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Starward Two Fold Double Grain Australian Whisky

Reviewed by: Ted

It used to be that if you wanted to buy an Australian whisky, your choice was pretty much from a never-ending cavalcade of single cask, single malt releases that cost more kidneys than you could really afford on a regular basis. To be honest, it’s still like that, but these days the scene is starting to get a lot more diverse as more players enter the game and start to experiment with different styles.

People are prepared to pay for quality of course, but on the whole, prices for the Aussie amber still remain prohibitively high for the general market who want a decent local dram that isn’t going to eviscerate their wallets. Starward Distillery in Melbourne is trying to change that with a zesty little number pitched squarely at the average punter.

A bottle of Starward Two Fold Double Grain Australian Whisky sitting in front of a Christmas tree

Starward’s Two Fold Australian Whisky has an interesting trick up it’s sleeve that helps them to keep the price point well below $100AUD, which is a rare for a local drop (it’s currently $65AUD on their website). As well as using the standard malted barley, Starward have added wheat into the mix, making a ‘double grain’ whisky that ‘marries two quintessentially Australian grains’ together.

This is quite a clever move for a number of reasons. For one, Australia grows a lot of wheat – around 18.5million tonnes in 2018-19 in fact (which is actually down from previous years). In comparison, barley only managed about half that amount in the same period.

In terms of spirit production costs, wheat makes a lot more sense. In comparison to barley, which has to go through the whole malting process and then get distilled in fairly inefficient pot-stills, wheat spririt is generally produced on giant industrial column stills that allow for continuous production. In fact, Manildra Group’s Shoalhaven plant in Nowra, where Starward sources its wheat spirit from, is the largest grain neutral spirit (GNS) distillery in the South East Asia region.

Flavour-wise though, that’s where things start to get a bit more competitive. Neutral spirits made from grains such as wheat are much lighter and take far less influence from the cask compared to the heavier, oilier pot still-made malts. Hence why they have traditionally been used as the ‘silent’ base for Scottish blends, with small amounts of single malts added in on top to provide the flavour.

Starward’s ‘thing’ has always been Australian wine cask maturation and the Two Fold is no exception to that rule, in this case doubling-down on it. According to Starward they use [sic] “Lightly charred or steamed barrels. Sourced from Australian wineries that make great shiraz, cabernets and pinot noirs. Often filled fresh when the barrel is still wet with wine.” Starward’s own malt spirit and the wheat spirit are aged separately before being blended at a ratio of about 2:3 before being bottled at 40%abv.

A bottle of Starward whisky wearing a christmas jumper and santa hat sitting on a red brick in a herb garden. Yes, that is a bit random I know

Getting into the Christmas spirit

Speaking of the bottle, Starward has always killed it with their label art and the Two Fold is no exception, with a gorgeous blue, black and gold label with an unusual shape that stands out from the pack. Colour-wise, there is no mistaking that the spirit has spent its life in ex-wine casks, sporting a ruddy copper hue.

Flavour-wise, the Two Fold is a certified drinker. The nose is creamy and fruit-driven, with peaches, red grapes and banana mixed with a generous hit of vanilla with chocolate/cereal notes that make me think of Weetbix slice. There’s also an interesting nutty, meaty quality that sits underneath.

The mouth is relatively spicy, thanks to the wheat, and dry from the wine. The body is light and creamy across the mid-palate with a relatively short, tannin-driven finish, although there’s enough linger to make you keep wanting to come back for another go.

David Vitale and the Starward team have really pulled it off with the Two Fold. Low price certainly doesn’t equal cheap whisky in this case. Even better, it comes in a 700ml bottle. I think that the Two Fold is an excellent dram for the Aussie summer – the wine-driven flavours would pair perfectly at a BBQ, it’s light enough in the heat and the price means that it’s ideal to casually share amongst friends. If you’re looking for a solid local dram this festive season, the Starward Two Fold is a no-brainer.

***

PS. It’s nearly Christmas, so it’s about time for a dodgy cracker joke –

Q: What’s a grain spirit’s favourite Christmas carol
A: Silent Night

Iron House Tasman Whisky Port Cask P1 46.8%

Reviewed by: Ted

Safety warning: This whisky broke my leg. Well… maybe there were a few others involved that night too, but let this serve as a lesson! Make sure that you are in a secure, seated position and under no circumstances should you decide to do an impulsive (but well intentioned) dance. Bad things can happen. Ok, are you comfortable? Right, let’s get on with the story!

Once upon a time there was a brewery called Iron House. It was named after an old droving hut and sat overlooking the Tasman Sea on the East Coast of Tasmania. The head brewer, Briggsy, was sad because he had more wash than he could make into beer. One day he had a brilliant idea: he could transmute the excess wash into gold… liquid gold! And so he set out on a quest to create his own spiritus frumenti… whisky.

Ok, that’s enough of that for now. For the rest of the Iron House backstory, check out our articles here and here. But cutting to the chase, Briggsy (occasionally known as Michael Briggs) succeeded and recently released Iron House’s first whisky. Taking inspiration from their seaside location, the Iron House team has released their product under the label ‘Tasman Whisky’. The current range consists of the holy trinity of bourbon, sherry and port casks, of which I possess the latter.

The inspiration for the storybook start to this article is the unusual and decorative Tasman packaging, which is designed to look like a book. The outside has a grey, fabric-look covering, while the edges are printed to look like pages. There’s even a page inside telling the story of the distillery, covering the insert that holds flat bottle secure. According to brand ambassador Craig ‘Spilsy’ Spilsbury, part of the Iron House ethos is using their product to tell a story, hence the choice of the book box.

All-in-all it’s a very classy item and will look good displayed on a shelf, or tucked away amongst your book collection (a feature Briggsy claims is useful if you’re smuggling it into the house under the nose of your significant other). My one complaint is that there is no latching system for the cover, which means you have to be quite careful about how you carry it, but Briggsy assures me he’s working on some solutions.

My Port Cask is part of batch P1, a marriage of two 100L casks sourced from Portugal, and is bottled at 46.8%. The spirit itself is a nice burnished bronze colour, natch of course. On the nose, P1 is sticky and fruity, like opening a bag of raisins or sultanas. Beyond that is a mix of almonds, chestnuts, dried cherries, dates, honeycomb and a malty, toasty character.

The mouth also has that malty, biscuity character as well as a dollop of frangipane, a combination that makes me think of Bakewell tart. The finish is long, sharp and fruity, with peach syrup and Turkish delight, as well as a touch of chocolate. There’s also perhaps a slight saltiness to be found, which could be attributed to the fact that Iron House is a true coastal distillery, meaning that the aging spirit can pick up elements blowing in from the neighbouring Tasman Sea.

Interestingly, those malty notes are probably a factor of the Iron House still. Because they use a hybrid system, the wash is not discharged before the new-make runs off (ie. only one run is required rather than the usual two), meaning that heavier, cooked-cereal flavours can be transported right through to the end product. Even as I’m sitting here writing this, I’m getting a residual hint of Weetbix on the back of my palate.

The author getting a well deserved ribbing from Briggsy (R) and Spilsy

The Port Cask is definitely my favourite out of the current line-up and is a solid starting point for Iron House. Something else going in its favour is that while the $220 price point is pretty standard for Tasmanian fare, the bottle is 700ml, making it a much more tempting proposition. It’s well worth your time tracking down a bottle or dram of the Tasman Whisky, maybe just hold back on the victory dance when you do!

***

anCnoc 16 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

anCnoc 16

One of the fun things about whisky is that it can reveal to you a time and place as part of its character. If the anCnoc 12 Year Old is a summers day, then surely its older sibling, the 16 Year Old, is the evening.

Produced by Knockdhu Distillery, founded in 1894 and one of the smaller operating distilleries in the Scottish Highlands, the AnCnoc 16yo is a burnished gold in colour, darker than the straw-like 12yo.

On the nose the 16yo is smooth and sweet, with no hint at all of the occasional raw alcoholic jaggies lurking in the 12yo. Herbs, particularly mint, garnish a bowl of caramelised pears in syrup dolloped on Weetbix. The taste is sharp and bright, striking the upper palate. The finish is hot and bittersweet, drying the mouth and lingering for some time afterwards.

The AnCnoc 16yo is much better rounded than its younger kinsman, with maturity found through age. While the 12yo has the heat, dustiness and brashness of the day, the 16yo is the relaxing warmth of the evening. A perfect companion to watch the light fade on a clear summer night.

★★★