notes

Bushmills 10 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Bushmills 10 Year Old

The truth behind the murky origins of whisky varies depending on one simple factor: whether you are Scottish or Irish. While the heartland of the water of life will always be Scotland, the Irish have an equally legitimate claim as to the creation of the spirit.

Ireland’s ace up its sleeve is Bushmills Distillery, by some accounts the world’s oldest (legal) distillery. Bushmills in Northern Ireland was founded in 1608 when they were granted a license to distil by King James I (or VI, again depending whether or not you are Scottish). While they have not been open continuously all this time, they have produced whiskey for a large chunk of it.

Unlike other (and by other I mean cheaper) Bushmills expressions which blend their whisky with grain spirit from Midleton, the Bushmills 10 Year Old is a single malt, distilled three times, as is the tradition in Ireland. This creates a gentle, easy drinking dram which, while bordering on unexciting, is far from uninspiring.

The nose is delicate with light notes of oranges and mandarins. There are stewed apples to be found, and shoe polish, also light and gentle. The palate is not as delicate as the nose, with the oranges making a bold return alongside strong woody notes which give the impression of old floorboards. The finish is spicy with lingering notes of custard and leather. This is an interestingly balanced whiskey – too light to scare anyone away, but with enough depth to keep it interesting.

So who do I believe? Which country was it that created this wonderful spirit? Simple. It depends if I’m talking to an Irishman or a Scotsman!

★★★

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Sprinkbank Gaja Barolo Cask

Reviewed by: Nick

springbank-gaja-barolo

This unique little gem from Campbeltown’s Sprinkbank Distillery is a fascinating drop in that every time I sample it, it tastes different! No, I don’t think it is rapidly changing in the bottle, oxidising or degrading. I think it just messes with your head.

Let me just provide a bit of context. The Gaja Barolo Cask is part of the limited edition ‘Wood Expressions’ series which, as well as making me snigger immaturely, sounds rather interesting. The bottle in question takes the Springbank spirit and ages it for four years in refill ex-bourbon casks before being transferred into ‘fresh Gaja Barolo casks’ where it remains for a further five years in Campbeltown’s seaside atmosphere.

For the uninitiated (like me before I did my research), Gaja is an Italian wine producer and Barolo is a light red grape. Both aspects make this a very specific maturation for the whisky and one unlikely to be replicated any time soon.

Completing a list of tasting notes for this bottle is a tricky task due to the aforementioned chameleon nature of the dram. If I have just had a light Speyside number then I notice a whole heap of peat on the nose. If I’ve just had a highland dram then I discover raspberries and cream. The palate is sometimes spicy – it is bottled at 54.7% – but other times goes down smoothly and evenly. Occasionally I notice the oily maritime notes although often I find flavours of lemons and oranges. The finish usually lingers, with a wisp of smoke or hint of chocolate.

The bottom line is, no matter the flavours I get out of it, I’ve always enjoyed this dram. Sure, I haven’t been able to put my finger on its true nature, but that just adds to the fun. It is a mystery of a dram. I’ve still got a third of a bottle left – feel free to stop by and help me solve it.

***

(Although sometimes ****)

Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Reviewed by: Nick

buffalo-trace

Tastes like bourbon.

Ok, I freely admit, that statement alone does not do this dram justice. After all, this is whisky made at one of the oldest distilleries in the world! And yes, I do include Scotland in this claim.

Buffalo trace was founded in 1787 at a small settlement called Lee’s Town, a town presumably established by someone called Lee. The title ‘Buffalo Trace’ was given to it much later, but refers to the 18th century name for the distillery’s location: a trail forged by American bison as they crossed the Kentucky River. Buffalo Trace continued sending whiskey up the river across the ensuing centuries – even during prohibition when it was given a permit to produce medicinal whiskey. Unsurprisingly it was a very popular remedy.

But how does it taste?

Like bourbon.

No!

Well, yes.

But it’s good bourbon!

On the nose is, as you’d expect, sweet corn and vanilla, but also present are subtle notes of cinnamon and brown sugar. The palate is lightly spicy with grassy oak notes. The finish is medium in length with flavours of toffee and honey.

All in all, Buffalo Trace is a great example of a bourbon. It’s accessible and, all things considered, pretty darn smooth. Best of all, it’s a bourbon with a story. It allows you to cast your mind back to the late 1700s when settlers battled to survive – and make whiskey on the side!

And it tastes like bourbon.

★★★

Heartwood Dare to be Different

Reviewed by: Nick

heartwood-dare-to-be-different

Yes, Tasmanian super-strength independent bottler Heartwood has come up with some fantastic names over the years: Vat Out of Hell, Release the Beast, Any Port in a Storm and Convict Resurrection. However, one of Tim Duckett’s most recent releases I think sums up the whisky producer better than all others: Dare to be Different.

Heartwood doesn’t do things by the book. If Tim doesn’t think it’s as good as it can be, he’ll beat it with a paddle, or stick it in the hot room, or transfer it to another barrel, or pour in a hundred litres of peated Lark new make! The goal here is not to create age statement or single cask releases. Tim simply aims to make the best darn tasting whisky he possibly can.

While Dare to be Different is one of the newer releases from Heartwood, chances are, by the time you read this, it’ll be sold out. That’s just the way Heartwood is, with only 200 or so bottles of each release available. Which is why whenever I visit the Lark whisky bar in Hobart, I can’t help but try what they’ve got.

Dare to Be Different is fittingly dissimilar from many other Heartwood bottlings. It’s darker, more savoury and meaty – and more complex, too. This is due, in no small part, to the 100% peated Lark spirit which has then spent eight years in ex-Oloroso sherry barrels.

The nose is lovely and… delicate? Is that even possible for a Heartwood? There are apples, flowers and a dash of… meat pie. Possibly. It might have been plums. The palate is unsurprisingly spicy and tangy (cheers 65.5%!) featuring tropical fruit flavours mixed with smoked meats and pate. The finish is long and punchy, and I mean this in multiple ways – it tastes like fruit punch and certainly packs a punch. Punchy punch. Enough said.

Across its entire history what the whisky industry simply cannot do without is innovators. People like Tim Duckett who really push the envelope and create peated sherry monsters one week and juicy port offerings the next, all between 60% and 75%. Heartwood dares to be different – and we’re all richer for it.

★★★★

heartwood-dare-to-be-different

Heartwood Convict Resurrection

Reviewed by: Nick

Heartwood Convict Resurrection

In Scotland, independent bottling of whisky is commonplace. Companies such as Gordon & MacPhail, Berry Brothers & Rudd, Flora & Fauna – basically anything with an ‘&’ in it – run successful businesses and produce some fine drams. In Tassie, well, it’s a little rarer. While Trappers Hut and Tasmanian Independent Bottlers are coming along nicely, there’s one name leading the way: Heartwood.

Heartwood was created by Tasmania’s own mad scientist of whisky, Tim Duckett, whom I imagine spends his days bent over a steaming cauldron of luminous Tasmanian whisky, stirring it with a wooden oar and chanting “double double toil and trouble”.

If you’ve ever come across a bottle of Heartwood, you’ll attest that it was unquestionably a memorable drop. There’s certainly a lot to remember, from the wonderful designs on the labels to the distinctive names: ‘Vat Out of Hell’, ‘Release the beast’ and ‘Any Port in a Storm’ to name a few. However, the most memorable aspect of any Heartwood bottling – by far – is the strength. The ABV of all releases ranges from percentages in the mid 60s to percentages in the mid 70s. That’s right – mid 70s!!!

The bottle I decided to purchase sits at an eye watering 72% and is called the ‘Convict Resurrection’, part of a series of convict-inspired bottlings referring to Tasmania’s original function as a penal colony. The whisky comes from Sullivans Cove barrel HH0239, which was an American oak ex-port cask. And boy, is it something.

Every aspect of this whisky is massive. The nose hits you like a boxing glove wielded by Sugar Ray Leonard, teeming with creamy fruit flavours like plum jam spread on rich brie. As is to be expected, the palate also packs a punch – taking a sip is like wrestling a crocodile – and yet there are so many flavours to be found: raisins, nutmeg, pinecones and blackberries – perhaps with the thorns still attached!

The finish is the most surprising element of the whole dram as it is incredibly smooth. It seems to evaporate at the back of your throat, leaving the most glorious lingering warmth with notes of jam and honey.

If you ever see a nip of Heartwood available anywhere – don’t think – just buy it. Sure, it’ll be pricey, but only 200 or so of each bottle is made and once they’re gone, they’re actually gone. Heartwood fans don’t buy the stuff to leave it sitting on a shelf.

Seriously, try it if you can. I promise it will be memorable – in the best possible way.

★★★★★

Heartwood n Nick

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

#TasWhiskyWeek

anCnoc 16 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

anCnoc 16

One of the fun things about whisky is that it can reveal to you a time and place as part of its character. If the anCnoc 12 Year Old is a summers day, then surely its older sibling, the 16 Year Old, is the evening.

Produced by Knockdhu Distillery, founded in 1894 and one of the smaller operating distilleries in the Scottish Highlands, the AnCnoc 16yo is a burnished gold in colour, darker than the straw-like 12yo.

On the nose the 16yo is smooth and sweet, with no hint at all of the occasional raw alcoholic jaggies lurking in the 12yo. Herbs, particularly mint, garnish a bowl of caramelised pears in syrup dolloped on Weetbix. The taste is sharp and bright, striking the upper palate. The finish is hot and bittersweet, drying the mouth and lingering for some time afterwards.

The AnCnoc 16yo is much better rounded than its younger kinsman, with maturity found through age. While the 12yo has the heat, dustiness and brashness of the day, the 16yo is the relaxing warmth of the evening. A perfect companion to watch the light fade on a clear summer night.

★★★

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!

★★★

Talisker 57˚ North

Reviewed by: Nick

Talisker 57 degrees north whisky waffle

Whenever I pour one of my non-whisky drinking friends a wee dram (watching in amusement as they splutter noticeably and their face flushes a conspicuous shade of red) I tell them to picture themselves in a small rugged hut on the west coast of Scotland as a fierce Atlantic storm batters the walls and ceiling. That, I proclaim, is the ideal location to enjoy whisky. While a fireplace may sufficiently heat your extremities, a dram of whisky will warm you from the inside out. And if it were I huddled in this rugged hut on such a night, the drop I would turn to first is the Talisker 57˚ North.

This whisky, made on the Isle of Skye’s sole distillery, is named for two reasons: firstly (and I may be biased, but I would claim foremostly) because the spirit is bottled at a practical 57%. Secondly (and perhaps more poetically) because the town of Carbost, home to Talisker, is found at 57˚ North of the equator. In this part of the world, your insides are quite often in dire need of warming.

To put it into perspective, Canada’s 2010 Olympic Winter Games host, Vancouver, is situated at a mere 47˚North while my often freezing home state of Tasmania is at just 42˚South. Talisker Distillery is only two degrees further south than notoriously icy Scandinavian capitals Stockholm and Oslo. So it stands to reason that a warming dram or two is created there.

On the nose, there’s no doubting this is an Island whisky. Smoke wafts liberally out of the glass, although possibly more subtly than some Talisker expressions. Other elements are noticeable too: pepper, chorizo, and cured meats. It is like inhaling deeply at a gourmet barbecue.

There is certainly a woodiness about this whisky on the palate – although not reminiscent of your standard oak notes. Instead the flavours are dustier, earthier, more akin to a tree’s bark than the wood underneath. Elements of honey and marmalade hint at typical Talisker sweetness, though it is more toned down than the 10 Year Old. Instead, wonderful new flavours are present such as bacon and buttery toast, as well as some less pleasant bitter sappy elements which give the impression of burning wood that is slightly too green.

The good news is, this whisky leaves the best until last: the finish is undoubtedly the highlight of the dram. It is long – so very long – and hot and lively. After the spiciness fades, the smoke returns gently, bringing your tasting full circle.

Drinking this whisky, I find that I take my own advice. I close my eyes and picture the howling gale, the bucketing rain and the crashing thunder. Scotland is no stranger to wild weather. And in the eye of the storm, the Talisker 57˚ North is the dram you need.

★★★★

Overeem Port Cask Matured

Barrel Number: OHD-067

Reviewed by: Nick

Overeem Port Cask

Whiskies so often seem to reflect their creator. Bruichladdich whiskies display the passion and local ethos displayed by Jim McEwan. Variously finished Glenmorangie drams showcase that experimentation possessed by scientist Dr Bill Lumsden. Whiskies made at the Old Hobart Distillery, much like their creator, Casey Overeem, have true character. And much like Casey, this character is very likeable.

Old Hobart Distillery releases their whisky under the label ‘Overeem’ and is part of a growing collective of whisky makers from southern Tasmania consistently churning out a high standard of products. Overeem, like Lark and Sullivan’s Cove, use French Oak ex-port barrels cut down to 100 litres to mature a percentage of their whisky. The flavours created by this process, similarly to its contemporaries, are equally extraordinary. But there’s something a little extra special about the Overeem. It has an element of ‘handmade’ about it, something that suggests this whisky is crafted instead of distilled.

The nose is light but enticing. There are notes of berries and stewed apricots alongside faint traces of ginger and fennel. There are also some gloriously Tasmanian woody notes which call to mind a home-workshop stocked with Huon Pine.

The palate is richly flavoursome and offers many layers to discover. It is initially sweet and spicy, offering fizzy orange sherbet notes with a dash of pepper preventing it from becoming too sweet. There is also a degree of citrus and maltiness, combining to give the impression of a freshly baked sponge cake with lemon curd. The finish is lengthy and contains faint raisiny and caramel notes: finally, the much-vaunted fruitcake has made a subtle appearance!

This is a fantastic example of a Tasmanian Whisky in more ways than just flavour. It is the perfect illustration of a micro-distillery whose focus is on creating a well-crafted product. This is not done simply as a business venture, but instead as a way for one man to create the spirit that he loves. And Casey Overeem’s intent is certainly apparent when drinking the whisky which bears his name.

★★★★

Makers Mark

Reviewed by: Nick

Makers Mark

Wearily, the Whisky Waffle boys trudged onwards through the corn-fields of Kentucky. They were on a quest to find the Holy Grail of American whiskey: a bourbon which tasted of more than just bourbon! There were those that called them foolish, others that declared them mad, others still that claimed it was just an excuse to drink whiskey (fair cop), but unperturbed they soldiered on. Finally, they stumbled upon a hooded figure, beckoning them into a distillery.

The dark wooden building with red colonnades looked nothing like its fellow American distilleries. Fire engines and statues of the Virgin Mary in bathtubs lined the path. Our heroes turned to each other thinking: could this be it?

They were handed a dram of the golden liquid, shimmering in the moonlight and wondered what complex and unique flavours they would discover. They drank. And the flavour! It tasted… rather familiar. In fact it tasted… like bourbon. The Whisky Waffle boys’ shoulders slumped. This was not the Holy Grail. Their quest was not at an end.

Nick and Makers 2

Makers Mark’s attempts at individuality – the wax dripping down the neck of the bottle, their use of wheat instead of rye alongside the corn and barley, even spelling their product ‘whisky’ despite American conventions – are all a cunning disguise to hide the fact that Makers Mark is, when it comes down to it, a Kentucky Straight Bourbon.

It’s by no means a bad one. The nose presents oak, cinnamon and vanilla which combine to suggest a nice dessert, perhaps a peach crumble – though possibly without the peach. Or the crumble…

The palate is even less like a peach crumble, instead elements of sweet caramel and cornflakes are present, combining to form something akin to Honey Joys. A less dessert-related tasting note is that this is actually a rather spicy drop; a much fuller bodied whisky than many of its fellow American whiskies, and being bottled at 45% surely helps this.

The finish is long and leaves a certain amount of lingering spice: like a half-hearted cinnamon challenge. There are also the more abstract and subjective notes of grass cuttings and saddle leather. You’ll have to take my word for this.

Nick and Makers 4

This bottle was intended by the makers of Makers Mark to be a whisky that appeals to people who don’t like bourbon. To that extent, it seems that they have failed. In fact, they have possibly achieved the exact opposite. This is a perfectly acceptable entry-level drop, and one that will keep bourbon drinkers perfectly content.

So if you see that hooded bartender beckoning you towards the Makers Mark on the top shelf, be warned. Look past the metaphorical wig and the fake moustache. Despite this wily disguise, the Makers Mark is not the Holy Grail – it is simply another bourbon.

★★