Oak

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 17: Hellyers Road Distillery Pinot Noir Cask Finish 46.2%

Posted by: Ted

On the seventeenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Hellyers Road Distillery Pinot Cask Finish whisky. Globally, the most common barrels used for aging whisky are virgin oak, ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and ex-port. Here in Australia, however, we seem to have developed a bit of a penchant for using ex-wine casks thanks to our thriving local wine industry and ease of access to the barrels. In Tasmania, due to our cooler climate, the red wine grape of choice is Pinot Noir, making it a popular cask type amongst the local distillers. Burnie-based Hellyers Road was one of the early adopters of the style and I reckon theirs was probably the first Pinot-barreled whisky I ever tried.

The Pinot Finish starts off life in American oak ex-bourbon casks before being transferred into French oak ex-Pinot casks for six months for finishing. The nose is smooth, with a cool, damp, earthiness to it. The mouth on the other hand is very dry, with a strong tanninic quality and finish of grapes, almonds and toffee. The Hellyers Road Pinot Noir Finish is a great example of how the addition of certain cask types can completely change the character of a whisky, creating complex and interesting new flavours.

#whitepossumspirits

Sullivans Cove French Oak Cask

Reviewed by: Nick and Ted

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This is it ladies and gentlemen, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: Whisky Waffle review the greatest whisky in the world.

But wait. Hold your horses there, Whisky Waffle. Due to the unique nature of single barrel releases, the French Oak bottle we tasted was not drawn from barrel HH525, the release that won 2014 World’s Best Single Malt at the World Whiskies Awards. Our bottle came from barrel HH595 (noted in case it wins next year!).

So then, the whisky we are drinking is not the best in the world. But it’s pretty damn close.

Sullivans Cove is the creation of Tasmanian Whisky pioneer Tasmania Distillery. Among their releases is a bourbon-matured American Oak expression and a blended Double Cask, but it is this one, matured in ex-European oak port casks, which is the most revered.

The nose is intriguing, with elements of caramel, cinnamon, overripe apples and the salt spray you may receive when standing on the stretch of coastline which bears this bottle’s name. The palate is light, but complex, with burnt toffee and leatherwood honey delicately balanced against earthy terracotta outdoorsy notes. The finish evaporates off the back of the palate and yet leaves a gentle caramelised linger.

Despite not being the exact bottle which received a plethora of honours all over the world, in tasting this edition it is easy to see where the judges were coming from. This is a superbly balanced drop and showcases all that is great about Tasmanian whisky.

★★★★

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

#TasWhiskyWeek

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

Nant Sherry Wood 43%

Reviewed by: Nick

Nant Sherry Wood 43%

I imagine the founding of Nant distillery by Brisbane businessman Keith Batt, went something like this:

 

“What do you want for your birthday this year, honey?” asked Mrs Keith. Keith thought for a moment.

“I’m torn between a Caribbean island, a bar-franchise and a horse,” he replied, not a drop of irony on his face.

“A horse?” replied Mrs Keith, “where on earth would you put one of those?”

“Well obviously I’ll need to invest in some property to store it in – preferably somewhere exotic and remote.”

“How about Peru? Then I can get a Llama!”

“Yeah, I’m not so keen on the ponchos or  folk music. Tell you what, how about we stick the horse in some old paddock in Tasmania and I’ll also get the bar-franchise?”

“Alright, fine. But you may need to think of something to do with the property down in Tassie.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. I’ll just stick in a whisky distillery and sit around fixing an old water mill until Jim Murray arrives.”

 

Of course I unquestionably make light of the momentous decision to build Nant Distillery up in the highlands of Tasmania – an establishment which I can confidently state is the most scenic of all Tasmanian distilleries. And as much as I can mock Nant’s business-like set up, I cannot downplay the excellence of its whiskies.

One of my favourite Tassie drops is the Nant Port Wood, a fantastic representation of the Tasmanian flavour, and the cask strength version of the Bourbon Wood is one of Tasmania’s finest whisky accomplishments. They also release a Sherry Wood and it is this expression I review today.

The nose is drier and earthier than any other Nant release. There are elements of vanilla, figs and golden syrup, but this is matched by moss and spicy oak. The palate is equally contrasting with notes of toffee, raspberry jam and plenty more oak, while mingling in the medium long finish are herbs and you guess it: oak, It all combines to form an intriguing and challenging Tasmanian whisky.

While I couldn’t claim this to be my favourite Nant expression, it’s certainly an interesting drop and one that I would never describe as boring. It forms an integral part of an increasingly impressive Nant back-catalogue. I guess then, it was well worth Keith Batt getting that horse!

★★★

Nant n Nick

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

#TasWhiskyWeek

Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

Pappy Van Winkle 20YO

Its pretty common for distillers to lay down Scotch for long periods of time, with age statements in the range of 18-25 years in relative abundance. Bourbons on the other hand are a whole different kettle of fish. Warmer storage temperatures and the use of virgin oak casks means that bourbon reaches maturity and develops character far more quickly than its Scottish counterparts. Therefore, if you come across a bourbon that says it’s 20 years old, you know you’re looking at something pretty special.

The Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20 Year Old is an experience unto itself, a man amongst the boys. Now into its 4th generation, the dynasty began in the 1870s when Julian P ‘Pappy’ Van Winkle entered into the proud Kentuckian tradition of bourbon making. These days the Van Winkles make their spirit at the Buffalo Trace distillery, but they have not lost their dedication to crafting spirit of an exceptionally high standard.

Apart from the age, what makes Van Winkle bourbon special is that they use corn, barley and wheat instead of the more usual corn, barley and rye in their mash bill. They claim that the use of wheat creates a much softer, smoother spirit and helps with the aging process.

Compared to your standard ‘ol bourbon, the PvW Family Reserve 20yo is a far more delicate creature. You can still tell it’s bourbon when you take a sniff, but it doesn’t wave the fact in your face. Instead it gently strokes your nostrils with vanilla, ginger and Grand Marnier.

As you would expect for a spirit this age, it is superbly smooth with no alcoholic kick at all, which is interesting as it is still bottled at 45.2%. It feels very light and silky in the mouth, and if you draw some air through it goes all tingly, sending shivers down your tongue. Floral notes, particularly rose, mingle with sweet white grapes, maraschino cherries and alcohol-soaked cake. The finish is quite short and as smooth as a baby’s proverbial.

The PvW Family Reserve is the thinking man’s bourbon; gulping it down is simply not an option as it needs some time to respond in the mouth. At first glance it seems deceptively simple, however with some gentle probing it reveals more and more character. There are definitely interesting things going on, but you have to chase them down, work for the full flavour. The dedicated and thoughtful approach is worth it in the end though, as the reward is a spirit of epically elegant proportions.

★★★★

White Oak Akashi + 12yo

Reviwed by: Ted

White Oak Akashi vs White Oak 12 Year Old

Akashi White Oak

Just a quick review hastily scribbled down at the bar about two whiskies out of Japan. Founded in 1888, White Oak Distillery is one of the lesser known distilleries outside of its home country, only selling to the local market until 1984. Apparently though, White Oak was the first distillery in Japan to gain an official license, pre-dating Suntory and Nikka, the two major players in the Japanese whisky scene.

White Oak releases are less common in Australia, particularly aged releases. Luckily the bar that I am currently at had the presence of mind to have not one, but two of them hiding on the top shelf, prompting this on-the-spot review. The two White Oak examples perched on the bar before me are the Akashi Non Age Statement (NAS) and the 12 Year Old.

I cannot provide much more background to the two bottles as all the information is (unsurprisingly) written in Japanese, but I can reveal that the Akashi is much lighter in colour than the 12yo, which has a nice amber tone. On the nose the Akashi is fairly insubstantial, with only a light sweetness coming through. In comparison the 12yo has a strange sulphuric tang. It’s almost smoky at first, but quickly turns chemical.

The chemical vibe continues on the palate, with a smoky sulphuric quality that tastes like the water could have been drawn from a mineral-rich hot volcanic pool on the side of a Japanese mountain. Against this the Akashi tastes lightly bitter/sweet, not venturing too far in either direction.

In conclusion, the Akashi, while pleasant, is a bit of a non-event, showing a rather bland personality. In complete contrast the 12yo is full of character, but unfortunately the sort of unpleasant character that you might meet down a dodgy alley on a dark night. While curious to try, the 12yo definitely won’t be to everyone’s tastes, and the Akashi certainly won’t turn any heads down the street. It seems that White Oak is more miss than hit, but whether it’s older releases can redeem it will have to wait for another day.

Akashi: ★

12 Year Old: ★★

 

Balvenie 12 Year Old DoubleWood

Reviewed by: Nick and Ted

Balvenie Doublewood 12 Year Old Whisky Waffle

Double the wood, double the fun! Just getting into whisky? Think you might like to give one of those new-fangled single malts a try? Can’t afford the Glenfiddich 50yo? Roll up and try the multi-barrelled, malty-talented whisky wizard, the one, the only: the Balvenie 12 Year Old DoubleWood! It’ll cure all your woes*!

* Side effects may include becoming compulsive about seeking out single malts, and mild discomfort in the presence of blends.

Balvenie is a member of the the William Grant & Sons stable, and is the less famous sister to Glenfiddich. Balvenie prides itself on continuing to use traditional hand malting methods, and is well respected for its high quality range of whiskies. Chief amongst these is the 12yo DoubleWood, a dram that has converted many a whisky novice.

There is a good reason for the DoubleWood moniker: while it spends the majority of its life in American oak, for the last few months of maturation the spirit is transferred to sherry butts. This technique imparts the range of flavour that makes this whisky special and means that there is something in it for everyone.

This variety of flavour is immediately evident on the nose with sweeter notes of caramel, fruit leather and vanilla pairing with a citrusy tang reminiscent of lemon drops, and aromatic spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon.

The flavour is very broad and rounded across the palate. There is an initial hit of oranges, followed by spicy ginger and buttery shortbread. The sherry influence is definitely present in the finish. Dried fruits such as figs, prunes and dates can be found, and a tasty flourish of old English toffee is left on the tongue at the end.

The Balvenie 12 Year Old DoubleWood is exceptionally smooth for its age, and is also excellent value for this level of quality. For experienced whisky drinkers there is so much to like here and it warrants repeated tastings (for research purposes, naturally). For those just beginning their journey, the DoubleWood provides an ideal gateway to the broader whisky world. So line up ladies and gents, there’s enough for everybody. You won’t be disappointed!

★★★★

Glenfiddich 15 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Glenfiddich 15 whisky waffle

This is more like it Glenfiddich! In my review of the Glenfiddich 12 Year Old, I described it as pleasant but unremarkable. The 15 Year Old release goes some way to rectifying this. If Glenfiddich were a wine, the 12 year Old would be a white, whereas the 15 Year Old would clearly be a red.

This whisky is created using a Solera vatting technique, where various 15 year old expressions are married together in a large ex-wash back. The vat is never more than half emptied meaning a percentage of the remaining whisky that makes up each bottle is very old indeed.

This is immediately a more enjoyable whisky than the 12 year old. Darker in colour and more complex on the nose, various aspects of its mixed-maturation can be found within. There is vanilla from the bourbon casks and green sappy flavours from the new oak. The biggest contributor, however, is the sherry casks. The spirit matured in these barrels imparts dried fruits, toffee, even cola upon the palate and leaves a long, dry and memorable finish.

While the 12 Year Old is the most popular, and the 18 Year Old the smoothest, when taking into account the balance between flavour and value for money, I believe it is almost impossible to go past the 15 Year Old. It is the most complex and interesting by far and crucially, it gives you the most to talk about.

★★★★

Glenlivet 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Glenlivet 12 whisky waffle

Some whiskies have absolutely blown me away when I’ve first tried them. Often, the most exciting drams I have ever tried I’ve been unsure if I liked when they first passed my lips. Some whiskies are challenging and different and interesting. But not all of them.

I begin this review as if a whisky that were to lack one or all of these qualities is in some way an inferior drink. However, when the Glenlivet 12 Year Old is concerned, this is just not the case.

Rarely have I found a distillery as reliable as Glenlivet. Nor, where its signature expression is concerned, one as good value. But the 12 Year Old is as dependable a dram as you will find in Scotland. It is the perfect just-got-home-from-work whisky.

It offers sweet oak notes on the nose, leaving you in no doubt you have a malt from Speyside. On the palate it provides an initial hit of honey and some heather before developing into glorious burnt caramel, brown sugar and just a hint of smoke. This makes way for a long vanilla-centric finish that leans towards creaming soda. It all adds up to create a distinctive and memorable, if not perfectly balanced, flavour.

Glenlivet have not produced a world changing whisky here. But that was not what they set out to do. In their 12 Year Old, they have created a dependable whisky, one that you can turn to time and time again without fear of emptying the bottle. Because if it were to run out you would, without hesitation, nip to the bottle shop for a replacement.

★★★

Post script:

Since writing this review the whisky landscape has changed and sadly not for the better. My review’s final claim that when my bottle runs dry I can simply nip to my local store for another no longer rings true. Tonight I downed the last of my trusty Glenlivet 12. It’s been a fun journey, but as they say, all good things must come to an end. Glenlivet 12 – it has been a pleasure having you as my go-to. You will not be forgotten.