I came across a minimalist Finnish whisky blog the other day.
The Nordic country also has some distilleries.
This is one of their releases.
Despite there being another judging session for the upcoming Irish Whiskey Awards going on in Dublin, it had been decided a trip down south to visit friends for the weekend was in order.
Accepting the revised schedule I checked out what was on.
My luck was in!
The Midleton Food & Drink Festival just happened to be on celebrating the rich diversity of food & drink grown or made in the East Cork region. Midleton Distillery plays a large role in this festival and fortuitously had two events which I cold attend.
The Art Of Making Barrels by none other than Master Cooper Ger Buckley was being held in the Old Distillery whilst David McCabe – Head of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey Academy – was introducing 3 new super premium Jameson whiskeys as part of a talk & taste session.
I couldn’t let this opportunity pass and duly booked tickets for myself.
The drive down the M8 heightened our enjoyment as the sun shone down on the fields and stunning mountains of the Galtys to our right and the Knockmealdowns on the left on whose lower slopes the Tipperary Boutique Distillery farm gathers the water for their lovely Watershed and Knockmealdown releases.
Arriving at our destination we caught up with our friends and chatted over tea & biscuits. Forgetting all about time in the convivial company I left it too late to make Ger’s cooperage display. Chastising myself I endeavoured to make it in time for David McCabe’s talk.
The Old Midleton Distillery was originally built in 1825 on the banks of the Dungourney River and produced whiskey in the heart of Midleton up to the mid 1970’s when the New Midleton Distillery was built behind the original site to produce all the brands of the combined Irish Distillers Group – Powers, Jameson and Paddy being the most popular. The old site now houses the visitors centre where tours, tastings, dining and shopping for whiskey fans from all around the world flock to enjoy the delights within.
Arriving early I had a little time to wander around and explore before the talk. I was pleased to see you can bottle your own cask strength black barrel whiskey on site. I always like a distillery exclusive!
Ushered into a former warehouse, now a plush auditorium. David McCabe introduced himself and eloquently guided us through an informative history of both Midleton Distillery as well as the art of making whiskey. I picked up a few whiskey facts I’d not known off before.
Did you know Midleton only uses non-GM (genetically modified) barley and maize for it’s mash bill?
Did you know all the barley – both malted and unmalted – is grown locally?
Did you know the maize element for the grain spirit is grown in France?
I didn’t – but was pleased to hear of the non-GM stance even if I couldn’t taste the difference. As for the french maize – it seems there is just not enough sunshine in Ireland to grow maize of suitable quality for whiskey making.
David then introduced us to the 3 new premium Makers Series blended whiskeys. Each expression was chosen to highlight a particular attribute integral to the art of making whiskey.
Distiller’s Safe is the locked copper and glass construction where Head Distiller Brian Nation decides which cut of the raw spirit straight from the still will be used in the final blend. A combination of single pot still whiskey with light grain whiskey matured in ex-bourbon barrels gives a fairly delicate nose followed through by vanilla taste combined with a little spice from the single pot still element.
Blender’s Dog is a tool used by Head Distiller Billy Leighton to sample the spirit as it matures. This is a relatively young blend of single pot still whiskey with a soft light grain whiskey to highlight the complex art of blending.
Cooper’s Croze is a tool Head Cooper Ger Buckley uses to cut a groove in barrel for the ‘head’ to sit in. The blend celebrates the use of wood in maturation and uses 1st and 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrels as well as virgin oak and sherry barrels in a satisfying complex blend.
All of the whiskeys I found quiet light & delicate. Not really my taste preference. However they are a step up from the standard Jameson Original though and are probably exactly what Jameson intends them to be.
Offered at 43% ABV and non-chill filtered for the flat price of 70 euro each, the Makers Series would be a lovely collection of the different influences of the distillate, the wood and the blend in each expression.
Meanwhile my tastes would take me to the unblended single pot still offerings of Green Spot or John’s Lane Release which offer much more bolder and spicier flavours at roughly the same price level. I did also wonder if the Makers Series was entered into my judging panel of the previous week which I didn’t rate too highly?
David McCabe did a super premium talk to introduce the Makers Series.
The narrative behind all 3 expressions is also super premium down to the fingerprints on the label.
It’s just a pity my individual palate didn’t appreciate the actual premium whiskey .
Maybe your palate will.
Let me know either way.
It’s that time of year when the great and good of the Irish whiskey world gather together in a celebration of distillation. This years event takes place in Tullamore with a visit to the new Tullamore Distillery and an awards evening in the Old Bonded Warehouse on October 20th.
I made my way up to Dublin for the day to add my scores to the collective pot and found myself in a basement hotel room carefully laid out with 38 identical whiskey bottles – along with a half dozen barrel aged beers – to rate.
The bottles were arranged in their respective categories;
Irish Blends up to 60.
Irish Blends over 60.
Irish Single Pot Stills.
Irish Single Casks
Irish Barrel Aged Beer
The only way of differentiating them was the bottle code for scoring, the colour and the very subjective taste preferences of the judges.
All entrants have to be commercially available in Ireland in October. Other than providing the required sample bottles to The Celtic Whiskey Shop by the allocated date there is no entry fee and ticket sales for the evening are forwarded to charity.
I started with the entry level blends.
What struck me straight away was the uniformity of colour on display.This saddened me. The variety and differences in blended whiskey are what excite me – both visually and taste wise – yet presented here to all intensive purposes were 15 bottles of identical dark golden brown liquid.
My fears of added caramel were confirmed as in one expression after another the dominant – and at times overwhelming – note encountered was sweet. My poor scores reflected this disappointment. A few did have some pleasant fruit notes coming through together with a welcome spice. Some were rough – most were smooth – but there wasn’t much that excited me.
I expected a noticeable increase in flavour and quality in the blends above 60 category as experienced last year. Despite the average scores being slightly higher at 66 as to the former’s 63, that all important “more bang for your bucks” wasn’t forthcoming. At least the colour variation was more pronounced.
Oh dear! Perhaps my 3 weeks in Australia tasting some knockout single malts, ryes, bourbons and wheat whiskies had jaded my palate.
I moved onto the barrel aged beers.
Now I must admit to a benchmark brew in this style which all others are judged on. Trouble is – it’s not Irish! There was one dark beer that came out close however. It had a noticeable whiskey nose together with less carbonation giving it a more heavy feel – much to my liking.
I should point out my method here. Out of an average 3ml sample I possibly tasted and swallowed half. The other half ended up in the spittoon after having been swirled round the mouth for further evaluation. In between each sample a full measure of water was consumed to cleanse the palate and rinse the glass. I must have drank about 2 litres of uisce during the process. A hearty lunch and some hot tea also split the session in two and aided to my relative sobriety at the end of the day.
It was after that lunch I attempted la creme de la creme of Irish whiskey – the Single Pot Stills.
Using a combination of malted barley and unmalted barley in the mash, I was looking for – and happily found – the signature soft spice together with some rich fruity notes. The variety was much more pronounced in terms of colour, flavour profile as well as strength. I distinctly thought one entrant was simply a watered down version of another! The average scores rose to 73 for the packed field of 13 entrants.
Only in the big reveal on awards night will all my hunches be either confirmed – or more likely dashed. The new Redbreast Lustau release was rumoured to be in the mix somewhere. Was it one of my winners?
For me however – the best was yet to come.
The Single Casks had only 5 entrants. All scored highly with a 77 average and one stood out.
Fuller of flavour and richer in style, I dispensed with the spittoon to immerse myself in their beauty. My winning dram on the day happened to be the smokiest entrant and I fear I’m turning into a peathead!
A further sample of this expression went down equally delightfully as the first – well – I did have to re-check my initial scores!
The craic agus ceol was mighty during the session. Judges came and went but all added their penny’s worth to the growing banter and collective scores.
If you haven’t already joined either the Celtic Whiskey Club or Irish Whiskey Society – isn’t it about time you did?
After a morning sampling Tasmanian single malts at the Lark Cellar Door Bar and Nant Whiskey Bar, Mrs Whiskey rang to say I had 10 minutes to make the pier for the ferry to MONA – Museum of Old And New Art- and our cultural afternoon out.
The ferry itself is a funky catamaran which has it’s own art installations in the shape of painted plastic sheep & a cow on the aft deck which amused the passengers very much.
Talking about funky – who remembers this slice of 80’s Aussie pop?
I was even more amused to find out the museum also produces it’s own wine and beer – how cool is that? – so what better way of enjoying the scenic boat trip up the Derwent River than with a glass of Moorilla wine or Moo Brew beer?
Coming in a very stylish wine-bottle shaped glass container with a trendy design – I just hoped the contents were equally as good. The Dark Ale didn’t disappoint. Rich, black & heavy with a noticeable malt content and sweet caramel notes on top – just my kind of art. Herself enjoyed the wine too!
Arriving at the rocky peninsular the museum is set on the rains luckily abated to allow us to view the outdoor exhibits. A life-size sculpture of a low loader truck & trailer complete with cement mixer on top stole centre stage. Having driven the real thing for my living the detail amazed me – along with my curious mind wondering how many tonnes of steel rod went into making it and how did they get it here?
Moving inside we descended down into the sandstone bedrock of the small hill the museum is sat on. A spectacular underground gallery awaits your exploration housing all sorts of weird, wonderful and thought provoking art in it’s myriad of forms.
A waterfall display spelled out random words against the bare walls using a giant inkjet type assembly – but with water – impressed us for starters. Very simple design – yet stunning to see and hear.
We wondered the labyrinth of rooms & spaces alternately gazing in awe – or being nonplussed – by the variety and cornucopia of art within. Some we loved – others we didn’t – but either way it instilled a reaction or questioning of what it was all about.
As usual a break was in order. This is where MONA excelled itself – at least in my eyes. The Void Bar on the basement floor set at the foot of the sandstone dungeon had a fine array of Tasmanian whisky to try!
Not what I was expecting in a museum.
How could I refuse?
Having driven past Peter Bignell’s distillery at Kempton the other day I just had to try his Belgrove White Rye expression. It’s an unaged new spirit – hence the clear liquid. At 40% the young alcohol content is noticeable but the nose is full of rotting fruit notes, sweet but enticing, and a slight rye spice too. The rye comes through more on the taste along with pleasing fruit & spice. Not what I’d expect from a new spirit. It’s different, it’s unique, it’s got terroir and provenance in abundance and it’s utterly enticing. I could have sat for the rest of the afternoon in this fabulous setting enjoying the fruits of Peter Bignell’s art of distillation!
Herself – despite enjoying the wine & nibbles we had – insisted we see some more of the real art before catching the ferry home.
The fat Porsche did take my eye – but most of the others passed me by as the cumulative affect of art overload together with some lovely whiskies was beginning to take it’s toll. I did wonder though how the human model remained so still displaying the tattoo art on his back and would have gone up to ask him were it not for the museum attended close by.
By the time we exited darkness was already falling. There was much to discuss on the ferry home as to what we had viewed and experienced at MONA.
The ferry ride?
For me it was a combination of all those things topped off with a Moo Brew ale and a stunning Tasmanian whisky that made the day.
What a fitting venue to enjoy the art of whisky distillation in!
Being winter there were only a few fellow campers about but the abundant wildlife more than made up for that. We encountered Emu, wondering Wombat, Kangaroo and heard a calling Lyre Bird on our way in. Curious Kookaburra and colourful Crimson Rosella hung around everytime we had the dinner table out for a meal.
The bright sunny day turned into an equally bright – but chilly – starry evening and we celebrated with a bottle of champagne. The next morning it was back to Melbourne for a few days before the long flight home.
This track from up and coming Aussie band Jagwar Ma encapsulates how I felt in this beautiful place. Chillaxed!
We dilly-dallied in the morning – such is the beauty of the Prom. Taking a walk on Squeaky Beach together with a few photos at Whisky Bay.
By the time we entered Melbourne proper it soon became clear that finding the AirBnB in St Kilda and returning the camper to the hire depot would be tight. So tight in fact I had to abandon the vehicle near the closed depot and hightail it back into town for my evening Talk + Taste with Starward Whisky at Pilgrim Bar.
Pilgrim’s friendly staff greeted me like a long lost friend – remembering me from my last visit 3 weeks previously. With a half hour to spare I ordered a light snack together with a glass of Matilda Bay Dogbolter. This beer is a munich style dark lager which gives a lovely soft burnt taste to the lager and is as close as you can get to the peat influence in whisky for the beer world.
Safely seated inside Paul Slater – Starward Whisky brand ambassador – introduced himself and his whiskies with an informative history of Australian whisky distilling to date. From the illegal distilleries of early migrants in the 1800’s, through the mass industrial distilling and dubious quality of Corio Whisky in Geelong to todays award winning Tasmanian single malts.
Starward aim to be somewhere in the middle of of those 2 extremes. Neither poor quality nor hard to get hold of or highly priced. They have recently upped production to a continuous 7 day week at the Melbourne based distillery to satisfy demand for their whisky and help keep prices affordable.
So what do they actually taste like?
Well on show this evening were the 2 core releases, Starward Solera and Starward Wine Cask.
Solera at 43% is a single malt aged in Australian fortified wine casks – that’s sherry to you and me but as sherry has a Geographical Indication attaching it to Spain it’s called apera in Australia. The whisky has a soft sweet nose together with a fruity medium body and slight spice at the finish. Very nice indeed,
The Wine Cask – as it’s name suggests – is aged in Australian wine barrels and bottled at 41%. This is a more satisfying single malt to me giving a more smoother yet richer body with a lovely dry finish.
Both these whiskies being made in Australia using locally sourced water, barely, yeast and barrels have that terroir factor which is often missing in many a modern brand and truly give the drinker a taste of Oz.
Paul then introduced us to a Starward made ready mixed Old Fashioned. Not particularly being a cocktail fan – despite it being all the rage right now – I found it too sweet for my liking. The rest of the audience enjoyed it however especially as it was paired with some deliciously tasty canapes freshly prepared by the Pilgrim chef.
The last sample came from a New World Projects bottling. This is part of a range of whisky expressions made on a limited release basis that push the boundaries of what a whisky is, should be or can be. Not being restrained by hard set rules like the Scottish Whisky Association – anything goes in Oz.
A very popular bottle was the Ginger Beer Cask finished whisky which very quickly sold out sadly meaning I missed out on a fun taste experience!
Tonights sample was a Pedro Ximinez finished single malt bottled at 48%. Even before I tasted this I knew it was a style I enjoyed. The rich tart fruity finish certainly had me enthralled. A winning whisky indeed. Pity the whole experience of importing PX barrels from Spain proved so fraught with bureaucracy – let alone cost – that Starward probably won’t repeat this excercise.
Starward are already making waves in the global market. Diageo have recently injected some capital into the project to help it’s growth and so fat the creative and innovative flair of the New World Projects series is continuing.
None of the bottles had age statements. From 2 years onwards the new spirit can be called whisky in Australia although Starward only use the best casks from a variety of ages for their single malts. The climate at the Essendon distillery on the outskirts of Melbourne also helps give the spirit a faster maturation time period than is standard in Ireland or Scotland.
The distillery itself also has regular open days. What better way of enjoying a taste of the fine whisky on offer at Starward after being given a guided tour of how and where it is made whilst gazing at the racks of whisky barrels slowly maturing nearby?
Go on – give Starward a go.
They’ll be coming to a store near you very soon!
Unexpectedly coming across a Tipperary Distillery stall at Whiskey Live Melbourne brought a smile to my face and had me humming the famous song. Sung here by Count John McCormack of Athlone – who happened to have links with the Kilbeggan Distillery in Westmeath.
The ditty was still going round in my head as I entered the sumptuously wooden lined Bowes Whiskey Bar on Fleet St, Dublin for the launch of 2 new expressions from the Clonmel based whiskey company.
Having recently been decorating at home I’d found it hard to get a tin of yellow paint. Gorse, Turmeric or Coltsfoot were offered instead. Much how the paint names try to transpose you into a field of flowers – Tipperary Boutique Distillery have called their whiskeys after the beautiful scenery surrounding the farm based business. Drinking Knockmealdowns or Watershed brings you closer to a sense of place, time or feeling far more evocative than plain 10 year old or NAS – non aged statement.
The Knockmealdowns – for those that don’t know – are a fine range of mountains which divide the counties of Tipperary to the North and Waterford to the South. Having walked a few of them I can attest to their magnificent scenery and rugged beauty.
The Knockmealdowns are also a watershed for the rains that fall on the hills and flow down into River Suir in Tipperary and the Blackwater in Waterford.
So did drinking these fine whiskeys transport me to the high ground?
I was a little apprehensive. I’d wanted to like The Rising – Tipperary Boutique Distilleries first offering – but found it a bit too sweet for my tastes. It wasn’t in bad company however as I found Jura Superstition to be of a similar style.
Tipperary Boutique Distillery MD Jennifer Nickerson opened proceedings by introducing us to the 2 new whiskeys. Her Director dad Stuart Nickerson ably took us through the actual first official tasting of Watershed.
At 47% Watershed gave a lovely soft vanilla nose followed through by more vanilla, some fresh fruits and black pepper with a lovely long finish. Very nice indeed. Knowing that water from the farm had been used to cut the casks added to the appeal as Tipperary Boutique Distillery doesn’t have it’s own stills – yet – and their whiskeys are made by a third party.
Knockmealdowns proved to be a much more wholesome, heavy and far more rewarding whiskey. Very apt as the actual mountain of the same name at 794 metres is the highest top in the collective range.
Full of flavour with hints of oak and pepper coming through the soft vanilla and citrus notes, this 10 year old surpasses the disappointment I had with The Rising. Very nice indeed! I had to have a few more sips just to make sure I wasn’t just kidding myself. I also took the liberty of asking a few of the other guests at the launch what their verdicts were. Unanimously the answer was Knockmealdowns. Thumbs up all round!
Tipperary Boutique Distillery are certainly one to look out for.
The combination of the wealth of experience gained over many years in the Scottish whisky industry by Stuart Nickerson, the youthful confidence and business sense of his daughter Jennifer together with the expert barley growing finesse of her fiancee Liam make this a formidable team.
I wholeheartedly wish them future success in their exciting venture.
National Heritage Week in Ireland for 2016 runs from the 20th to 28th August.
It’s a celebration of the rich cultural, natural, creative, architectural and industrial heritage of the island of Ireland which takes the form of a range of events organised locally throughout the country.
My contribution to Heritage Week was to lead a Tullamore Town Whiskey Walk.
But what’s whiskey got to do with heritage? you may ask.
Well – in The Annuls of Clonmacnoise from 1405 there is a reference to a certain chieftain who imbibed a bit too much “aqua vitae” and subsequently died.
Quite clearly Ireland’s relationship to aqua vitae or uisce beatha or whiskey as we now know it has – for better or worse – a long cultural heritage.
Tullamore’s connection with whiskey dates back to at least the 1700’s.
An unfortunate collision with a chimney – believed to be a distillery chimney – led to the world’s first air disaster when a hot air balloon set fire to the town in 1785!
There are still Phoenix emblems on lamp posts on Colmcille St to remember the rebirth of the town after this catastrophe – along with a Tullamore DEW expression of the same name which can either be taken to note the fire – or the beginning of whiskey distilling in Tullamore after a 50 year hiatus when William Grant & Sons opened the new Tullamore Distillery on the outskirts of the town in 2014.
St Patrick St in the centre of town was largely destroyed in the fire. There were a few buildings that survived. One of these buildings is the Tullamore DEW managers office which still proudly displays the name of it’s most famous manager – Daniel E Williams who coined the “Give Everyman His DEW” advertising tag.
Directly opposite are the original distillery entrance gates which bear the name B Daly Company Ltd Tullamore Distillery – Bernard Daly being a previous manager to Daniel Williams.
The gates abut a public house by the name of Bob Smyths. This was formerly a mill house owned by Michael Molloy who happened to be the founder of Tullamore Distillery in 1829. It should come as no surprise the mill was incorporated into the distillery whose main works were just behind. We decided to raise a glass to Tullamore Distillery at this juncture of the walk.
Much of Tullamore’s wealth was generated on the back of the drinks industry. In the early 1800’s there happened to be 2 distilleries, 2 breweries and extensive malting houses in the town. The 3 biggest employers during this period were Tullamore DEW itself, P&H Egans general merchants wine & spirit bonders and Tarleton maltsters.
The heritage of the past shapes the present.
Tullamore DEW is still a world recognised whiskey brand and the original 1897 Old Bonded Warehouse attracts many visitors now it’s a very enjoyable whiskey tourist attraction.
P&H Egans – who originally built the fine Bridge House which still stands today – have a recently released 10 year old single malt bearing the Bridge House on the front of the label. Descendants of the original family are behind the new revived brand and artwork from their forefathers can be seen in The Brewery Tap pub – which happens to be the site of one of the former breweries.
Tarleton seem to be gone but the fertile soils of the Midlands still produce barley for the malting industry to this day. Many of the shops and apartments at the bottom of Harbour St are housed in the old warehouses and malting floors of that former malting industry giant.
Whiskey is still a presence in Tullamore today. It may not employ as many people as in the past but the legacy lives on.
One of several whiskey bars in town – as arbitrarily defined by a previous blog here – has it’s own bottling! We enjoyed a glass of the yet to be launched Hugh Lynch’s Irish Whiskey in the pub that commissioned it. What better way to end the walk.
So why don’t you give Tullamore a visit?
The combination of the old original buildings with their rich history – the new whiskey expressions with their exciting flavours – an exciting re-birth of whiskey distilling quietly maturing in oak barrels at the modern Tullamore Distillery – neatly encapsulates the past – present and yet to be written whiskey heritage of Tullamore.
I’ll drink to that!
No whisky trip to Australia would be complete without a visit to Tasmania. The island off the bottom right hand corner of the continent is home to the tastiest and most lauded single malts Australia has to offer.
It’s also where the modern rebirth of whisky down under began. Bill Lark lobbied to get outdated liquor laws changed to allow the legal distillation of spirits to begin back in 1992.
Since those early amatuer days the industry has grown to produce many fine single malts. The pinnacle undoubtedly was Sullivans Cove winning Best Single Malt of the year in 2014.
My visit only scratched the surface of the stunning scenery, endemic wildlife, fine food and fabulous whisky that Tasmania has to offer – and the combination of it all left us – well – Thunderstruck!
The short flight from Melbourne soon had us looking down on the heavily wooded and indented coastline near Hobart. As the sun shone brightly – albeit with a cool breeze – we decided to head straight down the Tasman Peninsular to take advantage of the lovely weather.
Soon immersed in the awe inspiring landscape we quickly passed by some distilleries;
Nonesuch Distillery, makers of Dry Gin, Sloe Gin and Sloe Malt , had their closed sign up at the entrance.
Port Arthur Lavender, a distillery making perfumed products. Open but passed this by.
McHenry Distillery, actual whisky distillers! Along with gin and vodka – but closed due to construction of a visitors centre. Despite coming across their new single malt on Brooke Street Pier in Hobart it was only available by the bottle – so I never did get a taster of the contents.
We also came across a small flock of Green Rosellas feeding on the ground. These very colourful birds -along with about a dozen other species – are only found in Tasmania and it was a joy to see them.
Our destination of the day at Port Arthur Penal Colony encapsulated the historic beginnings of modern Tasmania in all it’s gory detail – yet set in stunning scenery. Gently ambling around we soon heard and later spotted our first Kookaburra of the trip.
Getting dark at about 5pm in the Australian winter came as a shock after leaving the Irish summer where 11pm was lights out. We still had to check in at our hotel. Phone coverage wasn’t great so we hightailed it back to Hobart – thankfully not encountering any wildlife along the way to add to the roadkill we saw in the sunshine.
The sparkling lights of Hobart glittering on the hillside beyond were a beautiful sight as we drove over the graceful Tasman Bridge. Very soon afterwards we felt the warm embrace of The Customs House Hotel.
I felt an even warmer embrace after enjoying a lovely meal in the cosy dining area heated by a homely open fire overlooking Hobart’s docklands – especially as the meal was washed down by some tasty Tassie whisky!
Having previously tasted the Hellyers Road Peated expression – which I enjoyed very much – I kicked off with their 10 year old Original bottling. Aged in ex-bourbon casks, non chill-filtered at 46.2% this is a lovely smooth and rich example of a decent single malt. It just didn’t have the peat bite I liked.
Overeem Sherry Cask was my night cap. Distilled in nearby Blackmans Bay – a suburb of Hobart – this offering also had a rich taste with a more heavy mouthfeel. It was less sweet than the Hellyers – which suited me fine.
The mania of Tasmania continued over the next few days. We crammed in as much sights and sounds as we could manage before rushing back in the dark to the warm delights of Hobart.
One of the crowning glories of our time in Tasmania – outside of the fabulous whiskies – were the wonderful breakfasts at The Customs House Hotel. These set the benchmark for the rest of our trip which was only matched by a hearty brunch in an eaterie up the wonderful laneway that is Centre Place in Melbourne.
When part of your itinerary is tasting Tassie whisky – you need something substantial to set yourself up – and a good solid breakfast certainly starts the day off on the right path!
Oh to be back in Hobart.
One of the joys about travelling to a different country (Australia in this example) is not just tasting the award winning single malts that are produced there – of which there are plenty – but also sampling some of the everyday blends, brands and bourbons not normally found in my home market of Ireland.
My musical interlude comes from a giant of Australian music – and in the context of a wedding – the response is ….I do.
The wedding itself – our reason for travelling in the first place – took place in The Willows on St Kilda Rd. Arriving early to the venue for a pre-event drink we were politely refused entry and sent around the corner to a nearby cafe/bar. Unlike in Ireland where the wedding venue would gladly have you in before and after the event – in Australia the custom is to strictly adhere to the booked times. Que sera sera.
At the nearby Hunters Kitchen we were warmly greeted and soon furnished with a tasty snack of warm olives and bread together with a lovely wine for herself and a whisky for myself.
Now my default position would be to go for an Aussie whisky – but as there wasn’t any on offer – the next best thing I could see was a familiar brand but an expression I hadn’t come across before and isn’t generally available in Ireland.
I’d found the standard Canadian Club a tad sweet with a soft rye spice finish. I expected a bit more punch off the 12 year old but it didn’t seem to deliver. Smoother and more complex notwithstanding – the extra years didn’t provide a knockout dram.
Back at the wedding – a lovely union between a Tullamore lad and a Melbourne lassie – the drinks flowed, speeches were made and food & festivities abounded. Again the whisky menu was rather limited but I had to try a Cougar to celebrate the coming together of two wonderful people!
A fairly standard bourbon experience was enjoyed – nothing out of the ordinary here – but on talking to a few of the other guests I did think this bourbon was very much a local brand.
My suspicions proved correct the next day when I called in at the local Liquorland store for a chat with the friendly and helpful staff. Just the same way as Lidl, Aldi, Tesco and others do here in Ireland – Coles, Woolworths and others do in Australia. They order up bourbon, gin, brandy or whisky and bottle it under there own brand names. I even found an article on it here
Curiously Cougar is bottled at 37% – which is allowed under Aussie rules. Jim Beam is also at 37% whilst Jack stays at 40% – so check the ABV of your favourite brand before you buy as it may not be the same strength as back home.
I came across a few other of these home brands on my travels.
Whilst doing the Great Ocean Road a few weeks later we stayed in the lovely town of Port Campbell and enjoyed a hearty and enjoyable meal in the local hotel of the same name.
A whisky accompanied the meal – and another ordered at the bar for good measure. It wasn’t too bad. Just a standard Scottish blend by the name of McAllister. Inver House Distillers seem to be the origin of this Australian brand.
I did spot an Irish whiskey in this segment too by the name of Finnlaigh. There shouldn’t be any surprises in reading the back of the bottle that Cooley were responsible for the distilling! John Teeling’s Great Northern Distillery in Dundalk may soon be the new source. I didn’t get round to sampling this expression.
Now I wouldn’t be expecting star quality out of these brands. Many of them are price sensitive. They can often be very good value however and some have gone on to be quite highly rated in competitions so I’m quite happy to give them a trial run when I can.
A lack of an Aussie single malt had me searching for an alternative which I found in a Jim Beam Rye. Didn’t I mention I like a rye now and then?
A sweet mellow initial taste morphs into a warm spicy finish. Nothing too complex here -especially as it’s only a 37% release – but very enjoyable nonetheless. I’m looking forward to a potential release in Ireland!
Whilst enjoying or meal – I did notice a sales rep approach the bar to try and push some whisky brand. Curiosity got the better of me and I enquired after the rep had gone what the brand was.
‘Pure Scot’ came the reply, ‘a Scottish blend made at Bladnoch for an Aussie company’.
It got me thinking.
How long will it be before a sales rep comes into a bar in Ireland pushing a brand called ‘Pure Oz’ to ride the surf of the growth and quality of Australian whisky?
Judging on my experiences of tasting Aussie whisky – it may be sooner than you think.
An invitation to a wedding in Melbourne was just the hook to lure me into a 3 week discovery of the award winning world of Australian whisky.
To accompany this inaugural blog of my travels down under – the musical interlude should come as no surprise;
The first couple of days were spent sightseeing in and around the city centre. By chance we ended up doing a river cruise down the Yarra River – which is a wonderful way to see the marvellous sights of Melbourne as well as listen to some historical tales and stories from the entertaining and informative captain of the river cruiser.
Light refreshments were in order afterwards so one of the many Federation Wharf cafe/bars provided the respite. Luckily for me they stocked some Australian whisky – along with a sprinkling of more familiar Irish brands too.
As we were meeting friends later I went straight for the sole Aussie whisky on offer – an award winning Sullivans Cove bottle.
The Double Cask release from Sullivans Cove wasn’t the bottle that won World’s Best Single Malt Whisky in 2014 – but it sure tasted fine to me. Matured in ex-bourbon and French oak casks this delightful single malt from Tasmania was a gentle introduction to the high standard that Australian whisky has reached in only a short period of time.
On leaving the wharf area I noticed one of the bars had advertised an evening with Starward Whisky – along with a small selection of yet more Aussie whisky – my mind urged me to return again soon.
My opportunity arose on the day of the wedding. Herself wanted to rest a while at the Airbnb allowing me to amble down to the Pilgrim Bar with the intention of sampling a few of the expressions on offer in the lovely surroundings overlooking the Yarra.
Of the 5 Aussie whiskeys on display I’d already tasted from 2 of the distilleries so a flight of the remaining 3 was soon arranged along with an entertaining food pairings of peanut butter filled pretzels and red hummus with warm focaccia.
The helpful and informative bar manager Michael soon had the bottles at my table and explained where, whom and how the various expressions had came about before leaving me to enjoy both the food and whisky in the lovely afternoon sun.
In no particular order my tasting trio consisted of;
Raymond B 100% Corn Mash Whiskey hailing from the Hoochery Distillery in Kununurra in Western Australia close to the border with the Northern Territory.
Belgrove Rye coming from the whisky heartland of Tasmania and the truly home made distillery of Peter Bignell in Kempton.
Hellyers Road Peated Single Malt also from Tasmania but on the northern shores near Burnie.
Unlike my rather mixed feelings towards bourbon – Australians love it. They are even bigger consumers of the spirit than the USA! Raymond B’s Corn Mash is a pretty sweet and smooth representation of this category which certainly went down well with me even although it wouldn’t be my preferred style.
Belgrove Rye however is a different kettle of fish altogether. Rye would be my go-to bourbon for it’s more robust taste and lovely spice finish. Belgrove is not like the more mainstream ryes I’ve had. Despite having a pleasingly soft sweet rye nose – there is none of the associated robustness. A more delicate bouquet of flavours swirl around the mouth before a gentle hint of spice wafts through on the finish. Very engaging. I must try out some more releases from this distillery.
Hellyers Road Peated proved to be a more familiar style of whisky in that a powerful peat punch assaulted the nose before the first taste. Despite Tasmania having it’s own peat bogs just like Ireland – Hellyers Road don’t have access to them due to a lack of a mining licence – and so have to import peated barley from Scotland. What makes this whisky standout however is it’s soft, almost fruity finish coming through the peat smoke. Very nice indeed.
Suitably inspired by the lovely whisky – along with the remaining tasty snacks and a pleasingly soothing backdrop of reggae-dub being played on the sound system – I ventured on to a measure of Black Gate Whisky.
Black Gate are a husband and wife team from New South Wales producing a range of distilled spirits. This rather young whisky – above 2 years and over in Australia is allowed to be called whisky – had a reassuringly non-peated whisky nose. There was a slight off note on the taste for me however and I wondered if the sherry casks used for maturation could have been the source of this. Pity – as it would have been thumbs up all round for my first Australian whisky tasting!
Michael the bar manager joined me for some more whisky chat and introduced a bottle of Starward Wine Cask by way of inviting me to the upcoming whisky Talk & Taste evening at the bar.
The Starward Solera had excited me when I’d met up with friends in the 1806 Cocktail Bar so a quick taster of the Wine Cask release only confirmed me as a convert to the delights of this local distillery based at Essendon on the Melbourne outskirts.
Rich, full bodied with a lovely fruity notes too – this expression is made with Australian wine casks to give it a sense of terroir – it certainly struck a chord with me.
My time at the Pilgrim Bar – being able to sit outside admiring the views, tasting some fine whisky and food, attended to by friendly and helpful staff as well as relaxing to the background music – made up for the 2 days of travelling to get here!
Only a short walk from Flinders St Station – it’s a haven of calm in the heart of Melbourne.
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