On the seventeenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Hellyers Road Distillery Pinot Cask Finish whisky. Globally, the most common barrels used for aging whisky are virgin oak, ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and ex-port. Here in Australia, however, we seem to have developed a bit of a penchant for using ex-wine casks thanks to our thriving local wine industry and ease of access to the barrels. In Tasmania, due to our cooler climate, the red wine grape of choice is Pinot Noir, making it a popular cask type amongst the local distillers. Burnie-based Hellyers Road was one of the early adopters of the style and I reckon theirs was probably the first Pinot-barreled whisky I ever tried.
The Pinot Finish starts off life in American oak ex-bourbon casks before being transferred into French oak ex-Pinot casks for six months for finishing. The nose is smooth, with a cool, damp, earthiness to it. The mouth on the other hand is very dry, with a strong tanninic quality and finish of grapes, almonds and toffee. The Hellyers Road Pinot Noir Finish is a great example of how the addition of certain cask types can completely change the character of a whisky, creating complex and interesting new flavours.
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.
On the fourteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Timboon Distillery Port Expression whisky. Cruise down the Great Ocean Road on Victoria’s south coast, head inland a bit and you’ll come across an old railway shed that’s home to an excellent little craft distillery. Founded by local lad Josh Walker, who m’colleague assures me is a top bloke, Timboon is actually only the latest (and most legal) distilling outfit in the region. Turns out that back in the day bootleggers and moonshiners used to haunt the bush around the town, which along with travels in Scotland and America, was part of the inspiration for Josh to start his own distillery.
You’ll be pleased to know that the modern Timboon whisky is made and aged rather more carefully than whatever rocket fuel they were cooking up in the bush. On the nose the Port Expression is rich and clean, with raisins, nectarines and dark chocolate, while the mouth has a smooth oakiness and a pleasantly spicey finish with a curl of orange. The Timboon Port Expression is a classic, easy drinking Aussie dram that would be at home in any company (such as the bbq that I’m currently at).
On the thirteenth day of Christmas (yes, Whiskymas has more than twelve days) my true love gave to me… a glass of The Grove Distillery American Style Spirit (whiskey). It’s official, Western Australia has a weird penchant for American-style corn spirits, there having now been three versions in the advent calendar. I must admit, I’ve never actually heard of The Grove before, but apparently it started as a winery in the Margaret River region before branching out into spirit making. The American bent is not really surprising in this case as James Reed, one of the distillers, was born in Alaska and has worked in the Whiskey industry all over the USA before emigrating to Australia.
The American Style Spirit (there’s a few different versions, not actually sure which one this is) uses a mash bill of 70% corn, 20% rye and 10% barley and is aged in 50l virgin American white oak casks for 3yrs. The nose is rubbery and has a feeling of YoGo mixed with mashed banana, while underneath sits that sweet, rose-like smell that you get from bourbon. The mouth feel is soft and wobbly around the edges while the centre has that sharp caramelised timber flavour that comes from virgin oak. The finish provides red frogs and purple grape jelly lollies. It’s a pretty random one for sure, but to be honest, it’s also the closest I’ve felt to true bourbon so far.
On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Tasmanian Independent Bottlers TIB??005 whisky. Tim Duckett is a man who likes his whisky strong. Chances are that if you have been paying even the slightest attention to the Tassie whisky scene, you will have heard of his bonkers Heartwood label, which releases independently-aged whisky at an average ABV% of somewhere in the mid-sixties (the strongest was 72.5%!). Apart from being totally amazing, the Heartwoods also all cost an arm and a leg (and a liver), so to make things more accessible Mr Duckett created Tasmanian Independent Bottlers as the baby brother to Heartwood. TIBs are still independently aged, but ‘only’ range in the high 40’s-low 50’s percentage wise, so the price is much friendlier.
The spirit for TIB??005 was sourced from an undisclosed ‘Renowned NSW Distillery’ (hence the ‘??’ in the batch code. Potential contenders include Archie Rose, Blackgate and Corowa) and then aged in ex-sherry casks in Hobart. The nose is tremendously citrusy, almost gin-like in nature, with citronella/lemon myrtle, pepper-berry and coriander seed as botanicals. It’s lighter on the mouth than you would expect considering the 49.1% strength and has an odd earthy, ashy quality which make me suspect that some sort of peating has occured. The TIB??005 is a super quirky whisky and one that will give the experienced dramist an interesting conundrum to puzzle over.
On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Deviant Distillery Anthology Batch 12 single-malt spirit (nope, not a whisky). The brain-child of Tasmanian industrial chemist John Hyslop, Deviant Distillery is a bit of a rebel outfit in the local industry. John’s philosophy is that traditional distilling and aging practices are unfriendly to both the environment and the pocket through wastage in resources and product. His solution was to develop a proprietary reactor technology that allows him to artificially age malt spirit in 10-weeks to develop, what he claims to be, the character of a 10yo whisky.
Needless to say, the use of rapid aging technology has not been without some controversy within the local establishment. In Australia spirit must be aged under oak for at least two years to legally be called whisky, which is why Deviant has been careful to use the term single-malt spirit and avoid any reference to whisky, however opinions have still been divided. Because the process is secret I have no idea what timber has been used for the Anthology Batch 12, but what I do know is that it has been heavily peated (at least by Australian standards), which certainly plays out on the nose, but then underneath sits a young, raw grassy and melony note. The mouth is similarly youthful, with a Lisbon lemon peel body and an ashy, graphitey finish, a profile m’colleague suggests is a bit like a dirty limoncello. Look, it’s not whisky and might not be to everyone’s taste, but it is definitely worth a try for something different.
On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Iniquity Batch 10 whisky. Iniquity (noun): immoral or grossly unfair behaviour. With a name like that you would expect it to be in federal politics, but instead makers Tin Shed Distillery claim that it’s because it is wickedly good. The double-headed bird logo has a rather Germanic feel to it, but in fact represents the piping shrike, which appears on the flag of Tin Shed’s home state of South Australia.
Like most Australian distilleries, Tin Shed only has enough spirit to bottle a relatively small quantity of spirit at a time, so their releases tend to sell out quickly. Iniquity Batch 10 was aged in American oak ex-port casks, which certainly explains the dark colour. The nose is rich and gingery, with melted brown sugar, vanilla and spice on the back, while the mouth is so thick and full it’s almost syrupy, with a flavour full of raisins, dates and prunes. The Inqiuity Batch 10 is a bloody good dram and would make a worthy companion to your pudding this Christmas.
On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Tiger Snake Sour Mash Whiskey. There must be something in the water over in Western Australia that makes distillers keen to try their hand at a bourbon-style whiskey, because this is the second one so far in the advent calendar. Great Southern Distilling Co. (makers of the Limeburners, which we saw on Day 5) call the Tiger Snake a ‘sour mash’ style whiskey though, as the term bourbon is restricted due it’s status as a geographic indicator.
Named after one of Australia’s most venemous reptiles, the Tiger Snake uses a mash bill of corn, rye, malted barley and occasionally an old hybrid wheat variety called triticale, all grown in WA, although I couldn’t find any details about the casking. The nose is very light, with a faint hint of sweet stawberry jam and wood, while the taste is a bit of a non-event, with a vague spiced orange syrup body and a touch of green-ness on the finish. I’m sorry to say it folks, but I think this one is a bit of a toothless Tiger Snake.
On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Fleurieu Whisky Kisses whisky. Fleurieu is the first contender from South Australia on the advent calendar and as far as I know, the only distillery in the country to have a logo featuring two small urinating boys (a bit like that famous fountain in Belgium). The rather romantic sounding name of the Whisky Kisses release comes from the name of the distillery’s first pot still, which in turn was derived from a mispronunciation of ‘whiskery kisses’ by the Gareth and Angela Andrews’ young sons.
Named for its location on the Fleurieu Peninsula, south of Adelaide, Fleurieu is a true coastal distillery, huddled a mere stone’s throw from the Southern Ocean, with the elements imbuing the aging spirit. The Kisses is fully aged in ex-port barrels and, in the best coastal tradition, has a light touch of peat to it. On the nose it is rich, fruity and nutty, with some bold, meaty undertones thanks to the port and the cask strength bottling, while the mouth is like a hot apple and pear tart spiced with cinnamon and a salty, slightly savoury, smoky finish. A cracking dram, complex and satisfying and one that by rights should be enjoyed next to a beach bonfire in the encroaching dusk on a hot summer evening.
On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Bladnoch 10yo Scotch whisky. Wait a minute, Scotch? Huh? Ok, so this one fudges the brief a bit, but it works if you squint your eyes. Founded back in 1847, Bladnoch is the southernmost Scottish distillery (not quite as far as Australia though) and one of only six remaining in the Scottish lowlands. After going into liquidation in 2014, it was purchased the following year by Australian businessman David Prior, who renewed and expanded the brand.
The 10yo is a release of older, pre-takeover stock aged exclusively in ex-bourbon casks. The nose has a distinct note of canteloupe and boiled caramel sweets, while the mouth is light and sharply sweet with a finish of spice, wood and grain. Technically, I suppose you could call the Bladnoch the only true ‘Australian made’ Scotch whisky. Worth a try if you like your drams sweet and light.