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Sunday, 26 December 2010

Distilled With Conviction

It isn’t very often that I dread writing a post. If these occasion were more regular than not, I’d simply jack in the whole blog-writing thing and spend my time doing something much more productive. Especially on a day like today: Boxing Day.

Yesterday, Christmas Day, was a joy. Neil drew the long straw and got to write a post up on The Dalmore EOS from his Christmas getaway, a house built in 1859. Yet here I am, sat in an even older building (that makes it better, right? Because it is older?) with parts dating back to 1650, an open fire spewing out heat to combat outside temperatures of -14 Degrees C and some fantastic whisky to consume over the Seasonal Break. Yet something inside me doesn't want to write this review at all.

Why?” I hear you cry. “Tasting whisky and writing about it. Who wouldn't want to do that?

Well, this post is sweet and sour. It almost writes itself, yet the tasting notes section... that is not going to be easy. For today I venture in to 4 different Australian Single Malt Whiskies.

With Boxing Day comes many excellent sporting events. Today here in the UK, many people, including myself, would be venturing out in the sub-zero conditions to watch a match of Association Football. Sadly, the weather has hit hard and most of the games are off, including two in the Premiership. You’d think the richest league in the world would be able to beat off the frost, but as King Canute proved, no matter how rich or influential one is, you can not control Mother Nature.

The weather is very different Down Under where England and Australia are battling it out to see who can lay claim to The Ashes, one of Sports oldest and greatest contests and it appears that the Boxing Day Sales have started in Melbourne, with 10 Aussie wickets for just 98 runs....* Last night I stayed up until the lunch break, that’s 1.30am British Time, to watch the first period of play and boy, was it good. 4 wickets before lunch and when I woke this morning, an England victory looks on the cards and along with it, The Ashes themselves.

If you’re one of our many foreign readers and you’re wondering what the hell I’m going on about, all you need to know is that we have a game that is 5 days long and based around Lunch and Tea. What could be finer that that? Baseball, my arse...

With The Ashes test underway, what better excuse to try these Single Malt samples we have been kindly sent by a reader from New South Wales. Gregg Donovan, stand up and take a bow.

First up is Bakery Hill. Gregg writes “BH is my fav in AUS & I buy the Peated Malt Cask Strength often (60%). I have sent you samples of the one mentioned above & the Classic Malt Cask Strength as well (60.5%)”.

Right, time to tuck in to these two, then!

Bakery Hill – Classic Malt – Cask Strength – NAS – 60.5%

Nose: Uncooked sour dough, malt, weetabix and milk. A hint of dark brown sugar, developing in to brown bread.

Palate: Strong and malty, the weetabix notes from the nose expand on the palate to give good flavour and lots of attitude. With water, the subtle notes of toasted oats and marzipan come through.

Finish: Lively and electric which, when water is added mellow out to leave more wheat and oats with just a hint of liquorice and some salt.

Overall: An incredibly drinkable malt (when cut down with water) which would give any Scotch a run for its money. I’d like to try a well aged version, as this tastes a little on the young side, but the youth it retains gives it the lightness and the energy to explode some fantastic flavours on the palate. A great start to my Australian Malt adventure!

Bakery Hill – Peated Malt – Cask Strength – NAS – 60%

Nose: A youthful peated note jumps out the glass at you. At a guess, I’d venture this is 5 – 7 years old and still quite spirit. A hint of banana milkshake mixed with toffee is present.

Palate: A big peat hit smothers your tongue and then Werthers Original come through, with a burnt toast backings. With Water: the smoke is dulled. In fact, it is almost gone completely. The vanilla is enhanced and the oats jump out much more.

Finish: Burnt smoke, cream and toffee again. With water, the whole effect is softened and dulled.

Overall: I’m really disappointed with this dram, given the quality of their first offering. Not a patch on anything you’d find from Islay, Orkney, Skye or elsewhere in Scotland. Much more work needed to make this the malt that it could be.

Next up is Limeburners, from Western Australia. Gregg: “I’ve sent you a sample of the ‘Barrel M23’ (61%) They’ve won some awards for this & Jim Murray gave this barrel a pretty good wrap.

A little bit of research show that this company run a small, boutique distilling operation in Western Aus, making Vodka, Gins and Whisky. It looks as if all their output from whisky is in Single Cask form and it isn’t cheap (between $125 - $200 Aussie Dollars, about £100+, for bottles). Made in copper pot stills inspired by the shape of Scottish pot stills (they won’t say which ones), their first whisky was released in 2008.

Limeburners – Barrel M23 – Bottle Number 037 – NAS - 61% ABV

Nose: Rich and powerful, this evokes apricots resting in a rich syrup, some Christmas cake, a hint of rum and some vanilla ice cream. A really great nose.

Palate: Wow, the first hit is of rich dark chocolate covered cherries. As it sits on the palate, some rich oak develops; all those classic flavours of polished wood and church pews. But newer, not so old. More reproduction that actual antique. The apricots are still there, big time. Punchy with a BIG flavour. Adding water brings out additional sweetness, like honey in yoghurt. This needs ever such a light drop of water.

Finish: Rich oak notes, stewed apricots (there is a theme here) and rum and raisin ice cream.

Overall: Phew! This has bags and bags of personality. I’m not sure this will be to everyone’s taste, as the flavours are so rich and concentrated, which can become too sweet with the addition of water, but I like it. I like the fact it will divide people and that is more up front than Katie Price. This distillery seems to be doing something right and it will be interesting to see how their spirit develops with age. I feel this could be excellent stuff given 10 – 20 years in the cask to mature and round off the puppy-dog like energy that it has at present.

Finally, we come to the last sample, Sullivans Cove. Gregg writes “I’ve sent you a sample of their Rare Australian Double Cask” (Bourbon and Port Oak), 40%. They are one of the more popular distilleries down here and are based in Tasmania, so I thought I better represent.

This kind sample has led me to sit here in fits of laughter for the last few minutes or so. The motto on their bottle is “Distilled With Conviction”. Seriously? Are you being serious? “Distilled with Conviction”! I once had a friend who was emigrating from the UK to Australia. When he arrived in Sydney he was called in by immigration services and one of the questions he was interrogated with was “Do you have a criminal record?” His reply: “I didn’t know you still needed one.”

Right, let’s dig in to this:

Sullivans Cove – Rare Australian Double Cask – Bourbon & Port Cask – 40%

Nose: A few underlying fruit notes of passion fruit and wisp of vanilla, but the over riding aroma is oats and barley. Pretty nondescript, really.

Palate: Smooth, but with little personality over and above the wheaty, oaty flavours. Like a supermarket own highland Scotch, this gives very little in the way of notes other than to say there are some mandarin flavours and a touch of peach melba if you really look hard for them.

Finish: Fades quicker that the Aussie tail. Same notes as the nose and the palate. But very easy to drink.

Overall: We’re used to anything branded Australian as a mark of extreme personality, but this is just, well, dull. It isn’t bad. In fact, it is very easy to drink. But it is boring and uninteresting. *yawn*

As I draw my Boxing Day post to a close, it’s clear that there are some excellent malts being made Down Under and I had nothing to fear from the tasting. How much of it will ever reach the UK shores is unclear, given their price point and the fact we’re yet to even adjust to the influx of Japanese whisky. But I would encourage you, if you find yourself in the Southern Hemisphere, give some of the Oz Malts a go. They have a much more promising future than Ricky Ponting.

*apologies to BBC Test Match Special