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.

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.

Nicks Wine Merchants

Searching for whisky in Melbourne, Australia

On a recent trip to Melbourne, I finally made the short trek to a store that I’ve visited hundreds of times online – Nicks Wine Merchants.

You’ll find Nicks in Doncaster, around 19km (11 miles) east of Melbourne’s CBD in the same shop they’ve been in for over 50 years. Walk through the doors and it’s pretty hard to not get a little bit excited with this sight.

Nicks selection 1

Way better than browsing online! I’m pretty sure I stood there for a good 5 minutes with my mouth slightly agape.

Nicks selection

These photos probably show a third of what they had on their shelves – everything from Glenfiddich 12 year old to Highland Park 40 year old, Jim Beam white label to George T Stagg and hundreds of bottles in between.

They even have a really well-stocked tasting counter where they’ll happily let you try before you buy – and not just core range bottles either!

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Hang on a sec, what’s that Ardbeg lurking in the corner?

Nicks - Alligator lurking

That’s right, they even had a bottle of Ardbeg Alligator available to taste! It’s not every day someone offers you a free taste of Alligator.

Nicks - Ardbeg

I didn’t take down any tasting notes, but yes, it was a pretty nice one.  Would I pay current collector prices for a bottle though? No – as I’d want to open it and drink it and just don’t think I’d get three times the enjoyment of a lesser-priced Ardbeg… In saying that, it was pretty special drop and it would be a rather nice feeling to have one of these in your cabinet!

The staff at Nicks were genuinely knowledgeable about whisky (and all of the products they stock). We ended up talking about Glenmorangie Ealanta and The Whisky Bible phenomenon (Ealanta sat on shelves for a good six months in Australia before seemingly selling out over night following the whisky of the year announcement).

I hadn’t actually tried it, but they soon sorted that one out for me, kindly finding an open bottle out the back.

Nicks - Ealanta

Quite unlike any other Scotch whisky I’ve tried before – heavy on the bourbon notes and spice, but still unmistakably Glenmorangie. The small quantity of this that landed in Australia should have sold-out on taste alone – really quite enjoyable. Before you bombard their website – like everyone else, they’re sold out.

A big thanks to the friendly and knowledgeable staff for their time and for the good whisky banter. If you live in Melbourne – or you’re just passing through – Nicks is well worth a visit for any whisky or spirits fan.