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Belgrove Distillery [1-2-2011 Distillation] White Rye New Spirit (500ml)
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- ABV 40%
Regular customers may be aware of the story of Frank Potts - an unassuming man, wine industry pioneer and an acknowledged engineering genius of considerable foresight. Enter the twenty first century and parallels can be drawn with another enterprising, pioneering Australian - Peter Bignell.
Peter is a true renaissance man – farmer, sculptor, engineer, coppersmith, environmentalist and bio-fuel chemist, and now the distiller of Australia’s first 100% Rye spirit. Peter applied his sculpting and engineering nous (the same abilities employed to restore the historic Nant Water Mill) to build his own 500 litre copper pot still, which he direct fires with his homemade bio-diesel (also used to run his tractors and heat his house).
Keeping things on a self sufficient and sustainable course, the rye grain he uses is also from the family’s Bothwell property. Originally planted by Peter at the tender age of fifteen to feed the property’s livestock, the same field now feeds his still, while the remaining dried mash goes to a swine of pigs where the cycle comes full circle as manure.
Peter’s 'Belgrove Rye Spirit' is, at present, not legally whisky. It’s spent no time in oak. It’s a 100% Rye (unusual even in America) that’s double distilled via a direct fired method - no steam coils or water jackets, just flame on copper. It takes attention and skill to manage charges like this. Mess it up and you get undesirable burnt flavours. Get it right and you can introduce some interesting toasty grain characteristics to the whisky as parts of the mash fall on 'hot spots' and are gently ‘roasted’ on the base of the still. This artisanal technique has been, and still is, much admired by the Scots, yet sadly, it's now rarely applied mainly for reasons of efficiency. The Springbank distillery at Campbeltown is one exception. Here “...the wash still is fired from the bottom by live flame and the spirit stills are heated by steam coils from inside. It is thought Springbank is the only distillery in Scotland to do this. Most distilleries these days use only the coils… [Yet] When other distilleries switched from direct flame heating to solely steam coil heating in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s many managers reported a change in the character of their spirit, and rarely for the better.”
The early results from Belgrove show real promise. They are also a piece of history in the making.
Early experimentation in oak selection for maturation is under way, and it seems Peter is driving for a refined and elegant Rye, opting for minimal wood impact, most likely old American oak which should retain the complexity inherent in the white spirit.
Tasting note: Crystal clear, silvery, slightly glycerous appearance. Aromas are initially blanco mezcal like with a peppery / fruity / boiled vegetable amalgam. A touch of vinyl emerges with further time in the glass, as does some suggestion of the source grain. The palate flavours are on the green side - broad bean and cabbage are accompanied by a gentle spiciness. Soft, warming mouth feel. Good concentration and balance. Finishes with a pleasant tartness, the rye finally making an entry in the aftertaste which is light, dry, spicy and mildly bready though rather short. Interesting and enjoyable but lacks definition. 40% Alc./Vol.