rye whisky

Four reasons Archie Rose will take over the (Australian Whisky) world:

Posted by: Nick

Archie Rose Rye Malt Whisky

Hot take alert! Archie Rose will, sooner rather than later, be the most famous distillery in the country. Move aside Sullivans Cove, forget about Lark, no chance Limeburners; Archie Rose is best placed to bring quality Australian whisky to the world.

Alright, why am I so confident? Well, there are a number of reasons: four to be precise…

1) The location. Archie Rose are located in Rosebery, Sydney, mere kilometres from the CBD. If a tiny state like Tassie can build a whisky scene from the ground up then a city with a population of over 5 million – and a further 15 million tourists every year – is guaranteed to find more than a few willing customers. And Archie Rose is well placed to have the monopoly on them, being the first craft distillery set up in over a hundred years. Others have started up in Sydney since, but Archie Rose got there first. Throw in a classy bar, as well as educational tours and blending experiences and Archie Rose is set up beautifully as NSW’s distillery of choice.

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2) The marketing. While this isn’t the most romantic aspect of any distillery, it’s fair to say Archie Rose has nailed it. From their unique hexagonal box, to the seductive smoked tint, to the classically shaped bottle, they are well placed to stand out on a shelf. Their online presence is excellent and their website contains details of every cask that makes up a release, including data such as water source, grist size, duration of fermentation and the date each barrel was filled and emptied. This is manna from heaven for whisky nerds like myself!

3) The quality. Someone at Archie Rose knows what they are doing. From the very beginning there was never any thought of rushing a few 20 litre single casks out the door. Nothing is being released before it is ready – in fact, we’re still yet to see a single malt, although I am assured one is coming. Even the Rye Malt, in it’s 3rd iteration at the time of writing, is made using a solera system, where half of the previous batch has been gradually spending a whole lot more time in oak than the two and a half years that the youngest spirit in the mix has seen. It seems this approach is paying dividends, too, as this release has just won World’s Best Rye Whisky at the 2020 World Whisky Awards. A single cask sample of their single malt was also awarded a gold medal. It is hard to become a great whisky distillery without producing a great whisky, and it seems Archie Rose is well placed to produce exactly that.

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4) The variety. As is the case with many modern distilleries, Archie Rose is branching out into gins and vodkas which have also won various awards in their fields. Their whiskies are equally varied, with the first release being a Malted Rye, released to market, while their single malt matures in its own time. However, the experimentation doesn’t stop there, with the release of an Ironbark Smoked Rye Whisky, a variation on their rye whisky made using smoked water created by melting huge ice blocks with an Ironbark fuelled oven. It seems the distillery is not afraid to experiment, and several releases under their Archie Rose concepts label demonstrate the innovation and creativity occurring at the distillery.

While it is still early days for Archie Rose, they seem to have been a name we’ve heard about for a while. Like a chess master they have been flying under the radar, getting their pieces in exactly the right positions before pouncing with a decisive checkmate. Mark my words, these guys are going to be big…

Archie Rose Rye Malt Whisky Boulevardier

Oh, and I have to mention one more reason they’re destined for greatness:

5) They claim it to be “truly unique” and “one of the world’s most unique distilleries” which will annoy Ted something shocking. Always a great sign in my books…

A Rye look at Belgrove

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The much-extended old stables which house Belgrove Distillery

In our review we jokingly referred to Belgrove Distillery’s Peter Bignell as the da Vinci of distilling. When we visited him, we discovered that we were actually bang on the mark. Case in point was his method for powering the pump that injected homemade biofuel into the burner for the still: an old Sunbeam Mixmaster (usually on ‘Whipped Cream’ setting!).

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Apparently meringue-setting heated the still too much!

Our arrival at the distillery was actually rather hampered by some pesky road workers, who decided to dig up the highway in front of Peter’s driveway half an hour before we arrived. We had to call over a massive grader to flatten the surface enough to get the Alfa over (the troubles with low sports cars).

Belgrove distillery takes its name from the property, which is also a working farm. This was apparent as soon as we opened the gate and spied a flock of freshly shorn sheep, which we later discovered Peter had taught to eat leftover rye mash. Scattered around the old stables building that houses the distillery were various contraptions cannibalised from old washing machines, scrap metal and Russian Typhoon-class nuclear submarines.

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This one is made from the parts of Apollo 11 which fell to earth

The distillery, located just outside the southern midlands town of Kempton, is unique in Tasmania in that it predominantly produces its spirit using rye instead of barley. The story goes that Peter had a spare paddock full of rye that needed using and so decided to turn it into whisky. Rather than buy expensive new equipment, and prescribing to a reuse and recycle ethos, he instead decided to build everything himself.

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Including this glorious piece of copper!

We need to stress that home-made doesn’t mean rubbish; the malter/peat smoker crafted out of an old tumble dryer is a work of genius, and the mash tun is perfectly functional – until it gets clogged up by the huskless rye that is. Peter quipped that when this happens he has to put the old wooden paddle appropriated from his kids’ dinghy to work to unclog it (he’s changed both the handle and the blade three times apiece, but maintains it’s still the same paddle).

Peter has been a farmer his whole life, only turning to distilling seven years ago. He said that his university degree in agricultural science has been invaluable, allowing him to exploit the science behind the art, although he doesn’t downplay the role of the natural yeasts and bacteria that inoculate the mash, which he refers to as Belgrove’s unique terroir. Peter is completely hands on with the whole process, from growing the grain, to the distilling, the bottling and especially the tasting.

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Peter is clearly a hands-on farmer

Luckily enough we were able to join him in tasting a variety of interesting spirits, including rye, barley, apple hatchet (distilled apple cider), ginger hammer (distilled ginger beer) and even an experimental batch of eau de vie that Peter was trialling for Tasmanian Cask Company’s master cooper Adam Bone, who dropped by to check on proceedings. The range was varied, exciting and specific to Belgrove, and it was inspiring to be able to taste such contrasting flavours produced in the one place.

We did however have our favourites; the rye at 47%, Pommeau (apple hatchet cut back with apple juice) and especially the Pinot Noir matured rye at cask strength, of which we took home bottles #1 and #2 of a new barrel. However, revelation of the day was the 100% malted barley smoked with peat from the previously untapped bogs in the north-east of the state. Good people of the world, are you ready for Tasmania’s answer to Scotland’s Islay? Well, it’s maturing in Peter Bignell’s bond store at this very moment.

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Nick filling bottle number one!

While Peter is expanding the old stables to house a new still and larger malting equipment, he still resolves to remain stubbornly small scale, championing the merits of a hands-on approach. He muses that “big distilleries only care about how much whisky per kilo of grain they can get. I’m trying to get the most flavour.” From our all too brief visit, it is clear that he is succeeding in that vision.

Tasmania is home to many distilleries, big and little, but perhaps none is more eclectic and fascinating to explore than Belgrove.

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Don’t worry, Ted. Someone has to have bottle number two!