Summer

Starward Two Fold Double Grain Australian Whisky

Reviewed by: Ted

It used to be that if you wanted to buy an Australian whisky, your choice was pretty much from a never-ending cavalcade of single cask, single malt releases that cost more kidneys than you could really afford on a regular basis. To be honest, it’s still like that, but these days the scene is starting to get a lot more diverse as more players enter the game and start to experiment with different styles.

People are prepared to pay for quality of course, but on the whole, prices for the Aussie amber still remain prohibitively high for the general market who want a decent local dram that isn’t going to eviscerate their wallets. Starward Distillery in Melbourne are trying to change that with a zesty little number pitched squarely at the average punter.

A bottle of Starward Two Fold Double Grain Australian Whisky sitting in front of a Christmas tree

Starward’s Two Fold Australian Whisky has an interesting trick up it’s sleeve that helps them to keep the price point well below $100AUD, which is a rare for a local drop (it’s currently $65AUD on their website). As well as using the standard malted barley, Starward have added wheat into the mix, making a ‘double grain’ whisky that ‘marries two quintessentially Australian grains’ together.

This is quite a clever move for a number of reasons. For one, Australia grows a lot of wheat – around 18.5million tonnes in 2018-19 in fact (which is actually down from previous years). In comparison, barley only managed about half that amount in the same period.

In terms of spirit production costs, wheat makes a lot more sense. In comparison to barley, which has to go through the whole malting process and then get distilled in fairly inefficient pot-stills, wheat spririt is generally produced on giant industrial column stills that allow for continuous production. In fact, Manildra Group’s Shoalhaven plant in Nowra, where Starward sources its wheat spirit from, is the largest grain neutral spirit (GNS) distillery in the South East Asia region.

Flavour-wise though, that’s where things start to get a bit more competitive. Neutral spirits made from grains such as wheat are much lighter and take far less influence from the cask compared to the heavier, oilier pot still-made malts. Hence why they have traditionally been used as the ‘silent’ base for Scottish blends, with small amounts of single malts added in on top to provide the flavour.

Starward’s ‘thing’ has always been Australian wine cask maturation and the Two Fold is no exception to that rule, in this case doubling-down on it. According to Starward they use [sic] “Lightly charred or steamed barrels. Sourced from Australian wineries that make great shiraz, cabernets and pinot noirs. Often filled fresh when the barrel is still wet with wine.” Starward’s own malt spirit and the wheat spirit are aged separately before being blended at a ratio of about 2:3 before being bottled at 40%abv.

A bottle of Starward whisky wearing a christmas jumper and santa hat sitting on a red brick in a herb garden. Yes, that is a bit random I know

Getting into the Christmas spirit

Speaking of the bottle, Starward has always killed it with their label art and the Two Fold is no exception, with a gorgeous blue, black and gold label with an unusual shape that stands out from the pack. Colour-wise, there is no mistaking that the spirit has spent its life in ex-wine casks, sporting a ruddy copper hue.

Flavour-wise, the Two Fold is a certified drinker. The nose is creamy and fruit-driven, with peaches, red grapes and banana mixed with a generous hit of vanilla with chocolate/cereal notes that make me think of Weetbix slice. There’s also an interesting nutty, meaty quality that sits underneath.

The mouth is relatively spicy, thanks to the wheat, and dry from the wine. The body is light and creamy across the mid-palate with a relatively short, tannin-driven finish, although there’s enough linger to make you keep wanting to come back for another go.

David Vitale and the Starward team have really pulled it off with the Two Fold. Low price certainly doesn’t equal cheap whisky in this case. Even better, it comes in a 700ml bottle. I think that the Two Fold is an excellent dram for the Aussie summer – the wine-driven flavours would pair perfectly at a BBQ, it’s light enough in the heat and the price means that it’s ideal to casually share amongst friends. If you’re looking for a solid local dram this festive season, the Starward Two Fold is a no-brainer.

***

PS. It’s nearly Christmas, so it’s about time for a dodgy cracker joke –

Q: What’s a grain spirit’s favourite Christmas carol
A: Silent Night

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!

★★★★

Cragganmore 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Cragganmore 12 Year Old

Summer is a time for barbeques and dreams; it is a time for long evenings spent irreverently with friends. And, of course, it is a time for summer romances.

I met the Cragganmore 12 Year Old shortly before Christmas and knew, without being able to define why, that this was to be my summertime dram. It glistened, a deep gold on the shelf, almost calling to me with promises of what was to come. How could I resist?

The following weeks I enjoyed the gloriously sunny evenings with the Cragganmore by my side. We were thick as thieves, spending time at post-Christmas drinks, New Years Eve – even on the annual camping trip. All my whisky-drinking friends approved. There was no doubt, the Cragganmore was a worthy addition to our summer festivities. And the flavours? Extraordinary.

The nose of honey and butterscotch. The palate of vanilla and lemons. And the finish… Oh that delicate and yet spicy linger I feel I will never truly forget.

Inevitably, the sun began to set on a glorious January, and the contents of the Cragganmore dwindled. As with all summer flings, it ended all too suddenly. It was time to say farewell to this golden bottle. While it was a friendship only recently acquired, it seemed the bonds we had formed would last a lifetime. As we said our goodbyes, I thanked it for its companionship over such a memorable time. I can now only leave it in the hands of fate as to whether we meet again on another, seemingly endless, summer afternoon.

★★★

Benromach Sassacaia Wood Finish

Reviewed by: Richard

Benromach Sassacaia Wood FinishThis one was recommended to me by a friend who knows my fondness for sweeter whiskies… So first up – a little bit about the distillery:

Benromach is a Speyside distillery founded by Duncan McCallum and F.W. Brickman in 1898 and currently owned and run by Gordon and Macphail of Elgin. It is situated near Forres in Morayshire and is fed with spring water from the Chapelton Springs in the Romach Hills beside Forres.

And now – on with the review:

This has been matured in a Sassacaia barrel, so an introduction to the wood is in order!
Sassicaia is one of the most sought-after Cabernet Sauvignon wines in the world and made history recently, being the first single wine to be granted its own DOC (Denominazione di origine controllata – quality assurance label for Italian food products, especially Italian wine and cheese)
The Sassicaia estate is located at Bolgheri and lies in the Province of Livorno in Tuscany, Italy.

So, shut up, tell us about the whisky…

This is a 2006 distilled expression and bottled this year – there’s an older 2005 release, a 2004 release and a few older bottlings.
All I can find out is that it’s put in an ex bourbon barrel for around 7 years, and then put in a Sassacaia barrel for around 29 months – just over 2 years.
The colour is golden pink! Well lightly pink – if the sun hits it just right…

Nose: It’s got a real soft nose – dry toasted oak, vanilla, fruity, toffee, nutmeg, and that definitive wine note.
The nose is right up my alley – really sweet and bold, but not sickly…
Now to stick it in my mouth!

Palate: Cherries, raspberries & vanilla, spices, subtle smoke, malty toffee, and wine!
The palate is quite dry, which I find a lot with red wine finishes for some reason… tannic influence maybe? I find they make my mouth water a bit…

Finish: A medium-long finish with hints of fruit and another whiff of smoke.

This is a session whisky (if there’s such a thing) for sunny afternoon, sitting under a tree, in the shade, with some olives, sourdough, semidried tomatoes, cheese and some good friends…I’m amazed at the influence the wine has made, the light smoke and the fruit notes. I’ve tried the standard 10yo Benromach, which is one of my favourites – this is better, not by a lot, but still, better, and juicier…
A bloody fine whisky to add to any collection!

★★★

anCnoc 16 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

anCnoc 16

One of the fun things about whisky is that it can reveal to you a time and place as part of its character. If the anCnoc 12 Year Old is a summers day, then surely its older sibling, the 16 Year Old, is the evening.

Produced by Knockdhu Distillery, founded in 1894 and one of the smaller operating distilleries in the Scottish Highlands, the AnCnoc 16yo is a burnished gold in colour, darker than the straw-like 12yo.

On the nose the 16yo is smooth and sweet, with no hint at all of the occasional raw alcoholic jaggies lurking in the 12yo. Herbs, particularly mint, garnish a bowl of caramelised pears in syrup dolloped on Weetbix. The taste is sharp and bright, striking the upper palate. The finish is hot and bittersweet, drying the mouth and lingering for some time afterwards.

The AnCnoc 16yo is much better rounded than its younger kinsman, with maturity found through age. While the 12yo has the heat, dustiness and brashness of the day, the 16yo is the relaxing warmth of the evening. A perfect companion to watch the light fade on a clear summer night.

★★★

Royal Lochnagar Distillers Edition

Reviewed by: Nick

Royal Lochnagar Distillers Edition

Every now and then what you really look for in a whisky is one that you can drink. I realise that this may sound a ludicrous statement for something which is, undoubtedly, a liquid, but bear with me and I shall explain.

I’m always on the lookout for interesting and unusual new drops to challenge me and set me off waffling about the subtle complexities that can be discovered from dram to dram. However, if every dram I consumed affected me in such a way then, apart from having no friends, I would risk straying too far from the very essence of whisky; that is: it is made to be drunk (with the possible exception of the Macallan Cire Perdue).

With this in mind I believe there is no better candidate for the position of ‘drinkable whisky’ than the Royal Lochangar Distillers Edition. A rather underrated distillery, Lochnagar got it’s ‘Royal’ tag by impressing Queen Victoria on a visit, although the scale of this achievement is questionable as it was reportedly very easy to please Queen Victoria with whisky. Nevertheless the title stuck and it is now the smallest of Diageo’s 28 distilleries.

The Distillers Edition is aged for a period in ex-Muscat casks, adding a layer of silk and sweetness without making it overly-sugary or syrupy. The extra maturation seems to round off some of the sharper edges, making the whisky smoother and easier to drink, though this does not take away from the overall flavour; there are still many appealing elements to discover.

This is immediately apparent on the nose, which is heavy with alluring caramel. Citrus notes follow as well as a dash of rose essence. It has a smooth and creamy mouth feel, retaining the caramel elements and adding flavours of almonds coated in layers of honey and chocolate. There are also the faintest hints of berries to be discovered, lingering in the background. The finish is light and short but the butterscotch theme continues until the end. The overall effect is that of the sauce to sticky date pudding. And those who know me understand what a large compliment I am paying it.

The Royal Lochnagar Distillers Edition is certainly not the most complex or intriguing whisky going around. Nor is it in any way dull. It is a very easy drinking whisky, and this is in no way bad thing. In fact, I believe that it is this dram’s biggest strength.

★★★

Hanging out at Hellyers Road: our trip to the North West Coast’s first distillery

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Waffling at the bond store whisky waffle

A bit of ‘bonding’ time for the Whisky Waffle boys

Hellyers Road is the ultimate modern distillery. You will find no creaky wooden washbacks or hand beaten copper stills here. It takes multiple glances to realise it is even a distillery at all. However, there is one tell-tale giveaway: the smell. As soon as the door separating the visitor centre and distillery is opened you are greeted with the unmistakable scent of the angel’s share escaping. There can be no doubt: whisky is made here.

Located in Burnie on the North West coast of Tasmania, the architecturally modern visitors’ centre is incongruously wedged between beautiful rural countryside and the looming industrial hulk of a dairy factory. You can guess which view Hellyers Road have made the most of, with large floor-to-ceiling windows looking out across the Emu Valley.

The good view whisky waffle

The better of the two view options

Our tour begins with a friendly introduction to the distillery by our guide Dianne, detailing the history of the establishment. Hellyers Road is owned by the Betta Milk Company next door and is the result of their desire to diversify their product range. Already possessing the production knowhow, they laid down their first barrel in 1999. Flash forward to today and the company proudly distributes to 26 countries, in particular supplying the major emerging market in Europe.

Ted checking out the milk factory... er I mean distillery whisky waffle

Ted checking out the milk factory… er… I mean distillery!

Hellyers Road have certainly used their knowledge of production lines to full effect, with the capacity to produce more whisky than any other Australian distillery. Indeed, their bottling machine, sourced from Italy, is capable of churning out up to 2000 bottles per hour. This is just one example of their ultra-modern approach to equipment. Elsewhere stainless steel takes the place of the traditional oak and copper, and the neck of the still follows an unusually horizontal angle. The entire distillation process can even be controlled remotely by head distiller Mark Littler, wherever in the world he happens to be.

The oddly shaped still neck whisky waffle

The oddly shaped still neck – Glenmorangie it is not

An excellent view of the bond store is provided by a balcony on the second floor, revealing hundreds of barrels quietly maturing thousands of litres of Hellyers Road whisky. Most are ex-American oak, although directly below our vantage point are a number of sherry butts, a recent addition to the Hellyers Road stable. We cannot wait to sample some of this whisky, though we are fully aware we may be waiting for some time!

Many barrels whisky waffle

We learned how to read the numbering system on the barrels – and instantly felt like we were part of a secret society!

Nestled on the second floor are two barrels that Hellyers Road are kind enough to allow their guests to sample a dram from. The varieties on offer are the Original and the Peated expressions, and as they come straight from the barrel they are of course at a powerful cask strength. Hellyers Road also offers those that do the tour the chance to fill their own bottle straight from the cask before sealing it with hot red wax. Both Wafflers will confess to each having a sealed bottle sitting at the back of their cabinets from an earlier visit.

Fill a cask whisky waffle

The dairy theme continues with a chance to milk a whisky cow!

We enjoyed sampling the Original cask strength expression, and after some prolonged prognostication can provide a panoptic portrayal of the product:

Hellyers Road Original 3219.03 Cask Strength 68.6%

Nose: fresh and caramelised apples, raisins, walnuts, orange and cherry ripe. Faint Hellyers Road buttery notes, but masked by spicy alcohol.

Mouth: Sour high strength alcohol notes, pan browned butter, oakiness and some slight briny seaside influences. Leaves the mouth quite dry.

Nick pondering the meaning of life over the cask strength whisky waffle

Nick enjoying the cask strength with all his friends

Hellyers Road is a thoroughly contemporary beast, combining state-of-the-art technology with ancient techniques to produce a whisky of the modern age. While the distillery itself may lack the rustic charm of the Old World, the friendly folk who inhabit it and the exceptional products they produce make it well worth your time to visit. As Jeff Kennett would say: “not bad for a bunch of dairy farmers!”

 

 

While at the distillery, the boys at whisky waffle also conducted a blind tasting of six different Hellyers Road expressions. Stay tuned to find out how they did!

Five Golden Drams: 5 whiskies to drink at Christmas time

Posted by: Nick

If all the tinsel strewn about the place and the cheesy background music in supermarkets hasn’t been enough of a giveaway, I’m here to tell you it is very nearly Christmas! This means a number of things: countless family dinners, last minute gift-shopping, pine needles all over the house, and of course, holidays!

I’m extremely keen to have a bit of free time this Christmas to spend relaxing: feet up, Glencairn in hand. But what, I hear you ask, is contained within this glass? The short answer is: whisky. But they don’t call us Whisky Waffle for nothing. So here is the long answer. Ladies and Gentleman, I present to you: Five Golden Rings – I mean drams.

5. Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 Year Old

As you may or may not be aware, m’colleague Ted and I are from the rather little state of Tasmania in the rather large country of Australia, both of which can be found in the southern hemisphere, meaning that Christmas falls squarely in the middle of our summer. Now, to you from The North the concept of a sunny Christmas must be a completely bizarre one, but to us here, BBQs, beers, bicycle riding and baking hot weather are natural Christmas day occurrences. So my number five whisky reflects this.

5 Balvenie whisky waffle

The Caribbean Cask (either through its flavour profile or by the power of suggestion) has a very tropical taste reminiscent of a banana smoothie. It is the perfect summer’s day drop and is easy to knock back while basking in the sun in the early afternoon after a big Christmas lunch.

4. Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Solera

This drop is a little more traditional in its connection to Christmas. It finds its place on this list, as its flavours suggest sultanas, raisins, plums and other dark fruits. It is the perfect dram to savour in the late afternoon with a slice of dessert – because, quite simply, this dram is Christmas pudding in whisky form.

4 Glenfiddich whisky waffle

3. Hellyers Road 12 Year Old

This one is more of a personal connection. Having only been recently released, Australia’s first 12 Year Old age statement bottling is a superb drop and one I am coming to appreciate more and more with every taste. It is smoother than anything so far created by the Burnie distillery but still contains a unique buttery shortbread flavour that is so specific to Hellyers Road. It is also very reasonably priced compared to most other Tasmanian products and for that reason alone is a very good option as a stocking filler for the discerning whisky drinker.

3 Helllyers Road whisky waffle

2. Auchentoshan Three Wood

I’ll be honest, if any drop were to make me think of Christmas, it’s this one. It’s not just the Christmas pudding, but the brandy butter, too. It is smooth and extremely drinkable, but complex and long lasting. It’s accessible to non-whisky drinkers but also interesting enough for seasoned veterans. In this way, it brings unity to your grandparents’ crowded living room at the end of the day. If you needed just one bottle to share with the people you love the most at Christmas, this would have to be it.

2 Auchentoshan whisky waffle

1. Ardbeg Uigeadail

Although I will have spent my Christmas day bathed in glorious sunshine, people back in the traditional home of whisky are unlikely to be so lucky. In fact, the early pioneers of the water of life probably spent many Christmases shut away in small uninsulated huts in the snowy highlands with nothing but a peated dram to keep them warm. This selection is for them.

1 Ardbeg whisky waffle

There are very few better examples of a warming peated whisky to be found anywhere in the world. And who else but Ardbeg could provide us with a complex, sherried, spicy and warming dram such as this. The Uigeadail (or Oogie, and m’collegue and I refer to it as) is simply one of the world’s best readily available whiskies. A portion of my final paycheque before the 25th of December was dedicated to this bottle, and when sitting back in a comfortable armchair after a long but pleasant day of food, presents and family of all ages, I’ll claim that nothing goes down better than a generous nip of Ardbeg Uigeadail.

anCnoc 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

anCnoc 12 whisky waffle

During the warmer months a beer drinker will often turn to a lighter, more refreshing beer such as a pale ale. Well, for whisky drinkers that desire likely still holds true, and thus is created the perfect moment for the subject of this review: the anCnoc 12 year old.

Pronounced a-nock (or as we like to say… oh-cock), this summery little number is produced by Knockdhu distillery, found resting in the shadow of Knock Hill in the Highlands of Scotland. A bright clear gold in colour, the nose is light and dusty with a nice scent of grain that brings to mind fields of drying barley waving under the summer sun.

Slightly detracting from the bouquet is the occasional whiff of raw alcoholic notes, particularly when cold, but it isn’t disastrous and doesn’t spoil the overall experience. The taste is light and initially sweet, followed by more of those good dusty grain flavours and a pleasant sharpness that hits you on the middle of the palate and at the back of the nose.

If you find yourself basking in the remains of a warm summer evening and feel like relaxing with a dram, then you will find good company in the anCnoc 12. Drink with friends and with a damn good sunset on the horizon.

★★★