Oz Whisky Review
Australia has a new rye whisky to get its lips around, with the release of the The Gospel Straight Rye Whiskey from Melbourne’s The Gospel Distillers. But it was mixed emotions at The Gospel Distillery today, as founders Andrew Fitzgerald and Ben Bowles reflected on the hard graft and anxiety that’s been poured into this whisky.
‘We’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time, and it almost brings a tear to my eye, how hard it’s been to get here,’ said Fitzgerald, half laughing, half not. ‘And it’s not been easy. I look at all these smaller up-and-coming producers out there like us, and sometimes I want to offer them counselling, and say, ‘Hey, are you sure? Cause this [pointing to the bottle] is f…ing hard.”
The release marks the culmination of five years of planning for Fitzgerald and Bowles. Formerly Melbourne Moonshine, The Gospel Distillers was created in 2019 with a renewed focus – the production of rye whisky – and a new, largely self-built distillery in inner-city Brunswick.
Ben Bowles and Andrew Fitzgerald – Oz Whisky Review
‘We launched Melbourne Moonshine in November 2015. But then in August 2016, we decided to pivot in another direction and it was a huge decision, and hard for us to make,’ said Fitzgerald. ‘From that catalyst, that tipping point, it’s taken us until now to try and represent what we’ve been trying to achieve.’
The Gospel Solera Rye, the distillery’s first release, came out in September 2019. But this latest expression is fashioned on American straight rye whiskey and fully satisfies regulations governing the style, i.e. distilled from a mash of no less than 51% rye, to a concentration not exceeding 80% abv, and matured in brand new charred American oak barrels for a minimum of two years.
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None of this was by accident. ‘We have two ultimate markets: Melbourne and the US. We love the Australian market. We really want to cherish and build Melbourne first as our bolthole, as our anchor point, and then we hope the other states around Australia embrace it and take it on. But second to that, we really want to take it to the US,’ Fitzgerald said.
The release is the latest among a growing movement of Australian mixed-grain, corn and rye whiskies. Archie Rose’s Rye Malt Whisky sent enthusiasts into a frenzy when it was first released in August last year. Victoria’s Backwoods Distilling Co. are also set to release their first rye whisky in coming months, while WA’s Great Southern Distilling Company will launch Dugite, another mixed-grain whisky, at the end of May.
But at The Gospel Distillers, the plan moving forward is to solely concentrate on rye.
‘Our motto is to champion rye no matter what we do. And what I think this particular whisky does very well is to champion the grain and the cereal character of the spirit.’
Trials on the development of their 100% rye spirit began back in 2015/16. Australian unmalted rye was always the preferred choice, and a single farm located in the Murray Mallee region in South Australia was eventually selected to supply grain for their whisky.
‘The rye grain we get is just super dense and full of flavour. Other rye grain we tried, it gave us less grain influence, less of that dry, rye bread density. So sticking with this one region is going to influence our whisky moving forward.’
‘Our motto is to champion rye no matter what we do. And what I think this particular whisky does very well is to champion the grain and the cereal character of the spirit.
– Andrew Fitzgerald
With the spirit sorted, a number of maturation experiments were then conducted for The Gospel straight rye, before the duo started working with a cooperage in the US to secure new, seasoned American oak from a single forest.
‘All barrels are not created equally,’ said Ben Bowles. ‘We learnt that early, and, sometimes, the hard way.’
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Plans are also in the works to release a single barrel cask strength expression and two annual ‘projects’, likely single cask bottlings or unique casks finishes.
‘For instance, we’ve got a single gamay wine cask from Ochota resting up now. That’s spent two years in new American oak and then it’s gone into the gamay to be finished. Moving forward we’ve also got different grain bills – all with a minimum of 51% rye – and we’re also working with corn and wheat,’ said Fitzgerald.
5000 bottles from 15 barrels make up this first release. Melbourne’s Nicks Wine Merchants have an exclusive preliminary offer, while official distribution will begin from the 16th of March, with an estimated retail price of $95-98, following the likes of Starward, Upshot, Neds and Hellyers Road into the rare sub-$100 space.
‘We want to make drinkin’ whisky,’ says Bowles. ‘We don’t want to be a $150-200 bottle of whisky on the shelf. We want people to enjoy it.’