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Talisker Port Ruighe

Reviewed by: Nick

Talisker Port Ruighe

Talisker does a lot of things consistently well. Being located on the Isle of Skye certainly helps – there is surely not a more spectacular cross section of scenery to be found anywhere in Scotland. Offering exclusively peated drams also comes in handy. There is nothing that guarantees dependable yumminess like a distinctive smoky swirl through all available products.

And then there are the little things. Talisker’s packaging is always beautiful, their individual bottling names are always evocative and their non-cask strength releases almost exclusively sit at a beautifully balanced 45.8%.

All of the above is true about the Talisker Port Ruighe. And yet… and yet… This one is more than a little different. The clue is in the name, Port Ruighe being somewhat of a non-sexual double entendre. Not only is it the Gaelic spelling of Skye’s largest (and candidate for Scotland’s prettiest) town, Portree, but it has also spent the last part of its barrelled life in ex-port casks. And it is this point of difference that makes the Port Ruighie stand out from the Talisker pack.

The nose is typical Talisker. Sweet. Peat. Chocolate. Salt. A bit of orange. Basically what you’d expect from the 10 Year Old. It’s on the palate that this diverges. It’s a little rough and pleasantly ashy but alongside the smoke is burnt fruit, sticky raspberry jam and hints of Turkish delight. The port influence is clear for all to see and really rounds out the peat hit. The finish is surprisingly long with a bitter, perhaps tanninic, dark chocolate linger.

While Talisker do many things consistently well, one gripe I do have with the distillery is the up and down nature of their copious NAS releases. I can take or leave the Storm and the Skye but this one really provides enough contrast to justify the release of a 7 or 8 year old whisky. It really is the sweetest peat on offer on the Isle of Skye.

★★★

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Glen Moray Port Cask Finish

Reviewed by: Nick

Glen Moray Port Cask

As an out and proud fan of Glen Moray distillery and a waffler known to be partial to a little port matured whisky, the Glen Moray Port Cask Finish sounded like the perfect dram for me. Combining the sweet elegant Speyside flavour with a rich wine-infused layer – what could possibly go wrong? As it turns out: quite a lot.

Upon its arrival at my door, I eagerly whipped the bottle out of its box and was greeted with the most peculiarly coloured whisky I had ever seen. I’ve observed variations of the (hilariously unintentionally poetic) “burnt crimson” theme before, but this whisky was – and there’s no more accurate description – orange. It was the kind of radioactive-peach hue normally reserved for fake tan. Alarm bells were ringing – but I didn’t want to fall into the trap of judging a book by its colour. There was only one thing to it – I had to try some.

After the first sniff it was clear that I was not trying a regular Speysider here. There was a lot of fruit – by which I mean a veritable orchard’s worth – and it was overripe, perhaps on the turn and ready for the compost heap. There were some bitter dark chocolate notes as well as equally bitter notes of wet grass. All in all, it was… shall we say memorable.

Surely the palate would be an improvement. And it was, albeit slightly. It was sweet and sticky with strong winey notes combining to form something reminiscent of strawberry jam. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some strawberry jam. Just this particular fruit spread was more Woolworths brand rather than homemade by my Grandma. The sweetness was more of a sugar syrup than a caramel and the vanilla more essence than extract. The finish started strongly with some nice blackberry flavours but descended into a rough spicy alcohol burn, surely a product of its youthful non-age statement nature.

Wow.

I did not love this whisky nearly as much as I expected. All things considered it was more than a little, well, rubbish. However, I can’t say I’m unhappy that I bought it. Scotland is hugely diverse in its drams and this is as far removed from an elegant Speyside drop as an Islay peat monster. Unfortunately in this case – the differences are not for the better.

Speyburn 10 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Speyburn 10 year Old

It’s the very end of harvest season here in Tasmania. Fresh produce abounds, from potatoes to pears, onions to oranges, and asparagus to apples: our family-friend farmers’ pickings filling my kitchen with an alluring bouquet. The fresh fruit combines to remind me strongly of the scent of a dram I have recently acquired: the Speyburn 10 Year Old.

“Delicious” I hear you cry “a whisky with all amazing the flavours of harvest time! It must be good.” And it is. But it also isn’t. This is a whisky full of contradictions.

The contradictions start with the distillery itself. Translating literally as “River Spey”, Speyburn identifies as a highland whisky despite being found within a mile of such Speyside giants such as Glen Grant and The Glenrothes. It has received many modern awards, though it’s greatest accomplishment still seems to be being built in the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. It also, commendably, bucks the NAS trend by releasing a 10 Year Old, a 25 Year Old… and nothing in between.

The harvest fruits are prevalent on the nose. Overripe red apples, peaches and lemons dominate proceedings in a way entirely unsubtle. It’s enjoyable but certainly citrus-heavy. The palate is sweet and malty, like children’s breakfast cereal. There is more lemon here, causing the whisky to veer dangerously towards dish-cleaner territory, though is stopped short by a bitter cooking apple note on the finish.

There are undeniably many enjoyable flavours in the Speyburn 10 Year Old. It’s well worth a try and certainly wonderful value – just don’t expect subtlety to be among its virtues. Rather than a sweet bite of an apple, it is more like the entire orchard has been emptied into your kitchen.

★★

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.

★★★

Flóki Icelandic Young Malt

Reviewed by: Ted

Floki

By all accounts Iceland is one of the most beautiful and beguiling places on earth, an ethereal land of glacial blue lakes, tumbling grasslands, rocky moonscapes, bubbling hot springs and ridiculously hard to pronounce volcanoes. Basically anywhere you look will create a feeling of awe and wonder at the raw majesty of it all. I myself once met an Inga from Iceland, which certainly left me with feelings of awe and wonder at the landscape…

Ahem… anyway, my Mum was in Iceland recently (lucky sod) so I convinced her to go on a mission for me. You see, apart from making you stumble over yet another lump of stunning wilderness with each step, Iceland also has another point of interest. Two of them in fact, as the island is home to two new whisky distilleries. The Scandiwegians are increasingly becoming known as avid makers (and drinkers) of whisky, with stills operating in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and now, with the opening of Thoran and Flóki, Iceland.

Fortunately, my Mum was able to locate a bottle of Flóki for me in the Iceland duty free. Eimverk Distillery, opened in just 2009, is currently the only Icelandic distillery with whisky available for purchase (Thoran has not yet entered full production at this point). It turns out that the team at Flóki are a crafty little bunch, hand making their own pot still. They also produce their whisky using 100% organic Icelandic-grown barley which, keeping with the craft approach, they malt by hand. Apparently, thanks to the Arctic climate, Icelandic barley is slow growing and low in sugars, meaning that the distillers have to use 50% more barley per bottle (compared more temperate climes I suppose), which they claim gives their product a unique taste.

Fortunately, thanks to my maternal benefactor, I have a bottle on hand to be able to verify said uniquity. The Flóki Young Malt, as its name hints at, is not their flagship release. The reason for this is a question of time rather than choice, as their spirit has not actually been under oak long enough for all systems go, with their Icelandic Single Malt to be unleashed later in 2016. Thankfully to get the ball rolling they released the Young Malt as a limited single barrel Iceland duty free exclusive.

The bottle is awesome (if too small. Curse you limited release!), with a wicked Viking-inspired crest and angular lettering on a textured black label. The liquid contained within is a rich amber-brown that catches your attention straight away. So no worries on the eye, but what does Iceland’s first whisky taste like?

Pretty good for such a young whisky it must be said. The nose is really curious; it’s really, really floral and fruity (pineapple, mandarin, pear) with a slightly salted caramel edge that keeps you sniffing. You know what, if you’ve ever had the chance to try some new-make spirit, then you’ll know what this smells like.

On the mouth the Flóki is sharp, slightly bitter and prickly. It pretty much jumps off its longship and starts jabbing away with its spear, although part of the reason for that is probably the 47% strength. The finish coats the tongue with that raw, grassy, hay-like quality that seems common amongst very young whiskies, followed by a lick of spicy fruitiness.

It’s certainly an interesting experience to try, but you can tell that the Young Malt is only the first step down the road for Flóki. It’s kind of like a teenager whisky, full of all sorts of raw, bubbling emotions and ideas, unsure about its place in life. Given time though it will gain maturity and understand what it really wants to be. Then again, we can’t judge it too harshly as it was never meant to be the be-all and end-all. This is but a glimpse of a whisky that I think will one day stand shoulder-to-shoulder with all the majesty of the Icelandic landscape.

★★

Whisky and Chocolate: why has it taken me so long?

Posted by: Nick. Photos courtesy of Craig Johnstone

Whisky. Chocolate. Two undoubtedly magnificent creations. Why, then, has it taken me so long to realise that combining the two is the best idea hit upon since a particular Bill Lark fishing trip?

Enter Ian Reed, organiser of tenuous themes for Whisky Business, who decided the night’s proximity to Easter was as good an excuse as any to bring along chocolate bunnies to the next gathering.

While the selection of whiskies was sure to be excitingly varied, the selection of chocolate turned out to be less so, although this was through no fault of mine or Craig’s, who both brought some excellent blocks (disclaimer: mine was slightly more excellent). Ian gathered everyone together. It was time to begin.

Whisky n Chocolate dram 1

Whisky number one, it transpired was the Scapa 16 Year Old, a lovely and easy drinking Orcadian drop. However tonight I couldn’t help but notice an intriguingly pleasant bitterness about it, so selected an equally bitter 70% dark chocolate to accompany it. My results were as follows:

Bitter + bitter = not bitter!

Strangely enough, together the two bitter flavours cancelled each other out and left smooth and sweet strawberry and melon notes I hadn’t noticed before. A win for the paring!

Whisky n Chocolate dram 2

Whisky number two was immediately picked by Craig as a rum barrel finish, which was either a lucky guess or proof that he knows his stuff. The whisky was a 15 Year Old BenRiach, which had indeed been finished in rum barrels. I selected a Lindt Salted Caramel to accompany it.

Rum barrel + salted caramel = tropical punch!

Apparently the secret to unlocking the fruit flavours in the rum finish was a block of salted caramel chocolate! Two out of two for the chocolate paring!

Whisky n Chocolate dram 3

Whisky number three had been matured in sherry casks, this much I could tell. I quickly ruled out Glenfarclas and took a stab at another famously sherried whisky: Glendronach. Imagine my pleasure (read: smugness) when it turned out to be the Glendronach 18 Year Old (Big Sam) Allardice. One sip gave away the Olorosso maturation. It was dry. As in really dry. And I loved it. I went for the strong stuff. 90% dark chocolate. No messing around here.

Dry whisky + dry chocolate = the Sahara desert.

I suspected that one ingredient may make the other sweeter in comparison. I was wrong. This combination could not even be crossed upon a camel. And I loved it. Three out of three.

Whisky n Chocolate dram 4

After a short break filled with science jokes from Bish, and vaguely Easter-themed jokes from Rosie, we moved onto whisky number four: the clue from Ian being that its name was Gaelic for ‘natural’. Because I speak fluent Gaelic (or because I’ve read it on the internet) I immediately realised we were trying the cask strength Glenlivet: the Nadurra. I needed a feisty chocolate to compete with this, so selected my own contribution: a fancy and fully-flavoured Anvers salted caramel chocolate.

Strong whisky + strong chocolate = Pirates of the Caribbean!

Ok, yes, by this stage of the night my pairing notes were starting to get, shall we say, ‘creative’, but hear me out. I mean this in a way that these two flavours did not go together. At all. In fact they clashed. In fact, they clashed entertainingly, one might even say ‘swashbucklingly’ (if one could pronounce such a word at this end of the evening). Hence: Pirates of the Caribbean.

Whisky n Chocolate dram 5

Whisky number five, the final dram of the evening, was wonderful. There was subtle peat on the nose, mild sweet spices on the palate, and a warm lingering finish. It had to be Laphroaig, and as it turned out, it was the 18 Year Old. It was a wonderful dram and I paired it with the 70% dark chocolate. At this point of the night, the equation was simple:

Whisky + Chocolate = awesome.

I don’t think I really need to explain this one.

Five out of five.

 

Nikka from the Barrel

Reviewed by: Ted

Nikka from the Barrel

I’ve been at it again! For those who remember my Akashi review, I seem to have picked up a habit of reviewing Japanese whiskies at a particular bar that I occasionally habituate. Not a bad vice I must admit.

This visit’s subject is Nikka from the Barrel, which comes in an intriguingly plain, stubby little 500ml bottle. The labelling is sparse to say the least, and not particularly useful if, like me, you cannot read Japanese.

It’s not only the bottle that has limited information. The little that I could find out about this drop is that it is a blend (or as Nikka claims, a marriage) of matured malt and grain whiskies from re-casked barrels.

Bottled at 51.4%, the Nikka has a robust, gutsy nose. Dark honey, peach, apricot and orange jump on to the old scent receptors, although m’colleague swears blind that he could smell corned beef (odd man).

On the palate the Nikka is rich and syrupy, with notes of burnt sugar, oak, sultanas and honey, followed up by a pleasant herbal bitterness that reminds me of Speyside. I would take an educated guess that sherry barrels have played a part in the blend, as something of that quality seems to shine through.

The Nikka from the Barrel is a fantastic Japanese blend. It’s bold, gutsy, fun and will put a grin on your dial. Definitely give it some attention if you come across a bottle.

★★★

Lark Double Sherry Cask Limited Release

Reviewed by: Nick and Ted

Lark Double Sherry Cask Limited release

We make no bones about the fact that we are ardent lovers of Lark. We will go to our graves swearing blind that our superlative wafflings are not just a bunch of old guff (in fact, many top whisky critics agree with our views). For those willing to make the journey, proof of Lark’s greatness can be found at their cellar door.

If you are one of the lucky acolytes to enter Larks lair, you will be met with a sherry monster of epic proportions. The Lark Sherry Double Cask Limited Release is matured for most of its life in a first-fill barrel, and then transferred for the last six months into another first-fill barrel. Apparently the transfer process causes high amounts of evaporation, helping to intensify the flavours.

Our first impressions of this whisky were huge. This is, without a doubt, one of the biggest, boldest noses we have ever come across; something that makes the entire cast of Asterix look like Tintin. This is Pinocchio if he embarked on a career as a lawyer. As soon as the glass enters the vicinity of your nostrils you are enveloped by a huge, warm blanket woven from raisins, figs, chocolate, golden syrup, honey and oak.

The first sip instantly hits you with a warm lively glow. Thanks to the 59.2% alcohol the mouth rapidly dries, leaving a satisfying bitterness across the back of the palate. This is a complex and challenging dram to be sure. Each sip reveals more layers of flavours, both subtle and bold.

Sadly for those with no immediate plans or means to travel to Tasmania, the Sherry Double Cask Limited Relase is only available at the Lark cellar door. For those who are within reach (hooray!), make sure you have a taste before the very finite number of bottles evaporate like the angels share (or before the Whisky Waffle boys drink it all!) Sitting at Lark’s bar, sipping double sherry matured whisky can only be described as pure ‘Larksherry’!

(Cheers to Dave at Lark for coining that one after mishearing a comment)

★★★★

Yamazaki Distillers Reserve

Reviewed by: Nick

Yamazaki Distillers Reserve whisky waffle

Even the most diehard Scotch whisky traditionalists can no longer argue that countries other than Scotland cannot produce top quality single malts. Japan has become one of the leaders in New-World whisky-making and recent awards, such as the number one spot in Jim Murray’s 2015 whisky bible, suggest that the status quo is changing – slightly – but noticeably.

The establishment responsible for the latest-greatest single malt is Yamazaki, Japan’s oldest distillery. Some of their products are undoubtedly spectacular and produce flavours that will stand out in any collection. Others, however, are more content to blend into the background.

The Yamazaki Distillers Reserve features younger spirits matured in ex-red wine casks married with older sherry and Japanese oak (mizunara) casks. The results are pleasant, although certainly not world-beating.

Dark fruits are immediately noticeable on the nose along with some sappier floral notes. There is also a slight dollop of vanilla with subtle hints of wood shavings. It is lively across the palate – spicy and challenging and certainly not smooth. Although far from sweet, it contains notes of stewed apricots and raspberry jam, but these compete for attention with oaky tannins and form an intriguing but overall unbalanced flavour. There is a bitterness to the finish which partially hides the more pleasant fruitier notes and the overall impression is one of ‘so close, but yet so far’.

The Yamazaki Distillers Reserve is far from a bad whisky. It is interesting, challenging and uniquely Japanese. It is, however, far from Yamazaki’s best drop and certainly lacks the balance of flavours found among the distillery’s more accomplished products.

★★

Hellyers Road Pinot Noir Finish

Reviewed by: Nick

Hellyers Road Pinot Finish whisky waffle

Tasmania is rapidly becoming known as the ‘Whisky Isle’ of Australia. Not only are distillers here in my home state creating award winning produce, they are also experimenting with new methods to create unique whisky. Hellyers Road Distillery is no exception to this, and perhaps their most interesting expression is their Pinot finish.

The Tasmanian wine industry is already thriving, with cool climate wines such as Pinot Noir being made exceptionally well, particularly in the Tamar Valley. It is from here that Hellyers road sources barrels to transfer previously bourbon-aged spirit into for the final six months of its maturation.

The difference this process makes is marked. One glance tells you that this is a very different whisky to the Original release. Its colour is no longer light and pale; instead it is enticingly golden. The nose is equally varied. There are still the typical buttery notes to be found, but now these are infused with fruits such as raisins and dates. The palate is rather light, but gone are some of the sharper, rougher flavours of the Original. Instead there are dry, almost sour notes, competing intriguingly with the more expected flavours of vanilla and toffee. The finish is spicy, the added kick from the alcohol percentage of 46.2% clearly apparent. Finally, you are left with the trademark Hellyers Road buttery notes that remind me of not so much a cake, but rather uncooked cake batter.

The Pinot Noir cask is a fascinating malt. Undoubtedly more interesting and complex than its cousin, the Original, it is also smoother and easier to drink. While not yet a perfect whisky, it certainly shows that experimentation has more than paid off for Mark Littler and Hellyers Road.

★★★