Whisky Live Melbourne 2016

By fortuitous chance – and a little rearranging of travel plans – my trip to Oz coincided with Whisky Live Melbourne.

I couldn’t let such an opportunity pass by so booked my ticket online even before the flight plans had been finalised!

Held in the fine looking St Kilda Town Hall – I arrived early to find a queue of fellow whisky fans eagerly awaiting the delights inside. Having previously attended a similar show in Dublin last year I made sure I was well hydrated and fed before the event.

My original plan to sample as much Australian whisky as I could had to be revised as browsing the pre-show website it became clear not many Aussie distilleries were attending. They didn’t need to! Their limited releases usually sold out very quickly leaving little stock leftover for sampling at shows.

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Paul at Pilgrim c/othewhiskeynut

The only representative of the new crop of Aussie distilleries happened to be Melbourne’s own Starward whisky where I reacquainted myself with Paul Slater who had so eloquently guided me through their portfolio during his Starward Talk &Taste evening at Pilgrim Bar the night before.

The lovely Apera and Wine Cask releases were on display at Whisky Live – but Paul had something under the table new to me – New World Projects X .

The contrast between your minds perception of what a clear spirit should be like – and want you actually experience on tasting – is certainly an interesting experience. It’s definitely whisky – if a little more oily and sweet than the Solera release on which a 3rd distillation has removed the colour to obtain Project X.

Project X c/othewhiskeynut

In a similar vein, Glendalough – one of 3 Irish stands at the show – had their Sherry Cask Irish Poitin which I tried in an almost mirror effect to Starward. In this case the unaged spirit has rested for a short while in sherry casks to give a lovely rich brown colour to the liquid which upon tasting gave a sweetness to the rather young spirit in the bottle. I found both these expressions a rather novel approach which would certainly be a talking point if offered to guests from the drinks cabinet!

Glendalough Poitin collection c/othewhiskeynut

Leaving Australia behind, India was the next nearest whisky producing country to exhibit with Paul John Distilleries being the sole representative.

I’d read lots of rave reviews about their whisky so eagerly accepted an invitation to be guided through the range by an enthusiastic ambassador who passionately informed me of the manufacturing process as well as the greedy angels in Goa which result in the wonderfully rich fruity & very tasty single malts before me.

Go on! Try a Goan whisky! c/othewhiskeynut

After 4 of these fine malts were tried I found it hard to pick a favourite between the Bold Edition at 46% or the stunning Select Cask Peated at 58%!  Both we’re delicious and deserve all the praise they have attracted.

Following on from my 4th of July blog I thought I’d further explore the American contribution to whiskey by starting with 2 distilleries new to me.

Appalachian Gap in Melbourne c/othewhiskeynut

Appalachian Gap Snowfall is an unaged Vermont spirit made with a corn,barley and rye mash. The sweet corn influence took the edge off the 54% ABV together with a pleasant rye spice which I liked and a slightly oily mouthfeel. Their Kaffekask 44% release whereby the whisky is filtered through coffee beans in a Lincoln County Process style certainly brought a coffee kick to the table but was too sweet for my tastes. I declined the Kaffekask Liqueur.

Dry Fly dispensing! c/othewhiskeynut

Dry Fly Distilling from Washington State had a slightly more traditional selection using 100% wheat mash offerings at both 40% & 60% cask strength as well as a Port Finish at 43%. The combination of vanilla sweetness together with a slightly harsh finish didn’t endear them to me but the Triticale Whiskey I found much more appealing. Triticale is a hybrid grain derived from wheat and rye varieties and Dry Fly claims to be the first using this type of grain in a whiskey. The sweetness was still there but softened by a smoothness and slight spicy rye finish.

Woodford Reserve had a stall – but I found nothing of note.

A pair of Jacks c/othewhiskeynut

Jack Daniels were next door with 5 releases for the Australian market. Not being a fan of Old No.7 I went straight for the No.27 Gold. At 40% this expression took me by surprise. The lovely pronounced spicy finish had me hooked. Even better than the Gentleman Jack release which I’m partial to. The Jack representative on the stall reliably informed me the double mellowing through 10 foot of sugar maple as well as additional barrel finishes provided the flavour boost. In this instance Sinatra didn’t sing for me!

Having called in at Glendalough I thought I’d better say hello to both Hyde and Tipperary.

Hyde had 3 offerings which I have tried before and enjoyed very much.

Tipperary meanwhile had eluded me with their Rising release so I gave it a go. Oh dear! Far too sweet for my liking.

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Tipperary Boutique Distillery at Whisky Live Melbourne c/othewhiskeynut

My last port of call before turning to the largest contingent of the show – Scottish whisky – was to Sigrun, an Australian importer of Scandinavian malts. Mackmyra & Box from Sweden, Floki from Iceland and Teerenpeli from Finland were in attendance.

Floki Young Malt c/othewhiskeynut

Sheep dung is used to dry the 100% Icelandic barley Floki is made with. It’s an unaged offering at 47% which gave a characteristic oily mouthfeel together with a slightly off-putting sour note for me. Pity – as I really enjoyed my visit to Rekyavik a few years ago. Maybe further ageing will mature it to my tastes.

Teerenpeli Rasi c/othewhiskeynut

Teerenpeli Rasi appealed to me instantly with it’s lovely well balanced light smooth taste. I must try out more of these Scandinavian expressions!

My remaining time at the show – along with staying hydrated from the water coolers placed handily around the hall and partaking in some tasty snacks from the centrally placed canteen buffet – consisted of Scotch.

I challenged my peat tolerance by going for the peat monster that is Octmore 7.1. Wow! Peat then spice and an explosion of flavour. Now I get it.

I ventured into NAS territory with Ardmore Legacy, Talisker Skye, Jura Superstition and Laphroig Quarter Cask. Only the Jura I found disappointing with it’s over sweetness.

A trio of Finlaggan expressions from an unnamed Islay distillery – or even distilleries – were all very engaging with the cask strength coming out tops.

Finlaggan Whisky c/othewhiskeynut

The Glenrothes  rep impressed me very much by keeping a large audience enthralled with his sales patter as he went through a series of releases AND topping up all the glasses at the same time. By this point in the evening I couldn’t quiet keep up with him and my tasting notes were becoming illegible! Suffice to say the one that stood out for me – Glenrothes Vintage 1992 2nd Release had the most balanced nose complemented by a complex cacophony of taste – happened to be one of the priciest.

Glenrothes in action c/othewhiskeynut

Despite there being a large shop at the back where eager whisky geeks could purchase rare or hard to find expressions – I simply immersed myself in the wonderful opportunity Whisky Live events provide in sampling a wide variety of styles, strengths and regions of whisky production throughout the world. Conversations soon flow as to the merits of NAS vs Age Statements, Bourbon vs Whisky, to chill filter or not and even to add water or not.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Whisky Live Melbourne.

If ever a Whisky Live event comes your way – make a beeline for it.

You won’t be disappointed.

Oh! Don’t over do it.

The combination of drinking plenty of water inbetween samples as well as topping up with a lovely goat curry from the wittily named iCurry restaurant on St Kilda Road afterwards ensured I woke up relatively bright and cheery to face yet another day of adventure in Melbourne.


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Hugh Lynch’s Irish Whiskey

Hugh Lynch’s Limited Edition Specially Blended Irish Whiskey was officially launched last night (7th Oct) at a well attended celebration in Hugh Lynch’s bar in Tullamore.

A large gathering of friends and well wishers assembled to toast to the success of both the whiskey and the continuation of the bar under the able stewardship of Hugh’s son Emmet.

The bar at Hugh Lynch’s c/othewhiskeynut

Music, food agus craic were in great supply  – along with plenty of the aforementioned whiskey!

The blended whiskey – bottled at 40% – is a product of West Cork Distillers in Skibbereen. Aged in bourbon casks it has a smooth taste with a hint of sherry and a slight spice on the lovely finish. A very approachable & pleasant blend that oiled the conversations throughout the enjoyable evening.

Hugh Lynch’s Irish Whiskey c/othewhiskeynut

Hugh himself was a well respected publican in the area and was well known for sharing a story or two.

Raise a glass of Hugh Lynch’s Whiskey named in his memory and share a tale or two of your own.

The whiskey is a limited release of 1,000 bottles from 3 casks. It is available from Hugh Lynch’s pub Tullamore or via their online shop here.


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‘Twas Lashing In Launceston

Despite being July – it’s winter in Tasmania and a heavy depression was forecast bearing snow. We decided to head North out of Hobart for the day to avoid the white stuff.

The spectacular scenery of the Derwent River Valley soon had us in awe prompting many stops for photos. Very quickly we passed by road signs naming towns I knew harboured whisky distilleries. Alas – being the driver for the day meant I had to pass them by!

Cambridge – Home to the Lark Distillery after moving out of it’s Hobart base.

Kempton – The whole farm to bottle ethos of Peter Bignell certainly produces some excellent rye whisky.

Redlands Distillery is also in the town.

Bothwell – The Nant Distillery has it’s picturesque base here.

There were also a myriad of signs beckoning the wine lover to vineyards. Tasmania is truly full of wine, whisky and beer production to please all tastes.

The rains soon came down after we had crossed over Spring Hill Tier which at nearly 400m / 1300ft is one of the highest points on the Midland Highway. Rains so persistent and heavy that it reminded Mrs Whiskey of driving to work in Galway!

Pert Post Office c/othewhiskeynut

I only got out of the car for a brief photo opportunity at Perth. Partly as the Post Office corrugated iron work architecture appealed to me and also in homage to Perth in Scotland – once a hotbed of whisky distilling and blending being former hometown to Bells, Dewars and Famous Grouse.

By the time we reached our destination of Launceston there were flood reports on the radio. It reminded us of Midlands 103 back home and the flooding in Athlone – although we both had to laugh at the irony of Dangerous Dave on Heart 107.3 as he tended to play the most inoffensive  middle of the road rock ever. We did sing along though – despite the downpour outside! Shame he didn’t play this exciting slice of Aussie pop.

Launceston also happens to have a new whisky distillery in the making – Launceston Distillery – as well as housing the James Boag Brewery of which tours are available.

We chose some lunch however.

Pierre’s Restaurant Brasserie seemed to satisfy both of our requirements. Fine food for herself and some fine whisky for me.

We weren’t disappointed.

The warm sumptuous interior contrasted with the wild wet weather outside. There were quite a few lunchtime diners delaying their departure until the deluge subsided.

I ordered a bowl of hot tasty soup along with a Nant American Oak Sherry Wood Single Cask – well – we had passed by the distillery on the way. The sherry finish gave a sweet body to the rather light yet well balanced single malt.

Nant American Oak Single Cask c/othewhiskeynut

Hesrelf had a lovely wine and Thai fish cakes.

Tasmania seems to excel in it’s gastronomic delights. Our meal was only a light snack yet was bursting with flavours – much like the Tassie whisky!

I got chatting with some of the friendly helpful staff. They have quite a range of Tassie whisky on show at the front bar. Whisky and gin tasting evenings have been held which were  very well attended and enjoyed. More events supporting locally produced food & drinks are always being explored.It’s a pity we wouldn’t be around for the next extravaganza.

Pierre’s whisky c/othewhiskeynut

Luckily by the time we had finished our lovely meal the rains had eased allowing us a visit to Launceston Cataract Gorge which was our intended tourist spot of the day.

The heavily wooded steep sided slopes drop down to a raging river below swelled by all the recent precipitation. A cable car ride across the ravine is a high point but sadly it happened to be closed. We made do with a walk along the forested trail. Dusk wasn’t far away and some of the local wildlife made their presence felt.

Tasmanian Pademelon c/oMrsWhiskey

A quick snap of the animal confirmed it to be a Tasmanian Pademelon. A small type of kangaroo only found in Tasmania and normally nocturnal in it’s habits. Seeing it certainly made us happy to have spotted a few of them in their natural environment.

Not a bad way to end our trip to Launceston – despite the lashing rain!


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Jameson’s Whiskey Makers Series At Midleton Distillery

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.

Jameson Makers Series c/othewwhiskeynut

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.

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Knockmealdowns c/othewhiskeynut

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.

Welcome to Midleton! c/othewhiskeynut

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!

Fill yer own whiskey! c/othewhiskeynut

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.

A glass of the good stuff! c/othewhiskeynut

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.

Jameson Original c/othewhiskeynut

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?

Tasty Single Pot Still Whiskey c/othewhiskeynut

Ah well,

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.


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Irish Whiskey Awards 2016 Picking The Winners

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.

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The new Tullamore Distillery c/othewhiskeynut

As part of the process to pick the winners – members of the Celtic Whiskey Club and the Irish Whiskey Society were invited to a blind tasting of the competing expressions.

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.

Let the judging commence! c/othewhiskeynut

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.

Colour variation c/othewhiskeynut

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?

Redbreast Lustau c/omaltymates.com

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!

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Peat c/othewhiskeynut

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?


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MONA And The Art Of Distillation

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.

Amoosing cow! c/othewhiskeynut

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?

Moo Brew Dark Ale c/othewhiskeynut

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?

Intricate Iron Work c/othewhiskeynut

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.

The labyrinth of MONA c/othewhiskeynut

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!

The Void Bar @ MONA c/othewhiskeynut

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!

Belgrove White Rye c/othewhiskeynut

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. 

Human art – looking forward to a glass of Tassie whisky at the bar below? c/othewhiskeynut

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?

The art?

The scenery?

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!


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From Whisky Bay To Starward Whisky

Our last night in the Wicked Camper was in the wonderful Wilsons Promontory National Park at Tidal River.

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Tidal River at Wilsons Prom c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Kookaburra c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Dogbolter – lager with a burnt taste c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Paul at Pilgrim c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Starward Solera c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Starward Wine Cask c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Fine whisky & tasty food c/othewhiskeynut

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!

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New World Projects PX Cask c/othewhiskeynut

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!


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