holiday

Scotland 2018: The Ultimate Whisky Adventure – Part Four

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 FOUR: Islay – the east and the north

WW 0 still

If I were to be completely honest with myself, I would admit that three of my top five distilleries in Scotland are just outside of Port Ellen. If I were to be even more completely honest then I would revise that to three of top three. And these three, the holy trinity of Islay, were to be my destination on my final full day in Scotland. As all three were within a short walk of one another I coined this day as ‘the world’s greatest pub crawl’. The only question was, where to start? Due to a combination of tour times and proximity to my accommodation (a three-minute walk, no less) I began my epic day at Laphroaig.

WW 1 Lap

The tour was in-depth and the tastings phenomenal – three barrels were lined up ready to be valinched into our glasses – the first a quarter cask on steroids, the next a 14 Year Old bourbon cask, before finally, the pièce de résistance, a 52% 14 Year Old whisky which had spent it’s time equally in bourbon and Amontillado sherry. I was fortunate enough to take home a 200ml bottle of the latter, and my colleague was suitably impressed. I also claimed the rent for my square foot of land and learned to pronounce Cairdeas (hint: think Steve Macqueen).

WW 2 casks

Fifteen minutes up the road was Lagavulin, a crucial distillery in Whisky Waffle history and I wasted no time ensconcing myself in their new tasting centre. While there are not many varied Lagavulin releases on the market, if you find yourself at the distillery then you’ll be treated to a range of rare special editions created for Feis Isle celebrations and Jazz festivals. The pick was the 54% Double Matured Distillery Exclusive. At this point of the day my tasting notes were starting to get creative. I have noted: “like sitting in a cart pulled by a noble steed. Or in a palanquin carried by muscular Persians sweating in the Arabian sun”.

WW 3 Laga

Unbelievably, the best was yet to come. Several things influence one’s enjoyment of a tour: the quality of the distillery (and therefore the whisky), the engagingness of the guide and the friendliness of the people on the tour with you. Well, once in a while the stars line up and you get all three, and that was the case with my Ardbeg ‘tour at two’, commencing, funnily enough, at two o clock. And it was one for the ages. Our guide, wee Emma (apparently there are two Emma’s who work at Ardbeg and we got the smallest – and the best!) was friendly and knowledgeable about peated whisky – an islander through and through. The tour itself was thorough but individualised – it didn’t feel like a re-tread of all that had come before. And the group was amazing. We settled ourselves down in a bond store for some tastings and when the drams started flowing (Grooves, Alligator and any number of single cask releases) we took it in turns to chat about our backgrounds, favourite drams and that first bottle that opened our eyes to whisky. We could have stayed there longer – but a knock on the door to the warehouse by the production boys alerted us to the fact it was 5 o clock and the tour was meant to have finished an hour ago. “Sorrynotsorry” was everyone’s response. It was a magical experience and one I feel truly reflects a wonderful distillery. I can say, hand on heart, it was the best tour of the trip and remains a fond memory in my Waffly heart.

WW 4 Ard

I woke the next day with a heavy heart. Partly because of the number of drams I’d consumed the previous day, but also because it was my final day on this spectacular island. My ferry left at 3pm which gave me just enough time to fill in the gaps I’d left. Despite feeling a little tender I could not resist tasting a few distillery exclusives at Caol Ila. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this giant distillery but what I found was a warm welcome and delicious whisky.

WW 5 CI

My welcome was just as warm at Bunnahabhain, who, despite building work preventing me from touring the distillery, gave me an extensive tasting (which I was able to transfer most of each glass into small bottles – my liver thanked me later) and fantastic conversation. It was one of the friendliest distillery experiences I’d had in the previous eight days and I cannot wait to go back and visit these guys again.

WW 6 Bunna

Then, before I knew it (after a sneaky couple of photos at Ardnahoe), I was back on the ferry and leaving Islay.

WW 8 Ard

I can say with certainty that my visit to Islay had been the pinnacle of my whisky journey. The people, the scenery and the peat gave it the edge, but despite the size of some of the operations it just felt like I was on a tiny whisky-centric island which hadn’t changed much since the first dram had been distilled there. Sitting on a small rise of land across the road from my Airbnb looking out at the view (Port Ellen on one side, Laphroaig distillery on the other) I felt as connected to a place as I ever had. The pun writes itself, but I truly mean it when I say it was a spiritual experience.

WW 7 Bunna

And thus my whisky journey was at an end. Despite Islay’s dominance in my writing, every aspect of the trip was phenomenal. As a whisky fanboy, the range of flavours across one little country inspired me. But the biggest impact was made by the people behind the scenes, making and promoting the drams I loved so much. Their warmth and generosity (and patience with all my questions) was a credit to the industry and made this Waffler very happy multiple times over.

So would I go back? Oh, you bet I would – in a heartbeat. I’d probably stick the anticlockwise trajectory – like the best tastings you’ve got to start with Speyside and end with Islay. I hit up some amazing distilleries and crossed off a few bucket list items, though left a few remaining (I’m looking at you Campbeltown, Orkneys and Edradour). If you’re about to embark on a trip to the motherland I absolutely recommend the anticlockwise direction and all of the establishments I found myself at – though I’m sure there are some wonderful places I missed (if so please let me know!). However, sitting on the train taking me towards Glasgow (Prestwick) airport I was a contented Waffler with a heart full of fulfilled dreams.

Crossroads WW

Read PART ONE here

Read PART TWO here

Read PART THREE here

Complete distillery list:

Glendronach

Balvenie

Glenfiddich

Aberlour

Glenfarclas

Cragganmore

Glenlivet

Macallan

Glen Moray

Benromach

Talisker

Oban

Bowmore

Bruichladdich

Kilchoman

Laphroaig

Lagavulin

Ardbeg

Caol Ila

Bunnahabhain

(Ardnahoe)

Return to Redlands

Posted by: Nick and Ted

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They grow up so fast, don’t they? When we last visited paddock-to-bottle distillery Redlands in 2014, their spirit was still too young to be released and head distiller Dean Jackson was only just filling barrel number 42.

Fast forward two years and the shelves are stocked with elegant (cuboid) bottles of Redlands paddock-to-bottle Tasmanian single malt and Dean is busy filling bottle number 271. Oh, and did we mention that the distillery has moved 50km up the road to a new site?

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Knock knock! Wafflers at the door.

After the sale of the Redlands Estate property in late 2015, the distillery was faced with the challenge of finding a new home in just 21 days. After several weeks of stress-filled searching, they eventually settled on what they hoped would be the perfect venue: the heritage listed Dysart House in the small southern-midlands town of Kempton.

From the moment you push open the (heavy) front door you can tell that Redlands has fallen on its feet. The main house is built from beautiful sandstone blocks and the dark timbered interior houses the cellar door, kitchen, a sitting room with high backed leather chesterfields (careful not to slide off – Brigitte likes to keep them well polished) and a glorious blackwood table (which only made its way inside with help from Whisky Waffle’s muscle).

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The sitting (and drinking whisky) room

The distillery and bond store can be found in a red-bricked outbuilding off the side of the main house. Redlands’ continued growth is evidenced by the addition of a new still, with the (now) wash still, Heather, joined by new spirit still, affectionately known as the Mad Hatter. The bond store continues to expand, now housing hundreds of 20 and 100 litre barrels that once contained pinot noir, port, sherry and even Tokay.

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Heather and the Hatter

These days if you visit Redlands, you will be able to try some of the most elegant, drinkable and delicious whisky Tasmania has to offer. Redlands’ signature release is aged in Tasmanian ex-pinot noir barrels and is like drinking apricot jam. The unusual ex-tokay barrel release is broad and full across the palate, oozing with dark berries, while the ex-port barrel, which we tried at cask strength, offers marmalade, honey and vanilla.

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A wonderful room to drink wonderful whisky

Redlands has changed so much in the last two years, but they have even grander plans afoot for the near future. While the old brick outbuildings are charming and old-worldy, they simply don’t have any space for expansion as the distillery scales up production. The solution to this problem is the construction of a facility in the adjacent field, with work scheduled to begin in 2017. The new distillery will allow for a greater output, allowing the Redlands single malt to be enjoyed by a much larger audience.

The sale of the old Redlands estate could have easily spelled the doom of the distillery; instead it luckily seems to have made it stronger. Who knows what the future will bring, but you can be certain that Whisky Waffle will be back to find out.

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…and next time we’ll bring Dean a box to stand on in the photo!

Cragganmore 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Cragganmore 12 Year Old

Summer is a time for barbeques and dreams; it is a time for long evenings spent irreverently with friends. And, of course, it is a time for summer romances.

I met the Cragganmore 12 Year Old shortly before Christmas and knew, without being able to define why, that this was to be my summertime dram. It glistened, a deep gold on the shelf, almost calling to me with promises of what was to come. How could I resist?

The following weeks I enjoyed the gloriously sunny evenings with the Cragganmore by my side. We were thick as thieves, spending time at post-Christmas drinks, New Years Eve – even on the annual camping trip. All my whisky-drinking friends approved. There was no doubt, the Cragganmore was a worthy addition to our summer festivities. And the flavours? Extraordinary.

The nose of honey and butterscotch. The palate of vanilla and lemons. And the finish… Oh that delicate and yet spicy linger I feel I will never truly forget.

Inevitably, the sun began to set on a glorious January, and the contents of the Cragganmore dwindled. As with all summer flings, it ended all too suddenly. It was time to say farewell to this golden bottle. While it was a friendship only recently acquired, it seemed the bonds we had formed would last a lifetime. As we said our goodbyes, I thanked it for its companionship over such a memorable time. I can now only leave it in the hands of fate as to whether we meet again on another, seemingly endless, summer afternoon.

★★★

A Very Waffly Christmas

A very waffly Christmas

And so we reach the end of another year. There have been many drams downed, drunken selfies taken, and outrageous tasting notes invented. But stick around, there is so much more in store for Whisky Waffle! Soon we’ll be revealing the winners of the coveted Waffle Awards for 2015. We are debuting a new guest reviewer: the Cynical Scotsman himself! And we have a new ‘event week’ lined up for 2016. Until then, have a merry as well as a “merry” Christmas. Stay safe and keep on waffling.

Nick and Ted

Royal Lochnagar Distillers Edition

Reviewed by: Nick

Royal Lochnagar Distillers Edition

Every now and then what you really look for in a whisky is one that you can drink. I realise that this may sound a ludicrous statement for something which is, undoubtedly, a liquid, but bear with me and I shall explain.

I’m always on the lookout for interesting and unusual new drops to challenge me and set me off waffling about the subtle complexities that can be discovered from dram to dram. However, if every dram I consumed affected me in such a way then, apart from having no friends, I would risk straying too far from the very essence of whisky; that is: it is made to be drunk (with the possible exception of the Macallan Cire Perdue).

With this in mind I believe there is no better candidate for the position of ‘drinkable whisky’ than the Royal Lochangar Distillers Edition. A rather underrated distillery, Lochnagar got it’s ‘Royal’ tag by impressing Queen Victoria on a visit, although the scale of this achievement is questionable as it was reportedly very easy to please Queen Victoria with whisky. Nevertheless the title stuck and it is now the smallest of Diageo’s 28 distilleries.

The Distillers Edition is aged for a period in ex-Muscat casks, adding a layer of silk and sweetness without making it overly-sugary or syrupy. The extra maturation seems to round off some of the sharper edges, making the whisky smoother and easier to drink, though this does not take away from the overall flavour; there are still many appealing elements to discover.

This is immediately apparent on the nose, which is heavy with alluring caramel. Citrus notes follow as well as a dash of rose essence. It has a smooth and creamy mouth feel, retaining the caramel elements and adding flavours of almonds coated in layers of honey and chocolate. There are also the faintest hints of berries to be discovered, lingering in the background. The finish is light and short but the butterscotch theme continues until the end. The overall effect is that of the sauce to sticky date pudding. And those who know me understand what a large compliment I am paying it.

The Royal Lochnagar Distillers Edition is certainly not the most complex or intriguing whisky going around. Nor is it in any way dull. It is a very easy drinking whisky, and this is in no way bad thing. In fact, I believe that it is this dram’s biggest strength.

★★★

The Greatest Whisky In The World (Conditions Apply)

Posted by: Ted

Whisky is one of those drinks that can instantly transport you back to a time and place (this is not the same as having the conviction that you are Doctor Who after downing one too many nips). The variety of flavours and feelings and imagery that come from different drams lend themselves well to creating waypoints in your mind. If you’re lucky, hopefully most of those memories are good and don’t induce too much of a mental cringe.

One of my all-time favourite whisky drinking memories is the time that we discovered ‘The Greatest Whisky In The World’. Bold call I know. But in that time and place it really was; a legend in the patchwork of our lives. Now, I’m sure everyone is biting the edge of their keyboards in anticipation of discovering the identity of this fabled drink. “What golden nectar, what ambrosia of the Gods, what mystic secret of the ancients are you going to reveal to us Ted?” I hear you cry. Well my friends, agonise no longer, for here it is (drum roll please):

The Greatest Whisky In The World:

The Claymore Blended Scotch Whisky (Conditions apply)

(Much, much later…)

Ok, now that most people have stopped shouting and/or crying, and those of you who stormed out of the room have slunk back in, let me provide you with some context, for context is king in situations like this. Hold a moment while I switch on the Flux Capacitor and power this story up to 88mph.

Flashback

Date: 5/10/2013                Location: Cambodia

Proof that Ted was definitely in Cambodia

Proof that Ted was definitely in Cambodia

Nick, our mate Stretch, and I (Ted) were skulking about in the duty free section of Siem Reap airport, having just spent a fantastic week exploring Cambodia. I will admit that I was in a small amount of disgrace; after we stumbled back to the hotel in the wee hours on our big last night out in Siem Reap, I had checked the tickets and declared that our flight left at 3:10pm. Pity that it was actually 5:10pm (I am super glad that it wasn’t the other way around. Nick and Stretch probably would have tied me up and left me there).

Hence the reason why we were prowling the duty free section; plenty of spare time. Asia is a great place to pick up some quality whiskies at wallet-pleasingly low prices. I will probably be forever haunted by the fact that I decided not to get the Lagavulin Distillers Editions that day (fool). As we made our way around for what was probably the 5th circuit of the shelves, our eyes suddenly lit upon a truly majestic sight. It was as if a ray of golden light had lanced down from the heavens.

Enter The Claymore Blended Scotch Whisky. Contained within a duty free sized 1 litre bottle. And all for a mind-blowingly, jaw-droppingly low price of US$8!!! The thing that we found truly unbelievable was that this wasn’t just some methanol-laced bottle of local stingos. The Claymore is a real honest-to-God kilt wearing Scotch whisky (I had further confirmation that Claymore is legit a few months later when I noticed the great DI Gene Hunt watering his liver with some on the TV show ‘Ashes to Ashes’, the sequel to ‘Life on Mars’).

Hardly daring to believe our good luck, we swiftly purchased a bottle. To express our emotions as an Aussie: Bonza! The next leg of our trip was a week-and-a-bit stay in Vietnam, meaning that we wouldn’t be able to take the Claymore back to Australia with us. No worries! We figured that even if we didn’t finish the bottle, for 8 bucks we were still well and truly up on the deal.

For the next week the Claymore was like another member of the crew. It was certainly a good companion during our many games of cards and Yahtzee. The morning after one particularly big night, when we were all feeling a bit ratty, someone coined the immortal phrase: “Claymore. Like a sword to the face.” Good stuff.

Ted, with a half-finished pint of Claymore. Ok, it's beer, we just didn't take any photos of us drinking whisky. Error, I know.

Ted, with a half-finished pint of Claymore. Ok, it’s beer, we just didn’t take any photos of us drinking whisky. Error, I know.

Then there was the time we smuggled it aboard on a back-packers cruise through Ha Long Bay. Sneaking back to the cabin to liven up a glass of coke added a certain daring element to the trip, and it sure beat the crappy stuff they had on board. The second night of the cruise was spent on a tropical castaway island; sitting under a palm canopy listening to the waves roll onto the white sand, with a good crew and a cheeky dram, we knew life was good.

To be honest, the Claymore wasn’t that great a whisky. Just a pretty bog-standard cheap blend, fairly sharp and raw on the palate. But for me it brings back memories of warm nights spent wearing baggy happy pants on hotel balconies, cracking jokes with my best mates, and playing cards while listening to the busy Asian night life. And therein lies the heart of my reasoning: for the size, and the price, and the good memories left afterwards, at that time The Claymore Blended Scotch Whisky was truly ‘The Greatest Whisky In The World’.

The Whisky Waffle boys, observing a minutes silence in Hanoi to mourn the finishing of the bottle.

The Whisky Waffle boys, observing a minutes silence in Hanoi to mourn the finishing of the bottle.