I decided to sample the new kid on the block on its own to see how it stood up. It turns out ‘stood up’ was possibly the wrong analogy. Sat down maybe? Perhaps slouched…

On the nose, I found the Founders Reserve has plenty of caramel and some dry malty notes. An acceptable, if not auspicious start. So I took a sip. This turned out to be an error. There’s an unpleasant sweetness in there – a sugary, treacly flavour lacking in any complexity. It’s not bad per se, but there is a distinct manufactured, home-brand quality about it which is hard to enjoy. The finish is warm and spicy, almost tangy on the back of the tongue. Finally there is the merest hint of raisins, a cameo appearance that leaves you wishing there was more to be found.

I cannot say that the Founders Reserve is particularly offensive in its flavour. But I can (and do) claim that it is all a bit bland and inconsequential, bordering on boring, which disappoints me greatly. Glenlivet are truly great makers of Scottish whisky and it saddens me to think that a generation of whisky drinkers will discover the distillery via this disappointing bottle.

★★

Nick and the Glenlivet Founders Reserve

How it compares:

Without doubt there are similarities in flavour between the Founders Reserve and the 12 Year Old – they are both obvious Speysiders full of caramel and honey. But the 12 Year Old has so much more going on than the NAS bottle. There are subtle complexities to be found throughout the 12 which the Founders lacks. The Founders Reserve is the Coke Zero to the 12’s Coca-Cola.

No Age No Good? Whisky Waffle launch NAS Week

Posted by: Nick

Wafflers in smoking jackets

Some may argue that our attire is the greater controversy here…

A controversial topic? Surely we don’t do that here at Whisky Waffle! Well, just this once, we thought we’d take things seriously and leave our flippancy behind.

Sort of…

Today’s discussion is about non-age statement, or NAS, whisky. For non-whisky geeks, NAS whisky is a bottling that cannot be described as a 12 Year Old, or a 10 Year Old, or an anything-year old, because there is younger spirit mixed through like a very whisky-flavoured cocktail.

These NASes are borne out of necessity: since us Wafflers discovered the stuff, there just hasn’t been enough of it around! So rather than waiting the usual 12 years, distillers have been getting impatient and slapping 9 year old, 8 year old (3 year old?) spirit into the mix and coming up with impressive sounding Gaelic names to go on the label.

So how do we feel about this situation? Is the stuff as NASty as it sounds? Well, to be honest, I have no problem with the concept of NAS whisky. I mean, you just can’t deride the Talisker Storm as liquid Nickleback while simultaneously proclaiming the Ardbeg Uigeadail as the solution for world peace. So just like any supposedly ‘superior’ whisky with a number on the bottle, there are good ones and there are bad.

Founders Reserve n waffle

But seriously, the box IS rather pretty…

Which brings me neatly to Glenlivet – a prominent convert to the NAS fad. I wrote a glowing review about their ever-dependable 12 Year Old and described how its accessibility was its strength. That was, until it was no longer accessible. In its place, in a blue box (which is sadly not bigger on the inside) came the sophisticated-sounding ‘Founders Reserve’. I was slightly concerned – though this disquiet came from my affection towards the 12 rather than my automatic dismissal of anything ageless. I was perfectly fine so long as it tasted good. Which, I’ve recently discovered, it doesn’t.

It’s not that the dram is comparable to the toxic output of a nuclear reactor. It’s quite drinkable in a ‘at-least-it’s-not-red-label’ sorta way. But it doesn’t stand up to the depth and character of the previous entry-level incumbent. And this made me both sad and rush out to get a bottle of the 12 while I still could.

Non age statement whisky is not the scourge of the earth that many flat cap-wearing whisky reviewers may have you believe. There are some tasty drops out there that would please the most snobbiest of whisky snobs (if you told them it was an old bottle of Macallan). However, in the case of Glenlivet, where you can directly compare the old and the NASish new – it’s one nil to the age statements.

Of course, another way of looking at it is that after eight drams, it doesn’t really matter how long it’s been in a wooden barrel for…

The writing of this article prompted a lively debate among the Whisky Waffle boys – so much so, that they decided to spend a week looking at some prominent NAS releases to see if they are as derisory as their reputation suggests. So with great excitement – we present to you NAS-Week! Make sure you pay a few visits throughout the week and find out our thoughts – or post some juicy trolling comments! Tomorrow will kick off proceedings with a detailed review of this article’s nemesis: the Founders Reserve! But why start there? Leave us a comment telling us EXACTLY how you feel about non age statement whisky in the replies!

#NASweek

Oban 14 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

Oban 14

Rather like the wild haggis (Haggis scotticus), Oban distillery is a curious wee beastie. Located on the craggy west coast of Scotland in the town of the same name, Oban is one of the oldest distilleries in the country, founded in 1794 on the site of an old brewery by brothers John and Hugh Stevenson. Interestingly however, despite its lengthy existence it has remained one of the smallest distilleries around, with only two pot stills in residence to make the good stuff.

Understandably, the limited production capacity has focused the Oban distillers, choosing to craft a few expressions rather than the seemingly endless releases pedalled by larger producers. Luckily this means that the Obanites have had plenty of time to refine and tinker with their creations.

Oban’s flagship dram is one that should pique the curiosity of any whisky fiend looking for something a little different. Eschewing usual ageing lengths, the Oban 14yo, part of Diageo’s “Classic Malts Selection”, exploits an interesting niche between youth and maturity, and it must be noted, at a price on par (at least in Australia) with many 12yo whiskies.

The character of the 14yo walks a fine line, balanced as it is between the highlands to the east and the islands to the west. A careful nosing reveals a light, sweet, dusty spirit with suggestions of damsons and green apples, giving it a sense of kinship with other highland drops such as Dalwhinnie.

The taste on the other hand speaks of its seaside home, beginning with a bright, slightly salty burst on the front of the palate, lifted by the 43% strength, followed by a hint of seaweed and coastal air. The mid palate smooths out and becomes much more rounded, with dried fruits, zest, spices and perhaps just the lightest hint of smoke. The finish is clean and doesn’t linger for too long.

Once you’ve knocked back a few sips of the 14yo it’s worth holding the glass up to the light and contemplating the colour, which should be a dark amber. The reason I make mention of this is that the 14yo is not aged in the sherry casks that the colour suggests, but rather ex-bourbon hogsheads.

The answer to this conundrum will cause some to shrug their shoulders unconcernedly and others to foam at the mouth in righteous indignation: caramel e150a. Why Oban chooses to use artificial colouring, while other premium distilleries go to great pains to point out that they keep their own products au naturale, is a secret known only to the Obanites. Whether or not it’s presence affects the flavour of the 14yo I will leave up to your own distinguished palates, fellow wafflers.

The small size of Oban definitely works in its favour, allowing it time to lovingly craft a quirky and interesting product that does not hurt the wallet too much. The 14yo is certainly a delightful and evocative drop; and unlike the pesky wild haggis, is relatively easy to track down for those curious to discover the ‘west highland’ flavour.

★★★