Ardbeg

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)

March Madness: The Final Result

Posted by: Nick and Ted

It’s been a wild ride, fellow Wafflers. 64 distilleries began the journey (back when it was actually March) and, like Antony Green, now it’s election night we’re prepared to call it.

On this most auspicious of nights, with the world celebrating not one but three major events, namely the Australian Federal Election, World Whisky Day and Eurovision Finals, we can finally reveal what you, our faithful followers, voted as the number one whisky in the world.

It came down to a clash between two Islay titans, but like Highlander (… Islander?), there can be only one winner. Break out the laurel wreaths, because the winner of the Whisky Waffle March (and April… and May) Madness bracket is:

ARDBEG

Ardbeg Win!

Over 200 years old and one of the Islay big three, Ardbeg is, as it proudly states on the bottle, the maker of the ‘Ultimate Islay Single Malt Whisky’. But in this case, also the world. Ardbeg claims our heart with its character: smoky, peaty and full of fire but also genuine, accessible and unpretentious. They win us around with the dependable 10 Year Old, the mind blowing Corryvreckan and then stick the landing with the glorious Uigeadail – and then bring out something excitingly new every year to please the fanboys!

Did the right distillery win? Too bad if not, you guys voted for it, so it’s your fault if it’s wrong. But let us know your thoughts anyway!

Thanks all who voted. Keep on waffling.

March Madness Grand Final

Posted by: Nick

Finally our March Madness bracket reaches the final round: the Grand Final. Yes, what started out six weeks ago with 64 distilleries (technically 63 distilleries and 1 independent bottler) has been whittled down to just two. And our finalists?

In the red corner: Bruichladdich!

On the road to the final Bruichladdich overcame the number one seed, Glenfiddich, Tassie favourite Overeem and in a nail biting semi final they defeated the peated powerhouse Laphroaig by a margin of 59% to 41%.

And, in the blue corner, they will be facing: Ardbeg!

Ardbeg have taken down some sherried Scottish superpowers along the way with Glendronach, Balvenie and recently Glen Moray falling victim to the peat monster.

Round 6 Whisky Waffle March Madness

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So now it all comes down to this: Bruichladdich vs Ardbeg. Two Islay dynamos duking it out to become Whisky Waffle’s inaugural champion distillery – but who will win?

YOU DECIDE!

Voting has never been easier! We only need one name! Leave your vote in the comments or on our social media platforms.

Happy voting and keep on waffling!

March Madness Semi Finals

Posted by: Nick and Ted

And then there were four. In a matchup of biblical proportions, David came up against Goliath and against all odds, slew the beast.

Round 5 Whisky Waffle March Madness

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That’s right, the ridiculous strength of the Tasmanian independent titan, Heartwood, was no match in the end for the Speyside pocket-pleaser, Glen Moray. Tim Duckett wasn’t the only Tasmania to fall, with elegant Overeem roundly smashed by indie Islay outfit Bruichladdich. In fact, there’s potential for an all-Islay showdown in the final, with Ardbeg seeing off Glenfiddich’s little sister Balvenie with ease and Laphroaig narrowly fending off the Orkney vikings from Highland Park. First we have to get through the semi-finals though and there’s some tough choices ahead. It really comes down to sweet vs peat – where do you fall in the battle? Cast your votes now at http://www.whiskywaffle.com or on our social media platforms.

March Madness Quarter Finals

Posted by: Nick

It’s getting serious now! After what I can only assume were many sleepless nights of pondering the impossible choices presented in round 3 we have 8 winners! And they are:

Round 4 Whisky Waffle March Madness

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Some big results, fellow wafflers. Overeem win the battle of Tassie dominance, the two remaining Islay behemoths narrowly overcome their opponents and Highland Park knock out champion Tassie distillery Sullivans Cove, all by only a couple of percentage points. It was an unbelievably close round, with many results only decided by the final few votes.

And now our quarter finals take shape. Bruichladdich have not had too much trouble dealing with opponents so far, but will Overeem prove a sterner test? Glen Moray, everyone’s favourite underdog have scraped through so far, but face Tasmanian independent title favourites Heartwood in the next round. Elsewhere, Highland Park take on Laphroaig and two Whisky Waffle favourites in Ardbeg and Balvenie go head to head.

Who will win? YOU DECIDE! It’s getting easier to vote these days – just send us four names via a comment, email or social media and we will add them to collection of votes!

If you haven’t already, check out our podcast where we discuss the results up to round 3.

Happy voting and keep on waffling!

March Madness Round 3

Posted by: Nick

The suspiciously April-y March Madness Whisky Waffle bracket powers on into Round 3: the round of 16! Once again we’ve halved the field in a vicious round 2 which saw a number of shock results and big guns fall.

Gone is Australian whisky’s founding member Lark, Australian whisky’s  high-selling Starward and all remaining American and Irish representatives. Possibly the biggest shock of all is the defeat of number 3 seed Lagavulin, knocked out by the dark horse, Glendronach.

Below is the full list of results, including the match ups for Round 3:

Round 3 Whisky Waffle March Madness

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We now move into the pointy-end of the competition and once again there are some juicy match ups.

In another gut-wrenching all-Australian match up Overeem take on Belgrove, Macallan verse Balvenie in a battle for Speyside supremacy and the last remaining non-Australian or Scottish drop, Paul John, loses to takes on Heartwood. Perhaps the one that kills me the most, however, is my favourite Islay distillery fighting to the death against my favourite mainland distillery: Ardbeg vs Glendronach. Only one can progress to the quarter finals. Who will it be?

YOU DECIDE! Let us know in the comments, on social media or by emailing whiskywaffle@gmail.com

Vote by whatever rules you feel you’d like to live by. Skip any you can’t decide upon and get us your thoughts throughout the week sometime!

Good luck, and may the best dram win!

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.

1

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.

5

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…

7

Home sweet home

Abomination, The Crying of the Puma 54%

Reviewed by: Ted

Puma dram WW

Come on, if you stumble across a whisky called Abomination, The Crying of the Puma in a bar, there’s no way you’re not going to try it right? I was catching up with some friends at Melbourne whisky-scene stalwart Boilermaker House and we were checking out their new in-house whisky selection app (it’s pretty cool). Pretty much the first thing I clapped eyes on was the Abomination and I was like, you had me at weeping big cats, yes please.

The Abomination TCOTP is released by indie Californian outfit Lost Spirits Co., who import a blend of 12-18 month old heavily peated Islay-origin spirits then put them through their proprietary reactor technology together with shards of charred American oak soaked in late harvest Reisling… WTF? Apparently Australian Border Force were not exactly keen to let it into the country due to the odd nature of its creation and the fact that it’s kinda not really whisky. Like it’s Australian contemporary Deviant Distillery, it’s more of a malt spirit.

The colour of the Abomination TCOTP is super dark red, almost like the Puma is crying blood. The bottle claims no added colouring, so perhaps the ‘redonkulous’ colour is an artefact of the reactor process and the addition of the charred stave shards.

The nose is like a classic 1970’s Holden Sandman – leather, tobacco, salt, a sprinkling of pot pourri on the dash and killer heat rising off the seats. The heady mix is sweet, fruity and smoky, with raisins, apricots, candied orange, cashews, rose petals, an earthy peatiness and so much salt. Oh that sharp, bright salt.

The flavour is like eating raisins in a pool next to the beach in the tropics while a driftwood bonfire burns nearby. The palate is sweet and ashy, with dark honey, peaches and melon and a decent punch thanks to the 54% strength, although the mid-palate is somewhat lacking. The finish is looong and satisfying.

The sweet, peaty flavours are really interesting, and put me in mind of a combination of Ardbrg, Laphroaig, Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila (who knows, I could even be on the money). The Reisling is definitely an out there finishing choice and adds a quirky fruitiness into the mix.

Look, I know it ain’t really whisky and that it was made using dark, heathen technology, but the Abomination TCOTP is great! The rich, punchy flavours working with that salty peat are actually really satisfying, and you totally wouldn’t pick it as being so young straight off. Then again, we do always say that peat does good things with young whisky. If you want to try something that is crazy and different and has a name that sounds like a part of dark Aztec creation story, Abomination, The Crying of the Puma is definitely worth checking out.

★★★

Ted sniffer

Ardbeg add An Oa to the Family

Posted by: Nick

Ardbeg An Oa Whisky Waffle

We’re big Ardbeg fans here at Whisky Waffle so you can image the look on our excited little faces upon hearing the announcement that our equal favourite Ileach distillery is adding a brand spanking new release to its core range. Joining the ever reliable 10 Year Old, the bonfire-in-your-mouth Corryvreckan and the serious contender for world’s best dram Uigeadail will be the An Oa.

Similarly to the other two impossible to spell bottlings, the An Oa is named after a local landmark, in this case the Mull of Oa, a peninsula in the island’s south famous for the iconic (and possibly a little bit phallic) American Monument. The biggest mystery, apart from the pronunciation, is what will this new release taste like?

Early indications suggest it may be lighter on the peat that other Ardbeg bottlings. The distillery describes it as being “singularly rounded whose smoky intensity is softened by a delectable smooth sweetness”. Rounded is probably a good call when you consider the An Oa is a vatting of a vast array of barrel and char types (basically whatever Dr Bill Lumsden has floating around in his back room) married together in Ardbeg’s intriguing sounding Gathering Room.

The other mystery, of course, is why? Ardbeg are famous for putting out more bottlings than any blogger can keep up with while remaining relatively sober. And yet here comes another one. We can only hope that it doesn’t spell the end of the Corry or the Oogie or push their price to unobtainable extremes. Although perhaps these fears are unfounded and the An Oa will prove to be a worthy addition to the range. After all, we can never have too much Ardbeg, can we?*

Find out more about the An Oa at the Ardbeg website.

*This question is rhetorical. Of course we can’t.

 

2016 Waffle Awards

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Whisky Waffle Logo 1

World Whisky Awards? Not bad. San Fran World Spirits Comp? Alright. Jim Murray Liquid Gold? Ok, so long as it’s a rye. But we all know the big one is still to come – the award that whisky makers around the world crave above all others (even if they’ve never heard of us). That’s right folks. It’s time for the 2016 Waffle Awards!

This year the waffle boys have donned formal Scottish attire to award drams which they have purchased for the first time in 2016. So, ladies and gentlemen, help yourself to the complimentary champagne (we’ll email you some) and enjoy the 2016 Waffle Awards!

1 The Isle of the Drammed Award Whisky Waffle

The Isle of the Drammed Award for the best Tasmanian Whisky

As Tasmania’s number one whisky blog, we naturally have a category for the best Tassie dram. This year the Isle of the Drammed Award goes to:

Belgrove Rye Pinot Noir Cask

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We were lucky enough to visit Belgrove’s creator Peter Bignell earlier this year and were able to try some truly phenomenal drams while we were there. But this was the one that really seemed to represent Belgrove’s true flavour. The Pinot Noir barrels imparted a fruity flavour on the rye – drinking this is akin to strawberry jam on thick brown bread. Fantastic.

2 The Tartan Slipper Award Whisky Waffle

The Tartan Slipper Award for the best Scottish whisky

We had to create a category for Scotland, where some of the finest single malts in the world are crafted. Plus it makes a nice change for a non-rye whisky to win something. This year the Tartan Slipper Award goes to:

Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old 

2016-bunna-18-whisky-waffle

Usually Islay is all about the peat monsters, but a couple of distilleries buck the trend. Bunnahabhain explores the softer, earthier side of the island, which the phenomenal 18yo serves up in spades. Expect roasted nuts, ripe fruits, a good raisiny punch from the sherry casking and a mouth-pleasing hit of salt and soft peat to finish.

3 The Pocket Pleaser Award Whisky Waffle

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

As we said, we’ve bought bottles of all our award winners this year – and it’s an expensive business. So the Pocket Pleaser Award goes to a dram we won’t mind paying for again. And again. And again…

Ardbeg 10 Year Old

2016-ardbeg-10-whisky-waffle

Younger Scottish whiskies can be a bit hit and miss, but if a good hit of peat is thrown into the mix, it conjures some sort of dark, alchemical magic that can summon up a truly excellent dram. Hence our belief the that the Ardbeg 10yo is devilishly good… and great value at that. Sweetly peaty and wickedly smoky, the 10yo will please any lover of the Ileach drops. If you find it on sale, don’t even think, just whip out that wallet and buy, buy, buy.

4 The Weirdsky Award Whisky Waffle

The Weirdsky Award for the most WTF whisky

Weird whisky – weirdsky? Well there are plenty out there. This award celebrates the most unusual bottle we’ve obtained in 2016 and is awarded to:

The Pot-Still Exclusive Invergordon 26 Year Old Single Grain Whisky

2016-invergordon-whisky-waffle
Grain whiskies tend to get a bit of a low rap to be honest. If people ever give them any thought, it’s just as the backdrop for single malts in blends. To be fair, young grains can be pretty rough too, but if you happen to let them sit around in barrels for long enough, special things can happen. Bottled as an exclusive for Glaswegian bar ‘The Pot Still’, the Invergordon 26yo Single Grain whisky is a really interesting drop. Far from its spikey, awkward siblings, the 26yo is pleasantly zesty and vibrant, with citrus and pineapple bursting in the mouth. You aren’t likely to find this bottling any time soon, but its definitely worth tracking down some decent grain whisky if you want to try something different.

5 The Bill Lark Award Whisky Waffle

The Bill Lark Award for service to Tasmanian whisky

Named after the man who started it all, the Bill Lark Award is dedicated to a person within the Tasmanian whisky scene who has really made a difference and put us on the map. This year, it gives us great pleasure to award it to:

Tim Duckett

2016-tim-duckett-whisky-waffle

The mad scientist of Tasmanian whisky, Wafflers everywhere have a lot to thank this man for. He has brought us some of the most powerful whiskies in the world with his Heartwood creations. He has helped bring in a whole new crowd of whisky fanatics by co-founding the Tasmanian Whisky Appreciation Society. He has supported a range of Tasmanian distilleries by promoting them or buying their barrels. But, most crucially, he has created a legacy of experimentation and tinkering. Tim is not concerned with age statements or single cask releases. His aim is to make something that tastes bloody good, and if that means spanking his whisky with a wooden oar, then so be it.

6 The Golden Dram Whisky Waffle

The Golden Dram for the best dram whisky in the world

This is a tough award to decide on each year. We try a range of brilliant stuff and narrowing it down to one is almost impossible. It took an x-factor, an extra special connection to push it over the line this year. So may we present, The Golden Dram to:

Highland Park 18 Year Old

2016-highland-park-18-whisky-waffle

There’s no doubt that this is a special dram. It is one of the most complex and interesting drops we’ve tried this year. But it also toasted the creation of Nick’s house from start to finish and played its part in creating many fond memories. Only the best drams of all do this.

An honourable mention goes to the dram that we couldn’t include because only Ted has had the pleasure of tasting it: the incomparable William Cadenhead Single Speyside Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 40 Years.

In fairness, we include a dishonourable mention as well, which this year is being renamed the Founders Reserve Award. And although it should probably go to the Founders Reserve again, this year it goes to the biggest misfire from a normally reliable distillery: Glen Moray Port Cask Finish.

2016-whisky-waffle

So what do you think of our awards? Some good drams? What would you include as your winners? Let us know in the comments and have a very happy new year.

Keep on waffling!

#2016WaffleAwards