Australian Malt Whisky - Australasia Malt Whisky Night
I searched the sight for any Australian whisky tasting notes about a month ago and found there were none, while at the same time holding some bottles of Aussie malt whisky in my hands. The bottles were acquired on a July trip down under. In the U.S., I've been unable to verify that even one Aussie whisky is imported (there are definitely none in the NY and NJ markets).
Finally getting a few friends together after summer vacations and kids going back to school, I put on a small tasting last Saturday for eight people. The accompanying menu was pulled pork and Texas beef brisket (which I got on the smoker at 6 a.m. Saturday morning!). There's no reason to mention the salads the wives seemed to be enjoying - this evening was about smoke, fire and malt whisky.
Okay, let's get to the whiskies:
Samuel Smith & Son, Smith's Angaston, 8 YR, 1998
Tasmania Distillery, Sullivans Cove, Double Cask, Bourbon & Port Oak
Hellyers Road, Slightly Peated
Yamazaki, 12 YR
The Balvenie, 12 YR Doublewood
Glenmorangie, 12 YR Lasanta
Highland Park, 12 YR
The first four whiskies were what I was trying to showcase. I added the Yamazaki to give the imbibers a perspective of another malt whisky from other than Scotland. These first four malts were all the first malts any of the tasters have had other than Scottish malts (I don't say scotch because for me I relegate the term to blended Scottish whiskies).
I chose The Balvenie for two reasons: First, I hadn't had it for a while. Second, I chose to pair it with the Sullivans Cove as the SC was surely a concept whisky similar to the Doublewood.
The Lasanta was brought by one of the attendees. The HP 12 was from my stash and geared to go with the Hellyers Road.
The best of the Australasia whiskies, according to group consensus, was the Smith's Angaston, 8 YR, 1998. The night's least liked whisky was the Sullivans Cove. Yamazaki wasn't well liked initially though it made a resounding comeback once completing the assessment period and getting into the drinking period.
The HP 12 was at the end of its rope. I've had it open about eight weeks and noticed about three weeks ago that it wasn't as compelling as it was the first five weeks; thus, I saved the last third of the bottle for the Australasia evening. As it wasn't at its best, the best whisky of the night was the Glenmorangie (IMHO), though the Smith's Angaston gave it a run for the money.
Speaking of money, the problem with all the Aussie malts is they are $100 or more a bottle.
All of these Aussie bottlings are non-chill filtered and see no caramel coloring.
Smith's Angaston is quite rich, both in color and perceptible viscosity. The cask treatment was French oak red wine casks and American oak sherry and white wine casks. The whisky was quite well balanced; clean with no sense of foreshots nor harsh with too much feints. Thus, the cut must have been fairly narrow (especially given the whisky's youth). A lot of fruit flavors seemed to be the guiding light, the unusual oak selection (for Scottish malt, anyway) was adroitly used and pleasingly imparted on the whisky. This whisky was paired with the Yamazaki 12.
The Sullivans Cove, Double Cask maintained no age statement. The color was of pale straw. I would venture to suggest the port cask treatment was white port, or very very short if ruby or tawny port. There were quite a bit of feints evident as the whisky had a sweetish nose and palate and harshnesses on the finish. Perhaps some age would be beneficial? With water, it was tolerable. However, it wasn't an enjoyable dram and was well suited to heuristic exploration. It was overpowered by its Balvenie Doublewood pairing partner.
Hellyers Road had more of a yellow straw color. Its slight peat comes from their marrying their single malt non-peated whisky with their single malt peated whisky. The peat was very understated and was well paired with the HP 12. It would also be well paired with something like Springbank 10, or even one of Glengyle's Kilkerran releases.
I won't say much about the Scottish malts or Yamazaki because most of you will run into them in your malt explorations, or should. The Balvenie was a bit disappointing given my memory and notes from the last time I had it. It seemed like it must be from a very large marriage of casks (probably more now than when I last had it, given it's success) because it has a sense of blended whisky or a vatted malt more than it does being a single malt. The Lasanta remains the only Glenmorangie I find to be better than a general dram for the masses - at least of their OBs geared toward mass distribution. The HP, as I said earlier, was at the end of its rope because it had been opened too long. That said, the lesson learned here is that you need to drink you malts once their opened. Don't believe their going to hold up for a long time! Someone's collection of 100 open malts likely has 90 not at their best stage to shot. I'm not criticizing the HP 12, however, as it is pretty complex and one of my favorite drams given its modest pricing - I just should have finished it faster.
Anyway, if any of the boys (and women) on this board down under have some additional experience with their local malts, I'd love to see some more notes - especially given there are none imported into the U.S. for we American malt nuts to get our hand.
Finally, since Bill Lark was able to get the 1901 Commonwealth Distillation Act revised to allow for micro-distillation and/or pot still distillation rather than ultra-mass production, there have been 14 distilleries open in Australia and Tasmania. About half of the distilleries have yet released a whisky; several have announced plans to release something toward then end of 2011 or in 2012. Unfortunately, most of these productions are already sold out! There appears to be enough interest in the potential that the Aussie malt drinkers are buying out these small productions in en primeur - futures - type sales offerings. If any of these whiskies turn out to be as good as the Smith's Angaston, I think the current demand will only grow. Thus, I think Australia is poised for a malt industry growth. From 0 to 14 distilleries in 20 years, perhaps we'll see 25 distilleries in another 10-15 years? The growth, in terms of numbers of distilleries, means there are more distilleries in Australia today than most other whisky producing nations! Their success of en primeur sales, something neither Scottish, Irish, American, Canadian or Japanese distillers have ever had success with, seems to pave a road toward a bright future. Of course, the whiskies need to be good to continue garnering interest. They also have to be better priced - the latter additional competition should help resolve.