waffle

Hillwood Chardonnay Cask

Reviewed by: Nick

Tasmanian = check.

Single cask = check.

Cask strength = check.

Ex-wine barrel = check.

From a small distillery you’ve probably never heard of = check.

Surely I’ve written this exact review before, right? WRONG! Because this whisky is quite unlike anything going around at the moment!

Hillwood Distillery, based just north of Launceston, is the creation of father and sons team: Paul, Ollie, Daniel and Joel Herron. Inspired by their love of creating things, they decided single malt whisky was a product they could all get on board with. Together, they began to lay down small barrels in 2018.

This particular bottle is one of the first Hillwood whiskies released and was aged in the rather uncommon cask type: ex-chardonnay. The barrel influence is significant and part of what makes this a very different whisky to most coming out of the state. Like all Hillwood releases, it is bottled at cask strength, in this case 61.4%, and was one of only 37 bottles.

Let’s begin with the colour. That colour. Wow. Dark whiskies are actually the norm for Hillwood. Paul believes it is to do with the mineral content in the local water, which I couldn’t even begin to verify, but whatever it is, the whisky comes out of a cask which once housed a distinctly white wine looking like a jar of molasses.

On the nose there is an initial whiff of apricot jam which quickly transforms into white chocolate, butterscotch and tiramisu. The palate is intense and grapey with sweet gooey notes of vanilla-latte and Werther’s Originals: caramel topping on ice cream. There’s also a hint of fruitcake, which is curious considering there’s not a hint of fortified wine used in this whisky’s creation. The finish is long. Oh-so long! The sweetness dries off rapidly leaving a lingering oaky spice.

The wood-influence is noticeably present, in no small part thanks to the 20-litre cask the whisky was aged in, but as much as this threatens to overwhelm the delicate chardonnay notes, it never does, leaving a finely balanced flavour bomb. It is an impressive whisky which gets better with every sip.

For many folk there must be a temptation to pass off the Hillwood Chardonnay Cask as just another unpredictable single cask release, yet I can thoroughly recommend seeking this one out, or at least something similar from Hillwood. There is a mini chardonnay cask movement occurring at the moment and it is fascinating to taste the results. I would even go so far as to argue that this is the best of the bunch.

★★★★

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Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 22

This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where we discuss/gossip about developments at Tasmania’s most famous distillery and speculate at the plans of their AWH overlords
– The Whisky, where we review the TIB vatted malt 3, Tim Duckett’s cheapest release yet! and
– Mystery Whisky, where Nick nearly figures out a duty free Bunnahabhain but fails at the final hurdle

 

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 21

This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where we discuss the state of the whisky world during the time of Corona;
– The Whisky, where we review the cask strength classic sherry bomb: the Aberlour A’bunadh;
– Mystery Whisky, where Ted struggles to identify a west coast wonder from the USA, partly because Nick gets muddled up between Westland and Westward; and
– Dram in the box, where Ted produces a ground breaking whisky from Sweden

Four reasons Archie Rose will take over the (Australian Whisky) world:

Posted by: Nick

Archie Rose Rye Malt Whisky

Hot take alert! Archie Rose will, sooner rather than later, be the most famous distillery in the country. Move aside Sullivans Cove, forget about Lark, no chance Limeburners; Archie Rose is best placed to bring quality Australian whisky to the world.

Alright, why am I so confident? Well, there are a number of reasons: four to be precise…

1) The location. Archie Rose are located in Rosebery, Sydney, mere kilometres from the CBD. If a tiny state like Tassie can build a whisky scene from the ground up then a city with a population of over 5 million – and a further 15 million tourists every year – is guaranteed to find more than a few willing customers. And Archie Rose is well placed to have the monopoly on them, being the first craft distillery set up in over a hundred years. Others have started up in Sydney since, but Archie Rose got there first. Throw in a classy bar, as well as educational tours and blending experiences and Archie Rose is set up beautifully as NSW’s distillery of choice.

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2) The marketing. While this isn’t the most romantic aspect of any distillery, it’s fair to say Archie Rose has nailed it. From their unique hexagonal box, to the seductive smoked tint, to the classically shaped bottle, they are well placed to stand out on a shelf. Their online presence is excellent and their website contains details of every cask that makes up a release, including data such as water source, grist size, duration of fermentation and the date each barrel was filled and emptied. This is manna from heaven for whisky nerds like myself!

3) The quality. Someone at Archie Rose knows what they are doing. From the very beginning there was never any thought of rushing a few 20 litre single casks out the door. Nothing is being released before it is ready – in fact, we’re still yet to see a single malt, although I am assured one is coming. Even the Rye Malt, in it’s 3rd iteration at the time of writing, is made using a solera system, where half of the previous batch has been gradually spending a whole lot more time in oak than the two and a half years that the youngest spirit in the mix has seen. It seems this approach is paying dividends, too, as this release has just won World’s Best Rye Whisky at the 2020 World Whisky Awards. A single cask sample of their single malt was also awarded a gold medal. It is hard to become a great whisky distillery without producing a great whisky, and it seems Archie Rose is well placed to produce exactly that.

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4) The variety. As is the case with many modern distilleries, Archie Rose is branching out into gins and vodkas which have also won various awards in their fields. Their whiskies are equally varied, with the first release being a Malted Rye, released to market, while their single malt matures in its own time. However, the experimentation doesn’t stop there, with the release of an Ironbark Smoked Rye Whisky, a variation on their rye whisky made using smoked water created by melting huge ice blocks with an Ironbark fuelled oven. It seems the distillery is not afraid to experiment, and several releases under their Archie Rose concepts label demonstrate the innovation and creativity occurring at the distillery.

While it is still early days for Archie Rose, they seem to have been a name we’ve heard about for a while. Like a chess master they have been flying under the radar, getting their pieces in exactly the right positions before pouncing with a decisive checkmate. Mark my words, these guys are going to be big…

Archie Rose Rye Malt Whisky Boulevardier

Oh, and I have to mention one more reason they’re destined for greatness:

5) They claim it to be “truly unique” and “one of the world’s most unique distilleries” which will annoy Ted something shocking. Always a great sign in my books…

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 18

This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where we talk about the pros and cons of bourbon barrel maturation;
– The Whisky, where we review a corn whiskey aged in ex-bourbon barrel: the Michters Unblended American Whiskey;
– Smash Session or Savour, where all things Glen fight to the death; and
– Whisky Would You Rather, where we drunkenly discuss two possible dystopian futures of the Tasmanian whisky industry

Archie Rose Rye Malt Whisky

Reviewed by: Nick

Archie Rose Rye Malt

At Whisky Waffle we have seen a variety of subheadings etch themselves into the history of modern Australian whisky since our inception in 2014. This particular dram, however, is not a mere subtitle. Not only has it turned the page, it’s begun a new paragraph and inserted a new heading in bold, with underline and italics. This is a whole new chapter in the Australian whisky story.

Archie Rose is the first distillery to set up in Sydney in over a hundred years and is taking this position seriously. They produce gin, vodka and single malt spirit; however, their first whisky release is in fact a ‘malted rye’. Let’s take a moment to unpack that –

This whisky is not a single malt, unlike the bulk of Aussie drops across the rest of the country (with the exception of Western Australia, where corn whisky has a foothold), but is instead a majority rye, with a small percentage of malted barley. While barley is almost always malted prior to use (exception: Ireland), it is less common to do so with rye.

Rye is difficult enough to work with at the best of times, creating a thick, gluggy mash, so using the malted version is akin to trying to eat an entire box of Weetbix with only a small jug of milk. For the distillers though, it is worth it, as the finished product is full of exciting flavours, some unique to the Australian whisky scene.

The Archie Rose Rye Malt Whisky is an absolute revelation on the nose. Flavours of moss and eucalypt stand against lemon and floral notes, reminding the taster of a walk through the Blue Mountains in October. Hints of cinnamon, strawberries and cream complete this intriguing aroma. For those whose introduction to Australian rye whisky was Belgrove, it is immediately clear that this is not the same beast; while the same earthiness is detectable, this is a rounder, thicker and potentially more accessible spirit.

The palate is where it gets truly exciting. Thick gooey caramel notes accompany ginger and zesty citrus, while the typical rye spice lingers beneath. It is so full of varied flavours that it is hard to believe it has spent its maturation in virgin American Oak (interestingly, their website will tell you exactly which barrels have gone into this batch). The finish is gentle with hints of butterscotch and oranges, a reflection of the perfectly balanced 46% bottling strength.

The most scary and exciting part of this entire dram is the fact that it is the result of a Solera process, hence being titled ‘Batch 3’. This means that the flavours we are sampling here are still being refined, building on the older spirit still contained within the solera vat. While this is a delicious and easy drinking dram, its flavours won’t please everyone, particularly those with a predilection for malt whisky. However, one sip and you just can’t stop yourself thinking that you are tasting a glimpse of the future.

★★★

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 17

This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where we discuss our rating system and which whiskies deserve five stars… and which deserve one;
– The Whisky, where we taste a Talisker released as part of the Game of Thrones range;
– Mystery Whisky, where Nick springs the Corowa Characters wine cask upon Ted; and
– Whisky Would You Rather, where we discuss the merits of Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Checkout the Feedspot Top Whisky Podcast Rankings here: https://blog.feedspot.com/whiskey_podcasts/

Heartwood: striving for consistency

Posted by: Nick

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Heartwood, Australia’s most famous independent bottler, is striving for consistency. However, with new-make spirit arriving from different distilleries, a varied range of barrel types and never-to-be-repeated combinations of spirits, how on earth can it be considered consistent? Simple. Heartwood is not striving for consistency of flavour – it is striving for consistency of quality.

Heartwood is the creation of the Tasmanian whisky industry’s very own mad scientist: Tim Duckett. Tim has produced his remarkable whisky alongside his day job as an environmental consultant, deciding to dip his toe into the infant Tasmanian whisky scene after meeting Bill Lark in the late nineties. He purchased his first barrel of Lark spirit in 1999, but cannily didn’t rush it out the door before it was ready. The first bottling, Mt Wellington, was released in 2012 and things escalated rather quickly from there.

While there are other independent bottlers in Australia, including TIB, Tim’s other project, there is nothing on earth quite like Heartwood. Regularly bottled at unheard of ABVs, some of which nudge the mid 70% range, each release is limited to several hundred bottles, meaning it sells like hotcakes and has developed somewhat of a cult following.

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We visited Tim at Heartwood’s Blackmans Bay bond store where he gave us a peek behind the curtain at the type of flavour profile he values: that which pleases the palate – specifically his palate. Tim seeks to create whiskies which are thick, flavourful and with a finish as long as any whisky on the planet. How does he do this? By pairing good quality spirit with good quality barrels.

It sounds simple, but it is actually far from it; consistently creating high quality whisky is not just the passive process of sticking spirit into barrels and waiting. Tim employs all manner of tricks to get the most out of his whisky, as we found out during our visit. These include intricate blending, either whole casks or simply a few litres here or there, deciding when the oak influence is done and decanting it into vats before beating it with a paddle to drive off volatiles, as well as moving spirit into a warm office to “syrup up”.

When we visited Heartwood HQ the north-facing wall had a number of nearly-ready casks sitting up against it, which Tim explained was the “finishing wall”. He also confessed that he refuses to reuse casks 100 litres or larger unless they have been repurposed with Heartwood witchcraft, and even then, he will only use peated spirit in them… and this is just the tip of the iceberg of strategies Tim uses to create some of the most impressive and sought-after whisky Tasmania has to offer.

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Of course, it helps when there is no agenda to meet; no shareholders to appease. Despite its fame, Heartwood is small-scale, a project born out of passion. Therefore, the whisky is released only when it’s truly ready and never to meet a specific profile or timeframe. Age is somewhat irrelevant in Tasmania anyway, with our varied weather conditions and small barrels. Tim claims that the age of 20 litre casks should be measured in seasons, not years, as the Australian summer will age a whisky faster than autumn, winter and spring combined.

During our visit we were lucky to try a few impressive Heartwood and TIB drams which were nearing completion, including spirit distilled at Redlands, Adams and a ‘Renowned New South Wales Distillery’. Most spectacularly, however, we were able to sample the first Heartwood/Belgrove collaboration (which at the date of publication has just been released – and sold out within hours). The ‘Heartgrove’ was a clash of the titans: a coming together of earthy, almost smoky rye notes with a thick fruit layer from the muscat and sherry casks it had been matured in. It was a wild beast, but Tim had tamed it, creating an intriguing rye that went down almost too easily for a 55% drop. If pressed we would have probably claimed it as our favourite, though it certainly faced some stiff competition.

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Fascinatingly, none of the drams we tried tasted the same; they weren’t even in the same ballpark. The only thing that linked them was the fact that each one was delicious. As Tim told us, Heartwood has never claimed to produce a consistent flavour profile. Instead he focuses on producing consistently great whisky – and so far he’s achieved it every time.

Heartwood is not only unique among Tasmanian whisky producers: there is nothing on the entire planet quite like it. By refusing to release anything below his expected standard, Tim has ensured a whisky-legacy that will live on even when the last of the Heartwood barrels is empty.

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 14

This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where we talk about tasting notes: helpful, or simply bollocks?
– The Whisky, where we enthuse about a peaty Kilchoman matured in red wine casks;
– From the Spirit Sack, where we try and figure out just how many distilleries there are in Tasmania; and
– Smash, Session or Savour, where three 12 year old sherry bombs face off

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 13

For those following the podcast feed lately you will have noticed all the old episodes appearing on the feed – but now we’re up to date and it’s time to release a brand new show! Have a listen and let us know your thoughts on social media or in the comments!

This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where an old bottle of bottom shelf makes the Wafflers wonder if they may be snobbier about whisky than they thought;
– The whisky, where the boys confront what was, for a brief time, the peatiest whisky on earth;
– Mystery Whisky, where Ted effectively cheats by bringing a bottle which is not made from barley, corn or rye; and
– Whisky Would You Rather, where the cream of the Tasmanian crop goes head to head