Editor’s Note: This whisky was provided to us as a review sample by the party behind it. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link in this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Primarily known for its production of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Durif (Petite Sirah to us yanks), the tiny town of Rutherglen in northeast Victoria is affectionately known as the ‘fortified wine capital of Australia’ and that legacy has had a clear and profound impact on the first distillery to open in the area, Morris.
The Morris line began in fact–and still operates in conjunction with–Morris Family Wines, itself a long entrenched, highly lauded fortified wine producer.
Rutherglen, nestled up against the eastern banks of the Murray River and home to a mere 2,500 or so inhabitants, takes its name from a Scottish town immediately southeast of Glasgow, so producing a single malt whisky seems not only appropriate, but perhaps destined. The Murray River, which is Australia’s longest and the chief water source of one of the country’s most important ecological and environmental basins also helps, along with the hot days and cool nights of the area, to create a microclimate well suited for both winemaking and the aging of Scotch-style whisky.
So when the Morris Family Winery, which first began production way back in 1859, was facing financial difficulties the winery was purchased in 2016 by wine entrepreneur John Casella. He began thinking of alternative ways to ensure the solvency of a local institution with which he had an intense personal connection.
On the grounds of the estate sits an original 1930’s hybrid copper-pot and column still. First brought to the winery in 1941 it was used to distill base spirits for the winery’s renowned fortified wines. When Casella noticed the still, the multitude of barrels maturing the house’s fortified wines on site, and knowing he had unlimited access to further barrels from a private cooperage he owned which prepared customized barrels to serve wineries in his family-owned Casella wines portfolio, inspiration struck.
Six years later, with some assistance from the legendary John Macdougall, the second of the first two results of that inspiration–the first being the Morris Australian Single Malt Whisky, has landed on American shores: Morris Australian Single Malt Muscat Barrel Finished Whisky.
Much like the straight single malt expression, the Muscat Barrel finish is bold, exuberant, and lively but also like its predecessor, even though it comes in at a heartier 96 proof, it reveals a similarly extravagant response to its secondary maturation in the Morris Winery’s esteemed Muscat Fortified Wine barrels. There is just too much disjointed flavor battling for supremacy here and the result is an ultimately kind of toneless melange that, while certainly unique, is too cloyingly sweet and unbalanced.
My tepid response notwithstanding however, the whisky seem to be well received thus far, winning gold at both the 2022 San Francisco World Spirits Awards and the World Whisky Masters tasting competition.
Tasting Notes: Morris Muscat Barrel Finished Australian Single Malt
Vital Stats: 96 Proof, Aged 3 years in American and French oak ex-wine barrels, secondary maturation in ex-Muscat fortified wine barrels, SRP 89.99 700ml
Appearance: Rich burnt umber, with deep brown almost purple-tinged rim.
Nose: Toffee and Coffee swirl around a bouquet of stewed stone fruits and white raisins, hazelnuts and subtle hints of roses wafting underneath.
Palate: A creamy, but ultimately cloying mouthfeel that offers vibrant notes of jammy stewed plums, malted chocolate and molasses. But like its single malt base, the flavors never quite coalesce into a coherent whole. And despite its higher proof, the Muscat Barrel finish delivers its sweetness with the same cloying intensity as the Single Barrel.