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The Incredible Story Behind Our Heritage Red Gum Cask Single Malt Whisky

We’ve just launched our Heritage Red Gum Cask Single Malt Whisky, an outstanding whisky quite literally steeped in Australian heritage and character. This limited release has been matured in a cask made from Australian native red gum and used to mature Apera fortified wine for many decades. The result is a whisky unlike any other, with tasting notes as sublime and complex as they are inexplicable.

For Archie Rose Master Distiller Dave Withers, this Heritage Red Gum Whisky is also very personal. We asked him to share the story behind the bottle.

“I have to admit that this product is a bit special to me.

When I was growing up, I spent my childhood driving out to the wine regions of Australia or to my grandfather's vineyard (usually to help with harvest or bottling). School holidays, long weekends, you name it. My dad was a winemaker, and so was my grandad. My dad loved to chat about the nerdy details of life, and once you got him going with a winemaker or my granddad, it was always a long wait for the chat to wind up. For some reason, I remember my dad vividly talking about how some barrels were made from native woods. That tidbit stuck with me for many years, well into my adulthood. For some reason, it must have fascinated me long before I had an appreciation for what wine was and the history behind its making in Australia.

A number of years ago, I heard about a distillery in Tassie that had received a consignment of 100L casks but had rejected them because the colour of the 'oak' was odd. In fact, according to rumour, the oak had been red! The distillery rejected them because they weren't their usual ex-winery fortified casks. I immediately picked up the phone and chatted with a couple of cooperages. I managed to get onto a cooper who had made the casks. He mentioned that the casks were indeed red, and they couldn't possibly be oak. However, the casks had come from a winery in NSW. He was puzzled enough that he still had the casks in his cooperage and was at a loss as to what to do with them.

Well, I knew what to do... I told the cooper to hold the casks and rang my dad. I remember describing what I had come across. There was a pause on the other line. "Wow," he says, "that's a piece of Australian history... get them!"

My dad told me the full story of where these casks were likely to have come from. When he entered the industry in the early eighties, these casks were slowly being phased out. As a winemaker who had made plenty of fortified wines, he had come across some casks that were made from native eucalypt. Dad had actually worked at the same winery as the one the cooper mentioned. He recalled native wood casks being used there. The winery hated the red gum casks because the native wood flavours would overwhelm the delicate wines. The casks were also notorious for leaking. Dad spoke about how, in the seventies and eighties, the red gum casks were being removed from the centuries-old wineries and being replaced with sturdy and reliable oak. Finding native wood casks fresh from the winery and still in service when the majority of their sibling casks had been retired three decades before was indeed a rarity.

However, the story got deeper. My Dad went on to talk about how when he was learning his trade, some of the old timers would talk about those eucalypt barrels. Apparently, the use of these exotic woods came out of necessity, and it was during the 1930s that Australian winemakers struggled to get French or American oak into the country. These casks had been made to store the wine instead. I can still remember getting a tingling feeling… These casks were older than my grandfather! Not only are they a distinctly Australian raw material, they are from the damn 1930s!

I agreed to take the casks from the cooperage, but now I needed to work out what spirit to put in them. Somehow, it did not feel right to fill them with our typical spirit. They deserved something truly special. I wanted to make something specifically to honour the casks and their fabulous lineage. While nutting out what to do, I stumbled across a very small craft maltster in central Victoria that was floor-malting barley. Sadly, the malting house no longer exists. Somehow, it seemed right that we use malt made with techniques as historic as Australian native woods. After receiving some samples of the malt, I knew I had found the right fit. The malt was just so characterful. This would make a spirit worthy of the casks. And so we made some single malt New Make with the fabulous malt and filled the spirit into the barrels.

Now we had to wait. The thing about red gum is that it doesn't work the same way as normal casks do. There is very little apparent 'oakiness' that comes out into the spirit. Somehow, the red gum seemed to be delicate in its integration with the spirit. Having taken many decades to land with us, these casks were in no hurry at all. We had to be patient.

What has happened over a substantial period of time is a very complex interplay between the cask and the spirit. There are notes of incense and bush honey that are both sublime and inexplicable. They seem to come from neither the cask nor the spirit. There is a restrained elegance on the palate which belies a power like a coiled spring. Satisfying yet assertive despite its elegance.

When those casks were laid down, I looked forward to the time in which I would be able to share the spirit with my dad. Unfortunately, Dad passed at the beginning of 2022. While he will never get to sample the whisky, in a way, this spirit is, in part, his creation. Certainly, his advice helped shape this product. But also, in my more romantic moments, I like to think that Dad would have tended to these casks at some point in his career. Whether accurate or not, I reckon that some of the Apera my dad made ended up in these barrels. And if that is true, then an infinitely small part of his wine is in every bottle of this whisky.”

  • Dave Withers
Heritage Red Gum Cask Single Malt Whisky

Heritage Red Gum Cask Single Malt Whisky

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