Eight Australian Whiskies – and Price-point Scoring

According to the inter-web, there are currently 120 whisky distilleries in Australia.

And 80 of them are in Tasmania – which is a lot more than the 31 I had heard of about 10 years ago.

As an obvious consequence of this number of manufacturers, stocks of Aussie drams are starting to be more available on NZ shelves.  Like any whisky selection some of them are good, some less so.  And some are attractively priced while others suffer under the weight of transport costs – or maybe delusions of grandeur as to worth.

I recently attended a promotional tasting of a selection of Australian whiskies held at Glengarry Wines in Wellington, hosted by Aroha Jakicevich.


There were eight samples on offer: three from Victoria’s Port Melbourne Starward Distillery, three from Tasmania’s Callington Mill and the last two from Overeem Distilleries (also Tasmanian)

The line-up (photo courtesy of Pat)                                         
Glass 1:  Starward Nova

41% ABV, No age statement, but probably 3-4 yrs. Non-coloured and non-chill filtered, Red Wine cask from Yarra and Barossa valleys.  Fermented with brewers’ yeast.

Nose: Poached fruit, ripe bananas and a slight sour edge – possibly influence from the red wine cask. Madeira cake with lemon-tinted icing, spicy.  Buttery.
Palate: Soft, then sweet, then a hot edge.  A peppery note.
Finish: Peppery, with heat at the back of the throat.
Comment: Quite nice.  The peppery notes are not off-putting.  A Nova-based “cocktail” with bitter lemonade was served as a welcoming drink – a good choice.
Score: 8.4  

Glass 2: Starward Fortis

50% ABV, nas.  American Oak casks from Barossa Valley wineries

Eye: Dark, and somewhat watery.
Nose: Vanilla and brown toast.  Sweeter than Nova, with a light perfume and an overlay of, Muscatel raisins, cocoa dust, sawdust and dark chocolate.
Palate: Smooth, then a short burst of ABV heat on the centre of the tongue with sweetness and spice.
Finish:  That spicy sweetness sticks around.
Comment: perhaps the best of the presented range.
Score: 8.8 

Glass 3: Starward Unpeated Single Malt

48% ABV

Nose: Light, surgical and rich, with pickled gherkins.
Palate: Sweet, then peaty going to vegetal.  A bit of heat, and faintly drying on the tongue.
Finish: Peaty.
Comment: It is interesting that this dram is titled “Unpeated Single Malt”.  Why would you say that? it’s a bit like saying this pie doesn’t have gravy in it.

The mystery is explained when you discover that this Australian malt is matured in Islay barrels, reputedly from Lagavulin and Bowmore – which goes a long way towards explains the peaty palate!
Score: 8.6 

Glass 4:  Callington Mill (Tasmania)  Emulsion Single Malt

46% ABV.  Casks 100L Apero plus one 700L Tawny (Port?).   Triple distilled.

Colour: Strawberry Gold
Nose: Sherried, and a sweaty strawberry sock with brown bread crust.
Palate: Not what you would expect.  Light and smooth, undoubtedly helped by the triple distillation.
Finish: Warming. Slightly sour.
Score: 8.5 

Glass 5:  Callington Mill Symentry Single Malt

46% ABV

Colour: Light Amber
Nose: “Raspy”, slightly astringent, bandage, honey
Palate: Smooth, with late heat, a slightly acidic edge at front of tongue.  Ripe.  Stewed orchard fruit.
Finish: Sours
Comment:  Won Silver at 2022 Worlds, double gold at San Francisco Worlds
Score: 8.5 

Glass 6: Callington Mill Entropy Single Malt

52% ABV.  Casks: Tawny, Apero, Muscat

Colour: Red tinge.
Nose: soapy/laundry smell.  Sour, medicinal (surgical)
Palate: Smooth (again!!)
Finish: Sours off
Comment: Small batch (handcrafted)
Score: 8.7 

Glass 7: Overeem Single Malt Sherry Cask Matured

43% abv

Nose: Vanilla (from a sherry cask???), rum & raisin
Palate: Does not taste like a sherry-matured whisky, unless it’s an oloroso.
Finish: Sour
Comment: Too sour for its price point (refer to Thomas’ Price Point scoring)
Score: 7.8 

If I like the dram and its price is acceptable, I will mark it higher.  If it’s not an appealing whisky or if I think it is too expensive for what it is, then those views will adversely influence affect the price point score I allocate.

Glass 8: Overeem Single Malt Port Cask Matured

ABV 43%

Nose: Sherry, Raisins, Chocolate
Palate: Smooth, edgy but no heat
Comment: Priced at NZ$250, but doubtful if it’s worth it. Might be more attractive to buy at early $100s.
Score: 8.6 

Thomas’s Price Point scoring

Somewhere around the last two samples, comment was passed on the impact of freight costs on the NZ shelf bottle price.

Thomas introduced us to a concept where he sometimes includes a “value for money” rating in his bottle scoring to add to nose, palate and finish.  Price.

It is an interesting idea.

If I’m going to base a purchase on how much I like the nose or the palate or the finish what the cost is has got be a consideration, doesn’t it?

All scoring is subjective – I may love the nose of this dram, but you may think it’s horrid and smells like stale washing or an old bike seat.    And we score the nose accordingly.  We do the same with the palate.   It’s all done based on our individual views.

Price point scoring is done the same way.

If I like the dram and its price is acceptable to me then I will mark it higher.  If it’s not an appealing whisky or if I think it is too expensive for what it is, then those views will adversely influence affect the price point score I allocate.

If a price point score were to be applied, the measurement would need to be divorced from the ‘traditional’ nose/palate/finish score

Think about the last bottle you bought.  At any stage in the transaction did you consider how much you were paying?   I’ll bet you did, even if only fleetingly.

And this is where the subjectivity comes in.  Are you going to buy something you really like at a cost of say $120, or are you going to fork out for something that you scored as only a “pass” but which will set you back north of $300?  It’s my guess that you’ll leave the shop clutching the former – and feeling really good about it.

What you feel is OK to pay for a bottle of whisky may send me into a major panic attack when I consider how many heated evenings, tanks of petrol or cans of catfood are being exchanged!

Now we’re back to the methodology of any scoring – individual viewpoint.

But in order to get a group consensus on a dram, if a price point score were to be applied to a particular bottle the measurement would need to be divorced from the ‘traditional’ nose/palate/finish score.  There does need to be a relativity between the traditional score and the price point one – if two drams score 8.5 traditional points but vary in price by a significant amount, on a like-for-like basis the cheaper one would tend to get a better price point score.

And if we’re going to add a price score into the measurement for this dram, won’t we have to do it for all of them?

How’s the headache?