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.
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, and 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 first result of that inspiration has landed on American shores: Morris Australian Single Malt Whisky.
Morris Single Malt is a bold, idiosyncratic whisky that shows heavy influence from the combination American and French oak, ex-Cabernet Sauvignon and ex-Shiraz barrels in which it is aged. And while it is reflective of many aspects of traditional Scotch production, it retains something wholly unique and reflective of the terroir that produced it, a real Australian original.
Unfortunately the end result lacks clarity and offers a somewhat cloying adaptation of the Sherry cask finish principle common to some Scotches. The notes are there – dried fruit, nuttiness and a variety of confectionery undertones – but they never coalesce into an integrated whole. The effect is as of a soup that was perhaps almost perfect, but then one too many modifiers got chucked in and just muddied up the works.
Tasting Notes: Morris Australian Single Malt Whisky
Vital Stats: 88 proof, Age: 3 years in American and French oak ex-wine barrels, SRP $59.99
Appearance: Deep auburn, bordering on mahogany. Full bodied, with a treacly viscosity
Nose: Amaretto, raisin, marzipan, and black cherry leap out followed by a mineral-infused subtle smoke that’s actually redolent of some mezcals of a more restrained profile. Time in the glass saw these sweeter aromas coalesce into a more pronounced dried fig and dried apricot.
Palate: Malty and biscuity up front with cooked cranberries and dark cherry mingling with chocolate and tobacco. But there’s no integration, everything kind of bounces of one another leaving an idiosyncratic but ultimately toneless expression. And the influence of the ex-wine barrels, rather than just adding richness and complexity, come across as cloying and too intense, throwing the entire distillate out of balance.
Whisky Review: Morris Australian Single Malt Whisky
My criticisms notwithstanding, the structure seems to be there for Morris to develop this into a more cohesive final product. Giving the whisky a few more years to mature and perhaps reducing the time spent in ex-wine barrels will likely allow the wildly vibrant myriad of flavors to find a synergy. For now, this bottling would still be a worthy choice for those who like their whisky pretty high up on the sweet scale.
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Jason McBeth is a hospitality professional and consultant with nearly 15 years experience in fine dining beverage programs, including six different Michelin Star and/or James Beard award-winning restaurants. As a consultant he has developed and set up unique cocktail programs in markets from Los Angeles, to Lincoln, NE to Richmond,...