Bruichladdich

Abomination, The Crying of the Puma 54%

Reviewed by: Ted

Puma dram WW

Come on, if you stumble across a whisky called Abomination, The Crying of the Puma in a bar, there’s no way you’re not going to try it right? I was catching up with some friends at Melbourne whisky-scene stalwart Boilermaker House and we were checking out their new in-house whisky selection app (it’s pretty cool). Pretty much the first thing I clapped eyes on was the Abomination and I was like, you had me at weeping big cats, yes please.

The Abomination TCOTP is released by indie Californian outfit Lost Spirits Co., who import a blend of 12-18 month old heavily peated Islay-origin spirits then put them through their proprietary reactor technology together with shards of charred American oak soaked in late harvest Reisling… WTF? Apparently Australian Border Force were not exactly keen to let it into the country due to the odd nature of its creation and the fact that it’s kinda not really whisky. Like it’s Australian contemporary Deviant Distillery, it’s more of a malt spirit.

The colour of the Abomination TCOTP is super dark red, almost like the Puma is crying blood. The bottle claims no added colouring, so perhaps the ‘redonkulous’ colour is an artefact of the reactor process and the addition of the charred stave shards.

The nose is like a classic 1970’s Holden Sandman – leather, tobacco, salt, a sprinkling of pot pourri on the dash and killer heat rising off the seats. The heady mix is sweet, fruity and smoky, with raisins, apricots, candied orange, cashews, rose petals, an earthy peatiness and so much salt. Oh that sharp, bright salt.

The flavour is like eating raisins in a pool next to the beach in the tropics while a driftwood bonfire burns nearby. The palate is sweet and ashy, with dark honey, peaches and melon and a decent punch thanks to the 54% strength, although the mid-palate is somewhat lacking. The finish is looong and satisfying.

The sweet, peaty flavours are really interesting, and put me in mind of a combination of Ardbrg, Laphroaig, Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila (who knows, I could even be on the money). The Reisling is definitely an out there finishing choice and adds a quirky fruitiness into the mix.

Look, I know it ain’t really whisky and that it was made using dark, heathen technology, but the Abomination TCOTP is great! The rich, punchy flavours working with that salty peat are actually really satisfying, and you totally wouldn’t pick it as being so young straight off. Then again, we do always say that peat does good things with young whisky. If you want to try something that is crazy and different and has a name that sounds like a part of dark Aztec creation story, Abomination, The Crying of the Puma is definitely worth checking out.

★★★

Ted sniffer

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Big Score for Ardnahoe: Jim McEwan joins the team

Posted by: Ted

ardnahoe-distillery

With an area of only 620km2 (ok, 619.6km2 if you want to be precise) Islay isn’t exactly a huge place. But what it lacks for in size, it certainly makes up for in the number of distilleries it has nestled on its shores, boasting a total of eight whisky makers. Excitingly though, in 2018 things are set to get even more squishy with the completion of a brand new distillery.

Taking the name Ardnahoe from the nearby loch from which it will draw its water, the new distillery will be built to the north of Port Askaig, nestling in between venerable stalwarts Caol Ila and Bunnahabhain, and will boast magnificent views across the Sound of Islay to neighboring Jura. The venture represents the first new distillery to be built on Islay since the opening of Kilchoman in 2005.

Ardnahoe is owned by the Glasgow based Hunter Laing & Co, an independent bottler and blender established in 2013. Run by Stewart Laing and sons Andrew and Scott, the company owns brands such as Old & Rare, Old Malt Cask and The Sovereign.

Ardnahoe will be the first distillery owned by the company and will not only allow them to directly tap into the global demand for Islay whisky, but also to have complete control over the whole spirit-making process. While announcing the project greenlight last year, Andrew Laing noted that: ‘Since starting our company we’ve seen a huge demand for Islay whisky around the world, and now is the perfect time to make the progression from blenders and bottlers to distillers, and secure our own supply of Islay single malt.’

To help with that transition, Hunter Laing & Co has managed to lure a local legend and bona fide rockstar of the Scottish distilling scene out of retirement to act as their Production Manager. Jim McEwan, until recently Master Distiller for Islay mavericks Bruichladdich, will play a pivotal role at the distillery, supervising everything from production processes to cask selection and even design of the equipment.

jim-mcewan-n-co

Jim McEwan (second left) with the Ardnahoe team

Reflecting on his choice to come out of retirement to work at Ardnahoe distillery, McEwan said: “I had intended to ride off into the sunset, but I’ve known Stewart for many years and have always been impressed with Hunter Laing whisky. When the call came in, it really excited me…

“It felt as though the stars were aligning; the amazing location, my history with Islay, my relationship with the Laing family, their passion for the project, the calibre of architect Iain Hepburn, plus my chance to get involved with the design of the distillery for the first time in my career, all made it feel like it was ‘meant to happen’.”

The Laing family are certainly excited about their choice of appointment too, with Andrew Laing proudly stating: “It’s hard to think of anyone better qualified than Jim McEwan to develop the character of the newest Islay malt whisky. Jim has lived and breathed Islay whisky his whole life and is bringing all of his passion and knowledge to Ardnahoe Distillery. The three of us are hugely impressed with the whiskies he’s produced in the past and can sleep easy knowing that he is in ultimate charge of whisky-making at Ardnahoe”

All that remains to do now is wait for the distillery to bear fruit. While that day is still many seasons away, you can guarantee that with Jim McEwan at the helm and Hunter Laing & Co’s passion for quality, the drams plucked from the tree of Ardnahoe will be very tasty indeed.

Port Charlotte Scottish Barley Heavily Peated

Reviewed by: Nick

port-charlotte-sc-hp

It’s a fun bit of whisky trivia that Port Charlotte whisky is not actually made by the long-since-closed distillery of Port Charlotte. Instead, this particular drop is made by Bruichladdich Distillery as a tribute to their heavily peated ex-neighbours.

Jim McEwan, Bruichladdich’s head distiller at the time of this dram’s inception, wanted to recreate the flavour that the legendary old distillery was famous for. He tracked down a now 90 year-old former employee of Port Charlotte distillery and asked him what the whisky tasted like. “Aye,” said the old man, “aye, it tasted good.”

I for one certainly cannot deny that the product Jim has created to bear the Port Charlotte name tastes “good”. In fact, if I were to give my tasting notes in a solitary word, I would simply say: bacon. And everyone loves a bit of bacon, right?

Of course, this site is called ‘Whisky Waffle’, not ‘Whisky-we’ll-keep-it-brief-ok’. Apart from the latter sounding silly, we’ve found that we do rather like to bang on a bit with pretentious tasting notes. Speaking of which, this whisky has a nose like an Australian barbecue. Barley peated to 40 parts per million ensure smoke and cooked meat flavours waft oh-so-unsubtly over peppery notes and a dash of dark chocolate.

The palate is pleasantly spicy – no doubt an influence of the slightly higher bottling strength of 50%. The flavours on offer include salami, smoked salmon and of course, the aforementioned bacon. The meat theme lingers long after the whisky is gone, leaving the sensation of having polished off a particularly satisfactory scotch fillet (pun well and truly intended).

The release of the Port Charlotte range by Bruichladdich has rekindled an interest in the history of the grand old distillery and there have even been talks about building a new facility on the old site. However, this project seems to have stalled for the time being with no updates as to whether it might go ahead. Fortunately, thanks to this particular whisky, we have access to the next best thing: a dram that, seventy years from now, we can reflect on and happily label it as “good”.

★★★

#IslayWeek

#LetsGetPeaty

Reflections on a visit to Islay

Posted by: Nick

nick-port-ellen-lighthouse

It is no exaggeration when I say that the isle of Islay is, without a doubt, my favourite place that I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. The quaint lime washed houses of Port Ellen, the spectacular coastline and beaches, the stark peat bogs and the friendly locals waving as you drive by all combine to create a coastal utopia. And then there’s the whisky. Ah… the whisky…

There is a reason that drams made on this Hebridean isle are famous the world over: they taste like nothing else on earth. Smoky, salty, oily and fiery as hell itself. On my first (gloriously sunny!) day upon the island I visited Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig: the worlds’ ultimate pub crawl. In the evening I lay down on the sand at Kintra Beach and watched the sun go down with a belly full of South-Ileach whisky. There  was not a more content man on the planet.

The next day I stood beneath the distinctive Port Ellen lighthouse, looked across the bay and felt more connected to a place than I have ever experienced in my life. I would go back today. I would drop everything. Just for one more whiff of that peaty air. Just for one drop of that liquid aptly described as the water of life.

nick-content

#IslayWeek

#LetsGetPeaty

Four must-visit Scottish whisky distilleries

Posted by: Nick

Nick in Scotland

So you’ve travelled to Scotland. You’ve climbed to the top of Edinburgh Castle, eaten a plate of Haggis and failed to find the Loch Ness Monster. Your Scottish experience is complete but for one final destination. The country is synonymous with several things – including men in skirts and losing at football – but most famously of all, it is known for its whisky. Therefore on your travels it is compulsory to stop in at one or two distilleries and see exactly how the stuff is made. Of course, that means narrowing it down to one or two from the hundreds of options – not an easy task.

It was not long ago that I made a trip to whisky’s spiritual home (pun entirely intended) and thought I would share a few of my recommendations to check out after a hard day’s not-spotting Nessie.

Auchentoshan:

Auchen

This distillery is as accessible to visit as the whisky is to drink. Located just outside of Glasgow, Auchentoshan is right on the way for tourists looking to explore Loch Lomond or venture into the highlands. The distillery itself is extremely pretty and the friendly staff run a slick tour. The tasting session at the end covers the core range, though if you’re lucky they may find you something special to try behind the bar. The drams themselves are easy drinking and perfect for those who are slightly hesitant about whisky!

Ardbeg:

PE Ardb

The ultimate fanboy distillery. If you’re keen on your peated whisky then a trip to Ardbeg should be the number one priority. Granted, it is on a little island off Scotland’s west coast, but is the most magical place when you get there. Every corner of the distillery emanates old world charm, and if you select a premium tasting session, some of the drams they bring you in their little back room are mind-blowing. Ardbeg are famous for producing rare one-off bottlings which, unless you happen to be mates with the distiller, you are unlikely to get to try too many of. Do the tour, however, and who knows what you may find – Ardbog, Alligator, Supernova, Dark Cove… one dram of any of these makes the price of admission worthwhile.

Supernovas

Glenfiddich:

To get an idea about the scale of the Scottish whisky industry, do the tour at Glenfiddich. They are the largest producer of single malt in the country and their distillery, therefore, is huge! Twenty-eight stills are in operation, each big enough to make Lark’s copper pot look like a key ring. There really is a sense of awe as you walk among the machinery and through the bondstores. It’s certainly a popular one, with thousands of tourists going through the establishment each day, however if you spend a couple of extra pounds they’ll put you in a smaller, more intimate group and give you the added bonus of checking out warehouse 8 – the Solera facility – where you can see them vatting vast amounts of whisky to create, among other bottles, their 15 year old. The tasting that follows walks you through the 12, 15, 18 and 21 Year Old expressions – yes, that’s right, 21 year old! Not all distilleries churn out a 21 year old regularly on a tour.

Glen Stills

Bruichladdich:

A trip to Bruichladdich is the perfect whisky experience. Firstly, the staff are some of the coolest and most entertaining people in the business. Secondly, their equipment, in particular their mash tun, is all beautifully ancient. It’s like an antique shop where the gear comes alive at night when the owners leave! Finally, and most importantly, there’s the tastings. Oh man. Bruichladdich are famous for innovation and experimentation, the result of which is a large number of fascinating whiskies to try. A rum matured whisky – can I try that? Sure! A new Octomore – do you mind if I… Go for it! How about that double matured… Get it down you! In short, a trip to Bruichladdich is compulsory if you ever find yourself in the area – and by the area, I mean in the Northern Hemisphere!

Bruich

These are, of course, just four of my picks based on one visit and I realise that as far as excellent distilleries go I am barely scratching the surface. So what places have you been to that you would recommend people make it along to? Let me know in the comments and I’ll see if I can hit them up on my next trip to the whisky motherland!

Warehouse 8

 

The Top 5 Islay Distilleries

Posted by: Nick

Streets of Bowmore whisky waffle

If I were to take four flights, one lengthy bus ride and a ferry crossing, as well as being broke and jetlagged, I would also be in my favourite place in the world, the mythical Isle of Islay. While my own home state of Tasmania contains many fantastic distilleries, I know that this Hebridean island will forever be: The Whisky Isle.

Islay is currently home to eight distilleries, which is not bad for a tiny island with a population that would fit into the MCG thirty times over. I do of course only speak hypothetically, because in real life the people of Islay would not deign to leave this most wonderful island – not even to attend the Boxing Day Test Match.

All eight Ileach distilleries make fascinating, varied and outstanding whiskies. But today I count down my top five favourites, those establishments that have helped shape the Whisky Waffler I am today.

5 Kilchoman

Kilchoman is the relative new kid on the block, only in operation since 2005, however the standard of whisky they are creating is astonishing. They take an old familiar flavour and reinvent it, producing something refreshingly new, and yet at the same time distinctly Islay.

One sip reflects the traditional Islay flavours that so perfectly accompany winter storms as they roll in off the Atlantic, testing the water proofing of the local cottages, and yet their whiskies are also bright, young, and energetic. They are surprisingly complex, and, most importantly of all, they are improving all the time. Kilchoman is that annoying combination of athleticism and brains: it is the top football star with the chiselled good looks that goes on to become a neurosurgeon. So with this in mind there is no doubt that Kilchoman is a distillery to watch out for in the future.

4 Bruichladdich

4 bruichladdich

Jim McEwan took over the then derelict Bruichladdich Distillery in 2001 and, after initially being called crazy, has seen it go from strength to strength. Known for its innovation, the distillery creates not one, not two, but three different series of bottlings, all with their unique style. Firstly and foremost are the lightly peated drams produced under their own name, Bruichladdich. Secondly, the more traditional and heavier-peated Port Charlotte, named after the long-since shut distillery that was once based a few miles away. Finally the famous (or infamous) Octomore range, marketed, correctly, as the most heavily peated whiskies in the world.

If I were to work at a distillery on Islay, this would have to be it. It combines traditional methods (the may-as-well-be-antique mashtuns) with experimentation (I heard rumour of a tequila cask hidden away in the bond store somewhere). Most of all, Bruichladdich are a community-focused distillery. Jim McEwan has achieved many great things across his career, but he claims the number of Ileach people he employs is the one that fills him with the most pride.

3 Laphroaig

3 Laphroaig whisky waffle

When you think Islay whiskies, you think peat – and no distillery on earth does peat like Laphroaig. The whisky produced here may not be to everyone’s taste, but it sure is to mine. One sniff transports me to bonfires, seaside camping trips and, as I discovered later, the sensation of getting out of the car on Islay and inhaling the peat-thick fresh air. The whisky made by Laphroaig is iconic and rightfully among the most famous made on the island.

Whiskies made at Laphroaig are unapologetic. If you don’t like your drams peated, run for the hills (if you can actually find any on Islay) as the manufacturers don’t care. I find this attitude appealing however. I know what I’m going to get from Laphroaig and I know that it will comfort me after a tough day at work or celebrate with me as I raise a toast with my friends.

While they have the second biggest output of any distillery on Islay, they still conduct traditional floor maltings and fire up their own peat kilns for a percentage of their product. I’ve been lucky enough to stand in the large kilns, and even luckier that this occurred while they were not operating! Laphroaig is Islay to a tee and an unmissable stop if you visit the island.

2 Lagavulin

2 Laga whisky waffle

First trying the Lagavulin 16 Year Old was a revelation in my whisky-drinking life. What was this spirit that burned like a roaring bonfire in my mouth? What were these charred-fruit flavours that followed? I’d certainly never tasted anything like it and I’ve certainly never looked back.

Several years later I have tried a range of peated whiskies and loved most of them. But the Lagavulin 16 is still up there amongst the best.

What separates Lagavulin from the rest is a sense of class. While other distilleries, rightfully, let the wild peat-monster roam free, Lagavulin has it well trained, even walking to heel. With some of the Distillers’ Editions it will even sit and roll over! This allows a magnificent balance between peat and sherry flavours which really sets it up as the classiest of Islay’s whiskies.

1 Ardbeg

1 Ardbeg whisky waffle

While all distilleries on Islay offer many brilliant and varied drams, it is Ardbeg that I believe captures the ‘spirit’ of the island the best. With a slab of peat, a splash of history and a smattering of actual magic, you cannot help but fall in love with the drams, the atmosphere and the portrait on the wall of Shortie the Dog, the Ardbeg mascot.

Ardbeg are famous for once a year releasing a frustratingly small amount of limited edition bottles which seem destined to sit unopened on wealthy collectors’ shelves. But on the rare occasion you get to try one, you will see what the hype is about: Alligator, Galileo and of course Supernova are all enticingly titled as well as deliciously flavoured.

Their regular bottles cannot be forgotten, either. In Uigeadail they have produced a strong candidate for worlds best peated whisky, the Coryvrekkan has one of the longest finishes going around (and around and around!) and as for their ‘entry level’ – is there a finer 10 year old bottle in world whisky? Possibly not.

Ardbeg is many people’s favourite distillery. And it is not hard to figure out why. Put simply, it is because it is among the best.

Nick at Port Ellen lighthouse whisky waffle

This list, of course, is only my (somewhat subjective) opinion. It is by no means definitive. What are your top five favourite Islay distilleries? Let us know in the comments and we will slam you for being wrong! Er… I mean, we will respect your opinion greatly! That’s the one!

2015 Waffle Awards

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Whisky Waffle Logo 1

Welcome one and all to the most prestigious imaginary awards ceremony in the world of whisky writing. The Waffle boys have ignored the Australian summer heat and donned their black tie to present a group of worthy winners with an assortment of atypical accolades. All winning whiskies have been sampled by the lads in 2015 for the first time – although surely (hopefully) not the last. So, ladies and gentlemen, please find your table, help yourself to the canapés and sit back and enjoy: the 2015 Waffle Awards.

1 The Isle of the Drammed Award Whisky Waffle

The Isle of the Drammed Award for the best Tasmanian Whisky

Yes, we are a Tasmanian-based whisky blog, so why not include an award to showcase drams made in our fine state? Especially when they are this good! So with no further ado, we are proud to announce that the Isle of the Drammed award goes to:

Heartwood: The Good Convict

2015 Heartwood The Good Convict whisky waffle

We don’t often see eye-to-eye with Jim Murray. But in the case of this cask-strength monster from the genius independent bottler Tim Duckett, both the Wafflers and the Whisky Bible writer are unanimous in our praise. I mean, what’s not to like about a 15 year old Sullivans Cove French-oak port barrel matured whisky at a humble 71.3%? It is stunning.

2 The Tartan Slipper Award Whisky Waffle

The Tartan Slipper Award for the best Scottish Whisky

Scotland is the spiritual home of whisky (see what I did there?). So it seems only fair to dedicate an award to it. Plus, then no cheeky English distilleries can take it away from them! The 2015 Tartan Slipper Award goes to:

Balvenie 21 Year Old Port Wood

2015 Balvenie 21 Port Wood whisky waffle

We make no bones here at Whisky Waffle Central that we love all things Balvenie, but they’ve really outdone themselves with the 21 Year Old Port Wood. Smooth, sensual and with a refined complexity that hits all the right buttons, this is definitely no every day drinker (unless you’re rich that is. Slosh down whatever takes your fancy m’lord.), but a perfect dram for celebrating that special occasion with the ones you love.

3 The Pocket Pleaser Award Whisky Waffle

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

Our bank accounts know all too well how expensive buying bottles of whisky can be. This award celebrates the bottles which we turn to time and time again because – well – we can afford to. It is not the best tasting whisky in the world. But likewise it is far from the worst. This year, The Pocket Pleaser Award goes to:

Glen Moray 12 Year Old

2015 Glen Moray 12YO whisky waffle

“Dear Whisky Waffle, I want to impress my friends by drinking single malts, but I am a poor uni student with only a blend budget to spare. What can I do?” Never fear, we are here to help. Meet your new best friend, the Glen Moray 12 Year Old, as far as we can tell the cheapest single malt Scotch going around. For less than the price of a bottle of JW Black Label you can have a bottle of bonafide Scottish single malt. Full of honey, butterscotch and gentle spices, it’s pleasant and easy to drink, perfect for the Scotch novice and budget-conscious drammer alike.

4 The Weirdsky Award Whisky Waffle

The Weirdsky Award for the most WTF whisky

The Weirdsky Award celebrates, unsurprisingly, weird whisky. The more bizarre the better. Trust us; we are always on the lookout for some unusual drams. But in 2015 the one that took the cake was:

New World Projects Ginger Beer Cask

2015 New World Projects Ginger Beer Cask whisky waffle

What on earth would whisky taste like if matured in ginger beer barrels? This was the question that we asked ourselves when purchasing this New World Projects creation on a whim. The answer, it transpires, was simple: ginger-whisky (gisky?). It is unlike anything we’ve ever tried, and we love it! We take our metaphorical hats off to the makers of Starward for their mad-scientist-like experimentation!

5 The Bill Lark Award Whisky Waffle

The Bill Lark Award for service to the Tasmanian whisky industry

Named after the godfather of Tasmanian whisky, The Bill Lark Award is not presented to a bottle but instead to a person who has worked tirelessly to make the whisky scene here in Tassie as special as it currently is. It gives us great pleasure to announce the 2015 winner of The Bill Lark Award is:

Peter Bignell

2015 Pete Bignell whisky waffle

“Renaissance man” seems to be the phrase that gets bandied about when talking about Peter Bignell, founder of Belgrove Distillery, but it’s well suited. A seriously talented individual, Pete has a true knack for innovation. “Hmm… who wants to make boring old barley based whisky, why not make it using rye? Or oats? May as well just grow it myself too, and dry it in this old tumble dryer I found. But instead of using electricity from the mains, I’ll power it using biodiesel that I’ll make myself out of cooking oil from the local takeaway shop. Should I build the stills myself too? Yeah, why not, and I can power them using the biodiesel. Coopering my own barrels, that doesn’t sound too hard, give it a crack eh? Simple. And just to keep things interesting, in my spare time I’ll be a world class sand sculptor.”

To be honest, Pete doesn’t just win the Bill Lark Award for the excellent whiskies he makes, his contribution to the Tasmanian industry or his stellar environmentally responsible ethos, but for just being a sterling example of a human being who we can all look up to. Good on ya mate!

6 The Golden Dram Whisky Waffle

The Golden Dram for the best dram whisky in the world

I don’t think anyone would be surprised to hear that we tasted a heck of a lot of whiskies in 2015. So choosing one that stands out as the best would surely be a nigh-on impossible task. Not so. There was little doubt in our minds as we sampled this dram that we had found the 2015 Golden Dram. Drum roll please. The winner of the Golden Dram in 2015 is:

Bruichladdich Aramone Cask 9 Year Old Micro-Provenance Series

2015 Bruichladdich Aramone whisky waffle

I (Ted) would like to start by quoting myself from the day we tried this epic dram: “This is one of the best things I have ever put in and around the vicinity of my face!” You just know instinctively when you meet one of those rare drams that make the stars align in the heavens. When sampling it we described it as a nose-masseuse, as wine-maturation as it should be done, and with an once-tried-never-forgotten finish – thanks in no small part to the 57% bottling strength. All credit to Bruichladdich for crafting such a well balanced, interesting and delicious whisky. It certainly made our year. Find a bottle (if you can track down one of the 500 that was made) and try it. Your face will thank you.

Honourable Mention: We couldn’t fit it into the awards but we have loved the Aussie port-monster that is the New World Projects Lui’s Bar release. Expect a review in 2016!

Dishonourable Mention: To keep things fair we included a dishonourable mention for a dram that deeply disappointed us throughout the year. And this year, unquestionably it was the Glenlivet Founders Reserve. Glenlivet – what were you thinking??? #SaveThe12

What did you think of our awards? Some good picks? Or are we totally full of it? And to what would you have awarded the Golden Dram? Let us know in the comments – it’s always a fun discussion!

2015 outtake 2 whisky waffle

 

Overeem Port Cask Matured

Barrel Number: OHD-067

Reviewed by: Nick

Overeem Port Cask

Whiskies so often seem to reflect their creator. Bruichladdich whiskies display the passion and local ethos displayed by Jim McEwan. Variously finished Glenmorangie drams showcase that experimentation possessed by scientist Dr Bill Lumsden. Whiskies made at the Old Hobart Distillery, much like their creator, Casey Overeem, have true character. And much like Casey, this character is very likeable.

Old Hobart Distillery releases their whisky under the label ‘Overeem’ and is part of a growing collective of whisky makers from southern Tasmania consistently churning out a high standard of products. Overeem, like Lark and Sullivan’s Cove, use French Oak ex-port barrels cut down to 100 litres to mature a percentage of their whisky. The flavours created by this process, similarly to its contemporaries, are equally extraordinary. But there’s something a little extra special about the Overeem. It has an element of ‘handmade’ about it, something that suggests this whisky is crafted instead of distilled.

The nose is light but enticing. There are notes of berries and stewed apricots alongside faint traces of ginger and fennel. There are also some gloriously Tasmanian woody notes which call to mind a home-workshop stocked with Huon Pine.

The palate is richly flavoursome and offers many layers to discover. It is initially sweet and spicy, offering fizzy orange sherbet notes with a dash of pepper preventing it from becoming too sweet. There is also a degree of citrus and maltiness, combining to give the impression of a freshly baked sponge cake with lemon curd. The finish is lengthy and contains faint raisiny and caramel notes: finally, the much-vaunted fruitcake has made a subtle appearance!

This is a fantastic example of a Tasmanian Whisky in more ways than just flavour. It is the perfect illustration of a micro-distillery whose focus is on creating a well-crafted product. This is not done simply as a business venture, but instead as a way for one man to create the spirit that he loves. And Casey Overeem’s intent is certainly apparent when drinking the whisky which bears his name.

★★★★

Jim McEwan: the Rock-Star of Whisky

They say you should never meet your heroes. But in the case of Jim McEwan, master distiller of Bruichladdich, they could not be more wrong.

On Thursday the 9th of October, in Howrah of all places, I had the great pleasure to meet an absolute legend of the whisky world. His introductory spiel described him as “a man you should move heaven and earth to see”. He himself informed us that after six drams I would be thinking of him as a rock star. That wasn’t true. In my eyes, he was a rock star before I had touched a single drop.

The only photo I managed to get taken before my camera's memory filled up. Typical.

The only photo I managed to get taken before my cameras memory filled up. Typical.

Upon walking into the venue I could have been forgiven for feeling out of place. I was possibly the first person to ever wear a bow tie into the Shoreline Hotel. But I quickly realised I was right where I intended to be after spotting a who’s who of Tasmanian whisky: Tim Duckett. Dean Jackson. Casey and Jane Overeem. Richard Stewart. And of course, Robbie from Lark.

The person we had come to see, however, was from slightly further afield and made his entrance in a style befitting of a master Scottish distiller. Clad in a black suit with Bruichladdich-Blue shirt and tie, he marched into the room to the sound of blaring bagpipes. And there he was, the self-proclaimed ‘cask whisperer’ himself (he confessed he enjoyed talking to his whisky barrels with phrases such as: “you are so beautiful”).

Once our applause had died down, he congratulated the piper, Heath, handing him a dram of Islay’s finest. Upon watching Heath sample the whisky, he commented: “Never have I seen a piper take sips!”

Heath was quick to reply: “I was expecting it to be good!”

Jim laughed and grabbed a bottle to refill the glass and did so – right to the top!

It was a night full of similar banter and hilarious anecdotes providing many laughs for all in attendance. Jim confessed that when he begins nights such as this he doesn’t know what he’s going to say, much like fellow Scotsman, Billy Connolly. Hence, many rambling tangents were followed – and some great stories developed from them.

So many whisky fans in one room!

So many whisky fans in one room!

He began with praise for Tasmania, which filled my heart with pride. He had just attended what he described as his “twentieth tasting in two days” and was impressed with the Lark and Heartwood that he tried. Tasmania, he said, has many similarities with Scotland, and while at first this induced some home sickness, he confessed that after six drams of Lark whisky his pining was miraculously cured. His spiel concluded with the highest praise of all, confirming a belief many Tasmanians hold: “Tasmania is the new Islay”.

The tales continued throughout the night, and we heard the story of how Jim followed his heart to the closed and neglected Bruichladdich distillery and re-employed much of the same crew that used to work there: getting the band back together, Blues Brothers style.

He mentioned how the decision to make gin saved the distillery in financially troubled times, using the “traditional Scottish tactics of bribery and corruption” to convince a fellow gin maker from Birmingham to provide some know-how. ‘The Botanist’ is now a highly regarded product – even by me, the non-gin drinker!

Other stories were less relevant, but just as entertaining. For example the time in the 60s he met psychedelic rock star, Donovan.  Donovan had, remarkably, been sent to Islay to get ‘clean’; the result of which was many shouted drams for the locals, and Donovan leaving the island in an ambulance.

There were many, many more tall tales told as the whisky flowed: creative use of Heinz salad cream bottles – and Big Angus’ wellies, tasting notes for Japanese students that were lost in translation, advice for every male present to seek themselves a ‘man-cave’, and of course the knock on the door of Gunta (just after Scotland had defeated England 7-0 in the world cup final).

Perhaps the most poignant of all, however, was Jim’s belief in his community. Bruichladdich employs over 70 people on Islay. Many larger distilleries have no more than 6 staff members. It was that sense of the island coming together that instilled Jim with more pride than anything else he had achieved. I mentioned to him afterwards that of all the distilleries I had been to, Bruichladdich had the best people. “And isn’t that what counts?” he said, clearly chuffed.

Half a dozen drams - a quiet night for Jim McEwan!

Half a dozen drams – a quiet night for Jim McEwan!

The whisky, while not the main attraction of the night, was exceptional. The Laddie Classic was lightly salty, reflecting the conditions in which it was matured, but it was also floral and fruity. The Islay Barley was next, maltier, stronger, and one of Jim’s proudest accomplishments, having been grown, distilled and bottled all on site. “How many distilleries in the world can lay claim to that?” he asked. Redlands’ Dean Jackson just sat quietly.

This was followed by the Black Arts 03.1 – a whisky described by Jim as a “protest whisky”. It was his raised middle finger to the marketing team, to whom he would not reveal its cask types. He challenged us to guess for ourselves. The popular answer was sherry, although he was quick to point out that this was not the sole ingredient. “How many people have actually bought a bottle of sherry in the last six months?” he asked. In the entire room only two people raised their hand. “Sherry is dead in the water. We need to look further”. There were certainly some wine notes in amongst this whisky – it reminded me strongly of the Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve.

Curiously we then diverged from the tasting order. We moved straight to whisky number five, which was the Port Charlotte 10 Year Old. Named after a long since closed distillery, this whisky was coated in delicious swirling, but not overpowering, peat. There were apricots and other stone fruit flavours to be found and reminded me of Bruichladdich’s neighbour, Kilchoman. Jim told us he tracked down an aged old man who many years in the past had worked at the original Port Charlotte distillery. Upon being asked if he remembered the taste of the whisky, the response was: “Aye aye aye aye aye. Aye aye. Aye aye aye. Aye. It tasted good!”

Whisky number six was the famous Octomore 6.1, the most heavily peated whisky in the world. I must confess to having sampled this dram before and adoring it – although this experience was slightly different to the way I previously tried it. Jim encouraged us to take a generous glug, hold it in our mouths for 30 seconds before swallowing. He compared this sensation to Usain Bolt bursting from the blocks and after trying it, I could understand the analogy.

I must confess that I could not tell you much about whisky number four. At that point in the evening, Jim declared we were to do a highland toast. Left foot on a chair, right foot on the table we enthusiastically repeated many (mispronounced) Gaelic words, waving our glass about (trying not to spill any), before taking a generous swig. Amazingly, even after the quantity of whisky that had been consumed, no glasses (or bones) were broken, much to the relief of the nervous looking bar staff.

Allof us up on the table - and Jim was the most spritely!

Out of all of us, Jim was the most spritely!

The night concluded with a rendition of the Scottish national anthem – or so we thought until the Proclaimers ‘I would walk 500 miles’ blared through the speakers. Jim stood up the front and conducted our raucous chanting.

As the people filtered from the venue at the end of the night, I left enlightened, inspired and thoroughly entertained. Never had the community that accompanies whisky drinking been so apparent in Tasmania. We were united as one, all in awe of a man who we regarded as an idol: the master distiller. However at the same time upon meeting him and discovering how humble and down to earth he was, we were also able to describe him with the highest praise an Australian could give: Jim McEwan is a good bloke.

This bottle was coincidentally the same colour that Jim was wearing! And a bottle I will treasure forever.

This bottle was coincidentally the same colour that Jim was wearing! And a bottle I will treasure forever.

Jim McEwan comes to Tasmania

Jim pours generous nips

Jim pours generous nips

Posted by: Nick

Tasmania is certainly a rising star within the landscape of the whisky world. Evidence of this is the upcoming visit to Hobart by a man who can be aptly described as one of the world’s few ‘celebrity distillers’. This is none other than the incredible Jim McEwan, head distiller for the ground-breaking Bruichladdich Distillery.

Jim McEwan has been in charge of the spirit created at Bruichladdich since its reopening in 2001 and has been instrumental in acquiring the ‘progressive’ reputation of the distillery. Using different barrel types, aging processes and, occasionally, the most heavily peated malt the world has ever seen, he continually creates revolutionary whisky. Jim’s experimentation has not gone unrecognised; he is the only man to have been crowned ‘Whisky Distiller of the Year’ three times.

The event is to be on Thursday the 9th of October and is already sold out; this is to be expected from an event of this nature. But if you’re curious to find out what he has to say, fear not – as Whisky Waffle’s own Nick Turner will be there to learn from the master. Expect a blog post at the end of the week sharing some of the secrets and magic revealed by Jim on the night.

If you have any questions you would like Nick to ask Jim, write them in the comments and he will endeavour get you some answers!