Sullivan’s Cove x Whisky & Alement

When these two get together, you know you’re in for something good

It’s our national day of celebration today – Australia Day – so I can think of no better day to post an article that celebrates an Australian whisky, and the fantastic people and bar that brought it to us.

If I had to pick a defining moment for Australian whisky in the last, say, ten years, one clear event comes to mind. It was when Sullivan’s Cove won the accolade as 2014’s ‘world’s best single malt’ in the World Whisky Awards competition. It was the moment the catapulted Australian whisky from being a thing that local whisky fans knew about, to a thing that everyone knew about. Articles started appearing in mainstream news, colleagues at work started asking if I’d tasted ‘the best whisky in the world’, and people who’d never even tried whisky – let alone an Australian whisky – started asking where they could get their hands on a bottle. It was a real zero to hero moment.

Sullivan's Cove Whisky and Alement

Just as Sullivan’s Cove played a pivotal role in catapulting Australian whisky into the mainstream, I’d argue that a certain Melbourne institution has played an equally sizeable one in defining the whisky-appreciation culture in Australia and really bringing it to life. That institution is Melbourne’s Whisky and Alement.

Whisky + Alement

Since opening their doors back in 2010 (originally known as Chez Regine), Whisky and Alement have quietly gone from strength to strength. With their whisky shelves overflowing back in 2013, they felt there was enough momentum and interest in whisky to take the leap and pigeon-hole themselves as a whisky bar. It made them unique and that gamble – along with loads of hard work – has paid off. It paved the way for Whisky and Alement as a bar, but also provided a place where they could educate a whole new wave of people who didn’t yet know they were whisky lovers.

Following on from their popular and educational Introduction to Whisky classes, the team started hosting The Story of Whisky: From old to new world’. Among plenty of other aspects, the story of whisky touches on the significance of single casks, but also explores the importance of blending and the notion that blends can produce something greater than the sum of their individual parts. And what better way to illustrate that to an audience than with your very own ‘blended’ whisky. And that’s exactly what W+A did with this Sullivan’s Cove collaboration.

A collaboration with Sullivan’s Cove

What you see here is quite a significant bottle. Julian White – one of Whisky and Alement’s owners – pitched this collaboration idea directly to Sulivan’s Cove Managing Director, Adam Sable. He tells me that it wasn’t just a case of ‘hey, it would be cool if we had our own bottle’, but rather he wanted to produce something with ‘purpose’. The ‘purpose’ was to help consumers understand that as unique and interesting as single cask whisky can be, they’re not always the complete package, so don’t automatically discount something that’s been ‘blended’ or diluted as being inferior. From my own experience, when done right, blends can definitely deliver something quite extraordinary. 

Sullivan's Cove Whisky and Alement

Adam was clearly on-board with the idea and a short while later Julian found himself at Sullivan’s Cove, surrounded by a host of un-marked sample bottles that gave nothing away as to their contents. The task – to put together a bespoke blend that met the brief, and could be proudly used in their masterclasses. After more than five hours of sampling, blending, nosing and sampling, Jules tells me that palate fatigue had well and truly set in, so after landing on something he thought might meet the brief, he called it a day. Returning fresh the next morning, a re-taste confirmed he was on the money, and this bottle was locked in.

What’s in the bottle?

Now it was time to find out what he’d actually blended and it’s a pretty bloody interesting one.

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Unbeknownst to Julian at the time, one of the casks he’d selected was HH042, which turned out to be Sullivan’s Cove’s oldest cask of whisky at 18 years of age, which clocked in at a staggering 76.7% ABV. The second component he landed on was TD0225, a ~10 year old French Oak tawny port cask at 69.6% ABV affectionately known as ‘Stubbs’, as it was rather short and stumpy after being re-coopered down to 180-190L. The idea of a blend clocking in at 70%+ ABV is a lot of fun, but doesn’t really make for the greatest drinking experience, so this was very sensibly brought down to 50.3% ABV, a perfect strength in my opinion.

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On the nose it’s thick, warming and comforting. A slathering of honey on hot buttered-toast, some dry oily grassy notes (like dried Australian native plant leaves), vanilla custard, those home-made chewy coconut biscuits and a some caramel fudge. 

On the palate it’s oily and textural, but without the distraction of a big alcohol whack. An amazing connection with the nose (which I personally love) with a good dose of thick honey, caramel pecan pie, pastry crusts and some dried fruit mix. The finish presents gentle baking spice with a slight eucalypt-menthol note.

I’m very much a sucker for single cask whiskies and the variability and fun they bring. But are they often a complete package? Are they always technically poised? Rarely. This on the other hand is. I’ve tasted quite a few Australian whiskies – not a huge number, but quite a few – and this is one of the very best I’ve come across. It nails the brief and is simply great whisky.

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Wherever in the world you’re reading this from – if you ever happen to find yourself in Melbourne, Australia, you should do yourself a favour and pay a visit to Whisky and Alement, or their sister venue upstairs, The Melbourne Whisky Room. And if you’re somewhat more local, full details on their great classes can be found here. I’m not sure if this bottle is currently on the bar to taste, but if you do ever get the chance, move it to the top of your list – I’m quite confident you won’t regret it.

Auchentoshan & Ale

I’ve heard of drinking beer and whisky as a boilermaker combo, but beer ‘in’ whisky? Apparently it is a thing and the folks at Auchentoshan are big fans. So much so that they recently hooked me up with the essential ingredients to make their signature cocktail, the Auchentoshan & Ale. I actually tried this very cocktail at the distillery a little over a month ago and really enjoyed it, so let’s break it down.

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Start by adding two teaspoons of sugar to a cocktail shaker. If straight sugar isn’t your thing, try making up a batch of sweet honey-syrup (that’s what they used at the distillery and it worked a treat!) Squeeze over the juice of half a lemon and stir.

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Add 30ml of your favourite Auchentoshan (I used the American Oak expression), top with ice and shake away.

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Strain into a chilled mule mug topped with fresh ice.

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Top with your favourite ale.

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Finally, garnish with a lemon twist or wedge, sit back and enjoy.

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Best of the rest 2014

It’s that time of year again where some things start to ramp up and hit full-swing, whilst others take a bit of a breather and have slowed down slightly. Sadly (though thankfully for my wallet), whisky tastings and whisky events are one of the things that seem to taper off around this time of year, so it’s a perfect opportunity to catch up on some posts.

The tasting

In late December it was time for one last hoorah when the Oak Barrel in Sydney held their end-of-year ‘Best of the rest’ masterclass. I went along to one the year prior and they had some killer drams, including what was perhaps my whisky highlight of 2013, a Glendronach 1978 single cask.

Could they match that stellar line-up again this time ‘round? Well, I’ll let you be the judge of that one. Here’s how the evening unfolded.

Mackmyra Brukswhisky

First up was a whisky from Swedish distillery, Mackmyra. Despite their young history, there are some truly fascinating facts and figures out there about Mackmyra. For example, did you know that most of their whisky is matured 50 metres underground in a dis-used mine? Nope, me neither. Pretty cool though, just like the Brukswhisky bottle.

Mackmyra

I found the Brukswhisky to be very light (and quite bright) on the nose. I got some hints of orange citrus, peppery juniper berries, crème caramel and vanilla. After some air-time, some notes of apple and pear.

The ‘light’ theme continued on the palate, with some vanilla notes toward the back of the palate and some lightly spiced, malty flavours giving way to a fairly tame – but warming – finish. Quite interesting and summery , but I thought it still had a bit of a banana new-make spirit note to it as well (certainly not off-putting, just an observation).

Adelphi Liddesdale Batch no. 5

This interesting offering comes from Adelphi, an independent bottler who purchase casks from distilleries then bottle and release the whisky when they feel it’s just right. Despite the name, there isn’t actually a Liddesdale distillery and the liquid in this bottle is from the Bunnahabhain Distillery on the Isle of Islay. Five different refill sherry butts went into this one to be exact, each at least 21 years of age.

Adelphi Liddesdale

Notes of rich wine gums or gummy lollies on the nose. Some grimy workshop oils, rubber inner-tubes, damp vegetal smoke, a ginger dustiness and well integrated sherry notes. The ‘dense’ theme continued on the palate, with this being noticeably heavier and oilier than the Mackmyra (which could be credited to many factors, but mainly due to the Adelphi being non chill-filtered and bottled at 46% ABV). Some spice presents right up front on the tongue before clearing to a warming, sweet – yet spicy – salted dark chocolate finish.

I’ve tasted this on many an-occasion (I have a bottle) and I find that I get the most out of this by sitting with it over a longer period of time. Something of a contemplative dram if you will.

Adelphi Highland Park

The third dram of the night was also from Adelphi, but we were now moving into cask strength territory with this well-aged, 26 year old single cask offering from Highland Park.

Adelphi Highland Park

I’m quite familiar with what the standard, official bottlings of Highland Park smell and taste like..and I found this to be nothing like those!

Tropical coconut and woody notes presented first up on the nose. I found this to be quite restrained and delicate with a difficult to describe underlying ‘tropical’ note that presented in a number of different ways, like green grapes, desiccated coconut, bees wax and a light forest/vegetal note. The tropical theme continued on the rich and oily palate with overripe soured berries, grapefruit and hints of liquorice ending in a somewhat drying and tannic finish that became malty and cloying (not oaky and bitter). Confused a little? I think I was too.

Glendronach Cask Strength Batch no. 3

We stayed in the cask strength territory with this next one too. A no age statement marriage of both Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry cask Glendronach, bottled at 54.9% ABV. I liked batch no. 1 better than no. 2 so it was going to be interesting to see how this stacked up.

GlenDronach

So creamy, sweet, rich and full on the nose. There’s nothing shy, restrained or delicate about this at all. It’s not an all out sherry monster, but there’s loads of juicy raisins, honey, vanilla, dusty 70% dark chocolate and some estery varnish notes.

Immediately oily and hot up front on the palate, but it gives way to sweet rich sultanas and raisins, crisp red apples, vanilla pods, candied ginger and spice. A super solid and enjoyable Glendronach.

Laphroaig 1976 Scotia Royale 35 year old

Yes, that’s right, the little heading above isn’t a typo! One of 211 bottles, this 35 year old Laphroaig was bottled at cask strength of 43.3% ABV. Forget nearly everything you think of when you think of Laphroaig, the whisky pictured below was super unique.

Laphroaig

Straight away it became apparent that this had a very deep and layered nose. Fresh mint, herbal and vegetative with tropical notes of papaya and overripe mango (I generally get traces of these last two notes in the standard 18 year old expression as well). It mellowed the longer it was uncovered, revealing coconut oil and a yeasty trace, but never became overly woody which was interesting considering its age.

Despite the low ABV, the mouth feel of this was still oily and rich. The palate stayed pretty close to the nose with lots of tropical fruit and vegetal mossy flavours giving way to a faint iodine and spice finish.

An undeniably interesting dram, but I personally struggle to think of a time when I’d go ‘ah yes, I feel like that flavour profile tonight’. It would be a special occasion pour, that’s for sure.

Port Charlotte PC8

If you’ve ever had something from the PC series (or even a standard Port Charlotte), then you know full well why this was the last dram of the evening.

PC8

Before the glass comes within 12 inches of your nose you already get a face full of smoky, salty, charred ashes. There’s freshly laid tarmac, putty, latex gloves and vanilla rich desserts… that have been set on fire… This stuff is pretty exciting.

The palate and mouth feel of this whisky are just as big as the nose. It’s oily, instantly warming and loaded with the flavours of a spicy, smoky coastal barbeque. Charred, cured meats and sweet butterscotch eventually give way to an ashy and slightly floral finish that lasts for ages.

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Thanks to Dave and all the friendly guys at the Oak Barrel for for holding a number of a fantastic tastings throughout the year (such as this and this). Looking forward to seeing what you have in store for us in 2015.

New World Projects PX Cask

Exclusive to Baranows Lounge in Hawthorn, Melbourne

Well, well well, what do we have here? An Australian single cask whisky? I’ve seen that before. Bottled at full cask strength? I’ve also seen that. An Australian single cask, cask strength whisky, fully matured in an ex-pedro ximenez cask direct from Spain? Now that I haven’t come across.

Baranows PX 1

Being the sucker that I am for whiskies with a heavy sherry influence, I knew this thing had my name written all over it.

New World Whisky Distillery 

If you’re reading this from Australia, you may have heard of these guys before. Or if you haven’t, perhaps you’re aware of their more mainstream whisky brand, Starward whisky. If you’re reading this from overseas, both names are likely to be completely foreign to you (though I’m sure that will change in the near future).

Founded in 2004, New World Whisky Distillery is the brainchild of former IT (e-learning) businessman, Mr David Vitale. Fast forward six years and it’s probably safe to say that Starward Whisky is one of the most affordable, approachable and accessible Australian single malts available in our local market today.

Whilst the brand Starward is reserved for their readily available offerings, David fully appreciates the fact that whisky geeks get all excited about limited release, cask strength bottlings. For that reason, he gave his employees the green light to setup New World Projects.

Think of New World Projects as an experimental department of the New World Whisky Distillery. They’ve released a number of single cask bottlings over the last 12 months or so, including some pretty interesting combinations. Think: a red wine cask with virgin oak lids. Or perhaps a ginger beer cask-finished whisky, where the cask was seasoned with ginger beer they brewed themselves.

The whisky: Baranows Selection #2 

So when I heard about their latest offering – this New World Projects PX cask, bottled exclusively for Baranows Lounge in Melbourne – I knew I had to try it.

Baranows PX 2

In case you thought the colour in the first picture was influenced by the background, here’s another, directly under a desk lamp. This is a serious Darth Vader whisky! Yes, it’s all natural colour as well.

One of the other great things I love about New World Whisky Distillery is that their Distillery Manager, Ian Thorn, keeps immaculate records on everything they produce as well. A short email exchange yielded some great info on this cask.

  • Single cask 110304-06-446 was a 50 litre re-coopered ex-pedro ximenez cask sourced from Montilla (Córdoba) CP in Spain
  • It was filled with new make spirit on 4 March 2011 at 55.7% ABV
  • It was emptied and bottled on 1 September 2014 at cask strength of 59.3% ABV (yes, in our climate water evaporates quicker than alcohol, leading to higher ABVs)
  • The cask lost a huge 26.5% of its contents over that three and a half year maturation period, meaning just 44 bottles of this whisky remained.

So in pictures and on paper, there’s little doubt that this thing looks and sounds pretty special, but as always, the proof is in the pudding.

Baranows PX Glass

Nose

After a short while in the glass, this is nothing but rich and desserty. Did I mention it’s rich? Crème brulee, complete with vanilla notes, caramel and a hint of that banana estery note that I often associate with Starward whisky. Sweet caramelized figs, prunes, brown sugar and some cinnamon. The nose on this is big, young and spritely – nothing closed or dusty about this, as you can sometimes find with older, full-term sherry matured whisky.

There is some alcohol (after all, it’s 59%), but it’s not as fierce on the nose as you might expect from something this young. I could seriously spend half an hour nosing this one. A true after dinner dram.

Palate

On first sip I got an instant burst of salivation – no avoiding the alcohol here, but it’s not unpleasant. It’s viscous, thick and full on the palate. There’s an initial burst of sweetness, but it’s a fair bit drier on the palate than you’d expect from the nose. More of that classic PX cask comes out now, with dried red fruits and those classic Christmas cake flavours (raisins, prunes, spice and a slight bitter nuttiness).

Baranows PX tears and legs

Putting the glass back down I couldn’t help but stare at it – check out those fat lingering legs! (that sounds really weird, doesn’t it?)

Finish

Really quite long and warming on the finish. It remains sweet throughout the mouth with lingering warmth, but minimal spice. I found a fairly strong vanilla note rolling in after a few seconds as well. Give it some time and there’s some bitter oak towards the end – call it pencil shavings or dusty, high cacao dark chocolate if you will.

With such an enticing nose and clean tasting palate, to me, this comes across as a really clean sherry cask. I didn’t come across any off-putting notes of rubber or sulphur what-so-ever.

When, where and how much?

The remaining bottles (and there aren’t many of them!) are available now, exclusively through Baranow’s Lounge in Melbourne at an RRP of AU$299. See here for more information.

The bottle reviewed was purchased by The Whisky Ledger.

Bakery Hill Cask Strength Peated Malt

NAS, 60% ABV, American Oak, Victoria, Australia 

I recently exchanged a number of emails with the friendly and helpful people at Dram Fine Whiskies in Melbourne Australia. A week or so later I was genuinely excited when a small box arrived from them with a few samples of some great Australian single malts that I hadn’t tried – this Bakery Hill was one of them.

Bakery Hill

Bakery Hill distillery started in 1999 in Victoria, Australia. Fast forward 14 or 15 years and they now produce six or seven different single malt whiskies, along with a Vodka and a Gin.

Did you know… 

Bakery Hill originally tested out their peated malt whisky using imported malt from the UK, before switching to Australian peated malt in 2005.

Nose 

Big sweet alcohol spirit nose.  You know it’s cask strength, but it’s still somehow soft and a bit mild.  I get hints of malty cereal notes and really soft peat in the background.

Add a few drops of water and the nose really opens up with some light creamy vanilla notes, sweet oak and light peat smoke.  Much better!

Palate

A big smack in the mouth of oily, viscous spicy sweetness. Really light fruit notes – almost a bit sour – hints of smoke, spice and oak.

Some water brings out a nice creamy sweetness and highlights those fruit notes a bit more. It also allows the peat to show through, bringing with it a somewhat drying nutty oaky-ness.

Finish

Wave after wave of warmth (really though, that’s kind of what you expect for a 60% ABV heavy weight) The warmth gives way to some earthy drying peat notes.

Water tames the finish, only ever so slightly though. Warming spice, earthy peat and a slight dark cocoa/oak bitterness right at the back.

Comments

When I saw the words ‘peated malt’ I was expecting something a lot more in your face, but this was somewhat delicate, especially as far as the peat is concerned.

I could be wrong, but I’m guessing this batch is post 2005 (when they started using Australian peat). It seems to have a drying earthiness to it, similar to a Speyside peated whisky, like a peated BenRiach. It’s quite different to the Isaly peat we’re most familiar with.

Some people like their cask strength whiskies neat (and some cask strengths actually taste better neat), but I think this one really benefits from a few drops of water – that’s when it really opened up for me. I suspect this is fairly young, but it’s got some great flavour going on, so I would love to see something older from Bakery Hill in the future!

A big thanks to Shaun from Dram Fine Whiskies in Melbourne for the sample.