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Glenfiddich 18 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

glenfiddich-18

If this website were not called Whisky Waffle, then I could sum up the Glenfiddich 18 Year Old in just three words:

Goes. Down. Nicely.

Of course, we all know that’s not how I roll and I’d like to expand on those three words just a little.

Goes: Of all 18 Year Old whiskies in the world, the Glenfid is probably the most accessible. I picked it up for 98 bucks here in Aus when it was on special – a pretty remarkable price for something that has been in ex-bourbon barrels (and a few ex-oloroso casks) long enough to be of drinking age.

Down: the 18 Year Old’s main drawcard is its drinkability. It is one smooth drop. For seasoned whisky fans this might even be a disadvantage – some might consider it a bit boring. Not me. My biggest challenge is looking down at my glass to find I’ve already polished it off.

Nicely: Yep – it tastes good. On the nose are apples, grapefruit and pears alongside a smidge of oak. The palate is soft with notes of honey, cinnamon and vanilla, while the finish is medium in length leaving lingering flavours of apple-based baked goods.

If you find it cheaply, this is worth getting – especially if you are looking for a whisky that, well, goes down nicely!

★★★★

A Rye look at Belgrove

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The much-extended old stables which house Belgrove Distillery

In our review we jokingly referred to Belgrove Distillery’s Peter Bignell as the da Vinci of distilling. When we visited him, we discovered that we were actually bang on the mark. Case in point was his method for powering the pump that injected homemade biofuel into the burner for the still: an old Sunbeam Mixmaster (usually on ‘Whipped Cream’ setting!).

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Apparently meringue-setting heated the still too much!

Our arrival at the distillery was actually rather hampered by some pesky road workers, who decided to dig up the highway in front of Peter’s driveway half an hour before we arrived. We had to call over a massive grader to flatten the surface enough to get the Alfa over (the troubles with low sports cars).

Belgrove distillery takes its name from the property, which is also a working farm. This was apparent as soon as we opened the gate and spied a flock of freshly shorn sheep, which we later discovered Peter had taught to eat leftover rye mash. Scattered around the old stables building that houses the distillery were various contraptions cannibalised from old washing machines, scrap metal and Russian Typhoon-class nuclear submarines.

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This one is made from the parts of Apollo 11 which fell to earth

The distillery, located just outside the southern midlands town of Kempton, is unique in Tasmania in that it predominantly produces its spirit using rye instead of barley. The story goes that Peter had a spare paddock full of rye that needed using and so decided to turn it into whisky. Rather than buy expensive new equipment, and prescribing to a reuse and recycle ethos, he instead decided to build everything himself.

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Including this glorious piece of copper!

We need to stress that home-made doesn’t mean rubbish; the malter/peat smoker crafted out of an old tumble dryer is a work of genius, and the mash tun is perfectly functional – until it gets clogged up by the huskless rye that is. Peter quipped that when this happens he has to put the old wooden paddle appropriated from his kids’ dinghy to work to unclog it (he’s changed both the handle and the blade three times apiece, but maintains it’s still the same paddle).

Peter has been a farmer his whole life, only turning to distilling seven years ago. He said that his university degree in agricultural science has been invaluable, allowing him to exploit the science behind the art, although he doesn’t downplay the role of the natural yeasts and bacteria that inoculate the mash, which he refers to as Belgrove’s unique terroir. Peter is completely hands on with the whole process, from growing the grain, to the distilling, the bottling and especially the tasting.

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Peter is clearly a hands-on farmer

Luckily enough we were able to join him in tasting a variety of interesting spirits, including rye, barley, apple hatchet (distilled apple cider), ginger hammer (distilled ginger beer) and even an experimental batch of eau de vie that Peter was trialling for Tasmanian Cask Company’s master cooper Adam Bone, who dropped by to check on proceedings. The range was varied, exciting and specific to Belgrove, and it was inspiring to be able to taste such contrasting flavours produced in the one place.

We did however have our favourites; the rye at 47%, Pommeau (apple hatchet cut back with apple juice) and especially the Pinot Noir matured rye at cask strength, of which we took home bottles #1 and #2 of a new barrel. However, revelation of the day was the 100% malted barley smoked with peat from the previously untapped bogs in the north-east of the state. Good people of the world, are you ready for Tasmania’s answer to Scotland’s Islay? Well, it’s maturing in Peter Bignell’s bond store at this very moment.

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Nick filling bottle number one!

While Peter is expanding the old stables to house a new still and larger malting equipment, he still resolves to remain stubbornly small scale, championing the merits of a hands-on approach. He muses that “big distilleries only care about how much whisky per kilo of grain they can get. I’m trying to get the most flavour.” From our all too brief visit, it is clear that he is succeeding in that vision.

Tasmania is home to many distilleries, big and little, but perhaps none is more eclectic and fascinating to explore than Belgrove.

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Don’t worry, Ted. Someone has to have bottle number two!

Lark Classic Cask

Reviewed by: Nick and Ted

Lark Classic Cask

It all started, as the best stories do, with a fishing trip. While waiting for some prime trout to bite in the Tasmanian Highlands, a man had an epiphany that would change the course of history.

The man reasoned that Tasmania has pure water, excellent barley and native peat bogs, so why then was no one making world class whisky there? That man’s name was Bill Lark and today he is revered as the godfather of Tasmanian whisky.

While Tasmania is now world famous for its whisky, the road was not an easy one. A ban on small-scale distilling had been in place for over 150 years, but that didn’t stop Bill from convincing politicians to overturn the law (presumably over a dram or two). Once the path was clear, Bill’s wife Lyn bought an antique 4 litre copper pot still and together they founded Australia’s first modern whisky distillery, the eponymous Lark.

While Bill has taken a step back from distilling duties, he remains to this day a champion of Tasmanian whisky. In 2015 he was justly recognised for his efforts by being inducted into the prestigious Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame, the first Australian distiller to achieve the honour.

Lark Distillery releases a range of products, including an excellent cask strength, a phenomenal distiller’s selection, epic special editions and of course, not forgetting their standard release, the Classic Cask.

If you know anything about Lark, you know that oranges is what it is all about and this becomes apparent as soon as you take a nose of the Classic Cask. The sweet citrus flavour blends with rich dark chocolate and vanilla, like a gourmet dessert in a glass. The chocolate comes to the fore on the palate, a mixture of milk and dark, followed by delicate oak, pepper and almond praline. The finish is medium length and slightly nutty.

Tasmania has waited a very long time to be able to drink this whisky. We will be forever grateful to Bill Lark for having the foresight and courage to take a step into the unknown and found a movement that is now respected and celebrated world wide.

Cheers Bill!

★★★

Lark n Ted

One state. Three ingredients. Unlimited flavour.

#TasWhiskyWeek

Speyburn 10 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Speyburn 10 year Old

It’s the very end of harvest season here in Tasmania. Fresh produce abounds, from potatoes to pears, onions to oranges, and asparagus to apples: our family-friend farmers’ pickings filling my kitchen with an alluring bouquet. The fresh fruit combines to remind me strongly of the scent of a dram I have recently acquired: the Speyburn 10 Year Old.

“Delicious” I hear you cry “a whisky with all amazing the flavours of harvest time! It must be good.” And it is. But it also isn’t. This is a whisky full of contradictions.

The contradictions start with the distillery itself. Translating literally as “River Spey”, Speyburn identifies as a highland whisky despite being found within a mile of such Speyside giants such as Glen Grant and The Glenrothes. It has received many modern awards, though it’s greatest accomplishment still seems to be being built in the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. It also, commendably, bucks the NAS trend by releasing a 10 Year Old, a 25 Year Old… and nothing in between.

The harvest fruits are prevalent on the nose. Overripe red apples, peaches and lemons dominate proceedings in a way entirely unsubtle. It’s enjoyable but certainly citrus-heavy. The palate is sweet and malty, like children’s breakfast cereal. There is more lemon here, causing the whisky to veer dangerously towards dish-cleaner territory, though is stopped short by a bitter cooking apple note on the finish.

There are undeniably many enjoyable flavours in the Speyburn 10 Year Old. It’s well worth a try and certainly wonderful value – just don’t expect subtlety to be among its virtues. Rather than a sweet bite of an apple, it is more like the entire orchard has been emptied into your kitchen.

★★

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.

★★★

Eagle Rare 10 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

Eagle Rare

On a scale of one to freedom, how symbolic is the Eagle of the might, majesty and democratic way of the US of A? Let’s just say that if you gave Captain America a nuclear powered cheeseburger and stood him on top of a NASCAR on the deck of an aircraft carrier while an Ivy League college marching band played Star Spangled Banner and F-15’s, Apaches and Chuck Norris with bear arms flew overhead, then you would probably come close. Therefore, calling your bourbon, that most patriotic of spirits, ‘Eagle Rare’ and slapping a bald eagle and some stars on the front probably isn’t the worst idea ever conceived.

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To tell the truth, while I have portrayed the Eagle Rare in a rather bombastic, gun totin’ fashion, it is actually a drink of some sophistication and refinement. Think Atticus Finch rather than Redneck Rambo. Eagle Rare is owned by Buffalo Trace, based in Frankfort, Kentucky, where it is part of their stable of sub-brands (or should that be aviary? Eyrie? I give up). Recently the distillery has courted some concerns by dropping the phrase “Single Barrel” from the Eagle Rare label (mine still has it) and moving the age statement to the back. Management has assured fans that the changes are the result of moving the production line to a different location and running on new bottling equipment, and that the ageing and barrelling methods will be the same as ever. Watch this space.

Unlike Scotch, which is usually aged for at least 10-12yrs, bourbons are for the most part not aged more than 6-8yrs, and quite often less than that. This difference in aging cultures can be attributed to the use of virgin oak barrels and generally warmer storage temperatures, allowing bourbons to mature faster, therefore meaning that they can be happily released at a younger age. Sometimes though, particularly good barrels are allowed to continue for a longer period, which is where premium expressions such as the Eagle Rare Single Barrel 10 Year Old come into play.

On the nose the Eagle Rare is unctuous, with a smooth feel that slides like a well oiled machine part. It’s body is as warm, fat and fuzzy as a newly hibernating bear, and filled with baked caramelised apples covered in buttery pastry. The first sip is light and sharp, like a sweet, crisp apple. The copper liquid sits on your tongue like a gentle warm thermal, allowing the eagle spirit to soar up to the roof of your mouth and down your throat. For a bourbon represented by such a big bird, it feels surprisingly delicate, especially considering the fact that it is bottled at 45%. Must be the hollow bones.

Ted and Eagle 1

The Eagle Rare Single Barrel 10yo claims to hold itself to the ideals of ‘Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness’. Not a bad mission really. This is the American Way at its best, not forceful and overpowering, but warm and welcoming, greeting you with grace and hospitality into the Land of the Free. As the great Steve Miller said: “I want to fly like an eagle, to the sea, fly like an eagle, let my spirit carry me, I want to fly like an eagle, till I’m free…”

★★★