Johnnie Walker

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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The Pot Still Exclusive Invergordon 26 Year Old Single Grain Whisky

Reviewed by: Ted

invergordon-26

It’s very rare that I come across a whisky distilled in the year of my birth; usually they seem to fall either side of it. While that’s probably just me not looking in the right places, it’s definitely rare that the dram in question is a single grain scotch whisky.

Lesson time: Single malt scotch whisky can be made using only malted barley, whereas grain whiskies (like it says on the tin) can be made using other grains, such as wheat, and can be malted or unmalted. You don’t generally tend to see single grain whiskies on their own in the wild because their normal purpose in life is to form the base of blended scotch whisky.

Alongside the prestigious single malt producers are a multitude of unsung distilleries pumping out grain whisky for use in your Johnnie Walkers and Dewars’ and the like. Case in point: Who’s heard of Invergordon? Nope, me neither, but turns out they’re a thing.

I actually came across this bottle while I was in an excellent Glaswegian bar called ‘The Pot Still’ (up the end of the mall if you want to find it). While chatting to the barman I challenged him to pour me something unusual, and so he did.

Produced at Invergordon as an exclusive bottling for the Pot Still (in celebration of something or other I think. I forget what) this particular bottle was distilled on the 3rd of March 1988 and aged for a rather astonishing 26 years in cask# 24975 (no idea what, but from the colour I’m guessing an ex-bourbon).

Bottled at a hearty 53.7%, the nose of the Invergordon is vibrant and zesty, zinging with lemon, pineapple, pine resin and wood polish. Underneath the initial sharpness sits a smoother, rounded layer of pear, plum, apricot, dates and nuttiness. Finally, gliding out underneath is a waft of vanilla.

The first mouthful hits hot and sharp, with more lemon and pineapple, and then slides down your throat with a burning coolness like you’ve just had a strong mint. A second attempt, giving more time to develop in the mouth, finds toffee, green wood and a bitter, grassy, herbal finish.

I am sorry (not sorry) to say that you are probably highly unlikely to find a bottle of this anywhere. I only happened to stumble across mine because I was in the right place at the right time and the barman still had a small stash behind the bar that he was willing to part with.

If you do have a bottle, or are in the Pot Still and they’ve got some left, well done you, you’re part of an exclusive club. As for the rest of you great and unwashed masses, I think that this serves as a reminder not to discount the humble grain whisky. While they don’t get the same love as their single malt cousins, with a bit of age they can hold their own any day.

★★★

No Age No Good? Whisky Waffle launch NAS Week

Posted by: Nick

Wafflers in smoking jackets

Some may argue that our attire is the greater controversy here…

A controversial topic? Surely we don’t do that here at Whisky Waffle! Well, just this once, we thought we’d take things seriously and leave our flippancy behind.

Sort of…

Today’s discussion is about non-age statement, or NAS, whisky. For non-whisky geeks, NAS whisky is a bottling that cannot be described as a 12 Year Old, or a 10 Year Old, or an anything-year old, because there is younger spirit mixed through like a very whisky-flavoured cocktail.

These NASes are borne out of necessity: since us Wafflers discovered the stuff, there just hasn’t been enough of it around! So rather than waiting the usual 12 years, distillers have been getting impatient and slapping 9 year old, 8 year old (3 year old?) spirit into the mix and coming up with impressive sounding Gaelic names to go on the label.

So how do we feel about this situation? Is the stuff as NASty as it sounds? Well, to be honest, I have no problem with the concept of NAS whisky. I mean, you just can’t deride the Talisker Storm as liquid Nickleback while simultaneously proclaiming the Ardbeg Uigeadail as the solution for world peace. So just like any supposedly ‘superior’ whisky with a number on the bottle, there are good ones and there are bad.

Founders Reserve n waffle

But seriously, the box IS rather pretty…

Which brings me neatly to Glenlivet – a prominent convert to the NAS fad. I wrote a glowing review about their ever-dependable 12 Year Old and described how its accessibility was its strength. That was, until it was no longer accessible. In its place, in a blue box (which is sadly not bigger on the inside) came the sophisticated-sounding ‘Founders Reserve’. I was slightly concerned – though this disquiet came from my affection towards the 12 rather than my automatic dismissal of anything ageless. I was perfectly fine so long as it tasted good. Which, I’ve recently discovered, it doesn’t.

It’s not that the dram is comparable to the toxic output of a nuclear reactor. It’s quite drinkable in a ‘at-least-it’s-not-red-label’ sorta way. But it doesn’t stand up to the depth and character of the previous entry-level incumbent. And this made me both sad and rush out to get a bottle of the 12 while I still could.

Non age statement whisky is not the scourge of the earth that many flat cap-wearing whisky reviewers may have you believe. There are some tasty drops out there that would please the most snobbiest of whisky snobs (if you told them it was an old bottle of Macallan). However, in the case of Glenlivet, where you can directly compare the old and the NASish new – it’s one nil to the age statements.

Of course, another way of looking at it is that after eight drams, it doesn’t really matter how long it’s been in a wooden barrel for…

The writing of this article prompted a lively debate among the Whisky Waffle boys – so much so, that they decided to spend a week looking at some prominent NAS releases to see if they are as derisory as their reputation suggests. So with great excitement – we present to you NAS-Week! Make sure you pay a few visits throughout the week and find out our thoughts – or post some juicy trolling comments! Tomorrow will kick off proceedings with a detailed review of this article’s nemesis: the Founders Reserve! But why start there? Leave us a comment telling us EXACTLY how you feel about non age statement whisky in the replies!

#NASweek

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

A Brave New World: Diageo invest in Australian distillery

Posted by: Ted

The whisky scene in Australia, by its very nature as a young and emerging industry, has hitherto always been gloriously independent. Brave and adventurous souls carving out their own mark in this new frontier of whisky making, men and women free to pursue their own ideologies and dreams. Very different to the crusty, entrenched old world, where the multitudes of distilleries are weighed down by centuries of tradition and the idea of a truly independent producer is hard to come by in the face of hungry multinationals.

Diageo

It was always going to happen you know. Never a doubt. You can bet your bottom dollar that ever since Bill Lark emerged from the Tasmanian Highlands as an enlightened being, the big boys have been keeping a very close eye on developments in the antipodes. If the Australian whisky scene succeeded in its ambitions, and my word it most certainly has, the sharks were always going to be circling ready. There have been a few nibbles here and there over the years, but finally someone has taken a proper bite.

Diageo, global spirits bigwig and owner of globally renown brands such as Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff and Baileys, has decided to take a chance navigating by the southern constellations and bought a minority share in Victoria’s New World Whisky Distillery, makers of Starward whisky. Starward, with excellent releases such as the Apera cask single malt or the quirky ginger beer cask, has been making waves both at home and increasingly overseas, so it is no wonder that Diageo has considered it to be a worthy venture to invest in.

How this moment changes the landscape in Australia is yet to be seen. It is only logical that as the industry increases, the big boys will continue to invest in distilleries they consider to be appropriate extensions of their brand. To be honest this is actually a really good thing for Australia, as it will allow for much greater growth within the sector, solidify the local market, give better extension into new overseas markets and help whisky in this country mature and gain further acceptance as an world class product.

New World visit 5

But… at the same time we have to hope that this evolution doesn’t come at the cost of the attitude and culture that makes Australian whisky unique. It would be sad if that spark was lost through homogenisation and the finance-driven whims of corporate overlords. The whisky produced by Australian distillers is exceptional, a sentiment backed up by a slew of prestigious awards; if the quality of the spirit was diminished through bottom-dollar bean-counting it would be a slap in the face to the ideals of the men and women who have worked hard to bring this industry to life. Then again, even the hardest-boiled rager-against-the-machine has to admit somewhere along the line that these guys seem to have some vague idea about what they’re doing, so hopefully good stewardship and passion for the product will win the day.

Actually, come to think of it, something quite extraordinary may emerge out of all this. As we all know, Diageo’s flagship whisky is the Johnnie Walker, the highest profile blended whisky in the world. If Diageo keep adding Australian cup winners to its stable, who knows, maybe we’ll see the release of a true-blue Aussie blend! Strewth, prepare ya cakehole for the dinky-di Jonno Walkabout “MAAAAATE” travel-exclusive series, featuring the likes of the ‘Bronze Surfie’, the ‘Flamin’ Pink Galah’ and of course, the ‘Blue Bogan’.

The future is here and it’s a Brave New World. Watch this space.

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.

★★★

 

Spirited Resolutions: 5 whiskies I would like to try in 2015

Posted by: Ted

The year is coming to a close dear friends, and while there have been good times and bad, one thing that I have consistently enjoyed is drinking whisky. The drams have been varied, and thankfully the overwhelming majority have been at least good, while quite a few have been interesting and some even down-right exciting. With a new year swiftly encroaching, it is time to cast the mind forward and ponder one of the big questions in life: what to drink next year? Well, after some cogitation, here are five whiskies that I would like to get to know a little more intimately in 2015:

  1. The Balvenie PortWood 21yo

balvenie whisky waffleI love the stuff that Balvenie puts out (the 12yo DoubleWood for example). They’ve always got great character that brings out the best of Speyside; smooth, sweet, oaky and a variety of spice and fruit from the different finishing methods they use. Quite frankly, the thought of a 21yo Balvenie finished in 30yo port pipes makes me twitch in a slightly manic way and want to use my outside voice indoors (such a rebel I know). I suspect it will be super smooth with an amazing depth of character for its age thanks to the port influence.

  1. Johnnie Walker Green Label

JW whisky waffleOK, I’ll make a small confession: I have actually tried the Green Label before. But in my defence it was quite a while ago when I wasn’t as educated about whisky and it was only really a sip, so I have no memory of it to speak of. Therefore I’m just going to pretend that the whole thing never happened and start anew. If you followed our Johnnie Walker Week event you’ll know that the Green is no longer produced, and that our tame writer Moorsey and plenty of other people around the traps rate it very highly, ranting about it in superlatives and even going so far as to commit poetry. So I’m really rather keen to see how it stacks up when I eventually stumble across a bottle.

 

  1. Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23yo

H7C00582.TIF.pdf

Here at Whisky Waffle we haven’t really delved into the world of bourbons yet. I’ve tried various bits and pieces here and there, but I’ve never had one of the older, super-handcrafted numbers. I’ll reserve judgement on the bourbon genre as a whole for the moment, but I will say that I have strong suspicions that the older, rarer drops are a much different kettle of fish to their younger kin. By all accounts the Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 23yo is a big deal, a man amongst the boys. Part of the reason for its inclusion on this list is that I’ve actually seen a bottle of it on a bar shelf in my area. A nip will cost me a pretty penny, but odds are that it’s worth it.

 

  1. Penderyn Madeira Finish

Penderyn whisky waffle

Wales. Not the first place you may think of for whisky (but certainly not the last. Who knew Liechtenstein makes the stuff, but there you go). Penderyn is the first and only Welsh distiller in over 100 years and uses a novel single-still method, so I’m quite curious. Madeira casking is never a bad thing, and you know what the best bit of all is? I actually own a bottle. Nick gave it to me after he returned from the UK, so it’s waiting ready on my top shelf for the perfect moment.

 

  1. Redlands Estate “…?”

Redlands Estate Distillery whisky waffleSo this one is probably a bit of a stretch, but I’d be so excited to try it. Redlands Estate is a new distillery in Southern Tasmania which we visited earlier this year. According to Dean Jackson, the head distiller, the first barrels are slated for release in 2015. I know chances are slim to none of me getting my hands on a bottle as they’ll all be snapped up in an instant, but I’ve tasted the new-make and smelled the delicious vapours rising from the Tasmanian ex-pinot noir barrels in the bond store, and they make me very excited. Plus a new release from a Tasmanian distillery is always something to look forward to.

 

So there you have it. How successful I will be in my quest I’m not sure, but it’ll be fun to try. Onwards into the future!

Johnnie Walker: the verdict

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Hi Wafflers! Johnnie Walker Week is officially over and we have emerged unscathed and wiser from the other side. Throughout the week we’ve gained an appreciation for blended Scotch whisky – and even more of an appreciation for single malts.

All joking aside (and there were a few of them this week) Johnnie Walker has produced a formidable range of whiskies and we can understand why they are the most popular in the world, even if we respectfully disagree.

Happy Wafflers johnny walker week whisky waffle

So what have we learned throughout Johnnie Walker Week? Let’s pick through the shrapnel:

  • The Red Label is consumed throughout the world as a mixer. And after trying it neat – we understand why;
  • The Black Label likes to think of itself as a step up – and it is – but not nearly enough to consume neat;
  • The Double Black fixes the problems of the previous two with solid flavours and a generous dose of smoke, and in our opinion is the best value in the range;
  • The Gold Label Reserve balances its flavours well, although sadly there are not many of them to balance;
  • The Platinum Label 18 Year Old is beautifully smooth but lacking in soul;
  • The Blue Label is excellent – but very expensive. And when you could buy a Balvenie 21 Year Old for the same price – why would you go for the blend?

So there you have it. Whisky Waffle’s first ‘event week’ has concluded. Thanks for checking it out and we hope you appreciated our ramblings and perhaps you have also broadened your whisky drinking horizons. If anyone has their own opinions or rankings of the Johnnie Walker range, let us know in the comments!

Until next time, keep on waffling,

Nick and Ted

#johnniewalkerweek

Johnnie Walker Green Label

Posted by: Mooresy

Green label whisky waffle

Johnnie Walker Green Label is – or I should say was – a bit of an anomaly in the family. Unlike the others which are all blends including grain and non-malt whiskies, Green was a blended malt made up of only four whiskies, all single malts. This gave it the quality of arriving like a blend then developing on the palate more like a single malt. It’s nose complexity was also more akin to a single malt, and the better noses out there could probably pick the distilleries involved from the smell.

I happen to know what they were, but so as not to spoiler, you’ll have to ask me.

 

An elegy for Johnnie Green

Though caramel brown, your label was Green

With flavoured malt so crisp and clean

A complex coffee fruity smell

Vanilla and nuttiness went down well

The taste had cereals, chocolate and nuts

Not sharp or heavy but you sure had guts

A finish strong with walnuts and honey

Of Johnnie’s varieties you were worth the money

One day the factory shut you down

Scotch lovers everywhere gave a frown

No more would we have our favourite blend

A standout nip, a lifelong friend

Now we’re confined to Black and Red

That burns our nose and hurts our head

There’s lots of fine drams out there today

And where there’s a Walker there’s a will and a way

But for now we must simply say farewell

You were a classic, a legend and we think that you’re swell

 

Now a rare and hard to find malt, Green is consigned to the archive of Johnnie Walker’s bond store along with the Gold Label 18 (they’ve removed the age statement for the current variant) and the elusive Johnnie Walker White Label which I have never tasted. If you find a sealed bottle of Green, you may want to hold onto it for its value but I would strongly encourage you to pop the cork and taste a true exception to the rule. If you spot a half open bottle on a friend’s shelf or in a dark musty pub, encourage the friend to crack it at a party or buy it shot by shot from the wizened landlord.

If you are a single-malt snob who sees the word blended and runs a mile from the likes of Green and the very delicious Blue Hanger, thank you. More for the rest of us.

#johnniewalkerweek

Find out about the rest of our multi-coloured adventures:

Johnnie Walker Red Label

Johnnie Walker Black Label

Johnnie Walker Double Black

Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

Johnnie Walker Platinum Label 18 Year Old

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Johnnie Walker: which is best?