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Scotland 2018: The Ultimate Whisky Adventure Part Two

Posted by: Nick

In July 2018 I realised the ultimate Waffler’s dream and spent nine days travelling whisky’s motherland. I did not waste a moment.

9 days: 20 distilleries.

Fiddlers WW

PART TWO: Highlands and Islands

Whoever said that Scotland is freezing, windswept and rain-lashed has obviously never been to Speyside in the summertime. I was a little sad to leave what was clearly a sunny paradise and head further north, so decided it was not possible to get too much of a good thing and called into two more distilleries on my way out – and boy, these two could not be more different.

Macallan have recently opened a new visitor centre in the heart of Speyside – and it is an architectural masterpiece. The walls were all glass, revealing vistas of the distillery beyond or encasing infamously rare and valuable bottles. All this was sealed beneath a dramatically curved green roof (although in the height of summer it was more of a… well… brown roof). The whole complex was breathtaking – and yet I didn’t like it. Not one bit. It lacked the soul and warmth I love about Scottish distilleries. It was stunning but cold; glamorous but unwelcoming.

Macallan Wall WW

The complete opposite was the case at my final Speyside stop: Glen Moray. While the buildings themselves were nowhere near as spectacular as what I’d just seen at Macallan, the staff (master-distillers wife Fay, champion drinks pourer Kier, and tour guide extraordinaire Caitlyn) were among the nicest and most welcoming in the whole of Scotland. And the whisky? Wow! If you considered the Glen Moray range to be cheap and cheerful, then a visit to the distillery would reveal a few stunners that have been left a little longer in barrels. A personal favourite was the 1988 port cask matured, however the 1998 PX cask was also exceptional. I’ve always had a soft spot for Glen Moray – and this visit just made it softer.

Glen Moray paddle WW

Just as I thought my Speyside journey had come to an end I spotted a sign for Benromach and duly turned off the main road. Though I had not booked a tour the kind staff showed me around and let me try some of the varied wares.

Sadly, though, this was all I could squeeze into my Speyside trip; it was time to travel to the opposite side of the country. A trip to Scotland would not be complete without the compulsory failure to spot Nessie on the shores of a certain Loch, so I called into Drumnadrochit on my way to the west coast. While there was no monster to be seen, I was able to stumble upon a Whisky Waffle favourite whisky bar: Fiddlers. While there I sampled some local drams: a 25 Year Old Tomatin (business class whisky – you can taste the extra legroom), an Edradour matured in ex-Port Ellen casks (who could resist such an intriguing combo?) and finally a Balblair so dark is could have been black (so sherried it was almost undrinkable – naturally I loved it).

Black Balbalir WW

No filter. That really is the colour.

Before leaving Fiddlers, owner Jon Beach arrived and called me over for a chat – whilst pouring me a dram of Port Ellen as casual as can be. Seriously, this bar – cannot recommend highly enough.

Jon Tweet WW

While the west highlands of Scotland are absolutely stunning, there is one region of the country which is even more spectacular: the Isle of Skye. And this island is home to Talisker Distillery – a Whisky Waffle favourite from our early days of whisky tasting. On my only previous visit to Scotland, I was prevented from visiting Talisker by a freak hiking accident (no whisky was involved) so I was in no way going to miss out this time around. My guide, David, was not only a whisky fan, but also a chef and shared his Talisker BBQ sauce recipe with us while we had a dram of the Amarosso finished Distillers Edition. It was a tasty drop – certainly a step us from the Talisker NAS releases and even pipped the 10 Year Old. I was also able to revisit an old favourite and get my palate roasted by the winter warmer that is the 57 Degrees North.

Talisker WW

Upon leaving the Isle of Skye I had a long drive ahead of me. And yet I couldn’t resist making it even longer by stopping into a beautiful town along the way – and it just happened to contain a distillery!

The town was Oban and I slotted onto a lunchtime tour to check out yet another stillroom. What struck me about Oban was its size – or lack thereof. Of course, it’s miles ahead of the Tassie distilleries I’m used to seeing, but compared to the rest of the Scottish establishments it was rather quaint. This is demonstrated in their cask usage – Oban are the masters of the refill cask – everything they use has been already used by one of Diageo’s other distilleries to mature whisky in for ten or more years. When it gets to Oban it is re-charred, repurposed and ready to go. This is partly why a whisky 14 years old was for so long this distillery’s staple – and partly why the Little Bay is pretty light on for flavour. The real x-factor for Oban is its coastal location imparting a delicate salty layer upon each bottle in their range.

Oban WW

The cherry on the top of my visit was one final dram – from under the bar came an unmarked bottle containing promisingly dark liquid. I was sure it had been aged for longer than most Oban whiskies – and sure enough, it was a 20 year old: straight from the cask. I was assured by the friendly Oban staff it would be unlike anything I’d tried so far on my trip – and they were right, it was absolutely phenomenal. Sadly, though, after concluding this warming and delicious tasting I had to leave Oban in a hurry. You see, I had a ferry to catch…

z Ferry WW

I wonder where this could be going….

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Overeem Red Wine Cask Matured

Reviewed by: Nick

Overeem Red WW

Just when you think you know someone… they go and do this!

I love Overeem. It’s one of my favourite Tassie drops and one I would recommend to anyone trying Tasmanian whisky for the first time (especially the cask strength port cask – phwoar!). The thing is you see, over the years (and multiple tastings) I had come to know what to expect from each Overeem release: a hit of spice and oranges followed by oozing caramel – basically, whisky deliciousness. So upon discovering barrel OHD100 – Old Hobart Distillery’s hundredth cask filled – was fully matured in red wine casks, I expected a grapey take on a familiar flavour. And I could not have been more wrong.

“What is going on here?” I do believe I remarked to m’colleague Ted as I brought this within range of my nostrils. It was a big meaty nose with strawberries and cherries taking centre stage alongside leafy, forresty notes. My best description is simply: intriguing.

And the palate? Well it’s definitely a wine cask. I’m up and down with such maturation and this bottle showcases the good with the bad. It brings to mind mulled wine with oodles of cinnamon and orange notes but competing for space in the mix are sour vinegary elements. And it’s dry – man it’s dry! Oaky oaky tannins leave you with the impression you’ve been sucking on the armrest of an old rocking chair. The finish is long and a little sweet with flavours of black current and aniseed.

This whisky is in no way rough – though at the same time it’s not easy to drink. Its time in a little red wine barrel has smoothed off the coarse edges and packed it with flavour, flavour and more flavour. While the flavours may not always go perfectly together – think of a meal of Atlantic salmon, marshmallows and vegemite – it’s a fascinating mix. This is a whisky that needs talking about as much as it needs drinking! And Whisky Waffle are only too happy to oblige…

★★★

Scotland 2018: The Ultimate Whisky Adventure – Part One

Posted by: Nick

In July 2018 I realised the ultimate Waffler’s dream and spent nine days travelling whisky’s motherland. I did not waste a moment.

9 days: 20 distilleries.

PART ONE: Speyside

Signs of Speyside

The world is a big and exciting place full of incredible natural wilderness, mind blowing ancient structures and miraculous modern marvels. However, for a Waffler, there is no greater sight than a smoking pagoda, rising up over a craggy moor. For this view I needed to cross the entire planet, enduring four long flights (and a train ride with no wifi) to finally set foot in the motherland of whisky: Scotland.

So many distilleries, so little time. How could I possibly cover all I wanted to in nine days? The short answer is: I couldn’t – but I could give it my best shot. The first important decision to make was which direction to travel? I finally decided upon: anticlockwise. This catapulted me headfirst into the heart of whisky production in Scotland: Speyside.

While Speyside is known for light, smooth and elegant drams, it is also home to the world’s biggest sherry bombs. And it is with the latter in mind that I begun my journey with a tour booked for a favourite of mine: Glendronach.

Glendronach

I can thoroughly recommend being the only one on a distillery tour – even more so if your guide is the ex-general manager of the distillery. And I was lucky enough to experience exactly that at Glendronach; hearing a range of the best stories from Frank Massie – a wonderful ambassador for the distillery and a top bloke. It summed up my experience perfectly: there’s a lovely touch of the old school about Glendronach. From the big old kiln to the creaky old washbacks to the fact the tasting started with the 18 Year Old… and got better from there! It was a dream come true and did not disappoint.

Nick n Frank

I settled into my accommodation at Speydie’s whisky capital Dufftown, thrilled at the start to my travels and recalling the 25 Year Old cask strength I’d just consumed. It was a quiet night – as the next day was shaping up to be a big one.

Balvenie

It began with the tour of tours: Balvenie Distillery. This experience is widely recognised as a must for Wafflers everywhere and three hours in I could see why. It was the most detailed – and hands on – tour I’ve ever experienced. I risked a dose of monkey shoulder by turning the malting barley and visited the cooperage where a team were working hard to create barrels exactly to Balvenie’s specifications and finish in time for an early Friday knock off. And then I did the the tasting. Wow. How many tours conclude by pouring you a full nip of 30 year old whisky?

Monkey SHoulder

I had no time to dwell on it, however. I was out the door to visit Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Glenfarclas and GlenCraggonmore. There was no time for a tour at these classic establishments but all came with tasty distillery exclusive drams. The highlight was Glenfarclas – not in the least because their stunning tasting room is the converted interior of an old Australian ship. The drams were superb as well – a 2004 distilled bottling which was like a refined version of the 105 and a port finish which was sweet and juicy and almost certainly all gone by the time you read this, sadly.

Glenfiddich

I finished my day by joining a tour at Aberlour Distillery. The tour itself was fairly standard and I was part of a large group of non-whisky drinkers talking over the top of our guide and asking questions about Johnnie Walker (possibly the most whisky-snobbish thing I’ve ever written – but come on… you know how annoying that would be!). The tasting, though, made it all worth it. After first trying a firey new make spirit, we sampled a straight bourbon cask and straight sherry cask Aberlour whisky – both unavailable as regular bottlings. I loved precisely neither of them; they tasted like ingredients – which is exactly what they were. It was when they combined together that the magic occurred. The 16 Year Old and the (brand new) Casg Annamh were both balanced, full bodied, complex and oh so drinkable. The tasting concluded with the A’bunadh – as classic a cask strength sherry bomb as you’ll find anywhere.

Aberlour

The A’bunadh kept me warm as I made it back to Dufftown for my second and final night in Speyside. The seemingly eternal summer sun cast an orange glow over the harvested barley fields and I could truly see: this place is the warm beating heart of Scottish whisky.

The Devil Went Down to Moonah: Devil’s Distillery Releases Hobart Whisky

Posted by: Ted

Strolling past the shabby brick warehouse on the outskirts of central Hobart, glancing briefly at the fading letters on the wall declaring ‘Tasmanian Egg Farms’, you would be forgiven for thinking that it was just another derelict industrial site. However, the warm scent of malt drifting out of the rear loading dock and along the street suggests all may not be as it seems. Spirits lurk inside… Devilry is afoot in Moonah.

I recently had the opportunity to drop by Devil’s Distillery and catch up with manager John Jarvis. We had last met in my home stomping ground of Burnie at an event showcasing their Tasmanian Moonshine Company brand. Mutterings of nearly mature whisky had reached my ears and piqued my curiosity. Now, like a member of Mystery, Inc., I had the chance to enter the Devil’s lair and unmask the truth.

Devil bond

Hungarian origin barrels resting in the Devil’s Distillery bond store

Hidden inside the old warehouse is a burnished copper Knapp-Lewer pot still, a squat stainless Coffey still, some wash tuns made out of re-purposed milk vats and a small trove of casks nestled on brand new yellow pallet racking. Tending to the equipment are minions Ben and Gus. “Sorry about the chaos,” comments John “We’ve been sorting things out and doing some renovation.”
“It was worse when we didn’t have the racking,” chips in Gus “there were pallets of barrels stacked randomly all over the place.”

Devil distillers

John and Gus 

The barrels in question are a combination of 20L, 40L, 100L and 300L casks. Some are sourced from Australia, others interestingly hail from Hungary, but all will be left to rest until the contents have transmuted into whisky. John enjoys experimenting with the different cask types they have amassed, including port, sherry, bourbon, tokay and pinot. “Every release will be different. I’m still learning, but that’s all part of the challenge and it’s good fun being able to sit down and figure out what works best for a particular release.”

Down the far end of the building are some offices with a mezzanine space above. Ascending the stairs we find an angular wooden bar, a long wooden tasting table and handyman hard at work sanding the reclaimed timber floors. Once finished, the mezzanine area will form a private tasting bar for the distillery where guests can come by appointment, relax and try the products on offer. I notice that one patch of the cinder block wall looks different to elsewhere. “Rocky (Caccavo), the owner, decided that he was going to polish the blockwork, so he grabbed a grinder and started going at it,” laughs John “the dust was horrendous though, so I think we might just render it now.”

Devil bar

The new bar on the mezzanine

Looking out over the space, I can see that it is rapidly filling up with barrels and other paraphernalia. “We don’t have any immediate plans for expansion.” Explains John “We’ll need to get some off site bond space obviously, but at the end of the day we’re a small-scale craft distillery. Quality over quantity. It’s a great location though, just a stone’s throw from the city in one direction, and a stone’s throw from MONA in the other.”

We head downstairs to John’s office, where a shiny new bottle of whisky is waiting patiently for our attention on the desk. Devil’s Distillery is releasing its single malt under the label of ‘Hobart Whisky’, which is quite amazing for a relatively new distillery in the now well established Tassie scene. “When we were deciding on names, we were shocked to find that Hobart Whisky was still available for use. We’re really stoked to have it.”

Devil vat

Converted milk vats for the win

The first release is a marriage of five 40l ex-Hill Rock Distillery bourbon casks aged for two years and seven months and bottled at 48.8%abv. The wash used in the release was sourced from local brewery Moo Brew, however future releases will contain wash made in-house at the distillery. When sourcing the casks, the cooper recommended that the staves be left intact without shaving or re-charring, allowing the new-make to fully interact with the original Hill Rock character.

Devil whisky

Hobart Whisky first release

This is evident in the whisky, with the spirit showing a much redder hue than you would necessarily associate with ex-bourbon casking, the white Hobart Whisky label contrasting nicely. On the nose the first release is sweet and creamy, with a bourbon-driven body of vanilla, butterscotch and light, dusty oak, as well as notes of maple, peach and lavender. The mouth is light, beginning with wood shavings, then transitioning to citrus, straw and the acidity of young stone fruit, before finishing with a delicate lingering sweetness.

Excitingly, the first release will make it’s debut during Tasmanian Whisky Week 2018, with the first public bottles available for purchase for $195. Most of the 430 bottle run will go directly to bars, so whisky fiends keen on securing one are advised to get in quick. As we wander out, John is excited for the future and how people will react to the whisky. “Everyone who has tried it has been really positive so far; the feedback has been encouraging.”

Devil blogger

The author meeting the Devil’s own Distiller

I came away feeling satisfied that I had unmasked the Moonah Devil as a young whisky of high quality and a promising future. Hopefully over time Hobart Whisky will grow into its name and become a flagship for the southern capital of whisky. John’s parting comment was encouraging in that respect: “At the end of the day I just want to be able to focus my attention on the whisky and make sure that everything we make is top notch.”

As they say, the devil is in the detail.

Limited bottles will be available for purchase during Tasmanian Whisky Week (13-19th August) at the Liquid Gold event on Thursday evening, Saturday afternoon at the Spirit Showcase and Sunday morning at the Farmgate Market.

Hobart Whisky 1st Release 48.8%:

***

Tasmanian Whisky Week 2018

Posted by: Ted

 

TWW2018

 

Good news wafflers, Tasmanian Whisky Week is returning once again in 2018 with a jam packed lineup of fantastic whisky related events! As the industry expands, so does the scope for celebrating the achievements of this home-grown success story. From the seed planted by Bill Lark’s epiphany-on-the-lake in the 90’s, the Tassie scene has blossomed ever since, with over 20 distilleries, as well as several independent bottlers, now in operation.

The 2018 edition of Tasmanian Whisky Week runs from Monday the 13th to Sunday the 19th of August. During the week, whisky fanatics and novices alike will have the chance to attend nearly 20 events all over the state (although thanks to high demand some of these are now sold out). Some highlights of the week include:

MarkDrink

Northern NightEnjoy a night in the North with Adam’s Distillery, Corra Linn Distillery, Fanny’s Bay Distillery, Launceston Distillery and Ironhouse Distillery as they share their journeys and their whiskies at Saint John’s Craft Beer Bar.
Midlands MasterclassMeet the makers from the midlands! Enjoy a night of tastings from Belgrove Distillery, Old Kempton Distillery, Shene Estate and Nant Distillery in the beautiful sandstone surroundings of The Den in Salamanca.‘ (Sold out)
Liquid Gold at Gold BarIndulge in the liquid gold of Lark Distillery, Spring Bay Distillery, McHenry Distillery and Devil’s Distillery under the lights of the Gold Bar atrium.‘ (Sold out)
Tasmanian Spirits ShowcaseThe … Showcase brings together 20 Tasmanian craft distilleries for tastings, food, entertainment, and coopering demonstrations from Tasmanian Cask Company! The perfect event for fans of all and any spirits, this is not just a whisky-lovers showcase.
New Make NightThe Tasmanian Spirits Showcase brings together 20 Tasmanian craft distilleries for tastings, food, entertainment, and coopering demonstrations from Tasmanian Cask Company! The perfect event for fans of all and any spirits, this is not just a whisky-lovers showcase.
Founders NightSpend an evening with the founding distilleries of the Tasmanian Whisky Industry, and hear stories and experiences from the founding fathers themselves, … savouring whiskies from Lark Distillery, Overeem Distillery, Sullivans Cove Distillery and Hellyers Road Distillery.‘ (Sold out)

Whisky Waffle will be getting into the spirit (ahem) of the week by showcasing a few of the newer distilleries that have recently celebrated their first releases (including one that is making its debut during Whisky Week!), so keep an eye out on the blog.

LarkBarrels

Head over to the Tas Whisky Week website to get all the details of all the events and participants and make sure you find some time this week to celebrate one of the finest whisky industries in the world. Even if you can’t make it along due to geographical distance or lack of time, make sure you raise a glass of fine southern single malt and give a hearty toast to Tasmanian whisky!

Visit https://taswhiskyweek.com/

Whisky Waffle go on holiday

Posted by: Nick

Nick packs

You can’t help but smile when articles on (sometimes) serious whisky blogs have titles which sound like Famous Five novels. But the headline does succinctly sum up what’s going to happening across the next month or so.

The holiday has already begun for m’colleague Ted who is off in South America, checking out the Amazon, walking the Inca trail and saying hi to the wildlife on the Galapagos Islands.

Ted and a Fish

While tomorrow, I am off on an equally exciting holiday – and one that may be of interest to you, my fellow Wafflers. I’m going to be spending six weeks travelling through Europe – including nearly a fortnight visiting The Motherland. That’s right, people: I’m going to Scotland!

While I’m there I will be filling my days with multiple distillery visits, including but not limited to: Balvenie, Glendronach, Aberlour, Glenfarclas, Glen Moray, Talisker, Oban, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Kilchoman, Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg. Naturally my reactions to all visits will be revealed on the blog in due course, though possibly after I’ve returned home. However, if you keep an eye on a social media pages – in particular Instagram – then you’ll get a taste of what I’m up to. Just not literally, sadly.

Anyway loyal Wafflers, thanks for your support over the years. We’ll be a bit quiet on the blog for a while but will return as strongly (and as sloshed) as ever in August.

Keep on waffling,

Nick and Ted

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!”

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!