caramel

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!

★★

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Lagavulin: 200 years of peated perfection

Posted by: Ted

lagavulin

Here at Whisky Waffle we understand the gravitas of celebrating a bicentennial birthday. When we sprang into existence in 1988, we arrived just in time to witness Australia’s 200th year as a nation (although one of us saw a few months more of it than the other). Now we are all grown up and are excited to be able to witness another bicentennial milestone, the anniversary of a distillery that is rather close to our hearts:

Happy 200th Birthday Lagavulin!

Founded in 1816 by John Jonston and Archibald Campbell, Lagavulin has now entered the prestigious Islay old-boys club, joining the company of fellow veterans Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bunnahabhain and Laphroaig.

lagavulin-ted

Nestled on the shoreline just a couple of miles East of Port Ellen, the Diageo-owned distillery is classic Islay, with whitewashed walls bearing the name of the distillery in giant black letters on the seaward side and elegant pagodas peeking above the roof line. Inside, guests are greeted by age polished timber and leather chairs, painting a romantic view of yesteryear. Not forgetting of course the glossy copper stills and the ever-present scent of peat and spirit rising to meet the angels…

lagavulin-chairs
To celebrate the big milestone Lagavulin has released a special edition 8 year old bottling, which aims to recreate a bottling sampled by historical Waffler Alfred Barnard in 1886. Now, bear in mind an 8 year old whisky was considered nigh-on ancient back in the day and Barnard described that one as as “exceptionally fine”.

With such high praise from the 19th century, Nick immediately decided to add it to his collection. However, seeing that 2016 marked a 200 year celebration he thought ‘why stop there’ and promptly bought the 2014 edition of the Lagavulin 12 Year Old Cask Strength. When Ted added his Whisky Waffle favourite the 16 Year Old into the mix, we had quite the ingredients for a special Lagavulin birthday bash! Or as we didn’t refer to it at the time but should have: a peat party!

lagavulin-all

On the nose the 16yo was straight up coastal, with a salty, iodiny, seaweedy hit. But then we found… bananas? Perhaps banana chips, as well as dry-aged meat, terracotta, copper and crushed grass. The flavour was all about the tangy peat, but there were earthy notes such as mossy paving stones and singed oak branches.

After the subtle, balanced nature of the 16yo, the 8yo stopped us dead in our tracks and then made us jump up and down with excitement. The colour for one thing was crazy, like the palest white wine, certainly no Diageo caramel in sight there. The nose was decidedly new-makey. Raw. Ashy. A good deep breath delivered a big hit of green fruit. The flavour was fresh, crisp and bright, with the fire still burning across the palate. Summer peat. The finish was rather excellent, being sharp like a tailored charcoal suit. Everything about the 8yo served to highlight the smoothness of the 16yo.

Finally it was the turn of the cask strength 12yo, probably the dark horse of the bunch. Phwoar, what a whisky. It was young, exciting and complex, like a teenage poet. It was Bond, Die Hard and Crank… on Speed. The finish provided a peaty punch that really scratched that itch. There’s something about young peated whisky that just works.

lagavulin-nick
We’ve always had a connection with Lagavulin, even before we started the whole Whisky Waffle malarkey. To be fair, the 16yo was the first whisky that ever blew our minds and made us think that whisky was something more than an additive to Coke. Hopefully this gem of Islay continues another 200 years and beyond, but who knows what the future may bring. Maybe one day in the far flung future a descendant of Howard Carter will be leading an expedition to explore the ruins on a lonely island off the old Scottish coast. Perhaps they will discover a door sealed with a dusty cartouche bearing the legend ‘Lagavulin Distillery Est. 1816 Isla’ and upon gaining entry to the chamber within, will stumble across a hoard of barrels containing the fabled peated gold of Islay…

Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

bunna-18

I would like to start out by saying that I am a big fan of Bunnahabhain (so this review is not going to be biased in the slightest). Yes, we all know that Islay is famous for its heavily peated drams, but I have a definite soft spot for this gentle islander.

I’ve actually been to the distillery, a few miles up the coast from Port Askaig, but to my eternal discontent I haven’t actually done the tour as we were pressed for time and had several other tours booked that day. The buildings may look rather grey and foreboding, but the people are so friendly and warm. Please pop by and say hello to them if you get a chance.

I really got a taste for Bunna on the ferry on the way over to Islay because it was the dram of the month and they were pouring doubles. Standing on deck in the blasting wind and watching the islands of Islay and Jura hove into view with a warming glass of Bunnahabhain in hand definitely leaves a lasting impression on a lad.

While I may have cut my teeth on the Bunna 12 Year Old, I recently acquired a bottle of the 18 Year Old and tell you what, it’s pretty exceptional. Bunnahabhain dials back the peat hit in favour of softer, earthier flavours. The nose is rather like tramping around the rolling interior of the island, bringing forth moss, springy peat-laden soil, wind-twisted woods and the occasional gust of salty sea breeze (plus the colour is like the dark waters of the lochs that stud the landscape).

Other flavours floating through the air include roasted chestnuts, dark chocolate, spit roasted lamb with salt and rosemary, stewed quinces and brandy-soaked raisins (sherry casking par excellence).

The mouth is quite salty, but strikes an elegant balance, like a high quality piece of salted caramel served with delicate slices of pear poached in butter and sprinkled with brown sugar. The finish is rounded, warm and comforting, like curling up on a squishy couch in front of a glowing fire on a cold night.

While I rather enjoy getting smacked in the face with a massive slab of Ileach peat, there’s something about the softer side of Islay that keeps drawing me back again and again. One day I will return to Bunnahabhain and explore it properly, but until then I will sit back with a glass of the 18 Year Old, close my eyes and be transported back to one of the most magical places in the world.

★★★★

#IslayWeek

#LetsGetPeaty

Springbank 15 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

springbank-15-year-old

The best drams are those that come with a sense of place. The Islay peat monsters smell like the fresh peaty air of the island on which they were made and taste like the fires the locals use to keep warm in the winter (and the summer). The drops from Speyside are as luscious and floral as the green fields which line the roads in the sunny north east (at least it was sunny the day I was there. Maybe I used up Scotland’s sunshine quota that day…)

Equally, whisky made at Springbank distillery tastes like the town in which it is made. Campbeltown was once a thriving maritime city full of trade, shipbuilding, and of course, fishing. Now, hold your horses there Whisky Waffle. Surely I’m not implying that this dram… is the whisky equivalent of fishing? Crazily enough, that’s exactly what I’m suggesting! And it works. As in really, really works.

Unlike the 10 Year Old Springbank expression, the 15 has spent its extra maturation time in ex-oloroso sherry barrels and the added complexity is clear from start to finish.

On the nose, oily, briny characteristics are immediately noticeable. There is the faintest hint of smoke, perhaps blown in from nearby Islay. The palate is gently spicy, courtesy of its 46% nature. There are flavours of caramel and pineapple contrasting intriguingly with meaty and, dare I say it, fishy aspects. The finish is pleasingly long, really encapsulating the seafaring town with notes of salt and sea-spray.

On this blog, I do boast about a range of things, but even I can’t say I have ever been to 18th century Campbeltown (or even the current 21st century edition for that matter). However, by simply pouring myself a dram of Springbank 15 and closing my eyes (don’t try it the other way around – you’ll waste good whisky!), in my mind I am immediately transported there. I can smell and taste it for sure!

★★★★

Lark Classic Cask

Reviewed by: Nick and Ted

Lark Classic Cask

It all started, as the best stories do, with a fishing trip. While waiting for some prime trout to bite in the Tasmanian Highlands, a man had an epiphany that would change the course of history.

The man reasoned that Tasmania has pure water, excellent barley and native peat bogs, so why then was no one making world class whisky there? That man’s name was Bill Lark and today he is revered as the godfather of Tasmanian whisky.

While Tasmania is now world famous for its whisky, the road was not an easy one. A ban on small-scale distilling had been in place for over 150 years, but that didn’t stop Bill from convincing politicians to overturn the law (presumably over a dram or two). Once the path was clear, Bill’s wife Lyn bought an antique 4 litre copper pot still and together they founded Australia’s first modern whisky distillery, the eponymous Lark.

While Bill has taken a step back from distilling duties, he remains to this day a champion of Tasmanian whisky. In 2015 he was justly recognised for his efforts by being inducted into the prestigious Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame, the first Australian distiller to achieve the honour.

Lark Distillery releases a range of products, including an excellent cask strength, a phenomenal distiller’s selection, epic special editions and of course, not forgetting their standard release, the Classic Cask.

If you know anything about Lark, you know that oranges is what it is all about and this becomes apparent as soon as you take a nose of the Classic Cask. The sweet citrus flavour blends with rich dark chocolate and vanilla, like a gourmet dessert in a glass. The chocolate comes to the fore on the palate, a mixture of milk and dark, followed by delicate oak, pepper and almond praline. The finish is medium length and slightly nutty.

Tasmania has waited a very long time to be able to drink this whisky. We will be forever grateful to Bill Lark for having the foresight and courage to take a step into the unknown and found a movement that is now respected and celebrated world wide.

Cheers Bill!

★★★

Lark n Ted

One state. Three ingredients. Unlimited flavour.

#TasWhiskyWeek

Oban 14 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

Oban 14

Rather like the wild haggis (Haggis scotticus), Oban distillery is a curious wee beastie. Located on the craggy west coast of Scotland in the town of the same name, Oban is one of the oldest distilleries in the country, founded in 1794 on the site of an old brewery by brothers John and Hugh Stevenson. Interestingly however, despite its lengthy existence it has remained one of the smallest distilleries around, with only two pot stills in residence to make the good stuff.

Understandably, the limited production capacity has focused the Oban distillers, choosing to craft a few expressions rather than the seemingly endless releases pedalled by larger producers. Luckily this means that the Obanites have had plenty of time to refine and tinker with their creations.

Oban’s flagship dram is one that should pique the curiosity of any whisky fiend looking for something a little different. Eschewing usual ageing lengths, the Oban 14yo, part of Diageo’s “Classic Malts Selection”, exploits an interesting niche between youth and maturity, and it must be noted, at a price on par (at least in Australia) with many 12yo whiskies.

The character of the 14yo walks a fine line, balanced as it is between the highlands to the east and the islands to the west. A careful nosing reveals a light, sweet, dusty spirit with suggestions of damsons and green apples, giving it a sense of kinship with other highland drops such as Dalwhinnie.

The taste on the other hand speaks of its seaside home, beginning with a bright, slightly salty burst on the front of the palate, lifted by the 43% strength, followed by a hint of seaweed and coastal air. The mid palate smooths out and becomes much more rounded, with dried fruits, zest, spices and perhaps just the lightest hint of smoke. The finish is clean and doesn’t linger for too long.

Once you’ve knocked back a few sips of the 14yo it’s worth holding the glass up to the light and contemplating the colour, which should be a dark amber. The reason I make mention of this is that the 14yo is not aged in the sherry casks that the colour suggests, but rather ex-bourbon hogsheads.

The answer to this conundrum will cause some to shrug their shoulders unconcernedly and others to foam at the mouth in righteous indignation: caramel e150a. Why Oban chooses to use artificial colouring, while other premium distilleries go to great pains to point out that they keep their own products au naturale, is a secret known only to the Obanites. Whether or not it’s presence affects the flavour of the 14yo I will leave up to your own distinguished palates, fellow wafflers.

The small size of Oban definitely works in its favour, allowing it time to lovingly craft a quirky and interesting product that does not hurt the wallet too much. The 14yo is certainly a delightful and evocative drop; and unlike the pesky wild haggis, is relatively easy to track down for those curious to discover the ‘west highland’ flavour.

★★★

Great Outback Rare Old Australian Single Malt

Reviewed by: Mooresy

Great Outback Rare Old

This is weird story worthy of a waffle. Australian whisky has a generally agreed history, the modern chapter of which begins in the 1980s with the Lark family overturning a century and a half of legislative prohibition on distilling in Tasmania. This led to a resurgence of distillers and, as a very appropriate homage to whisky’s very beginnings, some people who had no doubt been fooling around as bootleggers went legitimate. The Great Outback Rare Old Australian Single Malt – a mouthful of descriptors, almost as if someone took all the best buzzwords that make whisky seem exclusive and put them all into the name – is a mystery in that history.

From what I can gather from my Poirot-esque deductions is that it was distilled somewhere between 1960 and 1985, that it is either from a now forgotten Tasmanian still (the bottle indicates it was produced at the Tasman Distillery, which no-one can find) or a Western Australian still pretending to be Tasmanian, and that it is pretty rare. Some rumours include that it is the reject stock of the closed Corio Distillery or that it is not Australian and was just labelled that way to hide an origin that would have been less palatable. It is a confirmed fact, however, that this single malt has a blended variety that can still be found so maybe these rumours of reject stock and foreign distillation are accurate for the blended version.

Something that is more than rumour is that this whisky is actually very good. With a label that looks like a knock-off product sold by some people who’ve refilled an empty bottle with some water and caramel colour, it is about as far from that as you can imagine. The colour is a nice pale gold suggesting there is a straight bourbon cask maturation and on the nose I think that is correct but there is also a vivid complexity I was not expecting. It’s fresh and grassy, with a little toffee and vanilla, but also a lovely tropical fruit and pineapple citrus alongside an orange smell that is actually reminiscent of Lark. Not only that, but there are some interesting botanicals with fresh thyme and something peppery thrown into the mix.

The other brilliant thing about it, which transfers over to the palate, is it is devoid of the ethanol kick that can permeate and drown out the subtleties. The relatively low alcohol content helps this, but it is also just a very clean and crisp spirit. There is certainly some tropical fruit – brilliant passion fruit – and the malty vanilla really comes out to balance against the toasted oak flavours. It is unsurprising that it is not peated, as this was presumably created before peat bogs were officially uncovered in Tasmania or peated barley was imported. Or before peat even existed anywhere in the world, who knows.

This is not a whisky for people who are looking for a heavy hitter, a peaty belter, or an oak punch. It is certainly not for anyone who wants to be able to sit down with book and look up the dram as they drink it. This one for those who like a crisp and complex confectioner’s creation with a side of Conan-Doyle intrigue to keep them guessing.

If you are the distiller of this fine drop, get in touch. Partly because there are several questions I have for you, but mainly because I am hoping you still have a few bottles of the stuff kicking around the attic you might be willing to offload.

★★★★

Linkwood 20 Year Old Côte-Rôtie Finish

Reviewed by: Mooresy

Linkwood Cote Rotie

There are a lot of distilleries out there many people have never tried because all their wonderful product is being snapped up by the blenders. This is a remnant of a bygone era where single malt – especially single cask – was rough and dirty. Blenders swooped in to save the day by watering down the volatiles and mixing young and mature scotches together to smooth it all out. However single malt and single cask only taste bad if the distiller doesn’t know or care about what is going into the bottles at the end of the process. If it’s all about getting drunk, why would anyone go the extra distance for a fine product.

Fortunately, people are changing and the market is changing. Single malt is here to stay, and single cask releases are the bastion of exclusivity and discernibility. This has allowed some of the bigger whisky families to experiment every now and again with small amounts of their product and sometimes that creates a pretty special drop. The Linkwood Côte-Rôtie fits this bill for two reasons. First, it is a distillery owned by the global secret council of big whisky owners and is predominantly used in blends, including as a nice addition to Johnnie Walker’s vatted malt, which means there are specific flavours that are not usually separated and given their own podium. Second, it has been bottled independently by Gordon & MacPhail, so the final product has been selected by people whose primary expertise with whisky is casks and maturation. There is going to be something unique coming from that combination.

This one has also been finished in a very specific type of red wine cask giving it a rich and fruity smell with something very special coming from the grape influence. There are caramels and sugary honey but dominated by the smell of wine and vine mixed in with the actual wood itself, which I assume is European Oak unless the spice of the fruit is engaged in deception and subterfuge.

On drinking this whisky for the first time I thought this will be the one I tell everyone to try. And while I still will tell everyone to try it, on reflection I’m sure it’s not for everyone. Which brings me nicely to the point regarding the cask. The more whisky someone drinks, one of two things happens; either the person will get closer and closer to deciding the one whisky they want to drink at the expense of all the others – what I like to call “the wrong thing” – or they get more and more adventurous and inquisitive about different types and flavours. A batch of a well-known favourite finished in an unusual cask is a great way to see how important aging really is.

This one has spent two and a half years in its finishing cask, which is quite a long time in absolute terms. It is also well matured in general and you would expect a higher level of wood as a result. On the palate, the Côte-Rôtie has a lot of wood. I think that’s a good thing and that it really works for this particular drop. Those who like the simpler and sweeter whiskies will probably think this one has too much tannin, which is often the result of red wine finishes and long oak maturations. Surprisingly though it has not lost some of that underlying sweet complexity. The honey and caramel transfers through with some tart apple and cinnamon/nutmeg in the background.

A vino bomb is not for the immovable whisky drinker who has found the one flavour they want and doesn’t like anything else but, for the intrepid explorer who wants to backpack through the Rhone Valley and pop the bung on a nice red every couple of hours, sit back and quaff with a woody wonder.

★★★★

Glen Moray 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Glen Moray 12 Year Old

It is quite often the case in the whisky world that what you pay for is what you get. It is usually a safe assumption that a $40 bottle will be inferior to one costing three figures. However, there are so many exceptions to this rule that I begin to wonder why us whisky fanatics spend the money we do.

Case in point is the Glen Moray 12 Year Old, a bottle that first caught my eye when I was a uni student and therefore always on the lookout for an alcoholic bargain. The Glen Moray was, quite simply, the cheapest single malt I could find in Australian bottle shops. However I was quick to discover it held a certain charm that saw it rise above many of the blends I could also afford.

There is no denying that it is a simple dram, bearing all the hallmarks of Speyside. On the nose there are notes of sweet biscuits and honey. Predictably from a whisky matured entirely in bourbon casks, there are also elements of vanilla. The palate is sweet, almost syrupy, with toffee, banana and heathery floral notes. The finish contains more vanilla, spice and Werthers-esque caramel.

The Glen Moray 12 Year Old is never likely to rack up a high score at any whisky awards shows. But in my opinion there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It is simply a straightforward and inoffensive whisky that punches above its weight against the larger players.

★★

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve 120 Proof

Reviewed by: Nick

Knob Creek 110 Proof

We at Whisky Waffle pride ourselves on our light-hearted, satirical and occasionally even entertaining take on whisky. So when sitting down to review a bottle entitled ‘Knob Creek’… well, it’s almost a little too easy. So I did my best to refrain from the obvious jokes on this topic and tried to keep things above the belt. But this task proved to be a bit of a hard one…

Knob Creek comes in many varieties, but mine is clearly the biggest: 60% ABV, or as they say in America, 120 proof. They also make a 100 proof and a rye, but this is the one that really sticks out. It is named for the area of Kentucky where Abraham Lincoln (AKA guest reviewer Stretch) grew up. It is said that the creek nearly claimed his life as a boy while swimming (Lincoln that is, not Stretch), coining the phrase ‘dead as a doorknob creek’.

Knob Creek is part of the Jim Beam toolbox, and forms a quarter of their small batch range alongside Bakers, Bookers and Basil Hayden. Unlike the other three, Knob Creek doesn’t start with a B. It is also aged for a period of nine years, which as we have learned is a long time for American whiskey (though a blink of an eye for the Scottish stuff). Nine years seems to be a good decision from the Knob Creek crew, as the finished product is quite the package.

Nick and Knob 1

Alongside the usual bourbon notes of caramel, honey and vanilla the Knob Creek also contains scents of stewed apricot, cinnamon and candied pop-corn, although surprisingly there is no trace of banana. It’s a nose with some power, though the first sip is even stronger. The warmth from the alcohol is immediately noticeable: this is a whiskey that is seriously ballsy. Flavours of golden syrup, cashews, pepper and multigrain bread flood the palate and are followed by a bucket load of spice which truly throbs across the tongue. The finish is surprisingly easygoing, without being inconsequential or flaccid. It lingers gently with notes of vanilla, apple… and of course a whole lot of wood.

Nick and Knob 2

Knob Creek claim to be the ‘number one super-premium bourbon in the world’. While I am not entirely sure what the term ‘super-premium’ means, I am not unhappy with this claim. This is a bourbon to sip and to savour. It is not a whiskey I would always have in my pocket, but one that I would always be pleased to see.

★★★