Three Ships 12 year old, High Coast Timmer and Starward Fortis
It's another round of tastings with the Causeway Inishowen Tasting Club and we are veering off into world whisky territory, so no Bourbon, Irish or Scotch. Plus I decided to look at distilleries we hadn't tried or had limited knowledge of. Of the three bottles sampled no else in the group had tried any of the distilleries and of the three I had only had a brief flirtation with Starward before in the form of their funky Ginger beer cask finish.
Today's trip around the globe takes us to South Africa, Sweden and Australia. Perhaps not the first countries to cross our mind when thinking about whisky production, it's always good to broaden our horizons. Indeed both Sweden and Australia have quite exciting and expanding whisky scenes.
So a little about each of the bottles on trial today.
The Three Ships brand has been around since 1977 and was a primarily a blended whisky brand featuring the Select and 5 year old Premium Select blends that were made up of both South African and Scottish whiskies. There is also the Bourbon Cask finish blend that is made up of 100% South African whisky. In 2003 Three Ships released the first South African Single Malt. The 2016 release was the fifth release and the first to carry a 10 year old age statement.
At the James Sedgewick Distillery they have one still with two columns for Grain whisky production, which produces South Africa's first Single Grain whisky, Bain's Cape. Two Pot Stills for malt production and one six column still for neutral spirit production. Grain production takes up most of the distilleries time with production running 9 months of the year. Malt production only occurs for two months of the year during the winter months of July and August with one month a year dedicated to maintenance.
The 12 year old Single Malt was released only in Europe as part of their Master Distillers Private Collection. Distilled in 2007 using barley peated to 30ppm it came off the stills at 68% abv. It was matured in 'small' American oak casks that were approximately 90% refill, 10% 1st fill. Even after 12 years of maturation due to South Africa's climate the original cask strength before bottling was 65% which was then cut to Distell's preferred 46.3%abv.
This cost £40.96 from Master of Malt.
Three Ships 12 year old single malt 46.3% abv
Nose: Quite sharp and spirity. An immediate note of burnt rubber then sweetness - ripe tropical fruit (banana and pineapple), vanilla, corn syrup and fabric softener. Some soot and a dried herbaceous note. The burnt rubber is hard to get past though.
Palate: A pretty oily mouthfeel. On arrival it's sweet - bourbon caramel glazed donuts, icing sugar and overripe pineapple. Then a ferocious amount of pepper heat hits alongside quite aggressive oak, oh and that burnt rubber from the nose.....it's here too.
Finish: Astringent, aggressively oaky, peppery and for me one to avoid.
Score: 2 out of 10
Next up we move to Sweden and High Coast Distillery.
High Coast Distillery were originally called Box Distillery but courted some controversy in 2017 when they were contacted by the famous purveyors of transparent blending, Compass Box Whisky, stating that they felt that due to 'similarity' in their names that consumers might be confused by the brands. As Box Distillery was set up several years after Compass Box the very understanding Swede's decided to change their brand name to High Coast to avoid litigation. I understand their position but still to this day I couldn't get where Compass Box were coming from. They obviously severely under estimate the intelligence of consumers. In fact it annoyed me that much I haven't touched a Compass Box product since and probably never will again. I mean will Ardnahoe or Ardnamurchan distilleries need to rename themselves because they could easily be confused with Ardbeg?
Anyway, High Coast underwent a bit of an expansion in 2018 increasing capacity from 100,000 LPA to 300,000 LPA. Still not a massive capacity it has to be said, not much more than our beloved Springbank.
The distillery makes two types of spirit - a fruity unpeated and a peated. With a focus on lots of copper contact and a relatively long time fermentation of up to 96 hours we should get a characterful distillate. They have stills similar in size and shape to Kilchoman on Islay, use a clear wort like many Japanese distilleries and use French distillers yeast.
They also very kindly tell you the make up of their whiskies on their site so here goes for the Timmer;
High Coast Timmer 48% abv
Nose: Buttery and creamy with some fresh cut grass. A nice malty note with some kiwi fruit and green apple. Vanilla and some garden mint plus lemon peel and a wisp of peat. Spun sugar too.
Palate: Vanilla and white sugar. White grapes, pear and granny smith apples. A little clove and nutmeg give way to mild chilli pepper heat and bitter lemon. The malt comes through too swathed in gentle peat and an earthy, musty note.
Finish: Short to medium with salted lemons, gentle ash and vanilla.
Score: 5 out of 10
Finally we travel all the way to Melbourne, Australia to look at the Starward Fortis.
Founded in 2008, David Vitale moved the Starward distillery to Port Melbourne in 2016. The stills in this distillery were bought from fellow Aussie distillery, Joadja Creek. The stills themselves are pretty small, a 1800 litre wash still and a 600 litre spirit still, they aren't too far off the size of Killowen Distillery here in Ireland.
Starward's first whisky was released in 2013 and they are famous for their use of their Australian wine casks and Apera (Aussie Sherry) casks.
Recent investment from Distell Ventures means that production will increase to 250,000 LPA.
Melbourne's fluctuating temperatures mean there is a lot more cask interaction with Starward products compared to Ireland or Scotland and so they mature pretty quickly with most of their whiskies being around 3 years old. The drier climate also means their spirits increase in abv in the cask rather than decrease.
The Fortis is fully matured in American Oak casks that held Red wine from the Barossa Valley. So expect big, bold flavours from those ex Shiraz and Cabernet casks. Bottled at 50%, it's natural colour and non chill filtered. This cost £58.94 from Master of Malt.
Nose: The wine influence is clear - red berries both fresh and stewed. Cherry, blackberry jam and some eucalyptus. Vanilla custard, apricot and fresh ginger. Some chocolate coated raisins in the mix too.
Palate: A nice oily body to this. Immediately sweet and juicy like the nose. A sauternes like sweetness, syrupy raisins plus raspberry and blackberry jams. Gingernut biscuit, cinnamon and clove. A little heat from the alcohol and some tannic oak too.
Finish: medium length with sweet caramel, jammy fruit notes and pleasant warming spices.
Score: 7 out of 10
Overall: Another fascinating journey around the highs and lows of world whisky.
Starting with the Three Ships 12 year old. This was a heavily hyped dram with many positive reviews. Where that positivity came from I honestly cannot begin to comprehend. This is a bit of a disaster of a dram. Astringent, hot and frankly unpleasant. Please avoid.
The High Coast was a much more pleasant experience. Sweet, mildly smoky and fruity this was a decent enough dram. Pretty simple but enjoyable and an easy sipper that would be a good introduction to peated whisky although the price is a little high and so there would be better value alternatives out there. But I will certainly want to revisit High Coast Distillery and there other expressions.
The Starward definitely stood clear as the outright winner of this particular tasting. Bold, punchy and plenty of flavour and complexity showing that young whisky can be well worth investigating when crafted with care.
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