island

An ode to Islay

Posted by: Nick

port-ellen

Our week exploring the peated wonders of Islay has sadly come to a close. We’ve loved every drop and had some proper crackers. And lastly, we’ve reminisced about Islay itself – the beautiful Hebridean island which we would both return to in a heartbeat. To conclude our celebrations I wanted to share a poem I composed while on the island a few years ago. I was so taken with the place (and under the influence of several peated drams) that I thought I could only express myself in rhyme. Merry Christmas fellow wafflers!

Out in the Atlantic Ocean lies

an island of my hearts desire.

With salty air and peat smoke rife

the spiritual home of the water of life.

Its sunny skies and rugged coast

but friendly locals I’ll miss the most.

I’ll always long for that familiar burn

and hope one day I shall return.

A very waffly Christmas

#IslayWeek

#LetsGetPeaty

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Lark Classic Cask

Reviewed by: Nick and Ted

Lark Classic Cask

It all started, as the best stories do, with a fishing trip. While waiting for some prime trout to bite in the Tasmanian Highlands, a man had an epiphany that would change the course of history.

The man reasoned that Tasmania has pure water, excellent barley and native peat bogs, so why then was no one making world class whisky there? That man’s name was Bill Lark and today he is revered as the godfather of Tasmanian whisky.

While Tasmania is now world famous for its whisky, the road was not an easy one. A ban on small-scale distilling had been in place for over 150 years, but that didn’t stop Bill from convincing politicians to overturn the law (presumably over a dram or two). Once the path was clear, Bill’s wife Lyn bought an antique 4 litre copper pot still and together they founded Australia’s first modern whisky distillery, the eponymous Lark.

While Bill has taken a step back from distilling duties, he remains to this day a champion of Tasmanian whisky. In 2015 he was justly recognised for his efforts by being inducted into the prestigious Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame, the first Australian distiller to achieve the honour.

Lark Distillery releases a range of products, including an excellent cask strength, a phenomenal distiller’s selection, epic special editions and of course, not forgetting their standard release, the Classic Cask.

If you know anything about Lark, you know that oranges is what it is all about and this becomes apparent as soon as you take a nose of the Classic Cask. The sweet citrus flavour blends with rich dark chocolate and vanilla, like a gourmet dessert in a glass. The chocolate comes to the fore on the palate, a mixture of milk and dark, followed by delicate oak, pepper and almond praline. The finish is medium length and slightly nutty.

Tasmania has waited a very long time to be able to drink this whisky. We will be forever grateful to Bill Lark for having the foresight and courage to take a step into the unknown and found a movement that is now respected and celebrated world wide.

Cheers Bill!

★★★

Lark n Ted

One state. Three ingredients. Unlimited flavour.

#TasWhiskyWeek

The Bruny Island House of Whisky

Posted by: Nick

Nick and neck

Nick at the Neck: obligatory photo when on Bruny

My home state of Tasmania is rather famous for its natural beauty. From untouched beaches to spectacular mountains, there are some incredible sights to see. Tasmania is also rather famous for being small – however, small is a relative term. It takes the best part of a day to drive from one end of the state to the other and then all you’d see is the boring Midlands Highway (no offence Tunbridge, but you are unquestionably dull).

If you want to see Tasmania in microcosm, the place to do so is Bruny Island in the State’s south. Spanning only 50-odd km north to south, most of the island can be explored in a well-organised long weekend. On such a weekend you will be able to see all that Tasmania is famous for: picturesque coastline, unspoiled wilderness, classy wineries, boutique cheese factories and amazing seafood restaurants. Most importantly however, you will also find a stunning range of locally produced whisky.

Scenic lighthouse

Which Tasmanian whiskies do I refer to? Simple. All of them.

Whisky Waffle at the House of Whisky

If you ever find yourself anywhere near the vicinity, a trip to the Bruny Island House of Whisky is a must. The range of Tassie drams, from the everyday to the ‘impossible-to-find-anywhere-ever’ is astonishing. The knowledge and passion of owner Lee, his family, and his staff is spellbinding. And the choice of just four drams to include in your personal flight is almost too hard. But not so hard I didn’t manage it.

I began with a rare Lark Distillers Edition. For those who haven’t picked up on it, I am of the belief that there is possibly not a more perfect whisky in the world than a Lark Distillers. Although I have to say, the others did their best to challenge this theory. Next was a dram of the Mackey Single Malt, one of Tassie’s new kids on the block in terms of recent releases. Trying this got me well and truly excited to see what is in store for the future of the distillery. Perhaps Whisky Waffle will have to call in there soon.

My Flight

My flight, and Lee’s hair

Next I returned to Lark for a cask strength: this one aged in ex-bourbon barrels, a maturation process I hadn’t tried from Lark before, and it was everything I hoped it would be. Finally, I finished it off with another strong contender for best Tasmanian whisky – heck – best whisky full stop: the Overeem Port Cask cask strength. I rarely get a chance to try this one and loved every morsel in the glass.

To conclude my tasting Lee allowed me a discounted price to try the mysterious ‘Exile’: a cask strength dynamo with a past connected to both Lark and Sullivans Cove, but mostly shrouded in secrecy. It also blew me away – another strong contender for best of the day.

Whisky Wall

This is the smallest of multiple whisky walls…

I left the House of Whisky buzzing – partly because of all the cask strength I’d just knocked back, but mostly because of the warm, welcoming and friendly atmosphere and the enjoyable conversation I had found inside. I was also tempted to march straight back in and try all the wonderful drops I had missed off my flight, such as the powerful Heartwood and the fascinating Trappers Hut. Sadly I had a ferry to catch and needed to leave the tiny model of Tasmania and return to the full-scale version. I think that it’s safe to say that I’ll be back sooner rather than later and once more enjoy the charms (and drams) of island life.

Eriskay

Reviewed by: Ted

Eriskay

Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart. While you may think that I am just reeling off random names in some whisky fuelled musing, they in fact all belong to one particular person. A rather famous one in Scottish history at that. Loyalists to the throne scathingly called him the ‘Young Pretender’, but his followers, and indeed most people today, knew him thus: Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Although born in Italy, 1720, Charlie was actually descended from British royalty, grandson of the deposed Stuart King James II and VII. From a young age Charlie knew it was his mission and divine right to reclaim the throne. In 1745 he made his move, sailing from France and landing with his companions, known as the ‘Seven Men of Moidart’, on the small Outer Hebridean island of Eriskay to begin the ‘Jacobite Uprising’ and sweep through his ancestral home of Scotland to raise support.

‘What has this got to do with anything?’ you may be wondering. Well, it just so happens that the subject of this review takes its name from the island where Charlie and his men landed: Eriskay. Eriskay, or ‘Eric’s Isle’ in old Norse, is a blended Scotch whisky made from ‘quality Highland and Lowland Whiskies’. While the whisky is certainly Scottish, a closer inspection reveals that it is in fact bottled in Australia for the Ron Rico Distilling Company for sale on the local market.

Some cheap blends make no bones about the fact, often sporting rather woeful labelling. The Eriskay is indeed a cheap blend, purchased in this case for only AUD$37, however it’s certainly a cut above its companions in its dress sense. Superficially it looks rather like the label of the Talisker, with serifed lettering and a rather nice map in the background. However, bonnie looks alone do not make the man, there must be substance also.

History records that the Jacobite rebellion was doomed to failure, lost through poor battle strategy and politics. Unfortunately the Eriskay is rather similar in this regard. The nose is light and flat, consisting of mostly shortbread, malt and a bit of caramel slice, sweet but fairly unfulfilling.

Surprisingly, on the mouth there is an instant hit of smokiness, but it crawls low like the fug after a battle. Unfortunately this is followed up by the dull tang of metal, filling the back of the mouth like a round of musket shot. The finish is sharp, bitter and lingering, much like the remainder of Charlie’s life after his cause was crushed.

The Eriskay is definitely a whisky that sits squarely within its price range. While it may attract you with the promise of its Bonnie face, it seems that the Loyalists were right, and the Eriskay is indeed a ‘Young Pretender’.

★★

‘Big Peat’ or ‘The Perks of Random Conversation at the Bar’

Reviewed by: Ted

Big Peat

This story begins, as so many great stories do: m’colleague and I were at the bar. Admittedly not an unusual state of affairs. On this particular night we were chatting to our barman mate, and a friend of his that he’d just introduced us to. For the purposes of this story, let’s call him Doug. Doug was feeling in a rather celebratory mood as he’d just scored himself a job working as a pharmacist in sunny (and I mean that in the most ball-of-thermonuclear-fire sense of the word) Alice Springs, which is pretty much smack bang in the centre of Australia. Quite a change from little old Burnie on the NW Coast of Tasmania, which can occasionally be sunny if it really makes the effort.

After the usual necessary social preamble was out of the way, the conversation happily turned to that most mysterious, complicated and variable of subjects… women! No, wait, I meant whisky! Doug, as it turned out, was quite the connoisseur (and not just of whisky. On a side note he very charitably bought us a glass of Cognac from the highest extremity of the top shelf, an interesting experience to say the least). We all shared a common passion for peated whiskies, particularly those from what is arguably the spiritual home of the smoky dram: Islay.

These days people mostly talk about Islay in terms of its single malts, but historically the island’s distilleries injected popular blends with some much needed character (and they still do!). However, there is a theory that history works in cycles, and what was once old becomes new again (which probably explains the questionable return of scrunchies and chokers). Interestingly enough, what was getting Doug excited that evening wasn’t the single malts from one of the hallowed Islay distilleries, but a blend. An all-Islay blend. “It’s fantastic! You should track it down”. Fateful words readers, because a few cheeky drams relaxing the mind and the heady world of internet shopping instantly at ones fingertips is a dangerous combination. Let’s just say that I didn’t take much convincing, and moments later I was the proud owner of a bottle of this curious beastie.

Cut to a few weeks later and m’colleague and I were staring with anticipation at a large post box that we had dubbed ‘The Bunker’. With no little ceremony (mostly involving the humming of the tune from the start of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’) we cracked open the box, and were greeted by one of the coolest bits of tube artwork this side of Eilean Mhic Coinnich. Meet the Big Peat, an all-Islay blend purporting to contain ‘a shovelful’ of single malts from the distilleries of Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore, and Port Ellen. The aforementioned artwork is a brilliant graphic-style picture of a hirsute gentleman standing in front of what I can only assume is the Rhinns of Islay lighthouse on a beautiful island day (which is to say that the sky is the colour of tea, and our man has his face squinched up against the wind, which is trying its best to blow his hair away).

Chuckling with glee we popped the top and unsheathed our prize from its scabbard. Gasps of surprise met the sight before us (don’t worry, we hadn’t been ripped off and sent a bottle of JW Red instead). You see, normally we would picture the drams of Islay as being dark and brooding in hue, but the Big Peat was filled with bright spirit the colour of pale golden straw. Some people just like to mess with your mind. Of course, there was only one sensible recourse to meet the conundrum before us, and it wasn’t hiding under the table. Bust out the glasses and crack that sucker open good sir!

A generous splash of whisky later and we were ready to begin uncovering the secrets of the Big Peat. There was no denying that it lived up to its name. The smoke was there as soon as we poured it into the glasses, infused with plenty of dark chocolate, malt, rich earth and those medicinal notes that Ileach whisky is famous for. We were in no doubt about the heritage of the spirit sitting before us, whatever the colour. A closer snort revealed thick sweet notes and perhaps a bit of overripe fruit, like a squashy banana. We eyed each other off; curious, but not too bad a start.

Slurp! Hot, woody, ashy smoke poured into our mouths and then… not much else. Sure, there was a light, sweet after-taste, but it was gone in a flash, and all that was left was spicy, medicinal smoke coiling around the tongue. It was like being on the edge of a bush fire; plenty of smoke getting all up in your face, but no blazing heat to go with it. Hmmm…

We could see what Douglas Laing & Co, the makers, were trying to get at; surely crafting a vatted blend out of the great single malts of Islay should be as awesome a combo as haggis with tatties and neeps! Yet somehow they’d got a wee bit over excited with the whole BIG PEAT malarkey and forgotten that it isn’t just the smoke that makes an Islay dram exceptional, it’s the bricks and mortar and the shape of the fireplace too. The way that sweetness melts into savoury, medicinal tang challenges the tastebuds, dark flavours are shot through with light, seaside elements help wash everything across the palate, and then finally the smoke that sits over them all. It’s a complex ecosystem that requires careful balance to work well.

Sitting back we mused upon the Big Peat. By no means did we think that it was a bad dram, far from it, just that somehow it deserved to be better. Perhaps the mix wasn’t quite right, maybe a dash of Bruichladdich or Bunnahabhain could have rounded out the flavours working underneath the smoke. Who knows? What we did know though, was that the Big Peat had challenged us, and that a random discussion in a bar can lead to interesting and unexpected places. So go on, strike up that conversation, you might just find something new.

★★★

 

Ledaig 10 year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

Tobermory Ledaig whisky waffle

My Whisky Waffle co-conspirator and bestie Nick was kind enough to give me a bottle of the water of life for my birthday (what else?). We cracked it open that night and had a few cheeky drams. I’ve been mulling it over ever since, a rather appropriate course of action seeing as the bottle in question was a Ledaig 10 year old, which is produced by Tobermory Distillery on the Isle of Mull (Haha! Geddit? Isle of Mu… Why are you all groaning?… Ok, I’m just gonna sit quietly over here).

The Isle of Mull is part of the Scottish whisky zone known as the ‘Islands’, a bunch of distillery inhabited land masses surrounded by water and huddled off the Scottish coast, whose seemingly defining feature is that they aren’t Islay. Impressively, Tobermory Distillery is the chief abode for the islanders (or Mullets as they are known locally), a ramshackle stronghold built from driftwood, shipwrecked fishing boats, kelp and the occasional escaped haggis… Oh, wait, sorry, the distillery is actually named after the main town on the island, Tobermory, and is probably constructed of far more traditional materials (not sure about the Mullet thing either. I hope it’s true).

The Ledaig 10 year old takes its name from the original distillery built on the island in 1798. Contrary to popular belief (i.e. mine), it is not matured in the sporrans of the Mullets, but instead in the far more superior oak barrel. Typical of the drams from that part of the world, the Ledaig is peated, but it is a very different smoke to the Ileach drops (Remember, ‘Islands’ = ‘Not Islay’).

On the nose the Ledaig is dark and intense, with quite a distinctly meaty quality to it. It’s sort of like a combination of smoked ham and marinated meat sizzling over hot coals. That marinade has a great oozing sweetness combined with pepper, sea salt and perhaps… plum?

On the mouth you are hit straight up by a big swirl of smoke, followed by a robust spicyness from the 46.3% alcohol. After that a lovely butterscotchy sweetness slides over the back of the tongue, served up with caramelised pears and another dose of that woody smoke. Surprisingly the Ledaig is much smoother than you may expect from its 10 years, but the combination of the smoke and the higher alcohol means that there’s still heaps of craggy, earthy character to be had. It’s certainly not a beginners drink, and probably requires a bit more practise to enjoy the full effect.

Growing up in the only distillery on a windswept island off the Atlantic coast of Scotland has certainly given the Ledaig a character all of its own. Perhaps some of that black humour it displays comes from the dark waters of the mountain lochs on Mull used in its creation. If you’re looking to give someone a strong, rugged, sexy islander who’s been out fighting fires on mountains in only his kilt for their birthday, then the Ledaig’s your man (I’m sure that’s what Nick was aiming for). There’s no need to mull it over too long.

★★★