One of the pleasures of writing for MALT Review is introducing you to distilleries you will likely never have heard about. The distillery producing today’s reviewed whisky – Limeburners – is about as far away (geographically) from Archie Rose as Los Angeles is from Toronto and has little in the way of international sales.
Limeburners is tucked away down in the glorious southwest corner of Western Australia. I’ll admit to some sentimental bias, as I grew up just outside the region, and camping trips “down south” were a regular fixture for our family. If you haven’t heard of the regional centres such as Albany or Bunbury, you’ve probably heard of Margaret River, home to an annual event of the World Surf League and a renowned wine region.
Tourists from Perth make the 4-hour drive to inundate Margaret River over holiday periods. It follows on that where you have throngs of tourists and abundant local produce, a foodie scene will develop.
The Margaret River region has multiple breweries and several distilleries, the largest by far being the Great Southern Distilling Company. I thought it fair, after my earlier article on Archie Rose, to write about the Great Southern Distilling Company as these two are the main players in a fascinating legal battle over the patent of Archie Rose’s “individual malt stream” process.
Archie Rose claim to have developed a unique method to underpin the future production of their spirits. Take their single malt whisky as an example, which uses six different malts in the mash bill (rather than the usual one to two). Archie Rose claim that for optimal results, each malt needs to be milled, brewed, fermented, distilled and aged separately before eventual blending to produce the single malt whisky. The patent calls for the final spirit to contain at least two “roasted” malts.
Archie Rose has taken steps to patent this production method both in Australia and in some international markets they intend to enter, such as the EU, China, Canada, and the US. The patent was granted in Australia in November 2020. Archie Rose claims that by patenting their production method, they will have the freedom to openly share their innovative production techniques “while providing us with the comfort that we can produce our whisky, and allow it reach peak maturity, without any perceived external pressure to release the spirit earlier than we would like.”
All this seems to make sense. However, in May 2021, Cameron Syme (founder of the Great Southern Distilling Company) confirmed a challenge to the patent, on the grounds that the “individual malt stream” production process Archie Rose is attempting to patent is not unique and has long been common practice in the Australian whisky industry. Syme will argue that patenting the “individual malt stream” process will stifle innovation among other Australian distilleries, whereas Archie Rose claim that a patent – by definition – cannot stop production processes existing prior to the patent.
That’s the background on the situation, we’ll see how it plays out with global implications as the patent progresses in the foreign territories. For further details check out James Atkinson’s articles on his Drinks Adventures site and Archie Rose’s FAQ.
What about the Great Southern Distilling Company though? Syme pursued his dream of opening a distillery throughout 16 years of research while working as a lawyer, finally founding the distillery in 2004 in Albany, 420 km south of Perth. Albany was chosen for its cool climate and access to high quality water. Their first distillation ran on Christmas Eve 2005, and their first single malt whisky released in May 2008 (remember that Australian regulations only require whisky to be aged for 2 years). After initially operating in a tiny space in a small business incubator, by 2007 the distillery outgrew the space and moved into its current location on the edge of Albany’s Princess Royal Harbour.
In 2015, the Great Southern Distilling Company opened a gin distillery in the town of Margaret River. A little while after this, they opened a new distillery in the village of Porongurup, about 40 minutes’ drive north of Albany. The Porongurup distillery features a variety of stills to produce both grain and malt whisky, achieving an increase in overall production. Out of the Porongurup distillery comes their Tiger Snake Sour Mash Whiskey, claimed to be Australia’s first mixed grain whiskey.
The single malt whisky from Porongurup is released under the Limeburners label. Limeburners consists of a core range of the American Oak, Sherry Cask and Port Cask releases, bottled at 43% ABV and produced under the solera method, which involves never completely emptying barrels so that new batches are blended with the previous.
The Sherry Cask and Port Cask releases are also available from single barrels at a higher strength of 61% ABV. Limeburners also includes a premium collection consisting of Directors Cut, Heavy Peat and Darkest Winter. The Darkest Winter releases are the only Limeburners released at barrel strength, whereas the Directors Cut range are casks individually picked by Syme as worth releasing under that name.
I was introduced to Limeburners in 2017 by doing a tasting of the whisky range at the Margaret River gin distillery in 2017, then taking home bottles of the high strength Sherry and Port Cask releases. Limeburners claims that the average age of the spirit in this release is 5 to 8 years, quite reasonable for Australian whisky. It is first aged for 3 to 5 years in American oak barrels before finishing in a Sherry cask. I don’t believe I’ve tried these releases at 43% ABV, so I picked up a Sherry Cask release from my local bottle shop for $137; these are also available through most Australian whisky retailers for about $145 or directly from the distillery.
Limeburners Single Malt Whisky Sherry Cask – Review
Colour: Motor oil.
On the Nose: An unusually sour, astringent nose. Sarsaparilla and almonds immediately come to the fore, with boiled oranges, banana chips, guava and rotting fruits coming and going. I’m reminded of gym change rooms and some shoe polish. Let’s hope the palate overdelivers.
In the mouth: Unfortunately, the first impression is that there’s not a lot going on here. The liquid has a watery mouthfeel. I do get freshly squeezed orange juice, banana peel, lemon cake, some mustiness. A hint of amaretto and dates. I understand Limeburners intend this to be an everyday sipper but I’m left wondering which day that will be for me.
Paying about $140 for a 700 ml bottle of single malt Australian whisky from a distillery of established repute isn’t bad going. I have fond memories from 2017 of my bottles at the higher strength, and possibly there is an inherent ceiling to a young whisky finished in sherry casks and reduced to 43%, but I can only wave away my disappointment at this release to a certain extent.
Currently, all Limeburners’ barley is sourced and malted in Western Australia. I am pleased that on their website, the Great Southern Distilling Company talk about moving to in-house malting with locally sourced barley, having obtained a rotating drum malting machine for the Porongurup site. Additionally, they are commissioning a 600-litre yeast propagation facility in Porongurup to develop their own proprietary yeast strains. Spent grain is provided to local farmers to use for stock feed in exchange for bartered goods. On the website they also discuss the move to zero production waste and carbon neutrality.
Despite their good intentions and Australian market reach, I’ve never had a conversation about Limeburners with any other whisky enthusiast in Australia. The Australian whisky scene is crowded with new distilleries regularly opening up, and perhaps it’s a case of “out of sight, out of mind” in Western Australia. Credit is due to the Great Southern Distilling Company for acting both on their own behalf and that of several other smaller distilleries in their patent challenge with Archie Rose. Whichever way the outcome goes, the implications for the Australian distilling scene will be significant.
Bottle photo by Mark; distillery photos courtesy of Great Southern Distilling Company.