Latest Whisky & Spirits News
If there’s one thing that often allows whisky to stand alone from other spirit drinks it’s history and Wolfburn – the most northerly distillery on mainland Scotland – certainly has plenty of that.
Although, it’s not the clearest of histories.
Founded in 1821 by William Smith in the northern Caithness town of Thurso, Wolfburn was named for the water source nearby. Reasonably successful early, early tax records reveal it as the biggest distillery in the area, its decline is less well documented.
It was probably quite quiet during the 1850s-1870s, if it was operating at all, and recent local newspaper reports but the final closure around 1877.
In 2012 a private consortium announced plans to resurrect the distillery – of which only ruins remain – 135 years after it closed (or 150-odd depending on your source).
Built approximately 350 metres from the original site, in January 2013 spirit once ran again off whisky stills in Thurso and Old Pulteney was displaced at the country’s most northerly mainland distillery.
The rebirth of Wolfburn has been guided largely by Shane Fraser. Prior to Wolfburn he was the production manager at one of whisky’s most famous independent distilleries Glenfarclas. He also spent time at Oban and Royal Lochnagar and his name now adorns every Wolfburn bottle.
Also at the distillery is Iain Kerr, who’s previously worked at Glenlivet, Balmenach and Allt a Bhainne.
The Oak Barrel was lucky enough to try some ‘progress report’ spirit, which proved highly promising. Patient fermentation and slow distillations, with a spirit structure helped by descending still lyne arms, have managed to coax an amazing amount of flavour out of the spirit at a very young age.
Their very first single malt was release last year: it was a creamy, nutty celebration of fine young spirit that’s one of the most drinkable malts in its age bracket that we’ve ever tried.
This year their second expression has landed, the Aurora, which has a portion of spirit matured in first-fill Oloroso cask. A distinct departure from the first release, it’s nutty, dusty and sticky, with sherry spices towards the end.
Both expressions of the distillery’s resurrection are available now from The Oak Barrel.
Islay scotch whisky distillery Bruichladdich are not being presumptuous when they describe themselves as ‘progressive’ distillers.
Experimentation and transparency is at the core of their distilling ethos and their exhaustive range of releases in the past decade or so is testament to that. Home to three brands – the unpeated Bruichladdich, the peated Port Charlotte and the ultra-peated Octomore – together their respective cult followings become greater than the sum of their parts on the Bruichladdich banner.
A couple of those releases regularly spring to memory as being quite special – one of which was the Octomore 10-Year-Old. Usually released between the ages of five and seven years old to ensure it is as punchy as possible, the ten-year-old expression of the world’s most heavily peated whisky sent ripples through the whisky world.
How would it stand up after ten years in the barrel? What does the oldest ever Octomore taste like? It became a near-impossible-to-find collectors item very quickly.
By comparison, the ‘Laddie 10’ – a ten-year-old Bruichladdich – seemed, on the surface, a rather tame expression by the distillery’s standard. It proved to be an absolute stormer of a dram. Affordable, complex and downright delicious, it wasn’t long until we, the whisky-drinking public, exhausted those stocks.
Port Charlotte, by comparison, has had so many cracking drams that it’s hard to find just one to compare to a ten-year-old. PC8 anyone?
With those memories fresh, we’d like to welcome in a trio of limited editions from Bruichladdich: the second edition 10-year-olds from Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte and Octomore.
Just arrived in store in very limited quantities, we can attest to the quality here.
The new Laddie 10 is just as delicious as its predecessor, sweet up front, oily on the palate, complex at the end. A real triumph of the distillery's core spirit.
The Port Charlotte 10 manages its lovely balancing act of dry coastal smoke, held together by string made out of dried and tropical fruits.
The Octomore 10 is unlike any standard expression – still a massive smoke hit, but just so grounded and herbal. A bit of wine cask influence throws some sweet, mixed fruits is as well.
Each release is limited to 18,000 bottles individually numbered around the world, with only a small proportion of that making its way to Australia.
Click on a picture above to take you to the whisky and to see more information.
Pictured above: sheep patrolling the street at Bruichladdich
The Oak Barrel is delighted to offer a range of Japanese whiskies from the closed Karuizawa distilleries that in 2017 will be rarely rivalled anywhere in the world.
The world’s most collectable whisky distillery in recent years, we’ve pulled together a collection of bottles sourced from our own archives and private collections.
Ranging from the very top end to rarely seen oddities and some of the last available releases, the collection extremely rare, expressions like a 1982 Noh and a 30-Year-Old ‘Geisha’. There’s also Batch 1 and 2 of the Cask Strength series, the ‘as-dark-as-Coke’ sherry cask Memories Of Karuizawa’ and an 8-year-old Pure Malt official bottling from when the distillery was still active. See them here.
Built in 1955 on the slopes of the active Mount Asama volcano, Karuizawa was a relatively quiet player of the burgeoning Japanese whisky industry through the boom years. It is notable for being part of the Ocean whisky brand.
With four small stills, Karuizawa imported the legendary Golden Promise barley from Scotland and often matured whisky in sherry casks – which proved to be invaluable over long maturations.
Distilling ceased in 2000, the distillery was officially closed in 2011 when the UK-based Number One Drinks Company purchased all the remaining stocks. It’s from these stocks that the legend of Karuizawa has formed, through a number of single malt and single cask expressions that have showcased some remarkable flavours.
As recently as 2010 it wouldn’t have been an unusual sight for whisky fans to be enjoying a Karuizawa amongst friends, but as word of the quality quickly spread the stocks seemed to vanish overnight. Now they are exhausted.
The mythical nature of the distillery has seen it become the most highly sought after distillery at auctions, values surpassing even the Scottish heavyweights like Macallan and Port Ellen.
In August 2015 a bottle of Karuizawa broke the record for the most expensive 700ml bottle of whisky ever sold at auction – a 1960 vintage went for HK$918,750, a touch over AUD$150,000.
After a lengthy search, The Oak Barrel – one of Sydney’s oldest bottle shops and home to the renowned annual Sydney Whisky Fair – is delighted to be able to offer a range of Karuizawa expressions for sale.
We will likely never see nine separate Karuizawa expressions on the shelf together again and we’ve only one bottle of each to sell.
Following on from the huge success of our first 'Evening With A Distiller' masterclass in January, we're delighted to confirm the next edition with another pioneer of the Australian distilling scene: Cameron Mackenzie.
Located in Vitoria’s Yarra Valley, Four Pillars have been at the forefront of Australia’s boutique gin boom. Indeed, when you think of Australian craft gins, Four Pillars is one of the first names that springs out of your drink.
Such is the ongoing success, respect and innovation of the distillery that arguments have been made claiming that many other gin producers wouldn’t be enjoying the same prominence if Four Pillars hadn’t helped to throw the category’s doors wide open.
It’s easy to forget that Four Pillars are still new themselves. Their Rare Dry – a staple of Australian drinkers – was only released December 2103. A mix of spice and citrus, the use of whole oranges as opposed to orange peel, gives the gin a unique Australian twist that has resonated with drinkers.
Since then the range has expanded to include a Barrel Aged, Navy Strength, Spiced Negroni, the will-be-back-sometime-in-2017 Bloody Shiraz gin and a host of limited editions.
Each release has been different, the soft complexity of the Barrel Aged – matured in French ex-chardonnay casks – is miles from the citrus drive of the Navy Strength and the juniper-forward Spiced Negroni.
The quality of distillate is constant, however, and their much-loved imported stills (the name of each is printed on the neck of each bottle) are front and centre of the Four Pillars story.
Join us for an evening of gin and laughs with the distiller Cameron MacKenzie and co-founder Stu Gregor. It’s a rare occasion we get to drag Cam up north and with the two of these guys in the room together it could all get a bit ‘Laurel & Hardy’.
We’ll be trying the classic range with one or two limited editions if we can scramble them…
WHAT: An Evening With Four Pillars Distiller Cam MacKenzie
WHERE: The Oak Barrel, 152 Elizabeth St, Sydney 2000
WHEN: Monday 20 February, 6.15pm for a 6.30pm start
PRICE: Members $15 / Guest $25
TICKETS: SOLD OUT
The Oak Barrel is proud to confirm a single malt whisky masterclass with David Roussier of France’s Armorik Single Malt, complete with a very special Australian-only release.
We’ve had Armorik single malts on the shelves for a couple of years now and they are quintessentially French single malt – distilled and matured in France using local barley and sometimes local oak as well. It is the single malt brand of the historic Distillerie Warenghem in Bretagne, whove been distilling since 1990 but have really upped their whisky game in the past two decades.
Sometimes delicate and sometimes rich, their unpeated single malts take on the richness of their casks well, while keeping a minerality which seems to be constant across the range.
Thanks to Le Baron des Spirits we’re going to have a fantastic evening led by Roussier, GM of Armorik, who’s flying into Australia for the event.
Going through their core lines and latest limited releases, the tasting will also showcase a very special Australian exclusive ex-Sauternes cask 10-year-old, bottled especially for this Australian visit.
Tickets for this very special night are now on sale.
We’ll be trying:
Armorik Classic Single Malt (46%)
Armorik Double Maturation Single Malt (46%)
Armorik Dervenn Single Malt (46%)
Armorik Maitre de Chai 2016 Single Malt (46%)
Armorik Sauternes Cask 10-Year-Old Australian Exclusive Single Cask (56%)
Armorik Millesime 14-Year-Old Single Cask (Cask Strength, TBC)
WHAT: Armorik Single Malt Whisky Masterclass
WHERE: The Oak Barrel, 152 Elizabeth St, Sydney 2000
WHEN: Wednesday 8 March, 6.15pm for a 6.30pm start
PRICE: Members $45 / Guest $55
TICKETS: [MEMBERS] [GUEST]
With the relief that comes with great anticipation, we would like to welcome the Kilkerran 12 Year Old single malt to The Oak Barrel shelves. And it could be the whisky of the year.
If you are a regular reader of our posts here you will know that our whisky and spirit buyer is a big fan of the distillery – he got a little bit emotional about it all last year.
Located in the Campbeltown region in south west Scotland, Kilkerran single malts are the brand of whisky produced at the Glengyle distillery. Glengyle was brought back online in 2004 by the team behind Springbank – the most famous modern distillery in Campbeltown – and they spend a portion of each year distilling whisky at the distillery, which is just around the block.
Since 2009 they have been releasing Work In Progress expressions, which have showcased a wonderfully complex, unusual spirit.
Glengyle is lightly peated (to the specifications of Springbank malts) and can showcase gravelly, granite notes as well as higher tropical fruits and floral lavender. The Work In Progress releases showcased a whisky that belied its age and harked back to an older style of whisky making.
Late last year the 12-year-old expression those releases had been working towards was unleashed, and it has now reached Australian shores.
A balance of sherry (30%) and bourbon (70%) casks, this is a fantastic expression balancing light sooty peat smoke with herbal floral notes and bright tropical fruits.
At under $100 for members, it is also fantastic value.
Last year it was one of the top five drams that whisky buyer Scott drank (he rushed a bottle or two over) and it was certainly the best value.
Important to remember, the distillery capacity of Glengyle is 750,000 litres, which would put them on the smaller side of the active distilleries in Scotland. But Springbank staff are only ever at Glengyle for about six months of the year. On average for the past 12 years, then, Glengyle has averaged a capacity of 40,000 litres – which is miniscule. In 2016 they produced 40,000 litres.
The strong Celtic influence in France’s Brittany has always fostered an affiliation with whisky and while Bretons have long been consuming the world’s best spirit, only recently has the rest of the world been allowed a sample.
Distillerie Glann Ar Mor was founded on the north coast of Brittany in 1999 by Martine and Jean Donnay and Kornog is the peated single malt brand of the distillery (their unpeated lines appear as ‘Glann Ar Mor’).
The distillery name means “Seaside” in Breton and the location in Tregor was chosen for its maritime climate.
The Kornog whiskies – one of which was named as European Whisky Of The Year in Jim Murray’s 2016 Whisky Bible – showcase a rawness and freshness that is reminiscent of the distilleries coastal, and sometimes harsh, location.
The small distillery has two copper pot stills, heated with a naked flame, which is a very traditional method. Theirs is a slow distillation and they use a worm tub condenser to create body and structure in the spirit.
They also use wooden washbacks made out of Oregon Pine, to help encourage indigenous yeasts during the fermentation process.
All these techniques help create flavour and complexity in a spirit that was always going to have to be released at a reasonably young age, particularly to keep the smoke.
Highly enjoyable whiskies in their own right, the Kornog range perhaps also provides an insight into the Donnay’s next plans: Gartbreck.
Jean’s love of peated whiskies has led him to their spiritual home – Scotland’s Islay. The small island in Scotland’s south west is home to juggernaut distilleries like Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Bowmore and Caol Ila. Ten years ago the Kilchoman farm distillery was built on Islay and they’ve proved that it’s possible to produce a brilliant whisky in a short amount of time.
Having purchased a plot of land on the island’s west coast between Bowmore and Port Ellen, Donnay plans to build the Gartbreck distillery there. The plan is a small, artisanal set-up with its own malting floors – basically taking the successes of Glann Ar Mor’s Kornog to the next level.
Whilst there were hopes the distillery would be built (and completed) in 2016, as of January 2017 construction has not yet started. They are still providing updates though, so hopes are still high. Although Hunter & Laing might beat them to being the next distillery built on Islay, after receiving approval for Ardnahoe.
In the mean time, sit back in tour favourite chair enjoy a Kornog.
Nestled away in Kempton, Tasmania, is one of the world’s truly remarkable whisky distilleries. Peter Bignell’s Belgrove distillery is a quintessentially Australian story of the land, ingenuity and sustainability.
Belgrove’s rye whiskies can sometimes fly under the radar, his Tasmanian single malt neighbours (with comparatively big operations) tend to be a bit louder.
But Bignell’s is an Australian whisky story that needs to be told.
He hand-built his distillery on the farm, growing his own ryecorn to product a 100% rye whisky – and using 100% rye in a mash bill isn’t an easy feat. His copper still was built from scratch, is direct fired and runs in biodiesel Bignell makes from oil from the fishand chip shop down the road.
Water heating, his forklift and truck also run on biodiesel.
In his own words, “The only significant material I bring to the farm is waste cooking oil and the only product to leave is whiskey.”
Belgrove is perhaps the greenest distillery in the world, and one that’s starting to gather an international following.
Friday 27 January we’re delighted to confirm Peter will be dropping by The Oak Barrel to tell the story of his remarkable distillery and pour a few drams.
We’ve had the pleasure to sit with Peter on a few occasions now and we can assure you, his stories are legendary.
Expect a few variations of his rye whisky to be on pour – line-up to be confirmed on the night when Peter reveals what he’s brought…
WHAT: An Evening With Peter Bignell Whisky Masterclass
WHERE: The Oak Barrel, 152 Elizabeth St, Sydney 2000
WHEN: Friday 27 January, 6.15pm for a 6.30pm start
PRICE: Members $20 / Non-Members $30
TICKETS: SOLD OUT
Just because you've left it to the last minute doesn't mean you still can't be thoughtful - give 'em whisky!
$19.95 / $17.96 for members
Straight off the still spirit from one of Scotland’s newest distilleries. Great way to warm up ahead of their anticipated single malt debut next year…
$44 / $39.60 for members
Four peated whiskies, four different types of smoke.
$55 / $49.50 for members
Made in Kentucky using a Tennessee-style filtration. Great alternative to your favourite mixer.
$109 / $98.10 for members
Bright, fresh, citrusy whisky for summer. Not all Japanese whisky has to break the bank…
$175 / $157.50 for members
Very limited expression in Australia from Arkansas distillery Rock Town.
$179 / $161.10 for members
Australia’s first single cask from India’s Paul John distillery. Sweet and nutty – a house favourite.
$365 / $328.50
An exceptional Ben Nevis sherry single cask. Rich and complex, beautiful on the palate.
$550 / $495
Made with whisky dating back to 1965, a brilliant expression spanning 50 years without a 50-year-old price tag.
Berry Brothers & Rudd has operated out of the same shop in London since 1698, making it Britain’s oldest wine and spirit merchant. The brand also holds warrants for both HM The Queen and HRH The Price Of Wales, to further cement their prestige.
On the whisky front, Berry Bros are an independent bottling force to be reckoned with. They are renowned for their Berry’s Own single casks and the Blue Hanger blended whisky series.
Not always readily available in Australia, we saw some great expressions come into the country in 2016. Good news is 2017 is going to kick off with a bang, with a whole new shipment arriving.
As is the standard Oak Barrel approach when we get excited about something – we’re going to open a bunch of bottles for a masterclass Wednesday 8 February.
The top of the bill is a 1987 Bunnahabhain bottled as part of their ‘Exceptional Cask’ series. There’s just six bottles coming into the country (will probably retail around the $800 mark) and we’ll be opening one for this tasting.
We’ll also be cracking the brand the Craoi na Mona, Berry’s new 10-year-old Irish Whiskey part matured in ex-Laphroaig casks.
There’s also the gorgeous 18-year-old North British single malt, which we got a brief taste of this year when just a handful of bottles were brought in (it’s delicious).
The 11th release of Berry’s world famous Blue Hanger blend will get a run while there’ll also be a cask strength bottling from Dailuaine and another Bunnahabhain single cask.
The masterclass will be hosted by Berry Brothers & Rudd’s Australian whisky ambassador Daniel Hutchins-Read.
Berry’s Own Dailuaine 2000 11-Year-Old 55.1%
Berry’s Own Bunnahabhain Margadale 56.9%
Berry’s Own North British 1996 18-Year-Old Single Grain 56.7%
Blue Hanger 11 Release 45.6%
Berry’s Craoi na Mona 10-Year-Old Irish Whiskey 46%
Berry’s Exceptional Cask Bunnahabhain 1987 48.7% (only six in Australia)
WHAT: Berry Brothers & Rudd Whisky Masterclass
WHERE: The Oak Barrel, 152 Elizabeth St, Sydney 2000
WHEN: Wednesday 8 February 2017, 6.15pm for a 6.30pm start
PRICE: Members $55 / Non-Members $65
TICKETS: SOLD OUT
Please note: tickets are not transferrable or refundable. Line-up of whiskies subject to change without notice due to unforseen circumstances.