Friday 23 April 2021

That Boutique-y Whisky Company "Australia" Series: Part 1

Indie bottler That Boutique-y Whisky Company (TBWC) has been renowned for not only bottling malt from brands and distillers around the world but also for its fun and novel-style labels. They have set out to bring great whisky in a fun, colourful and informative way with no nonsense. They've been able to bottle over 100 different bottlings and a variety of fans far and wide with whiskies from the likes of Ardbeg, Paul John, Overeem and even the elusive Karuizawa.

Locally, TBWC worked with Overeem just as the Australian whisky industry was growing, around the time when Overeem started to push into the UK market in 2014. With the continued growth of the Australian boutique malt whisky industry over the years, TBWC saw an opportunity to bring more Australian whiskies abroad through a new whisky series.

The new series dubbed 'The Australia Series' follows TBWC's World Series and World Rye Series and present the best of Australian whiskies including whiskies from Starward, Black Gate, Tin Shed and Fleurieu. 

What's exciting is that the range in the series showcases a wide variety of flavour differences created by the different whisky producers from across Australia. This is an exciting prospect as the new series will undoubtedly help to bring more Australian whiskies into the international whisky community.

I will do a two-part post to cover this series with this post providing an overview of the Australia series as well as sharing some insights from Atom Brands Head of Whisky and friend of this blog, Sam 'Dr Whisky' Simmons followed by another post where I'll share my thought on the series and some backstories on the local producers.

The full line up of the Australia series include:

  • Black Gate 3YO Single Malt - $255.00
  • Belgrove 4YO Rye - $299.00
  • Tin Shed 3YO Single Malt - $215.00
  • Fleurieu 3YO Single Malt - $190.00 (exclusive in Australia to The Oak Barrel)
  • Killara 2YO Single Malt - $375.00
  • Riverbourne 3YO Single Malt - $239.00
  • Starward 3YO Single Malt - $179.00
  • Bakery Hill 5YO Single Malt - $299.00

Sam Simmons summed it up well when he said "Take note of these distillery names, it may be the first time you’ve heard some of them (certainly if you're not from Australian Shores), but it will not be the last." That's likely not far from the truth given most of these labels will be foreign for people abroad who may only have heard or sampled whiskies from one or two Australian distillers.

Sam also added... 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.”

The series will see bottlings from a collection of highly sought after, small-batch craft distilleries, many of which have not previously been available outside of Australia. Included amongst this list is Belgrove, a farm-to-glass distillery run by Peter Bignell, one of the most known and loved faces in Australian whisky."

As part of this post, I put out five questions to Sam earlier this week to get a bit more on the series and here's what he's got to say:

1. Favourite part of your journey to put together this new TBWC Australia series?

Well, my colleague Felix Dear had the joy of travelling around Australia staying with distillers and coming home with casks, poor bastard.

And I was on the World Whiskies Awards (WWA) judging panel for the famed 2014 award for Sullivans Cove, however, I didn't actually vote for that winner...

So for me, I think it began when I was in Australia in 2013 and 2016 with Balvenie. My visits were only a few years apart but there was a marked increase in available domestic whisky, there were more people I met asking "have you tried..." (so I did), and what I tried was for the most part incredibly tasty. 

It was on one of those trips that David Vitale described Australian regulations (since 1992, anyways) as being "so forgiving you could blow a cannonball through them", and they are. So that moment when what was in my glass was world-class AND I was being told that the possibilities are as wide as the distillers' imaginations, I thought "fuck yes; THIS is exciting".

2. In your experience are there any differences in how whisky drinkers differ in how they enjoy their whisky from different regions? What can people from perhaps Australia, Asia, UK expect from this new Australia series?

This is a great question as, let's remember, most of the world drinks their whisky mixed with ice, soda, cola, ginger ale, green tea, coconut water etc, but for most "new world" distilleries, the intention is to be sipped and enjoyed like a fine cognac or single malt scotch. 

These Australian bottlings are no different, as many Boutique-y drinkers around the world may have never had an Australian whisky before let alone a Fleurieu or Tin Shed.

3. What's the one (or two) whiskies out of this series that has really surprised you - either in a good way or in a somewhat interesting way?

For me, the standouts were the Black Gate ex-apera and the Tin Shed pinot gris cask. I've never tasted anything like them, and I've never liked anything that tasted like them. Whiskies whose magic you immediately want to share with someone, "you gotta try this"

4. The labels on these bottles all look fun (as with all TBWC bottles), any particular favourite from the set?

The Belgrove is just perfect, but I also really like Black Gate's colour palate/mood and Bakery Hill's fun. Emily Chappell is an incredible visual storyteller and is the Glaswegian artist behind all the labels.

5. Lastly, what's the one whisky trend you think will continue to grow in 2021? (e.g. will we see more craft distilleries flourish, growth in independent labels, rum starting to take over whiskies?)

It pains me to say it, and it may only be a dip, but the trend of declining Scotch whisky may pick up speed in 2021.

For now, the Australia series will launch today across Australia as well as abroad and I look forward to sharing my thoughts on the series in the next post.


Monday 5 April 2021

Diageo Special Releases 2020

The Diageo Special Releases 2020 have now arrived in Australia.

This year's series is made up of eight whiskies including Cardhu 11yo, Cragganmore 20yo, Dalwhinnie 30yo, Lagavulin 12yo, Mortlach 21yo, The Singleton of Dufftown 17yo, a Caribbean Rum cask finished Talisker 8yo and another release from the ghost distillery Pittyvaich 30yo.

The annual collection once again explores different age points, experimental maturation techniques and introduces the first-ever release finished in pot-still Caribbean rum casks. This was an interesting one. The theme of 'Rare by Nature' alludes to the relationship between nature that surrounds each distillery and also in the illustrations used on the bottles.

Dr Craig Wilson, Diageo Master Blender, says, “I’ve created this year’s Special Releases Collection, from some of my favourite distilleries across Scotland, with whisky enthusiasts in mind.  For those who enjoy spicy flavours, my recommendation would be to try our Cardhu, and for those who favour rich, intense and smooth flavours my choice would be Mortlach 21 year old. If you are curious about discovering something very rare, the Pittyvaich - the single ghost distillery in our Special Releases Collection this year is an unforgettable dram.”

For those curious to discover the very last drops from unique casks or get a little taste of history, the collection includes: Pittyvaich, from the Speyside ghost distillery, finished in first-fill ex-bourbon casks, a rare Highland expression of Dalwhinnie matured in refill hogshead casks filled in 1989, the best of Isle of Skye, Talisker, finished in pot-still Caribbean rum casks, and the stalwart Lagavulin, a perfect expression of this Islay distillery’s character.

I was lucky enough to have had the pleasure to sit down through the eight releases. I've noted my notes on the different releases below but I'll do a write up on each one over the next few weeks:

Dalwhinnie 30 Year Old (51.9% ABV, 30yo, Highlands, Scotland, A$970.00) Clean and elegant, matured in refill hogsheads filled in 1989. The nose smells of leather, floral, sweet honey and peaches. The palate is peppery-spicy and warm on the tongue with a good mixture of oak and citrus and an elegant and smooth (yet short) finish.

The Singleton of Dufftown 17 Year Old (55.1% ABV, 17yo, Speyside, Scotland, A$209.99) Mellow and mild. A first-ever release matured only in refill American oak hogshead instead of the usual combo of European oak/ex-sherry cask and American oak/ex-bourbon cask. The taste intense and sweet overall with honey, marshmallow, I'm in a candy shop with lots of creamy candy. The palate is also quite viscous and soft with some citrus and ginger snap. The finish is both drying and slightly coating.

Cardhu 11 Year Old (56% ABV, 11yo, Speyside, Scotland, A$159.99) A small-batch distilled in 2008 and combined from three distinct casks refill, new and ex-bourbon American oak. The nose is floral and sweet, with a hint of apples and stone fruits. On the palate, it's sweet, juicy, creamy with a delicious vanilla slice within. The finish is long and peppery.

Cragganmore 20 Year Old (55.8% ABV, 20yo, Speyside, Scotland, A$239.99) An age never before released from the distillery, matured in refill and new fresh-charred casks. The texture is creamy-smooth, while the taste is ladened with citrus, sour warhead notes; it's both rich and sweet. The finish is mellow with charred notes, ginger spice and some lingering apple note.

Pittyvaich 30 Year Old (50.8% ABV, 30yo, Speyside, Scotland, A$690.00) A 1989 ghost, the first release ever to be finished in first fill ex-bourbon casks. The taste is rich, oily and creamy vanilla-sweet. There are also some dry notes from non-ripe banana. Overall, there's a balance between the sweetness, lemon/citrus notes, orange peel to some peppercorns. The finish is clean and drying with a gentle spice at the end.

Mortlach 21 Year Old (56.9% ABV, 21yo, Speyside, Scotland, A$1,100) Rich and smooth, breakfast on the nose with dried fruit, warm croissants and mild, malty rich golden syrup. The intensity comes from a small batch finished in Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso-seasoned casks. The palate is both savoury and fruity, there are melons, lemon and some resinous leather. The finish is nice and long and warming.

Talisker 8 Year Old (57.9% ABV, 8yo, Islay, Scotland, A$169.99) A big taste, the first-ever release of Talisker finished in pot-still Caribbean rum casks. A soft, smooth texture and a big taste; salty and lightly sweet, before the full-on Talisker pepperiness takes over.

Lagavulin 12 Year Old (56.4% ABV, 12yo, Islay, Scotland) Soaring and intense, lots of tar and iodine/medicinal notes. The Lagavulin 12 is a small batch of single vintage Lagavulin matured in refill American oak casks. A clean, fresh Lagavulin that is very lightly drying mid-palate. The finish is relatively long, coated with the char and spices from the palate.