glencairn

Queries from a first time Waffler

Posted by: Chris C aka The Geriatric Newbie, with a foreword by Nick

We waffle boys like to consider ourselves experts in the field of whisky simply because we drink a fair bit of the stuff. In truth we are merely charlatans in matching shirts. However, across several years and countless drams we do seem to have picked up a fact or two about the water of life, which is brilliant when like minded whisky fans write to us with a question or two. We recently received a piece of such correspondence from a Western Australian by the name of Chris that we found so brilliantly entertaining and so… waffle-like – that we had to share it with the wider whisky community. After all, a fair few fellow-bloggers check out our little site so the more answers we can compile the better. So without further ado, may I introduce our latest guest writer: Chris, the first time Waffler.

Wafflers with waffles

Not that sort of waffles. Though the shirt thing is spot on…

I hope you’ll forgive me for firing a few newbie questions at you. I am in need of guidance, as a whisky drinking veteran of some 6 days standing. Well, mostly standing.  Having been a virtual teetotaller for quite some years (sadly, most drinks give me a headache after just one glass) I recently decided to give whisky a chance as, miraculously,  it doesn’t seem to upset the remaining brain cells.

A little over a week ago I passed one of those age milestones that makes you realise that your use-by date is fast approaching.  Even if I haven’t completely lost my marbles, I have to admit that I do seem to misplace them fairly regularly now.  A new, fresh and invigorating hobby and interest was called for. Something that didn’t require me to lie under machinery getting hot, cross and oily or involve painting, repairing, cleaning, or fixing things up.  Anything involving rules, teams or vigorous physical exertion was also out.  So putting aside my historical aversion to whisky and giving it another chance seemed a reasonable punt. And there was a modest pile of ‘birthday money’ that I clearly had a moral duty to use to help stimulate the flagging local retail sector.

So six days ago I ventured into Mundaring (a small town in the hills outside Perth in West Australia) and bought a bottle of Chivas Regal Extra (which a friend who claims to know about these things assured me was at the better end of blended whisky) and a bottle of Glenfiddich 12yr old (on the basis that everybody has heard of it and my younger brother used to drink it many years ago).  So far so good.  I also bought a bottle of dry ginger to use in an emergency (i.e. if I couldn’t hack the whisky on its own).

That night my wife (who fortuitously already owned three Glencairn glasses, which she uses for drinking  white wine. Don’t ask.) and I cracked open the bottles. Hey, not bad!  No headache, no embarrassing collapses. No major cries of pain. We successfully worked out what a 30mil nip looked like but had no idea how to drink it – other  than the basic understanding that you stick it in your mouth and swallow. My ‘palate’ must be fairly robust because I could instantly detect the taste of firewater with notes of rocket fuel and hints of paint stripper. The Chivas was particularly bold in that department.

Some swift Googling soon provided the handy tip to give a glass from a brand new bottle a minute or two to breathe, then to add a wee splash of water and to start with small sips, hold on the tongue for a while, etc.  This gave much better results. The resident expert in alcohol related matters declared herself a more or less instant fan of the Glenfiddich.

The plan was to spend the next few weeks or months slowly developing our whisky drinking skills using the contents of those two bottles. But a curious thing happened.

The next day I awoke not only feeling particularly cheerful, but also feeling an entirely unexpected urge to add to “The Collection”.  After owning a mere two bottles for less than 24hrs, they had mysteriously, and without warning, morphed into the basis for a “Collection”. Odd.  Is that normal?

Later that day I added a bottle of Dalwhinnie 15yr and one of Auchentoshan 3 wood – neither of which I had previously heard of – purely on the basis that some guy on the internet had recommended them as fairly smooth and easy for a novice to tackle without getting too put off.  He was right.

Two days later it somehow seemed essential to broaden “The Collection” by adding a Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban and a Lagavulin 16yr (friends had started offering ‘helpful’ suggestions by this point). These have, temporarily, been left unopened.  And yesterday the compulsion to add “just two more, and then that’s it…” led to the addition of an Aberlour A’bunadh and an intriguing sounding Welsh malt called Penderyn Myth. Birthday money now all gone… starting to eye off the savings account…   Will this strange compulsion ease off any time soon?

chriss-collection

Sir Henry Wood conducting the orchestra in a spirited rendition of ‘Symphony for Throat and Nostrils’ by Pete Hintz (with apologies to Ted’s resident wooden figure)

So far we’ve only opened the first 4 bottles and have been trying to stick to the Dalwhinnie and the Chivas – for now. But last night I decided it was time for the Auchentoshan. I waited until after 4.00pm (new self imposed rule – although I’ve never needed to time alcohol intake before…) and then poured a generous nip, added a small dash of water and stuck my nose in the glass.

Now, I have a fairly decent sized hooter, one that makes quite a comfortable stopper for a Gencairn glass and once plugged in there seemed absolutely no hurry to remove it. Beautiful aromas rose up, reminiscent of the wonderfully rich fruit cakes that my wife has been making this week. Marvellous. Marvellous turning into Magnificent with each fresh inhalation.

Now, nobody had said anything about how long this ‘nosing’ business should take, so surely a few minutes was called for in this case. Keep inhaling – it must surely be good practice? As I breathed slowly and rhythmically, the small amount of air that was able to squeeze past the nose began making a sound very much like Darth Vader. Clearly, The Force was with me now….

Was there a hint of smoke amongst the fruitcake or was it just that the sound reminded me very much of times spent wearing Breathing Apparatus in our local Volunteer Bushfire Brigade? Ah, the nostalgia…drifting gently along on a swirl of memories… the steady pulse of breath going in and out was mesmerising. Hypnotic even.  I may have started purring.

I finally dragged the glass away, intending to fire a finely worded and informative eulogy in my wife’s direction, but quickly realised that that there was now a serious risk that I would just giggle. Or perhaps start watering the whisky down with a few emotional tears.   Is this sort of behaviour common among whisky drinkers???  I can hardly claim to have discovered the Elixir of Youth but, at age 70, it certainly feels like I may have stumbled upon the Elixir of old Age….

How do you pace your enthusiasm?  It feels like I’ve gone from being a virtual teetotaller to a budding dipsomaniac in less than a week!  How many helpings per week seem reasonably sustainable?

And will this new-found desire to waffle on at some length about my new interest to anybody who’ll listen start to fade in a while?

Happy tasting.

Chris.

 

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Waffling at Whisky Live

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Whisky Live 1

That’s right, we got Whisky Waffle shirts!

“If you love whisky, it’s the place to be”, said Colin, whisky enthusiast and fellow drunkard. It was 4pm. We’d been imbibing the amber nectar for three hours. To be honest, conversations about the merits of whisky were not exactly hard to come by at this end of the afternoon. We, the Whisky Waffle boys, knew that we had come to the right place. And where was that you may ask? It could only be Whisky Live 2015, Melbourne edition.

As semi-amateur whisky journalists (just go with it, ok!) we were keen to make it to Australia’s premier whisky event, despite Jetstar’s best efforts to delay us. Oh, and Public Transport Victoria didn’t help us much, either. As a consequence, it was remarkable that we wandered into the St Kilda Town Hall a mere 10 minutes late.

We were greeted with green shoulder bags, complimentary Glencairns and more whiskies than you could poke a valinch at (it’s a whisky thing, look it up). Our first port of call was to familiar faces: we kicked off our whisky journey sampling some new make spirit with Dean Jackson (and soon-to-be-solo distiller Robbie) from Redlands Estate and sampled some glorious Lark Classic Cask with Tas Whisky Tours’ Brett Steel. Good to hang out with the boys from back home.

Whisky Live 2

Nick, admiring Brett’s beard

We then hopped across the pond to visit Greg Petry, whose strong North American accent clearly revealed that his product was made by the NZ Whisky Company. Go figure. Incredibly, his youngest single malt was a mere 23 years old. After lamenting that we could not combine the initial flavour of the Doublewood with the finish of the 27 year old, we jetted off once more, this time landing in Japan. Here we learned how to pronounce Hakushu (Huck-shoo), and impressed a man in comedic Japanese sushi bar attire that we actually were interested in trying the Suntory Kakubin neat rather than in its traditional highball form (soda water, lemon, ice).

Using the stars, we returned to the New World to discover… cocktails? That’s right, the Lads from Starward were making Old Fashioneds, although it was their single malt we had come to try. Despite their wine cask being aimed at ‘real’ whisky drinkers, we both agreed that we still preferred the apera cask. Shows what we know (we’re semi-amateurs remember!). We then had a ‘Rich’ conversation with our friend from William Grant and Sons about the Balvenie. Ted was pleased about knocking back some 21 Year Old Port Wood without lowering the level of his own bottle! Fred, Independent Beverage Consultant at large, talked us through the range of Glenfiddichs and produced, to gasps of awe, a bottle of 26 Year Old from behind the bar. Yes please, we said. Our new friends Adam and Adam spied the gold lettering from the other side of the room and were more than happy to join us for a nip!

Whisky Live 3

26 year old whisky is best enjoyed in the company of Adams

Never being ones to turn down a free feed, we relined our stomachs to see us through the rest of the afternoon. Our next destination: India, and the distillery of Paul John. We mentioned our India-based whisky writing colleague, the Whisky Lady, to master distiller Michael John D’Souza – India’s a tiny country, not many people – they’re bound to know her, right? (Yeah right). “You mean Carissa?” he replied. The whisky world is a small place indeed.

Whisky Live 4

The newest converts to the Paul John phenomenon.

The whisky itself was a revelation. In fact, it was brilliant! Particularly the aptly named Brilliance, which tasted like nothing else that day. The peated varieties also tickled our fancy, which unfortunately could not be said of the Dry Fly wheat whisky, makers of the infamous Washington Wheat. Admittedly we spent as much time waffling as tasting at this end of the afternoon, the lubricant effect of the whisky loosening our tongues somewhat.

The moment of truth arrived. It was time to try the Glenlivet Founders Reserve, the replacement for our beloved Glenlivet 12 Year Old. And it tasted… well… decent. Maybe there’s hope yet. The rest of the range impressed us, too, in particular the Naddura Oloroso (plus: “they have dried banana here!” enthused Ted). We moved down the line to the mysterious Finlaggen, the dependable Bowmore and the classy Auchentoshan (where Nick drunkenly confessed his undying love for the distillery… repeatedly: “when I went there…” “…my FAVOURITE 12 year old…” “…did I mention I’ve been there?” etc etc).

Ted then whisked him away to attend a master class with master tweed wearer Dan Hutchins-Read to talk about the merits of a whisky that has definitely impressed us recently: the Glenrothes. As there were only four attendees to the session, we had ample time to wax lyrical and Ted may have fallen into the same trap as Nick (“I’ve written a lot of nice things about Glenrothes…” “…I love how you’re all about the vintages…” “…did I mention I’ve written a lot of nice things about you?” etc etc).

Whisky Live 5

Fashionable as our WW shirts were, we couldn’t match Dan for style!

After Nick had calmed Ted down, we staggered off on a mission to find the dram we’d been waiting all day for: the Laphroaig 15 Year Old. To our dismay, we were informed by Australia’s number one whisky fanatic, Dan Woolley, that they had long since run dry. But after seeing our sad little faces, he took pity and muttered that if we were to come back straight after the session finished he might be able to find a little something for us. We consoled ourselves by pairing a glass of Laphroaig 10 year Old with some oysters and a meeting with legendary bourbon distiller and maker of Russell’s Reserve: Eddie Russell. We may have been a little enthusiastic at this end of the day, but Eddie was a true southern gent and took us in his stride.

4.30 ticked over. The bottles began to vanish from the stalls. We wandered around dodging the polite requests of the security guards to leave. We had a mission to complete: and boy was the 15 Year Old worth it.

Whisky Live 6

Laphroaig’s man of steel, Dan Woolley

As we stumbled out of the St Kilda Town Hall amongst hordes of whisky fanatics, en route to the closest pub, we mused about our day. We had come to Whisky Live expecting to find many great whiskies and we had not been disappointed (46 times over, in fact!). But to be honest, the real joy of the day was to celebrate whisky with a bunch of fellow wafflers. That in itself was worth the price of admission.

Whisky Live 7

Whisky Live. Good times.

The Glenrothes 1995, 1998 and Select Reserve Box Set

Reviewed by: Ted

Glenrothes trio

Vintage. It’s not really a word that you associate with whisky. For the overwhelming majority of drams the process is to lay down some spirit in a barrel, let it age for a pre-determined number of years and then bottle it as, say, a 12yo or an 18yo. The whole concept of releasing the product of one particular year, a vintage, is smack bang within the realms of the wine makers, hence generally seeing wines labelled with the year they were made.

However, there is one whisky maker that has very firmly gripped the concept of vintaging by the proverbial horns and run like mad with it. The Glenrothes distillery, founded in 1878 and located in the Speyside whisky region (and not in the Scottish Lowlands town of the same name), has carved out a niche for itself by taking this unusual approach to aging whisky. Perhaps we should not be too surprised by this as The Glenrothes is owned by Berry Bros. & Rudd, one of the oldest and most respected wine merchants in London.

While only around 2% of its stock actually goes towards the making of vintages, with the majority of production helping to create blends such as Cutty Sark and Famous Grouse, The Glenrothes distillers make no bones about the fact that the single malt range represents the apex of their art. One of the inherent problems with releasing product from a single year is that it can lead to inconsistency, as one release in all likelihood will taste different to the next. Not necessarily a negative, just that it’s not like purchasing a 12yo and then buying another later on and knowing that what you get will be exactly the same regardless of the year of production.

The Glenrothes counters this idea by claiming that whisky is in reality just like wine and should be allowed to mature at its own rate, with bottling only occurring when the spirit has reached, in The Glenrothes own words, its ‘peak of perfection’ rather than at a pre-selected age. As you might imagine, The Glenrothes crew take a very active approach to checking their casks, determining the readiness of a vintage by looking for a unified ‘personality’ across a range of casks from that year.

Speaking of casks, The Glenrothes has a very strong wood policy and the deepest of respect for their barrels. They say that the effect of the wood on their spirit is far more important that the length of time it spends aging, and that the careful selection of cask sizes and timber types is vital for achieving perfection. The Glenrothes use a mixture of first and second fill bourbon and sherry woods, and carefully marry them together to create the unique flavour profile for a vintage.

For this review we will be sampling not just one, but three releases from The Glenrothes! Their marketing team has very helpfully created a box set containing 100ml bottles of three of their more accessible drams: the 1995 and 1998 vintages, and their Select Reserve, a vatting of casks from different years created to be the holotype of The Glenrothes flavour profile. But wait, there’s more! The box set also contains three mini Glencairns monogrammed with The Glenrothes logo, a handy set of info booklets and cards describing the range, and of course the box itself, elegantly crafted from sturdy buff and copper coloured cardboard.

Glenrothes SR

All three expressions are quite light and spicy on the nose, which is probably in part thanks to the very tall stills and long distillation times used by The Glenrothes. The Select Reserve is quite broad and fat, with notes of fudge, old leather (from a classic car say), orange and almonds. In comparison the 1998 (bot. 2014) has caramelised pear, boiled caramel sweets and, rather oddly, perhaps a touch of engine grease (that’s not a bad thing. It’s a nostalgic smell that reminds you of your father working on a car when you were young). Finally, the 1995 (bot. 2013) is filled with hot, spicy and slightly sour grain mash, clover honey and curiously, a bit of melon.

Glenrothes 95

The very first touch of the Select Reserve on the lips is creamy, and then it bursts in a big ball of heat and spice inside the mouth, probably helped by the 43% used for all three of the drams. There is a hit of marzipan on the follow-through, while the finish is tangy and lingers gently on the tongue. In contrast the 1998 is smooth and creamy, and slides evenly across the tongue. The finish is fairly short and has a slight floral air to it. Again, the 1995 is sour and fruity, with green apples, pears and plums, finishing up with a nice fresh herbal zing at the end.

Glenrothes 98

The ‘ready when it’s done’ approach works out well for The Glenrothes. Each of its vintages is skilfully crafted and captures some special quirk that entered the distillation for that year. The clever and considered use of barrelling no doubt also helps to imbue each expression with its own character. Drinking a dram of The Glenrothes is a bitter-sweet thing; a happy encounter, but all the time you know that one day the vintage will run out, and never again will you meet that particular personality. So go, find that experience and capture it in your memory before it is too late.

1995 ★★★

1998 ★★★

Select Reserve ★★★