Whiskey review: Upshot Cask Strength v Tiger Snake Cask Strength

featured image
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.

  • Upshot Cask Strength (Batch 2)
    The Stats
    • ABV: 64%
    • Price Band: $ $ $ $ $
    • Style: Corn whisky
    • Production Story: Distilled in a pot-column from a mashbill of 80% corn, 10% malted barley and 10% wheat (all Western Australian grains). Matured for a minimum of two years in new American oak barrels. Unlike the standard strength Upshot, the cask strength expression is filled into cask at 63.5% (the standard at 43%).
    • Location: Perth, WA
    • Score: 91
    Nose
    Prominent new oak, then raspberries, corn fritters, creme caramel, banana and a slight soapiness. Surprisingly subtle and together for the abv.
    Palate
    Yum. Rich and oaky, and wears its abv so lightly. All the caramels and toffees, white bread and a thick corn mash, sort of creamed corn character.
    Finish
    Medium-bodied, with a fruity, slightly tart sweetness from the American oak.
    Comments
    For mine, right up there with Australia's top whisky releases of the last few years, especially when it comes to bang for your buck (I've been surprised by how under the radar it's remained). Just a totally different whisky to the 43%. The more traditional bottling strength sees this pull more tannin, sweetness, structure – ultimately, more flavour – from the virgin oak. Great stuff.
  • Tiger Snake Cask Strength 6 Year Old Barrel SM12
    The Stats
    • ABV: 62.7%
    • Price Band: $ $ $ $ $
    • Style: Corn whisky
    • Production Story: Distilled in pot stills from a mash bill of corn, rye and malted barley (the hybrid grain triticale has also been added in the past) and matured in a combination of ex-Bourbon casks and new American oak. All grains sourced from WA.
    • Location: Porongurup, WA
    • Score: 87
    Nose
    Grass clippings, slightly herbacious, and then vanilla, pastries, candle wax, firecrackers, and pepper and spice from the rye. With water, citrus, orange oil and a lovely confectionery note.
    Palate
    Nice heat, and much sweeter than the nose suggests. American oak asserts itself on the mid-palate, with butterscotch, shortbread creams and buttered corn. With water, you get more of the malt and rye emerging, and the fruits lift up. (I actually think this improves with water). Great texture.
    Finish
    Big. Keeps going.
    Comments
    Walks an intriguing line between sweet, herbal and spicy. The use of ex-Bourbon casks rather than new oak is fascinating here. Tannin doesn’t start to dominate because of the refill barrels, so Tiger Snake whiskies keep improving with time in barrel, more like an Australian malt. This bottling, along with recent batches, shows it's really starting to hit a sweet spot. A whisky that rewards a long, close look.
Luke McCarthy
Luke McCarthy is the editor and publisher of Oz Whisky Review. A freelance writer and author, Luke's the chief judge of the Perth Royal Distilled Spirits Awards, a judge at the Australian Distilled Spirits Awards, and his book, The Australian Spirits Guide, the first to tackle the history and resurgence of the Australian spirits industry, was published in 2016 by Hardie Grant Books.