It’s been five months since our last look at Craft Works and boy has Crafty been busy. Not just one release but three. Before we jump into these new whiskies from one of NSW’s most up and coming distillers, let’s dive into why we’re loving Craft Works.
Image: The man him, Crafty from Craft Works Distillery, NSW
For those new to Craft Works Distillery, there’s 4 things you need to know.
- Craft Works Distillery is the brainchild of Craig “Crafty/Craft Worker” Field – a wonderful, humble, creative, always learning, always laughing, whisky legend with penchant for caps. When asked how he would describe the Craft Works brand you get “ that’s easy , humanising the art of whisky” that’s his tag line and he is not shy to tell you the good , the bad the ugly of life in a working craft distillery.
- When he’s not out and about chatting all things whisky, you’ll find Crafty tucked away in his little distillery shed and sometimes with his good mate Todd aka The Todd doing someone creative behind the Capertee Royal Hotel in Capertee, NSW. Look it up, it’s a picturesque part of the work, somewhere hidden between Lithgow and Mudgee, located on the edge of the widest canyon in the world, the Capertee Valley
- NSW loud and proud – along with promoting his own whiskies, Crafty is a champion all things distilling NSW. More often than not, he’s promoting others over his own. He’s recently shared one of his empty whisky barrels with a local gin distillery (Karu) so they collaborated and created an ex sherry cask/ whisky cask barrel aged gin. Crafty is all about transparency and collaboration
- In Australia, by law we need to wait 2 years before the whisky you distill and aged in oak can be called whisky. So, while Crafty was busy setting up his little distillery in rural NSW, he started his distillery journey with the formation of The Craft Works Whisky Company in 2015 and by purchasing whisky barrels and distillate from other distilleries across Australia (with a focus on NSW distilleries of course) and aging them to his own specs. It’s been a fantastic testing ground for Crafty to get an accelerated start on his distillery journey, testing different recipes, barrel types, char levels and barely usage, finding that balance between flavour and alcohol yield
As an added bonus, Crafty’s love for experimentation and yearning for continuous improvement has resulted in some damn tasty whisky that’s ready to drink today and that’s why we’re here– three of them all released under the Craft Works Independent Bottling arm. Grab a glass and let’s get tasting.
Image: Craft Works Distillery - Todd Poynter is Crafty's right hand man.
Image: Craft Works three new IB Releases we got to sample today
Craft Works – 3 new IB releases
- The Capertee – Cellar door Release #2
- Tokay Okay
- Grumpy Old Man on the hill
The Capertee – Cellar door Release #2
Originally designed to be released as a cellar door exclusive, tourism for Capertee and well a lot of NSW rural towns and communities has been at a complete standstill for the majority of 2019’s summer. First surrounded by bushfires, and I don’t mean for a week or two, Crafty had bushfires north, south, east and west all slowly crawling towards the township of Capertee for almost 4 months, causing not only major disruption to his distilling schedule but during the week of December 28th, 2019 it was basically touch and go, hoping for the winds to ease so backburning efforts and containment lines could be put into place. Crafty prepared as best as one could, portable petrol water pump, water tanks, and hoses primed at the ready to defend as best as he could. Thankfully after many sleepless nights, that day never came and the township was spared. As soon as recovery began, another crisis commenced with the Covid19 pandemic. Of course Crafty putting family and health first has done the right thing but it’s important to note, he along with many other Aussie distillers have not been “operational” for over 6 months now.
To help get back on track, and with his cellar door closed due to lockdown, Crafty made the decision to start retailing his cellar door release and release his other 2 casks in one go. And while they’re technically not part of a series, Crafty is running a business at the end of the day with a family and appreciates any help you can give. Now Crafty isn’t just any old nickname he’s been bestowed, he’s released this whisky as friendly 375ml bottles to ensure his whisky is approachable and accessible to as many whisky fans as possible. Clever move mate. One we all appreciate as more to share around.
I really like this whisky. Has balance you don’t initially expect with these cask combos. Fruity, citrus notes fight each other with some heat, giving the flavour some length. Unsure of its age but it doesn’t taste young either.
Speaking to Crafty he adds “single casks are great but been really enjoying playing with multiple casks, there’s new skills to grow and develop with vatting casks, and we’re able to pick and choose casks that complement each other with front, middle and finish on the palette.” We agree mate, keep making these as it’s a tricky skill to master blending and we’ll keep drinking them! On my third sip the sweetness of the Botrytis manages to sneak in right at the end. Very curious now what form his batch #3 cellar door will take.
CASK TYPE: 100L Chardonnay / 200L Bourbon / 20L Botrytis
CHAR LEVEL: Combination of non char and heavy char
COOPERAGE: Combination none / Tasmania Cas Co
OAK TYPE: American White Oak
ABV: 47.5 %
VOL: 375ML (50ML in the future)
PRICE: $95.00 RRP
While many flock towards the vivid label (see what I did there wink), what caught my attention with this IB release was the use of a heavy char on a Tokay wine cask. Firstly, for those who haven’t tried any Tokay, it’s a super sweet variety of white wines from Hungary. You take an old Tokay cask that’s full of sugars embedded from years of maturing the wine, apply a heavy char which is only going to reinvigorate those sugars, maybe even supercharge them and what do you get when you throw some NSW new make spirit into the casks. Something magical!
Plenty of Aussie distilleries have again flocked towards using ex-wine casks, especially port, which impart much heavier red-wine flavours onto whisky. However, Crafty has done something different here. I understand this was the same spirit he used for his other IB release called “The RAGE!”, again from an undisclosed NSW Distillery (Fun Fact: whenever you see undisclosed is not because the distillery is sub-par or anything is wrong with the original new make spirit sourced, it’s just a sign of respect within the whisky industry to let the OG distillery get their named whisky out first to their own customers as they’ve yet to launch any whisky of their own yet – again good guy Crafty).
Unlike The RAGE which at 59.8% hit you in the face with Meaty red wine jus and raspberries syrup notes, the Tokay Okay I’d describe as the classier, more refined, more mature older brother of the two. Still full of delicious sweetness from the heavy charred cask powering through, but with greater balance highlighting the spirit too. Definitely a more balanced whisky and something I love about Crafty is he’s the first to admit he’s always learning, always challenging the casks and seeing what works. If you’ve been keeping up to date with his releases, you can really see his skills develop over time and this my friend is a sign of that refinement. I asked Crafty what’s his tastings notes “sweet, juicy marmalade” and on first sip you absolutely get this. Give it some time to breathe, let the whisky open up and another layer sneaks in. Lemon meringue. You heard it first here. This is a fun whisky.
BOTTLE RELEASE: 230 bottles only
CASK TYPE: 100L single cask Tokay wine
CHAR LEVEL: Heavy
COOPERAGE: Tasmania Cask Co
OAK TYPE: French Oak
PRICE: $174.00 RRP
Grumpy Old Man on a Hill...
Full disclosure here, I’ve been really looking forward to this whisky. On paper the specs are everything I chase from an aussie whisky lately. Aussie new make spirit works best in ex-bourbon casks. Check. Peated expression. Check. Solid ABV of 53.8%, with a heavy charred 100L cask. Meaning the spirit has time to age in a much larger barrel, which gives more balance between wood and spirit in the final flavour you taste.. The distillate is from NSW distillery Riverbourne, also close mates of TWL run by Distiller Martin Pye, a retired pharmacist and as we understand Australia’s oldest working distiller, hence the name “Grumpy Old Man on a Hill”. Martin has been a close mentor and friend to Crafty since the very beginning, so this is Crafty’s larikin way of saying thank you to the legend on the hill. Riverbourne distillery is located in rural NSW, near Canberra at 1000m above sea level, aka the hill giving him a climate that’s very similar to Scotland.
In sampling this whisky, it’s unlike his other IB releases to date – to which we asked Crafty for a few more specs, “Riverbourne typically only uses two types of barley. Voyager malt from NSW, which I am also using for my Craft Works Distillery recipe and a heavily peated Scottish malt which was used to create the grumpy man whisky.”
Crafty adding “Working with Martin has shown me how important it is to get your barely recipe right and with this release I’ve been able to really start understanding how best to tweak my own recipes. When I eventually release my own Craft Works Distillery whisky in the coming months, its unique flavour profile will be heavily influenced by the learnings we’ve undertaken whilst working closely with other NSW distilleries, understanding how best to push for alcohol yield and flavour.”
We asked Crafty if he enjoyed finally working with a peated new make spirit. I know you’re a big fan of Bruichladdich too. “It’s also been a massive undertaking but also excitement to finally start working with a peated new make. It’s a very different set of flavour profiles you have to juggle with and balance. A fantastic learning experience again and a fun whisky to drink on a cold night” explained Crafty.
Crafty knows how cold his little distillery shed gets in winter, with below zero and daily frost expected for most of the winter months, this peated expression is perfect to warm the soul and heart whilst sipping around the campfire. That’s the image I had when I first tried this whisky. Instantly took me back to that memory and I love it. Slightly biased but this is my favourite of the three.
First Peated Expression
ABV%: 53.8 %
PRICE: $174.00 RRP.
BOTTLE RELEASE: 158 bottles only
CASK TYPE: 100L single cask ex-Bourbon cask
CHAR LEVEL : Heavy
COOPERAGE: Tasmania Cask Co
OAK TYPE: American White Oak
Image: Crafty showing off his whisky range
All three of Craft Works Independent Bottling Releases are available to buy on The Whisky List or buy direct via his website https://www.craftworker.com.au. Support this legend! Drink his tasty whisky and can’t wait for what we’re hearing is going to be the very first release of Craft Works Distillery Whisky coming out very soon. Shhhh!
We recently reviewed Crafty's other whiskies here:
Image: Hard work being a distiller but someone's got to do it - Crafty from Craft Works Distillery taking a well deserved break
Main image by The Whisky List. All other images supplied by Craft Works Distillery.