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Water of Life – 78 Degrees Distillery & Duncan Taylor Octaves

I vividly remember my first exposure to 78 Degrees Distillery: It was at a local gin tasting that I was proffered their Classic Gin expression, which not only ticked all the boxes in terms of being small batch juniper juice at the higher end of the spectrum, but also convinced with its idiosyncratic South Australian twist via the use of local ingredients and a unique never before used melange of twelve botanicals.

I remember the occasion as I asked about the significance of the “78 degrees” which lead to the naming, and was explained that it constitutes the boiling point of alcohol and hence signifies the enabler for distilling.

Vapour infused and sourced from a grape base, the drop instantaneously conveyed that 78 Degrees Distillery are not in the game to merely replicate existing styles but to carve out their own lane with their emissions paying homage in equal measure to both Australia’s traditions as well as what it has and will evolve to.

Needless to say, I was intrigued and could not wait until 78 Degrees was going to channel its alchemy in the creation of their own new world order whiskies in innovative and sustainable ways, with their focus firmly set on making all facets of the production and ingredients transparent.

The first 78 Degrees whiskey I had the opportunity to try from their accolades decorated range was their Muscat Finish expression.

Clocking in at 44% ABV, this limited little number is an example par excellence for expertly showcasing Australian characteristics in terms of style and flavour by handcrafting single paddock, unmalted barley to create a unique melange with eleven speciality malts.

Given the higher sugar residue of Muscat and the stone fruity nuances the casks offer, it is not further wondrous that what tickles the nostrils is a tour de force in terms of dark chocolatey and raisiny aromas, with a delicate whiff of smoke.

What the nose promises transitions seamlessly to the palate where luscious layers of chocolate are backed by the both sweet and savoury flavours of raisins, culminating in a crescendo that is crowned by a spicy, peppery kick.

The elongated finish reverberates in the realm of dark fruity flavours, set against a backdrop of molasses and dark sugars, which is pierced by cinnamon, glove and peppery highlights. The fact that the finish is crowned with a deliciously smoky climax leaves one lusting for another dram.

Given the limited nature of the release, this will be gone sooner than later and anyone remotely into innovative, artisanal Australian whiskies would be well advised to scoop up a bottle ASAP.

I cannot wait to try 78 Degrees’ much fabled about grain whiskey as well as their Corsair Smoked expression, which has me salivating thinking of the fact that it is not only peated but has been smoked with gum and cherry wood.

We have covered the excellent emissions of the independent bottler Duncan Taylor before from a range of angles as part of this series and while I have yet to come across anything bottled by them that does not delight me, I could not wait to get my paws on a sample from a series that sees their team experiment with maturing whiskies in smaller sized Octave casks (about an eighth of the size of a regular butt cask) to allow for more wood interaction in a bid to enhance the respective whisky’s flavour profile to become more complex and sophisticated.

Duncan Taylor's trademarked Octave series encapsulates juice from the cream of the crop of iconic Scottish distilleries, resulting in an extensive portfolio of currently close to fifty Octave Invigorated expressions.

My first exposure to the Octave series was via a sample of a Beldorney expression, which after napping for twenty-three year oak, has undergone Duncan Taylor’s “Octivation” process for six months to spice things up with the finishing touches.

With a dark amber hue, upon approach the nostrils are tickled by an avalanche of fruity aromas on the pear and apple-cidery side of things, which then transitions into raspberry and more tropical territory, pierced by zesty orangery, vanilla and cinnamon-ey highlights.

What the nose promised, continues on the top of the mouth against a backdrop of honey, lemon and a delicate waxiness sitting on a backbone of resinous oak, counterpointed by a soft peppery-spicy climax.

The elongated finish culminates in a reverberating and immensely moreish vanilla crescendo, backed by on oaky earthiness. An exercise par excellence in yumminess and it would have been fantastic to sample this dram side-by-side next to a twenty-three year old Beldorney, to pinpoint where the Octave casks have enhanced the flavour profile.

The common denominator of Duncan Taylor’s Dimensions series is that under its banner, single casks are bottled at cask strength without any further dilutions to ensure each expression brings out the purest facets and complexities of the respective distilleries’ DNA.

The Highland Park 16 Year Old Dimensions is a borderline ideal companion to the aforementioned Beldorney in that sweet and floral aromas reign supreme and catch my fancy as I detect the most delicate hint of smoky peat.

On the palate, the warming alcohol sets the stage for sour, sweet, musty/earthy, fruity flavours to dance with peat, which with the addition of a couple of drops of H2) only intensifies.

The well-rounded medium-length finish is warm and dry with spiced oak, cloves and a whiff of cold smoke.

I can only hope that one day I can taste how Duncan Taylor channels its alchemy when it comes to Islay distilleries.


images form company websites

T • September 20, 2021

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