Posted by: Ted
What does a South American superfood with a weird name have to do with WWII bomber pilots? Well, in a round-about way: whiskey. Before we get into why though, let’s take a slight tangent.
By definition, whisk(e)y is a grain based spirit. In terms of the most common grains that are used, the holy quaternity is barley, corn, rye and wheat. Alone or in combination, these four star in the vast majority of whiskies. Beyond that, there is a whole panoply of random grains that rarely (if ever) get a look-in due to reasons such as rarity, expense and difficulty of use.
One such grain is quinoa. You know, the one that you think is pronounced ‘kwinoa’ until some posh git swans by and says “no no, it’s ‘keeen-wah’ daahling”. A staple native grain in South American, quinoa can now be found lurking in expensive salads in the West. To be fair, it is very good for you. Turns out it has other uses beyond feeding hipsters though.
Most of the established whisk(e)y distilling cultures wouldn’t dream of going anywhere near something like quinoa. Tradition is tradition after all. You need to go somewhere where the industry is fresh and young and willing to experiment with new things. Like Australia for example.
Whipper Snapper Distillery, based in Perth, Western Australia (WA), is an outfit that is not afraid to mess around. The roots of the distillery go back to WWII, where an Aussie and a US pilot bonded over a love of bombers and making whiskey. Vic, the Aussie half of the duo, took the recipe they had developed home and continued to distil in his back shed. The recipe was eventually passed onto his young neighbour Al and his mate Jimmy and thus Whipper Snapper was born. Keeping with the American connection, the distillery’s flagship release is the Upshot, a bourbon-style whiskey with an Aussie twist.
Sounding rather like a top-secret WWII program, Project Q is Whipper Snapper’s experimental quinoa-based whisky, only the second ever quinoa release world wide (the other is from Corsair Distillery in America). We first heard about it here at Whisky Waffle HQ a few years ago when they released an early test version, but sadly we were never able to get our mitts on a sample. Fast forward to 2019 and the lads have refined their process and unleashed their first official batch on an unsuspecting world.
Made using a mash bill of 65% quinoa, 25% corn and 10% malted barley, all the grains are locally sourced from WA. The Project Q is aged for just under three years in the distillery’s own ex-Upshot barrels and bottled at (at least for Batch 1) 46.5%.
Flavour-wise, the Project Q is like no other whisk(e)y I have ever tried. I sprang it on m’colleague blind and he almost broke his brain trying to work it out. The first guess was rye, which actually wasn’t entirely ridiculous as there is an earthy, nutty (quinoa-y?) quality to the nose that remindes me a bit of Belgrove’s Brown Rye. Beyond that though, there’s this weird combo of rose-water and what I can only describe as tobacco-infused old car. It’s like leather and oil and ciggies and sun-aged dash. My dad’s old MKII Jag or my 1985 BMW 325i.
The mouth has tannic sweetness underneath that I reckon comes from the corn, while over the top sits this ashy, spicy grain layer. The finish is fruity, a distilled cherry/plums/grapes feel that kind of brings to mind brandy or cognac. There is a lingering wisp of incense that coils around the tongue for a little while after.
To be honest I’m not really sure what to make of it. The Project Q is definitely not a beginner’s whiskey, that’s for sure, with its complex melange of flavours. Due to the high cost and relatively low local production levels of quinoa, the Project Q is unlikely to be anything more than a quirky rarity, but one I think is worth tracking down to experience something unusual. It won’t be to everyone’s taste for sure, but I certainly think it still deserves its moment in the sun. I hope Whipper Snapper, and others, continue to experiment with new grains and flavours that challenge our palates and minds.
FYI, it’s still totally kwinoa.