diageo

Dalwhinnie Lizzie’s Dram

Reviewed by: Ted

Mama, just killed a dram,
Put a glencairn against its neck,
Poured it out, now the bottle’s dead…

Avid Whisky Waffle followers may remember that I was recently musing about how I needed to bite the bullet and finish off a bottle of Dalwhinnie that I’d had sitting around for far too long. Well, you’ll be pleased to know that the world is now minus one bottle of Highland single malt. Just not my bottle…

So, I was visiting friends last night and at the end of the evening the host whipped out a bottle of Dalwhinnie he bought in Scotland recently-ish and declared an intent to finish it off between the group. Naturally, everyone declined (you’ll need to install a sarcasm filter to read that properly).

The bottle in question was the interestingly named Lizzie’s Dram, a limited edition distillery exclusive non age statement release. No, the Lizzie in question is not the Queen, but instead one Elizabeth Stewart. Working at Dalwhinnie for over 30 years, she was apparently a trailblazer for women in an historically male-dominated industry as one of the first female Scottish malt distillery operators. After her retirement in 2018, Diageo, owners of Dalwhinnie, chose to honour her contributions to the whisky industry by creating a special release in her name.

Lizzie’s Dram is aged exclusively in selected refill American white oak bourbon cask and released at 48% as a limited run of 7500 bottles. The colour is darker than you’d perhaps expect for refill bourbon casks, but then this is Diageo we’re talking about, who are quite fond of going to town with the E150a caramel colouring.

The nose is pure Dalwhinnie – very first thing I detected was that classic smell of apples. My companions at the table, more casual whisky drinkers than me, were quite effusive in their agreement and thankfully I was backed up by the bottle notes. See? We don’t always talk rubbish (mostly). Also to be found are lemons, straw, vanilla and green sapwood. The addition of a couple of drops of water also draws out some caramel. All in all quite a pleasant olfactory experience.

The mouth is a different kettle of fish. It’s very sharp for some reason, with a metallic, Myer lemon body going on. The whole effect is very bright across the palate, with a lingering finish. I think it’s kind of like sword swallowing – it’s pretty difficult and can impress your friends who don’t know the trick, but in reality it’s uncomfortable in the mouth and you’re glad when it’s over. A couple of drops of water soften the blow, but then annoyingly a bit of the pizzaz and drama disappears. A difficult dram indeed.

Look, this is a NAS we’re talking about, so it’s likely that a good chunk of the release is made with relatively young whisky. I suspect that some of the jaggy edges on the mouth would have been smoothed out if the barrels had been allowed to work their magic for a bit longer. It’s a shame really, because I enjoyed what was going on with the nose and wish it could have translated across the entire experience.

Thumbs up to Diageo and Dalwhinnie for celebrating the undeniable achievements of one of their own, thumbs down for not backing it up with an entirely worthy dram. Of course, this is just me grouching with my Whisky Waffle hat on. In the moment, with good company and a dram in hand, we killed that bottle like a cadre of smiling assassins. When it’s someone else’s bottle and they’re pouring generously, one should not protest too hard.

Any way the whisky flows…

**

The day my head exploded in a cloud of smoke: a whisky memory

Posted by: Ted

Ted in armchair

As I sit here in a comfy wingback Chesterfield armchair in the lounge at Lagavulin distillery on Islay, I reflect that this represents the culmination of a very significant journey for me. My being here now was (in part) sparked by a moment in time a number of years ago that changed how I experienced the world.

When we were young, poor and tasteless uni students, we drank whisky without any art or depth of thought. Our main drinking decision was how cheap we could get away with without completely destroying ourselves.

However, one particular night we happened to be out on the town for a friend’s bucks night. Feeling in a generous mood and relatively flush, we stopped in at a bar and decided to order a couple of drams a bit above our usual weight.

Our decision this time was based purely on how cool the name was. Our first dram was the fun sounding Monkey Shoulder, which taught us about finding better blends and which we still enjoy to this day.

The other was a rather mystical sounding dram named the Lagavulin 16yo. Not thinking too much about it I took a decent hit of the dark amber liquid. Suddenly, time stood still and my mind exploded. I had never tasted anything like it.

Billows of hot, medicinal, coastal smoke filled my mouth and roared down my throat, leaving my senses reeling. The others around me were being gripped by a similar reaction. It was love at first dram.

Ted with fireplace

That one moment catalysed within me a yearning for good quality whisky, to try exciting and interesting drams. That feeling simmered away until the finish of uni and the gaining of a job and more importantly, money. Suddenly a whole world of exciting whisky was within grasp.

Eventually the path we had been set upon led to the founding of the number one whisky blog in Tasmania, something m’colleague and I are immensely proud of, and the discovery of a whole community of people just as excited about whisky as we are.

And so here I am on Islay, sitting at the very distillery that kickstarted the whole adventure. It feels slightly surreal to be honest (although if it was truly surreal there would probably be a couple of highland cows sitting on the other chairs smoking pipes and discussing the football results), but at the same time like wearing a favourite old tweed suit.

Ted at Lagavulin

It’s a significant time for both of us actually, as Lagavulin celebrates their 200th birthday this year, a feat to be congratulated. I will no doubt return here again, as will m’colleague and many others besides, hopefully for another 200 years and more, and revel in this glorious, extraordinary whisky.

Sláinte mhath, and keep on waffling.

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.

★★★

Distilled Not Diluted: a rebuttal from a cynical Scotsman

This article is a response to our article: A Brave New World

Posted by: The Cynical Scot

Cynical Scotsman

So Ted. The big boys are coming to town are they? The fathers of Scotch are looking at the colonials and are coming over to gobble us up?

Come off it!  ‘Big Industry’, ‘sharks circling’, ‘crusty entrenched old world?’ Diageo buying into Starward? A chance to get some big bucks into the Australian whisky industry? You do know that Diageo owns far more distilleries than they care to slap a name on the front of. They have done a very clever job of maintaining the branding and character of individual distilleries as the industry recovered in the ’80s and ’90s. They have reopened distilleries that had been moth-balled after not having a legitimate business case.

Saying Scotch is ‘weighed down by centuries of tradition’ misses not only the importance of the tradition, but also the dynamic changes that have taken the industry to what it is today. This has also created quality recognisable products (have a look in every duty free in every international airport in the world). Whisky is something that if you put a cheap and an expensive dram into plain bottles and labelled them both ‘whisky’ it would be difficult for the layman to differentiate between them. Selling of whisky involves more than just touting a nice tasting beverage. It is the selling of an image, a lifestyle, a legend and sometimes a dream. I don’t buy Diageo whisky, I buy Talisker, Caol Ila, Lagavulin and when I have to, Johnnie Walker.  http://www.diageo.com/en-row/ourbrands/categories/spirits/Pages/Whiskey.aspx

So it seems Australia is selling out. Diageo have bought in, and as a minority shareholder in a single distillery at that. So what?….  What’s in it for them and what’s in it for Starward?

Well, for Diageo they can dip their foot in the water and get a first hand look at the Australian business environment. They can get a taste for a new market and they have a fresh brand to expand and work with.

For the distiller they have the knowhow of a company that has many very successful whisky brands under its belt and certainly knows how to flog the stuff. Having a big producer on board will probably make it easier for them to weather ups and downs in demand. Not only that, an individual distiller with higher production could also better standardize their product. Don’t get me started on ‘vintaged’ releases.

It’s one distillery. It’s a minority share. I don’t think Diageo is going to weaken the idea of Australian whisky, but they may change it in time. They may produce an affordable Australian brand. No more expensive bottles you may ask? Not at all. You’ll still see 500ml bottles priced at over $150. What you will have is diversification into the wider market. Imagine being able to taste something from Bothwell in Tasmania and say ‘Yup, that’s definitely Nant. That’s how it tastes’, and it only costs $85 (or whatever). Well, then you could buy a bottle for a friend. Two years after you tasted the stuff you’d still know what they were getting!

This would be a move in the opposite direction from the Scottish market, which traditionally seems to have existed in the mass-produced signature single malt or blend. More recently there has been a trend for creating a broader high-end range and raiding the history books for thought provoking names (I’m thinking of Highland Park in particular here: http://highlandpark.co.uk/taste/). But that’s how whisky works isn’t it? A single recognisable product becomes the poster boy for the new entrant and the budget conscious enthusiast. Then you have a few fancy, expensive types that allow the distiller to show off the finer points of their art and the consumer to have something extravagant to crack open when Grandpa has his 80th. No bad thing.

But where do you want the growth within the sector to come from? Do you want the Australian industry to grow from the inside as demand rises and production increases to meet it? Or do you want a big boy from out of town to buy it all up and franchise the lot? I would say that one aspect that sets Australian whisky apart is the fact it is a small craft industry. You sell out from that you’re like an IT Startup selling out to Google. Sure you’ve made your money, but did you really care about your product or was it just a means to an end?

So many questions. Fortunately, the Australian distilleries I know of don’t seem to be like this. They’ve been founded by distillers who have often made their money elsewhere and are using that to fund a business in something that matters to them – whisky. And good whisky at that.

So hello Diageo. Welcome to Australia, there’s work to be done but let Australian whisky speak for itself and find its own formula. It already has its own character. I’d hate to think that Australian whisky just became another branch of the Scotch map – Speyside, Lowlands, Highlands, Islay and Australia. If it ever gets to that I’ll find an island somewhere that Diageo hasn’t heard of and start growing some barley. Maybe Bill Lark will already be there.

A Brave New World: Diageo invest in Australian distillery

Posted by: Ted

The whisky scene in Australia, by its very nature as a young and emerging industry, has hitherto always been gloriously independent. Brave and adventurous souls carving out their own mark in this new frontier of whisky making, men and women free to pursue their own ideologies and dreams. Very different to the crusty, entrenched old world, where the multitudes of distilleries are weighed down by centuries of tradition and the idea of a truly independent producer is hard to come by in the face of hungry multinationals.

Diageo

It was always going to happen you know. Never a doubt. You can bet your bottom dollar that ever since Bill Lark emerged from the Tasmanian Highlands as an enlightened being, the big boys have been keeping a very close eye on developments in the antipodes. If the Australian whisky scene succeeded in its ambitions, and my word it most certainly has, the sharks were always going to be circling ready. There have been a few nibbles here and there over the years, but finally someone has taken a proper bite.

Diageo, global spirits bigwig and owner of globally renown brands such as Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff and Baileys, has decided to take a chance navigating by the southern constellations and bought a minority share in Victoria’s New World Whisky Distillery, makers of Starward whisky. Starward, with excellent releases such as the Apera cask single malt or the quirky ginger beer cask, has been making waves both at home and increasingly overseas, so it is no wonder that Diageo has considered it to be a worthy venture to invest in.

How this moment changes the landscape in Australia is yet to be seen. It is only logical that as the industry increases, the big boys will continue to invest in distilleries they consider to be appropriate extensions of their brand. To be honest this is actually a really good thing for Australia, as it will allow for much greater growth within the sector, solidify the local market, give better extension into new overseas markets and help whisky in this country mature and gain further acceptance as an world class product.

New World visit 5

But… at the same time we have to hope that this evolution doesn’t come at the cost of the attitude and culture that makes Australian whisky unique. It would be sad if that spark was lost through homogenisation and the finance-driven whims of corporate overlords. The whisky produced by Australian distillers is exceptional, a sentiment backed up by a slew of prestigious awards; if the quality of the spirit was diminished through bottom-dollar bean-counting it would be a slap in the face to the ideals of the men and women who have worked hard to bring this industry to life. Then again, even the hardest-boiled rager-against-the-machine has to admit somewhere along the line that these guys seem to have some vague idea about what they’re doing, so hopefully good stewardship and passion for the product will win the day.

Actually, come to think of it, something quite extraordinary may emerge out of all this. As we all know, Diageo’s flagship whisky is the Johnnie Walker, the highest profile blended whisky in the world. If Diageo keep adding Australian cup winners to its stable, who knows, maybe we’ll see the release of a true-blue Aussie blend! Strewth, prepare ya cakehole for the dinky-di Jonno Walkabout “MAAAAATE” travel-exclusive series, featuring the likes of the ‘Bronze Surfie’, the ‘Flamin’ Pink Galah’ and of course, the ‘Blue Bogan’.

The future is here and it’s a Brave New World. Watch this space.

Lagavulin 16 Year Old

Reviewed by Ted

Lagavulin 16 whisky waffle

Balance. Subtlety. Lagavulin 16yr old. As George Takei would say: “Oh my…“.

Heralding from Islay, that near-mythical island of Scottish whisky making, the Lagavulin 16 is aged for most of its life in American oak bourbon casks, then finished in European sherry oak. The maturation sheds of Lagavulin distillery bear the full brunt of the winds and spray of the Atlantic Ocean, and these caress the barrels, imparting their spirit into the developing whisky.

The delicate nose of the Lagavulin 16 has wonderful hints of brine, sea air and mineral salts balanced against a warm brush of smoke and caramelised fruit. The colour is a very light amber, with almost a hint of green, like the first blush of patina on bronze.

After an initial warming hit of peat, the seaside elements make a return with engagingly salty, bitter, metallic notes tempered by nutty caramel and pear. Finally the lovely peat smoke glides across the back of the tongue and down the throat, leaving a peppery finish. This isn’t the usual hearty, roaring bonfire that so typifies many Islay whiskies, but rather the gentle, delicate smouldering of a seaside campfire in the soft golden light of a still dawn. A moment to reflect and savour.

If any of these flavours were too dominant, particularly those drawn from the ocean environment, then this expression of Islay would be diminished, perhaps even unpleasant. Yet in balancing all the parts so precisely against each other, and weaving them so subtly together, a magnificent tapestry is created. The skill of the Lagavulin distillers laid bare. This is a whisky for those quiet, contemplative moments in life, and a truly worthy addition to any collection.

★★★★★