Thursday, 1 June 2023

Planet Ardbeg Day 2023 - Heavy Vapours [Tasted #638]

If there's one consistent on this blog, it's Ardbeg Day. Almost every year since 2012, Hendy or I have managed to at least taste the annual limited release, if not attend Sydney and/or Hong Kong events. From last year's "Ardcore" to 2013's "Ardbog", and pretty much everything in between (2014's "Auriverdes" event was a highlight, as was 2016's "Dark Cove" Committee Release) there's been a lot of weird and wonderful releases.

2023 is no different, with the distillery celebrating "Planet" Ardbeg Day this year with the launch of "Heavy Vapours", which saw Ardbeg spirit distilled without a purifier (the apparatus on the still responsible for maintaining Ardbeg's "unrivalled balance between extreme peat and floral fruitiness").
An experiment by Dr Bill Lumsden (who else?!), the change supposedly allows the "heaviest and untamed vapours to rise up the still during the distillation process". 

Because this release is for Ardbeg Day (which always means equal parts experimentation and fun), Ardbeg have teamed up with different artists to create a series of "Planet Ardbeg" comics, with the Heavy Vapours comic following Jackie Thomson, Ardbeg Visitor Centre Manager & Committee Chair (aka "Agent 46"), portrayed as an interplanetary detective on a quest to locate the elusive purifier ad restore Ardbeg's signature balance.

So we've established it's experimental and fun (as to be expected), but how does it taste...?

Ardbeg "Heavy Vapours" Ardbeg Day 2023 Release (46% ABV, NAS, Islay, Scotland $1,930HKD (with Wee Beastie 5yo) £120 / $250AUD)

Colour: Pale straw.

Nose: Spiced, briny smoke. Paprika at first, but then after time perfumed, settling into an ashy campfire.

Palate: Initially light, youthful and vibrant. There's a slight oak bitterness, some milk choc notes, some pepper and after time some mocha notes.

Finish: Relatively short, with hints of bitter oak and dark chocolate.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 86/100 (Martin). A perfectly drinkable Ardbeg, but (as with last year's Ardcore), I find myself preferring the core 10yo - which sells for less than 1/3 the price here in HK.

Ardbeg have clearly put a huge amount of effort into the marketing and event side of Ardbeg Day, and must be applauded for it, but I can't help but feel the whiskies each year are getting sub-par when compared to the excellent core range (in particular the 10yo & Uigeadail). That's not to say these are bad whiskies - not at all. They're fine, but in comparison to the core range, personally I don't find this one as good - especially not when it's almost quadruple the price of the 10yo, and more than double the price of the Oogie. "Fun" has to have a price cap. For the first time since 2013, I'll admit I didn't buy the release this year - either regular to committee version.

If you're keen to try it for youself, there are Heavy Vapours Masterclasses being held in HK (as well as Heavy Vapours cocktails being served) at the following venues - contact them for details:
  • Tiffany's New York Bar (including the main event on Sat 3rd June, 4-6pm)
  • Whisky & Words (10th June)
  • CNY Bar (17th June)
  • Bar Butler (29th June)

Ardbeg "Heavy Vapours" is available now from Ardbeg Embassies, whisky retailers and online. Thanks to MHDHK & Flare Communications for the sample.


Monday, 22 May 2023

Old Master Spirits 1978 Domaine de Papolle Bas Armagnac 44yo [Tasted #637]

It's getting to the point now where we could almost call these posts "Monthly #malternatives" (and I'm OK with that)! This month's comes once again from Melbourne-based bottlers Old Master Spirits, and like their "XXO" reviewed in March, is another Bas Armagnac - though this time it carries an age & vintage statement - being bottled from a 44yo single 1978 cask, ex Domaine de Papolle.

(You can read my thoughts on several of Old Master Spirits' previous releases here, including why I love what these guys do, and how their #malternatives are very much made for whisky lovers.)

Distilled from 100% Baco grapes, the spirit matured for 44 years under the watch of master distiller Bernard Piffard, who now manages the estate, vines and production along with his son Frederic Piffard.

Old Master Spirits' previously releases have all been high quality, but does this (their 8th) continue that trend? Let's dig in...

Old Master Spirits 1978 Domaine de Papolle Bas Armagnac 44yo (40.3% ABV, 44yo, Single Cask, France, One of 132 bottles, $249AUD)

Colour: Deep, dark rich mahogany.

Nose: Fresh and fruity at first, with cola chews & red jubes, turning into sherry-soaked apricots, raisons and some almond oil. With a little time in the glass, coffee grounds and a hint of furniture polish emerge.

Palate: Super balanced - there's oak, raisins, peach, vanilla chews and caramel all playing nicely together. Then some milk chocolate, cigar box and more of the almonds from the nose (though more of an almond nougat this time). Super drinkable and moreish.

Finish: Long, largely following the palate with some more oak towards the end.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100 (Martin). Complexity and approachability, in a delicious package. The guys have done it again.

Old Master Spirits' 1978 Domaine de Papolla Bas Armagnac 44yo goes on sale this Thursday (25th May 2023) at With only 132 500mL bottles (each selling for a very reasonable $249AUD), I can't see this one lasting too long on the virtual shelves...

Thanks Deni & David for the sample.


Friday, 19 May 2023

Starward Stout Cask [Tasted #636]

Get ready to raise your glass, or rather your beer glass. Starward Whisky's latest creation combines the art of brewing and distilling. The expression, dubbed, Starward Stout Cask, is seek to combine flavours derived from whisky together with those flavours imparted by imperial stout beer. 

To create Starward Stout Cask, the Starward team have combined Starward's core whisky, from their renowned red wine and small format Apera barrels which is then aged for an additional 18 months in barrels from Brick Lane's highly acclaimed 'Trilogy of Fear' imperial stout series. The aging in the stout barrels is said to add bold and captivating flavours to Starward's tropical fruit and vanilla notes.

Sam Slaney, the Production Director at Starward, expressed his enthusiasm for the project, stating, 

"We love the change of seasons at Starward, and the colder weather means the perfect time for a stout! Brick Lane's amazing Trilogy of Fear series showcases complex dark malt and a rich texture, allowing our whisky to soak up all the robust flavor from these stout-soaked barrels. This limited release has been brewing for some time, and we couldn't be happier with the result."

Bottled at 52% ABV, Starward Stout Cask balances rich roasted characteristics with Starward's signature notes. With the flavours that have been imparted by the stout barrels, Starward Stout Cask is an ideal candidate as a boilermaker or just drunk neat. Starward have recommended pairing it with a barrel aged stout though it says it complements other craft beer equally as well.

Let's dive into the Stout Cask neat for now...

Starward Stout Cask (52% ABV, Melbourne, Australia, A$169)


A rather delicious and fun release from Starward combining Starward's traditional tropical fruit notes with a layer of malt and chocolate. The nose and palate are fun filled and quite enjoyable neat. Definitely a great input into a boilermaker.

Nose: Lots of tropical fruits, pineapples, lychees, passionfruit followed by a layer of vanilla, milk chocolate, maple syrup, and oat biscuits

Palate: The palate is equally fruity, with banana lollies and vanilla ice cream at first before some notes of  passionfruit and mangosteen that follow before light white pepper spices mixed with some milk chocolate to end

Finish: Oat biscuit and milk chocolate with a lingering white pepper spice

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100 (Hendy) 

Before its official launch, selected venues across Australia will offer Starward Stout Cask boilermakers starting from May 20th for a limited time. There's also the opportunity to grab the bottle through Starward's ballot system via their website. Ballot registration opens 10 May with the ballot drawn from 5 June.

Thanks to Starward for providing us with a sample as well as the pairing imperial stout cask from Trilogy of Fear.

Monday, 8 May 2023

Diageo Special Releases 2022 [Tasted #628 - 635]

It's that time of the year when Diageo unveils its annual Special Releases, albeit for us down under, it's a six-month delay from our northern hemisphere brethren.

Diageo has unveiled its annual Special Releases for 2022, which continue with the mythical theme similar to last year’s special releases. The 2022 series dubbed ‘Elusive Expressions’ sees Illustrator Ken Taylor back again, this time joined by a fellow visual artist, Kevin Tong. Ken Taylor was the Illustrator behind last year’s Fable theme illustrations.

While this year’s theme may be similar to last year’s, the lineup for the 2022 Special Releases is slightly different to last year’s. The 2022 Special Releases see Cameronbridge feature as part of the lineup as well as many familiar distilleries.

When the sample set arrived, Marto was in town and we decided that it would be heaps of fun to split the sample do a joint tasting and combine our notes. While there are some clear favourites amongst us, it was fun to compare the notes for the eight whiskies from the 2022 series. Though, from the entire series, there was one distillery that came out on top.

Here we go...

An interesting Cardhu 16yo, 56%, finished in Jamaican Rum casks. A$299

Martin: Pear, apple and hints of peach on the nose are complimented by a slight herbal note. On the palate, some subtle strawberries & cream notes along with hints of oak, following through to the long finish. 90.

Hendy: Tropical notes on the nose with some mango, and pineapple. Some hints of apples and stone fruits. The palate is soft and creamy, with loads more apples with some strawberries added. The spices appear gradually and slowly evolve into a nice milky chocolate finish. 91.

Oban 10yo, 57.1%, finished in ex-sherry and amontillado-seasoned casks. A$179.99

MartinA herbal grassiness and slight saline smoked note on the nose, followed by a fairly simple, slightly salted beef note with underlying red berry notes. A long and warming finish with residual oak to the end. 87.

Hendy: The nose is quite fruity, apples, berries and grapes. Spices kick on the palate followed by the apples, and pears. The palate evolves with some chocolate mixed with some berries and pepper. The finish is long and warming and similar to Marto's note, quite an oaky finish. 90.

An unusual 12yo Clynelish, 58.5% ABV, matured in refill American Oak, then finished in PX/Oloroso seasoned casks. A$350

Martin: Baked apple pie with vanilla on the nose. Things are a bit more robust on the palate, with more of the expected notes from a sherry finish - nuttiness, a robust toffee note, some red berries and a hint of red apple. A long finish, slightly drying at the end. 90.

Hendy: Stewed apples and vanilla custard flows through the nose. You can also smell a hint of apple turnovers. The palate is fulsome and viscous, with apples, and raisins coming through from the apple turnover. There are some peppermint spices that follow. The finish is nice and round with remnants of white pepper spice and a layer of chocolate. 90.

Singleton of Glen Ord
A 15yo The Singleton of Glen Ord, 54.2% ABV, aged in refill American and European Oak, then double matured in wine-seasoned casks. This was one of my highlights from the 2022 series. A$199

Martin: The rich, robust but fruity nose is a welcome departure from the rest of the range tasted so far. Raspberries and strawberries, and after time some green apple. On the palate, cranberries and raisins are coated in milk chocolate, leading to a long and consistent finish. 91.

Hendy: Nice and fruity, raspberries, oranges, and stone fruits. The palate is soft at first and the spices gradually build. The fruits have come out again, apples, raspberries and stoned fruits. The spices remain for some time, into a somewhat long finish with a nice milk chocolate undertone. 92.

A rich and fruity NAS Mortlach, 57.8% ABV, finished in Tawny Port, Red Muscat and Virgin Oak casks. A$425

Martin: Rich and expressive on the nose, I wouldn't call it 'meaty', but it's definitely 'robust'. A well-polished palate that suggests some age, set against the backdrop of spicy, drying red fruit notes on the palate, and long, lingering raspberry on the finish. 90.

Hendy: Rich and fruity, baked apple pie with apple bits, and some glazed cherries on a warm baked loaf cake. The palate is quite welcoming with rich spices, more of the stewed apples from the apple pie, some berries and salted caramel brittle. The nutmeg and pepper spices continue to build and gradually disappear leaving an oaky, berry finish. 91.

Talisker 11-Year-Old, 55.1% ABV, matured in first-fill ex-bourbon, refill, and wine-seasoned casks. A$199

Martin: Youthful saline smoke on the nose, leading to slightly herbal salted beef notes with a slight medicinal salinity. The palate follows the nose, with the herbal, grassy, saline smoke notes. The finish is long but a little thin, leading to residual dry smoke notes. 88.

Hendy: Quite briney and full of sud, dry seaweed amongst bonfire smoke. There are some subtle herbal notes as well on the nose. The palate is sweet but quite simple. There is some apple and cinnamon with very light nutmeg spice. The finish is slightly herbaceous and oaky but does linger for a while. 89.

A 12yo Lagavulin, 57.3% ABV, matured in virgin oak casks and our smokiest reserves. A$229.99

Martin: A classic and thankfully, this one doesn't disappoint. Whilst the nose is lighter than you might expect (albeit with classic Lagavulin DNA still showing through). On the palate, things come to life, with briney Islay peat and complex chocolate orange amidst seaspray-soaked ropes. A long and smoked citrus finish rounds things out. 91.

Hendy: Earthy and Briny. The nose reeks of sea brine and salted fish. There are remnants of bonfire smoke by the beach. The palate is quite distinct to the nose, the sweetness of toffee green apple comes through with some milk chocolate. There is also some mulchy earth with black pepper spices and oak notes. The finish is quite tarry, there is an earthy oaky undertone but overall, the sweetness of the milk chocolate remains. 91.

For the first time ever, Cameronbridge 26yo single grain whisky, 56.2%ABV, finished in refill American oak. A$599.99

Martin: Citrus tea notes on the nose give way to a more drying, but rich palate with notes of stone fruits (pear, apple, peach) and drying oak. I found the finish reasonably short, with those stone fruit notes carrying through to the end. 88.

Hendy: Sweet milk chocolate, some nougat and toffee apple on the nose. The palate is equally as creamy, milky - milk chocolate. Some Ribena juice gradually follows followed with mint spices and shortbread. The finish is minty and oaky and the milky notes continue for some while. 90.

Hendy (and Marto)

Thank you to Diageo and Example for sending us the Diageo Special Releases 2022 Collection kit for us to spend some time with.

Wednesday, 3 May 2023

Gordon & MacPhail "Mr George Legacy" (3rd Ed) 63yo 1959 Glen Grant [Tasted #627]

Looking back over recent years, Gordon & MacPhail have released some pretty incredible drams, many of which I've been fortunate enough to taste. One series that's always stood out for me though is the "Mr George" range.

First introduced in 2019 with the "Mr George Centenary Edition" Glen Grant 62yo 1956  (tasted here in 2019), G&M then switched to "Mr George Legacy" naming, first with the "Mr George Legacy" (1st Ed) Glen Grant 67yo 1953 (tasted here in 2021), then the "Mr George Legacy" (2nd Ed) Glen Grant 64yo 1957 (tasted here in 2022), and now finally the third release - "Mr George Legacy" (3rd Ed) Glen Grant 63yo 1959".

Named after Mr George Urquhart (second generation of the Gordon & MacPhail family) the series celebrates Mr George's instrumental role in the success and popularity of single malt whisky (he created the Connoisseurs Choice range, way back in 1968 - focusing on single malts when the world was still focused on blends. It's still an incredibly popular range of whiskies today).

Gordon & MacPhail were kind enough to send me a sample of the new release, which was distilled at Glen Grant Distillery on 15th Oct 1959, and bottled 63 years later on 2nd Nov 2022 at a very-respectable 56.5% ABV. The First-fill Sherry butt gave up only 368 bottles, which sells for £6,499 (HKD pricing not yet available). So let's dive in...

Gordon & MacPhail "Mr George Legacy" (3rd Ed) Glen Grant 63yo 1959 (56.5% ABV, 63yo, Single Cask, Speyside, Scotland, One of 368 bottles, £6,499)

Colour: Golden-amber sunset

Nose: Mandarin, followed by a slight peppery earthiness, whole oranges, confectioners sugar and a slight dusting of oak, with a touch of nuttiness.

Palate: Initially citrus - whole oranges and mandarin, followed by mint, soothing earl grey tea, some cocoa and slight notes of mature oak after time.

Finish: Long, with cinnamon sugar, cocoa and residual hints of mature oak.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100 (Martin). I'm always impressed with how well the oak is balanced in these releases, after such long maturation. I know casks were different back then, but still, for a whisky to spend 63 years in oak and still have so much complexity and balance, is no easy task.


Wednesday, 29 March 2023

Old Master Spirits Extra Extra Old (XXO) Bas Armagnac Garreau [Tasted #626]

For a whisky blog, I've covered a few #malternatives recently, but as I always said at the start of this blog, I've got no qualms featuring the occasional aged brandy/rum/whatever, if it's goodOld Master Spirits have certainly met that brief so far, with a number of quality Cognac and Armagnac releases, and even a rum, sherry and whisky, so when the Aussie outfit recently sent me a sample of their latest release Bas Armagnac, I had high expectations it would follow suit.

The Armagnac in question (officially "Extra Extra Old Bas Armagnac Garreau XXO") is founders' Deni & David's first non-vintage Armagnac, and is being released in response to many of the XO Brandies from various luxury houses you see on shelves today. i.e. deemed rare and luxurious, but often watered down to the minimum strength legally allowed of 40% ABV, flushed through a system of filters, with added sugar, caramel colouring & even wood flavouring, to make it appear and taste old.

Deni explained this release represents the opposite - a natural/unadulterated product from a passionate producer. A better experience...and for less money.

Deni explained:
"We want consumers to put our next release to the taste test and compare it to their usual XO at twice the price, or whatever their usual brandy tipple is. We know that this is far older, but for once we want to put age and vintage aside completely, to show Australian Armagnac and Cognac drinkers that natural purist brandy is what they should be buying. It's red hot in Europe for a reason and prices have already started to rise so it's now or never."

Produced by Chateau Garreau and distilled using a 100+ year old still, the eau de vie uses 100% Baco grapes, and was matured in French Oak casks from Gascony in the Chateau's underground wet cellar (nicknamed "the burrow").

Old Master Spirits recommend pairing it with a favourite Cigar - which is definitely something I'm going to have to try soon. As for how it tastes on its own though, read on....

Old Master Spirits "Extra Extra Old Bas Armagnac Garreau XXO" (44.8% ABV, NAS, Single Cask, France, One of 170 bottles, $159AUD)

Colour: Ochre sunset.

Nose: An initial big fruity hit, though it's hard to pin it down to a single fruit. There's definitely apricot and peach, but also some sultanas, red grapes and after time, red jelly babies.

Palate: Sweeter than the nose suggests initially, with some choc-coated caramel chews, more peach, and chocolate orange slices. After time, more dark chocolate. The ~45% ABV keeps it super drinkable, but it doesn't feel lacking in anything. Moreish, easy-drinking & delicious. 

Finish: Long and full of raisins, figs and peach.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100 (Martin). For the price ($159AUD) you'd expect this to be an easy drinker - and it is. What I wasn't expecting was the complexity though...lots of complimentary flavours all working together, in an easy-drinking, well-rounded package. Another great cask pick.

Extra Extra Old Bas Armagnac Garreau XXO goes on sale tomorrow (30th March 2023) at If previous releases are anything to go by, it won't last long.

Thanks Deni & David for the sample.


Tuesday, 7 March 2023

Cask Trade - A cask company with several points of difference

Please note - this article in no way constitutes or should be taken as financial advice. It simply contains my personal views on cask ownership (whether for the purposes of bottling or otherwise), and shares some information from Cask Trade. As always, do your own research and come to your own conclusions!

Last month I finally got around to writing up my long-held views on cask ownership, and it's fair to say the article generated a lot of attention - quickly becoming one of the most viewed articles in recent months, and kicking off weeks of discussion on Instagram and (interestingly) my personal Facebook. Seems there were even more people than I thought out there getting bombarded by cask ownership ads on social media, keen to separate fact from fiction.

In that article, I mentioned I'd be doing a few sponsored posts with a cask company, and I'm happy to announce that company is Cask Trade. In this article, I'll outline their approach, how I think it differs to others, and why I'm working with them.

First, some background. I first came to know Cask Trade back in early 2021, but I've known Colin Hampden White (Keeper of the Quaich, Chairman of the Circle of Wine & Spirits Writers, World Whisky Awards & IWSC Judge and Amazon Prime Star) since 2015. Learning that Colin was a Cask Trade Board member (and responsible for their cask picks) gave me some comfort that this wasn't like many of the other cask companies out there - that they actually had some industry expertise behind them. I later learned that John Wong (whom I'd known for years from Hong Kong's excellent whisky shop/bottler "The Good Spirits") was involved - now heading up HK operations, and after a Zoom tasting of cask samples back in 2021 with Colin, John and CEO Simon Aron, it seemed clear to me that this was a reputable company in a sea of sharks.

Apart from the fact that the cask samples I tasted during that session were all solid, I learnt a few facts about Cask Trade which also (to me) helped set them apart from many of the others. Specifically:

Cask Trade owns the stock they sell. This is a big one - Cask Trade is not a broker. Any cask sold by Cask Trade is, according to the company, 100% owned by them (and as above, with a good chance of being selected by Colin). Management, sampling, updates, cask regauge (health check) etc... are all handled / overseen by Cask Trade, which they can do easily, and as owners of the casks prior to sale, they're able to actually perform quality checks on the casks they're selling, and typically arrange a sample prior to sale too.

They're open about different options ("exit strategies") - including bottling: Many of the shadier companies make grandiose claims about financial returns and easy availability of buyers, without a lot of detail to back them up. Cask Trade offer clear steps and services for what to do when it's time to move on, including bottling the cask, selling it back to Cask Trade, selling it privately, and even auctioning it on their sister site, which gives you some real-world ideas of what the current values of casks (over £400,000 of casks are said to have been sold via the site).


They're based in the UK, and have a physical presence in Hong Kong. If you're a Hong Kong customer, you can actually speak to the team here in Hong Kong - and be assured you're receiving the same pricing as a customer in the UK (or anywhere else).

Their buy-back service seems to offer fair and realistic prices. One of the concerns I raised in my article was spurious / questionable claims of significant financial returns on casks from less sought-after distilleries. Cask Trade shared with me some of the returns their customers have received when using their "Buy Back" service, and whilst I won't re-publish them here, to me they seemed believable - e.g. I'm not surprised that someone who bought a well-aged Clynelish cask in 2019 and sold it in 2022 made a solid % return, whilst someone who bought a Teaninich cask and kept it around the same time made a less significant (but still very respectable) return. 

In the course of my regular whisky discussions (and especially since writing last month's article on cask ownership), I've come across Cask Trade customers and potential customers, and they've all had good things to say regarding their interaction. Part of that is likely because Cask Trade caters to all types of customers - even beginners, and their team offers advice which reflects actual knowledge of the whisky industry, and an understanding that different distilleries/cask types/ages yield different results.

Cask Trade don't publish a complete stock list on their website (which is understandable, given how quickly it would change), but according to their site they do "have the largest most varied cask whisky stocklist in the world [with].....over 500 casks featuring Scotch whisky from over 90 distilleries across Scotland, as well as Irish whiskey, New World whisky and rum, plus other spirits like Cognac and Armagnac." From viewing stock lists previously, I'd say that stacks up, with everything from younger (even new fill) casks from lesser-known distilleries, to well-matured casks from some of Scotland's most sought-after distilleries.

It should go without saying that when getting involved in any kind of cask purchase, it's critical to do your own research and make your own decisions - and to not take any of the above as financial advice. This is simply my experience with Cask Trade as a company, and the people (two of whom I knew well before their involvement) behind it.


PS: Whilst I'm not currently a Cask Trade customer, I'm not a customer of any Cask company at the moment. The only casks I own / have owned are directly from distilleries, aged at those distilleries.

Friday, 3 March 2023

That Boutique-y Whisky Company (TBWC) Return to Oz [Tasted #617 - #625]

Indie bottler That Boutique-y Whisky Company (TBWC) has announced a new series of Australian whisky bottlings with Return to Oz, a follow-up collection to their Australia Series of independent bottlings first launched in 2021 (here's our write-up on the first series - part 1 and part 2).

Six distilleries never bottled by TBWC prior will feature in the collection, including a new Australian rye whisky from Melbourne’s The Gospel and eight Australian single malts. That's a total of eight whiskies and one rye, though two of the eight whiskies are quite young at only 2 years old (Riverbourne and Tria Prima) and as a result, TBWC has labelled these as TBMC i.e. That Boutique-y Whisky Malt Whisky - which I thought was clever.

Also forming part of the series is a brandy from Tasmanian distillery Sullivans Cove as well as four specially selected rums from the likes of Black Gate and Mt Uncle distilleries. Though we did not get to try them so we will focus on the set of nine below:

  • Chief’s Son 5yo - Batch 1
  • Corowa 4yo - Batch 1 
  • Fleurieu 3yo - Batch 2 
  • Launceston 5yo - Batch 1 
  • Limeburners 5yo - Batch 1 
  • Overeem 5yo - Batch 3 
  • Riverbourne 2yo - Batch 2 
  • The Gospel 3yo - Batch 1 
  • Tria Prima 2yo - Batch 1 
The release is the latest in Boutique-y’s themed offerings and for Australia, follows their initial 'Australia' series in 2021. With Return to Oz, The UK-based TBWC will give the broader whisky market abroad an opportunity to try whiskies from down under, some of which are rarely seen outside of Australia. The release also follows TBWC's recent quarterly releases in 2022 including 10th Birthday, the NorWest Euro Express and Boutique-y Records. 

As Sam Simmons noted with TBWC's first Australian collection, 

“While I think it’s fair to say that most of the world is just waking up to the fact that Australian whisky is on the map at all, I would dare say that these whiskies, and the future of whiskies from down under, may turn the world upside down. Literally flipping the hegemonic order on its head, with Australia at the top of the pile in the 21st century.”

That comment still rings true with the Return to Oz series with a number of nice releases including a surprisingly young and bold release. The labelling on these bottles is also unique, something that is customary with TBWC.

If you recall, TBWC's first collection of Australian whiskies had the Southern Cross constellation theme running throughout the collection of labels. There was also a Lark on each of the labels where the ‘godfather’ of modern Australian whisky, Bill Lark, had played an important part in the distillery’s history.

For 'Return to Oz' - TBWC adopted a more radical theme and featured some of the most dangerous animals, insects, and reptiles from across Australia. TBWC decided that it would be awesome to assign each label with a deadly animal that can be found around the area where each distillery is located. A drop bear is one of Australia's deadliest animals right? absolutely!

The Gospel 3yo Batch 1 (58.6% ABV, 3yo, Brunswick, Victoria, Australia, A$179.95


This particular release, the first that we sampled from the 'Return to Oz' series is a different take on an American-style rye whiskey from a distillery located in the back streets of Melbourne's Brunswick neighbourhood, The Gospel Whiskey. This particular release started in a new American old cask before being transferred into an Australian red wine cask. There are big fruity dimensions as a result. It's been distilled from a mash bill of 51% Australian unmalted rye, and 49% malted barley.

Nose: Notes of wheat, rye bread, mixed with strawberry jam, some vanilla, shortbread biscuits and light spices

Palate: The palate is sweet and delicious, I get more of the vanilla, mixed berries, hints of apricot jam, and jam donuts. The palate slowly morphs into some spiced cake and some marzipan.

Finish: The sweetness follows and sticks for a while. The sweet sticky date pudding slowly changes into a dry spiced finish.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100 (Hendy) 

Launceston 5yo Batch 1 (62.6% ABV, 5yo, Launceston, Tasmania, Australia, A$319.95


This little gem is a release that's based on an ex-bourbon barrel from Launceston Distillery, a distillery that was launched by a group of five friends in 2013. They began making whiskies in 2015 in a facility that started as an airport hangar; Hangar 17. In fact, the hangar site is the oldest surviving aviation building in Tasmania and has been used as the passenger departure point up to when the current terminal was built in 1968. Though none of these details feature on TWBC's label for this release. What is featured though is the scruffy yet iconic Tasmanian Devil.

Nose: The nose has hints of caramel, honey with some nougat mixed with creamy vanilla

Palate: The palate carries through those sweet notes, it starts off smooth, almost custard like with more of that nougat and vanilla coming through before fading out into some spiced herbaceous note.

Finish: The finish is long with lingering spice and creamy sweetness finish

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100 (Hendy) 

Limeburners 5yo - Batch 1 (51.5% ABV, 5yo, Albany, Western Australia, Australia, A$299.95 


Based in the Margaret River region in Western Australia, the Limeburners distillery may not be the largest distillery, with annual output of 120 thousand litres of alcohol. While generally, Limeburners spirit is matured in second fill American Oak barrel with some finished in Australian fortified wine barrels, TWBC's Return to Oz Limeburners release is an unpeated, 5yo single malt, that has been matured in ex-Apera cask. Loads of sweet and tropical fruit notes in a bottle that has been labelled with lime mixed with a little box jelly fish, one of the Australia's most venomous marine animal.

Nose: The nose has notes of biscuits and milk chocolate. It is slightly floral with some milk arrow biscuits. There are tropical fruit notes, specifically pineapple that's come through.

Palate: The palate is rich and sweet, the chocolate note mixed with some vanilla, strawberry jam and pineapple ice cream.

Finish: The finish is medium to long, with the sweet chocolate and some pineapple notes.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100 (Hendy) 

Tria Prima (51.2% ABV, 2yo, xx, Australia, A$294.95


A release from a relatively small distillery shop based in Mount Barker, South Australia. Tria Primer is run by a husband and wife; Paul and Trang Shand and their output is comparatively small. They launched their first whisky in 2021 with TBWC's Tria Primer release being their first independent bottling. 

This particular release, while only 2yo is extraordinary good; the label also reads That Boutique-y Whisky Malt Company. If you disregard the age and blind taste this, you might not even realise it's that young - the texture is great, it's juicy and has layers of complexity that you might expect from older whiskies. It's a release that's been matured in a first fill, Grant Burge, Tawny cask.

The blue ring octopus makes its debut on the label, given its status as South Australia's most venomous marine animal.

Nose: The nose is rich and fruity as well as juicy. There are hints of apricots, raisins and some vanilla, peppermint and milk chocolate

Palate: The palate is rich, smooth, somewhat milky and creamy. It is soft on the palate and there are some stone fruit notes including figs. It fades into a more of a dry spiced sweetness.

Finish: The finish is medium yet still smooth and relatively sweet.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100 (Hendy) 

Corowa (48.5% ABV, 4yo, Corowa, New South Wales, Australia, A$239.95 


The Corowa story began when Dean Druce and his father, Neil bought the Corowa Flour Mill based in Corowa, in central New South Wales for the low sum of one Aussie dollar back in 1990. As a family of grain farmers, they transformed the heritage listed 1920s old flour mill into both, a liquid and chocolate factory. Founded in 2010, the distillery is now one of the bigger distilleries in New South Wales and has a capacity of around 350 thousand litres per annum. 

The 4yo TBWC Corowa release has been matured in ex Tawny cask and has been bottled out of a big batch that saw a tad over 500 bottles. On the label, the dreaded funnel web spider, a deadly venomous spider that you often find lurking in bushes.

Nose: The nose is filled with citrus notes with hints of oak. There are orange, marmalade and honey lollies notes.

Palate: The palate is creamy, rich and smooth, with some chocolate notes, mixed with tropical fruits, pineapple lollies rather and fades away into an oaky spiced note.

Finish: Medium length finish with some spiced remnants

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100 (Hendy) 

Overeem (50% ABV, 5yo, Huntingfield, Tasmania, Australia, A$329.95 


As the story goes, Overeem has had a long history since their first release in 2012. With the distillery coming back to the Overeem family in 2020, the label on the TBWC's release signifies New Hope - very much inspired by the Star Wars saga and signals that Overeem is back. This release in fact follows TWBC's first Overeem release in 2015/2016.

The 5yo release has been matured in ex-Apera cask. This one is definitely quality and delicious. 

Nose: The nose has notes of mint chocolate, dried fruits, vanilla, raisins, honey and some peppermint, citrus notes.

Palate: The palate is oily, with some sweet chocolate notes and layered with honey, lime - perhaps lemon lozenge that fades into peppery spiced notes.

Finish: The finish is relatively long and carries some of the spices at the back of the palate.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100 (Hendy) 

Chief's Son (52.1% ABV, 5yo, Somerville, Victoria, Australia, A$294.95 


A small distiller, or rather a micro distiller based in Somerville, Victoria. Chief's Son Distillery was established in 2013 by Stuart and Naomi Macintosh. Chief's Son use a brewers for their wash and they have just one four thousand litre capacity, electrically heated still. The TWBC Chief's Son release is awesome and unique, I mean what's not too like with an earthy, oily notes with some prosciutto thrown in. TWBC's Chief's son release is based from an ex Apera cask. 

Nose: The nose is rich, filled with some wood smoke. There is mint, fruity notes, apples and jelly.

Palate: The palate is rich and viscous and at the same time earthy, with layers of cold meat, salami, prosciutto. Some change to oaky and earthy notes at the end. Quite oily with black pepper and clove spices.

Finish: There are remnants of that oily, salami and smoky notes. Delicious.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100 (Hendy) 

Fleurie (65% ABV, 3yo, Goolwa, South Australia, Australia, A$309.95 


Fleurie has featured again, having been featured on TWBC's first Australian release. This time, it's a 3yo peated malt release aged in ex-Apera cask (named "Mary Ann Watkins"). Fleurie has always been a favourite of mine and this release is no different with beautiful hints of sweet notes, salted caramel, strawberry macaroon and rounded with some bonfire smoke. Great stuff as always from Gareth and Angela Andrew of Fleurie. 

The deadly animal that has been featured is no other than the legendary Australian drop bear :)

Nose: The nose is sweet, with notes of sweet sticky date, with some nuttiness and smoke.

Palate: The palate is relatively sweet, salted caramel mixed with strawberry macaroon before becoming quite spiced, nutty and oaky.  There's also that thin veneer of sea brine and iodine throughout.

Finish: The finish is long with spiced remnants, spiced salted nutty brittles.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 93/100 (Hendy) 

Riverbourne (51% ABV, 2yo, Jingera, New South Wales, Australia, A$224.95 


The final whisky in the set that we tasted is from a distillery that has been re-featured by TBWC; Riverbourne Distillery. This time, a relatively young, 2yo peated malt that has been matured in a STR (shaved, toasted, recharred) 100l cask based on American and French Oak staves. 

Known for its big powerful flavours, Riverbourne have been appropriately represented by the death adder, one of the most deadliest land snake in Australia.

Nose: Salted fish and iodine jumps out with some black olives. The notes is rather earthy and somewhat herbaceous.

Palate: The palate is big and viscous, black olive tapenade with some citrus notes shine through with iodine and medicinal earthy notes. 

Finish: The finish is long, dry, earthy and quite salty.

Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100 (Hendy) 


Now the full lineup have gone live abroad in the UK and Europe since late January 2023. Australia stocks will be available mid-year, through retailers including The Oak Barrel & Old Barrel House and you might also spot some of these bottles at some select bars.

Thanks to Simon McGoram of That Boutique-y Whisky Company for providing us with samples from this new 'Return to Oz' series.



Wednesday, 1 February 2023

NED Green Sash [Tasted #616]

"We want to put things in us that are nice!" noted NED Whisky (Top Shelf International) Master Distiller Seb Reaburn. For those that have come across Sebastian Reaburn or Seb the Cocktail Maker Extraordinaire - he's more widely known as the Winner of the Cocktail World Cup, Winner of Cocktail Menu and Winner of Cocktail Presentation.

Of all the great individuals in the hospitality industry, Seb is one that you can say, has been deeply immersed in the world of flavour. Seb has been working with NED since 2016, where he led the establishment of NED's 'grain to can' distillery implementation. In fact, he proudly touted that NED's distillery is the only 'grain-to-can' distillery.

The concept of 'grain to can' may be new to some but the idea had been born from the notion that the number one drink by volume in Australia has been the American-style whiskey and cola, in a can! In fact, Australians drink more whiskey and cola than anyone else in the world. 

So the philosophy goes, if Australians like to drink this combo, why won't NED make them. Seb noted that at NEDS, they can control everything - not only do they distil the whisky but they also run their own canning facility. From this philoshopy, NED was then born, to create a locally crafted Australian whisky that gave Australian a choice and something to call their own.

But there is also more to NED than their ambition to create the world's best whisky and cola. Their recently launched NED Green Sash pays homage to the legendary NED Kelly.

The whisky has been aptly named after the prized green sash that Ned received for saving another boy's life early in his life. 

We joined Seb at Webster Bar in Sydney where he talked through the inspiration behind NED Whisky's latest release.

When Ned (Edward Kelly) was 11, he had a close friend by the name of Richard Shelton. Shelton's family owned the local pub. On the way to school, Richard crossed the Hughes river bridge, in Victoria. That day, the river was flooded and swollen. Richard fell into the river and washed downstream. Not knowing how to swim, Ned saw his friend and managed to jump into the river and dragged his friend out of the river to safety. The two of them eventually managed to get to the river banks.

The Shelton family awarded Ned with a green sash; a long, silk wool and cotton woven green fabric, This was to symbolise Ned's bravery and courage for doing the right thing because it must be done. Ned didn't know how to swim but jumped in anyway to save his friend even though he knew the consequences could have been catastrophic. Ned's attitude is certainly what inspired NED Whisky's latest release. What was also remarkable was the fact that Ned worse the green sash right up to his last day when was felled at Glenrowan.

Seb noted, when he created the Green Sash, he wanted to do it, not because it has been done, nor would it follow tradition but he wanted to create something that is delicious, first and foremost.

The NED Green Sash is a culmination of reserved aged NED barrels that had been harvested over toasted American Oak. The Green Sash form part of NED's core series and will be available all the time. It'll be made every month using a consistent process of emptying the barrels over toasted American Oak, not charred. 

The maturation involve the selection and vatting of 40 of NED's reserved barrels, into a wooden Green Sash dedicated vat which is then drawn down further into 24 barrels which are then put into a final vat to rest for 90 days. This is longer than the rest time for NED Whisky's original whisky which only sees 30 days of rest. Seb noted that the extra rest time gives the Green Sash additional sweetness and additional complexity.

NED Whisky Green Sash (44% ABV, NAS, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, A$79.99 


The inherent vanilla, citrus, oak and fruity notes make this a great standalone dram or as a base to whisky cocktails such as the old fashioned.

Nose: Fruity, some berries and summer fruits, vanilla and some oak and orange citrus notes

Palate: The palate is dry at first, there is hints of chocolate, vanillin, citrus orange notes and berries. The palate then develops and becomes spiced and peppery with some nuttiness that remains.

Finish: The finish is medium to long, with some remnants of spice cake and oranges.

Rating (on my very non scientific scale): 91/100 (Hendy) 

Thanks to Scott Fitzsimons of Top Shelf Group and Seb Reaburn for giving us the opportunity to join in on the NED tasting for the Green Sash launch at Websters Bar.