Pete Bignell

Rye Reflections: my visit to Belgrove

Posted by: Nick

nick-n-belgrove-whisky-waffle

While casually scanning through the many varied barrels in the bond store end of Pete Bignell’s converted stables, I asked him what he thought his signature expression was. It was a tricky question – I mean, it must be hard to settle on just one drop in a place of such experimentation, innovation and creation. And he looked at me with a grin and told me that his signature expression was exactly that. Not a barrel type, or even a grain; but creativity. I guess when you think about it, what else could possibly link a champion sand sculptor with a leading whisky maker – but creativity?

As we continued to waltz through different age statements, grains, barrel types and peat levels (north-east peated malt: phwoar!) I realised that no two barrels were alike. Each one had its own history and its own story – and Pete knew ‘em all. It’s clear now that embracing the lack of uniformity and instead pursuing creativity is what Belgrove is all about.

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Belgrove Brown Rye

Reviewed by: Ted

Belgrove Brown RyeEverybody knows by now that Tasmania is a hub of whisky revolution. Ever since the resurrection of the industry in the 90’s, things have been taking off quicker than an alka-seltzer bottle rocket. So how do you innovate in a young industry that’s already innovating its socks off? Rye thought you’d never ask…

Founded by Peter Bignell, a man often described as a Da Vinci of distilling (well, he definitely is now), Belgrove Distillery is located just outside Kempton in the southern Midlands of Tasmania. DIY, organic and hand-made sums up Belgrove’s vibe, with Pete quite literally crafting everything from the ground up, including the stills, barrels, biodiesel (made from left-over chip oil from the local take-away and used to power the stills) and of course the grain used in the whisky itself.

The grain is where Belgrove really makes its point of difference from all the other Tasmanian distillers. Why use boring old barley when you can use rye instead, organically grown on-site? After growing a bumper crop of the stuff on the farm in 2008 (a favourite grain of the Canadian distillers but not used in Tassie), Pete was apparently inspired to turn it into whisky. Being a extraordinarily talented and driven individual, one thing led to another and here we are today.

Belgrove now produces a number of different 100% rye drops, including white rye, black rye, peated rye and of course, the subject of this review, the brown rye.

The nose of the brown rye is dark and fruity, full of ripe apple, plum and apricot. It rather reminds me of the scent of the bowl of home-made preserved stewed fruit my grandma always used to keep in her kitchen cupboard, a very fond memory. Alongside the fruit is rose petals, custard and an undertone of dull metal, like drinking from a rough copper mug.

The taste is quite different to the flavour complex produced by the nose. Although its body initially starts off fruity, it immediately transmogrifies into deep earthy, ashy flavours, like smouldering rye stubble in a paddock or curling incense smoke in a gypsy tent. The finish is slightly bitter and astringent but very satisfying, like having a cup of black tea after a sweet dessert.

Everything you thought you knew about Tasmanian whisky goes out the window when you try the Belgrove brown rye. It’s like learning to drink whisky all over again, an exciting time full of power and emotion. It is a spirit that resonates powerfully with the creative, hands-on ethos of its maker. If you want to try something different, yet still uniquely Tasmanian, then the rye of Belgrove awaits you.

★★★

Belgrove Brown Rye

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

#TasWhiskyWeek

2015 Waffle Awards

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Whisky Waffle Logo 1

Welcome one and all to the most prestigious imaginary awards ceremony in the world of whisky writing. The Waffle boys have ignored the Australian summer heat and donned their black tie to present a group of worthy winners with an assortment of atypical accolades. All winning whiskies have been sampled by the lads in 2015 for the first time – although surely (hopefully) not the last. So, ladies and gentlemen, please find your table, help yourself to the canapés and sit back and enjoy: the 2015 Waffle Awards.

1 The Isle of the Drammed Award Whisky Waffle

The Isle of the Drammed Award for the best Tasmanian Whisky

Yes, we are a Tasmanian-based whisky blog, so why not include an award to showcase drams made in our fine state? Especially when they are this good! So with no further ado, we are proud to announce that the Isle of the Drammed award goes to:

Heartwood: The Good Convict

2015 Heartwood The Good Convict whisky waffle

We don’t often see eye-to-eye with Jim Murray. But in the case of this cask-strength monster from the genius independent bottler Tim Duckett, both the Wafflers and the Whisky Bible writer are unanimous in our praise. I mean, what’s not to like about a 15 year old Sullivans Cove French-oak port barrel matured whisky at a humble 71.3%? It is stunning.

2 The Tartan Slipper Award Whisky Waffle

The Tartan Slipper Award for the best Scottish Whisky

Scotland is the spiritual home of whisky (see what I did there?). So it seems only fair to dedicate an award to it. Plus, then no cheeky English distilleries can take it away from them! The 2015 Tartan Slipper Award goes to:

Balvenie 21 Year Old Port Wood

2015 Balvenie 21 Port Wood whisky waffle

We make no bones here at Whisky Waffle Central that we love all things Balvenie, but they’ve really outdone themselves with the 21 Year Old Port Wood. Smooth, sensual and with a refined complexity that hits all the right buttons, this is definitely no every day drinker (unless you’re rich that is. Slosh down whatever takes your fancy m’lord.), but a perfect dram for celebrating that special occasion with the ones you love.

3 The Pocket Pleaser Award Whisky Waffle

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

Our bank accounts know all too well how expensive buying bottles of whisky can be. This award celebrates the bottles which we turn to time and time again because – well – we can afford to. It is not the best tasting whisky in the world. But likewise it is far from the worst. This year, The Pocket Pleaser Award goes to:

Glen Moray 12 Year Old

2015 Glen Moray 12YO whisky waffle

“Dear Whisky Waffle, I want to impress my friends by drinking single malts, but I am a poor uni student with only a blend budget to spare. What can I do?” Never fear, we are here to help. Meet your new best friend, the Glen Moray 12 Year Old, as far as we can tell the cheapest single malt Scotch going around. For less than the price of a bottle of JW Black Label you can have a bottle of bonafide Scottish single malt. Full of honey, butterscotch and gentle spices, it’s pleasant and easy to drink, perfect for the Scotch novice and budget-conscious drammer alike.

4 The Weirdsky Award Whisky Waffle

The Weirdsky Award for the most WTF whisky

The Weirdsky Award celebrates, unsurprisingly, weird whisky. The more bizarre the better. Trust us; we are always on the lookout for some unusual drams. But in 2015 the one that took the cake was:

New World Projects Ginger Beer Cask

2015 New World Projects Ginger Beer Cask whisky waffle

What on earth would whisky taste like if matured in ginger beer barrels? This was the question that we asked ourselves when purchasing this New World Projects creation on a whim. The answer, it transpires, was simple: ginger-whisky (gisky?). It is unlike anything we’ve ever tried, and we love it! We take our metaphorical hats off to the makers of Starward for their mad-scientist-like experimentation!

5 The Bill Lark Award Whisky Waffle

The Bill Lark Award for service to the Tasmanian whisky industry

Named after the godfather of Tasmanian whisky, The Bill Lark Award is not presented to a bottle but instead to a person who has worked tirelessly to make the whisky scene here in Tassie as special as it currently is. It gives us great pleasure to announce the 2015 winner of The Bill Lark Award is:

Peter Bignell

2015 Pete Bignell whisky waffle

“Renaissance man” seems to be the phrase that gets bandied about when talking about Peter Bignell, founder of Belgrove Distillery, but it’s well suited. A seriously talented individual, Pete has a true knack for innovation. “Hmm… who wants to make boring old barley based whisky, why not make it using rye? Or oats? May as well just grow it myself too, and dry it in this old tumble dryer I found. But instead of using electricity from the mains, I’ll power it using biodiesel that I’ll make myself out of cooking oil from the local takeaway shop. Should I build the stills myself too? Yeah, why not, and I can power them using the biodiesel. Coopering my own barrels, that doesn’t sound too hard, give it a crack eh? Simple. And just to keep things interesting, in my spare time I’ll be a world class sand sculptor.”

To be honest, Pete doesn’t just win the Bill Lark Award for the excellent whiskies he makes, his contribution to the Tasmanian industry or his stellar environmentally responsible ethos, but for just being a sterling example of a human being who we can all look up to. Good on ya mate!

6 The Golden Dram Whisky Waffle

The Golden Dram for the best dram whisky in the world

I don’t think anyone would be surprised to hear that we tasted a heck of a lot of whiskies in 2015. So choosing one that stands out as the best would surely be a nigh-on impossible task. Not so. There was little doubt in our minds as we sampled this dram that we had found the 2015 Golden Dram. Drum roll please. The winner of the Golden Dram in 2015 is:

Bruichladdich Aramone Cask 9 Year Old Micro-Provenance Series

2015 Bruichladdich Aramone whisky waffle

I (Ted) would like to start by quoting myself from the day we tried this epic dram: “This is one of the best things I have ever put in and around the vicinity of my face!” You just know instinctively when you meet one of those rare drams that make the stars align in the heavens. When sampling it we described it as a nose-masseuse, as wine-maturation as it should be done, and with an once-tried-never-forgotten finish – thanks in no small part to the 57% bottling strength. All credit to Bruichladdich for crafting such a well balanced, interesting and delicious whisky. It certainly made our year. Find a bottle (if you can track down one of the 500 that was made) and try it. Your face will thank you.

Honourable Mention: We couldn’t fit it into the awards but we have loved the Aussie port-monster that is the New World Projects Lui’s Bar release. Expect a review in 2016!

Dishonourable Mention: To keep things fair we included a dishonourable mention for a dram that deeply disappointed us throughout the year. And this year, unquestionably it was the Glenlivet Founders Reserve. Glenlivet – what were you thinking??? #SaveThe12

What did you think of our awards? Some good picks? Or are we totally full of it? And to what would you have awarded the Golden Dram? Let us know in the comments – it’s always a fun discussion!

2015 outtake 2 whisky waffle

 

An afternoon at The Angel’s Share

Reviewed by: Nick and Ted

As Tasmanians we tend to think that our locally produced whisky is rather great. Unfortunately, the opportunity to taste a good assortment of the state’s bottlings is fairly hard to come by, unless you happen to have really deep pockets or are friends with Jeff Kennett. Hold on, so why not open some kind of boutique store in a beautiful location, stocking a comprehensive range of Tasmania’s finest drams for people to sample at their leisure? Luckily, that is exactly what an enterprising ex-expat couple has done.

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Two Wafflers off with the angels

Louise Payne and Sam Humphries grew up in North West Tasmania but left the state to pursue the highlife in Sydney. But you know what they say: a change is as good as a holiday, and the couple swapped the nations’ largest city for a popular holiday destination: moving into an old bank building in the picturesque town of Stanley. Initially unsure of how to utilise their time, they saw an opportunity in the fledgling Tasmanian whisky market and seized it. Sam, member of local band ‘Charlie Don’t Surf’, described this business venture as: “riding the crest of a wave”.

Today the couple have transformed their old bank into a whisky drinking nirvana called ‘The Angel’s Share’, even converting the bank’s old safe into a whisky vault. As Stanley is only an hour’s drive from their hometown, the Whisky Waffle boys decided to pay Louise and Sam a visit – and sample a portion of their amazing range. Neither Waffler wanted to be designated driver, so they booked a cottage within stumbling distance of their destination. The only question when faced with an entire wall of Tasmanian whisky was: where to start?

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Sam Larking about

We decided to right a wrong and sample the wares of a distillery we had scarcely tried before: Belgrove. The creations of Tasmania’s mad scientist of whisky, Pete Bignell, were whiskies like we’d never tasted before and we were grateful for the opportunity to sample them. We then moved onto Nant, investigating some of their vatted malts: the Homestead and the Old Mill. After some musing we decided that, while pleasant, we preferred their cask-specific releases better.

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Small drams amuse small minds

What would a tasting of Tasmanian whisky be without Lark? We had a cask-strength face-off between the port and sherry-barrelled releases, which remained unresolved as Nick preferred the former while Ted the latter. Our languorous afternoon of whisky tasting concluded with the heavy hitting Heartwood. We’ve rarely seen such a range of Heartwood expressions – if you’re interested in trying Tim Duckett’s colossal creations, then this is the place to come. We tried the Devil in the Detail – Heartwood’s strongest release yet at a whopping 73.5% – and the Good Convict – a gorgeous Sullivans Cove-distilled number which we decided was probably the pick of the day.

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‘Hey baby, do you come here often?’

If you are curious to find out what Tasmanian whisky is all about, but you are unsure of what to purchase – or even where to start – then a trip to the Angels Share is a dram good idea. It gives you the rare opportunity of try before you buy thus avoiding spending large sums of money on whisky you don’t necessarily enjoy. The Tasmanian whisky industry and the bar have a symbiotic relationship: Louise and Sam will happily point you in the direction of distilleries you like, but the friendly atmosphere, stunning surrounds and of course the whisky itself will keep bringing you back to spend another lazy afternoon in the beautiful town of Stanley at the Angels Share.

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Louise giving us some support after an afternoon of sampling quality Tasmanian whisky