blend

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 7

Posted by: Nick

It’s been waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too long since we’ve done a Whisky Waffle Podcast. But in actual fact, we’ve had one kicking around for a while which we never released. Not sure why. So here you are world: Whisky Waffle Episode 7: Blend is Not a Dirty Word.

This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where we try to justify the claim: blend is not a dirty word
– The Whisky, where we taste a couple of 18 Year Old whiskies – a blend and a single malt!
– Sour plums, where Nick put’s Ted’s nose to the test; and
– Smash Session or Savour, where Nick doesn’t pull any punches

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Inver House Green Plaid

Reviewed by: Ted

Inver House Green Plaid

Earlier this year I found myself hunting around for a passable quaffing Scotch to take away on our annual summer pilgrimage to Coles Bay (for those who are not familiar, Coles Bay, on the east coast of Tassie, is the town that sits on the edge of Freycinet National Park, home to the world famous Wineglass Bay. Check it out!).

M’colleague and I would define a quaffing Scotch as a whisky at the lower end of the price scale that manages not to taste like paint strippers and that you are more than happy splash around while in company. Like on a camping trip, for example.

After a bit of poking around I came across the Inver House Green Plaid Scotch whisky. On the face of it, the Inver House certainly looks like it fits into the sub-$40 (AUD) category (I think mine was about $35). Take four parts green tartan, add a crest, a couple of sprigs of Scotch thistle and a blurb about how Clan Donald is totally the bestiest evaaaa!!!, and there you have it.

But dig a little deeper and suddenly the Inver House starts to look a bit more interesting under the hood (apologies to my mother for this turn of phrase, but ‘under the bonnet’ just doesn’t seem to work as well somehow). Turns out Inver House Distillers Pty Ltd have quite a choice little stable of distilleries in their portfolio, namely – Pulteney, Balblair, Knockdhu, Speyburn and Balmenach.

Discovering that little nugget of information begs one the question: could this el-cheapo blend actually be a nugget of shining liquid gold??? Well… no. But it’s not too bad either.

As one might expect based on its (potential) components, the Inver House is fresh and bright, with a lick of grain, pear, apricot, grass and hazelnuts. Could that be a faint whiff of coastal air from Pulteney I detect… or just the result of my fervid imagination? It’s a tad rough, yeah, but not disastrously so.

The mouth is bright and pithy, with a generous hit of Lisbon lemons, butterscotch and wood polish. The finish makes your mouth pucker a bit like you’ve just taken a bite out of the aforementioned citrus fruits and then licked a metal spoon.

Look, the Inver House isn’t going to win any awards, regardless of its theoretical hidden pedigree. It’s kind of like when someone claims to be an Nth degree relation to the royal family. Cool, but there’s a lot of stronger contenders to get through before they get anywhere near the throne.

But for what it is, the Inver House is actually pretty good. You can happily drink it straight if that’s your groove, or if your mates want to mix it with coke then you’re not going to have to get your disapproving whisky-wanker face on. If you want a budget dram that you can share liberally with friends and have a good night of it, the Inver House has you covered.

★★

Heartwood Vat out of Hell

Reviewed by: Ted

heartwood-vat-out-of-hell

As I walked back through North Hobart to my hotel whilst on a work trip, I decided to stop into the Winston to rehydrate. Lo and behold, what did I find waiting on the shelf but a bottle of ‘Vat out of Hell’, one of Tim Duckett’s glorious cask-strength Heartwood creations.

Crafted from a delightful marriage of 10yo Lark sherry barrel and 13yo Tasmania Distillery bourbon barrel and bottled at a robust 67.4%, the Vat out of Hell, like most Heartwoods, is sadly no longer available for purchase. Therefore, stumbling across an open bottle constitutes a rare treat and a responsibility to try some for the betterment of humankind.

I gazed wistfully at the bottle on the shelf and thought ‘well… work’s covered the rest of my drinks tonight [I must admit that I had stopped for liquid sustenance at several other pubs along the way], so what the hell, I’ll treat myself.’

At this point I was feeling a little less analytical and in a bit more of a subjective frame of mind thanks to my nice warm beer coat, but I think that’s probably a good way to tackle a Heartwood. Ride the rush of emotions, don’t overthink it. So, without further ado, here’s what I thought (apparently. I’m glad I at least had the presence of mind to write this down):

The smell is… leathery, which is quite appropriate really… it’s like a box of sultanas left on the bench seat of an old Kingswood ute on a hot summer’s day… a walk through a meadow of spiked wildflowers… fruit leather made out of fruit cake… sun fermented orchard fruit… hot boat decking.

Tastes like timber should… if Easter eggs tasted like this, I’d probably eat them quicker… meat slow cooked for a looong time… dark brown as a flavour… attaches like a happy lamprey to your gums.

Yeah, so long story short, it was bloody good. Better than Meatloaf’s version… If you find some, think with your heart and not your wallet, and you’ll end up transcending to a higher plane of existence.

★★★★

The Pot Still Exclusive Invergordon 26 Year Old Single Grain Whisky

Reviewed by: Ted

invergordon-26

It’s very rare that I come across a whisky distilled in the year of my birth; usually they seem to fall either side of it. While that’s probably just me not looking in the right places, it’s definitely rare that the dram in question is a single grain scotch whisky.

Lesson time: Single malt scotch whisky can be made using only malted barley, whereas grain whiskies (like it says on the tin) can be made using other grains, such as wheat, and can be malted or unmalted. You don’t generally tend to see single grain whiskies on their own in the wild because their normal purpose in life is to form the base of blended scotch whisky.

Alongside the prestigious single malt producers are a multitude of unsung distilleries pumping out grain whisky for use in your Johnnie Walkers and Dewars’ and the like. Case in point: Who’s heard of Invergordon? Nope, me neither, but turns out they’re a thing.

I actually came across this bottle while I was in an excellent Glaswegian bar called ‘The Pot Still’ (up the end of the mall if you want to find it). While chatting to the barman I challenged him to pour me something unusual, and so he did.

Produced at Invergordon as an exclusive bottling for the Pot Still (in celebration of something or other I think. I forget what) this particular bottle was distilled on the 3rd of March 1988 and aged for a rather astonishing 26 years in cask# 24975 (no idea what, but from the colour I’m guessing an ex-bourbon).

Bottled at a hearty 53.7%, the nose of the Invergordon is vibrant and zesty, zinging with lemon, pineapple, pine resin and wood polish. Underneath the initial sharpness sits a smoother, rounded layer of pear, plum, apricot, dates and nuttiness. Finally, gliding out underneath is a waft of vanilla.

The first mouthful hits hot and sharp, with more lemon and pineapple, and then slides down your throat with a burning coolness like you’ve just had a strong mint. A second attempt, giving more time to develop in the mouth, finds toffee, green wood and a bitter, grassy, herbal finish.

I am sorry (not sorry) to say that you are probably highly unlikely to find a bottle of this anywhere. I only happened to stumble across mine because I was in the right place at the right time and the barman still had a small stash behind the bar that he was willing to part with.

If you do have a bottle, or are in the Pot Still and they’ve got some left, well done you, you’re part of an exclusive club. As for the rest of you great and unwashed masses, I think that this serves as a reminder not to discount the humble grain whisky. While they don’t get the same love as their single malt cousins, with a bit of age they can hold their own any day.

★★★

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…

★★★

Fiddlers: A (Loch Ness) monster of a whisky bar

Posted by: Ted

Fiddlers and Ted and barrels

The village of Drumnadrochit, nestled on the shores of Scotland’s Loch Ness, is more usually know for being the hub of all things Loch Ness Monster related (and home to Aidrian Shine’s beard).

For the wandering whisky fan however, there is a beast of another kind lurking in Drumnadrochit, one that is full of golden fire.

Fiddler’s Bar, owned by the delightful Jon and Karen Beach, is a wondrous whisky paradise. A hint is given by the row of maroon and white capped barrels resting outside to the the real treasure hiding within.

Fiddlers

Inside the cosy bar room are dark wood shelves lined with what seems to be every dram under the sun. Common malts rub shoulders with rare drams, and foreign drops mingle happily with the locals.

Scottish distilleries encircle the space above the bar, ordered very helpfully from A-Z (although this doesn’t necessarily make the choice any easier). I was lucky enough to sample a William Cadenhead that allegedly contained 40yo Glenfarclas, a very refined and elegant drop.

M’colleague will wholeheartedly endorse my opinion that Fiddlers is a truly fine place to be, having found comfort within its warmth during a time of need and restoration in what he tells me was a truly remarkable glass of Port Ellen.

If you ever find yourself passing through Drumnadrochit and want to discover an authentic experience among the tourist holy-poly drawn by Nessie, then Fiddler’s Bar is the place to be.

Fiddlers and Ted

(Try the Mighty Burger if you’re there at lunch. It really is!)

Blue Hanger 9th Release

Reviewed by: Nick and Ted

Blue Hanger 9th ReleaseAs a general rule we Whisky Waffle boys tend to be single malt snobs rather than blend bogans. As easy drinking as a blended Chivas 21yo is, we’d just as soon get to grips with a lively Balvenie 12yo single malt. However, one drop that we were lucky enough to try recently suggests that we just may not be drinking the right blends.

Berry Bros and Rudd, better known for their vintaged Glenrothes range, put out a yearly blended malt release called the Blue Hanger. The bottling is named after Lord William Hanger, who was famous for his habitual striking blue attire (just like the blue Power Ranger. Here’s to you Billy!). The original release was a blend of specially selected casks from the Glenlivet and Glengrant distilleries. Eventually stocks ran out (hence the emergence of the Founders Reserve…) and now in this, the 9th edition, Berry Bros and Rudd have combined (like Megazord) 17yo Clynelish and 18yo Glen Elgin with both 23yo and peated 7yo Bunnahabhain.

With such a pedigree it is no wonder the Blue Hanger claims to be the ‘collectors blended malt’. But is it worth adding to your own collection? Short answer: yes!

But of course, this is Whisky Waffle, and so we will also supply you with a long answer too. The nose is light and fruity, and we were able to find strawberry jam, dried apples, quince paste, cured meats and Chardonnay wine. It’s essentially happy hour in a bottle.

The taste is light but flavoursome. Under-ripe cherries, sherry and cola (NB: just a tasting note. No actual cola was brought anywhere near this baby. We’re not monsters you know) combine to sweetly dance across the tongue, followed by a gentle waft of cigar smoke. The finish is long, with the peat smoke slightly more prominent, and hints of pepper, burnt wood and gooey toffee apple.

If you served this to us blind (as in blindfolded, not blind drunk), we would be unlikely to pick it as a blend. The high quality aged single malt elements that make up the Blue Hanger work together with delicacy and harmony to make a very enjoyable dram; the smoky, salty Bunnahabhain giving depth to the high notes of the Clynelish and Glen Elgin. If you tend to think that blends are beneath you, then like us, you’ve probably just been drinking the wrong ones.

★★★★

Eriskay

Reviewed by: Ted

Eriskay

Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart. While you may think that I am just reeling off random names in some whisky fuelled musing, they in fact all belong to one particular person. A rather famous one in Scottish history at that. Loyalists to the throne scathingly called him the ‘Young Pretender’, but his followers, and indeed most people today, knew him thus: Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Although born in Italy, 1720, Charlie was actually descended from British royalty, grandson of the deposed Stuart King James II and VII. From a young age Charlie knew it was his mission and divine right to reclaim the throne. In 1745 he made his move, sailing from France and landing with his companions, known as the ‘Seven Men of Moidart’, on the small Outer Hebridean island of Eriskay to begin the ‘Jacobite Uprising’ and sweep through his ancestral home of Scotland to raise support.

‘What has this got to do with anything?’ you may be wondering. Well, it just so happens that the subject of this review takes its name from the island where Charlie and his men landed: Eriskay. Eriskay, or ‘Eric’s Isle’ in old Norse, is a blended Scotch whisky made from ‘quality Highland and Lowland Whiskies’. While the whisky is certainly Scottish, a closer inspection reveals that it is in fact bottled in Australia for the Ron Rico Distilling Company for sale on the local market.

Some cheap blends make no bones about the fact, often sporting rather woeful labelling. The Eriskay is indeed a cheap blend, purchased in this case for only AUD$37, however it’s certainly a cut above its companions in its dress sense. Superficially it looks rather like the label of the Talisker, with serifed lettering and a rather nice map in the background. However, bonnie looks alone do not make the man, there must be substance also.

History records that the Jacobite rebellion was doomed to failure, lost through poor battle strategy and politics. Unfortunately the Eriskay is rather similar in this regard. The nose is light and flat, consisting of mostly shortbread, malt and a bit of caramel slice, sweet but fairly unfulfilling.

Surprisingly, on the mouth there is an instant hit of smokiness, but it crawls low like the fug after a battle. Unfortunately this is followed up by the dull tang of metal, filling the back of the mouth like a round of musket shot. The finish is sharp, bitter and lingering, much like the remainder of Charlie’s life after his cause was crushed.

The Eriskay is definitely a whisky that sits squarely within its price range. While it may attract you with the promise of its Bonnie face, it seems that the Loyalists were right, and the Eriskay is indeed a ‘Young Pretender’.

★★

Nant Homestead Reserve

Reviewed by: Nick

Nant Homestead Reserve

It’s no secret that Jim Murray, whisky writing’s answer to Simon Cowell, is a fan of Tasmania’s Nant Distillery. And that’s fine, he’s allowed to have favourite distilleries. Although, rarely does he offer to fly to the home country of said distillery to create an all-new product for them. But in the case of the Nant Homestead Reserve, a marriage of Nant’s bourbon, sherry and port matured whisky, that’s exactly what he has done.

Nant are makers of some fantastic drams, and Jim has praised their power, their full-bodied flavour and their uniquely memorable Tasmanian nature. But for some reason when offered the chance to create his own, he has failed to include any of the above characteristics. Instead he has created a whisky that proves it is possible to be too smooth.

The nose is familiar if you have ever had a Nant whisky before. It is fruity and candied with touches of vanilla. But it is understated and almost feels like it is missing an element. The palate displays subtle notes of orange, toffee and leafy vegetation. The finish dies away rapidly as if instead of drinking whisky you were simply sipping a glass of water. All together the final impression is that of dissatisfaction.

Of course, this is only one whisky drinker’s opinion. This may be an elegant easy drinking whisky to some. It may also be a viable starting point for non-whisky drinkers. Though for me it lacks the magic of some of Nant’s other releases such as the port, sherry and bourbon matured bottlings. They are all, without a doubt, more complex, interesting and flavoursome than the Homestead Reserve. This whisky is a case where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

★★

White Oak Akashi + 12yo

Reviwed by: Ted

White Oak Akashi vs White Oak 12 Year Old

Akashi White Oak

Just a quick review hastily scribbled down at the bar about two whiskies out of Japan. Founded in 1888, White Oak Distillery is one of the lesser known distilleries outside of its home country, only selling to the local market until 1984. Apparently though, White Oak was the first distillery in Japan to gain an official license, pre-dating Suntory and Nikka, the two major players in the Japanese whisky scene.

White Oak releases are less common in Australia, particularly aged releases. Luckily the bar that I am currently at had the presence of mind to have not one, but two of them hiding on the top shelf, prompting this on-the-spot review. The two White Oak examples perched on the bar before me are the Akashi Non Age Statement (NAS) and the 12 Year Old.

I cannot provide much more background to the two bottles as all the information is (unsurprisingly) written in Japanese, but I can reveal that the Akashi is much lighter in colour than the 12yo, which has a nice amber tone. On the nose the Akashi is fairly insubstantial, with only a light sweetness coming through. In comparison the 12yo has a strange sulphuric tang. It’s almost smoky at first, but quickly turns chemical.

The chemical vibe continues on the palate, with a smoky sulphuric quality that tastes like the water could have been drawn from a mineral-rich hot volcanic pool on the side of a Japanese mountain. Against this the Akashi tastes lightly bitter/sweet, not venturing too far in either direction.

In conclusion, the Akashi, while pleasant, is a bit of a non-event, showing a rather bland personality. In complete contrast the 12yo is full of character, but unfortunately the sort of unpleasant character that you might meet down a dodgy alley on a dark night. While curious to try, the 12yo definitely won’t be to everyone’s tastes, and the Akashi certainly won’t turn any heads down the street. It seems that White Oak is more miss than hit, but whether it’s older releases can redeem it will have to wait for another day.

Akashi: ★

12 Year Old: ★★