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The Pot Still Exclusive Invergordon 26 Year Old Single Grain Whisky

Reviewed by: Ted

invergordon-26

It’s very rare that I come across a whisky distilled in the year of my birth; usually they seem to fall either side of it. While that’s probably just me not looking in the right places, it’s definitely rare that the dram in question is a single grain scotch whisky.

Lesson time: Single malt scotch whisky can be made using only malted barley, whereas grain whiskies (like it says on the tin) can be made using other grains, such as wheat, and can be malted or unmalted. You don’t generally tend to see single grain whiskies on their own in the wild because their normal purpose in life is to form the base of blended scotch whisky.

Alongside the prestigious single malt producers are a multitude of unsung distilleries pumping out grain whisky for use in your Johnnie Walkers and Dewars’ and the like. Case in point: Who’s heard of Invergordon? Nope, me neither, but turns out they’re a thing.

I actually came across this bottle while I was in an excellent Glaswegian bar called ‘The Pot Still’ (up the end of the mall if you want to find it). While chatting to the barman I challenged him to pour me something unusual, and so he did.

Produced at Invergordon as an exclusive bottling for the Pot Still (in celebration of something or other I think. I forget what) this particular bottle was distilled on the 3rd of March 1988 and aged for a rather astonishing 26 years in cask# 24975 (no idea what, but from the colour I’m guessing an ex-bourbon).

Bottled at a hearty 53.7%, the nose of the Invergordon is vibrant and zesty, zinging with lemon, pineapple, pine resin and wood polish. Underneath the initial sharpness sits a smoother, rounded layer of pear, plum, apricot, dates and nuttiness. Finally, gliding out underneath is a waft of vanilla.

The first mouthful hits hot and sharp, with more lemon and pineapple, and then slides down your throat with a burning coolness like you’ve just had a strong mint. A second attempt, giving more time to develop in the mouth, finds toffee, green wood and a bitter, grassy, herbal finish.

I am sorry (not sorry) to say that you are probably highly unlikely to find a bottle of this anywhere. I only happened to stumble across mine because I was in the right place at the right time and the barman still had a small stash behind the bar that he was willing to part with.

If you do have a bottle, or are in the Pot Still and they’ve got some left, well done you, you’re part of an exclusive club. As for the rest of you great and unwashed masses, I think that this serves as a reminder not to discount the humble grain whisky. While they don’t get the same love as their single malt cousins, with a bit of age they can hold their own any day.

★★★

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A Very Waffly Christmas

A very waffly Christmas

And so we reach the end of another year. There have been many drams downed, drunken selfies taken, and outrageous tasting notes invented. But stick around, there is so much more in store for Whisky Waffle! Soon we’ll be revealing the winners of the coveted Waffle Awards for 2015. We are debuting a new guest reviewer: the Cynical Scotsman himself! And we have a new ‘event week’ lined up for 2016. Until then, have a merry as well as a “merry” Christmas. Stay safe and keep on waffling.

Nick and Ted

Longrow Cabernet Sauvignon Cask

Reviewed by: Nick

Longrow Cab Sav

As the abundance of sherry barrels diminishes, whisky makers are forced to look elsewhere for maturation options. The obvious solution, of course, is using the barrels of another grape flavoured product – no, not hubba bubba bubblegum – wine. Wine cask maturation is being used by distillers worldwide: some as a novelty but others as a serious addition to their main range.

The wonderful whisky makers of Longrow are no strangers to experimentation. One of their more intriguing bottles is the Cabernet Sauvignon Cask – aged for seven years in refill bourbon hogs heads and a further four years in Cab Sav barrels sourced from my very favourite wine region: South Australia’s McLaren Vale.

Warning: this is not a beginners whisky. Nor is it an easy drinking whisky. Nor, I believe, could I describe it as a ‘nice’ whisky. But it sure is a fascinating one. On the nose I detected, well, heaps. Initially a gentle smoke, reminding you that yes, Longrow do peat their barley. Once the smoke clears notes of grapes, banana and burnt orange rind flow through. Over all, it is complex and delicious.

The palate is a bit of a shock. Initially it is sweet with fizzy sherbet complimenting the peat. The red grapes make a return, along with other fruit such as melons and apricots. And then the spirit transforms. The finish is long, though not necessarily because of the slightly higher percentage of alcohol. It’s a little… soapy? This is a tasting note I (and seemingly I alone) seem to find in many wine-matured whiskies. There are other, nicer elements: smoked ham, salt, fish, bonfire ash, general seaside senses. This whisky is from Campbelltown, after all!

In no way do I regret buying this whisky. There’s a lot to like and a lot to discuss. But I didn’t love it. And that’s ok.

★★

Blue Hanger 9th Release

Reviewed by: Nick and Ted

Blue Hanger 9th ReleaseAs a general rule we Whisky Waffle boys tend to be single malt snobs rather than blend bogans. As easy drinking as a blended Chivas 21yo is, we’d just as soon get to grips with a lively Balvenie 12yo single malt. However, one drop that we were lucky enough to try recently suggests that we just may not be drinking the right blends.

Berry Bros and Rudd, better known for their vintaged Glenrothes range, put out a yearly blended malt release called the Blue Hanger. The bottling is named after Lord William Hanger, who was famous for his habitual striking blue attire (just like the blue Power Ranger. Here’s to you Billy!). The original release was a blend of specially selected casks from the Glenlivet and Glengrant distilleries. Eventually stocks ran out (hence the emergence of the Founders Reserve…) and now in this, the 9th edition, Berry Bros and Rudd have combined (like Megazord) 17yo Clynelish and 18yo Glen Elgin with both 23yo and peated 7yo Bunnahabhain.

With such a pedigree it is no wonder the Blue Hanger claims to be the ‘collectors blended malt’. But is it worth adding to your own collection? Short answer: yes!

But of course, this is Whisky Waffle, and so we will also supply you with a long answer too. The nose is light and fruity, and we were able to find strawberry jam, dried apples, quince paste, cured meats and Chardonnay wine. It’s essentially happy hour in a bottle.

The taste is light but flavoursome. Under-ripe cherries, sherry and cola (NB: just a tasting note. No actual cola was brought anywhere near this baby. We’re not monsters you know) combine to sweetly dance across the tongue, followed by a gentle waft of cigar smoke. The finish is long, with the peat smoke slightly more prominent, and hints of pepper, burnt wood and gooey toffee apple.

If you served this to us blind (as in blindfolded, not blind drunk), we would be unlikely to pick it as a blend. The high quality aged single malt elements that make up the Blue Hanger work together with delicacy and harmony to make a very enjoyable dram; the smoky, salty Bunnahabhain giving depth to the high notes of the Clynelish and Glen Elgin. If you tend to think that blends are beneath you, then like us, you’ve probably just been drinking the wrong ones.

★★★★

Linkwood 20 Year Old Côte-Rôtie Finish

Reviewed by: Mooresy

Linkwood Cote Rotie

There are a lot of distilleries out there many people have never tried because all their wonderful product is being snapped up by the blenders. This is a remnant of a bygone era where single malt – especially single cask – was rough and dirty. Blenders swooped in to save the day by watering down the volatiles and mixing young and mature scotches together to smooth it all out. However single malt and single cask only taste bad if the distiller doesn’t know or care about what is going into the bottles at the end of the process. If it’s all about getting drunk, why would anyone go the extra distance for a fine product.

Fortunately, people are changing and the market is changing. Single malt is here to stay, and single cask releases are the bastion of exclusivity and discernibility. This has allowed some of the bigger whisky families to experiment every now and again with small amounts of their product and sometimes that creates a pretty special drop. The Linkwood Côte-Rôtie fits this bill for two reasons. First, it is a distillery owned by the global secret council of big whisky owners and is predominantly used in blends, including as a nice addition to Johnnie Walker’s vatted malt, which means there are specific flavours that are not usually separated and given their own podium. Second, it has been bottled independently by Gordon & MacPhail, so the final product has been selected by people whose primary expertise with whisky is casks and maturation. There is going to be something unique coming from that combination.

This one has also been finished in a very specific type of red wine cask giving it a rich and fruity smell with something very special coming from the grape influence. There are caramels and sugary honey but dominated by the smell of wine and vine mixed in with the actual wood itself, which I assume is European Oak unless the spice of the fruit is engaged in deception and subterfuge.

On drinking this whisky for the first time I thought this will be the one I tell everyone to try. And while I still will tell everyone to try it, on reflection I’m sure it’s not for everyone. Which brings me nicely to the point regarding the cask. The more whisky someone drinks, one of two things happens; either the person will get closer and closer to deciding the one whisky they want to drink at the expense of all the others – what I like to call “the wrong thing” – or they get more and more adventurous and inquisitive about different types and flavours. A batch of a well-known favourite finished in an unusual cask is a great way to see how important aging really is.

This one has spent two and a half years in its finishing cask, which is quite a long time in absolute terms. It is also well matured in general and you would expect a higher level of wood as a result. On the palate, the Côte-Rôtie has a lot of wood. I think that’s a good thing and that it really works for this particular drop. Those who like the simpler and sweeter whiskies will probably think this one has too much tannin, which is often the result of red wine finishes and long oak maturations. Surprisingly though it has not lost some of that underlying sweet complexity. The honey and caramel transfers through with some tart apple and cinnamon/nutmeg in the background.

A vino bomb is not for the immovable whisky drinker who has found the one flavour they want and doesn’t like anything else but, for the intrepid explorer who wants to backpack through the Rhone Valley and pop the bung on a nice red every couple of hours, sit back and quaff with a woody wonder.

★★★★

Johnnie Walker Green Label

Posted by: Mooresy

Green label whisky waffle

Johnnie Walker Green Label is – or I should say was – a bit of an anomaly in the family. Unlike the others which are all blends including grain and non-malt whiskies, Green was a blended malt made up of only four whiskies, all single malts. This gave it the quality of arriving like a blend then developing on the palate more like a single malt. It’s nose complexity was also more akin to a single malt, and the better noses out there could probably pick the distilleries involved from the smell.

I happen to know what they were, but so as not to spoiler, you’ll have to ask me.

 

An elegy for Johnnie Green

Though caramel brown, your label was Green

With flavoured malt so crisp and clean

A complex coffee fruity smell

Vanilla and nuttiness went down well

The taste had cereals, chocolate and nuts

Not sharp or heavy but you sure had guts

A finish strong with walnuts and honey

Of Johnnie’s varieties you were worth the money

One day the factory shut you down

Scotch lovers everywhere gave a frown

No more would we have our favourite blend

A standout nip, a lifelong friend

Now we’re confined to Black and Red

That burns our nose and hurts our head

There’s lots of fine drams out there today

And where there’s a Walker there’s a will and a way

But for now we must simply say farewell

You were a classic, a legend and we think that you’re swell

 

Now a rare and hard to find malt, Green is consigned to the archive of Johnnie Walker’s bond store along with the Gold Label 18 (they’ve removed the age statement for the current variant) and the elusive Johnnie Walker White Label which I have never tasted. If you find a sealed bottle of Green, you may want to hold onto it for its value but I would strongly encourage you to pop the cork and taste a true exception to the rule. If you spot a half open bottle on a friend’s shelf or in a dark musty pub, encourage the friend to crack it at a party or buy it shot by shot from the wizened landlord.

If you are a single-malt snob who sees the word blended and runs a mile from the likes of Green and the very delicious Blue Hanger, thank you. More for the rest of us.

#johnniewalkerweek

Find out about the rest of our multi-coloured adventures:

Johnnie Walker Red Label

Johnnie Walker Black Label

Johnnie Walker Double Black

Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

Johnnie Walker Platinum Label 18 Year Old

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Johnnie Walker: which is best?

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Reviewed by: Nick and Ted

Blue Label Whisky Waffle

One of the reasons we like single malts is the variability in character; all the little quirks and oddities that come together to create something exciting and different every time. The experiences they leave with you create a lasting impression, such as the first time Ted tried a 72% ABV Heartwood, all crazy and wild and exhilarating, or the time Nick tried an English single malt in a Scottish bar and nearly poured it down the sink, much to the amusement of the patrons.

In comparison, blends tend to be a lot less individual, which is hardly surprising given that the elements are painstakingly selected for their ability to meld seamlessly together. Very rarely does a blend give you something to talk about and really get your teeth into. Not so the Johnnie Walker Blue Label, the proclaimed pinnacle of the standard Johnnie Walker range. Discovering this came as somewhat of a surprise to we Johnnie Walker sceptics.

Blue Nick and Ted Whisky Waffle

Unlike any of the other previously reviewed releases, there is a great deal more complexity on the nose. There are delightfully interacting elements of oak, chocolate, and fruit such as oranges, pears and peaches, complimented by a light hint of smoke. The overall character is very warm and welcoming.

The mouth is actually relatively sweet, but so completely different to the overbearing, manufactured sickliness of the Red Label that it’s hard to believe that the two are made by the same company. It’s more like the pure sweetness of a really good light honey. The flavour develops through caramel, to sweet orange, and on to slightly bitter cocoa, all the while accompanied by a pleasing gentle smokiness which lingers on the tongue.

The Johnnie Walker Blue Label has certainly not committed the cardinal whisky sin of being boring. It is rare that a blend has this much complexity, and gives us so much pleasure debating its merits. After all, the best whiskies are the most memorable ones. We’re still not entirely convinced it’s worth the $200 price tag, but after a couple of drams we’re much closer to believing it.

★★★

#johnniewalkerweek

Find out about the rest of our multi-coloured adventures:

Johnnie Walker Red Label

Johnnie Walker Black Label

Johnnie Walker Double Black

Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

Johnnie Walker Platinum Label 18 Year Old

Johnnie Walker Green Label

Johnnie Walker: which is best?

Johnnie Walker Platinum Label 18 Year Old

Posted by: Ted

WW Platinum Label

Let us picture a woman: she wears chic white designer clothes, and her platinum blonde hair is perfectly styled. She is beautiful, with flawless ivory skin and delicate features, and yet her pale grey eyes are cold and her face is blank of emotion. She is like an icy white marble statue come to life. Her house is filled with expensive minimalist designer furnishings, all in white, and the effect is striking and elegant. Yet somehow it leaves you feeling empty; it’s too clean, too clinical, lacking in any warmth that allows you to develop an emotional connection.

If you distilled the idea of the white lady and her house, and bottled it, then you would capture the essence of the Johnnie Walker Platinum Label. The Platinum is marketed as one of the top tier bottlings in the standard Johnnie Walker range. It is delicately assembled from a selection of minimum 18 year old single malt and grain whiskies, and was inspired by the private blends created as gifts for the upper echelons of the Johnnie Walker hierarchy.

Platinum extra Ted

On the nose the Platinum is very light and delicate, with hints of dusty oak floorboards, cereals such as bran, oats and barley, chocolate, and coffee. There is no sweetness or fruitiness here, and as such the scent is rather dry and wooden as a result. The mouth is extremely smooth, with subtle flavours of polished oak and walnuts. A flicker of sweetness is allowed, perfectly balanced by a dash of bitterness. The end is dry and provides a grind of black pepper followed later by a sprinkling of ash.

There is a sense that the Johnnie Walker Platinum Label is a stylish drink created for those with sophisticated tastes, and yet in trying to achieve this they somehow miss the point. Yes, the flavours all work together superbly, but as a whole it’s too refined, polished to the point where there is no spark left to bring it to life. The white lady is beautiful to behold, but be warned, her heart is cold and she will not give you the love and warmth you crave.

★★

#johnniewalkerweek

Find out about the rest of our multi-coloured adventures:

Johnnie Walker Red Label

Johnnie Walker Black Label

Johnnie Walker Double Black

Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Johnnie Walker Green Label

Johnnie Walker: which is best?

 

Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

Reviewed by: Nick

Johnnie Walker Gold Label whisky waffle

It is said that many years ago, three wise whisky tasters came from the east (probably Speyside) to bequeath fantastic gifts upon the saviour of blended whisky. The first wise man brought a very special present: gold. Specifically, Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve (the other two of course brought Johnnie Walker Frankincense Label and Johnnie Walker Myrrh Label). Somehow, as if by divine intervention, I found myself in possession of one of these relics: the Gold Label Reserve. Upon reverently pouring myself a dram, I heard a choir of angels singing joyous melodies. I then brought the vessel to my lips and drank.

Confusion then hit me. Is this… it? Surely a bottle titled: ‘Gold Label Reserve’ should be a drop unlike any other! But no. This whisky is not the messiah. It is a very naughty boy.

Gold extra Nick Whisky Waffle

In 2013, Johnnie Walker re-marketed a range of its products. The fan favourite Green Label was removed, a shiny new Platinum Label 18 Year Old was introduced, and the Gold Label was re-branded as Gold Label Reserve, in the process losing its age statement. In theory, the addition of the word ‘Reserve’ indicated a more esteemed and better tasting product. But in practice – they created a drop that was disappointingly unremarkable.

There are traces of citrus on the nose, as well as cocoa and some herbal notes. The sweetness is there, but it is far more subtle than in lower tier Johnnie Walker releases. All of these elements are no more than the merest hint. However it’s well balanced as there is not a great deal of flavour to weigh up. The mouth feel is similarly unexciting. Candied chestnuts, orange peel and a small amount of spice come through, while the finish is short with only a faint dash of caramel lingering. The supposedly ‘trademark’ Johnnie Walker smoke disappears like the vivid details of a dream after you have awoken: vanishing rapidly, as if it had never been there in the first place.

The Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve is a good blend, there is no doubt about that. No one flavour dominates the palate and it is unquestionably smoother than the lower tiered releases. It is simply unmemorable. In fact, it is borderline bland. If this was a less esteemed release I would, in all likelihood, applaud it. But for a whisky that calls itself ‘Gold Label’? Such a sin is simply unforgivable.

★★

#johnniewalkerweek

Find out about the rest of our multi-coloured adventures:

Johnnie Walker Red Label

Johnnie Walker Black Label

Johnnie Walker Double Black

Johnnie Walker Platinum Label 18 Year Old

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Johnnie Walker Green Label

Johnnie Walker: which is best?

Johnnie Walker Double Black

Reviewed by: Ted

Double Black Whisky Waffle

Picture the scene: we are standing in the secret headquarters of Johnnie Walker, built cunningly into a mighty tor in the middle of a lonely Scottish loch. A meeting is being held between the head of whisky R&D (Codename: W) and his underlings…

W: “Gentlemen, I have created a new mid-range (but very reasonably priced) whisky. But what to call it?”

Underling: “Well sir, if it’s mid-range then it must be above the Black. If people associate the name Black as being a notch up, a bit more classy, that sort of thing, then surely they’ll think that ‘Double Black’ means twice the class?”

W: “Genius! Give that man a dram and a slice of haggis!”

Double Black extra Ted Whisky Waffle

Amazingly, Johnnie Walker has managed to deliver just that. Compared to the decidedly woeful Red, and the close-but-not-quite Black, the Double Black really is twice the drink. The boys in the back have managed to iron out the kinks that plagued the previous two iterations and produce a far more balanced and exciting drink.

The element that is really allowed to shine in the Double Black is peat smoke. Johnnie Walker likes to talk about how their whiskies have a smoky nature, but it is here that they open the door and let it out to play. Even the bottle suggests it, being coloured a very dark smoky blue-grey.

Gone are the harsher unbalanced notes from the Red and the Black. Instead the nose gently presents hints of smouldering charcoal, cigars and leather, over rich stewed plums and strawberries with spicy honey. The mouth brings an initial hit of lightly charred oak followed by nicely balanced sweetness and spice. The overall feel is pleasantly smooth and manages to introduce points of interest without capturing any unwanted notes.

While the Red and the Black are only really good for mixers, the Double Black is the first rung on the Johnnie Walker ladder worth enjoying neat. Thanks to the well balanced flavours and that sexy hit of smoke, combined with the very reasonable price tag, the Johnnie Walker Double Black has it in spades, and is a seriously good choice for anyone contemplating a blend.

★★★

#johnniewalkerweek

Find out about the rest of our multi-coloured adventures:

Johnnie Walker Red Label

Johnnie Walker Black Label

Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

Johnnie Walker Platinum Label 18 Year Old

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Johnnie Walker Green Label

Johnnie Walker: which is best?