Speyside

Glen Grant The Major’s Reserve

Reviewed by: Nick

Glen Grant Majors Reserve

I freely admit, as I begin this review, that my primary motivation when purchasing this bottle was the fact that it was cheap. In fact, I recall as a broke uni student I had bought it for exactly the same reason. I also remember not being overly impressed. However, these days, with a more… ahem… experienced palate, surely I would find something to enjoy in Glen Grant’s entry level release. Surely there was more to this whisky than simply being cheap.

Upon opening the plain packaging I discovered a rarity in the single malt world: a screw top lid. Now, I can forgive them this because, after all, they’re indirectly saving the planet with such an approach, however this fact did nothing to shake the ‘cheap’ tag. Only one thing could: the flavour… and it let me down.

The nose has that cloying red-label-esque sweetness of lemon dish detergent alongside toffee-apple and honey notes. It is passable but not memorable. The palate is pretty rough, though offers some nice barley notes set against oak and vanilla. It is typical Speyside fare, though far from one of my favourites. The finish is spicy, malty and a little buttery. Again, nothing offensive but equally, nothing special.

The Glen Grant Major’s reserve is a whisky that epitomises its price point. It doesn’t punch above its weight but it also remains fairly quaffable. It is a cheap single malt and tastes as such. But hey, on the plus side, at least it doesn’t cost much!

★★

The Glenlivet Master Distiller’s Reserve

Reviewed by: Nick

Glenlivet master distillers reserve

The Glenlivet is one of the grand old boys of Scottish whisky. A distillery whom Whisky Waffle considered reliable, safe and go-to. Of course, all this changed when they replaced their 12 Year Old with the Founders Reserve. Sigh. What were they thinking?

But, never fear fellow Wafflers! If, like us, you have lamented the lack of 12 Year Old in bottle shops near you, then we have your solution: The Glenlivet Master Distiller’s Reserve, named for Alan Winchester, Glenlivet’s own master distiller since 2008. Now, this bottle was once upon a time only available to frequent flyers buried in duty free, however many online liqueur stores <cough> perhaps one that shares a name with this reviewer <cough> have procured stock and let me tell you, it’s well worth it.

It’s not a complex dram: it’s only 40% and has been triple matured in American oak, ex-sherry casks and ‘traditional oak casks’ (whatever that means). On the nose are apples and pears, but also creamy notes, like particularly milky tea. The palate isn’t smooth per se, but it’s easy to drink. There are flavours of vanilla, oranges and choc chip biscuits. The finish is nutty and pleasantly long and, again, particularly creamy.

I’m not claiming the Master Distiller’s Reserve is a masterpiece – simply that it is interesting, reliable and nice to drink – everything the Founders Reserve is not. This is NAS whisky done well.

★★★

 

Inver House Green Plaid

Reviewed by: Ted

Inver House Green Plaid

Earlier this year I found myself hunting around for a passable quaffing Scotch to take away on our annual summer pilgrimage to Coles Bay (for those who are not familiar, Coles Bay, on the east coast of Tassie, is the town that sits on the edge of Freycinet National Park, home to the world famous Wineglass Bay. Check it out!).

M’colleague and I would define a quaffing Scotch as a whisky at the lower end of the price scale that manages not to taste like paint strippers and that you are more than happy splash around while in company. Like on a camping trip, for example.

After a bit of poking around I came across the Inver House Green Plaid Scotch whisky. On the face of it, the Inver House certainly looks like it fits into the sub-$40 (AUD) category (I think mine was about $35). Take four parts green tartan, add a crest, a couple of sprigs of Scotch thistle and a blurb about how Clan Donald is totally the bestiest evaaaa!!!, and there you have it.

But dig a little deeper and suddenly the Inver House starts to look a bit more interesting under the hood (apologies to my mother for this turn of phrase, but ‘under the bonnet’ just doesn’t seem to work as well somehow). Turns out Inver House Distillers Pty Ltd have quite a choice little stable of distilleries in their portfolio, namely – Pulteney, Balblair, Knockdhu, Speyburn and Balmenach.

Discovering that little nugget of information begs one the question: could this el-cheapo blend actually be a nugget of shining liquid gold??? Well… no. But it’s not too bad either.

As one might expect based on its (potential) components, the Inver House is fresh and bright, with a lick of grain, pear, apricot, grass and hazelnuts. Could that be a faint whiff of coastal air from Pulteney I detect… or just the result of my fervid imagination? It’s a tad rough, yeah, but not disastrously so.

The mouth is bright and pithy, with a generous hit of Lisbon lemons, butterscotch and wood polish. The finish makes your mouth pucker a bit like you’ve just taken a bite out of the aforementioned citrus fruits and then licked a metal spoon.

Look, the Inver House isn’t going to win any awards, regardless of its theoretical hidden pedigree. It’s kind of like when someone claims to be an Nth degree relation to the royal family. Cool, but there’s a lot of stronger contenders to get through before they get anywhere near the throne.

But for what it is, the Inver House is actually pretty good. You can happily drink it straight if that’s your groove, or if your mates want to mix it with coke then you’re not going to have to get your disapproving whisky-wanker face on. If you want a budget dram that you can share liberally with friends and have a good night of it, the Inver House has you covered.

★★

Glenfiddich 18 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

glenfiddich-18

If this website were not called Whisky Waffle, then I could sum up the Glenfiddich 18 Year Old in just three words:

Goes. Down. Nicely.

Of course, we all know that’s not how I roll and I’d like to expand on those three words just a little.

Goes: Of all 18 Year Old whiskies in the world, the Glenfid is probably the most accessible. I picked it up for 98 bucks here in Aus when it was on special – a pretty remarkable price for something that has been in ex-bourbon barrels (and a few ex-oloroso casks) long enough to be of drinking age.

Down: the 18 Year Old’s main drawcard is its drinkability. It is one smooth drop. For seasoned whisky fans this might even be a disadvantage – some might consider it a bit boring. Not me. My biggest challenge is looking down at my glass to find I’ve already polished it off.

Nicely: Yep – it tastes good. On the nose are apples, grapefruit and pears alongside a smidge of oak. The palate is soft with notes of honey, cinnamon and vanilla, while the finish is medium in length leaving lingering flavours of apple-based baked goods.

If you find it cheaply, this is worth getting – especially if you are looking for a whisky that, well, goes down nicely!

★★★★

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!

★★★★

The Macallan Fine Oak 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

macallan-fine-oak-12-year-old

I just can’t get my head around (The) Macallan. While I can very clearly visualise and appreciate the ranges of, say, Glenfiddich, Glen Moray or Glendronach, trying to form a coherent picture of what Macallan is about is as likely to give me a headache as drinking way too much of the stuff. And not just because it doesn’t start with the word Glen…

The contradictions are plentiful: many an old-time whisky drinker will cite Macallan as their go-to drop. Yet the distillery spent a fortune to get a bottle of 50 Year Old in a Bond film. And for some reason they recently ditched age statements in favour of… colours? And yet not too long ago there was also Macallan’s ‘Fine Oak’ range, one such bottle being the subject of today’s review.

I don’t get the point of the ‘Fine Oak’ series. As far as I can tell, it takes its name from the many “exceptional quality” oak casks the whisky was matured in. But… does that mean their older range was dumped into low quality barrels? Somehow I doubt it. It seems to be another rebranding dead-end left by the wayside by an impatient marketing team.

Despite all this, the whisky itself is great to drink. The nose is light, vibrant and contains finely balanced notes of vanilla and lime. The palate is sweet without being sickly and flavours of honey and malt take centre stage. The finish is short without being unsatisfying, with a creamy nuttiness that gently lingers: it’s Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut in whisky form! All up, it’s a brilliantly balanced dram, and one that you could confidently pour to a hesitant whisky drinker.

The biggest disappointment is that this bottle is no longer available – if I were to seek something similar I would have to try a different bottle in the Macallan range. As much as I enjoyed this particular drop, I’m wary to spend up on something else from the distillery. Macallan seems to be undergoing somewhat of an identity crisis and I’m probably unlikely to go and buy a bottle until they sort it out – that is unless I get some pretty convincing recommendations in the comments!

★★★

Dalmore 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Dalmore 12

In the United Kingdom, something that is passionately loved by half the population while fervently hated by the other is known as being rather ‘Marmite’. In Australia nothing sits more squarely in the love/hate status than Collingwood Football Club. In the movie world, the title goes to Napoleon Dynamite. And in the whisky world, the ultimate love-it-or-hate-it drop could be none other than Dalmore.

For every whisky drinker shouting Dalmore’s merits from the rooftops, I have met another who just cannot fathom the appeal. Even the usually serene waters of Whisky Waffle are rocked by this divide. While we normally agree on most matters whisky related, I am partial to a drop of the stag-bedecked highland malt while m’colleague Ted couldn’t care less that their founder saved King Alexander III from a deer once upon a time (actually, scrap that, he loves the story, just doesn’t want to drink the 12 Year Old)

I rather like the 12 – although I wouldn’t regard it as an everyday whisky. To me, it calls to mind a reasonable cognac (on the rare occasion that I’ve had the chance to try that stuff). I find it distinctly grapey and full of tannins – which I like. However, I get the impression that these same characteristics are what turn Ted – and many others – off the stuff. So my theory is thus: Dalmore is a red wine drinkers whisky. While the Speysides exhibit typical Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio lightness and crispness – this dram is heavy, complex and extremely dry.

On the nose I get equal measures of ham and raspberry jam – surely a combination that could only be found by a whisky drinker. The palate is slightly yeasty with red grapes and ashy notes. The finish is medium in length and warmth, leaving you with flavours of oak and pastry.

While I could happily sip on this particular drop for an entire evening, I can utterly understand where the Dalmore sceptics are coming from. This is not a whisky for everyone. You’ll either love it or hate it. However, for all those haters out there, can I recommend trying the Cigar Malt Reserve before writing off Dalmore forever – now that is a proper whisky.

And even if you still don’t like it – you’ve got to admit – Dalmore bottles are beautiful.

Nick’s rating: ★★★

Ted’s rating: ★★

Glen Moray Port Cask Finish

Reviewed by: Nick

Glen Moray Port Cask

As an out and proud fan of Glen Moray distillery and a waffler known to be partial to a little port matured whisky, the Glen Moray Port Cask Finish sounded like the perfect dram for me. Combining the sweet elegant Speyside flavour with a rich wine-infused layer – what could possibly go wrong? As it turns out: quite a lot.

Upon its arrival at my door, I eagerly whipped the bottle out of its box and was greeted with the most peculiarly coloured whisky I had ever seen. I’ve observed variations of the (hilariously unintentionally poetic) “burnt crimson” theme before, but this whisky was – and there’s no more accurate description – orange. It was the kind of radioactive-peach hue normally reserved for fake tan. Alarm bells were ringing – but I didn’t want to fall into the trap of judging a book by its colour. There was only one thing to it – I had to try some.

After the first sniff it was clear that I was not trying a regular Speysider here. There was a lot of fruit – by which I mean a veritable orchard’s worth – and it was overripe, perhaps on the turn and ready for the compost heap. There were some bitter dark chocolate notes as well as equally bitter notes of wet grass. All in all, it was… shall we say memorable.

Surely the palate would be an improvement. And it was, albeit slightly. It was sweet and sticky with strong winey notes combining to form something reminiscent of strawberry jam. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some strawberry jam. Just this particular fruit spread was more Woolworths brand rather than homemade by my Grandma. The sweetness was more of a sugar syrup than a caramel and the vanilla more essence than extract. The finish started strongly with some nice blackberry flavours but descended into a rough spicy alcohol burn, surely a product of its youthful non-age statement nature.

Wow.

I did not love this whisky nearly as much as I expected. All things considered it was more than a little, well, rubbish. However, I can’t say I’m unhappy that I bought it. Scotland is hugely diverse in its drams and this is as far removed from an elegant Speyside drop as an Islay peat monster. Unfortunately in this case – the differences are not for the better.

William Cadenhead Single Speyside Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 40 Years

Reviewed by: Ted

William Cadenheads 40 YO

The art of independent bottling is a fascinating one, taking the product of a distillery and aging it oneself in a new and interesting way. If performed successfully, the end product should hark back to it’s origins and yet metamorphose into something beguiling and delightful. A whisky butterfly if you will.

WM Cadenhead Ltd is Scotland’s oldest independent bottler, established in 1842. As such, they have had some time to perfect the art and their releases tend to command considerable respect.

The William Cadenhead Single Speyside Scotch Whisky that I was fortunate enough to try was a mere 40 years old! While the bottle did not reveal the origin of the spirit, I have been told that it allegedly contains spirit from Glenfarclas, a family-owned distillery steeped in tradition.

On the nose the William Cadenhead 40yo is like timber polished to the smoothness of glass using the finest vanilla and caramel scented beeswax.

In the mouth the spirit is what I imagine drinking satin would be like, rippling folds of cool smoothness sliding over the tongue and susurrating down the throat. The flavour is the lightest touch of honey, tree spices and dried fruits.

If you are ever fortunate enough to come across the William Cadenhead 40yo I would highly recommend taking the opportunity to try it. This is independent bottling at its most elegant.

★★★★★

Speyburn 10 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Speyburn 10 year Old

It’s the very end of harvest season here in Tasmania. Fresh produce abounds, from potatoes to pears, onions to oranges, and asparagus to apples: our family-friend farmers’ pickings filling my kitchen with an alluring bouquet. The fresh fruit combines to remind me strongly of the scent of a dram I have recently acquired: the Speyburn 10 Year Old.

“Delicious” I hear you cry “a whisky with all amazing the flavours of harvest time! It must be good.” And it is. But it also isn’t. This is a whisky full of contradictions.

The contradictions start with the distillery itself. Translating literally as “River Spey”, Speyburn identifies as a highland whisky despite being found within a mile of such Speyside giants such as Glen Grant and The Glenrothes. It has received many modern awards, though it’s greatest accomplishment still seems to be being built in the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. It also, commendably, bucks the NAS trend by releasing a 10 Year Old, a 25 Year Old… and nothing in between.

The harvest fruits are prevalent on the nose. Overripe red apples, peaches and lemons dominate proceedings in a way entirely unsubtle. It’s enjoyable but certainly citrus-heavy. The palate is sweet and malty, like children’s breakfast cereal. There is more lemon here, causing the whisky to veer dangerously towards dish-cleaner territory, though is stopped short by a bitter cooking apple note on the finish.

There are undeniably many enjoyable flavours in the Speyburn 10 Year Old. It’s well worth a try and certainly wonderful value – just don’t expect subtlety to be among its virtues. Rather than a sweet bite of an apple, it is more like the entire orchard has been emptied into your kitchen.

★★