Wednesday 24 June 2015

Distilery Tour #5 and Bar Review #16: Archie Rose Distilling Company (Sydney, Australia) (Tasted #193-194)

If you fancy yourself a fan of whisky, especially "world whisky", you'll no doubt know that Australian whisky has been exploding in popularity of late (and with good reason - for the most part, it's bloody good stuff).

Despite the fact that many people automatically associate "Australian whisky" with "Tasmanian whisky", there are a number of quality whiskies (or soon-to-be whiskies) being produced in other states, including Victoria (New World Whisky DistilleryBakery Hill), Western Australia (Great Southern Distilling Co) and now right in the heart of Sydney, New South Wales, with the recent opening of Archie Rose Distilling Co.

When I first heard about Archie Rose, I've got to admit I was more than a little excited. A new whisky distillery, right in my home city of Sydney, with Dave Withers (formerly of The Oak Barrel and one of the most knowledgable whisky folk I know) at the helm of production? How could we Sydney whisky fans not be excited?!

The excitement grew when I started seeing pictures and hearing more about the distillery, including the amazing bar, the tours, and the spirits being produced.

Fast forward to Easter time, when Steph and I were back in Sydney and the aforementioned Dave was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to give us an in-depth tour and tasting of the spirits being produced. It was my fourth distillery tour in 5 months, across 3 different countries (none of them Scotland, although that's happening next month)...and easily the one I was most looking forward to.

Archie Rose is located in Rosebery, in the same former industrial complex as Kitchen by Mike and Black Star Pastry. The impressive space is conveniently split into two by a walkway - on one side, the production and cask storage, on the other, the (hugely impressive) bar, designed by the same team behind The Grounds of Alexandria (where we attended the Tullamore D.E.W tasting last year).

We (wisely) started our tour on the production side, where Dave talked us through a number of interesting points about the distillery, including:
  • The two different maltings currently used - malted barley and malted rye
  • The equipment - including the hopper which takes a 600kg mash, is hand spun and is a "pain" when working the rye
  • The mash tun and stills, created by Peter Bailly of Tasmania (who also produced Old Hobart Distillery's stills)
  • The Italian-made fermenters, with water jacketing to control temperature
  • The two main stills (the steam-heated wash still - the largest in Australia at 3,600L, and the spirit still at 1,700L),
  • The smaller (300L) gin still - a modified Carter-head still through which 14 botanicals impart the gin's flavour, including Lemon myrtle, blood lime, juniper, angelia root, ginger and orange.
  • The use of "Loch Rosebery" water - aka Sydney town water (although Sydney town water that's been twice carbon-filtered and passed through a UV filter, mind you.)

The new make spirit comes off the stills at 70% ABV, and is described as robust due to the short, squat stills and narrow necks. Dave (who it has to be said, has a fantastic palate / nose) describes the foreshots as having notes of "permanent markets", the hearts as "honey" and the tails as "lamb fat". Very distinctive then!

Interestingly, the (white) rye currently being sold isn't exactly the same new make as goes into the barrels for aging - it's a spirit made specifically to be enjoyed unaged, by ensuring a lower temperature towards the end of fermentation. For the spirit that is aged though, Archie Rose vat 4-5 barrels' worth at a time, and use virgin oak for the rye (and a future bourbon release), and Buffalo Trace barrels (re-charred in Tasmania) for others.

Steph and I were fortunate enough to taste Archie Rose's Rye that had been aged for a whole 1 day. Whilst not a whisky, and only at 27% ABV, it was an interesting insight into what the future might hold...

Archie Rose 1 day old Rye (27% ABV, 1 day old, Sydney, Australia)
Colour: More than you'd think for one day old (I guess the virgin oak helps). Pale straw.
Nose: Banoffee pie with thick rich caramel.
Palate: More Banoffee pie / banana notes. Sweet.
Finish: Short as you might expect, with some toffee and caramel notes at the end.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. Not overly complex (c'mon, it's a new born and only 27% ABV), but incredibly smooth, absolutely no harshness whatsoever, and with the potential to turn into a robust, complex and fantastic whisky. If it's this good after 1 day, I can't wait to try it with a few years under its belt.

Dave went on to explain that, under current legislation in New South Wales, a distiller can't apply for a licence until the entire operation is pretty much ready to go. Building acquired and equipment purchased and installed. That's a pretty significant outlay for someone to make with no guarantee of a licence! Luckily, there were no such concerns with Archie Rose. For what it's worth, in our opinion a destination like this can only be a good thing for Sydney - not just to put NSW back on the "Aussie Whisky" map, but from a City of Sydney tourism perspective too.

Archie Rose run tours where they open the distillery to the public, allow visitors to see the production and even taste some of the product, during and after production. At $10AUD (tour) or $20 (tour + tasting), it's pretty good value. Details here.

With our tour over, it was onto the bar....

...and what a stunning bar it was. With a copper bar and booths that look like large wooden mashtuns, the spirits theme clearly runs right throughout the venue (and just in case you forgot where you where, there are barrels stacked 4 high and 12 wide right above said booths).

With a large education / function space upstairs, expert mixologists mixing cocktails from 12pm to 10pm 7 days/week, and an incredible spirits selection (don't fancy an Archie Rose white rye, gin or vodka? How does a Pappy van Winkle 23 grab you? Or a Smith's Angaston 14yo?), the bar is the sort of venue you could happily call your local (and from what we saw, it seems many already are).

Given we were inside a distillery though, it would have been rude not to try the line-up (Vodka, Gin and White Rye). All were smooth, very sippable and impeccably made, but this is a whisky blog after all, and so we'll focus on the White Rye here.

Archie Rose White Rye (40% ABV, unaged, Sydney, Australia)
Colour: As naked (clear) as the day it was born.
Nose: White chocolate.
Palate: Rich, thick, chewy. Chocolate and hazelnuts, with some meatiness. Robust and complex for an unaged spirit.
Finish: Some slight vegetal notes (asparagus?!), more hazelnuts and a short to medium length.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. There are new makes I can't stand, and others I could happily sip neat. This definitely falls into the latter category.

If you're a whisky fan living in Sydney (and even if you're not a whisky fan), we highly recommend dropping by Archie Rose at least for a drink, if not for a tour. Judging by the number of (non-whisky fanatic) friends I've seen having a great time here on Facebook, Archie Rose are onto an absolute winner here, and we can't wait to see what goodies they produce in the coming years.

All the best fellas.

Time for Whisky would like to thank Archie Rose (and especially Dave Withers) for taking the time to give us an in-depth tour and tasting. 


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