Glenfarclas

Scotland 2018: The Ultimate Whisky Adventure – Part One

Posted by: Nick

In July 2018 I realised the ultimate Waffler’s dream and spent nine days travelling whisky’s motherland. I did not waste a moment.

9 days: 20 distilleries.

PART ONE: Speyside

Signs of Speyside

The world is a big and exciting place full of incredible natural wilderness, mind blowing ancient structures and miraculous modern marvels. However, for a Waffler, there is no greater sight than a smoking pagoda, rising up over a craggy moor. For this view I needed to cross the entire planet, enduring four long flights (and a train ride with no wifi) to finally set foot in the motherland of whisky: Scotland.

So many distilleries, so little time. How could I possibly cover all I wanted to in nine days? The short answer is: I couldn’t – but I could give it my best shot. The first important decision to make was which direction to travel? I finally decided upon: anticlockwise. This catapulted me headfirst into the heart of whisky production in Scotland: Speyside.

While Speyside is known for light, smooth and elegant drams, it is also home to the world’s biggest sherry bombs. And it is with the latter in mind that I begun my journey with a tour booked for a favourite of mine: Glendronach.

Glendronach

I can thoroughly recommend being the only one on a distillery tour – even more so if your guide is the ex-general manager of the distillery. And I was lucky enough to experience exactly that at Glendronach; hearing a range of the best stories from Frank Massie – a wonderful ambassador for the distillery and a top bloke. It summed up my experience perfectly: there’s a lovely touch of the old school about Glendronach. From the big old kiln to the creaky old washbacks to the fact the tasting started with the 18 Year Old… and got better from there! It was a dream come true and did not disappoint.

Nick n Frank

I settled into my accommodation at Speydie’s whisky capital Dufftown, thrilled at the start to my travels and recalling the 25 Year Old cask strength I’d just consumed. It was a quiet night – as the next day was shaping up to be a big one.

Balvenie

It began with the tour of tours: Balvenie Distillery. This experience is widely recognised as a must for Wafflers everywhere and three hours in I could see why. It was the most detailed – and hands on – tour I’ve ever experienced. I risked a dose of monkey shoulder by turning the malting barley and visited the cooperage where a team were working hard to create barrels exactly to Balvenie’s specifications and finish in time for an early Friday knock off. And then I did the the tasting. Wow. How many tours conclude by pouring you a full nip of 30 year old whisky?

Monkey SHoulder

I had no time to dwell on it, however. I was out the door to visit Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Glenfarclas and GlenCraggonmore. There was no time for a tour at these classic establishments but all came with tasty distillery exclusive drams. The highlight was Glenfarclas – not in the least because their stunning tasting room is the converted interior of an old Australian ship. The drams were superb as well – a 2004 distilled bottling which was like a refined version of the 105 and a port finish which was sweet and juicy and almost certainly all gone by the time you read this, sadly.

Glenfiddich

I finished my day by joining a tour at Aberlour Distillery. The tour itself was fairly standard and I was part of a large group of non-whisky drinkers talking over the top of our guide and asking questions about Johnnie Walker (possibly the most whisky-snobbish thing I’ve ever written – but come on… you know how annoying that would be!). The tasting, though, made it all worth it. After first trying a firey new make spirit, we sampled a straight bourbon cask and straight sherry cask Aberlour whisky – both unavailable as regular bottlings. I loved precisely neither of them; they tasted like ingredients – which is exactly what they were. It was when they combined together that the magic occurred. The 16 Year Old and the (brand new) Casg Annamh were both balanced, full bodied, complex and oh so drinkable. The tasting concluded with the A’bunadh – as classic a cask strength sherry bomb as you’ll find anywhere.

Aberlour

The A’bunadh kept me warm as I made it back to Dufftown for my second and final night in Speyside. The seemingly eternal summer sun cast an orange glow over the harvested barley fields and I could truly see: this place is the warm beating heart of Scottish whisky.

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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

William Cadenhead Single Speyside Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 40 Years

Reviewed by: Ted

William Cadenheads 40 YO

The art of independent bottling is a fascinating one, taking the product of a distillery and aging it oneself in a new and interesting way. If performed successfully, the end product should hark back to it’s origins and yet metamorphose into something beguiling and delightful. A whisky butterfly if you will.

WM Cadenhead Ltd is Scotland’s oldest independent bottler, established in 1842. As such, they have had some time to perfect the art and their releases tend to command considerable respect.

The William Cadenhead Single Speyside Scotch Whisky that I was fortunate enough to try was a mere 40 years old! While the bottle did not reveal the origin of the spirit, I have been told that it allegedly contains spirit from Glenfarclas, a family-owned distillery steeped in tradition.

On the nose the William Cadenhead 40yo is like timber polished to the smoothness of glass using the finest vanilla and caramel scented beeswax.

In the mouth the spirit is what I imagine drinking satin would be like, rippling folds of cool smoothness sliding over the tongue and susurrating down the throat. The flavour is the lightest touch of honey, tree spices and dried fruits.

If you are ever fortunate enough to come across the William Cadenhead 40yo I would highly recommend taking the opportunity to try it. This is independent bottling at its most elegant.

★★★★★

Fiddlers: A (Loch Ness) monster of a whisky bar

Posted by: Ted

Fiddlers and Ted and barrels

The village of Drumnadrochit, nestled on the shores of Scotland’s Loch Ness, is more usually know for being the hub of all things Loch Ness Monster related (and home to Aidrian Shine’s beard).

For the wandering whisky fan however, there is a beast of another kind lurking in Drumnadrochit, one that is full of golden fire.

Fiddler’s Bar, owned by the delightful Jon and Karen Beach, is a wondrous whisky paradise. A hint is given by the row of maroon and white capped barrels resting outside to the the real treasure hiding within.

Fiddlers

Inside the cosy bar room are dark wood shelves lined with what seems to be every dram under the sun. Common malts rub shoulders with rare drams, and foreign drops mingle happily with the locals.

Scottish distilleries encircle the space above the bar, ordered very helpfully from A-Z (although this doesn’t necessarily make the choice any easier). I was lucky enough to sample a William Cadenhead that allegedly contained 40yo Glenfarclas, a very refined and elegant drop.

M’colleague will wholeheartedly endorse my opinion that Fiddlers is a truly fine place to be, having found comfort within its warmth during a time of need and restoration in what he tells me was a truly remarkable glass of Port Ellen.

If you ever find yourself passing through Drumnadrochit and want to discover an authentic experience among the tourist holy-poly drawn by Nessie, then Fiddler’s Bar is the place to be.

Fiddlers and Ted

(Try the Mighty Burger if you’re there at lunch. It really is!)

Canada takes the Crown Royal of Whisky: Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2016

Posted by: Ted

After a year of watching the earth from his secret moon base, built from the old Port Ellen spirit stills (and featuring a mash tun jacuzzi), the golden-eyed whisky-reviewing alien that is Jim Murray has returned to earth, and it seems that he comes bearing a message for Scotland. He must think that they’re a pretty rough, uncouth bunch, as not only has he snubbed them in his top five for a second year running, but he has decreed that the best whisky in the world comes from a country universally famed for its politeness… eh?

Golden eyed whisky alien

That’s right, Canadians rejoice, because according to His Murrayship you are now owners of the best whiskey on the face of the planet. The Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye scored a cool 97.5/100 on the Murrayometer, the man himself noting that “Rye, that most eloquent of grains… reaches new heights of beauty and complexity.” The win marks the first time that Canada has taken out the top Whisky Bible gong, and already the internet is aflutter about the merits of the winning horse from Crown Royal, owned by global spirits giant Diageo. Even Jim thinks that the choice will raise eyebrows, but hopes that people will be ‘blown away’ by its ‘uncompromising and unique beauty’ when they taste it. Seeing that a nod from Jim tends to cause any available bottles to evaporate immediately afterwards, sampling the Northern Harvest may be no easy feat.

Canada takes the Crown

Once again North America was well represented in the top five, with Maryland distillery Pikesville taking second place with its Straight Rye, while Kentuckian distillery Buffalo Trace returned for a second year running, moseying into fourth place with the 2014 bourbon from its premium William Larue Weller line. Potentially causing yet more angst in Scotland was the bottle standing in third place on the podium, with Irish distillery Midleton claiming success with its cask strength Dair Ghaelach expression. Like Canada, this is the first time an Irish whiskey has found itself swinging from the top of the Whisky Bible tree and shows that modern palates (or at the very least, Jim’s) continue to extend beyond the traditional stronghold of Scotch.

Last year the Big M gave the top spot to Japan’s Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013, creating ripples in Scotland’s zen, and rocketing the distillery into the limelight. Well, the sun has risen on Japan once again, with Yamazaki’s Mizunara Cask sliding into fifth place. If you want a bottle though, you’ll need to travel to Japan as it is only available on the local market. Whether Whisky Bible hype changes this situation is yet to be seen. Mizunara, the native Japanese oak, has been rising in popularity the last few years, and the Murray effect should help cement its place as a legitimate casking choice.

While absent from the top five, it wasn’t all doom and gloom for Scotland, with the (most definitely expensive) Glenfarclas Family Casks 1957 #2110 not only awarded Scotch Whisky of the Year, but also claiming the overall Single Cask Whisky of the Year. Other notables in the Scotch category include Single Malt of the Year Glen Grant 10yo and Scotch Blend of the Year The Last Drop 50yo (seriously, again, who has that kind of money!?). European Whisky of the Year (Multiple) returned to the English Whisky Co. for their Chapter 16 Peated Sherry Cask, while the (Single) category was awarded to the delightfully named Kornog Taouarc’h Chweec’hved 14BC from the ancient Celtic French region of Breton.

Closer to home (at least for me that is) Australia took the Southern Hemisphere Whisky of the Year crown back from the Kiwis, with Tasmania’s very own Heartwood distillery coming through strong with its Good Convict bottling. Strong is certainly the right word when it comes to Heartwood, with mad genius Tim Duckett mixing up an astounding array of cask strength creations in his laboratory. As Heartwood is an independent bottler, all of its releases are limited; once an expression has sold out it is consigned to the pages of history and fond memory. So if you happen to own a bottle of the 71.3% Good Convict, you are one of a lucky few.

The Convict was definitely Good

Of course, you are always welcome to take any Murrayitic pronouncements with a pinch of salt, but for a roundup of the who’s who of whisk(e)y in a given year the Whisky Bible is hard to beat.

A full run down of the winners can be found here.

5 Whisky Waffle Winter Warmers

Posted by: Ted

I said, brr, its cold in here, there must be some… low pressure systems, high precipitation rates and perhaps even the formation of snow caused by the seasonal polar tilt of the earth away from the sun, creating wintertime meteorological phenomena in the atmosphere. What, you weren’t expecting ‘Bring It On’ were you?

Yes folks, it’s winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and while for the most part that may not entail quite the same level of bone aching crazy cold that our Northern kin have to endure, it’s still enough to send us shivering. Well, what better way to beat the winter chills than a nice warming dram of whisky? And there’s one class of the amber stuff that does it better than any other: cask strength. So without any further ado, here are five cask strength whiskies that will help spread a warm glow inside your belly this winter:

 

5. Glenfarclas 105

glenfarclas-logo

If you need to get warm in a hurry, then why not have a giant gorilla sit on you? Well, not really, but that’s what the experience of drinking a drop of the Glenfarclas 105 is like. Bottled at 60%, this family-owned drop from Speyside is big, bold and will cause you to beat your chest like a silverback as its powerful sherry-driven flavours rampage through your veins. Drink while entertaining thoughts of scaling tall buildings.

4. Glenlivet Nàdurra

Glenlivet-Logo

Meaning ‘Natural’ in Gaelic, this 16yo dram from Glenlivet is the logical solution for warming up on a frosty night. Indeed, I can vouch for its efficacy, as I sipped a dram of it while watching a meteor shower on a cold, clear night (the shower was a bit of a damp squib, but the whisky was certainly good). The Nàdurra is taken from the barrel at a 54-55% strength guaranteed to put a rosy glow in the cheeks. Drink while pondering the natural order of the cosmos.

3. Nikka from the Barrel

Nikka logo

Japan certainly sees its share of cold weather, but not to worry, the gods saw fit to create a dragon spirit to fight the frost. It may come in a small package, but the Nikka from the Barrel packs a big dragony punch. Bottled at 51.4%, this fiery little blend is packed with hefty dollops of sweetness and spice backed up with a wicked sherry kick. Drink while watching ninjas fight in a snowy forest (well, at least it will keep you occupied as you fail to spot any of the combatants).

2. Talisker 57° North

Talisker logoWant hot coals to smoulder and smoke away inside you? Then what you need is some peated whisky, and what could be better than a ‘special strength’ release out of the wind-and-rain lashed Isle of Skye? As its name hints, the Talisker 57° North is bottled at… well… 57% and is full of Talisker’s trademark mixture of sweet and maritime flavours. Drink while wearing a blue knitted fisherman’s turtleneck in front of an open log fire.

1. Lark Port Wood Cask Strength

Lark logo

Need to feel your toes again on a chilly Tasmanian night (which to be honest, can happen in high summer. Thanks maritime climate!)? Well, how does drinking hot, spiced orange sound? That’s certainly what it feels like sipping some of Lark’s 58% Port Wood release. If Lark can revive the Tasmanian distillery industry, then it certainly shouldn’t have any trouble getting you back on your feet. Drink while huddled in a wooden hut in the Tasmanian highlands.

Slàinte mhath!