Whisky Waffle

The 2019 Waffle Awards

Posted by: Nick and Ted

2019 awards

2019 has been a big year for the Whisky Waffle lads: highlights have included being highly commended at the Icons of Whisky Awards, hosting the Tas Whisky Week Northern Night, relaunching the Whisky Waffle Podcast (spread the word!) and so many Tasmanian distillery visits. As the year comes to a close, we celebrate our Waffle Awards: the best of what the 2019 had to offer us!

1 The Isle of the Drammed Award Whisky Waffle

The Isle of the Drammed Award for the best Tasmanian whisky

As the internet’s number 1 location for Tasmanian whisky content we like to recognise our very favourite. This year the Isle of the Drammed Award goes to…

Heartwood Heartgrove #1

1 Heartgrove

What happens when two of our favourite Tasmanian whisky people (and previous Bill Lark Award winners) team up to combine unique rye spirit and fabulous sherry and muscat casks? You get this bottle: Heartgrove. Sweet and rich fruit notes are layered over the more earthy rye characteristics forming an outstanding drop: as drinkable as it is fascinating!

2 The Drams Down Under Award

The Drams Down Under Award for the best mainland Australian whisky

A new award! There are more and more wonderful drops being made across the water on mainland Australia: so many, in fact, that we thought we’d create a category just for them! The first ever winner of the Drams Down Under Award is…

Archie Rose Rye Malt Whisky

2 Archie Rose

More rye! We’re beginning to sound like Jim Murray! Archie Rose, however, deserves this one. While a deep caramelly rye may not be to everyone’s tastes it has certainly scratched an itch for the Whisky Waffle boys who were impressed with its depth and complexity – especially for a young whisky matured in virgin oak – and all at a reasonable price point! It really feels like the first page in a new chapter for Australian whisky and we’re happy to be there from the start!

2 The Tartan Slipper Award Whisky Waffle

The Tartan Slipper Award for the best Scottish whisky

Despite our love of whiskies made in Australia, we still recognise Scotland as the motherland – and have discovered some stellar drops along the way. The best of the lot was the…

Glenfiddich Fire & Cane

3 Fire and Cane

Everybody knows Glenfiddich and what it’s all about. That doesn’t mean they can’t occasionally bust an ace out of their sleeve and surprise people though. Part of their Experimental Series, the Fire & Cane has been one of the gem finds of the year.

Turns out that peated Speyside malts finished in South American rum casks is a killer combo. The softer Highland peat combines perfectly with the sweet notes developed from the rum finish, creating a brilliantly balanced dram that will appeal even to those who don’t like smoke. The best bit? It’s under $100AUD. It’s hands down one of our favourite whiskies of the year and has led to several of our friends reassessing their relationship with Glenfiddich.

3 The Pocket Pleaser Award Whisky Waffle

The Pocket Pleaser Award the perfect pick for the parched penny pincher

Buying whisky is expensive! We try and write as many reviews per year as we can, but directing our income towards things like food and mortgage often (but not always) takes priority – which is why we love a bargain! The 2019 Pocket Pleaser goes to…

Starward Two Fold

4 Starward Two Fold

Top shelf schmop shelf, the middle shelf is where things are really at. That’s where the bulk of sales come from – decent, everyday whisky for a reasonable price. Aussie whisky has always been too expensive to fit into that bracket – until now!

Let’s be clear, the Starward Two Fold isn’t the best Aussie whisky out there, but for the price, it’s amazing! This is a $70AUD Aussie whisky, which means it’s squarely competing with your cheaper single malts and pimped up blends. Clever blending of wheat and malt spirits and the use of wine casks keeps the price-point down and the wallet happy. This is a perfect summer dram for sharing freely with all your mates.

4 The Weirdsky Award Whisky Waffle

The Weirdsky Award for the most WTF whisky

Delicious innovation or hard-to-drink novelty? It could be either in this category as we celebrate the most envelope-pushing, or simply the silliest whisky of the year. This year’s Weirdsky goes to:

Whipper Snapper Project Q

5 Project Q

There’s no denying it – Whipper Snapper Distillery’s Project Q is the weirdsky of the entire decade. We first tried it as part of our ‘Mystery Whisky’ segment on our podcast (episode 13); I knew what it was while m’colleague was going in blind, but that still didn’t stop me from wondering whether I had landed on a different planet.

The key is in the ingredients, all sourced locally by Whipper Snapper from Western Australia. Malted barley and corn won’t raise any eyebrows, it’s the third, rather more unusual grain that’s the kicker. Quinoa, the South American staple beloved of hipsters and the health conscious, is what gives the Project Q its unique flavour. It’s hard to describe – spicy, earthy and nutty, with overtones of melting plastic, old car dashboard and engine grease. The cost of quinoa means that this will probably only ever be a rare oddity, but if you can find it, it will make you rethink everything you know about whisky. A must try for the adventurous.

5 The Bill Lark Award Whisky Waffle

The Bill Lark Award for service to the Tasmanian whisky industry

One of the best things about running Whisky Waffle is meeting the wonderful people behind the scenes creating and selling a range of amazing drams. While there are so many deserving and hardworking people in the state, each year we like to recognise one individual who has helped make the Tassie scene what it is today. This year the worthy winner is:

Jane Sawford

6 Bill Lark Jane

Believe it or not, Tasmanian whisky was not always flying off the shelves as it is now. Instead of having no stock left to sell, once upon a time Tasmanian producers could not give the stuff away. This all changed when Jane Overeem decided to hit the road to promote her father’s produce to the world and along the way raise the profile of the entire state’s wares. Suddenly people were sitting up and taking notice, beginning the journey that has seen the industry go from strength to strength.

Jane has taken on senior roles not only within Overeem, but Lark as well, and has been involved in organising countless whisky events within the state and on the mainland. These days she and husband Mark have founded Sawford Distillery and are producing whisky which promises to be something special. On top of that she is also helping manage White Label Distillery, the country’s first contract distillery.

A brand new industry needs pioneers leading the way and forging a path so that others can follow. It is safe to say that the Tasmanian whisky scene would not be what it is today without Jane Sawford.

6 The Golden Dram Whisky Waffle

The Golden Dram for the best dram whisky in the world

And finally, the top drop! We tried many drams throughout the year (read: many many) but love to pick out one that stands above the rest. This year 2019’s best whisky is…

Corowa Bosque Verde

7 Corowa Bosque Verde

Sometimes a whisky comes at you unexpectedly from the side and completely throws you off balance. That was the Corowa Distilling Co.’s Bosque Verde for us this year. When we first tried it in a bar, I drunkenly demanded the barman source me a bottle. He acquiesced to my request and I have zero regrets over that decision.

100L American oak ex-port barrels aged for just over two years and bottled at 60% isn’t that unusual for Australia, but Drucey and his boys have worked dark magic with the Bosque Verde. Essentially, it’s like they’ve taken a super fruity Christmas cake, blended it up and poured it into a bottle. Another key tasting note we had was leather and tobacco, like a cowboy in an old Marlboro ad. Young, complex and feisty, this is no beginner’s whisky, and it keeps on drawing us back time and again to delve into the layers. If you want to know what gets Whisky Waffle excited, this is it.

An epilogue:

We’d like to mention a couple of honourable mentions for two new innovative Tassie drops. The Adams Pinot Noir Slosh Cask for trying new grains and aging-encouragement techniques and the Hobart Whisky Stout Cask for actually making it taste a little stouty.

And finally our Founders Reserve Award (the dishonourable mention) to the Macallan Fine and Rare 60 Year Old. Whisky is for drinking and sharing with friends, not for sitting on shelves as a status symbol! Runner up is Ted for his dance moves after the Tasman Whisky launch in Burnie…

Wafflers 4

Thanks everyone for your continued support. Here to the next decade of Waffling!

#WaffleAwards

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 15

It’s time for our (once again) annual Christmas Special where the left over odds and ends from the year’s recording blocks find their way onto the airwaves! It’s a mishmash of an episode but as entertaining as always!

This episode contains:
– Unlucky 13, where we line up the following whiskies to one by one pick our best tasting out of the following:
Glenfiddich 12, Glenfiddich 18, Glendronach 12, Balvenie DW 12, Glenfarclas 15, Aberlour A’bunadh, Highland Park 12, Oban 14, Talisker 10, Ardbeg 10, Laphroaig 10, Chivas Regal 12, Johnnie Walker Black;
– Mystery Whisky, where Ted is confused but ultimately impressed by a Rye from Archie Rose;
– Whisky Would You Rather, where we have the ultimate showdown: bourbon vs sherry maturation
– Drinking Buddies, where Paul tells us what’s in his glass; and
– Smash Session or Savour, where Ted has to find something to savour in three very unsavourable drams

Heartwood: striving for consistency

Posted by: Nick

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Heartwood, Australia’s most famous independent bottler, is striving for consistency. However, with new-make spirit arriving from different distilleries, a varied range of barrel types and never-to-be-repeated combinations of spirits, how on earth can it be considered consistent? Simple. Heartwood is not striving for consistency of flavour – it is striving for consistency of quality.

Heartwood is the creation of the Tasmanian whisky industry’s very own mad scientist: Tim Duckett. Tim has produced his remarkable whisky alongside his day job as an environmental consultant, deciding to dip his toe into the infant Tasmanian whisky scene after meeting Bill Lark in the late nineties. He purchased his first barrel of Lark spirit in 1999, but cannily didn’t rush it out the door before it was ready. The first bottling, Mt Wellington, was released in 2012 and things escalated rather quickly from there.

While there are other independent bottlers in Australia, including TIB, Tim’s other project, there is nothing on earth quite like Heartwood. Regularly bottled at unheard of ABVs, some of which nudge the mid 70% range, each release is limited to several hundred bottles, meaning it sells like hotcakes and has developed somewhat of a cult following.

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We visited Tim at Heartwood’s Blackmans Bay bond store where he gave us a peek behind the curtain at the type of flavour profile he values: that which pleases the palate – specifically his palate. Tim seeks to create whiskies which are thick, flavourful and with a finish as long as any whisky on the planet. How does he do this? By pairing good quality spirit with good quality barrels.

It sounds simple, but it is actually far from it; consistently creating high quality whisky is not just the passive process of sticking spirit into barrels and waiting. Tim employs all manner of tricks to get the most out of his whisky, as we found out during our visit. These include intricate blending, either whole casks or simply a few litres here or there, deciding when the oak influence is done and decanting it into vats before beating it with a paddle to drive off volatiles, as well as moving spirit into a warm office to “syrup up”.

When we visited Heartwood HQ the north-facing wall had a number of nearly-ready casks sitting up against it, which Tim explained was the “finishing wall”. He also confessed that he refuses to reuse casks 100 litres or larger unless they have been repurposed with Heartwood witchcraft, and even then, he will only use peated spirit in them… and this is just the tip of the iceberg of strategies Tim uses to create some of the most impressive and sought-after whisky Tasmania has to offer.

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Of course, it helps when there is no agenda to meet; no shareholders to appease. Despite its fame, Heartwood is small-scale, a project born out of passion. Therefore, the whisky is released only when it’s truly ready and never to meet a specific profile or timeframe. Age is somewhat irrelevant in Tasmania anyway, with our varied weather conditions and small barrels. Tim claims that the age of 20 litre casks should be measured in seasons, not years, as the Australian summer will age a whisky faster than autumn, winter and spring combined.

During our visit we were lucky to try a few impressive Heartwood and TIB drams which were nearing completion, including spirit distilled at Redlands, Adams and a ‘Renowned New South Wales Distillery’. Most spectacularly, however, we were able to sample the first Heartwood/Belgrove collaboration (which at the date of publication has just been released – and sold out within hours). The ‘Heartgrove’ was a clash of the titans: a coming together of earthy, almost smoky rye notes with a thick fruit layer from the muscat and sherry casks it had been matured in. It was a wild beast, but Tim had tamed it, creating an intriguing rye that went down almost too easily for a 55% drop. If pressed we would have probably claimed it as our favourite, though it certainly faced some stiff competition.

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Fascinatingly, none of the drams we tried tasted the same; they weren’t even in the same ballpark. The only thing that linked them was the fact that each one was delicious. As Tim told us, Heartwood has never claimed to produce a consistent flavour profile. Instead he focuses on producing consistently great whisky – and so far he’s achieved it every time.

Heartwood is not only unique among Tasmanian whisky producers: there is nothing on the entire planet quite like it. By refusing to release anything below his expected standard, Tim has ensured a whisky-legacy that will live on even when the last of the Heartwood barrels is empty.

Old Kempton First Release Solera Cask

Reviewed by: Nick

Old Kempton Solera WW

There are many positive, glowing and indeed, highly complimentary words you can use to describe the Tasmanian whisky industry: flavourful, innovative, even simply: delicious. However, the word ‘consistent’ is not one that leaps to the top of that list. Due to the single cask nature of most of Tasmania’s small distilleries, it is highly likely that a bottle released by a producer this year is going to be vastly different to one released in two years’ time… or even one the next month. This is ok; most distilleries embrace the variety, although the approach can sometimes confuse return customers.

Old Kempton Distillery in Tasmania’s Southern Midlands is one such keen subscriber to the single barrel release method. Recently however, they have started trialling a Solera system in a huge 500L port puncheon. The contents of 24 smaller barrels have been emptied into this 100-year-old behemoth and left to mix and mingle until the tasting team at Old Kempton determine it to be ready. Crucially though, not all of the barrel’s contents will be emptied: half will remain to marry with the next batch of premium Old Kempton whisky added, before the process is repeated time and time again, creating a reliable flavour profile (and the intriguing premise that the finished product will include an amount of whisky, however infinitesimally small, which is very old indeed).

Old Kempton Solera cask WW

The first bottles out of the tun are about to be released exclusively to Old Kempton whisky club members and with it they have created something unique to not only their own distillery, but to the whole of the Tasmanian whisky industry.

Upon first inspection, you can tell there’s something different about it. It’s so obvious: the colour! It’s far darker and redder than any Old Kempton release I have ever seen, no mean feat considering its (relatively) modest bottling strength of 49%. The colour is surely due to the maturation time in the giant ex-port reciprocal being used to facilitate the Solera process. One sniff indicates the cask has affected the flavour, too.

Old Kempton Solera WW dram

The nose is full of juicy fig notes with large dollops of ripe plums, glace cherries and stewed fruit. It’s rich and dark and features subtle flavours of nutmeg, pears and vanilla custard. The palate continues this theme: rich and broad across the mouth with sweet gooey notes halfway between sticky date pudding and thick gingerbread. The finish is long but without a single note of spicy astringency or over-oaking.  Instead it is sweet and fat, like a ganache where the chef has gone rather easy on the cream.

This is a fascinating whisky. Comparing it to other releases from the same distillery is an experience that is confusing in the best possible way. You find yourself speculating on important questions such as ‘how do they do it?’, ‘what will the solera be like in few years?’ and ‘with a colour like this, why are they not called Redlands anymore?’. While we might not be able to provide satisfactory answers to these ponderances, at least we have a delicious dram to mull them over with.

★★★★

Join the Old Kempton Whisky Club before November 5 and you will go into the draw to win a free bottle of Old Kempton First Release Solera Cask!

White Label: contract to distil

Posted by: Nick and Ted

White Label 1

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

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

White Label 1.5

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

White Label 2

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

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

White Label 3

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

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

White Label 4

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

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

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

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Signatory Vintage Tormore 1995

Reviewed by: Nick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

★★★★

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 12

Big news for listeners of the Podcast – we’re bringing back the old episodes! We’re purchased some more upload space and a remastered back-catalogue will be appearing soon! Keep an eye out in the next few weeks and travel back to where it all begun! In the meantime, however, enjoy our latest episode which includes:

– The Waffle, where we discuss our recent experiences throughout Tasmanian Whisky Week;
– The whisky, where we taste our new bottles of Hobart Whisky and Adams Distillery Slosh Cask; and
– Smash, Session or Savour where we are forced to smash drams we’d otherwise savour

 

Adams Distillery Pinot Noir Slosh Cask 46%

Reviewed by: Nick

Adams Pinot Slosh WW

What is the most important aspect of a whisky?

a) The region it hails from;

b) The age statement;

c) The prettiness of the bottle; or

d) What it actually tastes like.

While there’s a lot to like in options a) to c) (I’m a sucker for a pretty bottle!), when it comes down to it, the best thing about whisky is that you can drink it and therefore flavour is by far the most important factor.

Which is what the Adams of Adams Distillery had in mind when trying to squeeze every last tasty morsel out of cask AD0086, a French oak ex-pinot noir barrel. But before we get to option d), let us discuss a) to c).

Adams Distillery is based in the North of Tasmania at Glen Ireh Estate in Perth, just outside Launceston. They’ve been expanding the distillery since… well, pretty much since day 1, and the first few of their releases are only just entering the market.

This whisky is in no way old – by Scottish standards at least – but the smaller casking and hotter conditions in Tasmania require an earlier release. To maximise the flavour in each bottle the Adams developed the ‘slosh-cask’ technique, which simply involves regularly rolling the barrel from one side of the bond store to the other – the idea being that the process encourages greater interaction with the wood of the cask, forcing more of the barrel influence into the spirit.

The bottle is particularly pretty as well and is sure to stand out on bars with its distinctly-shaped neck. However, the most beautiful aspect is the colour of the whisky itself: a rich brown which when held up to the light glows ruby red.

It is an appropriate colour when you consider the creation of the dram. Unlike most whisky-makers in Tasmania who stick to a fairly standard grain (usually pilsner malt), Adams has experimented with using a percentage of dark crystal malt in their mash. It could be the power of suggestion… but I can’t help but feel it imparts coffee notes throughout the dram’s flavour.

On the nose there is oodles of chocolate, vanilla and stewed fruits, alongside hints of green grapes. It’s all coated in a thick layer of toffee which continues onto the palate, and is vibrant and viscous, almost chewy. There are also notes of strawberries and chocolate orange, while the finish contains strong coffee fudge flavours. For my fellow North West Coast Tasmanians, Anvers do one that this strongly reminds me of.

This whisky is not subtle – not even a little. But that’s not the point of the dram. The Adams have put flavour first and this is the result. It couldn’t be described as easy drinking and does take some taming. But like a whisky-swilling St George, I’m happy to take on this dragon. It’s exciting and moreish and most importantly of all, something a little different for Tasmanian whisky.

★★★★

Destination Cellars Arran tasting night in Burnie (or, Legless at the Chapel)

Posted by: Ted

The other night I grabbed my crutches (see here for that particular whisky-fuelled drama) and hobbled down to The Chapel Cafe in Burnie for a spot of whisky tasting. While my wife was still suspicious of my ability to stay upright after a few cheeky drams, I on the other hand was confident and keen not to miss out on sampling the range of Arran whiskies being offered by Destination Cellars that night.

Photo: Todd Morrison

Destination Cellars is a family-run business based in Hobart, offering a huge range of whiskies (and other drinks) and regularly holds tasting nights showcasing various products. Todd Morrison from Destination had made the trek up to the North West, glad to leave “the monsoonal conditions in Hobart” behind. Todd revealed to the crowd of 20-odd attending the tasting that Burnie had been the site of a certain important life event for him. It was at the ‘luxurious establishment’ (his words) called the Burnie Caravan Park that a young Todd tried whisky for the very first time. In town as part of a sporting tour, the weather was poor, so a bottle of Grants was procured to liven up the night. A game of spin-the-bottle ensued and a wretched Todd didn’t touch the golden spirit for another 20 years. Luckily he’s cured now apparently.

Also along for the ride and to share his knowledge of the Arran was industry stalwart, top bloke and bona-fide Scotsman Craig Johnstone. He’d been to Burnie before, but was a little surprised at the current municipal decorations littering the streets, quipping “what’s with all the trollies everywhere?” (Answer: probably ships’ crews coming into town from the port to do their shopping and dumping the trollies afterwards). Craig mentioned that the drive up had made him again appreciate the similarities between Tassie and Scotland, although apparently “the mosquitos here are much worse than the midges back home”.

We finished off with the Arran Gold, a whisky cream liquer

On offer that night were six drams from Arran Distillery (as well as Andrew’s excellent peated ale, definitely worth a try if you visit The Chapel). Craig whipped up a hand-drawn map to show everyone the location of the Isle of Arran, down off the South West coast, using handy references to help us home in on it, such as: “Edinburgh, here, is where all the best people are from, while Glasgow, here, is where all the idiots live” and “if the Campbeltown region is the bell-end of Scotland, then the Isle of Arran is the nut sack”.

First up was the Lochranza Reserve 43%, Arran’s basic workhorse, a NAS marriage of 1st- and 2nd-fill ex-bourbon casks. Named after the distillery’s home town on the north of the island, the Lochranza was sweet and grassy on the nose, while the mouth was buttery, with citrus, red jelly and a chewy caramel finish. Nothing really to write home about, but serviceable as a basic dram.

Checking out the colour

Before we got stuck in too much, Craig led us through some whisky drinking basics with his five step assessment. First up we eyeballed the glass and took note of the colour, which “nine times out of ten means bugger all, but holding the glass up to the light really makes you look professional!” Next we sleazily checked out the legs running down the side of the glass, which apparently “some people reckon they can use to tell the maker, cask type, age and what the distiller had for breakfast. If you meet someone like that, don’t get in a car with them because they’re definitely pissed.” The remaining steps, nosing, tasting and the finish, were completed studiously and without incident by the crowd.

Next up were two wine cask finishes, the Amarone 50% and the Côte-Rôtie 50%. Both are part of the Arran ‘Cask Finishes’ range, with the Lochranza used as a base before being finished in various wine casks (others include Sassicaia and Sauternes) to create limited edition releases. While both are red wines, the Amarone and the Côte-Rôtie imparted very different flavours on the spirit. The Amarone was dry and earthy on the nose, with a hint of grapes and damp moss, while the Côte-Rôtie was sticky and jammy, with quince paste and arrowroot. On the mouth, the Amarone was fruity, almost like Starburst chews and had a finish reminiscent of Cognac, while the Côte-Rôtie was very sharp, with almond paste, maraschino cherries and a salt water finish. Craig noted that Arran goes for wide, shallow flavour in its spirit, then uses the finishes to create depth.

Todd whips the troops into a frenzy. Photo: Craig Johnstone

The fourth dram on offer was something a bit special, the limited edition Master of Distilling II: The Man With the Golden Glass 51.8% (the releases are themed – last time was Hitchcock apparently). Created by Master Distiller James McTaggart (who Craig knows and apparently likes ‘shit beer, great whisky and fine wines’) to celebrate his 12th anniversary with Arran, the 12yo whisky is finished using rare Palo Cortado sherry casks. Craig was quite enthused about the unusual finish, noting “this isn’t a thermonuclear sherry bomb missile, but it is one of the weirdest sherry cask whiskies I’ve ever had.”

The flavour was indeed interesting, with hazelnuts, damp leaf litter, ginger snap biscuits, chocolate brownie, oiled metal and raisins on the nose. The mouth was biscuity with salted caramel, sultanas, and liveliness that ran right across the palate. The sherry finish was very distinct, with Craig commenting that it was “the most honest sherry-influenced whisky I’ve ever had”. It’s something that’s definitely worth a try if you come across it.

Not visible: my broken leg propped up on a chair. Photo: Todd Morrison

After we had finished dissecting the Master of Distilling II, we were ordered by Todd to “get your pipes and smoking jackets, because we’re going to slip into some peaty whiskies”. Machrie Moor, a peat bog on the western side of the island, gives its name to Arran’s range of peated whiskies. Todd admitted that he wasn’t always the biggest fan of peaty whiskies: “There’s warnings in nature – colours, smells and flavours that say ‘stay away!’. That was peated whisky to me.” These days he’s a convert and was keen to get stuck in.

The two Machrie Moor expressions on offer were essentially the same, but one was bottled at 46% while the other was a cask strength at 56.2% (to appeal to the French market apparently). According to Craig, back in the day most of the distilleries on Arran were illicit and made heavily peated whiskies as peat was the only fuel source, but now the style is the exception.

The smoke in the 46% was soft on the nose with a medicinal/rubbery texture and a hint of metal and smoked fish. In comparison, the cask strength was oily and resinous, with an intense aroma of freshly sawn timber, almost like Huon pine, followed by vanilla milkshake, home-made marshmallow and sea stones. On the mouth, the 46% was sweet and light, with raspberries on the fore and a curl of smoke on the finish, while the cask strength was hot and bright, with smoky bacon and smouldering green coastal vegetation. Both were very moreish, and the delicate 46% would make a great whisky to start a peat novice on.

Craig gets loose with the gang. Photo: Todd Morrison

At the end of the night the hosts took a vote to see what everyone’s favourites were, with Todd drily commenting that “this is going to be a somewhat North Korean voting system. The end result doesn’t actually matter, but we’re going to make you do it anyway”. Despite voter confusion and some potential rigging, every dram got some love, but the runaway winner was the Master of the Distilling II, with the cask strength Machrie Moor the runner up.

The night was a great success, particularly because I managed to get home again without breaking my other leg. Thanks to the enthusiasm shown by the local whisky fans, Destination Cellars will be back at the Chapel again on September 21 with a new range of whiskies, potentially lining up a selection of sherry bombs. Big thanks as always to Andrew at The Chapel Cafe for supporting whisky events in Burnie, to Destination Cellars for inviting me along as their guest, and of course to Todd and Craig for being damn fine hosts.

Photo: Todd Morrison

See you all next time!

Ironhouse Release Tasman Whisky

Posted by: Ted

Whisky Waffle IH Launch book

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

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

Whisky Waffle IH Launch Briggsy

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

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

Whisky Waffle IH Launch crowd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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