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Milk & Honey Distillery Virtual Australian Launch

Posted by: Ted

So, acting on a whim, I popped over to sunny Tel Aviv in Israel the other day to do a spot of whisky tasting and a distillery tour.

Actually, that’s a lie. The government won’t let us leave Australia yet and I was sitting around freezing my tits off on a wintry Tasmanian evening. But, through the magic of the internet, I was still able to go venturing off into distant exotic lands to partake in a dram and a tour of Milk & Honey Distillery (M&H), Israel’s first whisky producer.

Ready to Zoom with my M&H tasting pack, supplied by The Spirit Safe

The Spirit Safe and Alba Whisky, the local distributor for M&H, were kind enough to send us a sample pack and an invite to join the Australian (digital) launch of M&H. Zooming in from my rather messy back room, I joined a group of fellow digital denizens to land in the rather more well appointed office of Ian McKinlay, Managing Director and highly knowledgeable chap at The Spirit Safe.

Greeting us with a Scottish brogue, softened by many years spent in the Antipodes, Ian made sure we were seated comfortably and then hit the magic button to beam us half-way across the globe to the shores of the Med Sea. Landing in Jaffa, the ancient port city from which Tel Aviv grew, we were met by the beaming faces of Tal Chotiner (International Sales) and Tomer Goren (Master Distiller) at M&H.

Ian McKinlay (Bottom) from thespiritsafe.com.au linking up with Tal Chotiner – Int. Sales – (Top Left) & Tomer Goren – Master Distiller – (Top Right) from Milk & Honey Distillery in Israel

They were probably happy because it was 30°C and humid in Tel Aviv that day (like most days there during summer). Tal previously worked in various roles for Diageo, while Tomer worked at Tomintoul and Springbank, as well as completing his Master Distiller degree two years ago. After introductions, sitting in front of a webcam in an office, the lads leapt up to take us on a tour of the facility, Tal trailing Tomer with a smartphone. Technology eh!?

We wandered through the small visitor centre/bar, taking in the striking black and yellow colour scheme of M&H, before stumbling out into a sprawling, maze-like facility that used to be home to a bakery. Tal remembered visiting it when he was young and the pervasive aroma of the baking bread – “One good smell traded for another!” quipped Ian.

Tomer showing us the water and grain intake areas out in the M&H backyard

We visited the backyard, where water from the municipal supply arrives and is mixed with salts, the grain mill, the locally made one-tonne mash tun and the four large washbacks (two more are already in the pipeline). The usual fermentation time is 72hrs, but this drops to about 68hrs during summer. Interestingly, at least from an Australian perspective, the distillery doesn’t operate on the weekend because it is kosher, observing the Jewish Shabbat.

Tomer explaining the M&H mash tun and fermenters

Next up were the stills, a 9000L beauty of a copper wash still that the team found in a shed in Romania, but probably originated in Spain, and a custom-built 3000L copper spirit still from Germany. Apparently they thought the wash still was rather smaller based on it’s picture, but it turns out the door it was sitting next to was actually a massive barn door. The lyne arms slope down at 45° angle to produce a very oily newmake that holds up well under fast maturation. Nearby was a small 250L copper pot belly/onion head still used for gin production.

The M&H stills – a 9000L wash still found in Romania and a 3000L spirit still custom made in Germany

For the final part of the tour we were taken into the warehouses. #1 housed 200 or so privately owned casks, while #2 and #3 were home to a further 2000-odd production casks, looking very spiffy in M&H livery, with their black heads and yellow lettering. Most were ex-bourbon, but there were some other very curious editions that we’ll come back to shortly.

Tomer showing us around the M&H warehouses

Back in the office, Tal and Tomer took us through a screen-shared presentation that delved further into the brand. The name of the distillery comes from the description of the Jewish promised land in the Bible as “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3). The logo, a bull with black and yellow stripes, further references this (apparently they tried a cow first, but it just didn’t look as cool).

Stats! Get your M&H stats here!

Climate plays a massive role for whisky maturation in Israel. For a country that is only 420km long and 115km wide, there are actually five distinct climate zones: Upper Galilee, Jerusalem Mountains, Mediterranean Coast, Desert and the Dead Sea, a collective described by M&H’s late mentor, Dr Jim Swan, as the ‘Climate Playground’. M&H make use of this and age barrels in various locations around the country, with interesting results.

For a small country, Israel sure has a lot of different climate zones

For example, we were shown two bottles of whisky that were produced at the same time using identical spirit and barrels, but one aged in Tel Aviv on the coast and the other at the Dead Sea (which is 430m below sea level but very dry). The results were incredible, with the Dead Sea dram markedly darker than the Tel Aviv one. Even Jerusalem, which is only “45 minutes and 3000 years” away from Tel Aviv according to Tal, produces noticeably distinct results due to the difference in altitude (754m).

What happens when you age the same spirit at the Dead Sea (L) vs the Med Sea. Check out that colour difference!

In terms of barrelling, the majority are ex-bourbon and STR (‘shaved, toasted and re-charred’, a technique developed by Dr Jim Swan), which develop lots of character in the first year before balancing out. Beyond this, more interesting casks such as locally produced kosher wine barrels are used, which is fitting, as according to Tomer “we have a 4000yr old wine culture, so it’s part of our DNA.”

They also have a seasoning project running in Spain with a Bodega that is able to produce kosher Pedro Ximenez and Olorosso sherry. Probably the most interesting barrels in use have previously held pomegranate wine, which according to Tomer is a signature Israeli flavour.

The whisky we were sent with our tasting pack was M&H’s ‘Classic Cask’, a 3yo aged in 75% ex-bourbon, 20% ex-red wine STR and 5% virgin oak and bottled at the magical 46% ABV. To me the nose was oily, creamy and gooey, with peach, apricot, custard, butterscotch and marshmallow, while the mouth was dry, with toasted timber and wine. It was really different to anything I could think of, which I suspect was a product of the unique Israeli terroir and climate, but I really liked it.

Speaking of the climate, the high daily temperatures and humidity and cool night develop huge amounts of action in the barrels, meaning that maturity is reached very quickly. There is a price to be paid though, as the angels’ share is around 9-11% annually (and can even be as high as 25% in areas like the Dead Sea!!!). Ideally Tal and Tomer would like to see their larger barrels reaching around 4-7 years in Tel Aviv and 4 years in other areas.

As well as the Classic Cask, the other drams in the core range will include ex-sherry, ex-wine and peated (using peated barley from the Czech Republic). Additionally, there will also be a revolving special edition range featuring interesting editions such as the ex-pomegranate casks and Israeli ex-chardonnay casks from the Jerusalem mountains.

The tour ended with a tasting of M&H’s Levantine gin, made using za’atar (a ancient native oregano), and their barrel aged gin under the cheerful gaze of Oded Weiss, M&H’s gin specialist. While Tal rustled up some G&T’s garnished with orange peel and fresh thyme, the team took some questions and reflected on the nature of their operation.

Ian McKinlay (R) from The Spirit Safe chatting with M&H’s Oded Weiss – Gin Specialist – (L) and Tomer Goren – Master Distiller

According to Tal and Tomer, in general Israeli consumption of alcohol is quite low, so M&H was founded with export in mind (which is lucky for Australia). “There aren’t really any rules in Israel around whisky production, so we decided to follow the most respected model out there, Scotland. That’s the reason we went for a whisky that was at least 3yo, as the international market would accept that more easily and allow us to build a solid reputation based on our quality.”

Tomer with the 200L M&H gin still

In Tal’s eyes, one of the major benefits of being a craft distillery, particularly in Israel, is the flexibility: “We throw ideas around as a team, like ‘wanna do a rum cask? Yeah, let’s do that!’. It’s about running ahead and thinking outside the box.” Tomer agrees: “Where we live is the culture capital of Israel and we’re able to draw influence from all over the world. Tel Aviv itself means ‘old ruins’ and ‘spring’, which I think is a reflection on how we make our whisky. It’s traditional ways with crazy new ideas.”

L-R: Milk & Honey Distillery’s Levantine Gin, Barrel-aged Gin & Classic Cask Whisky

As Ian brought the session to a close, I reflected on the experience I had just had. I’ve been to internet tastings before, but I still think it was pretty amazing that I was able to sit here in Tassie, with everything that’s been going on in the world lately, and ‘visit’ a distillery in Tel Aviv in real time, something that I would probably never have a chance to experience otherwise (you never know though…). I suspect that live online events will become a staple in the future and allow the whisky community to connect with each other and share their passion in new and creative ways.

If there’s a silver lining to come out of COVID-19, it’s that what’s keeping us apart might just bring us together across the world like never before. And these days, that can only be a good thing, right?

You can purchase Milk & Honey Distillery’s products in Australia from The Spirit Safe

Interview: Dean Druce and the Corowa Characters

Posted by: Ted

You know in sci-fi/superhero movies and comics how a certain event happens and suddenly strange things start to occur elsewhere? Like, a glowing, green meteorite crashes into Sydney and not long after a group of lads in rural New South Wales start to evolve in response? Maybe they even join forces as a team, with cool names (cos you gotta have cool names) and start to explore their powers? And of course, they have to have a rad lair to set up shop in.

The stuff of fiction? Maybe. But it was easy to draw comparisons with these elements when we caught up with Dean Druce from Corowa Distillery about the release of ‘The Corowa Characters’ single malt wine cask –

Corowa 4

Whisky Waffle: G’day Drucey, we recently got our hands on the Characters and it’s a cracker. On the side of the bottle are four caricatures sporting interesting names: The Boss, The Dreaded Distiller, The Fuzz and Muscles. Your website says the release ‘celebrates the people behind the whisky made here by us in Corowa’, but doesn’t really say who these guys are. Can you tell us a bit more about the lads hanging out on the side of the bottle?

Dean Druce: I’m the Managing Director, therefore I’m ‘The Boss’. [I’m also] the ‘ideas man’ as my favourite line is “I’ve been thinking……..”, at which point everyone starts to cringe.

Beau Schilg is the ‘Dreaded Distiller’ due to his hairstyle. The ‘perfectionist’ relates to how seriously he takes his craft of producing good spirit.

Tyler Spencer is our brewer. ‘The Fuzz’ likes his own jokes and comes up with lots of one-liners hence the ‘resident funnyman’.

Paul Miegel is our production manager. ‘Muscles’, like all good nicknames, came from a case of mistaken identity. It’s also his social media persona from hosting a 60sec episode each month on Facebook & YouTube titled ‘A minute with Muscles’. He has thousands of followers, thus the title of ‘social media influencer’.

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WW: Sounds like a solid crew. So were you all in it from the start/known each other for ages, or did people gradually come on board over time?

DD: When my father, Neil, bought the former Corowa Flour Mill for $1 from the local Council in 2010 [Ed. definitely a story to be explored at another time], I moved to Corowa to manage the business. I enjoyed playing AFL, so joining the local Corowa/Rutherglen FC seemed a good way to meet people and become part of the community. That’s where I met Beau.

As renovations continued, I asked around the club if anyone was interested in making whisky [and] Beau put his hand up. When we started distilling in 2016, the ‘Dreaded Distiller’ was born. [He was] one of the youngest distillers in the country at the time.

Tyler is the son of a local football hero and a good player in his own right. He was looking for a career change and we were looking for a brewer so he joined the team.

‘Muscles’ was one of the original investors when we started the distillery and with a background in pharmacy. Once we had whisky for sale, he became the production manager.

WW: What’s the vibe like at the distillery?

DD: With the majority of our workforce under 30yo, there is a natural energy that radiates from younger people. The four guys all get along well and there is always good banter around the distillery. Being such a young distillery, there is lots of excitement about the future.

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Image supplied

WW: What’s living and distilling in a small country town like Corowa like?

DD: Initially the town was really excited… then frustrated as they discovered how long it took until there was product [ready]. The benefit of a small town is that everyone knows us and recommends us to their friends and visitors as a place worth checking out.

All our whiskies have a local connection and we couldn’t think of anything more local than the guys that put it together. It’s as much about putting Corowa on the map as it is about the whisky itself.

WW: What’s important to you as a team?

DD: We are deadly serious about making a great product, but by the same token, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We like to do things a little bit differently, be a bit cheeky about the snobbishness of the industry, but respectful of its history.

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Image supplied

WW: Compared to a lot of Aussie whiskies, especially on the smaller scale, the Characters is insanely good value. It’s definitely Corowa in style, but much softer and more forgiving than something like the Bosque Verde (Whisky Waffle whisky of the year 2019), so we think that it will appeal to a broader audience. What made you decide to release this as a sub $100AUD whisky rather than in that $150-$200AUD sort of bracket?

DD: The Australian whisky market is maturing (in taste!) at a rapid rate. When [Sydney outfit] Archie Rose released their beautifully presented Rye whisky at $120, they changed the expectation of the market. We decided that if we wanted to remain “in the game”, as well as giving our profile a significant boost, we needed to establish a product true to ourselves at a price that both we, and the consumer could afford.

WW: Do you think that having a whisky at that more accessible price point will encourage people to try something different and get away from the Scotch?

DD: A significant percentage of visitors to our distillery are not regular whisky drinkers at all, but rather tourists looking for something different. Our heritage-listed building, chocolate sales, cafe and distillery provide a unique experience. By providing an approachable, value product we are able to introduce non-whisky drinkers to the industry, and the Australian style, thus growing the Australian market.

WW: In terms of the whisky itself, where are the wine barrels sourced from, and what type?

DD: The barrels are predominantly from the Barossa, with some from Rutherglen. Most have housed Shiraz wine, but we are experimenting with Pinot Noir, Durif and some white wine varieties.

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WW: Were you looking for particular characters [Ed. ha ha] when you created this expression? Were you even consciously looking, or did it just turn up like that and you thought ‘yep, that’s a goer’?

DD: If you are going to produce a value product, barrel cost is a significant factor. Wine casks proved to be the best value at the time (remembering we are only a young distillery) and wineries often use both French and American oak. By chance, we also happened to procure some Hungarian Oak wine casks around the same time.

When tasting the barrels, we got some sweet fruit, and spice from the Shiraz together with slightly different characteristics from the [various] oaks. We experimented with different ratios and decided on one that gave a nice balance between the vanilla flavour from American oak with the “cigar box” characteristic of French oak and the [unusual] characteristic of Hungarian Oak.

WW: Nice, we also get earthy, boozy dried fruits and timber on the nose with a juicy, tannic mouth feel. It’d be a good summer drinker for sure. What’s up next then?

DD: Our smokey whisky, using smoked barley imported from Scotland, is due for release in mid 2020 and is showing great promise.

If you’re traveling near Corowa make sure you stop in and have a chat with Drucey and the team. Check out their range of whiskies online here.

Note: this interview has been edited for length and clarity

★★★

Destination Cellars Arran tasting night in Burnie (or, Legless at the Chapel)

Posted by: Ted

The other night I grabbed my crutches (see here for that particular whisky-fuelled drama) and hobbled down to The Chapel Cafe in Burnie for a spot of whisky tasting. While my wife was still suspicious of my ability to stay upright after a few cheeky drams, I on the other hand was confident and keen not to miss out on sampling the range of Arran whiskies being offered by Destination Cellars that night.

Photo: Todd Morrison

Destination Cellars is a family-run business based in Hobart, offering a huge range of whiskies (and other drinks) and regularly holds tasting nights showcasing various products. Todd Morrison from Destination had made the trek up to the North West, glad to leave “the monsoonal conditions in Hobart” behind. Todd revealed to the crowd of 20-odd attending the tasting that Burnie had been the site of a certain important life event for him. It was at the ‘luxurious establishment’ (his words) called the Burnie Caravan Park that a young Todd tried whisky for the very first time. In town as part of a sporting tour, the weather was poor, so a bottle of Grants was procured to liven up the night. A game of spin-the-bottle ensued and a wretched Todd didn’t touch the golden spirit for another 20 years. Luckily he’s cured now apparently.

Also along for the ride and to share his knowledge of the Arran was industry stalwart, top bloke and bona-fide Scotsman Craig Johnstone. He’d been to Burnie before, but was a little surprised at the current municipal decorations littering the streets, quipping “what’s with all the trollies everywhere?” (Answer: probably ships’ crews coming into town from the port to do their shopping and dumping the trollies afterwards). Craig mentioned that the drive up had made him again appreciate the similarities between Tassie and Scotland, although apparently “the mosquitos here are much worse than the midges back home”.

We finished off with the Arran Gold, a whisky cream liquer

On offer that night were six drams from Arran Distillery (as well as Andrew’s excellent peated ale, definitely worth a try if you visit The Chapel). Craig whipped up a hand-drawn map to show everyone the location of the Isle of Arran, down off the South West coast, using handy references to help us home in on it, such as: “Edinburgh, here, is where all the best people are from, while Glasgow, here, is where all the idiots live” and “if the Campbeltown region is the bell-end of Scotland, then the Isle of Arran is the nut sack”.

First up was the Lochranza Reserve 43%, Arran’s basic workhorse, a NAS marriage of 1st- and 2nd-fill ex-bourbon casks. Named after the distillery’s home town on the north of the island, the Lochranza was sweet and grassy on the nose, while the mouth was buttery, with citrus, red jelly and a chewy caramel finish. Nothing really to write home about, but serviceable as a basic dram.

Checking out the colour

Before we got stuck in too much, Craig led us through some whisky drinking basics with his five step assessment. First up we eyeballed the glass and took note of the colour, which “nine times out of ten means bugger all, but holding the glass up to the light really makes you look professional!” Next we sleazily checked out the legs running down the side of the glass, which apparently “some people reckon they can use to tell the maker, cask type, age and what the distiller had for breakfast. If you meet someone like that, don’t get in a car with them because they’re definitely pissed.” The remaining steps, nosing, tasting and the finish, were completed studiously and without incident by the crowd.

Next up were two wine cask finishes, the Amarone 50% and the Côte-Rôtie 50%. Both are part of the Arran ‘Cask Finishes’ range, with the Lochranza used as a base before being finished in various wine casks (others include Sassicaia and Sauternes) to create limited edition releases. While both are red wines, the Amarone and the Côte-Rôtie imparted very different flavours on the spirit. The Amarone was dry and earthy on the nose, with a hint of grapes and damp moss, while the Côte-Rôtie was sticky and jammy, with quince paste and arrowroot. On the mouth, the Amarone was fruity, almost like Starburst chews and had a finish reminiscent of Cognac, while the Côte-Rôtie was very sharp, with almond paste, maraschino cherries and a salt water finish. Craig noted that Arran goes for wide, shallow flavour in its spirit, then uses the finishes to create depth.

Todd whips the troops into a frenzy. Photo: Craig Johnstone

The fourth dram on offer was something a bit special, the limited edition Master of Distilling II: The Man With the Golden Glass 51.8% (the releases are themed – last time was Hitchcock apparently). Created by Master Distiller James McTaggart (who Craig knows and apparently likes ‘shit beer, great whisky and fine wines’) to celebrate his 12th anniversary with Arran, the 12yo whisky is finished using rare Palo Cortado sherry casks. Craig was quite enthused about the unusual finish, noting “this isn’t a thermonuclear sherry bomb missile, but it is one of the weirdest sherry cask whiskies I’ve ever had.”

The flavour was indeed interesting, with hazelnuts, damp leaf litter, ginger snap biscuits, chocolate brownie, oiled metal and raisins on the nose. The mouth was biscuity with salted caramel, sultanas, and liveliness that ran right across the palate. The sherry finish was very distinct, with Craig commenting that it was “the most honest sherry-influenced whisky I’ve ever had”. It’s something that’s definitely worth a try if you come across it.

Not visible: my broken leg propped up on a chair. Photo: Todd Morrison

After we had finished dissecting the Master of Distilling II, we were ordered by Todd to “get your pipes and smoking jackets, because we’re going to slip into some peaty whiskies”. Machrie Moor, a peat bog on the western side of the island, gives its name to Arran’s range of peated whiskies. Todd admitted that he wasn’t always the biggest fan of peaty whiskies: “There’s warnings in nature – colours, smells and flavours that say ‘stay away!’. That was peated whisky to me.” These days he’s a convert and was keen to get stuck in.

The two Machrie Moor expressions on offer were essentially the same, but one was bottled at 46% while the other was a cask strength at 56.2% (to appeal to the French market apparently). According to Craig, back in the day most of the distilleries on Arran were illicit and made heavily peated whiskies as peat was the only fuel source, but now the style is the exception.

The smoke in the 46% was soft on the nose with a medicinal/rubbery texture and a hint of metal and smoked fish. In comparison, the cask strength was oily and resinous, with an intense aroma of freshly sawn timber, almost like Huon pine, followed by vanilla milkshake, home-made marshmallow and sea stones. On the mouth, the 46% was sweet and light, with raspberries on the fore and a curl of smoke on the finish, while the cask strength was hot and bright, with smoky bacon and smouldering green coastal vegetation. Both were very moreish, and the delicate 46% would make a great whisky to start a peat novice on.

Craig gets loose with the gang. Photo: Todd Morrison

At the end of the night the hosts took a vote to see what everyone’s favourites were, with Todd drily commenting that “this is going to be a somewhat North Korean voting system. The end result doesn’t actually matter, but we’re going to make you do it anyway”. Despite voter confusion and some potential rigging, every dram got some love, but the runaway winner was the Master of the Distilling II, with the cask strength Machrie Moor the runner up.

The night was a great success, particularly because I managed to get home again without breaking my other leg. Thanks to the enthusiasm shown by the local whisky fans, Destination Cellars will be back at the Chapel again on September 21 with a new range of whiskies, potentially lining up a selection of sherry bombs. Big thanks as always to Andrew at The Chapel Cafe for supporting whisky events in Burnie, to Destination Cellars for inviting me along as their guest, and of course to Todd and Craig for being damn fine hosts.

Photo: Todd Morrison

See you all next time!

Scotland 2018: The Ultimate Whisky Adventure – Part Four

Posted by: Nick

In July 2018 I realised the ultimate Waffler’s dream and spent nine days travelling whisky’s motherland. I did not waste a moment.

9 days: 20 distilleries.

PART FOUR: Islay – the east and the north

WW 0 still

If I were to be completely honest with myself, I would admit that three of my top five distilleries in Scotland are just outside of Port Ellen. If I were to be even more completely honest then I would revise that to three of top three. And these three, the holy trinity of Islay, were to be my destination on my final full day in Scotland. As all three were within a short walk of one another I coined this day as ‘the world’s greatest pub crawl’. The only question was, where to start? Due to a combination of tour times and proximity to my accommodation (a three-minute walk, no less) I began my epic day at Laphroaig.

WW 1 Lap

The tour was in-depth and the tastings phenomenal – three barrels were lined up ready to be valinched into our glasses – the first a quarter cask on steroids, the next a 14 Year Old bourbon cask, before finally, the pièce de résistance, a 52% 14 Year Old whisky which had spent it’s time equally in bourbon and Amontillado sherry. I was fortunate enough to take home a 200ml bottle of the latter, and my colleague was suitably impressed. I also claimed the rent for my square foot of land and learned to pronounce Cairdeas (hint: think Steve Macqueen).

WW 2 casks

Fifteen minutes up the road was Lagavulin, a crucial distillery in Whisky Waffle history and I wasted no time ensconcing myself in their new tasting centre. While there are not many varied Lagavulin releases on the market, if you find yourself at the distillery then you’ll be treated to a range of rare special editions created for Feis Isle celebrations and Jazz festivals. The pick was the 54% Double Matured Distillery Exclusive. At this point of the day my tasting notes were starting to get creative. I have noted: “like sitting in a cart pulled by a noble steed. Or in a palanquin carried by muscular Persians sweating in the Arabian sun”.

WW 3 Laga

Unbelievably, the best was yet to come. Several things influence one’s enjoyment of a tour: the quality of the distillery (and therefore the whisky), the engagingness of the guide and the friendliness of the people on the tour with you. Well, once in a while the stars line up and you get all three, and that was the case with my Ardbeg ‘tour at two’, commencing, funnily enough, at two o clock. And it was one for the ages. Our guide, wee Emma (apparently there are two Emma’s who work at Ardbeg and we got the smallest – and the best!) was friendly and knowledgeable about peated whisky – an islander through and through. The tour itself was thorough but individualised – it didn’t feel like a re-tread of all that had come before. And the group was amazing. We settled ourselves down in a bond store for some tastings and when the drams started flowing (Grooves, Alligator and any number of single cask releases) we took it in turns to chat about our backgrounds, favourite drams and that first bottle that opened our eyes to whisky. We could have stayed there longer – but a knock on the door to the warehouse by the production boys alerted us to the fact it was 5 o clock and the tour was meant to have finished an hour ago. “Sorrynotsorry” was everyone’s response. It was a magical experience and one I feel truly reflects a wonderful distillery. I can say, hand on heart, it was the best tour of the trip and remains a fond memory in my Waffly heart.

WW 4 Ard

I woke the next day with a heavy heart. Partly because of the number of drams I’d consumed the previous day, but also because it was my final day on this spectacular island. My ferry left at 3pm which gave me just enough time to fill in the gaps I’d left. Despite feeling a little tender I could not resist tasting a few distillery exclusives at Caol Ila. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this giant distillery but what I found was a warm welcome and delicious whisky.

WW 5 CI

My welcome was just as warm at Bunnahabhain, who, despite building work preventing me from touring the distillery, gave me an extensive tasting (which I was able to transfer most of each glass into small bottles – my liver thanked me later) and fantastic conversation. It was one of the friendliest distillery experiences I’d had in the previous eight days and I cannot wait to go back and visit these guys again.

WW 6 Bunna

Then, before I knew it (after a sneaky couple of photos at Ardnahoe), I was back on the ferry and leaving Islay.

WW 8 Ard

I can say with certainty that my visit to Islay had been the pinnacle of my whisky journey. The people, the scenery and the peat gave it the edge, but despite the size of some of the operations it just felt like I was on a tiny whisky-centric island which hadn’t changed much since the first dram had been distilled there. Sitting on a small rise of land across the road from my Airbnb looking out at the view (Port Ellen on one side, Laphroaig distillery on the other) I felt as connected to a place as I ever had. The pun writes itself, but I truly mean it when I say it was a spiritual experience.

WW 7 Bunna

And thus my whisky journey was at an end. Despite Islay’s dominance in my writing, every aspect of the trip was phenomenal. As a whisky fanboy, the range of flavours across one little country inspired me. But the biggest impact was made by the people behind the scenes, making and promoting the drams I loved so much. Their warmth and generosity (and patience with all my questions) was a credit to the industry and made this Waffler very happy multiple times over.

So would I go back? Oh, you bet I would – in a heartbeat. I’d probably stick the anticlockwise trajectory – like the best tastings you’ve got to start with Speyside and end with Islay. I hit up some amazing distilleries and crossed off a few bucket list items, though left a few remaining (I’m looking at you Campbeltown, Orkneys and Edradour). If you’re about to embark on a trip to the motherland I absolutely recommend the anticlockwise direction and all of the establishments I found myself at – though I’m sure there are some wonderful places I missed (if so please let me know!). However, sitting on the train taking me towards Glasgow (Prestwick) airport I was a contented Waffler with a heart full of fulfilled dreams.

Crossroads WW

Read PART ONE here

Read PART TWO here

Read PART THREE here

Complete distillery list:

Glendronach

Balvenie

Glenfiddich

Aberlour

Glenfarclas

Cragganmore

Glenlivet

Macallan

Glen Moray

Benromach

Talisker

Oban

Bowmore

Bruichladdich

Kilchoman

Laphroaig

Lagavulin

Ardbeg

Caol Ila

Bunnahabhain

(Ardnahoe)

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 19: Fleurieu Distillery Atlantic Crossing 52%

Posted by: Ted

On the nineteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Fleurieu Distillery Atlantic Crossing whisky. The South Australian coastal distillery is back on the advent calendar again, with a nautically-themed drop. While the distillery actually sits on the edge of the Southern Ocean, the Atlantic Crossing name is meant to represent Fleurieu’s voyage into the unknown in search of the ‘promised land’, transitioning from brewery to distillery and tapping into new markets.

The lightly-peated cask-strength expression was aged in six 100L port casks before being released as a limited run of 800 bottles. The nose is deliciously rich and perfumed, with sandalwood, musk, salted caramel, chocolate orange and a delicate ashiness. The mouth is dry and hot, with cinnamon bark, allspice, orange liqueur, red apple, cocoa powder and a meatiness on the finish. A very sexy Australia cask-strength dram that is well worth a look if you can find it.

#whitepossumspirits

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 11: Deviant Distillery Anthology Batch 12 44%

Posted by: Ted

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Deviant Distillery Anthology Batch 12 single-malt spirit (nope, not a whisky). The brain-child of Tasmanian industrial chemist John Hyslop, Deviant Distillery is a bit of a rebel outfit in the local industry. John’s philosophy is that traditional distilling and aging practices are unfriendly to both the environment and the pocket through wastage in resources and product. His solution was to develop a proprietary reactor technology that allows him to artificially age malt spirit in 10-weeks to develop, what he claims to be, the character of a 10yo whisky.

Needless to say, the use of rapid aging technology has not been without some controversy within the local establishment. In Australia spirit must be aged under oak for at least two years to legally be called whisky, which is why Deviant has been careful to use the term single-malt spirit and avoid any reference to whisky, however opinions have still been divided. Because the process is secret I have no idea what timber has been used for the Anthology Batch 12, but what I do know is that it has been heavily peated (at least by Australian standards), which certainly plays out on the nose, but then underneath sits a young, raw grassy and melony note. The mouth is similarly youthful, with a Lisbon lemon peel body and an ashy, graphitey finish, a profile m’colleague suggests is a bit like a dirty limoncello. Look, it’s not whisky and might not be to everyone’s taste, but it is definitely worth a try for something different.


#whitepossumspirit

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 8: Fleurieu Whisky Kisses 55%

Posted by: Ted

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Fleurieu Whisky Kisses whisky. Fleurieu is the first contender from South Australia on the advent calendar and as far as I know, the only distillery in the country to have a logo featuring two small urinating boys (a bit like that famous fountain in Belgium). The rather romantic sounding name of the Whisky Kisses release comes from the name of the distillery’s first pot still, which in turn was derived from a mispronunciation of ‘whiskery kisses’ by the Gareth and Angela Andrews’ young sons.

Named for its location on the Fleurieu Peninsula, south of Adelaide, Fleurieu is a true coastal distillery, huddled a mere stone’s throw from the Southern Ocean, with the elements imbuing the aging spirit. The Kisses is fully aged in ex-port barrels and, in the best coastal tradition, has a light touch of peat to it. On the nose it is rich, fruity and nutty, with some bold, meaty undertones thanks to the port and the cask strength bottling, while the mouth is like a hot apple and pear tart spiced with cinnamon and a salty, slightly savoury, smoky finish. A cracking dram, complex and satisfying and one that by rights should be enjoyed next to a beach bonfire in the encroaching dusk on a hot summer evening.

#whitepossumspirits

Connemara Peated Single Malt

Reviewed by: Nick

Connemara

Thought that Scotland was the maker of all the peat bombs in world whisky? Well Connemera is here to prove that theory wrong. There really is nothing like a good peated whisky… and this is nothing like a good peated whisky. This is a different kind of peat altogether and although I’ve had this bottle for a fair while now, I’m still not sure if I like it…

Connemara, like most Irish Whiskeys, is not the name of the distillery. There is some conjecture here – while current releases clearly state ‘Kilbeggan Distilling Co’ on their label, my own bottle informs me it was made at Cooley Distillery, a good 120 km up the road. However, I haven’t been sold a fake – Kilbeggan and Cooley are both under the ownership of Beam Suntory and in possession of similar stills, meaning I assume the end product will taste fairly similar either way.

I want to get onto the tasting notes now, because unlike most other reviews I write, the flavours I’ve identified form an integral part of the point I’m trying to make. This whiskey is weird. On the nose I get a hugely specific tasting note – which Ted backs me up on (or at least humours me with). My tasting note is bicycle tyres. Yep. Bicycle tyres. Fresh new ones! It’s nutty, earthy and overall: rubbery. It’s an acquired smell if that’s a thing.

The palate presents some more conventional ham and cinnamon flavours, alongside, not fruit… but vegetables, though I can’t quite pin down which ones. Broccoli perhaps, or turnip maybe (I’ve avoided the Irish cliché of saying potatoes). The finish is where all the smoke can be found – again accompanied by a burnt rubber linger. It’s all a bit bizarre on the first taste… and the second… and the third…

Connemara is a world apart from the delicate floral whiskies produced by much of Ireland and for that I thoroughly commend it. However, as far as peated whiskies go, I think I’m going to have to award this round to Scotland.

★★

#IrishWhiskeyWeek

Talisker Port Ruighe

Reviewed by: Nick

Talisker Port Ruighe

Talisker does a lot of things consistently well. Being located on the Isle of Skye certainly helps – there is surely not a more spectacular cross section of scenery to be found anywhere in Scotland. Offering exclusively peated drams also comes in handy. There is nothing that guarantees dependable yumminess like a distinctive smoky swirl through all available products.

And then there are the little things. Talisker’s packaging is always beautiful, their individual bottling names are always evocative and their non-cask strength releases almost exclusively sit at a beautifully balanced 45.8%.

All of the above is true about the Talisker Port Ruighe. And yet… and yet… This one is more than a little different. The clue is in the name, Port Ruighe being somewhat of a non-sexual double entendre. Not only is it the Gaelic spelling of Skye’s largest (and candidate for Scotland’s prettiest) town, Portree, but it has also spent the last part of its barrelled life in ex-port casks. And it is this point of difference that makes the Port Ruighie stand out from the Talisker pack.

The nose is typical Talisker. Sweet. Peat. Chocolate. Salt. A bit of orange. Basically what you’d expect from the 10 Year Old. It’s on the palate that this diverges. It’s a little rough and pleasantly ashy but alongside the smoke is burnt fruit, sticky raspberry jam and hints of Turkish delight. The port influence is clear for all to see and really rounds out the peat hit. The finish is surprisingly long with a bitter, perhaps tanninic, dark chocolate linger.

While Talisker do many things consistently well, one gripe I do have with the distillery is the up and down nature of their copious NAS releases. I can take or leave the Storm and the Skye but this one really provides enough contrast to justify the release of a 7 or 8 year old whisky. It really is the sweetest peat on offer on the Isle of Skye.

★★★

GlenDronach Peated

Reviewed by: Ted

Glendronach Peated

You know when you take one thing that is really good (like heavily sherried whisky) and combine it with another really good thing (like peated whisky) and the result is a winner? Well, strap yourselves in then, because you’re going to love The GlenDronach Peated Single Malt Whisky.

The GlenDronach distillery, nestled in the NE highlands of Scotland, is famous for its heavily sherried style of whisky, utilising Pedro Ximenez and Olorosso casks in all of its core range. These whiskies are rich, fruity and sumptuous, but one element they do not usually feature is smokiness.

This lack of smoke was not always the case though. Like many other old highland distilleries, The GlenDronach (founded 1826) originally used peat to dry its malt, however over the years the practise fell out of favour through a succession of owners and the rise of cheap coal. Indeed, the distillery was one of the last in Scotland to use coal power for its stills, right up until 2005 when it converted to steam.

Bucking the current The GlenDronach flavour profile and harking back to its roots is the Peated expression. Unusually for The GlenDronach, the Peated actually starts its life in ex-bourbon barrels before being transferred into the usual ex-PX and ex-Olorosso casks for finishing.

As such, while still being full of the warm, rounded, fruity characteristics usually associated with The GlenDronach, the Peated is perhaps a touch lighter in feel than usual. The nose evokes burnt marmalade, stone fruit, leather, almond and walnut. The smoke is soft, toasty and earthy, with none of the strong coastal elements that drive Ileach and Island peated whiskies.

The mouth presents a mixture of juicy sweet yellow and white stone fruits, honey, Turkish delight and toffee. The lighter flavours likely derive from the bourbon casking while the heavier ones draw from the sherry casking. The smoke lingers gently at the back of the throat on the finish.

The GlenDronach is an excellent example of how well peating can complement the rich flavours of sherried whiskies, particularly because the smokiness is well balanced in the dram. Peat-heads and sherry-bombers alike will find something to entertain and interest them and will likely keep being drawn back to sup from this particular fruit’n’smoke chalice time and time again.

★★★