Whisky review

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!”

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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.

★★★

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

Tasmanian Independent Bottlers RD 001

Reviewed by: Nick

TIB Redlands 001

We’ve reached a point in the Tasmanian whisky industry where Tim Duckett can do whatever the hell he likes. Justifiably, too, having broken so many rules with his Heartwood series, resulting in the creation of whiskies so good and so bizarre you’d be forgiven for thinking they were taken straight out of a whisky nerd’s fantasies. However his latest project, under the innocuous sounding moniker Tasmanian Independent Bottlers (or TIB for short), seems to plant itself firmly in reality.

The first release was the product of only one distillery and only one barrel type and was originally intended to be released at 46%, before Tim caved and bumped it up to 48.4%. No poetic title is required – it is simply named after its cask number – and the label is classy and yet plain, lacking in the unique quirky artwork found on Heartwood bottles. Cosmetically this is the Beatles White album released directly after Sgt Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band.

However, Tim still holds the ace up his sleeve: a quality Tasmanian spirit and an intriguing barrel. The first TIB release is from midlands paddock-to-bottle-distiller Redlands, and it has been aged in a Muscat cask.

“That’s more like it Timmy baby!”

Sorry, I got a little carried away there. But you get me, right? Redlands spirit in Muscat barrels assembled by Tim Duckett? This bottle was a must have to me… and it doesn’t disappoint.

It has a big, broad nose full of toffee and oak. There are many tiny subtle aromas breaking through, including pepper, blackberry and spearmint leaves. The palate is quite sweet, loaded with sticky caramel, raspberry jam and dark chocolate. The finish is short and spicy – spicier than most Heartwoods ironically – with lingering raw sugar notes.

Inevitably anyone looking for the next Heartwood release in this bottle is going to go away disappointed – because that’s not what TIB is. This is a far subtler and gentler single malt which does not possess the x-factor of Tim’s other releases. This is not a bad thing, though – it’s a different thing, and a thing that will appeal to some people and not others. It is designed to be more accessible and perhaps easier drinking than Heartwood and every now and again this is exactly what I want. The Convict Resurrection, Vat Out of Hell and Calm Before the Storm are fantastic – but I’d also recommend getting to know their younger brother.

★★★★

Flóki Single Malt

Reviewed by: Ted

Floki Single Malt 1

Hrafna-Flóki Vilgerðarson, or Flóki as fans of the History Channel’s hit show Vikings would recognise him as, was a pretty interesting guy. Born around 830AD in Norway, he would later become an explorer, with his main claim to fame being that he was one of the first people to visit Iceland.

Acting on rumours of a land North-West of the Faroe Islands, Flóki set sail with his family and crew, taking with him three ravens. According to legend, Flóki released the ravens during the voyage; the first flew South-East back to the Faroes, the second landed back on the ship, but the third flew North-West and did not return, leading Flóki to the island and bestowing him with the nickname Hrafna, meaning raven.

The crew apparently spent an excellent, easy summer on the West coast, leaving them ill-prepared for the harsh winter that followed. When spring finally returned, Flóki climbed the highest mountain in the area and sighting ice flows still sitting heavy in the fjords even as the weather warmed, named the island ‘Ísland’, or Iceland as we now know it. On his return to Norway he gave a poor report of the place, although that did not stop him from returning and living there until his death in the early 9th Century.

It is therefore fitting that a modern day pioneer of Iceland takes its name from the spirit of this early explorer of the Northern seas. Flóki, made by Eimverk Distillery, is the first single malt whisky to come out of Iceland.

Based in Garðabaer (perhaps taking its name from another early explorer of Iceland, Garðar Svavarsson?), the whisky is billed as ‘Grain to Glass in Iceland’ (aka Paddock to Plate), using local barley and water distilled in Eimverk’s handcrafted pot still and, according to the blurb, “aged for three years… under the roots of Mount Hekla”.

The particular bottle in my possession is part of a limited edition single-barrel bottling released in November 2017; according to the label I possess Barrel #1 Bottle #307. I will admit that I experienced a brief moment of doubt about opening it, but in the spirit (geddit?) of science I have taken the plunge for you dear reader.

As mentioned before, the Single Malt is aged for three years in what the label curiously describes as ‘ex-Flóki Young Malt barrels’. I have previously reviewed the Young Malt, a special edition duty-free 1-2yo spirit released as a preview to the main event. I am assuming that after the first release of Young Malt in late 2014, which used virgin American oak, they refilled the now-seasoned barrels and left them for just a hair over three years for the Single Malt.

The packaging game has always been strong with the Flóki and this one ups the anti by including a box! The box artwork has a black gloss background with irregularly shaped matte black highlights, the effect of which I suspect is meant to look like the rock walls of a fjord. The cool viking crest makes a return and oh my Odin I have literally just realised it has three bird figures around it representing Hrafna-Floki’s ravens! Totally did not pick that up before.

Floki Single Malt

Bottled at 47%, the Single Malt is a natural copper colour. It’s actually lighter than the Young Malt, which has a redder hue that is probably an effect of the virgin oak compared to the second-fill used for the Single Malt.

On the nose the Single Malt is light and grassy, perhaps straw, with undertones of caramel, honey, pineapple, green plum, apple, orange, pine sap, juniper, rose, sandalwood, cereal and metal. In comparison the Young Malt is heavier and sweeter, with notes of banana, oatmeal and meat.

The palate is dry and textural, eschewing the heavy, sharp, sweet, alcoholy, bourbony feel of the Young Malt for a much lighter, zingier sensation. The undertone is of oaky wood dust, almonds, walnuts and burnt orange, while the finish is sharp, hot and bitter, coating right across the back of the tongue and lingering for some time.

The differences between the Young Malt and the Single Malt are intriguing as the latter is a definite evolution of the former. Compared to the heavy, ham-fisted virgin oak-driven flavours of the Young Malt, the Single Malt is a much lighter, zestier affair. It’s interesting how a second filling of the same barrel with the same spirit can produce such different results.

Still, the balance of the Single Malt is perhaps a little off, with the nose needing some extra depth and the mouth, particularly the finish, needing some rounding out. It’s definitely better than the Young Malt (and both are miles above the undrinkable Young Malt Sheep Dung Smoked edition), but as I have commented before and will reiterate now, I am curious to see what effect some extra aging time would have on the Flóki.

Floki Single malt 2

Nitpicking aside though, this is a worthy first attempt from Eimverk and I think Hrafna-Flóki himself would have had a much more favourable opinion of the place if he had had a few bottles of his namesake whisky to keep him company through that first winter.

★★

 

Talisker Port Ruighe

Reviewed by: Nick

Talisker Port Ruighe

Talisker does a lot of things consistently well. Being located on the Isle of Skye certainly helps – there is surely not a more spectacular cross section of scenery to be found anywhere in Scotland. Offering exclusively peated drams also comes in handy. There is nothing that guarantees dependable yumminess like a distinctive smoky swirl through all available products.

And then there are the little things. Talisker’s packaging is always beautiful, their individual bottling names are always evocative and their non-cask strength releases almost exclusively sit at a beautifully balanced 45.8%.

All of the above is true about the Talisker Port Ruighe. And yet… and yet… This one is more than a little different. The clue is in the name, Port Ruighe being somewhat of a non-sexual double entendre. Not only is it the Gaelic spelling of Skye’s largest (and candidate for Scotland’s prettiest) town, Portree, but it has also spent the last part of its barrelled life in ex-port casks. And it is this point of difference that makes the Port Ruighie stand out from the Talisker pack.

The nose is typical Talisker. Sweet. Peat. Chocolate. Salt. A bit of orange. Basically what you’d expect from the 10 Year Old. It’s on the palate that this diverges. It’s a little rough and pleasantly ashy but alongside the smoke is burnt fruit, sticky raspberry jam and hints of Turkish delight. The port influence is clear for all to see and really rounds out the peat hit. The finish is surprisingly long with a bitter, perhaps tanninic, dark chocolate linger.

While Talisker do many things consistently well, one gripe I do have with the distillery is the up and down nature of their copious NAS releases. I can take or leave the Storm and the Skye but this one really provides enough contrast to justify the release of a 7 or 8 year old whisky. It really is the sweetest peat on offer on the Isle of Skye.

★★★

Catto’s Blended Scotch Whisky

Reviewed by: Nick

Catto's Blended Scotch

I’m not going to lie to you, fellow Wafflers. I bought this bottle of distinctly bottom-shelf blended scotch for numerous reasons – none of which concerned actually drinking the whisky. Firstly, it was the most Aussie sounding bottle I’ve ever seen (try saying it in an Australian accent – it’s very satisfying); secondly, you can’t look past a $30 price tag; and lastly because there was a sick masochistic part of me hoping I could label it the ‘worst whisky in the world’!

I was left rather disappointed. For the first time in my life I was disappointed that a whisky was better than I had thought. Instead of being completely putrid, it was merely rather awful.

Sweet honeyed notes accompany the alcohol burn on the nose while vanilla toffee struggles to break through. The palate is rough; spicy and leafy with flavours of barley sugar amid the burn. The finish is unpleasant and too long for my liking with a lingering sweetness that I found myself longing for it to dissipate.

There you have it folks. Who would have thought, a blend called Catto’s is simply dreadful rather than being soul-destroyingly disgusting. And despite all my criticism and complaining, if you have a look at the photo, you’ll see the bottle is nearly empty. Sometimes a bit of rubbish bottom shelf is exactly what you need.

Auchentoshan Heartwood

Reviewed by: Ted

Auchentoshan Heartwood

If you’ve ever flown overseas, then chances are you will have wandered through the duty free section and marvelled at the huge selection of booze available. For some reason the brand marketers have decided that what the Jetset crowd really crave are exclusive releases that are not worthy of the wingless plebs on the street. Indeed, a whisky fan can spend hours gazing at all the fancy labels, musing about the unusual caskings and trying to decide whether to get that 1L bottle of NAS Scotch, or lash out and buy that rare Japanese number in the gorgeous bottle.

The thing is, are these exclusive bottlings actually any good compared to their standard counterparts?

Let’s take the Auchentoshan Heartwood as an example (not to be confused with the Tasmanian Heartwood brand). Hailing from the Lowlands of Scotland, the Non Age Statement Heartwood edition is produced ‘exclusively for the global traveller’ (that’s you). Auchentoshan itself is notable for being one of the only distilleries in Scotland to triple distil its whisky.

The packaging for the Heartwood is pretty much the same as the standard range, just bigger thanks to the 1L bottle size (aww yeah!). ‘Heartwood’ refers to the dense wood at the centre of a tree, which Auchentoshan rather tenuously links to bourbon and sherry casking being at the heart of their whisky (yeah, they had to torture that one a bit).

Marketing guff it may be, but the bit about using bourbon and Oloroso casks is true. The colour certainly suggests that sherry barrels have been in the vicinity; Auchentoshan claims that the particular hue of the spirit is ‘dark honeycomb’. I on the other hand think that it looks, well, orange, rather like that other most Scottish of drinks: Irn-Bru. A tad heavy on the E150 perhaps? (I’ve since found this great article by LittleTipple noting that the colour of Auchentoshan looks rather similar to bodybuilders who have got a bit excited with the fake tan. Good times).

The nose is dull and heavy, oozing over the rim of the glass like an exhausted slug. After a while the dark brew starts to present toffee and almonds (praline perhaps?) and Terry’s chocolate orange.

The mouth is thick and sweet, with a dense oakiness that lives up to its namesake. The finish offers a lingering hit of burnt orange that is oddly unsatisfying.

In conclusion, buyer beware. The exotic looking jewels of the duty free section may appear tempting, but on closer examination you might just discover that all you really have is a poor imitation of the original. Still, you can’t deny they’re fun to look at. Happy flying, and good luck!

★★

Glen Grant The Major’s Reserve

Reviewed by: Nick

Glen Grant Majors Reserve

I freely admit, as I begin this review, that my primary motivation when purchasing this bottle was the fact that it was cheap. In fact, I recall as a broke uni student I had bought it for exactly the same reason. I also remember not being overly impressed. However, these days, with a more… ahem… experienced palate, surely I would find something to enjoy in Glen Grant’s entry level release. Surely there was more to this whisky than simply being cheap.

Upon opening the plain packaging I discovered a rarity in the single malt world: a screw top lid. Now, I can forgive them this because, after all, they’re indirectly saving the planet with such an approach, however this fact did nothing to shake the ‘cheap’ tag. Only one thing could: the flavour… and it let me down.

The nose has that cloying red-label-esque sweetness of lemon dish detergent alongside toffee-apple and honey notes. It is passable but not memorable. The palate is pretty rough, though offers some nice barley notes set against oak and vanilla. It is typical Speyside fare, though far from one of my favourites. The finish is spicy, malty and a little buttery. Again, nothing offensive but equally, nothing special.

The Glen Grant Major’s reserve is a whisky that epitomises its price point. It doesn’t punch above its weight but it also remains fairly quaffable. It is a cheap single malt and tastes as such. But hey, on the plus side, at least it doesn’t cost much!

★★

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?).