review

Mendis Old Arrack

Reviewed by: Mum’s the Word

Mendis Old Arrack

Foreword by Ted:

Long-time readers of Whisky Waffle will know that I occasionally mention my mother on the blog, usually after she’s sourced something for me while travelling. Behind the scenes I usually run articles by her just to make sure the grammar is correct and there are no spelling mistakes.

Well, in a surprise move, Catherine has jumped down the rabbit hole and submitted a review all of her own after a visit to Sri Lanka. Arrack (not to be confused with Arak) is a South-East Asian spirit distilled from fermented coconut flower sap, although the precise methods and ingredients vary from place to place. The Sri Lankan version reviewed here is actually made rather like whisky, with the sap fermented in wooden washbacks before being twice distilled and finally aged in halmilla-wood vats for up to 15 years.

Now, Whisky Waffle purists will note that Arrack doesn’t contain a grain as its base and therefore is outside the usual remit of our blog. I on the other hand suspect it is rather poor form to turn your mother down when she has gone to the effort of writing you an article, so we’re more than happy to make the exception. And Arrack is sometimes known as Sri Lankan whisky, so there! So, sit back and enjoy this fresh article by Mum’s the Word:

Sri Lanka

When I have occasionally had a sniff of whisky, and a bit of a taste, my sinuses are generally cleared instantly and my taste buds and palate set on fire.

Not so on this occasion. In the spectacular setting of Ella in Sri Lanka I tasted Arrack – a Sri Lankan spirit made from the fermented juice of coconut flowers. The particular version I tried was the Mendis Old Arrack 100% Pure Coconut Arrack, naturally aged in halmilla (wood from the Tricomalee tree) vats.

The nose was mild (did not offend the sinuses) and faintly perfumed – coconut flowers? The first sip was sweetish with subtle flavours of … coconut? [Ed. Are you surprised?] The general flavours were reminiscent of Mum’s rice pudding or a delicate crème caramel (the WW boys would find many more descriptive words, but they have the ‘experience’ AKA the gift of the gab!) but there certainly was an alcoholic kick – especially after the third slug.

I think the subtle flavours would have been lost if diluted with ice/coke/soda as some of the group had, but served neat for me was delicious. It paired very well with a home-cooked Sri Lankan curry meal, the flavour being savoury, mildly spicy and certainly not sweet.

A certain Whisky Waffler son admitted a sneaking suspicion that he had tried Arrack before … “I say sneaking because I’m pretty sure I was kinda wasted at the time,” so anything he may be able to contribute on the subject may not count [Ed. Oh, and may I enquire just how much you had to drink, eh?]. I was planning to buy some Arrack in Sri Lanka duty free for further tasting with the expert advice of said son, but they didn’t have any!! Weird and disappointing.

Arrack would be a great start for the novice whisky/spirit drinker who did not want to be knocked off their seats.

★★★★  (but who am I to say?).

The Glenlivet Master Distiller’s Reserve

Reviewed by: Nick

Glenlivet master distillers reserve

The Glenlivet is one of the grand old boys of Scottish whisky. A distillery whom Whisky Waffle considered reliable, safe and go-to. Of course, all this changed when they replaced their 12 Year Old with the Founders Reserve. Sigh. What were they thinking?

But, never fear fellow Wafflers! If, like us, you have lamented the lack of 12 Year Old in bottle shops near you, then we have your solution: The Glenlivet Master Distiller’s Reserve, named for Alan Winchester, Glenlivet’s own master distiller since 2008. Now, this bottle was once upon a time only available to frequent flyers buried in duty free, however many online liqueur stores <cough> perhaps one that shares a name with this reviewer <cough> have procured stock and let me tell you, it’s well worth it.

It’s not a complex dram: it’s only 40% and has been triple matured in American oak, ex-sherry casks and ‘traditional oak casks’ (whatever that means). On the nose are apples and pears, but also creamy notes, like particularly milky tea. The palate isn’t smooth per se, but it’s easy to drink. There are flavours of vanilla, oranges and choc chip biscuits. The finish is nutty and pleasantly long and, again, particularly creamy.

I’m not claiming the Master Distiller’s Reserve is a masterpiece – simply that it is interesting, reliable and nice to drink – everything the Founders Reserve is not. This is NAS whisky done well.

★★★

 

Larking about at Lark

Posted by: Nick and Ted

1a

Fact: the modern Tasmanian distilling scene was founded by Bill Lark.

Fact: the foundations for Whisky Waffle were laid down at the Lark bar.

Fact: it is rather shameful that we have never found the time to visit the Lark distillery

Recently the Whisky Waffle boys were down in Hobart with a rare free day to spend on whisky business, so we decided to take the opportunity to rectify an embarrassing gap in our Tasmanian distillery bucket list and tag along on an official Lark distillery tour.

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We were about to run away with the barrels when we discovered they were empty.

Lark offers a two-hour daily guided tour of their distillery facility out at Cambridge, 15min east of Hobart. Our tour started at the Lark bar in Hobart where we met Guy, our guide, and the rest of the group. To work out in what order to hand out the complimentary Lark tasting glasses, Guy started off by asking how close everyone lived to the distillery. Surprisingly it turned out that we North West coasters were the only true locals, with the other guests ranging from Melbourne and Sydney to Alabama.

After introductions we all piled into the tour van, affectionately known as the ‘Drambulance’. On the way out to Cambridge Guy regaled us with tales of the history of the Australian whisky scene and the part Bill Lark played in its resurrection. The road into the distillery passes through the grounds of Frogmore Creek winery, the vines providing wild yeast that is encouraged into the Lark fermentation vats to help create the unique Lark flavour.

The distillery itself, in true Australian fashion, is in a large tin shed that overlooks the Coal River Valley. Upon arrival we donned fluoro vests and met Chris Thomson, the self-proclaimed ‘most experienced distiller in Australia’ (and who are we to argue with him).

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Chris Thomson was also thrilled to meet the two most experienced Tasmanian whisky bloggers in Australia! (again self-proclaimed)

To lubricate our minds before starting the tour we were provided with a dram of the Lark Classic Cask, a perfect breakfast whisky (or at any other time of the day for that matter). Guy and Chris took us through the distilling process at Lark, from the Bill Lark-designed peat smoker, to the fermentation and the distillation.

Along the way the way we were able to try wort (aka sweet barley juice), wash (aka unhopped beer) and new-make spirit, which was fruity and soft. Chris gave us some handy nuggets of distilling advice such as “when going from the fores to the heart we smell and smell and smell and smell and smell and smell” and “using our amazing distillers skills we make the first cut,” *moves hose casually from one vat to another* “Very technical”.

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Those are some niiiiice sparge arms!

The final part of the tour was spent in the bond store (also a large tin shed) where Guy told us about barrel making and aging. We were also able to try some Lark straight from the barrel, which Guy fished out with a spirit thief, as well as some whisky from sister-distillery Overeem. Also on offer were Lark’s whisky liqueur, Sláinte, and several variants of their Forty Spotted gin.

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Every Lark tour is a barrel of laughs.

At the end of the sampling session our merry band of tourers re-embarked the Drambulance and headed back to the Lark bar. The tour had been a pleasant and informative mix of whisky stories, hands-on experience, technical information and waffling. Most importantly, we Waffle boys were finally able to show our faces in public again and proudly say that we had been to the distillery that started it all.

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The best thing about whisky tour groups is that you all end up best mates at the end!

Heartwood Calm Before the Storm

Reviewed by: Nick

Heartwood Calmbefore the Storm

Tim Duckett, the mad scientist inventor of Heartwood Whisky, puts out new releases as regularly as Ed Sheeran clocks up number 1 singles. But the latest new release, Calm Before the Storm, has created more interest than usual. Why? Because it was labelled by its creator as Heartwood’s ‘most complete whisky’. Rumour has it he’s also described it as his best. That’s a big call from the man who made the Convict series, the Any Ports in a Storm and the Vat Out of Hell. It made me wonder, after so many amazing envelope pushing releases, is there any room left to raise the bar?

Let’s just say I was keen to find out. When I discovered it at Tassie’s best whisky bar (AKA the Lark cellar door) I did not hesitate. This is what I found:

On the nose it has that full dark warm Heartwood aroma. There is caramel, fruit and like an Arrow hit-song from the 90s, it’s hot hot hot. The palate arrives in two stages: a strong hit of flavour before being overtaken by a wave of warming alcohol spiciness.

You’ve got to be quick to pick the flavours before the wave breaks: raspberry jam, brown sugar, sultanas before it kicks you in the throat… with size 12 boots. WHAM! CRASH! ZING! POW! It’s like a Roger Ramjet fight scene! The finish is, as you’d expect, long and warm with sweet orange notes.

Like I said, I was unsure if Heartwood could raise the bar. But it seems there are depths of flavour as yet unexplored, like a whisky Marianas Trench. I don’t think it’s my absolute favourite Heartwood – there are a couple of Convicts that still hold that mantle for me – but I could not argue with him if Tim were to officially describe it as his best.

★★★★

Inver House Green Plaid

Reviewed by: Ted

Inver House Green Plaid

Earlier this year I found myself hunting around for a passable quaffing Scotch to take away on our annual summer pilgrimage to Coles Bay (for those who are not familiar, Coles Bay, on the east coast of Tassie, is the town that sits on the edge of Freycinet National Park, home to the world famous Wineglass Bay. Check it out!).

M’colleague and I would define a quaffing Scotch as a whisky at the lower end of the price scale that manages not to taste like paint strippers and that you are more than happy splash around while in company. Like on a camping trip, for example.

After a bit of poking around I came across the Inver House Green Plaid Scotch whisky. On the face of it, the Inver House certainly looks like it fits into the sub-$40 (AUD) category (I think mine was about $35). Take four parts green tartan, add a crest, a couple of sprigs of Scotch thistle and a blurb about how Clan Donald is totally the bestiest evaaaa!!!, and there you have it.

But dig a little deeper and suddenly the Inver House starts to look a bit more interesting under the hood (apologies to my mother for this turn of phrase, but ‘under the bonnet’ just doesn’t seem to work as well somehow). Turns out Inver House Distillers Pty Ltd have quite a choice little stable of distilleries in their portfolio, namely – Pulteney, Balblair, Knockdhu, Speyburn and Balmenach.

Discovering that little nugget of information begs one the question: could this el-cheapo blend actually be a nugget of shining liquid gold??? Well… no. But it’s not too bad either.

As one might expect based on its (potential) components, the Inver House is fresh and bright, with a lick of grain, pear, apricot, grass and hazelnuts. Could that be a faint whiff of coastal air from Pulteney I detect… or just the result of my fervid imagination? It’s a tad rough, yeah, but not disastrously so.

The mouth is bright and pithy, with a generous hit of Lisbon lemons, butterscotch and wood polish. The finish makes your mouth pucker a bit like you’ve just taken a bite out of the aforementioned citrus fruits and then licked a metal spoon.

Look, the Inver House isn’t going to win any awards, regardless of its theoretical hidden pedigree. It’s kind of like when someone claims to be an Nth degree relation to the royal family. Cool, but there’s a lot of stronger contenders to get through before they get anywhere near the throne.

But for what it is, the Inver House is actually pretty good. You can happily drink it straight if that’s your groove, or if your mates want to mix it with coke then you’re not going to have to get your disapproving whisky-wanker face on. If you want a budget dram that you can share liberally with friends and have a good night of it, the Inver House has you covered.

★★

Sprinkbank Gaja Barolo Cask

Reviewed by: Nick

springbank-gaja-barolo

This unique little gem from Campbeltown’s Sprinkbank Distillery is a fascinating drop in that every time I sample it, it tastes different! No, I don’t think it is rapidly changing in the bottle, oxidising or degrading. I think it just messes with your head.

Let me just provide a bit of context. The Gaja Barolo Cask is part of the limited edition ‘Wood Expressions’ series which, as well as making me snigger immaturely, sounds rather interesting. The bottle in question takes the Springbank spirit and ages it for four years in refill ex-bourbon casks before being transferred into ‘fresh Gaja Barolo casks’ where it remains for a further five years in Campbeltown’s seaside atmosphere.

For the uninitiated (like me before I did my research), Gaja is an Italian wine producer and Barolo is a light red grape. Both aspects make this a very specific maturation for the whisky and one unlikely to be replicated any time soon.

Completing a list of tasting notes for this bottle is a tricky task due to the aforementioned chameleon nature of the dram. If I have just had a light Speyside number then I notice a whole heap of peat on the nose. If I’ve just had a highland dram then I discover raspberries and cream. The palate is sometimes spicy – it is bottled at 54.7% – but other times goes down smoothly and evenly. Occasionally I notice the oily maritime notes although often I find flavours of lemons and oranges. The finish usually lingers, with a wisp of smoke or hint of chocolate.

The bottom line is, no matter the flavours I get out of it, I’ve always enjoyed this dram. Sure, I haven’t been able to put my finger on its true nature, but that just adds to the fun. It is a mystery of a dram. I’ve still got a third of a bottle left – feel free to stop by and help me solve it.

***

(Although sometimes ****)

The Glenrothes Alba, 2001 and Select Reserve Box Set

Reviewed by: Ted

glenrothes-trio-2

Keen followers of Whisky Waffle (hello to our mothers and the other three of you) may remember that a while ago I reviewed a tasting pack from Speyside distillers Glenrothes. Well, to quote Prof. Farnsdale, “Good news people!”… there’s another pack!

Just to remind us all what makes Glenrothes interesting in the packed Scottish distilling scene, they like to release their expressions as vintages rather than age statements. While this means that you won’t be able to enjoy a, say, 12yo again and again, the upshot is that you are able to experience the unique nature of one particular year’s output (until it’s all sold out that is).

The pack I’m sampling today is pretty much identical physically to the previous one – nice box with buff lid and a shiny copper-coloured base containing three very handy mini-glencairns and three 100ml bottles of the good stuff.

Pack #1 featured the ’95 and the ’98 vintages plus the Select Reserve, the latter also featuring in this set. The two new drams that feature in pack #2 are the Alba Reserve and the 2001 vintage.

The Select Reserve is Glenrothes’ ‘house’ whisky, a vatted malt crafted to typify the Glenrothes flavour profile. The Alba reserve is another vatted release; while Glenrothes usually uses an mixture of Spanish and American oak, the Alba uses 100% American oak-matured spirit (the moniker deriving from the oak’s Latin name ‘Quercus alba’). The 2001 vintage was produced in 2001… I’m not quite sure what else you were expecting?

glenrothes-whisky-waffle

And it was produced here: Glenrothes Distillery

On the nose the Select is fat and oozy, with a generous helping of dark chocolate, dried apricots, cinnamon, ginger and of course, raisins. In complete contrast the Alba is light and airy, with a fairly insubstantial waft of honey, coconut and pear. Finally, the 2001 is smooth and nutty, with an undertone of spice and aged oak planking.

On the palate the Select is rounded and nutty, with a cheeky citrus burst at the finish that lingers across the tongue. Again providing a contrast, the Alba is sharp and pithy, racing to the back of the mouth and leaving a slightly sour, metallic aftertaste. Unlike the actual Reserves, the 2001 is rather reserved, casually imparting a balanced mix of wood, nuts and dried fruit. The softness of the 2001 can likely be attributed to its 14yo age, having been bottled in 2015.

Tasting packs like this are a great way to try a range of drams from a particular distillery before you actually commit to one. Case in point: I would happily keep a bottle of the Select Reserve around as a casual dram and would derive pleasure from seeing the 2001 vintage nestled amongst my collection, but I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the Alba reserve. I suppose it does provide an interesting insight into how the addition of European oak can balance out a whisky though.

Hmm.. I think this requires a more thorough investigation. Can anyone point me in the direction of tasting pack #3?

Select Reserve ★★★

Alba Reserve ★★

2001 vintage ★★★

Glenfiddich 18 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

glenfiddich-18

If this website were not called Whisky Waffle, then I could sum up the Glenfiddich 18 Year Old in just three words:

Goes. Down. Nicely.

Of course, we all know that’s not how I roll and I’d like to expand on those three words just a little.

Goes: Of all 18 Year Old whiskies in the world, the Glenfid is probably the most accessible. I picked it up for 98 bucks here in Aus when it was on special – a pretty remarkable price for something that has been in ex-bourbon barrels (and a few ex-oloroso casks) long enough to be of drinking age.

Down: the 18 Year Old’s main drawcard is its drinkability. It is one smooth drop. For seasoned whisky fans this might even be a disadvantage – some might consider it a bit boring. Not me. My biggest challenge is looking down at my glass to find I’ve already polished it off.

Nicely: Yep – it tastes good. On the nose are apples, grapefruit and pears alongside a smidge of oak. The palate is soft with notes of honey, cinnamon and vanilla, while the finish is medium in length leaving lingering flavours of apple-based baked goods.

If you find it cheaply, this is worth getting – especially if you are looking for a whisky that, well, goes down nicely!

★★★★

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.

★★★★

#IslayWeek

#LetsGetPeaty

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.

★★★

#IslayWeek

#LetsGetPeaty