barrel

GlenDronach Peated

Reviewed by: Ted

Glendronach Peated

You know when you take one thing that is really good (like heavily sherried whisky) and combine it with another really good thing (like peated whisky) and the result is a winner? Well, strap yourselves in then, because you’re going to love The GlenDronach Peated Single Malt Whisky.

The GlenDronach distillery, nestled in the NE highlands of Scotland, is famous for its heavily sherried style of whisky, utilising Pedro Ximenez and Olorosso casks in all of its core range. These whiskies are rich, fruity and sumptuous, but one element they do not usually feature is smokiness.

This lack of smoke was not always the case though. Like many other old highland distilleries, The GlenDronach (founded 1826) originally used peat to dry its malt, however over the years the practise fell out of favour through a succession of owners and the rise of cheap coal. Indeed, the distillery was one of the last in Scotland to use coal power for its stills, right up until 2005 when it converted to steam.

Bucking the current The GlenDronach flavour profile and harking back to its roots is the Peated expression. Unusually for The GlenDronach, the Peated actually starts its life in ex-bourbon barrels before being transferred into the usual ex-PX and ex-Olorosso casks for finishing.

As such, while still being full of the warm, rounded, fruity characteristics usually associated with The GlenDronach, the Peated is perhaps a touch lighter in feel than usual. The nose evokes burnt marmalade, stone fruit, leather, almond and walnut. The smoke is soft, toasty and earthy, with none of the strong coastal elements that drive Ileach and Island peated whiskies.

The mouth presents a mixture of juicy sweet yellow and white stone fruits, honey, Turkish delight and toffee. The lighter flavours likely derive from the bourbon casking while the heavier ones draw from the sherry casking. The smoke lingers gently at the back of the throat on the finish.

The GlenDronach is an excellent example of how well peating can complement the rich flavours of sherried whiskies, particularly because the smokiness is well balanced in the dram. Peat-heads and sherry-bombers alike will find something to entertain and interest them and will likely keep being drawn back to sup from this particular fruit’n’smoke chalice time and time again.

★★★

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Sheltering at Shene Estate

Posted by: Nick and Ted

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Seeing that Christmas is nearly upon us, we thought we’d begin this review with a Christmas cracker joke: 

Q. What do you get if you cross a keen back-shed distiller with a passionate architectural restorationist?

A. Shene Estate Distillery. (Come on, it’s at least as funny as any other Christmas cracker joke!)

Whisky maker Damian Mackey met heritage building conservationist David Kernke nearly ten years ago – Damian was looking for a location to make his eponymous whisky, while David was looking for something to diversify his new acquisition, the 19th century property Shene Estate. It must have been fate which brought these two together because, along with their respective families, they have created one of the most stunning distilleries in the Southern Hemisphere, if not the world.

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Boys with their toys: L-R David Kernke and Damian Mackey

While the main building at Shene Estate looks like a grand mansion, it turns out that it was actually only built to keep horses in, making it one of the more expensive stables ever erected. It was constructed by English lawyer Gamaliel Butler who, as well as having an excellent name, also had a shrewd business sense. He used his wealth and social standing to begin work on a lavish country estate, but died before the main house was constructed, leaving only some outbuildings, including a Georgian Regency era homestead that David and Anne reside in, and the stables – and even that lacked the top of its central turret. Going by the grandiosity of the stables, one can only speculate as to what the main mansion would have looked like if it were ever finished.

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Proof that that magnificent building is, indeed, a stables

Whisky Waffle was lucky enough to be invited to visit Shene Estate earlier this year and meet the friendly team, consisting of head-distiller Damian Mackey, his wife Madeleine and the Kernke family – David, his wife Anne and daughter Myfanwy. While the reception we received was warm, the weather certainly wasn’t and we were nearly blown off the face of the earth while walking between the stables, the beautiful old barn and the distillery.

Speaking of the distillery, it is housed in a new purpose-built timber-clad shed that was designed to perfectly blend in with the existing 19th century architecture. Despite a third of the room being taken up by a truly epic stack of ex-sherry barrels, we still managed to clap our eyes on some beautiful distilling gear. A run was on the go while we were there, with David manning the still, and it seemed as good a place as any to ride out the storm.

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The still is eager to fill up all those barrels in the background

What the wind couldn’t achieve, the whisky certainly could – upon trying a dram we were totally blown away. Technically, we can’t officially call it whisky yet; what we were lucky enough to sample came from the first ever barrel produced at Shene Estate and was only 18 months old. We are apparently among the first in the world to try the matured spirit, a great honour for two whisky nerds. While the whisky is not yet the finished product, it shows a lot of potential to become one of the greats within the Tassie scene.

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Barrel number 1. The first of many.

The whisky is to be released under the name Mackey and its point of difference stems from Damian’s Irish heritage in that it is triple distilled. This produces a lighter and more refined spirit, although one certainly not lacking in depth; the style may be Irish, but the character is all Tasmanian. The new make is then transferred into ex-port barrels and stored in the loft of the stables. The solitary barrel currently looks rather lonely up there, but rest assured there are many more on the way.

In fact, the Shene Estate team revealed to us that there are big plans afoot for the future of the distillery. Things have been moving at an unexpectedly rapid pace and Damian told us with a mixture of pride and horror that they have skipped straight from year one to year five on their five year plan. The most exciting consequence of the expansion is the addition of two new stills to create a set of three – one for each distillation.

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And this still will be the smallest of the three!

While the architecture was stunning and the whisky exciting, the real highlight of our visit was meeting the wonderful people who have dedicated countless hours to making a pipedream into a reality. From Damian’s distilling, to Anne’s delicious Poltergeist gin, to Myf’s community engagement, to David straightening each and every piece of gravel in the courtyard, the team has created a unique and fascinating distillery. And even after a long afternoon showing Wafflers around the estate, they still had the energy to deliver us back to our lodgings and deliver David his chicken sandwich to see him through to the end of the distillation run. It’s that level of hospitality that ensures Shene Estate will always have a special place in our hearts.

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Selfies at Shene

Shene Estate Distillery has a road-side stall set up at the estate every Sunday between 10 and 4 which is staffed by friendly family members. Like to see more? You can also book a tour here.

Rye Reflections: my visit to Belgrove

Posted by: Nick

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While casually scanning through the many varied barrels in the bond store end of Pete Bignell’s converted stables, I asked him what he thought his signature expression was. It was a tricky question – I mean, it must be hard to settle on just one drop in a place of such experimentation, innovation and creation. And he looked at me with a grin and told me that his signature expression was exactly that. Not a barrel type, or even a grain; but creativity. I guess when you think about it, what else could possibly link a champion sand sculptor with a leading whisky maker – but creativity?

As we continued to waltz through different age statements, grains, barrel types and peat levels (north-east peated malt: phwoar!) I realised that no two barrels were alike. Each one had its own history and its own story – and Pete knew ‘em all. It’s clear now that embracing the lack of uniformity and instead pursuing creativity is what Belgrove is all about.

Booker Noe’s Special Barrel Bourbon

Reviewed by: Ted

Booker Noe's

Ok people, tread carefully, we’re hunting a pretty dangerous lil’ beastie today and I wouldn’t like to see anyone lose a leg. It’s got a strong nose, a powerful kick and a bite worse than the biggest, meanest black bear you ever did see. What am I talking about? Why, Booker Noe’s Special Barrel Bourbon of course…. Look out! *crunch*

This big hitting bourbon takes it’s name from one of Kentucky’s most beloved sons, Booker Noe, grandson of the great Jim Beam himself. As master distiller at Jim Beam for many years, and a child of one of America’s greatest whiskey dynasties, Booker had an innate knowledge of the spirit he crafted. As a testament to his skill he selected barrels of special character to create an expression bearing his name and personal taste.

According to Booker’s note on the bottle label, his grandfather preferred his whiskey to be aged between 6-8yrs. My bottle, containing batch C04-A-28, hits that mark perfectly, being aged for 7yrs and 4months precisely. What really gives the Booker Noe its teeth is that fact that it’s bottled straight from the barrel. Therefore the bottle of dark, uncut Kentucky spirit sitting before me is a hefty 64.55% abv, or 129.1 proof in the American money.

I make no joke about the potency of this stuff, as it’s responsible for some of the few alcohol induced blank spots in my memory. Just to hammer the point home, our women folk are generally pretty indulgent and tolerant of our whisk(e)y drinking proclivities. Yet when the Booker comes out, or even if there’s vague hints of it, stern looks and muttering along the lines of ‘Oh God, you’re not drinking that stuff again are you? Remember what happened last time?’ occurs. Suffice to say, m’colleague and I have not been found in the best shape afterwards.

Yet, even after all that, there is something about the Booker Noe that keeps drawing us back. It’s the bold, gutsy, manly nature of it I think. Bourbon in the raw. The nose is solid, a big slab of dusty corn sweetness that drops down on you like a sack of, well, corn. Of course, because of the strength there’s an undertone of nail polish remover, but it blends well with the sweetness, only frying the occasional unsuspecting nose hair.

The taste is bold, taking a big, sharp, sweet, fruity swipe at your palate. The spirit fills the mouth, making your cheeks tingle and the blood rise. The finish is oaky and sour, and keeps you pinned down until it finishes punching you in the face.

Booker Noe’s Special Barrel bourbon is the American spirit at its brawniest. It’s creator was a larger-than-life figure and his bourbon certainly lives up to that legacy. Hunt the wild Kentucky beast if you dare, but be careful it doesn’t bite you too hard. But maybe it’s just like the note I stuck on the box says: “Because I like to live… dangerously.”

★★★

Limeburners Infinity Solera Cask

Reviewed by: Nick

Limeburners Infinity Solera

The thing about the Australian Whisky scene is that we are unquestionably small-fry. It is a quantifiable fact that we produce less whisky per annum than Glenfiddich sloshes from its barrels. Size, or rather lack thereof, is the overriding factor in most Aussie distilleries’ tendencies to release single barrel expressions – they simply don’t produce enough product to have an alternative. This is great if you happened to own an unopened bottle of HH525 Sullivans Cove in 2014. If you did, I hope your new private yacht is treating you well.

Single barrels are not as good however, when the aim of your whisky game is consistency of flavour. You know, that old chestnut of getting one bottle of your standard release to mildly resemble the taste of another one. The best way to achieve this is to blend (or more romantically, ‘marry’) a range of casks together – thus ironing out any ‘bumps’ in flavour. Even better still, is if you can use a Solera vat, which are only ever half empty (or full. Not sure which is the most optimistic phrasing in this case.)

With this groundbreaking new technology (invented c.1790), distilleries are suddenly able to better define their flavour and ensure that a bottle you buy this year is (pretty much) the same as the one you purchase at a later date.

One of the first distilleries in Australia to adopt the Solera technique is the wonderfully-named Great Southern Distilling Company based in Albany, Western Australia. They market their wares under the label ‘Limeburners’ and in their short history, have released some stellar drams.

While director/distiller Cameron Syme is a huge fan of the variety found in single barrel releases, he acknowledges the need for a consistent product and an entry level into the Limeburners range, resulting in the creation of the Limeburners Infinity. Cameron says that his distillery’s key commitment is “to make Australian whisky which can compete and hold its own at the highest international levels. Infinity is certainly capable of that.”

This particular release contains 8 year old whisky matured in several 500L South Australian port puncheons. The infinity name is appropriate, as the Solera system will always leave at least a teeny tiny fraction of these original whiskies in the mix.

Eager to support the distillery, I stumbled upon this bottle’s first release on Dan Murphys and promptly blew my savings for the week. So what exactly is the Infinity Solera Reserve like?

On the nose there are immediate traces of the port influence – ripe oranges dominate alongside zesty citrus and vanilla, bringing to mind cupcakes with lemon icing. The palate is complex – certainly not smooth, but well balanced with flavours of strawberry jam, honey and malt biscuits. In the finish I spotted hints of the bitter soapiness I sometimes detect in wine-matured whisky (yes, I know, this is port matured and therefore I sound crazy). However, this vague disagreeable note dissipates quickly and is replaced by an intriguing dryness which contrasts pleasantly with the initial flavours.

Usually I find it pretty counterintuitive adding water to my whisky, but in the case of this one, it takes on a whole new character with a splash of H20. Suddenly, large dollops of gooey caramel dominate the palate and the flavours morph from undeniably Australian to slightly Speysidey.

This whisky is a significant step for Australian whisky. Lack of consistency is one argument the Cynical Scot has always held over me in our heated whisky-fuelled debates about the validity of non-Scottish drams. It seems that, at least in Limeburners’ case, I will be able to return to the bottle shop in a year, in two years, or even in ten and get this same drop. Or alternatively, I could save my pennies and buy one of their delicious cask strengths…

★★★

Landing at Launceston Distillery

Posted by: Nick and Ted

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A great place to hang(ar) out

It’s certainly an awe-inspiring sight the first time you enter the great expanse of Hangar 17 at Launceston Airport and behold the gleaming distilling equipment laid out on the floor. It’s certainly not what you’d expect to find in Ansett Airlines’ long-neglected freight facility, until recently a lair for birds and dust. Thankfully the birds have been evicted and the dust laboriously scoured from the exposed metal girders to provide a home for Launceston’s first distillery in 175 years.

On a recent trip to Launceston the Whisky Waffle boys had the great pleasure of meeting Ilya, Peta and Chris, three members of the team, and checking out their state of the art distillery. Their set up is certainly impressive: the stunningly beautiful Tasmanian-built stills stand proudly in the centre of the gigantic room. This is no small-scale operation – you can tell these guys are serious about their whisky-making, in part evidenced by the fact that they have both a wash still and a spirit still, often not the norm for smaller-scale ventures.

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Two stills. Count em!

“We wanted to make a premium product,” said distiller Chris “so after much debate we came to an agreement and decided to take the plunge and build both stills.” Premium is certainly the goal they have set themselves and we think that they are well on their way to achieving it. This was made abundantly clear when we tried their new make – an elegant and dangerously drinkable spirit.

As the team has only recently started filling barrels there was no whisky mature enough for us to try, though we did get to take a ‘flying visit’ through their bond store. Chris had three different casks on a table, an ex-bourbon, an ex-sherry and an ex-port and invited us to have a nose and see if we could guess which was which. We were unanimous about the bourbon but disagreed about the other two, with Nick’s nose reigning supreme on this occasion.

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Two good-looking pieces of equipment. And some stills.

The Launceston Distillery crew are excited about being able to showcase their hometown and promote the northern part of the state. They are looking to capitalise on the success experienced by their southern counterparts and pave the way for a whisky trail in the north. Who knows, perhaps one day there will be a north-south rivalry develop in the whisky industry to mirror the Boags vs Cascade beer-battle.

While the name has yet to be confirmed, Launceston Distillery is looking to make the most of their aviation surroundings and release their whisky under the moniker of Hangar 17. While we’re not sure if our idea of a bar in an old aircraft will come to fruition, their location is definitely advantageous for luring in curious customers. As Peta told us: “1.5 million people pour through the airport every year, so it would be wonderful to capture just a portion of them.”

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The dream team. Doing it for the North. L-R Chris, Peta, Ilya.

While at the moment the distillery is flying under the radar, and according to Ilya being consciously relaxed about publicity, they are certainly one to keep on the scanner in the future. We at Whisky Waffle are excited to discover the lofty heights they reach and will be booking our ticket when Hangar 17 is ready to lift off.

Find out more about Launceston Distillery at our links page. The distillery is not yet open to the public but appointments can be made to visit.

The Arran Malt Amarone Cask Finish

Reviewed by: Nick

Arran Amarone Cask

Traditionally, the world of Scottish whisky is very – well – traditional. When popping champagne for Ardbeg’s two hundredth year, we somewhat neglected the rather less impressive twentieth birthday of the Arran Distillery. But distilleries are only as good as the products they are currently creating, and there is a lot to like about the bottles presently leaving the Isle of Arran.

As well as a range of age statement whiskies they have a variety of cask finish expressions, and the one I happened to get my grubby little mitts on was finished in Amarone barrels. For the uneducated, which I will freely admit to being one of before buying the bottle, Amarone is a dry Italian red wine made from grapes such as Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. Yup, me neither.

I’ve had an up and down relationship with wine-matured whiskies, though one aspect I universally love is their amazing colours. The Arran is no exception – this whisky is the coppery orange of traditional creaming soda. The nose is alluring, giving the impression of alcohol soaked fruits eaten at Christmas time. There are cherries and strawberries as well as honey and syrupy cola.

The palate is rich and spicy, aided immensely by the higher bottling strength of 50%. It is delightfully creamy with large dollops of toffee, oranges and Turkish delight. The finish is dry with notes of oak and dark chocolate, and is pleasingly long and warming.

While the Arran Malt does not boast the long history of many distilleries, this should not in any way be held against it. A glorious Scottish past does not always equal quality in the present. Just ask Rangers Football Club.

★★★★

Benromach Sassacaia Wood Finish

Reviewed by: Richard

Benromach Sassacaia Wood FinishThis one was recommended to me by a friend who knows my fondness for sweeter whiskies… So first up – a little bit about the distillery:

Benromach is a Speyside distillery founded by Duncan McCallum and F.W. Brickman in 1898 and currently owned and run by Gordon and Macphail of Elgin. It is situated near Forres in Morayshire and is fed with spring water from the Chapelton Springs in the Romach Hills beside Forres.

And now – on with the review:

This has been matured in a Sassacaia barrel, so an introduction to the wood is in order!
Sassicaia is one of the most sought-after Cabernet Sauvignon wines in the world and made history recently, being the first single wine to be granted its own DOC (Denominazione di origine controllata – quality assurance label for Italian food products, especially Italian wine and cheese)
The Sassicaia estate is located at Bolgheri and lies in the Province of Livorno in Tuscany, Italy.

So, shut up, tell us about the whisky…

This is a 2006 distilled expression and bottled this year – there’s an older 2005 release, a 2004 release and a few older bottlings.
All I can find out is that it’s put in an ex bourbon barrel for around 7 years, and then put in a Sassacaia barrel for around 29 months – just over 2 years.
The colour is golden pink! Well lightly pink – if the sun hits it just right…

Nose: It’s got a real soft nose – dry toasted oak, vanilla, fruity, toffee, nutmeg, and that definitive wine note.
The nose is right up my alley – really sweet and bold, but not sickly…
Now to stick it in my mouth!

Palate: Cherries, raspberries & vanilla, spices, subtle smoke, malty toffee, and wine!
The palate is quite dry, which I find a lot with red wine finishes for some reason… tannic influence maybe? I find they make my mouth water a bit…

Finish: A medium-long finish with hints of fruit and another whiff of smoke.

This is a session whisky (if there’s such a thing) for sunny afternoon, sitting under a tree, in the shade, with some olives, sourdough, semidried tomatoes, cheese and some good friends…I’m amazed at the influence the wine has made, the light smoke and the fruit notes. I’ve tried the standard 10yo Benromach, which is one of my favourites – this is better, not by a lot, but still, better, and juicier…
A bloody fine whisky to add to any collection!

★★★

Longrow Cabernet Sauvignon Cask

Reviewed by: Nick

Longrow Cab Sav

As the abundance of sherry barrels diminishes, whisky makers are forced to look elsewhere for maturation options. The obvious solution, of course, is using the barrels of another grape flavoured product – no, not hubba bubba bubblegum – wine. Wine cask maturation is being used by distillers worldwide: some as a novelty but others as a serious addition to their main range.

The wonderful whisky makers of Longrow are no strangers to experimentation. One of their more intriguing bottles is the Cabernet Sauvignon Cask – aged for seven years in refill bourbon hogs heads and a further four years in Cab Sav barrels sourced from my very favourite wine region: South Australia’s McLaren Vale.

Warning: this is not a beginners whisky. Nor is it an easy drinking whisky. Nor, I believe, could I describe it as a ‘nice’ whisky. But it sure is a fascinating one. On the nose I detected, well, heaps. Initially a gentle smoke, reminding you that yes, Longrow do peat their barley. Once the smoke clears notes of grapes, banana and burnt orange rind flow through. Over all, it is complex and delicious.

The palate is a bit of a shock. Initially it is sweet with fizzy sherbet complimenting the peat. The red grapes make a return, along with other fruit such as melons and apricots. And then the spirit transforms. The finish is long, though not necessarily because of the slightly higher percentage of alcohol. It’s a little… soapy? This is a tasting note I (and seemingly I alone) seem to find in many wine-matured whiskies. There are other, nicer elements: smoked ham, salt, fish, bonfire ash, general seaside senses. This whisky is from Campbelltown, after all!

In no way do I regret buying this whisky. There’s a lot to like and a lot to discuss. But I didn’t love it. And that’s ok.

★★

Glen Moray 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Glen Moray 12 Year Old

It is quite often the case in the whisky world that what you pay for is what you get. It is usually a safe assumption that a $40 bottle will be inferior to one costing three figures. However, there are so many exceptions to this rule that I begin to wonder why us whisky fanatics spend the money we do.

Case in point is the Glen Moray 12 Year Old, a bottle that first caught my eye when I was a uni student and therefore always on the lookout for an alcoholic bargain. The Glen Moray was, quite simply, the cheapest single malt I could find in Australian bottle shops. However I was quick to discover it held a certain charm that saw it rise above many of the blends I could also afford.

There is no denying that it is a simple dram, bearing all the hallmarks of Speyside. On the nose there are notes of sweet biscuits and honey. Predictably from a whisky matured entirely in bourbon casks, there are also elements of vanilla. The palate is sweet, almost syrupy, with toffee, banana and heathery floral notes. The finish contains more vanilla, spice and Werthers-esque caramel.

The Glen Moray 12 Year Old is never likely to rack up a high score at any whisky awards shows. But in my opinion there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It is simply a straightforward and inoffensive whisky that punches above its weight against the larger players.

★★