Whiskey Waffle

The Ultimate Top Three Introductory Whiskies

Posted by: Nick

z back up 2

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!

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Connemara Peated Single Malt

Reviewed by: Nick

Connemara

Thought that Scotland was the maker of all the peat bombs in world whisky? Well Connemera is here to prove that theory wrong. There really is nothing like a good peated whisky… and this is nothing like a good peated whisky. This is a different kind of peat altogether and although I’ve had this bottle for a fair while now, I’m still not sure if I like it…

Connemara, like most Irish Whiskeys, is not the name of the distillery. There is some conjecture here – while current releases clearly state ‘Kilbeggan Distilling Co’ on their label, my own bottle informs me it was made at Cooley Distillery, a good 120 km up the road. However, I haven’t been sold a fake – Kilbeggan and Cooley are both under the ownership of Beam Suntory and in possession of similar stills, meaning I assume the end product will taste fairly similar either way.

I want to get onto the tasting notes now, because unlike most other reviews I write, the flavours I’ve identified form an integral part of the point I’m trying to make. This whiskey is weird. On the nose I get a hugely specific tasting note – which Ted backs me up on (or at least humours me with). My tasting note is bicycle tyres. Yep. Bicycle tyres. Fresh new ones! It’s nutty, earthy and overall: rubbery. It’s an acquired smell if that’s a thing.

The palate presents some more conventional ham and cinnamon flavours, alongside, not fruit… but vegetables, though I can’t quite pin down which ones. Broccoli perhaps, or turnip maybe (I’ve avoided the Irish cliché of saying potatoes). The finish is where all the smoke can be found – again accompanied by a burnt rubber linger. It’s all a bit bizarre on the first taste… and the second… and the third…

Connemara is a world apart from the delicate floral whiskies produced by much of Ireland and for that I thoroughly commend it. However, as far as peated whiskies go, I think I’m going to have to award this round to Scotland.

★★

#IrishWhiskeyWeek

Green Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey

Reviewed by: Ted

Maker:S,Date:2017-9-13,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

The history of life on Earth is patterned with extinction. Ever since the first cells formed from the primordial soup some 4 billion years ago, countless species have risen, only to be swept away by the tides of history. Some extinctions are so devastating that they shake the tree of life to its very roots; for example the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event approx. 252 million years ago is estimated to have wiped out around 90% of all species living at that time.

The rise of modern humans (Homo sapiens) some 200000 years ago certainly hasn’t helped matters. While perhaps lacking the immediate punch of an asteroid impact, humans have both directly and indirectly had a hand in wiping out hundreds of species during our time on Earth. Hunting pressure is hypothesised to have played a role in the disappearance of a whole bunch of megafauna species 10000-50000 years ago, while we know that was definitely what killed off species such as the Thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus), the Western Black Rhino (Dioceros bicornis longipes) and the Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) which, thanks to a merciless hunting campaign, went from an incredible estimated population of 3 billion to be completely wiped out in the space of the 19th century. Other factors influenced by human activity also play their hand, such as habitat destruction, pollution, disease and anthropogenic driven climate change.

Yet hope springs eternal and many species that look doomed to go the way of the Dodo (Raphus cucullatus) somehow continue to cling tenaciously to the brink, sometimes even managing to claw their way back a bit: The Orange-Bellied Parrot (Neophema chrysogaster) from Tasmania, the Merendón Mountains Snaileater (Sibon merendonensis) from Guatemala, the Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) from Australia, the Volcan Tajumulco Bromeliad Salamander (Dendrotriton bromeliacius) from Mexico, Eisentraut’s Mouse Shrew (Mysorex eisentrauti) from Equatorial Guinea, Green Spot Whiskey (Maculatum viridialis) from Ireland.

From its origins sometime between 1000AD -1400AD (although the fossil record is still unclear whether the common ancestor of whisk(e)y initially arose in Ireland or Scotland), by the mid 1800’s Irish whiskey (Phylum Hibernica) had ascended to become the dominant grain-based spirit on Earth, with Dublin alone producing around 45.5 million litres of whiskey per annum. The most popular style was Single (or Pure) Pot Still Whiskey (Order Bihordeales), made using a mixture of malted and unmalted barley (Hordeum vulgare) (sometimes also utilising a small amount of other cereals such as wheat (Triticum sp.) or oats (Avena sativa)) and usually triple distilled (Class Trinephela) as per the Irish tradition. The style had initially started as a way of dodging a 1785 tax on malted barley, but quickly came to surpass single malt whiskey (Order Monohordeales) due to its popularity.

By the early 20th Century however, the Irish whiskey industry was in massive decline due to a combination of factors. War (the Irish War of Independence, followed by a civil war and then a trade war where the British Empire, Ireland’s biggest market, banned import of Irish whiskey), prohibition in the US (cutting out Ireland’s second biggest market) and questionable political and management decisions all left the Irish industry hurting. In addition, the wide scale uptake of the Coffey still (Subclass Semperfluida), ironically an Irish invention, by the Scottish distilling industry led to the meteoric (pun intended) rise of blended Scotch whisky (Phylum Caledonica, Order Mígmales), which by the turn of the century had overtaken the Irish market. The population of Irish distilleries went into free fall, the hundreds of distilleries that had once operated during the 18th and 19th centuries gradually vanishing until by the 1970’s only two were left, themselves amalgamations of a handful of survivors who had banded together for survival and mainly focused on blends.

What then of the the king of the Emerald Isles, the Single Pot Still Whiskey, the keystone style in the Irish ecosystem? By the time the 80’s rolled around, only two lonely members of this once great lineage were left, one being Redbreast (Rubus pectales) and the other Green Spot (Maculatum viridialis), a curious beastie in it’s own right. Mitchell & Son est. 1887, wine and spirit merchants based in Kildare St, Dublin, would purchase single pot still-style spirit from the nearby Jameson’s Bow Street Distillery and then age it in their own bond store. For the first five years of maturation, half the spirit was kept in casks that had contained darker styles such as oloroso and PX, while the other half spent its time in casks that had been used for lighter finos. After this initial aging period the casks were vatted together and then put under oak again for a further five years before bottling.

Maker:S,Date:2017-9-13,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

Originally known as Pat Whiskey, it was rebranded as John Jameson & Son Green Seal in the 30’s, before becoming simply known as Green Spot. Due to its popularity, other Spot variants soon emerged, with the 10yo Green Spot joined by a 7yo Blue Spot (Maculatum caerulea), 12yo Yellow Spot (Maculatum flaveolens) and a 15yo Red Spot (Maculatum rubrum), the names apparently deriving from the practise of marking barrels with a daub of paint to differentiate between the various age statements. The plight of the Irish whiskey industry soon took its toll however, with only the Green Spot surviving of its relatives. Matters became particularly grim when John Jameson & Son, the source of single pot still spirit for Green Spot, merged with John Power & Son and the Cork Distilleries Co. to form Irish Distillers, basing themselves at the New Midleton Distillery. Fortunately Mitchell & Son were able to strike a deal with Irish Distillers to allowed continued production of single pot still spirit at New Midleton (where Redbreast is also made), saving the brand from extinction. A slightly controversial stipulation of the deal was that the spirit had to be aged on-site in Midleton’s own casks, but Mitchell & Son still retained exclusive rights to the brand and its distribution.

Modern Green Spot has evolved to become a non-age statement release containing 7-10yo single pot still whiskeys aged in a combination of new and second fill american oak ex-bourbon cask and the brand’s traditional sherry cask. The colour is probably significantly lighter than its original ancestor, but still has a burnished red-gold hue thanks to the continued presence of sherry casking.

The nose is warm and fruity, abounding with peach, banana, pineapple, lemon and coconut, as well as polished timber, grape seed oil, crushed grass and grains.

The mouth is moderately sharp, yielding honeycomb, apricot, salt, aromatic herbs, pinot and oak, as well as a curious smokiness that briefly appears in the first few sips. The finish is relatively dry and leaves a pleasant citrus tang with undertones of cinnamon, cloves and cassia.

Lovers of Irish whiskey should be grateful that careful conservation efforts have prevented Green Spot and the Single Pot Still style from dying out in the wild completely. In fact, the famed whisk(e)y naturalist Jim Murray has been noted as stating that Green Spot is “…to the true Irish whiskey drinker what the Irish Round Tower is to the archaeologist…Unquestionably one of the world’s great whiskies.” In even better news, the style is now starting to make a resurgence, with a small population of the rare Malaga-matured Yellow Spot 12yo (Maculatum flaveolens malagaensis) being rediscovered, as well as new producers such as Dingle (Family Parvosonitaceae) emerging.

In summary, everything comes to an end eventually right? Luckily on occasion the inevitable can be staved off for a while and second chances granted. As such, I highly recommend that you make it a goal to sample the Green Spot before your own personal extinction comes upon you.

★★★★

BONUS – Alcohol Taxonomic Hierarchy

Ex. Green Spot

Domain – Alcohol – Spirita

Kingdom – Type – Whisk(e)y

Phylum – Origin – Hibernica

Class – Distillations – Trinephela

Order – Style – Bihordeales

Family – Distillery – Novaemidletonaceae

(Tribe – Independant bottler – Mitchellfileae)

Genus & species – Variety – Maculatum viridialis

#IrishWhiskeyWeek

Bushmills Black Bush

Reviewed by: Nick

Bushmills Black Bush

Ok, let’s get it out of the way now: upon reading the words ‘Black Bush’, who sniggered uncontrollably? I’ll admit that I definitely count myself amongst the sniggerers. I mean, come on… Black Bush? Snigger snigger…

Anyway, now we’re past that: onto the whiskey! It is important to note that Black Bush was not entirely made at Bushmills. A large chunk of it was – Bushmills claim 80% was aged for up to eight years in their Northern Ireland bond store – but the single malt is then blended with grain whiskey made down south at Midleton Distillery.

So Black Bush (snigger) is a blend. A cheap blend, no less, of a similar price to a Chivas or a Johnnie Walker Black Label. So there’s not going to be anything in here to get too excited about. Right?

Wrong. The Black Bush is a remarkable young whiskey punching well above its weight and displaying a depth of character not present in many Irish drams. The clue is in the name: the blackness of the bush (snigger).

This moniker refers to the maturation of the Bushmills single malt – part of it, at least – which has spent years aging in Oloroso sherry barrels. This variation in cask type has added a complex fruity element which really makes this whiskey stand out from its competitors.

The nose is packed with fruit and cereal, or perhaps fruit on cereal. Creamy strawberries nestle among grains, while marmalade and oak round off the edges. The palate is lightly spicy with the rum and raisin flavours from the sherry influence spreading out across the tongue. There are notes of dark chocolate and sweet pastries. The finish is quite dry with hints of red wine grapes and vanilla.

The Black Bush is far from smooth, but this actually works in its favour. Bushmills claim it only contains 20% grain spirit and the blender could have easily rounded off the edges by adding more. However the restraint shown adds complexity to the dram and gives the flavours within a chance to come to the fore.

In conclusion, if you are looking for an inexpensive blended Irish malt with a bit of character look no further than the Black Bush.

Snigger.

★★★

#IrishWhiskeyWeek

Whisky Waffle Episode 6

Posted by: Nick

The Whisky Waffle Podcast is back! With an additional exciting new feature: episode titles! Episode 6 is titled: Five regions… and Campbeltown.

This episode contains:

– The Waffle, where we introduce Scotland’s five whisky regions… and Campbeltown

– The Whisky, where we taste two highland whiskies from very near Speyside, the AnCnoc 16 Year Old and the Glendronach 12 Year Old

– Whisky Would You Rather, where Ted makes Nick choose between his eyes and his stomach; and

– From the Spirit Sack, where we are asked a geographical question about whisky

Whisky Waffle Logo 1

Kings County Bourbon 43%

Reviewed by: Ted

Kings County Bourbon 43

This is about as hipster as I get. Leaning up against a rough-sawn wooden bar in a small craft beer joint in Kyoto and sipping some NYC bourbon poured from a 375ml bottle with a label that looks type-written. In fact, as I type these words, a number of Japanese gents wearing round steel-rimmed glasses and with beanies perched on their heads have just walked in. I am probably not cool enough for this place.

The bar is called Bungalow; the fact that it is separated from the busy street outside by only a clear plastic screen somehow makes it seem even more edgy. The vibe inside is very chill though, with friendly bar staff, a selection of Japanese craft beers and luscious funk tunes oozing from the speakers.

It also has precisely one whiskey, the Kings County Bourbon Whiskey. Apparently the owner is friends with the importer of the Kings County and is a fan, hence its presence as the only whiskey in a craft beer bar.

Kings County is apparently the oldest operating whiskey distillery in New York City… Est. 2010. It’s youth is due to the fact that it is the first whiskey maker in the Big Apple since prohibition ended. Based in the old Brooklyn Navy Yards, they craft spirit in their Scottish-made still using corn and barley grown on-site. It’s very much part of the dynamic and sustainable ethos that exists in Brooklyn today.

kings-county-bourbon.jpg

All the details…

The spirit itself is a very dark copper colour and is bottled at a pleasing 45%. Being a bourbon it has that heavy, corn-driven punch, but in this case it’s pleasantly not overpowering. There’s a sweet, savoury sharpness that evokes some of the flavours that I have come across in Japan. Soy sauce, mirin, that sticky stuff I had on that grilled meat in that yakitori joint, a hint of salt and tuna sashimi. Of course, these flavours are super-subjective seeing as this is a through-and-through American spirit. I’ve just been exposed to a lot of eastern flavours this past week.

The mouth-feel is solid. The usual big, sweet corn flavours are there, but they are well controlled and even-tempered. It has a crispness and acidity that evokes a glass of Sav Blanc or Pinot Grigio, leaving a nice juicyness to linger on the palate. There’s a buttery, saltiness too, like that scallop I had in Kuramon Ichiba Market that was grilled over coals in its own shell.

The Kings County is a damn fine whiskey, perhaps made even better by dint of my current geographical location. Kyoto is a beautiful city, Bungalow is just my kind of bar and the Kings County is an excellent finish to the day. If you’re going to drink a whiskey you’ve never heard of in a bar in Japan that you stumbled across by chance, consider making it a Kings County.

★★★★

Kings County Ted

Thus Spake Jim Murray – 2018: A Whisky Bible

Posted by: Ted

Zarathustra2

Daaah…. daaah…. daaah………. DA DAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!! bom bom bom bom bom bom…

Sunlight oozed slowly across the darkling plain and up the face of the towering monolith. Its surface was like the purest of amber and there was a strange feeling of energy surrounding it. A group of primitive whisky writers, bloggers and critics lounged and tousled nearby, random, semi-intelligible cries like ‘bold coastal flavours’, ‘herbal undertones’ and ‘it has notes of sour plums’ punctuating the air.

One of the bloggers suddenly whipped his head up and stared intently at the monolith, before hesitantly creeping towards it. His companions quietened, the fibres of their tweed vests glinting in the sunlight as they watched their brother’s progress. The blogger halted nervously at the base of the monolith and carefully stretched up his hand toward the surface.

As soon as the blogger’s fingers brushed the unnaturally smooth amber surface, images poured into his mind, burning like distilled fire. Strange bulbous glassware… odd metal cylinders plunging into barrels to feed off their liquid hearts… infinitely high stacks of experimental casks with cryptic names like ‘gaja barolo’, ‘tokay’ and ‘sauternes’… fractal distillers endlessly chanting ‘Phenol quercus lacotone alba aldehyde robur’… towering columns of smoke that reeked of the sea… a tumultuous barrage other images too hard to describe, let alone understand.

Finally the terrible visage of a golden-eyed god appeared, his corona of white hair crowned by a panama hat. The god spoke, terrible, thunderous tones lancing into the mind of the blogger:

“Behold, these three releases shall be the best whiskies on earth in 2018:

1.Colonel E.H. Taylor Four Grain Bourbon

Winner2. Redbreast 21 Year Old

Second winner3. Glen Grant 18 Year Old

Third winner

This is the decree of Jim Murray, heed it and remember.”

Suddenly the raging tempest of images assaulting the blogger stopped, like the fabric of the universe had been sundered by a knife. As he withdrew his hand he felt a sudden feeling of purpose, a clarity of mind that pierced to the very centre of his spirit. He swung around and stalked with intent towards the biggest critic in the group, who was pontificating forcefully that ‘while other styles have certain merits, it is the sheer complexity derived from its long and rich history that elevates Scotch above all other forms.’

Daaah…. daaah…. daaahhh…. Ba BAAAAAAHHHH!!!!!! bom bom bom bom bom bom…

With a wild cry of ‘Bourbon is the new king!’, the blogger struck the critic a terrible blow and smote him to the ground, while the other wordsmiths hammered on their keyboards, hooting and gibbering in excitement. The blogger stood panting for a moment, then turned and strode away from the great amber monolith, his companions trailing behind their new leader, a sudden sweet, rich, punchy sensation pervading their minds.

Finally, the only thing left in the dying light was the monolith, the mysterious energy surrounding it holding a sensation of waiting, of expectation and anticipation, like somehow it knew that one day this would all happen again…

Fin

(To find out Jim Murray’s other decrees for his 2018 Whisky Bible, head over to The Whisky Exchange blog)

Spending Time at Sullivans Cove

Posted by: Nick

Sullivans Cove Whisky Waffle 1

If you’ve only heard of one Tasmanian distillery, chances are that distillery is Sullivans Cove. Based in Hobart and formerly known as Tasmania Distillery, this founding father of Tassie whisky has a chequered and yet ultimately inspiring past and, as we Waffle boys discovered when we visited their site recently, an extremely promising future.

Sullivans Cove is one of Tasmania’s most visitor-friendly distilleries. The viewing platform looking out across the bond store is a proper money-shot (see above!) and in keeping with the establishment’s status as Tassie’s poster-child distillery. This honour was thrust upon Sullivans Cove in 2014 when a bottle of their French Oak Cask won the prestigious World’s Best Single Malt at the World Whiskies Awards and changed the face of Tasmanian whisky forever. But as our generous host, Strategy Manager Fred Siggins, was keen to point out, there is so much more to Sullivans Cove than barrel HH525.

Sullivans Cove Whisky Waffle 6

Consistency in flavour is a difficult task for the fledgling Australian whisky scene. Due to the size of the industry (or rather the lack thereof) most releases are the product of one barrel and therefore the flavours vary from bottle to bottle. While some distilleries choose to conveniently sweep this issue under the carpet, Sullivans Cove embrace it, hand labelling each bottle with a sticker informing the purchaser exactly which cask or casks are contained within. The result is that a dram of one French or American Oak bottling will be unlikely to taste identical to a previous one.

While this approach ensures Fred is continually explaining to customers why their new bottle tastes slightly different to their old one, it also forms one of the most exciting aspects of the distillery. During our visit we were lucky enough to sample not one, but two of the French and American Oak expressions. Had they not featured the distinctive blue and black labels we may not have picked them as the same bottling.

Sullivans Cove Whisky Waffle 7

In each case one dram was smooth and easy drinking and the other vibrant, fresh and zingy. Excitingly, we could not work out which of each we considered to be the better drop – instead deciding that we would prefer one over the other depending on the mood we were in. Fred agreed and recommended that Sullivans Cove customers leave a small amount in one bottle before opening the next, to really appreciate the difference.

The other exciting aspect of the distillery is the age of the whisky in the bond store – and in their bottles. Sullivans Cove head distiller Patrick Maguire has been creating whisky since taking over the company in 1999 and giving it a much-needed new lease on life in the process. This means that some of the barrels are now pushing 18 years old, an incredible age for an Australian spirit.

Sullivans Cove Whisky Waffle 5

Both the French and American Oak releases are usually aged for anywhere between 10 and 17 years while the entry level Double Cask release, a marriage of 2 to 4 American Oak barrels and one French Oak barrel, contains a cross section of particularly mature whisky, unheard of in any other Tasmanian release.

The only drawback of this premium method of whisky creation is the premium price. Sullivans Cove make no bones though about the fact that they make a premium product and are not looking to change that any time soon. Fred did point out, however, that there is a lot of new Australian whisky coming into the market currently demanding a similar (or greater) price to the Sullivans Cove Double Cask. While this new stock is exciting, the whisky is likely to only be 2 to 3 years old. When compared with the potentially 17 year old whisky found in the Double Cask, it really paints the Sullivans Cove price point in a positive light.

Sullivans Cove Whisky Waffle 4

Sullivans Cove is now one of the most recognisable brands in the New World spirits scene, an achievement which is a true testament to the work put in by Patrick Maguire all those years ago. For a very long time, his whisky creation was a labour of love, an unprofitable venture fuelled by passion rather than profit. The rules have now changed, however, and currently there are over twenty distilleries in operation in Tasmania – with more on the way. It is certainly no overstatement to say that this reality may not have come to be if not for Sullivans Cove Distillery.

Sullivans Cove will be open for tours seven days a week, starting in September! Tours depart hourly and can be booked at the Sullivans Cove site.

Sullivans Cove Whisky Waffle 3

Hakushu Distillers Reserve

Reviewed by: Ted

Hakushu Distillers Edition

It can be a tricky and expensive task getting hold of age-statement Japanese whisky these days. If you’ve been paying attention to global whisky trends over the last five years-or-so, then you’ll know that Japanese whisky has been bang on-point and very much in demand by the smart set. The boom in sales, both locally and overseas, and a slight lack of foresight around barrel management has seen distillery stocks dwindle, so much so that that the two major players, Suntory and Nikka, have had to temporarily discontinue certain aged releases from their distilleries.

Naturally, the shortage in stocks has caused prices to skyrocket. I mean, just the other week I had the opportunity to buy a Yamazaki 50yo 3rd Edition 2011 Release for the low, low price of $157,763.99USD (I lashed out and got three)! Now, admittedly that is a bit of an outlier on the super-premium end of the scale, but even 12yo releases (if you can find them) are generally no less than $150AUD and more often than not well over $200.

So what does a common-or-garden whisky drinker do if you want to own a Japanese whisky without having to count your kidneys? Well, as it happens, there is an answer. These days most Japanese distilleries offer a Non Age Statement release of their product. While superficially a marketing device, the NAS releases are actually crucial for the ongoing survival of the distilleries, allowing continued market access by marrying dwindling older barrels with younger stock coming online.

An example of this is the Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve. While you can still find the 12yo for around $180, the distillers edition is available for a far more wallet pleasing $110. Located NW of Tokyo near Hokuto, an unusual feature of the Suntory owned Hakushu is that it boasts a bird sanctuary within its leafy grounds at the base of Mt Kaikomagatake in the Southern Japanese Alps.

Apparently the Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve marries younger lightly peated malt and heavily peated malt around the 8yo mark with American oak-aged spirit of around 18yo. Or so the internet, repository of all things, tells me; you certainly wouldn’t pick it as being peated if you tried it blind.

On the nose the Distiller’s Reserve is bright, fresh and zingy, delivering a satisfying bouquet of crunchy green apples, sour plum, lemon grass, mint and citrus (Yuzu if you want to get technical according to Hakushu). The scent is clean and light, like a crisply pressed kimono, although after a bit of breathing time it develops a softer, creamy edge.

On the palate the spirit is sharp, clean and metallic, like a samurai sword across the tongue, and delivers a hit of hard, sour stone fruits and a twist of lemon rind. The finish is lingering and herbal, with perhaps a touch of green tea. Couldn’t find that smoke though I’m afraid, although to be honest, with the flavour profile presented by the Distiller’s Reserve I didn’t miss it either.

People quite often get a bit salty about the concept of NAS releases, considering them to be inferior to age statement releases (often without real justification… although sometimes merited for sure, but we won’t go into that particular Reserve here). I am pleased to say however, that in this case the NAS epithet is not a negative one.

But that’s what the Japanese do isn’t it? They take a thing, study it with care and then make not just a copy, but something that is even better than the original. Which is lucky really seeing as the Distiller’s Reserve will be about all we can reasonably get our hands on from Hakushu for the foreseeable future. In conclusion, if you want to see a NAS done right, then look no further than the Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve.

★★★

Mendis Old Arrack

Reviewed by: Mum’s the Word

Mendis Old Arrack

Foreword by Ted:

Long-time readers of Whisky Waffle will know that I occasionally mention my mother on the blog, usually after she’s sourced something for me while travelling. Behind the scenes I usually run articles by her just to make sure the grammar is correct and there are no spelling mistakes.

Well, in a surprise move, Catherine has jumped down the rabbit hole and submitted a review all of her own after a visit to Sri Lanka. Arrack (not to be confused with Arak) is a South-East Asian spirit distilled from fermented coconut flower sap, although the precise methods and ingredients vary from place to place. The Sri Lankan version reviewed here is actually made rather like whisky, with the sap fermented in wooden washbacks before being twice distilled and finally aged in halmilla-wood vats for up to 15 years.

Now, Whisky Waffle purists will note that Arrack doesn’t contain a grain as its base and therefore is outside the usual remit of our blog. I on the other hand suspect it is rather poor form to turn your mother down when she has gone to the effort of writing you an article, so we’re more than happy to make the exception. And Arrack is sometimes known as Sri Lankan whisky, so there! So, sit back and enjoy this fresh article by Mum’s the Word:

Sri Lanka

When I have occasionally had a sniff of whisky, and a bit of a taste, my sinuses are generally cleared instantly and my taste buds and palate set on fire.

Not so on this occasion. In the spectacular setting of Ella in Sri Lanka I tasted Arrack – a Sri Lankan spirit made from the fermented juice of coconut flowers. The particular version I tried was the Mendis Old Arrack 100% Pure Coconut Arrack, naturally aged in halmilla (wood from the Tricomalee tree) vats.

The nose was mild (did not offend the sinuses) and faintly perfumed – coconut flowers? The first sip was sweetish with subtle flavours of … coconut? [Ed. Are you surprised?] The general flavours were reminiscent of Mum’s rice pudding or a delicate crème caramel (the WW boys would find many more descriptive words, but they have the ‘experience’ AKA the gift of the gab!) but there certainly was an alcoholic kick – especially after the third slug.

I think the subtle flavours would have been lost if diluted with ice/coke/soda as some of the group had, but served neat for me was delicious. It paired very well with a home-cooked Sri Lankan curry meal, the flavour being savoury, mildly spicy and certainly not sweet.

A certain Whisky Waffler son admitted a sneaking suspicion that he had tried Arrack before … “I say sneaking because I’m pretty sure I was kinda wasted at the time,” so anything he may be able to contribute on the subject may not count [Ed. Oh, and may I enquire just how much you had to drink, eh?]. I was planning to buy some Arrack in Sri Lanka duty free for further tasting with the expert advice of said son, but they didn’t have any!! Weird and disappointing.

Arrack would be a great start for the novice whisky/spirit drinker who did not want to be knocked off their seats.

★★★★  (but who am I to say?).