SPRING: Picnic On The Grass

You are invited to join us for an afternoon of rest and relaxation before the Christmas shenanigans kick off. You will need to bring a picnic basket and plenty of liquid refreshments to keep you going. Live music all afternoon and a classic movie or two in the barn when the sun goes down. Absolutely no wise men, babies in manger or Christmas cards allowed. However, we will, again this year, tolerate guests bearing frankincense and mirth. There will be a spring lamb on the charcoal spit to share with you as the afternoon wears on. Due to a large number of well-behaved children at last year’s picnic we recommend you bring yours again this year, but you must take them all home when you leave. BYO Plates, Glasses & Drinks (and tents if you plan on staying the night).

Why Bourbon Barrels Are Used In Scotland

By Mark Coburn I love this description on the use of American Bourbon barrels in Scotland. “It is over 80 years since the end of Prohibition in the USA in 1933. Since that time the use of American ex-Bourbon casks has changed the taste of Scotch whisky. Casks have been used since time immemorial for storage and movement of goods. Coopering is an ancient skill depicted in paintings on ancient Egyptian tombs, mentioned by Greek writers, referred to in the Bible several times (1 Kings 18:33 “Fill four barrels with water.”) The Roman, Strabo, writing in AD 21 actually praises the Celts as being ‘particularly fine coopers’. Cooper is said to derive from Cupa, the Latin for a vessel. There were three grades of coopering skill – dry, dry-tight and wet – depending on the suitability of a cask for its purpose. Wet coopers were the most skilled, being able to make casks of such precision that they could hold liquids without leaking. The whisky world alone needs around 3 million ‘wet coopered’ oak casks a year for whisky – and the UK could never satisfy that level of rapacious demand having cut down most of its oak trees by the early nineteenth century in building Royal Navy warships to fight the French. Renowned for their short arms and deep pockets, Scottish distillers grew to rely on second-hand casks. From the seventeenth century onwards various alliances, treaties and wars, meant the fortified wines (suitable for long distance travel) of Sherry, Port and Madeira were particularly popular in Britain. Shipped from Iberia in oak casks, the wines were bottled at the port of entry (Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Bristol, Liverpool) and the redundant vessels re-used by grateful distillers. It didn’t take long for distillers to realize that the original cask contents – the dark, sweet, fortified wines – could beneficially mellow maturing whisky.  Badly distilled whisky could be disguised, young whisky made to seem older. These prized casks were hand-coopered from European oak, Quercus robar, found across the mid latitudes of Europe. And the French used it too, for wine, but also for warships. It took 3,400 oak trees to build one 74 gun ship-of-the- line. The strain on 17th century French forests was considerable.  In 1669 Louis XIV’s finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, did what the British should have done; he expanded and reorganized France’s woodland, planting only the best and strongest oak suitable for building a navy to fight the British. This legacy was built on by Napoleon, who banned all tree felling (without authority) in 1803, and three years later decreed that only trees more than 150 years old could be felled, and replaced with a new oak. Thanks to this far-sighted forest management policy (and steel-plated warships and entente cordiale) France’s forests now produce the world’s finest oak destined for more culturally acceptable uses than warships – the planet’s greatest winemakers. In 1920, George Saintsbury, the celebrated writer and gastronome wrote: “I have noticed, in the forty-five years since I began to study whisky, that the general style of most if not all kinds has changed… The older whiskies were darker in colour, from being kept in golden Sherry or Madeira casks, rather sweeter in taste, and rather heavier in texture; the newer are lighter in both the first and the last aspect, and much drier in taste.” This observation heralded the changeover from European to American oak with the introduction of Bourbon barrels – with their tyloses. The Bourbon barrel is made from Quercus alba or white oak, commonly known as American oak. It is accepted practice to use trees that are over 90 years old.  The cellular structure contains bubble-like cell structures – the tyloses – that bulge into the cavities of the xylem, the tube of moisture-conducting cells, blocking water movement. These tyloses make the wood particularly watertight, even with thinner staves, and perfect for mechanized barrel-making. The dominance of hand coopered European oak casks lasted until the beginning of the twentieth century before the United States took over with machine-produced casks on a scale never before seen. Bourbon distillers deliberately sought very dark colours, high levels of vanilla and caramel flavours that maize-distilled spirit draws out from heavily charred, newly felled, white oak barrels. After prohibition, in 1935, this long established, exclusively new oak custom was made federal law: thanks to the powerful Coopers Union the law now says that bourbon casks can be used once only.  Being cheap and readily available they were eagerly snapped up by voracious Scottish distillers. The rapid escalation of the use of Bourbon barrels coincided with the weakening in popularity of Sherry, Port and Madeira.  The use of Sherry butts fell further with the outlawing of bulk shipments from Spain to the UK in 1981. Today, around 97% of all Scotch whisky is maturing in American oak. As ex-bourbon cask prices rise owing to the increasing demands of the Scotch whisky industry, the price differential between second-hand and virgin American oak barrels has fallen. This may mean that in future distillers could be obliged to use new oak casks, increasing the potential for the ‘Bourbonisation’ of Scotch whisky.  We must remain vigilant in the face of that, and also reject the alternatives of using old tired wood, or allowing oak chips, or essence, both of which are happily currently illegal. Or could premium quality French oak be back on the menu again as it was in the nineteenth century? As far as whisky is concerned, if the nineteenth century was Europe’s era for oak, then like world history, the twentieth century has belonged to America. American oak, with its simpler, vanilla and caramel influences, has been a benign force for good. The history and politics of Bourbon has been mutually beneficial for both Bourbon and Scotch distillers.  A very positive relationship between two of the world’s greatest spirit styles.” Source: www.bruichladdich.com

Summer: Picnic on the Grass

They arrived from around the Southern Highlands, Sydney and from as far away as Brisbane. Everyone came to check out the site for the new Coburns Distillery. 150 people arrived in the early afternoon to enjoy the cool sounds of Ben & Wendy, a fantastic duo from Sydney belt out the classics. We all got down to the business of eating a crackled pig and a small mountain of Mauger’s best lamb sausages as the afternoon wore on. The weather was the perfect Southern Highlands summers day, give or take a couple of flies. But thats summer for you. Mark Coburn had his first chance to met a lot of Burrawang locals and to listen to their feedback on the idea of building a Single Malt Whisky distillery in their village. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. At the end of the afternoon it was clear to all that everyone had a good time.

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The time to start is now.

The time has come to stop talking and start filling barrels…

We have been in talks with a couple of Australian whisky distilleries to start producing spirit for Coburns to start filling barrels. We have managed to negotiate production time with two distilleries. The distilleries will brew and ferment to the Coburns’ formula. This arrangement will see our first single malt spirit produced within a couple of months.

barrel

Aged in the Southern Highlands

Once production commences the new make spirit will be moved to a bonded cellar in the Southern Highlands. There it will sit, ageing for the next 4-7 years. These arrangements give Coburns the ability to produce 20 barrels by the middle of 2017, therefore giving us our first single malt whisky within two years. Used sherry Barrels

First we need to find some nice wood

Cooperages around Australia are getting back to us with what barrels they have available. The coopers are telling us that they have waiting lists for good wood at the moment. We are so pleased to be able to start laying down the first of our barrels well before our own distillery has finished construction at our new Burrawang site.  This is another big step in the journey of building a distillery.