Octomore

Four must-visit Scottish whisky distilleries

Posted by: Nick

Nick in Scotland

So you’ve travelled to Scotland. You’ve climbed to the top of Edinburgh Castle, eaten a plate of Haggis and failed to find the Loch Ness Monster. Your Scottish experience is complete but for one final destination. The country is synonymous with several things – including men in skirts and losing at football – but most famously of all, it is known for its whisky. Therefore on your travels it is compulsory to stop in at one or two distilleries and see exactly how the stuff is made. Of course, that means narrowing it down to one or two from the hundreds of options – not an easy task.

It was not long ago that I made a trip to whisky’s spiritual home (pun entirely intended) and thought I would share a few of my recommendations to check out after a hard day’s not-spotting Nessie.

Auchentoshan:

Auchen

This distillery is as accessible to visit as the whisky is to drink. Located just outside of Glasgow, Auchentoshan is right on the way for tourists looking to explore Loch Lomond or venture into the highlands. The distillery itself is extremely pretty and the friendly staff run a slick tour. The tasting session at the end covers the core range, though if you’re lucky they may find you something special to try behind the bar. The drams themselves are easy drinking and perfect for those who are slightly hesitant about whisky!

Ardbeg:

PE Ardb

The ultimate fanboy distillery. If you’re keen on your peated whisky then a trip to Ardbeg should be the number one priority. Granted, it is on a little island off Scotland’s west coast, but is the most magical place when you get there. Every corner of the distillery emanates old world charm, and if you select a premium tasting session, some of the drams they bring you in their little back room are mind-blowing. Ardbeg are famous for producing rare one-off bottlings which, unless you happen to be mates with the distiller, you are unlikely to get to try too many of. Do the tour, however, and who knows what you may find – Ardbog, Alligator, Supernova, Dark Cove… one dram of any of these makes the price of admission worthwhile.

Supernovas

Glenfiddich:

To get an idea about the scale of the Scottish whisky industry, do the tour at Glenfiddich. They are the largest producer of single malt in the country and their distillery, therefore, is huge! Twenty-eight stills are in operation, each big enough to make Lark’s copper pot look like a key ring. There really is a sense of awe as you walk among the machinery and through the bondstores. It’s certainly a popular one, with thousands of tourists going through the establishment each day, however if you spend a couple of extra pounds they’ll put you in a smaller, more intimate group and give you the added bonus of checking out warehouse 8 – the Solera facility – where you can see them vatting vast amounts of whisky to create, among other bottles, their 15 year old. The tasting that follows walks you through the 12, 15, 18 and 21 Year Old expressions – yes, that’s right, 21 year old! Not all distilleries churn out a 21 year old regularly on a tour.

Glen Stills

Bruichladdich:

A trip to Bruichladdich is the perfect whisky experience. Firstly, the staff are some of the coolest and most entertaining people in the business. Secondly, their equipment, in particular their mash tun, is all beautifully ancient. It’s like an antique shop where the gear comes alive at night when the owners leave! Finally, and most importantly, there’s the tastings. Oh man. Bruichladdich are famous for innovation and experimentation, the result of which is a large number of fascinating whiskies to try. A rum matured whisky – can I try that? Sure! A new Octomore – do you mind if I… Go for it! How about that double matured… Get it down you! In short, a trip to Bruichladdich is compulsory if you ever find yourself in the area – and by the area, I mean in the Northern Hemisphere!

Bruich

These are, of course, just four of my picks based on one visit and I realise that as far as excellent distilleries go I am barely scratching the surface. So what places have you been to that you would recommend people make it along to? Let me know in the comments and I’ll see if I can hit them up on my next trip to the whisky motherland!

Warehouse 8

 

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The 2014 Waffle Awards

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Whisky Waffle Logo 1As the year draws to a close, it becomes a time for reflection and philosophising. It also becomes a time to drink lots of whisky in celebration of the fantastic drops consumed over the past 365 days! We here at Whisky Waffle have been doing just that – and have singled out some of the highlights. So ladies and gentlemen, don your black tie and formal gowns, don’t die wondering with the complimentary champagne, and present your golden invitation at the door; you are formally welcomed along to: the first ever Waffle Awards Ceremony!

1 The Isle of the Drammed Award Whisky Waffle

The Isle of the Drammed Award for the best Tasmanian Whisky

There can’t be too many whisky awards that have an entire category for whiskies from only Tasmania – but as it is one of the key focuses of our blog we thought we could justify it (plus we’re just outrageously proud of the whisky we produce down here). So it gives me great pleasure to announce that the inaugural winner of the Isle of the Drammed Award goes to:

Hellyers Road Port Cask Matured

2014 Hellyers Rd Port whisky waffle

This bottle is a truly deserving winner. Its contents possess the unique buttery Hellyers Road flavours, but mix them with sweet, bold fruit and toffee notes. It’s a stellar dram. We’re also hoping that after this award, its value goes up immensely, as there are very few bottles left, and both us Wafflers own one.

 

2 The Tartan Slipper Award Whisky Waffle

The Tartan Slipper for the best Scottish Whisky

Scotland is indeed the spiritual home of the water of life. So our awards night naturally must contain a category for the best dram made in the motherland of whisky. Plus, we wanted to ensure there was a category that Yamazaki could not usurp from the Scottish. So without further ado, the Tartan Slipper goes to:

The Balvenie DoubleWood 17 Year Old

2014 Balvenie 17 whisky waffle

The first Balvenie we ever tried was the Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Old – and we loved it. It was our favourite expression from the distillery for a long time – until we tried this one. It still contains the unique fruit and vanilla flavours found in the 12, but the smoothness and complexity has been dialled up to ten. No: seventeen! This is a tricky drop to get your hands on, but if you find it, boy is it worth it.

 

3 The Pocket Pleaser Award Whisky Waffle

The Pocket Pleaser Award The perfect pick for the parched penny pincher

We’re not going to lie to you – buying bottles of whisky can be an expensive business. It took full time jobs for us to realise the step up in quality from a Ballantines to a Balvenie. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t appreciate a bargain when we see one. So without further ado, may I present the Pocket Pleaser Award to:

The Glenlivet 12 Year Old

2014 Glenlivet 12 whisky waffle

This whisky has everything you want from a single malt. Character, complexity, sweetness and flavour galore. And better still, it will not break the bank. If you find a bottle for under $50 in an Australian bottle shop – don’t think – just buy it!

 

4 The Weirdsky Award Whisky Waffle

The Weirdsky Award for the most WTF Whisky

Let me clarify right now that this award is by no means a bad thing. We’re a fan of whiskies of all shapes and sizes – and when a whisky completely bamboozles us, we cannot help but go back for more. So with that in mind, the The Weirdsky Award for the most WTF Whisky goes to:

The Glen Moray Chardonnay Cask 10 Year Old

2014 Glen Moray cardy whisky waffle

Yes, you read correctly. This whisky has not been matured in Château Cissac barrels, or Château d’Yquem casks. Nor has it spent six months in Tamar Valley Pinot Noir barrels. No, Glen Moray has chosen to age this whisky purely in plain and simple chardonnay casks. And it’s not bad! It has an intriguing nose and some really curious flavours, but slides down nicely all the same. It really is a perfect sunny day dram, and one that may be consumed in some quantity this summer.

 

5 The Bill Lark Award Whisky Waffle

The Bill Lark Award for outstanding service to Tasmanian Whisky

If there is one man alone with whom you can credit kick-starting the Australian whisky industry, then it could only be Bill Lark. Labelled the Godfather of Tasmanian whisky, his vision is the reason that we are here today (in the case of some of us: literally!). This award goes out to recognise an individual who has made an exceptional contribution to the Tasmanian Whisky industry. So now, it gives me great pleasure to announce the inaugural winner of the Bill Lark Award is:

Bill Lark

2014 Bill Lark Winner

Well, who else could it be? For all the reasons previously mentioned, this man thoroughly deserves to be this award’s first winner. Everyone raise a Glencairn and toast to this man’s incredible achievements!

 

6 The Golden Dram Whisky Waffle

The Golden Dram for the best dram whisky in the world!

The final award of the night is the big one! Just a quick disclaimer: for this category we’re using ‘golden’ in its traditional sense, meaning ‘of great value’; none of this ‘Macallan Gold’ entry level nonsense. And it goes to, quite simply, the best whisky we’ve tasted this year. There are no other requirements, such as country, age – or even single malt. It is simply our favourite whisky of 2014. Drum roll please. The winner of the 2014 Whisky Waffle Golden Dram is:

Octomore 06.2

2014 octomore 6.2 whisky waffle

How can a couple of peat lovers go past the most heavily peated whisky in the world (at the time). But this whisky is more than a gimmick. Jim McEwan at Bruichladdie has created a whisky that is complex and intriguing and flavoursome – and has the longest lasting finish of any that we have ever tasted. The 06.2 version is a tricky one to find – anywhere – but it has the edge over its 06.1 brother. This is the whisky to get – if you can find it. Maybe it will be the whisky of 2014 and no more. But out of all the drams in the world – 2014 has got a special one.

 

What do you think of our awards? What would be your own picks for the same categories? Leave us a comment and let us know!

Caol Ila 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Mooresy

Caol Ila

Caol Ila is a deceptive drop, both in pronunciation and in presentation. The Scots will tell you, aggressively, that there is one way to pronounce Caol Ila and that is “Cull Eel-a” blurred into one word. You’ll be lucky if spellcheck doesn’t turn it into Coal Ikea, but stay well away from that and do not be fooled by your non-Gaelic upbringing.

It is also deceptive on appearance. The box is black, but in particular the bottle is darkened grey glass, as if the Islay smoke itself was swirling inside staining the bottle like the wind lashes coastal cliffs. But once the dram is poured, the liquid is pale as if pulled straight from a virgin oak barrel.

Caol Ila means Sound of Islay but is not one of the best well known of the Islay malts and, despite being the largest Islay distillery, it is not in the Islay triumvirate. I am leaving Bowmore out of the triumvirate if anyone is struggling to narrow it down to the big three.

On the nose, there is the smoky peat smell that makes it quintessentially Islay. There are hints of peppermint and the fresh fruit leaf smell coming through but most surprising is how the brine – more subtle than many an island whisky – adds an intensity without being overpowering.

This translates onto the palate where, combined with a caramelised sugar sweetness, the peak hit comes back for a second round. Despite the colour and viscosity on appearance, Caol Ila is quite an oily whisky and arrives like a malt older than its twelve years but without the punch of those elders. It is disappointingly only bottled at 43%.

The finish is long and the oily quality stays in the mouth for round three of peat hit. But don’t get me wrong, this in not the kind of peat that will clear a room from smell alone. Unlike the infamous (and exceptional) Octomore, you don’t wake up the morning after trying to remember when you smoked a cigar the night before. But it has just enough to be an excellent easy-drinking Islay malt.

Perhaps the most endearing element of the Caol Ila 12 is what, I suspect, it contributed to the now deceased blended malt Johnnie Walker Green Label, but that is a story for a future musing.

★★★

Jim McEwan: the Rock-Star of Whisky

They say you should never meet your heroes. But in the case of Jim McEwan, master distiller of Bruichladdich, they could not be more wrong.

On Thursday the 9th of October, in Howrah of all places, I had the great pleasure to meet an absolute legend of the whisky world. His introductory spiel described him as “a man you should move heaven and earth to see”. He himself informed us that after six drams I would be thinking of him as a rock star. That wasn’t true. In my eyes, he was a rock star before I had touched a single drop.

The only photo I managed to get taken before my camera's memory filled up. Typical.

The only photo I managed to get taken before my cameras memory filled up. Typical.

Upon walking into the venue I could have been forgiven for feeling out of place. I was possibly the first person to ever wear a bow tie into the Shoreline Hotel. But I quickly realised I was right where I intended to be after spotting a who’s who of Tasmanian whisky: Tim Duckett. Dean Jackson. Casey and Jane Overeem. Richard Stewart. And of course, Robbie from Lark.

The person we had come to see, however, was from slightly further afield and made his entrance in a style befitting of a master Scottish distiller. Clad in a black suit with Bruichladdich-Blue shirt and tie, he marched into the room to the sound of blaring bagpipes. And there he was, the self-proclaimed ‘cask whisperer’ himself (he confessed he enjoyed talking to his whisky barrels with phrases such as: “you are so beautiful”).

Once our applause had died down, he congratulated the piper, Heath, handing him a dram of Islay’s finest. Upon watching Heath sample the whisky, he commented: “Never have I seen a piper take sips!”

Heath was quick to reply: “I was expecting it to be good!”

Jim laughed and grabbed a bottle to refill the glass and did so – right to the top!

It was a night full of similar banter and hilarious anecdotes providing many laughs for all in attendance. Jim confessed that when he begins nights such as this he doesn’t know what he’s going to say, much like fellow Scotsman, Billy Connolly. Hence, many rambling tangents were followed – and some great stories developed from them.

So many whisky fans in one room!

So many whisky fans in one room!

He began with praise for Tasmania, which filled my heart with pride. He had just attended what he described as his “twentieth tasting in two days” and was impressed with the Lark and Heartwood that he tried. Tasmania, he said, has many similarities with Scotland, and while at first this induced some home sickness, he confessed that after six drams of Lark whisky his pining was miraculously cured. His spiel concluded with the highest praise of all, confirming a belief many Tasmanians hold: “Tasmania is the new Islay”.

The tales continued throughout the night, and we heard the story of how Jim followed his heart to the closed and neglected Bruichladdich distillery and re-employed much of the same crew that used to work there: getting the band back together, Blues Brothers style.

He mentioned how the decision to make gin saved the distillery in financially troubled times, using the “traditional Scottish tactics of bribery and corruption” to convince a fellow gin maker from Birmingham to provide some know-how. ‘The Botanist’ is now a highly regarded product – even by me, the non-gin drinker!

Other stories were less relevant, but just as entertaining. For example the time in the 60s he met psychedelic rock star, Donovan.  Donovan had, remarkably, been sent to Islay to get ‘clean’; the result of which was many shouted drams for the locals, and Donovan leaving the island in an ambulance.

There were many, many more tall tales told as the whisky flowed: creative use of Heinz salad cream bottles – and Big Angus’ wellies, tasting notes for Japanese students that were lost in translation, advice for every male present to seek themselves a ‘man-cave’, and of course the knock on the door of Gunta (just after Scotland had defeated England 7-0 in the world cup final).

Perhaps the most poignant of all, however, was Jim’s belief in his community. Bruichladdich employs over 70 people on Islay. Many larger distilleries have no more than 6 staff members. It was that sense of the island coming together that instilled Jim with more pride than anything else he had achieved. I mentioned to him afterwards that of all the distilleries I had been to, Bruichladdich had the best people. “And isn’t that what counts?” he said, clearly chuffed.

Half a dozen drams - a quiet night for Jim McEwan!

Half a dozen drams – a quiet night for Jim McEwan!

The whisky, while not the main attraction of the night, was exceptional. The Laddie Classic was lightly salty, reflecting the conditions in which it was matured, but it was also floral and fruity. The Islay Barley was next, maltier, stronger, and one of Jim’s proudest accomplishments, having been grown, distilled and bottled all on site. “How many distilleries in the world can lay claim to that?” he asked. Redlands’ Dean Jackson just sat quietly.

This was followed by the Black Arts 03.1 – a whisky described by Jim as a “protest whisky”. It was his raised middle finger to the marketing team, to whom he would not reveal its cask types. He challenged us to guess for ourselves. The popular answer was sherry, although he was quick to point out that this was not the sole ingredient. “How many people have actually bought a bottle of sherry in the last six months?” he asked. In the entire room only two people raised their hand. “Sherry is dead in the water. We need to look further”. There were certainly some wine notes in amongst this whisky – it reminded me strongly of the Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve.

Curiously we then diverged from the tasting order. We moved straight to whisky number five, which was the Port Charlotte 10 Year Old. Named after a long since closed distillery, this whisky was coated in delicious swirling, but not overpowering, peat. There were apricots and other stone fruit flavours to be found and reminded me of Bruichladdich’s neighbour, Kilchoman. Jim told us he tracked down an aged old man who many years in the past had worked at the original Port Charlotte distillery. Upon being asked if he remembered the taste of the whisky, the response was: “Aye aye aye aye aye. Aye aye. Aye aye aye. Aye. It tasted good!”

Whisky number six was the famous Octomore 6.1, the most heavily peated whisky in the world. I must confess to having sampled this dram before and adoring it – although this experience was slightly different to the way I previously tried it. Jim encouraged us to take a generous glug, hold it in our mouths for 30 seconds before swallowing. He compared this sensation to Usain Bolt bursting from the blocks and after trying it, I could understand the analogy.

I must confess that I could not tell you much about whisky number four. At that point in the evening, Jim declared we were to do a highland toast. Left foot on a chair, right foot on the table we enthusiastically repeated many (mispronounced) Gaelic words, waving our glass about (trying not to spill any), before taking a generous swig. Amazingly, even after the quantity of whisky that had been consumed, no glasses (or bones) were broken, much to the relief of the nervous looking bar staff.

Allof us up on the table - and Jim was the most spritely!

Out of all of us, Jim was the most spritely!

The night concluded with a rendition of the Scottish national anthem – or so we thought until the Proclaimers ‘I would walk 500 miles’ blared through the speakers. Jim stood up the front and conducted our raucous chanting.

As the people filtered from the venue at the end of the night, I left enlightened, inspired and thoroughly entertained. Never had the community that accompanies whisky drinking been so apparent in Tasmania. We were united as one, all in awe of a man who we regarded as an idol: the master distiller. However at the same time upon meeting him and discovering how humble and down to earth he was, we were also able to describe him with the highest praise an Australian could give: Jim McEwan is a good bloke.

This bottle was coincidentally the same colour that Jim was wearing! And a bottle I will treasure forever.

This bottle was coincidentally the same colour that Jim was wearing! And a bottle I will treasure forever.

Jim McEwan comes to Tasmania

Jim pours generous nips

Jim pours generous nips

Posted by: Nick

Tasmania is certainly a rising star within the landscape of the whisky world. Evidence of this is the upcoming visit to Hobart by a man who can be aptly described as one of the world’s few ‘celebrity distillers’. This is none other than the incredible Jim McEwan, head distiller for the ground-breaking Bruichladdich Distillery.

Jim McEwan has been in charge of the spirit created at Bruichladdich since its reopening in 2001 and has been instrumental in acquiring the ‘progressive’ reputation of the distillery. Using different barrel types, aging processes and, occasionally, the most heavily peated malt the world has ever seen, he continually creates revolutionary whisky. Jim’s experimentation has not gone unrecognised; he is the only man to have been crowned ‘Whisky Distiller of the Year’ three times.

The event is to be on Thursday the 9th of October and is already sold out; this is to be expected from an event of this nature. But if you’re curious to find out what he has to say, fear not – as Whisky Waffle’s own Nick Turner will be there to learn from the master. Expect a blog post at the end of the week sharing some of the secrets and magic revealed by Jim on the night.

If you have any questions you would like Nick to ask Jim, write them in the comments and he will endeavour get you some answers!