waffle

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

What you could buy for the price of the record-breaking Macallan

Posted by: Nick

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It’s official: we have a new most expensive whisky in the world. A bottle of Macallan (who else) has just sold for 1.5 million pounds! That’s 2.8 million Australian dollars! The bottle in question, the Macallan ‘Fine and Rare 60 Year Old’ sold to an anonymous buyer (wise) at the auction house Sotheby’s.

Now, I thought about sticking in a bid for the bottle to get a review up on Whisky Waffle (mainly just to annoy collectors by actually opening it) but quickly realised my meagre collection of fivers in the jar labelled ‘drinking money’ wasn’t quite going to cut it. So I thought I’d change the article around a little and come up with a list of some alternative purchases you could make with the money required for just one bottle…

47 bottles of G&M Mortlach 75 Year Old

70 bottles of Glenfiddich 50 Year Old

282 bottles of Hibiki 30 Year Old

805 bottles of Pappy Van Winkles 23 Year Old

2015 bottles of Glenfarclas 40 Year Old

2566 bottles of Sullivans Cove French Oak Cask

2822 bottles of Ardbeg Alligator or 1st/2nd release Supernova

5651 bottles of Laphroaig 25 Year Old

15, 755 bottles of Laphroaig Lore

23, 501 bottles of Lagavulin 16 Year Old

31, 344 bottles of Balvenie 12 Year Old Double Wood

41, 472 bottles of 1.25 Litre Famous Grouse

51, 378 bottles of Glenlivet Founders Reserve

58, 752 bottles of Glenlivet 12 Year Old in 2015

74, 214 bottles of Johnnie Walker Red Label

94, 035 bottles of Ballantine’s (so called) Finest

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5 Ferrari 488 GTB Coupes

16 BMW M4 Coupes

80 Mazda MX5s

132 Toyota Corollas

9 Robinson R-22 Helicopters

1128 English Bulldogs

15, 234 pairs of Ray Bans

2043 return flights from Melbourne to London

10 consecutive years staying at the Hilton in Sydney

This beachfront house in Queensland

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A personally signed photograph of Whisky Waffle (it’s a really good one, with squiggly signatures and all!)

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What do you think Wafflers? Is the price tag worth it or would you spend your money elsewhere? What is the best whisky deal on the list? Let us know in the comments!

White Label: contract to distil

Posted by: Nick and Ted

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With bottle prices soaring and demand never higher, surely it’s time for you – yes you! – to get into the Tasmanian whisky production scene. But hold your horses for a moment son, start up costs for a distillery are astronomical: you’ll need to splash a few hundred grand on stills and equipment, enter into ridiculously expensive rental agreements on a warehouse and only then you can start thinking about the rising cost of ex-fortified wine barrels. Suddenly a spot of homebrew is looking like a far the better option – or perhaps a hobby-shift into bee-keeping.

If only there was a business out there specifically set up to help you produce your own whisky, managing the hands-on aspects while you focus on creating your own unique flavour profile…

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Enter White Label, Tasmania’s first contract whisky distillery. It has been specifically set up to provide businesses and start-ups with the opportunity to get distilling without bankrupting themselves trying to manage the setup costs. While many other distilleries may offer contract distilling opportunities, White Label is the only one to specialise in it. As there will never be a ‘White Label’ whisky (Dewars have already claimed that one), there is not an on-shelf brand to build; the focus will be solely on the needs of the client.

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The man at the helm is Anthony ‘Sags’ White, a former farmer from Bothwell who cut his distilling teeth at Nant Distillery when the Tasmanian industry was just getting into its stride. While he is happy to cater to his customers’ needs, he is also passionate about making a good product and figuring out each step of the process, claiming “the whole basis of my life is to try to work out why and how things happen and then improve them. I love fixing shit that breaks.”

White Label has created their own house-style of new make spirit, available to customers less interested in the technical factors in brewing and distilling, although clients will also be allowed to put their own spin on things. For example, regular customer Spirit Thief elects to use a different yeast in the fermentation process which results in a subtly different wash, a slightly different feints cut and a very different new make spirit – and both versions are delicious!

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The house style is crisp and light with a dash of citrus and perfect for taking on the characters of most cask types, whereas the Spirit Thief is heavier and oilier and ideal for soaking up the flavours of the wine barrels commonly used by the brand.

While Anthony is in charge of the spirit production, he hands over to Jane and Mark Sawford for barrel sourcing from Australia’s best cooperages. They are able to offer everything from traditional ex-bourbon and sherry through to as-yet-untried wine barrels such as Grenache or Mataro. The team will work with the client to source the barrels that will best match the desired flavour profile for the final product. White Label also offers space in their bond stores where they will look after the maturing spirit.

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Consultation is a very important part of the whole process general. White Label will try as much as possible to ensure that the product meets the specifications requested while ensuring that the end product will be of the best quality, which they will work through with the client. While White Label will shoulder most of the heavy lifting on the production side of things, the client will have most of the responsibility for things like barrel selection, maturation lengths, branding and marketing. To enable the best chance of success, mentorship from leading industry figures such as Casey Overeem is provided to help overcome the pitfalls and challenges in creating a successful Tasmanian whisky brand.

While Anthony isn’t prepared to compromise the high-quality of his new-make spirit by sticking peated malt or juniper berries into his stills, if there is enough interest and demand White Label is fully prepared to look at future expansion to allow projects that go down a smoky or gin-based route.

So don’t be put off, fellow whisky lovers – the ability to create a single malt whisky is no longer restricted to those who possess their own stills and distilling licence. Whether it’s a chance to start your own brand without breaking the bank or as a speciality gift for high-end businesses, White Label offers an opportunity unique in the local whisky industry. Start your whisky journey with White Label today…

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Signatory Vintage Tormore 1995

Reviewed by: Nick

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So, you’ve tried a single malt from every Scottish distillery you can get your grubby little mitts on and are now feeling slightly deflated and wondering what to do next? Good news, the answer is at hand: you can find some independent releases and go around again!

Independent bottlings are a wonderful x-factor in the whisky world – they amuse whisky nerds and confuse whisky noobs in equal measure – from a dusty old ‘Douglas Laing’ bottle right through to some ‘That Boutique-y Whisky Company’ with a comical and yet fitting label. Additionally, they also provide an opportunity to access some of the whisky made at lesser known distilleries; in this instance: Tormore.

Tormore is a vast monolithic-looking distillery a kilometre south of the river Spey, and is known mostly for providing spirit for Chivas-related blends. It was one of the very few distilleries built in the mid-20th century and is tricky to find iterations of outside of duty free. Unless, of course, it’s been independently bottled!

My particular independent bottler is Signatory Vintage, which I know next-to-nothing about – and freely confuse its logo with a bottle of Springbank. It would certainly fail to stand out on a shelf in a bar, which is why I think I have unearthed a bit of a hidden gem.

Stats! Something every whisky nerd can’t live without (no wonder we haven’t handled the transition to NAS releases particularly well)! This bottle of Tormore sat in ex-bourbon hogsheads between 1995 and 2016, making it 20 years old and is a marriage of cask 3907 and 3908. My particular bottle is number 394 and sits at a gentle 43%. And it’s rather tasty.

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The nose is oozing with sweet caramel alongside barley sugar and stewed figs. It subtly hints at oak, along citrus and melon notes. The palate is as surprising as it is delicious, full of tropical fruit characteristics. Banana stands out the most, as well as creamy vanilla and chopped nuts – it’s basically a banana split in whisky form! The finish is medium in length and gently earthy – not smoky but at least slightly cured – while vanilla custard flavours delicately linger.

This is a lovely little drop; one that perfectly accompanied the Tasmanian summer and BBQs that ensued and if it were not for an independent bottler setting aside a cask here or there, it’s not one many of us would be able to enjoy. So, if you’ve been holding back and sticking to the distillery’s own releases – well, maybe it’s time to give something independent a try.

★★★★

Ironhouse Release Tasman Whisky

Posted by: Ted

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With Tasmanian Whisky Week just around the corner, it is only fitting that another distillery has joined that ever-growing band of Tassie producers offering mature whisky to the people. East Coast outfit Ironhouse Brewery & Distillery recently launched into the scene with the first release of their ‘Tasman Whisky’ label.

Better known (currently) for their Ironhouse beer range, the brewery and distillery (brewstillery?) is located at White Sands Estate, just north of Bicheno. Brainchild of head brewer and distiller Michael “Briggsy” Briggs, the distillery came into existence as a way to utilise excess wash generated by the brewery. According to Briggsy “we had a plan to sell our excess wash to whisky producers, but we hit a load of roadblocks along the way, so in the end we said ‘bugger it, we’ll just make our own!'”

Whisky Waffle IH Launch Briggsy

Whisky Waffle recently had the chance to sample the fruits of that decision at the North West leg of the official launch series, luckily held in our hometown of Burnie. Burnie might seem an odd place to host a whisky launch for an East Coast outfit, but this is Tasmania, and there is always a local connection to be found.

Craig ‘Spilsy’ Spilsbury, Ironhouse Brand Ambassador and Briggsy’s right-hand man, grew up in Burnie and was excited to be able bring his new baby back to his old stomping grounds. “I got most of the scars on my head working at the Beach Hotel in Burnie back in the 80’s,” he quipped to the crowd assembled upstairs at the historic APPM paper mill building at South Beach. The venue was fitting in the context of local connections, as Briggsy revealed that his in-laws had met at the paper mill, while both fathers of the Whisky Waffle lads were employed there in the past too (and no doubt a good chunk of the audience could claim similar connections).

Whisky Waffle IH Launch crowd

Our hosts were keen not to waffle on too long though (good thing we weren’t hosting) and instead let the whisky speak for itself. Briggsy revealed that the decision to brand the spirit as ‘Tasman Whisky’ rather than Ironhouse came from the intimate connection they share with the Tasman Sea, which provides the spectacular coastal setting for the brewstillery.

The Tasman Whisky first release consists of three different vatted cask expressions: bourbon, sherry and port, all bottled at roughly 47% ABV. We agreed that the bourbon cask, a light, sweet drop with a bit of a spearmint/menthol prickle, was quite Scottish in nature, with hints of its American heritage popping through occasionally.

The quirky sherry cask would have been at home in a sweet shop, sporting a fruit, malt and dark Lindt chocolate nose (milkshakes anyone?) and a fruity mouth reminiscent of red snakes and wine jelly. The winner for us, and most others too when a vote was held at the end, was the port cask. Much more classically Tasmanian in nature, the port was robust and spicy with fat fruity jam notes across the palate.

Not only does the Tasman Whisky range taste good, but it also looks good, thanks to the use of some rather *ahem* novel packaging. The box has been designed to look like a book, complete with first page, and will make an elegant addition to any collection. A rightfully smug Briggsy informed us that “it’s all about the story, about where we came from, hence the packaging looking like a book.” Spilsy chipped in with a useful bit of advice, noting that “it’s also useful for sneaking it past the trouble & strife”.

The evening concluded in a somewhat dramatic fashion, with Whisky Waffle’s own Ted trying to execute a dance move, in memory of attending a paper mill dance at the venue with his dad when he was 5, and instead managing to do a pretty comprehensive job of breaking his leg. Luckily the Tasman Whisky proved to be an excellent source of pain relief and kept spirits buoyed as the hours spent in the emergency department wore on.

For those looking to use Tasman Whisky recreationally rather than medicinally, bottles will begin to be released to the public in the next few weeks. Briggsy and Spilsy have always intended their whisky to drunk by humans rather than hidden away within the glass cabinets of collectors, and the price is therefore thankfully within reach of we regular people.

Tasmania’s whisky history is becoming richer and more storied with every passing year. It is with great pleasure that we officially welcome Tasman Whisky: the start of a brand-new chapter.

The North Unites for Tasmanian Whisky Week

Posted by: Nick and Ted

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The South of Tasmania has traditionally been the heartland of its whisky industry. Lark. Overeem. Sullivans Cove. Redlands Old Kempton (and more). Big names that have dominated the stage since the early days.

In comparison, the north of the state has been something of a wasteland whisky-wise, with Hellyers Road the sole torch-bearer for far too many years. But no more! In 2019 the North is fighting back and has assembled a heroic band of new distilleries, each armed with a grain-based spirit that has spent at least two years in a barrel!

Launceston Distillery, Adams Distillery, Fannys Bay Distillery, Corra Linn Distillery, Ironhouse Distillery and of course Hellyers Road Distillery have whisky and they’re not afraid to drink it. And they want you to have a dram too!

These Northern warriors will join forces, alongside new-kid-on-the-block Turners Stillhouse, on Tuesday 13th of August as part of Tasmanian Whisky Week festivities. The event will be held at Cataract on Paterson in Launceston, commencing at 6:30pm.

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The evening will feature tastings from each distillery, probably the first time in history that such a range of whisky produced north of Campbell Town will be on offer at one event, with each dram presented by the team that created it. The ticket price includes a superb menu of canapés designed by the venue featuring fine local Tasmanian produce. The evening will be hosted by yours truly, the Whisky Waffle boys, so we’d love to see a big turn-out of fellow Wafflers!

Tickets are $80 and can be purchased at https://taswhiskyweek.com/eventbrite-event/northern-night/ Yes, we know it’s a Tuesday night and you probably have to get up for work the next day, but gosh darn it, this is an opportunity that cannot be missed!

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What: Northern Night

Where: Cataract on Paterson, Launceston

When: Tuesday 13th August @ 6.30pm

Cost: $80 (a bargain for 6 rare Northern Tassie drams plus canapés and great company!)

Why: Because you’d like to be part of a historical night!

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 11

We’re back with another semi-drunken rambling… I mean podcast!

This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where we discuss gear! That is, distillation gear!
– The whisky, where we look at a fancy blend which we don’t know how to pronounce; and
– Mystery Whisky where Ted guesses every location except for the one the whisky is actually from!

 

On killing bottles

Posted by: Ted

There’s a bottle I need to kill. Actually, there’s a number of them, but this particular one is an old bottle of Dalwhinnie 15. It’s been sitting around on the shelf with about a good dram’s worth left in the bottom for at least a couple of years now. I have a suspicion this may turn out to be a problem.

Killin’ me slowly with his dram…

People tend to think of whisky as being very durable. When it’s aging in the barrel all sorts of funky interactions are happening of course, but stick it in glass, that delightfully chemically stable substance, and it’ll stay unchanged forever. Maybe… although that theory does seem to have been challenged recently by the number of very old, rare whiskies that have been tested and found to have somehow magically changed themselves into much, much younger, inferior whisky that is most definitely not (‘we are so sorry to have to break this news to you sir’) that phenomenally expensive 1880’s Ardbeg you bought as a sure-fire investment. Hmm, quite.

Getting back to the point though, nearly-empty bottles left to their own devices just never seem to taste as good (or at least not the same). The flavours are diminished and changed somehow. Oxidation, causing changes to the molecules through increased oxygen interaction, gets bandied around a bit, but sources on the repository-of-all-knowledge indicate that this may not actually play as much of a role as I previously thought. Another theory that I quite like is that because alcohol and other molecules in the whisky are volatile, evaporation and dissipation occurs every time the whisky is poured, meaning some of the flavours are lost and the balance of components is changed (a more detailed explanation here care of the excellently anorak-y Whisky Science blog).

That being the case, why don’t we just finish of all those damn dregs and move on to pastures new? The thing is, psychologically it can be quite hard to bring yourself to kill the bottle. Back when it was full, we splashed the contents around with great abandon, sharing it generously with friends and pouring stoaters without care. Once the level drops below the plimsol line though, you start to think ‘gosh, that’s getting low. Better go easy… maybe I’ll save it for a special occasion’. It can be even worse when you’re a somewhat slack whisky writer: ‘Oh man, I should really get around to reviewing this. Sometime. Hmm, I better leave some in there… I’ll definitely get around to it soon’.

To kill or not to kill…

Sentiment plays a part in prolonging the life of a bottle as well. The attachment of a particular memory to a particular bottle means that we can cling even harder to the remains, fighting against our natural urges as top predator in the whisky food web. For example, I bought that bottle of Dalwhinnie as a present for my dad over six years ago. When he died in 2013, I inherited it. The stupid thing in this case is that there isn’t any particular sentimental value attached to it. It wasn’t his favourite whisky, we didn’t spend a magical night bonding over it, or a wild night getting shit-faced on it.

Yet for some reason I haven’t been able to force myself to do the dirty deed and finish it off. It just sits there gathering dust and, stupidly on my part, potentially diminishing in quality and strength. Look, if I’m forced to dig deep for an honest reason for my reticence, I think I’ve just been using the tenuous sentimental value to put off having to write a review about it. Which come to think of it, is definitely the reason that I’ve been hoarding the last slick of my Nikka Yoichi 15 for too many years. Ugh, motivation, why are you such an indolent mistress?

Pity it’s not a full bottle these days…

Perhaps it’s just an excuse to keep buying new bottles?

So what is the point of this rambling musing? I think we need to be brave, to step up to the crease and face down that last dram before it’s too late. Sometime you’ve got to kill the things you love. It’s the kindest thing to do.

Just, some other time maybe…