bourbon

Auchentoshan Heartwood

Reviewed by: Ted

Auchentoshan Heartwood

If you’ve ever flown overseas, then chances are you will have wandered through the duty free section and marvelled at the huge selection of booze available. For some reason the brand marketers have decided that what the Jetset crowd really crave are exclusive releases that are not worthy of the wingless plebs on the street. Indeed, a whisky fan can spend hours gazing at all the fancy labels, musing about the unusual caskings and trying to decide whether to get that 1L bottle of NAS Scotch, or lash out and buy that rare Japanese number in the gorgeous bottle.

The thing is, are these exclusive bottlings actually any good compared to their standard counterparts?

Let’s take the Auchentoshan Heartwood as an example (not to be confused with the Tasmanian Heartwood brand). Hailing from the Lowlands of Scotland, the Non Age Statement Heartwood edition is produced ‘exclusively for the global traveller’ (that’s you). Auchentoshan itself is notable for being one of the only distilleries in Scotland to triple distil its whisky.

The packaging for the Heartwood is pretty much the same as the standard range, just bigger thanks to the 1L bottle size (aww yeah!). ‘Heartwood’ refers to the dense wood at the centre of a tree, which Auchentoshan rather tenuously links to bourbon and sherry casking being at the heart of their whisky (yeah, they had to torture that one a bit).

Marketing guff it may be, but the bit about using bourbon and Oloroso casks is true. The colour certainly suggests that sherry barrels have been in the vicinity; Auchentoshan claims that the particular hue of the spirit is ‘dark honeycomb’. I on the other hand think that it looks, well, orange, rather like that other most Scottish of drinks: Irn-Bru. A tad heavy on the E150 perhaps? (I’ve since found this great article by LittleTipple noting that the colour of Auchentoshan looks rather similar to bodybuilders who have got a bit excited with the fake tan. Good times).

The nose is dull and heavy, oozing over the rim of the glass like an exhausted slug. After a while the dark brew starts to present toffee and almonds (praline perhaps?) and Terry’s chocolate orange.

The mouth is thick and sweet, with a dense oakiness that lives up to its namesake. The finish offers a lingering hit of burnt orange that is oddly unsatisfying.

In conclusion, buyer beware. The exotic looking jewels of the duty free section may appear tempting, but on closer examination you might just discover that all you really have is a poor imitation of the original. Still, you can’t deny they’re fun to look at. Happy flying, and good luck!

★★

King in the north: Fannys Bay Distillery launches its whisky

Posted by: Ted

Ted n Mat Whisky Waffle

Compared to the established distilleries of the south, the north of Tasmania has been something of a permafrost-covered wasteland, devoid of all but the hardiest specimens. Scratch the surface however and you will find new life growing vigorously, with a multitude of start-ups building stills and laying down spirit.

Now the first of this new cohort has come to fruition, with Fannys Bay Distillery officially launching its range. Owned and run by the lovely Mathew and Julie Cooper, Fannys Bay is based on the far north coast in the rather appropriately named hamlet of Tam O’Shanter.

Small scale, hand crafted and innovative could be the bywords of Fannys Bay. The small still that resides in the Cooper’s garage was hand built by Mathew and each 20L barrel that is filled is mothered like a flock of chickens until maturity.

The launch was held at the recently opened Kingsway Whisky Bar in Launceston. The venue turned out to be rather easy to find thanks to the live quartet of bagpipers stationed outside the doorway, deafening guests as they entered the bar.

Bagpipes whisky waffle

The long, narrow space was quickly filled with friends and fans of Fannys Bay, including luminaries of the Tassie whisky scene such as Casey and Jane Overeem, Craig Johnstone, Damien Mackey, Rex Burdon, George Burgess and Troy Trewin. Mathew and Julie were gracious hosts, warmly welcoming their well wishers and even finding time to carry around some of the excellent cheese platters that had been provided.

Troy, Jane, George, Ted

Troy, Jane, George and some hipster

While the brie may have been rather fine, the real stars of the show were the three expressions of Fannys Bay being generously poured by Mathew. On offer were a pinot cask 43%, a port cask 62% and a sherry cask 63.4%. The pinot was light and smooth with notes of grapes and green apples. In comparison the sherry was robust and full of stewed fruits and spice, while the port was dark and rich, oozing raisins, sticky prunes and burnt toffee. Everybody who tried a dram came away with a satisfied look on their face and there was quite a long line to buy the flat, rectangular bottles with their vaguely Victorian inspired lettering and painted reverse.

Fannys Bay Bottle whisky waffle

The official part of the evening was conducted by Rex, Jane and Casey, who all spoke passionately about the warm, friendly and hospitable nature of the Coopers and their willingness to share their knowledge and experience with others. Jane noted that it was ‘exciting to see people who have such passion jumping into an industry with such a huge amount of opportunity’. After rather sheepishly admitting that he had been to see the distillery for the first time only a few hours before, Craig got up recited a poem to a rather amused crowd:

May you have shortbread when you’re hungry,

Whisky when you’re dry,

Pennies when you’re poor,

And heaven when you die.

Speeches whisky waffle

After the speeches were concluded, several bottles of the first barrel laid down by Mathew were put up for auction. Barrel #1 (Bourbon) Bottle #1 was claimed by Traralgon based whisky collector Shane Barbour, who remained calm under fire from competing bids to claim his prize (he mentioned that he also has a #1 bottle of Oveerem, lucky sod). Talking afterwards, Shane reflected that one of the reasons he keeps coming down is that everyone in the Tassie scene is so friendly and welcoming (plus the chance to collect unique whiskies).

The evening concluded in a relaxed fashion, with guests chatting away amicably in small groups and nibbling pieces of Fannys Bay pinot cask chocolate brownie. Mathew and Julie glowed with pride as they reflected on the success of the evening. When pressed, Mat said that he was “very, very pleased to be able to show that we have such a great Tasmanian product,” with Julie adding that “It’s been such a great journey.”

Mat n Julie Whisky Waffle

The last word comes from Troy (which I think would rather please him), who quite succinctly summed the evening up thus: “Tonight was a candlelight held up in the Tasmanian craft distilling scene, industry coming together to celebrate this nascent venture, a leader of the northern new wave. Patience has been worth it.”

Look out Southerners, the North is alive!

b n w Ted whisky waffle

 

The Glenrothes Alba, 2001 and Select Reserve Box Set

Reviewed by: Ted

glenrothes-trio-2

Keen followers of Whisky Waffle (hello to our mothers and the other three of you) may remember that a while ago I reviewed a tasting pack from Speyside distillers Glenrothes. Well, to quote Prof. Farnsdale, “Good news people!”… there’s another pack!

Just to remind us all what makes Glenrothes interesting in the packed Scottish distilling scene, they like to release their expressions as vintages rather than age statements. While this means that you won’t be able to enjoy a, say, 12yo again and again, the upshot is that you are able to experience the unique nature of one particular year’s output (until it’s all sold out that is).

The pack I’m sampling today is pretty much identical physically to the previous one – nice box with buff lid and a shiny copper-coloured base containing three very handy mini-glencairns and three 100ml bottles of the good stuff.

Pack #1 featured the ’95 and the ’98 vintages plus the Select Reserve, the latter also featuring in this set. The two new drams that feature in pack #2 are the Alba Reserve and the 2001 vintage.

The Select Reserve is Glenrothes’ ‘house’ whisky, a vatted malt crafted to typify the Glenrothes flavour profile. The Alba reserve is another vatted release; while Glenrothes usually uses an mixture of Spanish and American oak, the Alba uses 100% American oak-matured spirit (the moniker deriving from the oak’s Latin name ‘Quercus alba’). The 2001 vintage was produced in 2001… I’m not quite sure what else you were expecting?

glenrothes-whisky-waffle

And it was produced here: Glenrothes Distillery

On the nose the Select is fat and oozy, with a generous helping of dark chocolate, dried apricots, cinnamon, ginger and of course, raisins. In complete contrast the Alba is light and airy, with a fairly insubstantial waft of honey, coconut and pear. Finally, the 2001 is smooth and nutty, with an undertone of spice and aged oak planking.

On the palate the Select is rounded and nutty, with a cheeky citrus burst at the finish that lingers across the tongue. Again providing a contrast, the Alba is sharp and pithy, racing to the back of the mouth and leaving a slightly sour, metallic aftertaste. Unlike the actual Reserves, the 2001 is rather reserved, casually imparting a balanced mix of wood, nuts and dried fruit. The softness of the 2001 can likely be attributed to its 14yo age, having been bottled in 2015.

Tasting packs like this are a great way to try a range of drams from a particular distillery before you actually commit to one. Case in point: I would happily keep a bottle of the Select Reserve around as a casual dram and would derive pleasure from seeing the 2001 vintage nestled amongst my collection, but I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the Alba reserve. I suppose it does provide an interesting insight into how the addition of European oak can balance out a whisky though.

Hmm.. I think this requires a more thorough investigation. Can anyone point me in the direction of tasting pack #3?

Select Reserve ★★★

Alba Reserve ★★

2001 vintage ★★★

Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Reviewed by: Nick

buffalo-trace

Tastes like bourbon.

Ok, I freely admit, that statement alone does not do this dram justice. After all, this is whisky made at one of the oldest distilleries in the world! And yes, I do include Scotland in this claim.

Buffalo trace was founded in 1787 at a small settlement called Lee’s Town, a town presumably established by someone called Lee. The title ‘Buffalo Trace’ was given to it much later, but refers to the 18th century name for the distillery’s location: a trail forged by American bison as they crossed the Kentucky River. Buffalo Trace continued sending whiskey up the river across the ensuing centuries – even during prohibition when it was given a permit to produce medicinal whiskey. Unsurprisingly it was a very popular remedy.

But how does it taste?

Like bourbon.

No!

Well, yes.

But it’s good bourbon!

On the nose is, as you’d expect, sweet corn and vanilla, but also present are subtle notes of cinnamon and brown sugar. The palate is lightly spicy with grassy oak notes. The finish is medium in length with flavours of toffee and honey.

All in all, Buffalo Trace is a great example of a bourbon. It’s accessible and, all things considered, pretty darn smooth. Best of all, it’s a bourbon with a story. It allows you to cast your mind back to the late 1700s when settlers battled to survive – and make whiskey on the side!

And it tastes like bourbon.

★★★

Glenfiddich 18 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

glenfiddich-18

If this website were not called Whisky Waffle, then I could sum up the Glenfiddich 18 Year Old in just three words:

Goes. Down. Nicely.

Of course, we all know that’s not how I roll and I’d like to expand on those three words just a little.

Goes: Of all 18 Year Old whiskies in the world, the Glenfid is probably the most accessible. I picked it up for 98 bucks here in Aus when it was on special – a pretty remarkable price for something that has been in ex-bourbon barrels (and a few ex-oloroso casks) long enough to be of drinking age.

Down: the 18 Year Old’s main drawcard is its drinkability. It is one smooth drop. For seasoned whisky fans this might even be a disadvantage – some might consider it a bit boring. Not me. My biggest challenge is looking down at my glass to find I’ve already polished it off.

Nicely: Yep – it tastes good. On the nose are apples, grapefruit and pears alongside a smidge of oak. The palate is soft with notes of honey, cinnamon and vanilla, while the finish is medium in length leaving lingering flavours of apple-based baked goods.

If you find it cheaply, this is worth getting – especially if you are looking for a whisky that, well, goes down nicely!

★★★★

Delving into Dark Valley: the launch of Tassie’s latest dram

Posted by: Nick

nick-and-dark-valley

Independent bottling in Tasmania is a relatively rare thing. Sure, there’s the mighty Heartwood leading the way and a few others coming on board, but by and large, it’s an unexplored market. One person who realised this a long time ago is whisky fanatic and Whisky Waffle guest contributor, Alex ‘Moorsey’ Moores. Despite maintaining a fledgling full-time career in law, he has achieved what most whisky lovers can only dream about – he has created his own whisky: Dark Valley.

mooresy-and-dark-valley

Dark Valley was named after the area of Hobart in which Alex grew up, Glen Dhu. While the temptation was there to name his drams simply ‘Glen Dhu’, being a qualified solicitor he was aware of the legal dangers of such a Scottish sounding name. He instead opted to translate the Gaelic into English and name his bottles ‘Dark Valley’, setting the tone for the gothic labels and imagination-stirring individual release titles such as ‘Raven’s Roost’ and ‘Hunter’s Keep’. Importantly for Alex, he did not wish to tinker in any way with the whisky – he wanted to showcase it in as close to its natural form as possible. This meant no diluting, no blending, no finishing and no filtering. His aim was to create a whisky that was the next best thing to getting it straight from a barrel.

While the first releases from Dark Valley feature whisky distilled at Lark Distillery, it is Alex’s hope that one day all Tasmanian distilleries will contribute spirit for his range. He already has Redlands on board and northern-Tassie’s new boys Adams are next on the list. For now though, there are three different bottlings in existence, all of which I was lucky enough to try at Dark Valley’s Hobart launch.

dark-valley

The first I tried was the 60.3% sherry matured ‘Raven’s Rest’. My initial reaction was “Yes. Yes yes yes. Yes. Yes.” It was like cooking raspberry jam – so warm and fruity. Next up was the ‘Widow’s Watch’ – bourbon matured and 65.8%, it was full of vanilla and baked goods. I decided on cupcakes, with orange icing and poppy seeds.  Finally was the port matured 62.7% ‘Hunter’s Keep’, and it was my favourite of the lot. It combined the flavours of the other two beautifully while adding hints of cinnamon and nutmeg, creating an effect I described as ‘mulled whisky’. It was superb.

The drawbacks of setting up a new whisky brand is, of course, the cost. Dark Valley will certainly not be going into mass-production any time soon. In fact, these releases came from tiny 20 litre casks, meaning just over 30 bottles of each were made. However, this doesn’t mean you’re unlikely ever to see sight nor sound or them. Alex’s very firm goal is to get Dark Valley into whisky bars – and not into the hands of collectors. He intends to get his product into various establishments in Melbourne and Tasmania, with a few in Hobart showing some interest after the successful launch. In the coming months, if you happen to be near a whisky bar in any of these locations, ask after Dark Valley, because once people discover how good it is it’s not going to last long.

dark-valley-bottle

Finally, on a more personal note, I’d just like to offer my sincerest congratulations to Alex for achieving the spectacular feat of getting his whisky to bottling stage. Moorsey is a genuinely top bloke and I know he’ll be another wonderful torchbearer for Tasmanian whisky.

Bowmore Darkest 15 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

bowmore-darkest-15

This is the whisky that restored my faith in Bowmore.

I always used to regard Bowmore as the poor cousin of Islay. Sure, they have the history and the location… but there was never any point buying a bottle of the 12 Year Old when you considered what was available down the road in Port Ellen.

However, it was a taste of the Bowmore Darkest 15 Year Old (offered to me at Auchentoshan Distillery of all places!) that turned my head. It took me one sip to realise that this dram took elements of the peat monsters and sherry bombs I loved so much and combined them into one satisfying package. It has after all spent 12 years in ex-bourbon barrels before being transferred into first fill ex-oloroso casks for a further three. All of which was spent on Islay, soaking up that iconic sea breeze. This is a process which could have gone horribly wrong – too much in either direction could have ruined the whisky. But you know what? They absolutely nailed it.

On the nose the peat hits you immediately, though it’s not as in-your-face as other Islay drops. This would potentially displease me if it were not for the joyous abundance candied fruitcake aromas that follow it! It is certainly a nose that begs you to take a sip. When you do, you discover a rich chocolately palate with elements of raisins and caramel. It all combines to form the impression of the chewy toffee-like remnants left at the bottom of a tin of freshly baked sticky date pudding. The finish is where most of the smoke can be found. There is plenty of it, although not enough to mask the sweeter Christmas pudding flavours of the palate. All up it is, at least in my opinion, a perfectly balanced drop.

This whisky is a good demonstration of the dangers of forming an opinion about a distillery without sampling a range of their products. I could have easily passed this one up without trying it, writing it off as another underwhelming Bowmore. But if I had I would be missing out on one of the most perfectly balanced whiskies Scotland has to offer.

★★★★

#IslayWeek

#LetsGetPeaty

 

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.”

★★★

Old Pulteney Navigator

Reviewed by: Ted

Old Pulteney Navigator

It is no great surprise that Old Pulteney distillery takes inspiration from the sea, seeing as it resides on the rugged north coast of Scotland. In fact, Pulteneytown, the area of Wick from which the distillery takes its name, was a major player in the 19th century herring boom and harboured (ahem) a bustling harbour.

Old Pulteney isn’t just happy to let their love of the sea infuse their whisky, oh no. You know it’s a serious passion when you sponsor a vessel in the world’s longest round-the-world yacht race. The Clipper round-the-world race tests teams across a lazy 40000NM, demanding great effort from its participants.

To celebrate its maiden voyage in the ’13-’14 race, the aptly named ‘Old Pulteney’ clipper carried a special cargo on board, the first barrel of a new limited edition NAS whisky named the ‘Navigator’, crafted from a marriage of younger aged bourbon and sherry casks.

On the nose the Navigator tacks against bursts of chocolate and salted bacon before having its sails filled with malty biscuits, while oak decking creaks underneath.

Sharp, salty waves break over the palate, prickling across the back of the tongue. A juicy citrus burst through the middle keeps away the scurvy, followed by a warm trade wind that soars down the throat.

The Old Pulteney Navigator is a dram worthy of its nautical namesake. Its youth helps enhance its maritime nature, evoking the tempestuous seas that govern life along the north coast of Scotland. If you are a maritime whisky fan then the Navigator will definitely float your boat.

★★★

Ted the Navigator

How it compares:

The Navigator is the wild, ever-changing sea, whereas the 12yo is the calm, smooth safety of the harbour, welcoming the weary sailor home. Both have their own allure, but you don’t necessarily want to be tossed about in the old briny every day.

Auchentoshan Classic

Reviewed by: Nick

Auchentoshan Classic

If you’re fortunate enough to visit Glasgow (like me) and are somewhat interested in the odd dram (like me) then you simply must pay a visit to Auchentoshan Distillery (like me). The triple distilling Lowlands champions have been producing some lovely drops for a while now and a tour of the establishment that creates them is well worth it. The tour concludes, as all the best do, with a tasting – sampling Auchentoshan’s core range. The 12 Year Old is among those offered, as is the fantastic Three Wood. Up first, however, is the Auchentoshan Classic – a Non Age Statement whisky.

Upon my visit I got the impression that the staff were keen to skip past this one and get stuck into the 12 Year Old – as if they were saying, “but enough of this folly, time for some real whisky”. I mean, admittedly our trusty guide was right – the 12 blows the Classic out of the water. But there’s still something to say for the lowly old (young?) NAS bottle.

The Auchentoshan Classic is lighter in colour than other releases from the distillery and demonstrates very clearly its bourbon maturation. On the nose it is sweet, grassy and with a touch of honey. It is pleasant and summery. The palate is similarly sweet with notes of fruit-based confectionery. I also got the faintest hints of peanut butter, cloves and marmalade. The finish is short but strangely rather fitting for this gentle dram.

This is a feather-light whisky.  A Pinot Noir rather than a Shiraz. But every now and again, that’s alright. Especially if you’re on the distillery tour and the 12 Year Old is up next!

★★

Classic Nick

How it compares:

The 12 Year old is so much more vibrant than the Classic. They are both light and sweet, but the 12 Year old has depths to explore – whereas with the Classic what you see is what you get. The finish is similarly short with both drams – and while this is a disappointment in the 12, the abrupt finish seems to suit the Classic. Still, though, I think I’d rather have the Three Wood.