Crafting Our First Whisky
Crafting a single malt whisky is something that is both very simple and very complicated. On the one hand ultimately you just put spirit into a barrel and wait and whisky will come out the other end. On the other hand, every decision you make from the kilning of the malt to the strength of the final spirit before bottling will shape the entire character and personality of the whisky you’re producing.
Knowing this we spent 18 months working on our spirit before filling our first barrel. No less than 67 separate Spirit distillations were produced before we knew we had everything dialled in just right to start filling barrels. This process involved optimising our grain bill, brewing protocols, yeast selection, fermentation times and how we run the still itself. It took time to get it right, but it was worth it to see the end result, a new make spirit that Jim Murray himself described as “the sweetest new make I have ever encountered. It is, by any yardstick, extraordinary!” in the 2019 whisky bible.
Once we knew that we were going to be filling our barrels with world class new make spirit it was time to look at what casks we wanted to shape our maturation and how we wanted to get the best out of them. That can be a challenge because there are a lot of options out there and ultimately you never really know how any single barrel will flavour the whisky within until it’s well into maturation. So there is a significant element of luck (or risk if you’re a glass half empty type).
There is a cookie cutter approach for barrel selection that has been used a lot in the industry (and for good reason) that involves 20 litre barrels usually ex-port French oak and ex-Bourbon American Oak, two and a bit years old and possibly some blending on the other end. We really wanted our whisky to tell our story though and that meant taking a different road then the one most commonly walked.
Cask number 0001 traced its heritage back to Sullivans Cove in 2015, where it was a very leaky 250 litre brandy cask that our head distiller John got his hands on while he was still a distiller there. It then spent 3 additional years sitting in the elements before being recoopered down to 50 litres, charred, and toasted by the artisans at Transwood cooperage in Perth Tasmania. Marrying our heavily peated new make spirit with this cask really gave us the opportunity to use a piece of our past to create something that represents where we want to be heading to in the future.
As with all of our whiskies cask 0001 was then allowed to mature peacefully for three full years just metres from the Bass Straight before we decanted it from its initial maturation. It was at this stage we knew we had something pretty special on our hands but we saw no point in accepting anything short of the best whisky we could produce. That’s why we decided to opt for a finishing cask – a rich and robust 50 litre ex-Bengio shiraz cask that John had brought back with him as staves the be recoopered after a brief stint at a friend’s vineyard (Yes he does make a habbit of collecting barrels everywhere he goes). This brief three month-long second maturation perfectly balanced the sweet and fruity character built by cask 0001 and brought harmony to the influence of the cask and the peat.
It took a lot of work and a lot of care, both in broad strokes and gentle nudging but we had finally crafted something worthy of being our first release. A whisky that wasn’t just the first spirit that came off our still and matured in an off the shelf 20 litre cask. It was a whisky that we made with purpose and crafted with care, taking every opportunity to infuse with our own character and history as it developed its own.
But that’s enough time talking about whisky, whisky isn’t supposed to be discussed it’s supposed to be enjoyed and while stocks last you can grab a bottle of your own to savour here.