On tasting: seven Black Gate single malt whiskies
It’s no secret that Black Gate is one of Australia’s most beloved small-scale distilleries. Anyone who’s visited Brian and Genise Hollingworth in Mendooran, five hours north west of Sydney, knows that the generosity and humbleness of the place represents the best of the whisky business.
When I first visited in 2015, there was something else that struck me. Underneath Brian and Genise’s laconic, laid-back approach, lies an enormous amount of research and critical thinking about what they produce.
They also know what they’re about (living in Mendooran will teach you that). There’s no stuffing around or worrying about what some nagging hipster or influencer might think of their whisky. They make what they like to drink, and importantly, they know exactly what they like.
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who, upon entering the whisky production game, don’t really know what kind of whisky they like to drink. And I mean really know – the sort of deep knowledge that takes years of tasting and analysis.
Sure, you can find your way as you go. But you need conviction to make great whisky, and that’s what makes Black Gate so rewarding to drink. You can taste Brian’s thoughts and ideas about whisky in what he produces. Delicate, fruity, floral Speysider – yeah nah, that’s not Brian. Black Gate is big, complex, oily and hugely textural. The new make always has a strong cereal and burnt caramel note, the latter likely caused by his small, direct-fired pot stills.
Black Gate direct-fired pot still – Oz Whisky Review
Maturing spirit in Mendooran’s predominately dry climate makes everything happen bloody quickly. The spirit rips a massive amount of flavour from those 100 and 200 litre casks (mostly apera, a great choice) in only a few years. And with evaporative loss regularly above 10% per annum, little wonder Brian’s whiskies are so big and rich.
What they’re not, is overly woody and tannic. Sure, some Black Gate single casks have strayed too far that way, but it’s been rare. And in fact, there’s always a richness and sweetness to Black Gate whisky that tempers and balances the wood.
When Brian and Genise catch me crapping on about their whisky and rum like this, they normally smile, change the subject, mention another Aussie distiller doing great things. They’d never let on that they consistently produce some of the best drinking whisky and rum in the country. Genise’s rum, in particular, has to be one of Australia’s best dark spirits. For sheer flavour, complexity and value for money, it’s hard to beat.
Are they the most technically complete spirits you’re likely to taste? Possibly not. Occasionally, they have peccadilloes. Brian will, hilariously, tell you all about them if you ask. Because he knows them backwards. He thinks deeply about the whisky he makes, even though he’d probably laugh at me for saying silly shit like that.
Most of all, I feel lucky. We’re blessed to have down to earth people making whisky for us like this. You don’t have to take out a small mortgage to buy a few bottles, either, and when you do crack them, they’re so enjoyable to drink. No pretensions, no ‘brand’ bollocks. As a respected Irish bartender once said of Black Gate, ‘just great drinkin’ booze’.
Brian and Genise Hollingworth. Photo – Whisky & Alement