Tasmania

Scotland 2018: The Ultimate Whisky Adventure – Part Four

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 FOUR: Islay – the east and the north

WW 0 still

If I were to be completely honest with myself, I would admit that three of my top five distilleries in Scotland are just outside of Port Ellen. If I were to be even more completely honest then I would revise that to three of top three. And these three, the holy trinity of Islay, were to be my destination on my final full day in Scotland. As all three were within a short walk of one another I coined this day as ‘the world’s greatest pub crawl’. The only question was, where to start? Due to a combination of tour times and proximity to my accommodation (a three-minute walk, no less) I began my epic day at Laphroaig.

WW 1 Lap

The tour was in-depth and the tastings phenomenal – three barrels were lined up ready to be valinched into our glasses – the first a quarter cask on steroids, the next a 14 Year Old bourbon cask, before finally, the pièce de résistance, a 52% 14 Year Old whisky which had spent it’s time equally in bourbon and Amontillado sherry. I was fortunate enough to take home a 200ml bottle of the latter, and my colleague was suitably impressed. I also claimed the rent for my square foot of land and learned to pronounce Cairdeas (hint: think Steve Macqueen).

WW 2 casks

Fifteen minutes up the road was Lagavulin, a crucial distillery in Whisky Waffle history and I wasted no time ensconcing myself in their new tasting centre. While there are not many varied Lagavulin releases on the market, if you find yourself at the distillery then you’ll be treated to a range of rare special editions created for Feis Isle celebrations and Jazz festivals. The pick was the 54% Double Matured Distillery Exclusive. At this point of the day my tasting notes were starting to get creative. I have noted: “like sitting in a cart pulled by a noble steed. Or in a palanquin carried by muscular Persians sweating in the Arabian sun”.

WW 3 Laga

Unbelievably, the best was yet to come. Several things influence one’s enjoyment of a tour: the quality of the distillery (and therefore the whisky), the engagingness of the guide and the friendliness of the people on the tour with you. Well, once in a while the stars line up and you get all three, and that was the case with my Ardbeg ‘tour at two’, commencing, funnily enough, at two o clock. And it was one for the ages. Our guide, wee Emma (apparently there are two Emma’s who work at Ardbeg and we got the smallest – and the best!) was friendly and knowledgeable about peated whisky – an islander through and through. The tour itself was thorough but individualised – it didn’t feel like a re-tread of all that had come before. And the group was amazing. We settled ourselves down in a bond store for some tastings and when the drams started flowing (Grooves, Alligator and any number of single cask releases) we took it in turns to chat about our backgrounds, favourite drams and that first bottle that opened our eyes to whisky. We could have stayed there longer – but a knock on the door to the warehouse by the production boys alerted us to the fact it was 5 o clock and the tour was meant to have finished an hour ago. “Sorrynotsorry” was everyone’s response. It was a magical experience and one I feel truly reflects a wonderful distillery. I can say, hand on heart, it was the best tour of the trip and remains a fond memory in my Waffly heart.

WW 4 Ard

I woke the next day with a heavy heart. Partly because of the number of drams I’d consumed the previous day, but also because it was my final day on this spectacular island. My ferry left at 3pm which gave me just enough time to fill in the gaps I’d left. Despite feeling a little tender I could not resist tasting a few distillery exclusives at Caol Ila. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this giant distillery but what I found was a warm welcome and delicious whisky.

WW 5 CI

My welcome was just as warm at Bunnahabhain, who, despite building work preventing me from touring the distillery, gave me an extensive tasting (which I was able to transfer most of each glass into small bottles – my liver thanked me later) and fantastic conversation. It was one of the friendliest distillery experiences I’d had in the previous eight days and I cannot wait to go back and visit these guys again.

WW 6 Bunna

Then, before I knew it (after a sneaky couple of photos at Ardnahoe), I was back on the ferry and leaving Islay.

WW 8 Ard

I can say with certainty that my visit to Islay had been the pinnacle of my whisky journey. The people, the scenery and the peat gave it the edge, but despite the size of some of the operations it just felt like I was on a tiny whisky-centric island which hadn’t changed much since the first dram had been distilled there. Sitting on a small rise of land across the road from my Airbnb looking out at the view (Port Ellen on one side, Laphroaig distillery on the other) I felt as connected to a place as I ever had. The pun writes itself, but I truly mean it when I say it was a spiritual experience.

WW 7 Bunna

And thus my whisky journey was at an end. Despite Islay’s dominance in my writing, every aspect of the trip was phenomenal. As a whisky fanboy, the range of flavours across one little country inspired me. But the biggest impact was made by the people behind the scenes, making and promoting the drams I loved so much. Their warmth and generosity (and patience with all my questions) was a credit to the industry and made this Waffler very happy multiple times over.

So would I go back? Oh, you bet I would – in a heartbeat. I’d probably stick the anticlockwise trajectory – like the best tastings you’ve got to start with Speyside and end with Islay. I hit up some amazing distilleries and crossed off a few bucket list items, though left a few remaining (I’m looking at you Campbeltown, Orkneys and Edradour). If you’re about to embark on a trip to the motherland I absolutely recommend the anticlockwise direction and all of the establishments I found myself at – though I’m sure there are some wonderful places I missed (if so please let me know!). However, sitting on the train taking me towards Glasgow (Prestwick) airport I was a contented Waffler with a heart full of fulfilled dreams.

Crossroads WW

Read PART ONE here

Read PART TWO here

Read PART THREE here

Complete distillery list:

Glendronach

Balvenie

Glenfiddich

Aberlour

Glenfarclas

Cragganmore

Glenlivet

Macallan

Glen Moray

Benromach

Talisker

Oban

Bowmore

Bruichladdich

Kilchoman

Laphroaig

Lagavulin

Ardbeg

Caol Ila

Bunnahabhain

(Ardnahoe)

Advertisements

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 10

We return to the airwaves with another whisky-fuelled ramble about the big topics in the whisky world – specifically: what’s in our glass!

This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where we discuss how to actually make the spirit we love!
– The whisky, where we look at a new Aussie whisky with a specific tasting note; and
– From the Spirit Sack, where we consider entry level whiskies from a variety of countries

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 9

On the eve of battle, Whisky Waffle prepare for the army of the dead by releasing a podcast!

This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where we discuss Diageo’s new Game of Thrones-themed whiskies
– The whisky, where Ted brings something that may not be whisky, but has a subtitle in its name, which makes up for it
– Mystery Whisky, where Ted springs a surprise bottle and Nick muddles up his latitude by one degree; and
– Smash, Session or Savour, where Nick hurts Ted’s soul

Tassie takes on the 2019 World Whisky Awards

Posted by: Ted

Winner of the Best Australian Single Malt

Tasmanian whisky has been smashing gongs on the world stage again. The winners at the World Whisky Awards in London, widely recognised as the pinnacle for the industry, have just been announced and little ol’ Tassie has strutted it’s stuff in style. Repeat offenders Sullivans Cove, widely lauded for picking up Best Whisky in the World in 2014 and launching our little state squarely into the spotlight, has picked up the award for Best Single Cask Single Malt for the second year running. The drop that seduced the judges this year was TD0217, a rich, spicy, fruity French Oak cask release.

Even closer to home for Whisky Waffle was the winner of the Best Australia Single Malt, with Burnie locals Hellyers Road taking home the award for their Slightly Peated 10yo. When I congratulated Master Distiller Mark Littler and his team on the win he told me that “all of us at the distillery are very excited about receiving this global gong for the Slightly Peated 10YO. It is a London seal of approval supporting not only the quality of our whisky, but also our vision to create a world class whisky business from the North West Coast of Tassie”.

Congrats to Mark Littler and the Hellyers Road team!

Also worthy of mention is the winner of the World’s Best Single Malt (aka, the best of the best), the Teeling Whiskey 24yo Vintage Reserve, the first time an Irish drop has picked up the prestigious award.

Check out the rest of the winners here: http://www.worldwhiskiesawards.com

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.

Return to the Southern Wild

Posted by: Nick

southern wild bar

Good news for fans of Tassie spirits on the North West Coast of Tasmania: Southern Wild Distillery has reopened their doors to the people! The makers of Dasher and Fisher Gin have been shut for over six months preparing to the make the move into their new Providore Place location – a more central and spacious premise than their old home. No longer will vats and racks of bottles encroach on customer elbow room – and the fabulous Southern Wild still fits the space nicely, rather than dominating.

sw goerge and still

The opening was celebrated with a launch on Sunday night and founder George Burgess paid tribute to the people that made it possible, in particular the Tasmanian local growers of the botanicals used in the gins. As the doors were opened, he took groups through, introducing the bar, the still and, excitingly, the laboratory upstairs where enthusiasts can book into gin-making sessions to create their own personalised product with their chosen list of botanicals. The new setting looked resplendent under lights, and the last-minute quest to find replacement plants for the replacement plants paid off superbly.

sw dasher and fisher

Bad news for whisky fans, however, as George confirmed that despite the extra space in his new venue, there is still no room for mash tuns, fermenters and other barley-based spirit making equipment. Sadly, it seems the wait for a new North West Coast dram must continue… Hopefully a couple of lads up the road in Spreyton might just be able to help with this! Stay tuned for our next article to find out more…

sw nick and still

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 23: Launceston Distillery Tawny Cask 46%

Posted by: Ted

On the twenty-third day if Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Launceston Distillery Tawny Cask whisky. Ansett was once one of Australia’s premiere airlines, but it all went belly-up in 2001 when the company collapsed. It was one of those weird situations where the doors shut and everyone just walked away, leaving buildings and assets frozen in a moment in time. This was the fate of Ansett’s Hanger 17 facility at Launceston Airport, until a few years ago when a team of like-minded individuals decided to shovel out the mounds of stratified pigeon-poo and set up a premium whisky distillery. Under the guidance of head distiller Chris Condon, the distillery has taken off and the crew have recently celebrated their first string of releases, including the Tawny Cask.

Tawny is the Australian name for Port, as Port is now appelated exclusively to Portugal, and this release has been aged for 2.5 years years in 20L casks. The nose is fat and rich, with dark chocolate, blackberries, hazelnuts and toffee, while the mouth is dark and dripping with blackcurrants, prunes and spicy, meaty finish. Launceston Distillery is soaring high and is well worth spending your millions of defunct Ansett frequent flyer points on.

#whitepossumspirits

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 21: Nant Distillery Sherry Cask 43%

Posted by: Ted

On the twenty-first day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Nant Distillery Sherry Cask whisky. The mention of the name Nant will inevitably invite dark mutterings amongst observers of the Tasmanian whisky scene, having been the focus of a bit of an ugly episode in the recent history of the industry. The distillery and it’s owner, Keith Batt, always had a bit of a reputation for not playing nicely with the rest of the generally egalitarian Tassie distillers, but things really came to a head with the uncovering of a dodgy barrel scheme that left furious investors out of pocket with hundreds of barrels that were never filled. Consortium Australia Whisky Holdings swooped down on the dying carcass of Nant and have spent the past few years stocktaking, revitalising the distilling and generally trying to repair the distillery’s tarnished reputation.

Nant, under the stewardship of AWH, has recently released new stock, but this one would have come from the old gear. ‘Tasmania’s only highland distillery’ always had a bit of a thing for the heavier, richer barrel types and the sherry cask is no exception. The nose has brown sugar, ginger bread and caramelised apples, while the mouth sports rum’n’raisin and muscats, with a soft caramel and spice finish. Hopefully these days Nant’s fortunes are on the up and the new generation of whisky will impress. If you happen to have a bottle of old stock lying around, well worth your time to crack it for a cheeky dram.

#whitepossumspirits

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 20: Belgrove Rye Whisky 42%

Posted by: Ted

On the twentieth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Belgrove Rye whisky. And now for something a bit different from Tasmania. Peter Bignell is a top bloke and a bit of a mad tinkerer (as well as a sandcastle sculptor). He builds all of his own distillery gear, coopers his own barrels, converts chip oil into bio-diesel to fire his still, dries grain in old industrial tumble-driers, smokes experimental spirit with sheep poo and makes whisky using rye instead of the usual malted barley. If you ever get a chance to visit his Kempton digs then it is well worth the experience.

Rye is a trickier grain to work with than barley due to the way it goes gluggy during mashing and can get stuck during fermentation, but the effort is worth it thanks to the flavours that eventuate in the spirit. The nose has rhubarb, strawberry, apple and pear crumble as well as some marzipan, while the mouth brings stewed peaches and nectarines, pear drops, caramel and an ashy finish. If you’re bored with single malts and want to experience something different that is ethically crafted and special, start here.


#whitepossumspirits

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 17: Hellyers Road Distillery Pinot Noir Cask Finish 46.2%

Posted by: Ted

On the seventeenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Hellyers Road Distillery Pinot Cask Finish whisky. Globally, the most common barrels used for aging whisky are virgin oak, ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and ex-port. Here in Australia, however, we seem to have developed a bit of a penchant for using ex-wine casks thanks to our thriving local wine industry and ease of access to the barrels. In Tasmania, due to our cooler climate, the red wine grape of choice is Pinot Noir, making it a popular cask type amongst the local distillers. Burnie-based Hellyers Road was one of the early adopters of the style and I reckon theirs was probably the first Pinot-barreled whisky I ever tried.

The Pinot Finish starts off life in American oak ex-bourbon casks before being transferred into French oak ex-Pinot casks for six months for finishing. The nose is smooth, with a cool, damp, earthiness to it. The mouth on the other hand is very dry, with a strong tanninic quality and finish of grapes, almonds and toffee. The Hellyers Road Pinot Noir Finish is a great example of how the addition of certain cask types can completely change the character of a whisky, creating complex and interesting new flavours.

#whitepossumspirits