There’s a perception out there that Australian whisky is expensive.
Overpriced, though? Perhaps, but who am I to comment on the costs of production? To take a macro view, allow me to remove all nuance, and attempt to define Australian distilleries into 3 camps:
- The austere, storied brands (often Tasmanian) that can charge an arm and a leg for their products. Think Lark, Sullivan’s Cove or Overeem.
- The well-established distilleries at a reasonable size of production that are not necessarily trying to promote themselves as being at the highest end of the market, but nor are they any longer upstart underdogs – perhaps Hellyers Road, Bakery Hill, or Timboon.
- The newer entrants in what seems to be the current explosion of whisky production. These can vary from being well funded and very well-known entries like Archie Rose or 23rd Street Distillery to smaller, humble operations such as Black Gate, Fleurieu, Chief’s Son, and Loch.
I would say Limeburners and Starward fit snuggly into the camp number 2. I have featured both here on Malt recently, and was a little reluctant to do so again so soon. However, these twodistilleries feature something I did want to highlight: bargain priced Australian whisky releases. There seems to be a movement towards cheaper Australian whisky. Getting a release out for under a $100 appears to be the aim. Bottling at 40% ABV, with a blend of grain and malted barley, is fairly common (credit, though, to stalwart Hellyers Road for having several single malt releases under $100 and at 46.2% ABV). Some of these cheaper bottlings are clearly destined to end up as a base ingredient in a “whisky and coke,” or in cocktails.
Starward’s budget release is Two-Fold Double Grain Blended Whisky. Generally available for about $70, it is matured in Australian red wine barrels. Two-Fold incorporates a mash bill of 60% wheat and 40% malted barley. Perhaps showing their hand, the dedicated page for Two-Fold on the Starward website contains a link to cocktail recipes. I am sure these attractive bottles look great on the shelf of a moodily lit bar.
I reached out to Starward for more information about Two-Fold. This is what Production Director Sam Slaney told Malt:
Our Starward Two-Fold Double Grain Whisky was designed to create a soft, approachable Australian whisky that is still full of flavour. It has been specially crafted to be different in the whisky world – an affordable and approachable blend of two quintessential Aussie grains, barley and wheat, fully matured in red wine barrels from our famed Australian wine regions. Two-Fold represents a first for modern Australian whisky and challenges perceptions of what whisky can be.
Our flavourful, but lighter style of whisky competes on the world stage against international whisky brands. We’ve been humbled by the global recognition Two-Fold has received, awarded gold at both the Global Spirit Masters (2020) and San Francisco World Spirits Awards (2020) – two of the most influential liquor competitions in the world. Over the last 18 months we’ve continued to expand Two-Fold globally, taking our distinctive Australian spirit to the US. It’s still early days, but so far, we’ve been delighted with the response to our modern, progressive whisky.
Here at Starward we believe our whisky is right at home on the dinner table. Two-Fold has been crafted to be enjoyed with food and with an approachable ABV of 40% it’s made to be mixed, spritzed or shaken, making it perfect for the bar or home.
Thanks to Hannah and the team at Starward for taking the time to respond to my query.
Limeburner’s budget release is Dugite Whisky, available for around $99. The Limeburners website describes this as “good honest whisky…..crafted for the everyday Australian drinker.” Dugite (named after a highly venomous West Australian snake) is a blend of single malt whisky and mixed grain (corn, rye, barley, and a wheat-rye hybrid), barrelled separately and blended after maturation.
Cameron Syme, Founder and Master Distiller at Limeburners, tells Malt:
Well the first thing is it’s been a long aspiration of mine to be able to release a quality Whisky at under $100. The economy of scale isn’t there for many craft distillers to be able to do this. We make Dugite at our Porongurup distillery, where we can achieve some economies of scale. Porongurup Tiger Snake Distillery is 3800 m2 under roof. We have a stable of 3 stills here. A 3,800 litre 9 meter tall pot still, a 750 litre Italian (Frilli) column still, and a USA ADE 800 litre 18 plate column pot still. We do mashes of 2,500 litres, using renewable energy (evacuated tubes) for heating our brewing water. This allows some better economics of scale. We do stripping (wash runs) through the column stills and then spirit runs in the larger pot still.
The tall still (which I’m told is taller than Glenmorangie) produces a lighter sweeter spirit than what is produced in Albany.
The aging is in ex bourbon barrels that we import directly form the USA. So there’s a soft vanillin influence from these casks.
Dugite is a blended whisky from one distillery. It’s a secret recipe of a mix of single malt and mixed grain whisky (think perhaps a combination of Limeburners and Tiger Snake). The whisky is aged for 3 years (all will shortly be 4 years as a minimum), in 200 litre casks, and is then blended together, before being cold stabilised (not chill filtered) and then left to marry for 2 months before bottling.
Dugite is a sister whiskey to Tiger Snake. And we get both Dugite and Tiger Snakes at the distillery each year. Dugites are uniquely West Australian and I think this brand name reflects the unique blend we’ve created here – smooth and quiet, and unassuming. But potentially deadly.
We’ve had some great reviews on Dugite with a couple of people calling it Australia’s best whisky under $100. I’ll leave that to the individuals.
It’s aimed to be both a sipping whisky and a whisky that can be made into a highball or cocktail. For me it’s not to be a controversial whisky, it’s to be a whisky that can be easily shared and appreciated.
We launched this in the middle of the first 3 month Covid lockdown. Sales have gone well. Ultimately, I just hope people enjoy what we make.
Thank you to Cameron for this behind the scenes glimpse into Dugite.
Both are bottled at 40% ABV and both are widely available through Australian liquor outlets. A certain amount of Two-Fold was released in the US; if interested, please check out this link to find a local retailer. This is also available through Master of Malt.
Starward Two-Fold Double Grain Blended Whisky – Review
Colour: Pale ale with some ruby glints. In the right light, almost maroon.
On the nose: I am enjoying this nose more than I thought it would. At first, I get the impression that this is a little thin… but time in the glass reveals layers I did not expect and are probably a credit to the wheat in the mash bill. There’s a creaminess here, perhaps whipped cream on strawberries, cherry flavoured bubble gum, then lemon cake and limes. More time in the glass and I get passionfruit soda, milk chocolate drops and oily peanut butter. All in all, an undeniably pleasant experience.
In the mouth: Orange pulp, light honey, the refreshment of a fruity IPA on a hot day. Peppermint sweets, menthol and melted butter. A warm and rewarding mouthfeel. The finish is short, but this just encourages another drink all too easily.
Very smooth, very drinkable, not terribly complex but for the price it delivers in spades. Starward have nailed this one. Bravo – an unexpected surprise. The bar has been set high for Dugite. It’s time I open that bottle and see what it delivers.
Limeburners Dugite Whisky – Review
Colour: Deep gold.
On the nose: Not as overt as the Two-Fold, but I am getting candle wax, some olive oil, dark ales, and chocolate malt. At the back of the nose, sour chews and wine vinegar come through. For better or worse, it’s certainly a different aroma profile than on offer at Starward.
In the mouth: The mix of grains is evident on the palate. This doesn’t quite have the bite of a dugite snake, but comes on more gradually. There is some apricot flesh and hops. It takes a third mouthful for the flavours to really start to leave an impression, and I am now getting black forest cake, spearmint and milk chocolate. The finish is rather short with malted milkshake and macadamia oil
I returned to these two drams several times over the course of a few weeks (Melbourne is back in a Coronavirus enforced lockdown, and normal drinking rules are out the window) to re-examine my thoughts. Was I overrating one and underrating another? Did the Starward deceive at first glances? Was there more depth to the Dugite I’d been missing? 7/10 for a $70 blended whisky from Starward… is this real life?
Ultimately, I came away unchanged. I am as surprised as anyone but can only report my own personal reaction. The Dugite is by no means a bad dram. For the price I can recommend it, but for $30 less I am happier to recommend the Two-Fold as the better bang for your buck bottle.
With other entrants in this field – check out Neds Whisky and Whipper Snapper for two others – I’d say it’s the Australian consumer who is the biggest winner of all.