What makes an award-winning spirit?

Written by
Vintage Cellars
September 1, 2017
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As the winners in the spirits category of the Vintage Cellars Best Of Awards prove, distilling spirits is a fine art, and one which may not reward for many years. Not only are these whiskies, vodkas and gins some of the best available worldwide, they’re stretching people’s palates in interesting and innovative ways. Who knew who could distil the essence of a forest floor in a bottle of gin, or capture the richness of a South Australian Shiraz in whisky?

Discover the distillers opening our eyes, or should we say our tastebuds, to the world of flavours around us.

Best New Spirit: Bruichladdich Classic Laddie

This classic Scottish single malt is produced from solely Scottish barley, surprisingly unpeated with a smokey gentle finish. Super smooth, it shows both oak and grain in perfect harmony. The signature bottling makes it the definitive Bruichladdich. The palate entry is refined and refreshing. The sweet oak and the barley arrive together and pop on the tongue like champagne bubbles. We’ve named the Classic Laddie Best New Spirit.

Adam Hannett, Bruichladdich’s Master Distiller, says Classic Laddie is their “flagship dram”. The Classic was originally created by Jim McEwan, the previous master distiller. “It’s our way of showcasing our house style of fruity, floral, delicate spirit together with the tremendous flavour and texture of Bruichladdich Spirit matured in the finest casks available,” says Adam. “Often it will be the first taste of Bruichladdich for many people so it has to represent the best of what we do.”

And why the aqua bottle? “As much as possible, everything we do at Bruichladdich represents Islay,” says Adam, speaking of the island on which the Bruichladdich Distillery is located. “We try to keep as much of our whisky-making process on the island and all of that sits on the shores of a sea loch called Loch Indaal. On particularly special days here, the colour of the loch is this exceptional aqua colour. So every time you see a bottle of The Classic Laddie, you can think of our distillery and Islay.”

“Perfect for someone who likes their whisky with no peat. Absolutely delicious.” – Paul, Vintage Cellars South Melbourne

Best Gin: St George Terroir Gin

A profoundly lush and aromatic gin with a real sense of place. A forest in your glass, with ultra-woodsy notes of Douglas fir, California bay laurel, sage, and a hint of citrus, which makes it great for stirring up in a Negroni. We’ve never tasted anything like this gin – it’s an absolute stand out. We’ve crowned it Best Gin. We’ve also named St George Distiller of the Year.

Lance Winters, St George’s Head Distiller says they try to “find flavour and aroma profiles that one typically doesn’t see in commercially produced spirits.”

For this gin, Lance recounts the story of how he came to develop its flavour profile:

“About 10 years ago, my son was in a summer camp program in the Bay Area hills near our home in Northern California. One afternoon when I was picking him up, I was really captivated by the smells of the forest. The pine, bay laurel, wild sage, wild fennel, forest floor mulch, and even the sun-baked trails worked to form an image of the place. I knew then that it was a spirit that had to be made.

“I went back to the same forests with a forager to help identify the things that I had smelled that summer afternoon. Once I had my list, I brought botanicals back to my lab, and started testing those… After six months of testing various ratios of botanicals, we had our Terroir Gin.”

“The bouquet from this gin is nothing but beautiful.” – Paul Vintage Cellars South Melbourne

Best Vodka: VDKA 6100

This New Zealand spirit has been making waves in New York – the largest vodka market outside of Russia. The team at VDKA 6100 say they set out to create a smoother vodka with fewer impurities and methanol than other premium vodkas. Using whey as the base and the pure natural Rapaura spring water of New Zealand, the result is a “silkier and more elegant” vodka. The overwhelming panel favourite thanks to its impeccable balance, we think they’ve succeeded, which is why they’ve taken the honours of Best Vodka this year.

This is a superb example of premium vodka, particularly for those looking for a spirit which is gluten-free, sugar-free and has no chemical additives. Actor Robert De Niro, an avid vodka drinker, helped with the design, packaging and proposition of VDKA 6100, and New York designer Joe Doucet designed the bottle.

VDKA 6100 has hints of salted caramel, citrus and blossom notes. Try it in their version of a Tom Collins – the Kiwi Collins.

“This vodka is super clean and is perfect for people looking for glucose, lactose and sugar free options.” - Robyn, Vintage Cellars Yarraville

Best New World Whisky: Starward Wine Cask Single Malt Whisky

A unique expression, Starward Wine Cask Single Malt Whisky draws influence from the vibrancy of South Australian Shiraz. Aged in Shiraz casks, the wine can’t help but influence the brilliant finished product, even down to its vibrant red ochre colour and a great balance of sweet and savoury on the palate. It won gold at the World Whiskies Awards for Best Australian Single Malt, and we couldn’t help but award it our best too. Our favourite way to drink it is in an Old Fashioned.

The Wine Cask Single Malt came from Starward’s challenge for themselves to create a “flavour-led and affordable whisky which they could take to the world.”

“The critical aspect of our success is using Australian red wine barrels to mature our whisky for three ‘Melbourne Years’,” says Starward founder David Vitale. “Our four-seasons-in-a-day climate works amazingly well with Red wine barrels to create a distinctly Australian whisky.”

David and Starward are hoping Australian whisky will follow in the footsteps of Australian wine. “Thirty years ago Australian wine had very little international profile and now we are regarded as the leading new world wine producing nation.” We hope so too.

“A local beauty with a subtle palate.” – Paul, Vintage Cellars South Melbourne

Best Old World Whisky: The Balvenie 12YO DoubleWood Single Malt Scotch Whisky

If you claim to be a whisky drinker and you haven’t tried this DoubleWood, one might question that claim. This Scotch does not disappoint, which is why we’ve awarded it Best Old World Whisky. DoubleWood refers to the maturation of this single malt in whisky casks before being finished in sherry casks. This classic 12YO is characterised by rich honey sweetness and a delicate layer of Sherry that lingers on the palate. It’s a long and warming drink ideal for after dinner.

David Stewart, Malt Master at the Balvenie Distillery in Scotland, says the idea for the DoubleWood came in the ‘80s when he was asked to create a different style of Balvenie. “I knew that American oak and Spanish oak had a very different influence on the taste of Balvenie,” he says. “I decided to re-cask some Balvenie that had matured for 12 years in American oak and refill this whisky into Spanish oak sherry casks… [Recasking] had a profound effect on the character of the whisky adding a rich colour and much more complexity to the taste with added spices and dried fruits.”

“The appeal of this whisky is the way it slowly reveals its layers of complexity. Perfect for a spot of after dinner contemplation.” – Robyn, Vintage Cellars Yarraville