Whisky Waffle

Whisky Waffle Podcast Launches Patreon

Posted by: Nick

Over the past two years we have brought our Waffling to the airwaves with our Whisky Waffle Podcast. It’s reached people all over the world and we’ve recently added an interview series with people in the industry. It’s all looking pretty exciting for the future of the pod – which is why we are trying to take things to the next level by launching a Whisky Waffle Patreon!

www.patreon.com/whiskywaffle

Patreon is an (completely optional!) service where you can pay as little as a few dollars a month to access bonus content, have a say on features for the pod and become part of an inner circle of Wafflers. Hosting a podcast costs us lots of money, not to mention the countless hours spent editing and we hope that through Patreon we might be able to balance out some of that.

Here is a run down of the tiers you can jump in at. Amounts listed here are in (roughly) Australian dollars as the website works in American dollars. Each tier receives the benefits of those below it in addition to the tiers own rewards:

$3/month: Carrier Pigeon. You will get your name on our High Spirits List, access to our posts and the ability to vote on what whisky we review

$5/month: Feints Club. You will get access a bonus episode ‘The Feints’ every month. The Feints is a section (usually recorded late in a recording session) far too waffly to use in a regular episode

$10/month: Official Waffler. You will receive an induction as an Official Waffler on the pod, a personalised membership certificate and get access to the whole uncut Waffling With interviews which we conduct

$25/month: Drinking Buddy. We will send you (as a gift) a 30ml sample of our monthly review whisky so you can drink along with us!

$50/month: Tasting Panel. We will send you (as a gift) a 30ml dram of something local and/or interesting that we’ve been tasting recently

$100/month: Cask Strength. Basically you will become our hero and we will worship you on each episode of the pod. We’ll make you personalised tasting videos and regularly go on about your awesomeness.

Just a quick note: the tiers where we post you out a little sample bottle are Australia-only at the moment (sorry!)

Just to clarify, there is no compulsion to join our Patreon. The podcast will continue as normal and everyone will be able to access it for free. However, there will be bonus content available for those who want to come with us on this journey.

www.patreon.com/whiskywaffle

McHenry Distillery: a sense of place

Posted by: Nick

Terroir /tɛrˈwɑː (n) the characteristic taste and flavour imparted to a whisky by the environment in which it is produced

Terroir is a divisive subject. How much impact can water, soil, air and climate really have on a whisky’s flavour in comparison to cask types when aging and cut points when distilling?

I was in the camp that would claim ‘negligible’. And then I went to McHenry Distillery. Now I get it. Because when we drank a specific whisky in a specific location… it all lined up. It all made sense. McHenry is a distillery like no other in Australia. In fact, the only comparison you could make… is Scotland.

The Scottish connections run deeply through the veins of McHenry Distillery. The day we visited veered wildly between cold and freezing with the occasional gust of snow. In fact, the near identical rainfall and humidity levels mean whisky maturation is more Scotland than Tasmania, even down to the cask size: there is hardly a 20 litre barrel to be found, with 200 litres or more preferred. And then there’s the man himself: founder and head distiller, William McHenry, who began seriously entertaining the idea of making whisky when a friend suggested that he had the right name for it.

Bill with his preferred cask size

William, or Bill, when Mr Lark is not in the room, made the momentous decision in 2010 while living in Sydney, to uproot his family and move their future business to a remote wilderness block half way up Mount Arthur on the Tasman Peninsula. Standing at the top looking out across the wilderness really does feel like you’ve come to the edge of the world. While these two cultural extremes may have been jarring for the family, Bill immediately felt at peace, particularly when he discovered a natural spring flowing out of the mountain.

“Having grown up in Adelaide, the driest state in the driest country on earth, when you have a water source on your property, you cherish it. It’s gold. And because the water coming off the Southern Ocean is falling through some of the cleanest air in the world, it deposits some of the best quality water you can find on the planet. And that certainly makes this place special.”

Mountain water!

After tapping into the spring to provide the water for his whisky, he got to work turning this untamed patch of land into a distillery.

The site resembles a frontier town. A series of long, narrow buildings spreading outwards from an off-centre origin, the timber cladding all rapidly turning a distinguished silver. It is a distillery that has clearly expanded organically, a new building established here or there when the need arose. There are small cabins for guests to stay in, and bond stores starting to be dotted around the hill. And there’s plenty of room for more.

In these conditions, it doesn’t take long for the timber to go silver

Half way up Mount Arthur is the gin-making pavilion, the Devils Lair cottage and most special of all: The Bothy. Sheltering inside the tiny room next to a roaring fire with a dram of McHenry whisky while a storm rages is one of the most authentic whisky moments Whisky Waffle have experienced. As Bill poured us a dram, we realised this is how the environment influences a whisky. Three mates, four walls, a sleepy dog and a roaring fire. This is what terroir is all about. It may not be the traditional French definition, but the impact the sense of place had on our interpretation the flavour of is undeniable.

It really is as small as it looks

If it feels like McHenry Distillery has been around for a while but not released much whisky, it’s because this is largely true. Bill has no interest in releasing whisky before its time and would largely like to stick to vatted age statement releases. Again, sticking to the formula laid down by the Scots.

Instead, you may know McHenry only for their gin. Bill was an early adopter of the while-we-wait method of gin creation and quickly became one of Australia’s most renowned gin makers, even becoming the official gin provider for government house with their exceptional ‘Federation Gin’.

Tastes amazing in a bothy

However, fellow Wafflers take heed: 2021 will see some 10-year-old McHenry whisky come of age and, in a few years, Bill hopes to have a readily-available supply of consistently flavoured whisky unleashed upon the world.

And when you do get your hands on a bottle, you can easily pour yourself a tasty dram of McHenry whisky wherever you are in the world. But sitting in a storm-lashed bothy at the edge of the world? That is the truest experience of all. Experience that and you might finally believe in Terroir.

This bond store is mainly for tourists, but god it’s cool!

Welcome to the House of Lark

Posted by: Nick and Ted

AWH is dead. Long live Lark Distilling Co.

Recently there has been quite a bit of talk and speculation surrounding Lark and a couple of their new releases. The new Symphony No. 1 and the 3rd Wolf of the Willows collab both bear the Lark logo on their labels, however the former states that it is a ‘blended malt’, while the latter proclaims that it was distilled at their ‘Bothwell site’ (i.e. Nant Distillery).

The fact that both releases contain spirit that was not distilled at Lark’s Cambridge site sparked controversy in some quarters – should the labels really still say Lark, or should they be called something else entirely?

Enter, the House of Lark.

To cut through conjecture and rumour, Whisky Waffle went straight to the source at the Lark Cambridge production site and met with Head Distiller Chris Thomson.

Chris was able to reveal to us that Australian Whisky Holdings (AWH) has been reformed as Lark Distilling Co. and will release Lark, Nant and blends such as the Symphony No. 1 under the umbrella of the ‘House of Lark’. The bottle label will specify which distillery site the spirit was produced at for single malts, or state if the release is a blended malt (but won’t necessarily identify the individual distilleries).

However, we are able to exclusively reveal that the Symphony No. 1 is a combination of Nant, Overeem and Lark casks. In regards to the Wolf of the Willows 3rd collab release, Chris told us that he had searched the entire House of Lark portfolio for the perfect whisky to finish in Wolf’s Johnny Smoke Porter barrels, eventually landing on Nant.

Speaking of Nant, Chris confirmed that the name will survive, but will have the House of Lark brand on the labels alongside the Nant logo. He said that moving forward, Nant will continue to release bourbon, sherry and port casks, but will move away from the brand’s traditional single-casking to a “marriage style”.

Chris is now the head distiller across the entire House of Lark portfolio, giving him creative control across all the brands and access to the full range of Lark Distilling Co. barrels –

“Growing in size means that there are more casks to pick from and less pressure to get stock out, so we can take more time with the barrels.” Having more stock to choose from also means that they can select the right cask for the right purpose.

Chris acknowledges the need for transparency and that there may have been some confusion amongst consumers about the origins of the Symphony No. 1 and the 3rd Wolf of the Willows releases – “The goal has always been about quality, but we’re still learning lessons about how best to communicate that.”

Chris said that they would be working to educate consumers about the meaning and ethos of the House of Lark, as well as taking practical steps like increasing the font size of the distillery origin on the labelling for better clarity.

Our biggest takeaway from our meeting with Chris was just how excited (or in his words “beyond pumped”) he was about the new direction for the company and the move to the House of Lark identity. Speaking enthusiastically about the Symphony No. 1 release, he told us that –

“It’s about accessibility and drinkability, with enough complexity for people who have drunk malt for a decade, or you can sit back with your buddies who have never drunk malt before and they’ll love it. It can be mixed, straight, on ice or in a cocktail.

“For me this is just the next step in the evolution of Australian and Tasmanian whisky.”

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 21

This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where we discuss the state of the whisky world during the time of Corona;
– The Whisky, where we review the cask strength classic sherry bomb: the Aberlour A’bunadh;
– Mystery Whisky, where Ted struggles to identify a west coast wonder from the USA, partly because Nick gets muddled up between Westland and Westward; and
– Dram in the box, where Ted produces a ground breaking whisky from Sweden

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 18

This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where we talk about the pros and cons of bourbon barrel maturation;
– The Whisky, where we review a corn whiskey aged in ex-bourbon barrel: the Michters Unblended American Whiskey;
– Smash Session or Savour, where all things Glen fight to the death; and
– Whisky Would You Rather, where we drunkenly discuss two possible dystopian futures of the Tasmanian whisky industry

Archie Rose Rye Malt Whisky

Reviewed by: Nick

Archie Rose Rye Malt

At Whisky Waffle we have seen a variety of subheadings etch themselves into the history of modern Australian whisky since our inception in 2014. This particular dram, however, is not a mere subtitle. Not only has it turned the page, it’s begun a new paragraph and inserted a new heading in bold, with underline and italics. This is a whole new chapter in the Australian whisky story.

Archie Rose is the first distillery to set up in Sydney in over a hundred years and is taking this position seriously. They produce gin, vodka and single malt spirit; however, their first whisky release is in fact a ‘malted rye’. Let’s take a moment to unpack that –

This whisky is not a single malt, unlike the bulk of Aussie drops across the rest of the country (with the exception of Western Australia, where corn whisky has a foothold), but is instead a majority rye, with a small percentage of malted barley. While barley is almost always malted prior to use (exception: Ireland), it is less common to do so with rye.

Rye is difficult enough to work with at the best of times, creating a thick, gluggy mash, so using the malted version is akin to trying to eat an entire box of Weetbix with only a small jug of milk. For the distillers though, it is worth it, as the finished product is full of exciting flavours, some unique to the Australian whisky scene.

The Archie Rose Rye Malt Whisky is an absolute revelation on the nose. Flavours of moss and eucalypt stand against lemon and floral notes, reminding the taster of a walk through the Blue Mountains in October. Hints of cinnamon, strawberries and cream complete this intriguing aroma. For those whose introduction to Australian rye whisky was Belgrove, it is immediately clear that this is not the same beast; while the same earthiness is detectable, this is a rounder, thicker and potentially more accessible spirit.

The palate is where it gets truly exciting. Thick gooey caramel notes accompany ginger and zesty citrus, while the typical rye spice lingers beneath. It is so full of varied flavours that it is hard to believe it has spent its maturation in virgin American Oak (interestingly, their website will tell you exactly which barrels have gone into this batch). The finish is gentle with hints of butterscotch and oranges, a reflection of the perfectly balanced 46% bottling strength.

The most scary and exciting part of this entire dram is the fact that it is the result of a Solera process, hence being titled ‘Batch 3’. This means that the flavours we are sampling here are still being refined, building on the older spirit still contained within the solera vat. While this is a delicious and easy drinking dram, its flavours won’t please everyone, particularly those with a predilection for malt whisky. However, one sip and you just can’t stop yourself thinking that you are tasting a glimpse of the future.

★★★

The 2019 Waffle Awards

Posted by: Nick and Ted

2019 awards

2019 has been a big year for the Whisky Waffle lads: highlights have included being highly commended at the Icons of Whisky Awards, hosting the Tas Whisky Week Northern Night, relaunching the Whisky Waffle Podcast (spread the word!) and so many Tasmanian distillery visits. As the year comes to a close, we celebrate our Waffle Awards: the best of what the 2019 had to offer us!

1 The Isle of the Drammed Award Whisky Waffle

The Isle of the Drammed Award for the best Tasmanian whisky

As the internet’s number 1 location for Tasmanian whisky content we like to recognise our very favourite. This year the Isle of the Drammed Award goes to…

Heartwood Heartgrove #1

1 Heartgrove

What happens when two of our favourite Tasmanian whisky people (and previous Bill Lark Award winners) team up to combine unique rye spirit and fabulous sherry and muscat casks? You get this bottle: Heartgrove. Sweet and rich fruit notes are layered over the more earthy rye characteristics forming an outstanding drop: as drinkable as it is fascinating!

2 The Drams Down Under Award

The Drams Down Under Award for the best mainland Australian whisky

A new award! There are more and more wonderful drops being made across the water on mainland Australia: so many, in fact, that we thought we’d create a category just for them! The first ever winner of the Drams Down Under Award is…

Archie Rose Rye Malt Whisky

2 Archie Rose

More rye! We’re beginning to sound like Jim Murray! Archie Rose, however, deserves this one. While a deep caramelly rye may not be to everyone’s tastes it has certainly scratched an itch for the Whisky Waffle boys who were impressed with its depth and complexity – especially for a young whisky matured in virgin oak – and all at a reasonable price point! It really feels like the first page in a new chapter for Australian whisky and we’re happy to be there from the start!

2 The Tartan Slipper Award Whisky Waffle

The Tartan Slipper Award for the best Scottish whisky

Despite our love of whiskies made in Australia, we still recognise Scotland as the motherland – and have discovered some stellar drops along the way. The best of the lot was the…

Glenfiddich Fire & Cane

3 Fire and Cane

Everybody knows Glenfiddich and what it’s all about. That doesn’t mean they can’t occasionally bust an ace out of their sleeve and surprise people though. Part of their Experimental Series, the Fire & Cane has been one of the gem finds of the year.

Turns out that peated Speyside malts finished in South American rum casks is a killer combo. The softer Highland peat combines perfectly with the sweet notes developed from the rum finish, creating a brilliantly balanced dram that will appeal even to those who don’t like smoke. The best bit? It’s under $100AUD. It’s hands down one of our favourite whiskies of the year and has led to several of our friends reassessing their relationship with Glenfiddich.

3 The Pocket Pleaser Award Whisky Waffle

The Pocket Pleaser Award the perfect pick for the parched penny pincher

Buying whisky is expensive! We try and write as many reviews per year as we can, but directing our income towards things like food and mortgage often (but not always) takes priority – which is why we love a bargain! The 2019 Pocket Pleaser goes to…

Starward Two Fold

4 Starward Two Fold

Top shelf schmop shelf, the middle shelf is where things are really at. That’s where the bulk of sales come from – decent, everyday whisky for a reasonable price. Aussie whisky has always been too expensive to fit into that bracket – until now!

Let’s be clear, the Starward Two Fold isn’t the best Aussie whisky out there, but for the price, it’s amazing! This is a $70AUD Aussie whisky, which means it’s squarely competing with your cheaper single malts and pimped up blends. Clever blending of wheat and malt spirits and the use of wine casks keeps the price-point down and the wallet happy. This is a perfect summer dram for sharing freely with all your mates.

4 The Weirdsky Award Whisky Waffle

The Weirdsky Award for the most WTF whisky

Delicious innovation or hard-to-drink novelty? It could be either in this category as we celebrate the most envelope-pushing, or simply the silliest whisky of the year. This year’s Weirdsky goes to:

Whipper Snapper Project Q

5 Project Q

There’s no denying it – Whipper Snapper Distillery’s Project Q is the weirdsky of the entire decade. We first tried it as part of our ‘Mystery Whisky’ segment on our podcast (episode 13); I knew what it was while m’colleague was going in blind, but that still didn’t stop me from wondering whether I had landed on a different planet.

The key is in the ingredients, all sourced locally by Whipper Snapper from Western Australia. Malted barley and corn won’t raise any eyebrows, it’s the third, rather more unusual grain that’s the kicker. Quinoa, the South American staple beloved of hipsters and the health conscious, is what gives the Project Q its unique flavour. It’s hard to describe – spicy, earthy and nutty, with overtones of melting plastic, old car dashboard and engine grease. The cost of quinoa means that this will probably only ever be a rare oddity, but if you can find it, it will make you rethink everything you know about whisky. A must try for the adventurous.

5 The Bill Lark Award Whisky Waffle

The Bill Lark Award for service to the Tasmanian whisky industry

One of the best things about running Whisky Waffle is meeting the wonderful people behind the scenes creating and selling a range of amazing drams. While there are so many deserving and hardworking people in the state, each year we like to recognise one individual who has helped make the Tassie scene what it is today. This year the worthy winner is:

Jane Sawford

6 Bill Lark Jane

Believe it or not, Tasmanian whisky was not always flying off the shelves as it is now. Instead of having no stock left to sell, once upon a time Tasmanian producers could not give the stuff away. This all changed when Jane Overeem decided to hit the road to promote her father’s produce to the world and along the way raise the profile of the entire state’s wares. Suddenly people were sitting up and taking notice, beginning the journey that has seen the industry go from strength to strength.

Jane has taken on senior roles not only within Overeem, but Lark as well, and has been involved in organising countless whisky events within the state and on the mainland. These days she and husband Mark have founded Sawford Distillery and are producing whisky which promises to be something special. On top of that she is also helping manage White Label Distillery, the country’s first contract distillery.

A brand new industry needs pioneers leading the way and forging a path so that others can follow. It is safe to say that the Tasmanian whisky scene would not be what it is today without Jane Sawford.

6 The Golden Dram Whisky Waffle

The Golden Dram for the best dram whisky in the world

And finally, the top drop! We tried many drams throughout the year (read: many many) but love to pick out one that stands above the rest. This year 2019’s best whisky is…

Corowa Bosque Verde

7 Corowa Bosque Verde

Sometimes a whisky comes at you unexpectedly from the side and completely throws you off balance. That was the Corowa Distilling Co.’s Bosque Verde for us this year. When we first tried it in a bar, I drunkenly demanded the barman source me a bottle. He acquiesced to my request and I have zero regrets over that decision.

100L American oak ex-port barrels aged for just over two years and bottled at 60% isn’t that unusual for Australia, but Drucey and his boys have worked dark magic with the Bosque Verde. Essentially, it’s like they’ve taken a super fruity Christmas cake, blended it up and poured it into a bottle. Another key tasting note we had was leather and tobacco, like a cowboy in an old Marlboro ad. Young, complex and feisty, this is no beginner’s whisky, and it keeps on drawing us back time and again to delve into the layers. If you want to know what gets Whisky Waffle excited, this is it.

An epilogue:

We’d like to mention a couple of honourable mentions for two new innovative Tassie drops. The Adams Pinot Noir Slosh Cask for trying new grains and aging-encouragement techniques and the Hobart Whisky Stout Cask for actually making it taste a little stouty.

And finally our Founders Reserve Award (the dishonourable mention) to the Macallan Fine and Rare 60 Year Old. Whisky is for drinking and sharing with friends, not for sitting on shelves as a status symbol! Runner up is Ted for his dance moves after the Tasman Whisky launch in Burnie…

Wafflers 4

Thanks everyone for your continued support. Here to the next decade of Waffling!

#WaffleAwards

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 15

It’s time for our (once again) annual Christmas Special where the left over odds and ends from the year’s recording blocks find their way onto the airwaves! It’s a mishmash of an episode but as entertaining as always!

This episode contains:
– Unlucky 13, where we line up the following whiskies to one by one pick our best tasting out of the following:
Glenfiddich 12, Glenfiddich 18, Glendronach 12, Balvenie DW 12, Glenfarclas 15, Aberlour A’bunadh, Highland Park 12, Oban 14, Talisker 10, Ardbeg 10, Laphroaig 10, Chivas Regal 12, Johnnie Walker Black;
– Mystery Whisky, where Ted is confused but ultimately impressed by a Rye from Archie Rose;
– Whisky Would You Rather, where we have the ultimate showdown: bourbon vs sherry maturation
– Drinking Buddies, where Paul tells us what’s in his glass; and
– Smash Session or Savour, where Ted has to find something to savour in three very unsavourable drams

Heartwood: striving for consistency

Posted by: Nick

IMG_20191004_152243

Heartwood, Australia’s most famous independent bottler, is striving for consistency. However, with new-make spirit arriving from different distilleries, a varied range of barrel types and never-to-be-repeated combinations of spirits, how on earth can it be considered consistent? Simple. Heartwood is not striving for consistency of flavour – it is striving for consistency of quality.

Heartwood is the creation of the Tasmanian whisky industry’s very own mad scientist: Tim Duckett. Tim has produced his remarkable whisky alongside his day job as an environmental consultant, deciding to dip his toe into the infant Tasmanian whisky scene after meeting Bill Lark in the late nineties. He purchased his first barrel of Lark spirit in 1999, but cannily didn’t rush it out the door before it was ready. The first bottling, Mt Wellington, was released in 2012 and things escalated rather quickly from there.

While there are other independent bottlers in Australia, including TIB, Tim’s other project, there is nothing on earth quite like Heartwood. Regularly bottled at unheard of ABVs, some of which nudge the mid 70% range, each release is limited to several hundred bottles, meaning it sells like hotcakes and has developed somewhat of a cult following.

IMG_20191004_144928

We visited Tim at Heartwood’s Blackmans Bay bond store where he gave us a peek behind the curtain at the type of flavour profile he values: that which pleases the palate – specifically his palate. Tim seeks to create whiskies which are thick, flavourful and with a finish as long as any whisky on the planet. How does he do this? By pairing good quality spirit with good quality barrels.

It sounds simple, but it is actually far from it; consistently creating high quality whisky is not just the passive process of sticking spirit into barrels and waiting. Tim employs all manner of tricks to get the most out of his whisky, as we found out during our visit. These include intricate blending, either whole casks or simply a few litres here or there, deciding when the oak influence is done and decanting it into vats before beating it with a paddle to drive off volatiles, as well as moving spirit into a warm office to “syrup up”.

When we visited Heartwood HQ the north-facing wall had a number of nearly-ready casks sitting up against it, which Tim explained was the “finishing wall”. He also confessed that he refuses to reuse casks 100 litres or larger unless they have been repurposed with Heartwood witchcraft, and even then, he will only use peated spirit in them… and this is just the tip of the iceberg of strategies Tim uses to create some of the most impressive and sought-after whisky Tasmania has to offer.

IMG_20191004_154411

Of course, it helps when there is no agenda to meet; no shareholders to appease. Despite its fame, Heartwood is small-scale, a project born out of passion. Therefore, the whisky is released only when it’s truly ready and never to meet a specific profile or timeframe. Age is somewhat irrelevant in Tasmania anyway, with our varied weather conditions and small barrels. Tim claims that the age of 20 litre casks should be measured in seasons, not years, as the Australian summer will age a whisky faster than autumn, winter and spring combined.

During our visit we were lucky to try a few impressive Heartwood and TIB drams which were nearing completion, including spirit distilled at Redlands, Adams and a ‘Renowned New South Wales Distillery’. Most spectacularly, however, we were able to sample the first Heartwood/Belgrove collaboration (which at the date of publication has just been released – and sold out within hours). The ‘Heartgrove’ was a clash of the titans: a coming together of earthy, almost smoky rye notes with a thick fruit layer from the muscat and sherry casks it had been matured in. It was a wild beast, but Tim had tamed it, creating an intriguing rye that went down almost too easily for a 55% drop. If pressed we would have probably claimed it as our favourite, though it certainly faced some stiff competition.

IMG_20191004_152304_1

Fascinatingly, none of the drams we tried tasted the same; they weren’t even in the same ballpark. The only thing that linked them was the fact that each one was delicious. As Tim told us, Heartwood has never claimed to produce a consistent flavour profile. Instead he focuses on producing consistently great whisky – and so far he’s achieved it every time.

Heartwood is not only unique among Tasmanian whisky producers: there is nothing on the entire planet quite like it. By refusing to release anything below his expected standard, Tim has ensured a whisky-legacy that will live on even when the last of the Heartwood barrels is empty.

Old Kempton First Release Solera Cask

Reviewed by: Nick

Old Kempton Solera WW

There are many positive, glowing and indeed, highly complimentary words you can use to describe the Tasmanian whisky industry: flavourful, innovative, even simply: delicious. However, the word ‘consistent’ is not one that leaps to the top of that list. Due to the single cask nature of most of Tasmania’s small distilleries, it is highly likely that a bottle released by a producer this year is going to be vastly different to one released in two years’ time… or even one the next month. This is ok; most distilleries embrace the variety, although the approach can sometimes confuse return customers.

Old Kempton Distillery in Tasmania’s Southern Midlands is one such keen subscriber to the single barrel release method. Recently however, they have started trialling a Solera system in a huge 500L port puncheon. The contents of 24 smaller barrels have been emptied into this 100-year-old behemoth and left to mix and mingle until the tasting team at Old Kempton determine it to be ready. Crucially though, not all of the barrel’s contents will be emptied: half will remain to marry with the next batch of premium Old Kempton whisky added, before the process is repeated time and time again, creating a reliable flavour profile (and the intriguing premise that the finished product will include an amount of whisky, however infinitesimally small, which is very old indeed).

Old Kempton Solera cask WW

The first bottles out of the tun are about to be released exclusively to Old Kempton whisky club members and with it they have created something unique to not only their own distillery, but to the whole of the Tasmanian whisky industry.

Upon first inspection, you can tell there’s something different about it. It’s so obvious: the colour! It’s far darker and redder than any Old Kempton release I have ever seen, no mean feat considering its (relatively) modest bottling strength of 49%. The colour is surely due to the maturation time in the giant ex-port reciprocal being used to facilitate the Solera process. One sniff indicates the cask has affected the flavour, too.

Old Kempton Solera WW dram

The nose is full of juicy fig notes with large dollops of ripe plums, glace cherries and stewed fruit. It’s rich and dark and features subtle flavours of nutmeg, pears and vanilla custard. The palate continues this theme: rich and broad across the mouth with sweet gooey notes halfway between sticky date pudding and thick gingerbread. The finish is long but without a single note of spicy astringency or over-oaking.  Instead it is sweet and fat, like a ganache where the chef has gone rather easy on the cream.

This is a fascinating whisky. Comparing it to other releases from the same distillery is an experience that is confusing in the best possible way. You find yourself speculating on important questions such as ‘how do they do it?’, ‘what will the solera be like in few years?’ and ‘with a colour like this, why are they not called Redlands anymore?’. While we might not be able to provide satisfactory answers to these ponderances, at least we have a delicious dram to mull them over with.

★★★★

Join the Old Kempton Whisky Club before November 5 and you will go into the draw to win a free bottle of Old Kempton First Release Solera Cask!