What kind of bartender wouldn't want to bottle their own whisky?
It’s an alluring idea. Ask any bartender who is big into whisky, and they’ll all agree: they’d jump at the chance to sift through the casks of a whisky distillery and pick one out for themselves. One cask they could bottle and slap their name on.
That’s just what the team at Savile Row in Brisbane have done. They’ve taken stock of their very own Savile Row-stamped whisky, produced and bottled by Tasmanian whisky distillery Overeem. Whilst the idea of bars collaborating with distilleries isn't anything new, it's still a rare thing to do.
So how did Savile Row do it?
Below, lightly edited and condensed for clarity, is our chat with Savile Row’s Jacob Cohen and Tim Speechly. We ask them how they selected this whisky, what they’re looking for, and what the point of the whole exercise is about.
What’s the big idea behind bottling your own whisky?
Jacob Cohen: We wanted to do something along these lines for quite a while. Overeem actually contacted us, and said we’re loving what you guys are doing, we’d like to do a collaboration. And it all kind fell into place.
We were looking to do one, they wanted to do one with us, and it just kind of worked. I personally have been a massive lover of Overeem, for quite a few years now. So when I got that message I was pretty stoked.
It went from there. There was a lot of back and forth between myself and Jane Overeem, and we planned it out over a few months.
Then we had the lovely opportunity to go down there and make it happen.
So the idea is to go and select a barrel, right?
JC: Absolutely. We went down and they have this amazing bond stores with all these3 beautiful kinds of barrels that they’re working on. But there’s a separate room of barrels that are either ready or in their eyes ready, or are almost ready. There was about 40 barrels in that room. We went through, did some brief tastings in the bond stores, and earmarked 10 barrels for a short list. That was early in the morning. From there, we went up and did an extensive tasting, tasting all those different whiskies at different strengths. We played around with trying to blend some stuff but we thought that was a bit too far away from the ideology of Overeem itself.
Tim Speechly: It also went away from what Overeem believes in, which is single cask maturation, and that’s not something we wanted to take away from them.
JC: We ended up going through a very extensive tasting. It took about four hours, I mean tasting whisky — it’s a pretty hard day if you ask me [laughs]. The whole day we were chatting with Jane and Mark talking about the history of Overeem. It was started by Jane’s father Casey, way back when, and then left the family for a number of years, and it only recently came back into the family. Hearing all about the history and their story was pretty amazing while drinking the whisky.
That process led us to picking a barrel, first and foremost, that we were most happy with, then deciding on a bottling strength.
Did you have an idea in mind of the style of whisky you wanted to have before you got there?
JC: We knew we wanted something rich and creamy, really heavy on the mouthfeel. So what we did to make sure that was the cash was we left all the floc in — [it’s] completely non chill filtered. All the floc, all the oils and the fats left over from the cask ageing and the distillation were left in the bottle.
It [has a] super creamy, decadent mouthfeel to it. The barrel we chose as well was a five year old port cask, so there are some pretty rich flavours going on there. That, in addition to leaving the floc in, creates a pretty decadent whisky. That’s what we wanted to create.
When we’re talking about floc, what are we talking about?
JC: Floculation is once you empty out the barrels into these tanks, to get ready to dilute to bottling strength, that’s a process that can go anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. When you are doing this dilution process, there’s a part of that whisky that sinks to the bottom, and it’s all the heavy particles, fats and oils and all of that — that’s what’s called floc. Most distillers will take that off, for clarity of the liquid, it looks better on the shelf and all that. But we decided to leave all that in, which is all that texture, all that flavour. It might look a little weird, it might look a little cloudy when you put it over ice, but the whisky will retain so much flavour. That was the end goal for us.
So how many bottles did you end up with?
JC: The bottling strength we decided on was 45 percent ABV. That worked out to be 177 bottles at the end of it.
Obviously the more you dilute the more bottles you can get.
JC: Exactly. We wanted to maintain that flavour as much as we can. The initial thought was at 50 percent, but we found that it was just a bit too hot, and none of those more subtle toffee and caramel flavours were coming through. So we diluted it a little more and that just rounded it out more — that’s why we decided on 45% ABV.
TS: I feel like it’s fighting the balance [between] being greedy and producing something great you know? You can be real fucking greedy and get that percentage down, or you could be true to what you wanted to do in the beginning which is produce a rich, syrupy sweet whisky.
JC: We’re looking at potentially doing a few more of these in the future, and this will be annual collaborative release — this being the inaugural one. They’ll be very limited runs. The most we’ll ever get will be 180 bottles out of a run, but realistically some of them will be as low as 120 bottles.
What are you going to charge for this at the bar?
JC: It will be $25 a nip, so pretty reasonable. We wanted to keep it pretty accessible to everyone, because it will be a signature staple whisky of our bar.
TS: We are moving 20 bottles through a private ballot, which we’ll organise through our social media. Outside of that, we’re selling them all on premise.
What’s the benefit of you having this in the bar — why go to all this trouble of doing it? Because it costs you money to do it as well, it’s not like you’re getting free whisky.
No, of course. The benefit for us is one, it’s really cool. And secondly, it’s something different — a few very select bars have had the opportunity to do something like this, I know the only other bar that Overeem have worked with is [Melbourne bar] Whisky & Alement, of who I personally am a massive fan, I’ve got massive respect for those guys down there.
So it’s a unique offering that very few bars can do. We’re lucky enough to have built a name for ourselves, that Overeem were happy to work with us, that we get the opportunity too showcase not just their whisky expertise but a different showing of their whisky through our eyes.
TS: We recently expanded our back bar — we were touching on 700 whiskies.
And you expanded the back bar?
TS: Yeah. And we were touching on 700 whiskies give or take, and around 150 to 200 vodkas, gins, rums, cognacs and agave spirits etc. During the last lockdown we made use of the time, considering we’re open seven days a week, and we expanded our back bar. We’ve given ourselves an extra row on each shelf, so I’m just touching on another 300-400 more bottles. Which is just pushing us to — we don’t want to over quite ourselves — to ballpark of 1100 to 1200 at full whack. We’re not there just yet, we still have some more buying to do, I think we’re encroaching the 1000 bottle mark any day now.
If you'd like to get to get your hands on your own bottle of the Savile Row release, you can enter the private ballot via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name and phone number, and be willing to part with $250 for the bottle should you get the chance.