The Sydney Whisky Fair returned to the Oak Barrel for 2013 with a top line up of whiskies including independent bottlings, artisan producers and micro distilleries.
There were several highlights this year and a quick lap around the premises revealed a diverse range of whiskies not presented in previous years.
Jane Overeem with Overeem Port Finish Barrel
Exclusive to the Sydney Whisky Fair, a private bottling of Overeem Port Finish 43% was matured for 6 weeks in a 20L French oak cask at the Oak Barrel counter. Straight from the cask, 100 individually numbered bottles were available for sale at $44 each. The ageing of the whisky resulted in more complex dram with more bite and a pronounced nutty character.
Ben Baranow with Adelphi Longmorn 21 Year Old
A single cask bottling of Adelphi Longmorn 21 Year Old created exclusively for the Oak Barrel was on taste with information available through a QR reader on mobile phones. On the nose, it has sweet toffee with raisins and citrus peel, and on the palate, it starts sweet then start then finishes dry with lingering flavours of toffee.
Woodford Reserve offered a refreshing 2 week old barrel-aged cocktail with agave nectar, Angostura and orange bitters.
As per the previous year, the event ran for three sessions over two consecutive days with VIP ticket holders entitled to an additional hour with a special selection of drams. Top five picks were as follows:
Bowmore Mariner 15 yo (a travel retain release) is matured in ex bourbon and sherry casks, aged in the no 1 vault located by the sea. The slow ageing imparts a salty character but is low in iodine. The result is a delicious mixture of maritime character, salt and peat.
Robert Whithers, Limeburners
From Albany in Western Australia, Limeburners Directors Cut M96 61% is produced by take the heart of the distillate and placing it in 100L barrel. Ultra smooth for its ABV content, it has balanced flavours on the mid palate with a great, lingering finish – a truly sensational single malt.
Kilchoman Machir Bay, a winner of the IWC whisky of the year in 2013, is a blend of 3, 4 and 5 yo whiskies. At 50ppm, the peat is less on the nose but full on the palate.
Adelphi Bunnahabhain 25yo 1987, 49.7% is beautifully balanced with dark chocolate notes – a whisky that would pair well with food, or simply sipping on special occasions.
Andrew Derbidge, SMWS
From the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Cask 21.27 39 yo 46.7% from Glenglassaugh is still vibrant for its age, ultra smooth with no strong tannins and a delicate palate.
Other drams in the VIP hour include Auchentoshan 18yo, Old Pulteney 21 yo, Dalmore King Alexander III, Thomas Handy Sazerac, William Larue Weller 66.75%, Benorach 30 yo and 1979 Gordon and MacPhail.
Ode to the Haggis
James Buntin put on a stellar performance of the Ode to the Haggis presented by Glenfiddich. A piper led the procession around the Oak Barrel’s premises with the haggis making its round. Tastings of the haggis were offered with mashed potato, turnips and a little shot of whisky.
Hailing from north of Hobart, Belgrove Distillery is the only rye distillery in Australia. Fully sustainable, the rye is grown on the property, the machinery is bio fuelled, it uses recycled cooking oil and the left over mash goes to sheep which is ultimately used as fertiliser. The rye is grown and distilled by Peter Bignell who has also made the copper still himself, and incidentally was one of sculptors of the Qantas Sand Plane Sculpture at Customs House.
At 40% ABV, Belgrove White Rye is very smooth, creamy, with lots of caramelisation. There is a little smoke at the back of tongue and a hint of mint. The spirit is unaged but rested in stainless steel vats. Perhaps not a sipping rye by one that is good to use in cocktails. Belgrove Rye Whisky 42% ABV was launched at the Fair, a very smooth whisky with a lot more spice, caramel, vanilla. Best enjoyed neat, Belgrove is definitely an Australian brand to keep an eye on.
Mitch Bushell, High West
If awards were given for the best looking stand, High West would win hands down – with a range of whiskeys to match. A new brand to the Whisky Fair, High West Distillery is known for being Utah’s first legal distillery since 1870. The range has already been spotted around some of Sydney’s Best Whisky Bars and popular bars such as Frankie’s.
High West RendezVous Rye is a blend of a 6 year old rye whiskey with a 95% rye malt mash bill, and a rare 16 year old with a 80% rye mash bill, a sipping rye with a Christmas spice profile. High West Campfire is a blend of whisky, bourbon and rye whiskeys with a smoky and sweet taste profile while the spicy High West Double Rye is good for cocktails and mixers.
From the same distillery comes The Barrelled Boulevardier, a mix of Bourbon with sweet vermouth and Gran Classico bitter amaro, rested in American oak Bourbon barrels. The result is a complex and delicious cocktail with a balance between sweet and bitter.
Macallan 1824 Series
Macallan Abber, Sienna, Ruby
Macallan previewed their upcoming Macallan 1824 Series, three expressions all matured in sherry casks. Amber has lots of vanilla, citrus and green apple with a medium finish. Light on the palate, it is more of an entry level dram or afternoon whisky suitable for cocktails. Sienna is markedly better with citrus, vanilla and more sherry spice with a peppery finish. Ruby ups the ante with a lot more spice on the front palate which settles with sweet sherry notes, a little citrus and a long finish.
From Speyside, Aberlour 12 yo single malt has been matured in two types of casks, Spanish and American oak then married together at the end. The 12 yo expression is a soft expression, with Rich dried fruits, spices and honeycomb. Aberlour 16 yo is a richer expression with more pronounced dried fruit and very smooth on the palate. Aberlour A’bunadh, Gaelic for ‘of the origin’, is matured exclusively in Oloroso ex-sherry casks, non-chill filtered, 60.2% Batch 45, with spiced orange, black cherry and dark chocolate notes – a sipping whisky for special occasions.
Other impressive drams include Tasmanian Heartwood Convict Redemption, an independent bottling with a port cask finish, bottled at cask strength 72.5, full on flavour once you get past the abv burn.
Due to hit our shores in 2014, Hakushu 12 yo is an Islay style of whisky from the Highlands of Japan. Light on the nose, there is a marked sharpness on the palate followed by peat. This is an unusual style of Japanese whisky, a dram to keep an eye it for when it is released.
Not available in Australia yet, Nikki Coffey Grain Whisky 45% ABV is a single grain whisky, distilled mainly from corn in a Coffey still. Harsh on mid palate at the first then follows with fruity and chocolate notes.
Woodford Reserve Four Wood is no 7 in the series, fully matured in American oak, then split into three and finished in barrels made from Maple Wood for 2 years, Sherry Wood and Port Wood for 6 months each. Intense fruit aromas with maple syrup lead to a long smooth finish on the palate with a full bodied baked fruit character.
Adelphi 18 yo sherry cask Tobermory single cask, 58.8 % ABV, combines burnt toffee notes with a salty finish. Simply delicious. The Balvenie 17 yo double wood is matured first in American oak barrels, before being transferred to sherry casks. The result is a sweet fruit flavour with soft vanilla notes and a smoother spicy finish. Texas Single Malt Whisky from Balcones Distilling is an unusual style of whisky, with a chewy mouthfeel, burnt sugar notes and a flavour akin to smoked bacon.
Winner of the Australasian Whisky Awards in 2013, Starward has received a lot of exposure of late yet every tasting has revealed a different character to the Victorian whisky, spanning from a strong banana assault on the nose to banana bread on the palate and a balance of orchard fruit. Hopefully consistency can soon be achieved.
Starward offered tastings of the same cask strength whisky at 55-58% aged in different cask sizes, all matured in apera or Australian sherry. The 200 litre cask expression exhibited a lot of spice while the 100 litre had more noticeable oak with pronounced tannins on the palate. The 50 litre barrel was very strong oak with a chewy and heavy mouthfeel. Yet none displayed the strong banana skin character in the finished product.
Rum, Beer, Gin
As always, the whisky fair includes other spirits and brews. Among the top picks were the Old Raj Dry Gin 55% ABV with an intense flavour, strong on citrus with a lot of heat on the finish. Innis and Gunn Irish whiskey Cask Stout has a delicious chocolate malt character that goes well with food.
El Dorado 8 year old rum from Guyana, aged in American oak barrels, smooth and sweet with hints of oak and butterscotch. Another stellar rum is the Rivière du Mât from Reunion Island, a molasses-based rhum aged in oak casks for 3 to 5 years with dry fruit and oaky flavours.
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This year’s whisky fair has raised the bar again. The premises of the Oak Barrel may be getting a little tight for the number of exhibitors and whisky lovers, but the intimacy of the event and the convivial vibe at the sessions are trademarks of this popular yearly event.
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The Oak Barrel
152 Elizabeth Street
Sydney NSW 2000
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