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The Small Concern Distillery Cradle Mountain 17 Year Old Single Malt Australian Whisky (700ml)
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- ABV 43%
Australia's Oldest Whisky is no Small Concern: An opportunity to secure a bottle of Australian liquid history.
There are names in the whisky world that evoke a sense of reverence, not only for their rarity and reputation but for their place in distilling history. As the name suggests, the "Small Concern" was a mum's and dad's effort from the start. Not surprising when you reflect on the germinal state of the Tasmanian whisky industry during the early '90s. It takes dogged determination, courage and a bit of luck to see any new venture get off its feet. The Small Concern, if only briefly, had all three. When the Tasmanian Agricultural Department developed a new variety of barley named ''Franklin'', a grant was requested to test its viability in whisky production. It was the team at the “Darwin Distillery” (the precursor to the Small Concern) who first proved the grain's worth.
The original group managed to fill two barrels. One barrel went to Hobart, one stayed at North Motton, south of Ulverstone at the site of the distillery. The malt spirit continued to age. In 1993 one of the team, Andrew Morrison, visited Scotland with a barrel sample (then 15 months old). He took it to independent bottlers, William Cadenheads, the marketing arm of Springbank Distillery, to get some perspective on the quality of the young whisky. Springbank was duly impressed and ordered seven barrels. Morrison, who must have been both chuffed and embarrassed, had to explain that they couldn't fulfill the request because the operation had already run out of money and their equipment had been dismantled. Cadenheads, who have always been ahead of the game in sourcing the world's finest spirits, were obviously looking to secure an ongoing supply, possibly even to market an Australian brand in Europe. They obliged by giving Morrision around 25K up front to re-commence production and fill the order. The ''first'' batch was run out in January 1994, and the new spirit continued to flow until November 1997. Once again, Small Concern produced and once again they ran out of money. It was understandable - they were in the words of co founder, David MacLennan, the "first cab off the rank" when it came to commercial whisky production in Tasmania. Investment had been difficult to harness with a 4-5 year (plus) return on a highly speculative venture. Not long after the Small Concern distillery had reached its zenith it was being dismantled, meanwhile a whisky enthusiast by the name of Bill Lark had established his own venture (1992) and was playing around with small quantities of whisky further south. The rest is history...
This whisky is the "Last of the first" according to MacLennan. That is, the very last remaining stocks of Small Concern's last run. No more whisky is in bond. At the time of writing, MacLennan reported less than 300 bottles of the 17 YO were available. Earlier this month those stocks were snapped up by a consortium.
To date, this is the oldest known Australian whisky release to hit the market and bears significance not only for its age and pedigree, but for just how well the spirit has held up in cask. Two and a half times distilled (the label rounds it up to three) and matured in American oak barrels made at a South Australian cooperage. This is a landmark release that should appeal to historians, collectors and drinkers alike. Needless to say very limited stocks at this opening price which will not hold for long.
Tasting note: Bright gold. Opening scents of cup cake and shortbread build after several minutes aeration. The second pass emphasises rock lolly (think Castlemaine Rock) with peppermint freshness and barley sugar combined. Final inspection finds hazelnut milk chocolate, salted caramel plus hints of dates added to the aromatic merry-go-round. An engaging, dessert styled sniff. Generous, creamy, rock lolly and barley sugar delivery shows fabulous purity; mid palate accents fruit mince pie and showcases the sweet-yet-fresh malt; excellent persistence and balance; Finish is borderline rum-like as creamy vanilla, cup cake and hay feature in the aftertaste with cocoa, fruit mince pie and a lingering viscous sweetness that you'll be licking off your teeth minutes after the first sip. Grab a bottle for the collection and another to drink, but be quick. Australia's oldest malt whisky is super limited with less than 60 bottles available. 43% Alc./Vol.