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January 23, 2018
Habits

Designing Australia’s next best whisky

South Australian whisky is almost without precedent, and so, in collaboration with Voice, McLaren Vale Distillery are setting the standard in approach and design.

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  • Words: Johnny von Einem
  • Pictures: Liam West

Whisky is a loaded spirit.

Even before your chosen bartender pulls their go-to single malt from the top shelf in order to pour you a dram, you can already imagine what is to come: a hefty glass bottle, emblazoned with a coat of arms and a bold seriffed font, designed to evoke historical notions of class and nobility, and even before the spirit hits your lips, the familiar whisky warmth coats your esophagus.

What you might not expect to see in your server’s hand is an elegant and minimally adorned bottle, with no immediately obvious allusion to the distillery responsible for the spirit inside.

If McLaren Vale Distillery’s Bloodstone Collection is anything to go by, designed by CBD studio, Voice, this will be the look of the New World Australian spirit.

Much like Australia’s whisky industry at-large, McLaren Vale Distillery is mostly without heritage. Started in 2014 by the Rochfort family, most notably John, who was the former CEO of Tasmania’s Lark Distillery, along with brother Lachlan, father Chris, and business partner, Jock Harvey, they are nearing two years of production and so, due to a spirit not legally becoming whisky until at least two years of maturation, are right on the cusp of entering the whisky market.

Through the Bloodstone Collection pre-whisky release, they are heralding a new philosophy for what South Australian whisky might be.

“I think a lot of people, when they started their distilleries in Tasmania, probably started to think about creating Scotland Down Under, the Highlands and all the rest of it,” Chris says.

“We wanted to be something different, we wanted a point of difference, and what is different about South Australia to Tasmanian and Scotland?

“One of the things is we’ve got an abundance of sun, we grow the best barley in the world, we have a wonderful wine industry here, so rather than trying to create Scotland Down Under, what we really need to do is to emphasise all of the qualities that we have here in South Australia to produce whisky.”

“Our big advantage is we get some of the world’s best oak, probably the world’s best oak, but we get it fresh… You put your nose over them, they’re just like Christmas pudding,” Jock, who also owns Chalk Hill Wines, explains.

“I think one of the things we’ve become aware of is distilleries now preserve history, so what happens is we get a Dutschke barrel that, in fairness, might have been cut down for a flower pot at some stage, and now what we do is the ethanol or alcohol grain spirit just preserves all of that history.

“Our proximity to a cooperage means that we can get a barrel drained, and often say to a friendly winemaker ‘look, just leave a litre or two in the bottom,’ down to the cooperage, knock the head out of it and fire it, just to caramelise the sugars, and it sanitises the barrel a little bit as well, the flavour process, but it also just locks in that history. Put the head back on, and then back at the distillery and filled.”

Each bottle is catalogued with a series number and chapter number, and an information card is provided explaining which winery the oak barrel came from, and what was stored in the barrel before it was filled with spirit.

This was a deliberate design choice by Voice, due to collectability being a large part of the current-era whisky-buying populace.

“The whisky buyers these guys are talking about, they’re pretty hardcore in terms of their loyalty,” Voice’s Anthony De Leo says.

“Understanding how large this range would be… it became evident to us that the cataloguing system, numerical system, was a really nice, simple, iconic way of actually communicating what’s in the bottle, and then what, in effect, that does as well, is it becomes a collectable series.”

As for the bottle’s stark nature, Anthony says this was a hint at McLaren Vale Distillery’s short history, as well as to the fact that this is simply a teaser for the whisky the distillery will release later this year.

“The restrained nature of it is all very deliberate, the purity of it is all very deliberate, because it isn’t yet a mature whisky, so it was a really challenging process to go through,” Anthony says.

“Without actually physically designing to the Nth degree, we had to know what the Bloodstone was potentially going to be, the mature whisky, how that was going to be packaged, to then take a step back and design what the preview release would be.

“[The whisky] will look like a grown up version of that… We’re about to go through that process and refine all of that, but there is a price point that we make sure we have to hit and hit beyond that, because it’s not going to be a cheap product, obviously, so the packaging needs to allude to its rarity and exclusivity. So there’s a whole lot of responsibility on the package to reinforce all the efforts these guys have gone to as well.”

It’s a marked move away from tradition, and one made with intent.

“A number of international judges have for some time been saying to the whisky world at large, ‘Hey, listen you guys, you haven’t done much different for last 300 years,’ Chris says.

“Not saying there’s anything necessarily wrong with that, but it’s in a world that is always looking for things new, and innovation, and one thing or another.

“There are enough people around, albeit they may be in very small numbers, for us to have a perfectly adequate market for something that is very special.”

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