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Latest Whisky & Spirits News

Introducing: Single Cask Scotch Whiskies From North Star

If there are a few phrases that make the team at The Oak Barrel particularly happy they are “single cask”, “cask strength”, “un-chill filtered”, “natural colour”… you get the jist.

In recent years as our whisky shelves have expanded, so has our selection of independent bottlings. We love our Gordon & MacPhails, our Adelphis, our Signatory Vintages, our Rest & Be Thankfuls (we even love bottling ourselves!). So it’s always exciting when a new mob pop into view.

Enter North Star Spirits.

Based out of Glasgow, they bottle a whole range of whiskies and spirits from single cask Scotch, to bourbon, rum and even fortified wine (!).

Honestly, we don’t know a lot about the back story of the company but we’ve always believed in letting whiskies talk for themselves.

Having tried the range from their Cask Series 001 we’re happy to report that there’s another indie we’re looking forward to a long relationship with.

We’ve often pushed the idea of ‘No Rules’ with indie bottles (not least with our series of independent bottlers-only masterclasses), the thought being that once a cask of whisky is in the hands of anyone but the distillery themselves then all bets are off. Whoever owns that cask can do whatever they want with it.

It means you can get some exceptionally unique, fascinating and pure expressions from distilleries you may have heard of, and many you may have not.

Having gone through these North Star releases, it looks like they’ve opted for the left-of-centre. There’s distillery character in all of these releases, but they’re unlike most of what we’ve tried before from their respective distilleries.

Now the bad news. This Cask Series 001 is super limited. We've only got one of most of these bottles. But hopefully there's more on the way...

Tasting notes below, click through for more detailed info.


Port Dundas 2004 12-Year-Old

Nice clear colour in the glass, so expecting a lot of spirit character here.

Nose: Light caramel, a drizzle of brown sugar, slightly grassy with a touch of pine. Quite shy and delicate, but there’s a bit going on. A bit more time and there’s olive spread, rocket, mocha and cloves.

Palate: Nice and creamy, coating. Vanillas with the slightest of oak spice. Corn grain. Well balanced.

Finish: Medium length, with subtle spices, ever so drying.

Comments: Big fans of Port Dundas and this is quite a unique take on it. Not a huge amount of oak influence, so this dram trades the excess of creamy butters and vanilla for freshness and delicate spices.


Tormore 1988 28-Year-Old

Nose: Lots of spice and potpourri, old perfume, Grandma’s loungeroom. Quite a delectable old-time-y nose, not quite the ‘church pews’ aroma we see in 30-year-olds and up, but this is certainly showing all the poise of its age. Creme brule, lemon tart, green apple, stewed pear. Myer’s perfume stall at closing time. Green oak. This could go on for a while...

Palate: Forest floor, wet canopy, overripe pear. No burn. The flavours are quite heavy – maybe even clumsy – but the texture is actually quite light and silky. Quite lean.

Finish: Good length, not quite as outstanding as the start, but with lingering old vanilla and the return of that potpourri in the next room.

Comments: One of the better noses from a recent bottling. Not the sexiest release of all time, but this is Tormore and that’s kind of un-cool, which is what makes it great.


Bunnahabhain 1990 26-Year-Old

Nose: Vanilla cream, white grapes, lanolin, garage fumes, banana bread, varnish. There’s an intensity that’s forceful, but still quite elegant. Big in the glass, but it doesn’t chase you out of it. With time a fair hit of malt with a rich toffee sweetness that climbs over the top.

Palate: Spice that wasn’t present on the nose – spice from oak, cloves and anise. Otherwise gentle, touches of vanilla and old cut grass.

Finish: Medium and subtle. Touch of tobacco leaf helps drag it out a bit.

Comments: Neven know what you’re going to get with Bunnahabhain. Really interesting if a touch scattered, it could be pretty divisive.


Glenrothes 1996 20-Year-Old

Nose: Soft vanillas, coffee beans, fresh cut barley. Then, snow peas, parsley... in fact this is a veritable vege garden. A bit of carrot maybe, lemon grass. Even though it’s void of any ‘medical’ note, this certainly smells healthy. A touch of polished oak as an elegant perfume pushes through.

Palate: Pretty classic. Spice from a bit of heat, a bit of damp cellar. The vege garden from the nose after a monsoon.

Finish: Good length, the spice from the palate carries a fair way through. The fleeting softness from that initial nose returns, reminding us that this was in fact distilled at Glenrothes.

Comment: Another unusual expression from North Star – there are real Glenrothes hallmarks here, but that walk through the fresh vege garden was something quite unique.


Ardmore 2008 8-Year-Old

Nose: Smoked meats, burning kindling and someone’s cooking something on the barbie with a honey glaze. The richness in the soft smoke is sweet and clean. Coal fireplace in the country. With time, lemon flavouring, orange lollies, burning eucalypt leaves and then more charred meat over an open flame.

Palate: Peat fires, turned earth. It’s a very grounded palate – classic peated highlander. Earthy spices.   

Finish: Short to medium (albeit moreish) immediately, but the smoked meats and barbecue notes linger once you thought they’d gone. Roasted malt and ground coffee beans, too.


Arran 1996 20-Year-Old

I think we lost this sample. Our bad. Luckily they write some notes on the side of the bottle as well.

Nose: Mint leaves and orange segments.

Palate: Spiced honey and white pepper.

Finish: Toasted oak and lemon marmalade.


Posted: 28/06/2017
Rediscovering Scotland's Historic Glen Garioch Distillery

The proliferation of Scottish single malts in the past decade has truly been a bonanza for the intrepid whisky drinker, and here at the Oak Barrel we’re lucky enough to be forever finding new gems or discovering old friends.

One distillery that sits somewhere in the middle of being an old friend and a new discovery is Glen Garioch, which after a chameleon-esque history of changes is remerging as a single malt force.

Glen Garioch – pronounced Glen Geerie – was founded in 1798 in Scotland’s Eastern Highlands. That makes it one of Scotland’s oldest operating distilleries. Record keeping in the 1700s was purposefully lax, one certainly didn't want the authorities knowing how much whisky you were distilling, but Glen Garioch is amongst the group of formative establishments. It was originally a tannery and then a brewery before the transformation into a distillery at the end of that century.

For the most of the 20th century, the distillery produced a peated highlander style, similar to that of its neighbour Ardmore, until the distillery was closed (one of its many closures) in 1995. Opened again in 1997, the distillery had decommissioned its own floor maltings and moved to unpeated malt.

The disuse of peated malt wasn’t at the expense of richness however. Their stills are squat and short-necked, which is pretty familiar for Highland distilleries, but they have unusually long lyne arms, particularly on the wash still. Combine this with a distinctly short spirit cut (just 69% to 75%) and they're producing a new make with is equal parts spicy, fruity and meaty. If they’re rushing spit through their still to keep a meaty richness, the long journey down the lyne arm is bringing out the orchard fruits.

With an annual output of just over one million litres of alcohol per year – or 100 or so barrels a week – they are on the smaller end of the Scottish scale. Owned by Suntory’s Morrison Bowmore, they’re also mainly producing for single malts, even if they’re not a prominent Australian sight yet.

As part of the revamp of the offering, their core releases are now presented at the pleasing ABV of 48%. That’s not particularly viable financially for, but it’s a nod to richness and structure that we don’t see all that often these days. Both sides of their spirit – the fruit and the weight – are evident in the final whisky.

We currently have limited quantities of two expressions, the entry-level Founders Reserve and their veritable 12-year-old, available in store now.


$99 or $89.10 for members: Rich malt with a honeyed sweetness, touches of oak.


$110 or $99 for members: Toasted oak with more defined fruits (citrus, tropical), and a creamy texture. Solid finish too.

Posted: 22/06/2017
Glenfarclas Vintages Masterclass With Ian McWilliam

This July The Oak Barrel will be hosting a very special Glenfarclas whisky masterclass, which for many of us will include some one-in-a-lifetime whiskies.

Joined by distillery stalwart Ian McWilliam, we’ll be cracking single casks and vintages from 1987 all the way through to 1966.

The Oak Barrel has long been a lover of Glenfarclas whiskies – you may remember we bottled our own exclusive release a few years back – and our businesses are similar in more ways than one. Both have very proud histories (the Grant family bought Glenfarclas in 1865, The Oak Barrel was founded in 1959) and remain fiercely independent and family owned.

Most importantly, whenever we celebrate Glenfarclas in our Cellar Room we tend to have a lot of fun together. (Anyone remember last year’s marathon masterclass?)

Ian McWilliam has long been an integral part of the Glenfarclas, having started with the family business in 1991 (he’s been there over 26 years). McWilliam grew up in the region near the distillery and he joined their team shortly after finishing school as Assistant Head Warehouseman.

McWilliam spent 14 years on the production floor, helping craft the whiskies that are being bottled today, before he moved into the sales side of the business. His intimate knowledge and experience with Glenfarclas makes him one of the most highly regarded, and entertaining, whisky presenters in all of Scotland.

With McWilliam bringing across a couple of bottles from their legendary Family Cask, single cask series, The Oak Barrel will also be digging into the archives to present a 1977 vintage and the stunning 1966 Fino Cask. The latter was matured in oak which previously held the exclusive Fino strain of sherry and the bottle is worth around $2,500 in itself.

This evening of guiltily good whisky is part of the Sydney Whisky Fair Masterclass series, which allows us to host some truly awesome nights of whisky in the lead up to this year’s Sydney Whisky Fair.

We’ll be trying:

Glenfarclas 21-Year-Old
Glenfarclas £511.19s.0d Family Reserve
Glenfarclas 1987 Family Cask
Glenfarclas 1978 Family Cask
Glenfarclas 1977 Family Cask
Glenfarclas 1966 Fino Cask

WHAT: Glenfarclas Whisky Masterclass With Ian McWilliam
WHERE: The Oak Barrel, 152 Elizabeth St, Sydney 2000
WHEN: Wednesday 19 July, 6.15pm for a 6.30pm start
PRICE: Members $75 / Non-Members $85

Tickets are non-refundable or exchangeable, so please make sure to check your dates before booking. Whiskies subject to change without notice due to unforeseen circumstances.

Posted: 21/06/2017
Oak Barrel Cocktail Club: Make At Home With Aussie Tipple

Unfortunately this event has been postponed due to illness. We we announce a new date soon.

The Oak Barrel’s Cocktail Club is proud to return with its first sitting in 2017 – ‘A Cheater’s Guide On How To Make Cocktails At Home With Aussie Tipple’.

A sit-down evening of good booze, education and a few laughs for good measure, we’ll drinking (and learning how to make) some of the easiest, tastiest cocktails for home.

If you love a good cocktail but shy away from making them at home (lack of time, equipment, skillz etc.) then this is for you.

Enter the Aussie Tipple Co.

Launched on the market in late 2016, Aussie Tipple provide bottled cocktails made with premium Australian spirits. These aren’t supermarket drinks, these are serious, top-restaurant grade cocktails made with hand-picked ingredients.’

Aussie Tipple's Kathleen Davies will be on hand to shake up cocktails and talk about the Aussie products inside each drink.

On the night we’ll be indulging in the following classic drinks, all with an Aussie twist:

Dry Martini (a dry style with Stone Pine gin’s fabulous citrus notes pushing through)
Negroni (classic and refreshing, with plenty going on at over 30%)
Rum Old Fashioned (a different take on an old fashioned, but Black Gate’s rum is a star here)
Espresso Martini (seriously creamy and tasty using a coffee liqueur from Tasmania’s Belgrove distillery)

The Oak Barrel’s Cocktail Club started accidentally in 2016 during a fantastic tasting in our Cellar Room to launch a new gin. It exists to host cocktail nights at The Oak Barrel to showcase Australian craft spirits in classic or new world cocktails.

Unfortunately this event has been postponed due to illness. We we announce a new date soon.

Tickets are non-refundable or exchangeable, so please make sure to check your dates before booking. Whiskies subject to change without notice due to unforeseen cincumstances.

Posted: 02/06/2017
Limeburners Winter Solstice: Peated Whisky Masterclass

Western Australia’s Great Southern Distilling – the company behind the Limeburners brand – not only played big part in the formative years of modern Australian whisky, but they’re also responsible for some of the most powerful whiskies ever to come out of this Great Brown Land.

As part of the Sydney Whisky Fair masterclass series, which is a run of intimate sit-down events before the big dance on 25 and 26 August, we’re delighted to prepare our Cellar Room for some of their most powerful whiskies every.

Limeburners are regular attendees at the Sydney Whisky Fair, and will return in 2017 not only for the Fair, but a very special masterclass showcasing their top end peated expressions.

Last year, the first release of Darkest Winter broke covers in the Cellar Room during a preview release masterclass, before being one of the most talked about whiskies at Whisky Fair 2016. At 65.1% it was the strongest whisky the distillery had ever released and this second edition continues that trend at 63.9.

To mark the Winter Solstice – the shortest day of the year with the least light – Limeburners are taking this second edition of Darkest Winter around Australia for some very select masterclasses. In tow will be four other peated whiskies, including the Heavily Peated (one of Australia’s most highly awarded expressions ever which is now worth somewhere around $700) and the yet-to-be-released Sherry Cask Directors Cut.

Australian peat is very different to the flavour profiles often associated with the big name Scottish expressions. When your product comes out of the ground, it’s always going to be a product of its environment and Albany, in South Western Australia, is a very different place to Scotland’s Inner Hebrides.

It means that the unique forcefulness exhibited across the Limeburners range is amplified in their peated expressions.

The tasting will be hosted by Limeburners’ Anthony Leadbetter, with the whiskies accompanied by meats and cheese.

What we’ll be trying:

Limeburners Darkest Winter Second Release 63.9% (Best International Craft Whisky 2017 – American Distilling Institute)
Limeburners Heavily Peated 61% (2x Best Whisky Australian Distilled Spirits Awards)
Limeburners Director’s Cut Peated Port Cask 61% (Gold Medal Australian Distilled Spirit Awards)
Limeburners Director’s Cut Peated Sherry Cask 61% (Upcoming release)
Limeburners Peated 48%

In total, the recommended shelf value of the whiskies is somewhere in the $2,000 vicinity. Discount pricing will be offered on the night.

WHAT: Limeburners Winter Solstice: A Night Of Powerful, Peated Australian Whisky
WHERE: The Oak Barrel, 152 Elizabeth St, Sydney 2000
WHEN: Tuesday 20 June, 6.15pm for a 6.30pm start
PRICE: Members $85 / Non-Members $95

Tickets are non-refundable or exchangeable, so please make sure to check your dates before booking. Whiskies subject to change without notice due to unforeseen circumstances. 

Posted: 31/05/2017
We've Got New Whisky Shelves!

The team have been pretty excited about some new whisky shelves going in this week – arguably, disturbingly excited – but we reckon it’s a vast improvement on the previous set-up.

Indeed, whisky buyer Scott had one of the greatest days he’s ever had at the Oak Barrel earlier this week moving the collection around.

We’re still playing with things, but there might be some archive surprises that pop up to celebrate no more double-stacking!

If you need another reason to come and see them, pop down on Saturday as we launch the return of one of Australia’s most sought after spirits – Four Pillars’ Bloody Shiraz Gin.

The distillery’s Stu Gregor will be cracking a bottle or two (as promised) at the store from 4.30pm-6pm. It’s free! We’ll have a modest allocation to sell from 4.30pm as well!

And as well as the physical side of things, we’ve been looking forward to the future with some…


The Sydney Whisky Fair is happening 25 and 26 August, but you already knew that because you’ve all got bookmarked. Ticket details will be announced in the coming weeks, but a couple of Whisky Fair Masterclasses have been confirmed and announced.

Each year we run a series of very special masterclasses in the lead up to the big dance and the first two are pretty special – two Australian whisky event.


Wednesday 14 June: Bakery Hill founder, owner and distiller David Baker returns to The Oak Barrel after years of hard work catching up with demand. Showcasing the entire range of their Victorian distillery, we’ll also have some rare single cask action. Truly a privilege to have him back on our (new) carpet. DETAILS.


Tuesday 20 June: Limeburners are celebrating the release of the Darkest Winter’s second cask with a Winter Solstice roadshow of select events around the country. We’ll be cracking five peated expressions from the distillery, including one of Australia’s most awarded whiskies ever. We won’t dip below 48% - seriously powerful stuff from the wild west. DETAILS.


Posted: 31/05/2017
An Evening With Aussie Whisky Distiller David Baker

One of the country’s original distilleries of the single malt explosion in the past two decades, Bakery Hill’s founder, owner and distillery David Baker will be presenting his range at an intimate evening at The Oak Barrel this June.

Founded in 1999, Bakery Hill is based in North Bayswater, in Melbourne’s Eastern Suburbs. An unassuming distillery that has always favoured quality spirit and patience over loud cask finishes, they have classic unpeated, peated and double cask (French Oak) expressions.

You might recall, Baker has been to The Oak Barrel once or twice before as an early supporter of Sydney Whisky Fair. Like many Australian distilleries, demand began to outstrip supply in recent years and just keeping up with existing commitments proved to be challenging.

For the past five years, then, Baker has been working away like crazy in their establishment and finally, with a son in tow, they are looking like having enough whisky to show it off again. (Having said that, one or two lines are still on the endangered list for the foreseeable future.)

It will be a great privilege to spend An Evening With David Baker at The Oak Barrel, a masterclass that we feel is well overdue.

With only 500ml bottles, numbers are strictly limited.

Going through their core range, plus a rare single cask release, it’s time to rediscover Bakery Hill whisky.

Not everyone may be aware, but if we take a quick dram down memory lane, amongst Baker’s early plaudits was none other than Jim Murray. The world renowned (and now quite controversial) whisky scribe named Bakery Hill the world’s Best Small Distillery Whisky Of The Year in his 2005 Whisky Bible. It was a slightly different market back then though and so the accolade was largely overlooked by those not involved in the industry. Today such praise would almost certainly see their stock sold out globally within 24 hours!

The evening will kick off the celebrations for the 2017 Sydney Whisky Fair, to be held 25 and 26 August. In the months leading up to the Fair, The Oak Barrel will host a series of intimate whisky masterclasses so punters can get up close and personal with the drams and people behind the labels before the main event.

The Oak Barrel’s ‘Evening With A Distiller’ series has featured Belgrove’s Peter Bignell and Four Pillars’ Cam Mackenzie and Stu Gregor already in 2017.

Bakery Hill Classic Single Malt 46%
Bakery Hill Classic Cask Strength Single Malt 60% (approx)
Bakery Hill Double Wood 46%
Bakery Hill Peated Single Malt 46%
Bakery Hill Peated Cask Strength Single Malt 60% (approx.)
Bakery Hill ‘A Wisp Of Smoke’ Single Cask 51.7%

Update: We can confirm that we'll be pouring the money-can't-buy (literally) Forgotten Cask expression. Distilled in 2005, this cask was - as the name suggests - forgotton in the distillery's warehouse. Bottled at 52%, Cask 49 is not for sale, but we'll be tasting it on this very special occasion!

WHAT: An Evening With Australian Whisky Legend David Baker Of Bakery Hill
WHERE: The Oak Barrel, 152 Elizabeth St, Sydney 2000
WHEN: Wednesday 14 June, 6.15pm for a 6.30pm start
PRICE: Members $55 / Guest $65

Tickets are non-refundable or exchangeable, so please make sure to check your dates before booking. Whiskies subject to change without notice due to unforeseen cincumstances. 

Posted: 30/05/2017
Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin Free Tasting!

Bloody Shiraz Gin – it’s back!

One of the most sought after Aussie spirits of 2016, the next batch of Four Pillar’s Bloody Shiraz Gin is back at The Oak Barrel. As promised at our Four Pillars masterclass earlier this year, we’re going to open a bottle or two this launch day – Saturday 3 June – for you!

Four Pillars’ Stu Gregor will once again take over the Oak Barrel (by force if necessary) to tell all and pour the magical juice.

The Bloody Shiraz is a deep, dark gin from Four Pillars distillery which has been steeped in local Yarra Valley shiraz grapes.

The grapes, sourced from local wineries, are steeped in gin for eight weeks and then pressed to extract a gin-based, full coloured and full flavoured sweet juice. That has been blended in with some of the distillery's trademark Rare Dry gin to create the new Bloody Shiraz Gin.

At higher proof than sloe gins (which are often sub 30%), this is a richer bolder take on sweet aperitif style gins and fantastic cocktail fodder.

Because of the ph in the shiraz grapes, the gin may turn a shade of pink when mixed with some tonics or sodas.

We have a waiting list longer than what our allocation might be, but we will be selling bottles on the day to attendees!

This is a free event at The Oak Barrel front counter, from 4.30pm - 6pm this Saturday 3 June.

WHAT: Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Launch Tasting
WHERE: The Oak Barrel, 152 Elizabeth St, Sydney 2000
WHEN: Saturday 3 June, 4.30pm-6pm
PRICE: Free!

Posted: 30/05/2017
May Whisky Arrivals: New Ones and Old Favourites

It’s been a crazy fun week here on the whisky side of things – a couple of storming tastings from indie bottlers Signatory Vintage and Silver Seal (!) respectively.

With the Sydney Whisky Fair coming up in August (same week as usual) there’s about to be a rush of Whisky Fair Masterclasses in the lead up. Watch this space for announcements about the extra-curricular nights and the main event itself…

There’s been a fair few arrivals recently – new products in and the return of some old favourites.

Here we are:

Benriach Peated Cask Strength Batch 1

We fell in love with Batch 1 of their classic Cask Strength edition, and now comes the peated alternative from Benriach. Think wafting highland-style campfire smoke, but that’s not to say that this is particularly gentle.

Adelphi Clynelish 1996 19-Year-Old Single Cask

No secret that we love Clynelish here - The Oak Barrel has long celebrated the waxy texture and honeyed overtures. Independent bottlings of this distillery are more that usually quite stunning and Adelphi’s at the forefront of that reputation. The spirit sings in American oak, and this single cask is just so complex and pleasing.

Adelphi Liddesdale Bunnahabhain 21-Year-Old

While we’re on the Adelphi train, the latest Liddesdale batch (that’s just a touch over 1,000 bottles worldwide) is another stormer. Islay’s famously minimally-peated distillery still carries those classic maritime notes. And is that a campfire on the horizon…?

Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique

The Taiwanese whisky that “won the award”. This wine cask matured stunner from Taiwan has been in short supply since it was named the World’s Best Whisky. Released as single casks, it’s trickled through the store. This time there’s a whole cask allocated to Australia and New Zealand, although that’s still only 211 bottles for the region (total). A nice piece of Aussie whisky history with “Bottled For Australia and New Zealand” on the label.

Michter’s Toasted Barrel Bourbon

Just back in the country in very small allocations (much of which may get snapped up by bars). Kentucky’s Michter’s take their sensational bourbon and finish it off in some slow-toasted barrels. Have your marshmallows ready?

Posted: 25/05/2017
Normandin Mercier Cognac Masterclass With Edouard Normandin

For five generations since 1872, Normandin Mercier have been aging and bottling cognacs of exceptional value from across the famous French region.

Sourcing grapes and spirit from those grapes from vineyards across Grande and Petite Champagne, Normandin Mercier have stringent controls across the whole process – the original vine growth, grape quality, wine quality, exactness of the distillation, wood management, the aging process and the work of the cellars.

It’s a proud, if daunting, history to be a part of by on the outskirts of La Rochelle, Edouard Normandin continues those traditions with their traditional cellars nearby.

This June Normandin will visit The Oak Barrel to present a number of cognacs and products that bear his family’s proud name. We’ll go through aged expressions from both the Grande and Petit Champagne regions, as well as the renowned La Peraudiere expression and a 20-year-old Gran Champagne. The Pineau aperitifs will also be on show.

This masterclass will not only be a flavour journey into the Normandin Mercier house, but a showcase of cognac regions and the style as well.

Tickets are strictly limited.

We will be trying:

Normandin Mercier Pineau Blanc
Normandin Mercier Pineau Rouge
Normandin Mercier Congnac Fine Petit Champagne VSOP 12-Year-Old
Normandin Mercier Vielle Fine Champagne 15-Year-Old
Normandin Mercier Cognac La Peraudiere
Normandin Mercier Grande Champagne XO Carafe 20 Years

WHAT: Normandin Mercier Cognac Masterclass
WHERE: The Oak Barrel, 152 Elizabeth St, Sydney 2000
WHEN: Tuesday 6 June, 6.15pm for a 6.30pm start
PRICE: Members $25 / Guest $35

Tickets are non-refundable or exchangeable, so please make sure to check your dates before booking. Whiskies subject to change without notice due to unforeseen cincumstances.

Posted: 16/05/2017