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The 2018 Waffle Awards

Posted by: Nick and Ted

2018 has been a huge year in the Waffle-verse. It’s been crammed with trips to Japan, to Scotland, and 25 days of Christmas Aussie Whisky. We conclude this action-packed twelve months with a reflection upon our favourite drams of the year.

That’s right – it’s the 2018 Waffle Awards!

So get ready for a series of deeply subjective and divisive decisions as we reveal the whiskies that impressed us throughout 2018!

1 The Isle of the Drammed Award Whisky Waffle

The Isle of the Drammed Award for the best Tasmanian whisky

We are, as far as we know, the only whisky awards to have a category specifically for Tasmanian whisky. But with so many stellar drams coming out of our home state we think it deserves to be the latest chapter in Jim Murray’s whisky diary. This year the Isle of the Drammed goes to:

Launceston Distillery Tawny Cask

2018 Isle of the Drammed Launceston Distillery Tawny Cask

We visited Launceston Distillery out at their ex-Ansett hangar a few years ago, right when they were beginning their whisky journey. Now they finally have some product out and we’re happy to say – it’s been worth the wait! There are ex-sherry and bourbon releases out there, but our favourite is the port cask, or ‘tawny’ as it’s correctly labelled. And it’s fantastic – big, bold and fruity with flavours of chocolate and blackberries thrown in. It’s everything we love in a Tassie drop and is a worthy winner of the 2018 Isle of the Drammed.

2 The Tartan Slipper Award Whisky Waffle

The Tartan Slipper Award for the best Scottish whisky

So many amazing and interesting drams continue to come out of whisky’s motherland. And yet, they also produce a few simple drops that deserve more recognition than they get. With that in mind, this year’s Tartan Slipper goes to:

Glenfarclas 15 Year Old

2018 Tartan Slipper Glenfarclas 15

Occasionally you find one of those drams that continues to impress every time you go back to it. It’s not necessarily blingy or in-your-face, it just quietly keeps on doing its thing and gives you a warm welcome whenever you drop by to say hello. For us, the Glenfarclas 15 Year Old is one of those drams. We’ve tried both younger and older releases from Glenfarclas, but none of them seem to have the balance and intangible x-factor that the 15 does. It has a dash of the liveliness of a younger dram, without being harsh, and retains a complexity of character that can sometimes get lost in the older, smoother drams. The best bit is that if you can get it on special, it’s also very forgiving on the wallet. The Glenfarclas 15yo is family-owned, heavily-Sherried whisky at its best.

3 The Pocket Pleaser Award Whisky Waffle

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

We acknowledge that often the more expensive a bottle is, the higher the quality. But this perspective often sees cheaper gems overlooked. We love discovering tasty drops that don’t hit the wallet too hard. This year, the Pocket Pleaser goes to:

Dobsons Old Reliable

2018 Pocket Pleaser Dobsons

Dobson’s certainly come across on the cheap-and-cheerful spectrum whisky, nothing giving this away so much as the white wine bottle it is packaged in. But look past this and you’ve got an easy drinking buttery toffee dram which will displease no one. And as an Australian drop available for under $80 you cannot go wrong. It’s a top quality quaffing whisky – or, better still, a session whisky. It goes down beautifully when paired with an Australian summer.

4 The Weirdsky Award Whisky Waffle

The Weirdsky Award for the most WTF whisky

One of worst things a whisky can be is boring. So we have an award for the dram that pushes things in the complete opposite direction. Rarely is this award won by a favourite drinking drop, but gosh, it’s always fun to try. This year the Weirdsky Award goes to:

23rd Street Hybrid Whisk(e)y

2018 Weirdsky 23rd St Hybrid Whisk(e)y

Scotch whisky, blended with American bourbon, aged in Australia. There is no way this should work… and yet… it somehow does. The corn notes add a sweetness to a speysidey character and the overall effect is a pleasant easy-drinker. It’s an insane sounding drop, but definitely worth a taste.

5 The Bill Lark Award Whisky Waffle

The Bill Lark Award for service to the Tasmanian Whisky Industry

Every year we consider it a privilege and an honour to be a part of the whisky industry here in Tasmania. There are so many wonderful people involved and each year we like to acknowledge one for their contribution to the scene. This year, the Bill Lark Award goes to:

Mathew Cooper

2018 Bill Lark Mat Cooper

We’ve always swelled with pride over the fact that Tasmanian whisky makers are happy to help out one another and share their expertise with new distillers. No one on the scene demonstrates this more than Mathew Cooper of Fanny’s Bay. So many of the new players in the Tas whisky scene, particularly in the north of the state, have received invaluable wisdom and assistance from this man as they’ve got started, and others have simply gained the confidence that they’re on the right track due to a few kind words from Mat. He is generous with his time, his praise, and his pouring and he was even prepared to demonstrate the distillation process to a couple of Wafflers over the course of a few days earlier this year where much information was passed on and many drams shared.

However no mention of Mat Cooper could be complete without acknowledging the contribution of his wife, Julie. As well as designing the Fanny’s Bay labels and helping behind the scenes, she embodies the welcoming and generous spirit of the distillery and the Tasmanian whisky industry in general.

6 The Golden Dram Whisky Waffle

The Golden Dram for the best dram whisky in the world

This is it! The top drop! Out of everything we tried throughout 2018 what do we consider to be the best? So without further adieu the 2018 Golden Dram goes to:

Laphroaig PX Cask 13 Year Old

2018 Golden Dram Laphroaig PX cask 13 year old

Sorry folks, you’re going to have a hard time finding this one. On my extensive tour of Laphroaig I was presented with the opportunity to bottle some 13 Year Old whisky straight from the cask! There were several cask options available, but I couldn’t go past this one. I mean, Laphroaig fully matured in sherry casks – how often do you come across that? Now I’ve got the bottle home and shared it with m’colleague we decided it was a wise decision to plump for this particular dram. It’s rich and complex, firey at 52%, and packed with all the smoke anyone could desire. It’s the dram of the year and one that I’ll be very sad when my 200ml runs out…

And finally, two little mentions to finish on:

We give an Honourable Mention to a couple of fantastic South Australian discoveries from Ted’s advent calendar: Fleurieu and Iniquity. We hope to find out some more about these two whiskies in 2019!

The Founders Reserve Award (AKA the dishonourable mention) is also split two ways: – to Yamazaki Distillery for failing to have any single-malt whisky for sale in their gift shop. Come on Japan, get your act together!
and to Tiger Snake Whiskey by Great Southern Distilling Co. for being so… meh. Allegedly it’s meant to be an Aussie take on bourbon, but it doesn’t really do its Southern inspiration justice. Doesn’t really do much for Australian whisk(e)y either. Such a shame when the Limeburners is so good.

Wafflers 4

Keep on waffling into 2019.

Nick and Ted.

#2018WaffleAwards

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The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 23: Launceston Distillery Tawny Cask 46%

Posted by: Ted

On the twenty-third day if Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Launceston Distillery Tawny Cask whisky. Ansett was once one of Australia’s premiere airlines, but it all went belly-up in 2001 when the company collapsed. It was one of those weird situations where the doors shut and everyone just walked away, leaving buildings and assets frozen in a moment in time. This was the fate of Ansett’s Hanger 17 facility at Launceston Airport, until a few years ago when a team of like-minded individuals decided to shovel out the mounds of stratified pigeon-poo and set up a premium whisky distillery. Under the guidance of head distiller Chris Condon, the distillery has taken off and the crew have recently celebrated their first string of releases, including the Tawny Cask.

Tawny is the Australian name for Port, as Port is now appelated exclusively to Portugal, and this release has been aged for 2.5 years years in 20L casks. The nose is fat and rich, with dark chocolate, blackberries, hazelnuts and toffee, while the mouth is dark and dripping with blackcurrants, prunes and spicy, meaty finish. Launceston Distillery is soaring high and is well worth spending your millions of defunct Ansett frequent flyer points on.

#whitepossumspirits

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 17: Hellyers Road Distillery Pinot Noir Cask Finish 46.2%

Posted by: Ted

On the seventeenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Hellyers Road Distillery Pinot Cask Finish whisky. Globally, the most common barrels used for aging whisky are virgin oak, ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and ex-port. Here in Australia, however, we seem to have developed a bit of a penchant for using ex-wine casks thanks to our thriving local wine industry and ease of access to the barrels. In Tasmania, due to our cooler climate, the red wine grape of choice is Pinot Noir, making it a popular cask type amongst the local distillers. Burnie-based Hellyers Road was one of the early adopters of the style and I reckon theirs was probably the first Pinot-barreled whisky I ever tried.

The Pinot Finish starts off life in American oak ex-bourbon casks before being transferred into French oak ex-Pinot casks for six months for finishing. The nose is smooth, with a cool, damp, earthiness to it. The mouth on the other hand is very dry, with a strong tanninic quality and finish of grapes, almonds and toffee. The Hellyers Road Pinot Noir Finish is a great example of how the addition of certain cask types can completely change the character of a whisky, creating complex and interesting new flavours.

#whitepossumspirits

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 14: Timboon Distillery Port Expression 41%

Posted by: Ted

On the fourteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Timboon Distillery Port Expression whisky. Cruise down the Great Ocean Road on Victoria’s south coast, head inland a bit and you’ll come across an old railway shed that’s home to an excellent little craft distillery. Founded by local lad Josh Walker, who m’colleague assures me is a top bloke, Timboon is actually only the latest (and most legal) distilling outfit in the region. Turns out that back in the day bootleggers and moonshiners used to haunt the bush around the town, which along with travels in Scotland and America, was part of the inspiration for Josh to start his own distillery.

You’ll be pleased to know that the modern Timboon whisky is made and aged rather more carefully than whatever rocket fuel they were cooking up in the bush. On the nose the Port Expression is rich and clean, with raisins, nectarines and dark chocolate, while the mouth has a smooth oakiness and a pleasantly spicey finish with a curl of orange. The Timboon Port Expression is a classic, easy drinking Aussie dram that would be at home in any company (such as the bbq that I’m currently at).


#whitepossumspirit

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 10: Iniquity Batch 10 46%

Posted by: Ted

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Iniquity Batch 10 whisky. Iniquity (noun): immoral or grossly unfair behaviour. With a name like that you would expect it to be in federal politics, but instead makers Tin Shed Distillery claim that it’s because it is wickedly good. The double-headed bird logo has a rather Germanic feel to it, but in fact represents the piping shrike, which appears on the flag of Tin Shed’s home state of South Australia.

Like most Australian distilleries, Tin Shed only has enough spirit to bottle a relatively small quantity of spirit at a time, so their releases tend to sell out quickly. Iniquity Batch 10 was aged in American oak ex-port casks, which certainly explains the dark colour. The nose is rich and gingery, with melted brown sugar, vanilla and spice on the back, while the mouth is so thick and full it’s almost syrupy, with a flavour full of raisins, dates and prunes. The Inqiuity Batch 10 is a bloody good dram and would make a worthy companion to your pudding this Christmas.

#whitepossumspirits

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

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – day 5: Limeburners Port Cask 43%

Posted by: Ted

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Limeburners Port Cask whisky. Crafted by Great Southern Distilling Co. at their Albany distillery in Western Australia (they also have a site in Porongurup that makes Tiger Snake Sour Mash Whiskey), the Limeburners takes its name from the nearby convict-built kilns that provided building lime during colonial times.

This particular Limeburners edition starts off life in ex-bourbon American oak barrels before being transferred to Australian port casks for finishing. The nose has a funky ripe banana in caramel sauce vibe going on, while the mouth feel is dry and hot, with an alcholic spiced plum finish. The Port Cask would make a great accompaniment to a platter of fine local produce while camping on the beautiful southern coast of WA.

#whitepossumspirits

Launceston Distillery Land Their First Release

Posted by: Ted

LaunnieLogo

The old Ansett Hangar 17 at Launceston airport looked almost exactly the same as it had the last time I had visited a couple of years ago. The only real sign of time progressing was a new opaque glass and aluminium door grafted into the old corrugated iron wall, bearing the crest of Launceston Distillery, and a sandwich board in front of it declaring the place to be ‘open’.

Hangar17

Hangar 17, the home of Launceston Distillery

After crossing the threshold I was warmly greeted by distillery Director Chris Byrne, who commented “hopefully my sign holds up against the wind, I’ve given it a bit of angle, but we’ll see.” (It had disappeared by the time I left). Nestled in the foyer were a couple of old airline seats. I asked if they were Ansett, but Chris shook his head and replied “We had an old bloke drop in and say the pattern was 1960’s Qantas. It’s definitely from back then anyway, just look at the ashtrays.” [Correction: the guy who sold the seats to the distillery has been in touch and they are definitely Ansett. He said he will be having stern words with Chris about listening to old blokes who walk in off the street]. We grabbed a cup of tea to ward against the cold, pausing a moment to admire the whiteboard still bearing operational notes left after Ansett collapsed in 2001, and then wandered out for a look at the distillery.

QantasChairs

Sorry Ansett diehards, these are just scummy old 60’s Qantas seats… Plot twist! Turns out they are actually Ansett and the old bloke didn’t know what he was talking about!

The main hangar, once used to house aircraft, was as large as ever, but the floor space had diminished significantly since last time thanks to the appearance of several rows of 100L casks. Chris grinned at the sight and commented that “the original bond store off the side is full of 20L casks now, so we had to expand out here. We’re hoping that we have enough 20L casks stored now to get us through to when we start releasing our 100L’s in a few years time.”

LaunnieHistory

The history of Hangar 17 on display

Sitting next to the stacks was a board covered in posters documenting the history of the site, which Chris was more than happy to explain. During the lesson he pointed at the numbers and lines on the floor: “See those there? That’s where they used to line up the luggage crates. Apparently one was pushed into the wall by accident, but because they hadn’t secured it down when they extended the shed, the whole bottom of the wall got pushed out. We had to pull it back in with a ute when we were doing the place up.”

Hanagar 17 3

Phwoar, check out the insulation on those

Eventually we wandered over for a look at the bond store, passing by the two Knapp-Lewer stills with their beautiful timber insulation. Last time I had seen the bond store there had only been a solitary row of casks huddled forlornly against the wall, but now the room was full to the brim of neatly racked 20L casks. While we were admiring the view, head distiller Chris Condon and Angus the distillery dog returned from the airport terminal, where they had just delivered the first order of whisky to the airport shop. “They’ve got some good advertising up, so hopefully people stop and pick up a bottle.”

AngusAnsett

Angus the distillery dog travels in style

Chris B handed me over to Chris C and we made a beeline for the tasting bar, built from an old Ansett check-in desk and an in-flight drinks trolley, for a chat and some cheeky bevvies. The most notable feature of the bar was the row of bottles perched on top, thanks to Launceston Distillery releasing their first whisky just last month, a milestone that was very pleasing to Chris: “One of the problems with distilling is that because it takes so long to get to that first release, it can sometimes feel like you’re not making any progress, so it’s great to finally have something to show for all our hard work!”

LaunnieBond

20L nirvana

The bottles on offer covered the first four batches laid down by the distillery, with each batch released as a marriage of 20L casks bottled at a standard 46% abv. Batch 1, the first edition, was an ex-Apera (the Australian version of sherry) casking, Batch 2 was an ex-tawny (Australian port) casking, Batch 3 was another Apera, although apparently with a different character to Batch 1 as the casks had been sourced from SA Cooperage rather than the Tas Cask Co, and finally Batch 4 was an ex-bourbon casking.

LaunnieBatches

L-R: Batch 1 (ex-Apera), Batch 2 (ex-Tawny), Batch 3 (ex-Apera), Batch 4 (ex-Bourbon)

On the nose Batch 4 was light, crisp and grainy, with notes of fresh apples and green grapes. In contrast, Batch 1 was sweet, sticky and rich, with dried fruits, orange syrup, red jubes and undertones of malt, wood shavings and bacon. Batch 2 was dark, with red berries, leather, wax, timber and a clean oiliness.

On tasting, Batch 4 was sharp and bright on the mouth, with acidic herbal notes and a clean finish. In complete contrast, Batch 1 was like an explosion from the aromatic end of the spice rack, with strong flavours of aniseed, cinnamon, cloves and star anise, as well as almonds, milk chocolate, mandarins and a tanninic finish. Finally, Batch 2 was dark, rich and sweet, with notes of dark chocolate and black cherries and a smooth, oaky finish.

Chris revealed that each batch was just over two years old and I asked whether he had toyed with the idea of leaving them longer under oak: “We didn’t just dump them out arbitrarily at two years obviously, it’s more considered that, but you start getting to a point where you have to ask yourself, ‘Am I doing more harm than good for the sake of a few months?’. That’s the tricky thing about 20L casks, there’s a real risk of over-oaking.”

LaunnieTasting

Head Distiller Chris Condon rocks the Ansett memorabilia

Chris was also keen to show me the boxes that had been designed for the bottles and explained the relevance of each design element: “The colour is actually the Ansett blue, while the clouds are from a photo taken of the sky above the airport. If you look closely, you can also see lines running across the box which are actually from an 1830 map of the region. All the surrounding towns and landmarks are there, which really grounds it in this place.”

AngusAuthor

The author and Angus relax before the flight

After the tasting, I had a quick relax on some genuine Ansett airline seats with Angus the distillery dog (“Judging by the condition, we don’t think they were ever installed in a plane,” commented Chris), said a quick farewell to Chris B who was finishing labeling the last of the personalised pre-order bottles that had been offered as part of the 1st release and collected my own bottle of Batch 1 from Chris C.

LaunnieLabels

Chris Byrne, hand-labelling master

Before I left, I had one last question on my mind. Last time Whisky Waffle visited, the distillery team had been tossing up names for the whisky. At that time ‘Hangar 17’ had been a strong contender in tribute to the building that housed their distillery, so I asked Chris what had changed: “We ending up going that way in part because there was a legal issue with Hangar 1 in San Francisco, who are vodka makers and objected to us using the name. I’m actually really pleased that we went with Launceston Distillery though, because that’s who and what we are. It’s a really strong geographic name that people can connect with.”

He paused a moment then laughed and quipped “At the end of the day, Hangar 17 is still our physical address, so they can’t take that away from us. We’ll see how we go.” Well readers, if the quality of the whisky is anything to go by, then it’s no hard stretch to say that Launceston Distillery will go far.

Head over to the Launceston Distillery website to purchase a bottle or organise a tour: https://www.launcestondistillery.com.au/

Investigating Iron House Distillery

Posted by: Nick

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Michael Briggs, head distiller of Iron House Distillery is the most relaxed empire builder you are ever likely to meet. This is because he’s not an empire builder. He’s a bloke – who has just happened to build an empire.

Iron House is more than a whisky distillery. It is also a brewery and a vineyard, while the still is also used to create various styles of gin, vodka and brandy. With all these products on the go you’d be forgiven for thinking Iron House was an overly complicated business. Michael (or ‘Briggsy’ as he’s known to one and all) avoids this by sticking to one overarching philosophy: KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid.

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Iron House is located at the majestic White Sands Resort on the East Coast of Tasmania. The resort was purchased by Briggsy’s father-in-law some 15 years ago. The place was slightly run down and frayed at the edges but fell into hands willing to turn it into something special (although it is said by some that it may have bought just to get access to the boat ramp!). Once the premise was secured the next phase in the plan was to create something to sell on the taps – which is where Briggsy stepped in, forming Iron House Brewery.

The name was derived from the location – the area was once a 19th century camp ground for those travelling from the south and allegedly became home to the first tin-roofed building on the east coast, or as the locals referred to it: the Iron House.

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Once the brewery was up and running the next logical step was (of course) to make whisky. While this was always part of Briggsy’s plans, the creation of the distillery was borne out of necessity. The amount of beer production per year was exceeding their current market – and rather than expanding to the mainland or overseas, Briggsy decided the left over wash could be put to better use.

A still was duly purchased – from Germany via the USA – and it arrived in pieces with absolutely no instructions. Like a complicated box of LEGOTM, Iron House’s mechanical engineer Michael Aulich assembled it, guided by pictures he found online, and eventually Iron House became the proud owners of a copper column still and an oddly shaped pot still.

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While Iron House has yet to release its first whisky, I was able to try some new make spirit (or, to quote Briggsy: “white dog”) fresh from the still. On the nose it packed that fruity high-alcohol punch, though on the palate it was grainy and cerealy (Weet-bixy, for my fellow Australians). It was full of character and intrigued me as to what it would become.

I got a small preview of this downstairs in the bond store. There are multiple barrels within that have been filled for more than 2 years, the minimum age for a whisky. However Briggsy labelled them “legally ready, but not Iron House ready”. His plan is to blend multiple barrels in a Solera system to create a consistent, accessible product. He is a big believer that Tasmanian whisky should not be out of the reach of regular people – from the perspective of both flavour and price. Thus we can expect to have to wait until mid 2019 at the earliest to see an Iron House single malt release (however to tie you over there is some delicious virgin-oak-matured brandy which is nearly ready!).

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Briggsy admitted the biggest strength of Iron House is also its biggest weakness. White Sands Resort is found at the most spectacular coastal site and yet this location is over two hours drive from either of the state’s biggest cities: Hobart and Launceston. However, if you find yourself cruising Tasmania’s beautiful East Coast then a stop into White Sands and the Brewhaus Cafe & Bar is a must. The distillery and brewery are separated from the cafe by many large glass walls, through which you can witness the entire whisky making process. It is a truly memorable and worthy addition to the Tasmanian distilling community – and well worth a visit.

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