Australian wine barrels are being used to make top whisky

Two international whisky brands have made overtures to Australian drinkers, releasing limited edition whiskies finished in barrels that have previously held premium Australian wine.

Clare Valley's Jim Barry Wines last year sent four barrels that had previously held its flagship The Armagh Shiraz to Irish distiller Teeling Whiskey.

"I met their Australian representative Martin [Lynch] in Hong Kong, because we share the same distributor," said commercial manager Sam Barry, grandson of the winery's namesake.

"One thing led to another and he asked whether we had any shiraz barrels to send over, because they're always looking for ex-wine barrels to age their whiskey'."

Natural collaboration

It was a natural collaboration for the Barrys, a multi-generational winemaking family that has much in common with the Teeling family, which has been making Irish whiskey since 1782.

The Armagh was named after the Clare Valley settlement founded by the original Irish Settlers in 1848, as the lush rolling hills resembled their homeland.

Today, both companies are at the top of their respective crafts. Just a few weeks ago, Jim Barry won the coveted title of 2020 Halliday Wine Companion Winery of the Year, while Teeling 24 Year Old was named World's Best Single Malt at the World Whiskies Awards 2019.

The project took Sam Barry to Teeling's distillery in Dublin, where he and Teeling co-founder Jack Teeling, together with master distiller Alex Chasko, set about tasting The Armagh to establish which of its existing whisky stocks would best marry with the influence of the shiraz casks.

"Alex took me through a lot of base whiskies that had been aged in different casks, and that's where I understood the influence the cask can have on the product, especially with Irish whiskey," Barry said.

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The result is the Teeling 17 Year Old Jim Barry The Armagh Cask Finish Irish Whiskey (RRP $200), which Barry said has developed some red fruit characters from an additional six months' maturation in the Armagh barrels, after previous treatment with sherried wood.

Life from Mars

Meanwhile, Japanese company Mars Whisky has completed a similar venture, releasing a single malt whisky finished in a barrel supplied by acclaimed Margaret River winery Voyager Estate.

The companies were introduced by their Australian distributor, De Ja Vu Wine Co, resulting in the release of the Komagatake Voyager Estate Wine Cask Finish Single Malt Japanese Whisky (RRP $350).

Mars Komagatake Single Malt is named after the highest mountain near Mars Shinshu distillery in Nagano Prefecture, and is typically a blend of multiple casks.

This particular single barrel release was aged first in an ex-bourbon cask, before being transferred into the cask that previously held Voyager's top cabernet sauvignon, MJW.

Mars says this barrel finish has contributed red wine accents, fruity aromas and a hint of citrus to the final whisky, of which there are only 266 bottles available, versus the 2000 bottles of the Teeling and Jim Barry release.

Both products have been launched in time for Father's Day, with limited quantities available through Dan Murphy's stores.

James Atkinson is creator of the Drinks Adventures podcast and a previous editor of Australian Brews News and drinks industry publication TheShout. A Certified Cicerone® and 2017 winner of the Australian International Beer Awards media prize, James regularly contributes to other publications including Halliday, Good Food, QantasLink Spirit and more.