Peter 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

Whisky Waffle celebrate Tasmanian whisky

Posted by: Nick and Ted

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

Wafflers with waffles

Whisky Waffle are thrilled to help kick off the inaugural Tasmanian Whisky Week, an event we are sure will capture the hearts and minds of the whisky loving public. Throughout the week we will be showcasing a different Tasmanian drop each day and exploring the huge variety of flavours on offer in our small state.

From Hobart to Burnie, the week will be a celebration of the history, the people and of course, the amazing whisky itself. But what is it exactly that makes Tasmanian whisky worth celebrating? To answer that, we asked the people who know best, the folk working in and contributing to the whisky industry in our home state.

We turned first to the (designated) drivers and organisers of Tas Whisky Week, the beautiful Jane Overeem and the beautifully bearded Brett Steel:

Jane Overeem

Jane Overeem

Jane Overeem, Overeem brand ambassador and coordinator of Tas Whisky Week:
The authenticity, love and passion behind every brand – which results in amazing quality products!

Brett Steel, Drink Tas founder and coordinator of Tas Whisky Week:
The stories and the people! Whisky is being made all over the country now, but Tasmania is and always will be the homeland of Australian whisky. When Bill Lark got the laws changed in 1992 it ignited something in many of the island folk. Whisky production with the old-world techniques is a passionate affair and a patience game. I think Tasmanians value both of these elements; we are in no rush. Great whisky can’t be hurried, and where others may be focusing on scale and technology, I think the execution of Tasmanian whisky-craft is down to the pioneers in Tasmania who were hungry enough to make it happen in the first instance, and generous enough to teach others their technique. And because of that drive, that’s why Tasmania produces exceptional whisky, time and time again. I hope Tasmanian Whisky Week becomes a celebration of their story.

Next we spoke to the head distillers from two of Tasmania’s most influential distilleries, Lark and Hellyers Road, about their aspirations to be the next James Bond… and about whisky:

Chris from Lark

Chris Thomson

Chris Thomson, Lark head distiller:
Ask anyone who works in the industry and you will always come back to the people. Tasmanian whisky is built on an incredible brother and sisterhood where we are all just celebrating whisky, enjoying it with friends and family and trying to make each dram better.  As an industry we help each other out and share in each other’s success, usually with a whisky in hand! The thing I love about Tasmania’s distilleries is we are all just small enough that you might see this relationship in action. So what is it that makes Tasmanian whisky worth celebrating? It’s the same thing that makes whisky worth celebrating; the great people you meet over a dram.

Mark Littler

Mark Littler

Mark Littler, Hellyers Road head distiller:
Tasmanian whisky has come so far in such a short period of time and to be having our single malts recognised and distributed globally is certainly something to celebrate!

Tasmania’s down-to-earth whisky alchemist, champion sand sculptor and 2015 Bill Lark Award recipient provided some sage advice about our local industry’s lo-fi nature:

Pete Bignell

Peter Bignell

Peter Bignell, Belgrove head distiller and whisky alchemist:
It is all hand made in small batches. We don’t rely on computers to tell us when to make the ‘cuts’; it is all done by nose and taste. If it doesn’t smell or taste right then it does not go into a barrel – or come out of the barrel. We all use alembic pot stills that are inefficient at separating alcohol from the vapours in the still, but we exploit that inefficiency to bring exciting flavours along with the alcohol. It is all about flavour, not volume.

Two of Tassie’s newest members to the family got straight to the point about what goes into making a good Tasmanian whisky… literally:

Chris Condon, Launceston Distillery head distiller:
It’s a little bit of Tassie in a glass. Local grain and water, crafted into full flavoured whiskies by passionate people.

Damien Mackey by Paul County

Damien Mackey (photo by Paul County)

Damien Mackey, Shene Estate head distiller:
Tasmanian Whisky is a perfect storm: world-class barley and water, an ideal climate, time-tested methodology, passionate people and the steady hand of an intrepid leader, Bill Lark.’

Fifth Beatle and third Waffler, Alex ‘Moorsey’ Moores gave us a Braveheart-esque speech on the merits of the Tassie drop:

Alex Moores, founder of Dramatic Drams and Whisky Waffle guest reviewer:

Tasmanian whisky is all about the craft. Nowhere else did any anyone have the bravery and foresight to do something so momentous on such a small scale. You don’t do that because you want to take people’s money. You do it because you think those people are missing out on something truly great. Every detail matters to Tasmanian whisky distillers. Other distilleries in the world are built to even out the crinkles in their product; make a lot and hide its imperfections. Tasmanian whisky finds beauty in the chaos of variation; it makes something delicious, then breaks the mould and does it all over again.

Finally, the co-presidents of the Tasmanian Whisky Appreciation Society gave us vastly different (but equally accurate) responses about why Tasmanian whisky is worth celebrating:

Richard

Richard Stewart

Richard Stewart, TWAS co-president and Whisky Waffle guest reviewer:
In my opinion – the people! I mean everyone knows Tassie is the best place on earth, and everyone knows we’re blessed with the perfect climate, soil, water, animals, peat, foliage, moss, sunlight, ecosystem, etc etc  for growing grain, distilling, and aging whisky.

But to do any of this you have to have the right people – smart people, friendly people and a welcoming and supportive community behind them. People not afraid to step outside the box, take big risks, do unimaginable, amazing and sometimes weird things with water, yeast, grain and wood. And these people have placed their trust and faith in us, the locals, and given their all, asked us what we think – what they can do to improve and change what works and what doesn’t.

I think Tasmanian whisky is worth celebrating because it’s a nexus of harmony – perfect ingredients, perfect location, perfect people and a perfect community supporting all of this. Everyone in Tassie should be proud of the distillers, distilleries and the whisky produced, but the fact that the Tassie community is helping as well means we’re all a part of one big whisky family…  now that’s worth celebrating!

Tim

Tim Duckett

Tim Duckett, Heartwood founder, TWAS co-president and whisky palaeontologist :
You answered your own question. The whisky is ‘Tasmanian’.

We would like to thank everyone in our extended Tasmanian whisky family for embracing us (and putting up with us) and sharing their passion and wisdom with us. We are privileged to be a part of this celebration and wish it all the success in the world. Tasmania, keep on waffling.

Lads

Nick and Ted. Wafflers at large.

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

 

Tasmanian Whisky Tours: a story worth telling

Posted by: Nick

Before there were convicts there was whisky.

But before there was Tasmanian Whisky Tours, there was a distinct lack of access to Tasmanian whisky distilleries.

Enter Brett Steel, a man with a vision. He realised that Tasmania was entering a “golden age” of whisky creation and wanted to give the public a chance to travel to these distilleries, meet the people that make the whisky and hear their stories. Thus Tasmanian Whisky Tours was born.

I caught up with Brett to find out a bit more about the tours.

WW1 TWT Brett

“From my first visit to Tasmania in 2008 I fell in love with the place”

Brett grew up, not among whisky makers, but instead with a strong wine background. This is hardly surprising, as he lived near the great wine region of McLaren Vale. He moved from South Australia to Hobart in 2011 with intentions of starting up a bar selling Tasmanian whisky, assuming that once he was in the state there would be easy access to the distilleries making the product he intended to sell. However, he quickly found this was not the case.

As more distilleries opened up, Tasmania rapidly became a join the dots puzzle. The state suddenly had a whisky trail! And Brett? Well he had a car! He realised that no one in their right mind wanted to drive themselves to distilleries and now there was a real touring opportunity. So Brett took the plunge and decided to become… a professional designated driver!

There is, of course, more to it than that. Brett is a man after our own hearts. He is a waffler. As well as tasting the flavours of the drink, he was passionate about hearing the tales told by the people behind the whisky.

WW2 TWT at Redlands

“I wanted this to be about storytelling, as much as whisky”

Brett’s aim for the tours is not so much to give an educational and scientific description of how whisky is made. Instead he is more interested engaging with the people who make the product and hearing about the struggles and adventures they have had along the way. After all, the whisky-makers are just ordinary people doing something they love and they certainly have a tale or two to tell. Brett believes that whisky and story-telling are “perfect bed-fellows” and his guests, after meeting the story-tellers themselves, cannot help but agree.

WW3 TWT at home base 2 bnw

“The trick is to try to cater to all levels and not to have anyone feel excluded”

Brett’s first tours began running in early 2014 and the business has been growing in popularity ever since. The rise in profile of whiskies made in the state has given the business a boost, and Brett has found himself chaperoning journalists, whisky experts, and even cartoonists!

The tours run on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays and visit a wide range of southern distilleries – and also get to taste some from further afield. Sessions begin at 9am at the Lark cellar door, and proceedings commence by reclining in comfortable chairs and chatting about the history of Tasmanian whisky. Guests are then loaded into the van and driven around the beautiful Derwent Valley or Tasman Peninsula.

There are many highlights on each tour for Brett: the picturesque setting at McHenry’s Distillery in Port Arthur, the paddock to bottle experience at Redlands Estate, and the unforgettable yarns spun by “renaissance moonshiner” and “champion sand-sculptor” Pete Bignell at Belgrove.

Of course, much like everyone has a favourite whisky (or gin, or brandy, or apple schnapps – which are also sampled on various tours) everyone has a favourite stop, and you won’t know which is yours until you travel there.

WW4 TWT at Nant

“To me whisky is the perfect social lubricant”

I absolutely adore this quote and cannot agree more wholeheartedly. Brett believes, as we do, that whisky is a very social experience, and when presented with context, such as the people who create it and the processes they use, guests will get so much more out of every sip.

He says that sharing the narrative of Tasmanian whisky, past, present and future, is half the experience of the tour. The characters that are met along the way and the real passion they exhibit, gives true meaning to the boutique hand-crafted product that we at Whisky Waffle love.

WW5 TWT at Bothwell

Brett, like all of us, confesses to loving Tasmanian whiskies and their rich flavour. But he is also fascinated by the history and stories behind each of the distilleries.

“When you put the two together and add the dynamic of a mix of different people, it’s pretty hard to beat that experience – no matter where in the world you travel.”

Find out more about Tasmanian Whisky Tours at their website.

Photos by Andy Wilson at  Everything Everything.