NEW RELEASES WILL BE ONLINE AT MIDDAY AEST, FRIDAY 6TH AUGUST
Outturn Landing: Friday 6 August Issue 07, 2021
AUSTRALIA, WE MADE IT...
Delve into our August Outturn and take a trip around this great southern land for this momentous occasion, where the Society is the gamechanger once again.
POURING AT SMWS.COM.AU
Contents The times they are a-changin’ Matt Bailey............................................................................
The long and winding road... Andrew Derbidge �����������������������������������������������������������������
Malt of the Month Cask No. 48.120 Worm tub stodge ����������������������������������������������������������������� 6 Vaults Collection Cask No. 35.270 At the end of a perfect day ������������������������������������������������
OUR BOTTLINGS YOUNG & SPRITELY Cask No. 35.284 An invigorating fizzy cocktail ��������������������������������������������� 8
SWEET, FRUITY & MELLOW
Special Release - 1st SMWS Australian Whisky! Cask No. 147.1 Jacaranda jam ������������������������������������������������������������������� 12 Not-so-humble beginnings Chapter 1: Luke McCarthy �������������������������������������������������� 19 ‘The Great Reinvention’ Chapter 2: Andrew Derbidge ��������������������������������������������� 26 Australian whisky is changed forever… Chapter 3: Matt Bailey ������������������������������������������������������� 30 Events Events in your State ����������������������������������������������������������� 38 Around the world in five drams ���������������������������������������� 39
DEEP, RICH & DRIED FRUITS Cask No. 2.122 Smith's quadrilogy: the midnight oil �����������������������������������
OLD & DIGNIFIED
Cask No. 112.77 Dances on the tongue ���������������������������������������������������������� 8
Cask No. 35.270 (Vaults Collection) At the end of a perfect day �������������������������������������������������
Cask No. 46.104 Sauternes me inside out ������������������������������������������������������ 8
Cask No. G7.19 Storry's quarry �������������������������������������������������������������������
SPICY & SWEET
JUICY, OAK & VANILLA
Cask No. 48.120 (Malt of the Month) Worm tub stodge ����������������������������������������������������������������� 6
Cask No. 147.1 Jacaranda jam ������������������������������������������������������������������� 12
Cask No. 1.234 Toffee shop............................................................................ 8
Cask No. 7.254 Brings a sheen to the glass �������������������������������������������������� 16
Cask No. 9.192 A tale of two markets ���������������������������������������������������������� 9
PEATED Cask No. 53.357 Smoke and smirr ���������������������������������������������������������������� 16 Cask No. 42.53 Mull Me(n)tal ��������������������������������������������������������������������� 16
RUM Cask No. R9.8 Treacle thyme ��������������������������������������������������������������������� 16
The times they are achangin’ This is a landmark Outturn. By the time you’re reading this, you’re either rugged up with a good book & a dram, or you’re safe from all this resurgence of COVID we’re seeing again. In what would have been a Champs month last month has been pushed back to October, and we’re all hoping there’s enough vaccinations to go around sooner rather than later! We’ve only knocked over the first half of the year, but what a whirlwind it’s already been.
he second thing you’ll notice is that this is a bigger Outturn, both in physical size and offering. Our first ever Australian release is here, and we’re super excited to share this with you. This is a turning point for both Australian whisky, and for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. We’ve worked incredibly hard in making this happen, and it’s been a long and winding road that is just at the beginning. As you’ll read further into this Outturn, you’ll see we’ve devised three chapters of this journey, culminating in the bottling of 147.1. Renowned Australian whisky writer and reviewer, Luke McCarthy, kicks off the first chapter of this story looking at the very early beginnings of Australian whisky production. Distilleries like Warrenheip, Federal, and Corio that can justifiably be called the first wave of Aussie whiskies. It goes back further than you might realise! Our Chairman and Cellarmaster, Andrew Derbidge, tackles chapter two of this story and takes a look at the growing pains of the early 90’s onwards, with the likes of Cradle Mountain, Lark, and Sullivans Cove. This era is arguably the most important in the current context of where we are today as an industry, as many of these distilleries have shaped the landscape of distillation in Australia. The final chapter which I’ve penned looks at where we are now, and how we got here. The meat and potatoes of modern Australian whisky and how it’s changing even today. This industry never slows down, diversity of offering is increasing, and those distilleries who are producing with purpose and
getting the fundamentals right will shape our national dialogue and palate for decades to come. So with that, we raise a glass to distillery 147 joining the Society’s esteemed coding system that keeps the focus on the quality of what’s in the glass. The first of many Australian whiskies the Society has been quietly beavering away on, ensuring the quality is always panel-approved and worthy of wearing our monogram. A moment in our history, in showing the world what the Aussies can do, and doing it our way. This isn’t ‘hit and hope’; this isn’t ‘what’s available to us’; this is hand-picked, locally-bottled, panel-approved, and utterly enjoyable. Elsewhere in this issue we also have an incredible list of other Society single casks as always, including the delicious Malt of the Month, Cask 48.120 “Worm tub stodge” which oozes everything we love about worm tub distilleries from the stone fruits to the tinned peaches and beyond, it’s a ripper. Keep an eye on our livestreams and website as always for all the latest write-ups, videos, and more for this special Outturn. Cheers,
Matt Bailey ~ SMWS National Ambassador 3
Think back to your final year of high school. (For the purposes of this allegory, I’ll assume most readers did a year of kindergarten, six years of primary school, and six years of high school). Your 13 years of hard slog took many twists and turns, and as you neared the end, you chose different subjects to suit your interests and ambitions. And when you finally sat your last exam and left school, you were in a very different space and place to the one you were in when your journey first started 13 years earlier.
nd that, ladies and gents, is the story of 147.1. It’s been – give or take – a 13 year journey for an Australian whisky to wear the SMWS label, and the final result is very different to what was perhaps envisaged at the start. For, as many of you will have deduced, when the quest to bottle an Australian whisky first gathered steam, the distillery that would be assigned SMWS code 147 did not even exist!
I assumed the role of Cellarmaster in late 2005, and it wasn’t too long before the notion of bottling an Australian whisky was on the cards. It was discussed and toyed with on several fronts, but it wasn’t until 2008 when Simon Downs – the Society’s Whisky Manager in Edinburgh at the time – confirmed “let’s do this”. There were, however, some obstacles in the way, and some of those had a context which is perhaps difficult to appreciate today. For starters, there were only four or five distilleries around that you could actually deal with who had stock that was relatively mature. There was then the issue of volume: There were very few 200 litre barrels being filled, and – for where the Society was at at that time – there was little point or interest in bottling a 100 litre cask that had already had some thirsty angels get stuck in. And, to be entirely honest, there were issues with quality. We rejected plenty here at the first pass. Then, for those candidates that we felt might have a chance, we sent samples to the main tasting panel in Scotland, where they were subsequently deemed not good enough. We spun our wheels for a while. Interest and efforts to bottle an Aussie cask grew between 2011 and 2015, and a number of the Society’s directors from Scotland flew out to Australia and visited some of the more favoured distilleries during this time. However, those same issues of both quality and volume continued to hinder progress. Lest this be misinterpreted, I can assure you there were distilleries making excellent spirit and producing stunning casks – but it was evident that if a distillery identified a superb cask, they were keeping it for their own brand and label. It seems it was the second tier or casks from “failed experiments” that they were prepared to sell to the Society.
By 2016, a new issue arose that made bottling an Australian whisky for the Society a challenge: Price. In the wake of the World’s Best Single Malt award going to Sullivans Cove in 2014, interest and demand in the category was rising, and distilleries could charge more for their whisky than they’d been accustomed to during the start-up years. For the established distilleries who’d been doing it tough for a decade and more, there was finally an opportunity and market for them to make money, and the notion of selling whisky wholesale or discounted to a third party like the Society was an unattractive proposition for most of the players. I’ve shared this story previously in Outturn, but we did have the somewhat amusing situation a few years back when one of the Tasmanian distilleries wanted to sell a cask to the Society at a price that was higher than what we’d just paid to acquire rare, ex-sherry casks of aged Karuizawa! (One of the rarest, most collectible, and most expensive whiskies from a closed distillery in Japan). Commercial realities played out. And, so, it has been a long, winding road for our first Aussie cask to make it to an Outturn. Like our own experiences through school, there were trips and bumps along the way; there were some electives that we didn’t end up needing at the end; and the dog definitely ate our homework once or twice. I’m pleased to share that it won’t be such a tough journey for our second cask: 148.1 has already been bottled and is waiting in the wings also. Happy graduation. Cheers
Andrew Derbidge ~ Director, Cellarmaster & NSW Manager 5
WORM TUBS! MALT OF THE MONTH
Welcome Cask 48.120 ‘Worm tub stodge’ as our Malt of the Month! “What’s a worm tub?” you ask? One of the key aspects of whisky production that influences the character of a distillery’s whisky is the amount of contact both the spirit and the spirit vapours have with copper. Copper strips out sulphur compounds that are inherent in the spirit from fermentation, and so increased contact with copper can produce a lighter spirit, while shorter contact time with the copper leaves more of the sulphur compounds behind, resulting in a heavier, “meatier” spirit. Much of this process takes places at the condenser stage. The vast majority of distilleries now use modern and efficient “shell and tube” condensers which typically producer a lighter spirit. However, there remains a small number of distilleries (14, at last count) that still use the old school worm tubs: This is typically a vat or tub filled with cold water, in which sits a copper “worm” or “serpent” – it’s the continuation of the copper still’s lyne arm. As the distilled vapour travels down the worm, it condenses back into liquid form. The cold water in the worm tub causes the vapour to condense fairly rapidly, and as such there isn’t as much contact with the copper before it flows into the collection tank. As such, the distilleries using worm tubs generally produce a heavier, meatier style of spirit.
Distillery 48 is one of the few distilleries that still uses this less-efficient, but – arguably - more desirable way of distilling spirit. In the case of Cask 48.120 Worm tub stodge, just seven years in a rich, 1st-fill, ex-bourbon barrel has gifted this delicious distillate with a richness of tinned fruits, poached rhubarb, brown sugar, and rich meaty moreish spirit. Grab your winter togs and dive into a worm tub with us this month!
1st fill bourbon barrel
12 November 2012
CASK NO. 48.120
REDUCED FROM $155
AUS ALLOCATION 72 bottles
WORM TUB STODGE SPICY & SWEET
Limit of one bottle per Member
But, like with all things whisky, this is only one part of the process and there are many factors that combine in each distillery to influence the final character of the spirit. Other factors will include things like the size and shape of the still, the speed at which they run the spirit, the size of the cut into the spirit safe, and of course their selection of raw materials like the barley, yeast, water, and ultimately, the cask.
A bright and fresh nose full of stone fruits, torn mint leaf, chewy toffee and foam bananas. Playful, vivid and enticing. Some green apples, tinned peaches, pineapple cubes and hints of clove and tree bark added richness. Some water brought milk chocolate and orange travel sweets. Candied hazelnuts, warm custard and some poached rhubarb with brown sugar. The palate when neat was full of strawberries and meringue, tutti frutti and coconut milk with apricots. Water brought pecans and maple swirl ice cream, orange blossom, a hint of lavender and porridge laced with gooseberry jam.
AN INVIGORATING FIZZY COCKTAIL
DANCES ON THE TONGUE
YOUNG & SPRITELY
SWEET, FRUITY & MELLOW
CASK NO. 35.284
CASK NO. 112.77
1st fill bourbon barrel
2nd fill bourbon barrel
28 June 2012
28 March 2008
AUS ALLOCATION 30 bottles
AUS ALLOCATION 30 bottles
“Invigorating and a good balance just like a yoga posture” was the initial comment soon followed by fresh, citric, coconut, toffee, pear drops and chamomile aromas. Malty and fruity on the palate neat, digestive biscuits and plenty of pears and peaches next to crème caramel with white pepper. Water released bergamot and cardamom pods as well as a bunch of Earl Grey roses with wild myrtle as greenery, while the taste now was like biting into a sweet juicy pear and a refreshing Diamond Fizz cocktail made with gin, freshly squeezed lemon juice, pure cane sugar syrup and topped up with brut Champagne.
Tart citrus aromas of kumquat and lime mixed with sweet orange fondant and digestive biscuits while a perfumed fragrance brought delicate rosewater and gorse bushes in bloom. The palate was vibrant and fresh with a peppery spice that tingled and danced on the tongue as popping candy merged with fresh mint leaves. Sweet fragrance remained but now with scented beeswax, banana skins and toasted pine nuts. Water brought us Oriental steamed buns filled with sweet bean curd and vanilla while quince jelly and nectarines continued a citrus feel. Finally, paper envelopes had been skilfully folded into decorative flowers to garnish rice wine as we enjoyed peppermint tea and dried papaya.
SAUTERNES ME INSIDE OUT SWEET, FRUITY & MELLOW CASK NO. 46.104
CIAL SPE NISH FI
TOFFEE SHOP SPICY & SWEET CASK NO. 1.234
1st fill Sauternes barrique
1st fill bourbon barrel
14 March 2007
6 April 2011
AUS ALLOCATION 30 bottles
AUS ALLOCATION 30 bottles
A wonderful aroma of freshly squeezed waxy oranges, warm gingerbread, grape noble rot and fruitcake laden with boozesoaked sultanas greeted us. Inviting, heady, complex and oozing lusciousness. Dark toffee, black bun, cassis and cinnamon swirls topped with stewed fruits. Water brought a creamy fatness to proceedings. Dark chocolate, pears poached in Calvados, treacle scones and plum duff with a splash of brandy. The palate initially revealed an unctuous sweetness. A whole mouthful of gooey dark fruits, flapjack, parkin, chantilly cream with citrus zest and then caramelising brown sugar with Chinese five spice. Water brought more brandy richness, spun sugar, aged muscat, apple turnovers and wild strawberries. Matured for 11 years in a bourbon hogshead before being transferred to a first fill sauternes barrique.
A big bag of boiled sweets, mint humbugs, Moffat toffees, Campinos, vanilla sponge cake and expensive marzipan. Also, elegantly oily, nutty and with some wonderfully sweet notes of glazed pineapple. Reduction brought out deeper notes of kirsch dark chocolates, tonka bean ice cream and white jellybeans. Some fresh summer herbs and watermelon bring vivacity and breezy freshness. The palate opened with a touch of spice then runny honey over fresh strawberries, banana bread, marmalade with coriander seed and mango pudding with a lick of beeswax. With water we found gloopy fruit salad juices, fatty coconut milk, buttery crumpets, crumbly scones with rhubarb jam and stem ginger in syrup. Some liquorice, paper and tobacco adding stout weightiness in the background.
A TALE OF TWO MARKETS SPICY & SWEET CASK NO. 9.192
1st fill bourbon barrel
11 September 2003
The nose presented a deconstructed pear belle Helene – ‘cold pear tart with Chantilly cream and dark chocolate squares’ – we also got caramel, vanilla, cherry pipe tobacco and fresh paint. The palate commenced with honeycomb sweetness, then gentle spice slowly built in the mouth – cinnamon buns, orange oil and chewing tobacco; eventually a liquorice dry finish. The reduced nose was a tale of two markets – cured hams in Mercado de San Miguel (Madrid) or a Christmas market, with mulled cider, dark chocolate, oranges, lemons and vanilla slices. The palate found vanilla cheesecake and gingerbread, finishing with treacle, oak and dry wood spices.
ELONGATED ELEGANCE VAULTS COLLECTION
Imagine coming inside after a bracing walk in very cold conditions; you’ve slipped off your comfortable coat, and you’re settling in for a warm night out from the cold. Read the first line of the tasting notes for this release and be instantly transported to where you’d rather be. Whisky has that ability to play with our senses, evoke memories, and take us on a flavour adventure. Like your favourite slippers by the fire while you sip a Grand Marnier, Cask 35.270 oozes charm and elegance from a full maturation of 33 years in a 2nd-fill toasted hogshead. Take a moment to remind yourself where you were in 1986, or if you were even born yet, and then taste what was being produced then. Distillery 35 is no stranger to the coding system of the Society, and members have been regularly treated with some of the most diverse output of any distillery on earth. This Elgin distillery is a quiet achiever in the world of single malt whisky. Very few flashy releases or dubious marketing is needed in their core range, and after nearly 125 years of production, they’ve nailed the art of producing a soft and fruit-driven distillate that excels in this toasted hogshead. This cask, distilled in 1986, is a timecapsule of another era for distillery 35. A look into the Society’s archives of experimentation and risk. A special dram to be shared with special people.
AT THE END OF A PERFECT DAY OLD & DIGNIFIED CASK NO. 35.270
LTS VAUECTION L COL
2nd fill toasted hogshead
19 June 1986
AUS ALLOCATION 30 bottles Imagine coming inside after a bracing walk in very cold conditions, you’ve slipped off your comfortable coat crafted from a blend of camel hair and virgin wool, put on your slippers and sat down by the open crackling fire to enjoy figs in syrup, sweet dates wrapped in bacon, mature cheddar cheese and a glass of very old vintage Malmsey Madeira wine. If you so wish, add a drop of water and you will be rewarded with a classic crêpes Suzette served in a delicious orange and caramel sauce flambé with Grand Marnier.
SMITH’S QUADRILOGY: THE MIDNIGHT OIL DEEP, RICH & DRIED FRUITS CASK NO. 2.122
1st fill Oloroso butt
15 March 2007
AUS ALLOCATION 36 bottles A clear and classic sherry accent! Bags of date loaf, pure butterscotch, salted caramel popcorn, Toffee Crisp, rosewater, orange marmalade and quince. Also, milk chocolate, figs in syrup, sweet, cured ham and toasted almonds. A tiny kiss of woodsmoke in the background. Water brings lighter and earthier tones of pollen, bitter chocolate, gingerbread, heather honey, Battenberg cake and aged mead. The mouth opens with a lean, slightly meaty and nicely dry sherry but evolves swiftly towards ginger cake, malt loaf, pomegranate syrup, chopped dates and black tea with sugar. With water we got game meat salamis, bouillon stocks and things like treacle sponge, venison ramen, Scotch broth and herbal cough syrups. Dark, deep and intriguing stuff!
STORRY’S QUARRY OLD & DIGNIFIED CASK NO. G7.19
1st fill bourbon barrel
22 September 1992
AUS ALLOCATION 30 bottles The nose opened with overripe yellow plums, sweet orange wines, mineral oil, drying paints and American jellybeans. Then candied citrus peels, artificial fruit cordials and mixed confectionery from a warm sweet shop. Also hints of cider vinegar, wood polish and plums macerating in sugar. Water brought dunnage warehouse must, creme brûlée, malt loaf, bike chain oil and caraway. Some creamed coconut, strawberries and pina colada. The palate opened with a subtle earthiness and tobacco leaf. Then plunged deep into milk bottle sweeties, tinned custard, doughnut batter, caramelising brown sugar, sponge cake and soft herbal cough medicines. Water gave us coconut cream, pineapple syrup, dried tarragon, toasted pistachios, crispy chicken skin and lush rummy sweetness.
SPECIAL RELEASE CASK NO. 147.1 JACARANDA JAM We've made it. The first ever Society Australian whisky. A milestone for both us as a club and for the development and growth of the Australian whisky landscape. We're doing things differently. We're changing the game. Our first Australian single cask to show the world what we can do here, and to show our members we're serious about picking unique casks to share around with members and friends. Elsewhere in this Outturn you can read how this came about, where the journey started, and how it's changed over the years. All that's important here is that we've landed, we've filled the iconic green glass bottles with what we think is some of the best local spirit on offer, and we've made sure to share it with as many of you as we possibly can. Distillery 147 is a Sydney distillery with a remarkable story, wild ambitions, incredible bar, and attention to detail that drew us in. Come on this journey into local flavour and raise a glass to a new beginning!
JACARANDA JAM JUICY, OAK & VANILLA CASK NO. 147.1
Limit of one bottle per Member
S SMWLIAN T S 1 TRA ! AUS HISKY W
1st fill Apera quarter cask
1 February 2018
AUS ALLOCATION 125 bottles Naval orange peel on white toast with balsamic glaze and caramel chews. Milk bottle lollies and plum juice! A big bowl of Coco Pops and Jersey Milk. Diluted, the nose evolved into pink wafer biscuits and ink wells before morphing into a bright clean sherry. The palate bursts with Persian spices and glazed ham with a fistful of squished Jacaranda flowers between pages of a book. Roasted dark malts dance on the tongue between scoops of orange sorbet enjoyed deep in a dunnage warehouse. The palate diluted is Nutella biscuits and Manuka honey. Brilliantly integrated after a short maturation and showing maturity well beyond its years. The finish rolls on with vintage perfume, laundry powder, and Turkish Delights.
THE 147 JOURNEY
“As a long time admirer of the Society, their liquid-first approach to presenting spirits, and their willingness to embrace and champion innovation, it was an extremely proud moment to see a cask from the Archie Rose bond store rolled out and selected as the first Society release of any Australian whisky. This is a truly important time in the development, growth, and awareness of Australian whisky on a global stage.” WILL EDWARDS, FOUNDER, ARCHIE ROSE DISTILLING COMPANY.
“Having been a member of the Society as an avid appreciator for a decade, it is phenomenal to see the toil of the distilling team come together in 147.1. This is a special cask that the distilling team are so excited to share with Society members.” DAVE WITHERS, MASTER DISTILLER, ARCHIE ROSE DISTILLING COMPANY.
“Many of us at Archie Rose are members of the Society, and we've also been immensely proud that our distillery bar has been a partner bar for the past 4 years. To actually be featured in the hallowed green glass is an honour of the highest degree. It's a testimony to not only the growing strength and recognition of Australian spirits on the world stage, but fundamentally - it's an acknowledgement of our own brand's respect and standing within the society and the wider industry - it truly is an honour.” HARRIET LEIGH, HEAD OF HOSPITALITY, ARCHIE ROSE DISTILLING COMPANY. 15
BRINGS A SHEEN TO THE GLASS
SMOKE AND SMIRR
JUICY, OAK & VANILLA CASK NO. 7.254
PEATED CASK NO. 53.357
1st fill bourbon barrel
Refill bourbon hogshead
17 November 2003
12 November 2009
AUS ALLOCATION 30 bottles
AUS ALLOCATION 54 bottles
One panellist made full use of the pick ‘n’ mix sweet counter filling his bag with fizzy apple snakes, cherry lips, foamy bananas and fried eggs and while he was at it, let’s have a vanilla custard slice to round it all off. On the palate we had a watermelon smoothie, finger limes, shortbread and a refreshing frozen berry and coconut cheesecake. Water added an earthy vibe, like walking through a botanical garden or a fruit market on Madeira as we sat down for a break and popped open a bottle of slightly sparkling, frizzante, Lambrusco wine; fruity flavours paired with an elegant acidity.
Sweet juicy langoustines were being grilled on a hickory wood fire on the beach and while we waited we spooned up spicy, creamy bisque with freshly baked sourdough bread. On the palate neat surprisingly mellow with wisps of lavender smoke and tea tree oil, while in the finish finely diced chillies in a barbeque glaze with aniseed. Water added the smell of a smoke infused damp jumper which reminded us of George Campbell Hay’s poem ‘The Smoky Smirr O Rain’ (smirr being Scottish for fine, drifting rain). The taste was that of a smoky fruits de mer platter followed by sea-buckthorn meringue with sorbet and shortbread – very pleasing indeed.
CASK NO. 42.53
CASK NO. R9.8
Refill bourbon hogshead
2nd fill bourbon barrel
21 February 2008
31 January 2006
AUS ALLOCATION 36 bottles
AUS ALLOCATION 30 bottles
We imagined being on board a CalMac ferry, heading to Craignure ferry terminal, standing next to the funnel, expelling engine exhaust to keep warm as we ate greasy oily chips, smoky streaky bacon and, not typically on the menu, a hot dog topped with nacho cheese, extra pickled jalapeno peppers and crushed tortilla crisps. Weird but wonderful! It got too cold so we went inside, meeting at the small doors a ship mechanic in his oily overall and one panellist was reminded of standing in the heat with tens of thousands experiencing a Rammstein concert with the incorporated elaborate pyrotechnics. Fans therefore have coined the motto “other bands play, Rammstein burns!”
The aromas brought a sticky glaze of burnt brown sugar and molasses that coated pork ribs and a heavy serving of rosemary before softening to creme brûlée. Herbal tones carried over to the palate where the sugary sweetness had developed into leather, liquorice and handmade cigars. Meanwhile, a streak of fruitiness conveyed pineapple chunks with mango and hints of cherries. Water accentuated the polished leather and earthy notes but now with oranges and dark chocolate. Molasses merged into honey and joined banana, coconut oil and tropical wood. Heavy herbs still lingered, now dominated by thyme and merging into aniseed and barbecued pineapple to finish.
Journey We've taken a look back, and a look forward, to the Australian whisky landscape to get an understanding of how we've landed here. Join us on this winding path of local innovation and flavour discovery.
humble beginnings BY LUKE MCCARTHY
A forgotten history of where it all began…
or those new to Australian whisky, the current scene can be tricky enough to navigate, with well over 60 distilleries now bottling their own whisky and another dozen soon to follow. But unbeknown to even seasoned enthusiasts is the extensive history of Australian whisky production that predates the current boom period. Well before the renaissance that had its origins in Tasmania in the 1990’s, Australia produced an estimated 140 million litres of whisky from the 1860s through to the 1980s. To unearth this history and understand where the current industry came from, three distinct eras of Australian distilling need to be examined. The story starts with the fledgling industries that developed in the penal colonies of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) between 1788 and 1862. From 1863 to 1929, whisky-making then prospered in Victoria following the introduction of the Distillation Act 1862, which helped to spawn Australia’s most significant whisky distilleries (South Australia briefly joined the party with a handful of malt whisky producers during the same period). And then from 1930 to 1980, the blended whisky wave began, with international conglomerates buying up and ultimately putting a stop to whisky production in Australia before its rebirth in the 1990s. 19
At the start of it all, as you might expect, there were Irish and Scots. Not long after Captain Arthur Phillip’s First Fleet encroached on the land inhabited by Aboriginal people for over 60,000 years, some of the craftier Irish and Scots began illicitly fermenting and distilling locally-grown wheat in the bushes surrounding Sydney Cove. Native grains had been cultivated by Aboriginal people for millennia, something modern Australian whisky makers have only recently woken up to. But the colonists were blind to Aboriginal agriculture and land management, and got to work planting and farming more familiar wheat and barley varieties. There wasn’t much of an appetite for locally-made Australian whisky at the time, as the penal colony of New South Wales was awash with rum from South America, India and Jamaica. Initially, the colony struggled to even feed itself, but that didn’t stop the production, trade and rampant consumption of rum and other spirits. From the mid-1790s, spirits were so integral to the colony that they were bartered and traded for goods and services as a de facto currency.
BELOW: Warrenheip Distillery, circa 1925.
The prevalence and abuse of spirits forced Governor Hunter, the man in charge of the colony, to enact a prohibition on distilling in 1796 – the first in a long line of government interventions in the Australian spirits industry. Brewing, however, was allowed to continue, and when Sydney’s first brewers figured out how to make palatable beer in Australia’s warm, alien climate, whisky-making was set to follow. In Van Diemen’s Land, the island penal colony to the cooler south of the continent established in 1803, brewers found much more favourable conditions for making beer and subsequently, whisky and spirits. The ban on distilling in the Australian colonies was lifted in 1822, and from there, distilleries were constructed in and around Hobart. The Sorell and Derwent distilleries were the first, producing spirits from locally-grown grain that loosely resembled whisky. Eight distilleries opened and closed in Van Diemen’s Land over the next 15 years. But in 1838, a critical report was filed to the Legislative Assembly on the distilling trade. It argued that the industry was unviable for a
variety of reasons, chiefly because revenue collection from excise duty was frequently being defrauded, and the admixing of inferior local product with imported spirits was rife among publicans and retailers. As a result, the Prohibition Distillation Act banned distilling in the colony from January 1839. The ban only stood until 1847, but distilling wouldn’t recommence in Tasmania for 150 years. Back up north, a number of distilleries operated in Sydney from 1822 to the 1850s, predominately focused on gin and rum. But then the state of Victoria entered the frame, and with it, Australia’s first fully fledged whisky distilleries. Victoria boomed following the gold rush of the 1850s, becoming one of the richest regions in the world at the time. The Victorian Distillation Act of 1862 then encouraged the trade, and Australia’s first notable malt whisky distillery, the Warrenheip Distillery, was built in 1863 by Robert Dunn outside the thriving gold town of Ballarat.
At Warrenheip, Australia’s potential for quality whisky manufacture was first realised, and many of the Victorian distilleries that followed have links or references to its success. Dunn’s distillery was designed by engineer J. H. Rennie, thought to be a Scot, and he applied the same successful principles from the Old World to construct Warrenheip. His design took advantage of natural spring water that filtered down through the basalt and scoria rocks of Mount Warrenheip, an inactive volcano. Water gravitated unassisted from a 300,000 litre reservoir above the distillery that Rennie had converted from a natural pond. It fulfilled the requirements of the entire site – a remarkable achievement, considering how fraught water management is even today in the driest inhabited continent in the world. The first ‘whisky’ distilled at Warrenheip in 1863 was from a mash of barley, oats and wheat in the Irish pure pot still tradition. The grains were malted, milled and mashed onsite.
Fermentation ran between 80 and 90 hours, and the wort was triple-distilled in three locally-built pot stills, each sporting large worm tub condensers. Initially, a short maturation took place in four 2500 gallon oak vats, but once a cooperage was constructed onsite, casks were then used to hold and transport Warrenheip malt whisky via the adjacent railway straight to Victoria’s capital, Melbourne. Along with the cooperage, Dunn built a grain store, engine house, bond store, stables and offices, and soon, most of the distillery’s grain requirements were supplied by surrounding farms. The business thrived in its early years, and Dunn ramped up production to over 600,000 litres of whisky, genever, and gin a year by the late 1860s. But in 1869, drought caused significant problems for the enterprise, as grain crops failed and production was halted. Despite its growth, the business was still in debt, and in 1872 it was put up for auction and purchased by Henry Brind and four other investors. Brind was an English chemist who’d arrived in Australia in 1852 and settled in Ballarat to run a gold buying business. He had experience in the local distilling game before purchasing Warrenheip, helping to run a distillery in Ballarat on 21
ABOVE: The old Corio Distillery, Victoria.
the banks of Lake Wendouree. But when the lake dried up in the same drought period, the spring-fed Warrenheip was too good an opportunity to pass up. Brind and his descendants built Warrenheip into Australia’s second largest whisky distillery. By the 1890s, the distillery employed one third of the
BELOW: Warrenheip Distillery Label Artwork.
distilling workforce in Victoria, while Warrenheip and Brind’s malt whisky developed a reputation for quality, winning a suite of competition awards in Australia and overseas. But Warrenheip’s success didn’t go unnoticed. In Melbourne, touted as the wealthiest city in the world in the 1880s, large distilleries had been constructed to compete with Brind’s malt whisky. Thomas Aitken, the founder of Victoria Bitter, Australia’s most iconic beer brand, also made a triple-distilled whisky in the Irish pure pot still style from the 1860s, although numerous reports ranked Warrenheip as the superior drop. Then in 1884, a distillery befitting the wealth and grandeur of ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ was constructed in the Joshua Brothers’ Federal Distillery. Federal took years to complete, and when it became fully operational in the late 1880s, it quickly turned into one of the largest distilleries in the Southern Hemisphere. Initially, there were two malting floors, a cooperage, a granary and an enormous malt kiln. Five stills – a Coffey still and four pots, the later
between 5000 and 9000 litres – were producing malt spirit, grain spirit, gin, rum and a sought-after brandy. Sea water was also drawn from Port Phillip Bay and used to cool the still’s condensers (something even the Scots have struggled to develop). During the distillery’s peak production period in the early 1900s, it was producing over 4 million litres of spirit a year. By the early 1920s, competition between Victoria’s major whisky producers – Federal, Warrenheip, the Australian Distilling Company in South Melbourne, and a distillery operated by Breheny Bros & Kenna also outside Ballarat – was heating up. The rivalry was resolved in 1924, when the businesses amalgamated to create Federal Distilleries Pty Ltd, raising a starting capital of £750,000 – a staggering sum for the time. For context, that’s close to $100 million today adjusting for inflation. These were not humble little operations! The distilleries pooled their whisky stocks and suddenly had over 1 million gallons (nearly 3.8 million litres) of mature Australian malt whisky to play with. To put this stock to use, Federal Distilleries
created Old Court pure malt whisky. Federal proclaimed that Old Court was equal to the great whiskies of the world, owing to its maturity and Australia’s strict whisky regulations, namely the Spirits Act 1906, where stringent laws came into force around the production and labelling of Australian whisky. Sales of Old Court skyrocketed in the years after its initial release. Local tariffs helped, and were further increased by the Bruce government in 1925, making Australian whisky more affordable than imports. The total market share for Australian whisky began to climb, and by 1929, it was almost 40% in Victoria, 13% in South Australia, and just over 10% in New South Wales (today, Australian whisky barely captures two per cent of the overall market). Speaking to a reporter in 1927, Lloyd Brind, descended of the pioneering Henry, and the managing director of Federal Distilleries, proclaimed his unwavering confidence in the future of Old Court and Australian whisky:
“The foregoing looks to me like the writing on the wall, and in my opinion is the beginning of the end of imported whisky. It goes to show that Australians will have an Australian whisky, for which they can rely, owing to our stringent laws, on its being an absolutely pure malt spirit.” LLOYD BRIND, THE REGISTER
BELOW: Victoria Parade Brewery & Distillery, late 1800's.
ABOVE: Federal Distilleries 'Joshua Brothers' bottling of early Australian whisky.
But in the same interview, the reporter raised the upcoming construction of Distillers Company Limited’s (DCL) new Corio Distillery in Geelong. The Australian whisky industry had been well aware of increased interest from Scottish whisky companies. The chief chemist for Federal Distilleries, N.J.M Brelaz, had toured the great distilleries of Europe and the UK in 1927. He even presented multiple samples of Old Court whisky to Scottish distillers, recounting how impressed they were in an article he published on his travels. “Samples of Old Court whisky were submitted to many of the leading Scotch experts, who were frankly astounded that such a spirit could be manufactured outside of Scotland,” wrote Brelaz in 1928. But DCL were interested in more than sampling. The Scots had long paid close attention to Australia, and for good reason – it was the leading export market for Scotch whisky in the world up until the Second World War. With Australian duties on imported whisky steadily increasing, DCL and other large international spirits companies sniffed an opportunity. At the time, conditions for distilling in Australia were much more favourable than in Britain or the United 23
"But it wasn’t enough to compete with Corio. The runaway success of Corio’s 5 Star Whisky brand further cemented DCL’s dominance. Corio 5 Star was released in 1956 to coincide with the Melbourne Olympics. It went on to sell a staggering 8.5 million bottles in Australia and abroad in its first four years on the market."
States (Prohibition was at its height in the latter). Representatives from DCL were dispatched to Australia in 1927 to look into the viability of constructing a distillery. Distillations on Victorian barley had already been undertaken in Scotland, and when tests on water quality around Melbourne turned up positive results, DCL formally announced that they would build a large distillery at Corio Bay, an hour west of Melbourne. By the start of 1929, the facility was ready to begin production. The first spirit was filled into cask in March
BELOW: Distillery "lanterns" in 1913.
1929, and William H Ross, DCL’s managing director, was there to oversee the occasion. Corio then laid down 1.9 million litres of spirit in its first two years using both pot and column stills. But whisky stocks wouldn’t be ready for another five years. DCL were wary of the lag, particularly as their imported Scotch whisky brands continued to suffer thanks to high import duties. For the aggressive DCL, the solution was simple enough. In July 1930, Corio Distilleries Ltd merged with Federal Distilleries. DCL took a controlling share of Federal and the merger resulted in
the formation of a new company, United Distillers Pty Ltd, which would preside over the entire business. The path was cleared for DCL to develop its own brand of Australian whisky. It achieved this in 1934, when United Distillers released its first Corio whisky, Treble ‘A’, a grain and malt blend, making use of Federal’s extensive malt whisky stocks. From here, Corio whisky brands became the face of United Distillers (it was even fast-tracked for export to the United States following the end of Prohibition). Meanwhile, Federal’s heritage malt whisky brands like Old Court and Brind’s were quietly pushed to the sidelines. DCL’s Australian manoeuvre caught the attention of W&A Gilbey, one of the world’s great distilling companies at the time. Gilbey’s had thrived in the Australian wine and spirits trade since the late 1800s, and in 1937, after years of searching for the right location, they opened Gilbey’s Distillery in the Melbourne suburb of Moorabbin. Gilbey’s had acquired malt whisky stocks from Adelaide’s Thebarton Distillery, the largest of several whisky producers in South Australia, to create Bond 7, an Australian blended whisky
first released in the late 1930s. A plethora of other Gilbey’s Australian whisky brands followed in the 1950s and 60s in an attempt to capture a slice of the market. But it wasn’t enough to compete with Corio. The runaway success of Corio’s 5 Star Whisky brand further cemented DCL’s dominance. Corio 5 Star was released in 1956 to coincide with the Melbourne Olympics. It went on to sell a staggering 8.5 million bottles in Australia and abroad in its first four years on the market. Suddenly, blends were king, and Australia’s near 100 year old tradition of promoting and selling malt whisky was coming to a close. Consumption of these new local whiskies peaked in 1961, when over 1.5 million litres of Australian whisky was sold. But then a series of moves by the Australian government, and the actions of the enormous parent companies that dominated Australian whisky production, gradually crippled the industry. Firstly, high tariffs on imported whisky and spirits were removed in the early 1960s. Excise duty on Australianmade spirits was then increased in 1965. Suddenly, United Distillers and
ABOVE: Early 1900's distillery worker at work.
Gilbey’s had no reason to continue to produce and market Australian whisky – their large portfolio of Scottish and international whiskies could easily trump local brands. Even though the writing was on the wall, Corio continued to produce whisky throughout the 1970s, but in
BELOW: Early 1900's distillery worker at work.
reduced quantities (Federal had stopped distilling, and operations wound up in the same decade; Warrenheip ceased distilling in the late 1920s). DCL then had little interest in producing quality, flavourful Australian whisky. The last distillations at Corio were carried out in 1979/80, and the distillery was closed in the years following. DCL subsequently accepted a takeover bid from Guinness PLC in 1986 – the modern descendant of the two is Diageo, the world’s largest spirits company. For Gilbey’s, it was a similar story. In the 1970s, the company flagged the lowering of import tariffs and the raising of Australian excise duty as disastrous for its Melbourne operation. In 1985, all bottling and distilling operations were ceased at Gilbey’s Melbourne plant and moved to New Zealand, marking the end of 120 years of Australian whisky-making heritage. Thankfully, it was only a pause. A new wave was coming…
Luke McCarthy is an Australian whisky evangelist, writer, and managing editor of OzWhiskyReview 25
The Great Reinvention BY ANDREW DERBIDGE
New beginnings in old spirit
ABOVE: Lark's first commercial release. 26
y first encounter with Australian whisky was around 2001 when one of the first releases of Sullivans Cove – the one in the fancy decanter bottle – appeared in a few independent bottle shops in Sydney. It retailed for around $80, at a time when Lagavulin 16yo retailed for $55. It had been bottled and released locally in Hobart just a year or two earlier, and it was the first widely distributed commercial Australian whisky endeavour of the new era. Sadly, the quality of what was inside the decanter was extremely poor, doing the newborn category no favours. When the 2000 edition of Michael Jackson’s “Malt Whisky Companion” came out (for those not familiar, Jackson’s book was considered the whisky equivalent of the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack), the section at the back devoted to “International whiskies” listed both the aforementioned Sullivans Cove, plus one of the early Cradle Mountain releases. The reviews and scores assigned to both whiskies were less than flattering. With the ghost and spectre of Corio lingering in the
memories of many, this is the backdrop against which many drinkers became aware that Australian whisky was a thing once more. You’ll note that the name Lark does not appear in the preceding three paragraphs. Even in the earliest years of the industry’s re-birth, it seems there was a distinction between making craft whisky and actually making a commercial or retail venture of it. But let’s go back to the beginning and start with Episode IV… Despite most references to the early days revolving around Bill Lark’s determination and incredible efforts (and we’ll explore that in just a moment), the first whisky of the modern era was distilled by Brian Poke in 1991 (or 1989, depending on who you believe) by what – after a few name changes – would come to be known as the Small Concern Distillery Company. The company had been formed a few years earlier and was established to test the suitability and viability of the newly developed Franklin variety of barley for the production of malt whisky. It was a short-lived affair, filling two casks only, and the distillery had essentially been dismantled by 1992.
In 1993, a then-15 month old sample was taken to Cadenhead in Scotland (the independent bottling company under the same family ownership as the Springbank distillery) who were impressed enough to order some casks – and they provided $25,000 in funding to help re-establish the distillery and to re-commence production. Small scale production ran from 1994 to 1997, and the whisky would go on to be sold in the early 2000’s under the name of Cradle Mountain. Meanwhile…. The Lark story is a good one and takes longer to tell than space here permits. The executive summary is that Bill Lark, together with his wife, Lyn, decided to try his hand at distilling and make whisky in Tasmania. However, the local government’s distilling act had not been updated in over 150 years and had been drafted to effectively discourage distillation on account of the widespread alcohol abuse in the colony at that time. Legal distilling required a minimum still size that was prohibitive, and the last licenced
BELOW: Overeem founder Casey Overeem.
distillery in Tasmania closed in 1839. Distillation on the “domestic scale” that Lark intended was thus illegal, and Lark lobbied and worked with his local MP to get the legislation amended. This was no small task and changing legislation does not happen overnight, nor without hard work and co-operation. After a concerted effort, the act was changed in 1990. Bill did his necessary homework, procured the required equipment and established his operation in 1992. The Larks then quietly went about distilling…..in their kitchen at home. With the distillation act updated, others entered the scene. Robert Hosken bought himself an old brandy still and established the Tasmania Distillery (branded as Sullivans Cove) in 1994. Hosken was more entrepreneur than distiller, and the story goes that the distillation cuts were wider than they should have been, resulting in some aggressive spirit. This was subsequently filled into casks that either hadn’t been charred or had not been seasoned with a previous filling – making for a pretty
rough and unrefined whisky! This was the spirit that would be filled into those fancy decanters and be released and distributed commercially throughout Australia, giving the brand – and perhaps the category – an unfortunate reputation. New owners took over Sullivans Cove in 1999 and began the process of adopting better distillation and maturation regimens. Patrick Maguire was amongst the staff at the time, and Patrick would go on to acquire the distillery in 2003 and become its figurehead. In 1999, Hellyers Road was established in the north-west of Tasmania by a dairy milk company looking to diversify its interests, bringing the number of operating distilleries to three, and all in Tasmania. However, late 1999 saw distillation cross the Bass Strait, with David Baker establishing Bakery Hill on the outskirts of Melbourne. Australian distillery count: Four. Of course, the catch with whisky is that it needs time to mature and so – apart from the Sullivans Cove and Cradle Mountain releases – nothing more really rose to the surface, unless you visited the local markets in Hobart where Bill and Lyn Lark were selling their wares. This changed in 2003 with the inaugural Australian Malt Whisky Convention that was held in Canberra that year. Curated and organised by the Malt Whisky Society of Australia (MWSoA), this was the event where Bakery Hill launched its first commercial releases, all at just a touch over three years old. Bottled releases from Lark were also showcased, and Mark Littler of Hellyers Road shared and gave insight into what
ABOVE: The 'godfather' of Australian whisky & Society member Bill Lark enjoying a dram. they’d been up to in Burnie (although matured stock was not yet ready). For the first time, and at a national level, the Australian “whisky appreciation community” was engaging with the Australian whisky “industry”. In the years immediately following that first Malt Whisky Convention, more distilleries were established whose names are now commonplace today: In 2004, Limeburners set up in Albany, Western Australia, and Southern Coast Distillers – today known as Tin Shed Distilling Co, responsible for the Iniquity brand - set up in South Australia. The second and third Malt Whisky Conventions (Sydney in 2005, and Melbourne in 2007 respectively) grew and fostered increased interest and attention on Australian whisky, and more distilleries followed: 2007 saw the establishment of the Old Hobart Distillery (branded and sold as Overeem), 2008 saw the establishment of Nant (Tasmania), and the first spirit flowed off the stills at Victoria Valley (Victoria) in 2009. Victoria Valley would later change its name to Starward. Australian whisky distillery count: Nine. With the exception of Hellyers Road, all of the distilleries mentioned above were small concerns at this time. Production runs were small; releases were invariably single casks that could be inconsistent from one release to the next; and distillers were still learning how their spirit best worked with their local climate and the casks they were experimenting with. The much warmer temperatures and the drier climates 28
meant that the practices and traditions that were well-established in Scotland were less applicable here. The ready and more affordable supply of casks from our wine industry also encouraged distillers to use local wine casks for maturation. There were hits and there were misses. But when the hits hit… Recognition and attention on a global scale came in the form of medals being awarded at international spirits shows, and a number of Australian releases also did extremely well in Jim Murray’s annual Whisky Bible publication – Bakery Hill and Nant, in particular, drew high praise. But a seismic shift occurred in 2014 when a single cask release of Sullivans Cove won the World’s Best Single
BELOW: The bond store at Sullivans Cove.
Malt award at the World Whiskies Awards. Australian whisky suddenly had international attention like never before, and the industry kicked into overdrive in more ways than one. There was an explosion of distilleries being established all over the country and the number of distilleries skyrocketed. Today, the number of distilleries making whisk(e)y in one form or another (barley malt, rye, grain, bourbon, etc) is said to be over 120. Around 65 of these currently have matured stock available that is now being retailed and sold. Another twist to the modern Australian whisky story has been the inevitable rise of the independent bottler. With many distilleries now prepared to sell their immature spirit to a third party that will subsequently mature the spirit and bottle it under an independent label, it can be a win-win situation for the distilleries looking for faster revenue. Tim Duckett, via his two labels – Heartwood, and Tasmanian Independent Bottlers – leads the pack in this regard, crafting the spirit in his own unique ways to create whiskies that have won multiple awards and accolades overseas. Interestingly, and in a similar vein, a small number of Australian start-up distilleries in recent years have taken a leaf out of the Irish whiskey industry’s “How to start a distillery” playbook, and acquired third party spirit that they’ve sold under their own brand to establish their name and presence while they wait for their ownmade spirit to mature.
FOUR OTHER NOTEWORTHY POINTS ROUND OUT THIS CHAPTER AND OUR HISTORY TO DATE
1. The first relates to some corners of the industry being corporatised and seeing big business step in. Australian Whisky Holdings – a company essentially formed as an investment arm – acquired Lark, Overeem, and Nant distilleries, and – for a time – a small share of Redlands/Old Kempton. (Although Overeem would subsequently be bought back by the Overeem family a few years later). Across Bass Strait, Distill Ventures, a subsidiary of drinks giant, Diageo (owners of Johnnie Walker and roughly 30 Scotch whisky distilleries), acquired Starward in Melbourne. In contrast to the early and small distilleries that were typically “mum and dad” operations (and these still typify the majority of Australian malt whisky distilleries, mind you), new distilleries are now being set up as subsidiaries or offshoots of larger companies. 23rd Street Distillery (owned by the Bickford Group) and Morris Whisky (Morris of Rutherglen, the fortified wine company) are two such examples.
2. The second noteworthy point – and perhaps a counterpoint to the first – is the passing of the baton to a second generation of distillers within the family. Bill & Lyn Lark’s daughter, Kristy Booth-Lark, has established her own highly-respected distillery and brand, Killara. David Baker, whilst still at the helm himself, has brought his sons into the business, and Andrew Baker is increasingly the face and voice of Bakery Hill. And Casey Overeem’s daughter, Jane Sawford, together with her husband Mark, is now behind both the Overeem and Sawford distilleries.
3. The third point is the industry coming full circle again and seeing the reemergence of Australian blended whisky. Starward’s launch of Two-Fold in 2018 – a blend of single malt from
ABOVE: The stills at Old Kempton distillery.
Starward and grain whisky distilled from wheat by Manildra – did not just bring the blended category back to life, but also introduced an Australian whisky at a significantly lower price point well below what consumers had become accustomed to seeing for Aussie whisky.
4. The fourth noteworthy point is the Australian industry expanding well beyond malt whisky, and embracing other cereals and mashbills. Tiger Snake, first distilled by Limeburners in 2007 and bottled in 2012 was the frontrunner in this field, and is essentially an Australian-made bourbon. Whipper Snapper in Western Australia is similar in this respect. Rye also features prominently in the mashbill at several distilleries, and some – such as Belgrove in Tasmania and Archie Rose in Sydney – have won significant awards and praise for their ryes. Furthermore, the emergence of mass-produced grain whisky from wheat has encouraged new styles and mixed mashbills, and also created a new category of Australian whisky: A sub$100 price point! The last five years, that is, 20162021 have seen unbelievable growth in the Australian industry, not to mention change. There are new players; new brands; new releases, new products showcasing experimentation with grain, yeast, and casks; and – importantly –
new consumers. Generalisations and stereotypes that might once have hit the mark a decade ago are now wide of it. Our industry is increasingly difficult to pigeonhole or capture in a simple summary, such is the diversity now on offer. The current Australian industry can no longer be called “fledgling”, as it was for so many years. This second era is now 30 years old and we’ve chalked up a few achievements – some good, some bad – that prove we’ve stepped out of our baby shoes. We’ve had corporate fraud and scandal; we’ve had a distillery fire; we’ve had distilleries passed on to the next generation; and we’ve won major international awards. The Scotch whisky industry did all those things, too……and it turned out okay. Cheers, AD
Andrew Derbidge is the Chairman, Cellarmaster, and NSW State Manager for the SMWS in Australia. He’s also written extensively on Australian whisky at whiskyandwisdom.com 29
Australian whisky is changed forever BY MATT BAILEY
“They make whisky in Australia?”
ABOVE: Matt Bailey tasting through some casks at Archie Rose's new Banksmeadow site.
f I had a dollar for every time a member has asked me “when is the Society doing an Australian whisky?” I think I could have saved all those dollars up and built my own distillery and gone ahead with it. The other question I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been asked is “Wait, they make whisky in Australia?”. That one has been happening less and less as awareness on our local spirit grows. But… it’s not that easy. I want to take a moment to assess where we are, where we started, and how doing it right was always going to be better than doing it first. When the Society was established in Australia by John Rourke and Andre Tammes in 2002, Australian whisky back then was still relatively unknown, at least outside of an inner circle of Tasmanian enthusiasts. Let’s take a look back at what Aussie whisky looked like in 2002: Bill & Lyn Lark had been quietly laying stocks down over at Lark for about a decade, Patrick Maguire was about to take the reins at Sullivan’s Cove, and Archie Rose’s Will Edwards had just started Year 8 in high school. The resurgence of mainland distilleries as we know it today wasn’t even quite a ‘blip’ yet. 2002 was still five years before a Starward was even conceived; a year
before Bakery Hill would first showcase their wares; and three years before Limeburners would first run their still. To call the local whisky trade ‘fledgling’ would be an understatement. Whisky drinkers accustomed to Scotch or Irish whiskey weren’t paying attention to it, and most of the measly output coming from each distillery was being sold in poorly-packaged bottlings that either emulated Scotch whisky bottles in design, or worse, were
actual Scotch whiskies being packaged as “Australian whiskey”. None of this had any bearing on the truth of the product at all or what was in the glass. Australian whiskies being bottled as Scotch whiskies and a complete muddying of the water in both product and image. When there was (and still is) just so much incredible quality Scotch whisky being produced, this hobbyist industry wasn’t getting much limelight or identity.
BELOW: The old gin still at Archie Rose.
ABOVE: The new stills at the all-new distilling site for Archie Rose.
My first proper interaction with Australian whisky was on a trip to Tasmania around 2011 or so. A beaten up Corolla as a hire car and a few days to explore was all that was needed at the time. Even as late as 2011 while there were a few more distilleries than 2002, the number that had a ‘cellar door’ or tour could be counted on one hand. On that trip I connected with Jane & Casey Overeem, with Patrick Maguire at Sullivans Cove, with Tim Duckett at Heartwood, and the bar team at Lark where Mark Nicholson was casually imbibing at the time. The tour with Jane was the amazing semi-underground bond store and drams with Casey. The tour of Sullivans Cove was a wild and hectic walkthrough a very busy and flustered distillery. Then a 10am catch up the next day with Tim Duckett on Tasma St made for a rather fuzzy afternoon. It felt very nascent, but also very ‘made in Tasmania, for Tasmania’. A cottage industry, if you will. Bill & Lyn Lark some years earlier had already created a new industry and revived the local whisky distilling scene, but it really had no market footprint and was a small hardcore group of enthusiasts, mostly in Tassie, who raved about it. I bought some bottles, tasted some goodies, and chalked up some valuable expertise and lifelong friendships. Little did I know everything would change as soon as 2-3 years later… It’s not unfair to call 2014 a turning point for Australian whisky. Barely seven years ago you’d walk into your 32
local Dan Murphys and find maybe a bottle of Lark, a Nant, a Sullivans Cove and relative newcomer Starward ‘Solera’ that hadn’t really picked up too much steam yet. Slim pickings to say the least, and most collected dust on the shelves. These bottlings for any whisky enthusiast were always a ‘gamble’ when compared with other offerings on the shelf or picking a Society bottling to last a month or so. I had already been a member of the SMWS for about a year and had picked up some cracking bottlings from attending tastings held by Andrew at the Royal Automobile Club, so the offering of Aussie whisky in comparison wasn’t very exciting or varied. Early 2014 I was on a holiday up in North Queensland and I didn’t pack much whisky on that holiday, figuring I could just find a local bottle shop. The best option that far north was a Coles-owned First Choice Liquor, so I wasn’t expecting a lot to be honest. I picked up two bottles: a Clynelish 14, and a Sullivan’s Cove French Oak Cask Strength. Both were within a similar price range and both meant I could have some variation on this holiday. On that very holiday I read the news that cask 525 from Sullivans Cove had just won world’s best single malt at Whisky Magazine’s World Whisky Awards. Social media was alight with the news, and I had a few fresh emails from regulars at my tastings preSociety who were asking me if I was going to have this cask at tastings. Such is the curse and blessing of the
single cask: once it’s gone, it’s gone. I never had a dram of cask 525 myself, and from all I’ve heard most of that cask was sold at the distillery cellar door, and most of them were opened and enjoyed. You couldn’t ask for a better result really. This cask, from a distillery that mostly released only
single casks, had picked up the highest honour not just in Australia, but in the world. A cottage industry had just found its straps and everything was set to change. Suddenly, Australian whisky wasn’t just the stuff you’d largely avoid out of the fear of the unknown, but the world’s best single malt, according to one award anyway. This was a massive turning point for local trade and distilleries. It’s worth noting here however that “Australian whisky” was by most accounts of local awareness just a Tasmanian thing. I’ve lost track of how many times people at tastings have asked me my opinion of Tassie whisky, only to be surprised when I tell them there’s also whisky being made on the mainland. Not just also, but in terms of volume, predominantly! So what has happened since 2014? Interest in Australian whisky has skyrocketed, distilleries have opened across the continent, and that surge in premium single malt has erupted in a way here that we’ve never previously seen. A boom was born. Dozens of new distilleries were now in planning and quickly building around the country. Suddenly, there’s a wave of single malts from distilleries that had to previously
ABOVE: 147.1 Jacaranda Jam.
connect with every single buyer from scraped mailing lists and distillery-door tastings, engaging with a wider audience who are hungry for each new release. A whole new generation of distillers and enthusiasts essentially created off the back of the win of one single cask from one distillery. The power of the single cask after all!
I do emphasise that the wave of premiumisation of single malt in Australia was really what followed in 2014. The well-established distilleries in Tasmania that previously went from using the Salamanca weekend markets as their proving ground to cashed-up tourists, were suddenly overwhelmed in their private mailing lists and fastselling releases on their websites. Old hands in the game like Lark, Overeem, Sullivans Cove and others suddenly saw the switch flip on supply and demand. The game was changing very quickly. It wasn’t all Tasmanian either, as things were starting to really take shape on the mainland. Yes, there were some very well established distilleries on the mainland already quietly churning out whisky from the likes of Bakery Hill in VIC, Smith’s Angaston in SA, Limeburners over in WA, and Victoria Valley Distillery in Essendon which would later become better know as Starward. But it’s the awareness of Australian single malt again that had really just exploded in the media. The papers went wild, Facebook appreciation groups suddenly sprouted, and the great unknown was suddenly known and desirable. What we didn’t have however was the bedrock of blending that the Scotch whisky industry had, which sustains Scotch whisky as we know it today. That isn’t by any lack of trying however: we don’t have the capacity (yet), and we just don’t have the wealth of knowledge in blending that’s handed down generation to generation that 33
Where to try this special release by the glass
01. ARCHIE ROSE BAR, ROSEBERY 02. WHISKY & ALEMENT, MELBOURNE 03. AMWTC 2021 SMWS BAR 04. BAR LAFAYETTE, PERTH 05. THIS MONTH’S VIRTUAL TASTING PACK
Scotland has. When we state that over 85% of all whisky consumed is blended whisky, that’s no overstatement. That’s the market, and that’s the valuable expertise of blenders to supply it. What that means for Australia is there is suddenly a lot of players in an emerging market looking for well-heeled whisky drinkers to buy their wares, with no blending really to speak of. Hundreds of distilleries producing single malt, with an output and cost of production that is well above the established Scotch distilleries that have centuries of experience ahead of them, and bottling every drop as a single malt. It’s suddenly a very crowded marketplace all vying for a very small slice of the pie. Just as 2014 was a seismic shift for Tasmanian whisky, the mainland was also changing and growing as an industry. 2014 saw the New World Projects range emerge from Starward which suddenly exploded onto the scene around March of that year, surprising a whole slew of whisky appreciators. 2014 was also the year Archie Rose distillery was founded in Rosebery, breaking a 161 year drought of independent craft distillation in Sydney. This was a huge turning point in itself and was a proper sign that as a country, we really can make focus more on grain, on spirit, on cask, and quality of output. BELOW: Tasting 147.1 straight from the cask.
ABOVE: 147.1 on the production line locally.
So where does the Society come in? Have a look at Andrew’s Cellarmaster column this month, and you’ll read about some of the hurdles and difficulties we encountered trying to get an Australian cask bottled for the SMWS. We’ll then fast forward to early 2016 when Archie Rose had just opened their bar barely a year earlier, and through a conversation with both Dave Withers and Andrew Derbidge, an exciting decision was made to establish them as a Society Partner Bar. A place for members to congregate, take advantage of that members’ discount at the bar, and join us for some really special events in the mezzanine and in the distillery itself. In fact, the Society was responsible for christening the distillery floor with the first tasting ever in their new distillery! The speculation of who the first Society Australian whisky was going to be was already running through the air, and justifiably so. Archie Rose was doing something different. Founded in 2014 by Will Edwards, their site in Rosebery is equal parts incredible bar and distillery, which was already radically different from the usual little distillery and micro cellar door setup by most others. This was a fast-paced environment of spirit innovation, amazing bar service, and with Dave Withers running the stills I was excited to see what would
"No longer content with copying what the neighbours are doing, or what Scotland are doing, or what we ‘should’ be doing. We constantly fly the flag for unique at the Society. Unique single casks that are worth bottling."
come of this. They are focusing on gin, vodka, rye, single malt, and the occasional rum. One of their quieter achievements that really spiked our interest was their six malt new make. A mixture of kilned pale, peated pale, amber, roasted Aromatic, crystalised caramel, and roasted chocolate malts. Most single malt whisky typically features one or two malt mash bills,
their six-malt mash bill was producing a very low-yield spirit output, which in the grand scheme of things was a small sacrifice for flavour and regional character. Notes of green malt, dark chocolate, fresh coffee, waffles with syrup and spicy walnuts abounds! What would happen if we selected a single cask, matured, six-malt new make from this distillery? Selecting this spirit made sense in terms of differentiation, and in terms of showing members around Australia, and indeed the world, what we are good at. This is almost best defined as ‘post 2014’ whisky in Australia. No longer content with copying what the neighbours are doing, or what Scotland are doing, or what we ‘should’ be doing. We constantly fly the flag for unique at the Society. Unique single casks that are worth bottling. Taking that same approach with spirit and selection of cask is hugely important to us, and to our members that make this Society what it is. As for the existence of Cask 147.1 Jacaranda Jam - David Ridley, our global MD of the SMWS, was in Sydney for a few days back in July 2019 and was keen to meet with Will & Dave at Archie Rose. We tasted a few samples, and David was quite taken back. The quality of their spirit, the attention to detail, their six malt new make, all stacked up. 35
ABOVE: Founder Will Edwards rolls a cask out.
Dave Withers, their master distiller, had already made some incredible developments, and their new make was delicious. So much so, they even bottled it as a one-off standalone release that same year. About two months after that meeting, I received a call from Dave asking me to come down to the distillery
and taste something. He presented me a cask sample of a 2.5 year old sample and said “this is the cask”. We tasted it, talked about it, did some indepth tasting notes and were suitably impressed. We could tell it needed a bit more time in oak, but it was coming along very nicely. A 225L ex-Port cask
BELOW: Casks waiting to be filled next to the old gin still.
that would eventually have the first Society Archie Rose in it. A bit more time passed, maturation was coming to completion, labels were in production, tasting notes underway. Then came the call from Dave Withers: “This isn’t going to work, I’m not happy with where this is sitting, let’s change gears.” The cask we’d initially picked out had done one summer too many and taken a turn for the worse. Dave was honest and wanted to ensure that what we were bottling wasn’t just ‘what was available’, but worthy of the Society livery. Back to the drawing board, and back to tasting through another box of samples. He could have sold that cask on to us; he could have pretended to be happy with it; it could have been “good enough”, but Dave is an old hand at understanding the exacting needs of the SMWS, being a member himself for nearly ten years now. He knows how picky our expert tasting panel are, and he knows that for it to be the first Australian whisky bottled by the SMWS, it needs to be absolutely cracking. He sent through another 6 x samples drawn from casks to select, then Andrew & I narrowed it down to 4, which we then sent to our
UK tasting panel to assess. We came to a consensus and found Cask 147.1 finally. It was a smaller cask, it was a bit younger, but it shone. It wasn’t copycat cask, it wasn’t copycat spirit, it was our first Australian whisky from the SMWS. We’re not the first whisky club to bottle an Australian whisky. We’re not the first independently bottled Australian whisky. Being first doesn’t matter - what matters is how you do it, why you’ve done it, how you innovate, how you can bring something special to the table. There have been some marvellous bottlings of Australian whisky done by independent bottlers, but we’ve taken the decision to do things our own way, and I’m super proud of how that’s come about: • Each cask we’ve been working on has been selected locally by Andrew & myself, in conjunction with the distiller or blender directly. • Each cask has been first tasted on local tasting panel before being submitted to our expert UK tasting panel for ultimate approval. • Each bottling has been bottled IN Australia at the distillery. We’re not shipping bulk spirit over to the UK for bottling and taking a cut back here. This is bottled by us at the distillery, for the SMWS, for members of the SMWS. • We’re then sending a small number of bottles from each cask back to the UK to show the world what we’re good at. This is a seismic shift in how any Australian whisky has been bottled previously. We’re not just picking what is made available to us, we’re not just hoping for the best. This is the core of what the distiller in each case is most proud of. That’s something beyond the usual process. The fast-paced, trend-ofthe-day, hope-for-the-best, ‘this is what we can offer up’ doesn’t work for us. We need to be better than that, we need to be the Society. Take a slower pace and do it right. We need to say that if this is your first ever Society bottle, it’s a look at how diverse the Society has become. If you’ve been a member for years and this is your first foray into Australian whisky then we’d love to hear what you think. The flavour is such that you want to open it up, share it around, and be proud to be a member. We’ve bottled this for you. We’ve gone to great lengths to make this happen. This is everything we’ve been working on with this
ABOVE: Fermenters as far as the eye can see at the new Archie Rose site in Banksmeadow.
distillery for the last five years, in liquid form. Take a moment to appreciate that. The distillery team, the amazing bar staff, and all the friends and family of whisky that make this happen, have made this a reality. So here we are. The first of many. The dot one. The pioneering moment of years of work, of creation, of celebration. I like to imagine that this moment is as monumental as when Pip and his mates got together to form the Society over Cask 1.1. Or when the Society first bottled a Japanese whisky in 2002 with 116.1. Or when our friends in the Danish branch bottled their 141.1 from a Danish distillery. Members then were confused, angered, and rejected the change, but time showed these were important releases where flavour came first. The Society innovated, changed the game, and continues to do so with Cask 147.1 Jacaranda Jam on our doorstep. This is ours, and we’re ecstatic to share it with you. Distilled in Rosebery, Sydney, bottled at their new Banksmeadow site in Sydney (see our YouTube channel for an extensive walkthrough here), enjoyed here and in
the Vaults, and proudly bottled into our iconic Society green bottle for members to enjoy. This is a milestone. This is a moment in Australian whisky history, and a moment in Society history. I strongly encourage you to jump on this special milestone, experience what we worked so hard on bringing to Australian members, and be a part of this incredible moment in both the Society’s history, and this moment in shaping Australian whisky now and in the future.
Matt Bailey is the National Ambassador & Development Director for the SMWS in Australia. He is dedicated to bottling only the best Australia has to offer 37
MALTS AND A MEAL WITH THE MAESTRO
FROM BRISBANE TO BALLINDALLOCH
Australia’s undisputed king of matching food to whisky, Franz Scheurer, returns for yet another incredible SMWS whisky dinner. Teaming up with award-winning celebrity chef, Luke Nguyen, together with chef Mark Jensen, the maestro will work his wizardry with five Society malts to create a culinary 1+1=3
A full Scottish dinner and drams to celebrate all the flavours and pairings of Scotland's cuisine and Society whisky paired for a great night at the Brisbane Club. Limited seats so don’t miss out!
TUESDAY 24 AUGUST, 6.45PM START Red Lantern 60 Riley St, Darlinghurst Hosts: Franz Scheurer & Andrew Derbidge, NSW Manager
WOLLONGONG WINTER WHISKY WARMERS Join us in the warmth of the Fraternity Club as we enjoy a fun evening of delicious food and amazing Society malts. Have fun pairing the food with the whiskies, explore new combinations and find your perfect match!
FRIDAY 27 AUGUST, 6.30 FOR 7.00PM The Brisbane Club 241 Adelaide St, Brisbane Host: Scott Mansfield, QLD Manager
ADELAIDE IN SEARCH OF THE FLYING HAGGIS The Loch Ness monster, Edinburgh Castle, ‘hairy coos’ and whisky are all well-known Scottish icons. One of the lesser known ones is the Flying Haggis. In search of this elusive flying creature, let us take you on a sensory journey through Scotland visiting no less than six whisky distilleries along the way.
FRIDAY 10 SEPTEMBER, 6.00 FOR 6.30PM
FRIDAY 27 AUGUST, 6.00 FOR 6.30PM
The Gilbert Street Hotel 88 Gilbert Street, Adelaide Host: Jenny Forrest, SA Manager
The Fraternity Club 11 Bourke St, Fairy Meadow Host: Fred Apolloni, Wollongong Manager
PERTH & CANBERRA
KEEP YOUR EYES PEELED, SEPTEMBER GATHERING EVENTS COMING SOON!
SOCIETY SUNDAY LUNCH Drams matched to your luncheon courses with handselected Society single casks for a joyous afternoon of drams and dining.
*Please note: All events listed are dependent on Covid-19 restrictions easing and may be subject to change at short notice.
SUNDAY 29 AUGUST, 12.00 FOR 12.30PM Venue TBA. Host: Alex Moores, VIC Manager
FOR OUR LATEST EVENT LISTINGS AND TO BOOK ONLINE VIST SMWS.COM.AU/EVENTS 38
JOIN US LIVE! FRIDAY 20 AUGUST, 7PM AEST This August we take things international! Take a trip around the world with us this month with a very special 5 x dram pack exploring 5 x different countries of single cask whiskies bottled by the SMWS! Australia, Japan, Scotland, Wales, & America! Arguably the most diverse virtual tasting ever virtually hosted by the Society, there’ll be some twists and turns along the way as we fly around the world exploring the nuances and complexities of each spirit with you on the stream. Jump in, ask some questions, and take your First Class seat at our August Virtual tasting!
HARMONIOUS AS A BARBERSHOP QUARTET
“WHERE DWELL THE BRAVE AT HEART!”
PUMPKIN RED APPLE SAUCE
Follow along on our YouTube channel or Facebook group, and bring your questions and comments! Strictly limited to 40 x packs.
GRAB YOUR VIRTUAL TASTING KIT AND JOIN IN THE FUN! SMWS.COM.AU/SHOP
UAL VIRTING SET TAST $99*
*Includes 5 x 30ml drams, two tasting mats and full tasting notes.
LANDING MIDDAY 6 AUGUST ONLY ON
SMWS.COM.AU 02 9974 3046 Mon-Fri 9.00am - 5.00pm AEST
Society bottlings are offered and sold through The Artisanal Spirits Company Pty Ltd, Liquor Licence LIQP770017428.