Australian Whisky

Starward Two Fold Double Grain Australian Whisky

Reviewed by: Ted

It used to be that if you wanted to buy an Australian whisky, your choice was pretty much from a never-ending cavalcade of single cask, single malt releases that cost more kidneys than you could really afford on a regular basis. To be honest, it’s still like that, but these days the scene is starting to get a lot more diverse as more players enter the game and start to experiment with different styles.

People are prepared to pay for quality of course, but on the whole, prices for the Aussie amber still remain prohibitively high for the general market who want a decent local dram that isn’t going to eviscerate their wallets. Starward Distillery in Melbourne is trying to change that with a zesty little number pitched squarely at the average punter.

A bottle of Starward Two Fold Double Grain Australian Whisky sitting in front of a Christmas tree

Starward’s Two Fold Australian Whisky has an interesting trick up it’s sleeve that helps them to keep the price point well below $100AUD, which is a rare for a local drop (it’s currently $65AUD on their website). As well as using the standard malted barley, Starward have added wheat into the mix, making a ‘double grain’ whisky that ‘marries two quintessentially Australian grains’ together.

This is quite a clever move for a number of reasons. For one, Australia grows a lot of wheat – around 18.5million tonnes in 2018-19 in fact (which is actually down from previous years). In comparison, barley only managed about half that amount in the same period.

In terms of spirit production costs, wheat makes a lot more sense. In comparison to barley, which has to go through the whole malting process and then get distilled in fairly inefficient pot-stills, wheat spririt is generally produced on giant industrial column stills that allow for continuous production. In fact, Manildra Group’s Shoalhaven plant in Nowra, where Starward sources its wheat spirit from, is the largest grain neutral spirit (GNS) distillery in the South East Asia region.

Flavour-wise though, that’s where things start to get a bit more competitive. Neutral spirits made from grains such as wheat are much lighter and take far less influence from the cask compared to the heavier, oilier pot still-made malts. Hence why they have traditionally been used as the ‘silent’ base for Scottish blends, with small amounts of single malts added in on top to provide the flavour.

Starward’s ‘thing’ has always been Australian wine cask maturation and the Two Fold is no exception to that rule, in this case doubling-down on it. According to Starward they use [sic] “Lightly charred or steamed barrels. Sourced from Australian wineries that make great shiraz, cabernets and pinot noirs. Often filled fresh when the barrel is still wet with wine.” Starward’s own malt spirit and the wheat spirit are aged separately before being blended at a ratio of about 2:3 before being bottled at 40%abv.

A bottle of Starward whisky wearing a christmas jumper and santa hat sitting on a red brick in a herb garden. Yes, that is a bit random I know

Getting into the Christmas spirit

Speaking of the bottle, Starward has always killed it with their label art and the Two Fold is no exception, with a gorgeous blue, black and gold label with an unusual shape that stands out from the pack. Colour-wise, there is no mistaking that the spirit has spent its life in ex-wine casks, sporting a ruddy copper hue.

Flavour-wise, the Two Fold is a certified drinker. The nose is creamy and fruit-driven, with peaches, red grapes and banana mixed with a generous hit of vanilla with chocolate/cereal notes that make me think of Weetbix slice. There’s also an interesting nutty, meaty quality that sits underneath.

The mouth is relatively spicy, thanks to the wheat, and dry from the wine. The body is light and creamy across the mid-palate with a relatively short, tannin-driven finish, although there’s enough linger to make you keep wanting to come back for another go.

David Vitale and the Starward team have really pulled it off with the Two Fold. Low price certainly doesn’t equal cheap whisky in this case. Even better, it comes in a 700ml bottle. I think that the Two Fold is an excellent dram for the Aussie summer – the wine-driven flavours would pair perfectly at a BBQ, it’s light enough in the heat and the price means that it’s ideal to casually share amongst friends. If you’re looking for a solid local dram this festive season, the Starward Two Fold is a no-brainer.

***

PS. It’s nearly Christmas, so it’s about time for a dodgy cracker joke –

Q: What’s a grain spirit’s favourite Christmas carol
A: Silent Night

Fossey’s Single Malt Whisky: Port Cask F1 49.3% & Peated Sherry Cask FP1 57.6%

Reviewed by: Ted

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It’s always cool dropping by a whisky bar and finding something interesting that you’ve never tried before. Recently while I was in Melbourne, I stopped by Whisky Den on Russell St for a nightcap after a trip to the theatre.

After I’d spent a good amount of time polishing the bottles with my eyes (and probably corroding the text away by the end), the barmen started throwing around some potential choices. Most I’d had before, until: “Have you tried the Fossey’s stuff yet?” “Nope! Never heard of them?” “Really new stuff from a crew in Mildura. Well worth a try. Keen?”

“Sure, lets do it!”

I was presented with two single cask bottlings, F1, a port casking at 49.3% and FP1, a curious peated sherry casking at 57.6%, both aged between 2-4yrs. Putting my body on the line in the name of scientific inquiry, I bravely made the decision to sample both (what a hero, I know).

Good decision – the Fossey’s are great! Both were very Australian in their character, that hot, rich small-cask/high-temp/short-aging profile you get in a lot of our new world whiskies.

On the nose the port cask is meaty and fruity, with stewed apricots and peaches topped with buttery crumble, followed by prunes, muscats, orange rind, cocoa nibs, leather and old timber polished with beeswax. It’s a satisfyingly dark and rich smell. In comparison, the peated sherry starts with a note that I have coined as ‘peat-nut butter’, a smoky, oily, nutty sort of vibe. The peating is fairly light and nicely balanced, sitting over warm honey and raisins. There’s also a feeling of hot, ash-coated chimney bricks and smoked fish.

On the mouth, the port cask is dry and spicy, with honeycomb and cinnamon wandering through. The body starts meaty and low before getting warm and crackly on the finish. All in all a very savoury dram. Unsurprisingly, the sherry cask starts off ashy, before launching into this funky cherry syrup taste and ending with a relatively thin, lingering finish.

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Later I decided to go looking for some more info about the distillery and what I had been drinking, but the Fossey’s website is currently devoted to their well-established gin brand, so I got in touch with Steve Timmis Esq, Master Ginnovator at Fossey’s Distillery.

Turns out the whisky is a collaboration between Steve and long-time mate Brian Hollingsworth, of Black Gate Distillery fame (whose name appears as the distiller on the Fossey’s Whisky bottles). While based in Mendooran these days, Brian used to live a mere 300km up the road from Steve in Broken Hill (as opposed to over 800km away now). The two guys bonded over racing Harleys against each other back in the day and have been friends now for over 30 years.

Currently they have been using 100L barrels cut down at Andrew Stiller Cooperage in Tanunda from externally sourced casks, but due to the expansion of the industry it is becoming increasing difficult and expensive to acquire high quality casks in Australia. In response to this problem, Steve says they have taken the bold step of laying down thousands of litres of their own port, allowing vertical integration of supply within the business and enabling consistency of flavour and style moving forward.

Another problem with aging spirit in Australia, particularly when you get to inland areas like Mildura, is the high summer heat. Steve says that winter is perfect, down to low single digits most nights and up over late teens to low 20s during the day, allowing the barrels to do plenty of breathing. In summer however it gets pretty hot, meaning they need to insulate the cellar and try to protect it as much as they can from the extreme heat, otherwise the angels can get pretty greedy and drink most of the whisky.

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When I asked Steve about the Fossey’s philosophy and the meaning of the tagline on the bottle, “Mellowed to perfection”, he responded that it’s all about doing things your own way and having a crack: “We mellow [the whisky] until its perfect (in our view) – maturing whisky in the Australian outback has its challenges, but like all of the things we do, Gin etc, we do it to satisfy our own palates, and not too much by the rule book. For example, whisky matured here is exceptionally good at 2.5 – 3 years, if it wasn’t, we would leave it in [for longer]. You’ll never never know if you never have a go. Our guiding philosophy is old school quality, the best we can produce, use local stuff wherever we can.”

While the whisky is hot off the press, Steve tells me the ‘jump’ from gin to whisky was about five years in the planning and he has plenty more good stuff to come. Australian whisky fans should keep an eye out over the next 18 months for more straight and peated single malt Fossey’s releases, as well as a solera-cask single malt. Apparently there are also plans for a sub $100AUD 40% ABV blend, as well as some interesting experimentation with locally grown barley and red-gum coal smoking instead of peat… watch this space!

Moral of the story here I think is, get into a decent whisky bar from time-to-time, you never know what you’ll find!

Thanks to Steve and Brian for making the whisky and the staff at Whisky Den for the solid recommendation. Alice, if you’re reading this, I hope you figured it all out.

Peated Sherry ***

Port ***

Timboon Single Malt Whisky

Reviewed by: Nick and Ted

Timboon port front

Back in the early 1800’s Scottish whisky was forced, kicking and screaming, to go straight. Distillers were required to become legal or shut down, formally founding many of the grand old distilleries we see today. In comparison, Australia had to wait another 150 years for legalisation to occur, resulting in many heroic folkloric moonshiners keeping local spirits up.

One such rapscallion was Tom Delaney, a notorious bootleg distiller of the Timboon region of Victoria, who made a dram locally known as ‘Mountain Dew’. Fast forward 100 years and small scale distilling in Australia is now legal, and Tom’s legend has not been forgotten.

Based in an old railway shed, Timboon Distillery draws inspiration from the whisky making heritage of the region, creating a range of distilled products, chief amongst them being their Single Malt Whisky. Matured in small ex-port barrels, this young whisky is a distinctive Aussie drop.

On the nose the Single Malt has notes of vanilla and caramel, mixed with the more unusual flavours of blue heaven and mint-chocolate. Perhaps this is not so surprising, seeing as Timboon was founded by the owners of an ice cream company.

The minty flavour continues on the palate, along with polished timber, red currant and spiced plums. The mid-palate is smooth and then suddenly goes missing for a moment, before revealing a spicy, slightly metallic finish.

While this may not the most balanced whisky Australia has to offer, there are definitely some intriguing flavours to be found. We are sure that Tom would be proud to know that his distilling legacy lives on and look forward to future releases from Timboon Distillery.

★★

 

Limeburners Infinity Solera Cask

Reviewed by: Nick

Limeburners Infinity Solera

The thing about the Australian Whisky scene is that we are unquestionably small-fry. It is a quantifiable fact that we produce less whisky per annum than Glenfiddich sloshes from its barrels. Size, or rather lack thereof, is the overriding factor in most Aussie distilleries’ tendencies to release single barrel expressions – they simply don’t produce enough product to have an alternative. This is great if you happened to own an unopened bottle of HH525 Sullivans Cove in 2014. If you did, I hope your new private yacht is treating you well.

Single barrels are not as good however, when the aim of your whisky game is consistency of flavour. You know, that old chestnut of getting one bottle of your standard release to mildly resemble the taste of another one. The best way to achieve this is to blend (or more romantically, ‘marry’) a range of casks together – thus ironing out any ‘bumps’ in flavour. Even better still, is if you can use a Solera vat, which are only ever half empty (or full. Not sure which is the most optimistic phrasing in this case.)

With this groundbreaking new technology (invented c.1790), distilleries are suddenly able to better define their flavour and ensure that a bottle you buy this year is (pretty much) the same as the one you purchase at a later date.

One of the first distilleries in Australia to adopt the Solera technique is the wonderfully-named Great Southern Distilling Company based in Albany, Western Australia. They market their wares under the label ‘Limeburners’ and in their short history, have released some stellar drams.

While director/distiller Cameron Syme is a huge fan of the variety found in single barrel releases, he acknowledges the need for a consistent product and an entry level into the Limeburners range, resulting in the creation of the Limeburners Infinity. Cameron says that his distillery’s key commitment is “to make Australian whisky which can compete and hold its own at the highest international levels. Infinity is certainly capable of that.”

This particular release contains 8 year old whisky matured in several 500L South Australian port puncheons. The infinity name is appropriate, as the Solera system will always leave at least a teeny tiny fraction of these original whiskies in the mix.

Eager to support the distillery, I stumbled upon this bottle’s first release on Dan Murphys and promptly blew my savings for the week. So what exactly is the Infinity Solera Reserve like?

On the nose there are immediate traces of the port influence – ripe oranges dominate alongside zesty citrus and vanilla, bringing to mind cupcakes with lemon icing. The palate is complex – certainly not smooth, but well balanced with flavours of strawberry jam, honey and malt biscuits. In the finish I spotted hints of the bitter soapiness I sometimes detect in wine-matured whisky (yes, I know, this is port matured and therefore I sound crazy). However, this vague disagreeable note dissipates quickly and is replaced by an intriguing dryness which contrasts pleasantly with the initial flavours.

Usually I find it pretty counterintuitive adding water to my whisky, but in the case of this one, it takes on a whole new character with a splash of H20. Suddenly, large dollops of gooey caramel dominate the palate and the flavours morph from undeniably Australian to slightly Speysidey.

This whisky is a significant step for Australian whisky. Lack of consistency is one argument the Cynical Scot has always held over me in our heated whisky-fuelled debates about the validity of non-Scottish drams. It seems that, at least in Limeburners’ case, I will be able to return to the bottle shop in a year, in two years, or even in ten and get this same drop. Or alternatively, I could save my pennies and buy one of their delicious cask strengths…

★★★

Great Outback Rare Old Australian Single Malt

Reviewed by: Mooresy

Great Outback Rare Old

This is weird story worthy of a waffle. Australian whisky has a generally agreed history, the modern chapter of which begins in the 1980s with the Lark family overturning a century and a half of legislative prohibition on distilling in Tasmania. This led to a resurgence of distillers and, as a very appropriate homage to whisky’s very beginnings, some people who had no doubt been fooling around as bootleggers went legitimate. The Great Outback Rare Old Australian Single Malt – a mouthful of descriptors, almost as if someone took all the best buzzwords that make whisky seem exclusive and put them all into the name – is a mystery in that history.

From what I can gather from my Poirot-esque deductions is that it was distilled somewhere between 1960 and 1985, that it is either from a now forgotten Tasmanian still (the bottle indicates it was produced at the Tasman Distillery, which no-one can find) or a Western Australian still pretending to be Tasmanian, and that it is pretty rare. Some rumours include that it is the reject stock of the closed Corio Distillery or that it is not Australian and was just labelled that way to hide an origin that would have been less palatable. It is a confirmed fact, however, that this single malt has a blended variety that can still be found so maybe these rumours of reject stock and foreign distillation are accurate for the blended version.

Something that is more than rumour is that this whisky is actually very good. With a label that looks like a knock-off product sold by some people who’ve refilled an empty bottle with some water and caramel colour, it is about as far from that as you can imagine. The colour is a nice pale gold suggesting there is a straight bourbon cask maturation and on the nose I think that is correct but there is also a vivid complexity I was not expecting. It’s fresh and grassy, with a little toffee and vanilla, but also a lovely tropical fruit and pineapple citrus alongside an orange smell that is actually reminiscent of Lark. Not only that, but there are some interesting botanicals with fresh thyme and something peppery thrown into the mix.

The other brilliant thing about it, which transfers over to the palate, is it is devoid of the ethanol kick that can permeate and drown out the subtleties. The relatively low alcohol content helps this, but it is also just a very clean and crisp spirit. There is certainly some tropical fruit – brilliant passion fruit – and the malty vanilla really comes out to balance against the toasted oak flavours. It is unsurprising that it is not peated, as this was presumably created before peat bogs were officially uncovered in Tasmania or peated barley was imported. Or before peat even existed anywhere in the world, who knows.

This is not a whisky for people who are looking for a heavy hitter, a peaty belter, or an oak punch. It is certainly not for anyone who wants to be able to sit down with book and look up the dram as they drink it. This one for those who like a crisp and complex confectioner’s creation with a side of Conan-Doyle intrigue to keep them guessing.

If you are the distiller of this fine drop, get in touch. Partly because there are several questions I have for you, but mainly because I am hoping you still have a few bottles of the stuff kicking around the attic you might be willing to offload.

★★★★

New World Projects Ginger Beer Cask

Reviewed by: Mooresy

New World Projects Ginger Beer Cask

There are some interesting experimental drams in the market, often tucked behind the more famous and mainstream variant at a bar, or in old dusty collections held by people who bought a one off bottling at a garage sale. New World Distillery on the other hand is not tucking their experiments behind anything, and the operation is far from dusty being more akin to a well-resourced military installation. Housed in a disused aeroplane hangar is the cross between Willy Wonka’s factory and Area 51, although the focus is on whisky and not chocolate or alien secrets.

Being founded on the principle of showing the world what whisky can be, with a “sky’s the limit” attitude, it is no surprise that the team that brought us Starward would release something that stretches the concept of whisky to new heights.

On the nose, you’d be hard pressed to pick it as a whisky. But the same can be said for other expressions from many different distilleries that have played with different casks. It you’ve only ever drunk a bourbon cask Highland whisky, then putting the nose into a PX finished Islay might create the same level of confrontation and confusion when told that not only is it whisky but it is as single malt as the next dram. The information that can be beaten out of the loyal distillery workers reveals that it is a virgin cask that has been stained with fermented ginger beer that has its own secret recipe. Starward whisky is then aged for three months on top of its normal maturation to soak up the gingery goodness.

Ginger is really the buzz word here. So much ginger. It smells like ginger and when you stare at in your half empty glass it even starts to look like ginger. That might be the half empty element assisting with that. The classic tropical fruit that is a signature of the Starward is still present, however. Nice aromas of pineapple, banana and mango. A good amount of citrus that mixes will with the ginger smell to give it a spicy aroma. It also smells like ginger.

Once tasted it will continue to confuse and delight. The mouthfeel is particularly good and I’m sure the 47.7% alcohol by volume was very carefully chosen with the texture in mind. On the palate, you guessed it: cloves. Also ginger. There is a good combination of spice and fruit to create the feel of a cocktail and it may yet be a mixologist’s inspiration. It is naturally sweet with some light vanilla and the prickle from the spiciness brings that out even more, in the way that sweet and sour emphasise both rather than diminish either. The finish is nice and long, due to the intensity of a dominant flavour and also the not-insubstantial alcohol content.

It is probably plagiarism to sum up this whisky as weird and wonderful, as I am sure that many reviews would use the same phrase. It is something that I would look out for tucked away at a bar or nestled in among the fur stoles and incomplete jigsaws at a markets, but given that this modern and funky take on whisky is in such high demand – evidenced by the fact that this is the second batch – it is probably unlikely to be there. Better to head out to New World Distillery, bonk a cooper on the bonce, and run off with your own bottle.

P.S. Neither Mooresy nor the Whisky Waffle boys advocate violence towards people in the whisky industry. We love those guys. For obvious reasons.

★★★★

The Big Black Cock Single Malt

Reviewed by: Nick

BBC

Crikey! Now I know whisky is made in some pretty far out places but leaning towards the more radical end of the scale would have to be Mt Uncle Distillery in North Queensland. Despite the immense heat and being located on the outskirts of woop-woop, they have managed to produce a grouse little drop.

The 5 Year Old single malt has one of the more dinky-di whisky names going around. The drinks menu I had a gander at when first sampling it read BBC. However, the large rooster on the front of the bottle makes it clear: this whisky is called the Big Black Cock. It is fair dinkum outback whisky. And strewth: it tastes the part.

On the nose there are faint hints of malty Arnotts biscuits – quickly drowned by whiffs of recently slashed sugar cane and double coat tim tams. On the palate there is vanilla – perhaps a little too much – accompanied by Anzac biscuits and cherry ripe. There are also some bitter fruit elements – possibly created by the ex-red wine barrels they were matured in: American oak staves with French oak lids. The finish is warm and a little rough with spicy meaty notes, like snags on a barbie.

If you ever come across the BBC in a whisky bar down under it is certainly worth ordering – if only to be forced to say the name out loud – but also because of the beaut, uniquely Australian flavours to be found. This is true blue outback whisky. It’s unrefined. But a ripper.

★★★

Starward Single Malt

Reviewed by: Nick

Starward

Regular readers of this blog would be forgiven for thinking that all of Australia’s world class whisky is produced in my home state of Tasmania. While I’ll still claim that most of it is, I will readily admit that some stellar drams are being produced on that tiny island up north, which some refer to as the Australian mainland.

One of the most exciting up-and-coming distilleries in the New World of whisky making is the appropriately named ‘New World Whisky Distillery’, which has been releasing whisky since 2013 under the name Starward. And there is a lot to like about it.

For a start, there’s the location. New World is based in Melbourne, the cultural hub of the country (sorry Sydney), and with a bar onsite at the distillery the city has gained a wonderful venue to sample spirits straight from the metaphorical horse’s mouth.

Secondly, there is the label. Starward is an alluring name for a whisky and the gold constellations streaking across a black background capture this image perfectly.

Thirdly there is the price. Australian whisky has the reputation for a remarkably full-bodied flavour, although at an equally remarkable full-bodied price. Starward bucks this trend, providing a local drop that will not break the bank (although perhaps dent the wallet a bit).

Finally, and unquestionably most importantly, there is the flavour. On the nose it is lively: this is a young whisky, but it is far from immature. There are notes of oranges, chardonnay and toffee. No doubting the country of this whisky’s origin.

On the palate there are certainly notes of the raisiny flavours emparted by sherry barrel maturation, although technically speaking, the barrels contained Apera: sherry made in Australia not Spain. Sweetness spreads across the tongue and the orange returns, this time with chocolate, giving a jaffa-like taste. I also picked up elements of glacé cherries and raspberry shortcake. As you do.

The finish is short, but not disappointingly so. There are hints of oak to be found as well as spicy, peppery elements. It is certainly pleasing enough to encourage a second sip!

While the Starward is not the most subtle or nuanced whisky you are ever likely to come across, it is undoubtedly really pleasant to drink. The distillery itself sums it up best with its claim: “Just like the country in which it is made, Starward is youthful, rich and bright”.

It is also just across the water. Whisky Waffle may have to pay it a visit sometime…

★★★