Travel

Auchentoshan Heartwood

Reviewed by: Ted

Auchentoshan Heartwood

If you’ve ever flown overseas, then chances are you will have wandered through the duty free section and marvelled at the huge selection of booze available. For some reason the brand marketers have decided that what the Jetset crowd really crave are exclusive releases that are not worthy of the wingless plebs on the street. Indeed, a whisky fan can spend hours gazing at all the fancy labels, musing about the unusual caskings and trying to decide whether to get that 1L bottle of NAS Scotch, or lash out and buy that rare Japanese number in the gorgeous bottle.

The thing is, are these exclusive bottlings actually any good compared to their standard counterparts?

Let’s take the Auchentoshan Heartwood as an example (not to be confused with the Tasmanian Heartwood brand). Hailing from the Lowlands of Scotland, the Non Age Statement Heartwood edition is produced ‘exclusively for the global traveller’ (that’s you). Auchentoshan itself is notable for being one of the only distilleries in Scotland to triple distil its whisky.

The packaging for the Heartwood is pretty much the same as the standard range, just bigger thanks to the 1L bottle size (aww yeah!). ‘Heartwood’ refers to the dense wood at the centre of a tree, which Auchentoshan rather tenuously links to bourbon and sherry casking being at the heart of their whisky (yeah, they had to torture that one a bit).

Marketing guff it may be, but the bit about using bourbon and Oloroso casks is true. The colour certainly suggests that sherry barrels have been in the vicinity; Auchentoshan claims that the particular hue of the spirit is ‘dark honeycomb’. I on the other hand think that it looks, well, orange, rather like that other most Scottish of drinks: Irn-Bru. A tad heavy on the E150 perhaps? (I’ve since found this great article by LittleTipple noting that the colour of Auchentoshan looks rather similar to bodybuilders who have got a bit excited with the fake tan. Good times).

The nose is dull and heavy, oozing over the rim of the glass like an exhausted slug. After a while the dark brew starts to present toffee and almonds (praline perhaps?) and Terry’s chocolate orange.

The mouth is thick and sweet, with a dense oakiness that lives up to its namesake. The finish offers a lingering hit of burnt orange that is oddly unsatisfying.

In conclusion, buyer beware. The exotic looking jewels of the duty free section may appear tempting, but on closer examination you might just discover that all you really have is a poor imitation of the original. Still, you can’t deny they’re fun to look at. Happy flying, and good luck!

★★

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Glen Grant The Major’s Reserve

Reviewed by: Nick

Glen Grant Majors Reserve

I freely admit, as I begin this review, that my primary motivation when purchasing this bottle was the fact that it was cheap. In fact, I recall as a broke uni student I had bought it for exactly the same reason. I also remember not being overly impressed. However, these days, with a more… ahem… experienced palate, surely I would find something to enjoy in Glen Grant’s entry level release. Surely there was more to this whisky than simply being cheap.

Upon opening the plain packaging I discovered a rarity in the single malt world: a screw top lid. Now, I can forgive them this because, after all, they’re indirectly saving the planet with such an approach, however this fact did nothing to shake the ‘cheap’ tag. Only one thing could: the flavour… and it let me down.

The nose has that cloying red-label-esque sweetness of lemon dish detergent alongside toffee-apple and honey notes. It is passable but not memorable. The palate is pretty rough, though offers some nice barley notes set against oak and vanilla. It is typical Speyside fare, though far from one of my favourites. The finish is spicy, malty and a little buttery. Again, nothing offensive but equally, nothing special.

The Glen Grant Major’s reserve is a whisky that epitomises its price point. It doesn’t punch above its weight but it also remains fairly quaffable. It is a cheap single malt and tastes as such. But hey, on the plus side, at least it doesn’t cost much!

★★

Floki Young Malt Sheep Dung Smoked Reserve

Reviewed by: Ted

Floki Sheep Dung Matured

Iceland loves a good renewable energy source. Sitting out in the wild northern reaches of the Atlantic Ocean, approximately 900km away from the UK and Norway, means that the island is cut off from the major power infrastructure of the continent. Luckily Iceland has a red-hot spade tucked up its sleeve. Thanks to its position directly over the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the island is rife with volcanism (fun fact: apparently Iceland’s 30-odd volcanic systems have contributed around a third of global lava output over the past 500 years. The more you know eh?). Sure, this of course means there’s a decent risk of a fire mountain going boom and causing all sort of havoc (remember Eyjafjallajökull? And that was pretty small in historic terms as it turns out – check out Lakagígar), but the big upshot for the locals is that there are bag loads of geothermal and hydrothermal energy to tap into, with around 80% of energy production coming from these sources in 2016.

Iceland WW 7

Historically, like many other places in the region, the islanders would have probably burned peat as their energy source; around 10% of the island is actually covered in the stuff. These days people are generally more familiar with peat in the context of whisky making (or sticking it in the garden) rather than using it for heating or cooking, with places such as Islay and a number of other islands off the west coast of Scotland famed for their smoky drams. As it happens, Iceland has a couple of recently opened whisky distilleries, although only one has actually released any product.

Iceland WW 5

Eimverk Distillery, located in Reykjavík (unsurprisingly, seeing as about two thirds of the population lives in the capital region), are the makers of Flóki. While the official release hasn’t debuted at this point in time (the first release at 3yo is due in November 2017), Eimverk have previously tantalised the masses with a limited duty free pre-release for the Reykjavík International Airport. Thanks to my mother happening to be travelling in Iceland at the right time, we were amazingly able to try the Flóki Young Malt early last year and found it full of intriguing promise.

So, when I heard Eimverk had released a smoked version of their Young Malt I was instantly curious. The Icelanders have been smoking stuff like fish for centuries, so they should know a thing or two about the practise. Now, you would think that they would use local peat to smoke their locally grown barley, but not so. Well, I mean it’s not a particularly renewable source of energy now is it (peat bogs can take thousands of years to form, generally accumulating at an average rate of around 1mm per year)? And collecting it would mean digging up chunks of the astounding landscape that Iceland is famed for. So what was Eimverk’s creative solution?

You know what else Iceland has bag loads of, apart from renewable energy sources, interesting geology and indie bands that is? Sheep. First brought over by the Vikings circa the 9th or 10th Centuries, there are around 800 000 of them wandering about the island these days, approx. 2.5x the human population. Now sheep are a pretty good renewable resource – you can get wool, milk and meat from them, and they seem to do a rather good job of replenishing themselves with new little sheepies every year. There’s something else sheep make though, in great quantities every day: Shi… ahem, sorry, poo.

Iceland WW

As it happens, when you dry sheep poo you can set it on fire and use it as a fuel source. Humans have actually been practising this sort of pyroscatology (and if that isn’t a word then it damn well should be!) all around the world with all sort of interesting varieties of poo for millennia. If it has one flaw though, burning poo does tend to be rather smoky… which on reflection could be just the thing for smoking some barley! And that, my friends, is exactly what Eimverk have done!

Introducing: the Flóki Young Malt – Sheep Dung Smoked Reserve. Now, while you may find this all a bit weird, Eimverk note that in Iceland there has been a tradition of using sheep poo for smoking for centuries, so I think it’s only fair that we all remain open minded and give it a shot. Being rather geographically distant from the Reykjavík duty free, my initial excitement about this new release was somewhat tempered by the fact that it would probably be a very long time before I was able to try it. Therefore I was rather astounded (as was m’colleague when I whipped it out unannounced in front of him one night… the Flóki I mean!) to discover that I was able to source a bottle through local outfit Sigrún Whisky, who seem to specialise in Scandi drams.

Iceland WW 1

According to Eimverk, the Smoked Reserve is ‘a limited reserve of a selection of single barrel bottling (sic) from our distillery’. Visually the 500ml Smoked Reserve bottle is almost identical to the original Young Malt release: a dark textured label with the cool white runic design and angular font, although the background in this case is of rough homespun wool cloth, the only other real difference being a small red square on the cork seal.

The nose is very grassy and metallic; if Philip K Dick’s androids really do dream of electric sheep, then this would be the smell of the organometallic grass that the sheep are eating. There is also a big, punchy acidic layer, like mainlining a tin of pineapple, under which sits a fug of chocolate and leather.

The taste is sharp and hot, drying the tongue like strong citrus or tart fruit. Straight afterwards you get a sluggish hit of dull, ashy smoke. Think a pub any time before the smoking bans. Or perhaps it’s like walking past a smoking shed where they’re burning sheep poo (I can’t profess to have ever done so)? The finish is shiny and metallic, akin to drinking strong spirits from a cheap tin mug.

Iceland WW 6

Look, it isn’t the easiest whisky to drink admittedly, but then it isn’t really whisky is it? It hasn’t aged long enough to legally earn that title and it shows. Perhaps they used bigger barrels for the Smoked Reserve, so it hasn’t hit the same point of maturity at the same age as the original Young Malt was released at? I would definitely like to come back to this in a few years’ time and see what it’s like after the barrels have had time to work their magic.

As for whether the sheep poo was a good idea… well the flavour was definitely different to your normal smokiness in a whisky. But again, the spirit really needs to age further before we can properly judge the true subtleties of its nature. If you’re absolutely hell bent on possessing a unique Icelandic (almost) whisky then there can be no substitute for the Flóki Young Malt – Sheep Dung Smoked Reserve. For everyone else, perhaps give this one a miss for the time being and instead save your pennies for a trip to experience Iceland’s true natural wonders.

Iceland WW 8

Say what you will about the whisky – it’s a bloody beautiful place, isn’t it?

Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

bunna-18

I would like to start out by saying that I am a big fan of Bunnahabhain (so this review is not going to be biased in the slightest). Yes, we all know that Islay is famous for its heavily peated drams, but I have a definite soft spot for this gentle islander.

I’ve actually been to the distillery, a few miles up the coast from Port Askaig, but to my eternal discontent I haven’t actually done the tour as we were pressed for time and had several other tours booked that day. The buildings may look rather grey and foreboding, but the people are so friendly and warm. Please pop by and say hello to them if you get a chance.

I really got a taste for Bunna on the ferry on the way over to Islay because it was the dram of the month and they were pouring doubles. Standing on deck in the blasting wind and watching the islands of Islay and Jura hove into view with a warming glass of Bunnahabhain in hand definitely leaves a lasting impression on a lad.

While I may have cut my teeth on the Bunna 12 Year Old, I recently acquired a bottle of the 18 Year Old and tell you what, it’s pretty exceptional. Bunnahabhain dials back the peat hit in favour of softer, earthier flavours. The nose is rather like tramping around the rolling interior of the island, bringing forth moss, springy peat-laden soil, wind-twisted woods and the occasional gust of salty sea breeze (plus the colour is like the dark waters of the lochs that stud the landscape).

Other flavours floating through the air include roasted chestnuts, dark chocolate, spit roasted lamb with salt and rosemary, stewed quinces and brandy-soaked raisins (sherry casking par excellence).

The mouth is quite salty, but strikes an elegant balance, like a high quality piece of salted caramel served with delicate slices of pear poached in butter and sprinkled with brown sugar. The finish is rounded, warm and comforting, like curling up on a squishy couch in front of a glowing fire on a cold night.

While I rather enjoy getting smacked in the face with a massive slab of Ileach peat, there’s something about the softer side of Islay that keeps drawing me back again and again. One day I will return to Bunnahabhain and explore it properly, but until then I will sit back with a glass of the 18 Year Old, close my eyes and be transported back to one of the most magical places in the world.

★★★★

#IslayWeek

#LetsGetPeaty

Reflections on a visit to Islay

Posted by: Nick

nick-port-ellen-lighthouse

It is no exaggeration when I say that the isle of Islay is, without a doubt, my favourite place that I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. The quaint lime washed houses of Port Ellen, the spectacular coastline and beaches, the stark peat bogs and the friendly locals waving as you drive by all combine to create a coastal utopia. And then there’s the whisky. Ah… the whisky…

There is a reason that drams made on this Hebridean isle are famous the world over: they taste like nothing else on earth. Smoky, salty, oily and fiery as hell itself. On my first (gloriously sunny!) day upon the island I visited Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig: the worlds’ ultimate pub crawl. In the evening I lay down on the sand at Kintra Beach and watched the sun go down with a belly full of South-Ileach whisky. There  was not a more content man on the planet.

The next day I stood beneath the distinctive Port Ellen lighthouse, looked across the bay and felt more connected to a place than I have ever experienced in my life. I would go back today. I would drop everything. Just for one more whiff of that peaty air. Just for one drop of that liquid aptly described as the water of life.

nick-content

#IslayWeek

#LetsGetPeaty

Ardbeg 10 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick and Ted

ardbeg-10

There are certain whiskies that a blog should have in its pages and until now we have been found wanting for this particular dram. Its label rather audaciously claims that not only is it the best whisky on Islay, but is in fact among the best in the world. The funny thing is, we’re actually hard pressed to disagree with it.

The Ardbeg 10 Year Old makes an excellent case for the younger whisky. Generally we equate greater age with greater excellence, but this dram proves that this is not always the case. There is something about the raw, youthful energy in the 10 Year Old that allows the peat monster to really roar and we can’t help but feel that if it was left in the barrel for a few years longer then some of the magic would be lost.

We took it upon ourselves to sample the Ardbeg 10 quite extensively (read quite extensively) and came up with a comprehensive set of tasting notes. We didn’t quite comprehend how wonderful these notes were until we read them back the next day. Normally we don’t present tasting notes in isolation, but these are too good to intersperse with waffle.

Nose: South-east Asian mystery meat, peanuts, satay, bitumen road surface, earthy ashes, digging up a hangi, nashi pear, fizzy apple, melon, honeydew, honey and heavily perfumed plant.

Palate: Smoke (go figure), BBQ sauce, Worcestershire sauce, gingerbread, “there’s a pear in there”, oregano, home-made potato chips, cardamom, cloves and nutella fudge.

Finish: Fiery, spicy, hot, warm and lingering.

Subsequent tastings have not yet turned out quite as many creative thoughts about the 10 Year Old; however we unashamedly stand by what we said in the heat of the moment (mostly).

We have mentioned that the Ardbeg 10 Year Old compares impressively with much older drams, but what if the field was narrowed to only it’s 10 year old contemporaries. For us, the only possible contenders are cross-town rivals Laphroaig and fellow peat-pal Talisker. But if we’re honest, Ardbeg leaves them both in the shade: we truly believe you won’t find a better 10 Year Old whisky on the planet.

★★★★

#IsalyWeek

#LetsGetPeaty

Four must-visit Scottish whisky distilleries

Posted by: Nick

Nick in Scotland

So you’ve travelled to Scotland. You’ve climbed to the top of Edinburgh Castle, eaten a plate of Haggis and failed to find the Loch Ness Monster. Your Scottish experience is complete but for one final destination. The country is synonymous with several things – including men in skirts and losing at football – but most famously of all, it is known for its whisky. Therefore on your travels it is compulsory to stop in at one or two distilleries and see exactly how the stuff is made. Of course, that means narrowing it down to one or two from the hundreds of options – not an easy task.

It was not long ago that I made a trip to whisky’s spiritual home (pun entirely intended) and thought I would share a few of my recommendations to check out after a hard day’s not-spotting Nessie.

Auchentoshan:

Auchen

This distillery is as accessible to visit as the whisky is to drink. Located just outside of Glasgow, Auchentoshan is right on the way for tourists looking to explore Loch Lomond or venture into the highlands. The distillery itself is extremely pretty and the friendly staff run a slick tour. The tasting session at the end covers the core range, though if you’re lucky they may find you something special to try behind the bar. The drams themselves are easy drinking and perfect for those who are slightly hesitant about whisky!

Ardbeg:

PE Ardb

The ultimate fanboy distillery. If you’re keen on your peated whisky then a trip to Ardbeg should be the number one priority. Granted, it is on a little island off Scotland’s west coast, but is the most magical place when you get there. Every corner of the distillery emanates old world charm, and if you select a premium tasting session, some of the drams they bring you in their little back room are mind-blowing. Ardbeg are famous for producing rare one-off bottlings which, unless you happen to be mates with the distiller, you are unlikely to get to try too many of. Do the tour, however, and who knows what you may find – Ardbog, Alligator, Supernova, Dark Cove… one dram of any of these makes the price of admission worthwhile.

Supernovas

Glenfiddich:

To get an idea about the scale of the Scottish whisky industry, do the tour at Glenfiddich. They are the largest producer of single malt in the country and their distillery, therefore, is huge! Twenty-eight stills are in operation, each big enough to make Lark’s copper pot look like a key ring. There really is a sense of awe as you walk among the machinery and through the bondstores. It’s certainly a popular one, with thousands of tourists going through the establishment each day, however if you spend a couple of extra pounds they’ll put you in a smaller, more intimate group and give you the added bonus of checking out warehouse 8 – the Solera facility – where you can see them vatting vast amounts of whisky to create, among other bottles, their 15 year old. The tasting that follows walks you through the 12, 15, 18 and 21 Year Old expressions – yes, that’s right, 21 year old! Not all distilleries churn out a 21 year old regularly on a tour.

Glen Stills

Bruichladdich:

A trip to Bruichladdich is the perfect whisky experience. Firstly, the staff are some of the coolest and most entertaining people in the business. Secondly, their equipment, in particular their mash tun, is all beautifully ancient. It’s like an antique shop where the gear comes alive at night when the owners leave! Finally, and most importantly, there’s the tastings. Oh man. Bruichladdich are famous for innovation and experimentation, the result of which is a large number of fascinating whiskies to try. A rum matured whisky – can I try that? Sure! A new Octomore – do you mind if I… Go for it! How about that double matured… Get it down you! In short, a trip to Bruichladdich is compulsory if you ever find yourself in the area – and by the area, I mean in the Northern Hemisphere!

Bruich

These are, of course, just four of my picks based on one visit and I realise that as far as excellent distilleries go I am barely scratching the surface. So what places have you been to that you would recommend people make it along to? Let me know in the comments and I’ll see if I can hit them up on my next trip to the whisky motherland!

Warehouse 8

 

The day my head exploded in a cloud of smoke: a whisky memory

Posted by: Ted

Ted in armchair

As I sit here in a comfy wingback Chesterfield armchair in the lounge at Lagavulin distillery on Islay, I reflect that this represents the culmination of a very significant journey for me. My being here now was (in part) sparked by a moment in time a number of years ago that changed how I experienced the world.

When we were young, poor and tasteless uni students, we drank whisky without any art or depth of thought. Our main drinking decision was how cheap we could get away with without completely destroying ourselves.

However, one particular night we happened to be out on the town for a friend’s bucks night. Feeling in a generous mood and relatively flush, we stopped in at a bar and decided to order a couple of drams a bit above our usual weight.

Our decision this time was based purely on how cool the name was. Our first dram was the fun sounding Monkey Shoulder, which taught us about finding better blends and which we still enjoy to this day.

The other was a rather mystical sounding dram named the Lagavulin 16yo. Not thinking too much about it I took a decent hit of the dark amber liquid. Suddenly, time stood still and my mind exploded. I had never tasted anything like it.

Billows of hot, medicinal, coastal smoke filled my mouth and roared down my throat, leaving my senses reeling. The others around me were being gripped by a similar reaction. It was love at first dram.

Ted with fireplace

That one moment catalysed within me a yearning for good quality whisky, to try exciting and interesting drams. That feeling simmered away until the finish of uni and the gaining of a job and more importantly, money. Suddenly a whole world of exciting whisky was within grasp.

Eventually the path we had been set upon led to the founding of the number one whisky blog in Tasmania, something m’colleague and I are immensely proud of, and the discovery of a whole community of people just as excited about whisky as we are.

And so here I am on Islay, sitting at the very distillery that kickstarted the whole adventure. It feels slightly surreal to be honest (although if it was truly surreal there would probably be a couple of highland cows sitting on the other chairs smoking pipes and discussing the football results), but at the same time like wearing a favourite old tweed suit.

Ted at Lagavulin

It’s a significant time for both of us actually, as Lagavulin celebrates their 200th birthday this year, a feat to be congratulated. I will no doubt return here again, as will m’colleague and many others besides, hopefully for another 200 years and more, and revel in this glorious, extraordinary whisky.

Sláinte mhath, and keep on waffling.

A whisky book review: Kudelka and First Dog’s Spiritual Journey

Posted by: Nick and Ted

A day at the Whisky Waffle office usually involves drifting about sipping rare and expensive whiskies and confabulating to each other about them (that’s the story we’re sticking to at any rate). Well, for once we’ve actually sobered up and stopped rambling long enough to read a book. Not just a distillery booklet from out of a whisky tube either, but a whole volume on one of our most favourite subjects in the entire world. Luckily for us there were pictures too…

Bikie Book

“This is a ridiculous book,” Jon Kudelka firmly states with the opening sentence of the tome. He’s not wrong either. But when the story is about the odyssey undertaken by two cartoonists on electric pushbikes as they travel around Tasmania’s nine operating distilleries, what do you expect?

Kudelka and First Dog’s Spiritual Journey is a mad tale of discovery and comradeship, of long hill climbs and aching thighs, and of spotting local wildlife (or in Dog’s case, not spotting local wildlife). Firstly and foremostly however, it is a tale of whisky. The quest begins when two Walkley Award-winning cartoonists, Jon Kudelka and First Dog on the Moon decide they want to drink lots of Tasmanian whisky and get the internet to pay for it. One successful crowd-funding campaign later, the intrepid duo set off from Hobart on their electric bicycles, puncture repair kit at the ready.

Kudelka and First Dog’s chosen mode of transport turns out to be perfect for drinking in the beautiful Tasmanian scenery as the duo meander between distilleries, although they also learn the hard way about what happens when your electric bike runs out of juice (and we’re not talking about whisky – that stuff flows freely).

Over the course of two weeks they learn about whisky making from the horse’s mouth, spending quality time with industry greats such as Tim Duckett, Pete Bignell and Bill Lark, who personally cooks them a meal at his peat bog. As well as hanging out with the Tasmanian distilling pantheon, the boys also meet a lively cast of characters who variously offer them angry cheddar, yacht rides, stuffed foxes and advice on why you should always run over a Tasmanian Tiger if given the chance.

As well as being a rollicking yarn, the book is also highly educational. With the aid of informative cartoon infographics, Kudelka and First Dog give some valuable advice on how to drink whisky: “Step 1: put a bit of whisky in a glass. Step 2: Drink it. The end.” First Dog also offers a lengthy discourse on his theory about why all goat based products, or indeed anything to do with goats full stop, should be avoided at all costs. This is life changing stuff people; take heed fellow wafflers.

If you are interested in Tasmanian whisky, then this is the book for you. If you are interested in the drunken ramblings of two cartoonists, this is also the book for you. The hilarious anecdotes, friendly banter and whimsical illustrations are a truly laugh-out-loud combination.

Bike Waffle

We imagine the trip went a little like this…

We’d thoroughly recommend checking it out – the only real question is whether to buy it from Kudelka:  http://www.kudelka.com.au/kudelka-and-first-dogs-spiritual-journey/ or from First Dog: http://firstshoponthemoon.com/products/first-dog-and-kudelkas-spiritual-journey

Either way, you should look it up. After all, it’s recommended by two out of two cartoonists surveyed. And two out of two whisky bloggers as well.

Ardbeg Perpetuum

Reviewed by: Ted

Ardbeg Perpetuum

200 years might not be infinity, but it’s certainly a long time to be producing whisky. Ardbeg distillery, nestled on the coast of Islay, is to be heartily congratulated for reaching such a momentous milestone.

The distillers at Ardbeg love a good special edition release, and in celebration of their big birthday they have brought forth the Perpetuum. The whisky celebrates the love, dedication and skill of its creators, acknowledging that while times and technology change, no machine will ever be able to recreate the spark of the human touch.

It’s certainly a beautiful object to gaze upon, with shiny silver labels, a Celtic braid infinity symbol and PERPETUUM surrounding the box in monolithic black letters. Oh my goodness the 47.4% spirit inside is a worthy representative of Ardbeg’s art. Just to look at it’s a gorgeous pale, silky gold with a subtle peach tinge.

The nose is delicate and creamy, and has delicious buttery shortbread infused with a hint of sea salt. Twining through is a touch of fine smoked meats, smouldering driftwood and hot malt. The first sip delivers rich, woody smoke to float over the tongue. Underneath sits a pool of salty mineral-rich water with the occasional mandarine bobbing around in it, counterpointed by a sharp bittersweet herbal finish that lingers on. As the bottle says, it almost seems to be never ending.

The Perpetuum is a snapshot of the last 200 years of whisky making at Ardbeg, and hints at the way forward into the next 200 years. Like the infinity symbol the represents it, hopefully we will be coming back to the Perpetuum, and indeed all Ardbegs, again and again for many years to come.

★★★