Scotch

The 2017 Waffle Awards

Posted by: Nick and Ted

2017 Waffle Awards

Welcome one and all to the most anticipated award ceremony ever to take place on social media! Nope, it’s not 2017’s Most Carelessly Dressed Celebrities (that’s the second most anticipated) but instead the 2017 Waffle Awards – the prizes given by Australia’s most tongue-in-cheek whisky blog, Whisky Waffle, to the drams that excited them most in the last 12 months.

The rules are simple, all winners must be whiskies consumed by the lads for the first time in 2017 – and they must be able to vaguely remember the experience the following day.

So strap yourselves in for a wild, controversial and extremely subjective ride through our picks of 2017!

1 The Isle of the Drammed Award Whisky Waffle

The Isle of the Drammed Award for the best Tasmanian whisky

As proud Tassie boys, our first award is for the best dram made in our state in 2017. This year, the Isle of the Drammed goes to:

Heartwood @#$%^&*

2017 Waffle Award Heartwood @#$%^&

‘Oh @#$%^&* that is good whisky,’ – You after trying this whisky.

Hailing from Tasmanian independent bottler Heartwood, the curiously named @#$%^&* bears the usual madcap cask-strength touch of its creator Tim Duckett, starting in 2nd fill port casks, then finished in 1st fill sherry casks before being bottled at a juicy 62.5% (which, believe it or not, is on the lighter end for a Heartwood).

Tim claims the name comes from the fact that it caused him a great deal of grief during its creation. The @#$%^&* has proved to be something of a sleeper agent for us actually; we’ve tried it alongside other Heartwoods that seem to have the ol’ razzle-dazzle in spades, but somehow the @#$%^&* keeps calmly stepping out as the favourite. Maybe it’s the special edition dinosaur-themed label artwork drawn by Jon Kudelka.

2 The Tartan Slipper Award Whisky Waffle

The Tartan Slipper Award for the best Scottish whisky

The Scottish stuff is what got us hooked on whisky in the first place and we are continually discovering new exciting drams from the motherland. This year, the Tartan Slipper goes to:

Glendronach 21 Year Old

2017 Waffle Award Glendron 21

Glendronach do sherried whiskies as well as anyone in the world and after trying the 18 Year Old I thought it could not get any better. I was wrong. Hidden away at a corner table at Whisky Live Hobart was this absolute gem of a whisky. It redefined my relationship with sherried whisky. I went back for seconds.

3 The Pocket Pleaser Award Whisky Waffle

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

Buying whisky is an expensive business – so value for money always makes us very happy. This award is for the whisky we considered to be the best value in 2017. This year the Pocket Pleaser goes to:

Glen Moray 16 Year Old

2017 Waffle Award Glen Moray

Glen Moray produces great bottles at more-than-acceptable price ranges, but this is possibly the best value of the lot. The 16 Year Old is far smoother and nuanced than the 12 and for seventy dollars (Australian) it is a must have for all whisky fans with bills to pay. Plus it comes in a shortbread tin! Nuff said.

4 The Weirdsky Award Whisky Waffle

The Weirdsky Award for the most WTF whisky

This award is dedicated to the strange and the bizarre. Whisky that we may not consider… good… per say, but a dram that has certainly intrigued us. This year, the Weirdsky Award goes to:

Flóki Sheep Dung Smoked Reserve

2017 Waffle Award Floki Sheet Sht

Ok, we realise this technically isn’t whisky as it’s still under 3 years old, but it is so bat(sheep?)-shit crazy that it deserves a mention here. Iceland is a place – you may have heard of it. It has lots of spectacular scenery. It also has lots of sheep. And a whisky distillery. For some reason the distillery, Eimverk, thought it would be a good and reasonable thing to smoke some of their barley using poo from the aforementioned sheep rather than peat, which there is also lots of on Iceland. Smoking things with poo is traditional over there apparently.

I am of the opinion that the Flóki Sheep Dung Smoked Reserve is the drinkable version of a traditional Icelandic delicacy: fermented shark, or Kæstur hákarl, a dish that is surely only used to make unwary tourists cry. The locals are obviously made from tougher stuff than the rest of us. Stick with the standard Flóki release (which is rather good) until, like the best Kæstur hákarl, the Sheep Dung Smoked Reserve has aged for a few more years.

5 The Bill Lark Award Whisky Waffle

The Bill Lark Award for service to Tasmanian whisky

The Tasmanian whisky industry works because it is driven by so many wonderful people. We like to recognise one of these people each year with an award named after the founding father himself. This year, the Bill Lark Award goes to:

Patrick Maguire

2017 Waffle Award Pat Mag

Patrick Maguire is a founding member of the Tasmanian distilling scene. A contemporary and a colleague of the man whom this award is named after, he took the bold step in taking over Tasmania Distillery and cleaning up the slightly tainted name of Sullivans Cove Whisky. Not only did he get it back on track, but he took Tasmanian whisky to a whole new level when his release from French Oak barrel HH525 won best whisky at the 2014 World Whiskies Awards. Tasmanian whisky was changed forever and has gone from strength to strength ever since thanks in no small part to the perseverance of one Patrick Maguire.

6 The Golden Dram Whisky Waffle

The Golden Dram for the best dram whisky in the world

Here it is. The big one. The best whisky of 2017. Previous winners have included Highland Park and Octomore but this year… drum roll please… the winner of the Golden Dram, the BEST whisky in the world is…

Belgrove North East Peat Smoked Single Malt

2017 Waffle Awards Belgrove peat

Thinking back across the year to select a worthy drop for The Golden Dram, the Belgrove North East Peat Smoked Single Malt stands out in memory as the one that made me the most effusively loquacious in my attempts to promulgate its meritoriousness. Translation: I was damn excited and wanted everyone to know it. Belgrove is more usually known for its excellent ryes, but the Single Malt is a credit to the versatility of its creator Peter Bignell, a previous winner of the Bill Lark Award. What makes this particular whisky so excellent is the peating; hitherto Tasmanian peat has been sourced from sphagnum bogs in the highlands, which are almost exclusively controlled by Lark.

The peat in this whisky comes from a new source in the North East of the state, dug from a farm owned by Peter’s brother. The first time I took a sip I was sure that I had been accidentally teleported to the West Coast of Scotland! Compared to the softer peat of the Tasmanian highlands, the North East stuff is richer, earthier and more elemental, drawing links with the Scottish coastal and island drams. Sit that over a superbly crafted spirit and I am happy to lay my cards down on the table and declare that I think Peter has a world-beater on his hands. Bloody good stuff.

An honourable mention goes to anything made by Glenfarclas. What a great distillery and still family owned too! In particular the excellent ever reliable 15 Year Old, but also the 40 Year Old, tasted by Nick at the Old and Rare bar at Whisky Live Hobart. It was the best possible conclusion to a fantastic session.

The Founders Reserve Award (AKA the dishonourable mention) goes to White Oak Distillery for proving that just because a whisky is made in Japan, doesn’t mean it’s worth taking on a sumo wrestler to sample.

So that brings us to a close of our 2017 awards. It sounds like the makings of a good tasting! Though maybe give the White Oak a miss.

Let us know your own nominations in the comments! As always, thanks for your support. 2017 has been the biggest year so far for Whisky Waffle! Let’s make 2018 even better!

Whisky Waffle Boys

Keep on waffling.

Nick and Ted

#2017WaffleAwards

Wafflers 4

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Flóki Single Malt

Reviewed by: Ted

Floki Single Malt 1

Hrafna-Flóki Vilgerðarson, or Flóki as fans of the History Channel’s hit show Vikings would recognise him as, was a pretty interesting guy. Born around 830AD in Norway, he would later become an explorer, with his main claim to fame being that he was one of the first people to visit Iceland.

Acting on rumours of a land North-West of the Faroe Islands, Flóki set sail with his family and crew, taking with him three ravens. According to legend, Flóki released the ravens during the voyage; the first flew South-East back to the Faroes, the second landed back on the ship, but the third flew North-West and did not return, leading Flóki to the island and bestowing him with the nickname Hrafna, meaning raven.

The crew apparently spent an excellent, easy summer on the West coast, leaving them ill-prepared for the harsh winter that followed. When spring finally returned, Flóki climbed the highest mountain in the area and sighting ice flows still sitting heavy in the fjords even as the weather warmed, named the island ‘Ísland’, or Iceland as we now know it. On his return to Norway he gave a poor report of the place, although that did not stop him from returning and living there until his death in the early 9th Century.

It is therefore fitting that a modern day pioneer of Iceland takes its name from the spirit of this early explorer of the Northern seas. Flóki, made by Eimverk Distillery, is the first single malt whisky to come out of Iceland.

Based in Garðabaer (perhaps taking its name from another early explorer of Iceland, Garðar Svavarsson?), the whisky is billed as ‘Grain to Glass in Iceland’ (aka Paddock to Plate), using local barley and water distilled in Eimverk’s handcrafted pot still and, according to the blurb, “aged for three years… under the roots of Mount Hekla”.

The particular bottle in my possession is part of a limited edition single-barrel bottling released in November 2017; according to the label I possess Barrel #1 Bottle #307. I will admit that I experienced a brief moment of doubt about opening it, but in the spirit (geddit?) of science I have taken the plunge for you dear reader.

As mentioned before, the Single Malt is aged for three years in what the label curiously describes as ‘ex-Flóki Young Malt barrels’. I have previously reviewed the Young Malt, a special edition duty-free 1-2yo spirit released as a preview to the main event. I am assuming that after the first release of Young Malt in late 2014, which used virgin American oak, they refilled the now-seasoned barrels and left them for just a hair over three years for the Single Malt.

The packaging game has always been strong with the Flóki and this one ups the anti by including a box! The box artwork has a black gloss background with irregularly shaped matte black highlights, the effect of which I suspect is meant to look like the rock walls of a fjord. The cool viking crest makes a return and oh my Odin I have literally just realised it has three bird figures around it representing Hrafna-Floki’s ravens! Totally did not pick that up before.

Floki Single Malt

Bottled at 47%, the Single Malt is a natural copper colour. It’s actually lighter than the Young Malt, which has a redder hue that is probably an effect of the virgin oak compared to the second-fill used for the Single Malt.

On the nose the Single Malt is light and grassy, perhaps straw, with undertones of caramel, honey, pineapple, green plum, apple, orange, pine sap, juniper, rose, sandalwood, cereal and metal. In comparison the Young Malt is heavier and sweeter, with notes of banana, oatmeal and meat.

The palate is dry and textural, eschewing the heavy, sharp, sweet, alcoholy, bourbony feel of the Young Malt for a much lighter, zingier sensation. The undertone is of oaky wood dust, almonds, walnuts and burnt orange, while the finish is sharp, hot and bitter, coating right across the back of the tongue and lingering for some time.

The differences between the Young Malt and the Single Malt are intriguing as the latter is a definite evolution of the former. Compared to the heavy, ham-fisted virgin oak-driven flavours of the Young Malt, the Single Malt is a much lighter, zestier affair. It’s interesting how a second filling of the same barrel with the same spirit can produce such different results.

Still, the balance of the Single Malt is perhaps a little off, with the nose needing some extra depth and the mouth, particularly the finish, needing some rounding out. It’s definitely better than the Young Malt (and both are miles above the undrinkable Young Malt Sheep Dung Smoked edition), but as I have commented before and will reiterate now, I am curious to see what effect some extra aging time would have on the Flóki.

Floki Single malt 2

Nitpicking aside though, this is a worthy first attempt from Eimverk and I think Hrafna-Flóki himself would have had a much more favourable opinion of the place if he had had a few bottles of his namesake whisky to keep him company through that first winter.

★★

 

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 5

Posted by: Nick

Welcome to the Whisky Waffle Podcast: Christmas Special! Where we don our Christmas hats and Waffle about our favourite Christmas time drams! In this exciting episode we include:

– The Waffle, where we ramble about our Christmas whisky traditions
– The Whisky, where we taste a peated Bunnahabhain: the Toiteach and a proper Christmas dram: the Glenfarclas 105
– Shoutouts: where we wish a merry Christmas to a few of our supporters; and
– Whisky Would You Rather, where Ted delivers a low blow of a Christmas question to Nick

GlenDronach Peated

Reviewed by: Ted

Glendronach Peated

You know when you take one thing that is really good (like heavily sherried whisky) and combine it with another really good thing (like peated whisky) and the result is a winner? Well, strap yourselves in then, because you’re going to love The GlenDronach Peated Single Malt Whisky.

The GlenDronach distillery, nestled in the NE highlands of Scotland, is famous for its heavily sherried style of whisky, utilising Pedro Ximenez and Olorosso casks in all of its core range. These whiskies are rich, fruity and sumptuous, but one element they do not usually feature is smokiness.

This lack of smoke was not always the case though. Like many other old highland distilleries, The GlenDronach (founded 1826) originally used peat to dry its malt, however over the years the practise fell out of favour through a succession of owners and the rise of cheap coal. Indeed, the distillery was one of the last in Scotland to use coal power for its stills, right up until 2005 when it converted to steam.

Bucking the current The GlenDronach flavour profile and harking back to its roots is the Peated expression. Unusually for The GlenDronach, the Peated actually starts its life in ex-bourbon barrels before being transferred into the usual ex-PX and ex-Olorosso casks for finishing.

As such, while still being full of the warm, rounded, fruity characteristics usually associated with The GlenDronach, the Peated is perhaps a touch lighter in feel than usual. The nose evokes burnt marmalade, stone fruit, leather, almond and walnut. The smoke is soft, toasty and earthy, with none of the strong coastal elements that drive Ileach and Island peated whiskies.

The mouth presents a mixture of juicy sweet yellow and white stone fruits, honey, Turkish delight and toffee. The lighter flavours likely derive from the bourbon casking while the heavier ones draw from the sherry casking. The smoke lingers gently at the back of the throat on the finish.

The GlenDronach is an excellent example of how well peating can complement the rich flavours of sherried whiskies, particularly because the smokiness is well balanced in the dram. Peat-heads and sherry-bombers alike will find something to entertain and interest them and will likely keep being drawn back to sup from this particular fruit’n’smoke chalice time and time again.

★★★

Glen Moray 16 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Glen Moray 16

Different people look for different things in a whisky. Some people desire a smooth and easy drinking drop. Others want something to excite and challenge them. Others still want something to mix with their coke. There are many, many reasons, so naturally, there are people whose sole criterion when selecting a bottle is the desire for it to come in a shortbread tin. If that applies to you, look no further than the Glen Moray 16 Year Old!

glen-moray-16-tin-4.jpg

I know, I can hear you all now – I’ve made some ridiculous claims on Whisky Waffle but this one takes the biscuit! The biscuit! No? Well, I admit, I may be selling this drop a bit short(bread). There are, in fact, a number of reasons to pick this one up. Glen Moray is a reliable distillery if you’re after a decent bourbon-matured quaffing scotch. Their bottles are always good value: this one can be found for around $65 in Australia, which, believe me, is a great price for a 16 Year Old Whisky. And on top of all that – the tin features an endearing array of the uniforms worn by the Scottish Highland Regiments, including a man sporting ‘The Black Watch’, who, rather controversially, is not wearing a skirt!

glen-moray-16-tin-3.jpg

Ok, so while I can crap on about the tin all day, you guys really want to know if it tastes any good… in my opinion. And in my opinion, it does. It’s a considerable step up from the 12 Year Old and while it is still light and easy drinking, it contains a silky layer not found in younger Glen Moray releases.

On the nose are standard notes of honey and vanilla alongside sweet biscuits and pineapple. The palate is gentle with toffee and banana prominent. The finish is short but pleasant with a faint herbal linger.

Glen Moray 16 tin 2

Different people look for different things in a whisky. But everyone looks for one which they’ll enjoy. The Glen Moray 16 Year Old is as close as any out there to a dram that can be enjoyed by everyone – whether for the flavours on the inside – or the shortbread tin on the outside.

★★★

anCnoc Peter Arkle Limited Edition: ‘Bricks’

Reviewed by: Ted

anCnoc Bricks

Can whisky be Art? To be clear, I am not talking about the art of whisky making here, that semi-magical process where the unique personality and knowledge and skills of the distiller combine during the creation of the spirit to imbue it with the essence of that particular distillery. Nope, I mean the regular, picturey type.

Bottles and tubes usually have some sort of artwork on them, but that’s not Art right? That’s just advertising. Special edition releases containing very old and rare whisky often have striking, elegant and beautiful bottles and cases… but really, that’s just advertising for the sophisticated (and rich) buyer.

What then if you commission a renowned illustrator to produce the artwork for a special edition series of bottlings (even here, there seems to be conjecture as to whether illustration counts as Art. Anyone care to put forward a position?). anCnoc (pronounced ah-nock), produced by Knockdhu Distillery, did just that, recruiting Scottish born, currently New York based illustrator Peter Arkle to create artwork for a special set of limited edition releases. The name and artwork of each bottling in the series reflects a different aspect of the distillery, such as ‘Ingredients’, ‘Casks’, ‘Warehouse’ and ‘Luggage’ (a travel retail exclusive).

The bottle I possess is called ‘Bricks’… which rather does what it says on the tin to be honest. The artwork on the tube features a wall of bricks adorned by a bright yellow warning sign announcing ‘Remarkable Liquid’. anCnoc says that the release pays homage to their dunnage warehouses, wherein the walls are adorned by signs such as ‘Danger, Explosive Atmosphere’ and ‘Flammable Liquid’ (and probably more importantly, ‘No Smoking or Naked Lights’), reminding the occupants of the powerful forces at play.

The whisky in each edition has it’s own special twist; in the case of ‘Bricks’ that means a mixture of Spanish oak ex-sherry butts and American oak ex-bourbon barrels bottled at 46% abv. Straight up on the nose you can smell the sherry; this isn’t the heavy leather and dark wood drawing room vibe you get from some sherried drops though, but more like eating a packet of chocolate coated raisins on a sun lounge on the patio. At the back there’s also a delicate splash of grapefruit, pear and cinnamon.

I have come to the conclusion that my official tasting note for anCnoc is ‘dusty’, because I’ve found the same thing in every one that I’ve tried so far. It’s kind of like walking into a wood-work shop and breathing in that light dusting of wood powder that’s everywhere. Or perhaps walking down a forest track in summer with a light breeze stirring up dust from the earth and the vegetation. The spirit coasts lightly across the tongue, not like a brick at all, and ends with a delicious, crisp burst of citrus and raisins that lingers on for some time.

I can’t really speak for whether the ‘Bricks’ constitutes Art or not, but I rather suspect it lies in eye of the beholder and the value you place on such things. There is certainly one aspect of the work that I can give a definitive answer on though: it is indeed Remarkable Liquid. The Bricks possess the bright, summery lightness of other anCnoc’s that I have tried, but the addition of sherry introduces a complexity that takes it to a whole other level and I think perhaps that is where the real artistry lies. It does look rather spiffy on the shelf though. Perhaps I shall have to collect the whole set and contemplate the matter more deeply.

★★★★

anCnoc Bricks label

Catto’s Blended Scotch Whisky

Reviewed by: Nick

Catto's Blended Scotch

I’m not going to lie to you, fellow Wafflers. I bought this bottle of distinctly bottom-shelf blended scotch for numerous reasons – none of which concerned actually drinking the whisky. Firstly, it was the most Aussie sounding bottle I’ve ever seen (try saying it in an Australian accent – it’s very satisfying); secondly, you can’t look past a $30 price tag; and lastly because there was a sick masochistic part of me hoping I could label it the ‘worst whisky in the world’!

I was left rather disappointed. For the first time in my life I was disappointed that a whisky was better than I had thought. Instead of being completely putrid, it was merely rather awful.

Sweet honeyed notes accompany the alcohol burn on the nose while vanilla toffee struggles to break through. The palate is rough; spicy and leafy with flavours of barley sugar amid the burn. The finish is unpleasant and too long for my liking with a lingering sweetness that I found myself longing for it to dissipate.

There you have it folks. Who would have thought, a blend called Catto’s is simply dreadful rather than being soul-destroyingly disgusting. And despite all my criticism and complaining, if you have a look at the photo, you’ll see the bottle is nearly empty. Sometimes a bit of rubbish bottom shelf is exactly what you need.

Auchentoshan Heartwood

Reviewed by: Ted

Auchentoshan Heartwood

If you’ve ever flown overseas, then chances are you will have wandered through the duty free section and marvelled at the huge selection of booze available. For some reason the brand marketers have decided that what the Jetset crowd really crave are exclusive releases that are not worthy of the wingless plebs on the street. Indeed, a whisky fan can spend hours gazing at all the fancy labels, musing about the unusual caskings and trying to decide whether to get that 1L bottle of NAS Scotch, or lash out and buy that rare Japanese number in the gorgeous bottle.

The thing is, are these exclusive bottlings actually any good compared to their standard counterparts?

Let’s take the Auchentoshan Heartwood as an example (not to be confused with the Tasmanian Heartwood brand). Hailing from the Lowlands of Scotland, the Non Age Statement Heartwood edition is produced ‘exclusively for the global traveller’ (that’s you). Auchentoshan itself is notable for being one of the only distilleries in Scotland to triple distil its whisky.

The packaging for the Heartwood is pretty much the same as the standard range, just bigger thanks to the 1L bottle size (aww yeah!). ‘Heartwood’ refers to the dense wood at the centre of a tree, which Auchentoshan rather tenuously links to bourbon and sherry casking being at the heart of their whisky (yeah, they had to torture that one a bit).

Marketing guff it may be, but the bit about using bourbon and Oloroso casks is true. The colour certainly suggests that sherry barrels have been in the vicinity; Auchentoshan claims that the particular hue of the spirit is ‘dark honeycomb’. I on the other hand think that it looks, well, orange, rather like that other most Scottish of drinks: Irn-Bru. A tad heavy on the E150 perhaps? (I’ve since found this great article by LittleTipple noting that the colour of Auchentoshan looks rather similar to bodybuilders who have got a bit excited with the fake tan. Good times).

The nose is dull and heavy, oozing over the rim of the glass like an exhausted slug. After a while the dark brew starts to present toffee and almonds (praline perhaps?) and Terry’s chocolate orange.

The mouth is thick and sweet, with a dense oakiness that lives up to its namesake. The finish offers a lingering hit of burnt orange that is oddly unsatisfying.

In conclusion, buyer beware. The exotic looking jewels of the duty free section may appear tempting, but on closer examination you might just discover that all you really have is a poor imitation of the original. Still, you can’t deny they’re fun to look at. Happy flying, and good luck!

★★

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.

★★★

 

Confessions of a Geriatric Whisky Newbie Part 2

Posted by: Chris AKA the Geriatric Newbie

(Part 1 appeared here as ‘Queries from a first time Waffler’)

I’ve been a seasoned whisky drinker for over three months now, so it’s time to look back on the journey so far. If ‘seasoned’ is the right word to use, rather than just ‘pickled’.

To recap: I took up whisky drinking rather late, at the age of seventy, as part of a search for a relaxing and hopefully slightly disreputable hobby to help brighten up the declining years. Somewhat unexpectedly, what began as a plan to buy just two samples and test the waters rapidly expanded into a collection of over thirty bottles. Perhaps there was a need to make up for lost time in the search for the perfect drop. Or perhaps I was corrupted by reading Whisky Waffle? Yes, that must be it – it couldn’t possibly be all my own fault. But the two biggest factors have been that the research is fascinating and, it has to be said, it can be a lot of fun having a hobby that you can drink.

I can’t claim that money was no object – some whisky enthusiasts can apparently afford truly crazy money in pursuit of their passion – but I did have enough saved up to be able to build a small collection without being restricted to only the cheapest varieties. The whiskies I’ve accumulated include some single malts and (whisper it….) some blends. The least I paid was $35 for a Ballantine’s Finest and the most expensive bottle, so far, was $114 for an Aberlour A’bunadh.

For the record, I bought blends from Ballantine’s, Chivas, Dewars, and Johnnie Walker. And Irish Whiskey from Jameson, Bushmill and Teeling. The single malts range from the Lowlands of Scotland to the Highlands and some from Speyside, plus a couple from Islay. Finally, some from Penderyn – the only distillery in Wales.  I hasten to add that they’re not all open yet. Didn’t know that I was capable of such restraint. At least, I’m fairly sure there’s one still sealed somewhere… exploring other parts of the world, naturally including Tasmania, will come later.

But where should a newbie begin? One can only hope to scratch the surface of the hundreds, if not thousands, of whiskies now on the market. So many decisions to make. Do I want to become the sort of afficionado who will only sip the finest single malts, and actively enjoy getting snooty and sniffy about blends? Or will I aim to become a party animal who will try anything provided it’s sloshed into a glass with enough cola? Despite what I initially imagined, it appears that drinking blended whisky, and also adding some kind of mixer, is by far the most popular way of enjoying it worldwide. Apparently, historically it always has been. Despite the rise in popularity of  single malts over  the past few decades, over 90% of the output of the Scottish distilleries still goes into blended whisky.

Confession02Pic01

Attempting the correct style of snooty face

Soooo…. This whisky business might be more complicated than I thought. It seems that I will not only be chugging it down neat, delightful though that is. Maybe some long whisky drinks could be just the thing for summer. I could try some tentative experiments with some of that Ballantine’s or perhaps the Johnnie Walker Black Label. That’s not a hanging offence, is it?? I might experiment with a range of mixers – in particular, soda, dry ginger, cola and coconut water. Yes, apparently coconut is very big as a whisky mixer in some parts of the world. Green tea too. Who knew? Not me, until I started doing the reading. Of course, soda, dry ginger ale and other mixers have always been popular, even in relatively traditional circles. Adding soda or ‘dry’ to the whisky was certainly the mainstream fashion among adults when I was a boy. Admittedly that was back in the middle of last century, so things may have moved on a bit….

I bought a variety of whisky books, including a couple by the splendid Charles MacLean. Also The World Atlas of Whisky and Whisky: The Manual, both by respected whisky writer Dave Broom. All are good value, and they point out that whisky has a long and venerable history as a mixer. Indeed in the early days it was almost exclusively drunk mixed with a variety of herbs, spices and other ingredients. Maybe it was too rough to get down neat? So, mixing is neither recent nor sacreligious! Good to know that. Nick and Ted may disagree though. I may even get evicted from their Tasmanian Temple of Tippling for mischievous mixing. Holding my breath now…

Of course some drinkers have always liked their Scotch neat or with a splash of water, but the big marketing push to sell single malt Scotches to the world as a solo drink apparently began in the late 1970s and early 1980s. According to Charles Maclean and Dave Broom, two factors drastically reduced the demand from the whisky blenders who had previous bought the majority of the output from the distilleries.  Firstly, a slump in the global economy and secondly the rapid rise in popularity of competing spirits such as vodka, white rum, etc. and of course wine. So the makers needed to look for an additional way of marketing their products. Building new market images for their single malts was the answer. Lucky us. Even at this early stage I’ve sampled some very nice single malts that I probably won’t be trying with cola just yet.

But which styles will make the cut? Neat Johnnie Walker Green label? Auchentoshan Three Wood? Will Lagavulin and Coke make the grade? Ballantine’s and coconut juice? Place your bets now, and stay tuned. Many thanks to Nick and Ted for the chance to waffle on.

Cheers to all.  Chris.

Fortunately, as you can see, all this dedicated whisky testing has had no noticeable effect on me at all. Just lucky I guess.

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