Australia

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 18

This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where we talk about the pros and cons of bourbon barrel maturation;
– The Whisky, where we review a corn whiskey aged in ex-bourbon barrel: the Michters Unblended American Whiskey;
– Smash Session or Savour, where all things Glen fight to the death; and
– Whisky Would You Rather, where we drunkenly discuss two possible dystopian futures of the Tasmanian whisky industry

Interview: Dean Druce and the Corowa Characters

Posted by: Ted

You know in sci-fi/superhero movies and comics how a certain event happens and suddenly strange things start to occur elsewhere? Like, a glowing, green meteorite crashes into Sydney and not long after a group of lads in rural New South Wales start to evolve in response? Maybe they even join forces as a team, with cool names (cos you gotta have cool names) and start to explore their powers? And of course, they have to have a rad lair to set up shop in.

The stuff of fiction? Maybe. But it was easy to draw comparisons with these elements when we caught up with Dean Druce from Corowa Distillery about the release of ‘The Corowa Characters’ single malt wine cask –

Corowa 4

Whisky Waffle: G’day Drucey, we recently got our hands on the Characters and it’s a cracker. On the side of the bottle are four caricatures sporting interesting names: The Boss, The Dreaded Distiller, The Fuzz and Muscles. Your website says the release ‘celebrates the people behind the whisky made here by us in Corowa’, but doesn’t really say who these guys are. Can you tell us a bit more about the lads hanging out on the side of the bottle?

Dean Druce: I’m the Managing Director, therefore I’m ‘The Boss’. [I’m also] the ‘ideas man’ as my favourite line is “I’ve been thinking……..”, at which point everyone starts to cringe.

Beau Schilg is the ‘Dreaded Distiller’ due to his hairstyle. The ‘perfectionist’ relates to how seriously he takes his craft of producing good spirit.

Tyler Spencer is our brewer. ‘The Fuzz’ likes his own jokes and comes up with lots of one-liners hence the ‘resident funnyman’.

Paul Miegel is our production manager. ‘Muscles’, like all good nicknames, came from a case of mistaken identity. It’s also his social media persona from hosting a 60sec episode each month on Facebook & YouTube titled ‘A minute with Muscles’. He has thousands of followers, thus the title of ‘social media influencer’.

Corowa 6

WW: Sounds like a solid crew. So were you all in it from the start/known each other for ages, or did people gradually come on board over time?

DD: When my father, Neil, bought the former Corowa Flour Mill for $1 from the local Council in 2010 [Ed. definitely a story to be explored at another time], I moved to Corowa to manage the business. I enjoyed playing AFL, so joining the local Corowa/Rutherglen FC seemed a good way to meet people and become part of the community. That’s where I met Beau.

As renovations continued, I asked around the club if anyone was interested in making whisky [and] Beau put his hand up. When we started distilling in 2016, the ‘Dreaded Distiller’ was born. [He was] one of the youngest distillers in the country at the time.

Tyler is the son of a local football hero and a good player in his own right. He was looking for a career change and we were looking for a brewer so he joined the team.

‘Muscles’ was one of the original investors when we started the distillery and with a background in pharmacy. Once we had whisky for sale, he became the production manager.

WW: What’s the vibe like at the distillery?

DD: With the majority of our workforce under 30yo, there is a natural energy that radiates from younger people. The four guys all get along well and there is always good banter around the distillery. Being such a young distillery, there is lots of excitement about the future.

Corowa 3

Image supplied

WW: What’s living and distilling in a small country town like Corowa like?

DD: Initially the town was really excited… then frustrated as they discovered how long it took until there was product [ready]. The benefit of a small town is that everyone knows us and recommends us to their friends and visitors as a place worth checking out.

All our whiskies have a local connection and we couldn’t think of anything more local than the guys that put it together. It’s as much about putting Corowa on the map as it is about the whisky itself.

WW: What’s important to you as a team?

DD: We are deadly serious about making a great product, but by the same token, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We like to do things a little bit differently, be a bit cheeky about the snobbishness of the industry, but respectful of its history.

Corowa 1

Image supplied

WW: Compared to a lot of Aussie whiskies, especially on the smaller scale, the Characters is insanely good value. It’s definitely Corowa in style, but much softer and more forgiving than something like the Bosque Verde (Whisky Waffle whisky of the year 2019), so we think that it will appeal to a broader audience. What made you decide to release this as a sub $100AUD whisky rather than in that $150-$200AUD sort of bracket?

DD: The Australian whisky market is maturing (in taste!) at a rapid rate. When [Sydney outfit] Archie Rose released their beautifully presented Rye whisky at $120, they changed the expectation of the market. We decided that if we wanted to remain “in the game”, as well as giving our profile a significant boost, we needed to establish a product true to ourselves at a price that both we, and the consumer could afford.

WW: Do you think that having a whisky at that more accessible price point will encourage people to try something different and get away from the Scotch?

DD: A significant percentage of visitors to our distillery are not regular whisky drinkers at all, but rather tourists looking for something different. Our heritage-listed building, chocolate sales, cafe and distillery provide a unique experience. By providing an approachable, value product we are able to introduce non-whisky drinkers to the industry, and the Australian style, thus growing the Australian market.

WW: In terms of the whisky itself, where are the wine barrels sourced from, and what type?

DD: The barrels are predominantly from the Barossa, with some from Rutherglen. Most have housed Shiraz wine, but we are experimenting with Pinot Noir, Durif and some white wine varieties.

Corowa 5

WW: Were you looking for particular characters [Ed. ha ha] when you created this expression? Were you even consciously looking, or did it just turn up like that and you thought ‘yep, that’s a goer’?

DD: If you are going to produce a value product, barrel cost is a significant factor. Wine casks proved to be the best value at the time (remembering we are only a young distillery) and wineries often use both French and American oak. By chance, we also happened to procure some Hungarian Oak wine casks around the same time.

When tasting the barrels, we got some sweet fruit, and spice from the Shiraz together with slightly different characteristics from the [various] oaks. We experimented with different ratios and decided on one that gave a nice balance between the vanilla flavour from American oak with the “cigar box” characteristic of French oak and the [unusual] characteristic of Hungarian Oak.

WW: Nice, we also get earthy, boozy dried fruits and timber on the nose with a juicy, tannic mouth feel. It’d be a good summer drinker for sure. What’s up next then?

DD: Our smokey whisky, using smoked barley imported from Scotland, is due for release in mid 2020 and is showing great promise.

If you’re traveling near Corowa make sure you stop in and have a chat with Drucey and the team. Check out their range of whiskies online here.

Note: this interview has been edited for length and clarity

★★★

7K Distillery: Thinking outside (and in) the box

Posted by: Ted

I have a bit of a weird confession to make: I have a thing for shipping containers. Having worked for nearly a decade in an industry where I have spent a lot of time around (and in) these standardised marvels of modern global transport, I rather enjoy seeing all the different colours, company logos and algorithmically-derived alpha-numeric serial numbers. So what’s this got to do with whisky? Well…

A geometric flower shape that is the logo of 7K Distillery

Traditional distillery design tends to veer along stone-and-timber lines, usually with a lick of white lime wash for good measure if you’re in Scotland. In Tasmania things tend to be split between restored heritage buildings, à la Scotland, or modern pre-fab steel sheds, which are easy to erect, relatively cheap to build and a breeze fit a still into. Tyler Clark of 7K Distillery had other ideas though and decided to go down a rather more… modular, route.

7K Distillery is perched half-way up a hill on the outskirts of Brighton, north of Hobart. One of the first things you notice as you head up the gravel driveway and past the brick farmhouse is that it has an absolutely epic view across the Derwent Valley to kunanyi/Mt Wellington. Behind the house sits a cluster of three shipping containers, a 20ft and a couple of 40ft units, which isn’t that unusual for a paddock in Tassie. What is unusual is that fact that an entire distillery is hidden inside.

A cluster of white modified shipping containers that house 7K Distillery. The containers sit on a hill overlooking the Derwent Valley north of Hobart. Mt Wellington/kunanyi is visible in the background. There is a bright blue sky with whispy white clouds. A tall rusty fire pot sits near the containers

Amazing what you can fit in a shipping container

“The property, Lodge Hill, is my Nan’s,” Tyler revealed to Whisky Waffle when we dropped by for a visit in late 2019. “I’d been over to the States and had a look around what was going on over there, and decided that I wanted to start my own distillery. It can be hard when you’re in your 20’s, with the start-up costs and finding a space, but I thought to myself ‘If I don’t do this shit when I’m young I’ll probably never do it'”.

Luckily Tyler was a man with a plan: “I’ve always liked the idea of building with shipping containers. My original concept was that I’d be able to move them to a new site a few years down the track if I decided to expand. At first I thought I might have some trouble with the ATO… you know, some dodgy guy distilling out of a shipping container, but they were fine with it. I suppose as long as they get their excise, they’re happy.”

A laboratory style bench inside the shipping container that houses 7K Distillery. Clusters over brightly coloured Aqua Vitae gin bottles sit on the bench and shelving above. Dead tree branches covered in moss are artfully arranged to hang over the bench

It looks like a wizard’s laboratory

The problem of what to put the distillery in had been solved, but Tyler still needed somewhere to plonk his containers down: “One of the biggest challenges was finding a site. I eventually I thought of asking my Nan if I could put them out the back of her place at Lodge Hill and thankfully she was really cool with it.” Tyler paused, glanced over to the house and then laughed ruefully, “The only downside is that she can’t have a shower or bake a cake while I’m running the still because it takes up all the power. Sorry Nan!”

Speaking of the still, the shape is rather different to your ‘standard’ Tassie ‘Knapp Lewer-style’ unit, having been entirely designed and built by Tyler himself (“with a bit of help”). A sparky by trade and handy on the tools, Tyler was able to put his skills to good use throughout the project: “Half of my interest was building the still in the first place. I wanted to design something that I could do multiple things in.”

A copper still with black cladding sits next to a stainless steel gin column inside a shipping container

The cylindrical copper pot, about the height of a person and mostly clad in black insulation, is topped by an elegant tear drop-shaped onion and a very neutral lyne-arm. Taken in concert, you can tell the 1100L 7K still is designed to generate a lot of reflux. “I just wanted to make a lighter style of spirit,” was Tyler’s simple response when we grilled him about his design choices.

Connected to the still via a series of bypass valves is a stainless-steel vapour chamber used for infusing botanicals for Tyler’s ‘Aqua Vitae’ gin range. “I still do the juniper in the main pot, but it’s a pain in the arse to clean out again so I’m going to get the little stainless-steel keg-still, which I built as a test back when I first started, up and running again to do that separately.”

A small stainless steel still built out of a beer keg

The keg still is ready to kick juniper arse

Delicious as the gin is (the ‘Tasmanian Raspberry Gin’ is sticky-pink goodness and the ‘Winter Edition Carolina Reaper’ chilli-infused gin will put hairs on your chest (if you can find a bottle)), we ain’t called Gin Jargon, so we were keen to check out progress on the amber stuff.

The first batch of single malt spirit was laid down in November 2017, meaning that by the time you read this it will officially be able to be called whisky. The wash is produced further down the river at Last Rites Brewery in Cambridge. In terms of barreling, Tyler has used a variety of casks, including bourbon, sherry and pinot, sourced from various Tassie cooperages.

Tyler Clark of 7K Distillerty poses next to the still that he built

Tyler Clark and his copper creation

An ex-sherry number that we got to have a cheeky nibble at was delicate and creamy, with a splash of vanilla on the nose, while the mouth was light and dry with a hint of citrus. All in all, a very promising start. (There was also a very unusual ‘smoked’ spirit in a virgin oak cask that might be a story for another day…).

While the Aqua Vitae gin range has a botanical watercolour aesthetic, Tyler wants to go down a different route for the whisky: “The demographic who are buying the gin, which to be honest is mostly women of a certain age, are going to be completely different to the people who will buy the whisky. I feel like I want to make a statement with the bottle, something that speaks really about quality, rather than just having the same old cheap 500ml glass bottle as everyone else, which is why I’m leaning towards ceramics at the moment.” (Watch this space…)

An idyllic view over the Derwent Valley near Brighton. A large gum tree is in the foreground. Paddocks and low hills covered in trees extend into the distance

The view from Lodge Hill over the Derwent Valley

There is no official name for the whisky yet, but according to Tyler “The name of the distillery itself, 7K, refers to the postcode of the region and connects it to that sense of place, where I live. When it comes to the whisky I want it to have that same sort of feeling, something that has meaning to me.”

The tour eventually came to an end as Tyler was heading up the bush to be manly and cut up some trees. As we trundled down the drive to set out on our long journey home, I glanced back at the neat white containers (they used to be painted bright orange, which I rather liked as they gave me Hapag-Lloyd vibes. Yes, I’m sad, I know), I reflected on the fact that they are something of a symbol for the young, adaptable industry that is growing up in Tasmania, largely unshackled from the weight of tradition in the old country.

Three men standing in front of a whisky still. Two of them are Nick and Ted, world famous whisky writers from the blog Whisky Waffle. The other man is Tyler Clark, the owner of 7K Distillery

The future of 7K distillery is looking bright (particularly if the container colours keep changing) and to quote Tyler himself: “I think it’s going to be exciting.”

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 14

This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where we talk about tasting notes: helpful, or simply bollocks?
– The Whisky, where we enthuse about a peaty Kilchoman matured in red wine casks;
– From the Spirit Sack, where we try and figure out just how many distilleries there are in Tasmania; and
– Smash, Session or Savour, where three 12 year old sherry bombs face off

Starward Two Fold Double Grain Australian Whisky

Reviewed by: Ted

It used to be that if you wanted to buy an Australian whisky, your choice was pretty much from a never-ending cavalcade of single cask, single malt releases that cost more kidneys than you could really afford on a regular basis. To be honest, it’s still like that, but these days the scene is starting to get a lot more diverse as more players enter the game and start to experiment with different styles.

People are prepared to pay for quality of course, but on the whole, prices for the Aussie amber still remain prohibitively high for the general market who want a decent local dram that isn’t going to eviscerate their wallets. Starward Distillery in Melbourne is trying to change that with a zesty little number pitched squarely at the average punter.

A bottle of Starward Two Fold Double Grain Australian Whisky sitting in front of a Christmas tree

Starward’s Two Fold Australian Whisky has an interesting trick up it’s sleeve that helps them to keep the price point well below $100AUD, which is a rare for a local drop (it’s currently $65AUD on their website). As well as using the standard malted barley, Starward have added wheat into the mix, making a ‘double grain’ whisky that ‘marries two quintessentially Australian grains’ together.

This is quite a clever move for a number of reasons. For one, Australia grows a lot of wheat – around 18.5million tonnes in 2018-19 in fact (which is actually down from previous years). In comparison, barley only managed about half that amount in the same period.

In terms of spirit production costs, wheat makes a lot more sense. In comparison to barley, which has to go through the whole malting process and then get distilled in fairly inefficient pot-stills, wheat spririt is generally produced on giant industrial column stills that allow for continuous production. In fact, Manildra Group’s Shoalhaven plant in Nowra, where Starward sources its wheat spirit from, is the largest grain neutral spirit (GNS) distillery in the South East Asia region.

Flavour-wise though, that’s where things start to get a bit more competitive. Neutral spirits made from grains such as wheat are much lighter and take far less influence from the cask compared to the heavier, oilier pot still-made malts. Hence why they have traditionally been used as the ‘silent’ base for Scottish blends, with small amounts of single malts added in on top to provide the flavour.

Starward’s ‘thing’ has always been Australian wine cask maturation and the Two Fold is no exception to that rule, in this case doubling-down on it. According to Starward they use [sic] “Lightly charred or steamed barrels. Sourced from Australian wineries that make great shiraz, cabernets and pinot noirs. Often filled fresh when the barrel is still wet with wine.” Starward’s own malt spirit and the wheat spirit are aged separately before being blended at a ratio of about 2:3 before being bottled at 40%abv.

A bottle of Starward whisky wearing a christmas jumper and santa hat sitting on a red brick in a herb garden. Yes, that is a bit random I know

Getting into the Christmas spirit

Speaking of the bottle, Starward has always killed it with their label art and the Two Fold is no exception, with a gorgeous blue, black and gold label with an unusual shape that stands out from the pack. Colour-wise, there is no mistaking that the spirit has spent its life in ex-wine casks, sporting a ruddy copper hue.

Flavour-wise, the Two Fold is a certified drinker. The nose is creamy and fruit-driven, with peaches, red grapes and banana mixed with a generous hit of vanilla with chocolate/cereal notes that make me think of Weetbix slice. There’s also an interesting nutty, meaty quality that sits underneath.

The mouth is relatively spicy, thanks to the wheat, and dry from the wine. The body is light and creamy across the mid-palate with a relatively short, tannin-driven finish, although there’s enough linger to make you keep wanting to come back for another go.

David Vitale and the Starward team have really pulled it off with the Two Fold. Low price certainly doesn’t equal cheap whisky in this case. Even better, it comes in a 700ml bottle. I think that the Two Fold is an excellent dram for the Aussie summer – the wine-driven flavours would pair perfectly at a BBQ, it’s light enough in the heat and the price means that it’s ideal to casually share amongst friends. If you’re looking for a solid local dram this festive season, the Starward Two Fold is a no-brainer.

***

PS. It’s nearly Christmas, so it’s about time for a dodgy cracker joke –

Q: What’s a grain spirit’s favourite Christmas carol
A: Silent Night

Whisky Waffle Summer Drams

Posted by: Ted

Summer Drams

December is upon us, which means that for Australians, summer is here. Long days, beautiful weather and BBQ’s with the fam… Although in reality, the whole of the mainland seems to be on fire at the moment, while down here in Tassie we’re still shivering miserably (and snow is forecast for next week!).

For Whisky Waffle, December means a couple of things. For one, we have to start racking our whisky-addled memories for some outstanding drams that we’ve tried over the past year to go into the upcoming Waffle Awards. The other thing is – it’s about bloody time we held another whisky event!

It’s been a little while since we’ve done one of our live gigs, in no small part due to some idiot breaking his leg! Anyway, we’re back on our full compliment of feet again and ready to get legless with the crew.

This time around our theme is Summer Drams and we have a cracking line-up of summertime whisky to share with you. Featuring six whiskies, including some curios from the motherland and a few home-grown heroes, as well as festive nibbles and our usual hi-jinks, the evening is set to be a (Christmas) cracker.

Big thanks as always to the crew at The Chapel for hosting (aka putting up with) us, and to Ariel, our artist, for the excellent poster art.

WHEN: Sunday 15th Dec @ 5:30pm
WHERE: The Chapel, Burnie
WHAT: Six whiskies + festive nibbles
RSVP: www.trybooking.com/BHCOI, or tickets at the venue

Straight Batt 44%

Review by: Ted

Investing can be a tricky business – if it goes right then life is good, but there’s always the danger that things can go very, very pear-shaped and people get left empty-handed (and extremely pissed off). Unfortunately the Tasmanian whisky scene has witnessed the tragic side of investing in its short history, with the very public and messy collapse of a well-known distillery in 2016, that left investors bereft of their money, whisky (and cows).

Harry van der Woude was one of the lucky ones. His father Pieter had done some barrel investing when Harry was younger and when the opportunity to re-invest together came up, the younger van der Woude decided “Ah yeah, I’ll get in on that.” After hearing early rumours of trouble at the old mill, they decided to claim their spirit, ‘ambushing’ the distillery by rocking up out of the blue one day armed with the correct paperwork and a couple of empty replacement barrels to swap. Amazingly, they managed to walk out with their two barrels of partly-aged spirit, which is more than a lot of people managed when shit really went down (if the spirit ever existed in the first place in many cases).

After contemplating keeping it for themselves or selling it on as a lot, Harry and Pieter eventually decided to bottle their whisky as a limited-release special-edition run. According to Harry, one of the best aspects of the project was the chance for some quality father/son bonding time. While not being whisky experts themselves, handy friendships and family connections meant that they were able to access mentorship from some of the leading names in the local industry. Crucially, this allowed them to get expert advice about things like maturation lengths, bottling strength and flavour profiles.

The end result is the Straight Batt Single Malt, a limited run of 400 bottles created from a marriage of the two casks liberated by Harry and Pieter. After aging for six years, the 100L French oak ex-tawny and American oak ex-bourbon casks were married together then cut down to 44%. According to Harry, “We tried it at a variety of strengths and that’s just where the sweet-spot happened to be.”

Thanks to the origin of the spirit, the Straight Batt is relatively light in style. The nose is spicy and dry with light oaky notes, beeswax, aniseed, honey and ginger. The overall smell is like a soothing balm for the sting of mishandled investments. The palate is light and fairly smooth, with a slight herbal, almost minty note. The finish is relatively short, with a dry blue-metal and grape linger. The delicate body and ease of drinking would make it a good choice for helping to swallow bitter pills.

The label, designed by Hobart-born artist Alexander Barnes-Keoghan (aka Albarkeo), features a drawing of an old-style cricketer playing a cross-bat shot, instead of the straight bat(t) shot that the name suggests. According to Harry, the artwork is a bit of a visual joke and subtle dig at the main architect of the collapse (who is referenced in the name), who he feels should have played it straight with investors but instead took the wrong approach and got bowled out, taking the whole team with him.

Harry is keen to assure people that the label and the release are all about sticking it to the establishment and are not meant to denigrate those who lost their money: “I want people to see it as at least a small bit of good to come out of a dark time in Tasmanian whisky.”
“A lot of people say ‘Ah, I’d die to be in that position’ and you realise how lucky you are to be able to build something positive out of a misfortune.”
“That’d be the ideal thing for me really, if a few people who got left behind in the fallout reached out and got to at least see something out of the situation. This is solidarity for those who got burned.”

***

Adams Distillery Pinot Noir Slosh Cask 46%

Reviewed by: Nick

Adams Pinot Slosh WW

What is the most important aspect of a whisky?

a) The region it hails from;

b) The age statement;

c) The prettiness of the bottle; or

d) What it actually tastes like.

While there’s a lot to like in options a) to c) (I’m a sucker for a pretty bottle!), when it comes down to it, the best thing about whisky is that you can drink it and therefore flavour is by far the most important factor.

Which is what the Adams of Adams Distillery had in mind when trying to squeeze every last tasty morsel out of cask AD0086, a French oak ex-pinot noir barrel. But before we get to option d), let us discuss a) to c).

Adams Distillery is based in the North of Tasmania at Glen Ireh Estate in Perth, just outside Launceston. They’ve been expanding the distillery since… well, pretty much since day 1, and the first few of their releases are only just entering the market.

This whisky is in no way old – by Scottish standards at least – but the smaller casking and hotter conditions in Tasmania require an earlier release. To maximise the flavour in each bottle the Adams developed the ‘slosh-cask’ technique, which simply involves regularly rolling the barrel from one side of the bond store to the other – the idea being that the process encourages greater interaction with the wood of the cask, forcing more of the barrel influence into the spirit.

The bottle is particularly pretty as well and is sure to stand out on bars with its distinctly-shaped neck. However, the most beautiful aspect is the colour of the whisky itself: a rich brown which when held up to the light glows ruby red.

It is an appropriate colour when you consider the creation of the dram. Unlike most whisky-makers in Tasmania who stick to a fairly standard grain (usually pilsner malt), Adams has experimented with using a percentage of dark crystal malt in their mash. It could be the power of suggestion… but I can’t help but feel it imparts coffee notes throughout the dram’s flavour.

On the nose there is oodles of chocolate, vanilla and stewed fruits, alongside hints of green grapes. It’s all coated in a thick layer of toffee which continues onto the palate, and is vibrant and viscous, almost chewy. There are also notes of strawberries and chocolate orange, while the finish contains strong coffee fudge flavours. For my fellow North West Coast Tasmanians, Anvers do one that this strongly reminds me of.

This whisky is not subtle – not even a little. But that’s not the point of the dram. The Adams have put flavour first and this is the result. It couldn’t be described as easy drinking and does take some taming. But like a whisky-swilling St George, I’m happy to take on this dragon. It’s exciting and moreish and most importantly of all, something a little different for Tasmanian whisky.

★★★★

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)

Fossey’s Single Malt Whisky: Port Cask F1 49.3% & Peated Sherry Cask FP1 57.6%

Reviewed by: Ted

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It’s always cool dropping by a whisky bar and finding something interesting that you’ve never tried before. Recently while I was in Melbourne, I stopped by Whisky Den on Russell St for a nightcap after a trip to the theatre.

After I’d spent a good amount of time polishing the bottles with my eyes (and probably corroding the text away by the end), the barmen started throwing around some potential choices. Most I’d had before, until: “Have you tried the Fossey’s stuff yet?” “Nope! Never heard of them?” “Really new stuff from a crew in Mildura. Well worth a try. Keen?”

“Sure, lets do it!”

I was presented with two single cask bottlings, F1, a port casking at 49.3% and FP1, a curious peated sherry casking at 57.6%, both aged between 2-4yrs. Putting my body on the line in the name of scientific inquiry, I bravely made the decision to sample both (what a hero, I know).

Good decision – the Fossey’s are great! Both were very Australian in their character, that hot, rich small-cask/high-temp/short-aging profile you get in a lot of our new world whiskies.

On the nose the port cask is meaty and fruity, with stewed apricots and peaches topped with buttery crumble, followed by prunes, muscats, orange rind, cocoa nibs, leather and old timber polished with beeswax. It’s a satisfyingly dark and rich smell. In comparison, the peated sherry starts with a note that I have coined as ‘peat-nut butter’, a smoky, oily, nutty sort of vibe. The peating is fairly light and nicely balanced, sitting over warm honey and raisins. There’s also a feeling of hot, ash-coated chimney bricks and smoked fish.

On the mouth, the port cask is dry and spicy, with honeycomb and cinnamon wandering through. The body starts meaty and low before getting warm and crackly on the finish. All in all a very savoury dram. Unsurprisingly, the sherry cask starts off ashy, before launching into this funky cherry syrup taste and ending with a relatively thin, lingering finish.

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Later I decided to go looking for some more info about the distillery and what I had been drinking, but the Fossey’s website is currently devoted to their well-established gin brand, so I got in touch with Steve Timmis Esq, Master Ginnovator at Fossey’s Distillery.

Turns out the whisky is a collaboration between Steve and long-time mate Brian Hollingsworth, of Black Gate Distillery fame (whose name appears as the distiller on the Fossey’s Whisky bottles). While based in Mendooran these days, Brian used to live a mere 300km up the road from Steve in Broken Hill (as opposed to over 800km away now). The two guys bonded over racing Harleys against each other back in the day and have been friends now for over 30 years.

Currently they have been using 100L barrels cut down at Andrew Stiller Cooperage in Tanunda from externally sourced casks, but due to the expansion of the industry it is becoming increasing difficult and expensive to acquire high quality casks in Australia. In response to this problem, Steve says they have taken the bold step of laying down thousands of litres of their own port, allowing vertical integration of supply within the business and enabling consistency of flavour and style moving forward.

Another problem with aging spirit in Australia, particularly when you get to inland areas like Mildura, is the high summer heat. Steve says that winter is perfect, down to low single digits most nights and up over late teens to low 20s during the day, allowing the barrels to do plenty of breathing. In summer however it gets pretty hot, meaning they need to insulate the cellar and try to protect it as much as they can from the extreme heat, otherwise the angels can get pretty greedy and drink most of the whisky.

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When I asked Steve about the Fossey’s philosophy and the meaning of the tagline on the bottle, “Mellowed to perfection”, he responded that it’s all about doing things your own way and having a crack: “We mellow [the whisky] until its perfect (in our view) – maturing whisky in the Australian outback has its challenges, but like all of the things we do, Gin etc, we do it to satisfy our own palates, and not too much by the rule book. For example, whisky matured here is exceptionally good at 2.5 – 3 years, if it wasn’t, we would leave it in [for longer]. You’ll never never know if you never have a go. Our guiding philosophy is old school quality, the best we can produce, use local stuff wherever we can.”

While the whisky is hot off the press, Steve tells me the ‘jump’ from gin to whisky was about five years in the planning and he has plenty more good stuff to come. Australian whisky fans should keep an eye out over the next 18 months for more straight and peated single malt Fossey’s releases, as well as a solera-cask single malt. Apparently there are also plans for a sub $100AUD 40% ABV blend, as well as some interesting experimentation with locally grown barley and red-gum coal smoking instead of peat… watch this space!

Moral of the story here I think is, get into a decent whisky bar from time-to-time, you never know what you’ll find!

Thanks to Steve and Brian for making the whisky and the staff at Whisky Den for the solid recommendation. Alice, if you’re reading this, I hope you figured it all out.

Peated Sherry ***

Port ***