Whisky Review: Black Gate Single Cask #BG055

Style: Smoky and Spicy

Nose:
Begins with an acidic overtone, followed by some smoky liquorice roots, bacon drizzled with barbeque sauce. Hot spice cutting in from time to time. Raspberries, a touch of Quandong liquer (?) and orange drops meet at the bottom. Sharp, sweet and smoky.

Palate:
A rather hot palate, but when the flavours are starting to sink in, we have more liquorice, citrus drops and plenty of smoke – reminds me a bit of Laphroaig. Raspberry chocolate swirl, liquorice roots rolling around the tongue, a touch of rustic, diesel oil at the back. The herbal tone starting to breathe out after a while, intriguing dram.

Finish:
Swinging to the chocolate-y side of things, Maltesers, chocolate oak, followed by a thin line of citrus fruits, leading to a final smoky push.

Thoughts:
Quite an interesting dram here. It is one of the smokiest Aussie whisky I have tried so far, and interestingly, I see glimpses of Laphroaig in this. Maybe it is the abundance of smoke and citrus-liquorice sweetness in the spirit. Quite spicy and rough around the edges (okay, I just realized this is 63.6%, no wonder it is so hot), but the peat element is very well established, I quite like this.

[Recommended if you like the style/ distillery]

[63.6% / Original Bottling/ Jul 2016 Distilled / Aug 2018 Bottled / Aged 2 Years / Single Cask / Cask number: BG055/ 38 of 177 Bottles / Matured in Sherry Cask / t-]

-Esmond

Dram Review: Black Gate BG022

[50.0% Distilled in 2014Bottled in 20173 Years OldOfficial BottlingSingle Cask Release of 199 Bottles]

Nose:

On the nose, the whisky attains quite the Port cask influence on the surface, lemony with a generous dose of blackcurrants.  Musky and floral but at the same time there are these familiar notes of gritty dust and dirty diesel amongst notes of chocolate dust, cloves, cola syrup and aged lemon.

Palate & Finish:

A big juicy hit on the palate as driven by the cask.  Vanilla and caramel alongside blackcurrants and a hearty splash of cinnamon with just a hint of malt.  It turns rather woody from the mid-palate as the spices hammer down, releasing some notes of pear in the process.

A touch on the dry and woody side in the finish but there are loads of malted biscuit and milk chocolate to chew on.

Thoughts:

This one seems like a throw back to the roots of the grittier middle Australian malt that Australian whisky fans have grown affectionate towards, the Black Gate identity is well preserved behind the mask of the Port cask.

Cheers Gareth for the dram, it’s much appreciated.

-Nicholas

Interview: Catching Up With The Hollingworths of Black Gate Distillery

You can read our last interview with Brian and Genise here.

Nicholas:  So tell me, what has changed at Black Gate since our last chat over three years ago?

Brian:  Well, we built a cool room so we can ferment during the hotter weather, and we were able to increase production from when we first started, from 3 barrels a winter to about 30 this year, 30 100 litre barrels..

We have also added a 630 litre still, and upgraded our mash tun from about 380 litres to to 700 litres.

Nicholas:And I understand you have also changed your mash bill?

Brian:  Yes, drastically, we have been doing 100% heavily peated mash for the past two years.

Nicholas What’s the reason behind this change?

Brian I think there is a gap in the market for Australian producers, no one was specialising in heavily peated and there’s a demand for it, and Australian peated whiskies tend to be not so heavily peated..

I have actually been bringing in peated barley from the UK to make it more smoky, about 45-55 but usually 52 ppm.

Nicholas And you cut down on your fermentation time, is that right?

Brian Yes we do 4-day-ferments now in the temperature controlled cool room, so our ferments more consistent and our new makes are now more consistent with very slight differences from batch to batch.

But then of course we are at the mercy of the barrels as to how they turn out as you know they can vary a bit..

We are fermenting twice and distilling three times a week these days which keeps us pretty busy through out the week, and of course Genise is still making rum.

Nicholas The barrels on the racks look bigger as well..

Brian Yes we have bought some 230 litre Port casks from SA Cooperage and we have also got some 230 Litre ex-Bourbon casks which we think will suit the heavily peated new make quite well.

Nicholas:  Three years ago you were one of the first craft distilleries that started releasing whiskies after Sullivan Cove’s WWA win, how has the market for Australian whiskies changed since then?

Brian Definitely, when we first started, we had no idea that people would come from Sydney to come and visit us!  The interest has definitely grown.

Genise:  Especially at the markets!

Brian We started out at the farmers market so it’s amazing to see how different things are now.

Nicholas Talk about your experiences with regional markets, not a lot of  Australian distilleries are focusing on that slice of the pie, what has inspired you to do that?

Genise:  It gets our name out there and it gets people noticing us and noticing what’s around.  Half the time I go to these markets I get asked where we are from.  And when I say we are from Mendoorin they would say they didn’t even know we are out there so it’s basically just letting people know we are here.

Brian:  We have enjoyed sales at the capital cities and we are just sort of branching out to new customer bases in the regional areas who are more savvy about local products these days.

Our earlier customers are already active in the whisky circle but there are so many more people coming abroad, people who are just discovering craft whiskies.  There is a growing interest for sure!

Nicholas: So, Genise you have started marketing whiskies directly.

Genise:  Um, I am full time at the distillery now; it seems like a natural progression.

Nicholas:  Becci is at university now..

Genise:  Yeh, there’s sort of no one here anymore and I have more time on my hands to do the sales part of things.

Brian: I think with the change in distribution, or the dissolving of partnership it was just sort of us going in a different direction for a bit.

Nicholas So what changes can we expect?

Genise:  Hopefully people will like talking directly to the makers, I think it makes a little bit of difference to talk to people who have been through the entire process.

I hope they would like that whoever they are speaking to is the person making it so they can get a more direct answer.

Brian:  We are excited to be interact more with the actual customers.

Genise: whereas we didn’t know them before.

Nicholas:  So we can expect to see you more often then?

Brian:  Yes we aim to be at more cities and do more tastings.

We really enjoy meeting the customers.

Nicholas And the price?

Genise:  We are excited about that too!  As we up our production we should be able to drop the price a bit which is great as it is making the product more accessible to people..

Thank you Brian and Genise for your time, it was great catching up with you both, until next time!

For those who are interested in trying their whiskies, their next cask will be imminently released here.

-Nicholas

Dram Review: Black Gate BG021

[49.3%・ Distilled in 2014・Bottled in 2017・3 Years Old・Official Bottling・Single Cask Release of 213 Bottles]

Nose:

The thickness of old Black Gate has been replaced in favour of a more balanced delivery.  The aged lemon from the “Port” cask is in play here with subtle notes of basil, oregano, minerals and copper.  With time the familiar characters of the Black Gate spirit is freed, herbal and oozing of burnt toffee.

Palate & Finish:

The front palate is led by the excessive toffee treacle sweetness people have come to love of Black Gate whiskies but this time it feels more rounded, aided by the greenness of the spirit that helps restoring the evenness.  Lemon and white grapes with the Port spices echoing in the background.

Melted white chocolate drops and Vienna almonds with a wee dose of camp fire soot giving the dram an authentic tail.

Thoughts:

The young distillery has come a long way transforming from a rustic distillery producing big “Sherry” casks to one that’s starting to experiment with “Port” casks and delivering a more balanced drop than before, the moderation in flavour intensity allows the expression to be more coherent.  The dram works well with a generous pour and benefits from an almost greedy sip.

Thank you Brian and Genise for the gift, it’s very generous of you.

-Nicholas

Dram Review: Black Gate 520s

[67.0%・2 Years Old・Distilled in 2013・Bottled in 2015・Official Bottling・Limited Release of 159 Bottles]

Nose:

Big musky aromas from the “Australian Sherry casks”, a dusty note that is a key signature note of early Black Gate releases.  Dried flowers and poached fruits with toffee treacle and the quintessentially Australian diesel note.

Palate & Finish:

A full on treat, dark and syrupy with the brightness of sticky Christmas fruits shining through.  Seasoned ginger and cranberries delivered in an astonishingly smooth manner for a whisky bottled at 67%.  Hint of peanut butter to go with a wee amount of earthiness.

Butterscotch fudge and dark chocolate blocks in a satisfying finish.

Thoughts:

I wrote the following passage a couple of years ago about the 520s:

“.. I do honestly believe I can pinpoint the Oak Barrel launch of 520 as the point in time when Black Gate became more than just an amateur distillery in the general public’s eyes.  Unlike a lot of their Aussie counterparts, the 520 is a drop that yields a complete delivery, a whisky that actually finishes rather than just falling off a cliff after the mid-palate.  The 520 is a true winner in my eyes and I often refer it as the expression that propelled Black Gate to where they are now.”

Still sounds about right to me.

-Nicholas

Whisky Review: Black Gate Single Malt Cask Strength Cask 11

 

Style: Musky and Spicy

Nose:

A mash of sweetness and spices with an herbal overtone. Beneath the cover reveals a lower acidic branch, a mix of super lemon candies and cola gummies. Chilli spice puffs out together with vinegar.

Palate:

Crystallized red fruits shattered as toffee core slowly dripping out. Unique, lip-smacking sweetness comes together with some punchy spice. Musky toffee marches on while ethereal herbs lace around it. Cola fizzing and chilli flakes flaring out till the end.

Finish:

Almost elusive Aussie sherry finish in an alto note. Cola gummies again and slowly the spirit mask has been lifted off overtime and we have some sherry flowing for a while.

Thoughts:

It has been quite a while since I revisit whiskies from Black Gate. A pretty nice special strength sipper. Musky, solid sweetness with a hint of herbal touch. I will look forward to the years to come from the nice people in Black Gate, Mendooran for the coming years when the malt matures further!

[65.8 • 2016 • Original Bottling • Cask Strength • Single Cask • No Age Statement • Non Coloured • Non Chill Filtered • Limited Edition • Aged 3 Years • 116 of 169 Bottles]

-Esmond

Dram Review: Black Gate Cask #016 Exclusively Bottled for The Oak Barrel

[66.0% • Original Bottling • Bottled in 2016 • No Age Statement  • Single Cask Release of 32 Bottles]

As a Black Gate fan, it gives me great pleasure to have the opportunity to officially announce that Mr. Brian Hollingworth and Mrs. Genise Hollingworth are releasing the single cask #016, exclusively for The Oak Barrel Sydney Whisky Fair 2016.

Hailed from the pedigree of the iconic 520 release, the #016 is the sixth 20 litre first-filled sherry cask Brian filled. Distilled from Franklin barley Brian brought back from Hobart into the same spirit that went into BG #011 and aged for just over two years and two months, at 66% ABV this is the sauciest Black Gate ever bottled yet; to say this whisky is unlike everything else is quite possibly an understatement.

I couldn’t hide my excitement when Mr. Scott Fitzsimons of the Oak Barrel left me by myself with the sample bottle (I suppose there are 32 bottles left now), I was immediately drawn to the dark, thrilling colour and the viscosity of the liquid.


Nose:

The nose is full of sticky molasses and toffee treacle. There is a gum tree note that develops into premium aged tea leaves. A thick dose of Chinese herbal medicine boiling in the background with just a hint of dirty diesel that has grown synonymous with the distillery. Five spices, peppercorn and cloves, everything with this whisky feels big, like revving your modified V8 engine on a country dirt road. With time, the herbal note settles slightly, just enough to reveal a floral musk.

Palate & Finish:

Oh so syrupy on the palate, everything one might expect from seeing how saucy this whisky is. Incredibly rich in dark toffee syrup, it’s extraordinarily sweet. Eventually there  comes the old fashioned soaked orange peels with a creamy café au lait note that help diluting the thickness, lifting the heaviness gradually to reveal a lighter floral note as the molten brown sugar and golden honey notes slowly evaporate. 

Thoughts:

This bottling showcases just how massive a sherry bomb can be, the polar opposite of the 007 in many manners; it offers an excessive indulgence that challenges one’s understanding of how whiskies should behave. In some ways, this embodies the spirit of the Oak Barrel’s “why the hell not?” approach and that’s bloody awesome. I got to say, this is probably something I will not come across again, and I am glad they’ve decided to release it.

✓ [Recommended if you like the style/ distillery]

Nicholas

The Black Gate #016 will be on taste at the Oak Barrel Sydney Whisky Fair 2016, 26 bottles will also be available for sale at the fair.

A sit down with Mr. Brian Hollingworth of Black Gate Distillery

A decade ago, it might have seemed strange to celebrate world whisky day with a nip of Australian whisky. I wouldn’t know, I was in middle school back then. Times are a bit different now, with website getting crashed from eager fans trying to get their hands on the latest release, to award winning casks skyrocketing through the roof, Australian whisky producers are being celebrated and finally getting the due recognition for making some of the best new world whiskies currently in the market. So how does the latest cult leaders in the industry navigate through the sudden surge in popularity?

“We used to sell our whiskies at farmer’s market, did you know that?” said Mr. Brian Hollingworth of Black Gate Distillery “We only started working with Kathleen 18 months ago” Things have certainly changed for Brian and Genise Hollingworth since selling their rum to the locals. After signing on with Ms. Kathleen Davies of Nip of Courage and becoming the sensational hit at the Oak Barrel whisky fair last year, the couple from the small NSW town of Mendooran have since gone on and achieve a whole lot in the space of a calendar year, there were the BG005 and the 520 that practically flew off the shelves; then a pop up restaurant named Noma decided that they would offer Black Gate whiskies on their menu.

We sat comfortably inside the tasting room  at Stitch Bar, just one of the specialist bars in Sydney that has become the gathering ground for whisky lovers in the past couple of years. I told him how the 007 appeared to be indicative of the growing on the distillery; definitely less rugged, certainly more refined.

 
“No two whiskies we have made have been the same, the thing I focus on is consistent quality rather than consistent flavours” Brian explained and I can attest to that having been a keen follower of their releases so far. It is perhaps unfair to expect that Black Gate’s latest offerings to closely resemble their earlier batches; after all, they have had a new still installed and their production philosophy primarilly revolves around single casks due to their limited scale of production.
“I think I have told you this story before, when I first tried BG002, I was so disappointed because it was nothing like what I have tasted in the past”.

I hazily remember the first time I first heard Brian saying that. It was during the 2015 Whisky Fair, I had already tasted BG002 back then and I was keen to speak to the maker who had nailed what I thought was an uniquely Australian whisky. BG002 has this fascinatingly dirty diesel note on the nose that is so endearing, it works well emotionally even though it had only spent a little over two years in a sherry cask. The malt feels young but it’s bright and sugary, an embodiment of the beauty of youthfulness. As far as I was concerned, that was the moment I became a fan.

And with each release, the keen observers in Australian whisky circle have had the unique opportunity to watch this boutique distillery grow before their eyes and in their Glencairns. BG005 is dirtier and grittier still, soaked mandarins and caramel fudge packed with spices; it’s big on sherry influence.

Then Brian released the 520..

  The 520 is a big sherry bomb, it offers a generous dose of bright floral and fruity notes but also sturdy injection of diesel, tannins and minerals that makes the whisky quintessentially Australian from the on set. A luscious body that is syrupy and full on, it excels with a rather complex finishing of ginger infused Christmas cake, peanut butter and peat. As an archiver of some sort, I do honestly believe I can pinpoint the Oak Barrel launch of 520 as the point in time when Black Gate became more than just an amateur distillery in the general public’s eyes. Unlike a lot of their Aussie counterparts, the 520 is a drop that yields a complete delivery, a whisky that actually finishes rather than just falling off a cliff after the mid-palate. The 520 is a true winner in my eyes and I often refer it as the expression that propelled Black Gate to where they are now.

I was surprised to learn that it normally takes Brian and Genise 10 distillation runs to produce about 100 litres of new make. The inherent restrictions due to their small scale production present obvious challenges; looking from afar, it does seem like Black Gate is a happy accident of some sort, driven by circumstantial factors rather than an intended direction from the on set. I suppose it is no wonder the two humble distillers are darlings of the whisky circle, they are fundamentally nice people who have put in a lot of work and despite adversities they have managed to realise their dream in producing  whiskies they can proudly call their own.

I am not worried that the sudden surge in popularity will affect them that much. In fact, the chat with Brian remains most enjoyable to say the least; naturally he was surprised at how well his whiskies have been received, but he has no doubt gotten more used to it after some months and it really hasn’t changed who he is,  he is still one of the warmest human beings you can meet. And Genise is the same, a kind soul who has no doubt had a positive influence on how things are done up at the distillery. You can see her small touches here and there when you visit them at Mendooran. Not to mention she’s an accomplished spirit maker in her own right, as a rather partial rum punter, I find Genise’s Black Gate rum to be throughly enjoyable, it’s simply a glass of heavy, gooey satisfaction, enhanced by the use of sherry casks.

“I think she is one of four working female distillers in Australia,” Brian said with a broad grin, “I am very proud of her.”

It’s hard not to root for them.

Nicholas

Dram Review: Black Gate Cask #007

[50.0%・NAS・Bottled in 2016・Official Bottling・Single Cask Release]

Nose:

It certain feels more refined from the get go, concentrated sugary note from muscat grapes that have been naturally dried. Golden honey with a layer of rich beeswax generously applied atop. There is also a comforting dried lemon note that would normally only come from whiskies matured well beyond this one.

Palate & Finish:

A soothing lemon infused honey note on the palate, a new timber note that swiftly subsides; a thin bodied dram with vanilla grain and tingling wood spices.

Soft and floral in the finish with hints of spearmint and cinnamon powder, vaguely easing in and out..

Thoughts:

Having been a fan of the distillery since BG002, their first batch, I must say this is a release I didn’t quite expect from Black Gate; not a knock on the whisky itself but the whisky definitely feels less rugged, perhaps this is representing a new direction as the production becomes more evolved and sophisticated.

– Nicholas