A sneak peek at Cape Byron Distillery’s whisky

10 March, 2021 by Andy Young

The evolution and development of Australian whisky is continuing its journey and the latest distillery to be part of that journey, Cape Byron Distillery is preparing to offer a sneak peek of its whisky program.

It’s a program that started two years ago when Master Distiller Jim McEwan came to the distillery and helped next generation distiller Eddie Brook to create a new make spirit that would give Cape Byron the cornerstone for creating good whisky.

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Now, as the whisky closes in on being ready for its first release the pair are hosting a tasting, which will also include the Australian Premiere of The Water of Life whisky documentary and a Q&A session with both Jim and Eddie.

Eddie told Bars and Clubs: “This is a sneak peek, we’re opening the door for the first-time ever to show a limited scope of people and enthusiasts, and people who have been part of our journey, an insight into our whisky program.

“Jim will be dialling in for a live Q&A, we’ll be sharing some tales and stories, and then we’ll also be doing a tasting as well. We have some of our new make to try, a whisky sample of our two-year-old whisky and also a sample of some experimental stuff we are doing. This will give a bit of an insight into our cask seasoning program, and that’s a liqueur which has been barrel-aged.

“So it’s a snapshot into the whisky, but while we will be releasing our whisky this year, it’s not until much later in the year and it will be very small volumes.

“But what we are excited to show is our whisky and how it is maturing at this stage and the quality and character of the spirit.”

Building the anticipation for both this tasting and that release later this year, Eddie added: “When you look at whisky it’s about the DNA of that spirit and the quality and consistency of it is so important and Jim was getting emotional.

“Because we were there on those first runs of the new make and that spirit that we crafted is still there, all that DNA of it is there. But how it’s matured is just incredible. Predominantly we are using ex-Bourbon casks and that marriage between cask and spirit is just exceptional.”

It is just two years since the first run of the new make and barrelling, and Eddie told Bars and Clubs he did not expect to see such quality whisky so soon.

“For the flavour development we have already got, I was honestly expecting that to take a little longer. We’re in the first week of March and it’s bloody warm which gives an indication of the uniqueness of our climatic conditions. Jim talked about this a lot when we first started, he has spent his maturing whisky on Islay and they have very open warehousing, which helps amplify the island’s characteristics.

“We’ve got our distillery built into the middle of our rainforest and where the rainforest meets the sea in Byron we’ve still got a lot of sea salt in the air. But where our whisky has been aging is cut into the ground so it’s got a real rainforest, sub-tropical climate that’s putting its unique stamp on our whisky. You look at our humidity and temperature and we’re not as warm as some parts, but we are definitely not cold, so our real goal has been to take the heat out of that, so we are not losing as much.

“So this means the rate the spirit has been working in and out of the cask has been pretty fast but not ferocious and that’s just the climate that we have to work with. But it’s a really happy marriage between the spirit and oak.”

The maturation conditions in Australia do offer challenges, particularly for longer-aged whiskies, but Eddie says it is something that the distillery is working towards.

“We definitely have an eye on long-term maturation, but Jim talks about this a lot age and how long your spirit spends in oak does not simply make a good whisky. It’s about the quality of the spirit and how it was crafted and understanding where you want that spirit to go. Of the spirit that we will have matured, we’re only ever going to be releasing around 30 per cent of that that is mature.

“The spirit is drinking exceptionally well at its current form and it’s still got some time to go, we’re not rushing it to bottle. And we’re never going to put anything out until we are happy and confident with the character of the spirit that we want to showcase. That’s what this showing is going to give people, this isn’t our finished whisky, but this is our new make and this is where we are today and wow look at that flavour development.

“It’s showing what we are doing and how our whisky is maturing and it’s a really exciting opportunity.”

The tasting will also present the Australian premiere of the feature documentary The Water of Life, which tells the story of the people behind the whisky revolution of the 1980s. The film follows Jim McEwan and captures the birth of Cape Byron Distillery’s new make spirit.

“Jim called me about four weeks before he was due to arrive to say he was going to bring some ‘crew’ with him,” Eddie said. “They filmed the first our spirit run and they completely captured that first part of our journey. They captured it so well and the emotion of that first run and distillation and we still have that and it stares at us every day in our barrel number one.”

Looking how the night will unfold, Eddie said: “We’re running through a tasting of the new make spirit at 55 per cent, which is the lowest we would ever put it into a barrel. We’re experimenting with some different fill strengths and that is a great drinking strength for our new make. Then we’ve got a cask sample reduced to 48 per cent and we’ll have some info on all aspects of that cask and then there’ll be our barrel-aged Mac Liqueur.

“The tasting will be run by Jim and I, Jim will be live via Zoom and I’ll be here in the distillery so we’ll have a blend of physical and virtual and this is the first-ever tasting of our whisky so no doubt there be a walk down Memory Lane and a few stories told. We’re really welcoming people into this new world for us and opening the doors to the whisky for us at Cape Byron Distillery.

“It’s definitely a night to tune into for any whisky enthusiast or people interested in Australian spirits.”

The tasting and screening takes place on Thursday, 1 April, for tickets, tasting kits and other offers head to: www.capebyrondistillery.com.

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