Thursday, November 22, 2012

Sydney Whisky Fair 2012 in retrospect

The Woodford Reserve selection of offer
 Sydney Whisky Fair has now come and gone and now with a wee bit of reflection it is a good time to give some comment on the experience. With 3 prime whisky events now scheduled in Sydney each year one such as myself needs to make a choice as to what to attend and why. Not only do I not want to take part in yet another same old same old whisky consumption, rubbing shoulders with the same faces that pop up over the years, but I also do not want to over indulge something I have so much come to love. Is there such thing as too much whisky?

Some of the lads enjoying a few brews and chips prior to entry
My choice this year was again Sydney Whisky Fair hosted and produced by Oak Barrel Sydney. This years fair saw a remarkable expansion in the available premises with 2 extra rooms opened up to vendors. Though the event was sold out, ample room was available to sample a dram in a quite corner and contemplate the flavours or chat with fellow members in where to score your next whisky hit. Certainly there is room to accept more patrons but I was hesitate that this would simple return to a cramped, hot, uncomfortable environment. Why not put on an extra show instead might be a better choice.

The Oak barrel rooms before the crowds decended
Whisky, whisky, and more whisky was everywhere with many new distilleries on display and many of the old regulars we have come to expect. Staff hosting the stands were well educated in the products they were serving which makes for good conversation. At the same time it is a little off to be seeing so many non-whisky products out for tasting and makes me think what is going on. I am not interested in trying gin, rum, liqueurs and so on at a self titled Whisky Fair but I am sure there are those that do. Still if you don't want to try it then move on which is what I did and there is no problems with that.

A great show was put on by many of the Australian distillers and I was particularly impressed with The Nant's progress and really looking forward to where they go in a few years. I was also pleasantly surprised with where Lime Burners is now going and found it quite humorous to be speaking with the Great Southern Distilling Company rep as he even agreed what they had been outputting over the last few years was not great in comparison and the early stuff was just 'rough' to quote.

Tiger Snake by the Great Southern Distilling Company
I was intrigued more by the Bourbon Sour Mash style whisky, called Tiger Snake, Great Southern Distilling Company had on offer. Incredibly overpriced (as most Aussie whiskies are) but I think the Bourbon style has a long long way to go before it becomes something special. Still if you have an opportunity to try it then do so.

George T. Stagg
I did find myself becoming quite picky about what whiskies I was going to try and at the end of the night counted only 6 whiskies I actually had totally consumed, while the rest I had quick sips and poured the rest. I guess when you start to have as many whiskies as we have sampled over the last few years this is what comes of it. Another reason not to be attending too many events in one year. I did manage to snaffle a wee dram of a Woodford Reserve white dog, and also a dram of the rather rare and reserved George T. Stagg. To be honest there was nothing overly special about the George T. Stagg but I was happy for the opportunity and at over $250 a bottle being quoted I think I will leave a purchase for another to make.

To add to the fun we were all treated to a well served dish of haggis which was actually quite delicious (though I have had it many times before this one I must say tasted the best). To announce its arrival a Piping In and a well delivered recital of the famous poem by Robert Burns 'Ode To A Haggis'. Thanks to Oak Barrel Syndey a recording of the recital has been made available to viewing below:

Following is the complete transcript of the poem as I am sure you will be wanting to have your own recital at your Burns Super on the 25th January:

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great Chieftan o’ the Puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang’s my arm 
The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
You pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’need
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead 
His knife see Rustic-labour dight,
An’ cut you up wi’ ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reeking, rich! 
Then, horn for horn they stretch an’ strive,
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive
Bethankit hums 
Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi’ perfect sconner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner? 
Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash
His spindle-shank a guid whip-lash,His nieve a nit;
Thro’ bluidy flood or field to dash,
O how unfit! 
But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll mak it whissle;
An’ legs, an’ arms an’ heads will sned,
Like taps o’ thrissle 
Ye pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,
An’ dish them out their bill o’fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ pray’r,
Gie her a Haggis!

A fine selection of Bourbons to dram through
This year did not see food served as part of the event which we assume was to keep costs down to a minimum and you are at this stage guaranteed Whisky Fair is the most cost effective of all the events held in Sydney. Still in saying that the food (personally) was not up to scratch and advisable to eat before you arrive. What I saw were burnt offerings that did not really gel with tasting whisky. Fellow members who did purchase did not seem satisfied with the end result. Honestly though the problem of the food is not for a lack of trying and when you are relying on a 3rd party to deliver satisfaction is not always guaranteed.

Water was in ample supply as always and really good to see.

Real disappointments on the night for me was in fact Bruichladdich. Bruichladdich was made available only to VIP guests the hour before and then locked down but left out on the tables for all to view. Pride of place on the table was the elusive Laddie 10 and for such an now iconic release for Bruichladdich, and following the sale of Bruichladdich only months before, to withhold it from everyone was a real shame and a bit of a piss off. In saying that I was still able to sample a dram for myself due to entering right on the close for the VIP session and the guys manning the table had not resealed the bottles. In the one dram I had  there was extreme measure of Aniseed on the pallet. Very different to previous vintage Bruichladdich 10yo and I would like to have more. Honestly though if the product is not for tasting and infect nothing from that distiller is not for tasting then pull down your signs, get the hell out of my way and stop wasting our time, we are not paying to look but not touch.

Overall though a good time was had by all. I really enjoyed myself and the intimate experience offered by the smaller venue at The Oak Barrel. I will be looking forward to next years event. If I was to give a dram for the event a good 6 out of 7.

The Baron

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  1. Pleased to hear the Oak Barrel event is still going strong. I was reading a few negatives in your review, but with a score of six out of seven drams it must have been pretty good.

    With two/three major whisky events in Sydney now everyone needs to up their game to win the whisky drinkers dollar.

  2. Hi Baron,

    I am the founder and owner of the Great Southern Distilling Company. I liked reading your summary of the Sydney Whisky Fair. All the Australian Distillers there enjoyed ourselves too. I give a big vote of thanks to Simon and the crew at the Oak Barrel.

    However, there are some comments in your blog which are attributed to me. I was the 'rep' who was at the event. These really require a response.

    First - as a serious boutique whisky producer it's disappointing that someone with clearly the depth of whisky knowledge you have would find talking with a distiller 'humourous'. We take our job of making whisky seriously. It's taken 24 years of research and 8 years of hard distilling work to get to this point. If your perception of our conversation was that I was saying our early whisky was rough - that's your call. I simply would not have said that. I would have expressed a veiw that, like all whiskies, there is a relationship between age and quality, as a rule of thumb and older whisky will be more rounded and refined - but if it is made well then a young whisky will also be great. Our whiskies are progresivly getting older as we have more stock in maturation to release. That said - please remember that our very first release whisky (which was unashamedly a young 2 year old) won a Bronze Medal at the 2008 London IWSC. Since 2008 in the IWSC our 2 and 3 year old whisky has successively won, Bronze, Bronze, Silver, Silver, Silver (Best in Class), and Silver (Outstanding)twice, as well as Gold, Silver and Bronze medals in other international competitions. Jim Murray has rated some of our earlier whisky at high 80s and up to 92 points - certainly not rough. Limeburners has won the MWSOA Pourers Prize twice, and picked up a silver and a bronze medal from MWSOA blind tasting this year. In many of those competitions our young whisky is put up against much older whiskies and Limeburners performs well - often winning a medal against much older whiskies. If the standard you put to those whiskies is 'rough' - well then I am not ashamed of that as our record in international whisky competitions speaks for itself. Perhaps you could be more supportive of the Australian whisky industry which is made up predominantly of small committed distillers, none of which have the marketing or production budget or purely commercial focus of most of our Scottish and US counterparts.

    You have also made some comments about Australian whisky being overpriced. Most Australian whisky producers make bespoke whisky, by hand in small batches with a great deal of care, attention and love. That all costs. Please remember that 3 Australian whiskies have won Best Whisky in the World titles within the last 5 years.

    We have recently had a group of international whisky drinking journalists through our distillery. One international whisky writer said to me - "your whisky is fantastic, full of flavour and so very smooth. Too many of the [international] whiskies are bland and have do not have the depth of character and texture that Limeburners has. if you can do this as a 3 year old, i look forward to your older whiskies coming out". We have also had whisky industry people from Japan (a country where whisky is remarkably cheap) hasppliy purchase our top end whiskies. They too love what we are doing. In that context, it is disapponting that we dont have the same type of support from our local whisky drinking blog writing public. Making whisky is a hard business - and reputations are easliy knocked.

    Australian whiskies have a better reputation internatioanlly, and our Australian consumers remain overly cirtical of our local whiskies. If we dont support our Australian whisky industry - we will not have one.

    I would really like to catch up with you again for another chat about the science and technical side of making whisky - perhaps you could invite me to the TDTWC sometime.

    regards & best wishes