Apera

Launceston Distillery Land Their First Release

Posted by: Ted

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The old Ansett Hangar 17 at Launceston airport looked almost exactly the same as it had the last time I had visited a couple of years ago. The only real sign of time progressing was a new opaque glass and aluminium door grafted into the old corrugated iron wall, bearing the crest of Launceston Distillery, and a sandwich board in front of it declaring the place to be ‘open’.

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Hangar 17, the home of Launceston Distillery

After crossing the threshold I was warmly greeted by distillery Director Chris Byrne, who commented “hopefully my sign holds up against the wind, I’ve given it a bit of angle, but we’ll see.” (It had disappeared by the time I left). Nestled in the foyer were a couple of old airline seats. I asked if they were Ansett, but Chris shook his head and replied “We had an old bloke drop in and say the pattern was 1960’s Qantas. It’s definitely from back then anyway, just look at the ashtrays.” [Correction: the guy who sold the seats to the distillery has been in touch and they are definitely Ansett. He said he will be having stern words with Chris about listening to old blokes who walk in off the street]. We grabbed a cup of tea to ward against the cold, pausing a moment to admire the whiteboard still bearing operational notes left after Ansett collapsed in 2001, and then wandered out for a look at the distillery.

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Sorry Ansett diehards, these are just scummy old 60’s Qantas seats… Plot twist! Turns out they are actually Ansett and the old bloke didn’t know what he was talking about!

The main hangar, once used to house aircraft, was as large as ever, but the floor space had diminished significantly since last time thanks to the appearance of several rows of 100L casks. Chris grinned at the sight and commented that “the original bond store off the side is full of 20L casks now, so we had to expand out here. We’re hoping that we have enough 20L casks stored now to get us through to when we start releasing our 100L’s in a few years time.”

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The history of Hangar 17 on display

Sitting next to the stacks was a board covered in posters documenting the history of the site, which Chris was more than happy to explain. During the lesson he pointed at the numbers and lines on the floor: “See those there? That’s where they used to line up the luggage crates. Apparently one was pushed into the wall by accident, but because they hadn’t secured it down when they extended the shed, the whole bottom of the wall got pushed out. We had to pull it back in with a ute when we were doing the place up.”

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Phwoar, check out the insulation on those

Eventually we wandered over for a look at the bond store, passing by the two Knapp-Lewer stills with their beautiful timber insulation. Last time I had seen the bond store there had only been a solitary row of casks huddled forlornly against the wall, but now the room was full to the brim of neatly racked 20L casks. While we were admiring the view, head distiller Chris Condon and Angus the distillery dog returned from the airport terminal, where they had just delivered the first order of whisky to the airport shop. “They’ve got some good advertising up, so hopefully people stop and pick up a bottle.”

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Angus the distillery dog travels in style

Chris B handed me over to Chris C and we made a beeline for the tasting bar, built from an old Ansett check-in desk and an in-flight drinks trolley, for a chat and some cheeky bevvies. The most notable feature of the bar was the row of bottles perched on top, thanks to Launceston Distillery releasing their first whisky just last month, a milestone that was very pleasing to Chris: “One of the problems with distilling is that because it takes so long to get to that first release, it can sometimes feel like you’re not making any progress, so it’s great to finally have something to show for all our hard work!”

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20L nirvana

The bottles on offer covered the first four batches laid down by the distillery, with each batch released as a marriage of 20L casks bottled at a standard 46% abv. Batch 1, the first edition, was an ex-Apera (the Australian version of sherry) casking, Batch 2 was an ex-tawny (Australian port) casking, Batch 3 was another Apera, although apparently with a different character to Batch 1 as the casks had been sourced from SA Cooperage rather than the Tas Cask Co, and finally Batch 4 was an ex-bourbon casking.

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L-R: Batch 1 (ex-Apera), Batch 2 (ex-Tawny), Batch 3 (ex-Apera), Batch 4 (ex-Bourbon)

On the nose Batch 4 was light, crisp and grainy, with notes of fresh apples and green grapes. In contrast, Batch 1 was sweet, sticky and rich, with dried fruits, orange syrup, red jubes and undertones of malt, wood shavings and bacon. Batch 2 was dark, with red berries, leather, wax, timber and a clean oiliness.

On tasting, Batch 4 was sharp and bright on the mouth, with acidic herbal notes and a clean finish. In complete contrast, Batch 1 was like an explosion from the aromatic end of the spice rack, with strong flavours of aniseed, cinnamon, cloves and star anise, as well as almonds, milk chocolate, mandarins and a tanninic finish. Finally, Batch 2 was dark, rich and sweet, with notes of dark chocolate and black cherries and a smooth, oaky finish.

Chris revealed that each batch was just over two years old and I asked whether he had toyed with the idea of leaving them longer under oak: “We didn’t just dump them out arbitrarily at two years obviously, it’s more considered that, but you start getting to a point where you have to ask yourself, ‘Am I doing more harm than good for the sake of a few months?’. That’s the tricky thing about 20L casks, there’s a real risk of over-oaking.”

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Head Distiller Chris Condon rocks the Ansett memorabilia

Chris was also keen to show me the boxes that had been designed for the bottles and explained the relevance of each design element: “The colour is actually the Ansett blue, while the clouds are from a photo taken of the sky above the airport. If you look closely, you can also see lines running across the box which are actually from an 1830 map of the region. All the surrounding towns and landmarks are there, which really grounds it in this place.”

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The author and Angus relax before the flight

After the tasting, I had a quick relax on some genuine Ansett airline seats with Angus the distillery dog (“Judging by the condition, we don’t think they were ever installed in a plane,” commented Chris), said a quick farewell to Chris B who was finishing labeling the last of the personalised pre-order bottles that had been offered as part of the 1st release and collected my own bottle of Batch 1 from Chris C.

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Chris Byrne, hand-labelling master

Before I left, I had one last question on my mind. Last time Whisky Waffle visited, the distillery team had been tossing up names for the whisky. At that time ‘Hangar 17’ had been a strong contender in tribute to the building that housed their distillery, so I asked Chris what had changed: “We ending up going that way in part because there was a legal issue with Hangar 1 in San Francisco, who are vodka makers and objected to us using the name. I’m actually really pleased that we went with Launceston Distillery though, because that’s who and what we are. It’s a really strong geographic name that people can connect with.”

He paused a moment then laughed and quipped “At the end of the day, Hangar 17 is still our physical address, so they can’t take that away from us. We’ll see how we go.” Well readers, if the quality of the whisky is anything to go by, then it’s no hard stretch to say that Launceston Distillery will go far.

Head over to the Launceston Distillery website to purchase a bottle or organise a tour: https://www.launcestondistillery.com.au/

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A Stopover at Starward

Posted by: Nick and Ted

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They grow up so fast, don’t they? It was under two years ago that Whisky Waffle first visited New World Distillery/Starward in their Essendon Airport location and were impressed by their hardworking staff and their delicious whisky. Fast forward to the present and they’ve raised the bar considerably, upsizing their apparently insufficient aeroplane hangar for a gigantic warehouse, which in turn will likely be bursting at the seams in two years time.

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Starward has been a very busy distillery. On Nick’s previous visit he noted how staff worked around the clock on three distillations a day to create as much product as humanly possible – a key factor in keeping their prices within an accessible range for we mere mortals. This commendable approach has led to two key outcomes: a wide range of people have been able to try the whisky and their bond store has filled up in no time.

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The pressing lack of space at the old airport hangar led to a drastic solution: a new home. Their new premise is much closer to the city of Melbourne, located at 50 Bertie Street Port Melbourne, a short tram ride away from the city.

The cavernous open plan industrial space, some two and a half times larger than the Essendon facility, easily fits all the distillery equipment, the bond store and a slick bar area (although apparently they haven’t managed to find space for the basketball hoop yet). Also found within the walls is a team of fantastic staff members, such as Sasha, Rachel (how’s the hunt for an Aussie husband going?) and Cameron (cheers for showing us around and letting us try some of the best new-make in the business. You’re not really a spud).

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One of the big highlights of visiting the distillery (apart from the tree growing next to the bar) is the chance to try a variety of the New World Projects range, which are the result of the distillers getting creative in their spare time. We were lucky enough to sample the PX Cask #3 (sweet, fruity and now out of stock), Dram Full Single Cask #1 (oaky with a herbal finish), Lui Bar Selection #3 (spicy and rich, our pick of the session) and the First Distillery Last Release (cask strength and punchy).

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Thanks to everyone at Starward for the warm welcome on a cold day. It’s great having a distillery right in the city so that locals and tourists can easily visit. If you have a spare moment we can highly recommend heading down to Port Melbourne and dropping into one of Australia’s hardest working distilleries.

Starward Distillery is open Friday and Saturday 12pm-10pm and Sunday 12-8pm. Tours are conducted on those days at 2pm and 5pm.

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Navigating to the New World Distillery: meet the purveyors of Starward

Posted by: Nick

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Behold, the New World of whisky!

The New World Distillery is a whisky-making establishment like no other. Equal parts industrial warehouse, hipster bar and mad scientist’s laboratory, stepping through the door I felt like I had slipped down my very own rabbit hole into whisky-wonderland.

Located in Melbourne’s north, the distillery is just a stone’s throw away from the bustling international airport. This is appropriate as the building is a vast refurbished aircraft hangar. The huge room is separated into partitions by rows of whisky barrels – a particularly novel bond store! In one corner of the room is a classy-looking bar with shelves bearing a massive range of the whiskies made on site – each with a premise more curious than the last. It was clearly going to be a good evening.

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Is that a pumpkin spiced gin amongst that lot?

Before settling in at the bar for an extended tasting session, there was the small matter of the tour. My guide on this adventure around the immense room was Paul, a man who I discovered was no stranger to a bit of whisky waffling. While the whisky production at his distillery was covered in detail, we also got sidetracked with conversations about peat, barley farming, excise tax and wood-smoked barley.

New World Distillery has been operating since 2010, releasing their main product under the label Starward. While Starward was originally exclusively Apera matured spirit, they have recently released a second variety aged in ex-Barossa Valley Shiraz casks. These aren’t the only bottles being created here however. The people at New World enjoy pushing boundaries; if not breaking the rules, certainly bending them a little. The most successful of these are released as a special range known as ‘New World Projects’ and well worth checking out.

The tour is engaging and informative: in particular Paul’s analogies likening making wort to brewing a cup of tea and charring barrels to burning sugar, explaining these obscure concepts effectively. I also got a generous swig of the new make spirit which I found light and fruity without losing its typical high-alcohol warmth. All in all it was one of the more (dangerously) easy-drinking new makes I’ve tried.

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Whisky always tastes better when wearing a high-vis vest

New World also came across as one of the hardest working distilleries going around. With a staff of only five on the floor and three behind the scenes (and Dan), they still manage to conduct three distillations a day. This is achieved by long shifts, late finishes and shared responsibilities, as well as a basketball hoop to keep the staff sane. This hard working approach is one of the biggest factors in ensuring their product is one of the most affordable Australian whiskies going around.

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Starward score a three pointer!

After the tour I took a seat at the bar near a toasty gas heater and sampled the products I had just learned about. First was a comparison between the two Starward bottlings: the Apera cask and the wine cask varieties. While the Apera matured whisky was syrupy and raisiny, the Shiraz aged drop was more savoury with oaky tannins. I still confess to preferring the original Starward release, but my friends who accompanied me on my visit unanimously favoured the wine cask.

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Different constellations for different casks

From here I moved onto the bar’s extensive range of New World Projects bottles. These ranged from the sublime – two magnificent port matured whiskies – to the ridiculous – a perfectly clear three year old whisky with all the coloured components of the drop removed. There was also a wonderful 56.3% ‘doublewood’ bottle which had been matured in both the wine and Apera barrels, and a Heartwood-esque whisky with an alcohol percentage in the sixties known as the ‘Smoke and Mirrors’.

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One day all this will be mine… if I save up enough money to buy every barrel.

I left the giant hangar at the end of the night inspired by the products made in my home country. I was once again amazed by the vast contrast in flavours that can be created within a drink which only contains three ingredients. There are some great things happening in the Australian whisky industry and the guys at New World Distillery are right at the forefront.

The New World Distillery is open for tastings and tours at their site at Essendon Fields on Fridays from 6pm and on Saturdays between 2pm and 6pm.

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…

★★★