brett

Waffling at Whisky Live

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Whisky Live 1

That’s right, we got Whisky Waffle shirts!

“If you love whisky, it’s the place to be”, said Colin, whisky enthusiast and fellow drunkard. It was 4pm. We’d been imbibing the amber nectar for three hours. To be honest, conversations about the merits of whisky were not exactly hard to come by at this end of the afternoon. We, the Whisky Waffle boys, knew that we had come to the right place. And where was that you may ask? It could only be Whisky Live 2015, Melbourne edition.

As semi-amateur whisky journalists (just go with it, ok!) we were keen to make it to Australia’s premier whisky event, despite Jetstar’s best efforts to delay us. Oh, and Public Transport Victoria didn’t help us much, either. As a consequence, it was remarkable that we wandered into the St Kilda Town Hall a mere 10 minutes late.

We were greeted with green shoulder bags, complimentary Glencairns and more whiskies than you could poke a valinch at (it’s a whisky thing, look it up). Our first port of call was to familiar faces: we kicked off our whisky journey sampling some new make spirit with Dean Jackson (and soon-to-be-solo distiller Robbie) from Redlands Estate and sampled some glorious Lark Classic Cask with Tas Whisky Tours’ Brett Steel. Good to hang out with the boys from back home.

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Nick, admiring Brett’s beard

We then hopped across the pond to visit Greg Petry, whose strong North American accent clearly revealed that his product was made by the NZ Whisky Company. Go figure. Incredibly, his youngest single malt was a mere 23 years old. After lamenting that we could not combine the initial flavour of the Doublewood with the finish of the 27 year old, we jetted off once more, this time landing in Japan. Here we learned how to pronounce Hakushu (Huck-shoo), and impressed a man in comedic Japanese sushi bar attire that we actually were interested in trying the Suntory Kakubin neat rather than in its traditional highball form (soda water, lemon, ice).

Using the stars, we returned to the New World to discover… cocktails? That’s right, the Lads from Starward were making Old Fashioneds, although it was their single malt we had come to try. Despite their wine cask being aimed at ‘real’ whisky drinkers, we both agreed that we still preferred the apera cask. Shows what we know (we’re semi-amateurs remember!). We then had a ‘Rich’ conversation with our friend from William Grant and Sons about the Balvenie. Ted was pleased about knocking back some 21 Year Old Port Wood without lowering the level of his own bottle! Fred, Independent Beverage Consultant at large, talked us through the range of Glenfiddichs and produced, to gasps of awe, a bottle of 26 Year Old from behind the bar. Yes please, we said. Our new friends Adam and Adam spied the gold lettering from the other side of the room and were more than happy to join us for a nip!

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26 year old whisky is best enjoyed in the company of Adams

Never being ones to turn down a free feed, we relined our stomachs to see us through the rest of the afternoon. Our next destination: India, and the distillery of Paul John. We mentioned our India-based whisky writing colleague, the Whisky Lady, to master distiller Michael John D’Souza – India’s a tiny country, not many people – they’re bound to know her, right? (Yeah right). “You mean Carissa?” he replied. The whisky world is a small place indeed.

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The newest converts to the Paul John phenomenon.

The whisky itself was a revelation. In fact, it was brilliant! Particularly the aptly named Brilliance, which tasted like nothing else that day. The peated varieties also tickled our fancy, which unfortunately could not be said of the Dry Fly wheat whisky, makers of the infamous Washington Wheat. Admittedly we spent as much time waffling as tasting at this end of the afternoon, the lubricant effect of the whisky loosening our tongues somewhat.

The moment of truth arrived. It was time to try the Glenlivet Founders Reserve, the replacement for our beloved Glenlivet 12 Year Old. And it tasted… well… decent. Maybe there’s hope yet. The rest of the range impressed us, too, in particular the Naddura Oloroso (plus: “they have dried banana here!” enthused Ted). We moved down the line to the mysterious Finlaggen, the dependable Bowmore and the classy Auchentoshan (where Nick drunkenly confessed his undying love for the distillery… repeatedly: “when I went there…” “…my FAVOURITE 12 year old…” “…did I mention I’ve been there?” etc etc).

Ted then whisked him away to attend a master class with master tweed wearer Dan Hutchins-Read to talk about the merits of a whisky that has definitely impressed us recently: the Glenrothes. As there were only four attendees to the session, we had ample time to wax lyrical and Ted may have fallen into the same trap as Nick (“I’ve written a lot of nice things about Glenrothes…” “…I love how you’re all about the vintages…” “…did I mention I’ve written a lot of nice things about you?” etc etc).

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Fashionable as our WW shirts were, we couldn’t match Dan for style!

After Nick had calmed Ted down, we staggered off on a mission to find the dram we’d been waiting all day for: the Laphroaig 15 Year Old. To our dismay, we were informed by Australia’s number one whisky fanatic, Dan Woolley, that they had long since run dry. But after seeing our sad little faces, he took pity and muttered that if we were to come back straight after the session finished he might be able to find a little something for us. We consoled ourselves by pairing a glass of Laphroaig 10 year Old with some oysters and a meeting with legendary bourbon distiller and maker of Russell’s Reserve: Eddie Russell. We may have been a little enthusiastic at this end of the day, but Eddie was a true southern gent and took us in his stride.

4.30 ticked over. The bottles began to vanish from the stalls. We wandered around dodging the polite requests of the security guards to leave. We had a mission to complete: and boy was the 15 Year Old worth it.

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Laphroaig’s man of steel, Dan Woolley

As we stumbled out of the St Kilda Town Hall amongst hordes of whisky fanatics, en route to the closest pub, we mused about our day. We had come to Whisky Live expecting to find many great whiskies and we had not been disappointed (46 times over, in fact!). But to be honest, the real joy of the day was to celebrate whisky with a bunch of fellow wafflers. That in itself was worth the price of admission.

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Whisky Live. Good times.

Tasmanian Whisky Tours: a story worth telling

Posted by: Nick

Before there were convicts there was whisky.

But before there was Tasmanian Whisky Tours, there was a distinct lack of access to Tasmanian whisky distilleries.

Enter Brett Steel, a man with a vision. He realised that Tasmania was entering a “golden age” of whisky creation and wanted to give the public a chance to travel to these distilleries, meet the people that make the whisky and hear their stories. Thus Tasmanian Whisky Tours was born.

I caught up with Brett to find out a bit more about the tours.

WW1 TWT Brett

“From my first visit to Tasmania in 2008 I fell in love with the place”

Brett grew up, not among whisky makers, but instead with a strong wine background. This is hardly surprising, as he lived near the great wine region of McLaren Vale. He moved from South Australia to Hobart in 2011 with intentions of starting up a bar selling Tasmanian whisky, assuming that once he was in the state there would be easy access to the distilleries making the product he intended to sell. However, he quickly found this was not the case.

As more distilleries opened up, Tasmania rapidly became a join the dots puzzle. The state suddenly had a whisky trail! And Brett? Well he had a car! He realised that no one in their right mind wanted to drive themselves to distilleries and now there was a real touring opportunity. So Brett took the plunge and decided to become… a professional designated driver!

There is, of course, more to it than that. Brett is a man after our own hearts. He is a waffler. As well as tasting the flavours of the drink, he was passionate about hearing the tales told by the people behind the whisky.

WW2 TWT at Redlands

“I wanted this to be about storytelling, as much as whisky”

Brett’s aim for the tours is not so much to give an educational and scientific description of how whisky is made. Instead he is more interested engaging with the people who make the product and hearing about the struggles and adventures they have had along the way. After all, the whisky-makers are just ordinary people doing something they love and they certainly have a tale or two to tell. Brett believes that whisky and story-telling are “perfect bed-fellows” and his guests, after meeting the story-tellers themselves, cannot help but agree.

WW3 TWT at home base 2 bnw

“The trick is to try to cater to all levels and not to have anyone feel excluded”

Brett’s first tours began running in early 2014 and the business has been growing in popularity ever since. The rise in profile of whiskies made in the state has given the business a boost, and Brett has found himself chaperoning journalists, whisky experts, and even cartoonists!

The tours run on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays and visit a wide range of southern distilleries – and also get to taste some from further afield. Sessions begin at 9am at the Lark cellar door, and proceedings commence by reclining in comfortable chairs and chatting about the history of Tasmanian whisky. Guests are then loaded into the van and driven around the beautiful Derwent Valley or Tasman Peninsula.

There are many highlights on each tour for Brett: the picturesque setting at McHenry’s Distillery in Port Arthur, the paddock to bottle experience at Redlands Estate, and the unforgettable yarns spun by “renaissance moonshiner” and “champion sand-sculptor” Pete Bignell at Belgrove.

Of course, much like everyone has a favourite whisky (or gin, or brandy, or apple schnapps – which are also sampled on various tours) everyone has a favourite stop, and you won’t know which is yours until you travel there.

WW4 TWT at Nant

“To me whisky is the perfect social lubricant”

I absolutely adore this quote and cannot agree more wholeheartedly. Brett believes, as we do, that whisky is a very social experience, and when presented with context, such as the people who create it and the processes they use, guests will get so much more out of every sip.

He says that sharing the narrative of Tasmanian whisky, past, present and future, is half the experience of the tour. The characters that are met along the way and the real passion they exhibit, gives true meaning to the boutique hand-crafted product that we at Whisky Waffle love.

WW5 TWT at Bothwell

Brett, like all of us, confesses to loving Tasmanian whiskies and their rich flavour. But he is also fascinated by the history and stories behind each of the distilleries.

“When you put the two together and add the dynamic of a mix of different people, it’s pretty hard to beat that experience – no matter where in the world you travel.”

Find out more about Tasmanian Whisky Tours at their website.

Photos by Andy Wilson at  Everything Everything.