Whisky News: Port Charlotte Relaunches

Port Charlotte relaunches

Bruichladdich Distillery have announced the relaunch of Port Charlotte, their heavily-peated Islay single malt Scotch whisky. It will unveil a new range in distinctive new packaging this summer.

The style of the spirit will remain unchanged, peated at 40ppm, the distillery will release four new products in 2018.

Port Charlotte-Bottle-Port Charlotte 10YO R2018 700 BlackBG Floor.pngThe new Port Charlotte 10 Aged Years

Port Charlotte 10 will become the first permanent release under this brand, bottled at 50%, using 100% Scottish barley from Invernesshire region. It will be a vat of 65% First Fill American Oak casks, 10% Second Fill American Oak casks and 25% Second Fill French Wine Casks.

A new vintage of Port Charlotte Islay barley will also join the line-up. Drawn from their salt-soaked loch side warehouses, the 2011 vintage is distilled from harvests on three Islay farms; by Raymond Fletcher at Dunlossit, Raymond Stewart at Sunderland and Neil McLellan at Kilchiaran.

Port Charlotte-Bottle-Port Charlotte Islay Barley 7YO D2011 R2018 700 BlackBG Floor.png

The new Port Charlotte Islay Barley 2011

Bruichladdich’s Director of Distilling and Head of Operations, Allan Logan, is now working in partnership with 17 farmers across the island, all of which grow malting barley exclusively for the distillery, despite the challenges of the Islay climate. This 2011 vintage is the second heavily-peated offering from their uber-provenance “Islay barley” stable.

Concluding the quartet are two cask exploration, cask strength, limited editions. One each for domestic and travel retail. Drawing from a suite of over 200 cask types, Head Distiller Adam Hannett has hand selected casks which demonstrate the versatility and elegance of the Port Charlotte distillate.

New Travel Retail Exclusives

Joining Port Charlotte 10 and the 2011 Islay Barley for domestic markets, is the codified and limited Port Charlotte MRC: 01. Distilled from Scottish barley in 2010, MRC:01 is matured in the French oak casks from the Bordeaux left bank. Bottled at 59.2%, Hannett describes it as a superb combination of fruit-laden French oak, strong peat smoke and Islay maturation.

Releasing at the same time but exclusively for travel retail, is the codified and limited MC:01. This 2009 vintage was distilled from Scottish barley and matured in Marsala casks to impart a balanced fruitiness to the smoky spirit.

Both MRC:01 and MC:01 will be released in the autumn of 2018.

New PackagingAll four spirits will be introduced in a landmark bespoke bottle. The opaque green glass is a nod to the heavily-peated “Islay” category, whilst the modernist design clearly reflects the progressive values of the distillery.

On their philosophy, bold statements are made of being the first major distiller to conceive, distil, mature and bottle on the island. Hannett explains the distillery’s approach: “There’s nothing made up here. There are no tall tales of illicit distillation or local legends. This is about the actual provenance of the spirit in the bottle.”

Bruichladdich Distillery CEO Douglas Taylor further clarifies “Our distillery project is built around certain key principles which drive everything we do. The authenticity, provenance and transparency of our spirit is paramount. We are committed to source 100% of our barley from Scotland, 33% of which is now grown on Islay. We have reintroduced ancient varietals and experimented with regionality for texture and flavour. All our whiskies are conceived, distilled, matured and bottled on Islay, unchill-filtered and colouring free, using Islay spring water.

“We are committed to our community. We aim to be Islay-centric in everything we do and care about the positive economic and social impact our business has on the island. Over time we have become the biggest private employer on Islay; made possible because we are mature and bottle all our whiskies here. This vision has resulted in direct employment for 76 people at the distillery, with countless more involved through partnerships.”

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

Opinion: Chatting away with Mr. Ian Schmidt of Tin Shed Distillery

On a random Tuesday morning, I was dropped off at an industrial suburb just outside of Adelaide CBD where I spent the next four hours with Mr. Ian Schmidt, the co-founder and distiller of Tin Shed distillery, producer of Iniquity.

The first thing I got shown were a couple trays of 200ml whiskies neatly arranged on the work table.

It was quite an impressive sight.

For a while now I have been pushing for some of my distiller friends to try bottling miniatures.

The prices for Australian whiskies have quite noticeably soared in the past couple of years, posing quite a challenge for your average Australian family bloke/miss to justify their latest purchase of the limited single cask releases.

Ian explained that the decision to bottle at 200ml was made with Iniquity’s existing fanbase in mind, despite that the smaller bottles added additional costs.

We have built up a cult following here and we want to make it more affordable for our friends and fans to get their hands on our releases.

We got a customer that bought our first 6 releases and had since stopped buying.  We were wondering if we had for some reasons upsetter him but it turned out his missus had banned him from buying more whiskies until he finishes some of the bottles!

Unlike the poor Laddie tragics, Australian whisky fans could still collect every single release from most of their favourite Australian distilleries.

But even still, as distilleries increase their production capacities, the bottles do pile up.

So in a way, bottling at 200ml at say about $50 does allow fans to keep track of Iniquity’s growth whilst not hurting their wallets too much bearing in mind plenty of casks were put away in the past two years.

Ian also shared his vision to establish the Den.

We are starting our own whisky subscription service.  It will allow our fans to receive new releases when they are announced.

In my opinion, this creates a win-win situation.

Fans will be pleased to taste every latest Iniquity release and Tin Shed is guaranteed that a bulk number of bottles will be sold instantaneously.

The latter will be particularly crucial in the next couple of years to come.

We are just over three years removed from Sullivans Cove’s historic win at WWA in 2014 (just over two for those who remember when the general public caught up with the news).

Aspiring distillers have since made the plunge to the industry and in the next 12 months or so we will see the first crops being released, from distilleries like Archie Rose, Joadja and Corowa for example that have been diligently filling casks in the past couple of years.

As spirit maturing in wood can now legally be called whiskies, the influx of young Australian drops perhaps will pose too much of a supply for the small Australian market to digest; not to mention there will be many new independent bottlers and private cask owners hoping to test their lucks on the open market.

That’s why we are looking to export, it is hard to get 10% of the market share in Australia but it is relatively easy to get half of 1% in America.  Their market is much bigger.

We just gave the guy a taster bottle for people to sample at his shop and next thing we received an order!

It would appear that the Americans just love big, bold, cask driven flavours in their whiskies, I jokingly asked Ian if this could be boiled down to cask provenances, whether it’s because Australian distilleries have been using these decades old casks as promoted quite widely in online whisky groups forums..

100 year old port casks are past their prime!  They leak and have seen better days!

Casks make a difference but they just form a part of whisky making.

Indeed a special cask does not guarantee a great dram. A well seasoned cask only plays a role amidst a tun of variables. One of the more telling illustrations would be the recent first-fill-20-litre-single-cask-releases from various Australian distilleries, in my experience they have largely been disappointing despite being full of huge cask influences..

And there are signs that things are about to change quite drastically (if they haven’t already) with whispers that there is a shortage of prestigious, well-seasoned Australian Port casks.

There are also murmurs that the costs for casks have risen dramatically.

Of course, there is no indication that the inflation was due to the recently forged “formalised relationship through joint private ownership” of Tasmanian Cask Company, SA Cooperage, Master Cask.  The fact that there have been so many new comers joining the industry probably explained the phenomenon.

We have started to fill rum casks, along with some wine casks, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for example.

It seems inevitable that in a few years time there will be quite change stylistically for Australian whiskies. It’s hard to tell whether consumers would adjust well to their favourite distilleries departing from their heavily Sherried/Ported beginnings.

It can be worrying, as I see some new comers starting their distilleries and they are in for a struggle.

Indeed, the struggle is real not just due to capital and cask shortage, but also in terms of production knowledge, skills and techniques and the consumers’ increasingly cynical reading of the perhaps over-exploited word of craft.

The great Australian whisky boom has been great for young distilleries like Iniquity, TimBoon, Black Gate, Bellwether and Fleurieu etc.

Perhaps Sullivans Cove’s latest “World’s Best Single Cask Single Malt” win at the World Whisky Awards 2018 will push the industry to new heights. However, it is also quite possible that the spike in supply in the near future will gradually ease the fever and affect many players in years to come.

One thing is for sure though, Tin Shed is built to weather the storm and to rise from the ashes.

Thank you Mr. Ian Schmidt for your time, candidness and wisdom.

-Nicholas

Opinion: The Earnestness of Humble Beginnings

We are just over three years removed from Sullivans Cove’s historic win at WWA in 2014.  The next 12 months will see a great influx of casks ready to be bottled as traditional houses in Tasmania will gradually have recouped their depleted supplies and the first crop of new distilleries post-French Oak will be unveiling their expressions.

Producers such as Joadja and Corowa have been diligently filling barrels in the past couple of years and it appears as though they will release multiple casks in their debut season, giving the whisky fans plenty to think about next time they visit a bottle shop.

It is unclear how the market will react to the inflow of supply after being deprived for so long, yet that hasn’t stopped aspiring distillers from entering into the scene, especially on the mainland.

In particular, Adelaide seems to be the current hub for young distilleries.  Distilleries such as Fleurieu and Tin Shed have already made a name for themselves while McLaren Vale was recently awarded for being innovative.

So, taking opportunity of being there over the weekend, I managed to visit Never Never and 5 Nines, a couple of distilleries that have just started powering their stills this year.

When I first walked into Never Never, I was frankly surprised with the size of the place.  But moreover, I was in awe at how despite the limited space they have been able to make gins that have become the talk of the town.  Mr. Sean Baxter, an old friend who moved from Sydney to Adelaide earlier this year to start Never Never, admitted that this is all a design to save costs.

“We didn’t want to take out a 2 million dollar loan.” said Sean.

In fact, everything at the distillery seems so cost-effective.  The production area has been packed efficiently to take advantage of the vertical space, and by sharing the warehouse lot with another business, their rent would have been manageable as opposed to some other distilleries that have taken out costly leases.

It occurs to me that Never Never may turn a profit sooner rather than later.  As a seasoned veteran in the spirit industry, Sean has already managed to put their clean and true triple juniper gin on bar backs at popular establishments.

Those who have known Sean since his Diageo days would know that he is one of the most passionate whisky ambassadors in Australia and indeed his ultimate goal is for Never Never to produce whiskies.

I was looking for the pot still when Sean pointed towards a cargo box.  Turns out they have decided not to make whiskies this early into their developmental stage.

That was perhaps the most impressive thing about Never Never.  The whisky market looks set for a readjustment and as an industry insider for so many years, Sean must have a profound understanding of how a surge in production costs and a change in consumer preferences can hamper a distillery immensely (see the closures of Scottish distilleries in the 1980s).

Why throw in early investment when the gin sales could eventually sustain the entire operation?

This is the type of patience rarely seen in the Australian whisky industry, and I deeply admire Never Never for it.  After all, making whiskies is not a two year project.

On the other hand, the guys at 5 Nines couldn’t wait to start producing whiskies.  With some help of their friends, Mr. David Pearse and Mr. Steven Griguol were able to hammer out their own copper pot still in three months, instead of waiting two years for a still that closely resembles what half the local industry is using.  They have also re-purposed a milk tank into a mash tun with wheels.

Operating solely inside a two car garage, they have already put away more than 20 20 litre casks and almost 10 100 litre casks at their bonded warehouse out back since commencing distillation earlier this year, utilising local barley and peat sourced from South Australia. I have tried a couple of samples straight from the casks and the WIPs do possess an identity unlike the general Australian whiskies.

Again, the decision to locate the production area in a garage was motivated by cost, and also convenience.  David has a day job in the IT industry that requires extensive travelling and Steven is a builder, cabinetmaker and metal sculptor by trade.  They are spending their off time quietly smoking malt and distilling in the weekends in preparation of the distillery’s plan of eventually opening a cellar door along the Adelaide Hills wine trail.

To think that David and Steven have only contributed about $80,000 each so far and that they have only been distilling part-time, that’s quite an achievement.

Perhaps trying to be the biggest kid at the schoolyard is not the answer.  The current consumer behaviour suggests that the market for Australian whiskies chiefly revolves around single cask releases, not blends or general releases like the Scotch or Japanese whisky markets.  Australia’s climate is also limiting as to how long casks can mature.  All that means that it’s imperative for a distillery to develop a realistic understanding with respect to its output.  How many casks should an independent Australian craft distillery release per year?

In the last couple of years, us consumers have gained incredible insights into the industry as more Australian distillers have become social media savvy.  It seems like there’re lots of hard yards involved in running a prosperous operation.  I’m afraid it’s not a job for everyone, but here’s what I believe..  if you go into the whisky making game with a sound business model, proper techniques and a little bit of luck, your distillery might just make it..

Thank you Mr. Baxter, Mr. Pearse and Mr. Griguol for showing me around your distilleries and thank you for your inputs into this article.

-Nicholas