Happy World Whisky Wednesday all! You know what I’ve been thinking? Liquor stores are a fantastic thing, and Australia has them aplenty. Places such as Casa de Vinos, Bijou, Destination Cellars, Old Richmond, and The Oak Barrel have collections that are amazing to behold and fantastic staff (I would encourage anyone around Melbourne to drop into Casa de Vinos and see their amazing range and the upstairs section). Even Whisky Alement, one of Australia’s most amazing bars, has a fantastic arrange of whisky bottles to purchase.
Recently though I wasn’t at any of these amazing places, I still managed to find an exciting little bottle. Full confession, I stopped into a Vintage Cellars. It wasn’t about finding anything special, actually I had been walking for some time and noticed they had a walk-in beer fridge, so I ducked in to cool down. On my way there though I noticed they had something quite interesting, so I thought I would pick it up. Today we’re looking at the McHenry Alpha Whisky.
So, this is exciting. When I left Australia, I believe I missed the first release and getting the whisky over to the UK would have cost an unreasonable amount of money that I did not have. Walking into a VC and finding a bottle of McHenry on the shelf and a limited edition at that was quite the surprise so I picked it up and thought we should have a look at it, but first the question, who are McHenry?
Established in 2011, McHenry Distillery came about when distillery William McHenry and his family moved down to Port Arthur from Sydney. Located at 43 degrees south this does make them the southernmost Australian distillery, giving them a more British climate as opposed to most Australian distillery. Getting a start on distillation in 2012, the whisky would wait until 2016 for a release, so a range of gins were introduced to keep the distillery above water. Considering they won a slew of awards it seems like they didn’t do too badly.
As for distillation the distillery uses a water jacketed electrically heated 500L pot still, along with three year round springs for water. The 43 degrees south location gives McHenry between .5 – 1.5% angels share per annum, a far cry from what most Australian distilleries lose. Finally, an array of casks are used to ensure a diverse range of whisky is available, albeit in small quantities. Speaking of which, let’s jump onto the Alpha.
The whisky is the first in the Southern Cross series, a series devoted to creating one whisky for each of the five stars of the Southern Cross, Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Imai and Ginan (the final in the series was released late 2021). Maturation took 6 years in 200L Ex-Heaven Hill Bourbon Barrels, followed by 7 months in a French Oak Tokay Blood Tub, distilled 09/09/2013 and bottled 29/04/2020 at 46.1%. In total 200 bottles were released, and I have in my hand bottle number 14, and I have to say, I love the amount of information they can squeeze onto the back of a label.
There are two things that are important about this bottle before we get onto the tasting. The first would be that I can’t see any of these online. Given that was a cursory search there may be some buried deep, but that gave me hope. The whisky industry now is a touch plagued by opportunistic pricks securing large amounts of limited release whiskies and then charging a small fortune for each bottle in the attempt to get a bit extra cash, and this is something that does nothing but hurt the distillery in question, hurt the industry, and exclude those without the means to afford large amounts of money for a bottle of whisky. So as disappointed as I am to see that this is sold out, I am happy that there is no one trying to fling bottles for 4 figures on some ridiculous auction site or Facebook page.
The second thing I want to touch on is the age of the whisky, six year and seven months. For a long time, Australia has been known (at least internationally) as a country that produces extremely young whiskies, though this is changing. Yes, 6 years and 7 months is not as old as some desire, but it is a start. Slowly but surely, we’re seeing Australian distilleries release older whiskies and the age statements are beginning to come along. Now this is not something that every distillery should do, only if you have the time, whisky and capital, and whether older whisky is better than younger whisky often comes down to subjective taste, but what is does do is introduce variety and variation. Bit by bit Australian whisky (an industry that people often forget is fledgling and about the same age as I am) is growing into so much more than everything we thought it could be, and that’s just exciting.
With all that said and done, it feels like time to crack a whisky.
Straight away there’s powerful French oak coming off the nose and the fortified cask takes centre stage, gooseberrys, cedarwood, singed orange rinds dance by and wave their hands manically before a cabaret of lemon sherberts, raspberry, eucalyptus, toffee, fudge, wood chips, hay, coriander and tamarind. The bourbon finally gets in there but it is wonderfully woven through the dram, highlighting ripe pears, rockmelon and pomegranate out of the blue. There is a backing of fruity sweetness that is hard to pin down, some fruit fudge or some type of brown sugar glazing that traps tropical fruit behind it, the only escapee some watermelon juice that turns to rind as it mingles with the wood of the nose. While the Tokay and French oak flavours seem to win out this doesn’t feel forced or oppressing, rather that this was taken from the cask at just the right moment.
A sip shows a heated palate that holds flavour but it thinner than I would have assumed. Picture sitting beneath a cedar tree that drops all many of fruits and flavour, apples, vanilla essence, sticky hot cross buns, apricot danishes and fudge, all wonderfully woody but rather then confusing the flavour it allows it clarity. When it falls to the ground however it is swallowed by this floor of thick muscovado sugar, jealously taking the flavours and preserving them so while they’re present, they are viewed through a sight glass. With some warmth however eventually the sugar relented and yielded flavour, finally we’re tasting a spice mix filled with wood chips, pears, apples, grapefruit and a slightly metallic, minerally backing. All this leads into a finish that is fun and effervescent, a medley of fruits and an array of tamarind, lime juice and marmalades.
This was an interesting whisky. To me the nose popped off so much more than the palate, the nose being this thick concoction of flavour with a deep welling hint of greater things to come which the nose itself did deliver on, though the palate not so much. It was a touch thinner than to be expected, and while that gave way with some heat it took some time, though all in all it was a damn good dram.
Would I buy it again? Likely not. Aside from the fact that likely I would never see it again I would rather sample the rest of the McHenry range as it has such potential, and that makes it exciting. Too often when you pick up a limited edition that promising an interesting finish that can be translated to ‘we dunked it in a port cask for two weeks and didn’t know what to do with it.’ With the McHenry however it felt like they knew exactly what they were doing, maturating and finishing for as long as the whisky needed. Yes, it is a touch thin, but there have been pricier and more celebrated limited releases from world famous distilleries that could not hold a candle to this whisky. My advice? Pick up a bottle of this whisky should you see it and be the judge, though be sure to warm it in your hands before taking that first sip. It is all around a fun and interesting whisky that I will be sad to see leave the shelf. Failing that, pick yourself up some of their standard release, and make sure to enjoy it.
So, a brilliant nose followed by an above average though difficult palate, what to do….
Yes, that’ll do.
This review is not sponsored or endorsed by any distillery, McHenry or otherwise, and is entirely the words of the author Somewhiskybloke.
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