Tastes

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Rating system: 5 = outstanding ; 4.5 = excellent ; 4 = very good ; 3.5 = good ; 3 = above average ; 2.5 = average ; 2 = acceptable ; 1.5 = adequate ; 1 = inferior ; 0.5 = very poor ; 0 = undrinkable

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  1. Black Gate 520s Peated Cask Strength

    Peated Single Malt — Dubbo, New South Wales, Australia

    Tasted
    4.25
    4.25 out of 5 stars
    Whisky Tasting : The Oak Barrel, Sydney, 19 January 2021. Whisky #6 Nose: Orchard fruits, mild peat, honeysuckle, roast beef, charcoal, toffee, flamed orange peel, burnt butter, a hint of liquorice. The nose is ultra-tight and very spirity when neat and must be reduced with water to allow its enormous potential to be revealed. Palate: Sweet syrup, toffee, caramel, malt extract, plum pudding, almost-rotting tropical fruits. That’s just the arrival. The development brings raspberry and blackberry jams, maple-glazed barbecue, sweet tobacco and buttered soot. The texture is full, heavy, rich and mouth-coating. Finish: Very long. Peated Christmas cake. What an amazing whisky – it’s like a mixture of Glenfarclas 105 and Ardbeg Uigeadail, and yes you read that strength correctly. This is 71.3% abv. The astonishing thing is that it is not only drinkable but delicious at that neat strength (but you need to be careful!). It is like drinking highly peated, highly flavoured thinned molasses. Water reduces the palate to merely “very good” but unchains the magnificent nose. Black Gate is fast becoming one of my favourite Australian distilleries. Run by Brian and Genise Hollingworth it is a small operation with a growing cult following, located at Mendooran near Dubbo in country NSW where the daily temperature at can fluctuate by up to 40 degrees celsius. Their stills are small and direct-fired, producing an oily, pungent, highly flavoursome new-make with toasted cereal and caramelised sugar notes. The spirit is matured in small casks (some extremely small) and yet while Brian manages to coax as much flavour and aroma as possible from them he somehow manages to avoid tannins. The malt for this expression was heavily peated from Bairds in Scotland and the spirit was aged in five 20 litre(!) refill ex-apera casks that were vatted for bottling. Like many Australian whiskies this one is expensive at the equivalent of US$170 for a 500ml bottle, but for once the cost is justified. This is a cracking good artisanal whisky and for me it stole the show at the tasting. “Very Good” : 4.25 stars
    220.0 AUD per Bottle
  2. Corowa Distilling Co. Peated Single Barrel #242

    Peated Single Malt — New South Wales, Australia

    Tasted
    3.25
    3.25 out of 5 stars
    Whisky Tasting : The Oak Barrel, Sydney, 19 January 2021. Whisky #5 Nose: Light fruity and floral notes on first nosing. A green-hay and cereal character, sweet and fragrant with hints of vanilla, honey and oak cask. Very little trace of peat – virtually none on first nosing (but see the comments below). Palate: Sweet smoky and fruity arrival. Citrus, apple, pear and a considerably greater smoke presence than the nose would lead you to expect. Not ashen or sooty smoke either, but reminiscent of mild highland peat-smoke. The smoke builds as it develops but there is also a slight sour plastic note towards the finish. The texture is pleasant – lightly creamy/oily but not heavy. Finish: Medium/long. Smoked fruit and cereal but the hint of plastic remains. A single-cask expression of Corowa’s clean, crisp distillate that was matured in a first-fill American oak barrel for just over 2 ½ years. It has a very agreeable light, fruity and cereal character with a touch of sweetness, and I was not at all surprised to learn that it was an ex-Jack Daniels barrel. Curiously, you would hardly tell it is a peated whisky from the initial aromas. There is the faintest hint of char but no real peat-smoke quality. However, the taste is very smoky right from the arrival and it develops billows of barbecued fruit as it rests on the palate. It’s not a meat-barbecue or maritime smoke and there is no salinity. When you go back to the nose again after the initial taste the peat smoke is now obvious, and this "feedback loop" builds as you continue to taste and nose. It’s a very pleasant whisky but it’s not outstanding. There is nothing specific to criticize, but it is very similar to a lot of other light, fruity, peated whiskies and it tends to disappear in the crowd. This is an issue given the price which is quite high. AUD$199 for a 500 ml bottle translates to the equivalent of US$230 for a standard 750ml bottle. That’s an awful lot to pay for just another “OK” peated whisky. Certainly worth a pour, but I wouldn’t buy a bottle. “Above Average” : 3.25 stars
    199.0 AUD per Bottle
  3. Starward Single Barrel CS Single Malt (The Oak Barrel exclusive)

    Single Malt — Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

    Tasted
    3.75
    3.75 out of 5 stars
    Whisky Tasting : The Oak Barrel, Sydney, 19 January 2021. Whisky #4 Nose: A full, richly sweet initial nose. Over-ripe tropical fruit, stewed stone-fruits, sherry, golden syrup. There is an aroma of oak cask which is neither the pencil-shavings of a young cask nor the smell of an old one. It’s a pleasantly fresh oak quality but there is just a trace of wet cardboard. Palate: Oily and sweet arrival with big stewed fruit flavours. A similar theme to the nose with an added spice component – ginger, hot cinnamon, dried orange rind, a pinch of chilli – but it’s not objectionably hot. There are some drying tannins and the same odd cardboard note apparent on the nose is present. Finish: Medium/long. Warming, tannic, spicy. A big, expressive whisky that is just a fraction too hot and tight to be enjoyable at cask strength. I thought it was greatly improved by a dash of water and really woke up when reduced to around 50% abv. This seemed to revive a lot of slumbering youthful aromas and flavours. The only fault I found was the curious wet cardboard or chipboard presence. It’s not intense enough to be intrusive, but you definitely sense it lurking about. I’m uncertain of its origin but it’s probably from one of the casks. It didn’t seem like a distillate artifact. This expression was the result of a collaboration between The Oak Barrel in Sydney and New World Distillers in Melbourne and was unofficially dubbed the “Smoke & Mirrors” bottling (this is apparently a slang term at the distillery for a weird-and-wonderful experimental vatting). It was a combination of five small sherry casks. Two were first-fill ex-apera (Australian sherry) quarter casks that were just on 5 years old. Two more were second-fill ex-apera quarter casks that had matured for 9 years, and the last was an ex-PX sherry quarter cask that was just over 10 years old. In the Melbourne climate the influence of these small 50 litre casks would have been quite intense – probably the equivalent of twice the maturation time in Scotland. The quarter casks were vatted into barrel #109, a 200 litre ex-sherry barrel, and married for 8 months. An interesting whisky. “Good” : 3.75 stars
    185.0 AUD per Bottle
  4. Chief’s Son “900 Standard” Single Cask #58

    Single Malt — Mornington Peninsula, Victoria , Australia

    Tasted
    3.25
    3.25 out of 5 stars
    Whisky Tasting : The Oak Barrel, Sydney, 19 January 2021. Whisky #3 Nose: Fresh-cut hay, orchard fruits, tobacco, sultanas, leather, wood shavings. Clean, with a hint of vanilla, but it’s too tightly wrapped when neat to reveal its full character and there is an initial pall of ethanol that has to disperse before you can come to grips with it. A dash of water helps to reveal the nose. Palate: Very cereal-centric arrival. Bright grains with an herbal compote, anise, ginger, cinnamon, pepper and cacao. Like the nose it is tight and hot when neat and although it is a “big” whisky it is a little thin in texture. As it develops a more toasted grain flavour becomes apparent. Water tames the palate but does not substantially change the profile or unbalance it. Finish: Medium. Toasted cereal turning to sweet/tart dark fruit notes in the aftertaste. Water initially kills the nose but given time to recompose it gains body and sweetness. The palate is brisk and spicy, even when diluted down to well below 40%. It’s a hot whisky with the casks clearly apparent as a separate woody aroma, but not really cooperating with the spirit. It is well balanced but seems young. However it also shows a lot of potential – there is a strong personality to the distillate that will stand up to long maturation in the right conditions and gain greater depth of character. The big issue for me is the high price. Regardless of how good this may be and what potential it shows, right now it is the same price as a bottle of 18 year old Springbank and it is simply not of that class. “Above Average” : 3.25 stars
    270.0 AUD per Bottle
  5. Craft Works SOB 2020

    Single Malt — New South Wales, Australia

    Tasted
    1.25
    1.25 out of 5 stars
    Whisky Tasting : The Oak Barrel, Sydney, 19 January 2021. Whisky #2 Nose: A pungent, sharp sour aroma on first nosing. Sawdust and planky wood, cabbage water (feints?), acetone, unripe fruit. Palate: Oddly vegetal. Cabbage water again, sour fruit, unseasoned wood. Finish: Short. This was produced as an independent bottling by Craft Works Distillery in late 2020. The owner sourced the new-make spirit from an undisclosed NSW distillery and matured it at his premises in Capertee NSW in an American oak ex-bourbon cask. The name “SOB” is not what you think – it stands for “Shades of Bourbon” but I do not understand the meaning as there is little that is bourbon-like about this whisky. It is clearly a young, unrefined barley spirit and in my humble opinion the cut was too wide. I did not enjoy this whisky. I have read and seen some favourable reviews and tasting notes but they do not match my experience. Perhaps they are all correct and I’m wrong? Regardless, I would not want to re-taste a free pour of this, let alone buy a bottle. “Inferior” : 1.25 stars
    159.0 AUD per Bottle
  6. Tasmanian Independent Bottlers “The Vatted Malt” #2

    Blended Malt — Australia

    Tasted
    3.75
    3.75 out of 5 stars
    Whisky Tasting : The Oak Barrel, Sydney, 19 January 2021. Whisky #1 Nose: Aromatic barley, full but not overbearing, with a fragrant, dusty quality from both the grains and the casks. A little syrup note but not as intense as malt extract. As it rests in the glass fruit notes begin to appear as the sherry casks come through – orchard fruits at first, particularly sweet apple, and later raisins, dates and dried figs. After opening in the glass for a long time the nose gains a brown sugar aroma. The casks also show up as a fresh woody aroma in the background. Well balanced overall – neither wholly distillate nor cask driven. Palate: Sweet arrival with lots of dark fruits, cereal grains, sweet nuts (particularly cashews) and a little golden syrup. The texture is rich, creamy and very satisfying but the palate does not have the complex progression of the nose. Nonetheless it is very good. Finish: Medium. Sweet malty cereal and dark fruit right to the last glimmer of the aftertaste. Tasmanian Independent Bottlers was established in 2015 and has been releasing Australian whiskies as single cask, batch and vatted expressions. Experimentation and re-casking are priorities and they have created some excellent bottlings. This whisky was created by a vatting of three casks from their warehouse. Their origins are not revealed on the label but two are thought to be from the old Redlands Distillery (now revived as Old Kempton). The origin of the third is unknown. The casks are identified only as “sherry” but whether this means old-style Australian sherry, imported sherry, or Australian apera is uncertain. What is certain is that 196 bottles were created from the vatting, released in December 2019, and that the whisky is good. It has a character that is closer to Scottish malt whisky than is usual for our local product, and it bears a passing similarity to Benrinnes. I enjoyed this and would have bought a bottle, but unfortunately only one was available and it was quickly snapped up. It was not a bargain price, the bottle being only 500ml, but for the level of quality it was reasonable. “Good, just short of Very Good” : 3.75 stars
    180.0 AUD per Bottle
  7. Ardbeg 13 year old 2005 (That Boutique-y Whisky Company, Batch 9)

    Peated Single Malt — Islay, Scotland

    Tasted
    4.0
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    Whisky Tasting : The Oak Barrel, Sydney, 14 January 2021. Whisky #6 Nose: Light, brisk citrus over a heavier, flinty mineral-like foundation. Restrained maritime peat and a hint of burnt-match. Lemon oil emerges with repeated nosing but over time a floral component is noticed that adds depth and softness – the lemon oil transforms into lemon blossom. A distillate-driven nose with a smoke quality that is more akin to cold ash or soot than a bonfire. Palate: Sweet but bright entry with a lively, fresh citrus character. Subtle smoke in the background that expands with repeated tasting, eventually becoming bold and full. Cinnamon, ginger, camphor and sweet chilli sauce contribute to an overall warming quality that is balanced by maritime notes of tarred rope, smoked-fish and a saline breeze. The texture is mouth-coating but not heavy. Finish: Medium/long. The peat fades into light sweet fruit and a little ash in the aftertaste. That Boutique-y Whisky Company has released several Ardbeg expressions, which is unusual as Ardbeg is one of those distilleries that is seldom seen in independent release. This expression was distilled in March 2005 and matured in a re-coopered ex-bourbon hogshead for 13 years, being dumped in July 2018. This has a different personality to the modern core-range Ardbegs. It's more "old-school" with an oily, tarry quality and is less "dialed-in" and precise. It is a satisfying, soothing dram but I would not say it is superior – just different. Relatively expensive and primarily of interest to Ardbeg collectors. “Very Good” : 4 stars
    300.0 AUD per Bottle
  8. Kilchoman Fino Sherry Matured

    Peated Single Malt — Islay, Scotland

    Tasted
    3.25
    3.25 out of 5 stars
    Whisky Tasting : The Oak Barrel, Sydney, 14 January 2021. Whisky #5 Nose: The initial impression is of a crisp, fresh coastal spirit with a briny presence and a restrained smoky note. Further nosing reveals delicate fruit (citrus and tropical). There is an unusual aroma of moss and damp earth and also (bizarrely) burning electrical cables and hot metal. I can only imagine it was a combination of the fino sherry cask and peat smoke that reminded me of soldering phenol-resin turret boards. Palate: Considerably smokier on the palate than the nose – a tarry, earthy type of peat smoke from the first moment of arrival. Tropical fruit again in the development with a little salty lemon, mild chilli and olive oil. The texture is good, but not remarkable. Finish: Medium. Moderately sweet, smoky and nutty. A hint of lemon and brine lingers into the aftertaste. The dry fino sherry presence is most noticeable here. This whisky has a dry, austere, winey profile which makes it hard for me to review as I do not like that style. Fino sherry has never appealed to me (oh, how terribly unsophisticated I am) and I make no apologies for having a sweet-tooth. Give me a big syrupy PX sherry any day. This is very well made (well, it’s Kilchoman after all) and I’m sure it will appeal to many palates … just not mine. As far as my personal taste is concerned, I’d only rate this as “Adequate” at best, but I’m giving it a slightly higher rating here. Also, I thought it much preferable taken neat – water brings out the dry qualities even more. So much so that I was unable to finish my tasting glass. I would strongly recommend a trial pour of this before buying, if possible, as it is a polarising profile and at the asking price you’d want to be sure you really desired a whole bottle. “Above Average” : 3.25 stars
    160.0 AUD per Bottle
  9. Jade Espirit Edouard Absinthe Supérieure

    Absinthe — Maine-et-Loire, France

    Tasted
    5.0
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Appearance (neat): Old gold with a green tint. Exactly the same colour as the oil from a jar of preserved vine leaves. (louched): Condensed in appearance with a colour that is somewhere between very pale jade green and a golden-hued autumn leaf. This is the liquid counterpart of the finest grade of white moss jade. The louche takes a while to appear but starts around 1:1. It progresses slowly, being yellowish to start with, and a thick layer of oils floats above the louched content right up until about 1:4. At 1:4-1:6 it is complete and has achieved its final, glorious appearance. Aroma: When neat there is a refined but insistent aroma of woody herbs. The nose begins to bloom the second the first drop hits the surface and it continues to expand and fill the surrounding air as it louches. There is great complexity and anise is present, although reserved, with fennel and wormwood being more prominent. There is a citrus note but it is not bright – it’s like dried lime and mandarin peel. Earthy, woody notes are in support and there is also cumin, coriander and a strong vegetal aroma. Floating above all the other aromas is a floral bouquet that suggests walking through a meadow of spring flowers on a perfect day, towards a cool and welcoming forest, smelling of humus, damp bark and mushrooms. Flavour and Texture: Exquisite balance. Wormwood, anise and fennel in the arrival and nothing is rushed or cheaply sensational. The palate is reserved, genteel and it takes its own good time to progress. It is clean, clear and well defined but complex beyond comprehension. Quite seriously, it’s only on the aftertaste when the glass is well empty that you start to realize how expansive the palate of this spirit really is. Over time the dried-peel citrus notes from the nose also appear on the palate at the sides of the tongue, and a baking-spice bitter note emerges. This bitterness is superbly balanced by the creamy mouthfeel and it remains as the primary sensation, building slowly as subsequent sips are taken. The fresh herbal notes re-assert with each mouthful, producing a counterpoint to the gradually numbing wormwood bitterness. Magnificent. The aftertaste is eternal. There is an overall density to this absinthe that is entrancing – from the rich creamy appearance to the mouth-filling texture and slowly mounting flavours, this is a tour-de-force of opulence. For those who may not know, this was, and is, a ground-breaking absinthe – possibly one of the most important of all the modern expressions. This absinthe was the first to be reverse-engineered by Ted Breaux from samples taken from a bottle of pre-ban Esprit Edouard over a century old. Chromatography and other analytical techniques were used to dissect the exact profile of the spirit and Mr Breaux then set about rebuilding the production process by trial and error, and with the guide of 19th century distiller’s recipe books sourced from distillery archives. He "scienced the shit" out of this 😄. Drinking a perfectly louched glass of this spirit is a privilege. If you have the slightest interest in absinthe and only want to buy one bottle to try, this is the one. Then again, there are 4 more core-range Jade expressions and each one has its clique of devotees. Take your pick – there are about a dozen truly great modern absinthes available, and almost half of them are from Jade (I'll be reviewing them all over the coming weeks). It is the “Del Maguey” of absinthe. “Phenomenal” : 5 stars
    199.0 AUD per Bottle
  10. BenRiach 14 year 2005 Rum Cask exclusive Australian bottling

    Single Malt — Speyside , Scotland

    Tasted
    4.0
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    Whisky Tasting : The Oak Barrel, Sydney, 14 January 2021. Whisky #4 Nose: Sherry, raisins, tropical fruit, musky rockmelon, apricot, coconut, malt extract. No intrusive alcohol presence at all. The nose blooms magnificently over time. It is not syrupy but the rum cask contributes a deep oak-wood background and a brown sugar/molasses aroma that develops into an immense presence after an hour in the glass. The dry-glass is all rancio and treacle. Palate: Huge arrival. Dark fruits (stewed figs, dates soaked in rum, plum pudding), dark malt extract and leatherwood honey. Instantly impressive and commanding. The texture is sumptuous and mouth-coating with a little heat and spice (clove, cinnamon and nutmeg). Finish: Long. Rich sherried fruit notes fading into the distance with a hint of vanilla. This tasting was from an expression exclusively bottled for The Oak Barrel in 2020 so it will not be available outside Australia. If you search online you will find several “Benriach 14 year old 2005” whiskies but be aware that although the labels look similar at first glance the spirits differ considerably. This Oak Barrel bottling was from an ex-rum cask but others include expressions from sauternes, oloroso and PX cask maturation. @Jan-Case reviewed the Netherlands oloroso cask bottling here a couple of months ago. In this case the rum cask produced just 102 bottles which is a very small outturn so it must have been a pretty loose cask but the intense interaction this allowed was fortuitous. It created a big, soft, intensely flavourful whisky and it’s easily one of the best rum-cask maturations I’ve tasted, and also one of the best BenRiach expressions I’ve come across. The nose blooms with a drop of water as fragrant floral notes spring from the musky background. Water also evolves the palate by contributing greater depth but it does not turn overly spicy. This whisky loves to develop and is very good after 90 minutes. The single fault I found (if indeed it is a fault) is that there is no great progression in the palate. What you get up-front in the arrival is pretty much the whole story. The palate gains depth but it is all an elaboration of the initial theme, with no new melodies introduced. It’s kind of a “rum-monster” in the same way that Aberlour A’bunadh is a “sherry-monster”. Unfortunately this tasting was also from the last bottle in existence. When it was still in stock the price was $220 and if it had been available on the night I would gladly have paid that to obtain one. “Very Good” : 4 stars
    220.0 AUD per Bottle
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