Australia

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)

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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 ***

Whipper Snapper Project Q Batch 1 46.5%

Posted by: Ted

What does a South American superfood with a weird name have to do with WWII bomber pilots? Well, in a round-about way: whiskey. Before we get into why though, let’s take a slight tangent.

Project Q is part of the new Dalek masterplan

By definition, whisk(e)y is a grain based spirit. In terms of the most common grains that are used, the holy quaternity is barley, corn, rye and wheat. Alone or in combination, these four star in the vast majority of whiskies. Beyond that, there is a whole panoply of random grains that rarely (if ever) get a look-in due to reasons such as rarity, expense and difficulty of use.

One such grain is quinoa. You know, the one that you think is pronounced ‘kwinoa’ until some posh git swans by and says “no no, it’s ‘keeen-wah’ daahling”. A staple native grain in South American, quinoa can now be found lurking in expensive salads in the West. To be fair, it is very good for you. Turns out it has other uses beyond feeding hipsters though.

Most of the established whisk(e)y distilling cultures wouldn’t dream of going anywhere near something like quinoa. Tradition is tradition after all. You need to go somewhere where the industry is fresh and young and willing to experiment with new things. Like Australia for example.

Whipper Snapper Distillery, based in Perth, Western Australia (WA), is an outfit that is not afraid to mess around. The roots of the distillery go back to WWII, where an Aussie and a US pilot bonded over a love of bombers and making whiskey. Vic, the Aussie half of the duo, took the recipe they had developed home and continued to distil in his back shed. The recipe was eventually passed onto his young neighbour Al and his mate Jimmy and thus Whipper Snapper was born. Keeping with the American connection, the distillery’s flagship release is the Upshot, a bourbon-style whiskey with an Aussie twist.

Sounding rather like a top-secret WWII program, Project Q is Whipper Snapper’s experimental quinoa-based whisky, only the second ever quinoa release world wide (the other is from Corsair Distillery in America). We first heard about it here at Whisky Waffle HQ a few years ago when they released an early test version, but sadly we were never able to get our mitts on a sample. Fast forward to 2019 and the lads have refined their process and unleashed their first official batch on an unsuspecting world.

Made using a mash bill of 65% quinoa, 25% corn and 10% malted barley, all the grains are locally sourced from WA. The Project Q is aged for just under three years in the distillery’s own ex-Upshot barrels and bottled at (at least for Batch 1) 46.5%.

Flavour-wise, the Project Q is like no other whisk(e)y I have ever tried. I sprang it on m’colleague blind and he almost broke his brain trying to work it out. The first guess was rye, which actually wasn’t entirely ridiculous as there is an earthy, nutty (quinoa-y?) quality to the nose that remindes me a bit of Belgrove’s Brown Rye. Beyond that though, there’s this weird combo of rose-water and what I can only describe as tobacco-infused old car. It’s like leather and oil and ciggies and sun-aged dash. My dad’s old MKII Jag or my 1985 BMW 325i.

The mouth has tannic sweetness underneath that I reckon comes from the corn, while over the top sits this ashy, spicy grain layer. The finish is fruity, a distilled cherry/plums/grapes feel that kind of brings to mind brandy or cognac. There is a lingering wisp of incense that coils around the tongue for a little while after.

Batch 1 people, get in quick for some quirky quinoa action

To be honest I’m not really sure what to make of it. The Project Q is definitely not a beginner’s whiskey, that’s for sure, with its complex melange of flavours. Due to the high cost and relatively low local production levels of quinoa, the Project Q is unlikely to be anything more than a quirky rarity, but one I think is worth tracking down to experience something unusual. It won’t be to everyone’s taste for sure, but I certainly think it still deserves its moment in the sun. I hope Whipper Snapper, and others, continue to experiment with new grains and flavours that challenge our palates and minds.

FYI, it’s still totally kwinoa.

***

Tassie takes on the 2019 World Whisky Awards

Posted by: Ted

Winner of the Best Australian Single Malt

Tasmanian whisky has been smashing gongs on the world stage again. The winners at the World Whisky Awards in London, widely recognised as the pinnacle for the industry, have just been announced and little ol’ Tassie has strutted it’s stuff in style. Repeat offenders Sullivans Cove, widely lauded for picking up Best Whisky in the World in 2014 and launching our little state squarely into the spotlight, has picked up the award for Best Single Cask Single Malt for the second year running. The drop that seduced the judges this year was TD0217, a rich, spicy, fruity French Oak cask release.

Even closer to home for Whisky Waffle was the winner of the Best Australia Single Malt, with Burnie locals Hellyers Road taking home the award for their Slightly Peated 10yo. When I congratulated Master Distiller Mark Littler and his team on the win he told me that “all of us at the distillery are very excited about receiving this global gong for the Slightly Peated 10YO. It is a London seal of approval supporting not only the quality of our whisky, but also our vision to create a world class whisky business from the North West Coast of Tassie”.

Congrats to Mark Littler and the Hellyers Road team!

Also worthy of mention is the winner of the World’s Best Single Malt (aka, the best of the best), the Teeling Whiskey 24yo Vintage Reserve, the first time an Irish drop has picked up the prestigious award.

Check out the rest of the winners here: http://www.worldwhiskiesawards.com

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 25: Iniquity Batch 11 46%

Posted by: Ted

On the twenty-fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Iniquity Batch 11 whisky. Christmas day is here and it’s back to South Australia for the final day of the advent calendar and another drop from Tin Shed Distilling Co.! Christmas is definitely the day for being a bit naughty and over-indulging in a few glasses of the good stuff and the Tin Shed team agree, saying that we all deserve ‘one of life’s wicked pleasures’.

The Iniquity is made with local grain and uses local peat and Mallee stumps for smoking, as well as tapping into South Australia’s experienced coopering industry to source high-grade barrels for their small-batch releases. Batch 11 was aged in American Oak ex-sherry casks and has quite a meaty, oaky nose, with leather, tobacco, walnut and ginger, while the mouth is dry and chewy, with candied citrus peel and a finish that is spicy and rubbery with a dash of hot metal at the end. The Iniquity Batch 11 is laid back and decadent and is going down well on this lazy Christmas afternoon.

#whitepossumspirits

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 24: Joadja Distillery Single Malt Release No. 2 48%

Posted by: Ted

On the twenty-fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Joadja Distillery Single Malt Release No. 2 whisky. Joadja is a historic ruined mining town in New South Wales Southern Highlands. Once abandoned, the town is now owned by Spanish ex-pats Valero and Elisa Jimenez who, along with running hertitage tours of the site, also founded and operate Joadja Distillery. The distillery is one of a rare breed of ‘paddock-to-bottle’ producers that uses barley grown on site and draws water from their own spring, imbuing the spirit with the unique terroir of their locale.

The Jimenez’s like to use their Spanish heritage to put their own spin on the whisky, using hand-picked ex-Oloroso and ex-Pedro Ximenez sherry butts from Spain to age their whisky. Release No. 2 uses the drier Oloroso style for the casking, giving it a rich, chocolate fudge, apricot, raisin, date and oak nose, while the mouth is spicy, with a green, fruity, citrusy character and a coppery finish that reflects the youthful nature of the spirit. An interesting drop that I think could use a tad more age to really shine, but shows great promise all the same.

#whitepossumspirits

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 23: Launceston Distillery Tawny Cask 46%

Posted by: Ted

On the twenty-third day if Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Launceston Distillery Tawny Cask whisky. Ansett was once one of Australia’s premiere airlines, but it all went belly-up in 2001 when the company collapsed. It was one of those weird situations where the doors shut and everyone just walked away, leaving buildings and assets frozen in a moment in time. This was the fate of Ansett’s Hanger 17 facility at Launceston Airport, until a few years ago when a team of like-minded individuals decided to shovel out the mounds of stratified pigeon-poo and set up a premium whisky distillery. Under the guidance of head distiller Chris Condon, the distillery has taken off and the crew have recently celebrated their first string of releases, including the Tawny Cask.

Tawny is the Australian name for Port, as Port is now appelated exclusively to Portugal, and this release has been aged for 2.5 years years in 20L casks. The nose is fat and rich, with dark chocolate, blackberries, hazelnuts and toffee, while the mouth is dark and dripping with blackcurrants, prunes and spicy, meaty finish. Launceston Distillery is soaring high and is well worth spending your millions of defunct Ansett frequent flyer points on.

#whitepossumspirits

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 22: Dobson’s Distillery Empire 8 60%

Posted by: Ted

On the twenty-second day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Dobson’s Distillery Empire 8 whiskey. More Victorian (as in the period, not the place) style funkiness from the New South Wales highlands ahoy! Dobson’s returns to the advent calendar, this time with a cask-strength creation. Stephen Dobson is not one to do things by halves or even multi-dimensional quarters, so the Empire 8 starts its life in stainless-steel vats with oak staves for four months before being transferred to a Shiraz cask for two years… then gets turfed into a Madeira casks for two years… aaannnddd then finally spending a couple of years in a Chardonnay cask! Phew!

The Empire 8 is triple-distilled in the Irish style (hence the whisk’e’y), which means that it is pretty smooth in spite of the cask-strengthing. The nose is soft and full of vanilla, caramel fudge and butter, while in comparison the mouth is narrow and sharp, with a definite note of vanilla topping and a hot, vapoury finish. It’s a really hard one to pick apart in terms of the multiple casking, which I think is modified by the effect of the triple-distillation and the strength. Another curious drop from the Dobson’s stable.

#whitepossumspirits

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 21: Nant Distillery Sherry Cask 43%

Posted by: Ted

On the twenty-first day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Nant Distillery Sherry Cask whisky. The mention of the name Nant will inevitably invite dark mutterings amongst observers of the Tasmanian whisky scene, having been the focus of a bit of an ugly episode in the recent history of the industry. The distillery and it’s owner, Keith Batt, always had a bit of a reputation for not playing nicely with the rest of the generally egalitarian Tassie distillers, but things really came to a head with the uncovering of a dodgy barrel scheme that left furious investors out of pocket with hundreds of barrels that were never filled. Consortium Australia Whisky Holdings swooped down on the dying carcass of Nant and have spent the past few years stocktaking, revitalising the distilling and generally trying to repair the distillery’s tarnished reputation.

Nant, under the stewardship of AWH, has recently released new stock, but this one would have come from the old gear. ‘Tasmania’s only highland distillery’ always had a bit of a thing for the heavier, richer barrel types and the sherry cask is no exception. The nose has brown sugar, ginger bread and caramelised apples, while the mouth sports rum’n’raisin and muscats, with a soft caramel and spice finish. Hopefully these days Nant’s fortunes are on the up and the new generation of whisky will impress. If you happen to have a bottle of old stock lying around, well worth your time to crack it for a cheeky dram.

#whitepossumspirits

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 20: Belgrove Rye Whisky 42%

Posted by: Ted

On the twentieth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Belgrove Rye whisky. And now for something a bit different from Tasmania. Peter Bignell is a top bloke and a bit of a mad tinkerer (as well as a sandcastle sculptor). He builds all of his own distillery gear, coopers his own barrels, converts chip oil into bio-diesel to fire his still, dries grain in old industrial tumble-driers, smokes experimental spirit with sheep poo and makes whisky using rye instead of the usual malted barley. If you ever get a chance to visit his Kempton digs then it is well worth the experience.

Rye is a trickier grain to work with than barley due to the way it goes gluggy during mashing and can get stuck during fermentation, but the effort is worth it thanks to the flavours that eventuate in the spirit. The nose has rhubarb, strawberry, apple and pear crumble as well as some marzipan, while the mouth brings stewed peaches and nectarines, pear drops, caramel and an ashy finish. If you’re bored with single malts and want to experience something different that is ethically crafted and special, start here.


#whitepossumspirits