Speyside

Scotland 2018: The Ultimate Whisky Adventure – Part One

Posted by: Nick

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

9 days: 20 distilleries.

PART ONE: Speyside

Signs of Speyside

The world is a big and exciting place full of incredible natural wilderness, mind blowing ancient structures and miraculous modern marvels. However, for a Waffler, there is no greater sight than a smoking pagoda, rising up over a craggy moor. For this view I needed to cross the entire planet, enduring four long flights (and a train ride with no wifi) to finally set foot in the motherland of whisky: Scotland.

So many distilleries, so little time. How could I possibly cover all I wanted to in nine days? The short answer is: I couldn’t – but I could give it my best shot. The first important decision to make was which direction to travel? I finally decided upon: anticlockwise. This catapulted me headfirst into the heart of whisky production in Scotland: Speyside.

While Speyside is known for light, smooth and elegant drams, it is also home to the world’s biggest sherry bombs. And it is with the latter in mind that I begun my journey with a tour booked for a favourite of mine: Glendronach.

Glendronach

I can thoroughly recommend being the only one on a distillery tour – even more so if your guide is the ex-general manager of the distillery. And I was lucky enough to experience exactly that at Glendronach; hearing a range of the best stories from Frank Massie – a wonderful ambassador for the distillery and a top bloke. It summed up my experience perfectly: there’s a lovely touch of the old school about Glendronach. From the big old kiln to the creaky old washbacks to the fact the tasting started with the 18 Year Old… and got better from there! It was a dream come true and did not disappoint.

Nick n Frank

I settled into my accommodation at Speydie’s whisky capital Dufftown, thrilled at the start to my travels and recalling the 25 Year Old cask strength I’d just consumed. It was a quiet night – as the next day was shaping up to be a big one.

Balvenie

It began with the tour of tours: Balvenie Distillery. This experience is widely recognised as a must for Wafflers everywhere and three hours in I could see why. It was the most detailed – and hands on – tour I’ve ever experienced. I risked a dose of monkey shoulder by turning the malting barley and visited the cooperage where a team were working hard to create barrels exactly to Balvenie’s specifications and finish in time for an early Friday knock off. And then I did the the tasting. Wow. How many tours conclude by pouring you a full nip of 30 year old whisky?

Monkey SHoulder

I had no time to dwell on it, however. I was out the door to visit Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Glenfarclas and GlenCraggonmore. There was no time for a tour at these classic establishments but all came with tasty distillery exclusive drams. The highlight was Glenfarclas – not in the least because their stunning tasting room is the converted interior of an old Australian ship. The drams were superb as well – a 2004 distilled bottling which was like a refined version of the 105 and a port finish which was sweet and juicy and almost certainly all gone by the time you read this, sadly.

Glenfiddich

I finished my day by joining a tour at Aberlour Distillery. The tour itself was fairly standard and I was part of a large group of non-whisky drinkers talking over the top of our guide and asking questions about Johnnie Walker (possibly the most whisky-snobbish thing I’ve ever written – but come on… you know how annoying that would be!). The tasting, though, made it all worth it. After first trying a firey new make spirit, we sampled a straight bourbon cask and straight sherry cask Aberlour whisky – both unavailable as regular bottlings. I loved precisely neither of them; they tasted like ingredients – which is exactly what they were. It was when they combined together that the magic occurred. The 16 Year Old and the (brand new) Casg Annamh were both balanced, full bodied, complex and oh so drinkable. The tasting concluded with the A’bunadh – as classic a cask strength sherry bomb as you’ll find anywhere.

Aberlour

The A’bunadh kept me warm as I made it back to Dufftown for my second and final night in Speyside. The seemingly eternal summer sun cast an orange glow over the harvested barley fields and I could truly see: this place is the warm beating heart of Scottish whisky.

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Aultmore of the Foggie Moss 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

Maker:S,Date:2017-9-13,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

As romantic sounding Scotch Whisky names go, Aultmore of the Foggie Moss is definitely up there. You can almost feel the mist swirling around your body as you tread through a Scottish fen on a cool autumn morning.

In fact, the whole distillery is shrouded in an air of mystery, with its locale outside Keith (not a particularly romantic name admittedly) in Banffshire historically being the haunt of smugglers (at least according to the bottle and you can always trust marketing guff right?).

Founded in 1895 by Alexander Edward, owner of the Benrinnes distillery, Aultmore has had a tumultuous history, changing owners and being mothballed several times. For many years Aultmore production was used exclusively in blends, with only the occasional distillery release to excite collectors (apparently if you befriended the right people you could get a wee dram at the local pub too).

In more recent years Aultmore was purchased by Bacardi and placed under the stewardship of its subsidiary Dewars, who had actually previously owned the distillery for a short time during the 20s. In 2014 Dewars released ‘The Last Great Malts’ range, featuring distilleries used in their blends, including Aultmore (I suspect other brands may have a different opinion about Dewars owning the ‘last great malts’ however).

Typical of a Speyside dram, the 12 Year Old is a light gold/straw colour, while the 46% ABV strength is a nice surprise. The nose is light and sweet, with an abundance of grain, apples, grass, honey, lemon and a hint of polished steel at the end.

The flavour is bright and sharp, sparkling around the mouth, initially sweet before transitioning to dry at the end. Timber, grain, spice and lemon grass race across the tongue, while the finish is like Tom Yum soup, hot, sweet and sour all at once.

Thankfully, the experience isn’t like a puff of mist evaporating in the morning sun like some other exclusively bourbon-casked whiskies, with the delicate flavours given some much-needed depth by the higher bottling strength. If you’re looking for a decent drop that really embodies that light, floral Speyside style, then the Aultmore of the Foggie Moss 12 Year Old delivers just that.

★★★

GlenDronach Peated

Reviewed by: Ted

Glendronach Peated

You know when you take one thing that is really good (like heavily sherried whisky) and combine it with another really good thing (like peated whisky) and the result is a winner? Well, strap yourselves in then, because you’re going to love The GlenDronach Peated Single Malt Whisky.

The GlenDronach distillery, nestled in the NE highlands of Scotland, is famous for its heavily sherried style of whisky, utilising Pedro Ximenez and Olorosso casks in all of its core range. These whiskies are rich, fruity and sumptuous, but one element they do not usually feature is smokiness.

This lack of smoke was not always the case though. Like many other old highland distilleries, The GlenDronach (founded 1826) originally used peat to dry its malt, however over the years the practise fell out of favour through a succession of owners and the rise of cheap coal. Indeed, the distillery was one of the last in Scotland to use coal power for its stills, right up until 2005 when it converted to steam.

Bucking the current The GlenDronach flavour profile and harking back to its roots is the Peated expression. Unusually for The GlenDronach, the Peated actually starts its life in ex-bourbon barrels before being transferred into the usual ex-PX and ex-Olorosso casks for finishing.

As such, while still being full of the warm, rounded, fruity characteristics usually associated with The GlenDronach, the Peated is perhaps a touch lighter in feel than usual. The nose evokes burnt marmalade, stone fruit, leather, almond and walnut. The smoke is soft, toasty and earthy, with none of the strong coastal elements that drive Ileach and Island peated whiskies.

The mouth presents a mixture of juicy sweet yellow and white stone fruits, honey, Turkish delight and toffee. The lighter flavours likely derive from the bourbon casking while the heavier ones draw from the sherry casking. The smoke lingers gently at the back of the throat on the finish.

The GlenDronach is an excellent example of how well peating can complement the rich flavours of sherried whiskies, particularly because the smokiness is well balanced in the dram. Peat-heads and sherry-bombers alike will find something to entertain and interest them and will likely keep being drawn back to sup from this particular fruit’n’smoke chalice time and time again.

★★★

Glen Moray 16 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Glen Moray 16

Different people look for different things in a whisky. Some people desire a smooth and easy drinking drop. Others want something to excite and challenge them. Others still want something to mix with their coke. There are many, many reasons, so naturally, there are people whose sole criterion when selecting a bottle is the desire for it to come in a shortbread tin. If that applies to you, look no further than the Glen Moray 16 Year Old!

glen-moray-16-tin-4.jpg

I know, I can hear you all now – I’ve made some ridiculous claims on Whisky Waffle but this one takes the biscuit! The biscuit! No? Well, I admit, I may be selling this drop a bit short(bread). There are, in fact, a number of reasons to pick this one up. Glen Moray is a reliable distillery if you’re after a decent bourbon-matured quaffing scotch. Their bottles are always good value: this one can be found for around $65 in Australia, which, believe me, is a great price for a 16 Year Old Whisky. And on top of all that – the tin features an endearing array of the uniforms worn by the Scottish Highland Regiments, including a man sporting ‘The Black Watch’, who, rather controversially, is not wearing a skirt!

glen-moray-16-tin-3.jpg

Ok, so while I can crap on about the tin all day, you guys really want to know if it tastes any good… in my opinion. And in my opinion, it does. It’s a considerable step up from the 12 Year Old and while it is still light and easy drinking, it contains a silky layer not found in younger Glen Moray releases.

On the nose are standard notes of honey and vanilla alongside sweet biscuits and pineapple. The palate is gentle with toffee and banana prominent. The finish is short but pleasant with a faint herbal linger.

Glen Moray 16 tin 2

Different people look for different things in a whisky. But everyone looks for one which they’ll enjoy. The Glen Moray 16 Year Old is as close as any out there to a dram that can be enjoyed by everyone – whether for the flavours on the inside – or the shortbread tin on the outside.

★★★

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

Catto’s Blended Scotch Whisky

Reviewed by: Nick

Catto's Blended Scotch

I’m not going to lie to you, fellow Wafflers. I bought this bottle of distinctly bottom-shelf blended scotch for numerous reasons – none of which concerned actually drinking the whisky. Firstly, it was the most Aussie sounding bottle I’ve ever seen (try saying it in an Australian accent – it’s very satisfying); secondly, you can’t look past a $30 price tag; and lastly because there was a sick masochistic part of me hoping I could label it the ‘worst whisky in the world’!

I was left rather disappointed. For the first time in my life I was disappointed that a whisky was better than I had thought. Instead of being completely putrid, it was merely rather awful.

Sweet honeyed notes accompany the alcohol burn on the nose while vanilla toffee struggles to break through. The palate is rough; spicy and leafy with flavours of barley sugar amid the burn. The finish is unpleasant and too long for my liking with a lingering sweetness that I found myself longing for it to dissipate.

There you have it folks. Who would have thought, a blend called Catto’s is simply dreadful rather than being soul-destroyingly disgusting. And despite all my criticism and complaining, if you have a look at the photo, you’ll see the bottle is nearly empty. Sometimes a bit of rubbish bottom shelf is exactly what you need.

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!

★★★★