peat

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

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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.

★★★

Floki Young Malt Sheep Dung Smoked Reserve

Reviewed by: Ted

Floki Sheep Dung Matured

Iceland loves a good renewable energy source. Sitting out in the wild northern reaches of the Atlantic Ocean, approximately 900km away from the UK and Norway, means that the island is cut off from the major power infrastructure of the continent. Luckily Iceland has a red-hot spade tucked up its sleeve. Thanks to its position directly over the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the island is rife with volcanism (fun fact: apparently Iceland’s 30-odd volcanic systems have contributed around a third of global lava output over the past 500 years. The more you know eh?). Sure, this of course means there’s a decent risk of a fire mountain going boom and causing all sort of havoc (remember Eyjafjallajökull? And that was pretty small in historic terms as it turns out – check out Lakagígar), but the big upshot for the locals is that there are bag loads of geothermal and hydrothermal energy to tap into, with around 80% of energy production coming from these sources in 2016.

Iceland WW 7

Historically, like many other places in the region, the islanders would have probably burned peat as their energy source; around 10% of the island is actually covered in the stuff. These days people are generally more familiar with peat in the context of whisky making (or sticking it in the garden) rather than using it for heating or cooking, with places such as Islay and a number of other islands off the west coast of Scotland famed for their smoky drams. As it happens, Iceland has a couple of recently opened whisky distilleries, although only one has actually released any product.

Iceland WW 5

Eimverk Distillery, located in Reykjavík (unsurprisingly, seeing as about two thirds of the population lives in the capital region), are the makers of Flóki. While the official release hasn’t debuted at this point in time (the first release at 3yo is due in November 2017), Eimverk have previously tantalised the masses with a limited duty free pre-release for the Reykjavík International Airport. Thanks to my mother happening to be travelling in Iceland at the right time, we were amazingly able to try the Flóki Young Malt early last year and found it full of intriguing promise.

So, when I heard Eimverk had released a smoked version of their Young Malt I was instantly curious. The Icelanders have been smoking stuff like fish for centuries, so they should know a thing or two about the practise. Now, you would think that they would use local peat to smoke their locally grown barley, but not so. Well, I mean it’s not a particularly renewable source of energy now is it (peat bogs can take thousands of years to form, generally accumulating at an average rate of around 1mm per year)? And collecting it would mean digging up chunks of the astounding landscape that Iceland is famed for. So what was Eimverk’s creative solution?

You know what else Iceland has bag loads of, apart from renewable energy sources, interesting geology and indie bands that is? Sheep. First brought over by the Vikings circa the 9th or 10th Centuries, there are around 800 000 of them wandering about the island these days, approx. 2.5x the human population. Now sheep are a pretty good renewable resource – you can get wool, milk and meat from them, and they seem to do a rather good job of replenishing themselves with new little sheepies every year. There’s something else sheep make though, in great quantities every day: Shi… ahem, sorry, poo.

Iceland WW

As it happens, when you dry sheep poo you can set it on fire and use it as a fuel source. Humans have actually been practising this sort of pyroscatology (and if that isn’t a word then it damn well should be!) all around the world with all sort of interesting varieties of poo for millennia. If it has one flaw though, burning poo does tend to be rather smoky… which on reflection could be just the thing for smoking some barley! And that, my friends, is exactly what Eimverk have done!

Introducing: the Flóki Young Malt – Sheep Dung Smoked Reserve. Now, while you may find this all a bit weird, Eimverk note that in Iceland there has been a tradition of using sheep poo for smoking for centuries, so I think it’s only fair that we all remain open minded and give it a shot. Being rather geographically distant from the Reykjavík duty free, my initial excitement about this new release was somewhat tempered by the fact that it would probably be a very long time before I was able to try it. Therefore I was rather astounded (as was m’colleague when I whipped it out unannounced in front of him one night… the Flóki I mean!) to discover that I was able to source a bottle through local outfit Sigrún Whisky, who seem to specialise in Scandi drams.

Iceland WW 1

According to Eimverk, the Smoked Reserve is ‘a limited reserve of a selection of single barrel bottling (sic) from our distillery’. Visually the 500ml Smoked Reserve bottle is almost identical to the original Young Malt release: a dark textured label with the cool white runic design and angular font, although the background in this case is of rough homespun wool cloth, the only other real difference being a small red square on the cork seal.

The nose is very grassy and metallic; if Philip K Dick’s androids really do dream of electric sheep, then this would be the smell of the organometallic grass that the sheep are eating. There is also a big, punchy acidic layer, like mainlining a tin of pineapple, under which sits a fug of chocolate and leather.

The taste is sharp and hot, drying the tongue like strong citrus or tart fruit. Straight afterwards you get a sluggish hit of dull, ashy smoke. Think a pub any time before the smoking bans. Or perhaps it’s like walking past a smoking shed where they’re burning sheep poo (I can’t profess to have ever done so)? The finish is shiny and metallic, akin to drinking strong spirits from a cheap tin mug.

Iceland WW 6

Look, it isn’t the easiest whisky to drink admittedly, but then it isn’t really whisky is it? It hasn’t aged long enough to legally earn that title and it shows. Perhaps they used bigger barrels for the Smoked Reserve, so it hasn’t hit the same point of maturity at the same age as the original Young Malt was released at? I would definitely like to come back to this in a few years’ time and see what it’s like after the barrels have had time to work their magic.

As for whether the sheep poo was a good idea… well the flavour was definitely different to your normal smokiness in a whisky. But again, the spirit really needs to age further before we can properly judge the true subtleties of its nature. If you’re absolutely hell bent on possessing a unique Icelandic (almost) whisky then there can be no substitute for the Flóki Young Malt – Sheep Dung Smoked Reserve. For everyone else, perhaps give this one a miss for the time being and instead save your pennies for a trip to experience Iceland’s true natural wonders.

Iceland WW 8

Say what you will about the whisky – it’s a bloody beautiful place, isn’t it?

An ode to Islay

Posted by: Nick

port-ellen

Our week exploring the peated wonders of Islay has sadly come to a close. We’ve loved every drop and had some proper crackers. And lastly, we’ve reminisced about Islay itself – the beautiful Hebridean island which we would both return to in a heartbeat. To conclude our celebrations I wanted to share a poem I composed while on the island a few years ago. I was so taken with the place (and under the influence of several peated drams) that I thought I could only express myself in rhyme. Merry Christmas fellow wafflers!

Out in the Atlantic Ocean lies

an island of my hearts desire.

With salty air and peat smoke rife

the spiritual home of the water of life.

Its sunny skies and rugged coast

but friendly locals I’ll miss the most.

I’ll always long for that familiar burn

and hope one day I shall return.

A very waffly Christmas

#IslayWeek

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Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

bunna-18

I would like to start out by saying that I am a big fan of Bunnahabhain (so this review is not going to be biased in the slightest). Yes, we all know that Islay is famous for its heavily peated drams, but I have a definite soft spot for this gentle islander.

I’ve actually been to the distillery, a few miles up the coast from Port Askaig, but to my eternal discontent I haven’t actually done the tour as we were pressed for time and had several other tours booked that day. The buildings may look rather grey and foreboding, but the people are so friendly and warm. Please pop by and say hello to them if you get a chance.

I really got a taste for Bunna on the ferry on the way over to Islay because it was the dram of the month and they were pouring doubles. Standing on deck in the blasting wind and watching the islands of Islay and Jura hove into view with a warming glass of Bunnahabhain in hand definitely leaves a lasting impression on a lad.

While I may have cut my teeth on the Bunna 12 Year Old, I recently acquired a bottle of the 18 Year Old and tell you what, it’s pretty exceptional. Bunnahabhain dials back the peat hit in favour of softer, earthier flavours. The nose is rather like tramping around the rolling interior of the island, bringing forth moss, springy peat-laden soil, wind-twisted woods and the occasional gust of salty sea breeze (plus the colour is like the dark waters of the lochs that stud the landscape).

Other flavours floating through the air include roasted chestnuts, dark chocolate, spit roasted lamb with salt and rosemary, stewed quinces and brandy-soaked raisins (sherry casking par excellence).

The mouth is quite salty, but strikes an elegant balance, like a high quality piece of salted caramel served with delicate slices of pear poached in butter and sprinkled with brown sugar. The finish is rounded, warm and comforting, like curling up on a squishy couch in front of a glowing fire on a cold night.

While I rather enjoy getting smacked in the face with a massive slab of Ileach peat, there’s something about the softer side of Islay that keeps drawing me back again and again. One day I will return to Bunnahabhain and explore it properly, but until then I will sit back with a glass of the 18 Year Old, close my eyes and be transported back to one of the most magical places in the world.

★★★★

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Kilchoman Machir Bay

Reviewed by: Nick

kilchoman-machir-bay

2012 edition

Kilchoman is (was?) the first new distillery built on Islay in 120 years. The drawback of this is that it comes without centuries of tradition. But the positive – it comes without centuries of tradition! Meaning it can do whatever the hell it likes! This perspective can’t help but bring to mind a few producers closer to home which claim to be slices of Scotland in Tasmania. Well, I’m going to make a big call: Kilchoman Distillery is a slice of Tasmania – in Scotland!

Like Tasmanian distilleries such as Redlands, it attempts to keep the entire whisky making process on the one site, paddock-to-bottle style. While this is hard to achieve across their whole range, their lightly peated ‘100% Islay’ expression is created exactly as it sounds: entirely on Rockside Farm, home of Kilchoman.

Also like Tassie, Kilchoman can’t be bothered waiting for 12 years to release their product, so bottles its range under titles of various landmarks: heavily sherried Sanaig, entirely sherried Loch Gorm and the subject of today’s review, the Machir Bay, which is a marriage of some oloroso matured whisky with a greater amount of ex-bourbon whisky.

Often drinking younger whisky from Scotland can be likened to snuggling with a Pitt Bull, but for peated whisky it just seems to work. The smoke tames the beast and compliments its occasional snarling. The Machir Bay is no exception.

The smoke is clearly apparent on the nose, however there are also sweeter creamier notes of hazelnut and coffee. On the palate the Machir Bay takes a while to get going – initially gentle before building into a fiery roar, a clear sign of its young age. Flavours of vanilla and green grapes can be found, shrouded in huge gusts of smoke.

While this is a tremendously exciting dram, I get the impression that it’s still a work in progress and that when I check back on a later release in a few years time that it will have come on in leaps and bounds. However, just like Tasmanian whisky, it is one step on a journey – and one I’m very happy to have checked out.

★★★

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Bowmore Darkest 15 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

bowmore-darkest-15

This is the whisky that restored my faith in Bowmore.

I always used to regard Bowmore as the poor cousin of Islay. Sure, they have the history and the location… but there was never any point buying a bottle of the 12 Year Old when you considered what was available down the road in Port Ellen.

However, it was a taste of the Bowmore Darkest 15 Year Old (offered to me at Auchentoshan Distillery of all places!) that turned my head. It took me one sip to realise that this dram took elements of the peat monsters and sherry bombs I loved so much and combined them into one satisfying package. It has after all spent 12 years in ex-bourbon barrels before being transferred into first fill ex-oloroso casks for a further three. All of which was spent on Islay, soaking up that iconic sea breeze. This is a process which could have gone horribly wrong – too much in either direction could have ruined the whisky. But you know what? They absolutely nailed it.

On the nose the peat hits you immediately, though it’s not as in-your-face as other Islay drops. This would potentially displease me if it were not for the joyous abundance candied fruitcake aromas that follow it! It is certainly a nose that begs you to take a sip. When you do, you discover a rich chocolately palate with elements of raisins and caramel. It all combines to form the impression of the chewy toffee-like remnants left at the bottom of a tin of freshly baked sticky date pudding. The finish is where most of the smoke can be found. There is plenty of it, although not enough to mask the sweeter Christmas pudding flavours of the palate. All up it is, at least in my opinion, a perfectly balanced drop.

This whisky is a good demonstration of the dangers of forming an opinion about a distillery without sampling a range of their products. I could have easily passed this one up without trying it, writing it off as another underwhelming Bowmore. But if I had I would be missing out on one of the most perfectly balanced whiskies Scotland has to offer.

★★★★

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Port Charlotte Scottish Barley Heavily Peated

Reviewed by: Nick

port-charlotte-sc-hp

It’s a fun bit of whisky trivia that Port Charlotte whisky is not actually made by the long-since-closed distillery of Port Charlotte. Instead, this particular drop is made by Bruichladdich Distillery as a tribute to their heavily peated ex-neighbours.

Jim McEwan, Bruichladdich’s head distiller at the time of this dram’s inception, wanted to recreate the flavour that the legendary old distillery was famous for. He tracked down a now 90 year-old former employee of Port Charlotte distillery and asked him what the whisky tasted like. “Aye,” said the old man, “aye, it tasted good.”

I for one certainly cannot deny that the product Jim has created to bear the Port Charlotte name tastes “good”. In fact, if I were to give my tasting notes in a solitary word, I would simply say: bacon. And everyone loves a bit of bacon, right?

Of course, this site is called ‘Whisky Waffle’, not ‘Whisky-we’ll-keep-it-brief-ok’. Apart from the latter sounding silly, we’ve found that we do rather like to bang on a bit with pretentious tasting notes. Speaking of which, this whisky has a nose like an Australian barbecue. Barley peated to 40 parts per million ensure smoke and cooked meat flavours waft oh-so-unsubtly over peppery notes and a dash of dark chocolate.

The palate is pleasantly spicy – no doubt an influence of the slightly higher bottling strength of 50%. The flavours on offer include salami, smoked salmon and of course, the aforementioned bacon. The meat theme lingers long after the whisky is gone, leaving the sensation of having polished off a particularly satisfactory scotch fillet (pun well and truly intended).

The release of the Port Charlotte range by Bruichladdich has rekindled an interest in the history of the grand old distillery and there have even been talks about building a new facility on the old site. However, this project seems to have stalled for the time being with no updates as to whether it might go ahead. Fortunately, thanks to this particular whisky, we have access to the next best thing: a dram that, seventy years from now, we can reflect on and happily label it as “good”.

★★★

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Reflections on a visit to Islay

Posted by: Nick

nick-port-ellen-lighthouse

It is no exaggeration when I say that the isle of Islay is, without a doubt, my favourite place that I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. The quaint lime washed houses of Port Ellen, the spectacular coastline and beaches, the stark peat bogs and the friendly locals waving as you drive by all combine to create a coastal utopia. And then there’s the whisky. Ah… the whisky…

There is a reason that drams made on this Hebridean isle are famous the world over: they taste like nothing else on earth. Smoky, salty, oily and fiery as hell itself. On my first (gloriously sunny!) day upon the island I visited Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig: the worlds’ ultimate pub crawl. In the evening I lay down on the sand at Kintra Beach and watched the sun go down with a belly full of South-Ileach whisky. There  was not a more content man on the planet.

The next day I stood beneath the distinctive Port Ellen lighthouse, looked across the bay and felt more connected to a place than I have ever experienced in my life. I would go back today. I would drop everything. Just for one more whiff of that peaty air. Just for one drop of that liquid aptly described as the water of life.

nick-content

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