Tasmania

Sawford Distillery: Welcome to the family

Posted by: Ted

“Sorry I’m a bit late!” exclaims Jane as she sweeps into Sawford Distillery, “The kids have just had their nap and are now at the park with my sister.”
“Everything revolves around nap time these days” laughs husband and head distiller Mark, chipping in on the conversation as he checks the stills.

Family is core to everything at Sawford Distillery, but that idea isn’t just limited to blood relatives. It also extends to the relationships and community that Mark and Jane Sawford want to create around their distillery.

Mark and Jane Sawford relaxing in front of their shiny stills

Jane herself is the scion of a famous Tasmanian whisky family. Most people would know her as Jane Overeem, the daughter of one of the founding fathers of the modern scene, Casey Overeem. During Whisky Waffle’s recent visit to Sawford, we are immediately struck by that rich sense of heritage and connection as soon as we enter the bond store.

Sporting something of a Cold War chic (one can imagine secret agents hurrying through, clutching top-secret counter-espionage dossiers), the bond store has an important place in Tasmanian whisky history: “This was originally Bill Lark’s back in the very early days,” Jane tells us, “But after he left, my dad was quick to snap it up. This room is where we used to bottle the Overeem. Mum used to do the bottling, Dad did the labelling and I did the packing. Then I had to take the boxes down to the local post office to send off. It was all part of building the Overeem brand!”

The old Overeem bottling bench. In a few years time it’ll be Sawford’s turn.

While the bench may still be covered in Overeem bottles, these days all the barrels in the next room are filled with Sawford spirit, meaning that one day in the near future it might be Jane’s kids helping to pack their own namesake whisky. That day is still a little way off though as, unlike a lot of Tassie distilleries, the Sawfords are taking the slow approach.

“This place is quite cool and has a very stable climate, allowing for a much longer, gentler maturation” comments Mark as he clambers up onto the top of the racks to thieve some whisky.
“Dad always said that he wanted his spirit to taste like whisky and not oak,” adds Jane, “And we’ve really taken that on board. That’s why we’re mostly using l00L-plus barrels and playing the long game to get the best out of the spirit.”

While we’re down in the bond store, Mark and Jane are kind enough to share some of the fruits of their labour with us (when in Rome, eh?). Mark taps barrel #002, a 100l port cask that’s been down for about 2.5yrs (#001 is off limits as it’s been “getting sampled a bit too often”) and it’s good. Like, really good. Unfortunately we get a bit distracted drinking the whisky and forget to write down any tasting notes, but I remember thinking at the time that if this stuff is cracking after only 2.5yrs, imagine what it’s going to be like on its release around 2022.

Back when Mark and Jane were first toying with the idea of starting their own distillery, there was some resistance from a surprising source, with Jane revealing “Dad strongly encouraged us to put up a solid business plan first, as it’s very expensive – and a long time before you see any return. But we worked through it all, and now he’s very supportive and excited for us!”

Mark has been grateful for the support and whisky making know-how of his father-in-law, having come into the Overeem family past-time as an outsider. “When Jane and I first got together Casey kept an eye on me, as prospective father-in-laws do. But we get along really well, we like to have a beer together. Casey mentored me when we started Sawford. He was there to help me in the first few months and then slowly stepped back as I started to get a good grip on things.”

Mark’s own background is in hospitality, with several properties in the Kingston Beach area, but these days he spends a lot of his time running the stills at his distillery. “The reason I can spend five days a week here at the same time as running three businesses is because I have a good team around me.” Putting in that effort means that Mark is currently able to coax around 40 000L of spirit a year out of the stills and after 2.5 years, already has a couple-of-hundred barrels down. “I don’t want to have the same problem as Casey did back in the day and be saying ‘I wish I put down more spirit down’.”

Back out on the distillery floor, the digs are modern and airy, sharing a wall with the White Label contract distillery, which Sawford helps source barrels for and for which Jane is the sales manager. Taking pride of place on the Sawford side are the Knapp Lewer-built 1800L wash still and 800L spirit still, inspired by the original Overeem stills. “We’re very sensory with our cuts,” comments Mark, “I’m always trying to improve instead of just going through the motions.”

Mark getting ‘sensory’ with the cuts

The stills themselves are brightly burnished, almost purple, and rippling with a rainbow sheen; keen Instagram followers will know that this gleam is the result of a ‘family still polishing day’ a few months ago. “We like to think that the way we present our stills and our distillery is a representation of who we are,” Mark tells us proudly as we gaze at our reflections.

Another representation of who Mark and Jane are is the large silver monogram adorning the back wall in the distillery. According to Jane, ‘S&O’ (Mark Sawford & Jane Overeem) stands as a symbol for “who we are as a couple – two families coming together to make something beautiful.”

Being based in the ‘romantic’ Huntingfield industrial estate means that Sawford is unlikely to pick up any location awards, but Mark isn’t fazed: “We didn’t want to go down the location bent, we want to celebrate the people instead. We wanted our brand to be real, not to pretend that we’re something that we’re not. What we really value is building relationships.”

Jane backs him up on that idea all the way: “Back in the day we had to go knocking on everyone’s doors to try to sell the Overeem and convince them to take a chance on Tassie whisky. We’re going to have to go through all that again with Sawford, not necessarily because people need convincing these days, but because we want to build that personal relationship up with all the bars and businesses and the community. Having those connections with people is something that is really important to us.”

“Oops, sorry guys, I’ve got to go, the kids need picking up!” exclaims Jane apologetically as she hurries out the door again. Our time is up as well as we have an appointment to keep on the other side of the wall, so we say our goodbyes to Mark and ride off into the sunset (aka, around the corner to White Label).

You know, despite their hectic lives, the Sawfords really do walk the talk and go out of their way to make you feel like part of the community that they’re trying to build. Which is lucky, because at a time when the Tassie whisky industry feels like it’s growing by the minute and the big sharks are starting to circle, hopefully it’s people like Mark and Jane who will ensure that we never lose that sense of family.

Straight Batt 44%

Review by: Ted

Investing can be a tricky business – if it goes right then life is good, but there’s always the danger that things can go very, very pear-shaped and people get left empty-handed (and extremely pissed off). Unfortunately the Tasmanian whisky scene has witnessed the tragic side of investing in its short history, with the very public and messy collapse of a well-known distillery in 2016, that left investors bereft of their money, whisky (and cows).

Harry van der Woude was one of the lucky ones. His father Pieter had done some barrel investing when Harry was younger and when the opportunity to re-invest together came up, the younger van der Woude decided “Ah yeah, I’ll get in on that.” After hearing early rumours of trouble at the old mill, they decided to claim their spirit, ‘ambushing’ the distillery by rocking up out of the blue one day armed with the correct paperwork and a couple of empty replacement barrels to swap. Amazingly, they managed to walk out with their two barrels of partly-aged spirit, which is more than a lot of people managed when shit really went down (if the spirit ever existed in the first place in many cases).

After contemplating keeping it for themselves or selling it on as a lot, Harry and Pieter eventually decided to bottle their whisky as a limited-release special-edition run. According to Harry, one of the best aspects of the project was the chance for some quality father/son bonding time. While not being whisky experts themselves, handy friendships and family connections meant that they were able to access mentorship from some of the leading names in the local industry. Crucially, this allowed them to get expert advice about things like maturation lengths, bottling strength and flavour profiles.

The end result is the Straight Batt Single Malt, a limited run of 400 bottles created from a marriage of the two casks liberated by Harry and Pieter. After aging for six years, the 100L French oak ex-tawny and American oak ex-bourbon casks were married together then cut down to 44%. According to Harry, “We tried it at a variety of strengths and that’s just where the sweet-spot happened to be.”

Thanks to the origin of the spirit, the Straight Batt is relatively light in style. The nose is spicy and dry with light oaky notes, beeswax, aniseed, honey and ginger. The overall smell is like a soothing balm for the sting of mishandled investments. The palate is light and fairly smooth, with a slight herbal, almost minty note. The finish is relatively short, with a dry blue-metal and grape linger. The delicate body and ease of drinking would make it a good choice for helping to swallow bitter pills.

The label, designed by Hobart-born artist Alexander Barnes-Keoghan (aka Albarkeo), features a drawing of an old-style cricketer playing a cross-bat shot, instead of the straight bat(t) shot that the name suggests. According to Harry, the artwork is a bit of a visual joke and subtle dig at the main architect of the collapse (who is referenced in the name), who he feels should have played it straight with investors but instead took the wrong approach and got bowled out, taking the whole team with him.

Harry is keen to assure people that the label and the release are all about sticking it to the establishment and are not meant to denigrate those who lost their money: “I want people to see it as at least a small bit of good to come out of a dark time in Tasmanian whisky.”
“A lot of people say ‘Ah, I’d die to be in that position’ and you realise how lucky you are to be able to build something positive out of a misfortune.”
“That’d be the ideal thing for me really, if a few people who got left behind in the fallout reached out and got to at least see something out of the situation. This is solidarity for those who got burned.”

***

Turner Stillhouse nears completion

Posted by: Ted

The Tamar Region of Tasmania has always been known for its wineries, but recently the distilling industry has been making a spirited push into the area. In fact, one of the biggest wineries in Tassie has a new next-door neighbour just a stone’s throw from their cellar door.

Visitors to Tamar Ridge Winery will soon be able to wander over to meet the crew at Turner Stillhouse. The outfit was founded by Justin Turner, a Northern Californian hailing from a wine-making family, who made the trek down under after meeting his Tasmanian-born wife. Also on the team is Tassie lad and distiller Brett Coulson, who used to work for the State’s biggest brewery before jumping aboard the good ship Turner.

The site was a hive of activity when we dropped by recently for a visit, with a team of builders working hard to transform the old Gunns Ltd building into a functioning distillery. As well as the production floor with the still, fermenters and bond area, the site will also include a cellar door and bar area where visitors can sample the products and check out the action. “We just want it done by summer!” exclaimed Brett as we surveyed the organised chaos in front of us.

Taking pride of place in the space is the towering 3000l hybrid pot/column still, a synergy of stainless-steel and copper. “It’s probably one of the only American-designed and -made stills in Australia,” commented Justin proudly. The lads are hoping that they can fire it up by the end of the year and start pumping out some spirit.

As well as a ‘traditional’ Tassie single malt, Justin is keen to showcase the whisky from his own part of the world, with plans for American-style corn and grain whiskies, noting that “because of the column, the still will make a lighter spirit, which will work really well with that style of whiskey.”

Justin and Brett will use virgin oak and ex-bourbon casks sourced from America for aging, but are also hoping to make use of the plentiful supply of wine barrels from next door. “It will be cool for people to come along this road and go to the Tamar Ridge cellar door and try the wine, then walk over here and try a whisky from the same barrel the wine was aged in.”

Justin (L) and Brett looking forward to when the construction is finished so they can do some distilling

While the whisky is still a few years off, Turner Stillhouse currently produces a couple of gins which are available for purchase. Hopefully by the end of the year visitors will be able to kick back at the bar with some cheeky drinks and take in the view over the Tamar Valley. Watch this space!

Iron House Tasman Whisky Port Cask P1 46.8%

Reviewed by: Ted

Safety warning: This whisky broke my leg. Well… maybe there were a few others involved that night too, but let this serve as a lesson! Make sure that you are in a secure, seated position and under no circumstances should you decide to do an impulsive (but well intentioned) dance. Bad things can happen. Ok, are you comfortable? Right, let’s get on with the story!

Once upon a time there was a brewery called Iron House. It was named after an old droving hut and sat overlooking the Tasman Sea on the East Coast of Tasmania. The head brewer, Briggsy, was sad because he had more wash than he could make into beer. One day he had a brilliant idea: he could transmute the excess wash into gold… liquid gold! And so he set out on a quest to create his own spiritus frumenti… whisky.

Ok, that’s enough of that for now. For the rest of the Iron House backstory, check out our articles here and here. But cutting to the chase, Briggsy (occasionally known as Michael Briggs) succeeded and recently released Iron House’s first whisky. Taking inspiration from their seaside location, the Iron House team has released their product under the label ‘Tasman Whisky’. The current range consists of the holy trinity of bourbon, sherry and port casks, of which I possess the latter.

The inspiration for the storybook start to this article is the unusual and decorative Tasman packaging, which is designed to look like a book. The outside has a grey, fabric-look covering, while the edges are printed to look like pages. There’s even a page inside telling the story of the distillery, covering the insert that holds flat bottle secure. According to brand ambassador Craig ‘Spilsy’ Spilsbury, part of the Iron House ethos is using their product to tell a story, hence the choice of the book box.

All-in-all it’s a very classy item and will look good displayed on a shelf, or tucked away amongst your book collection (a feature Briggsy claims is useful if you’re smuggling it into the house under the nose of your significant other). My one complaint is that there is no latching system for the cover, which means you have to be quite careful about how you carry it, but Briggsy assures me he’s working on some solutions.

My Port Cask is part of batch P1, a marriage of two 100L casks sourced from Portugal, and is bottled at 46.8%. The spirit itself is a nice burnished bronze colour, natch of course. On the nose, P1 is sticky and fruity, like opening a bag of raisins or sultanas. Beyond that is a mix of almonds, chestnuts, dried cherries, dates, honeycomb and a malty, toasty character.

The mouth also has that malty, biscuity character as well as a dollop of frangipane, a combination that makes me think of Bakewell tart. The finish is long, sharp and fruity, with peach syrup and Turkish delight, as well as a touch of chocolate. There’s also perhaps a slight saltiness to be found, which could be attributed to the fact that Iron House is a true coastal distillery, meaning that the aging spirit can pick up elements blowing in from the neighbouring Tasman Sea.

Interestingly, those malty notes are probably a factor of the Iron House still. Because they use a hybrid system, the wash is not discharged before the new-make runs off (ie. only one run is required rather than the usual two), meaning that heavier, cooked-cereal flavours can be transported right through to the end product. Even as I’m sitting here writing this, I’m getting a residual hint of Weetbix on the back of my palate.

The author getting a well deserved ribbing from Briggsy (R) and Spilsy

The Port Cask is definitely my favourite out of the current line-up and is a solid starting point for Iron House. Something else going in its favour is that while the $220 price point is pretty standard for Tasmanian fare, the bottle is 700ml, making it a much more tempting proposition. It’s well worth your time tracking down a bottle or dram of the Tasman Whisky, maybe just hold back on the victory dance when you do!

***

Adams Distillery Pinot Noir Slosh Cask 46%

Reviewed by: Nick

Adams Pinot Slosh WW

What is the most important aspect of a whisky?

a) The region it hails from;

b) The age statement;

c) The prettiness of the bottle; or

d) What it actually tastes like.

While there’s a lot to like in options a) to c) (I’m a sucker for a pretty bottle!), when it comes down to it, the best thing about whisky is that you can drink it and therefore flavour is by far the most important factor.

Which is what the Adams of Adams Distillery had in mind when trying to squeeze every last tasty morsel out of cask AD0086, a French oak ex-pinot noir barrel. But before we get to option d), let us discuss a) to c).

Adams Distillery is based in the North of Tasmania at Glen Ireh Estate in Perth, just outside Launceston. They’ve been expanding the distillery since… well, pretty much since day 1, and the first few of their releases are only just entering the market.

This whisky is in no way old – by Scottish standards at least – but the smaller casking and hotter conditions in Tasmania require an earlier release. To maximise the flavour in each bottle the Adams developed the ‘slosh-cask’ technique, which simply involves regularly rolling the barrel from one side of the bond store to the other – the idea being that the process encourages greater interaction with the wood of the cask, forcing more of the barrel influence into the spirit.

The bottle is particularly pretty as well and is sure to stand out on bars with its distinctly-shaped neck. However, the most beautiful aspect is the colour of the whisky itself: a rich brown which when held up to the light glows ruby red.

It is an appropriate colour when you consider the creation of the dram. Unlike most whisky-makers in Tasmania who stick to a fairly standard grain (usually pilsner malt), Adams has experimented with using a percentage of dark crystal malt in their mash. It could be the power of suggestion… but I can’t help but feel it imparts coffee notes throughout the dram’s flavour.

On the nose there is oodles of chocolate, vanilla and stewed fruits, alongside hints of green grapes. It’s all coated in a thick layer of toffee which continues onto the palate, and is vibrant and viscous, almost chewy. There are also notes of strawberries and chocolate orange, while the finish contains strong coffee fudge flavours. For my fellow North West Coast Tasmanians, Anvers do one that this strongly reminds me of.

This whisky is not subtle – not even a little. But that’s not the point of the dram. The Adams have put flavour first and this is the result. It couldn’t be described as easy drinking and does take some taming. But like a whisky-swilling St George, I’m happy to take on this dragon. It’s exciting and moreish and most importantly of all, something a little different for Tasmanian whisky.

★★★★

Destination Cellars Arran tasting night in Burnie (or, Legless at the Chapel)

Posted by: Ted

The other night I grabbed my crutches (see here for that particular whisky-fuelled drama) and hobbled down to The Chapel Cafe in Burnie for a spot of whisky tasting. While my wife was still suspicious of my ability to stay upright after a few cheeky drams, I on the other hand was confident and keen not to miss out on sampling the range of Arran whiskies being offered by Destination Cellars that night.

Photo: Todd Morrison

Destination Cellars is a family-run business based in Hobart, offering a huge range of whiskies (and other drinks) and regularly holds tasting nights showcasing various products. Todd Morrison from Destination had made the trek up to the North West, glad to leave “the monsoonal conditions in Hobart” behind. Todd revealed to the crowd of 20-odd attending the tasting that Burnie had been the site of a certain important life event for him. It was at the ‘luxurious establishment’ (his words) called the Burnie Caravan Park that a young Todd tried whisky for the very first time. In town as part of a sporting tour, the weather was poor, so a bottle of Grants was procured to liven up the night. A game of spin-the-bottle ensued and a wretched Todd didn’t touch the golden spirit for another 20 years. Luckily he’s cured now apparently.

Also along for the ride and to share his knowledge of the Arran was industry stalwart, top bloke and bona-fide Scotsman Craig Johnstone. He’d been to Burnie before, but was a little surprised at the current municipal decorations littering the streets, quipping “what’s with all the trollies everywhere?” (Answer: probably ships’ crews coming into town from the port to do their shopping and dumping the trollies afterwards). Craig mentioned that the drive up had made him again appreciate the similarities between Tassie and Scotland, although apparently “the mosquitos here are much worse than the midges back home”.

We finished off with the Arran Gold, a whisky cream liquer

On offer that night were six drams from Arran Distillery (as well as Andrew’s excellent peated ale, definitely worth a try if you visit The Chapel). Craig whipped up a hand-drawn map to show everyone the location of the Isle of Arran, down off the South West coast, using handy references to help us home in on it, such as: “Edinburgh, here, is where all the best people are from, while Glasgow, here, is where all the idiots live” and “if the Campbeltown region is the bell-end of Scotland, then the Isle of Arran is the nut sack”.

First up was the Lochranza Reserve 43%, Arran’s basic workhorse, a NAS marriage of 1st- and 2nd-fill ex-bourbon casks. Named after the distillery’s home town on the north of the island, the Lochranza was sweet and grassy on the nose, while the mouth was buttery, with citrus, red jelly and a chewy caramel finish. Nothing really to write home about, but serviceable as a basic dram.

Checking out the colour

Before we got stuck in too much, Craig led us through some whisky drinking basics with his five step assessment. First up we eyeballed the glass and took note of the colour, which “nine times out of ten means bugger all, but holding the glass up to the light really makes you look professional!” Next we sleazily checked out the legs running down the side of the glass, which apparently “some people reckon they can use to tell the maker, cask type, age and what the distiller had for breakfast. If you meet someone like that, don’t get in a car with them because they’re definitely pissed.” The remaining steps, nosing, tasting and the finish, were completed studiously and without incident by the crowd.

Next up were two wine cask finishes, the Amarone 50% and the Côte-Rôtie 50%. Both are part of the Arran ‘Cask Finishes’ range, with the Lochranza used as a base before being finished in various wine casks (others include Sassicaia and Sauternes) to create limited edition releases. While both are red wines, the Amarone and the Côte-Rôtie imparted very different flavours on the spirit. The Amarone was dry and earthy on the nose, with a hint of grapes and damp moss, while the Côte-Rôtie was sticky and jammy, with quince paste and arrowroot. On the mouth, the Amarone was fruity, almost like Starburst chews and had a finish reminiscent of Cognac, while the Côte-Rôtie was very sharp, with almond paste, maraschino cherries and a salt water finish. Craig noted that Arran goes for wide, shallow flavour in its spirit, then uses the finishes to create depth.

Todd whips the troops into a frenzy. Photo: Craig Johnstone

The fourth dram on offer was something a bit special, the limited edition Master of Distilling II: The Man With the Golden Glass 51.8% (the releases are themed – last time was Hitchcock apparently). Created by Master Distiller James McTaggart (who Craig knows and apparently likes ‘shit beer, great whisky and fine wines’) to celebrate his 12th anniversary with Arran, the 12yo whisky is finished using rare Palo Cortado sherry casks. Craig was quite enthused about the unusual finish, noting “this isn’t a thermonuclear sherry bomb missile, but it is one of the weirdest sherry cask whiskies I’ve ever had.”

The flavour was indeed interesting, with hazelnuts, damp leaf litter, ginger snap biscuits, chocolate brownie, oiled metal and raisins on the nose. The mouth was biscuity with salted caramel, sultanas, and liveliness that ran right across the palate. The sherry finish was very distinct, with Craig commenting that it was “the most honest sherry-influenced whisky I’ve ever had”. It’s something that’s definitely worth a try if you come across it.

Not visible: my broken leg propped up on a chair. Photo: Todd Morrison

After we had finished dissecting the Master of Distilling II, we were ordered by Todd to “get your pipes and smoking jackets, because we’re going to slip into some peaty whiskies”. Machrie Moor, a peat bog on the western side of the island, gives its name to Arran’s range of peated whiskies. Todd admitted that he wasn’t always the biggest fan of peaty whiskies: “There’s warnings in nature – colours, smells and flavours that say ‘stay away!’. That was peated whisky to me.” These days he’s a convert and was keen to get stuck in.

The two Machrie Moor expressions on offer were essentially the same, but one was bottled at 46% while the other was a cask strength at 56.2% (to appeal to the French market apparently). According to Craig, back in the day most of the distilleries on Arran were illicit and made heavily peated whiskies as peat was the only fuel source, but now the style is the exception.

The smoke in the 46% was soft on the nose with a medicinal/rubbery texture and a hint of metal and smoked fish. In comparison, the cask strength was oily and resinous, with an intense aroma of freshly sawn timber, almost like Huon pine, followed by vanilla milkshake, home-made marshmallow and sea stones. On the mouth, the 46% was sweet and light, with raspberries on the fore and a curl of smoke on the finish, while the cask strength was hot and bright, with smoky bacon and smouldering green coastal vegetation. Both were very moreish, and the delicate 46% would make a great whisky to start a peat novice on.

Craig gets loose with the gang. Photo: Todd Morrison

At the end of the night the hosts took a vote to see what everyone’s favourites were, with Todd drily commenting that “this is going to be a somewhat North Korean voting system. The end result doesn’t actually matter, but we’re going to make you do it anyway”. Despite voter confusion and some potential rigging, every dram got some love, but the runaway winner was the Master of the Distilling II, with the cask strength Machrie Moor the runner up.

The night was a great success, particularly because I managed to get home again without breaking my other leg. Thanks to the enthusiasm shown by the local whisky fans, Destination Cellars will be back at the Chapel again on September 21 with a new range of whiskies, potentially lining up a selection of sherry bombs. Big thanks as always to Andrew at The Chapel Cafe for supporting whisky events in Burnie, to Destination Cellars for inviting me along as their guest, and of course to Todd and Craig for being damn fine hosts.

Photo: Todd Morrison

See you all next time!

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)

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