Tag Archives: Pilgrim Bar

A for Australian Whisky

World Whisky Day is fast approaching on Saturday the 19th May 2018.

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.



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.

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Whisky selection by the Yarra c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Raymond B Whiskey c/othewhiskeynut

Belgrove Rye coming from the whisky heartland of Tasmania and the truly home made distillery of Peter Bignell in Kempton.

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Hellyers Road Peated Single Malt also from Tasmania but on the northern shores near Burnie.

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Hellyers Road Peated c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Black Gate Whisky c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Starward Wine Cask c/othewhiskeynut

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.


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Since originally posting this in 2016, Starward have moved into bigger premises closer to the centre of Melbourne.


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 far 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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