bourbon

The 2018 Waffle Awards

Posted by: Nick and Ted

2018 has been a huge year in the Waffle-verse. It’s been crammed with trips to Japan, to Scotland, and 25 days of Christmas Aussie Whisky. We conclude this action-packed twelve months with a reflection upon our favourite drams of the year.

That’s right – it’s the 2018 Waffle Awards!

So get ready for a series of deeply subjective and divisive decisions as we reveal the whiskies that impressed us throughout 2018!

1 The Isle of the Drammed Award Whisky Waffle

The Isle of the Drammed Award for the best Tasmanian whisky

We are, as far as we know, the only whisky awards to have a category specifically for Tasmanian whisky. But with so many stellar drams coming out of our home state we think it deserves to be the latest chapter in Jim Murray’s whisky diary. This year the Isle of the Drammed goes to:

Launceston Distillery Tawny Cask

2018 Isle of the Drammed Launceston Distillery Tawny Cask

We visited Launceston Distillery out at their ex-Ansett hangar a few years ago, right when they were beginning their whisky journey. Now they finally have some product out and we’re happy to say – it’s been worth the wait! There are ex-sherry and bourbon releases out there, but our favourite is the port cask, or ‘tawny’ as it’s correctly labelled. And it’s fantastic – big, bold and fruity with flavours of chocolate and blackberries thrown in. It’s everything we love in a Tassie drop and is a worthy winner of the 2018 Isle of the Drammed.

2 The Tartan Slipper Award Whisky Waffle

The Tartan Slipper Award for the best Scottish whisky

So many amazing and interesting drams continue to come out of whisky’s motherland. And yet, they also produce a few simple drops that deserve more recognition than they get. With that in mind, this year’s Tartan Slipper goes to:

Glenfarclas 15 Year Old

2018 Tartan Slipper Glenfarclas 15

Occasionally you find one of those drams that continues to impress every time you go back to it. It’s not necessarily blingy or in-your-face, it just quietly keeps on doing its thing and gives you a warm welcome whenever you drop by to say hello. For us, the Glenfarclas 15 Year Old is one of those drams. We’ve tried both younger and older releases from Glenfarclas, but none of them seem to have the balance and intangible x-factor that the 15 does. It has a dash of the liveliness of a younger dram, without being harsh, and retains a complexity of character that can sometimes get lost in the older, smoother drams. The best bit is that if you can get it on special, it’s also very forgiving on the wallet. The Glenfarclas 15yo is family-owned, heavily-Sherried whisky at its best.

3 The Pocket Pleaser Award Whisky Waffle

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

We acknowledge that often the more expensive a bottle is, the higher the quality. But this perspective often sees cheaper gems overlooked. We love discovering tasty drops that don’t hit the wallet too hard. This year, the Pocket Pleaser goes to:

Dobsons Old Reliable

2018 Pocket Pleaser Dobsons

Dobson’s certainly come across on the cheap-and-cheerful spectrum whisky, nothing giving this away so much as the white wine bottle it is packaged in. But look past this and you’ve got an easy drinking buttery toffee dram which will displease no one. And as an Australian drop available for under $80 you cannot go wrong. It’s a top quality quaffing whisky – or, better still, a session whisky. It goes down beautifully when paired with an Australian summer.

4 The Weirdsky Award Whisky Waffle

The Weirdsky Award for the most WTF whisky

One of worst things a whisky can be is boring. So we have an award for the dram that pushes things in the complete opposite direction. Rarely is this award won by a favourite drinking drop, but gosh, it’s always fun to try. This year the Weirdsky Award goes to:

23rd Street Hybrid Whisk(e)y

2018 Weirdsky 23rd St Hybrid Whisk(e)y

Scotch whisky, blended with American bourbon, aged in Australia. There is no way this should work… and yet… it somehow does. The corn notes add a sweetness to a speysidey character and the overall effect is a pleasant easy-drinker. It’s an insane sounding drop, but definitely worth a taste.

5 The Bill Lark Award Whisky Waffle

The Bill Lark Award for service to the Tasmanian Whisky Industry

Every year we consider it a privilege and an honour to be a part of the whisky industry here in Tasmania. There are so many wonderful people involved and each year we like to acknowledge one for their contribution to the scene. This year, the Bill Lark Award goes to:

Mathew Cooper

2018 Bill Lark Mat Cooper

We’ve always swelled with pride over the fact that Tasmanian whisky makers are happy to help out one another and share their expertise with new distillers. No one on the scene demonstrates this more than Mathew Cooper of Fanny’s Bay. So many of the new players in the Tas whisky scene, particularly in the north of the state, have received invaluable wisdom and assistance from this man as they’ve got started, and others have simply gained the confidence that they’re on the right track due to a few kind words from Mat. He is generous with his time, his praise, and his pouring and he was even prepared to demonstrate the distillation process to a couple of Wafflers over the course of a few days earlier this year where much information was passed on and many drams shared.

However no mention of Mat Cooper could be complete without acknowledging the contribution of his wife, Julie. As well as designing the Fanny’s Bay labels and helping behind the scenes, she embodies the welcoming and generous spirit of the distillery and the Tasmanian whisky industry in general.

6 The Golden Dram Whisky Waffle

The Golden Dram for the best dram whisky in the world

This is it! The top drop! Out of everything we tried throughout 2018 what do we consider to be the best? So without further adieu the 2018 Golden Dram goes to:

Laphroaig PX Cask 13 Year Old

2018 Golden Dram Laphroaig PX cask 13 year old

Sorry folks, you’re going to have a hard time finding this one. On my extensive tour of Laphroaig I was presented with the opportunity to bottle some 13 Year Old whisky straight from the cask! There were several cask options available, but I couldn’t go past this one. I mean, Laphroaig fully matured in sherry casks – how often do you come across that? Now I’ve got the bottle home and shared it with m’colleague we decided it was a wise decision to plump for this particular dram. It’s rich and complex, firey at 52%, and packed with all the smoke anyone could desire. It’s the dram of the year and one that I’ll be very sad when my 200ml runs out…

And finally, two little mentions to finish on:

We give an Honourable Mention to a couple of fantastic South Australian discoveries from Ted’s advent calendar: Fleurieu and Iniquity. We hope to find out some more about these two whiskies in 2019!

The Founders Reserve Award (AKA the dishonourable mention) is also split two ways: – to Yamazaki Distillery for failing to have any single-malt whisky for sale in their gift shop. Come on Japan, get your act together!
and to Tiger Snake Whiskey by Great Southern Distilling Co. for being so… meh. Allegedly it’s meant to be an Aussie take on bourbon, but it doesn’t really do its Southern inspiration justice. Doesn’t really do much for Australian whisk(e)y either. Such a shame when the Limeburners is so good.

Wafflers 4

Keep on waffling into 2019.

Nick and Ted.

#2018WaffleAwards

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The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 18: Limeburners American Oak 43%

Posted by: Ted

On the eighteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Limeburners American Oak whisky. Western Australia is certainly getting good representation on the advent calendar, which suggests that a) they’re pretty passionate about whisky on the west coast and b) they’re perhaps producing more reasonably priced drams than some of their eastern cousins. Limeburners is back in the hot seat again, this time with their American Oak expression.

As the name suggests, the American Oak is aged in ex-bourbon barrels, bestowing it with a delicate, straw-like hue. The nose is light, sporting caramel, rose-water and fresh barley, with zesty overtones, while the mouth is crisp and chewy, with a dusty, grain-driven body and a hazelnut toffee finish. A light, breezy, acidic number that would go well with some locally caught fish.


#whitepossumspirits

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 17: Hellyers Road Distillery Pinot Noir Cask Finish 46.2%

Posted by: Ted

On the seventeenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Hellyers Road Distillery Pinot Cask Finish whisky. Globally, the most common barrels used for aging whisky are virgin oak, ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and ex-port. Here in Australia, however, we seem to have developed a bit of a penchant for using ex-wine casks thanks to our thriving local wine industry and ease of access to the barrels. In Tasmania, due to our cooler climate, the red wine grape of choice is Pinot Noir, making it a popular cask type amongst the local distillers. Burnie-based Hellyers Road was one of the early adopters of the style and I reckon theirs was probably the first Pinot-barreled whisky I ever tried.

The Pinot Finish starts off life in American oak ex-bourbon casks before being transferred into French oak ex-Pinot casks for six months for finishing. The nose is smooth, with a cool, damp, earthiness to it. The mouth on the other hand is very dry, with a strong tanninic quality and finish of grapes, almonds and toffee. The Hellyers Road Pinot Noir Finish is a great example of how the addition of certain cask types can completely change the character of a whisky, creating complex and interesting new flavours.

#whitepossumspirits

The 25 days of Aussie Whisky – Day 13: The Grove Distillery American Style Spirit 40%

Posted by: Ted

On the thirteenth day of Christmas (yes, Whiskymas has more than twelve days) my true love gave to me… a glass of The Grove Distillery American Style Spirit (whiskey). It’s official, Western Australia has a weird penchant for American-style corn spirits, there having now been three versions in the advent calendar. I must admit, I’ve never actually heard of The Grove before, but apparently it started as a winery in the Margaret River region before branching out into spirit making. The American bent is not really surprising in this case as James Reed, one of the distillers, was born in Alaska and has worked in the Whiskey industry all over the USA before emigrating to Australia.

The American Style Spirit (there’s a few different versions, not actually sure which one this is) uses a mash bill of 70% corn, 20% rye and 10% barley and is aged in 50l virgin American white oak casks for 3yrs. The nose is rubbery and has a feeling of YoGo mixed with mashed banana, while underneath sits that sweet, rose-like smell that you get from bourbon. The mouth feel is soft and wobbly around the edges while the centre has that sharp caramelised timber flavour that comes from virgin oak. The finish provides red frogs and purple grape jelly lollies. It’s a pretty random one for sure, but to be honest, it’s also the closest I’ve felt to true bourbon so far.

#whitepossumspirits

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 9: Tiger Snake Sour Mash Whiskey 43%

Posted by: Ted

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Tiger Snake Sour Mash Whiskey. There must be something in the water over in Western Australia that makes distillers keen to try their hand at a bourbon-style whiskey, because this is the second one so far in the advent calendar. Great Southern Distilling Co. (makers of the Limeburners, which we saw on Day 5) call the Tiger Snake a ‘sour mash’ style whiskey though, as the term bourbon is restricted due it’s status as a geographic indicator.

Named after one of Australia’s most venemous reptiles, the Tiger Snake uses a mash bill of corn, rye, malted barley and occasionally an old hybrid wheat variety called triticale, all grown in WA, although I couldn’t find any details about the casking. The nose is very light, with a faint hint of sweet stawberry jam and wood, while the taste is a bit of a non-event, with a vague spiced orange syrup body and a touch of green-ness on the finish. I’m sorry to say it folks, but I think this one is a bit of a toothless Tiger Snake.


#whitepossumspirit

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 7: Bladnoch 10yo 46.7%

Posted by: Ted

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Bladnoch 10yo Scotch whisky. Wait a minute, Scotch? Huh? Ok, so this one fudges the brief a bit, but it works if you squint your eyes. Founded back in 1847, Bladnoch is the southernmost Scottish distillery (not quite as far as Australia though) and one of only six remaining in the Scottish lowlands. After going into liquidation in 2014, it was purchased the following year by Australian businessman David Prior, who renewed and expanded the brand.

The 10yo is a release of older, pre-takeover stock aged exclusively in ex-bourbon casks. The nose has a distinct note of canteloupe and boiled caramel sweets, while the mouth is light and sharply sweet with a finish of spice, wood and grain. Technically, I suppose you could call the Bladnoch the only true ‘Australian made’ Scotch whisky. Worth a try if you like your drams sweet and light.

#whitepossumspirits

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – day 5: Limeburners Port Cask 43%

Posted by: Ted

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Limeburners Port Cask whisky. Crafted by Great Southern Distilling Co. at their Albany distillery in Western Australia (they also have a site in Porongurup that makes Tiger Snake Sour Mash Whiskey), the Limeburners takes its name from the nearby convict-built kilns that provided building lime during colonial times.

This particular Limeburners edition starts off life in ex-bourbon American oak barrels before being transferred to Australian port casks for finishing. The nose has a funky ripe banana in caramel sauce vibe going on, while the mouth feel is dry and hot, with an alcholic spiced plum finish. The Port Cask would make a great accompaniment to a platter of fine local produce while camping on the beautiful southern coast of WA.

#whitepossumspirits

The 25 days of Aussie Whisky – Day 4: 23rd Street Distillery Hybrid Whisk(e)y 42.3%

Posted by: Ted

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of 23rd Street Distillery Hybrid Whisk(e)y. Australians love the whole fusion cuisine thing and this old world-meets-new world-meets-even newer world blend is no exception. The mad tinkerers at 23rd Street take 5yo-ish Scotch whisky from Scotland and splice it together with 2yo-ish bourbon whiskey from America (hence ‘whisk(e)y’) and then finish it off in ex-bourbon casks at their digs in South Australia.

The Hybrid lives up to the whole Jekyll and Hyde vibe, with the Scotch and bourbon both playing off each other. The nose is light and sharp, with competing woody, floral and fruity notes, while the palate starts off smooth and honeyed before developing into a hot, sweet, bright and lingering finish. The Hybrid is proof that the antipodes are still the real wild west (south?) of whisky and (nearly) anything goes.


#whitepossumspirits

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 1: Upshot Whiskey 43%

Posted by: Ted

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Upshot Whiskey. Made practically on the other side of the world in Western Australia by the funky folks at Whipper Snapper Distillery (they once created a quinoa whiskey just for fun), the Upshot Whiskey gets that extra ‘e’ because it’s essentially Aussie ‘Bourbon’.

Scratch out the corresponding section in the booklet to reveal some fun facts about each dram.

Using a mash bill of WA-grown corn, wheat and malted barley and aged for at least two years in heavily charred American oak, the Upshot cranks up the vanilla and caramel on the nose, while the palate sports tannins, cereal and hot steel. Park a deckchair on Cottesloe Beach on a scorching WA summer’s day and wriggle your toes in the sand while you relax with a dram of Upshot.

#whitepossumspirits

Launceston Distillery Land Their First Release

Posted by: Ted

LaunnieLogo

The old Ansett Hangar 17 at Launceston airport looked almost exactly the same as it had the last time I had visited a couple of years ago. The only real sign of time progressing was a new opaque glass and aluminium door grafted into the old corrugated iron wall, bearing the crest of Launceston Distillery, and a sandwich board in front of it declaring the place to be ‘open’.

Hangar17

Hangar 17, the home of Launceston Distillery

After crossing the threshold I was warmly greeted by distillery Director Chris Byrne, who commented “hopefully my sign holds up against the wind, I’ve given it a bit of angle, but we’ll see.” (It had disappeared by the time I left). Nestled in the foyer were a couple of old airline seats. I asked if they were Ansett, but Chris shook his head and replied “We had an old bloke drop in and say the pattern was 1960’s Qantas. It’s definitely from back then anyway, just look at the ashtrays.” [Correction: the guy who sold the seats to the distillery has been in touch and they are definitely Ansett. He said he will be having stern words with Chris about listening to old blokes who walk in off the street]. We grabbed a cup of tea to ward against the cold, pausing a moment to admire the whiteboard still bearing operational notes left after Ansett collapsed in 2001, and then wandered out for a look at the distillery.

QantasChairs

Sorry Ansett diehards, these are just scummy old 60’s Qantas seats… Plot twist! Turns out they are actually Ansett and the old bloke didn’t know what he was talking about!

The main hangar, once used to house aircraft, was as large as ever, but the floor space had diminished significantly since last time thanks to the appearance of several rows of 100L casks. Chris grinned at the sight and commented that “the original bond store off the side is full of 20L casks now, so we had to expand out here. We’re hoping that we have enough 20L casks stored now to get us through to when we start releasing our 100L’s in a few years time.”

LaunnieHistory

The history of Hangar 17 on display

Sitting next to the stacks was a board covered in posters documenting the history of the site, which Chris was more than happy to explain. During the lesson he pointed at the numbers and lines on the floor: “See those there? That’s where they used to line up the luggage crates. Apparently one was pushed into the wall by accident, but because they hadn’t secured it down when they extended the shed, the whole bottom of the wall got pushed out. We had to pull it back in with a ute when we were doing the place up.”

Hanagar 17 3

Phwoar, check out the insulation on those

Eventually we wandered over for a look at the bond store, passing by the two Knapp-Lewer stills with their beautiful timber insulation. Last time I had seen the bond store there had only been a solitary row of casks huddled forlornly against the wall, but now the room was full to the brim of neatly racked 20L casks. While we were admiring the view, head distiller Chris Condon and Angus the distillery dog returned from the airport terminal, where they had just delivered the first order of whisky to the airport shop. “They’ve got some good advertising up, so hopefully people stop and pick up a bottle.”

AngusAnsett

Angus the distillery dog travels in style

Chris B handed me over to Chris C and we made a beeline for the tasting bar, built from an old Ansett check-in desk and an in-flight drinks trolley, for a chat and some cheeky bevvies. The most notable feature of the bar was the row of bottles perched on top, thanks to Launceston Distillery releasing their first whisky just last month, a milestone that was very pleasing to Chris: “One of the problems with distilling is that because it takes so long to get to that first release, it can sometimes feel like you’re not making any progress, so it’s great to finally have something to show for all our hard work!”

LaunnieBond

20L nirvana

The bottles on offer covered the first four batches laid down by the distillery, with each batch released as a marriage of 20L casks bottled at a standard 46% abv. Batch 1, the first edition, was an ex-Apera (the Australian version of sherry) casking, Batch 2 was an ex-tawny (Australian port) casking, Batch 3 was another Apera, although apparently with a different character to Batch 1 as the casks had been sourced from SA Cooperage rather than the Tas Cask Co, and finally Batch 4 was an ex-bourbon casking.

LaunnieBatches

L-R: Batch 1 (ex-Apera), Batch 2 (ex-Tawny), Batch 3 (ex-Apera), Batch 4 (ex-Bourbon)

On the nose Batch 4 was light, crisp and grainy, with notes of fresh apples and green grapes. In contrast, Batch 1 was sweet, sticky and rich, with dried fruits, orange syrup, red jubes and undertones of malt, wood shavings and bacon. Batch 2 was dark, with red berries, leather, wax, timber and a clean oiliness.

On tasting, Batch 4 was sharp and bright on the mouth, with acidic herbal notes and a clean finish. In complete contrast, Batch 1 was like an explosion from the aromatic end of the spice rack, with strong flavours of aniseed, cinnamon, cloves and star anise, as well as almonds, milk chocolate, mandarins and a tanninic finish. Finally, Batch 2 was dark, rich and sweet, with notes of dark chocolate and black cherries and a smooth, oaky finish.

Chris revealed that each batch was just over two years old and I asked whether he had toyed with the idea of leaving them longer under oak: “We didn’t just dump them out arbitrarily at two years obviously, it’s more considered that, but you start getting to a point where you have to ask yourself, ‘Am I doing more harm than good for the sake of a few months?’. That’s the tricky thing about 20L casks, there’s a real risk of over-oaking.”

LaunnieTasting

Head Distiller Chris Condon rocks the Ansett memorabilia

Chris was also keen to show me the boxes that had been designed for the bottles and explained the relevance of each design element: “The colour is actually the Ansett blue, while the clouds are from a photo taken of the sky above the airport. If you look closely, you can also see lines running across the box which are actually from an 1830 map of the region. All the surrounding towns and landmarks are there, which really grounds it in this place.”

AngusAuthor

The author and Angus relax before the flight

After the tasting, I had a quick relax on some genuine Ansett airline seats with Angus the distillery dog (“Judging by the condition, we don’t think they were ever installed in a plane,” commented Chris), said a quick farewell to Chris B who was finishing labeling the last of the personalised pre-order bottles that had been offered as part of the 1st release and collected my own bottle of Batch 1 from Chris C.

LaunnieLabels

Chris Byrne, hand-labelling master

Before I left, I had one last question on my mind. Last time Whisky Waffle visited, the distillery team had been tossing up names for the whisky. At that time ‘Hangar 17’ had been a strong contender in tribute to the building that housed their distillery, so I asked Chris what had changed: “We ending up going that way in part because there was a legal issue with Hangar 1 in San Francisco, who are vodka makers and objected to us using the name. I’m actually really pleased that we went with Launceston Distillery though, because that’s who and what we are. It’s a really strong geographic name that people can connect with.”

He paused a moment then laughed and quipped “At the end of the day, Hangar 17 is still our physical address, so they can’t take that away from us. We’ll see how we go.” Well readers, if the quality of the whisky is anything to go by, then it’s no hard stretch to say that Launceston Distillery will go far.

Head over to the Launceston Distillery website to purchase a bottle or organise a tour: https://www.launcestondistillery.com.au/