Solera

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 16: Starward Solera 43%

Posted by: Ted

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.


#whitepossumspirits

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Four must-visit Scottish whisky distilleries

Posted by: Nick

Nick in Scotland

So you’ve travelled to Scotland. You’ve climbed to the top of Edinburgh Castle, eaten a plate of Haggis and failed to find the Loch Ness Monster. Your Scottish experience is complete but for one final destination. The country is synonymous with several things – including men in skirts and losing at football – but most famously of all, it is known for its whisky. Therefore on your travels it is compulsory to stop in at one or two distilleries and see exactly how the stuff is made. Of course, that means narrowing it down to one or two from the hundreds of options – not an easy task.

It was not long ago that I made a trip to whisky’s spiritual home (pun entirely intended) and thought I would share a few of my recommendations to check out after a hard day’s not-spotting Nessie.

Auchentoshan:

Auchen

This distillery is as accessible to visit as the whisky is to drink. Located just outside of Glasgow, Auchentoshan is right on the way for tourists looking to explore Loch Lomond or venture into the highlands. The distillery itself is extremely pretty and the friendly staff run a slick tour. The tasting session at the end covers the core range, though if you’re lucky they may find you something special to try behind the bar. The drams themselves are easy drinking and perfect for those who are slightly hesitant about whisky!

Ardbeg:

PE Ardb

The ultimate fanboy distillery. If you’re keen on your peated whisky then a trip to Ardbeg should be the number one priority. Granted, it is on a little island off Scotland’s west coast, but is the most magical place when you get there. Every corner of the distillery emanates old world charm, and if you select a premium tasting session, some of the drams they bring you in their little back room are mind-blowing. Ardbeg are famous for producing rare one-off bottlings which, unless you happen to be mates with the distiller, you are unlikely to get to try too many of. Do the tour, however, and who knows what you may find – Ardbog, Alligator, Supernova, Dark Cove… one dram of any of these makes the price of admission worthwhile.

Supernovas

Glenfiddich:

To get an idea about the scale of the Scottish whisky industry, do the tour at Glenfiddich. They are the largest producer of single malt in the country and their distillery, therefore, is huge! Twenty-eight stills are in operation, each big enough to make Lark’s copper pot look like a key ring. There really is a sense of awe as you walk among the machinery and through the bondstores. It’s certainly a popular one, with thousands of tourists going through the establishment each day, however if you spend a couple of extra pounds they’ll put you in a smaller, more intimate group and give you the added bonus of checking out warehouse 8 – the Solera facility – where you can see them vatting vast amounts of whisky to create, among other bottles, their 15 year old. The tasting that follows walks you through the 12, 15, 18 and 21 Year Old expressions – yes, that’s right, 21 year old! Not all distilleries churn out a 21 year old regularly on a tour.

Glen Stills

Bruichladdich:

A trip to Bruichladdich is the perfect whisky experience. Firstly, the staff are some of the coolest and most entertaining people in the business. Secondly, their equipment, in particular their mash tun, is all beautifully ancient. It’s like an antique shop where the gear comes alive at night when the owners leave! Finally, and most importantly, there’s the tastings. Oh man. Bruichladdich are famous for innovation and experimentation, the result of which is a large number of fascinating whiskies to try. A rum matured whisky – can I try that? Sure! A new Octomore – do you mind if I… Go for it! How about that double matured… Get it down you! In short, a trip to Bruichladdich is compulsory if you ever find yourself in the area – and by the area, I mean in the Northern Hemisphere!

Bruich

These are, of course, just four of my picks based on one visit and I realise that as far as excellent distilleries go I am barely scratching the surface. So what places have you been to that you would recommend people make it along to? Let me know in the comments and I’ll see if I can hit them up on my next trip to the whisky motherland!

Warehouse 8

 

Limeburners Infinity Solera Cask

Reviewed by: Nick

Limeburners Infinity Solera

The thing about the Australian Whisky scene is that we are unquestionably small-fry. It is a quantifiable fact that we produce less whisky per annum than Glenfiddich sloshes from its barrels. Size, or rather lack thereof, is the overriding factor in most Aussie distilleries’ tendencies to release single barrel expressions – they simply don’t produce enough product to have an alternative. This is great if you happened to own an unopened bottle of HH525 Sullivans Cove in 2014. If you did, I hope your new private yacht is treating you well.

Single barrels are not as good however, when the aim of your whisky game is consistency of flavour. You know, that old chestnut of getting one bottle of your standard release to mildly resemble the taste of another one. The best way to achieve this is to blend (or more romantically, ‘marry’) a range of casks together – thus ironing out any ‘bumps’ in flavour. Even better still, is if you can use a Solera vat, which are only ever half empty (or full. Not sure which is the most optimistic phrasing in this case.)

With this groundbreaking new technology (invented c.1790), distilleries are suddenly able to better define their flavour and ensure that a bottle you buy this year is (pretty much) the same as the one you purchase at a later date.

One of the first distilleries in Australia to adopt the Solera technique is the wonderfully-named Great Southern Distilling Company based in Albany, Western Australia. They market their wares under the label ‘Limeburners’ and in their short history, have released some stellar drams.

While director/distiller Cameron Syme is a huge fan of the variety found in single barrel releases, he acknowledges the need for a consistent product and an entry level into the Limeburners range, resulting in the creation of the Limeburners Infinity. Cameron says that his distillery’s key commitment is “to make Australian whisky which can compete and hold its own at the highest international levels. Infinity is certainly capable of that.”

This particular release contains 8 year old whisky matured in several 500L South Australian port puncheons. The infinity name is appropriate, as the Solera system will always leave at least a teeny tiny fraction of these original whiskies in the mix.

Eager to support the distillery, I stumbled upon this bottle’s first release on Dan Murphys and promptly blew my savings for the week. So what exactly is the Infinity Solera Reserve like?

On the nose there are immediate traces of the port influence – ripe oranges dominate alongside zesty citrus and vanilla, bringing to mind cupcakes with lemon icing. The palate is complex – certainly not smooth, but well balanced with flavours of strawberry jam, honey and malt biscuits. In the finish I spotted hints of the bitter soapiness I sometimes detect in wine-matured whisky (yes, I know, this is port matured and therefore I sound crazy). However, this vague disagreeable note dissipates quickly and is replaced by an intriguing dryness which contrasts pleasantly with the initial flavours.

Usually I find it pretty counterintuitive adding water to my whisky, but in the case of this one, it takes on a whole new character with a splash of H20. Suddenly, large dollops of gooey caramel dominate the palate and the flavours morph from undeniably Australian to slightly Speysidey.

This whisky is a significant step for Australian whisky. Lack of consistency is one argument the Cynical Scot has always held over me in our heated whisky-fuelled debates about the validity of non-Scottish drams. It seems that, at least in Limeburners’ case, I will be able to return to the bottle shop in a year, in two years, or even in ten and get this same drop. Or alternatively, I could save my pennies and buy one of their delicious cask strengths…

★★★

Glenfiddich 15 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Glenfiddich 15 whisky waffle

This is more like it Glenfiddich! In my review of the Glenfiddich 12 Year Old, I described it as pleasant but unremarkable. The 15 Year Old release goes some way to rectifying this. If Glenfiddich were a wine, the 12 year Old would be a white, whereas the 15 Year Old would clearly be a red.

This whisky is created using a Solera vatting technique, where various 15 year old expressions are married together in a large ex-wash back. The vat is never more than half emptied meaning a percentage of the remaining whisky that makes up each bottle is very old indeed.

This is immediately a more enjoyable whisky than the 12 year old. Darker in colour and more complex on the nose, various aspects of its mixed-maturation can be found within. There is vanilla from the bourbon casks and green sappy flavours from the new oak. The biggest contributor, however, is the sherry casks. The spirit matured in these barrels imparts dried fruits, toffee, even cola upon the palate and leaves a long, dry and memorable finish.

While the 12 Year Old is the most popular, and the 18 Year Old the smoothest, when taking into account the balance between flavour and value for money, I believe it is almost impossible to go past the 15 Year Old. It is the most complex and interesting by far and crucially, it gives you the most to talk about.

★★★★