On tasting: Upshot Cask Strength (Batch 2) and Tiger Snake Cask Strength 6 year old
Western Australia always led the corn whisky charge Down Under. Spike Dessert in the Kimberley was the first to have a crack with his Raymond B 100% Corn Whiskey, which he started producing in the late 1990s. I always really liked the stuff, but no-one was pushing 100% corn whisky back then.
Spike was ahead of his time in so many ways, but he eventually put the whisky experiment on the backburner. ‘This is a rum climate,’ he told me when I visited the distillery a number of years back, ‘it’s not right for whisky up here.’
Further south, it’s definitely right, particularly as all the grains for Bourbon-style whisky grow successfully in WA (corn, rye, wheat and barley). Cameron Syme, a long-time American whiskey fan, took over from Spike, distilling corn and rye down in Albany next to his successful Limeburners malts (Great Southern’s Tiger Snake Distillery is now dedicated to these styles).
Next came the Whipper Snapper boys. They went all in at their Perth distillery, solely focusing on the production of Upshot, a riff on wheated Bourbon. There’s others, too. The Grove Distillery in Margaret River have made Bourbon-style corn whisky for a number of years, but it’s always been sidelined by their malts (a shame – I’ve always preferred their corn whisky). On the other side of the country in Far North Queensland, Wild River Mountain Distillery are also putting out their own interpretation with corn and barley.
But Tiger Snake and Upshot are the clear leaders here, and for me, their cask strength bottlings are top of the pops.
What is it about high proof corn whisky? Bourbon authorities Chuck Cowdery, Michael Veach and Fred Minnick all point to high proof bottlings like Blantons and Bookers, first released in the 1980s, as pivotal to American whiskey’s resurgence. They struck a chord with enthusiasts and collectors looking for something unique and ephemeral, and also appealed to malt fanatics accustomed to single cask, cask strength bottlings.
Maybe these two bottlings can do the same for the Australian variety? It’s been a hard slog to get the drinking public interested in local, high-quality corn whisky. But now, Bourbon’s going ballistic, especially among serious enthusiasts, so hopefully the time’s right for these two Australian standouts to find the audience they deserve.