Lowlands

Auchentoshan Heartwood

Reviewed by: Ted

Auchentoshan Heartwood

If you’ve ever flown overseas, then chances are you will have wandered through the duty free section and marvelled at the huge selection of booze available. For some reason the brand marketers have decided that what the Jetset crowd really crave are exclusive releases that are not worthy of the wingless plebs on the street. Indeed, a whisky fan can spend hours gazing at all the fancy labels, musing about the unusual caskings and trying to decide whether to get that 1L bottle of NAS Scotch, or lash out and buy that rare Japanese number in the gorgeous bottle.

The thing is, are these exclusive bottlings actually any good compared to their standard counterparts?

Let’s take the Auchentoshan Heartwood as an example (not to be confused with the Tasmanian Heartwood brand). Hailing from the Lowlands of Scotland, the Non Age Statement Heartwood edition is produced ‘exclusively for the global traveller’ (that’s you). Auchentoshan itself is notable for being one of the only distilleries in Scotland to triple distil its whisky.

The packaging for the Heartwood is pretty much the same as the standard range, just bigger thanks to the 1L bottle size (aww yeah!). ‘Heartwood’ refers to the dense wood at the centre of a tree, which Auchentoshan rather tenuously links to bourbon and sherry casking being at the heart of their whisky (yeah, they had to torture that one a bit).

Marketing guff it may be, but the bit about using bourbon and Oloroso casks is true. The colour certainly suggests that sherry barrels have been in the vicinity; Auchentoshan claims that the particular hue of the spirit is ‘dark honeycomb’. I on the other hand think that it looks, well, orange, rather like that other most Scottish of drinks: Irn-Bru. A tad heavy on the E150 perhaps? (I’ve since found this great article by LittleTipple noting that the colour of Auchentoshan looks rather similar to bodybuilders who have got a bit excited with the fake tan. Good times).

The nose is dull and heavy, oozing over the rim of the glass like an exhausted slug. After a while the dark brew starts to present toffee and almonds (praline perhaps?) and Terry’s chocolate orange.

The mouth is thick and sweet, with a dense oakiness that lives up to its namesake. The finish offers a lingering hit of burnt orange that is oddly unsatisfying.

In conclusion, buyer beware. The exotic looking jewels of the duty free section may appear tempting, but on closer examination you might just discover that all you really have is a poor imitation of the original. Still, you can’t deny they’re fun to look at. Happy flying, and good luck!

★★

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Auchentoshan Classic

Reviewed by: Nick

Auchentoshan Classic

If you’re fortunate enough to visit Glasgow (like me) and are somewhat interested in the odd dram (like me) then you simply must pay a visit to Auchentoshan Distillery (like me). The triple distilling Lowlands champions have been producing some lovely drops for a while now and a tour of the establishment that creates them is well worth it. The tour concludes, as all the best do, with a tasting – sampling Auchentoshan’s core range. The 12 Year Old is among those offered, as is the fantastic Three Wood. Up first, however, is the Auchentoshan Classic – a Non Age Statement whisky.

Upon my visit I got the impression that the staff were keen to skip past this one and get stuck into the 12 Year Old – as if they were saying, “but enough of this folly, time for some real whisky”. I mean, admittedly our trusty guide was right – the 12 blows the Classic out of the water. But there’s still something to say for the lowly old (young?) NAS bottle.

The Auchentoshan Classic is lighter in colour than other releases from the distillery and demonstrates very clearly its bourbon maturation. On the nose it is sweet, grassy and with a touch of honey. It is pleasant and summery. The palate is similarly sweet with notes of fruit-based confectionery. I also got the faintest hints of peanut butter, cloves and marmalade. The finish is short but strangely rather fitting for this gentle dram.

This is a feather-light whisky.  A Pinot Noir rather than a Shiraz. But every now and again, that’s alright. Especially if you’re on the distillery tour and the 12 Year Old is up next!

★★

Classic Nick

How it compares:

The 12 Year old is so much more vibrant than the Classic. They are both light and sweet, but the 12 Year old has depths to explore – whereas with the Classic what you see is what you get. The finish is similarly short with both drams – and while this is a disappointment in the 12, the abrupt finish seems to suit the Classic. Still, though, I think I’d rather have the Three Wood.

Highland Park 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: NickHighland Park 12

Single malts. They’re a varied lot. Some people like peat monsters. Some like sherry bombs. Others enjoy their whisky light and floral. Others still prefer their drams sweet with hints of vanilla. Pleasing everyone with one drop, however, is a much harder task. Unless, of course, you happen to have a bottle of the Highland Park 12 Year Old on your shelf. This bottle truly is the great all rounder of Scottish whisky.

Highland Park also has the distinction of being Scotland’s northernmost distillery, located on the largest of the Orkney Islands, pipping its neighbour Scapa by under a mile. As the island group was settled long ago by Vikings, it should come as no surprise that the flavours on offer are a veritable smorgasbord.

Up first comes a nose with many varied elements: a whiff of grapes and malty biscuits. There is chocolate, so dark it is mostly cocoa, mingling with notes of pear and bubblegum. Finally is the smoke: far subtler than anything from Islay. It brings to mind smouldering vegetation, an attempt to create a fire from damp leaves on a drizzly day.

The palate is equally varied. It initially suggests a roast meal: beef, parsnips, even gravy, before giving way to mandarin, brown sugar and chocolate milk. The smoke lingers gently, now mostly burnt out and close to charcoal. Finally this all gives way to a long spicy finish with salt, tobacco and mint combining with flashes of caramel.

The Highland Park 12 Year Old is unlikely to be anyone’s number one whisky. It is not weighted in a particular direction to please one group of whisky fans over another. Instead, it sits squarely in the middle, a dram to be enjoyed by everyone no matter their preferences. This is a whisky that brings people together, and if that is not a glowing endorsement, I don’t know what is!

★★★

Whisky Waffle Present: Whisky World!

Posted by: Ted

WWWWD edit

Auchentoshan 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Auchentoshshan 12 Year Old

The Highlands. It sounds so impressive. Wild, rugged, windswept, untamed and undeniably Scottish. The Lowlands, on the other hand, does not sound nearly as awe-inspiring. Likewise, single malts from this region do not receive the same levels of celebration and esteem their more northerly counterparts enjoy. They lack a leader, a distillery to stand up and act as a champion for the area. Auchentoshan, just outside of Glasgow, could well be that champion.

Auchentoshan, Gaelic for ‘the corner of the field’, are unique among (nearly) all Scottish distilleries in the sense that they distil their spirit three times. Most Scottish distilleries perform this process only twice; triple distillation is actually the norm in Ireland. This method leads to, at least according to the Auchentoshan marketing team, a purer, smoother spirit.

The unique creation of this whisky certainly leads to a distinct flavour and this is immediately noticeable on the nose. It is pleasantly sweet with hints of vanilla and caramel combining to form the aromas of crème brûlée. There is also a zesty lemon scent, followed closely by pecans and walnuts. Once encountered it is never forgotten: it is simply the Auchentoshan nose.

The interesting flavours continue on the palate, which is medium bodied and spicy. There is a pleasant candied orange taste and the overall effect is very smooth and elegant, perhaps a legacy of the triple distillation process.

The finish is undoubtedly the most disappointing element of the dram. After the flavours initially combine so effectively they rapidly fade away to almost nothing. It is reminiscent of a movie with a disappointingly easy resolution (spoiler alert: I’m looking at you Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). It’s smooth and enjoyable, just not long lasting and memorable. Perhaps another trait of the triple distillation? Or a quality you will have to buy the older expressions to discover?

Regardless, Auchentoshan is a must try for any whisky drinker – if only so they can say they have tasted something from the not so impressive-sounding Lowlands.

★★★

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?

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Reviewed by: Nick and Ted

Blue Label Whisky Waffle

One of the reasons we like single malts is the variability in character; all the little quirks and oddities that come together to create something exciting and different every time. The experiences they leave with you create a lasting impression, such as the first time Ted tried a 72% ABV Heartwood, all crazy and wild and exhilarating, or the time Nick tried an English single malt in a Scottish bar and nearly poured it down the sink, much to the amusement of the patrons.

In comparison, blends tend to be a lot less individual, which is hardly surprising given that the elements are painstakingly selected for their ability to meld seamlessly together. Very rarely does a blend give you something to talk about and really get your teeth into. Not so the Johnnie Walker Blue Label, the proclaimed pinnacle of the standard Johnnie Walker range. Discovering this came as somewhat of a surprise to we Johnnie Walker sceptics.

Blue Nick and Ted Whisky Waffle

Unlike any of the other previously reviewed releases, there is a great deal more complexity on the nose. There are delightfully interacting elements of oak, chocolate, and fruit such as oranges, pears and peaches, complimented by a light hint of smoke. The overall character is very warm and welcoming.

The mouth is actually relatively sweet, but so completely different to the overbearing, manufactured sickliness of the Red Label that it’s hard to believe that the two are made by the same company. It’s more like the pure sweetness of a really good light honey. The flavour develops through caramel, to sweet orange, and on to slightly bitter cocoa, all the while accompanied by a pleasing gentle smokiness which lingers on the tongue.

The Johnnie Walker Blue Label has certainly not committed the cardinal whisky sin of being boring. It is rare that a blend has this much complexity, and gives us so much pleasure debating its merits. After all, the best whiskies are the most memorable ones. We’re still not entirely convinced it’s worth the $200 price tag, but after a couple of drams we’re much closer to believing it.

★★★

#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 Green Label

Johnnie Walker: which is best?

Johnnie Walker Platinum Label 18 Year Old

Posted by: Ted

WW Platinum Label

Let us picture a woman: she wears chic white designer clothes, and her platinum blonde hair is perfectly styled. She is beautiful, with flawless ivory skin and delicate features, and yet her pale grey eyes are cold and her face is blank of emotion. She is like an icy white marble statue come to life. Her house is filled with expensive minimalist designer furnishings, all in white, and the effect is striking and elegant. Yet somehow it leaves you feeling empty; it’s too clean, too clinical, lacking in any warmth that allows you to develop an emotional connection.

If you distilled the idea of the white lady and her house, and bottled it, then you would capture the essence of the Johnnie Walker Platinum Label. The Platinum is marketed as one of the top tier bottlings in the standard Johnnie Walker range. It is delicately assembled from a selection of minimum 18 year old single malt and grain whiskies, and was inspired by the private blends created as gifts for the upper echelons of the Johnnie Walker hierarchy.

Platinum extra Ted

On the nose the Platinum is very light and delicate, with hints of dusty oak floorboards, cereals such as bran, oats and barley, chocolate, and coffee. There is no sweetness or fruitiness here, and as such the scent is rather dry and wooden as a result. The mouth is extremely smooth, with subtle flavours of polished oak and walnuts. A flicker of sweetness is allowed, perfectly balanced by a dash of bitterness. The end is dry and provides a grind of black pepper followed later by a sprinkling of ash.

There is a sense that the Johnnie Walker Platinum Label is a stylish drink created for those with sophisticated tastes, and yet in trying to achieve this they somehow miss the point. Yes, the flavours all work together superbly, but as a whole it’s too refined, polished to the point where there is no spark left to bring it to life. The white lady is beautiful to behold, but be warned, her heart is cold and she will not give you the love and warmth you crave.

★★

#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 Blue Label

Johnnie Walker Green Label

Johnnie Walker: which is best?

 

Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

Reviewed by: Nick

Johnnie Walker Gold Label whisky waffle

It is said that many years ago, three wise whisky tasters came from the east (probably Speyside) to bequeath fantastic gifts upon the saviour of blended whisky. The first wise man brought a very special present: gold. Specifically, Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve (the other two of course brought Johnnie Walker Frankincense Label and Johnnie Walker Myrrh Label). Somehow, as if by divine intervention, I found myself in possession of one of these relics: the Gold Label Reserve. Upon reverently pouring myself a dram, I heard a choir of angels singing joyous melodies. I then brought the vessel to my lips and drank.

Confusion then hit me. Is this… it? Surely a bottle titled: ‘Gold Label Reserve’ should be a drop unlike any other! But no. This whisky is not the messiah. It is a very naughty boy.

Gold extra Nick Whisky Waffle

In 2013, Johnnie Walker re-marketed a range of its products. The fan favourite Green Label was removed, a shiny new Platinum Label 18 Year Old was introduced, and the Gold Label was re-branded as Gold Label Reserve, in the process losing its age statement. In theory, the addition of the word ‘Reserve’ indicated a more esteemed and better tasting product. But in practice – they created a drop that was disappointingly unremarkable.

There are traces of citrus on the nose, as well as cocoa and some herbal notes. The sweetness is there, but it is far more subtle than in lower tier Johnnie Walker releases. All of these elements are no more than the merest hint. However it’s well balanced as there is not a great deal of flavour to weigh up. The mouth feel is similarly unexciting. Candied chestnuts, orange peel and a small amount of spice come through, while the finish is short with only a faint dash of caramel lingering. The supposedly ‘trademark’ Johnnie Walker smoke disappears like the vivid details of a dream after you have awoken: vanishing rapidly, as if it had never been there in the first place.

The Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve is a good blend, there is no doubt about that. No one flavour dominates the palate and it is unquestionably smoother than the lower tiered releases. It is simply unmemorable. In fact, it is borderline bland. If this was a less esteemed release I would, in all likelihood, applaud it. But for a whisky that calls itself ‘Gold Label’? Such a sin is simply unforgivable.

★★

#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 Platinum Label 18 Year Old

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Johnnie Walker Green Label

Johnnie Walker: which is best?