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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.

 

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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!


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Introduced as some of the mist striking-looking bottles in Scotch whisky, last year we were please to discover that Rest & Be Thankful also had some of the most alluring whisky inside as well.

RBT is the single cask bottling arm of Fox Fitzgerald, one of the most respected sourcing and marketing companies in Scotch whisky. The brainchild of Eamon Jones and Aidan Smith, they worked with Bruichladdich on their famous rebrand and the early RBT casks were from that distillery’s stable – often with casks of Port Charlotte and Octomore who very few else could get their hands on.

Since then the label has evolved into a fully-fledged indie bottler, sourcing casks from brokers and distilleries at maturity that they deem worthy of the label.

Rest & be Thankful was the inscription on a stone place by soldiers at the top of Glen Croe in 1753; the climb through the valley is so long and steep that it as traditional for travellers to rest at this point for having completed the climb.

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In their own words, “Rest & Be Thankful whisky company do not just bottle the finest rare single malt whiskies from the best distilleries; they bottle a state of mind that allows the drinker to experience the same feeling of bliss and contentment felt by those weary travellers all those years ago.”

The Oak Barrel will be hosting a tasting dedicated to these single casks for the first time this coming August, in the lead up to Sydney Whisky Fair. A tasting hosting by The Oak Barrel and importers Baranows, we’ve hand-chosen some of our favourite 2018 releases and mixed them in with a few from the archive.

In the list is one of the best Tomintoul’s we’ve ever experienced, a 22-year-old Tormore (pictured above), a rare appearance from the Allt-a-Bhainne distillery and a scorching wine cask Octomore.

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 drinking:

Tomintoul 1995 22-Year-Old
Tormore 1995 22-Year-Old
Arran 1996 18-Year-Old
Allt-a-Bhainne 1995 21-Year-Old
Ledaig 1997 19-Year-Old
Octomore 2009 6-Year-Old (Pauillac Cask)

Plus another surprise from a previous outturn…

WHAT: Rest & Be Thankful Whisky Tasting
WHERE: The Oak Barrel, 152 Elizabeth St, Sydney 2000
WHEN: Tuesday 14 August, 6.15pm for a 6.30pm start
PRICE: Members $45 / Non-Members $55
TICKETS: SOLD OUT


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The latest in our ‘An Evening With’ series of local Australian distillers is something close to our heart and literally close to The Oak Barrel. Based in Mudgee, in our state’s gorgeous Central West Nathan Williams of the Baker Williams Distillery will be presenting whisky, gin, wildcards and more in an extensive, exhaustive tasting evening.

After successful appearances at our Sydney Craft Spirits Fair in the previous two year, the release of their very first whisky this year – The Lachlan – has prompted this masterclass dedicated to the distillery. Mudgee is renowned as a small-but-awarded wine region, with over 40 family-owned cellar door set ups. Hidden away behind one of them is a very special cellar door, home to the region’s only distillery.

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In their formative years Baker Williams – owned by wife-and-husband duo Helen Baker and Nathan Williams – took a scattergun approach to their products. Not allowing themselves to be boxed into a category, they’ve distilled whisky, gin, brandy, rum and vodka from the outset. From that they’ve also created a released a number of liqueurs which have gone from cellar door favourites to staples on our shelves here.

Welcoming Nathan into our tasting room here at The Oak Barrel, which he’s quite familiar with now, we’ll be going through the story behind the distillery, the successes and struggles of opening a small distillery in Australia and where they’re heading from here (hopefully there’ll be some barrel samples to explore that last idea).

Tickets are strictly limited and this will be one night only.

In the lead up to 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!

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What We’ll Be Drinking:

Baker Williams Lachlan Whisky Cask Strength
Baker Williams Lachlan Whisky 50%
Baker Williams Wildcard 50%
Baker Williams XLCR Gin
A selection of other Baker Williams products and cask samples

WHAT: An Evening With Baker Williams Distillery
WHERE: The Oak Barrel, 152 Elizabeth St, Sydney 2000
WHEN: Wednesday 1 August, 6.15pm for a 6.30pm start
PRICE: Members $25 / Non-Members $35
TICKETS: SOLD OUT!