As part of the build up I’m featuring a series of blogs – both old and new – over the next month focusing on a country from each letter of the alphabet – if possible – that makes whisky.
Today is A for Australia.
WHISKEY NUT DOWN UNDER
First posted July 2016
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 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.
Since originally posting this in 2016, Starward have moved into bigger premises closer to the centre of Melbourne.
The journey began last year when I first became aware of World Whisky Day and thought – ‘Now I should do something for that day’. This led to me scrambling around finding a printer open on Friday night to laminate my hastily prepared posters – writing out a basic script for the day and posting some last minute social media posts.
My choice of venue happened during the course of the year. Doing blogs on Whiskey Bars meant I eventually found some much closer to home than I had previously known. Couple this with an award winning whiskey visitors attraction in the shape of Tullarmore DEW Visitors Centre – some whiskey art – architecture and history and the die was set.
2pm on World Whisky Day found me at Bury Quay anxiously waiting for people to turn up.
We were greeted warmly by Shane who invited us in to a complimentary showing of the Tullamore DEW introductory video in the auditorium along with a glass of Tullamore DEW Original to get the day started!
Suitably warmed up despite the rather showery weather outside we made the short walk along the Grand Canal – which reached Tullamore in 1798 and aided the economic success of the brewing and distilling industry of the town – to our first whiskey bar of the day – Hugh Lynch’s.
A hard to find discontinued expression was chosen as drink of choice in this bar to demonstrate the fact good whiskey bars operate almost as whiskey libraries in that they stock many a bottle both old – new and potentially exclusive.
Tullamore DEW’s Black 43 went down well with the gathered clan of whiskey friends. It also demonstrated what an additional 11 months in sherry cask can add to a whiskey.
Onwards into town we went. Pausing to view the remnants of the original B. Daly 1829 distillery along with the wonderfully restored gates and Master Distillers Offices across the road.
Bob Smyths pub sits handily beside the Tullamore Distillery gates. It was once owned by Michael Molloy – who established the distillery – so despite not being a whiskey bar – we popped in for a glass of Paddy to acknowledge the brands sale to Sazerac.
Our next stop proved rather more contentious. Back in 1910 the large brewing, malting, bottling and general wholesellers of P&H Egan built what is now The Bridge House Hotel. Descendants of that family released Egan’s Irish Whiskey a few years ago but sadly it isn’t yet stocked at the bar.
We handed a short plea to the management of the hotel to please remedy this situation so Egan’s Irish Whiskey can be enjoyed in it’s true home. By a democratic vote the whiskey walk participants unanimously agreed to bypass this venue in favour of somewhere that did serve Egan’s.
Thankfully we didn’t have to walk far as one bar that does have Egan’s Irish Whiskey is the lovely Brewery Tap on Bridge Street where landlord Paul offered us a discount on the day to enjoy a glass of the lovely rich 10 year old single malt and toast to the future success of the Egan family.
One inquisitive member of the party suggested Egan’s was just a similar bottling to Tyrconnell – also a single malt – so a glass duly arrived for a taste comparison.
Another unanimous decision was reached. Tyrconnell is a smoother slightly more tasty whiskey than Egan’s. It must be stated however that both these expressions were far superiour to the blends we’d been having up to this point.
Back out on the streets our numbers began to diminish due to time constraints. A visit to the whiskey sculpture Pot Stills in Market Square was abandoned. Commissioned by Tullamore Town Council in recognition of the role the distilling trade had in prospering the town. The 3 pots were sculptor Eileen MacDonagh’s interpretation of the gleaming copper stills that currently produce the distillate which goes on to make whiskey in the new Tullamore Distillery on the outskirts of town as well as those at Kilbeggan Distillery only a 10 minute drive from here.
Market Square is also the site of a short-lived distillery built by Mr Manley which closed early in the 1800’s. However there are many fine building which previously housed the large malting trade Tullamore was famous for. Malt left Tullamore by barge to supply many a famous brewery and distillery in Dublin. These malt stores are now apartments’ shops and offices but you can imagine the hive of industry that once frequented the canal harbour in times gone.
Our last port of call was Kelly’s Bar just down the road from the Visitors Centre where we began. Kelly’s have a wide and varied range of fine whiskeys on offer so various expressions were tasted by several fellow whiskey walkers and opinions exchanged as to the merits – or lack off depending to individual taste – of the drams tried.
Our sole Scotch of the day – in recognition that Tullamore DEW is now owned by a Scottish firm – came via a 16 year old Lagavulin. Very tasty it was too.
Eugene the landlord had actually got this whisky in for one of his regular customers. Now that’s an example of a fine whiskey bar!
My thanks go out to all the fellow whiskey walkers who joined me in celebrating World Whisky Day. The publicans, bar staff and the Tullamore DEW Visitors Centre crew who made today a reality in giving generously of their time – and some whiskey too!
Thanks also to the Tullamore Tribune who publicised the event and sent down a reporter to take pictures and report on the days proceedings.
And what are you having yourself to mark this occasion? Please comment me!
I originally thought I’d have a glass of a whisky truly of the world – a glass of Old Nobility – a blended whisky made with malts from – wait now – USA, Canada, Germany, India and of course Scotland – to lend it some credibility! It was available in France on my last visit – but as I already had 2 lovely French single malts from Guillon, the Spanish blend DYC, as well as my friends whisky cabinet to sample – Old Nobility will have to wait!
And wait is exactly what the whisky I’m having today did – for over 100 years!
Back in 1907 an order was placed with the Glen Mhor distillery in Inverness for 46 cases of Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt. The cases were duly delivered – loaded onto a ship – travelled from the UK to Antarctica – and left under a hut.
In 2007 the surviving cases were discovered. A bottle made it’s way back to Scotland for analysis. A recreation of the whisky came into being and it is this whisky I’m choosing to drink today – and a damn fine dram it is too! A big A+
The story around this whisky was astounding – and thankfully the tasting experience is as well. I’m glad I took a punt when buying it unseen. I’d be happy to share this with any other whisky fans – as long as they bring along a bottle of their finest for me to try!
However – there is an Irish connection. Ernest Shackleton was born in County Kldare – Ireland. His parents were Irish. Like many others of their generation -and generations past and present – emigration was an economic reality so Ernest ended up in London where he joined the merchant navy – eventually joining the rush for Polar Expedition in the early 1900’s.
He led the 1907 expedition on which the whisky went – we can only hope it warmed him and his men as much as it warms me.
On another later trip to Antarctica – Ernest was joined by a fellow Irish man – Tom Crean from County Kerry. Together they overcame great difficulties after their ship was crushed in the ice and sank. A heroic 800 mile sea voyage and march across South Georgia eventually led to the rescue of all the men after two years down under!
Tom Crean also has a drink named in his honour – sadly only a lager – but as lagers go – not a bad one – and you can always enjoy a pint of his best in the pub he ran after his polar exploits – The South Pole Inn – well – what else would you call it? .
Now I’m not saying that drinking either of these beverages will make you as strong or heroic as the people they are associated with – but they are imbued with their spirit – and what better day to drink them than on World Whisky Day 2015!