From the tasting team

Another Round: Whisky of Rutherglen

By Mike Bennie

6 Dec, 2023

After 165 years in wine, Morris gets into the whisky business with a multi-million-dollar distillery.

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Darren Peck is a distiller, though his background is in brewing. He started working in the cider business in England before moving into Guinness in Ireland, then shifted across to the United States to work in spirits. His journeyman career had him pivoting as his vocational experience grew, with a stint in South America to do rum, before becoming a flying distiller working around the world, troubleshooting for breweries and distilleries. A breathless adventure in booze, it seems.

A job in Australia beckoned for an all-rounder who knew beer, RTDs, cider and spirits. “It was the last inhabited continent I hadn’t got people pissed in,” Darren quips, “so it was of great interest to come down.”

Morris wineryMorris of Rutherglen. 

It was here that John Casella came into the picture. “John Casella is passionate about being Australian,” says Darren. “He’s always said ‘we drink Australian beer, we drink Australian wine, but Australians don’t necessarily come straight to Australian spirits as their go-to’.” Darren and John met minds, and with Morris of Rutherglen coming under the wing of Casella’s family drinks empire in 2016, the foundation stones were set for Darren’s next great undertaking. 

When Pernod Ricard Winemakers sold the Morris brand, the team came across to Casella with a vision to not only maintain the historical winery but to broaden Morris’ charter. They unearthed an old still in a shed, and then came the whisper that spoke of distilling once more at Morris. 

The older materials in the Morris winery, particularly the backdrop of fortified wines in tokay, sherry and muscat, became a compelling underpinning. “Why not create a truly unique, a truly Australian whisky?” reflects Darren. “To be able to tell people about fortified wine is a neat re-purposing of the famed and original materials of the winery too – this was additionally attractive and interesting to us.” 

John CasellaJohn Casella.

Darren forged ahead with the project, enlivened by the breadth and potential of the materials on hand. A second, modern still was built to Darren’s specifications with an aim to enhance the quality of base spirit with which to forge ahead. The freight train of momentum was impossibly exciting, the results of considered experimentation yielding results.

The releases to date speak of immense drinkability yet inherent personality, with strong DNA of the barrels utilised from Morris. The first release of whisky under the Morris label delivered on Darren’s promise of drinkability. “That was the aim. Whisky that was charming from the get-go,” he says. 

Three to try

Morris Australian Single Malt Whisky Signature ($95) 

This is the first pour, which opens the door to the range. It’s a smooth dram that feels versatile, and drinks with immediate charm. Toasty, mellow, soft and caramel-led with immense drinkability. 

Morris Australian Single Malt Whisky Muscat Barrels ($148)

A single malt that uses 15- to 20-year-old muscat barrels. The mixture of barrel ages delivers more nuance to the whisky, a richer style and strong currency of Morris’ muscats. “Muscat is such an integral part of this winery and the story here,” says Darren. 

Morris Australian Single Malt Whisky Sherry Barrels ($145)

The Morris winery is still a full-fortified winery, and this comes from the dry style Apera made by Morris. It’s beautiful in its saltiness and very dry. A savoury whisky with hazelnut, cashew, almond, some clove spice, dried mixed peel and distinct fino elements. 

Image credit: Wine Australia/Morris.