Tasting notes

An evening with Laphroaig’s Dan Woolley

Posted by: Nick

Laphroaig Dinner 1

Dan Woolley only drinks whisky. Not beer, not wine, not vodka. Not even crème de menthe. Some would say he’s obsessed – himself included. His wife made him choose between her and whisky. He’s happily single now.

There is one whisky, however, that he obsesses over above all others: Laphroaig. He is one of the top brand ambassadors for Islay’s peated behemoth and I count myself enormously lucky to have spent an evening in his company as he talked us through seven (yes! Seven!) different drams of Laphroaig. While the majority of guests were enamoured by the smoky sensations in their glasses, not everyone was convinced. This is a fact Laphroaig have not only come to terms with but embraced, forming the theme of the dinner: Opinions. As Dan said: “if we all liked the same thing we’d all be drinking vodka lime and soda and I’d have killed myself a long time ago.”

Laphroaig Dinner 2

The Central in Devonport put on a fabulous event with many amazing courses all created from local ingredients. In particular the natural Spring Bay oysters went down a treat – particularly with a dash of Laphroaig Select cask dribbled on top.

The Select Cask was up first – an entry level for sure – but while sipping it I learned about the fascinating range of casks that went into creating it. A Whisky Waffle favourite was up next, the Quarter Cask, a whisky which spends the final nine months of its gestation in 100L barrels like a chain smoking baby.

Laphroaig Dinner 3

It wouldn’t be a Laphroaig night without the highest selling peated whisky on the planet: the 10 Year Old. Made to an “old family recipe” it packed the required peaty punch and is the ever faithful “backbone” of the Laphroaig flavour. Next up was Dan’s favourite, the Triple Wood. It was sweeter and fruitier than those that went before thanks to two years spent in Spanish Oloroso barrels.

Dan then laid down the Lore, a dram he described as their most ambitious whisky yet. Distillery manager John Campbell attempted to create a bottle of Laphroaig that tasted like what was offered 200 years ago. I can’t vouch for its accuracy, but it was certainly one of the tastiest and smokiest of the night. In the words of Dan, “it makes Port Ellen taste like Johnny Walker Red”.

Laphroaig Dinner 4

The final two drops were particularly special – made even more so by the lack of availability worldwide. Drinking the 18 Year Old and 25 Year Old was a weird experience as by this end of the night my palate had stopped noticing the peat in each dram and I was discovering subtle and nuanced flavours underneath. The 18 was lighter and mysterious, like chasing a nymph through an enchanted wood. The 25 was a Laphroaig dessert whisky – strawberries, white chocolate, whipped cream and other naughty indulgences. The peat was hidden away at the back of the palate and made me wish I could repeat the tasting the next day but in reverse order.

The night concluded in a truly memorable fashion, as every participant in the dinner was presented with a customised Laphroaig bottle to take away. Mine was particularly appropriate considering the tasting notes found within this very article. Dan graciously added his signature to the unique bottle, along with this piece of wisdom: “Do you know what the best whisky in the world is? Free whisky.”

Laphroaig Dinner 5

It was an educational and enjoyable evening, capped with a rousing toast which I can’t help but repeat: “LONG LIVE LAPHROAIG!”

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Aultmore of the Foggie Moss 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

★★★

An Evening with the Tasmanian Moonshine Company

Posted by: Ted

Group shot Whisky Waffle

Moonshine, of the liquid rather than the lunar variety, tends to conjure up images of rough folk with an equal number of teeth, brain cells and chromosomes distilling liquor through an old tin can and a car radiator in the backwaters of America. Da-da-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding… can you hear the banjos duelling in the distance? Somehow then, it seems rather incongruous to find a product calling itself moonshine hailing not from the Appalachian hinterlands, but Tasmania, Australia, home to a burgeoning high-class craft distilling industry. According to Tasmanian Moonshine Company (TMC) manager John Jarvis however, there is a very good reason their product bears that epithet.

I met up with John at the Spirit Bar in Burnie, where a small but enthusiastic crowd had gathered to try the range of products offered by TMC. Produced at Devil’s Distillery (est 2015) in Moonah, TMC uses 100% Tasmanian malted barley to create their spirit. Now, malted barley is of course what you use to make single malt whisky, but because the spirit released by TMC is less than two years old it cannot legally be called that.

John Whisky Waffle (2)

While generally a very friendly bunch, Tasmanian whisky producers are also very protective of the world-class brand they have created. To keep relationships on a good keel between all parties, John and his colleagues decided to steer away branding that could be misconstrued as whisky-related and fittingly call their product moonshine, a traditional name for any unaged or underaged spirit.

TMC produces a range of products on their 1800l pot still and 380l reflux still, including Vodka and Tasmanian Mellifera (a spiced honey and citrus liqueur) as well as Cold Drip Espresso Coffee Liqueur, Tasmanian Midnight (a fennel based liqueur similar to ouzo or arak) and their frankenstein fusion child, the Licorice Infused Coffee Liqueur.

Of more interest to whisky drinkers is the Tasmanian Malt Barrel Aged New Make. After spending a relatively short time developing character under oak, the Barrel Aged New Make is released at around 18 months of age.  It’s youth actually works in its favour according to John; “we wanted to make something to fill a hole in the Tasmanian market, something that we don’t have to sit on, can release quite regularly and that is easily accessible. Prices in Tasmania for single malt can be crazy… I don’t think there’s really any other products at the price point we are aiming for.”

Moonshine Whisky Waffle (2)

John was also keen to talk about the interesting casking employed by the distillery: “My head distiller just wanted to do one cask type, but I like to experiment. As well as ex-bourbon American oak barrels, we also have other casks like sherry, port and tokay that are made from Hungarian oak sourced directly from Hungary by our cask maker. I definitely think there is an effect on the resulting flavour;  I’ve heard people are asking to get hold of Hungarian casks now too.”

When each 300l cask is deemed ready to release, around half the contents are decanted, with the remainder allowed time to develop further before leaving home. The casks are also tapped according to what the distillers feel is ready at the time, meaning that the character of the spirit changes from release to release. Interestingly the cask type is not actually mentioned on the bottle, so punters will be kept on their toes, but John is sanguine about this fact, commenting “we’ll never be able to make the same product indefinitely anyway, unless we move away from single barrel releases and start vatting, so I think it’s fine.”

On offer that evening was a Hungarian oak tokay cask release at 43% abv and a Hungarian oak port cask release at a rather sexy 67% abv. On the nose the tokay was smooth and sweet, with notes of leather and beeswax, while the port exuded caramel, rust, red meat and dark timber. On the palate the tokay was crisp, lively and herbal, while the boozy port delivered red wine tannins, pepper, honey glaze and oaky notes.

barrel aged Whisky Waffle (2)Barrel aged Whisky Waffle

As well as the depth of flavour, the colour was also pretty impressive for spirit of that age; “I’ve actually had arguments with people who think we colour our spirit,” remarked John “but of course we don’t, it’s all from the good quality casks we use.” While definitely young tasting, I can report that both Barrel Aged New Make releases had a surprising completeness of character that was very pleasing to the senses and left an impression of finished and polished product rather than an undercooked malt spirit just released as a cash grab.

Of course, this would suggest that Devil’s Distillery is able to produce a very high quality new make and fortunately John had some on hand for us to try. Even more exciting was the fact that he had two different cuts of the new make, one containing pure hearts and the other with a mixture of hearts and tails (this sentence probably sounds a bit disturbing to anyone who is not familiar with spirit production)!

Hearts or tails Whisky Waffle

The hearts were not for the, er, faint hearted, bottled off the still at an eye watering 73.5% abv, while the heart/tail mix was positively tame at ‘only’ 68.5% abv. On the nose the pure hearts were light, sweet and delicate, with a nice graininess. In comparison the heart/tail mix was rubbery and as someone commented, smelt like a barn floor, which if you’ve never experienced it is a mixture of sweet fermenting straw and an underlying tone of, ahem, cow business. On the palate, the hearts were sweet, with a crisp, crystalline feel, whereas the heart/tails were once again rubbery, with vegetably, fermented grain notes.

The amazing thing was that, according to John, there was only about 20% run difference between the two cuts, demonstrating how much the character of the spirit changes over the course of a distillation. You may be surprised to know, however, that those funky flavours in the tails can completely change when you add them to the hearts and can be vital for defining the character of the finished product.

While TMC will continue to release its current lineup of moonshine products (although maybe grab a bottle of Tasmanian Mellifera as John says he’s sick of grating orange peel), down the track the company will also be leaving some spirit to age for a bit longer under oak until it ticks over that legal line and magically transforms into whisky. The first release is slated to be a 3yo 20l bourbon cask finished in Hungarian sherry oak and will be released under the label of ‘Hobart Whisky’ (“I still can’t believe we scored the rights to that name,” says John with delight). If the barrel aged new make is anything to go by, then the whisky is likely to be a cracker.

John Whisky Waffle

As the night drew to a close, the guests were left contented by a healthy dose of good company and excellent moonshine. While we tend to focus on malted barley that has been transformed into whisky here at Whisky Waffle (it’s kinda in the name), the Tasmanian Moonshine Company proves that if you start with an excellent malt spirit and make good use of your barrels, then ‘young’ doesn’t necessarily have to equate to ‘bad’, or ‘rough’, or ‘unfinished’, or whatever other label you want to throw at it.

I still want them to learn the banjo though.

Thanks to Kirk and the Spirit Bar crew for hosting the event and providing tasty cheese platters. Thanks to John and the Tasmanian Moonshine Company for making the trek up to Burnie to entertain us.

 

The Ultimate Top Three Introductory Whiskies

Posted by: Nick

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One of the most commonly asked questions I see around the whisky-scented part of the internet is “I’m new to whisky – which Scotch should I buy?” (It’s always Scotch – never which ‘Lark limited-release’ should I buy. But I digress).

We Wafflers rarely get asked this question – I assume because our frivolity and general tongue-in-cheek nature voids us from such serious inquiries – but regardless, I wanted to share my own two cents worth. Why? Because I am unequivocally and without a doubt correct.

It is a big call I know, but I challenge any other objective-minded whisky fan out there to name a better collection of widely available single malts for a newbie. To be clear, one whisky alone is insufficient to demonstrate the depth and breadth of flavours available so I have naturally selected the smallest possible number of bottles: three.

So here they are, in a particular order (that is, the order in which they should be drunk): my top three introductory whiskies:

Number one: Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Old

Balvenie Doublewood 12 Year Old Whisky Waffle

This is the gateway drug. Balvenie produce a smooth and yet interesting drop which is one of the tastiest going around. It is fruity and vanillary, and packed full of the sweet caramel that we associate with Speyside. It introduces the elegance that typifies Scotland’s largest whisky region while also touching upon cask types and maturation. Is there a more perfect first drop? No, I can safely say there is not.

Number two: Highland Park 12 Year Old

Highland Park 12

Speyside is not entirely what Scottish whisky is all about. There is a vast array of flavours to be discovered from south to north and the Highland Park 12 Year Old showcases pretty much all of them! It is a proper all-rounder of a whisky, with a little bit of sweetness, a little bit of salty sea air and a little bit of smoke lingering in the background. Even though it is technically from the Islands region, it represents the Scottish Highlands better than most mainland distilleries and it an obvious choice for this list simply for its wide reaching flavour profile.

Number three: Lagavulin 16 Year Old

Lagavulin 16

Some people may claim it is unwise to include a heavily peated Islay malt among the top three introductory drams. Those people are of course wrong. Because upon taking one sip of the Lagavulin, the individual partaking in the tasting will either fall instantly in love – or decide very quickly that peated whisky is not for them and the Balvenie wasn’t so bad after all.

For m’colleague and I it was option number one – there is something truly special about peated whisky – and the Lagavulin 16 is the ideal selection. It is more than just a peated whisky – there are hidden flavours to be discovered due to a small amount of sherry maturation – and there are Nick Offerman videos to quote endlessly.

It may be divisive – but it may also be the key to truly ‘getting’ single malts. Plus this will give the opportunity for someone new to whisky to learn to pronounce ‘Islay’ correctly from the outset.

So there you have it: the ultimate top three introductory whiskies. Obviously it cannot be topped, but if you’d like to try, leave a reply in the comments and tell me your own top three. Or we could start a pointless twitter debate about it if that’s more your style.

If you are a whisky-newbie: you’re welcome. Check back in a couple of weeks when you’re a full convert and enjoy our other reviews!

Commence/keep on waffling!

Bushmills Black Bush

Reviewed by: Nick

Bushmills Black Bush

Ok, let’s get it out of the way now: upon reading the words ‘Black Bush’, who sniggered uncontrollably? I’ll admit that I definitely count myself amongst the sniggerers. I mean, come on… Black Bush? Snigger snigger…

Anyway, now we’re past that: onto the whiskey! It is important to note that Black Bush was not entirely made at Bushmills. A large chunk of it was – Bushmills claim 80% was aged for up to eight years in their Northern Ireland bond store – but the single malt is then blended with grain whiskey made down south at Midleton Distillery.

So Black Bush (snigger) is a blend. A cheap blend, no less, of a similar price to a Chivas or a Johnnie Walker Black Label. So there’s not going to be anything in here to get too excited about. Right?

Wrong. The Black Bush is a remarkable young whiskey punching well above its weight and displaying a depth of character not present in many Irish drams. The clue is in the name: the blackness of the bush (snigger).

This moniker refers to the maturation of the Bushmills single malt – part of it, at least – which has spent years aging in Oloroso sherry barrels. This variation in cask type has added a complex fruity element which really makes this whiskey stand out from its competitors.

The nose is packed with fruit and cereal, or perhaps fruit on cereal. Creamy strawberries nestle among grains, while marmalade and oak round off the edges. The palate is lightly spicy with the rum and raisin flavours from the sherry influence spreading out across the tongue. There are notes of dark chocolate and sweet pastries. The finish is quite dry with hints of red wine grapes and vanilla.

The Black Bush is far from smooth, but this actually works in its favour. Bushmills claim it only contains 20% grain spirit and the blender could have easily rounded off the edges by adding more. However the restraint shown adds complexity to the dram and gives the flavours within a chance to come to the fore.

In conclusion, if you are looking for an inexpensive blended Irish malt with a bit of character look no further than the Black Bush.

Snigger.

★★★

#IrishWhiskeyWeek

Jameson Irish Whiskey

Reviewed by: Ted

Jamesons

Like all countries, Ireland has certain things that it is known for. Old guys in flat caps sitting at the end of the bar, four-leafed clovers (5000:1 odds of finding one), improbably placed containers of gold, rocks that you have to kiss upside down, a lack of spuds, complicated socio-religious interplay (although granted that one is pretty common in most countries). In terms of beer it’s Guinness – of course there are other brands, but everyone associates Ireland with the famous ebony nectar, the black custard of Dublin. So what about whiskey? Well, like Guinness, there’s one brand that people associate with the Emerald Isle above all others:

Jameson Irish Whiskey (or Jamoes to its friends) is the best selling Irish whiskey in the world, with around 78 million bottles purchased across the globe in 2017. There’s something iconic about that bright green bottle – I mean, there are other green whisk(e)y bottles around of course (here’s looking at you Laphroaig), but when you walk into a bottle shop and see that bright emerald colour, you instantly associate it with Irish whiskey.

The bottle claims that Jameson has been established since 1780, however the truth is a little more convoluted. The Bow Street Distillery in Dublin was actually originally founded by a family called the Steins in 1780. John Jameson, a lawyer from Alloa in Clackmannanshire, married Margaret Haig (the Haigs were a notable distilling family) in 1786, before moving to Dublin to manage the Bow Street Distillery for the Steins (who were relatives of Margaret). In 1810 John and his son, also John, took over the company and officially renamed it to the John Jameson & Son Irish Whiskey Company.

In its heyday, the Bow Street Distillery was the second largest in the country and one of the largest in the world. However, during the 20th century the Irish whiskey industry went into sharp decline, thanks a combination of factors including a devastating trade war with the British Empire and the rise of prohibition in the USA, locking Irish distillers out of their major markets. In 1966, John Jameson & Son merged with John Power & Son and the Cork Distilleries Company to form the Irish Distillers Group, basing themselves out of a new purpose-built facility at Midleton.

The modern Jameson Irish Whiskey is made using a blend of grain spirit and triple distilled single pot still spirit, all produced in-house on New Midleton Distillery’s massive pot stills and column stills. The spirit is then allowed to age between 4 and 7 years in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-oloroso sherry casks before being bottled at 40% ABV. The use of triple distillation, which is an iconic trait of Irish distilling (Scotland generally only distills twice), means that Jameson has a reputation for being incredibly smooth and easy drinking.

The nose is light and floral, with honey, beeswax, hazelnut, peach, apple, musk, mandarin and marmalade. There’s also a dash of sultanas lurking in the background from the Olorosso influence.

The mouth feel is extremely smooth for such a young whiskey, which can be attributed to the triple distillation ironing out some of the kinks as well as the neutral base provided by the grain spirit. The flavour is nutty through the mid palate before opening up to a spicy finish and a sweet aftertaste that lingers solidly at the back of the tongue.

The easy going flavours and smooth-as-a-baby’s-bum palate means that the Jamoes is not only an excellent introduction to Irish whiskey, but also to whisk(e)y drinking in general. Even the most novice of dram slayers should be able to find something pleasing to the senses in the contents of the green bottle. The voice of the great unwashed agrees too, with a pretty much universally high rating across online sellers. If you’re looking for an easy drinking whiskey that definitely won’t break the budget and tastes half decent to boot, then the Jameson Irish Whiskey has your back.

As the Jameson motto says, buy this one Sine Metu, or ‘Without Fear’.

★★★

#IrishWhiskeyWeek

Whisky Waffle Launch Irish Whiskey Week

Posted by: Nick

As proud as we are of the little slice of online whisky irreverency that we call Whisky Waffle, there is clearly one glaring gap in our catalogue. Whether or not Ireland actually invented the water of life is a debate for another day, however in the lead up to St Patrick’s day we thought we would celebrate the spirits made on the Emerald Isle and try a few of their wares.

The week concludes with a huge live event in Burnie at the Chapel on the evening of the 17th – the latest in our series of Waffle nights which have proved to be ever popular – this one sold out in under 24 hours!

Night 4 Irish Whiskey

However, upon planning the event we discovered that we were a trifle short in the knowledge department in regards to Irish whiskey. So our quest throughout the week will be to educate ourselves sufficiently for ample waffling on St Patrick’s Day.

We hope you enjoy the posts that we deliver over the next few days – and perhaps we’ll all be able to learn about the rise and fall… and rise again of the Irish whiskey industry.

Keep on waffling to be sure!

#IrishWhiskeyWeek

Tasmanian Independent Bottlers RD 001

Reviewed by: Nick

TIB Redlands 001

We’ve reached a point in the Tasmanian whisky industry where Tim Duckett can do whatever the hell he likes. Justifiably, too, having broken so many rules with his Heartwood series, resulting in the creation of whiskies so good and so bizarre you’d be forgiven for thinking they were taken straight out of a whisky nerd’s fantasies. However his latest project, under the innocuous sounding moniker Tasmanian Independent Bottlers (or TIB for short), seems to plant itself firmly in reality.

The first release was the product of only one distillery and only one barrel type and was originally intended to be released at 46%, before Tim caved and bumped it up to 48.4%. No poetic title is required – it is simply named after its cask number – and the label is classy and yet plain, lacking in the unique quirky artwork found on Heartwood bottles. Cosmetically this is the Beatles White album released directly after Sgt Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band.

However, Tim still holds the ace up his sleeve: a quality Tasmanian spirit and an intriguing barrel. The first TIB release is from midlands paddock-to-bottle-distiller Redlands, and it has been aged in a Muscat cask.

“That’s more like it Timmy baby!”

Sorry, I got a little carried away there. But you get me, right? Redlands spirit in Muscat barrels assembled by Tim Duckett? This bottle was a must have to me… and it doesn’t disappoint.

It has a big, broad nose full of toffee and oak. There are many tiny subtle aromas breaking through, including pepper, blackberry and spearmint leaves. The palate is quite sweet, loaded with sticky caramel, raspberry jam and dark chocolate. The finish is short and spicy – spicier than most Heartwoods ironically – with lingering raw sugar notes.

Inevitably anyone looking for the next Heartwood release in this bottle is going to go away disappointed – because that’s not what TIB is. This is a far subtler and gentler single malt which does not possess the x-factor of Tim’s other releases. This is not a bad thing, though – it’s a different thing, and a thing that will appeal to some people and not others. It is designed to be more accessible and perhaps easier drinking than Heartwood and every now and again this is exactly what I want. The Convict Resurrection, Vat Out of Hell and Calm Before the Storm are fantastic – but I’d also recommend getting to know their younger brother.

★★★★

A Tranquil Trip to Yamazaki Distillery

Posted by: Ted

1 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

If one distillery can be claimed as the home of the Japanese whisky scene, then Yamazaki Distillery is the natural heir to that crown. It was, after all, the first operating whisky distillery in Japan and progenitor of the thriving world-class industry that has blossomed in the 95 years since.

2a Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

Founded in 1923 by Shinjiro Torii, the distillery is located in the town of Yamazaki, a sleepy place nestled halfway between Kyoto and Osaka. Once you alight at the station, the distillery is a short walk away through the quiet streets, passing by traditional houses and shrines.

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From the outside, the distillery is not that much to look at, large drab brown buildings that blend in well with the surrounding forested hills but do not inspire any particular romantic notions. The old stills dotted around the leafy grounds are a nice touch though. The location is important however, as the distillery draws its water from the confluence of three local rivers, the Katsura, Uji and Kojo, the soft waters of which Yamazaki claims helps them make a refined spirit.

2 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

In comparison to the exterior, the inside of the visitors centre is a beautiful and interesting place to be, with timbered interiors, a cutaway still and washback, and shelving supporting row upon row of bottles with hand-typed labels containing various agings of spirit made by Yamazaki and other distilleries from around the world. There is also an interesting whisky walk with information about the distillery.

6 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

Guided tours can be booked online, with a standard and a slightly longer special tour available. If you want to do the special tour you need to book early (which we didn’t) as it only runs on weekends and has limited spots. The tours are conducted in Japanese, but an audio guide is available if, like us, your Japanese only extends to a few much-overused phrases.

7 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

The standard tour, conducted on our visit by the youthful Nishiwaki and assisted by the older Tanaka, guides guests through the history and production processes at Yamazaki, taking in the mash room, the still house and the bond stores. A delicious smell of whisky permeates the facility, changing in nature depending on your location. For example, the still room with its 12 stills (there are another four somewhere else too) smells of fresh apples and lemons, while the bond store is dark and rich with the years of aging spirit.

4 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

As we walked back from the bond store we passed by a torii gate, which Tanaka amiably commented to me was over 1000 years old, which makes the distillery’s only 95 years look rather pale in comparison, a reminder that the Japanese whisky industry is still only a relatively young thing in an ancient culture.

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The tours conclude in the tasting room, an open, airy space where guests sit at wooden benches to be educated in the art of drinking Yamazaki. Four glasses of whisky were presented, a White Oak Cask, a Wine Cask and two glasses of the 12 Year Old, one for sampling and the other for doing as you pleased with (as part of the tasting you had the opportunity to make a whisky highball. I declined).

5 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

The White Oak Cask and Wine Cask were presented as examples of Yamazaki’s practice of crafting a base palate of different styles that are then married together to create a final release, such as the 12 Year Old. The distillery claims that this method allows them to create products that have a subtlety and nuance of flavour similar to a blended Scotch, but are comprised of whiskies that are made entirely on site at Yamazaki.

The two spirits were indeed quite different, with the light White Oak Cask evoking honey, lemon, green apple and rose on the nose, while the dark-gold Wine Cask gave notes of caramel, marshmallow, wine gums, oak, salt, red apple and apricot. On the palate the White Oak had leather, dark honey, polished oak, beeswax, malt and a sharp, herbal finish, while the Wine cask had a dark, rich, dry fruitiness, with red apples, brown pear, sour plum and salted caramel.

3 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

A small selection of nibblies are also provided with the tasting, my favourite being the smoked nuts, which are smoked over chips made from old barrels. There are a number of friendly attendants on hand to guide you through the tasting and make sure you know what’s what.

At the completion of the tasting you are led back to the visitor centre where you have the opportunity to visit the gift shop (which has a distinct lack of Japanese whisky apart from the Chita single grain) or indulge in some further tastings such as older bottlings or distillery exclusives (I may have lashed out on the 25 Year Old).

8 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

The atmosphere at Yamazaki was relaxed and Nishiwaki delivered a crisp and professional tour that was full of interesting and informative facts… at least I presume so seeing as I couldn’t understand a word of it. The audio guide was solid though and it was easy to keep up with the tour. If you want to get a grasp on the history and character of Japanese whisky, then Yamazaki is well worth your time to visit if you happen to be in the area.

9 Whisky Waffle Yamazaki Visit

Flóki Single Malt

Reviewed by: Ted

Floki Single Malt 1

Hrafna-Flóki Vilgerðarson, or Flóki as fans of the History Channel’s hit show Vikings would recognise him as, was a pretty interesting guy. Born around 830AD in Norway, he would later become an explorer, with his main claim to fame being that he was one of the first people to visit Iceland.

Acting on rumours of a land North-West of the Faroe Islands, Flóki set sail with his family and crew, taking with him three ravens. According to legend, Flóki released the ravens during the voyage; the first flew South-East back to the Faroes, the second landed back on the ship, but the third flew North-West and did not return, leading Flóki to the island and bestowing him with the nickname Hrafna, meaning raven.

The crew apparently spent an excellent, easy summer on the West coast, leaving them ill-prepared for the harsh winter that followed. When spring finally returned, Flóki climbed the highest mountain in the area and sighting ice flows still sitting heavy in the fjords even as the weather warmed, named the island ‘Ísland’, or Iceland as we now know it. On his return to Norway he gave a poor report of the place, although that did not stop him from returning and living there until his death in the early 9th Century.

It is therefore fitting that a modern day pioneer of Iceland takes its name from the spirit of this early explorer of the Northern seas. Flóki, made by Eimverk Distillery, is the first single malt whisky to come out of Iceland.

Based in Garðabaer (perhaps taking its name from another early explorer of Iceland, Garðar Svavarsson?), the whisky is billed as ‘Grain to Glass in Iceland’ (aka Paddock to Plate), using local barley and water distilled in Eimverk’s handcrafted pot still and, according to the blurb, “aged for three years… under the roots of Mount Hekla”.

The particular bottle in my possession is part of a limited edition single-barrel bottling released in November 2017; according to the label I possess Barrel #1 Bottle #307. I will admit that I experienced a brief moment of doubt about opening it, but in the spirit (geddit?) of science I have taken the plunge for you dear reader.

As mentioned before, the Single Malt is aged for three years in what the label curiously describes as ‘ex-Flóki Young Malt barrels’. I have previously reviewed the Young Malt, a special edition duty-free 1-2yo spirit released as a preview to the main event. I am assuming that after the first release of Young Malt in late 2014, which used virgin American oak, they refilled the now-seasoned barrels and left them for just a hair over three years for the Single Malt.

The packaging game has always been strong with the Flóki and this one ups the anti by including a box! The box artwork has a black gloss background with irregularly shaped matte black highlights, the effect of which I suspect is meant to look like the rock walls of a fjord. The cool viking crest makes a return and oh my Odin I have literally just realised it has three bird figures around it representing Hrafna-Floki’s ravens! Totally did not pick that up before.

Floki Single Malt

Bottled at 47%, the Single Malt is a natural copper colour. It’s actually lighter than the Young Malt, which has a redder hue that is probably an effect of the virgin oak compared to the second-fill used for the Single Malt.

On the nose the Single Malt is light and grassy, perhaps straw, with undertones of caramel, honey, pineapple, green plum, apple, orange, pine sap, juniper, rose, sandalwood, cereal and metal. In comparison the Young Malt is heavier and sweeter, with notes of banana, oatmeal and meat.

The palate is dry and textural, eschewing the heavy, sharp, sweet, alcoholy, bourbony feel of the Young Malt for a much lighter, zingier sensation. The undertone is of oaky wood dust, almonds, walnuts and burnt orange, while the finish is sharp, hot and bitter, coating right across the back of the tongue and lingering for some time.

The differences between the Young Malt and the Single Malt are intriguing as the latter is a definite evolution of the former. Compared to the heavy, ham-fisted virgin oak-driven flavours of the Young Malt, the Single Malt is a much lighter, zestier affair. It’s interesting how a second filling of the same barrel with the same spirit can produce such different results.

Still, the balance of the Single Malt is perhaps a little off, with the nose needing some extra depth and the mouth, particularly the finish, needing some rounding out. It’s definitely better than the Young Malt (and both are miles above the undrinkable Young Malt Sheep Dung Smoked edition), but as I have commented before and will reiterate now, I am curious to see what effect some extra aging time would have on the Flóki.

Floki Single malt 2

Nitpicking aside though, this is a worthy first attempt from Eimverk and I think Hrafna-Flóki himself would have had a much more favourable opinion of the place if he had had a few bottles of his namesake whisky to keep him company through that first winter.

★★