Water of Life – Dark Mofo Winter Feast edition: Hobart Whisky and Belgrove Distillery
Dark Mofo’s Winter Feast is a definite highlight of the annual festival that not only offers access to the best of Tasmanian produce and cuisine, but also the best of what the local distilling, brewing and Wine scene has to offer.
Needless to say that we used the occasion to check in with some of the distillers we have had the privilege to cover in previous instalments of Water of Life.
John manned the Hobart Whisky stall, which not only had their core range on offer, but also a few new expressions that knocked our socks off:
As the name of the French Oak Pinot Noir Finish suggest, what we have here was matured in small American Oak ex-bourbon casks and finished in French oak Pinot Noir barrels.
One should not be lead astray but the seemingly high alcohol content of 57.7% ABV, as what tickles the nostrils is a melange of dark chocolate, heavily charred American Oak, stewed fruits and culminates in a fruity vanilla-ey highlight that seamlessly transition to what materializes on the palate: Creamy vanilla, butterscotch and a burst of tropical fruits greet the palate, with Papaya, Kiwi Fruit, Melons and candied orange peel all making an appearance.
The finish follows down a citrussy road that is paved with more nuances of chocolate and an elongated spicy exit that is reminiscent of a good brandy.
The American Oak Ex-Bourbon expression is softer and more subdued in comparison, with its nose being based heavily on vanilla, apple juice and saline notes. The palate is greeted by a delicious wave of chocolate, apple pie, oak nuances and jam notes, while the finish is dominated by a delectable creaminess that is punctured by a citrussy oakyness that is backed by dark fruits.
Opens sweet and creamy then builds across the palate to warm toffee pudding with the alcohol coming in late and clean. A gentle peppery chorus is there in the background to complete the picture. Complexity and subtle elegance are the keynotes.
The fulminant completion of the triumvirate however is Hobart Whisky’s Winter Feast Exclusive Release: Following a three-year maturation period in small 40L American oak ex-bourbon casks, this beauty found its way into casks that previously served as home to Guatemala rum, and more recently cask-matured maple syrup.
I pity everyone who has been at the Winter Feast and did not make a concerted effort to sample this drop as it is an experience to indulge in that engages all senses. What an stunning dram and testament to Hobart Whisky’s dedication and expertise.
It opens sweet and creamy, with the alcohol blending in and backed by peppery notes.
Layer after layer of both robust and subtle flavours, all showing themselves but without tripping over one another with a smooooth finish.
Unfortunately, as with all of Hobart Whisky’s releases, this delectable drop is another limited bottling and given the demand that I encountered during the Winter Feast, where attendants bought their whiskies in bulk, you might want to make an effort to not miss out on their current and upcoming expressions.
Some people say to never meet your heroes as you will end up being disappointed, however, sometimes the opposite is the case and you end up with an even bigger admiration after the encounter.
Point in case: Peter Bignell from Belgrove Distillery.
For the uninitiated: Belgrove Distillery and the man that created it are the epitome of craft distilling, i.e. handmade, sourcing every ingredient themselves including the grain they grow and harvest themselves and digging the peat from their own family farms, with each of the manufacturing steps being monitored and quality controlled by their palate, nostrils and eyes. Needless to say that the barrels are coopered and fired at the distillery.
Peter also manned a booth at the Winter Feast and apart from his idiosyncratic and accolade laden emissions, gave us a taste of his Hopped Malt Whisky.
Now, I for one love a great IPA, specifically if it makes one component of a boilermaker paired with a peaty whisky. Belgrove’s Hopped Malt expression combines the best of both worlds as it is in essence a distilled IPA.
Based on a dry and malty sweet IPA from TBONE Brewing Co, the distillate aged at Belgrove Distillery and bottled at 61.7%. The beauty is that despite the relatively high alcohol content, the burn is minimal.
The hoppy dram hints at the juiciness of the IPA it is derived and marries floral nuances with a well-calibrated bitterness that culminates in a wonderfully elongated crescendo of maltiness.
Given that this is yet another super limited Belgrove bottling and the fact that I have yet to encounter a whisk(e)y fiend that is not enamoured with how Peter Bignell channels his alchemy, you should seize your chance to sample it if you ever get the chance as you will be rewarded with an avalanche of great flavours.
Given the quality and renowned status Belgrove Distillery and its whiskies have attained, i.e. restaurants like Copenhagen’s Noma exclusively selecting whiskies from Peter directly or Queens of the Stone Age buying off whatever they can get their hands on while they hold court in Tasmania, it will only be a matter of time until operations will need to be scaled to appease the overwhelming world-wide demand – you do want to get in while every ingredient that went into the production went through Peter’s own hands.
Images from company websites