On the twenty-first day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Nant Distillery Sherry Cask whisky. The mention of the name Nant will inevitably invite dark mutterings amongst observers of the Tasmanian whisky scene, having been the focus of a bit of an ugly episode in the recent history of the industry. The distillery and it’s owner, Keith Batt, always had a bit of a reputation for not playing nicely with the rest of the generally egalitarian Tassie distillers, but things really came to a head with the uncovering of a dodgy barrel scheme that left furious investors out of pocket with hundreds of barrels that were never filled. Consortium Australia Whisky Holdings swooped down on the dying carcass of Nant and have spent the past few years stocktaking, revitalising the distilling and generally trying to repair the distillery’s tarnished reputation.
Nant, under the stewardship of AWH, has recently released new stock, but this one would have come from the old gear. ‘Tasmania’s only highland distillery’ always had a bit of a thing for the heavier, richer barrel types and the sherry cask is no exception. The nose has brown sugar, ginger bread and caramelised apples, while the mouth sports rum’n’raisin and muscats, with a soft caramel and spice finish. Hopefully these days Nant’s fortunes are on the up and the new generation of whisky will impress. If you happen to have a bottle of old stock lying around, well worth your time to crack it for a cheeky dram.
On the twentieth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Belgrove Rye whisky. And now for something a bit different from Tasmania. Peter Bignell is a top bloke and a bit of a mad tinkerer (as well as a sandcastle sculptor). He builds all of his own distillery gear, coopers his own barrels, converts chip oil into bio-diesel to fire his still, dries grain in old industrial tumble-driers, smokes experimental spirit with sheep poo and makes whisky using rye instead of the usual malted barley. If you ever get a chance to visit his Kempton digs then it is well worth the experience.
Rye is a trickier grain to work with than barley due to the way it goes gluggy during mashing and can get stuck during fermentation, but the effort is worth it thanks to the flavours that eventuate in the spirit. The nose has rhubarb, strawberry, apple and pear crumble as well as some marzipan, while the mouth brings stewed peaches and nectarines, pear drops, caramel and an ashy finish. If you’re bored with single malts and want to experience something different that is ethically crafted and special, start here.
On the nineteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Fleurieu Distillery Atlantic Crossing whisky. The South Australian coastal distillery is back on the advent calendar again, with a nautically-themed drop. While the distillery actually sits on the edge of the Southern Ocean, the Atlantic Crossing name is meant to represent Fleurieu’s voyage into the unknown in search of the ‘promised land’, transitioning from brewery to distillery and tapping into new markets.
The lightly-peated cask-strength expression was aged in six 100L port casks before being released as a limited run of 800 bottles. The nose is deliciously rich and perfumed, with sandalwood, musk, salted caramel, chocolate orange and a delicate ashiness. The mouth is dry and hot, with cinnamon bark, allspice, orange liqueur, red apple, cocoa powder and a meatiness on the finish. A very sexy Australia cask-strength dram that is well worth a look if you can find it.
On the eighteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Limeburners American Oak whisky. Western Australia is certainly getting good representation on the advent calendar, which suggests that a) they’re pretty passionate about whisky on the west coast and b) they’re perhaps producing more reasonably priced drams than some of their eastern cousins. Limeburners is back in the hot seat again, this time with their American Oak expression.
As the name suggests, the American Oak is aged in ex-bourbon barrels, bestowing it with a delicate, straw-like hue. The nose is light, sporting caramel, rose-water and fresh barley, with zesty overtones, while the mouth is crisp and chewy, with a dusty, grain-driven body and a hazelnut toffee finish. A light, breezy, acidic number that would go well with some locally caught fish.
On the seventeenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Hellyers Road Distillery Pinot Cask Finish whisky. Globally, the most common barrels used for aging whisky are virgin oak, ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and ex-port. Here in Australia, however, we seem to have developed a bit of a penchant for using ex-wine casks thanks to our thriving local wine industry and ease of access to the barrels. In Tasmania, due to our cooler climate, the red wine grape of choice is Pinot Noir, making it a popular cask type amongst the local distillers. Burnie-based Hellyers Road was one of the early adopters of the style and I reckon theirs was probably the first Pinot-barreled whisky I ever tried.
The Pinot Finish starts off life in American oak ex-bourbon casks before being transferred into French oak ex-Pinot casks for six months for finishing. The nose is smooth, with a cool, damp, earthiness to it. The mouth on the other hand is very dry, with a strong tanninic quality and finish of grapes, almonds and toffee. The Hellyers Road Pinot Noir Finish is a great example of how the addition of certain cask types can completely change the character of a whisky, creating complex and interesting new flavours.
On the sixteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Starward Solera whisky. This is the second entry on the advent calendar from Melbourne-based outfit New World Distillery. Solera is a process used in the aging of spirits and other liquids including whisky, rum, brandy and even vinegar to help control consistency in flavour and quality, whereby liquid is progressively transferred between a series of barrels as it ages. At bottling time, a portion of the barrel containing the oldest liquid is drawn off and then topped up from the next-youngest barrel and so-on up the line until new spirit is added to the ‘youngest’ barrel. The barrels are never fully drained, meaning that some of the product from previous fillings will always remain and be carried right through into the end product.
Starward’s version uses 40-50yo Apera barrels (Australian sherry), meaning that the nose is rich and pleasantly sweet, with cooking spices and dried fruit. The mouth is dry and fruity, with oaky undertones and a nice citrusy finish. The great news is that thanks to the solera process, the same delicious flavours in my glass should be present in any other bottle that you come across, meaning that the excellent Starward Solera is one dram that you’ll be able to come back to time and time again.
On the fifteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Castle Glen AWC 4yo Single Malt Whiskey. As Aussies go, the Queenslanders are a pretty colourful bunch. I think it’s something to do with the humidity and the banana-based diet, as they have a definite penchant for the weird and wacky. Castle Glen distillery for example, is based in an actual castle. The low, crenelated fortress in the heart of the Granite Belt area is the creation of one Cedric Millar, who originally built it for his vineyard before diversifying into brewing and distilling. It’s the sort of place that if it was in America it would be a Vegas wedding chapel or a burger joint, but in Queensland looks just right and has become a local tourism icon.
The Castle Glen website is well worth a look just for the dizzying, ecclectic and often bizarre range of wines, beers, ciders, liqueurs, cocktails, crémes, fruit wines, fortified wines and spirits they make (the dragon range and the sex range will give you a chuckle). The AWC 4yo Single Malt, which has a bottle straight out of the 70’s, uses malt sourced sourced from Switzerland of all places. I’m not sure if it’s just the Queensland origin playing tricks with my mind, but I swear there’s a hint of banana chips on the nose, as well as a touch of vanilla, but not too much else. The mouth on the other hand is mega sweet and drives a banana-caramel spike straight through the top of your head and lingers on the tongue longer than really required. A cheap and cheerful curio for the grey nomad tourists rather than anything for the serious connoisseur I think.
On the fourteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Timboon Distillery Port Expression whisky. Cruise down the Great Ocean Road on Victoria’s south coast, head inland a bit and you’ll come across an old railway shed that’s home to an excellent little craft distillery. Founded by local lad Josh Walker, who m’colleague assures me is a top bloke, Timboon is actually only the latest (and most legal) distilling outfit in the region. Turns out that back in the day bootleggers and moonshiners used to haunt the bush around the town, which along with travels in Scotland and America, was part of the inspiration for Josh to start his own distillery.
You’ll be pleased to know that the modern Timboon whisky is made and aged rather more carefully than whatever rocket fuel they were cooking up in the bush. On the nose the Port Expression is rich and clean, with raisins, nectarines and dark chocolate, while the mouth has a smooth oakiness and a pleasantly spicey finish with a curl of orange. The Timboon Port Expression is a classic, easy drinking Aussie dram that would be at home in any company (such as the bbq that I’m currently at).
On the thirteenth day of Christmas (yes, Whiskymas has more than twelve days) my true love gave to me… a glass of The Grove Distillery American Style Spirit (whiskey). It’s official, Western Australia has a weird penchant for American-style corn spirits, there having now been three versions in the advent calendar. I must admit, I’ve never actually heard of The Grove before, but apparently it started as a winery in the Margaret River region before branching out into spirit making. The American bent is not really surprising in this case as James Reed, one of the distillers, was born in Alaska and has worked in the Whiskey industry all over the USA before emigrating to Australia.
The American Style Spirit (there’s a few different versions, not actually sure which one this is) uses a mash bill of 70% corn, 20% rye and 10% barley and is aged in 50l virgin American white oak casks for 3yrs. The nose is rubbery and has a feeling of YoGo mixed with mashed banana, while underneath sits that sweet, rose-like smell that you get from bourbon. The mouth feel is soft and wobbly around the edges while the centre has that sharp caramelised timber flavour that comes from virgin oak. The finish provides red frogs and purple grape jelly lollies. It’s a pretty random one for sure, but to be honest, it’s also the closest I’ve felt to true bourbon so far.
On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Tasmanian Independent Bottlers TIB??005 whisky. Tim Duckett is a man who likes his whisky strong. Chances are that if you have been paying even the slightest attention to the Tassie whisky scene, you will have heard of his bonkers Heartwood label, which releases independently-aged whisky at an average ABV% of somewhere in the mid-sixties (the strongest was 72.5%!). Apart from being totally amazing, the Heartwoods also all cost an arm and a leg (and a liver), so to make things more accessible Mr Duckett created Tasmanian Independent Bottlers as the baby brother to Heartwood. TIBs are still independently aged, but ‘only’ range in the high 40’s-low 50’s percentage wise, so the price is much friendlier.
The spirit for TIB??005 was sourced from an undisclosed ‘Renowned NSW Distillery’ (hence the ‘??’ in the batch code. Potential contenders include Archie Rose, Blackgate and Corowa) and then aged in ex-sherry casks in Hobart. The nose is tremendously citrusy, almost gin-like in nature, with citronella/lemon myrtle, pepper-berry and coriander seed as botanicals. It’s lighter on the mouth than you would expect considering the 49.1% strength and has an odd earthy, ashy quality which make me suspect that some sort of peating has occured. The TIB??005 is a super quirky whisky and one that will give the experienced dramist an interesting conundrum to puzzle over.