A While Between Drinks

Having recently wrapped up a couple of Grand Finale events (Iniquity Batch 4 a winner at Parkside and the Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso cask at Golden Barley), Dram Club is taking a quick break.

The first time we’ve taken time off since we started a number of years ago, we’ve both got some other major projects we’re working on right now and we’re taking some time to work on some new ideas for Dram Club and Ardent Spirits Co.

For the record those projects are Sydney Craft Beer week, which Yvette is General Manager of, and the Sydney Whisky Fair, which Scott runs.

We’ll be back in the next few months with some big plans! Thanks for your support across the past three years and into the future!


A Chat With Iniquity Whisky’s Ian Schmidt

Hailing from South Australia, Iniquity is the single malt brand of the new Tin Shed Distillery. Rising from the ashes of the South Coast Distillery saga, the first batches of Iniquity (#1, #2 and #3) appeared late 2015/early 2016. Batch #3 is already a Dram Club winner.

With more releases scheduled for the coming months (gotta wait for those barrels to mature!) we caught up with Tin Shed’s distiller Ian Schmidt for a quick chat.

First off, what are you drinking right now?
Test driving Iniquity batches 004, 005 and 006.

What’s your job role/title at the distillery?

How and where did you learn to distill?
A little bit from my father as a teenager, a lot from books, a bit from other Australian distillers and just giving it a go.

Is there anyone in the industry you particularly admire?
Bill Lark, Patrick Maguire and David Baker, as they made it easier for those of us that followed them.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the industry at the moment?
A looming shortage of good oak, financial pressures forcing distillers to release product before it is ready and detracting from our new national reputation for quality spirits.

What’s a story about working in the distillery that only comes out when you’re talking to mates at the pub?
I tell a story about the look on a copper’s face when I was breath tested on the way home from the distillery.  I had spilt whisky on my clothes and the car and I stank of whisky, but I blew 0.0, much to the disbelief of the policeman!  He made me repeat the test with a different breathalyser.

Is there a moment or a product that you’re most proud of?
I am proud of everything we put in a bottle and love hearing people telling me how much they enjoy it

When you’re not drinking your own booze, is there anywhere in Australia you particularly like to enjoy an Aussie craft spirit?
At anchor on a yacht, or around the camp fire.

Any exciting news/products coming up that you can let us in on?
Yes, but none that I can share with you I am afraid.

Visit Iniquity’s website here.


Food vs Whisky: Glenfiddich Culinary Challenge

Earlier this week the final of the Glenfiddich Culinary Challenge took place at Sydney’s Centennial Park dining quarters. The culmination of a nation-wide search of chefs matching dishes with Glenfiddich single malts, 100 eager food and whisky punters tasted five dishes matched with whisky to chose the overall winner.

It was hosted by Australia’s Glenfiddich ambassadors Laura Hay and Richard Blanchard.

The series raised money for the Soldier On charity, which provides support mechanisms for returned servicemen and women.

In the end chef Duncan Wlegemoed of Adelaide hot spot Africola was the crowd-voted winner and he’ll now enjoy a trip to Speyside in Scotland to visit Glenfiddich. He matched smoked mussels and roast crab with charred baby cos, caramelised whisky barrel yeast and Glenfiddich butter sauce with the rich Glenfiddich 18-year-old.



Round 1: Storm clams with saffron and Glenfiddich aioli (on dry ice) with the light, apple-y. Glendfiddich 12. If only Glenfiddich had a salty whisky to match with this… By Centennial Parklands Dining’s own Arkin Barretto.


Round 2: The eventual winner from Wlegemoed. The butter worked fantastic with the creamy ‘Fiddich 18.


Round 3: Dram Club’s vote, from Balmain-based chef Leigh McDivitt of One6Eight. Chicken tortellini with scorched corn and Glenfiddich custard matched with the dry oak and spices of the Glenfiddich 14 Year Old. Far more spectacular in the mouth that it was reading it on the menu.


Round 4: Another New South Wales local in Matthew Ouwerkerk of Raven Eye who put together this hay-smoked spatchcok with fagiolo all’uccelletto and Glenfiddich and thyme jus. Matched with the richer sherry-casked 15-year-old solera vat.


Round 5: Finally desert, this slightly-birdsnest-looking Glenfiddich and maralumi cacao with lambs blood ganache matched with the layered 21 year old. A lot going on in glass and on plate, not always in harmony.



In the end the award went – rightly so – to the tortellini and Glenfiddich 14 – a dish that matched the whisky, even if you’d be hard pressed to pick between the first three as dishes alone. Those clams really needed a peated cask…



Forest Lodge Highland Park

Highland Park Joins Forest Lodge Favourites

The staple Highland Park 12 Year Old was voted the favourite of the most recent tasting at the Forest Lodge Dram Club tasting, coming up trumps over three other Scotch whiskies and an Aussie malt.

The unique flavour of Highland Park’s subtle smoke, coming from the peat from the heather-covered Orkney Islands, proved a hit with attendees. Highland Park malt approximately 20 percent of their own usage from local peat and coke, with the remaining barley sourced from the mainland.

Other drams in the hunt were the creamy Glenrothes 2001 and the peppery Talisker 10.

Black Gate‘s extremely limited (just 159 bottles, we cracked #3) ‘520s’ was a close second in voting, the 67% cask strength nature of the dram perhaps a little challenging alongside the comparatively tamer other whiskiess. A vatting of five 20 litre casks, hence the name, it is a deep, rich whisky with back end pepper and fruit sweetness.

Whisky Line Up

In all we sampled the Glen Grant 10, Glenrothes 2001, Highland Park 12, Black Gate 520s and Talisker 10. All those bottles are now behind the bar at the Forest Lodge Hotel.




Brian & Genise Hollingworth

A Chat With Black Gate Distillery’s Brian Hollingworth

A member of the Dram Club Hall Of Fame*, the Black Gate Distillery is one of the many exciting distilleries on the current Australian landscape.

Based in Mendooran in country New South Wales (sort of near Dubbo and Coonabarabran) the distillery is the efforts of Brian and Genise Hollingworth (pictured above). From humble beginnings the distillery is now working full time… full production is a barrel a fortnight.

So far they’ve released just five single malts (BG002, BG004, BG005 and the 520s) but there’s already an avid following. That includes the world famous NOMA restaurant, who added the Black Gate whisky and rum to their very exclusive spirits menu at the Sydney pop up restaurant.

With the latest release, the 520s, set to feature at our upcoming Forest Lodge tasting, we asked Brian a few questions in the first of our features with whisky professionals.

(*Black Gate single cask BG005 was voted into the Hall Of Fame at Golden Barley series two.)

First off, what are you drinking right now?
Our last bottle of BG005!

What’s your job role/title at the distillery?

How and where did you learn to distill?
Year 8 Science, the internet and Lark Distillery.

Is there anyone in the industry you particularly admire?
Bill Lark and family have been very helpful over the years. I also have a great deal of respect for [Lark distiller] Chris Thompson’s and [Archie Rose distiller] Joe Dinsmore’s experience and skill.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the industry at the moment?
Aside from the obvious excise inequity and tiny market share, these are really exciting times for Aussie distillers who’s biggest challenge is more often than not, trying to keep up with demand.

What’s a story about working in the distillery that only comes out when you’re talking to mates at the pub?
I had a very early start one morning and while still half asleep, tipped over a fermenter with our little forky, losing the wash for that day’s distillation run.

Is there a moment or a product that you’re most proud of?
The moment Kathleen from Nip of Courage rang and told us all our products had been included in the spirit range at Noma Australia.

When you’re not drinking your own booze, is there anywhere in Australia you particularly like to enjoy an Aussie craft spirit?
We don’t get to the cities much, but Genise and I love Bad Frankie and have had a couple of great afternoons at The Royal Albert in Sydney. We plan to visit more venues that support Aussie spirits in the near future!

Any exciting news/products coming up that you can let us in on?
Our next whisky release is coming soon and our first rum for the year is shaping up to be a beauty!

Black Gate whiskies, rums and liqueurs are available in limited quantities through independent bottle stores.

Visit their website.



The New Hielan Era Of GlenDronach: How Does It Stack Up?

In the past five years, Scottish distillery GlenDronach has established itself as one of the premier sherry-cask maturation producers in the Scotch whisky industry.

(If you don’t care about ramblings and muses on the state of GlenDronach in 2016 and only care about what the whisky tastes like – skip these next few paragraphs. The whisky is below…)

Taking a few people by surprise, their regular 12 and -15-year-old expressions came in and captured the imagination of drinkers who love the rich, thick Christmas pudding aromas of top quality sherry cask whiskies. And at the price points they were offering they easily undercut the likes of Glenfarclas and Macallan, whose equivalent age statements (if they had statements at all) were more expensive and utilised less and less sherry.

To make a long distillery history short, GlenDronach was closed in 1996 and re-opened in 2001. In 2008 current owners the Benriach Distillery Company purchased the business and its stocks and went about developing the expressions we’ve come to love. The popularity of the 15-year-old, in particular, has been immense but that cessation of production between ’96 and ’01 caused issues. Any 15 year old whisky distilled after the mothballed period could only be ready by 2016 – so that means that anything labelled as a 15-year-old we’ve drunk was distilled prior to 1996. In 2015 that was a 19-year-old whisky.

Persevering with the age statements that they’d originally developed meant the distillery had a consistent product on shelves, but it also meant that they’d run out eventually (the influx of single-cask sherry cask releases didn’t help the 15-year-old’s stocks either). Last year, it did run out. Available through retailers who haven’t sold out yet (or who’ve raised the prices) the 15 will return in 2018 and who knows what it’ll taste like then.

That’s not the only thing, in Australia particularly, the 18-year-old and 21-year-old are becoming sparse in quantities. The 21 appears once or twice a year, the 18 maybe three or four times. There’s even whispers about the stocks of the staple sub-$100 12-year-old – will it still be here this time next year?

IMG_4911It’s been an astonishing few years but the future is now. Last year the distillery announced the new 8-year-old Hielan, a whisky with a higher bourbon-cask percentage in the mix than the others (the 12-year-old has some bourbon, the 15-year-old was pure sherry cask). Expected to arrive in Australia officially in March, Dram Club acquired a bottle late last year.

After sitting with it for a few months, we’ve decided to put it to the (taste) test formally. We’ve put it alongside the standard 12-year-old, which is now the most available expression, and another 8-year-old special edition, the Octarine. Never released in Australia, it too is a vatting of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry and is plucked from Yvette’s personal collection.

Note: GlenDronach is Yvette’s favourite distillery and she has arguably one of the most diverse collections of GlenDronach in Australia. Her love began with the 15-year-old, as seen in the artwork above, commissioned specifically from Monique of Whisky-Arts. Scott is also a GlenDronach fan, but tends to enjoy the roughness of the 12-year-old.


GlenDronach ‘Hielan’ 8-Year-Old

Single malt, 46%

A vatting of both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. Pronounced ‘High-lan’ or “highland: without the “d”. On the bottle it says “Matured And Married In A Combination Of The Finest Bourbon & Sherry Casks”. Natural colour, non chill filtered.

Nose:  Sultanas, brown sugar, spice, vanilla essence, toffee, oranges, old oak.
Palate:  Oily, spicy, Christmas cake, caramel, really dark chocolate, jaffas, subtle oak.
Nose: Nutmeg, fresh butter.

Scott: Didn’t really get the oiliness Yvette was finding, but it’s quite creamy for me – really well rounded. Vanilla is abundant but the sherry casks certainly not anonymous. If it comes in at a good price it’s another great GlenDronach bang-for-buck.

Yvette: Quite spicy on the nose, as if you’ve sniffed a jar of ground allspice powder. Has all the hallmark fruitcake notes we’ve come to love from GlenDronach, just a bit more subtle. Great mouthfeel though, oily.

Price: We wait with bated breath.
Where To Get: Indie bottle stores, hopefully from March.


GlenDronach ‘Octarine’ 8-Year-Old

Single malt, 46%

Another vatting of bourbon and sherry casks – in fact, the tin and bottle have the exactly the same wording as the Hielan. Natural colour, non chill filtered.

Nose: Raisins, butter, milk chocolate, plums, lemon-scented wood polish, mandarin peel, kumquat.
Palate:  Vanilla, boiled lollies, Christmas cake (as opposed to Christmas pudding), butterscotch, oak. 
 Oak, malt, marmalade.

Scott: Much deeper nose, you almost fall into it, and then the citrus is quite surprising. Dry finish, which doesn’t really have the same intrigue as the nose and palate.

Yvette:  Doesn’t have the spice on the nose that the Hielan has, more marzipan. With time in the glass there’s a citrus sweetness that comes out, which is quite a unique experience for me with GlenDronach. It’s got a long finish, but none of that Christmas pudding trademark. This has the same DNA, but more removed than the standard ranges. Wasn’t expecting to, but I prefer the Heilan –  more ‘typical GlenDronach’.

Price: Was only a limited run for the French market, going for about 45 Euro or so. You’ll pay a lot more these days though.
Where To Get: Auction sites, private collectors

GlenDronach ‘Original’ 12-Year-Old

Single malt, 43%

Combination of Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry casks, but the bottles doesn’t have ‘exclusively’ like the 15-year-old did/does so we can assume there’s a touch of bourbon. Natural colour, non chill filtered.

Nose:  Figs, dried fruits, oranges, brandy over fruitcake, vanilla essence.
Palate: Singed orange slices, Christmas pudding, wood polish.
Finish:  Very aromatic, slight oak, stewed apricots, musk, currents.

Scott:  Jumps up in to your nose, has a great body and a lingering finish that’s not all that delicate. Really love this whisky. Funnily enough, it’s a bit rougher and more brutish than the Helian.

Yvette:  I have a fear that the new 8 is better than the 12, so I’m going to go back to it after this is done. The 12 has never been my star of the GlenDronach line-up and to be honest I’ve always chosen the 15 over the 12. The 12 is definitely dirtier.

So after all that, we went back to the Hielan (didn’t take much convincing) to see how we liked it with our palates now in full-GlenDronach mode…

Scott:  Going back, by far the most rounded. The warming sensation in the mouth is really attractive. If I had to choose though, the comparative rough and tumble of the 12 would do it for me.

Yvette:  Still has that spice, like putting your nose into a jar of allspice. I think it’s my pick of the three, even now that I’ve gone back. This is a really good whisky.

Price: $80-$90
Where To Get: Whisky specialists

DSC00874 small

Official Dram Club ambassador Willa guarding some of the GlenDronachs. Apparently this photo is posted on the office wall at the distillery.



Glenlivet King Of The Cask Strengths

February’s whisky tasting at the Golden Barley certainly had a kick to it with three ‘cask strength’ whiskies on show.

The Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso (60.7%), the Limeburners Port Cask (61%) and Finlaggan Cask Strength release (58%) were on show alongside an 8-year-old Old Pulteney bottled by Gordon & MacPhail and the Six Isles blend.

On another night there night have been three winners in the bunch but the crowd opted for the Glenlivet as their crowd favourite.

Other crowd-winners of this season include the the Glenfarclas £511.19s.0d. They’ll both be on taste again later this year at the Golden Barley’s Grand Finale event.

Upcoming whisky tastings on sale now!


Iniquity Aussie Single Malt A Dram Club Winner

Batch 3 of the Iniquity single malt whisky was voted as the favourite whisky of tonight’s Dram Club. Distilled at South Australia’s Tin Shed Distillery, the vote was taken by punters at the Parkside Bar in Redfern, Sydney.

Part of the very limited out-turn from the distillery’s first three barrels that have made it to bottles, Batch 3 it has been matured for two years in American oak ex-port casks with a two month finish in a rum cask.

The other whiskies tasted on the night were the Glenmorangie Original 10 Year Old, the Teeling Irish Single Grain, the Kilchoman 100% Islay second edition and the Benriach Curiositas Ten Year Old.

The light elegance of the Glenmorangie 10 was a great opener while the Teeling won over a few fans who thought they may not love Irish, or grain, whiskies prior. The second edition of the Kilchoman 100% Islay was a fascinating look back into the early days of Islay’s farmhouse distillery. Released in 2012, the back vintage is in short supply these days. The Benriach Curiositas 10-year-old was the second peated whisky of the night – although not everyone got the cured meats and honey smoked ham and cured meat notes that Scott associates with this dram. Yvette’s palate, as usual, differed a fair bit.

All five bottles are now behind the bar for purchase by the dram at very good prices (between $8 and $12 most likely).

The Iniquity Batch 3 will now appear again at the next Parkside Grand Finale, made up of the five favourite whiskies from the five previous tastings. So far the Glenmorangie Lasanta and the Iniquity Batch 3 are the first two in that line-up.

The two next Dram Club tastings at the Golden Barley in Enmore and Forest Lodge in Glebe are on sale now.



Single Cask Whiskies: New Berry’s Own Reviewed

Australia has seen precious too little of the single cask releases from Berry’s Own in recent years. The in-house label of the famous Berry Brothers & Rudd’s wine merchants’ spirits arm, the quality of their single cask whiskies have been well known but often out of reach.

For the latest outturn of Berry’s Own Single Casks releases, due on shelves in Australia early February, the local Berry’s team have opted to import fewer lines, but in bigger quantities. Four whiskies will land in Aus: their house blend Blue Hanger (Release 11), two single cask single malts, from Auchroisk and Clynelish, and a single cask single grain from North British.

We’ve had a chance to samples of these incoming drams and our thoughts are below.


Blue Hanger 11th Release

Blended malt, 45.6%

A non-chill filtered, natural colour blended whisky. According to Whisky Exchange this is vatted from eight casks – four hogsheads (250 litres), three butts (500 litres) and a puncheon (650 litres) – with Bunnahabhain present in both peated and unpeated styles.

Nose: Fresh cut grass, fennel bulb, caramel, honey, vanilla. Quite sweet.
Palate: Butterscotch, enveloping highland peat. It’s quite playful on the tongue, with a popping candy-type spice. There’s a lot going on, a complex array of sensations if not flavours.
Finish: A good length and quite oily.

Scott: The earthy peat really made this for me – helped make the finish as well, which was surprisingly long. Enjoyed the end more than I did the start.

Yvette: Spirit-driven on the nose, very fresh – a good summer whisky. A lot of bourbon maturation in this, definitely not much sherry cask influence as per previous releases.

Price: Likely around $210-$220
Where To Get: 
Independent whisky specialists.


Auchroisk 1996 18-Year-Old

Single cask, 50.9%. Speyside. 

We still haven’t figured out how to pronounce this Diageo-owned distillery, which is a big part of their blends. We’ve settled on ‘Ar-thrask’. Or ‘Orc-rousk’. Or ‘Orth-roisk’.

Nose: Sponge cake/egg white, very soft, jammy, cranberry jam, fresh saplings, caster sugar and sherbet straws.
Palate:  Moss, timber.
Finish: Dry. Bitterness. Rocket.

Scott: Really interesting. Really enjoyed the nose and the finish was quite challenging. The cask isn’t really making its presence felt, so it’s quite a naked whisky and pure expression of the distillery. Addition of water lost some of that character.

Yvette: Fresher than a bourbon cask would usually be. Lack of balance puts me off a little bit. Water helped round it out.

Price: Likely $230-240.
Where To Get: Independent whisky specialists.


Clynelish 1997 17-Year-Old

Single cask, 55.2%. Speyside.

Matured in a refill hogshead.

Nose: Lemon peel, honeydew melon, dust, peppermint, menthol.
Palate: Eucalyptus, juniper wood, beeswax candle, manuka honey.
Finish: Delicate with a subtle warm sweetness. Fine gravel, not as long as the previous two. Honey flows through. Pine needles.

Scott: Nose cleared out my sinus a bit, which was odd, but this did everything I want a single cask to be. Very unique and very interesting. Was surprised by the menthol, but it was a welcome addition.

Yvette: Finish warms your lips, which I really like. There’s a lot going on here again. It’s lacking the waxiness you’d normally expect from a Clynelish.

Price: Likely $240-$250
Where To Get: Independent whisky specialists.


North British 1996 18-Year-Old

Single grain, 56.8%. Lowlands.

The only sherry-cask matured whisky of the bunch and the latest in a growing number of fascinating single grain releases.

Nose: Sweet red vermouth, traditional lemonade, aged rum, chalk dust, celery leaf, overripe white grapes, fresh sawdust.
Palate: Homemade butter, hot buttered rum,  a boozy caramel desert, caramelised sugar.
Finish: Subtle finish, rich butter on warm bread. French deserts.

Scott: The palate was quite buttery, and going back to the nose that’s what dominated when previously there was a lot more going on. A bit desert-y for me to choose over the above.

Yvette: Coats all your mouth, like butter does. My favourite of the lot. Definitely has a rum flavour to it, but my pick of the bunch.

Price: Likely $230-$240
Where To Get: Very small allocation into Australia, so select specialists and bars.


Bowmore In A Thriller: Forest Lodge Kicks Off 2016

It was a long time between drinks (and for once that cliché means exactly what it says) for Dram Club, but 2016 kicked off in the back room of the Forest Lodge Hotel this week.

Funnily enough, drinking and chatting about good whisky is a really easy habit to get back into.

We had two Aussie malts on show, the Starward Solera Cask from Essendon – a touchstone of the current whisky landscape – and Far North Queensland’s Big Black Cock from the Mt Uncle distillery. (Yes, the ‘take the Big Black Cock in your mouth and swallow when you’re ready’ joke was made, but only once before it was retired).

DSC05120aSliding in between the two Aussie malts as an elegant option between the fruity Starward and the brutish BBC was the Distiller’s Reserve from Japan’s Hakushu distillery. A fresh, vibrant whisky, there was plenty of grapefruit, melon and citrus amongst the contentious* subtle smoke (*why contentious? Scott: “I get a bit of smoke at the end of this”. Yvette: “There’s no smoke”. S: “No, but I really do get a bit on this”. Y: “There’s no smoke”.)

Such is the burgeoning world of whisky at the moment that it wasn’t until the final two of the night that anything with ‘Scotch’ written on the bottle showed up. The Tullibardine 500, which gets its name from the 500 litre sherry cask the spirit has been finished in, is a light, slightly nutty take on the sherry finish. Coming after the BBC it was very smooth indeed.
The final whisky of the night was the Bowmore Darkest, a 15-year-old malt from the oldest still-operating Islay distillery which has spent the final three years of maturation on Oloroso sherry casks. The sherry was more apparent here than on the Tullibardine, despite the leathery smoke that greeted you with every sip.

As is Dram Club tradition, the punters’ vote closed out the night and the Tullibardine and Bowmore initially tied with four votes each. In a tie-break the Bowmore got up 8 votes to 6, the closest ever Dram Club tie-break.

The Bowmore now joins the other finalists whiskies – Heartwood‘s Any Port In A Storm and the Bernheim wheat whiskey – and will re-appear at the Grand Finale event for this, the first series at the Forest Lodge.

The other two whiskies will be decided by the upcoming tastings at Forest Lodge.