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The 2019 Sydney Whisky Fair will take place on its traditional weekend – the last in August.

That means that you need to pencil in Friday 30 and Saturday 31 August, 2019.

Don’t book holidays, postpone your wedding, cancel all birthdays. The 2019 edition – and the tenth anniversary celebrations – is going to be quite special.

Top picture featuring Starward’s David Vitale and AWH’s Bill Lark at the 2018 edition. Pic by May Lawrence.


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We’re one sleep away from opening night of Sydney Whisky Fair, so hopefully you’ve been planning your whisky strategy for the big dance.

You can see the list of confirmed whiskies here (we might add a few overnight as well) and we’ve provided a digital version of the program below. Please note, those prices will be available in store Friday and Saturday only. We believe they’re some of the best prices on whiskies you’ll see anywhere in Australia. (They’ll be on display at the front of the store, you don’t need a ticket to come and have a look through them.)

To make sure you get the most out of the event, we’ve quickly put together some of the things we’re looking forward to most. It’s be no means an exhaustive list of the excellent drams on pour, but we’ve noted some of the new releases and world debuts for the Fair.

Armorik

From France with smoke

This French distillery’s brand new expression – Triagoz – makes its debut, the first time we’ve seen a peated expression from them.

Belgrove

One of the great innovators (and storytellers)

We welcome Peter ‘Hollywood’ Bignell back to The Oak Barrel, one of the icons of the scene. Put time aside to try his Release The Beast cask – a rye whisky in a legendary cask previously used by Heartwood.

Black Gate

The peat is unleashed

Locals and Oak Barrel favourites Black Gate – from NSW’s Greater West – will be debuting their brand new peated expression at Fair. We’ve had other distillers tell us they’ve “shook their heads in admiration” when trying recent progress reports of this release.

Fleurieu

They’ve made it to Sydney

One of the most talked about new distilleries in Australia, Angela and Gareth Andrews make their first Sydney appearance. Watch out for Bogart & Bacall – might be the last time you get to try this release.

GlenAllachie

Australian debut of Billy Walker’s new plaything

When Billy Walker and co. sold out of BenRiach/GlenDronach/Glenglassaugh he went and took over Speyside’s GlenAllachie. Ever since then the rarely-seen distillery has been watched with great anticipation, if he can do have of what he did with the aforementioned three we’re in for something special. Tasting bottles of the range have been express flown over to make their Australian debut at Sydney Whisky Fair.

Lark

An Aussie icon returns

We’ve very excited to have Lark back at Fair, complete with our own Fair exclusive bottling and a drop-in from the Godfather – Bill Lark – himself!

North Star

A favourite indie bottler with some crazy creations

Brand new shipment from North Star has landed for Fair, with a incredible 4-year-old blended Campbeltown. Super young, but what a representation of the style! Also, try the Spica before it sells out. Because it will.

Old Kempton

A new dawn

We’ve been prying Old Kempton (formerly Redlands) distillery for years to get our hands on their juice (they relented earlier this year). Making their Oak Barrel debut after spending their formative years focusing on Tasmania, it’s worth your while swinging by Old Kempton.

SMWS/Hidden Spirits

Single cask city

The world’s best know whisky club – the Scotch Malt Whisky Society – are back at The Oak Barrel after half a decade. Usually reserved for members only, we’re very lucky to have a selection of their single cask expressions for taste. Go and experience and remember to bring your membership card if you’re in the club. If you’re not, what are you waiting for? Just next to them might be some releases from Italy’s Hidden Spirits and Japan’s Acorn. Early call, but a certain Ben Nevis might emerge a Fair favourite…

Starward

A bourbon cask full of hype

It caused more than a stir upon its release and near-instant sell-out, but we’ve secured a small amount of Starward’s brand new bourbon-cask Projects release. Industry icon and founder David Vitale is flying up to tell the story.

Tamnavulin

20 years we’ve been waiting!

A classic ‘60s-built, but very rarely seen distillery, the new Double Cask from Tamnavulin has landed in Australia. It is the first time in over 20 years that the distillery has released an official single malt – and this is sitting sub-$80 a bottle.

Timboon

G’Day Shagger

Another of our Fair exclusives this year, if you’re tastebuds are starting to feel the strain a bit pop over to see owner and distiller Josh Walker. At 69.7%, Shagger’s Reserve will wake them up.

There’s heaps more to try – flick through the program below!

 


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Few names encapsulate the modern Australian whisky boom like Lark and it’s with great pride that we welcome them back to Sydney Whisky Fair in 2018.

The story of Bill Lark and his push to start a craft distillery in Tasmania is one that’s been well told. The landscape then and now are almost unrecognisable and a lot of that change has come from the hands of Lark. Once on the forefront of telling the Australian whisky story, the distillery recently spent 18 months off the shelves of retailers as they built back up their stock supplies.

It was an almost unthinkable reality for a brand that had become one of the most renowned for consistency and supply in the volatile Aussie whisky market.

We’ve seen a trickle back in store this year, starting in March, but bottles have flown off the shelf as quick as we could stack them. It’s just one of the reasons why we’re excited and humbled to confirm that one of this year’s Whisky Fair Exclusives is from Lark.

After we explained what were looking for, Lark distiller Nathan Reeves came back with cask LDF 6223 – a 20 litre ex-bourbon finishing cask.

The original cask strength was about 65%, we tried it at a number of strengths and opted to cut it to their ‘house’ 58%. It was a tough call, because it was arguably at its best between 45% and 48%, but we wanted to give you the option to add water.

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We’re releasing this in 100ml bottles, to ensure that as many people as possible get an opportunity to try it.

Our tasting notes will come post-Fair (let’s all make up our own minds this weekend first) but we’ll just say this is soft and elegant – in our view an exceptional example of the current, and future, Lark style.

This is the second time The Oak Barrel has bottled a whisky from Lark – in 2012 we bottled an Apple Brandy cask finish. It was the very first Fair bottling and a release that is now resigned to history.

To be released at the Fair, it’ll be selling for $55 during the event. It’ll also be available to taste – alongside core and limited edition Lark expressions – with Bill ‘The Godfather’ Lark in attendance to have a chat.

Thanks to Jemima Phelps from Lark for the photos.


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You may have seen it leaked through social media and here it is officially announced: we’re delighted to partner with Victoria’s Timboon distillery for the first time to release a Sydney Whisky Fair exclusive in 2018.

Timboon is a distillery we have long admired from afar. Their early output was kept close to their chests as their location on a tourist trail garnered them a steady stream of would-be drinkers.

Located in Victoria’s Western District, just off the Great Ocean Road, the distillery is housed in a disused railway shed. The train line to Timboon was a branch line from Camperdown, which was closed in 1986 and much of it dismantled a year later. The line has been preserved as a bicycling rail trail from Camperdown and the Timboon distillery was originally formed from an ice cream company at the end of the line.

In expanding their offering to whisky in 2007, the original Timboon Railway Shed owners developed a renowned restaurant location. Current owner Josh Walker was placed a greater emphasis on distilling and announced earlier in the year an expansion of floor space dedicated to distilling.

 

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How Timboon’s Josh Walker announced it…

For the first time we’ve been able to access a single cask bottling as the distillery starts to have a steady supply of casks.

The release is called Shagger’s Reserve. A 20-litre port cask, it’s the sort of barrel that you’d typically blend in with other casks to calm down the sheer intensity of it. Released in a single cask format, however, it’s the perfect show-pony for this year’s Fair.

Big and sweet with cracked pepper and spices, it’s bottled at a not-to-be-sneezed-at 69.7%. It’s brash, powerful and a whole lot of fun. To spread the love we’ve opted to bottle this in 200ml editions and keeping with the theme, it will cost $69 plus GST (which is $75.90 for those playing at home).

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Say g’day to Josh at Stall 11 this weekend, he’ll also be pouring his core range port cask and Christie’s Cut. They showcase a very different whisky to Shagger’s – which is far more muscular to their delicate, soft house style.

Full tasting notes to come post-Fair, we want you to try it for yourself first.

Available at Sydney Whisky Fair and exclusively at The Oak Barrel.

CONFIRMED WHISKIES FOR 2018


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With the Sydney Whisky Fair just over a week away we’re exited to reveal a list of whiskies that will be available to sample. The list has been posted over at our Confirmed Whiskies page, in alphabetical order.

There will be well over 100 whiskies to try at Fair, so that means that it will not be humanely possible, and very irresponsible, to try everything. But, of course, that is not what this event is about.

We’ve posted this list so that you can peruse the drams prior to the event and plan your day. We encourage you to seek out things you haven’t tried before and tick off expressions on your bucket list.

Fair is about discovery. Meet someone new, try something new.

Food is included in your ticket, but make sure you have a hearty breakfast/lunch prior – and have your lunch/dinner plans sorted as well. Quiet reminiscing is the best way to finish the day (we speak from experience).

If you have any questions about Fair, please check out our FAQ page. If we haven’t answered what you need, there’s an email address there as well.

But… shit, we’re getting close. Things are starting to get exciting.


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We’re excited and proud to put our name next to one of Sydney’s great bars this year as we announce Surry Hills’ The Wild Rover as our official partner venue.

One of the city’s whisk(e)y institutions  – if The Oak Barrel staff have gone for a knock-off drink, chances are you can find us down at the Rover. The original Irish whisky bar in town, with one of the best atmospheres of any bar, they also nail a cocktail (give the Irish penicillin a whirl) and deal in craft beer and wines.

The home-made sausage rolls are the stuff of Sydney legend, as well.

With a range of exhibitors and punters flying in from all over Australia, we’ll be recommending everyone for a drink and a bit down at ‘Rover.

Of course, there’ll be more than enough to sample and experience at Sydney Whisky Fair itself – so we don’t recommend going there before or after a session during the event. But there’s many evenings in a year and unfortunately Sydney Whisky Fair only happens one weekend, so there’ll be plenty of opportunities to get down.

While you’re there, consider joining The Whiskey Co-Op. Based at The Wild Rover, the Co-Op is one of Australia’s best whisk(e)y clubs. The annual membership gets you a whiskey passport – a guided journey through their selection – entry into their monthly free events, discounts on other events and more.

All the Co-Op information can be found here.

There’s now just a handful of days before Sydney Whisky Fair kicks off, so we’re gonna leave it there and head down to Rover.

75 Campbell St, Surry Hills – about three minutes’ walk from The Oak Barrel.


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We’re starting to get a bit excited as Sydney Whisky Fair rumbles towards us, just over two weeks away.

As the last loose ends are coming together, we’ll have some Fair announcements for you in the coming days, but if you haven’t been paying attention we’ve already had some pretty big announcements recently. Each year we run a series of masterclass tastings in the lead up to Fair. We think that if you’ve bought a ticket to Whisky Fair you should spend all your time in the Fair, and so our events are run on separate nights.

The week leading up to Fair is always strewn with anticipation and events, but this year is bigger than ever. In fact, we think this is the biggest Sydney Whisky Fair week in the history of the event.

Next week we’ll delve deep into single cask territory with the Rest & Be Thankful tasting (watch out for that Octomore) and dig into the archives for the long-sold-out Ardbeg Night. But that’s just a precursor to the week after where we’ve back-to-back-to-back fun.

Just announced is a GlenDronach tasting dedicated to single casks. Rarer and rarer, we’re not sure how often we’ll be able to hold tastings like this (it’s been three years since the last one). That’s taking place Tuesday 21 before our new favourite tradition for the Wednesday before the Fair – Tim Duckett’s annual visit. The man behind Heartwood and Tasmanian Independent Bottlers, he’ll take us through the current state of the scene down south and a window into life as an indie bottler in Australia. That’s Wednesday 22.

Finally, on Fair Eve Thursday 23, the Annual Australian Whisky Distillers Dinner happens again, in a new rooftop home in Surry Hills. With views across the city and visits from distillers out of Belgrove, Fleurieu, Archie Rose, Craft Works and more – these are always very special nights.

It’s going to be a hell of a fun couple of weeks. If you’re coming on the full journey with us, we salute you.

Whisky Fair Week

Tuesday 21 August: GlenDronach Single Cask Tasting
Wednesday 22 August: Tim Duckett’s Trails Through Tasmania
Thursday 23 August: Australian Whisky Distillers Dinner
Friday 24 August: Whisky Fair Day 1
Saturday 25 August: Whisky Fair Day 2


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We are pleased, excited and getting thirsty to confirm the details for this year’s annual Australian Distillers Dinner.

One of our most anticipated nights of the year, the Dinner will once again be happening on the eve of Sydney Whisky Fair – this year Thursday 23 August. An intimate, sit-down event with whisky producers from all over the country, we’ll welcome some new faces to the dinner in 2018.

Each distiller will be bringing something special with them, that may or may not be released and certainly not something widely available. We’ll intersperse the drams with a multi-course meal, themed around whisky.

One big change for this year is the location. In order to have a little bit more space and let a couple more people in, we’ve moved out of The Oak Barrel Cellar Room. Instead we’ll be on a rooftop just near Central station, enjoying the sun set as we chat about whisky.

The address is Level 3, 1-9 Buckingham Street Surry Hills, 30 seconds walk from Central Station (Devonshire St tunnel exit).

Joining us in 2018, for the first time at a Dinner, will be Peter Bignell from Belgrove Distillery. One of Australia’s most innovative distillers, Tasmania’s Belgrove is also one of the world’s greenest. Growing his own rye and grains and running his distillery of bio-fuel, Peter is a wealth of knowledge and stories (as we know from his previous visits). Now one of the elder statesmen of Australia’s young whisky scene, we are very proud to confirm Peter for 2018.

We’re also chuffed to welcome Gareth and Angela Andrews from South Australia’s Fleurieu Distillery for their very first visit to Sydney as whisky distillers (in fact, it’s their first visit back to Sydney for any reason in decades). They quietly released their first whisky last year and as the word – and booze – has spread the accolades have quickly followed. Already multi award winners, the couple of bottles we’ve sampled at tasting nights at The Oak Barrel have been fantastically received so we’re excited to welcome them to town.

As usual, the Distillers Dinner is a mix of established and emerging distillers – we’ll try whisky and some progress reports from distilleries well on their way. This year’s newcomer is close to home – the Craft Works Distillery in Capertee. Craig ‘Crafty’ Field is one of the newest whisky distillers in Australia and also one of the most passionate. With an infectious enthusiasm for the juice, he’ll be digging through his barrels to find something tasty for us to try.

We last had Archie Rose’s Dave Withers – himself an Oak Barrel graduate – at the Distillers Dinner in 2016, when we tried some amazing six-month old peated stock. As the Rosebery distillery edges closer to its first whisky release, we’ll check back in with our most local of distilleries. A lot has happened in those 24 months (they’re building a whole second distillery!) so plenty to talk celebrate on the Archie Rose front.

Photos from 2017 by May Lawrence

We’re also happy to announce that we’ve managed to reduce the ticket price for this year’s event considerably (about $50), compared to 2016 and ‘17.

The menu is below, and we might throw in a few surprises on the night!

MENU

Canapes

Heirloom tomato, grape, salted yolks, bruschetta

Prosciutto, gorgonzola mousse, balsamic fig, almond shortbread

Entree

Whiskey cured ocean trout nutmeg cream, foraged greens

Smoked duck breast, beetroot, raspberry and blood plum

Sides: Oven roasted seasonal vegetables and fennel, winter leaves, almonds, apricot

Main

Cowra lamb rump glazed carrots, freekeh, peas clotted buttermilk

Dessert

Grown up pecan pie vanilla ice cream, chocolate butterscotch sauce

Coffee and whiskey fudges

THE VENUE

Level 3, 1-9 Buckingham Street Surry Hills. It is half a block from Central Station, at the Devonshire St exit. There is a bit of Light Rail construction work around, so please bear that in mind if you’re getting dropped off.

Doors from 6pm, upon arrival head up the elevator to level three. Welcome drinks on arrival and we’ll sit down to start proceedings at 6.30pm.

DISTILLERS

Peter Bignell (Belgrove)
Gareth & Angela Andrews (Fleurieu)
Dave Withers (Archie Rose)
Craig Field (Craft Works)

In the lead up to the sold-out Sydney Whisky Fair 2018 The Oak Barrel will be hosting a number of ‘Fair Masterclasses’. These will provide an opportunity to get up close and personal with brands and distilleries, with plenty of time to mull over drams and ask plenty of questions. We run them as satellite events so you’re not drawn away from the tables during the main event and so you have plenty of time with each whisky without the allure of other shiny things!

WHAT: Australian Distillers Dinner 2018
WHERE: AEONA, Level 3, 1-9 Buckingham Street Surry Hills
WHEN:
Thursday 23 August, doors open 6pm for a 6.30pm start
PRICE: Members $150 / Non-Members $170
TICKETS: SOLD OUT

Please advise at the checkout ‘Special Request’ section if you have any dietary requirements.

Menu and guests subject to change due to availability and/or unforeseen circumstances.


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Six GlenDronach single casks on tasting at The Oak Barrel Tuesday 21 August.

They are the key details and we don’t have to put too much work into this, it’s a tasting that will sell itself.

Sherry cask whiskies, once taken for granted, have become one of the enduring questions of Scotch whisky. With demand far outstripping supply, distilleries all over Scotland – and the world – have had to look beyond the styles they made their name on because there simply aren’t enough top quality sherry casks.

How precious, then, is GlenDronach. A highland distillery on the eastern edge of Speyside, their heavy, muscular new make screams for sherry casks and the resulting whisky is some of the most celebrated in the style.

GlenDronach has long been a favourite of Oak Barrel staff and customer, their core range regularly appears in our highest selling lists each year. The single casks, however, have always been the stars – their old-worldy style of clean, sweet fruits and broad structure chased down by whisky lovers globally.

 

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Originally built in 1826, GlenDronach spent its life as a distillery for blenders malt. Passed through hands, it was surplus to Teachers’ requirement in 1996 and subsequently closed. Re-opened in 2002, it passed to Pernod Ricard in 2005 before Billy Walker’s team – then building up BenRiach’s single malt profile – took it over.

What Walker and team found in those warehouses was truly spectacular and the GlenDronach story didn’t stay a secret for long. The growth in demand for GlenDronach globally has been astounding and perhaps is as evident in Australia as anywhere else. When once The Oak Barrel could pick and choose how many bottles we nabbed, things have been on strict allocations for years.

Indeed, it’s been over three years since we focused in on GlenDronach at a tasting, but we’re pleased to be able to step back into the room to celebrate all things GlenDronach. (Read: we have more than one bottle of everything this time!)

It’s a fascinating time to look at the distillery as well, those pre-1996 casks are getting fewer and the post 2005 distillate (the year they ripped up the coal-fired for the stills) is starting to come online.

With Aussie brand ambassador Thalita Alves we’ll be coming along for the ride, join us as we open six amazing, sherried single casks whiskies.

In the lead up to the sold-out Sydney Whisky Fair 2018 The Oak Barrel will be hosting a number of ‘Fair Masterclasses’. These will provide an opportunity to get up close and personal with brands and distilleries, with plenty of time to mull over drams and ask plenty of questions. We run them as satellite events so you’re not drawn away from the tables during the main event and so you have plenty of time with each whisky without the allure of other shiny things!

What We’ll Be Tasting:

GlenDronach 2005 12-Year-Old Single Cask
GlenDronach 2002 15-Year-Old Single Cask
GlenDronach 1995 22-Year-Old Single Cask
GlenDronach 1993 24-Year-Old Single Cask
GlenDronach 1992 25-Year-Old Single Cask
GlenDronach 1990 27-Year-Old Single Cask

WHAT: GlenDronach Single Cask Tasting
WHERE: The Oak Barrel, 152 Elizabeth St, Sydney 2000
WHEN: Tuesday 21 August, 6.15pm for a 6.30pm start
PRICE: Members $85 / Non-Members $95
TICKETS: SOLD OUT!


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It’s our latest and favourite Sydney Whisky Fair tradition and we’re glad to confirm that Heartwood’s Tim Duckett will return to The Oak Barrel for a Whisky Fair evening in 2018.

This year Tim will take us on his Trails Through Tasmania – or Tim’s Triple-T – as we take a wide-ranging look into the current state and future of Australia’s most internationally renowned whisky regions.

Duckett is one of Australia’s highest regarded whisky bottlers – and probably our first real indie bottler. The heart and mind behind the Heartwood series of whiskies and the newer Tasmanian Independent Bottlers series, Tim will return to the Oak Barrel cellar room to catch us up on the latest moves and shakes down south.

 

Picture by May Lawrence
Picture by May Lawrence at The Oak Barrel

The past few years have seen a change of ‘phases’ for Duckett, the old pre-award win casks that dominated the early Heartwood releases have dried up and new distilleries have come online.

Alongside new expressions from TIB and Heartwood, we’ll go through some experimental casks and new distillery work-in-progress drams that have never been tasted on the mainland before.

Naturally, we’ll dig into the Heartwood archive for something special to round the night out.

Extremely limited, and one night only, we’ll confirm the exact line-up in the coming weeks.

What we’ll be tasting:

Lawrenny Gin
Adams Slosh Cask Update
Tasmanian Independent Bottlers Old Kempton
Heartwood Shade Of Night

Heartwood Night Thief

Plus:

New Make From A New Tassie Distillery
Peated New Make From A New Tassie Distillery
Something very special with Heartwood history
Something from the archives…

In the lead up to the sold-out Sydney Whisky Fair 2018 The Oak Barrel will be hosting a number of ‘Fair Masterclasses’. These will provide an opportunity to get up close and personal with brands and distilleries, with plenty of time to mull over drams and ask plenty of questions. We run them as satellite events so you’re not drawn away from the tables during the main event and so you have plenty of time with each whisky without the allure of other shiny things!

WHAT: Tim Duckett’s Trails Through Tasmania Whisky Tasting
WHERE: The Oak Barrel, 152 Elizabeth St, Sydney 2000
WHEN: Wednesday 22 August, 6.15pm for a 6.30pm start
PRICE: Members $70 / Non-Members $80
TICKETS: SOLD OUT!