Bakery Hill “Peated Malt”
By Andrew Derbidge
Think of the great whisky making nations of the world, and you will quickly think of Scotland or the USA. Ireland, Japan, & Canada might also cross your mind. Australia is unlikely to rate a mention. Yet.
Whisky making in Australia has seen a surprising renaissance in recent years, with several new distilleries charging up their stills to produce a variety of malt whiskies.
The biggest hurdle facing Australian whiskies is that, too often, we expect them to taste like Scotch. This, inevitably, leads to disappointment. Even the most anonymous Scottish single malt is likely to have come from a distillery with perhaps 150 years distilling experience, a determined & deliberate policy on wood and cask selection, comparatively large stills (the size & shape of stills plays an enormous role in the character of the resulting spirit), and – that most mystical element of all – 10 to 12 years maturing and breathing in the Scottish environment.
Compare this with the Australian distilling industry, where the scale of operation is so much smaller, and the distilleries have only a handful of years under their belts. Other obstacles are smaller stills, harder access to quality casks, and a market that dictates that proprietors can’t afford to wait 10 to 12 years to recoup their costs. To combat this, the Australian distilleries use much smaller casks than their Scottish counterparts - the greater ratio of surface area to volume is known to accelerate the maturation process.
Operating in Victoria, Bakery Hill launched three single malt whiskies onto the market in 2004. These were the “Classic Malt”, the “Peated Malt”, and the “Double Wood”, the last so named because it is matured in both American and French oak.
With a particular bent for the peated malts of Islay (think Lagavulin, Ardbeg, Laphroaig, etc), my attention was immediately drawn to the Peated Malt. Taking into account the considerations outlined earlier, how does this malt stack up?
The label on my bottle advises that this is from Cask No. 1204. The whisky is bottled at 46%, and is non-chill filtered. Furthermore, no spirit caramel has been added, resulting in a very light coloured whisky, but ensuring the full, naked flavour of the whisky can be appreciated. To the seasoned malt connoisseur, these three factors are immediate positives.
The first note on the nose was butter. The peat was evident, but it was cloaked in a buttery sweetness. A tiny splash of water revealed some candied citrus. On the palate, the initial flavours suggested fruitcake, with white pepper adding some heat & spice. But the depth is thin, and a diesel-like, eucalyptus note soon rose to the fore. The finish was warming, and the heat increased in a crescendo, peaked, then trailed away to leave some bitter sensations, reminiscent of both cocoa & apple seeds. Score: 6.8
Some comments? Well, I admit I was disappointed. Despite some promising initial flutters, and even though the peat was evident on the nose and palate, it didn’t bite and grab the tastebuds in quite the usual fashion. The palate was thin & struck me as possibly being a tad one-dimensional, offering little complexity. It tasted young, and no doubt it is. However, clearly the potential is there, and I suspect that if it could be bottled at 8 to 10 years old, it might prove to be an impressive malt.
Perhaps this all comes across as a bit too negative. Was it pleasant? Yes. Would I drink it again? Yes, indeed. As an Australian malt, it holds its own, and would serve well as an aperitif whisky. And offering a peated version is a nice acknowledgement from Bakery Hill to the many peatophiles that grace our shores. Furthermore, whist I have not tasted the other expressions for this review, I tasted the prototypes of the Bakery Hill Classic Malt and Double Wood expressions at the 2003 Malt Whisky Convention in Canberra, and they were – by some distance – the best Antipodean malts on offer.
As for cost, the Bakery Hill bottling demonstrates where the Australian industry struggles. Production runs are small, and the relative scales are not economical. $80 for a 500ml bottle of whisky barely more than 3 years old does not seem good value, especially considering the same amount of money can buy a 700ml bottle of 16 year old Lagavulin – one of the finest single malt scotches on the market. Still, what cost do you put on national pride? Buy Australian, and invest in our local whisky industry!