waffles

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!

 

Advertisements

Scotland 2018: The Ultimate Whisky Adventure – Part Four

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 FOUR: Islay – the east and the north

WW 0 still

If I were to be completely honest with myself, I would admit that three of my top five distilleries in Scotland are just outside of Port Ellen. If I were to be even more completely honest then I would revise that to three of top three. And these three, the holy trinity of Islay, were to be my destination on my final full day in Scotland. As all three were within a short walk of one another I coined this day as ‘the world’s greatest pub crawl’. The only question was, where to start? Due to a combination of tour times and proximity to my accommodation (a three-minute walk, no less) I began my epic day at Laphroaig.

WW 1 Lap

The tour was in-depth and the tastings phenomenal – three barrels were lined up ready to be valinched into our glasses – the first a quarter cask on steroids, the next a 14 Year Old bourbon cask, before finally, the pièce de résistance, a 52% 14 Year Old whisky which had spent it’s time equally in bourbon and Amontillado sherry. I was fortunate enough to take home a 200ml bottle of the latter, and my colleague was suitably impressed. I also claimed the rent for my square foot of land and learned to pronounce Cairdeas (hint: think Steve Macqueen).

WW 2 casks

Fifteen minutes up the road was Lagavulin, a crucial distillery in Whisky Waffle history and I wasted no time ensconcing myself in their new tasting centre. While there are not many varied Lagavulin releases on the market, if you find yourself at the distillery then you’ll be treated to a range of rare special editions created for Feis Isle celebrations and Jazz festivals. The pick was the 54% Double Matured Distillery Exclusive. At this point of the day my tasting notes were starting to get creative. I have noted: “like sitting in a cart pulled by a noble steed. Or in a palanquin carried by muscular Persians sweating in the Arabian sun”.

WW 3 Laga

Unbelievably, the best was yet to come. Several things influence one’s enjoyment of a tour: the quality of the distillery (and therefore the whisky), the engagingness of the guide and the friendliness of the people on the tour with you. Well, once in a while the stars line up and you get all three, and that was the case with my Ardbeg ‘tour at two’, commencing, funnily enough, at two o clock. And it was one for the ages. Our guide, wee Emma (apparently there are two Emma’s who work at Ardbeg and we got the smallest – and the best!) was friendly and knowledgeable about peated whisky – an islander through and through. The tour itself was thorough but individualised – it didn’t feel like a re-tread of all that had come before. And the group was amazing. We settled ourselves down in a bond store for some tastings and when the drams started flowing (Grooves, Alligator and any number of single cask releases) we took it in turns to chat about our backgrounds, favourite drams and that first bottle that opened our eyes to whisky. We could have stayed there longer – but a knock on the door to the warehouse by the production boys alerted us to the fact it was 5 o clock and the tour was meant to have finished an hour ago. “Sorrynotsorry” was everyone’s response. It was a magical experience and one I feel truly reflects a wonderful distillery. I can say, hand on heart, it was the best tour of the trip and remains a fond memory in my Waffly heart.

WW 4 Ard

I woke the next day with a heavy heart. Partly because of the number of drams I’d consumed the previous day, but also because it was my final day on this spectacular island. My ferry left at 3pm which gave me just enough time to fill in the gaps I’d left. Despite feeling a little tender I could not resist tasting a few distillery exclusives at Caol Ila. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this giant distillery but what I found was a warm welcome and delicious whisky.

WW 5 CI

My welcome was just as warm at Bunnahabhain, who, despite building work preventing me from touring the distillery, gave me an extensive tasting (which I was able to transfer most of each glass into small bottles – my liver thanked me later) and fantastic conversation. It was one of the friendliest distillery experiences I’d had in the previous eight days and I cannot wait to go back and visit these guys again.

WW 6 Bunna

Then, before I knew it (after a sneaky couple of photos at Ardnahoe), I was back on the ferry and leaving Islay.

WW 8 Ard

I can say with certainty that my visit to Islay had been the pinnacle of my whisky journey. The people, the scenery and the peat gave it the edge, but despite the size of some of the operations it just felt like I was on a tiny whisky-centric island which hadn’t changed much since the first dram had been distilled there. Sitting on a small rise of land across the road from my Airbnb looking out at the view (Port Ellen on one side, Laphroaig distillery on the other) I felt as connected to a place as I ever had. The pun writes itself, but I truly mean it when I say it was a spiritual experience.

WW 7 Bunna

And thus my whisky journey was at an end. Despite Islay’s dominance in my writing, every aspect of the trip was phenomenal. As a whisky fanboy, the range of flavours across one little country inspired me. But the biggest impact was made by the people behind the scenes, making and promoting the drams I loved so much. Their warmth and generosity (and patience with all my questions) was a credit to the industry and made this Waffler very happy multiple times over.

So would I go back? Oh, you bet I would – in a heartbeat. I’d probably stick the anticlockwise trajectory – like the best tastings you’ve got to start with Speyside and end with Islay. I hit up some amazing distilleries and crossed off a few bucket list items, though left a few remaining (I’m looking at you Campbeltown, Orkneys and Edradour). If you’re about to embark on a trip to the motherland I absolutely recommend the anticlockwise direction and all of the establishments I found myself at – though I’m sure there are some wonderful places I missed (if so please let me know!). However, sitting on the train taking me towards Glasgow (Prestwick) airport I was a contented Waffler with a heart full of fulfilled dreams.

Crossroads WW

Read PART ONE here

Read PART TWO here

Read PART THREE here

Complete distillery list:

Glendronach

Balvenie

Glenfiddich

Aberlour

Glenfarclas

Cragganmore

Glenlivet

Macallan

Glen Moray

Benromach

Talisker

Oban

Bowmore

Bruichladdich

Kilchoman

Laphroaig

Lagavulin

Ardbeg

Caol Ila

Bunnahabhain

(Ardnahoe)

Glenlivet Nἁdurra Oloroso

Reviewed by: Nick

Glenlivet Nadurra WW

Speyside: home to smooth, elegant, subtle and well-balanced whiskies. Whiskies that represent the graceful and sophisticated flavours that this Scottish spirit has to offer.

And then there’s this one.

The Glenlivet name their cask strength range ‘Nadurra’, Gaelic for natural. While they have made bourbon-aged versions, the one that is most widely available is matured in first fill Oloroso casks and it has rapidly carved out a niche in the market previously dominated by Aberlour A’bunadh and Glenfarclas 105. This is possibly because The Glenlivet, being a huge distillery even by Scotland’s standards, can put out a good quantity of bottles at a reasonable price. What this means, however, is that the product released is quite young and… um… what’s the opposite of subtle?

If most Speyside drops are a Haydn violin concerto, the Glenlivet Nadurra is the Arctic Monkeys first album. It’s like bringing home to meet your mother that guy with tattoos, piercings and parole conditions.

The nose is probably the most refined aspect of the whisky; grape notes dominate alongside butter, apricots and leather car seats. It smells like it could be a cheap brandy, although having had very few expensive brandys in my life, I suppose it could smell like them, too.

The palate is where you get kicked in the face. The sherry is clearly the biggest factor at play here with rich dark fruits coating your tongue while elements of chocolate fudge, liquorice and oak try in vain to keep up. The finish is long, spicy and full of fire, and contains stewed apple flavours and a bitter piney note.

“So we get that it’s rough,” I hear you cry “but check the label, you berk – it’s freaking 60.3%! Surely a drop of water will fix this?”. I did try, fellow wafflers, I promise – and it actually didn’t help much. It lessened the burn, sure, but it was still heavy and volatile, confirming my suspicions about the youthful nature of the whisky.

Having read all the way through this review, you are probably expecting me to give it a fairly negative score. But, in a shocking Christie-esque twist, I’m actually not. I definitely think there is a place for an angsty teenage whisky on my shelf. It’s doesn’t skimp on flavour, it warms your entire insides, and goes well in a hipflask on a fishing trip (or cricket match if you’re sneaky enough). Although it’s far from being objectively good, there’s something to like about it. It’s a cheeky puppy that is so adorable that you don’t mind when it won’t come when it’s called. Don’t kid yourself that it’s a work of art – just drink it…

…in small doses.

★★★

The bottle I reviewed was part of Batch OLO615

March Madness: The Final Result

Posted by: Nick and Ted

It’s been a wild ride, fellow Wafflers. 64 distilleries began the journey (back when it was actually March) and, like Antony Green, now it’s election night we’re prepared to call it.

On this most auspicious of nights, with the world celebrating not one but three major events, namely the Australian Federal Election, World Whisky Day and Eurovision Finals, we can finally reveal what you, our faithful followers, voted as the number one whisky in the world.

It came down to a clash between two Islay titans, but like Highlander (… Islander?), there can be only one winner. Break out the laurel wreaths, because the winner of the Whisky Waffle March (and April… and May) Madness bracket is:

ARDBEG

Ardbeg Win!

Over 200 years old and one of the Islay big three, Ardbeg is, as it proudly states on the bottle, the maker of the ‘Ultimate Islay Single Malt Whisky’. But in this case, also the world. Ardbeg claims our heart with its character: smoky, peaty and full of fire but also genuine, accessible and unpretentious. They win us around with the dependable 10 Year Old, the mind blowing Corryvreckan and then stick the landing with the glorious Uigeadail – and then bring out something excitingly new every year to please the fanboys!

Did the right distillery win? Too bad if not, you guys voted for it, so it’s your fault if it’s wrong. But let us know your thoughts anyway!

Thanks all who voted. Keep on waffling.

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 9

On the eve of battle, Whisky Waffle prepare for the army of the dead by releasing a podcast!

This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where we discuss Diageo’s new Game of Thrones-themed whiskies
– The whisky, where Ted brings something that may not be whisky, but has a subtitle in its name, which makes up for it
– Mystery Whisky, where Ted springs a surprise bottle and Nick muddles up his latitude by one degree; and
– Smash, Session or Savour, where Nick hurts Ted’s soul

March Madness Semi Finals

Posted by: Nick and Ted

And then there were four. In a matchup of biblical proportions, David came up against Goliath and against all odds, slew the beast.

Round 5 Whisky Waffle March Madness

Click to enlarge

That’s right, the ridiculous strength of the Tasmanian independent titan, Heartwood, was no match in the end for the Speyside pocket-pleaser, Glen Moray. Tim Duckett wasn’t the only Tasmania to fall, with elegant Overeem roundly smashed by indie Islay outfit Bruichladdich. In fact, there’s potential for an all-Islay showdown in the final, with Ardbeg seeing off Glenfiddich’s little sister Balvenie with ease and Laphroaig narrowly fending off the Orkney vikings from Highland Park. First we have to get through the semi-finals though and there’s some tough choices ahead. It really comes down to sweet vs peat – where do you fall in the battle? Cast your votes now at http://www.whiskywaffle.com or on our social media platforms.

March Madness Round 3

Posted by: Nick

The suspiciously April-y March Madness Whisky Waffle bracket powers on into Round 3: the round of 16! Once again we’ve halved the field in a vicious round 2 which saw a number of shock results and big guns fall.

Gone is Australian whisky’s founding member Lark, Australian whisky’s  high-selling Starward and all remaining American and Irish representatives. Possibly the biggest shock of all is the defeat of number 3 seed Lagavulin, knocked out by the dark horse, Glendronach.

Below is the full list of results, including the match ups for Round 3:

Round 3 Whisky Waffle March Madness

Click to enlarge

We now move into the pointy-end of the competition and once again there are some juicy match ups.

In another gut-wrenching all-Australian match up Overeem take on Belgrove, Macallan verse Balvenie in a battle for Speyside supremacy and the last remaining non-Australian or Scottish drop, Paul John, loses to takes on Heartwood. Perhaps the one that kills me the most, however, is my favourite Islay distillery fighting to the death against my favourite mainland distillery: Ardbeg vs Glendronach. Only one can progress to the quarter finals. Who will it be?

YOU DECIDE! Let us know in the comments, on social media or by emailing whiskywaffle@gmail.com

Vote by whatever rules you feel you’d like to live by. Skip any you can’t decide upon and get us your thoughts throughout the week sometime!

Good luck, and may the best dram win!

Taking it slow at Sandy Gray Distillery

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Sandy Gray Logo

Neil Gray and Bob Connor are getting the band back together, but this time instead of sweet 70’s tunes their new gig is turning out some fine Tasmanian whisky. The two guys met in their youth in Launceston through a shared passion for playing the guitar and are now continuing their friendship into retirement by founding Sandy Gray Distillery, currently Tasmania’s smallest distillery (until their new still arrives part way through this year that is).

The distillery takes its name from Neil’s father, Alexander ‘Sandy’ Gray, a Scottish physician who emigrated with his family to Tasmania in the 60’s. It was actually Bob who suggested using the name as Sandy had played an instrumental part in saving his finger, which was injured during a guitar-carpentry incident. After being shrugged off by one doctor and told to come back in a week, Neil asked Sandy to take a look and Bob was immediately referred onto finger-saving surgery. The recovered use of his digit meant that Bob was able to finish making the guitar which, through further good fortune, will one day adorn the distillery wall (if Neil ever gets around to expanding the shed).

Sandy Gray lads

Our two heroes: Bob (left) and Neil

The goal of the two distillers is to make the best whisky that they can on their own terms. Neil and Bob are not driven by profit margins or shareholder demands, they’re just two mates messing about in a shed and taking as long as they damn well please to fill some barrels using their tiny still. It’s all about the joy of the act, rather than any delusions of world domination.

They’ve currently filled four 20L ex-tawny casks, which is quite an impressive feat considering the fact that they have hitherto been working on a teensy 25L still. The barrels are all at various stages of maturity, but the oldest tastes like it is nearly ready, offering a hot, rich, spicy profile at cask strength and developing further caramel and stewed fruit notes when a splash of water is added, with a cheeky dash of elderflower on the finish (or is that sour plums?). It’s an exciting drop and a testament to the care that the boys have taken in crafting their spirit.

Sandy Gray barrel

What sorta wood do this think this is made out of? Answers on the back of a postcard.

The story of Sandy Gray is very Tasmanian, chance meetings and happenings bringing people together – Neil and Bob met at a gig and went from starting bands to starting distilleries, Neil’s dad saved Bob’s finger meaning that he was eventually able to continue building a guitar which was then given to a girlfriend. Years later the same guitar was amazingly rescued from a tip and returned across the state lines to Bob, and will eventually adorn the wall of the distillery. Even this article is the product of sheer random luck – 40 years after playing in a band with Bob, Neil found himself playing a gig with Whisky Waffle’s very own Nick (also, turns out he was at school with Nick’s mum). It’s a small world sometimes, which seems only appropriate for a small Tassie distillery.

Hellyers Road 15 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

hellyers road 15 year old

Since the dawn of Whisky Waffle (way back in the dark ages of 2014) the Tasmanian whisky scene has completely blown up. I don’t mean that Bill Lark dropped a lit cigar in a bond store, I mean that it has taken the world by storm, impressing whisky critics and Jim Murray alike with its creativity, it’s unique flavour and it’s hard-to-buy-ness. The Tassie distilleries have largely achieved this by sticking to the Bill Lark model, using similar stills, grains, yeasts and cuts to those used by the man himself upon returning from his fishing trip. Except, from almost the beginning, there has always been an outlier; one distillery with a flavour profile sticking out like a delicious sore thumb.

That distillery is Hellyers Road from Tasmania’s north west. While many Tassie establishments chase the big broad zesty orange and caramel notes, Hellyers Road has always been about butter and vanilla and shortbread. While this is not necessarily to everyone’s tastes, most will agree it is certainly different and intriguing. And, upon closer investigation, most Hellyers Road critics have only tried the ‘Original before making up their minds and missed out on trying the stellar older releases.

It is one of those aged bottlings to which I turn my attention today, as Hellyers Road has recently released a 15 Year Old. Whisky Waffle have been pre-emptively excited for the release of this one ever since the arrival of the 12, and head distiller Mark Littler agrees, stating he and the Hellyers team are “very proud of what we have achieved”. I grabbed myself a bottle as a Christmas present in the best self-Santa tradition and have finally got a chance to stop and put my thoughts to digital paper.

I’ll start off by saying that it’s the best core-release Hellyers Road have produced. It takes all the good elements of previous Hellyers bottlings and makes them sexier. The nose is alluring, still buttery but with a fat dose of caramel nuttiness oozed over the top like a Belgian dessert. It’s smooth and slinky across the tongue; the vanilla is now accompanied by ginger and nutmeg, while any rougher notes have been ironed out by the extra years in oak. While the Hellyers Road finish has always had a distinct linger – their whisky is normally bottled at 46% or above – this one is subtler and leaves your palate with a Queen of England-style wave of the hand, rather than an energetic high five.

Claiming that the oldest release from a distillery is the best is truly an unoriginal standpoint and there’s a part of me wishing I could say ‘it’s not bad, but will never match the 10 for me’. But I can’t. This is where Hellyers Road is at in 2019 and I suggest you give it a taste before it runs out. That is, until the 18 Year Old is ready…

★★★★

Scotland 2018: The Ultimate Whisky Adventure – Part Three

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.

1

PART THREE: Islay – the western half

I had been through sunny Speyside and the spectacular Highlands (and Islands) and my whisky journey was nearly at an end. Of course, there was one crucial destination I had not yet covered. In fact, you could argue I’d left the best until last.

It is almost compulsory for any whisky fanatic to make the pilgrimage to the Isle of Islay. Nowhere in the world is there a higher concentration of top-quality distilleries within a short drive (or, in some cases, a short walk). I could not contain my excitement. The ferry took us into the beautiful seaside town of Port Ellen, sailing past some limewashed buildings where I could just make out the giant letters painted on their side, spelling Ardbeg, Lagavulin and finally Laphroaig.

However, the Port Ellen big three would have to wait. I had only two and a half days in this whisky-wonderland and not a moment to lose.

2

I began with the oldest distillery on the Island, Bowmore. I’ve been impressed with several bottles from this distillery but more often than not have been left underwhelmed and slightly confused. The tour satisfied the latter complaint – revealing the future core range to consist of a NAS, a 12 Year Old, a 15 and an 18 (don’t panic fellow ‘Darkest’ fans – this particular favourite is simply becoming THE 15 Year Old). The highlight of the visit however was the special release, the Warehouseman’s 17 Year Old. 51.3%, matured in bourbon, sherry and red wine, it was balanced and oozed sophistication like anyone wearing a pearl necklace, including David Bowie. In fact, like Bowie it was a bit psychedelic, a bit folky, a bit glam and a bit disco. It was the real star… man.

3

Breakfast whisky out of the way it was time for the next course. And lunch was the one and only Bruichladdich. If there was just one distillery I could recommend to visit for tastings it would be this one – if only for of the variety… and quantity! Their self-titled range is full of vibrant spicy malted barley notes, the Port Charlotte releases are smoky and bacony and the Octomores… Don’t expect them to smash you around the face with peat, peat and more peat. They are nuanced, balanced and complex – and packing enough fire to make Arthur Brown happy. They’re Audrey Hepburn with her cigarette holder in one hand… and a cigar in the other… at a bbq… under a volcano. Bruichladdich are such an exciting, progressive distillery. They have absolutely struck the right balance between NAS and integrity. You’ll find no mention of “flavour-led” here”, just bloody good drops – and plenty of them.

Remarkably, the destination I was most excited for was yet to come. Being a Tassie boy, there was one distillery that appealed above all others. Small-scale, paddock to bottle, on a working farm? It was like coming home. My final stop of the day was Kilchoman Distillery.

6

It was everything I’d hoped for: a tour that felt more like being shown around than hearing a rehearsed script, a peek at the entire production process from malting right through to bottling and a tasting packed with vibrant youthful whiskies that satisfied and intrigued me in equal measure. I had a chat with founder Anthony Wills and we bonded over how his own distillery’s paddock-to-bottle ethos compared to one back in my home state of Tasmania.

5

A trip to Islay’s west wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the beautiful Port Nahaven

I returned to my tiny eco-hut in Port Ellen pleased as punch. It had been an amazing start to my Islay visit and I was still buzzing… yet I retired to bed (reasonably) early. You see, there was one day I had been waiting the whole trip for. And that was tomorrow…

7

Home sweet home