smoke

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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#LetsGetPeaty

Port Charlotte Scottish Barley Heavily Peated

Reviewed by: Nick

port-charlotte-sc-hp

It’s a fun bit of whisky trivia that Port Charlotte whisky is not actually made by the long-since-closed distillery of Port Charlotte. Instead, this particular drop is made by Bruichladdich Distillery as a tribute to their heavily peated ex-neighbours.

Jim McEwan, Bruichladdich’s head distiller at the time of this dram’s inception, wanted to recreate the flavour that the legendary old distillery was famous for. He tracked down a now 90 year-old former employee of Port Charlotte distillery and asked him what the whisky tasted like. “Aye,” said the old man, “aye, it tasted good.”

I for one certainly cannot deny that the product Jim has created to bear the Port Charlotte name tastes “good”. In fact, if I were to give my tasting notes in a solitary word, I would simply say: bacon. And everyone loves a bit of bacon, right?

Of course, this site is called ‘Whisky Waffle’, not ‘Whisky-we’ll-keep-it-brief-ok’. Apart from the latter sounding silly, we’ve found that we do rather like to bang on a bit with pretentious tasting notes. Speaking of which, this whisky has a nose like an Australian barbecue. Barley peated to 40 parts per million ensure smoke and cooked meat flavours waft oh-so-unsubtly over peppery notes and a dash of dark chocolate.

The palate is pleasantly spicy – no doubt an influence of the slightly higher bottling strength of 50%. The flavours on offer include salami, smoked salmon and of course, the aforementioned bacon. The meat theme lingers long after the whisky is gone, leaving the sensation of having polished off a particularly satisfactory scotch fillet (pun well and truly intended).

The release of the Port Charlotte range by Bruichladdich has rekindled an interest in the history of the grand old distillery and there have even been talks about building a new facility on the old site. However, this project seems to have stalled for the time being with no updates as to whether it might go ahead. Fortunately, thanks to this particular whisky, we have access to the next best thing: a dram that, seventy years from now, we can reflect on and happily label it as “good”.

★★★

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#LetsGetPeaty

Reflections on a visit to Islay

Posted by: Nick

nick-port-ellen-lighthouse

It is no exaggeration when I say that the isle of Islay is, without a doubt, my favourite place that I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. The quaint lime washed houses of Port Ellen, the spectacular coastline and beaches, the stark peat bogs and the friendly locals waving as you drive by all combine to create a coastal utopia. And then there’s the whisky. Ah… the whisky…

There is a reason that drams made on this Hebridean isle are famous the world over: they taste like nothing else on earth. Smoky, salty, oily and fiery as hell itself. On my first (gloriously sunny!) day upon the island I visited Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig: the worlds’ ultimate pub crawl. In the evening I lay down on the sand at Kintra Beach and watched the sun go down with a belly full of South-Ileach whisky. There  was not a more content man on the planet.

The next day I stood beneath the distinctive Port Ellen lighthouse, looked across the bay and felt more connected to a place than I have ever experienced in my life. I would go back today. I would drop everything. Just for one more whiff of that peaty air. Just for one drop of that liquid aptly described as the water of life.

nick-content

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#LetsGetPeaty

Ardbeg 10 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick and Ted

ardbeg-10

There are certain whiskies that a blog should have in its pages and until now we have been found wanting for this particular dram. Its label rather audaciously claims that not only is it the best whisky on Islay, but is in fact among the best in the world. The funny thing is, we’re actually hard pressed to disagree with it.

The Ardbeg 10 Year Old makes an excellent case for the younger whisky. Generally we equate greater age with greater excellence, but this dram proves that this is not always the case. There is something about the raw, youthful energy in the 10 Year Old that allows the peat monster to really roar and we can’t help but feel that if it was left in the barrel for a few years longer then some of the magic would be lost.

We took it upon ourselves to sample the Ardbeg 10 quite extensively (read quite extensively) and came up with a comprehensive set of tasting notes. We didn’t quite comprehend how wonderful these notes were until we read them back the next day. Normally we don’t present tasting notes in isolation, but these are too good to intersperse with waffle.

Nose: South-east Asian mystery meat, peanuts, satay, bitumen road surface, earthy ashes, digging up a hangi, nashi pear, fizzy apple, melon, honeydew, honey and heavily perfumed plant.

Palate: Smoke (go figure), BBQ sauce, Worcestershire sauce, gingerbread, “there’s a pear in there”, oregano, home-made potato chips, cardamom, cloves and nutella fudge.

Finish: Fiery, spicy, hot, warm and lingering.

Subsequent tastings have not yet turned out quite as many creative thoughts about the 10 Year Old; however we unashamedly stand by what we said in the heat of the moment (mostly).

We have mentioned that the Ardbeg 10 Year Old compares impressively with much older drams, but what if the field was narrowed to only it’s 10 year old contemporaries. For us, the only possible contenders are cross-town rivals Laphroaig and fellow peat-pal Talisker. But if we’re honest, Ardbeg leaves them both in the shade: we truly believe you won’t find a better 10 Year Old whisky on the planet.

★★★★

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#LetsGetPeaty

Springbank 15 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

springbank-15-year-old

The best drams are those that come with a sense of place. The Islay peat monsters smell like the fresh peaty air of the island on which they were made and taste like the fires the locals use to keep warm in the winter (and the summer). The drops from Speyside are as luscious and floral as the green fields which line the roads in the sunny north east (at least it was sunny the day I was there. Maybe I used up Scotland’s sunshine quota that day…)

Equally, whisky made at Springbank distillery tastes like the town in which it is made. Campbeltown was once a thriving maritime city full of trade, shipbuilding, and of course, fishing. Now, hold your horses there Whisky Waffle. Surely I’m not implying that this dram… is the whisky equivalent of fishing? Crazily enough, that’s exactly what I’m suggesting! And it works. As in really, really works.

Unlike the 10 Year Old Springbank expression, the 15 has spent its extra maturation time in ex-oloroso sherry barrels and the added complexity is clear from start to finish.

On the nose, oily, briny characteristics are immediately noticeable. There is the faintest hint of smoke, perhaps blown in from nearby Islay. The palate is gently spicy, courtesy of its 46% nature. There are flavours of caramel and pineapple contrasting intriguingly with meaty and, dare I say it, fishy aspects. The finish is pleasingly long, really encapsulating the seafaring town with notes of salt and sea-spray.

On this blog, I do boast about a range of things, but even I can’t say I have ever been to 18th century Campbeltown (or even the current 21st century edition for that matter). However, by simply pouring myself a dram of Springbank 15 and closing my eyes (don’t try it the other way around – you’ll waste good whisky!), in my mind I am immediately transported there. I can smell and taste it for sure!

★★★★

Hellyers Road Peated

Reviewed by: Ted

Hellyers Road Peated

So, you’re a big fan of peated Scottish single malts, but in order to save the world from certain destruction (just go with it, ok?) you have to buy a Tasmanian whisky. What are you going to do? Never fear, Hellyers Road has your peat needs covered with their appropriately named Peated expression

When it comes to peated whisky in Tasmania, the situation is a little more complex than first meets the eye. Tasmania actually has its own peat bogs, however the smoke is quite different to the Scottish stuff, being softer, gentler and more rounded. It is also restricted to a few distilleries that own leases to the bogs (the rest is locked up in national parks and the like).

In Hellyers Road’s case they don’t have access to a native bog, so instead they import peated barley all the way from maltings in Inverness, Scotland. The side-effect of this is that Hellyers Road Peated is much more closely aligned to Scottish drams than other Tasmanian malts (side note: Hellyers Road use local grown barley for their non-peated expressions).

Nosing the Peated expression is like standing in a grain storehouse, grabbing a big handful of peat-smoked barley and taking a deep sniff. Underneath the big, fat, bold, smoky cereal flavours can be found cocoa, black currants, pencil shavings and smouldering leaves.

The first layer of taste is what you would probably expect from a heavily peated whisky – strong, thick smoke that billows around the mouth, a bit like standing on the wrong side of the campfire. When you clear away the smoke however, you are left with a light, smooth and slightly sweet dram, without too much else going on. The finish is long and smoky, but gentle. In fact, the smoke probably rounds out the feel of the dram as a whole, smoothing out some of the harsher edges that can be found in a younger whisky such as this.

When compared to a traditional Islay single malt like Laphroaig or Ardbeg, the Hellyers Road Peated perhaps misses some of the strong coastal flavours that punch through from underneath, but makes it up in other areas. A light whisky, heavily peated, this Hellyers Road expression delivers a different experience to anything else available from Tasmania.

★★★

HR n Ted

Tasmanian whisky: One state. Three ingredients. Unlimited flavour.

#TasWhiskyWeek

The day my head exploded in a cloud of smoke: a whisky memory

Posted by: Ted

Ted in armchair

As I sit here in a comfy wingback Chesterfield armchair in the lounge at Lagavulin distillery on Islay, I reflect that this represents the culmination of a very significant journey for me. My being here now was (in part) sparked by a moment in time a number of years ago that changed how I experienced the world.

When we were young, poor and tasteless uni students, we drank whisky without any art or depth of thought. Our main drinking decision was how cheap we could get away with without completely destroying ourselves.

However, one particular night we happened to be out on the town for a friend’s bucks night. Feeling in a generous mood and relatively flush, we stopped in at a bar and decided to order a couple of drams a bit above our usual weight.

Our decision this time was based purely on how cool the name was. Our first dram was the fun sounding Monkey Shoulder, which taught us about finding better blends and which we still enjoy to this day.

The other was a rather mystical sounding dram named the Lagavulin 16yo. Not thinking too much about it I took a decent hit of the dark amber liquid. Suddenly, time stood still and my mind exploded. I had never tasted anything like it.

Billows of hot, medicinal, coastal smoke filled my mouth and roared down my throat, leaving my senses reeling. The others around me were being gripped by a similar reaction. It was love at first dram.

Ted with fireplace

That one moment catalysed within me a yearning for good quality whisky, to try exciting and interesting drams. That feeling simmered away until the finish of uni and the gaining of a job and more importantly, money. Suddenly a whole world of exciting whisky was within grasp.

Eventually the path we had been set upon led to the founding of the number one whisky blog in Tasmania, something m’colleague and I are immensely proud of, and the discovery of a whole community of people just as excited about whisky as we are.

And so here I am on Islay, sitting at the very distillery that kickstarted the whole adventure. It feels slightly surreal to be honest (although if it was truly surreal there would probably be a couple of highland cows sitting on the other chairs smoking pipes and discussing the football results), but at the same time like wearing a favourite old tweed suit.

Ted at Lagavulin

It’s a significant time for both of us actually, as Lagavulin celebrates their 200th birthday this year, a feat to be congratulated. I will no doubt return here again, as will m’colleague and many others besides, hopefully for another 200 years and more, and revel in this glorious, extraordinary whisky.

Sláinte mhath, and keep on waffling.

Talisker Dark Storm

Reviewed by: Ted

Talisker Dark Storm

Thunder crashed and wind howled across Skye as the Taliskerians prepared to bottle their new whisky, a non-age statement barrelled in extra-heavily charred oak casks. Keith glanced at Nev and shouted over the noise “what do you reckon we should call this stuff?”

“Dunno… Sunny Skyes?”

“Nah, that’s the name of Mark Lochhead’s villa on Majorca. What do you reckon Taranis?”

Taranis, the Celtic god of thunder, had started working at the distillery after a bit of a slump in the smiting business and a failed attempt to break into Hollywood. After a moment’s pause, he reached into Nowhere and pulled out a bronze goblet covered in spoked wheel designs that made the world spin if looked at for too long.

Plunging the goblet into a barrel, he scooped up a god sized dram and breathed deeply of the captured spirit. Rich stewed fruits, heavy spices, grilling meats, chocolate, banana and curling sweet smoke rose up to meet him.

Planting his feet, Taranis took a mighty draw, amber liquid spilling down his braided moustaches. Sharp, crackling salt on burning driftwood burst across his tongue, followed by dark honey and cured meats. Over the top rolled curling smoke, like a forest fire seen on the horizon. The finish was bright, sharp and lingering, yet somehow contained it’s opposite, the void.

Keith and Nev looked at each other nervously. The brooding 8ft tall figure in its leathers and woad was a forbidding sight. Suddenly Taranis stirred, his eyes sparking with distant lightning, and spoke in a voice like far away thunder rolling across the hills:

“DARK STORM”

And so it was.

★★★

Dark Ted

How it compares

The Dark Storm is quite raw and robust compared to the 10yo, which is (slightly surprisingly) smoother and lighter. The Dark Storm makes big leaps and bounds over its other Talisker NAS stablemates, the Storm and the Skye. We’ve had the Storm and found it to be lacking in guts, a bit… bland, and from reports the Skye is even lighter. If you’re looking to try a NAS Talisker, the Dark Storm is definitely the way to go.

No Age No Good? Whisky Waffle launch NAS Week

Posted by: Nick

Wafflers in smoking jackets

Some may argue that our attire is the greater controversy here…

A controversial topic? Surely we don’t do that here at Whisky Waffle! Well, just this once, we thought we’d take things seriously and leave our flippancy behind.

Sort of…

Today’s discussion is about non-age statement, or NAS, whisky. For non-whisky geeks, NAS whisky is a bottling that cannot be described as a 12 Year Old, or a 10 Year Old, or an anything-year old, because there is younger spirit mixed through like a very whisky-flavoured cocktail.

These NASes are borne out of necessity: since us Wafflers discovered the stuff, there just hasn’t been enough of it around! So rather than waiting the usual 12 years, distillers have been getting impatient and slapping 9 year old, 8 year old (3 year old?) spirit into the mix and coming up with impressive sounding Gaelic names to go on the label.

So how do we feel about this situation? Is the stuff as NASty as it sounds? Well, to be honest, I have no problem with the concept of NAS whisky. I mean, you just can’t deride the Talisker Storm as liquid Nickleback while simultaneously proclaiming the Ardbeg Uigeadail as the solution for world peace. So just like any supposedly ‘superior’ whisky with a number on the bottle, there are good ones and there are bad.

Founders Reserve n waffle

But seriously, the box IS rather pretty…

Which brings me neatly to Glenlivet – a prominent convert to the NAS fad. I wrote a glowing review about their ever-dependable 12 Year Old and described how its accessibility was its strength. That was, until it was no longer accessible. In its place, in a blue box (which is sadly not bigger on the inside) came the sophisticated-sounding ‘Founders Reserve’. I was slightly concerned – though this disquiet came from my affection towards the 12 rather than my automatic dismissal of anything ageless. I was perfectly fine so long as it tasted good. Which, I’ve recently discovered, it doesn’t.

It’s not that the dram is comparable to the toxic output of a nuclear reactor. It’s quite drinkable in a ‘at-least-it’s-not-red-label’ sorta way. But it doesn’t stand up to the depth and character of the previous entry-level incumbent. And this made me both sad and rush out to get a bottle of the 12 while I still could.

Non age statement whisky is not the scourge of the earth that many flat cap-wearing whisky reviewers may have you believe. There are some tasty drops out there that would please the most snobbiest of whisky snobs (if you told them it was an old bottle of Macallan). However, in the case of Glenlivet, where you can directly compare the old and the NASish new – it’s one nil to the age statements.

Of course, another way of looking at it is that after eight drams, it doesn’t really matter how long it’s been in a wooden barrel for…

The writing of this article prompted a lively debate among the Whisky Waffle boys – so much so, that they decided to spend a week looking at some prominent NAS releases to see if they are as derisory as their reputation suggests. So with great excitement – we present to you NAS-Week! Make sure you pay a few visits throughout the week and find out our thoughts – or post some juicy trolling comments! Tomorrow will kick off proceedings with a detailed review of this article’s nemesis: the Founders Reserve! But why start there? Leave us a comment telling us EXACTLY how you feel about non age statement whisky in the replies!

#NASweek

Oban 14 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

Oban 14

Rather like the wild haggis (Haggis scotticus), Oban distillery is a curious wee beastie. Located on the craggy west coast of Scotland in the town of the same name, Oban is one of the oldest distilleries in the country, founded in 1794 on the site of an old brewery by brothers John and Hugh Stevenson. Interestingly however, despite its lengthy existence it has remained one of the smallest distilleries around, with only two pot stills in residence to make the good stuff.

Understandably, the limited production capacity has focused the Oban distillers, choosing to craft a few expressions rather than the seemingly endless releases pedalled by larger producers. Luckily this means that the Obanites have had plenty of time to refine and tinker with their creations.

Oban’s flagship dram is one that should pique the curiosity of any whisky fiend looking for something a little different. Eschewing usual ageing lengths, the Oban 14yo, part of Diageo’s “Classic Malts Selection”, exploits an interesting niche between youth and maturity, and it must be noted, at a price on par (at least in Australia) with many 12yo whiskies.

The character of the 14yo walks a fine line, balanced as it is between the highlands to the east and the islands to the west. A careful nosing reveals a light, sweet, dusty spirit with suggestions of damsons and green apples, giving it a sense of kinship with other highland drops such as Dalwhinnie.

The taste on the other hand speaks of its seaside home, beginning with a bright, slightly salty burst on the front of the palate, lifted by the 43% strength, followed by a hint of seaweed and coastal air. The mid palate smooths out and becomes much more rounded, with dried fruits, zest, spices and perhaps just the lightest hint of smoke. The finish is clean and doesn’t linger for too long.

Once you’ve knocked back a few sips of the 14yo it’s worth holding the glass up to the light and contemplating the colour, which should be a dark amber. The reason I make mention of this is that the 14yo is not aged in the sherry casks that the colour suggests, but rather ex-bourbon hogsheads.

The answer to this conundrum will cause some to shrug their shoulders unconcernedly and others to foam at the mouth in righteous indignation: caramel e150a. Why Oban chooses to use artificial colouring, while other premium distilleries go to great pains to point out that they keep their own products au naturale, is a secret known only to the Obanites. Whether or not it’s presence affects the flavour of the 14yo I will leave up to your own distinguished palates, fellow wafflers.

The small size of Oban definitely works in its favour, allowing it time to lovingly craft a quirky and interesting product that does not hurt the wallet too much. The 14yo is certainly a delightful and evocative drop; and unlike the pesky wild haggis, is relatively easy to track down for those curious to discover the ‘west highland’ flavour.

★★★