Highlands

Catto’s Blended Scotch Whisky

Reviewed by: Nick

Catto's Blended Scotch

I’m not going to lie to you, fellow Wafflers. I bought this bottle of distinctly bottom-shelf blended scotch for numerous reasons – none of which concerned actually drinking the whisky. Firstly, it was the most Aussie sounding bottle I’ve ever seen (try saying it in an Australian accent – it’s very satisfying); secondly, you can’t look past a $30 price tag; and lastly because there was a sick masochistic part of me hoping I could label it the ‘worst whisky in the world’!

I was left rather disappointed. For the first time in my life I was disappointed that a whisky was better than I had thought. Instead of being completely putrid, it was merely rather awful.

Sweet honeyed notes accompany the alcohol burn on the nose while vanilla toffee struggles to break through. The palate is rough; spicy and leafy with flavours of barley sugar amid the burn. The finish is unpleasant and too long for my liking with a lingering sweetness that I found myself longing for it to dissipate.

There you have it folks. Who would have thought, a blend called Catto’s is simply dreadful rather than being soul-destroyingly disgusting. And despite all my criticism and complaining, if you have a look at the photo, you’ll see the bottle is nearly empty. Sometimes a bit of rubbish bottom shelf is exactly what you need.

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Troubling revelations emerge about embattled Tasmanian distiller Nant

Posted by: Ted

IMG_1314

Things just got a little bit crazy in the Tasmanian distilling scene, with a new twist emerging in the furore surrounding embattled distillery Nant. Once a force to be reckoned with in the nascent Tassie whisky industry, the bottom appeared to fall out of the boat last year when Nant founder Keith Batt filed for bankruptcy and the distillery was taken on by Australian Whisky Holdings. At that time AWH promised that it would conduct a full audit and investigation of Nant’s finances and stock.

Now according to a bombshell article released today by national broadcaster ABC News, it is alleged that the audit has revealed that over 700 barrels purchased by investors were never actually filled. As part of its start up business model, Nant ran a barrel buy-back scheme where investors could purchase a number of barrels, with guaranteed yearly return of around 9%. After a period of around four years when the whisky had matured, Nant would buy back the barrels for bottling and sale. Happy days, drams all round.

However, in the period leading up to the crash there were worrying rumours going around about investors having trouble accessing the barrels that they had purchased or selling them back to the distillery. Once Nant passed into the hands of AWH, many investors were left unsure whether they would get anything back at all.

Now according to the ABC News article, while AWH have said that while many people will still get paid out, the owners of the non-existent barrels will have to take up the issue with Nant.

The tale gets ever twistier too, as apparently a large number of barrels have already been decanted and sold without the knowledge and remuneration of investors. Troublingly, many were also found to have their owner names and numbers sanded off. Weirdly, a significant number of barrels were found to be filled with new-make at an ABV of only 45%, well below the usual cask strength.

Where to from here remains to be seen, but hopefully investors left in the lurch will be able to find some sort of resolution to their plight. While this event may cause some concern for onlookers, they should rest assured that the Tasmanian whisky community as a whole is resilient and continues to be committed to crafting the highest quality, locally produced spirits.

The only question that remains at this time is whether to crack that unopened bottle of Nant still hiding on the shelf.

Dalmore 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Dalmore 12

In the United Kingdom, something that is passionately loved by half the population while fervently hated by the other is known as being rather ‘Marmite’. In Australia nothing sits more squarely in the love/hate status than Collingwood Football Club. In the movie world, the title goes to Napoleon Dynamite. And in the whisky world, the ultimate love-it-or-hate-it drop could be none other than Dalmore.

For every whisky drinker shouting Dalmore’s merits from the rooftops, I have met another who just cannot fathom the appeal. Even the usually serene waters of Whisky Waffle are rocked by this divide. While we normally agree on most matters whisky related, I am partial to a drop of the stag-bedecked highland malt while m’colleague Ted couldn’t care less that their founder saved King Alexander III from a deer once upon a time (actually, scrap that, he loves the story, just doesn’t want to drink the 12 Year Old)

I rather like the 12 – although I wouldn’t regard it as an everyday whisky. To me, it calls to mind a reasonable cognac (on the rare occasion that I’ve had the chance to try that stuff). I find it distinctly grapey and full of tannins – which I like. However, I get the impression that these same characteristics are what turn Ted – and many others – off the stuff. So my theory is thus: Dalmore is a red wine drinkers whisky. While the Speysides exhibit typical Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio lightness and crispness – this dram is heavy, complex and extremely dry.

On the nose I get equal measures of ham and raspberry jam – surely a combination that could only be found by a whisky drinker. The palate is slightly yeasty with red grapes and ashy notes. The finish is medium in length and warmth, leaving you with flavours of oak and pastry.

While I could happily sip on this particular drop for an entire evening, I can utterly understand where the Dalmore sceptics are coming from. This is not a whisky for everyone. You’ll either love it or hate it. However, for all those haters out there, can I recommend trying the Cigar Malt Reserve before writing off Dalmore forever – now that is a proper whisky.

And even if you still don’t like it – you’ve got to admit – Dalmore bottles are beautiful.

Nick’s rating: ★★★

Ted’s rating: ★★

Nant Sherry Wood 43%

Reviewed by: Nick

Nant Sherry Wood 43%

I imagine the founding of Nant distillery by Brisbane businessman Keith Batt, went something like this:

 

“What do you want for your birthday this year, honey?” asked Mrs Keith. Keith thought for a moment.

“I’m torn between a Caribbean island, a bar-franchise and a horse,” he replied, not a drop of irony on his face.

“A horse?” replied Mrs Keith, “where on earth would you put one of those?”

“Well obviously I’ll need to invest in some property to store it in – preferably somewhere exotic and remote.”

“How about Peru? Then I can get a Llama!”

“Yeah, I’m not so keen on the ponchos or  folk music. Tell you what, how about we stick the horse in some old paddock in Tasmania and I’ll also get the bar-franchise?”

“Alright, fine. But you may need to think of something to do with the property down in Tassie.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. I’ll just stick in a whisky distillery and sit around fixing an old water mill until Jim Murray arrives.”

 

Of course I unquestionably make light of the momentous decision to build Nant Distillery up in the highlands of Tasmania – an establishment which I can confidently state is the most scenic of all Tasmanian distilleries. And as much as I can mock Nant’s business-like set up, I cannot downplay the excellence of its whiskies.

One of my favourite Tassie drops is the Nant Port Wood, a fantastic representation of the Tasmanian flavour, and the cask strength version of the Bourbon Wood is one of Tasmania’s finest whisky accomplishments. They also release a Sherry Wood and it is this expression I review today.

The nose is drier and earthier than any other Nant release. There are elements of vanilla, figs and golden syrup, but this is matched by moss and spicy oak. The palate is equally contrasting with notes of toffee, raspberry jam and plenty more oak, while mingling in the medium long finish are herbs and you guess it: oak, It all combines to form an intriguing and challenging Tasmanian whisky.

While I couldn’t claim this to be my favourite Nant expression, it’s certainly an interesting drop and one that I would never describe as boring. It forms an integral part of an increasingly impressive Nant back-catalogue. I guess then, it was well worth Keith Batt getting that horse!

★★★

Nant n Nick

Tasmanian whisky: One state. Three ingredients. Unlimited flavour.

#TasWhiskyWeek

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.

★★

NAS Week: A bad wrap

Non-age statement whisky rightly or wrongly gets a bad rap in the whisky community. So, naturally, we thought we would conclude our week of NAS whisky reviews in the form of a bad rap. Best read with some kind of beat in the background: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9-doKcLwl8&nohtml5=False

Waffle Boys

Wafflers with swag

The lights go crazy as a “sick beat” echoes out across the arena. An announcer with a Glencairn shaped microphone cries out across the crowd:

“You said it couldn’t be done. An entire week of non-age statement whisky! And yet here they are: two rappers who will never use coke. Please give it up for the Wafflerz!!!!”

 

Yo whisky drinkers they got this infatuation

About sticking stuff in barrels for its maturation

But how long for? There’s a bit of debatement

So we thought we might try us some non-age statement

 

Glenlivet’s older spirit, they’ll try to preserve

So they’ve brought out a new drop called the Founders Reserve

I’m sure many bottles will keep getting sold

But it’ll never compare to the 12 year old

 

So I look for something else to fill my cup

Will the real Auchentoshan please stand up

Although the producers claim that its Classic

The 12 and the 3-wood are far more fantastic

 

When you pour some Old Pulteney down your throat

Try not to forget it’s been on a boat

The younger spirit gives it plenty of spice

This is a dram both nautical and nice

 

The Talisker NAS with the tastiest form

Is the one with the Dark before the Storm

But you know the saddest thing about this tale

You can only buy it in travel retail

 

Leaving behind the Isle of Skye

We found a dram of Oban well worth a try

Coming from a Little Bay on the west coast

Was this curious drop we found we liked the most

 

The moral of the story is while some taste rotten

Unworthy replacements that will soon be forgotten

Other NASes are without a doubt far less bleak

And thus concludes non-age statement week

 

#NASweek

 

Single available on itunes soon… =P

Oban Little Bay

Reviewed by: The Cynical Scot

Oban Little Bay WW

When you only have a little to say about a little dram, make sure the little says a lot. Oban Little Bay is a recent outpouring from a little town on the west coast of Scotland.

Oban claims its little spirit lives within the copper stills, where it rests between batches to help develop the experience. Little oak casks are the next little touch to smooth the draw and build the richness.

On the nose it spins and winks and jigs, while the taste is a warm clear heat; a dancing djinn on the warm moor. Though not smoky, it feels like fire.

This emissary from the little people doesn’t decide whether the spirit is of earth or fire or water, but being from Oban it dances between them all and lives in none. A real genie in a bottle.

★★★

How it compares:

The Little Bay has a youthful, flickery, salty warmth, whereas the 14yo is a sweeter, more complex and refined drop. Even though we would go for the 14yo, the Little Bay has its own magic touch.

Old Pulteney Navigator

Reviewed by: Ted

Old Pulteney Navigator

It is no great surprise that Old Pulteney distillery takes inspiration from the sea, seeing as it resides on the rugged north coast of Scotland. In fact, Pulteneytown, the area of Wick from which the distillery takes its name, was a major player in the 19th century herring boom and harboured (ahem) a bustling harbour.

Old Pulteney isn’t just happy to let their love of the sea infuse their whisky, oh no. You know it’s a serious passion when you sponsor a vessel in the world’s longest round-the-world yacht race. The Clipper round-the-world race tests teams across a lazy 40000NM, demanding great effort from its participants.

To celebrate its maiden voyage in the ’13-’14 race, the aptly named ‘Old Pulteney’ clipper carried a special cargo on board, the first barrel of a new limited edition NAS whisky named the ‘Navigator’, crafted from a marriage of younger aged bourbon and sherry casks.

On the nose the Navigator tacks against bursts of chocolate and salted bacon before having its sails filled with malty biscuits, while oak decking creaks underneath.

Sharp, salty waves break over the palate, prickling across the back of the tongue. A juicy citrus burst through the middle keeps away the scurvy, followed by a warm trade wind that soars down the throat.

The Old Pulteney Navigator is a dram worthy of its nautical namesake. Its youth helps enhance its maritime nature, evoking the tempestuous seas that govern life along the north coast of Scotland. If you are a maritime whisky fan then the Navigator will definitely float your boat.

★★★

Ted the Navigator

How it compares:

The Navigator is the wild, ever-changing sea, whereas the 12yo is the calm, smooth safety of the harbour, welcoming the weary sailor home. Both have their own allure, but you don’t necessarily want to be tossed about in the old briny every day.

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.

★★★