Strathisla 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

Strathisla 12

Some people say that nothing that comes out of a medicine bottle ever tastes good. Well, I would argue that is not always the case, especially when the bottle contains Strathisla 12 Year Old.

Now, I’m not saying that whisky is medicinal (although my dad always had a glass if he felt a cold coming on), but the Strathisla 12 captures the look of a Victorian medicine bottle, with beautiful dark green glass, embossed lettering, several fonts, and a lovely etching of the distillery.

Strathisla is owned by Chivas Brothers, makers of the well known range of Chivas Regal blends. According to the box the distillery itself is ‘The oldest distillery in the Highlands’, although we would debate this fact slightly. Not the age mind, but the location, because when you look on a map you would be forgiven for thinking that Strathisla is smack bang in Speyside.

A sly Speyside imp certainly dances into the character of the Strathisla 12. The nose is light and sharp, with notes of hard fruit, grain, and crushed grass. The taste is crisp and green, with strong bitter herbal flavours that cut across the tongue, leaving a lasting dryness. There’s a raw, untamed edge to this Strathisla that suggests a younger whisky than its 12 years. Perhaps a few more years in the barrel would coax it into bloom.

If you are one of those people that are of the opinion ‘It’s herbal, so it must be good for you’, then you will probably find a better bet in the Strathisla 12 than downing some concoction of random weeds pulled from the garden. The bitterness will definitely be a turnoff for some people, but sometimes that’s just what you want. In fact, come to think of it, the herbal qualities may even make it an excellent component for a cocktail. Take a walk into the leafy green garden of Strathisla and see if it’s just the tonic you’re looking for.



Laphroaig 10 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Laphroaig 10 whisky waffle

Peat. One of the biggest, strongest and most divisive flavours found within a dram of whisky. The smoky, medicinal notes send some people running to the hills with just the merest of whiffs. But to others, there are no better flavours in the entire world of whisky. These flavours are most strongly associated with one place: Islay.

The early Ileach distillers did not set out with the intention of creating such iconically flavoured whisky. The use of peat to smoke the barley was born out of necessity rather than creativity. Islay is as remote as it is boggy, and getting coal to the island on a train was simply not an option. So the locals turned to a resource they had in abundance: peat. It kept them warm in their houses against the wild force of the Atlantic Ocean, so burning anything else in their kilns was never a consideration.

The most famous example of peated whisky is made by the Laphroaig Distillery. As far as standard releases go, nothing is on the same extreme level in terms of the peaty intensity of its flavour.

In their 10 Year Old expression it is immediately noticeable – before it has even come close to your nose. Smoke. Ash. Medicinal iodine notes, all there smouldering together. This is the scent of a bonfire at the beach.

The palate is legendarily akin to licking a burnt log. Maritime notes are present; briny, seaweed flavours ebbing through gently. Other, more obscure elements are there too, such as leather and sawdust. The bourbon cask imparts only small amounts of vanilla; and what comes through is particularly dry and slightly bitter.

The finish is disappointingly short and contains several soapy, chalky notes, before the smoke gently comes rolling back, leaving a warm, lingering ash-like flavour.

While it is not the best Islay, or even Laphroaig has to offer, there is no doubt this dram showcases some amazing peaty flavours. It is, however, something of a one card trick, let down by the flavours that accompany the smoke. This does not disappoint me too much. If this is merely the entry level, how good must their other expressions be?


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!

Rambling at Redlands: our trip to Tasmania’s ninth distillery

Posted by Nick and Ted

If you haven’t worked it out already, we’re not shy to talk about our pride in the fledgling whisky industry in our home state of Tasmania. Currently there are nine operating distilleries and as whisky writers, it is our duty-bound quest to visit each and every one of them.

This quest begins with a distillery so new that we left without even tasting a single drop of their whisky… the reason being that it is currently in oak barrels and will not be ready for the best part of a year!

The distillery in question is of course Redlands Estate, Tasmania’s ninth distillery. As we approached the estate, the elm-lined drive provided glimpses of the red bricks of the 19th century heritage farm buildings. Constructed using thousands of bricks made on-site by convicts, the estate summons up a picture of old world rustic charm.

Vintage beauty... and some old building, too.

Vintage beauty… and some old buildings, too.

Redlands Estate was originally founded as an innovative farming complex, the fields fed by the waters of the Plenty River, which was diverted into a system of canals throughout the property, devised by the very Tasmanian sounding Count Strzelecki. Over the years the estate served many purposes such a hop farm, a dairy, and a granary, before falling into disrepair in the late 20th century.

Fast-forward to 2008 when the new owner, agricultural consultant Peter Hope, was contemplating the future of the property. During a lunch with the godfather of Tasmanian whisky, the great Bill Lark, the idea of creating a distillery on the site was formed. However, this was to be no ordinary distillery: the ambitious minds of Peter and Bill envisaged an establishment that would become Tasmania’s, and possibly the world’s, first true paddock to bottle distillery.

Redlands Estate is perfectly suited to this brief: fertile fields for growing barley, pure water from the Styx Valley flowing down the Plenty River, and striking buildings for housing malting floors, stills, and aging barrels. Bringing these elements together is head distiller Dean Jackson, with whom we had the genuine pleasure of spending an enjoyable afternoon.

Nick pretending to look at the scenery.

Nick pretending to look at the scenery.

We began our tour with a walk around the grounds, taking in the historic buildings, the Plenty river (Dean was keen to get the “there’s plenty of water” joke out of the way early) and the barley fields. The newly emerging shoots were of the Gardener variety, a brewer’s barley rich in oils and flavours. After harvest in late summer, the barley is steeped in an old water trough left over from the estate’s time as a dairy.

When Dean decides the barley is ready, he transfers it to the malting floor. In his own words: “gumboots on, spade in hand, shovel through window”. The malting room is an ex-granary and shearing shed, and due to the lack of underfloor heating, can only be used in the warmer months. Dean then hand turns the grain three times a day for a week until germination reaches the optimal point. After that, it’s into the purpose-built kiln, a large rotating stainless-steel drum, contrasting wildly with the brick chimneys and pagodas found in Scotland.

Ted contemplating the precise function of doorways.

Ted contemplating the precise function of doorways.

We wandered back inside to the room which houses the mash tun, the wash back and the solitary still, and embarked on a discussion about the flavours imparted in the earliest stages of the creation of the spirit. Different temperatures in the mash tun create different sugar types: lower temperatures can create honey and floral notes, whereas higher temperatures induce brown sugar and molasses flavours. Too hot, and less pleasant notes can emerge. Dean references this as a crucial process: “Stuff it up and you’ll get bad spirit”.

We were lucky enough to sample some of the wash straight from the wash back: Ted described it as sweet unhopped homebrew, while Nick claimed it was better than actual beer. Next we tried some new make spirit from only the 26th distillation completed at Redlands. In the absence of a single malt, we thought we would provide some tasting notes for the new make:

Redlands Estate New Make Spirit:

Rather unsurprisingly, this spirit was very clear in appearance and had high alcohol on the nose. Once we finished congratulating ourselves on this line, we did discover some other flavours, such as floral and oily notes, with a whiff of match smoke. Rich across the palate with hints of almonds and plums.

The one and only still, with the one and only Dean Jackson.

The one and only still, with the one and only Dean Jackson.

We were then offered the chance to visit the maturation room housing all 42 barrels laid down by Dean to date. Unfortunately we cannot reveal the location of this fabled room, as we were forced to swear on our miserable lives to keep the location secret before being allowed in (blindfolds and top-secret rituals may or may not have been involved too).

Once inside, our noses were immediately greeted with the glorious scent of potential whisky. Dean told us to inhale as much as we could whilst there, to ensure the angels didn’t get too much (greedy sods).

The mission of Redlands Estate is to create a purely Tasmanian whisky, so you won’t find any ex-bourbon or European sherry barrels lying around. Instead, Redlands matures its spirit start-to-finish in ex-Pinot Noir casks sourced from three southern Tasmanian wineries. This is a departure from not just traditional Scotch whisky, but also from fellow Tasmanian distilleries. What effect this will have on the finished product we can only guess at, but Dean tells us that it’s shaping up as something very special.

The newest barrel: number 42. The water of life within the meaning of life.

The newest barrel: number 42. The water of life within the meaning of life.

Our tour concluded with some tastings, not of whisky, but of three apple based products crafted by Dean. It was here that we received an insight into his tasting philosophy:

All the flavours are already in your head from a young age. Practise gives the ability to draw them out and differentiate between them. The flavours that you discover come from your own life experiences, and will vary from person to person.

Therefore he took no offence when Ted describe the brandy on offer as smelling like ‘damp fridge’, having himself described a prestigious whisky at a TWAS tasting event as smelling like ‘wet fish’!

"I also detect notes of burnt shoes and the tears of grown men"

“I also detect notes of burnt shoes and the tears of grown men”

Redlands presents itself as a rustic, idyllic, countryside establishment which provides a true all-encompassing Tasmanian experience. While for some businesses this image would be merely a façade, a means to an end, we were pleased to discover that this was not the case at all; it is every bit as genuine as it claims to be. The ethos of Redlands is shown in the dedication, passion and care taken in every aspect of the whisky making process. We believe that these elements will be expressed in the Redlands single malt when it is finally released, and we will be excited to sample this unique Tasmanian whisky.

Glenlivet 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Glenlivet 12 whisky waffle

Some whiskies have absolutely blown me away when I’ve first tried them. Often, the most exciting drams I have ever tried I’ve been unsure if I liked when they first passed my lips. Some whiskies are challenging and different and interesting. But not all of them.

I begin this review as if a whisky that were to lack one or all of these qualities is in some way an inferior drink. However, when the Glenlivet 12 Year Old is concerned, this is just not the case.

Rarely have I found a distillery as reliable as Glenlivet. Nor, where its signature expression is concerned, one as good value. But the 12 Year Old is as dependable a dram as you will find in Scotland. It is the perfect just-got-home-from-work whisky.

It offers sweet oak notes on the nose, leaving you in no doubt you have a malt from Speyside. On the palate it provides an initial hit of honey and some heather before developing into glorious burnt caramel, brown sugar and just a hint of smoke. This makes way for a long vanilla-centric finish that leans towards creaming soda. It all adds up to create a distinctive and memorable, if not perfectly balanced, flavour.

Glenlivet have not produced a world changing whisky here. But that was not what they set out to do. In their 12 Year Old, they have created a dependable whisky, one that you can turn to time and time again without fear of emptying the bottle. Because if it were to run out you would, without hesitation, nip to the bottle shop for a replacement.


Post script:

Since writing this review the whisky landscape has changed and sadly not for the better. My review’s final claim that when my bottle runs dry I can simply nip to my local store for another no longer rings true. Tonight I downed the last of my trusty Glenlivet 12. It’s been a fun journey, but as they say, all good things must come to an end. Glenlivet 12 – it has been a pleasure having you as my go-to. You will not be forgotten.

How we drink our whisky

Posted by: Ted

A note on our whisky drinking preferences:

We’ve heard all the arguments for adding water, ice or stones etc. to whisky, but in general we drink our whisky neat and lightly warmed (or hot if we forget to take it away from the heater in time!). Warming the whisky volatises it and allows you to really get all those exciting molecules onto your scent receptors, which is far harder to do when the whisky is cold. Remember, smell is half of the flavour! Using a curved glass helps trap the vapours and stops them from escaping into the wild, which is why we like to use vessels such as pinot glasses, or our favourite, the Glencairn glass, rather than the traditional whisky tumbler.

Of course, drinking is a democratic pastime and it is entirely up to you how you do it (although we may make an exception if we hear of anyone mixing a Lagavulin 16 year old with soft drink. We’ll hunt you down and jolly well send you a strongly worded letter!) Take the time to experiment and find the way that gives you the most enjoyment.

Slàinte mhòr!

Our preferred vessel for drinking whisky - and, un-coincidently the icon for this page!

Our preferred vessel for drinking whisky – and, un-coincidently the icon for this page!