Spirit Thief’s Exploration Series a most exciting new find

February 11, 2021
By Ioni Doherty

Last night in Zoomlandia, The Whisky List hosted a tasting preview of Spirit Thief’s new Exploration Series, presented by Master Blender, Brett Steel.  

Guests were treated to six whiskies crafted to showcase the effects of maturing whisky using non-traditional and hard to find ex-red wine casks like French Oak Tempranillo, Grenache and Bordeaux.

The range is a triumph of collaboration, experimentation and diversity. Spirit Thief worked closely with Tasmanian distillieries: Shene, Belgrove and Adams distilleries as well as one whisky from New Zealand and another from Scotland.

All six whiskies were extremely well received and whisky lovers far more discerning and experienced than me delighted in identifying and savouring the flavours of each whisky’s origin. This was particularly true of the distinctive and delicious American Oak Shiraz Heavily Charred, Adams Distillery (63.5% abv). Sadly the Adams Distillery had succumbed to a fire just yesterday morning, with one worker suffering bad burns to his body and inflicting between $1.5-$2 million in damages.

The origins of the Coastal Peated French Oak Cabernet, Belgrove Distillery (48.3% abv) were also distinct, with Steel describing this peat, smoked whiskey described as a ‘great divider’.

Spirit Thief’s Founder and Master Blender said: “Spirit Thief began as a passion project that accidentally grew into a business. Back in 2015 we intended to experiment with one cask of French Oak Tempranillo and one cask of American Oak Shiraz to mature Tasmanian new-make spirit from the original Redlands Distillery, Tasmania. We wanted to know the difference that would take place between specific grape-varietal wines and oak types in the final whiskies.

“The results surpassed our expectations, and the demand for more was high, our first bottles selling out fast. We then turned our interests to collaborations with other distilleries in Tasmania, including Shene, Adams and Belgrove Distillery and to sourcing matured casks from overseas in New Zealand and Scotland, building a portfolio of red-wine matured whiskies that would be unique, experimental and very limited.”

Independent bottlers, colloquially known as ‘Indies’, refers to the practice of buying whisky originally distilled by other distilleries and selling them under a different label. These expressions can range from single casks purchased as mature stock from the original distiller to whisky purchased as new make spirit and subsequently matured by the bottler.

There are dozens of different independent bottlers around the world, many highly sought after by drinkers and collectors alike. Steel estimates that there are between 15-20 indies in Australia.

Specialised indie bottlers like Spirit Thief acquire spirit which they subsequently mature using different cask types, in this case unique ex-red wine casks. The resulting whiskies, although they share the original distillery’s DNA, can offer quite different aroma and flavor profile from the “official” distillery expressions.

Introducing the six whiskies of the Exploration Series

  1. French Oak Pinot Noir & American Oak Bourbon, New Zealand Whisky Co (48.1% abv)
  2. French Oak Grenache, Shene Distillery double-distilled (55.4% abv)
  3. French Oak Mataro, Belgrove Distillery (63.5% abv)
  4. American Oak Shiraz Heavily Charred, Adams Distillery (63.5% abv)
  5. Coastal Peated French Oak Cabernet, Belgrove Distillery (48.3% abv)
  6. Bordeaux Red-Wine, Benrinnes Distillery (55.2% abv) (currently en route via ship to Australia and due to land on June 2021)

The Exploration series (with the exception of the whisky coming from Benrinnes) is available from next week at The Spirit Thief distillery or The Whisky List.

All six whiskies will be priced RRP $185 – part of Spirit Thief’s commitment to equal pricing for their customers.

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