Cocktail Photography by Christopher Pearce @christophernpearce
“I’m really into the transparency of origin from the US, was it made from a small craft distillery, a big old favourite or a custom beast from MGP? Nothing wrong with either option. Anything I can add to the sales pitch is super important as a cask is a pretty solid investment,” says David ‘Xander’ Stucken, WA bar personality (who is working on opening his own bar, Bar Terrarium right now).
We can all agree that American Whiskey has been on an upward trajectory, and it doesn’t seem to have peaked yet. The “Mad Men” effect of guests ordering Old Fashioneds and Manhattans (without really knowing what they were) has spawned greater education and more brand calling.
Just in Australia, RTD Bourbon sales have been up by 32.6 per cent since the previous year, according to LMG (Liquor Marketing Group), and the KDA (Kentucky Distillers Association) says that last year Bourbon distillers filled more than 1.7 million barrels. Four times the amount in 1999.
High-end Bourbon from both big distillers and new American whiskey distillers also have massive traction in secondary markets, which can’t all be due to marketing and great television.
You can’t really discuss the boom in Bourbon without mentioning Pappy. Pappy Van Winkle Bourbons are legendary, in the same vein that ‘that one from tassie that won the award’ or the ‘Japanese Scotch’ have an aura about them. As the folks behind the bar, orders for these expensive products can make us cringe, especially knowing that the liquid is fucking great, but the hype has caught up, and sometimes overshadowed the liquid in the bottle.
‘Single Cask’ and ‘Small Batch’ monikers brought Bourbon into the elite world of other drams existing under that giant international umbrella of Whisk(e)y. Arguably, one of the biggest Bourbon makers actually started the whole small batch thing internationally with Booker Noe’s influence over at Jim Beam.
In the late 80s, a trend started that has changed Bourbon’s position in the global consumer’s mind. ‘Single Cask’ and ‘Small Batch’ monikers brought Bourbon into the elite world of other drams existing under that giant international umbrella of Whisk(e)y.
Arguably, one of the biggest Bourbon makers actually started the whole small batch thing internationally with Booker Noe’s influence over at Jim Beam. The family of Bourbons that have followed are incredible and showcase the people behind them, with the likes of Bakers and Basils.
“We can look at the rise of small-batch and single-barrel expressions in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s that kicked off a premiumization trend and boosted Bourbon’s reputation as a high-quality spirit,” says Eric Gregory, president of the KDA. An increase in global markets, tourism to Kentucky and us bartenders helped. Good on us.
In a world where the bottle in front of you can consist of years of aging and then an inconceivable amount of casks dumped into a giant tank and then bottled, single cask expressions are arguably the best chance to taste what a distillery is doing exceptionally well. To experience nuances of flavour that you will never find otherwise, even in a “Small Batch” (which there is no legal definition of how many casks can be in the bottle).
“One question came up for both of us that we couldn’t answer, how do we share it? We thought if we could get ten mates, and they ten mates and so on, pretty soon we have made our way through a barrel or a cask pretty quickly…so we set out to find ten mates.” – Ray Daniels, Webster’s Bar, Newtown
Single casks are a snapshot in more than just ingredients, wood and time; they can also provide exact areas of the warehouse they were aged in and even, in some cases, the angel share. More often than not, they are cask strength also, which is a big drawcard.
Barrel and Batch, a single cask importer, are bringing over a bunch of great single cask spirits, especially American Whiskies.
Ray Daniels, owner of Webster’s Bar Newtown and Simon Harvey (ex-Brown Forman), teamed up and started the company with transparency in mind. Ray says: “Simon and I were chatting over a Xmas brunch, that turned into a lunch and dinner. We had previously toured Kentucky together and had selected a barrel of Woodford Double Oaked on that tour. As you do, you bring up the good memories of that time, and one thing that stood out was how lucky we were (and are) in access to whisk(e)y of all types and regions.
“One question came up for both of us that we couldn’t answer, how do we share it? We thought if we could get ten mates, and they ten mates and so on, pretty soon we have made our way through a barrel or a cask pretty quickly…so we set out to find ten mates.”
The pandemic threw a spanner in the works, but they persevered and are bringing in selected casks to get in the hands of their guests. “It’s an interesting market,” says Ray, “where some guests that are drinking high-end Bourbons are only brand calling what they have heard mates ask for, and others want to know what part of the rickhouse the barrel was in.”
Xander says that naturally, the price has to be viable to stock any of these single cask whiskies. “It’s been a hard few years and If I can’t sell it by the dram, what’s the point? If I can sell an Old Fashioned or Manhattan with it? Better. Secondly, something particularly interesting about the cask. Is the mash bill interesting? Is there an interesting cask finish? Give me something to love.”
“It’s been a hard few years and If I can’t sell it by the dram, what’s the point? If I can sell an Old Fashioned or Manhattan with it? Better. Secondly, something particularly interesting about the cask. Is the mash bill interesting? Is there an interesting cask finish? Give me something to love.” – Xander Stucken, Bar Terrarium, Perth
In terms of importing the good stuff, Ray tells me that they are looking for something with a personality. The general direction is cask strength or barrel proof, “some of the classic flavours and DNA known from the distillery we are working with, but with that little extra something special,” he says, adding, “there are some cool things on the way as well. Such as a 12 Year Tennessee Bourbon finished in PX, and a 5yr Tennessee Rye finished in PX.”
Manhattan 50ml Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Proof 15ml vermouth 2 dash Orange Bitters Stir and strain into chilled glass Orange and Cherry
Boulevardier 40ml Single Cask or Small Batch Bourbon 20ml Antica Formula Vermouth 20ml Campari Stirred and strained over large ice cubes Lemon Zest
Old Fashioned 60ml Single Cask or Small Batch Bourbon 5ml 1:1 sugar syrup 2 dash aromatic bitters Stirred and strained over large ice cubes Orange Zest