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.
On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Deviant Distillery Anthology Batch 12 single-malt spirit (nope, not a whisky). The brain-child of Tasmanian industrial chemist John Hyslop, Deviant Distillery is a bit of a rebel outfit in the local industry. John’s philosophy is that traditional distilling and aging practices are unfriendly to both the environment and the pocket through wastage in resources and product. His solution was to develop a proprietary reactor technology that allows him to artificially age malt spirit in 10-weeks to develop, what he claims to be, the character of a 10yo whisky.
Needless to say, the use of rapid aging technology has not been without some controversy within the local establishment. In Australia spirit must be aged under oak for at least two years to legally be called whisky, which is why Deviant has been careful to use the term single-malt spirit and avoid any reference to whisky, however opinions have still been divided. Because the process is secret I have no idea what timber has been used for the Anthology Batch 12, but what I do know is that it has been heavily peated (at least by Australian standards), which certainly plays out on the nose, but then underneath sits a young, raw grassy and melony note. The mouth is similarly youthful, with a Lisbon lemon peel body and an ashy, graphitey finish, a profile m’colleague suggests is a bit like a dirty limoncello. Look, it’s not whisky and might not be to everyone’s taste, but it is definitely worth a try for something different.
On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Tiger Snake Sour Mash Whiskey. There must be something in the water over in Western Australia that makes distillers keen to try their hand at a bourbon-style whiskey, because this is the second one so far in the advent calendar. Great Southern Distilling Co. (makers of the Limeburners, which we saw on Day 5) call the Tiger Snake a ‘sour mash’ style whiskey though, as the term bourbon is restricted due it’s status as a geographic indicator.
Named after one of Australia’s most venemous reptiles, the Tiger Snake uses a mash bill of corn, rye, malted barley and occasionally an old hybrid wheat variety called triticale, all grown in WA, although I couldn’t find any details about the casking. The nose is very light, with a faint hint of sweet stawberry jam and wood, while the taste is a bit of a non-event, with a vague spiced orange syrup body and a touch of green-ness on the finish. I’m sorry to say it folks, but I think this one is a bit of a toothless Tiger Snake.
On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Fleurieu Whisky Kisses whisky. Fleurieu is the first contender from South Australia on the advent calendar and as far as I know, the only distillery in the country to have a logo featuring two small urinating boys (a bit like that famous fountain in Belgium). The rather romantic sounding name of the Whisky Kisses release comes from the name of the distillery’s first pot still, which in turn was derived from a mispronunciation of ‘whiskery kisses’ by the Gareth and Angela Andrews’ young sons.
Named for its location on the Fleurieu Peninsula, south of Adelaide, Fleurieu is a true coastal distillery, huddled a mere stone’s throw from the Southern Ocean, with the elements imbuing the aging spirit. The Kisses is fully aged in ex-port barrels and, in the best coastal tradition, has a light touch of peat to it. On the nose it is rich, fruity and nutty, with some bold, meaty undertones thanks to the port and the cask strength bottling, while the mouth is like a hot apple and pear tart spiced with cinnamon and a salty, slightly savoury, smoky finish. A cracking dram, complex and satisfying and one that by rights should be enjoyed next to a beach bonfire in the encroaching dusk on a hot summer evening.
On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Bladnoch 10yo Scotch whisky. Wait a minute, Scotch? Huh? Ok, so this one fudges the brief a bit, but it works if you squint your eyes. Founded back in 1847, Bladnoch is the southernmost Scottish distillery (not quite as far as Australia though) and one of only six remaining in the Scottish lowlands. After going into liquidation in 2014, it was purchased the following year by Australian businessman David Prior, who renewed and expanded the brand.
The 10yo is a release of older, pre-takeover stock aged exclusively in ex-bourbon casks. The nose has a distinct note of canteloupe and boiled caramel sweets, while the mouth is light and sharply sweet with a finish of spice, wood and grain. Technically, I suppose you could call the Bladnoch the only true ‘Australian made’ Scotch whisky. Worth a try if you like your drams sweet and light.
On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Dobson’s Old Reliable whisky. Based in Kentucky, New South Wales, Dobson’s is definitely the eccentric, fez and brocade dressing gown wearing, pipe smoking uncle of the Aussie distilling scene. The label artworks all have a fantastical art neuvo/deco aesthetic to them and the website is like a kooky antiques emporium bursting with all sorts of knickknacks and treasures. They also run a speakeasy bar at their Eastview Estate home, as you do.
It is therefore only fitting that Stephen and Lyn, owners and makers of the self-titled Dobson’s, would come up with a rather quirky whisky. Old Reliable is a lightly peated, triple distilled single malt aged in ex-Shiraz and Madeira French oak casks in the New England highlands. The nose is like a buttery apricot Danish with a splash of wine at the back, while the flavour is bright and grapey and reminds me a bit of cognac with a faint whisp of smoke on the finish. All in all, I feel that the Old Reliable would make a rather excellent pairing with some cheese and good company.
On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Limeburners Port Cask whisky. Crafted by Great Southern Distilling Co. at their Albany distillery in Western Australia (they also have a site in Porongurup that makes Tiger Snake Sour Mash Whiskey), the Limeburners takes its name from the nearby convict-built kilns that provided building lime during colonial times.
This particular Limeburners edition starts off life in ex-bourbon American oak barrels before being transferred to Australian port casks for finishing. The nose has a funky ripe banana in caramel sauce vibe going on, while the mouth feel is dry and hot, with an alcholic spiced plum finish. The Port Cask would make a great accompaniment to a platter of fine local produce while camping on the beautiful southern coast of WA.
On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of 23rd Street Distillery Hybrid Whisk(e)y. Australians love the whole fusion cuisine thing and this old world-meets-new world-meets-even newer world blend is no exception. The mad tinkerers at 23rd Street take 5yo-ish Scotch whisky from Scotland and splice it together with 2yo-ish bourbon whiskey from America (hence ‘whisk(e)y’) and then finish it off in ex-bourbon casks at their digs in South Australia.
The Hybrid lives up to the whole Jekyll and Hyde vibe, with the Scotch and bourbon both playing off each other. The nose is light and sharp, with competing woody, floral and fruity notes, while the palate starts off smooth and honeyed before developing into a hot, sweet, bright and lingering finish. The Hybrid is proof that the antipodes are still the real wild west (south?) of whisky and (nearly) anything goes.