Monday 2 November 2015

TimeforWhisky gets hands-on experience at the Archie Rose Distilling Co, ahead of the new "Tailored Spirits" program

Today is a pioneering day for the Australian spirits world - the first time (as far as we're aware) that an Australian Distillery has made personalised Gin, Vodka and (of course) Whisky so accessible, affordable and easy. To celebrate, and to find out just what this was all about, I recently rolled up my sleeves and tried my hand at a few of the stages of whisky production at Sydney's Archie Rose Distilling Co.

The program I'm talking about is Archie Rose's tailored spirits program, which launches today (Archie Rose, of course, being the Sydney-based distillery we also visited back in April). The full press-release has been included at the bottom of this article, but the key details are these:

  • On the Archie Rose website, you'll be able to select Gin, Vodka or Whisky, and "tailor" the elements to suit your needs. We've seen a sneak preview of the interface, and it is slick.
  • For example, with the tailored gin, you'll be able to select up to 5 botanicals (and the intensity of each) for a unique, personalised gin. Blood lime, orange, mint, fresh apples? You name it.
  • For the whisky, you'll be able to choose your cask type, base grain (rye or malt), level of peat or wood smoke and ABV (46%, 60% or custom).
  • Those choosing the whisky option will be able to spend up to 2 and a half days getting hands-on experience actually making their whisky - mashing in, pitching yeast, distillation etc... (a $500AUD option).

That all sounds great, but the part we find incredible is the pricing:
  • Tailored Vodka: $84AUD
  • Tailored Gin: $89AUD
  • Tailored Whisky: From $4,000AUD for a 20L Cask

A bottle of your own, tailored gin/vodka for under $90AUD? We can see bars and consumers alike lapping this up, and no doubt more than a few groups of friends will get together to take up the whisky cask offer too...

To understand a little more about how the program will work, I recently spent a morning at Archie Rose, getting some hands-on experience with the mashing and spirit cuts.

First some background - it was my birthday recently, and Steph bought me a small 2L charred American Oak cask (from Barrel Barn), to help me tick off #9 on my #101drams charitable challenge. A cask is all well and good, but it's nothing without some new make spirit, and so I weighed up the options - lay my hands on some Scottish new make single malt, buy a few bottles of Buffalo Trace White Dog, buy a few bottles of Archie Rose White Rye etc... when I figured I'd drop the folks at Archie Rose an e-mail and see if they'd be willing to sell me 4L of proper new make.

Not only were they, they also helped me figure out what type of spirit would suit my situation best. As the cask was to be matured in Hong Kong, with its hot and humid climate (humidity often meaning the angels take more alcohol and less water), it was suggested I go for a slightly higher ABV (but keeping it under 70% as I had to transport the new make back on the plane with me), so we settled on 67% ABV. As I wanted to mature two batches of spirit (one in HK's winter, one in HK's summer) I decided to go for 2L of "speyside spec" single malt new make, and 2L of "heavily peated" single malt new make.

With the spirit agreed upon, I was asked if I'd like to spend a morning at the distillery, to get some hands-on experience actually making some new make spirit?

Errm, not really something you say no to is it!?

Arriving at Archie Rose early one morning, I met Head Distiller Joe Dinsmoor (formerly of Lark Distillery) and Assistant Distiller Shane Casey who had just started the mashing in of a new batch of single malt. Having been on more distillery tours than I can remember, I knew how this process worked, but seeing it up close, and actually getting involved, just made it that much more real. Unlike most Scottish distilleries, Archie Rose mashing is done manually by hand (at least until a new mash tun arrives in 2016), 4 days a week, with 600kg of barley. Luckily for my arms, they were mashing the malted barley that day, and not the "cement-like" rye...

The regular single malt includes 100kg (1/6) of peated malt, described by Joe as the "pepper on the steak". Having tried their single malt new make, I can assure you they've made the right choice - it's smooth, flavoursome and should age incredibly well. The "heavily peated" new make includes 300kg (half) of peat-smoked malted barley.

Speaking of malted barley, part of my morning included loading the hopper with fresh malt, ready for the next session of mashing. Slightly tiring work loading up those 25kg bags, but it did give me an opportunity to try each type. The peated barley had an incredible woodsmoke, BBQ note which I'd happily munch on as a snack.

With that done, it was over to the stills to see the low wines coming off the wash still (described as having a "rollercoaster of flavour", although obviously a little rough) and the foreshots coming off the spirit still. There's no automation or computerisation when it comes to making the spirit cuts at Archie Rose - Joe and team make the decision based on nosing and tasting the spirit multiple times as it comes off the still (Joe did explain that the results are fairly consistent, and so they generally know at what time/volume the foreshots start to end and the heart run begins). I had a little nose at a few stages (nearing the end of the foreshots), and it was fascinating to see how quickly it could change, and how new flavours/notes were introduced as it progressed.

For anyone visiting, don't expect a spirit safe like you'll find (mandated by law) in the UK. "Cutting the spirit" here involves wheeling in a new receptacle and moving the hose into it!

With the cuts done, there was time to sample the two new make spirits I was taking home:
  • Archie Rose Single Malt New Make Spirit (67% ABV): A smooth, banana/bubblegum nose leading to a rich, thick oily palate of asparagus and strawberry bubblegum, with a long, smooth finish with hints of lamb fat. Complex and delicious.
  • Archie Rose "Heavily Peated" Single Malt New Make Spirit (67% ABV): A campfire BBQ nose with hints of pork, more pork on the palate (with some confectionary sweetness) and a long, sweet and sherberty finish. Also delicious.
Can't wait to see how they go in our little 2L cask, which is currently being seasoned with a mix of sherry and port (more on that in the coming months).

One thing I found interesting, which I'd never had a sense of from previous distillery tours, was how a distiller actually spends their day. While there wasn't really any "down time", there were brief (and we mean brief) periods of waiting for certain stages, but there was also a tendency for things to happen all at once too. For example, at undoubtedly the most time critical point - the spirit cutting, there were multiple delivery men arriving, phone calls, and even a truck delivering a load of 200L ex-sherry casks (which smelled amazing, by the way). The life of a distiller can be a frantic one at times, but Joe and Shane kept their cool like pros.

With the heart run well underway, and my new make all bottled up, it was time for me to get out of the way and let the blokes get back to work. As I sat down to a delicious chicken sando at Black Star Pastry just next door (please come to Hong Kong!), I reflected back on what I'd seen, and how while we whisky enthusiasts might think it's all fun and games making whisky, it's actually bloody hard, skilful work. A big cheers to the men and women around the world who make the whisky we know and love, day-in, day-out.

TimeforWhisky would like to say a huge thanks to Will, Dave, Joe and the team at Archie Rose for having us along and for producing us a fantastic new make spirit which is sure to work a treat in our little mini cask.



Full press release:
"Archie Rose Distilling Co. is enabling you to create your own tailored spirits, giving you a truly unique experience in designing your own personal gin, vodka or whisky, right down to your name on the label.
The award-winning distillery and bar prides itself on its opening up the distilling experience to the public and invites you to try your hand at spirits design via the Archie Rose website, where a custom application has been developed to guide you through the process.
“This is something we’ve been working on for some time,” says founder and owner, Will Edwards. “Every day we are lucky enough to able to play with pure botanical distillates, unique malts and rare casks to create our spirits’ flavour profiles, and thought why should we be the ones having all the fun designing spirits? It was a natural progression to go down this route and give people the opportunity to get really involved in the distilling process, which we are so passionate about.” 
Designing your Tailored Vodka or gin begins at where you have the option to select up to five of the distillery’s unique botanical distillates to add to your bottle of Original Vodka or Signature Dry Gin. The intensity for each botanical is then chosen to give your spirit its unique flavour profile. The final step is personalising the bottle, by adding your name or the person lucky enough to be receiving it as a gift, and the custom made label is created – your Tailored Spirit forever marked as your own and delivered to your door. 
For those wanting to up the ante, Tailored Whisky is an incredibly unique offering allowing you to personalise almost every aspect of your whisky including the option for you and four friends to assist in the actual making of your whisky on site.
To ensure your Tailored Whisky is precisely to your specifications, options include a choice of Single Malt Whisky or Rye Whisky; a custom made 20L, 50L or 100L cask of any wood type the Archie Rose cooper has available including New American Oak, French Oak, Ex-Bourbon, Ex-Port and Ex-Sherry and setting your desired level of smoke influence from a choice of peated or wood smoked malts, among others.
Your name is stencilled on to your cask prior to it being stored and displayed in the bar rack until mature with the Archie Rose Production Manager and Head Distiller managing the maturation process. You will receive a 200ml sample annually to create a library of your whisky’s maturation however your cask can be sampled at any time by appointment. 
Bottling the Tailored Whisky at your desired ABV on maturation includes batch details and your name on the label. Six bottles of the final product will be presented in a handmade wooden Archie Rose crate with full brewing and distillation notes, one bottle of filtered water used in the production of the whisky and two Glencairn glasses. The remaining bottles will be packed in Archie Rose cases with an option to keep your empty cask.
Tailored Vodka: $84
Tailored Gin: $89
Tailored Whisky: From $4,000 for a 20L Cask
Available from Monday 2 November at:"

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