From a small distillery you’ve probably never heard of = check.
Surely I’ve written this exact review before, right? WRONG! Because this whisky is quite unlike anything going around at the moment!
Hillwood Distillery, based just north of Launceston, is the creation of father and sons team: Paul, Ollie, Daniel and Joel Herron. Inspired by their love of creating things, they decided single malt whisky was a product they could all get on board with. Together, they began to lay down small barrels in 2018.
This particular bottle is one of the first Hillwood whiskies released and was aged in the rather uncommon cask type: ex-chardonnay. The barrel influence is significant and part of what makes this a very different whisky to most coming out of the state. Like all Hillwood releases, it is bottled at cask strength, in this case 61.4%, and was one of only 37 bottles.
Let’s begin with the colour. That colour. Wow. Dark whiskies are actually the norm for Hillwood. Paul believes it is to do with the mineral content in the local water, which I couldn’t even begin to verify, but whatever it is, the whisky comes out of a cask which once housed a distinctly white wine looking like a jar of molasses.
On the nose there is an initial whiff of apricot jam which quickly transforms into white chocolate, butterscotch and tiramisu. The palate is intense and grapey with sweet gooey notes of vanilla-latte and Werther’s Originals: caramel topping on ice cream. There’s also a hint of fruitcake, which is curious considering there’s not a hint of fortified wine used in this whisky’s creation. The finish is long. Oh-so long! The sweetness dries off rapidly leaving a lingering oaky spice.
The wood-influence is noticeably present, in no small part thanks to the 20-litre cask the whisky was aged in, but as much as this threatens to overwhelm the delicate chardonnay notes, it never does, leaving a finely balanced flavour bomb. It is an impressive whisky which gets better with every sip.
For many folk there must be a temptation to pass off the Hillwood Chardonnay Cask as just another unpredictable single cask release, yet I can thoroughly recommend seeking this one out, or at least something similar from Hillwood. There is a mini chardonnay cask movement occurring at the moment and it is fascinating to taste the results. I would even go so far as to argue that this is the best of the bunch.
Over the past two years we have brought our Waffling to the airwaves with our Whisky Waffle Podcast. It’s reached people all over the world and we’ve recently added an interview series with people in the industry. It’s all looking pretty exciting for the future of the pod – which is why we are trying to take things to the next level by launching a Whisky Waffle Patreon!
Patreon is an (completely optional!) service where you can pay as little as a few dollars a month to access bonus content, have a say on features for the pod and become part of an inner circle of Wafflers. Hosting a podcast costs us lots of money, not to mention the countless hours spent editing and we hope that through Patreon we might be able to balance out some of that.
Here is a run down of the tiers you can jump in at. Amounts listed here are in (roughly) Australian dollars as the website works in American dollars. Each tier receives the benefits of those below it in addition to the tiers own rewards:
$3/month: Carrier Pigeon. You will get your name on our High Spirits List, access to our posts and the ability to vote on what whisky we review
$5/month: Feints Club. You will get access a bonus episode ‘The Feints’ every month. The Feints is a section (usually recorded late in a recording session) far too waffly to use in a regular episode
$10/month: Official Waffler. You will receive an induction as an Official Waffler on the pod, a personalised membership certificate and get access to the whole uncut Waffling With interviews which we conduct
$25/month: Drinking Buddy. We will send you (as a gift) a 30ml sample of our monthly review whisky so you can drink along with us!
$50/month: Tasting Panel. We will send you (as a gift) a 30ml dram of something local and/or interesting that we’ve been tasting recently
$100/month: Cask Strength. Basically you will become our hero and we will worship you on each episode of the pod. We’ll make you personalised tasting videos and regularly go on about your awesomeness.
Just a quick note: the tiers where we post you out a little sample bottle are Australia-only at the moment (sorry!)
Just to clarify, there is no compulsion to join our Patreon. The podcast will continue as normal and everyone will be able to access it for free. However, there will be bonus content available for those who want to come with us on this journey.
Terroir/tɛrˈwɑː (n) the characteristic taste and flavour imparted to a whisky by the environment in which it is produced
Terroir is a divisive subject. How much impact can water, soil, air and climate really have on a whisky’s flavour in comparison to cask types when aging and cut points when distilling?
I was in the camp that would claim ‘negligible’. And then I went to McHenry Distillery. Now I get it. Because when we drank a specific whisky in a specific location… it all lined up. It all made sense. McHenry is a distillery like no other in Australia. In fact, the only comparison you could make… is Scotland.
The Scottish connections run deeply through the veins of McHenry Distillery. The day we visited veered wildly between cold and freezing with the occasional gust of snow. In fact, the near identical rainfall and humidity levels mean whisky maturation is more Scotland than Tasmania, even down to the cask size: there is hardly a 20 litre barrel to be found, with 200 litres or more preferred. And then there’s the man himself: founder and head distiller, William McHenry, who began seriously entertaining the idea of making whisky when a friend suggested that he had the right name for it.
William, or Bill, when Mr Lark is not in the room, made the momentous decision in 2010 while living in Sydney, to uproot his family and move their future business to a remote wilderness block half way up Mount Arthur on the Tasman Peninsula. Standing at the top looking out across the wilderness really does feel like you’ve come to the edge of the world. While these two cultural extremes may have been jarring for the family, Bill immediately felt at peace, particularly when he discovered a natural spring flowing out of the mountain.
“Having grown up in Adelaide, the driest state in the driest country on earth, when you have a water source on your property, you cherish it. It’s gold. And because the water coming off the Southern Ocean is falling through some of the cleanest air in the world, it deposits some of the best quality water you can find on the planet. And that certainly makes this place special.”
After tapping into the spring to provide the water for his whisky, he got to work turning this untamed patch of land into a distillery.
The site resembles a frontier town. A series of long, narrow buildings spreading outwards from an off-centre origin, the timber cladding all rapidly turning a distinguished silver. It is a distillery that has clearly expanded organically, a new building established here or there when the need arose. There are small cabins for guests to stay in, and bond stores starting to be dotted around the hill. And there’s plenty of room for more.
Half way up Mount Arthur is the gin-making pavilion, the Devils Lair cottage and most special of all: The Bothy. Sheltering inside the tiny room next to a roaring fire with a dram of McHenry whisky while a storm rages is one of the most authentic whisky moments Whisky Waffle have experienced. As Bill poured us a dram, we realised this is how the environment influences a whisky. Three mates, four walls, a sleepy dog and a roaring fire. This is what terroir is all about. It may not be the traditional French definition, but the impact the sense of place had on our interpretation the flavour of is undeniable.
If it feels like McHenry Distillery has been around for a while but not released much whisky, it’s because this is largely true. Bill has no interest in releasing whisky before its time and would largely like to stick to vatted age statement releases. Again, sticking to the formula laid down by the Scots.
Instead, you may know McHenry only for their gin. Bill was an early adopter of the while-we-wait method of gin creation and quickly became one of Australia’s most renowned gin makers, even becoming the official gin provider for government house with their exceptional ‘Federation Gin’.
However, fellow Wafflers take heed: 2021 will see some 10-year-old McHenry whisky come of age and, in a few years, Bill hopes to have a readily-available supply of consistently flavoured whisky unleashed upon the world.
And when you do get your hands on a bottle, you can easily pour yourself a tasty dram of McHenry whisky wherever you are in the world. But sitting in a storm-lashed bothy at the edge of the world? That is the truest experience of all. Experience that and you might finally believe in Terroir.
Diageo, for those who don’t know, is the largest spirit producer in the western world. Their whisky makers include heavy hitters such as Lagavulin, Dalwhinnie, Talisker and Caol Ila. However, these ‘classic malts’ only constitute part of their collection – there are a number of other distilleries whose spirit you probably would have only tasted mixed into a dram of Johnnie Walker.
Dailuaine is one such distillery, a Speyside establishment known for its heavily sherried style. While you won’t find it in many mainstream bottle shops, it is not impossible to track down an independently aged version and if you find some hidden upon a dusty shelf, then it is well worth picking up. This particular Flora & Fauna bottling is bottled at 43% after aging for 16 years in ex-oloroso barrels, a maturation that has contributed significantly to its flavour.
On the nose, the taster is immediately presented with the classic fruitcake aromas typical of its cask type. Hints of cinnamon doughnuts follow, alongside fresh fruit such as apples and melon. On the palate there are tangy orange juice flavours alongside buttery shortbread and chocolate coated raisins. The finish is long and chewy with toffee-almonds and a hint of lingering oak.
While Dailuaine may not be the most famous of Diageo’s stable, it proves that there’s a lot of exciting whiskies to try if you stray from the well-worn path. Next time it might be a Strathmill or an Inchgower, or perhaps a Blair Athol or a Mannochmore…
This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where we discuss/gossip about developments at Tasmania’s most famous distillery and speculate at the plans of their AWH overlords
– The Whisky, where we review the TIB vatted malt 3, Tim Duckett’s cheapest release yet! and
– Mystery Whisky, where Nick nearly figures out a duty free Bunnahabhain but fails at the final hurdle
It’s my Dad’s birthday today. I suppose this day tends to make me a bit introspective because he died in 2013. Since then I’ve been finding my way through life in certain aspects without the guiding hand of a father, a fact that I regret more as I grow older and one that I didn’t appreciate enough as a callow youth. History and literature warn us of this condition of course, but I suppose it’s hard to understand at the time… and by then it’s too late.
The reason I first started this musing, over breakfast, as you do, was that I was trying to decide what dram would be best to toast to his health tonight (ironic as that is). I’ve mentioned this before, but for some reason I always associate him with Dalwhinnie 15 (whisky-wise at any rate). It’s a bit of a mystery why really, as it’s not like he was a great aficionado of Scotland’s highest distillery.
If anything, I should remember him by the 1L bottles of Johnnie Walker Red he used to keep in the pantry and swore by as a cold remedy. But the whisky snob in me has become jaded against the walking man in the red jacket I think, so while the memory is fond, the desire to imbibe from that particular cup is lacking.
I suppose, getting down to it, I think the real reason I entwine my father and the Dalwhinnie is purely a selfish one – I bought him the bottle. So, is it really a reflection of him, or of me? My own tastes overriding his in my memory?
To mount a defence against myself, the sentiment comes from a place of love. I bought him the bottle when m’colleague and I were first beginning our whisky journey, back before Whisky Waffle was even a thing. Back when we were in a Cold War arms race to impress each other with ever more interesting bottles.
During my teenage years and as a young adult, I had always struggled to talk with my father. I mean in the deep, honest and open sense, sharing the deeper parts of myself with him. We were quite different people, and it didn’t help that I was wrapped up in the arrogance of youth and he tended towards quietude and reserve.
I suspect that with the Dalwhinnie 15, my hope was that here was something that we could enjoy together. I know that I wanted to share my newfound interest with him and to talk with him about it, even though he probably found me slightly pretentious (still am?). The quality of the 15 would have been a good social leveller though. We did enjoy the occasional dram when I was around too, but whether it opened us up I’m not as sure.
I know from friends and the world at large that young men (hopefully) tend to develop a deeper, more equal and respectful relationship with their fathers as they grow older. I’m generally pretty sanguine about his death in itself, but I do regret that he is gone. With maturity and hindsight, I wonder what our relationship, perhaps even friendship (which is a nice thought), would be now. Alas, so many unanswered questions, so many things left unsaid.
I still have that bottle of Dalwhinnie sitting on my shelf. Of course I reclaimed it after the fact, it would be bad manners not to! It’s down to the dregs now, but for some reason I haven’t been able to finish it.
Part of me has just been avoiding writing a review about it. But perhaps, subconsciously, it’s because the bottle is wrapped up with other memories? Would another bottle make it easier to put pen to paper and record the facts as I see, smell and taste them? Perhaps.
Keeping that bottle alive in such a diminished state has been doing it no favours either. After at least five years rattling around the bottom, exposure to time and the elements will have irrevocably changed the nature of the spirit by a thousand tiny cuts… Huh, that’s quite a good metaphor for incurable cancer actually.
I am quietly an advocate for the right to die with dignity, to bring about closure while enough shreds of a person’s humanity remain. Or even just to be able to make choices about how and where you would like to die, assisted or not, if that luxury is able to be afforded to you. My heart broke enough with the gifts of time and the acceptance of Death’s ultimatum, so I cannot begin to fathom the world-shattering pain that suddenness would bring, although I have trodden the broken glass of its edges.
So, I think that the time has come to bring an end to my bottle. Another one can always be bought and the same memory attached to that mnemonic vessel time and again (as long as Diageo doesn’t decide to drop the 15). It is unfair to the ideals that I originally bought it, to share with my father, and the effort that went into creating the liquid itself, to allow it to moulder away on my shelf. Whisky is, of course, for drinking.
No, this one is for me, as my porridge grows cold in the microwave and a small voice in my head quietly screams that I need to get to work (luckily the commute is just to the back room, as I’m working from home during COVID-19). But overriding all else is Dad’s voice, growing fainter every year, which has derailed me on this day to come unbidden into my mind and drip bittersweet words onto the page.
Or maybe it’s just me, alone at the kitchen table.
This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where we discuss the state of the whisky world during the time of Corona;
– The Whisky, where we review the cask strength classic sherry bomb: the Aberlour A’bunadh;
– Mystery Whisky, where Ted struggles to identify a west coast wonder from the USA, partly because Nick gets muddled up between Westland and Westward; and
– Dram in the box, where Ted produces a ground breaking whisky from Sweden
It’s time for our (once again) annual Christmas Special where the left over odds and ends from the year’s recording blocks find their way onto the airwaves! It’s a mishmash of an episode but as entertaining as always!
This episode contains:
– Unlucky 13, where we line up the following whiskies to one by one pick our best tasting out of the following:
Glenfiddich 12, Glenfiddich 18, Glendronach 12, Balvenie DW 12, Glenfarclas 15, Aberlour A’bunadh, Highland Park 12, Oban 14, Talisker 10, Ardbeg 10, Laphroaig 10, Chivas Regal 12, Johnnie Walker Black;
– Mystery Whisky, where Ted is confused but ultimately impressed by a Rye from Archie Rose;
– Whisky Would You Rather, where we have the ultimate showdown: bourbon vs sherry maturation
– Drinking Buddies, where Paul tells us what’s in his glass; and
– Smash Session or Savour, where Ted has to find something to savour in three very unsavourable drams
This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where we talk about tasting notes: helpful, or simply bollocks?
– The Whisky, where we enthuse about a peaty Kilchoman matured in red wine casks;
– From the Spirit Sack, where we try and figure out just how many distilleries there are in Tasmania; and
– Smash, Session or Savour, where three 12 year old sherry bombs face off
For those following the podcast feed lately you will have noticed all the old episodes appearing on the feed – but now we’re up to date and it’s time to release a brand new show! Have a listen and let us know your thoughts on social media or in the comments!
This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where an old bottle of bottom shelf makes the Wafflers wonder if they may be snobbier about whisky than they thought;
– The whisky, where the boys confront what was, for a brief time, the peatiest whisky on earth;
– Mystery Whisky, where Ted effectively cheats by bringing a bottle which is not made from barley, corn or rye; and
– Whisky Would You Rather, where the cream of the Tasmanian crop goes head to head