On tasting: Lark Symphony No. 1, Tasmanian Independent Bottlers ‘The Craft’, Tasmanian Independent Bottlers Vatted Malt #3, The Tasmanian Collection Blended Whisky (2020), and Country to Coast Black Gate/Fleurieu Malt Whisky Blend
How good are blends! Yes, I’m a massive blended whisky fan, and I’ve been looking forward to tasting these new blended malts for months now. For me, this little movement, which we explored recently, is one of the most exciting developments in the Australian scene.
Practically, it’s the only way our distillers can go. Hardly anyone’s laying down large amounts of column-distilled grain whisky in Australia (Starward and Ostra Distillers aside, although there might be others…), so if you want to create new and interesting blends, blended malts are it.
All of the early leaders in the space will tell you it’s not the easiest exercise. It takes time, patience, vision and a lot of skill to create balanced, flavourful blended whiskies. And as both Angela Andrews (Fleurieu) and Tim Duckett (Heartwood/TIB) told us recently, if we don’t get Australian distillers trying, then no-one develops the expertise to do the job well. Lark’s longtime head distiller and blender Chris Thomson, for example, has been working on creating blended malts – like the Symphony No. 1 reviewed below – for about six years!
Whether or not the style really takes off here is anyone’s guess, but transparency is key to getting people on board. For the drinker, it’s much more fun and interesting when clear information is provided on the component whiskies.
There’s an opportunity for the Australian industry to get one up on the Scots here, too. By law, the Scots can’t divulge the age, source or proportions of component whiskies in any blend. Here in Australia, distillers can tell us everything!
And unless you’re making a Johnnie Walker Green Label, why be coy about where the whisky’s from? The first thing everyone asks is: what are you hiding? And then, more importantly, why?
I know it’s not that simple. Some Australian distilleries will only sell stock to independents and blenders if the source remains anonymous. The other reality is that some distilleries here sell casks of spirit in their start-up phase for cash flow and might not be happy with what bottlers or blenders do with them down the track.
But in an age where trust in institutions of every type and kind is at an all-time low, consumers want truth from their ‘craft’ producers. (Ultimately, it saves you having to answer pages of pesky social media comments down the track as well.)
So whatever side of the whisky fence you’re on, get blending Australia! Highballs, old fashioneds and boulevardiers here we come.