Single Malt

Sawford Distillery: Welcome to the family

Posted by: Ted

“Sorry I’m a bit late!” exclaims Jane as she sweeps into Sawford Distillery, “The kids have just had their nap and are now at the park with my sister.”
“Everything revolves around nap time these days” laughs husband and head distiller Mark, chipping in on the conversation as he checks the stills.

Family is core to everything at Sawford Distillery, but that idea isn’t just limited to blood relatives. It also extends to the relationships and community that Mark and Jane Sawford want to create around their distillery.

Mark and Jane Sawford relaxing in front of their shiny stills

Jane herself is the scion of a famous Tasmanian whisky family. Most people would know her as Jane Overeem, the daughter of one of the founding fathers of the modern scene, Casey Overeem. During Whisky Waffle’s recent visit to Sawford, we are immediately struck by that rich sense of heritage and connection as soon as we enter the bond store.

Sporting something of a Cold War chic (one can imagine secret agents hurrying through, clutching top-secret counter-espionage dossiers), the bond store has an important place in Tasmanian whisky history: “This was originally Bill Lark’s back in the very early days,” Jane tells us, “But after he left, my dad was quick to snap it up. This room is where we used to bottle the Overeem. Mum used to do the bottling, Dad did the labelling and I did the packing. Then I had to take the boxes down to the local post office to send off. It was all part of building the Overeem brand!”

The old Overeem bottling bench. In a few years time it’ll be Sawford’s turn.

While the bench may still be covered in Overeem bottles, these days all the barrels in the next room are filled with Sawford spirit, meaning that one day in the near future it might be Jane’s kids helping to pack their own namesake whisky. That day is still a little way off though as, unlike a lot of Tassie distilleries, the Sawfords are taking the slow approach.

“This place is quite cool and has a very stable climate, allowing for a much longer, gentler maturation” comments Mark as he clambers up onto the top of the racks to thieve some whisky.
“Dad always said that he wanted his spirit to taste like whisky and not oak,” adds Jane, “And we’ve really taken that on board. That’s why we’re mostly using l00L-plus barrels and playing the long game to get the best out of the spirit.”

While we’re down in the bond store, Mark and Jane are kind enough to share some of the fruits of their labour with us (when in Rome, eh?). Mark taps barrel #002, a 100l port cask that’s been down for about 2.5yrs (#001 is off limits as it’s been “getting sampled a bit too often”) and it’s good. Like, really good. Unfortunately we get a bit distracted drinking the whisky and forget to write down any tasting notes, but I remember thinking at the time that if this stuff is cracking after only 2.5yrs, imagine what it’s going to be like on its release around 2022.

Back when Mark and Jane were first toying with the idea of starting their own distillery, there was some resistance from a surprising source, with Jane revealing “Dad strongly encouraged us to put up a solid business plan first, as it’s very expensive – and a long time before you see any return. But we worked through it all, and now he’s very supportive and excited for us!”

Mark has been grateful for the support and whisky making know-how of his father-in-law, having come into the Overeem family past-time as an outsider. “When Jane and I first got together Casey kept an eye on me, as prospective father-in-laws do. But we get along really well, we like to have a beer together. Casey mentored me when we started Sawford. He was there to help me in the first few months and then slowly stepped back as I started to get a good grip on things.”

Mark’s own background is in hospitality, with several properties in the Kingston Beach area, but these days he spends a lot of his time running the stills at his distillery. “The reason I can spend five days a week here at the same time as running three businesses is because I have a good team around me.” Putting in that effort means that Mark is currently able to coax around 40 000L of spirit a year out of the stills and after 2.5 years, already has a couple-of-hundred barrels down. “I don’t want to have the same problem as Casey did back in the day and be saying ‘I wish I put down more spirit down’.”

Back out on the distillery floor, the digs are modern and airy, sharing a wall with the White Label contract distillery, which Sawford helps source barrels for and for which Jane is the sales manager. Taking pride of place on the Sawford side are the Knapp Lewer-built 1800L wash still and 800L spirit still, inspired by the original Overeem stills. “We’re very sensory with our cuts,” comments Mark, “I’m always trying to improve instead of just going through the motions.”

Mark getting ‘sensory’ with the cuts

The stills themselves are brightly burnished, almost purple, and rippling with a rainbow sheen; keen Instagram followers will know that this gleam is the result of a ‘family still polishing day’ a few months ago. “We like to think that the way we present our stills and our distillery is a representation of who we are,” Mark tells us proudly as we gaze at our reflections.

Another representation of who Mark and Jane are is the large silver monogram adorning the back wall in the distillery. According to Jane, ‘S&O’ (Mark Sawford & Jane Overeem) stands as a symbol for “who we are as a couple – two families coming together to make something beautiful.”

Being based in the ‘romantic’ Huntingfield industrial estate means that Sawford is unlikely to pick up any location awards, but Mark isn’t fazed: “We didn’t want to go down the location bent, we want to celebrate the people instead. We wanted our brand to be real, not to pretend that we’re something that we’re not. What we really value is building relationships.”

Jane backs him up on that idea all the way: “Back in the day we had to go knocking on everyone’s doors to try to sell the Overeem and convince them to take a chance on Tassie whisky. We’re going to have to go through all that again with Sawford, not necessarily because people need convincing these days, but because we want to build that personal relationship up with all the bars and businesses and the community. Having those connections with people is something that is really important to us.”

“Oops, sorry guys, I’ve got to go, the kids need picking up!” exclaims Jane apologetically as she hurries out the door again. Our time is up as well as we have an appointment to keep on the other side of the wall, so we say our goodbyes to Mark and ride off into the sunset (aka, around the corner to White Label).

You know, despite their hectic lives, the Sawfords really do walk the talk and go out of their way to make you feel like part of the community that they’re trying to build. Which is lucky, because at a time when the Tassie whisky industry feels like it’s growing by the minute and the big sharks are starting to circle, hopefully it’s people like Mark and Jane who will ensure that we never lose that sense of family.

Straight Batt 44%

Review by: Ted

Investing can be a tricky business – if it goes right then life is good, but there’s always the danger that things can go very, very pear-shaped and people get left empty-handed (and extremely pissed off). Unfortunately the Tasmanian whisky scene has witnessed the tragic side of investing in its short history, with the very public and messy collapse of a well-known distillery in 2016, that left investors bereft of their money, whisky (and cows).

Harry van der Woude was one of the lucky ones. His father Pieter had done some barrel investing when Harry was younger and when the opportunity to re-invest together came up, the younger van der Woude decided “Ah yeah, I’ll get in on that.” After hearing early rumours of trouble at the old mill, they decided to claim their spirit, ‘ambushing’ the distillery by rocking up out of the blue one day armed with the correct paperwork and a couple of empty replacement barrels to swap. Amazingly, they managed to walk out with their two barrels of partly-aged spirit, which is more than a lot of people managed when shit really went down (if the spirit ever existed in the first place in many cases).

After contemplating keeping it for themselves or selling it on as a lot, Harry and Pieter eventually decided to bottle their whisky as a limited-release special-edition run. According to Harry, one of the best aspects of the project was the chance for some quality father/son bonding time. While not being whisky experts themselves, handy friendships and family connections meant that they were able to access mentorship from some of the leading names in the local industry. Crucially, this allowed them to get expert advice about things like maturation lengths, bottling strength and flavour profiles.

The end result is the Straight Batt Single Malt, a limited run of 400 bottles created from a marriage of the two casks liberated by Harry and Pieter. After aging for six years, the 100L French oak ex-tawny and American oak ex-bourbon casks were married together then cut down to 44%. According to Harry, “We tried it at a variety of strengths and that’s just where the sweet-spot happened to be.”

Thanks to the origin of the spirit, the Straight Batt is relatively light in style. The nose is spicy and dry with light oaky notes, beeswax, aniseed, honey and ginger. The overall smell is like a soothing balm for the sting of mishandled investments. The palate is light and fairly smooth, with a slight herbal, almost minty note. The finish is relatively short, with a dry blue-metal and grape linger. The delicate body and ease of drinking would make it a good choice for helping to swallow bitter pills.

The label, designed by Hobart-born artist Alexander Barnes-Keoghan (aka Albarkeo), features a drawing of an old-style cricketer playing a cross-bat shot, instead of the straight bat(t) shot that the name suggests. According to Harry, the artwork is a bit of a visual joke and subtle dig at the main architect of the collapse (who is referenced in the name), who he feels should have played it straight with investors but instead took the wrong approach and got bowled out, taking the whole team with him.

Harry is keen to assure people that the label and the release are all about sticking it to the establishment and are not meant to denigrate those who lost their money: “I want people to see it as at least a small bit of good to come out of a dark time in Tasmanian whisky.”
“A lot of people say ‘Ah, I’d die to be in that position’ and you realise how lucky you are to be able to build something positive out of a misfortune.”
“That’d be the ideal thing for me really, if a few people who got left behind in the fallout reached out and got to at least see something out of the situation. This is solidarity for those who got burned.”

***

Glenfiddich Experimental Series #04: Fire & Cane 43%

Reviewed by: Ted

While it may hold the title of best selling single malt in the world, Glenfiddich can also be pretty divisive. I think that people tend to fall into one of five broad camps:

  1. People who don’t know any better and for whom single malt = Glenfiddich (this is what they get if they want to be posh and step up from the Johnnie Walker). Products of William Grant & Sons’ decades of advertising or ‘Mad Men’ fans, they will definitely ask for it served on the rocks.
  2. Fence sitters who don’t really care one way or the other. Would probably drink with coke if you let them (Philistines).
  3. Mad haters who loathe Glenfid because it’s ‘big whisky’ and ‘such a cliche’. Probably wears a moustache and likes single origin American ryes that you’ve never heard of or underground independent release.
  4. Tourists, because when in Scotland, the UK… (“Waidammit, hey honey, is Scotland in the Ewe-naa’ded Kingdom?” “Ah honestly don’t know Earl, is that the same as Enga-land?” Scots: “Not for long if we can help it!” #brexit #bullshit #freedom!)
  5. People who genuinely like Glenfiddich and recognise that while they might be a cliche, they actually make some pretty decent drams. Are probably fans of the 18yo, have eyed off an Age of Discovery in duty free and will half-heartedly defend the 12yo against the haters.

I definitely fall into the latter category and in addition to the above, I also like to keep an eye on what’s going on outside of the core range. In recent years Glenfid have been releasing what they have dubbed their ‘Experimental Series’, which they claim to be ‘game changing’ and ‘ground breaking’ (as mentioned previously, they’re also quite good with the marketing guff).

Once you get past the superlatives, the Experimental Series is all about interesting finishes, barrel combinations and playfulness. Brain child of Master Malter Brian Kinsman, past alumni include the IPA Experiment (of which I own a bottle and really must get around to reviewing), Project XX v1&2 and Winter Storm. The most recent release, #4, is called Fire & Cane and it’s a dram that is blatantly provocative.

Why? Because it says it right there on the bottle: “Fire & Cane – the whisky that will divide you”. Glenfid claims the reason for this is the two warring flavour profiles in the spirit, which splits people into two distinct camps, much like the great blue/gold dress debate of 2015 (just so you know, it was definitely blue, so there).

Team Fire: unusually for a Glenfid, the Fire & Cane is smoky (a fact you probably guessed from the name), a vatting of peated whisky and malts aged in ex-bourbon casks. Glenfid uses Highland peat in this, giving it a softer, friendlier profile than the medicinal/elemental Island peats.

Team Cane: What do you make out of cane? Wicker chairs of course! Oh, and rum. To give the release a big, sweet and spicy kick, Mr Kinsman used a variety of rum casks sourced from across South America to finish off the spirit for three months, thus creating the coal-ramel slice that is the Fire & Cane.

Glenfiddich are so conviced that people either taste the smoke or the sweet that they actually provide two sets of tasting notes with the bottle, offering you a choice depending on which side you fall. So where do I fall?

The nose is a suprisingly complex melange of tropical fruits like pineapple, guava, feijoa, papaya and banana, as well as caramel, straw and hot metal. That Highland peat is not really present as smokiness (“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not on Islay anymore”), but more of a savoury note that sits underneath the fruit. It’s kind of like a fresh fruit salsa on some smoky BBQ Caribbean jerk meat.

The peat is much more obvious on the palate, starting off as a tingly, ashy layer with pepper and cured meats before giving way to sharp and sour notes of mead, lemon, and underripe plums. The finish is bright and fairly dry, with a burnt-herb linger and a tickle of orange at the end.

Rather than falling squarely into one camp or the other and staying there like the Glenfid marketing team wants me to, I kind of feel like Harvey Dent/Two-Face flipping his coin. Sometimes I go one way and sometimes I go the other, getting smoky or sweet notes on different tries (whereas if I was Rozencrantz or Guildenstern, I’d be wondering why I kept getting the same flavour every time #obscuremoviereferences).

The Fire & Cane is a really good demonstration of how you can mess around with one of the best known whisky flavour profiles in the world to create something interesting and new. Traditionalists will probably turn their noses up, but for me, I like it. It’s zesty and fresh with a smoky twist and puts me in mind of camping at the beach in the tropics. If you can find a bottle, take a crack and see which side of the fence you fall on.

***

Let us know if you’re #TeamFire or #TeamCane

Signatory Vintage Tormore 1995

Reviewed by: Nick

Tormore sig 2

So, you’ve tried a single malt from every Scottish distillery you can get your grubby little mitts on and are now feeling slightly deflated and wondering what to do next? Good news, the answer is at hand: you can find some independent releases and go around again!

Independent bottlings are a wonderful x-factor in the whisky world – they amuse whisky nerds and confuse whisky noobs in equal measure – from a dusty old ‘Douglas Laing’ bottle right through to some ‘That Boutique-y Whisky Company’ with a comical and yet fitting label. Additionally, they also provide an opportunity to access some of the whisky made at lesser known distilleries; in this instance: Tormore.

Tormore is a vast monolithic-looking distillery a kilometre south of the river Spey, and is known mostly for providing spirit for Chivas-related blends. It was one of the very few distilleries built in the mid-20th century and is tricky to find iterations of outside of duty free. Unless, of course, it’s been independently bottled!

My particular independent bottler is Signatory Vintage, which I know next-to-nothing about – and freely confuse its logo with a bottle of Springbank. It would certainly fail to stand out on a shelf in a bar, which is why I think I have unearthed a bit of a hidden gem.

Stats! Something every whisky nerd can’t live without (no wonder we haven’t handled the transition to NAS releases particularly well)! This bottle of Tormore sat in ex-bourbon hogsheads between 1995 and 2016, making it 20 years old and is a marriage of cask 3907 and 3908. My particular bottle is number 394 and sits at a gentle 43%. And it’s rather tasty.

Tormore sig deets 2

The nose is oozing with sweet caramel alongside barley sugar and stewed figs. It subtly hints at oak, along citrus and melon notes. The palate is as surprising as it is delicious, full of tropical fruit characteristics. Banana stands out the most, as well as creamy vanilla and chopped nuts – it’s basically a banana split in whisky form! The finish is medium in length and gently earthy – not smoky but at least slightly cured – while vanilla custard flavours delicately linger.

This is a lovely little drop; one that perfectly accompanied the Tasmanian summer and BBQs that ensued and if it were not for an independent bottler setting aside a cask here or there, it’s not one many of us would be able to enjoy. So, if you’ve been holding back and sticking to the distillery’s own releases – well, maybe it’s time to give something independent a try.

★★★★

Iron House Tasman Whisky Port Cask P1 46.8%

Reviewed by: Ted

Safety warning: This whisky broke my leg. Well… maybe there were a few others involved that night too, but let this serve as a lesson! Make sure that you are in a secure, seated position and under no circumstances should you decide to do an impulsive (but well intentioned) dance. Bad things can happen. Ok, are you comfortable? Right, let’s get on with the story!

Once upon a time there was a brewery called Iron House. It was named after an old droving hut and sat overlooking the Tasman Sea on the East Coast of Tasmania. The head brewer, Briggsy, was sad because he had more wash than he could make into beer. One day he had a brilliant idea: he could transmute the excess wash into gold… liquid gold! And so he set out on a quest to create his own spiritus frumenti… whisky.

Ok, that’s enough of that for now. For the rest of the Iron House backstory, check out our articles here and here. But cutting to the chase, Briggsy (occasionally known as Michael Briggs) succeeded and recently released Iron House’s first whisky. Taking inspiration from their seaside location, the Iron House team has released their product under the label ‘Tasman Whisky’. The current range consists of the holy trinity of bourbon, sherry and port casks, of which I possess the latter.

The inspiration for the storybook start to this article is the unusual and decorative Tasman packaging, which is designed to look like a book. The outside has a grey, fabric-look covering, while the edges are printed to look like pages. There’s even a page inside telling the story of the distillery, covering the insert that holds flat bottle secure. According to brand ambassador Craig ‘Spilsy’ Spilsbury, part of the Iron House ethos is using their product to tell a story, hence the choice of the book box.

All-in-all it’s a very classy item and will look good displayed on a shelf, or tucked away amongst your book collection (a feature Briggsy claims is useful if you’re smuggling it into the house under the nose of your significant other). My one complaint is that there is no latching system for the cover, which means you have to be quite careful about how you carry it, but Briggsy assures me he’s working on some solutions.

My Port Cask is part of batch P1, a marriage of two 100L casks sourced from Portugal, and is bottled at 46.8%. The spirit itself is a nice burnished bronze colour, natch of course. On the nose, P1 is sticky and fruity, like opening a bag of raisins or sultanas. Beyond that is a mix of almonds, chestnuts, dried cherries, dates, honeycomb and a malty, toasty character.

The mouth also has that malty, biscuity character as well as a dollop of frangipane, a combination that makes me think of Bakewell tart. The finish is long, sharp and fruity, with peach syrup and Turkish delight, as well as a touch of chocolate. There’s also perhaps a slight saltiness to be found, which could be attributed to the fact that Iron House is a true coastal distillery, meaning that the aging spirit can pick up elements blowing in from the neighbouring Tasman Sea.

Interestingly, those malty notes are probably a factor of the Iron House still. Because they use a hybrid system, the wash is not discharged before the new-make runs off (ie. only one run is required rather than the usual two), meaning that heavier, cooked-cereal flavours can be transported right through to the end product. Even as I’m sitting here writing this, I’m getting a residual hint of Weetbix on the back of my palate.

The author getting a well deserved ribbing from Briggsy (R) and Spilsy

The Port Cask is definitely my favourite out of the current line-up and is a solid starting point for Iron House. Something else going in its favour is that while the $220 price point is pretty standard for Tasmanian fare, the bottle is 700ml, making it a much more tempting proposition. It’s well worth your time tracking down a bottle or dram of the Tasman Whisky, maybe just hold back on the victory dance when you do!

***

Glenlivet Nἁdurra Oloroso

Reviewed by: Nick

Glenlivet Nadurra WW

Speyside: home to smooth, elegant, subtle and well-balanced whiskies. Whiskies that represent the graceful and sophisticated flavours that this Scottish spirit has to offer.

And then there’s this one.

The Glenlivet name their cask strength range ‘Nadurra’, Gaelic for natural. While they have made bourbon-aged versions, the one that is most widely available is matured in first fill Oloroso casks and it has rapidly carved out a niche in the market previously dominated by Aberlour A’bunadh and Glenfarclas 105. This is possibly because The Glenlivet, being a huge distillery even by Scotland’s standards, can put out a good quantity of bottles at a reasonable price. What this means, however, is that the product released is quite young and… um… what’s the opposite of subtle?

If most Speyside drops are a Haydn violin concerto, the Glenlivet Nadurra is the Arctic Monkeys first album. It’s like bringing home to meet your mother that guy with tattoos, piercings and parole conditions.

The nose is probably the most refined aspect of the whisky; grape notes dominate alongside butter, apricots and leather car seats. It smells like it could be a cheap brandy, although having had very few expensive brandys in my life, I suppose it could smell like them, too.

The palate is where you get kicked in the face. The sherry is clearly the biggest factor at play here with rich dark fruits coating your tongue while elements of chocolate fudge, liquorice and oak try in vain to keep up. The finish is long, spicy and full of fire, and contains stewed apple flavours and a bitter piney note.

“So we get that it’s rough,” I hear you cry “but check the label, you berk – it’s freaking 60.3%! Surely a drop of water will fix this?”. I did try, fellow wafflers, I promise – and it actually didn’t help much. It lessened the burn, sure, but it was still heavy and volatile, confirming my suspicions about the youthful nature of the whisky.

Having read all the way through this review, you are probably expecting me to give it a fairly negative score. But, in a shocking Christie-esque twist, I’m actually not. I definitely think there is a place for an angsty teenage whisky on my shelf. It’s doesn’t skimp on flavour, it warms your entire insides, and goes well in a hipflask on a fishing trip (or cricket match if you’re sneaky enough). Although it’s far from being objectively good, there’s something to like about it. It’s a cheeky puppy that is so adorable that you don’t mind when it won’t come when it’s called. Don’t kid yourself that it’s a work of art – just drink it…

…in small doses.

★★★

The bottle I reviewed was part of Batch OLO615

Killara Single Malt

Reviewed by: Nick and Ted

Killara pic WW

For many years now, Bill Lark has been the public face of Tasmanian whisky – for good reason too, as he is rightly credited with kickstarting the modern Tasmanian whisky industry. However, while he may be the most visible member of the Lark clan, Bill certainly isn’t the only distiller in the family; wife Lyn shares as much DNA in the original distillery as he does, son Jack has worked with several other whisky makers and daughter Kristy (now Booth-Lark) was Lark head distiller for a time, helping lead the way for female distillers in a historically male dominated industry.

After leaving Lark, Kristy has continued to forge ahead, starting her own distillery, Killara. Named after the street where she grew up, Killara is not only the first second-generation whisky distillery in Australia, but also the first to be fully owned and operated by a female – as Kristy would say, “it’s a one woman show”.

As well as producing a vodka and the acclaimed Apothecary gin range, Kristy is following in the family tradition by crafting single cask whisky. One of the first barrels to be bottled is KD03, a 20L ex-Apera (Australian sherry) cask. Presented in a dark green/black bottle with blue and silver livery and a Gaelic-knotwork style font, the release would almost look more at home on Islay than in Tasmania.

That’s where the similarities with the old country end however, as the spirit is distinctly Tasmania in character. The nose speaks of the small cask size and the Apera origin, with zesty oranges, cherry, nutmeg and glacé ginger. The mouth is savoury and meaty, with marzipan, aromatic spices and an earthy finish that has a subtle smokiness reminiscent of burnt brown sugar.

Having said that, we must remember that KD03 is only the product of one single 20L cask and that each successive Killara release will have its own unique and intriguing nature. This unpredictability doesn’t faze Kristy in the slightest however: “There’s so much variability in the process. That’s what I love about it, there’s a bit of science, a bit of passion and a bit of what we don’t know.” Considering what the Larks have already achieved so far in the short history of our local industry, it will be exciting to see where the new generation of the family takes Tasmanian whisky making next.

★★★★

Kristy BL pic WW

The Whisky Waffle boys with Killara distiller Kristy and her husband Joe

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 11: Deviant Distillery Anthology Batch 12 44%

Posted by: Ted

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Deviant Distillery Anthology Batch 12 single-malt spirit (nope, not a whisky). The brain-child of Tasmanian industrial chemist John Hyslop, Deviant Distillery is a bit of a rebel outfit in the local industry. John’s philosophy is that traditional distilling and aging practices are unfriendly to both the environment and the pocket through wastage in resources and product. His solution was to develop a proprietary reactor technology that allows him to artificially age malt spirit in 10-weeks to develop, what he claims to be, the character of a 10yo whisky.

Needless to say, the use of rapid aging technology has not been without some controversy within the local establishment. In Australia spirit must be aged under oak for at least two years to legally be called whisky, which is why Deviant has been careful to use the term single-malt spirit and avoid any reference to whisky, however opinions have still been divided. Because the process is secret I have no idea what timber has been used for the Anthology Batch 12, but what I do know is that it has been heavily peated (at least by Australian standards), which certainly plays out on the nose, but then underneath sits a young, raw grassy and melony note. The mouth is similarly youthful, with a Lisbon lemon peel body and an ashy, graphitey finish, a profile m’colleague suggests is a bit like a dirty limoncello. Look, it’s not whisky and might not be to everyone’s taste, but it is definitely worth a try for something different.


#whitepossumspirit

Scotland 2018: The Ultimate Whisky Adventure Part Two

Posted by: Nick

In July 2018 I realised the ultimate Waffler’s dream and spent nine days travelling whisky’s motherland. I did not waste a moment.

9 days: 20 distilleries.

Fiddlers WW

PART TWO: Highlands and Islands

Whoever said that Scotland is freezing, windswept and rain-lashed has obviously never been to Speyside in the summertime. I was a little sad to leave what was clearly a sunny paradise and head further north, so decided it was not possible to get too much of a good thing and called into two more distilleries on my way out – and boy, these two could not be more different.

Macallan have recently opened a new visitor centre in the heart of Speyside – and it is an architectural masterpiece. The walls were all glass, revealing vistas of the distillery beyond or encasing infamously rare and valuable bottles. All this was sealed beneath a dramatically curved green roof (although in the height of summer it was more of a… well… brown roof). The whole complex was breathtaking – and yet I didn’t like it. Not one bit. It lacked the soul and warmth I love about Scottish distilleries. It was stunning but cold; glamorous but unwelcoming.

Macallan Wall WW

The complete opposite was the case at my final Speyside stop: Glen Moray. While the buildings themselves were nowhere near as spectacular as what I’d just seen at Macallan, the staff (master-distillers wife Fay, champion drinks pourer Kier, and tour guide extraordinaire Caitlyn) were among the nicest and most welcoming in the whole of Scotland. And the whisky? Wow! If you considered the Glen Moray range to be cheap and cheerful, then a visit to the distillery would reveal a few stunners that have been left a little longer in barrels. A personal favourite was the 1988 port cask matured, however the 1998 PX cask was also exceptional. I’ve always had a soft spot for Glen Moray – and this visit just made it softer.

Glen Moray paddle WW

Just as I thought my Speyside journey had come to an end I spotted a sign for Benromach and duly turned off the main road. Though I had not booked a tour the kind staff showed me around and let me try some of the varied wares.

Sadly, though, this was all I could squeeze into my Speyside trip; it was time to travel to the opposite side of the country. A trip to Scotland would not be complete without the compulsory failure to spot Nessie on the shores of a certain Loch, so I called into Drumnadrochit on my way to the west coast. While there was no monster to be seen, I was able to stumble upon a Whisky Waffle favourite whisky bar: Fiddlers. While there I sampled some local drams: a 25 Year Old Tomatin (business class whisky – you can taste the extra legroom), an Edradour matured in ex-Port Ellen casks (who could resist such an intriguing combo?) and finally a Balblair so dark is could have been black (so sherried it was almost undrinkable – naturally I loved it).

Black Balbalir WW

No filter. That really is the colour.

Before leaving Fiddlers, owner Jon Beach arrived and called me over for a chat – whilst pouring me a dram of Port Ellen as casual as can be. Seriously, this bar – cannot recommend highly enough.

Jon Tweet WW

While the west highlands of Scotland are absolutely stunning, there is one region of the country which is even more spectacular: the Isle of Skye. And this island is home to Talisker Distillery – a Whisky Waffle favourite from our early days of whisky tasting. On my only previous visit to Scotland, I was prevented from visiting Talisker by a freak hiking accident (no whisky was involved) so I was in no way going to miss out this time around. My guide, David, was not only a whisky fan, but also a chef and shared his Talisker BBQ sauce recipe with us while we had a dram of the Amarosso finished Distillers Edition. It was a tasty drop – certainly a step us from the Talisker NAS releases and even pipped the 10 Year Old. I was also able to revisit an old favourite and get my palate roasted by the winter warmer that is the 57 Degrees North.

Talisker WW

Upon leaving the Isle of Skye I had a long drive ahead of me. And yet I couldn’t resist making it even longer by stopping into a beautiful town along the way – and it just happened to contain a distillery!

The town was Oban and I slotted onto a lunchtime tour to check out yet another stillroom. What struck me about Oban was its size – or lack thereof. Of course, it’s miles ahead of the Tassie distilleries I’m used to seeing, but compared to the rest of the Scottish establishments it was rather quaint. This is demonstrated in their cask usage – Oban are the masters of the refill cask – everything they use has been already used by one of Diageo’s other distilleries to mature whisky in for ten or more years. When it gets to Oban it is re-charred, repurposed and ready to go. This is partly why a whisky 14 years old was for so long this distillery’s staple – and partly why the Little Bay is pretty light on for flavour. The real x-factor for Oban is its coastal location imparting a delicate salty layer upon each bottle in their range.

Oban WW

The cherry on the top of my visit was one final dram – from under the bar came an unmarked bottle containing promisingly dark liquid. I was sure it had been aged for longer than most Oban whiskies – and sure enough, it was a 20 year old: straight from the cask. I was assured by the friendly Oban staff it would be unlike anything I’d tried so far on my trip – and they were right, it was absolutely phenomenal. Sadly, though, after concluding this warming and delicious tasting I had to leave Oban in a hurry. You see, I had a ferry to catch…

z Ferry WW

I wonder where this could be going….

Launceston Distillery Land Their First Release

Posted by: Ted

LaunnieLogo

The old Ansett Hangar 17 at Launceston airport looked almost exactly the same as it had the last time I had visited a couple of years ago. The only real sign of time progressing was a new opaque glass and aluminium door grafted into the old corrugated iron wall, bearing the crest of Launceston Distillery, and a sandwich board in front of it declaring the place to be ‘open’.

Hangar17

Hangar 17, the home of Launceston Distillery

After crossing the threshold I was warmly greeted by distillery Director Chris Byrne, who commented “hopefully my sign holds up against the wind, I’ve given it a bit of angle, but we’ll see.” (It had disappeared by the time I left). Nestled in the foyer were a couple of old airline seats. I asked if they were Ansett, but Chris shook his head and replied “We had an old bloke drop in and say the pattern was 1960’s Qantas. It’s definitely from back then anyway, just look at the ashtrays.” [Correction: the guy who sold the seats to the distillery has been in touch and they are definitely Ansett. He said he will be having stern words with Chris about listening to old blokes who walk in off the street]. We grabbed a cup of tea to ward against the cold, pausing a moment to admire the whiteboard still bearing operational notes left after Ansett collapsed in 2001, and then wandered out for a look at the distillery.

QantasChairs

Sorry Ansett diehards, these are just scummy old 60’s Qantas seats… Plot twist! Turns out they are actually Ansett and the old bloke didn’t know what he was talking about!

The main hangar, once used to house aircraft, was as large as ever, but the floor space had diminished significantly since last time thanks to the appearance of several rows of 100L casks. Chris grinned at the sight and commented that “the original bond store off the side is full of 20L casks now, so we had to expand out here. We’re hoping that we have enough 20L casks stored now to get us through to when we start releasing our 100L’s in a few years time.”

LaunnieHistory

The history of Hangar 17 on display

Sitting next to the stacks was a board covered in posters documenting the history of the site, which Chris was more than happy to explain. During the lesson he pointed at the numbers and lines on the floor: “See those there? That’s where they used to line up the luggage crates. Apparently one was pushed into the wall by accident, but because they hadn’t secured it down when they extended the shed, the whole bottom of the wall got pushed out. We had to pull it back in with a ute when we were doing the place up.”

Hanagar 17 3

Phwoar, check out the insulation on those

Eventually we wandered over for a look at the bond store, passing by the two Knapp-Lewer stills with their beautiful timber insulation. Last time I had seen the bond store there had only been a solitary row of casks huddled forlornly against the wall, but now the room was full to the brim of neatly racked 20L casks. While we were admiring the view, head distiller Chris Condon and Angus the distillery dog returned from the airport terminal, where they had just delivered the first order of whisky to the airport shop. “They’ve got some good advertising up, so hopefully people stop and pick up a bottle.”

AngusAnsett

Angus the distillery dog travels in style

Chris B handed me over to Chris C and we made a beeline for the tasting bar, built from an old Ansett check-in desk and an in-flight drinks trolley, for a chat and some cheeky bevvies. The most notable feature of the bar was the row of bottles perched on top, thanks to Launceston Distillery releasing their first whisky just last month, a milestone that was very pleasing to Chris: “One of the problems with distilling is that because it takes so long to get to that first release, it can sometimes feel like you’re not making any progress, so it’s great to finally have something to show for all our hard work!”

LaunnieBond

20L nirvana

The bottles on offer covered the first four batches laid down by the distillery, with each batch released as a marriage of 20L casks bottled at a standard 46% abv. Batch 1, the first edition, was an ex-Apera (the Australian version of sherry) casking, Batch 2 was an ex-tawny (Australian port) casking, Batch 3 was another Apera, although apparently with a different character to Batch 1 as the casks had been sourced from SA Cooperage rather than the Tas Cask Co, and finally Batch 4 was an ex-bourbon casking.

LaunnieBatches

L-R: Batch 1 (ex-Apera), Batch 2 (ex-Tawny), Batch 3 (ex-Apera), Batch 4 (ex-Bourbon)

On the nose Batch 4 was light, crisp and grainy, with notes of fresh apples and green grapes. In contrast, Batch 1 was sweet, sticky and rich, with dried fruits, orange syrup, red jubes and undertones of malt, wood shavings and bacon. Batch 2 was dark, with red berries, leather, wax, timber and a clean oiliness.

On tasting, Batch 4 was sharp and bright on the mouth, with acidic herbal notes and a clean finish. In complete contrast, Batch 1 was like an explosion from the aromatic end of the spice rack, with strong flavours of aniseed, cinnamon, cloves and star anise, as well as almonds, milk chocolate, mandarins and a tanninic finish. Finally, Batch 2 was dark, rich and sweet, with notes of dark chocolate and black cherries and a smooth, oaky finish.

Chris revealed that each batch was just over two years old and I asked whether he had toyed with the idea of leaving them longer under oak: “We didn’t just dump them out arbitrarily at two years obviously, it’s more considered that, but you start getting to a point where you have to ask yourself, ‘Am I doing more harm than good for the sake of a few months?’. That’s the tricky thing about 20L casks, there’s a real risk of over-oaking.”

LaunnieTasting

Head Distiller Chris Condon rocks the Ansett memorabilia

Chris was also keen to show me the boxes that had been designed for the bottles and explained the relevance of each design element: “The colour is actually the Ansett blue, while the clouds are from a photo taken of the sky above the airport. If you look closely, you can also see lines running across the box which are actually from an 1830 map of the region. All the surrounding towns and landmarks are there, which really grounds it in this place.”

AngusAuthor

The author and Angus relax before the flight

After the tasting, I had a quick relax on some genuine Ansett airline seats with Angus the distillery dog (“Judging by the condition, we don’t think they were ever installed in a plane,” commented Chris), said a quick farewell to Chris B who was finishing labeling the last of the personalised pre-order bottles that had been offered as part of the 1st release and collected my own bottle of Batch 1 from Chris C.

LaunnieLabels

Chris Byrne, hand-labelling master

Before I left, I had one last question on my mind. Last time Whisky Waffle visited, the distillery team had been tossing up names for the whisky. At that time ‘Hangar 17’ had been a strong contender in tribute to the building that housed their distillery, so I asked Chris what had changed: “We ending up going that way in part because there was a legal issue with Hangar 1 in San Francisco, who are vodka makers and objected to us using the name. I’m actually really pleased that we went with Launceston Distillery though, because that’s who and what we are. It’s a really strong geographic name that people can connect with.”

He paused a moment then laughed and quipped “At the end of the day, Hangar 17 is still our physical address, so they can’t take that away from us. We’ll see how we go.” Well readers, if the quality of the whisky is anything to go by, then it’s no hard stretch to say that Launceston Distillery will go far.

Head over to the Launceston Distillery website to purchase a bottle or organise a tour: https://www.launcestondistillery.com.au/