Single Malt

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.” 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

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/

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The Devil Went Down to Moonah: Devil’s Distillery Releases Hobart Whisky

Posted by: Ted

Strolling past the shabby brick warehouse on the outskirts of central Hobart, glancing briefly at the fading letters on the wall declaring ‘Tasmanian Egg Farms’, you would be forgiven for thinking that it was just another derelict industrial site. However, the warm scent of malt drifting out of the rear loading dock and along the street suggests all may not be as it seems. Spirits lurk inside… Devilry is afoot in Moonah.

I recently had the opportunity to drop by Devil’s Distillery and catch up with manager John Jarvis. We had last met in my home stomping ground of Burnie at an event showcasing their Tasmanian Moonshine Company brand. Mutterings of nearly mature whisky had reached my ears and piqued my curiosity. Now, like a member of Mystery, Inc., I had the chance to enter the Devil’s lair and unmask the truth.

Devil bond

Hungarian origin barrels resting in the Devil’s Distillery bond store

Hidden inside the old warehouse is a burnished copper Knapp-Lewer pot still, a squat stainless Coffey still, some wash tuns made out of re-purposed milk vats and a small trove of casks nestled on brand new yellow pallet racking. Tending to the equipment are minions Ben and Gus. “Sorry about the chaos,” comments John “We’ve been sorting things out and doing some renovation.”
“It was worse when we didn’t have the racking,” chips in Gus “there were pallets of barrels stacked randomly all over the place.”

Devil distillers

John and Gus 

The barrels in question are a combination of 20L, 40L, 100L and 300L casks. Some are sourced from Australia, others interestingly hail from Hungary, but all will be left to rest until the contents have transmuted into whisky. John enjoys experimenting with the different cask types they have amassed, including port, sherry, bourbon, tokay and pinot. “Every release will be different. I’m still learning, but that’s all part of the challenge and it’s good fun being able to sit down and figure out what works best for a particular release.”

Down the far end of the building are some offices with a mezzanine space above. Ascending the stairs we find an angular wooden bar, a long wooden tasting table and handyman hard at work sanding the reclaimed timber floors. Once finished, the mezzanine area will form a private tasting bar for the distillery where guests can come by appointment, relax and try the products on offer. I notice that one patch of the cinder block wall looks different to elsewhere. “Rocky (Caccavo), the owner, decided that he was going to polish the blockwork, so he grabbed a grinder and started going at it,” laughs John “the dust was horrendous though, so I think we might just render it now.”

Devil bar

The new bar on the mezzanine

Looking out over the space, I can see that it is rapidly filling up with barrels and other paraphernalia. “We don’t have any immediate plans for expansion.” Explains John “We’ll need to get some off site bond space obviously, but at the end of the day we’re a small-scale craft distillery. Quality over quantity. It’s a great location though, just a stone’s throw from the city in one direction, and a stone’s throw from MONA in the other.”

We head downstairs to John’s office, where a shiny new bottle of whisky is waiting patiently for our attention on the desk. Devil’s Distillery is releasing its single malt under the label of ‘Hobart Whisky’, which is quite amazing for a relatively new distillery in the now well established Tassie scene. “When we were deciding on names, we were shocked to find that Hobart Whisky was still available for use. We’re really stoked to have it.”

Devil vat

Converted milk vats for the win

The first release is a marriage of five 40l ex-Hill Rock Distillery bourbon casks aged for two years and seven months and bottled at 48.8%abv. The wash used in the release was sourced from local brewery Moo Brew, however future releases will contain wash made in-house at the distillery. When sourcing the casks, the cooper recommended that the staves be left intact without shaving or re-charring, allowing the new-make to fully interact with the original Hill Rock character.

Devil whisky

Hobart Whisky first release

This is evident in the whisky, with the spirit showing a much redder hue than you would necessarily associate with ex-bourbon casking, the white Hobart Whisky label contrasting nicely. On the nose the first release is sweet and creamy, with a bourbon-driven body of vanilla, butterscotch and light, dusty oak, as well as notes of maple, peach and lavender. The mouth is light, beginning with wood shavings, then transitioning to citrus, straw and the acidity of young stone fruit, before finishing with a delicate lingering sweetness.

Excitingly, the first release will make it’s debut during Tasmanian Whisky Week 2018, with the first public bottles available for purchase for $195. Most of the 430 bottle run will go directly to bars, so whisky fiends keen on securing one are advised to get in quick. As we wander out, John is excited for the future and how people will react to the whisky. “Everyone who has tried it has been really positive so far; the feedback has been encouraging.”

Devil blogger

The author meeting the Devil’s own Distiller

I came away feeling satisfied that I had unmasked the Moonah Devil as a young whisky of high quality and a promising future. Hopefully over time Hobart Whisky will grow into its name and become a flagship for the southern capital of whisky. John’s parting comment was encouraging in that respect: “At the end of the day I just want to be able to focus my attention on the whisky and make sure that everything we make is top notch.”

As they say, the devil is in the detail.

Limited bottles will be available for purchase during Tasmanian Whisky Week (13-19th August) at the Liquid Gold event on Thursday evening, Saturday afternoon at the Spirit Showcase and Sunday morning at the Farmgate Market.

Hobart Whisky 1st Release 48.8%:

***

An Evening with the Tasmanian Moonshine Company

Posted by: Ted

Group shot Whisky Waffle

Moonshine, of the liquid rather than the lunar variety, tends to conjure up images of rough folk with an equal number of teeth, brain cells and chromosomes distilling liquor through an old tin can and a car radiator in the backwaters of America. Da-da-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding… can you hear the banjos duelling in the distance? Somehow then, it seems rather incongruous to find a product calling itself moonshine hailing not from the Appalachian hinterlands, but Tasmania, Australia, home to a burgeoning high-class craft distilling industry. According to Tasmanian Moonshine Company (TMC) manager John Jarvis however, there is a very good reason their product bears that epithet.

I met up with John at the Spirit Bar in Burnie, where a small but enthusiastic crowd had gathered to try the range of products offered by TMC. Produced at Devil’s Distillery (est 2015) in Moonah, TMC uses 100% Tasmanian malted barley to create their spirit. Now, malted barley is of course what you use to make single malt whisky, but because the spirit released by TMC is less than two years old it cannot legally be called that.

John Whisky Waffle (2)

While generally a very friendly bunch, Tasmanian whisky producers are also very protective of the world-class brand they have created. To keep relationships on a good keel between all parties, John and his colleagues decided to steer away branding that could be misconstrued as whisky-related and fittingly call their product moonshine, a traditional name for any unaged or underaged spirit.

TMC produces a range of products on their 1800l pot still and 380l reflux still, including Vodka and Tasmanian Mellifera (a spiced honey and citrus liqueur) as well as Cold Drip Espresso Coffee Liqueur, Tasmanian Midnight (a fennel based liqueur similar to ouzo or arak) and their frankenstein fusion child, the Licorice Infused Coffee Liqueur.

Of more interest to whisky drinkers is the Tasmanian Malt Barrel Aged New Make. After spending a relatively short time developing character under oak, the Barrel Aged New Make is released at around 18 months of age.  It’s youth actually works in its favour according to John; “we wanted to make something to fill a hole in the Tasmanian market, something that we don’t have to sit on, can release quite regularly and that is easily accessible. Prices in Tasmania for single malt can be crazy… I don’t think there’s really any other products at the price point we are aiming for.”

Moonshine Whisky Waffle (2)

John was also keen to talk about the interesting casking employed by the distillery: “My head distiller just wanted to do one cask type, but I like to experiment. As well as ex-bourbon American oak barrels, we also have other casks like sherry, port and tokay that are made from Hungarian oak sourced directly from Hungary by our cask maker. I definitely think there is an effect on the resulting flavour;  I’ve heard people are asking to get hold of Hungarian casks now too.”

When each 300l cask is deemed ready to release, around half the contents are decanted, with the remainder allowed time to develop further before leaving home. The casks are also tapped according to what the distillers feel is ready at the time, meaning that the character of the spirit changes from release to release. Interestingly the cask type is not actually mentioned on the bottle, so punters will be kept on their toes, but John is sanguine about this fact, commenting “we’ll never be able to make the same product indefinitely anyway, unless we move away from single barrel releases and start vatting, so I think it’s fine.”

On offer that evening was a Hungarian oak tokay cask release at 43% abv and a Hungarian oak port cask release at a rather sexy 67% abv. On the nose the tokay was smooth and sweet, with notes of leather and beeswax, while the port exuded caramel, rust, red meat and dark timber. On the palate the tokay was crisp, lively and herbal, while the boozy port delivered red wine tannins, pepper, honey glaze and oaky notes.

barrel aged Whisky Waffle (2)Barrel aged Whisky Waffle

As well as the depth of flavour, the colour was also pretty impressive for spirit of that age; “I’ve actually had arguments with people who think we colour our spirit,” remarked John “but of course we don’t, it’s all from the good quality casks we use.” While definitely young tasting, I can report that both Barrel Aged New Make releases had a surprising completeness of character that was very pleasing to the senses and left an impression of finished and polished product rather than an undercooked malt spirit just released as a cash grab.

Of course, this would suggest that Devil’s Distillery is able to produce a very high quality new make and fortunately John had some on hand for us to try. Even more exciting was the fact that he had two different cuts of the new make, one containing pure hearts and the other with a mixture of hearts and tails (this sentence probably sounds a bit disturbing to anyone who is not familiar with spirit production)!

Hearts or tails Whisky Waffle

The hearts were not for the, er, faint hearted, bottled off the still at an eye watering 73.5% abv, while the heart/tail mix was positively tame at ‘only’ 68.5% abv. On the nose the pure hearts were light, sweet and delicate, with a nice graininess. In comparison the heart/tail mix was rubbery and as someone commented, smelt like a barn floor, which if you’ve never experienced it is a mixture of sweet fermenting straw and an underlying tone of, ahem, cow business. On the palate, the hearts were sweet, with a crisp, crystalline feel, whereas the heart/tails were once again rubbery, with vegetably, fermented grain notes.

The amazing thing was that, according to John, there was only about 20% run difference between the two cuts, demonstrating how much the character of the spirit changes over the course of a distillation. You may be surprised to know, however, that those funky flavours in the tails can completely change when you add them to the hearts and can be vital for defining the character of the finished product.

While TMC will continue to release its current lineup of moonshine products (although maybe grab a bottle of Tasmanian Mellifera as John says he’s sick of grating orange peel), down the track the company will also be leaving some spirit to age for a bit longer under oak until it ticks over that legal line and magically transforms into whisky. The first release is slated to be a 3yo 20l bourbon cask finished in Hungarian sherry oak and will be released under the label of ‘Hobart Whisky’ (“I still can’t believe we scored the rights to that name,” says John with delight). If the barrel aged new make is anything to go by, then the whisky is likely to be a cracker.

John Whisky Waffle

As the night drew to a close, the guests were left contented by a healthy dose of good company and excellent moonshine. While we tend to focus on malted barley that has been transformed into whisky here at Whisky Waffle (it’s kinda in the name), the Tasmanian Moonshine Company proves that if you start with an excellent malt spirit and make good use of your barrels, then ‘young’ doesn’t necessarily have to equate to ‘bad’, or ‘rough’, or ‘unfinished’, or whatever other label you want to throw at it.

I still want them to learn the banjo though.

Thanks to Kirk and the Spirit Bar crew for hosting the event and providing tasty cheese platters. Thanks to John and the Tasmanian Moonshine Company for making the trek up to Burnie to entertain us.

 

Kings County Bourbon 43%

Reviewed by: Ted

Kings County Bourbon 43

This is about as hipster as I get. Leaning up against a rough-sawn wooden bar in a small craft beer joint in Kyoto and sipping some NYC bourbon poured from a 375ml bottle with a label that looks type-written. In fact, as I type these words, a number of Japanese gents wearing round steel-rimmed glasses and with beanies perched on their heads have just walked in. I am probably not cool enough for this place.

The bar is called Bungalow; the fact that it is separated from the busy street outside by only a clear plastic screen somehow makes it seem even more edgy. The vibe inside is very chill though, with friendly bar staff, a selection of Japanese craft beers and luscious funk tunes oozing from the speakers.

It also has precisely one whiskey, the Kings County Bourbon Whiskey. Apparently the owner is friends with the importer of the Kings County and is a fan, hence its presence as the only whiskey in a craft beer bar.

Kings County is apparently the oldest operating whiskey distillery in New York City… Est. 2010. It’s youth is due to the fact that it is the first whiskey maker in the Big Apple since prohibition ended. Based in the old Brooklyn Navy Yards, they craft spirit in their Scottish-made still using corn and barley grown on-site. It’s very much part of the dynamic and sustainable ethos that exists in Brooklyn today.

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All the details…

The spirit itself is a very dark copper colour and is bottled at a pleasing 45%. Being a bourbon it has that heavy, corn-driven punch, but in this case it’s pleasantly not overpowering. There’s a sweet, savoury sharpness that evokes some of the flavours that I have come across in Japan. Soy sauce, mirin, that sticky stuff I had on that grilled meat in that yakitori joint, a hint of salt and tuna sashimi. Of course, these flavours are super-subjective seeing as this is a through-and-through American spirit. I’ve just been exposed to a lot of eastern flavours this past week.

The mouth-feel is solid. The usual big, sweet corn flavours are there, but they are well controlled and even-tempered. It has a crispness and acidity that evokes a glass of Sav Blanc or Pinot Grigio, leaving a nice juicyness to linger on the palate. There’s a buttery, saltiness too, like that scallop I had in Kuramon Ichiba Market that was grilled over coals in its own shell.

The Kings County is a damn fine whiskey, perhaps made even better by dint of my current geographical location. Kyoto is a beautiful city, Bungalow is just my kind of bar and the Kings County is an excellent finish to the day. If you’re going to drink a whiskey you’ve never heard of in a bar in Japan that you stumbled across by chance, consider making it a Kings County.

★★★★

Kings County Ted

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

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.

★★

 

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

Deviant Distillery: this is not whisky

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Launch poster

Deviant (diːvɪənt): departing from usual or accepted standards

John Hyslop would like it to be known that he has not set out to destroy the Tasmanian whisky industry. In fact he is a big fan of Tasmanian whisky, having worked for a year at a well known Tasmanian distillery, and he respects the craftsmanship and skill that goes into its creation. However, he felt that he couldn’t look past the environmental impacts of the traditional method of producing whisky and so he set out to find a solution.

Drawing on his background as an industrial chemist, John has developed a truly envelope pushing method to create his product. In fact, a fully mature bottle of spirit from Deviant can be made in just 10 weeks… wait, what? 10 weeks you say? But surely that means it’s not legally whisky?

That’s right, it’s not whisky, which in Australia must be aged under oak for a minimum of two years. John makes no bones about this fact, with even the Deviant labels announcing ‘This is not whisky’ in bright lettering. It is not his aim or intention to pass off his product as a corner-cutting Tasmanian whisky, instead he is looking to create an entirely new product. Based on its strictly legal definition, he has elected to call it a ‘Single Malt Spirit’.

That’s not to say that it tastes completely different to an aged whisky. The spirit actually starts life in much the same way as a traditional whisky does, however John then uses the technology that he has developed to rapidly mature the product to a point where it shares many of the characteristics of an aged dram.

The benefit of this process is the efficiency and the lack of waste produced. John is very ethically driven and claims that his method can make 150-200% of the product in 2% of the time with less than 10% of the waste compared to many distilleries. It is his hope in the future to make Deviant carbon neutral, utilising technologies such as solar and bio-energy, converting waste into fertiliser and purchasing carbon credits to offset any shortfalls.

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One of the other advantages of his process is that he can release product at a much lower price point and rapidly expand into new markets. He acknowledges that there will always be a place for premium barrel aged whisky and he is not looking to displace that. Instead he is aiming to capture those who are potentially put off by the relatively high price point of whisky and produce a bottle of Tasmanian spirit that the average consumer does not have to save up for, a point which he feels will particularly appeal to the 24-36 year old demographic.

Naturally Deviant has ruffled a few feathers in the Tasmanian whisky industry and even we Wafflers have our reservations about how the process will affect our beloved whisky scene. When it comes down to it, what will really make or break ‘Single Malt Spirit’ is the taste. Regardless of how ethically the spirit is produced compared to traditional whisky making, if it fails to capture the interest of the market then it will go down in history as just another failed experiment. Having said that, the technology could also succeed and go on to provide an interesting new option for consumers.

The only real way to find out what Single Malt Spirit is like is to try some. Fortunately Deviant Distillery is launching its product next Saturday night at The Chapel in Burnie. The evening will include four tastings of various Deviant products, behind-the-scene knowledge from John and witty banter from the Whisky Waffle boys (that’s us!)

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Tickets are $20 and are available at: www.trybooking.com/RWJC, but hurry, spaces are limited.

Heartwood Dare to be Different

Reviewed by: Nick

heartwood-dare-to-be-different

Yes, Tasmanian super-strength independent bottler Heartwood has come up with some fantastic names over the years: Vat Out of Hell, Release the Beast, Any Port in a Storm and Convict Resurrection. However, one of Tim Duckett’s most recent releases I think sums up the whisky producer better than all others: Dare to be Different.

Heartwood doesn’t do things by the book. If Tim doesn’t think it’s as good as it can be, he’ll beat it with a paddle, or stick it in the hot room, or transfer it to another barrel, or pour in a hundred litres of peated Lark new make! The goal here is not to create age statement or single cask releases. Tim simply aims to make the best darn tasting whisky he possibly can.

While Dare to be Different is one of the newer releases from Heartwood, chances are, by the time you read this, it’ll be sold out. That’s just the way Heartwood is, with only 200 or so bottles of each release available. Which is why whenever I visit the Lark whisky bar in Hobart, I can’t help but try what they’ve got.

Dare to Be Different is fittingly dissimilar from many other Heartwood bottlings. It’s darker, more savoury and meaty – and more complex, too. This is due, in no small part, to the 100% peated Lark spirit which has then spent eight years in ex-Oloroso sherry barrels.

The nose is lovely and… delicate? Is that even possible for a Heartwood? There are apples, flowers and a dash of… meat pie. Possibly. It might have been plums. The palate is unsurprisingly spicy and tangy (cheers 65.5%!) featuring tropical fruit flavours mixed with smoked meats and pate. The finish is long and punchy, and I mean this in multiple ways – it tastes like fruit punch and certainly packs a punch. Punchy punch. Enough said.

Across its entire history what the whisky industry simply cannot do without is innovators. People like Tim Duckett who really push the envelope and create peated sherry monsters one week and juicy port offerings the next, all between 60% and 75%. Heartwood dares to be different – and we’re all richer for it.

★★★★

heartwood-dare-to-be-different

Kilchoman Machir Bay

Reviewed by: Nick

kilchoman-machir-bay

2012 edition

Kilchoman is (was?) the first new distillery built on Islay in 120 years. The drawback of this is that it comes without centuries of tradition. But the positive – it comes without centuries of tradition! Meaning it can do whatever the hell it likes! This perspective can’t help but bring to mind a few producers closer to home which claim to be slices of Scotland in Tasmania. Well, I’m going to make a big call: Kilchoman Distillery is a slice of Tasmania – in Scotland!

Like Tasmanian distilleries such as Redlands, it attempts to keep the entire whisky making process on the one site, paddock-to-bottle style. While this is hard to achieve across their whole range, their lightly peated ‘100% Islay’ expression is created exactly as it sounds: entirely on Rockside Farm, home of Kilchoman.

Also like Tassie, Kilchoman can’t be bothered waiting for 12 years to release their product, so bottles its range under titles of various landmarks: heavily sherried Sanaig, entirely sherried Loch Gorm and the subject of today’s review, the Machir Bay, which is a marriage of some oloroso matured whisky with a greater amount of ex-bourbon whisky.

Often drinking younger whisky from Scotland can be likened to snuggling with a Pitt Bull, but for peated whisky it just seems to work. The smoke tames the beast and compliments its occasional snarling. The Machir Bay is no exception.

The smoke is clearly apparent on the nose, however there are also sweeter creamier notes of hazelnut and coffee. On the palate the Machir Bay takes a while to get going – initially gentle before building into a fiery roar, a clear sign of its young age. Flavours of vanilla and green grapes can be found, shrouded in huge gusts of smoke.

While this is a tremendously exciting dram, I get the impression that it’s still a work in progress and that when I check back on a later release in a few years time that it will have come on in leaps and bounds. However, just like Tasmanian whisky, it is one step on a journey – and one I’m very happy to have checked out.

★★★

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