Killowen Bonded International Series – Belgrove Oat & Belgrove Rye 3 Year-old Whiskeys from Tasmania

It’s no secret we’re big fans of Killowen here at The Water of Life. With the news that they would release two Belgrove Distillery bottlings as the first of their Bonded International Series, our pulses were raised, our mouths instantly parched, and our excitement peaked.

Belgrove Distillery in Tasmania and its founder, Peter Bignell, was, admittedly, a massive influence on Brendan Carty and the founding of Killowen. Albeit thousands of miles away from each other, these two micro-distilleries, have a lot in common: Sustainability, transparency, doing things by hand, flame-fed stills, use of oats and rye, malted and unmalted grains, and a relentless focus on the quality of spirit to name a few. Killowen and celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay has been preaching the Belgrove gospel for some time now; therefore, it’s somewhat critically acclaimed.

The two whiskeys released were Belgrove Oat and Belgrove Rye. Oat is limited to 222 bottles with 59.79% ABV, and Rye is limited to 239 bottles with 60.61% ABV. Both are three years old and finished in ex Malt and Australian Pinot Noir cask.

Before we get to the whiskeys, what struck me the most about this release is how prominent “3 YR OLD” is displayed on the label. Many brands would typically present an older age statement like a badge of honour, signalling to the consumer that what’s inside is quality. “The older it is, the better” – so we’re told. Not for Killowen and Belgrove. For them, if you focus on the ingredients and production instead of relying on the effects of wood after a long maturation, you won’t need the whiskey to be old to be good. Only time will tell if the sacrifice in quantity in favour of quality will work for Killowen, given that their own distillate just crossed the 3-year mark a few months ago and is now legally whiskey.

I can’t help but think about the modern Irish Whiskey industry and why more consumers should buy into it. We’re in the middle of a so-called renaissance where most of the 40+ operating distilleries in Ireland only started producing within the last five years. It’s an opportunity for the consumer to be on the ‘front row’ to experience how this industry will further evolve. Although not all brands may survive, I can imagine drinking an 18-year-old Irish whiskey from a young distillery 15 years from now, in the year 2037 and in my 50s, thinking to myself – I was there.

So on to the whiskeys. First, Belgrove Oat. This is a mixed mash bill of 70% un-malted oats, 5% un-malted wheat, 5% un-malted barley, 10% malted barley and 10% malted rye. It was aged in ex-Tasmanian Pinot Noir Casks & ex-Tasmanian Malt Whisky casks. Non-chill filtered and bottled at cask strength at 59.79% ABV.

Jonathon’s notes

Killowen Bonded International Series- Belgrove Oat

Nose: Guinness cream immediately hits the nose as I poured it into the Glencairn, thick porridge with a dash of cinnamon, green banana peel, vanilla, cream, orange zest, and coolant.

Palate: A pleasant tingling sensation as the oiliness coats your mouth and releases waves of flavours; bell pepper, pickled ginger, a dash of tabasco, coffee, cocoa, and treacle bread.

Finish: Sweet rye spice leaves your mouth with a grassy aftertaste like pandan leaves.

Score: 8/10

Killowen Bonded International Series- Belgrove Rye

Belgrove Rye is a mash bill of 80% un-malted rye and 20% malted rye. Same with the Oat, this was aged in ex-Tasmanian Pinot Noir Casks & ex-Tasmanian Malt Whisky casks. Non-chill filtered and bottled at cask strength at 60.61% ABV.

Nose: Lots of high notes, paint and Sharpie, then it takes a bit to more floral notes, molasses, Bandung (a drink made with milk and rose cordial), mango, and fresh-baked bread.

Palate: Very dry and lighter than the Oat. Notes of pineapple, chamomile tea, soda bread, sprite, and a dollop of smoke.

Finish: Really crisp, like drinking a cold beer on a warm summer day. The IPA-like finish lingers.

Score: 7/10

Dave’s Notes

Killowen Bonded International Series- Belgrove Oat

Nose: An interesting combination of peanuts and brittle caramel takes precedence. Very malty, lots of oats, specifically oat bran cereal. Lots of creamy tones too, Reese’s peanut butter cups and hazelnuts. A little spice with aniseed but also earthy tones with yeast too. Stale smoke.

Palate: absolute spice bomb. The aniseed is accentuated with helpings of cinnamon and black pepper. The peanut butter comes through too, with a little subtle smoke, like a cigar box.

Finish: the spice lingers and seems to take on chocolate ginger snap notes. There are also some sour coffee beans with a medium to long finish.

Score: 8/10

Killowen Bonded International Series- Belgrove Rye

Nose: freshly baked German rye bread, sourdough and yeast. A little fruit comes through too, sweetness from red apples covered in honey—some herbal creeps in with spearmint and earl grey adding balance and depth.

Palate: you’re initially greeted by a wave of subdued warmth from spicey notes from the cloves and pink peppercorns. The texture is fascinating too; there’s lots of creaminess to it, combined with the heat strikes me as salted chilli chocolate.

Finish: Lots of spice to conclude, more cinnamon and cloves but generous warmth throughout. Closer to medium length of a finish.

Score: 7.5

Conclusion

I can personally vouch that they make quality stuff down there in Belgrove. After a hefty bill on top of the price I paid to get some whiskey sent from Tasmania I became the proud owner (and drinker!) of some of their own releases; a Belgrove review will follow.

The Oat is full of character, and the Rye is nice and fresh. I scored it a point lower because, in my opinion, it tastes young, whilst it’s going to be very hard to tell with the oat. With my experience of Belgrove, their other Ryes are better. Having said that, these are two phenomenal whiskeys that prove age is just a number.

I look forward to more collaborations and further additions to the international series.

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