adventure

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)

Whisky Waffle Taste Success(fully)

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Whisky Waffle pour effort

You may have heard us mention it once or twice, but recently we have been a little excited about the chance to take our waffling off the net and into the big wide world. Well, the night has been and gone and we couldn’t be happier with result. While unfortunately our flights to the UK were cancelled (and the plane tickets may have been imaginary), our virtual tour was a raging success, introducing our eager guests to the whisky regions of Scotland.

‘Whisky Waffle’s Tour of Scotland’ visited Speyside via the Glenfiddich 12, up through the Highlands taking in Glendronach 12 and Dalwhinnie 15, across to the Islands to try some Highland Park 12 before swooping down into the Lowlands for a spot of Auchentoshan Valinch and finally coming to rest on the magical Isle of Islay for a well deserved dram of Lagavulin 16.

Line up whisky waffle

The Chapel cafe in Burnie was the perfect venue for such an occasion, providing a warm and intimate environment for our guests, who began the night pretty chilled and only relaxed further as the drams were distributed. While merriment abounded, much to our amazement people were more than happy to drink in our tales, laugh at our jokes and even provided a new nickname for Nick (Mal, to go with Ted. Think about it).

Everybody discovered their own favourite whisky and there was much discussion about the different flavours and characteristics that each brought to the table (gooseberries???). Thanks to the success of this first session we will be holding a (already sold out!) repeat performance in a few weeks time entitled ‘Whisky Waffle’s Tour of Scotland: The Second Lap’. While still focusing on the different regions, the night will feature a new line up of whiskies.

selfie whisky waffle

We would like to extend our sincere gratitude and thanks to Andrew at the Chapel for supporting us in our endeavours and to all our recently inducted Wafflers for coming along and making the evening such a success.

Stayed tuned loyal Wafflers, hopefully soon we will be able to bring you news of a third session!

The day my head exploded in a cloud of smoke: a whisky memory

Posted by: Ted

Ted in armchair

As I sit here in a comfy wingback Chesterfield armchair in the lounge at Lagavulin distillery on Islay, I reflect that this represents the culmination of a very significant journey for me. My being here now was (in part) sparked by a moment in time a number of years ago that changed how I experienced the world.

When we were young, poor and tasteless uni students, we drank whisky without any art or depth of thought. Our main drinking decision was how cheap we could get away with without completely destroying ourselves.

However, one particular night we happened to be out on the town for a friend’s bucks night. Feeling in a generous mood and relatively flush, we stopped in at a bar and decided to order a couple of drams a bit above our usual weight.

Our decision this time was based purely on how cool the name was. Our first dram was the fun sounding Monkey Shoulder, which taught us about finding better blends and which we still enjoy to this day.

The other was a rather mystical sounding dram named the Lagavulin 16yo. Not thinking too much about it I took a decent hit of the dark amber liquid. Suddenly, time stood still and my mind exploded. I had never tasted anything like it.

Billows of hot, medicinal, coastal smoke filled my mouth and roared down my throat, leaving my senses reeling. The others around me were being gripped by a similar reaction. It was love at first dram.

Ted with fireplace

That one moment catalysed within me a yearning for good quality whisky, to try exciting and interesting drams. That feeling simmered away until the finish of uni and the gaining of a job and more importantly, money. Suddenly a whole world of exciting whisky was within grasp.

Eventually the path we had been set upon led to the founding of the number one whisky blog in Tasmania, something m’colleague and I are immensely proud of, and the discovery of a whole community of people just as excited about whisky as we are.

And so here I am on Islay, sitting at the very distillery that kickstarted the whole adventure. It feels slightly surreal to be honest (although if it was truly surreal there would probably be a couple of highland cows sitting on the other chairs smoking pipes and discussing the football results), but at the same time like wearing a favourite old tweed suit.

Ted at Lagavulin

It’s a significant time for both of us actually, as Lagavulin celebrates their 200th birthday this year, a feat to be congratulated. I will no doubt return here again, as will m’colleague and many others besides, hopefully for another 200 years and more, and revel in this glorious, extraordinary whisky.

Sláinte mhath, and keep on waffling.

Tasmanian Whisky Tours: a story worth telling

Posted by: Nick

Before there were convicts there was whisky.

But before there was Tasmanian Whisky Tours, there was a distinct lack of access to Tasmanian whisky distilleries.

Enter Brett Steel, a man with a vision. He realised that Tasmania was entering a “golden age” of whisky creation and wanted to give the public a chance to travel to these distilleries, meet the people that make the whisky and hear their stories. Thus Tasmanian Whisky Tours was born.

I caught up with Brett to find out a bit more about the tours.

WW1 TWT Brett

“From my first visit to Tasmania in 2008 I fell in love with the place”

Brett grew up, not among whisky makers, but instead with a strong wine background. This is hardly surprising, as he lived near the great wine region of McLaren Vale. He moved from South Australia to Hobart in 2011 with intentions of starting up a bar selling Tasmanian whisky, assuming that once he was in the state there would be easy access to the distilleries making the product he intended to sell. However, he quickly found this was not the case.

As more distilleries opened up, Tasmania rapidly became a join the dots puzzle. The state suddenly had a whisky trail! And Brett? Well he had a car! He realised that no one in their right mind wanted to drive themselves to distilleries and now there was a real touring opportunity. So Brett took the plunge and decided to become… a professional designated driver!

There is, of course, more to it than that. Brett is a man after our own hearts. He is a waffler. As well as tasting the flavours of the drink, he was passionate about hearing the tales told by the people behind the whisky.

WW2 TWT at Redlands

“I wanted this to be about storytelling, as much as whisky”

Brett’s aim for the tours is not so much to give an educational and scientific description of how whisky is made. Instead he is more interested engaging with the people who make the product and hearing about the struggles and adventures they have had along the way. After all, the whisky-makers are just ordinary people doing something they love and they certainly have a tale or two to tell. Brett believes that whisky and story-telling are “perfect bed-fellows” and his guests, after meeting the story-tellers themselves, cannot help but agree.

WW3 TWT at home base 2 bnw

“The trick is to try to cater to all levels and not to have anyone feel excluded”

Brett’s first tours began running in early 2014 and the business has been growing in popularity ever since. The rise in profile of whiskies made in the state has given the business a boost, and Brett has found himself chaperoning journalists, whisky experts, and even cartoonists!

The tours run on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays and visit a wide range of southern distilleries – and also get to taste some from further afield. Sessions begin at 9am at the Lark cellar door, and proceedings commence by reclining in comfortable chairs and chatting about the history of Tasmanian whisky. Guests are then loaded into the van and driven around the beautiful Derwent Valley or Tasman Peninsula.

There are many highlights on each tour for Brett: the picturesque setting at McHenry’s Distillery in Port Arthur, the paddock to bottle experience at Redlands Estate, and the unforgettable yarns spun by “renaissance moonshiner” and “champion sand-sculptor” Pete Bignell at Belgrove.

Of course, much like everyone has a favourite whisky (or gin, or brandy, or apple schnapps – which are also sampled on various tours) everyone has a favourite stop, and you won’t know which is yours until you travel there.

WW4 TWT at Nant

“To me whisky is the perfect social lubricant”

I absolutely adore this quote and cannot agree more wholeheartedly. Brett believes, as we do, that whisky is a very social experience, and when presented with context, such as the people who create it and the processes they use, guests will get so much more out of every sip.

He says that sharing the narrative of Tasmanian whisky, past, present and future, is half the experience of the tour. The characters that are met along the way and the real passion they exhibit, gives true meaning to the boutique hand-crafted product that we at Whisky Waffle love.

WW5 TWT at Bothwell

Brett, like all of us, confesses to loving Tasmanian whiskies and their rich flavour. But he is also fascinated by the history and stories behind each of the distilleries.

“When you put the two together and add the dynamic of a mix of different people, it’s pretty hard to beat that experience – no matter where in the world you travel.”

Find out more about Tasmanian Whisky Tours at their website.

Photos by Andy Wilson at  Everything Everything.

The Greatest Whisky In The World (Conditions Apply)

Posted by: Ted

Whisky is one of those drinks that can instantly transport you back to a time and place (this is not the same as having the conviction that you are Doctor Who after downing one too many nips). The variety of flavours and feelings and imagery that come from different drams lend themselves well to creating waypoints in your mind. If you’re lucky, hopefully most of those memories are good and don’t induce too much of a mental cringe.

One of my all-time favourite whisky drinking memories is the time that we discovered ‘The Greatest Whisky In The World’. Bold call I know. But in that time and place it really was; a legend in the patchwork of our lives. Now, I’m sure everyone is biting the edge of their keyboards in anticipation of discovering the identity of this fabled drink. “What golden nectar, what ambrosia of the Gods, what mystic secret of the ancients are you going to reveal to us Ted?” I hear you cry. Well my friends, agonise no longer, for here it is (drum roll please):

The Greatest Whisky In The World:

The Claymore Blended Scotch Whisky (Conditions apply)

(Much, much later…)

Ok, now that most people have stopped shouting and/or crying, and those of you who stormed out of the room have slunk back in, let me provide you with some context, for context is king in situations like this. Hold a moment while I switch on the Flux Capacitor and power this story up to 88mph.

Flashback

Date: 5/10/2013                Location: Cambodia

Proof that Ted was definitely in Cambodia

Proof that Ted was definitely in Cambodia

Nick, our mate Stretch, and I (Ted) were skulking about in the duty free section of Siem Reap airport, having just spent a fantastic week exploring Cambodia. I will admit that I was in a small amount of disgrace; after we stumbled back to the hotel in the wee hours on our big last night out in Siem Reap, I had checked the tickets and declared that our flight left at 3:10pm. Pity that it was actually 5:10pm (I am super glad that it wasn’t the other way around. Nick and Stretch probably would have tied me up and left me there).

Hence the reason why we were prowling the duty free section; plenty of spare time. Asia is a great place to pick up some quality whiskies at wallet-pleasingly low prices. I will probably be forever haunted by the fact that I decided not to get the Lagavulin Distillers Editions that day (fool). As we made our way around for what was probably the 5th circuit of the shelves, our eyes suddenly lit upon a truly majestic sight. It was as if a ray of golden light had lanced down from the heavens.

Enter The Claymore Blended Scotch Whisky. Contained within a duty free sized 1 litre bottle. And all for a mind-blowingly, jaw-droppingly low price of US$8!!! The thing that we found truly unbelievable was that this wasn’t just some methanol-laced bottle of local stingos. The Claymore is a real honest-to-God kilt wearing Scotch whisky (I had further confirmation that Claymore is legit a few months later when I noticed the great DI Gene Hunt watering his liver with some on the TV show ‘Ashes to Ashes’, the sequel to ‘Life on Mars’).

Hardly daring to believe our good luck, we swiftly purchased a bottle. To express our emotions as an Aussie: Bonza! The next leg of our trip was a week-and-a-bit stay in Vietnam, meaning that we wouldn’t be able to take the Claymore back to Australia with us. No worries! We figured that even if we didn’t finish the bottle, for 8 bucks we were still well and truly up on the deal.

For the next week the Claymore was like another member of the crew. It was certainly a good companion during our many games of cards and Yahtzee. The morning after one particularly big night, when we were all feeling a bit ratty, someone coined the immortal phrase: “Claymore. Like a sword to the face.” Good stuff.

Ted, with a half-finished pint of Claymore. Ok, it's beer, we just didn't take any photos of us drinking whisky. Error, I know.

Ted, with a half-finished pint of Claymore. Ok, it’s beer, we just didn’t take any photos of us drinking whisky. Error, I know.

Then there was the time we smuggled it aboard on a back-packers cruise through Ha Long Bay. Sneaking back to the cabin to liven up a glass of coke added a certain daring element to the trip, and it sure beat the crappy stuff they had on board. The second night of the cruise was spent on a tropical castaway island; sitting under a palm canopy listening to the waves roll onto the white sand, with a good crew and a cheeky dram, we knew life was good.

To be honest, the Claymore wasn’t that great a whisky. Just a pretty bog-standard cheap blend, fairly sharp and raw on the palate. But for me it brings back memories of warm nights spent wearing baggy happy pants on hotel balconies, cracking jokes with my best mates, and playing cards while listening to the busy Asian night life. And therein lies the heart of my reasoning: for the size, and the price, and the good memories left afterwards, at that time The Claymore Blended Scotch Whisky was truly ‘The Greatest Whisky In The World’.

The Whisky Waffle boys, observing a minutes silence in Hanoi to mourn the finishing of the bottle.

The Whisky Waffle boys, observing a minutes silence in Hanoi to mourn the finishing of the bottle.