Red Label

Glen Grant The Major’s Reserve

Reviewed by: Nick

Glen Grant Majors Reserve

I freely admit, as I begin this review, that my primary motivation when purchasing this bottle was the fact that it was cheap. In fact, I recall as a broke uni student I had bought it for exactly the same reason. I also remember not being overly impressed. However, these days, with a more… ahem… experienced palate, surely I would find something to enjoy in Glen Grant’s entry level release. Surely there was more to this whisky than simply being cheap.

Upon opening the plain packaging I discovered a rarity in the single malt world: a screw top lid. Now, I can forgive them this because, after all, they’re indirectly saving the planet with such an approach, however this fact did nothing to shake the ‘cheap’ tag. Only one thing could: the flavour… and it let me down.

The nose has that cloying red-label-esque sweetness of lemon dish detergent alongside toffee-apple and honey notes. It is passable but not memorable. The palate is pretty rough, though offers some nice barley notes set against oak and vanilla. It is typical Speyside fare, though far from one of my favourites. The finish is spicy, malty and a little buttery. Again, nothing offensive but equally, nothing special.

The Glen Grant Major’s reserve is a whisky that epitomises its price point. It doesn’t punch above its weight but it also remains fairly quaffable. It is a cheap single malt and tastes as such. But hey, on the plus side, at least it doesn’t cost much!

★★

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No Age No Good? Whisky Waffle launch NAS Week

Posted by: Nick

Wafflers in smoking jackets

Some may argue that our attire is the greater controversy here…

A controversial topic? Surely we don’t do that here at Whisky Waffle! Well, just this once, we thought we’d take things seriously and leave our flippancy behind.

Sort of…

Today’s discussion is about non-age statement, or NAS, whisky. For non-whisky geeks, NAS whisky is a bottling that cannot be described as a 12 Year Old, or a 10 Year Old, or an anything-year old, because there is younger spirit mixed through like a very whisky-flavoured cocktail.

These NASes are borne out of necessity: since us Wafflers discovered the stuff, there just hasn’t been enough of it around! So rather than waiting the usual 12 years, distillers have been getting impatient and slapping 9 year old, 8 year old (3 year old?) spirit into the mix and coming up with impressive sounding Gaelic names to go on the label.

So how do we feel about this situation? Is the stuff as NASty as it sounds? Well, to be honest, I have no problem with the concept of NAS whisky. I mean, you just can’t deride the Talisker Storm as liquid Nickleback while simultaneously proclaiming the Ardbeg Uigeadail as the solution for world peace. So just like any supposedly ‘superior’ whisky with a number on the bottle, there are good ones and there are bad.

Founders Reserve n waffle

But seriously, the box IS rather pretty…

Which brings me neatly to Glenlivet – a prominent convert to the NAS fad. I wrote a glowing review about their ever-dependable 12 Year Old and described how its accessibility was its strength. That was, until it was no longer accessible. In its place, in a blue box (which is sadly not bigger on the inside) came the sophisticated-sounding ‘Founders Reserve’. I was slightly concerned – though this disquiet came from my affection towards the 12 rather than my automatic dismissal of anything ageless. I was perfectly fine so long as it tasted good. Which, I’ve recently discovered, it doesn’t.

It’s not that the dram is comparable to the toxic output of a nuclear reactor. It’s quite drinkable in a ‘at-least-it’s-not-red-label’ sorta way. But it doesn’t stand up to the depth and character of the previous entry-level incumbent. And this made me both sad and rush out to get a bottle of the 12 while I still could.

Non age statement whisky is not the scourge of the earth that many flat cap-wearing whisky reviewers may have you believe. There are some tasty drops out there that would please the most snobbiest of whisky snobs (if you told them it was an old bottle of Macallan). However, in the case of Glenlivet, where you can directly compare the old and the NASish new – it’s one nil to the age statements.

Of course, another way of looking at it is that after eight drams, it doesn’t really matter how long it’s been in a wooden barrel for…

The writing of this article prompted a lively debate among the Whisky Waffle boys – so much so, that they decided to spend a week looking at some prominent NAS releases to see if they are as derisory as their reputation suggests. So with great excitement – we present to you NAS-Week! Make sure you pay a few visits throughout the week and find out our thoughts – or post some juicy trolling comments! Tomorrow will kick off proceedings with a detailed review of this article’s nemesis: the Founders Reserve! But why start there? Leave us a comment telling us EXACTLY how you feel about non age statement whisky in the replies!

#NASweek

A Brave New World: Diageo invest in Australian distillery

Posted by: Ted

The whisky scene in Australia, by its very nature as a young and emerging industry, has hitherto always been gloriously independent. Brave and adventurous souls carving out their own mark in this new frontier of whisky making, men and women free to pursue their own ideologies and dreams. Very different to the crusty, entrenched old world, where the multitudes of distilleries are weighed down by centuries of tradition and the idea of a truly independent producer is hard to come by in the face of hungry multinationals.

Diageo

It was always going to happen you know. Never a doubt. You can bet your bottom dollar that ever since Bill Lark emerged from the Tasmanian Highlands as an enlightened being, the big boys have been keeping a very close eye on developments in the antipodes. If the Australian whisky scene succeeded in its ambitions, and my word it most certainly has, the sharks were always going to be circling ready. There have been a few nibbles here and there over the years, but finally someone has taken a proper bite.

Diageo, global spirits bigwig and owner of globally renown brands such as Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff and Baileys, has decided to take a chance navigating by the southern constellations and bought a minority share in Victoria’s New World Whisky Distillery, makers of Starward whisky. Starward, with excellent releases such as the Apera cask single malt or the quirky ginger beer cask, has been making waves both at home and increasingly overseas, so it is no wonder that Diageo has considered it to be a worthy venture to invest in.

How this moment changes the landscape in Australia is yet to be seen. It is only logical that as the industry increases, the big boys will continue to invest in distilleries they consider to be appropriate extensions of their brand. To be honest this is actually a really good thing for Australia, as it will allow for much greater growth within the sector, solidify the local market, give better extension into new overseas markets and help whisky in this country mature and gain further acceptance as an world class product.

New World visit 5

But… at the same time we have to hope that this evolution doesn’t come at the cost of the attitude and culture that makes Australian whisky unique. It would be sad if that spark was lost through homogenisation and the finance-driven whims of corporate overlords. The whisky produced by Australian distillers is exceptional, a sentiment backed up by a slew of prestigious awards; if the quality of the spirit was diminished through bottom-dollar bean-counting it would be a slap in the face to the ideals of the men and women who have worked hard to bring this industry to life. Then again, even the hardest-boiled rager-against-the-machine has to admit somewhere along the line that these guys seem to have some vague idea about what they’re doing, so hopefully good stewardship and passion for the product will win the day.

Actually, come to think of it, something quite extraordinary may emerge out of all this. As we all know, Diageo’s flagship whisky is the Johnnie Walker, the highest profile blended whisky in the world. If Diageo keep adding Australian cup winners to its stable, who knows, maybe we’ll see the release of a true-blue Aussie blend! Strewth, prepare ya cakehole for the dinky-di Jonno Walkabout “MAAAAATE” travel-exclusive series, featuring the likes of the ‘Bronze Surfie’, the ‘Flamin’ Pink Galah’ and of course, the ‘Blue Bogan’.

The future is here and it’s a Brave New World. Watch this space.

‘Big Peat’ or ‘The Perks of Random Conversation at the Bar’

Reviewed by: Ted

Big Peat

This story begins, as so many great stories do: m’colleague and I were at the bar. Admittedly not an unusual state of affairs. On this particular night we were chatting to our barman mate, and a friend of his that he’d just introduced us to. For the purposes of this story, let’s call him Doug. Doug was feeling in a rather celebratory mood as he’d just scored himself a job working as a pharmacist in sunny (and I mean that in the most ball-of-thermonuclear-fire sense of the word) Alice Springs, which is pretty much smack bang in the centre of Australia. Quite a change from little old Burnie on the NW Coast of Tasmania, which can occasionally be sunny if it really makes the effort.

After the usual necessary social preamble was out of the way, the conversation happily turned to that most mysterious, complicated and variable of subjects… women! No, wait, I meant whisky! Doug, as it turned out, was quite the connoisseur (and not just of whisky. On a side note he very charitably bought us a glass of Cognac from the highest extremity of the top shelf, an interesting experience to say the least). We all shared a common passion for peated whiskies, particularly those from what is arguably the spiritual home of the smoky dram: Islay.

These days people mostly talk about Islay in terms of its single malts, but historically the island’s distilleries injected popular blends with some much needed character (and they still do!). However, there is a theory that history works in cycles, and what was once old becomes new again (which probably explains the questionable return of scrunchies and chokers). Interestingly enough, what was getting Doug excited that evening wasn’t the single malts from one of the hallowed Islay distilleries, but a blend. An all-Islay blend. “It’s fantastic! You should track it down”. Fateful words readers, because a few cheeky drams relaxing the mind and the heady world of internet shopping instantly at ones fingertips is a dangerous combination. Let’s just say that I didn’t take much convincing, and moments later I was the proud owner of a bottle of this curious beastie.

Cut to a few weeks later and m’colleague and I were staring with anticipation at a large post box that we had dubbed ‘The Bunker’. With no little ceremony (mostly involving the humming of the tune from the start of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’) we cracked open the box, and were greeted by one of the coolest bits of tube artwork this side of Eilean Mhic Coinnich. Meet the Big Peat, an all-Islay blend purporting to contain ‘a shovelful’ of single malts from the distilleries of Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore, and Port Ellen. The aforementioned artwork is a brilliant graphic-style picture of a hirsute gentleman standing in front of what I can only assume is the Rhinns of Islay lighthouse on a beautiful island day (which is to say that the sky is the colour of tea, and our man has his face squinched up against the wind, which is trying its best to blow his hair away).

Chuckling with glee we popped the top and unsheathed our prize from its scabbard. Gasps of surprise met the sight before us (don’t worry, we hadn’t been ripped off and sent a bottle of JW Red instead). You see, normally we would picture the drams of Islay as being dark and brooding in hue, but the Big Peat was filled with bright spirit the colour of pale golden straw. Some people just like to mess with your mind. Of course, there was only one sensible recourse to meet the conundrum before us, and it wasn’t hiding under the table. Bust out the glasses and crack that sucker open good sir!

A generous splash of whisky later and we were ready to begin uncovering the secrets of the Big Peat. There was no denying that it lived up to its name. The smoke was there as soon as we poured it into the glasses, infused with plenty of dark chocolate, malt, rich earth and those medicinal notes that Ileach whisky is famous for. We were in no doubt about the heritage of the spirit sitting before us, whatever the colour. A closer snort revealed thick sweet notes and perhaps a bit of overripe fruit, like a squashy banana. We eyed each other off; curious, but not too bad a start.

Slurp! Hot, woody, ashy smoke poured into our mouths and then… not much else. Sure, there was a light, sweet after-taste, but it was gone in a flash, and all that was left was spicy, medicinal smoke coiling around the tongue. It was like being on the edge of a bush fire; plenty of smoke getting all up in your face, but no blazing heat to go with it. Hmmm…

We could see what Douglas Laing & Co, the makers, were trying to get at; surely crafting a vatted blend out of the great single malts of Islay should be as awesome a combo as haggis with tatties and neeps! Yet somehow they’d got a wee bit over excited with the whole BIG PEAT malarkey and forgotten that it isn’t just the smoke that makes an Islay dram exceptional, it’s the bricks and mortar and the shape of the fireplace too. The way that sweetness melts into savoury, medicinal tang challenges the tastebuds, dark flavours are shot through with light, seaside elements help wash everything across the palate, and then finally the smoke that sits over them all. It’s a complex ecosystem that requires careful balance to work well.

Sitting back we mused upon the Big Peat. By no means did we think that it was a bad dram, far from it, just that somehow it deserved to be better. Perhaps the mix wasn’t quite right, maybe a dash of Bruichladdich or Bunnahabhain could have rounded out the flavours working underneath the smoke. Who knows? What we did know though, was that the Big Peat had challenged us, and that a random discussion in a bar can lead to interesting and unexpected places. So go on, strike up that conversation, you might just find something new.

★★★

 

The coming of age of a non-whisky drinker

Posted by: our newest guest reviewer Stretch

Stretch whisky waffle

Growing up watching spy movies and idolising heroes like James Bond, I have always thought there was something quintessentially cool about asking for something from the ‘top shelf’. Suavely asking the bartender for just that satisfied the wide-eyed nine year old in me, even if I didn’t know what I was talking about! Such is the reverence that whisky has earned ever since we managed to distil that liquid nectar, and with a little help from popular culture, propel it into the pure essence of class.

As a lesser mortal who does not drink whisky, I have never quite grasped how much was involved with drinking it. Having tried it on a number of occasions over the years, I can say that drinking whisky has never been the most pleasurable of experiences for me. Being first introduced to it as a young lad on a fishing trip with my father, he told me that this was what kept him warm at night. “It’s like a fire in your belly,” he would say, and standing next to him freezing my toes off, it sounded like a pretty good thing he had going on. After burning my throat and recovering from the subsequent coughing fit, I quickly determined that I did not like whisky and would stick to my hot chocolates for keeping warm.

Years later, and after numerous attempts to drink whisky, I still couldn’t acquire the taste. Maturing my taste buds to the refined flavours of (good) coffee, beer, wine and accompanying foods, I had come to appreciate the finer side of life and all it had to offer. Except for whisky. As with everyone, there will always be a flavour to your palate that you will not enjoy. However, as is the case with many things in life, you need to grow accustomed to them and this is how I approached whisky. If I could come to like wine and beer, drinks I detested in the past, then I could like whisky too. With a push from the Whisky Waffle boys, my plan slowly became a reality.

The first step was to work out where I had gone wrong in the past. Drinking cheap run-of-the-mill blends was a likely culprit. Johnny Walker Red, Ballantine’s so-called ‘Finest’ Scotch Whisky or Chivas Regal 12 Year Old didn’t necessarily provide the best starting point for my whisky tastes. Nick and Ted soon solved this. With the two boys being proud Tasmanians, and myself an interstate import, we started with the island’s up-and-coming industry. If you’re going to do something, do it properly and start with the good stuff, something which Lark, Nant and Sullivans Cove offer in droves. The Tasmanian distilleries provided me with a taste I had not experienced before. It still burnt my throat, but it also had a nice after-taste to it. Whisky, which had for so long been terrible, became a little less than terrible. And it was at this point that I decided I no longer hated whisky, I just did not appreciate it enough. With some help from my whisky friends, who knows, in time I too may begin to waffle.

Star rating for whisky in general (★★ 1/2 stars)

Stretch the model

Find out more about Stretch at his bio.

Blind tasting: Johnnies Night

Posted by: Nick

I like to consider myself somewhat clued up about whisky. Over my time I’ve had a dram or two. I dare to think of myself as an experienced whisky drinker. And I would like to believe that just maybe, I could tell a $200 bottle from one costing pocket change.

But then there was one night. One terrible night. One awful night when everything I knew about whisky hung in the balance. I am referring to: Johnnies Night.

Spooky Johnnies Whisky Waffle Nick and Ted

DRAMATIC MUSIC!!!

Johnnie Walker is the best selling maker of blended Scotch whisky on the planet. Despite this, or maybe because of it, my colleague Ted and I have never truly cared about any of their products. This of course was most likely a result of our dabbles as younger, broker men, when we frequently ‘tasted’ the Red Label multiple times an evening at various social events we attended, and then were too stingy to seek out their more expensive and esteemed bottles. Slowly and surely, however, we built up a collection: through our own purchases, our fathers’ purchases, and purchases by our generous friend Stephen who provided the two most valuable bottles (things haven’t changed that much – we still can’t ordinarily afford a bottle of Blue simply for a blind tasting night!)

The task was simple – six expressions of Johnnie Walker: Red, Black, Double Black, Gold, Platinum and Blue, were to be blind tasted and we would predict which dram was which. Now, I say simple. This turned out to not be the case.

Close up whisky waffle

An artsy close up of our un-whisky friendly glassware. They have colour-coded tags, though!

I’ll make the excuse here and now that we had never tried several of the expressions before – but this could not explain our poor showing when the results came in.

I won’t go into the detailed statistics of the night, partly because it would make tedious reading, and partly because we are far too embarrassed to share them with the world. Suffice to say that we rated the blue far lower than it’s worth and overvalued the red label. The Platinum and the Gold didn’t fare any better, while the Double Black proved popular.

Maybe this says that we do not have as expensive taste as we claimed. Or perhaps it says we do not have as developed palates as we think. Eager to prove this latter fact wrong, Ted and I had a second attempt, this time correctly identifying the Red, Black and Double Black, but then mixing up the upper three.

Lots of Johnnie Walker – some would say too much…

At the end of the night, we were confused, but not perturbed. It was the first blind tasting we had ever done, and we finished the night with a better understanding of blended whisky. The results had turned up the fact that the Gold and Platinum bottles did not appeal greatly to us, nor justify their price tags. The Blue Label was slightly better received, although embarrassingly, so was the Red. Finally, the biggest revelation of the night was our discovery of, in our opinion, the best Johnnie Walker expression.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you some actual consumer advice.

Taking into account flavour, value, personal preferences, and the level of inebriation we had reached at the conclusion of the night, we found the best bottle of Johnnie Walker colour expression to be the Double Black.

That said, I’d take a bottle of Glenlivet any day.

#johnniewalkerweek