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.