drinking

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 5

Posted by: Nick

Welcome to the Whisky Waffle Podcast: Christmas Special! Where we don our Christmas hats and Waffle about our favourite Christmas time drams! In this exciting episode we include:

– The Waffle, where we ramble about our Christmas whisky traditions
– The Whisky, where we taste a peated Bunnahabhain: the Toiteach and a proper Christmas dram: the Glenfarclas 105
– Shoutouts: where we wish a merry Christmas to a few of our supporters; and
– Whisky Would You Rather, where Ted delivers a low blow of a Christmas question to Nick

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Confessions of a Geriatric Whisky Newbie Part 2

Posted by: Chris AKA the Geriatric Newbie

(Part 1 appeared here as ‘Queries from a first time Waffler’)

I’ve been a seasoned whisky drinker for over three months now, so it’s time to look back on the journey so far. If ‘seasoned’ is the right word to use, rather than just ‘pickled’.

To recap: I took up whisky drinking rather late, at the age of seventy, as part of a search for a relaxing and hopefully slightly disreputable hobby to help brighten up the declining years. Somewhat unexpectedly, what began as a plan to buy just two samples and test the waters rapidly expanded into a collection of over thirty bottles. Perhaps there was a need to make up for lost time in the search for the perfect drop. Or perhaps I was corrupted by reading Whisky Waffle? Yes, that must be it – it couldn’t possibly be all my own fault. But the two biggest factors have been that the research is fascinating and, it has to be said, it can be a lot of fun having a hobby that you can drink.

I can’t claim that money was no object – some whisky enthusiasts can apparently afford truly crazy money in pursuit of their passion – but I did have enough saved up to be able to build a small collection without being restricted to only the cheapest varieties. The whiskies I’ve accumulated include some single malts and (whisper it….) some blends. The least I paid was $35 for a Ballantine’s Finest and the most expensive bottle, so far, was $114 for an Aberlour A’bunadh.

For the record, I bought blends from Ballantine’s, Chivas, Dewars, and Johnnie Walker. And Irish Whiskey from Jameson, Bushmill and Teeling. The single malts range from the Lowlands of Scotland to the Highlands and some from Speyside, plus a couple from Islay. Finally, some from Penderyn – the only distillery in Wales.  I hasten to add that they’re not all open yet. Didn’t know that I was capable of such restraint. At least, I’m fairly sure there’s one still sealed somewhere… exploring other parts of the world, naturally including Tasmania, will come later.

But where should a newbie begin? One can only hope to scratch the surface of the hundreds, if not thousands, of whiskies now on the market. So many decisions to make. Do I want to become the sort of afficionado who will only sip the finest single malts, and actively enjoy getting snooty and sniffy about blends? Or will I aim to become a party animal who will try anything provided it’s sloshed into a glass with enough cola? Despite what I initially imagined, it appears that drinking blended whisky, and also adding some kind of mixer, is by far the most popular way of enjoying it worldwide. Apparently, historically it always has been. Despite the rise in popularity of  single malts over  the past few decades, over 90% of the output of the Scottish distilleries still goes into blended whisky.

Confession02Pic01

Attempting the correct style of snooty face

Soooo…. This whisky business might be more complicated than I thought. It seems that I will not only be chugging it down neat, delightful though that is. Maybe some long whisky drinks could be just the thing for summer. I could try some tentative experiments with some of that Ballantine’s or perhaps the Johnnie Walker Black Label. That’s not a hanging offence, is it?? I might experiment with a range of mixers – in particular, soda, dry ginger, cola and coconut water. Yes, apparently coconut is very big as a whisky mixer in some parts of the world. Green tea too. Who knew? Not me, until I started doing the reading. Of course, soda, dry ginger ale and other mixers have always been popular, even in relatively traditional circles. Adding soda or ‘dry’ to the whisky was certainly the mainstream fashion among adults when I was a boy. Admittedly that was back in the middle of last century, so things may have moved on a bit….

I bought a variety of whisky books, including a couple by the splendid Charles MacLean. Also The World Atlas of Whisky and Whisky: The Manual, both by respected whisky writer Dave Broom. All are good value, and they point out that whisky has a long and venerable history as a mixer. Indeed in the early days it was almost exclusively drunk mixed with a variety of herbs, spices and other ingredients. Maybe it was too rough to get down neat? So, mixing is neither recent nor sacreligious! Good to know that. Nick and Ted may disagree though. I may even get evicted from their Tasmanian Temple of Tippling for mischievous mixing. Holding my breath now…

Of course some drinkers have always liked their Scotch neat or with a splash of water, but the big marketing push to sell single malt Scotches to the world as a solo drink apparently began in the late 1970s and early 1980s. According to Charles Maclean and Dave Broom, two factors drastically reduced the demand from the whisky blenders who had previous bought the majority of the output from the distilleries.  Firstly, a slump in the global economy and secondly the rapid rise in popularity of competing spirits such as vodka, white rum, etc. and of course wine. So the makers needed to look for an additional way of marketing their products. Building new market images for their single malts was the answer. Lucky us. Even at this early stage I’ve sampled some very nice single malts that I probably won’t be trying with cola just yet.

But which styles will make the cut? Neat Johnnie Walker Green label? Auchentoshan Three Wood? Will Lagavulin and Coke make the grade? Ballantine’s and coconut juice? Place your bets now, and stay tuned. Many thanks to Nick and Ted for the chance to waffle on.

Cheers to all.  Chris.

Fortunately, as you can see, all this dedicated whisky testing has had no noticeable effect on me at all. Just lucky I guess.

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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.

★★★★

An afternoon at The Angel’s Share

Reviewed by: Nick and Ted

As Tasmanians we tend to think that our locally produced whisky is rather great. Unfortunately, the opportunity to taste a good assortment of the state’s bottlings is fairly hard to come by, unless you happen to have really deep pockets or are friends with Jeff Kennett. Hold on, so why not open some kind of boutique store in a beautiful location, stocking a comprehensive range of Tasmania’s finest drams for people to sample at their leisure? Luckily, that is exactly what an enterprising ex-expat couple has done.

AS 4

Two Wafflers off with the angels

Louise Payne and Sam Humphries grew up in North West Tasmania but left the state to pursue the highlife in Sydney. But you know what they say: a change is as good as a holiday, and the couple swapped the nations’ largest city for a popular holiday destination: moving into an old bank building in the picturesque town of Stanley. Initially unsure of how to utilise their time, they saw an opportunity in the fledgling Tasmanian whisky market and seized it. Sam, member of local band ‘Charlie Don’t Surf’, described this business venture as: “riding the crest of a wave”.

Today the couple have transformed their old bank into a whisky drinking nirvana called ‘The Angel’s Share’, even converting the bank’s old safe into a whisky vault. As Stanley is only an hour’s drive from their hometown, the Whisky Waffle boys decided to pay Louise and Sam a visit – and sample a portion of their amazing range. Neither Waffler wanted to be designated driver, so they booked a cottage within stumbling distance of their destination. The only question when faced with an entire wall of Tasmanian whisky was: where to start?

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Sam Larking about

We decided to right a wrong and sample the wares of a distillery we had scarcely tried before: Belgrove. The creations of Tasmania’s mad scientist of whisky, Pete Bignell, were whiskies like we’d never tasted before and we were grateful for the opportunity to sample them. We then moved onto Nant, investigating some of their vatted malts: the Homestead and the Old Mill. After some musing we decided that, while pleasant, we preferred their cask-specific releases better.

AS 2

Small drams amuse small minds

What would a tasting of Tasmanian whisky be without Lark? We had a cask-strength face-off between the port and sherry-barrelled releases, which remained unresolved as Nick preferred the former while Ted the latter. Our languorous afternoon of whisky tasting concluded with the heavy hitting Heartwood. We’ve rarely seen such a range of Heartwood expressions – if you’re interested in trying Tim Duckett’s colossal creations, then this is the place to come. We tried the Devil in the Detail – Heartwood’s strongest release yet at a whopping 73.5% – and the Good Convict – a gorgeous Sullivans Cove-distilled number which we decided was probably the pick of the day.

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‘Hey baby, do you come here often?’

If you are curious to find out what Tasmanian whisky is all about, but you are unsure of what to purchase – or even where to start – then a trip to the Angels Share is a dram good idea. It gives you the rare opportunity of try before you buy thus avoiding spending large sums of money on whisky you don’t necessarily enjoy. The Tasmanian whisky industry and the bar have a symbiotic relationship: Louise and Sam will happily point you in the direction of distilleries you like, but the friendly atmosphere, stunning surrounds and of course the whisky itself will keep bringing you back to spend another lazy afternoon in the beautiful town of Stanley at the Angels Share.

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Louise giving us some support after an afternoon of sampling quality Tasmanian whisky

anCnoc 16 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

anCnoc 16

One of the fun things about whisky is that it can reveal to you a time and place as part of its character. If the anCnoc 12 Year Old is a summers day, then surely its older sibling, the 16 Year Old, is the evening.

Produced by Knockdhu Distillery, founded in 1894 and one of the smaller operating distilleries in the Scottish Highlands, the AnCnoc 16yo is a burnished gold in colour, darker than the straw-like 12yo.

On the nose the 16yo is smooth and sweet, with no hint at all of the occasional raw alcoholic jaggies lurking in the 12yo. Herbs, particularly mint, garnish a bowl of caramelised pears in syrup dolloped on Weetbix. The taste is sharp and bright, striking the upper palate. The finish is hot and bittersweet, drying the mouth and lingering for some time afterwards.

The AnCnoc 16yo is much better rounded than its younger kinsman, with maturity found through age. While the 12yo has the heat, dustiness and brashness of the day, the 16yo is the relaxing warmth of the evening. A perfect companion to watch the light fade on a clear summer night.

★★★

Bakery Hill: the final frontier

Posted by: Nick

Bakery Hill Tasting 5

Many bakers. Many hills.

Lark? Check.

Nant? Yep.

Limeburners? Sure have!

Hellyers Road? Of course.

Starward? Been there, done that.

Bakery Hill? Ah.

There it was: the one black mark on my record of Australian whisky tasting. I had never tried anything from Victoria’s acclaimed Bakery Hill Distillery. This had to be rectified. But how?

I decided to employ the tactic used by whisky drinkers throughout the ages: I would go to a bar.

The bar in question was the Woodlands Hotel in Coburg. And despite not being near any trees, let alone woods, it was an excellent establishment. As well as providing me with multiple pints of locally produced cider and one of the best burgers I’ve had in my life, they also stocked not one, not two, not even three, but four (I know, FOUR!) different bottles of Bakery Hill.

I glanced across the table at my friend and drinking-buddy-of-the-moment Viv, and nodded. Either by telepathy or the fact that we had previously discussed doing a tasting, we both knew: tonight was the night.

Bakery Hill Tasting 2

My drinking buddy Viv (sadly Ted was in the wrong state)

The four varieties were each as tempting as the next. There was the classically titled Classic Malt. Next to it was the doubly exciting Double Wood. I had a strong urge to try the Cask Strength. And finally, how could we resist the Peated Malt. One of each, we demanded.

One sip into the Classic Malt, I knew that I was onto something. It was an enormous revelation: an elation! Which was also my reaction upon trying it. Raisins, condensed milk, limes, dates. Deliciousness. Viv concurred, labelling it simply: “tasty” and admitting he could drink an entire bottle.

The Classic Malt smelt amazing, but the Double Wood smelt better with notes of vanilla, even dark rum! It was longer, more complex and nuanced. Viv decided it was “tastier”, and “what whisky should be like”.

The Cask Strength was next. And boy was the finish long. It was warm with caramel, spicy cinnamon – even garlic. Viv decreed it “tasty” and claimed that it was so smooth you would not think it 60%.

Finally came the Peated Malt. We possibly had saved the best til last. There was smoke and there was vanilla. There was smoke and there was fruit salad. There was smoke and there was… plenty. This was no Islay peat monster. It was subtle, without compromising on the smoke. Viv agreed: “tasty smoke”.

Bakery Hill Tasting 3

This is the one. Equal best. With three others…

We left the bar oblivious to the cold, kept warm by our whisky coats. It had been a fascinating night, tasting the range of Bakery Hill products vertically while not ending up horizontally. If you are ever near the Woodlands Hotel in Coburg, nip in for a nip. It is well worth it. I already had a huge level of respect for Australian whisky when I entered the bar. And I left it with even more.

Bakery Hill Tasting 1

Mmm… tasty…

Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey

Reviewed by: Nick and Ted

Jack Daniels Old no. 7

When you think of American whiskey, you probably think of Jack Daniels. That makes us a little sad. You’d be forgiven for such thinking of course, as it is the highest selling American whiskey in the world. This was not always the case.

Back in the mid 1800s a recently orphaned Jack Daniel found himself in need of a home. Fortunately he was taken in by a local lay-preacher who moonlighted as a moonshiner. Jack saw the light and so his path was set as a still man.

These days JD is famous for its blue-collar local hero vibe, placing itself as the everyman’s drink of choice. Unfortunately, while it may be heroic in terms of volumetric output and sales, there’s certainly nothing local about it any more.

While Jack Daniels is well within its rights to label itself as bourbon, it shuns this moniker, preferring to be known simply as Tennessee Whiskey. In reality, the name is really all that sets it apart: there’s certainly nothing special about the flavour, that’s for sure.

Nick and JD

Once you have steeled yourself enough to take a sip, you will be met with a concoction of molasses and cheap vanilla essence, as well as an undertone of raw spirits. It’s relatively broad and full-bodied, but with lots of harsh, jaggy edges.

After you have bravely taken a sip, you will find yourself amongst the vegetation. Unfortunately, rather than a meadow of flowers, it’s more like a pile of damp leaves blocking your gutters. It is pleasantly warm on your palate, although less so when you notice that someone has actually painted nail polish remover on your tongue. The finish is a combination of several elements that you don’t usually, or indeed ever, look for in a whiskey, including turps and blue heaven flavouring.

While there are many high alcohol percentage whiskies that give the illusion of being lower due to their smoothness, the JD deserves some credit for managing to achieve the opposite. While it’s only bottled at 40%, the rough and raw nature of this spirit gives it the impression of a distinctly unpleasant cask-strength.

While the stats may suggest that Jack Daniels is the most popular whiskey in America, the drink does not back it up. This is mass produced American whiskey at its best – or should that be worst?

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.

Royal Lochnagar Distillers Edition

Reviewed by: Nick

Royal Lochnagar Distillers Edition

Every now and then what you really look for in a whisky is one that you can drink. I realise that this may sound a ludicrous statement for something which is, undoubtedly, a liquid, but bear with me and I shall explain.

I’m always on the lookout for interesting and unusual new drops to challenge me and set me off waffling about the subtle complexities that can be discovered from dram to dram. However, if every dram I consumed affected me in such a way then, apart from having no friends, I would risk straying too far from the very essence of whisky; that is: it is made to be drunk (with the possible exception of the Macallan Cire Perdue).

With this in mind I believe there is no better candidate for the position of ‘drinkable whisky’ than the Royal Lochangar Distillers Edition. A rather underrated distillery, Lochnagar got it’s ‘Royal’ tag by impressing Queen Victoria on a visit, although the scale of this achievement is questionable as it was reportedly very easy to please Queen Victoria with whisky. Nevertheless the title stuck and it is now the smallest of Diageo’s 28 distilleries.

The Distillers Edition is aged for a period in ex-Muscat casks, adding a layer of silk and sweetness without making it overly-sugary or syrupy. The extra maturation seems to round off some of the sharper edges, making the whisky smoother and easier to drink, though this does not take away from the overall flavour; there are still many appealing elements to discover.

This is immediately apparent on the nose, which is heavy with alluring caramel. Citrus notes follow as well as a dash of rose essence. It has a smooth and creamy mouth feel, retaining the caramel elements and adding flavours of almonds coated in layers of honey and chocolate. There are also the faintest hints of berries to be discovered, lingering in the background. The finish is light and short but the butterscotch theme continues until the end. The overall effect is that of the sauce to sticky date pudding. And those who know me understand what a large compliment I am paying it.

The Royal Lochnagar Distillers Edition is certainly not the most complex or intriguing whisky going around. Nor is it in any way dull. It is a very easy drinking whisky, and this is in no way bad thing. In fact, I believe that it is this dram’s biggest strength.

★★★

White Oak Akashi + 12yo

Reviwed by: Ted

White Oak Akashi vs White Oak 12 Year Old

Akashi White Oak

Just a quick review hastily scribbled down at the bar about two whiskies out of Japan. Founded in 1888, White Oak Distillery is one of the lesser known distilleries outside of its home country, only selling to the local market until 1984. Apparently though, White Oak was the first distillery in Japan to gain an official license, pre-dating Suntory and Nikka, the two major players in the Japanese whisky scene.

White Oak releases are less common in Australia, particularly aged releases. Luckily the bar that I am currently at had the presence of mind to have not one, but two of them hiding on the top shelf, prompting this on-the-spot review. The two White Oak examples perched on the bar before me are the Akashi Non Age Statement (NAS) and the 12 Year Old.

I cannot provide much more background to the two bottles as all the information is (unsurprisingly) written in Japanese, but I can reveal that the Akashi is much lighter in colour than the 12yo, which has a nice amber tone. On the nose the Akashi is fairly insubstantial, with only a light sweetness coming through. In comparison the 12yo has a strange sulphuric tang. It’s almost smoky at first, but quickly turns chemical.

The chemical vibe continues on the palate, with a smoky sulphuric quality that tastes like the water could have been drawn from a mineral-rich hot volcanic pool on the side of a Japanese mountain. Against this the Akashi tastes lightly bitter/sweet, not venturing too far in either direction.

In conclusion, the Akashi, while pleasant, is a bit of a non-event, showing a rather bland personality. In complete contrast the 12yo is full of character, but unfortunately the sort of unpleasant character that you might meet down a dodgy alley on a dark night. While curious to try, the 12yo definitely won’t be to everyone’s tastes, and the Akashi certainly won’t turn any heads down the street. It seems that White Oak is more miss than hit, but whether it’s older releases can redeem it will have to wait for another day.

Akashi: ★

12 Year Old: ★★