Scotch

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.

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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.

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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.

Confession02Pic02

 

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.

★★

Troubling revelations emerge about embattled Tasmanian distiller Nant

Posted by: Ted

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Things just got a little bit crazy in the Tasmanian distilling scene, with a new twist emerging in the furore surrounding embattled distillery Nant. Once a force to be reckoned with in the nascent Tassie whisky industry, the bottom appeared to fall out of the boat last year when Nant founder Keith Batt filed for bankruptcy and the distillery was taken on by Australian Whisky Holdings. At that time AWH promised that it would conduct a full audit and investigation of Nant’s finances and stock.

Now according to a bombshell article released today by national broadcaster ABC News, it is alleged that the audit has revealed that over 700 barrels purchased by investors were never actually filled. As part of its start up business model, Nant ran a barrel buy-back scheme where investors could purchase a number of barrels, with guaranteed yearly return of around 9%. After a period of around four years when the whisky had matured, Nant would buy back the barrels for bottling and sale. Happy days, drams all round.

However, in the period leading up to the crash there were worrying rumours going around about investors having trouble accessing the barrels that they had purchased or selling them back to the distillery. Once Nant passed into the hands of AWH, many investors were left unsure whether they would get anything back at all.

Now according to the ABC News article, while AWH have said that while many people will still get paid out, the owners of the non-existent barrels will have to take up the issue with Nant.

The tale gets ever twistier too, as apparently a large number of barrels have already been decanted and sold without the knowledge and remuneration of investors. Troublingly, many were also found to have their owner names and numbers sanded off. Weirdly, a significant number of barrels were found to be filled with new-make at an ABV of only 45%, well below the usual cask strength.

Where to from here remains to be seen, but hopefully investors left in the lurch will be able to find some sort of resolution to their plight. While this event may cause some concern for onlookers, they should rest assured that the Tasmanian whisky community as a whole is resilient and continues to be committed to crafting the highest quality, locally produced spirits.

The only question that remains at this time is whether to crack that unopened bottle of Nant still hiding on the shelf.

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!

★★★★

Delving into Dark Valley: the launch of Tassie’s latest dram

Posted by: Nick

nick-and-dark-valley

Independent bottling in Tasmania is a relatively rare thing. Sure, there’s the mighty Heartwood leading the way and a few others coming on board, but by and large, it’s an unexplored market. One person who realised this a long time ago is whisky fanatic and Whisky Waffle guest contributor, Alex ‘Moorsey’ Moores. Despite maintaining a fledgling full-time career in law, he has achieved what most whisky lovers can only dream about – he has created his own whisky: Dark Valley.

mooresy-and-dark-valley

Dark Valley was named after the area of Hobart in which Alex grew up, Glen Dhu. While the temptation was there to name his drams simply ‘Glen Dhu’, being a qualified solicitor he was aware of the legal dangers of such a Scottish sounding name. He instead opted to translate the Gaelic into English and name his bottles ‘Dark Valley’, setting the tone for the gothic labels and imagination-stirring individual release titles such as ‘Raven’s Roost’ and ‘Hunter’s Keep’. Importantly for Alex, he did not wish to tinker in any way with the whisky – he wanted to showcase it in as close to its natural form as possible. This meant no diluting, no blending, no finishing and no filtering. His aim was to create a whisky that was the next best thing to getting it straight from a barrel.

While the first releases from Dark Valley feature whisky distilled at Lark Distillery, it is Alex’s hope that one day all Tasmanian distilleries will contribute spirit for his range. He already has Redlands on board and northern-Tassie’s new boys Adams are next on the list. For now though, there are three different bottlings in existence, all of which I was lucky enough to try at Dark Valley’s Hobart launch.

dark-valley

The first I tried was the 60.3% sherry matured ‘Raven’s Rest’. My initial reaction was “Yes. Yes yes yes. Yes. Yes.” It was like cooking raspberry jam – so warm and fruity. Next up was the ‘Widow’s Watch’ – bourbon matured and 65.8%, it was full of vanilla and baked goods. I decided on cupcakes, with orange icing and poppy seeds.  Finally was the port matured 62.7% ‘Hunter’s Keep’, and it was my favourite of the lot. It combined the flavours of the other two beautifully while adding hints of cinnamon and nutmeg, creating an effect I described as ‘mulled whisky’. It was superb.

The drawbacks of setting up a new whisky brand is, of course, the cost. Dark Valley will certainly not be going into mass-production any time soon. In fact, these releases came from tiny 20 litre casks, meaning just over 30 bottles of each were made. However, this doesn’t mean you’re unlikely ever to see sight nor sound or them. Alex’s very firm goal is to get Dark Valley into whisky bars – and not into the hands of collectors. He intends to get his product into various establishments in Melbourne and Tasmania, with a few in Hobart showing some interest after the successful launch. In the coming months, if you happen to be near a whisky bar in any of these locations, ask after Dark Valley, because once people discover how good it is it’s not going to last long.

dark-valley-bottle

Finally, on a more personal note, I’d just like to offer my sincerest congratulations to Alex for achieving the spectacular feat of getting his whisky to bottling stage. Moorsey is a genuinely top bloke and I know he’ll be another wonderful torchbearer for Tasmanian whisky.