'123 Years of Escher'
Light reading to accompany each daily dram in your 2021 Whisky Advent Calendar. Tap on any button below to reveal that day's secrets.
It’s said that the art of distillation has its roots back in the time of the ancient Babylonians. Evidence of distillation activity as far back as 2000 BC suggests humans have been on the drink for ages. These were crude spirits though, and it was not until thousands of years later, in the 15th Century, that this art would eventually bubble away in Scotland and Ireland and lead to a new spirit known as whisky. In these regions, barley was a readily available resource, and as a result barley based spirits (i.e. malt whisky) flourished.
Whisky distilling know-how soon spread to the new world. White settlers in America started to distill whisky using old methods. But the warmer American climate tended to favour other cereals like corn and rye. Naturally, distillers used whatever they could get their hands on, and so Bourbon whiskies (mostly corn based) and rye whiskies (obviously rye based) emerged as distinctive regional styles.
Whisky, meet Australia.
The modern era of Australian whisky began in the 1990’s when Bill Lark (of Lark Distillery in Tasmania) successfully lobbied the government to allow small distilleries to exist in Australia for the first time in more than a hundred years. There were distilleries before this time but most of them, including the infamous Corio Distillery, were in the business of pumping out massive quantities of poor quality product, ultimately tainting the image of Aussie whisky that is only now starting to heal.
The new Australian whisky movement has swung the other way, focussing obsessively on quality, so much so that local whisky is virtually always in high demand and short supply. Many brands, especially those exclusively releasing single cask whiskies, can often be incredibly difficult to find.
But change happens rapidly in a young and exciting industry. An influx of new distilleries being built has resulted in many more casks being squirreled away for ageing. Established distilleries are also slowly moving toward releasing 'house' styles with more supply. We're already starting to see the supply & demand equation tilting, which is great news for whisky lovers.
What's it taste like?
Australian distillers today have the luxury of using a range of ingredients and casks. Cereals can be imported or harvested locally. Peat, if it's used, is generally from local bogs, but we have heard of imported stock. Casks come in a myriad of sizes and 'flavours', with increasing numbers of Aussie distillers using old casks from the various wine regions around Australia. The point is, there are an unlimited number of permutations that each distiller has at their arsenal. Combined with what seems like a keen interest in exploring new techniques, this all means that there isn't yet a ‘typical Aussie whisky’ taste profile. Once again, this is great news for whisky lovers. The diversity in local whisky is truly exciting right now.
This Advent Calendar.
This advent calendar works like just any other, except that instead of lollies and nativity scenes, this one is chock full of premium Australian whisky. Behind every flap is a 30ml dram of the good stuff. Rip it out of its slot and taste a moment in history. Come back to this page to reveal some interesting facts about the liquid you’re sipping and the distillery that made it.
To optimise the tasting experience, we recommend enjoying these whiskies in a Glencairn or wine glass. We hope you enjoy the journey as much as we did putting it together!
'123 Years of Escher'
This year would have marked M.C. Escher's 123rd birthday. As a celebration of his captivating style, we asked Sydney based graphic artist Jess Harwood to create a uniquely Australian interpretation of Escher's famous 'Relativity'.
Headlands Distilling, NSW
The first distillery in Wollongong, Headlands Distillery was founded by four mates in 2015. The founders met in school and university, going on to become an investment analyst, an engineer, an R&D research consultant and a postdoctoral research fellow… at least until they put their heads together and decided to open a distillery.
From the outset, their goal was to operate a ‘grain to glass’ model where they source all ingredients directly from farmers then ferment and distil all of their base alcohol from scratch. Sustainability is also high on the agenda – the distillery is powered using 100% renewable energy and they operate a bottle refill program to cut down on glass waste.
This Muscat Cask release was distilled back in 2016 with locally grown malted barley and bottled earlier this year. The team seasoned a bunch of oak casks with 15 year old Seppeltsfield Rare Muscat before using them for ageing this whisky (seasoning means the casks were used to store the muscat for a while so the wood takes on the flavour).
Fleurieu Distillery, SA
Manned by a husband and wife team, Fleurieu Distillery used to be a craft brewery, so it’s no surprise their mash, and therefore spirit, is good quality. These guys know how to brew! Located right next to the ocean, Fleurieu takes pride in the slightly savoury note that the salty air imparts on their ageing casks.
The Jabberwocky is what Fleurieu calls a 'barrel-ends release'. If you're curious about the name, it's inspired by 'Jabberwocky' by Lewis Carroll, a poem made up of nonsensical words which when strung together created a powerful story.
The whisky itself is not only comprised of barrel-ends (left overs) from other releases but also married up with other 100L ex-apera and ex-tawny casks that didn’t exhibit the typical Fleurieu DNA. A left-of-field whisky with a touch of peatiness about it.
Chief's Son Distillery, VIC
The McIntosh family set up a new whisky distillery on the Mornington Peninsula as a nod to their Scottish heritage (McIntosh means 'son of the chief' in Scottish Gaelic). With a vision to becoming a main-stay in the Australian whisky industry, they’ve always had a long-term vision for building up a sustainable stock of aged whisky.
Chief's Son Distillery have been quietly making whisky for almost nine years, but only launched a couple of years ago. And who said making whisky was easy? Often it involves a big investment that’s only starts to pay off many years down the track.
With only one still, a 4000L copper pot beauty, the distillers need to climb in and clean it out every time they switch from a wash run (distilling the wash into low wines) to a still run (distilling the low wines into new-make spirit).
The Tanist is a new addition to the distillery's core range of whiskies. Designed to please a broad spectrum of whisky lovers, it's made from mostly pale malt with a small addition of peated malt. The new-make spirit is aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-fortified wine casks for up to five years before being married together and bottled.
Bakery Hill Distillery, VIC
Established 20 years ago, Bakery Hill is one of the oldest operating distilleries in Australia. All of their whiskies are single cask expressions and matured for at least six to eight years. That’s a lot longer than many fellow Aussie distilleries, and it's testament to how serious these folks are about making good quality whisky long term.
Their Double Wood release is a celebration of two types of casks - American Oak and French Oak. The new-make spirit, made from Tasmanian malted barley, is first aged in American Oak (ex-bourbon) casks then finished in French Oak casks. The casks they use are re-coopered to 50L to 100L to provide more contact between spirit and wood.
Original Single Malt
Hellyers Road Distillery, TAS
Inspired by and named after one of the first European explorers to set foot in Tasmania, Hellyers Road Distillery was founded in 1997 and has since grown into Australia’s largest single malt whisky distillery. Curiously, the stills used are made of stainless steel rather than copper, but when you consider that the distillery is actually owned by a dairy co-op, it kind of makes sense.
The Original Single Malt is the distillery's flagship whisky. It starts off as a new-make spirit made from Tasmanian malted barley and rainwater. It's then aged in American White Oak casks (ex-Jack Daniels casks in fact) imparting distinct vanilla tones into the aged spirit.
Starward Distillery, VIC
The brainchild of serial entrepreneur and romantic Australian-Italian David Vitale, New World Whisky began in an old aircraft hangar in Melbourne. With an aim to ‘democratising Australian whisky’ and moving them from the collector’s shelf to the sharing table, New World Whisky Distillery (now almost universally known as Starward Distillery) has grown to arguably the most recognised Australian whisky brand with their whiskies also exported to dozens of countries around the world.
The Solera is the original Starward whisky. It's aged in 40-50 year old ex-apera casks which have been re-coopered into smaller sizes and lightly toasted.
When you drink a drop of Starward Solera, you’re drinking a small fraction from every single cask in the distillery, thanks to the active recombination process the distillery uses to ensure a consistent flavour profile from batch to batch. This is known as a ‘Solera System’, hence the name. The average age of the liquid inside is just under three years.
Blasphemy Coffee Whisky
Archie Rose Distilling, NSW
For most people who have followed the Australian spirits scene, Archie Rose is a household name. Founded in 2013, this 'no expenses spared' distillery has been pumping out award winning drops ever since. Combined with marketing finesse, their success has seen Archie Rose products stocked in virtually every decent bar in Australia.
It took many years before Archie Rose finally released its first whisky. There had been teasers - their six malt new-make spirit, for example - but in the first few years they became known for being a gin brand. That's now changing rapidly and their popular Rye Whisky, sold out for much of this year, has shown.
This eclectic and somewhat daring release is a collaboration between Archie Rose and St Ali coffee roasters. It starts its life as Archie Rose's single malt whisky, made from six different malts (incidentally, their recipe and process is the subject of a controversial patent, one that's ruffled a few feathers in the Australian distilling industry). After ageing, the cask strength whisky is cut back to 40% abv with cold drip St Ali coffee. We are assured that this process was far more difficult than it sounds!
An experimental dram which will appeal to some but not others. If it doesn't appeal to you neat, try mixing it in a Godfather or Boulevardier cocktail.
Overeem Distillery, TAS
The signature Overeem whisky brand was founded by Casey Overeem as a hobby in their family home. According to Casey, “many people had micro-distilleries in their cellars and I really admired them, so I started experimenting when I got home”. His distillation techniques and equipment were heavily inspired by traditional Scotch production. The result was a brand which became synonymous with world class whisky at a time when Aussie whisky wasn't yet highly regarded.
The brand was sold to Lark Distilling in 2014 but was bought back by the Overeem family in 2020 and is now run by Casey's daughter Jane, who also runs Sawford Distillery and White Label Distillery. To say whisky runs in her blood would be the understatement of the year.
Overeem whiskies are all single cask and small batch releases. This Sherry Cask is made by maturing the spirit for at least five years in 100L French Oak ex-Sherry casks and is one of the most sought-after Australian whiskies. As with all of Overeem whiskies, and most other Aussie whiskies, this one is non-chill filtered with no artificial colouring.
Lightly Peated PB001
5Nines Distilling, SA
Founded in 2016 by two guys who got tired of corporate life, 5Nines Distilling started in a humble suburban garage. Retrofitted with 3 phase power and plenty of barrel racks, the pair then decided to build a copper still themselves rather than buying one in order to get the right configuration for a light, mellow spirit. Not that they knew how to weld though... that was learnt on the job! They also have their own grist mill - not too many small craft distilleries have one - which ensures the barley is ground to the right size before being fermented.
One of the distillery's first whisky releases, this Lightly Peated release is made from South Australian barley with a touch of South Australian peat. The wash is made in an up-cycled stainless steel vat then fed into the copper pot still. The spirit was aged in four 100L American Oak charred casks, previously used for ageing Old Forester Bourbon and Scotch whisky.
Kinglake Distillery, VIC
Kinglake Distillery was built in 2018 by local resident Chantal, an ex-professional mountain biker with a science degree, and her husband Sam. From the outset, they decided their whisky needed to smell and taste local with influence from their bush surroundings. That's why they employ an open-fermentation process where the vats are left uncovered to allow naturally occurring yeasts to settle in and make themselves at home. A 2500 litre copper pot still is the workhorse that does the rest of the magic.
O'Grady's Stand is intended as the distillery's core whisky with consistent availability planned, rather than being released by the cask. It's made from malted barley, the majority of which is sourced from NSW, yeast and water from a stream that runs through their property. In order to maintain a consistent taste profile across batches, multiple casks are married in a vat for each batch. The casks currently in use include ex-port, ex-boubon and ex-sherry barrels, each re-coopered to a smaller size to maximise contact between spirit and wood.
Signature Series 1
Adams Distillery, TAS
Adam Saunders and Adam Pinkard are the two Adams who have built this rather gigantic distillery from the ground up at Glen Ireh Estate in Tasmania. Pinkard was a paramedic with a whisky dream. Saunders was a builder with experience with construction at Boags Brewery. The two together were a perfect match.
The path towards opening a distillery was nowhere near as smooth sailing, however. Their first proposed site was stopped by council just as construction was about to begin. Dreams were shattered, but the guys held on and pushed ahead with an ambitious new build at a different site. A couple of years later, once they'd impressed the industry with the quality of their new-make spirit, they pushed the button on a multi-million dollar expansion: a 40m x 18m shed, a 5,500L spirit still, a 12,500L wash still, grain silos, a grist mill, a new mash tun and new 8,500L fermenters. If all that weren't enough, they've also planted 140 acres of their very own barley...
Signature Series 1 is Adams Distillery's first foray into creating a premium house style with continuous, consistent supply drawn from their impressive growing 'library' of casks. While their previous releases have been single cask styles, this one is made from a vatting of whisky aged in ex-bourbon, ex-port and ex-pinot noir casks.
Whipper Snapper Distillery, WA
Whipper Snapper Distillery is a tribute to two WWII veterans who flew fighter jets and drank whisky. Their love of the spirit evolved into one of the veterans running a backyard moonshine distilling operation in Perth. Eventually the recipes and distilling knowledge were handed down to Al and Jimmy, the masterminds behind the distillery as it is today. They're right behind supporting local, with all of the ingredients used to make their products hailing from Western Australia.
This Bourbon-inspired whisky is made in the traditional way using a totally Western Australian grown mash bill of 80% corn, 10% wheat and 10% malted barley. Every process from mashing and fermenting to distilling is done in-house under the watchful eye of Copper the distillery dog. The spirit that drips out of their custom-built copper continuous still is then matured for at least two years in charred, American white oak barrels. A very amenable everyday whisky that also works wonders in cocktails such as the Manhattan.
The Old Stables
Old Kempton Distillery, TAS
Old Kempton stands as one of the most influential Tasmanian distilleries. Previously known as Redlands Distillery, many Aussie distillers have passed through its doors to go to its signature 'distillery school' where every step of the whisky making process is taught to young grasshoppers. The distillery is based in an old inn where travellers on the road between Hobart and Launceston could stop for a night and tie up their horses in the stables next door. There are three copper pot stills in use, ranging from 600L to 2000L in size.
The Old Stables is a newer release from Old Kempton. Named after the stables in which the casks are stowed away to mature, this release is made up of unpeated whisky from two different casks - a 100L ex-sherry cask and a 100L ex-pinot noir cask. Both casks were re-coopered to their smaller size by a local cooperage.
Batch No. 1 Whisky
23rd Street Distillery, SA
Until the turn of the millennium, the buildings and equipment on a substantial block in Renmark were part of a distillery, originally built in 1914 and designed to take advantage of the plethora of local fruit produce and turn it into brandy. But after such a long period of existence, things started to go south and in 2002, all fell silent. Twenty Third Street Distillery was re-born from its ashes in 2016 and has gone on to become one of Australia’s most prominent distilleries, producing spirits from its historical site once more.
This limited release is the first one to be released under the distillery's new 'connoisseur's range'. It's made from pale malt sourced just across the border from north-western Victoria. The wash is distilled in two pot stills, each with different configurations (one has a copper neck, the other has a stainless steel neck), in order to draw out two unique flavour profiles. The spirits are then mixed and aged for 3.5 years in first fill ex-bourbon barrels.
Note: 'First fill' means the spirit was the first liquid to be aged in the barrel after the bourbon was emptied out - typically first fill casks will contribute the most flavour while second/third fill casks may only be used for light flavouring or longer term storage).
Great Southern Distilling, WA
Eleven years ago, founder Cameron Syme set up a small distilling operation in Albany. With a background in law and accounting, he was well equipped for the commercial side of the business. Now he just had to learn how to make whisky. Attracted to Albany’s pristine location and access to quality local barley, Cameron set out to make the world’s best whisky and some of WA’s first single malt whisky. Great Southern Distilling has since become one of the country's most recognised whisky brands, with its signature Limeburners whiskies taking out a number of high profile awards in recent years.
Dugite is the latest release from Great Southern Distilling and an addition to their core range. It's a blended grain whisky incorporating some of the distillery's single malt spirit as well as a grain spirit they've made out of barley, corn, wheat and rye. As opposed to the Limeburners series of whiskies that are distilled in shorter and wider stills, Dugite is distilled in a still that towers nine (!) meters into the air with a narrow tapering neck accounting for most of that height. This forces the spirit to have a lot of contact with copper and provides a lot of time for the heavier compounds to condense back down into the boiler. The result is a light, delicate new-make spirit. This spirit is then aged for between two and three years in both brand new American Oak casks and ex-bourbon casks before being blended together for bottling.
Peated Shiraz Solera
Tin Shed Distilling, SA
Tin Shed Distilling is one of those places where every step of the whisky making process is hands on and hard work - milling malt, stirring mash, moving barrels, tasting casks, filling bottles, applying labels and packing into shipping cartons. Hardly any of their process is mechanised and that’s exactly the way they like it. A new 2200L copper pot still and their older 600L still perform most of the magic here, but it hasn’t always been plain sailing. Tin Shed was initially founded as a side hustle between three mates and was known as Southern Coast Distilling at the time. Their products were delicious and well received, but sadly the partnership fell apart years later. Tin Shed is the reincarnation of that operation with two of the original founders on-board.
Peated Shiraz Solera, as its name dictates, is made in a Solera style system where a collection of casks is emptied slowly but systematically in order from youngest to oldest cask. This is known as fractional blending and although it's a lot of work, it results in highly consistent whiskies over time. The casks employed in Tin Shed's Solera system are mostly ex-shiraz barrels from the Barossa Valley. Only a handful of Aussie distilleries have released ex-shiraz cask whiskies, so this one is certainly something to chew on while giving thanks to the successful Aussie wine industry for making this possible.
Rye Whisky (Batch 4)
Backwoods Distilling, VIC
In the northeast of Victoria there's a small town called Yackandandah where husband and wife distillers Leigh and Bree have been diligently crafting their own whisky for over four years. For most of that time, they ran it all out of a garage on their country block (legally of course). Their still, nicknamed Stillvester, would bubble away in one corner while two mash tuns were frothing away in the opposite corner. The rest of the space was mostly used as storage for casks. Off the back of some very positive reviews of their early releases, they made the decision to expand into a commercial lot in the middle of town with a lot more usable space and complete with a tasting room.
This fourth release of their Rye Whisky is made from 100% Australian grains with the mainstay being Heritage Ryecorn. This rye, which once grew wild in the Riverina region of NSW, was rescued from a farm and grown by local malting company Voyager Craft Malt as a bit of an experiment. It grew well and now forms part of their grain portfolio. The whisky is aged in American Oak ex-cabernet casks (in this batch they used three such casks) then vatted together prior to bottling.
Gold Nipper Whisky (Batch 8)
Yack Creek Distillery, VIC
If you thought a small town like Yackandandah (where yesterday's whisky was from) could only possibly have one distillery, you'd be wrong. Yack Creek Distillery sits on a plot of bushland with the Yackandandah Creek running through the property right behind the distillery. The creek is home to the Murray Spiny Crayfish, whose silhouette is fittingly forms the distillery’s logo. Head distiller and founder Jamie runs two stills; a 1000L copper and glass tower still and a 130L stainless steel column still. These are used to craft rum, whisky, gin and vodka (the latter two being more recent additions). A small orchard on-site supplies some botanicals for their gin.
Gold Nipper Whisky is made from 100% Australian malted barley. Each batch starts its life as 500kg of malted barley, which is milled in-house just prior to mashing. The mash ferments in the distillery's 1000L mash tuns before being twice-distilled. The new-make spirit is aged in a 200L ex-Buffalo Trace bourbon cask - a comparatively large cask by Aussie distillery standards.
Single Barrel (ex-port)
Fossey's Distillery, VIC
Fossey’s Distillery is based in the middle of the Sunraysia region of Victoria, one of the most productive fruit growing areas in Australia. In fact, the region produces around 98% of the nation’s dried vine fruit and 25% of all its citrus. What better reason than that to be opening a gin-focused distillery right in the heart of it all? Fossey’s has done just that, with its founder Steve keen to use the distillery to drive greater awareness of the region’s produce as a whole.
Steve's own awareness of local produce has since pushed the distillery towards the whisky direction. Initially this was done with the assistance of his good mate Brian Hollingworth from Black Gate Distillery who supplied new-make from his NSW based distillery. Fossey's now makes their own new-make though, and with expansion on the cards they're looking to become a mainstay in the Aussie whisky industry.
Fossey's Single Barrel whiskies are made from local malted barley and aged in ex-port casks re-coopered from 300L to 100L in size. The smaller cask size, combined with the significant temperature fluctuations in this part of the world, push and pull the spirit in and out of the oak staves rather vigorously. The 'angel's share', the proportion of spirit that evaporates from the cask before bottling, is higher here than even in other parts of Australia, which already have comparatively high angel's share relative to Scotland.
Loch Distillery, VIC
Loch Distillery is situated in a solid red brick building which used to be the former Union Bank built in 1902. As the gateway to the lush green Wilson’s Promontory, they're in a prime location for visitors if you're ever passing through. Co-founder Craig honed his craft with Bill Lark of Lark Distillery in Tasmania before setting up here in 2014. They’ve created what appears to be a world first - three different single malts from three different ales, all made on the same premises. They sell the ales too.
Batch 19 of their single malt whisky series is a single cask release. It's made from their pale bitter malt, distilled in their copper pot still sourced from Portugal, then aged in an ex-bourbon cask.
Fleurieu Distillery, SA
During the remaining days of advent we'll be revisiting a few distilleries to highlight some of their other releases. Quite simply, they were too good not to share. Today we're back to Fleurieu Distillery.
A brand new release from Fleurieu, House Malt (also known by its nickname The Albatross) may not have even hit any shelves by the time you read this. Until now, Fleurieu's releases have been in quite distinct batches based on cask availability. House Malt strives to change that and offer a consistent Fleurieu signature style as a core release.
This whisky has been matured in predominantly first fill ex-tawny casks and a smattering of ex-apera and ex-fronti casks as well. The casks are vatted together in larger volumes for consistency, with up to 15 to 20 casks blended together at a time.
Cask Expression 47.85%
Chief's Son Distillery, VIC
This somewhat cryptically named whisky is quite a unique dram. Initially matured in French Oak, ex-apera (Australian sherry) casks, the whisky was then poured out and put in an ex-Belgian Tripel beer barrel. For those who aren't big beer drinkers, Belgian Tripel is traditionally brewed by monks in the abbeys of Belgium. By working their incredible magic, they turn barley into an incredibly aromatic, soft and sweet beer that screams honey all over the palate. One of our personal favourite beers. We'd never heard of anyone ageing a whisky in such a cask before this, so you can imagine how excited we were.
Here's an tasting note excerpt straight from the distillery themselves: This coupling of oak, apera, soft peat, malts and creamy yeasts has forged a unique single malt whisky that embodies the Chief’s Son character, whilst adding incredible dark sweetness, intensity of malt and an exceptional depth of flavour.
A very limited release.
Starward Distillery, VIC
Over time, Starward has developed a bit of a reputation for banana and fresh fruit notes in their whisky. It's a flavour profile they're proud of, but somewhat at odds with the powerful oaky whisky that a lot of the newer Aussie distilleries are producing. One major difference is the alcohol volume, with Starward's most widespread releases generally around the 40% mark, whereas other Aussie distilleries that punters have flocked to are releasing drops easily over 60% (over 70% in some cases)!
Enter Fortis. As its name suggests, this is a strong whisky. At a higher 50% ABV, it's given the full American Oak ex-red wine cask treatment. All of the casks used hail from the Barossa Valley, with some of them charred prior to being deployed at Starward. Fortis is as much a celebration of Australian red wine as it is a bold whisky. Unfortunately it was released during Melbourne's infamous second lockdown last year, so distribution is probably a little less widespread than it ought to be. That's good news for you and us though!
Vatted Malt VR001
5Nines Distilling, SA
For more info on founders David and Steven's promising new distillery, flick back to Day 9. But in case you were wondering, the name '5Nines' refers to the point of perfection that the distillery strives towards: 99.999%.
This is 5Nines' first release of their vatted, unpeated series. It's also one of their first whiskies to showcase spirit made from 100% South Australian grown and malted barley. The barley is fermented for a week then distilled and aged in a mixture of 100L re-coopered casks including ex-Old Forester bourbon, ex-port and ex-Pedro Ximenez sherry.
Tin Shed Distilling, SA
Merry Christmas! On this wonderful day of gift exchanging, doing good deeds and prawns on the barbie, we thought we'd feature this boldly named whisky as a tribute to our collective upturned lives in 2021. We hope your day today isn't a flustercluck though.
The actual reason for this whisky's unfortunate name is quite simple. It was made from malt that had been intended to be smoked with local South Australian peat. Instead, the peat delivered was from Tasmania and the distillery unknowingly used it. After distilling, the new-make spirit was mistakenly cut back with water before being filled into an ex-Heaven Hill bourbon cask at a very low ABV. The cask was then accidentally stored for most of its time in the highest and hottest barrel racks just under the roof, not great evaporation-wise for a whisky that was already low in ABV. The mistakes continued, with delays in packaging and labelling capping off a series of unfortunate events for this poor whisky.
Enjoy this rather delicious flustercluck of a dram. Thanks for coming on the festive whisky adventure with us this year. To good times ahead. Cheers!