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Latest Whisky & Spirits News

Sake Appreciation: Intro To Sake Tasting

Complex, technical, intriguing and varied. These are words more often associated with precision engineering. However we’re using these words to describe sake, seishu or nihonshu.

The Oak Barrel will be running a series of evening tastings as an introduction to sake from how it is made, the various grades to how it is drunk and the complex world of styles.

Sake is different but highly enjoyable. One has to get an understanding of how it is made and what to look for, but once you get your head around it you will become totally engrossed in this beverage just as we have.

Join Paul Downie, a certified sake professional, for the first in the series Thursday 21 September and taste a range of styles and types.

In the sit-down tasting we’ll go through eight different varieties and styles, all of which are included in the ticket price. 

WHAT: Sake Appreciation: An intro to sake tasting
WHERE: The Oak Barrel, 152 Elizabeth St, Sydney 2000
WHEN: Thursday 11 January 2018, 6.15pm for a 6.30pm start
PRICE: Members $20 / Non-Members $30

Posted: 14/12/2017
So You Think You Can Whisky? A Blind Whisky Tasting

The Oak Barrel will be kicking off a serious year of whisky tastings in 2018 with a not-so-serious event: So You Think You Can Whisky.

Exploring whisky and learning the history behind a dram is one of the great joys in life, but have you ever sat down and worked through a flight of expressions completely blind? It’s amazing how your perceptions change when you have no idea where a whisky is from, how old it is, what strength it is or anything else outside of what you can see, smell and taste in the glass.

These types of ‘blind’ tastings are enormous amounts of fun and are testament to exactly how bloody hard it is to pick a whisky off your senses alone.

So You Think You Can Whisky will be our first whisky tasting of 2018. We’ll be trying six whiskies, all blind. Taken from The Oak Barrel shelves, we won’t be revealing the identities of any of the whiskies until right at the end of the night.

The first four will be co-presented by The Oak Barrel’s Scott Fitzsimons and Daniel 'DZ' ‘Deathray’ Zahrooni, but we’ll be chucking ourselves in the deep end for the final two as we pour an extra secret whisky each that the other doesn’t know.

Rest assured, we won't be holding back in our selections - we'll be pouring some pretty special juice.

It’s not a competition (‘Thank God’, says Scott, who is notoriously rubbish at blind tastings) and there’s no winners or losers. (We might give prizes though…) What it is going to be is a barrel of fun of proper whisky adoration without preconceived perceptions or pretentions and with senses wide open.

What We’ll Be Tasting:

A Whisky
Another Whisky
A Very Tasty Whisky
A Fourth Whisky
A Secret Whisky
A Final Whisky

WHAT: So You Think You Can Whisky Blind Tasting
WHERE: The Oak Barrel, 152 Elizabeth St, Sydney 2000
WHEN: Wednesday 17 January 2017, 6.15pm for a 6.30pm start
PRICE: Members $45 / Guest $55

Posted: 13/12/2017
NSW Rum: A Local Revolution!


Australia is making some exceptional rum at the moment and a lot of it is coming from New South Wales.

Local rum producers are changing the way we think about the spirit. For example, the new spiced rum release from Husk distillers (pictured top) – Spiced Bam Bam – adds another distinctly Australian flavour to the market. A spiced rum you don't need to mix, it's been subtlety infused with native botanicals. The growing popularity of the Dead Man’s Drop Black Spiced Rum – produced at Bathurst’s Stone Pine distillery – has shown that Aussie drinkers have a real thirst for premium spiced rums with a local flavour.

In a more traditional sense, Black Gate – form Mendooran, near Dubbo in the Greater West – have quietly released another single cask rum, this time bottled at 40 percent. Showcasing all the rich, sweet hallmarks of their rums, the lower ABV has made it more approachable and affordable. BG017 - at the standard 50% - is still available, however, to show the spirit in all its glory.

Let’s also not forget our friends across Sydney at Archie Rose who have laid down a sizable amount of rum-filled casks in the past couple of years. Their virgin cane spirit (there’s no such thing as unaged white rum in Australia, ‘rum’ needs to be aged two years) showcases just what they’re capable of.

With such a burgeoning interest in the local rums – which is also helping highlight more obscure internationals – The Oak Barrel has decided that we add Rum Appreciation into our arsenal of regular tastings.

Wednesday 21 February will see our first Rum Appreciation event, which will become a semi regular spirits date on the Oak Barrel events calendar – alongside Whisky Appreciation and the recently-announced Gin Appreciation.

In the mean time – get around these excellent local rums, starting with the newest release from Husk.

Husk Spiced Bam Bam Rum

Black Gate Rum BG019

Archie Rose Virgin Cane Spirit

Tumbulgum 1866 Rum (Husk)

Dead Man's Drop (Stone Pine)

Black Gate Rum BG017

Posted: 13/12/2017
Glenfarclas Family Cask 2017 Allocation

In July The Oak Barrel hosted one of the biggest Glenfarclas masterclasses the store has ever held. With the distillery’s Ian McWilliam found himself in Australia and we promptly opened a range of vintage whiskies from the famed family-owned Scottish distillery.

Amongst limited editions and a quite remarkable 1966 Fino cask, McWilliam brought along a number of Family Cask expressions from Glenfarclas’ Family Cask series.

We took a number of pre-orders – and placed some orders of our own – and five months down the track our small allocation of Family Cask have now landed in store.

Located in the Speyside, within the Scottish highlands, Glenfarclas was founded in the 1830s. It was purchased by John Grant in 1865 and the sixth and fifth generations of the Grant family still run the distillery today. It is often regarded as one of the top two examples of independently-owned distilleries which have survived from the Victorian era (Springbank being the other).

Their Family Cask series is a collection of single cask, vintage expressions of exceptional quality.

There are very limited quantities available and there is a long lead time between allocations (traditionally we receive them once a year). That’s not to mention that as these vintages slip further into the path, prices will inevitably rise.

Our allocation comes direct from the distillery and official importer, so the provenance and duty of care is without question.



Glenfarclas Family Cask 1998

Glenfarclas Family Cask 1991

Glenfarclas Family Cask 1990

Glenfarclas Family Cask 1989

Glenfarclas Family Cask 1978

Posted: 07/12/2017
Christmas Party 2017: Keeping The Vibe Alive

We had an absolute ball pouring for you guys at the Christmas Party last night – thanks to everyone who came along. It’s such a busy time of the year, so we appreciate you coming out to celebrate with us.

The spirits team is mindful of the face that not all our members are beloved Sydney-based, not to mention sheer space restraints mean that we can’t get absolutely everyone in! As such, we’ve decided to extend our ‘One Night Only’ special discount pricing on what we were pouring for 24 hours online.

As is Christmas tradition, we opened all our exclusive bottlings this year. The 1997 Glenrothes and Ben Nevis releases are on their very last legs stock level wise.

These are very limited releases, exclusive to The Oak Barrel, and at very ‘swept up in the Christmas party vibe’ prices.

No further discount, these are below the usual members’ discount.

Overeem 60% Port Cask Oak Barrel Exclusive: $249 ($325 on the shelf)

Ben Nevis 1997 Oak Barrel Bottling: $199 ($269 on the shelf)


Glenrothes 1997 Oak Barrel Bottling: $199 ($269 on the shelf)


Teaninich 2008 G&M Australian Exclusive: $99 ($135 on the shelf)

Posted: 30/11/2017
Tis The Season To Drink Gin

Warmer days are becoming more consistent and gin fever is rumbling in as a result. There’s been some fantastic gins released this year (and a whole lot more coming for Craft Spirits Fair on the 18th) but there are two festive-themed items we’d like to highland for you.

The first is one of the most requested items every year around this time: booze advent calendars. There have been attempts to bring whisky and gin advent calendars into Australia from overseas, but they’re a nightmare to ship and an even bigger headache when the fine people at customs and taxation open them up (read: bloody expensive).

Fantastic news, then, that there’s a local equivalent this year: the Aussie Gin Advent Calendar!

With 24 50ml gins to open every day from December 1 to Christmas, we reckon that even the most ardent of Aussie gin fiends will discover something new here.

Beautifully packaged, it makes a great gift – although we’re not sure why you’d want to give it away?

There are currently over 80 distilleries in Australia producing gin. We don’t know exactly what’s gone into this advent calendar, but we can tell you that gins from Manly Spirits, Killara (Apothecary), Four Pillars, West Winds and McHenry have made the cut. The other 19 are a surprise!

The kicker is that there aren’t a huge number of these floating around, so this is by pre-order and allocation only. We’re taking orders from now up to Tuesday 14 November. These will then arrive instore for pick-up/dispatch Wednesday 22 November. We won’t have these in store to purchase, this is a pre-order only opportunity so we can secure our allocation.


In other Christmas-related gin news, the Four Pillars Christmas Gin for 2017 has landed in store. The most in-demand gin release all year for us, allocations are very tight and global quantities are quite small.

Each year head distiller Cam Mackenzie distils Christmas puddings (made to his mother’s 1968 recipe) into warming, spicy botanicals including juniper, cinnamon, star anise, coriander and angelica.

Another gin is aged in 125-year-old ex-Scotch whisky barrels from William Grant & Sons, which have since held Rutherglen Muscat for eight decades.

The two are vatted together, tweaked with a bit of muscat and Pedro Ximenez influence.

One per customer and when they’re gone, they’re gone.


Don’t Forget: The best value spirits tasting ticket all year is one to Sydney Craft Spirits Fair 2017. We’ll be nearing 100 different spirits (many of them local gins) by the time the list is finalised and all tastings are included in the ticket price – which is $50 for members.

We’re at about 80 percent capacity and we’ll be keeping the cap on tight so that there’s plenty of time to move around and have proper chats with the distillers and owners who’ve travelled in from around Australia.


Posted: 08/11/2017
Introducing: Manly Spirits Co Gin and Vodka

With the release of Manly Spirits’ second official core range gin, we felt it time to introduce you to one of the most exciting ventures in Sydney spirit recent history.

While Australia has many great distilleries scattered across this vast land, urban distilleries are still a rare treat. Expensive to set up and difficult to maintain, they nonetheless provide a valuable service to the drinking public in terms of access. We can’t always take weekends away to visit regional distilleries, no matter how much we’d like to.

Following in the footsteps of Melbourne’s Starward, Perth’s Whipper Snapper and Sydney’s own Archie Rose, Manly Spirits have become fantastic new brand in a very short space of time.

Located in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Manly Spirits Co was launched by David Whittaker and Vanessa Wilton in April 2017.

Their fantastic set-up (which includes a bar and tour when you find yourself over there) includes some of the most spectacular and versatile stills in the country.

Harnessing the atmosphere and history of their seaside location, Manly Spirits have looked to create products with a sense of place. Their classic Dry Gin is refreshing and vibrant, their Maritime vodka evoking the gentle sea air.

Next along is the Coastal Citrus gin, which by name and flavour seems purpose built for summer.

A fortnight ago we also received their first ever Barrel Aged Gin, which has begun to sell out everywhere.

They’ll be a main talking point at our Sydney Craft Spirits Fair, happening Saturday 18 November, but if you want to be one of the first to try early batch new expressions, they’re in store now.








Posted: 01/11/2017
Sake Appreciation: Tasting This November!

Complex, technical, intriguing and varied. These are words more often associated with precision engineering. However we’re using these words to describe sake, seishu or nihonshu.

The Oak Barrel will be running a series of evening tastings as an introduction to sake from how it is made, the various grades to how it is drunk and the complex world of styles.

After the sold out first edition, we’re pleased to announce a second event – Wednesday 1 November!

Sake is different but highly enjoyable. One has to get an understanding of how it is made and what to look for, but once you get your head around it you will become totally engrossed in this beverage just as we have.

Join Paul Downie a certified sake professional, and The Oak Barrel team, to taste a range of styles and types.

In the sit-down tasting we’ll go through eight different varieties and styles, all of which are included in the ticket price. 

WHAT: Sake Appreciation: An Intro To Sake Tasting
WHERE: The Oak Barrel, 152 Elizabeth St, Sydney 2000
WHEN: Wednesday 1 November, 6.15pm for a 6.30pm start
PRICE: Members $20 / Non-Members $30



Posted: 20/10/2017
Sake Brewing: A Tasting With The Techniques

"Sake Brewing: Koji, Moto & Moromi, Rice & Water"

Following on from ‘The Introduction To Sake’ which introduces the different grades and flavours of sake, The Oak Barrel will offer a master class discussing brewing techniques of this famous Japanese drink.

A fascinating and complex category, we’ll be breaking down the methods behind some amazking expressions.

The different techniques discussed will be illustrated with tastings. We will discuss the place of rice, water and koji and many of the intricacies in the brewing process.

This evening will be held on Thursday 23 November and hosted by Paul Downie, Oak Barrel owner and Certified Sake Professional.

WHAT: Sake Brewing: Koji, Moto & Moromi, Rice & Water
WHERE: The Oak Barrel, 152 Elizabeth St, Sydney 2000
WHEN: Thursday 23 November, 6.15pm for a 6.30pm start
PRICE: Members $30 / Non-Members $40


Posted: 20/10/2017
Springbank 2017 Limited Release Single Malts


Four new limited releases from Springbank this week – the powerhouse stalwart of the once vibrant Scottish whisky hub Campbeltown.

A distillery that remains true to its independence, values and (many might say inefficient) methods, Springbank remain one of the most traditional and hands-on distilleries in Scotland. Not only are they one of the few to still use their own malting floor but – ever rarer – they malt all of their barley requirements on site.

Avoiding technological advancements where they can, everything they do takes a hands-on approach. They are the biggest private employer in Campbeltown, which can seem a much further removed from the urban centre of Glasgow than it really is (both geographically and philosophically).

If there was a whisky lover’s whisky, Springbank would probably be it.

There are three distinct types of whisky produced at Springbank distillery, their eponymous label and Longrown and Hazelburn, which are both named after long-closed distilleries in the town.

Hazelburn is the lightest, triple distilled and un-peated it takes on its cask influence very well. Springbank sits in the middle, two-and-a-half times distilled and lightly peated (the barley is dried with peat smoke for six hours, hot air for 30). Longrow is the heaviest, double distilled and heavily peated (the barley is dried for 48 hours with peat smoke).

The distillery also has a very small output, with a capacity of 750,000 litres annually. However capacity can be misleading, in 2016 the sleepy distillery was awoken enough times to only produce 150,000 litres. 80 percent of the time that was Springbank, with Longrow and Hazelburn given 10 percent of the production each.

Because of Australia’s isolation and the patient roll-out of the distillery’s expressions, limited releases tend to arrive in waves and that’s just what’s happened. Four special releases across all three styles have now arrived in very small quantities. They won’t last.


Second release of the series sourcing barley from local farms. Classic Campbeltown.


Batch 14 of this much-loved expression, creamy and rich with soft fruits. First in new colour-coded packaging in Aus as well.



Peated whisky in red wine casks, the latest release uses ex-malbec barrels sourced from South Africa.



Springbank’s lightest style matured in both first-fill and refil oloroso sherry casks makes for delightful reading and delicious tasting.

Posted: 18/10/2017