Monday 16 September 2013

The Whisky Fair Sydney 2013 review (#101drams)

In Sydney each year we have three main whisky shows - The Whisky Show (July), Whisky Live (August), and The Whisky Fair (September). In 2012 Steph and I attended the first two, but for some reason missed out on The Whisky Fair (perhaps we thought two was enough? Crazy talk...) This year we righted that wrong.

Whereas Whisky Live is mainly about readily-available whiskies, aimed not necessarily at the whisky enthusiast, and The Whisky Show is a mix of enthusiast drams and readily available whiskies, The Whisky Fair is very much aimed at real whisky enthusiasts, with plenty of drams you won't see anywhere else. While the show does include plenty of well-known distilleries, the drams they offer are typically from the upper end of the portfolio - e.g. William Grant & Sons were offering The Balvenie 17yo Double Wood, Glenfarclas were tasting the 40yoPernod Ricard had a wide selection from their portfolio, including Longmorn and the excellent The Glenlivet Nadurra, and Think Spirits were offering The Dalmore King Alexander III.

But while those are all excellent whiskies, it was the rarer, more "boutique" drams I was really excited to try - and the The Oak Barrel didn't disappoint, with their cavernous CBD store occupied by the likes of the Balcones (will the popularity of this Texan distillery ever stop growing?), FEW Spirits, masters of experiment KovalBelgrove (making its aged Rye debut), and Australian independent bottler Heartwood, with their incredible 72.5% "The Convict Redemption". Not to mention an Overeem bottled especially for the fair, thrown in for good measure.

With so many drams on offer it was hard to know where to start, so first order of business was to get around and say hi (over a dram or two) to all the friends Time for Whisky has made over the past year.

Whilst there genuinely wasn't a bad dram in sight, it's pretty hard to list every one we tried, so in no particular order, these were the more unique, interesting, quirky, or downright fantastic drams we enjoyed:
  • Belgrove - I'd read a bit about Belgrove and was genuinely keen to try it. Peter Bignell (distiller and owner) talked us through his Tasmanian Rye - made via a real self-contained production process, with the ryecorn home-grown on his farm, the pot still built from scratch, heating from home-made biodiesel and cooling from his own dam! Both unaged and (minimum) 2 year barrel aged varieties were on tasting, and both were very impressive. One to watch.
  • Balcones - I'd tried the Baby Blue Corn Whisky earlier and was keen to try the rest of the range. Luckily H&R Craft Beverages were at the show, with not only the Texas Single Malt (a #101drams whisky) and Baby Blue, but also the True Blue 100 proof and Brimstone. A quick taste of each confirmed what I'd suspected - that the Baby Blue wasn't just a fluke - all Balcones' whiskies are fantastic.
  • Heartwood, along with Belgrove, was the other Tassie entrant I was particularly keen to visit. (To my knowledge) the only Australian independent bottler of Australian whisky, Heartwood bottle a range of Aussie whiskies, at cask strength, and sell them in 500mL format with names such as "Vat out of Hell", "Release the Beast" and "Velvet Hammer". But it was their 72.5% "The Convict Redemption" that stole the show. Tim (owner and Lark Distillery board member) was passing around drams to comments such as "wow", "full bodied" and "flavoursome" - presumably mostly from people who didn't realise they'd just tried a 72.5% ABV whisky. That's how smooth this whisky really is. Steph tried it, and (no stranger to cask strength whiskies, having recently gotten into SMWS bottlings) guessed it to be around 55-60%. A stunner.
  • Limeburners Single Malt West Australian-whisky (another #101drams whisky)
  • Overeem - a Tassie favourite of mine, with 200mL bottlings of their Oak Barrel exclusive cask for only $44. We're big fans of the Port cask Overeem (and also the Sherry), and can't wait for their next release.
  • Brown Forman were again on hand, this time with the most impressive stand they've had in a long time. Sure Woodford Reserve and Jack (Unaged Rye) were there, but so were some of the rarer Woodford Master's Collection (including the Four Wood). As if the stand wasn't packed enough, brand ambassador Stuart had also managed to whip up a batch of barrel aged Old Fashioneds!

...hold up - 6 distilleries/whiskies mentioned, and not one of them Scottish? Such is the quality of world whisky I guess! But on the topic of Scotland, half-way through the show a bagpipe procession formed, and James Buntin of William Grant & Sons (a.k.a The Whisky Ambassador) prepared the highlight of the show - fresh haggis, served with neeps and tatties, and a Glenfiddich 14yo Rich Oak.

After a quick haggis break, it was onto all things Scottish:

  • While I'd tried The Balvenie 17yo Double Wood before, I'd never tried it injected into a chocolate truffle. An amazing match.
  • Innis & Gunn beer. Beer? Well all whisky is basically beer at some stage in its life, right? This Edinburgh-based brewery had a few varieties on tasting, but it was their 6.6% ABV "Original" that really impressed me. Aged for 77 days in American Oak, it was honied, smooth and perfectly balanced. Couldn't leave without buying a few bottles!
  • Dalmore King Alexander III - a brilliant (#101drams) dram, complete with impressive artwork (below). Who knew the Think Spirits guys had so much talent?
  • Macallan - the full 1824 Series was on tasting, ahead of its November release in Australia. The Sienna was Steph and my pick of the bunch.
  • Scotch Malt Whisky Society - it wouldn't be an enthusiasts' whisky show without SMWS! Andrew (NSW Ambassador, Director and Australian Cellarmaster) and Murray (Australian tasting panel member and super friendly bloke) were busily handing out drams and converting people to the joys of single cask, cask strength whisky. On taste were a number of gems, including the incredibly light but flavoursome 21.27 (39yo Glenglassaugh), a sublime lightly-peated Ardmore (which was recommended to me by one of the other stalls) and a Craigellachie which I sadly missed (of particular note as they don't even bottle this as an OB Single Malt!).


It was hard to believe 4 hours had passed so quickly, but sadly it had, and on that note we said our farewells and walked out into the unusually hot Sydney September. If we can only attend one whisky show next year, this will be it without a doubt. Congrats to Dave and the guys from The Oak Barrel for putting on such a fantastic show.


Time for Whisky attended as guests of The Oak Barrel.

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