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Latest Whisky & Spirits News

BenRiach Whisky Tasting With Craig Johnstone

A distillery we’ve long admired, but never really given a thorough run through, we’ll be opening a variety of drams from the BenRiach distillery in the Oak Barrel Cellar Room this April.

Joined by brand ambassador – and no stranger to Australia – Craig Johnstone, we’ll delve into the current golden period for this emerging Speyside distillery.

BenRiach almost didn’t get off the starting blocks. Built in 1897 by John Duff & Co., it started production in 1898 – just as the Scottish whisky industry was collapsing. One of the last to be built in that century, it was also one of the first sacrificed and BenRiach – originally designed as Longmorn’s sister plant – was shut in 1900, just three years after it began.

The distillery then spent 65 years in slumber until The Glenlivet Distillers Ltd fired the site up in 1965. Very much a blenders malt, BenRiach led an indistinct and low-profile life, very much in the shadow of its neighbours Longmorn and Glen Grant. Closed once again in 2002, it was easy to suspect that BenRiach would finish its days as a sidenote in the story of Scotch whisky. Reality would tell a different story and the distillery was about to be reborn and enter a golden age under the new-found demand for single malts.

In 2003 it was bought by a consortium led by Billy Walker – the former Direct of Burn Stewart – and production recommenced. With the focus now on single malts, existing stocks were released in a whole new range of expressions and the distillery name was finally being mentioned by more than just blenders.

A spicy and crisp new make has led to a number of spectacular single malt releases, which have included regular age statements, experimental wood finishes and even heavily peated expressions. (That’s not so out of sync with history, as under Glenlivet/Chivas’ ownership BenRiach did distil heavily peated runs on occasion to help the burden of the Islay plants.)

Billy Walker went on to acquire the GlenDronach and Glenglassaugh distilleries, which have themselves both been reinvented using a similar template of passion and progressiveness that first worked at BenRiach.

The successes didn’t go unnoticed and in 2016 American whiskey and spirits company Brown-Forman bought the BenRiach group, which includes all three distilleries. With their investment and global network, the distillery’s profile will only continue to grow.

This tasting will be helmed by Scotland-based brand ambassador Craig Johnstone. He’s not an unfamiliar face to Australians, given he’s probably best known here for being a distiller at Lark Distillery in Tasmania and being something of an unofficial whisky ambassador for the apple isle.

We'll be trying:

BenRiach 10 Year Old
BenRiach Classic Quarter Cask
BenRiach PX Finish 17-Year-Old
BenRiach Dark Rum 22-Year-Old
BenRiach Albariza PX Peated 22-Year-Old
BenRiach Peated Quarter Cask
BenRiach Peated Cask Strength

WHAT: BenRiach Tasting With Craig Johnstone
WHERE: The Oak Barrel, 152 Elizabeth St, Sydney 2000
WHEN: Wednesday 4 April, 6.15pm for a 6.30pm start
PRICE: $40 for members, $50 for guests

Posted: 16/03/2018
New Single Cask Whiskies Just Landed

If the first few months of the year were a little quiet on the new release front, strap yourselves in for here on in.

We’ve had a host of new whiskies arrive in store recently, including a collection of single cask single malt releases, which we’re highlighting today.

A selection of individual casks chosen for their quality and uniqueness, there are very few of thee bottles anywhere in the world.

Most numerous this week is a new outturn from North Star, one of Scotland’s newest independent bottlers run by Iain Croucher. We’re lucky enough to have Iain himself dropping into The Oak Barrel next week for a very special (and wide ranging tasting) and it coincides with this very outturn.

Look out for a very special and rare bottle of peated Glenturret – from their very early peated runs – plus a big, juicy French oak-matured Bruichladdich.

There’s also some undisclosed distilleries from Islay and Orkney, which may not be that hard to figure out and may be some pretty big names.

We’re also blessed with a very small allocation of GlenDronach single casks from the official Batch 15 outturn, which have just landed.

Here’s a range of single casks, brand new in store.

Benrinnes 10-Year-Old (North Star)

Bruichladdich 15-Year-Old (North Star)

Cambus 24-Year-Old (North Star)

GlenDronach 1990 27-Year-Old (Official Bottling)

GlenDronach 1992 25-Year-Old (Official Bottling – cask 52)

GlenDronach 1992 25-Year-Old (Official Bottling – cask 89)

GlenDronach 1993 24-Year-Old (Official Bottling)

GlenDronach 1994 22-Year-Old (Official Bottling)

GlenDronach 1995 21-Year-Old (Official Bottling)

Glen Grant 29-Year-Old (Adelphi)

Glenturret 8-Year-Old Peated (North Star)

Laphroaig 17-Year-Old (Adelphi)

Redlands Cask RD009 (Tasmanian Independent Bottlers)

Redlands Cask RD002 (Tasmanian Independent Bottlers)

Undisclosed Islay 12-Year-Old (North Star)

Undisclosed Orkney 17-Year-Old (North Star)

Posted: 07/03/2018
Dave Broom, Charles MacLean and Alex Bruce In Conversation

There have been some special events held in the Oak Barrel Cellar Room since 1956, some amazing personalities and some stunning drinks.

This March, we’re going to add to that canon of memories and stories with three legends of the Scotch whisky scene in conversation for one night only.

Author and consultant Dave Broom (World Whisky Atlas), one of the world’s leading authorities Charles MacLean (Whiskypedia) and Adelphi/Ardnamurchan founder Alex Bruce will come together for a very special evening of whisky tales and discussion at The Oak Barrel.

Rarely is there so much whisky knowledge and experience in the one room anywhere in the world, let alone outside of Scotland.

This will be the first of The Oak Barrel’s new ‘Masters Of Whisky’ series, a run of tastings that do credit to the term “masterclass”.

As these three titans of the industry share tales and stories, we’ll be tasting a range of drams based around the yet-to-be-revealed new Fusion series from Adelphi.

A very intimate event, tickets are strictly limited and will sell out almost instantly. As a result, this evening will be available to Oak Barrel members only – those who have supported this family run, independent bottle store and destination for many years – only.

WHAT: Dave, Charles & Alex: An Evening of Conversation
WHERE: The Oak Barrel, 152 Elizabeth St, Sydney 2000
WHEN: Wednesday 14 March, 6.15pm for a 6.30pm start
PRICE: Members $99

Posted: 01/03/2018
Limited Release: Ardnamurchan Spirit 2017/AD

The second release of spirit from the Ardnamurchan Distillery has landed in Sydney, with very limited quantities available.

Those who nabbed the inaugural 2016/AD release (or tried to) can attest that Australia’s allocation sold out incredibly quickly, and became hard to affordably source on the secondary market.

(Since you’re here, we’ve got one of the most exciting whisky tastings of the year to announce as well. Alex Bruce, Dave Broom and Charles MacLean all in conversation and in dram. Click here.)

Ardnamurchan is the distillery built by internationally renowned independent bottlers Adelphi and the first spirit ran off their stills in July 2014. Designed and built for quality and versatility, Ardnamurchan distil unpeated spirit for six months and peated for the other six.

Following the inaugural release, the 2017 AD is again ‘spirit’ rather than whisky, as it is not yet three years old.

This is a vatting from both peated and unpeated distillate, matured in first fill sherry octaves before they were married for four months in ex-Pedro Ximenez casks.

The 2017 release is also the first to feature the distillery’s blockchain tracking technology.

Adelphi has long been a favourite of The Oak Barrel and Ardnamurchan is shaping up to the same level of adulation.


Posted: 28/02/2018
North Star Whisky Tasting With Iain Croucher

The Oak Barrel will be welcoming the man behind one of the whisky industry’s most exciting new bottlers this March with Iain Croucher, Director of North Star Spirits.

Based out of Glasgow, North Star have been bottling whiskies, gins, rums, bourbons and fortifieds – always cask strength, no chill filtration. For this tasting we’ll be focusing on their Scotch whiskies line-up, which so far have seen some exceptional – and sometimes challenging – expressions.

Croucher cut his teeth in the Glasgow – and then wider UK – bar scene before he ended up working for renowned whisky brokers and bottlers AD Rattray.

From there North Star came to life in April 2016. It quickly, but quietly, began appearing on Australian shelves, but this will be the first time Iain will be down under to really show off his babies.

With a mantra of “if it’s good, we’ll bottle it”, we’ll not only be tasting some delicious whiskies but take a look ‘behind the curtains’ at the Scottish industry and the ebbs and flow of supply.

Tickets are strictly limited and this can only be a one night event.

It will coincide with the release of the new expressions, from North Star’s third series of bottlings.

We’ll be trying:

Benrinnes 10-Year-Old PX Finish
Glenturret 8-Year-Old Refill Ex-Bourbon
Bruichladdich 15-Year-Old French Oak
Cambus 24-Year-Old Refill PX Butt

Orkney 17-Year-Old PX Finish (Undisclosed distillery)
Islay 12-Year-Old Refill Hogshead (Undisclosed distillery)

WHAT: North Star Whisky With Iain Croucher
WHERE: The Oak Barrel, 152 Elizabeth St, Sydney 2000
WHEN: Tuesday 13 March, 6.15pm for a 6.30pm start
PRICE: Members $50 / Non-Members $60

Posted: 22/02/2018
Festival Of Sake

The Oak Barrel is proud to announce our first ever Festival Of Sake, which will take place Saturday 14 April.

An afternoon celebrating the drinks and delicacies of the island nation, there’ll be a strong Japanese atmosphere in our Sydney CBD store.

The Festival of Sake will focus on Japan’s national drink: sake. Sake is a completely unique product in the world of alcohol thanks to its unique production method and an incredible range of flavours. We are out to prove how amazing sake can be and just how varied the drink can be from brewery-to-brewery.

If you’ve dipped your toes in the world of sake, perhaps at a restaurant, or in passing at a bar, the Festival Of Sake is your opportunity to experience what small batch, craft producers have been capable of for hundreds of years.

Japan’s national drink will be our focus, but we have not forgotten about the many other types of beverages Japan produces and loves. Japanese wine – both traditional and skin contact ‘new world’ – will be present alongside 15th century spirit awamori, oft-misunderstood distilled spirit shochu and sake spin-offs yuzushu and umeshu.

To top it off, we will also have a food matching area which will pair an exceptional sake with Japanese finger foods, including fresh sushi.

Join us in celebrating a slice of Japanese culture at The Oak Barrel this April.

WHAT: The Oak Barrel’s Festival Of Sake
WHERE: The Oak Barrel, 152 Elizabeth St, Sydney 2000
WHEN: Saturday 14 April, 1pm-4pm
PRICE: Members $40 / Non-Members $50

Posted: 22/02/2018
New Adelphi Whisky Shipment: Feb 2018

Always one of the most exciting releases of the year and the latest expressions from Adelphi have made their way up the coast from their Melbourne docking to The Oak Barrel shelves today.

It’s no secret that Adelphi is one of our favourite indie bottlers. They don’t hold filling contracts, but rather select casks based on merit sourced either from brokers or the distilleries themselves. Founder Alex Bruce has a penchant for sherry casks and you can see that influence. If there’s a ‘house style’ for Adelphi its complexity with a hint of sweetness – almost confectionary sweetness. Even their take on big distilleries like Laphroaig and Bowmore lean towards the more understated, elegant side of things.

In a 2018 age of drinking whisky, they also represent exceptional value for well aged whiskies. A 17-year-old sherry cask, cask strength, single cask Laphroaig is virtually unheard of, let alone under four figures (the official releases of the 25, 27 and 30-year-olds climb from $700 to over $2,000).

Similarly with the 27-year-old Bowmore and the 35-year-old first fill sherry Aultmore. If the latter was an official bottling from any distillery you’d be expecting to pay well over a grand.

Other highlights include the next release of Breath Of Speyside, its predecessor we decided was our favourite whisky of last year.

Value aside, it’s Important to remember that these are drinking whiskies and these are world class whiskies.

Very limited quantities into Australia this time around – especially with the older expressions with very low outturn thanks to thirsty angels.


Breath Of Speyside 2006 10-Year-Old

Glenrothes 2007 10-Year-Old

Laphroaig 2000 17-Year-Old

Bowmore 1990 27-Year-Old

Glen Grant 1988 29-Year-Old

Miltonduff 1983 33-Year-Old

Aultmore 1982 35-Year-Old

Posted: 21/02/2018
Hot Vs Cold Sake tasting

Sakés popularity has continued to grow. With more and more people experiencing Japan’s national drink, one question keeps on popping up - at what temperature should you drink Saké?

To take us through this, we have invited ‘Rey’, an importer from SakeNet and a Kura-bito (Sake Worker), to take us through a range of handpicked Sakés and explain how he would serve them and why.

We will also learn what type of Saké should be served cold, and which ones warm, and if there is a golden rule regarding how to serve Saké?

We look forward to you joining us for this exclusive event, as we enjoy a range of different Sakés.

Not a member? The Oak Barrel’s membership is a one-off $25 fee. It’s for life, and it gives you 10% off products in store and online, including tickets to events. If you want to become a member and get a discount instantly, add the membership product to your cart (alongside any products you were after) and the discount will be immediately applied!

WHAT: Hot Vs Cold Sake Tasting with Saké expert Rey
WHERE: The Oak Barrel, 152 Elizabeth St, Sydney 2000
WHEN: Thursday 22 March, 6.15pm for a 6.30pm start
PRICE: Members $35 / Non-Members $45

Posted: 16/02/2018
Terroir In Tequila

It might have something to do with the fact that we're a stone's throw from one of Australia’s best Tequila bars, but there seems to be a swathe of excellent Tequilas coming into Australia at the moment.

It feels like we’re coming into a tequila boom, driven by the top end of town. High-end sipping tequilas are garnering attention like never before, and rightfully so – they’re delicious.

Tequila is distilled from agave, so it should be the case that the agave makes the tequila. With only one strain of this long maturing plant permitted in tequila (mezcal has the run of the country, Tequila has to come from blue agave) we look to terroir for variations – altitude, soil type, weather.

Because the plant takes so long to mature (eight/ten years), a lot of signs are pointing to a shortage in the next half decade or so thanks to the uptake in demand. And with shortages come price hikes, but that’s a different conversation we can have later.

For us, the best examples of the agave variances are in blanch Tequilas. Barrel aging is great, but it adds another factor – the type, size and quality of the barrel play a part. So, while there are some very special anejos (over 12 months), it’s in the blancos (no aging) and the reposados (over two months) that we get to the heart of the plant, so to speak.

Today we’d like to highlight two bottlers who source out some very special Tequilas from different producers who have some excellent young Tequilas. (They do anejos as well, but we’re going for youth today). 


ArteNOM 1580 - now a museum release, high altitude crop means the agave has to fight harder to survive during cold winter months and creates more sugar. Sweet and complex.

ArteNOM 1579 - The replacement for the 1580 from the same mountain town. Another special high altitude release with sweet, clean aromas.

ArteNOM 1549 - Distilled from valley grown agave, the volcanic soil gives a vegetal, herbal approach.

Ocho Blanco 2016 Vintage - Lower altitude grown agave froma  prime field, hints of sweetness but incredibly creamy.


Ocho Reposado 2016 Vintage - Still fresh and zesty despite the hint of barrel aging, nice spice to finish it off.

ArteNom 1414 - High altitude means this keeps it sweetness, but the barrels give a richness not seen in the blancos.

Posted: 08/02/2018
Another Night Of Japanese Whisky

The phenomenon and interest in Japanese whisky continues to roll on at pace, but what’s it all about? Where did Japanese whisky come from? Why is it in so much demand? Why is it hard to get?

The Oak Barrel will be hosting another of our ‘A Night Of Japanese Whisky’ tastings in, an evening of whiskies, stories and education. Whether you know nothing, a little or a lot, there’ll be something for you to try (or re-try) this March.

Just because this is something of an exploratory ‘intro to’ evening of Japanese whisky, it doesn’t mean the expressions can’t be exciting. We’ll be tracking down a few releases in the coming weeks, but we’ll be cracking the Suntory Chita (a new release into Australia on allocation), a Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt, Ichiro’s Wine Wood Reserve

We’ll also crack the staple age statement Yamazaki 12-Year-Old, a iconic whisky of the Japanese whisky boom that’s no where near as available as it should be.

We’ll be tracking down more in the coming weeks, looking for things not widely available (if at all) in Australia.

It will be hosted by The Oak Barrel’s whisky guy Scott Fitzsimons and follows on from the previous Japanese whisky nights, which have all sold out.

Tickets are on sale now and are strictly limited.

What We’ll Be Trying:

Suntory Chita
Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt
Ichiro’s Malt Wine Wood Reserve (Chichibu)
Yamazaki 12-Year-Old
More to be announced.

WHAT: A Night Of Japanese Whisky
WHERE: The Oak Barrel, 152 Elizabeth St, Sydney 2000
WHEN: Wednesday 28 March, 6.15pm for a 6.30pm start
PRICE: Members $55 / Non-Members $65

Posted: 08/02/2018