sour plums

Taking it slow at Sandy Gray Distillery

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Sandy Gray Logo

Neil Gray and Bob Connor are getting the band back together, but this time instead of sweet 70’s tunes their new gig is turning out some fine Tasmanian whisky. The two guys met in their youth in Launceston through a shared passion for playing the guitar and are now continuing their friendship into retirement by founding Sandy Gray Distillery, currently Tasmania’s smallest distillery (until their new still arrives part way through this year that is).

The distillery takes its name from Neil’s father, Alexander ‘Sandy’ Gray, a Scottish physician who emigrated with his family to Tasmania in the 60’s. It was actually Bob who suggested using the name as Sandy had played an instrumental part in saving his finger, which was injured during a guitar-carpentry incident. After being shrugged off by one doctor and told to come back in a week, Neil asked Sandy to take a look and Bob was immediately referred onto finger-saving surgery. The recovered use of his digit meant that Bob was able to finish making the guitar which, through further good fortune, will one day adorn the distillery wall (if Neil ever gets around to expanding the shed).

Sandy Gray lads

Our two heroes: Bob (left) and Neil

The goal of the two distillers is to make the best whisky that they can on their own terms. Neil and Bob are not driven by profit margins or shareholder demands, they’re just two mates messing about in a shed and taking as long as they damn well please to fill some barrels using their tiny still. It’s all about the joy of the act, rather than any delusions of world domination.

They’ve currently filled four 20L ex-tawny casks, which is quite an impressive feat considering the fact that they have hitherto been working on a teensy 25L still. The barrels are all at various stages of maturity, but the oldest tastes like it is nearly ready, offering a hot, rich, spicy profile at cask strength and developing further caramel and stewed fruit notes when a splash of water is added, with a cheeky dash of elderflower on the finish (or is that sour plums?). It’s an exciting drop and a testament to the care that the boys have taken in crafting their spirit.

Sandy Gray barrel

What sorta wood do this think this is made out of? Answers on the back of a postcard.

The story of Sandy Gray is very Tasmanian, chance meetings and happenings bringing people together – Neil and Bob met at a gig and went from starting bands to starting distilleries, Neil’s dad saved Bob’s finger meaning that he was eventually able to continue building a guitar which was then given to a girlfriend. Years later the same guitar was amazingly rescued from a tip and returned across the state lines to Bob, and will eventually adorn the wall of the distillery. Even this article is the product of sheer random luck – 40 years after playing in a band with Bob, Neil found himself playing a gig with Whisky Waffle’s very own Nick (also, turns out he was at school with Nick’s mum). It’s a small world sometimes, which seems only appropriate for a small Tassie distillery.

Advertisements

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 7

Posted by: Nick

It’s been waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too long since we’ve done a Whisky Waffle Podcast. But in actual fact, we’ve had one kicking around for a while which we never released. Not sure why. So here you are world: Whisky Waffle Episode 7: Blend is Not a Dirty Word.

This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where we try to justify the claim: blend is not a dirty word
– The Whisky, where we taste a couple of 18 Year Old whiskies – a blend and a single malt!
– Sour plums, where Nick put’s Ted’s nose to the test; and
– Smash Session or Savour, where Nick doesn’t pull any punches

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 3

Posted by: Nick

In this exciting episode/drunken romp we include the following segments:

– The Waffle, where we discuss what a single malt whisky actually is
– The Whisky, where we drink the Starward single malt and the Laphroaig Quarter Cask
– Sour Plums, where Ted makes Nick look like a complete pretender. Well, even more of a complete pretender; and:
– Drinking buddies, where a third voice joins us for a chat – and this one speaks in a Scottish accent!

Hakushu Distillers Reserve

Reviewed by: Ted

Hakushu Distillers Edition

It can be a tricky and expensive task getting hold of age-statement Japanese whisky these days. If you’ve been paying attention to global whisky trends over the last five years-or-so, then you’ll know that Japanese whisky has been bang on-point and very much in demand by the smart set. The boom in sales, both locally and overseas, and a slight lack of foresight around barrel management has seen distillery stocks dwindle, so much so that that the two major players, Suntory and Nikka, have had to temporarily discontinue certain aged releases from their distilleries.

Naturally, the shortage in stocks has caused prices to skyrocket. I mean, just the other week I had the opportunity to buy a Yamazaki 50yo 3rd Edition 2011 Release for the low, low price of $157,763.99USD (I lashed out and got three)! Now, admittedly that is a bit of an outlier on the super-premium end of the scale, but even 12yo releases (if you can find them) are generally no less than $150AUD and more often than not well over $200.

So what does a common-or-garden whisky drinker do if you want to own a Japanese whisky without having to count your kidneys? Well, as it happens, there is an answer. These days most Japanese distilleries offer a Non Age Statement release of their product. While superficially a marketing device, the NAS releases are actually crucial for the ongoing survival of the distilleries, allowing continued market access by marrying dwindling older barrels with younger stock coming online.

An example of this is the Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve. While you can still find the 12yo for around $180, the distillers edition is available for a far more wallet pleasing $110. Located NW of Tokyo near Hokuto, an unusual feature of the Suntory owned Hakushu is that it boasts a bird sanctuary within its leafy grounds at the base of Mt Kaikomagatake in the Southern Japanese Alps.

Apparently the Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve marries younger lightly peated malt and heavily peated malt around the 8yo mark with American oak-aged spirit of around 18yo. Or so the internet, repository of all things, tells me; you certainly wouldn’t pick it as being peated if you tried it blind.

On the nose the Distiller’s Reserve is bright, fresh and zingy, delivering a satisfying bouquet of crunchy green apples, sour plum, lemon grass, mint and citrus (Yuzu if you want to get technical according to Hakushu). The scent is clean and light, like a crisply pressed kimono, although after a bit of breathing time it develops a softer, creamy edge.

On the palate the spirit is sharp, clean and metallic, like a samurai sword across the tongue, and delivers a hit of hard, sour stone fruits and a twist of lemon rind. The finish is lingering and herbal, with perhaps a touch of green tea. Couldn’t find that smoke though I’m afraid, although to be honest, with the flavour profile presented by the Distiller’s Reserve I didn’t miss it either.

People quite often get a bit salty about the concept of NAS releases, considering them to be inferior to age statement releases (often without real justification… although sometimes merited for sure, but we won’t go into that particular Reserve here). I am pleased to say however, that in this case the NAS epithet is not a negative one.

But that’s what the Japanese do isn’t it? They take a thing, study it with care and then make not just a copy, but something that is even better than the original. Which is lucky really seeing as the Distiller’s Reserve will be about all we can reasonably get our hands on from Hakushu for the foreseeable future. In conclusion, if you want to see a NAS done right, then look no further than the Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve.

★★★

Whisky Waffle Taste Success(fully)

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Whisky Waffle pour effort

You may have heard us mention it once or twice, but recently we have been a little excited about the chance to take our waffling off the net and into the big wide world. Well, the night has been and gone and we couldn’t be happier with result. While unfortunately our flights to the UK were cancelled (and the plane tickets may have been imaginary), our virtual tour was a raging success, introducing our eager guests to the whisky regions of Scotland.

‘Whisky Waffle’s Tour of Scotland’ visited Speyside via the Glenfiddich 12, up through the Highlands taking in Glendronach 12 and Dalwhinnie 15, across to the Islands to try some Highland Park 12 before swooping down into the Lowlands for a spot of Auchentoshan Valinch and finally coming to rest on the magical Isle of Islay for a well deserved dram of Lagavulin 16.

Line up whisky waffle

The Chapel cafe in Burnie was the perfect venue for such an occasion, providing a warm and intimate environment for our guests, who began the night pretty chilled and only relaxed further as the drams were distributed. While merriment abounded, much to our amazement people were more than happy to drink in our tales, laugh at our jokes and even provided a new nickname for Nick (Mal, to go with Ted. Think about it).

Everybody discovered their own favourite whisky and there was much discussion about the different flavours and characteristics that each brought to the table (gooseberries???). Thanks to the success of this first session we will be holding a (already sold out!) repeat performance in a few weeks time entitled ‘Whisky Waffle’s Tour of Scotland: The Second Lap’. While still focusing on the different regions, the night will feature a new line up of whiskies.

selfie whisky waffle

We would like to extend our sincere gratitude and thanks to Andrew at the Chapel for supporting us in our endeavours and to all our recently inducted Wafflers for coming along and making the evening such a success.

Stayed tuned loyal Wafflers, hopefully soon we will be able to bring you news of a third session!