Reviews, musings and whisky adventures.
Keep on waffling!
Posted by: Ted
I have a bit of a weird confession to make: I have a thing for shipping containers. Having worked for nearly a decade in an industry where I have spent a lot of time around (and in) these standardised marvels of modern global transport, I rather enjoy seeing all the different colours, company logos and algorithmically-derived alpha-numeric serial numbers. So what’s this got to do with whisky? Well…
Traditional distillery design tends to veer along stone-and-timber lines, usually with a lick of white lime wash for good measure if you’re in Scotland. In Tasmania things tend to be split between restored heritage buildings, à la Scotland, or modern pre-fab steel sheds, which are easy to erect, relatively cheap to build and a breeze fit a still into. Tyler Clark of 7K Distillery had other ideas though and decided to go down a rather more… modular, route.
7K Distillery is perched half-way up a hill on the outskirts of Brighton, north of Hobart. One of the first things you notice as you head up the gravel driveway and past the brick farmhouse is that it has an absolutely epic view across the Derwent Valley to kunanyi/Mt Wellington. Behind the house sits a cluster of three shipping containers, a 20ft and a couple of 40ft units, which isn’t that unusual for a paddock in Tassie. What is unusual is that fact that an entire distillery is hidden inside.
“The property, Lodge Hill, is my Nan’s,” Tyler revealed to Whisky Waffle when we dropped by for a visit in late 2019. “I’d been over to the States and had a look around what was going on over there, and decided that I wanted to start my own distillery. It can be hard when you’re in your 20’s, with the start-up costs and finding a space, but I thought to myself ‘If I don’t do this shit when I’m young I’ll probably never do it'”.
Luckily Tyler was a man with a plan: “I’ve always liked the idea of building with shipping containers. My original concept was that I’d be able to move them to a new site a few years down the track if I decided to expand. At first I thought I might have some trouble with the ATO… you know, some dodgy guy distilling out of a shipping container, but they were fine with it. I suppose as long as they get their excise, they’re happy.”
The problem of what to put the distillery in had been solved, but Tyler still needed somewhere to plonk his containers down: “One of the biggest challenges was finding a site. I eventually I thought of asking my Nan if I could put them out the back of her place at Lodge Hill and thankfully she was really cool with it.” Tyler paused, glanced over to the house and then laughed ruefully, “The only downside is that she can’t have a shower or bake a cake while I’m running the still because it takes up all the power. Sorry Nan!”
Speaking of the still, the shape is rather different to your ‘standard’ Tassie ‘Knapp Lewer-style’ unit, having been entirely designed and built by Tyler himself (“with a bit of help”). A sparky by trade and handy on the tools, Tyler was able to put his skills to good use throughout the project: “Half of my interest was building the still in the first place. I wanted to design something that I could do multiple things in.”
The cylindrical copper pot, about the height of a person and mostly clad in black insulation, is topped by an elegant tear drop-shaped onion and a very neutral lyne-arm. Taken in concert, you can tell the 1100L 7K still is designed to generate a lot of reflux. “I just wanted to make a lighter style of spirit,” was Tyler’s simple response when we grilled him about his design choices.
Connected to the still via a series of bypass valves is a stainless-steel vapour chamber used for infusing botanicals for Tyler’s ‘Aqua Vitae’ gin range. “I still do the juniper in the main pot, but it’s a pain in the arse to clean out again so I’m going to get the little stainless-steel keg-still, which I built as a test back when I first started, up and running again to do that separately.”
Delicious as the gin is (the ‘Tasmanian Raspberry Gin’ is sticky-pink goodness and the ‘Winter Edition Carolina Reaper’ chilli-infused gin will put hairs on your chest (if you can find a bottle)), we ain’t called Gin Jargon, so we were keen to check out progress on the amber stuff.
The first batch of single malt spirit was laid down in November 2017, meaning that by the time you read this it will officially be able to be called whisky. The wash is produced further down the river at Last Rites Brewery in Cambridge. In terms of barreling, Tyler has used a variety of casks, including bourbon, sherry and pinot, sourced from various Tassie cooperages.
An ex-sherry number that we got to have a cheeky nibble at was delicate and creamy, with a splash of vanilla on the nose, while the mouth was light and dry with a hint of citrus. All in all, a very promising start. (There was also a very unusual ‘smoked’ spirit in a virgin oak cask that might be a story for another day…).
While the Aqua Vitae gin range has a botanical watercolour aesthetic, Tyler wants to go down a different route for the whisky: “The demographic who are buying the gin, which to be honest is mostly women of a certain age, are going to be completely different to the people who will buy the whisky. I feel like I want to make a statement with the bottle, something that speaks really about quality, rather than just having the same old cheap 500ml glass bottle as everyone else, which is why I’m leaning towards ceramics at the moment.” (Watch this space…)
There is no official name for the whisky yet, but according to Tyler “The name of the distillery itself, 7K, refers to the postcode of the region and connects it to that sense of place, where I live. When it comes to the whisky I want it to have that same sort of feeling, something that has meaning to me.”
The tour eventually came to an end as Tyler was heading up the bush to be manly and cut up some trees. As we trundled down the drive to set out on our long journey home, I glanced back at the neat white containers (they used to be painted bright orange, which I rather liked as they gave me Hapag-Lloyd vibes. Yes, I’m sad, I know), I reflected on the fact that they are something of a symbol for the young, adaptable industry that is growing up in Tasmania, largely unshackled from the weight of tradition in the old country.
The future of 7K distillery is looking bright (particularly if the container colours keep changing) and to quote Tyler himself: “I think it’s going to be exciting.”
This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where we discuss the winners of the prestigious Waffle Awards;
– The Whisky, where we review a NAS Bowmore release;
– Fresh Meat, where we sample, for the first time, a German whisky called Slyrs; and
– Whisky Would You Rather, where Heartwood faces off against Scotland
Posted by: Nick and Ted
2019 has been a big year for the Whisky Waffle lads: highlights have included being highly commended at the Icons of Whisky Awards, hosting the Tas Whisky Week Northern Night, relaunching the Whisky Waffle Podcast (spread the word!) and so many Tasmanian distillery visits. As the year comes to a close, we celebrate our Waffle Awards: the best of what the 2019 had to offer us!
The Isle of the Drammed Award for the best Tasmanian whisky
As the internet’s number 1 location for Tasmanian whisky content we like to recognise our very favourite. This year the Isle of the Drammed Award goes to…
Heartwood Heartgrove #1
What happens when two of our favourite Tasmanian whisky people (and previous Bill Lark Award winners) team up to combine unique rye spirit and fabulous sherry and muscat casks? You get this bottle: Heartgrove. Sweet and rich fruit notes are layered over the more earthy rye characteristics forming an outstanding drop: as drinkable as it is fascinating!
The Drams Down Under Award for the best mainland Australian whisky
A new award! There are more and more wonderful drops being made across the water on mainland Australia: so many, in fact, that we thought we’d create a category just for them! The first ever winner of the Drams Down Under Award is…
Archie Rose Rye Malt Whisky
More rye! We’re beginning to sound like Jim Murray! Archie Rose, however, deserves this one. While a deep caramelly rye may not be to everyone’s tastes it has certainly scratched an itch for the Whisky Waffle boys who were impressed with its depth and complexity – especially for a young whisky matured in virgin oak – and all at a reasonable price point! It really feels like the first page in a new chapter for Australian whisky and we’re happy to be there from the start!
The Tartan Slipper Award for the best Scottish whisky
Despite our love of whiskies made in Australia, we still recognise Scotland as the motherland – and have discovered some stellar drops along the way. The best of the lot was the…
Everybody knows Glenfiddich and what it’s all about. That doesn’t mean they can’t occasionally bust an ace out of their sleeve and surprise people though. Part of their Experimental Series, the Fire & Cane has been one of the gem finds of the year.
Turns out that peated Speyside malts finished in South American rum casks is a killer combo. The softer Highland peat combines perfectly with the sweet notes developed from the rum finish, creating a brilliantly balanced dram that will appeal even to those who don’t like smoke. The best bit? It’s under $100AUD. It’s hands down one of our favourite whiskies of the year and has led to several of our friends reassessing their relationship with Glenfiddich.
The Pocket Pleaser Award the perfect pick for the parched penny pincher
Buying whisky is expensive! We try and write as many reviews per year as we can, but directing our income towards things like food and mortgage often (but not always) takes priority – which is why we love a bargain! The 2019 Pocket Pleaser goes to…
Top shelf schmop shelf, the middle shelf is where things are really at. That’s where the bulk of sales come from – decent, everyday whisky for a reasonable price. Aussie whisky has always been too expensive to fit into that bracket – until now!
Let’s be clear, the Starward Two Fold isn’t the best Aussie whisky out there, but for the price, it’s amazing! This is a $70AUD Aussie whisky, which means it’s squarely competing with your cheaper single malts and pimped up blends. Clever blending of wheat and malt spirits and the use of wine casks keeps the price-point down and the wallet happy. This is a perfect summer dram for sharing freely with all your mates.
The Weirdsky Award for the most WTF whisky
Delicious innovation or hard-to-drink novelty? It could be either in this category as we celebrate the most envelope-pushing, or simply the silliest whisky of the year. This year’s Weirdsky goes to:
There’s no denying it – Whipper Snapper Distillery’s Project Q is the weirdsky of the entire decade. We first tried it as part of our ‘Mystery Whisky’ segment on our podcast (episode 13); I knew what it was while m’colleague was going in blind, but that still didn’t stop me from wondering whether I had landed on a different planet.
The key is in the ingredients, all sourced locally by Whipper Snapper from Western Australia. Malted barley and corn won’t raise any eyebrows, it’s the third, rather more unusual grain that’s the kicker. Quinoa, the South American staple beloved of hipsters and the health conscious, is what gives the Project Q its unique flavour. It’s hard to describe – spicy, earthy and nutty, with overtones of melting plastic, old car dashboard and engine grease. The cost of quinoa means that this will probably only ever be a rare oddity, but if you can find it, it will make you rethink everything you know about whisky. A must try for the adventurous.
The Bill Lark Award for service to the Tasmanian whisky industry
One of the best things about running Whisky Waffle is meeting the wonderful people behind the scenes creating and selling a range of amazing drams. While there are so many deserving and hardworking people in the state, each year we like to recognise one individual who has helped make the Tassie scene what it is today. This year the worthy winner is:
Believe it or not, Tasmanian whisky was not always flying off the shelves as it is now. Instead of having no stock left to sell, once upon a time Tasmanian producers could not give the stuff away. This all changed when Jane Overeem decided to hit the road to promote her father’s produce to the world and along the way raise the profile of the entire state’s wares. Suddenly people were sitting up and taking notice, beginning the journey that has seen the industry go from strength to strength.
Jane has taken on senior roles not only within Overeem, but Lark as well, and has been involved in organising countless whisky events within the state and on the mainland. These days she and husband Mark have founded Sawford Distillery and are producing whisky which promises to be something special. On top of that she is also helping manage White Label Distillery, the country’s first contract distillery.
A brand new industry needs pioneers leading the way and forging a path so that others can follow. It is safe to say that the Tasmanian whisky scene would not be what it is today without Jane Sawford.
The Golden Dram for the best dram whisky in the world
And finally, the top drop! We tried many drams throughout the year (read: many many) but love to pick out one that stands above the rest. This year 2019’s best whisky is…
Corowa Bosque Verde
Sometimes a whisky comes at you unexpectedly from the side and completely throws you off balance. That was the Corowa Distilling Co.’s Bosque Verde for us this year. When we first tried it in a bar, I drunkenly demanded the barman source me a bottle. He acquiesced to my request and I have zero regrets over that decision.
100L American oak ex-port barrels aged for just over two years and bottled at 60% isn’t that unusual for Australia, but Drucey and his boys have worked dark magic with the Bosque Verde. Essentially, it’s like they’ve taken a super fruity Christmas cake, blended it up and poured it into a bottle. Another key tasting note we had was leather and tobacco, like a cowboy in an old Marlboro ad. Young, complex and feisty, this is no beginner’s whisky, and it keeps on drawing us back time and again to delve into the layers. If you want to know what gets Whisky Waffle excited, this is it.
We’d like to mention a couple of honourable mentions for two new innovative Tassie drops. The Adams Pinot Noir Slosh Cask for trying new grains and aging-encouragement techniques and the Hobart Whisky Stout Cask for actually making it taste a little stouty.
And finally our Founders Reserve Award (the dishonourable mention) to the Macallan Fine and Rare 60 Year Old. Whisky is for drinking and sharing with friends, not for sitting on shelves as a status symbol! Runner up is Ted for his dance moves after the Tasman Whisky launch in Burnie…
Thanks everyone for your continued support. Here to the next decade of Waffling!
It’s time for our (once again) annual Christmas Special where the left over odds and ends from the year’s recording blocks find their way onto the airwaves! It’s a mishmash of an episode but as entertaining as always!
This episode contains:
– Unlucky 13, where we line up the following whiskies to one by one pick our best tasting out of the following:
Glenfiddich 12, Glenfiddich 18, Glendronach 12, Balvenie DW 12, Glenfarclas 15, Aberlour A’bunadh, Highland Park 12, Oban 14, Talisker 10, Ardbeg 10, Laphroaig 10, Chivas Regal 12, Johnnie Walker Black;
– Mystery Whisky, where Ted is confused but ultimately impressed by a Rye from Archie Rose;
– Whisky Would You Rather, where we have the ultimate showdown: bourbon vs sherry maturation
– Drinking Buddies, where Paul tells us what’s in his glass; and
– Smash Session or Savour, where Ted has to find something to savour in three very unsavourable drams
Posted by: Nick
Heartwood, Australia’s most famous independent bottler, is striving for consistency. However, with new-make spirit arriving from different distilleries, a varied range of barrel types and never-to-be-repeated combinations of spirits, how on earth can it be considered consistent? Simple. Heartwood is not striving for consistency of flavour – it is striving for consistency of quality.
Heartwood is the creation of the Tasmanian whisky industry’s very own mad scientist: Tim Duckett. Tim has produced his remarkable whisky alongside his day job as an environmental consultant, deciding to dip his toe into the infant Tasmanian whisky scene after meeting Bill Lark in the late nineties. He purchased his first barrel of Lark spirit in 1999, but cannily didn’t rush it out the door before it was ready. The first bottling, Mt Wellington, was released in 2012 and things escalated rather quickly from there.
While there are other independent bottlers in Australia, including TIB, Tim’s other project, there is nothing on earth quite like Heartwood. Regularly bottled at unheard of ABVs, some of which nudge the mid 70% range, each release is limited to several hundred bottles, meaning it sells like hotcakes and has developed somewhat of a cult following.
We visited Tim at Heartwood’s Blackmans Bay bond store where he gave us a peek behind the curtain at the type of flavour profile he values: that which pleases the palate – specifically his palate. Tim seeks to create whiskies which are thick, flavourful and with a finish as long as any whisky on the planet. How does he do this? By pairing good quality spirit with good quality barrels.
It sounds simple, but it is actually far from it; consistently creating high quality whisky is not just the passive process of sticking spirit into barrels and waiting. Tim employs all manner of tricks to get the most out of his whisky, as we found out during our visit. These include intricate blending, either whole casks or simply a few litres here or there, deciding when the oak influence is done and decanting it into vats before beating it with a paddle to drive off volatiles, as well as moving spirit into a warm office to “syrup up”.
When we visited Heartwood HQ the north-facing wall had a number of nearly-ready casks sitting up against it, which Tim explained was the “finishing wall”. He also confessed that he refuses to reuse casks 100 litres or larger unless they have been repurposed with Heartwood witchcraft, and even then, he will only use peated spirit in them… and this is just the tip of the iceberg of strategies Tim uses to create some of the most impressive and sought-after whisky Tasmania has to offer.
Of course, it helps when there is no agenda to meet; no shareholders to appease. Despite its fame, Heartwood is small-scale, a project born out of passion. Therefore, the whisky is released only when it’s truly ready and never to meet a specific profile or timeframe. Age is somewhat irrelevant in Tasmania anyway, with our varied weather conditions and small barrels. Tim claims that the age of 20 litre casks should be measured in seasons, not years, as the Australian summer will age a whisky faster than autumn, winter and spring combined.
During our visit we were lucky to try a few impressive Heartwood and TIB drams which were nearing completion, including spirit distilled at Redlands, Adams and a ‘Renowned New South Wales Distillery’. Most spectacularly, however, we were able to sample the first Heartwood/Belgrove collaboration (which at the date of publication has just been released – and sold out within hours). The ‘Heartgrove’ was a clash of the titans: a coming together of earthy, almost smoky rye notes with a thick fruit layer from the muscat and sherry casks it had been matured in. It was a wild beast, but Tim had tamed it, creating an intriguing rye that went down almost too easily for a 55% drop. If pressed we would have probably claimed it as our favourite, though it certainly faced some stiff competition.
Fascinatingly, none of the drams we tried tasted the same; they weren’t even in the same ballpark. The only thing that linked them was the fact that each one was delicious. As Tim told us, Heartwood has never claimed to produce a consistent flavour profile. Instead he focuses on producing consistently great whisky – and so far he’s achieved it every time.
Heartwood is not only unique among Tasmanian whisky producers: there is nothing on the entire planet quite like it. By refusing to release anything below his expected standard, Tim has ensured a whisky-legacy that will live on even when the last of the Heartwood barrels is empty.
This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where we talk about tasting notes: helpful, or simply bollocks?
– The Whisky, where we enthuse about a peaty Kilchoman matured in red wine casks;
– From the Spirit Sack, where we try and figure out just how many distilleries there are in Tasmania; and
– Smash, Session or Savour, where three 12 year old sherry bombs face off
Reviewed by: Ted
It used to be that if you wanted to buy an Australian whisky, your choice was pretty much from a never-ending cavalcade of single cask, single malt releases that cost more kidneys than you could really afford on a regular basis. To be honest, it’s still like that, but these days the scene is starting to get a lot more diverse as more players enter the game and start to experiment with different styles.
People are prepared to pay for quality of course, but on the whole, prices for the Aussie amber still remain prohibitively high for the general market who want a decent local dram that isn’t going to eviscerate their wallets. Starward Distillery in Melbourne is trying to change that with a zesty little number pitched squarely at the average punter.
Starward’s Two Fold Australian Whisky has an interesting trick up it’s sleeve that helps them to keep the price point well below $100AUD, which is a rare for a local drop (it’s currently $65AUD on their website). As well as using the standard malted barley, Starward have added wheat into the mix, making a ‘double grain’ whisky that ‘marries two quintessentially Australian grains’ together.
This is quite a clever move for a number of reasons. For one, Australia grows a lot of wheat – around 18.5million tonnes in 2018-19 in fact (which is actually down from previous years). In comparison, barley only managed about half that amount in the same period.
In terms of spirit production costs, wheat makes a lot more sense. In comparison to barley, which has to go through the whole malting process and then get distilled in fairly inefficient pot-stills, wheat spririt is generally produced on giant industrial column stills that allow for continuous production. In fact, Manildra Group’s Shoalhaven plant in Nowra, where Starward sources its wheat spirit from, is the largest grain neutral spirit (GNS) distillery in the South East Asia region.
Flavour-wise though, that’s where things start to get a bit more competitive. Neutral spirits made from grains such as wheat are much lighter and take far less influence from the cask compared to the heavier, oilier pot still-made malts. Hence why they have traditionally been used as the ‘silent’ base for Scottish blends, with small amounts of single malts added in on top to provide the flavour.
Starward’s ‘thing’ has always been Australian wine cask maturation and the Two Fold is no exception to that rule, in this case doubling-down on it. According to Starward they use [sic] “Lightly charred or steamed barrels. Sourced from Australian wineries that make great shiraz, cabernets and pinot noirs. Often filled fresh when the barrel is still wet with wine.” Starward’s own malt spirit and the wheat spirit are aged separately before being blended at a ratio of about 2:3 before being bottled at 40%abv.
Speaking of the bottle, Starward has always killed it with their label art and the Two Fold is no exception, with a gorgeous blue, black and gold label with an unusual shape that stands out from the pack. Colour-wise, there is no mistaking that the spirit has spent its life in ex-wine casks, sporting a ruddy copper hue.
Flavour-wise, the Two Fold is a certified drinker. The nose is creamy and fruit-driven, with peaches, red grapes and banana mixed with a generous hit of vanilla with chocolate/cereal notes that make me think of Weetbix slice. There’s also an interesting nutty, meaty quality that sits underneath.
The mouth is relatively spicy, thanks to the wheat, and dry from the wine. The body is light and creamy across the mid-palate with a relatively short, tannin-driven finish, although there’s enough linger to make you keep wanting to come back for another go.
David Vitale and the Starward team have really pulled it off with the Two Fold. Low price certainly doesn’t equal cheap whisky in this case. Even better, it comes in a 700ml bottle. I think that the Two Fold is an excellent dram for the Aussie summer – the wine-driven flavours would pair perfectly at a BBQ, it’s light enough in the heat and the price means that it’s ideal to casually share amongst friends. If you’re looking for a solid local dram this festive season, the Starward Two Fold is a no-brainer.
PS. It’s nearly Christmas, so it’s about time for a dodgy cracker joke –
Q: What’s a grain spirit’s favourite Christmas carol
A: Silent Night
Posted by: Ted
December is upon us, which means that for Australians, summer is here. Long days, beautiful weather and BBQ’s with the fam… Although in reality, the whole of the mainland seems to be on fire at the moment, while down here in Tassie we’re still shivering miserably (and snow is forecast for next week!).
For Whisky Waffle, December means a couple of things. For one, we have to start racking our whisky-addled memories for some outstanding drams that we’ve tried over the past year to go into the upcoming Waffle Awards. The other thing is – it’s about bloody time we held another whisky event!
It’s been a little while since we’ve done one of our live gigs, in no small part due to some idiot breaking his leg! Anyway, we’re back on our full compliment of feet again and ready to get legless with the crew.
This time around our theme is Summer Drams and we have a cracking line-up of summertime whisky to share with you. Featuring six whiskies, including some curios from the motherland and a few home-grown heroes, as well as festive nibbles and our usual hi-jinks, the evening is set to be a (Christmas) cracker.
WHEN: Sunday 15th Dec @ 5:30pm
WHERE: The Chapel, Burnie
WHAT: Six whiskies + festive nibbles
RSVP: www.trybooking.com/BHCOI, or tickets at the venue
For those following the podcast feed lately you will have noticed all the old episodes appearing on the feed – but now we’re up to date and it’s time to release a brand new show! Have a listen and let us know your thoughts on social media or in the comments!
This episode contains:
– The Waffle, where an old bottle of bottom shelf makes the Wafflers wonder if they may be snobbier about whisky than they thought;
– The whisky, where the boys confront what was, for a brief time, the peatiest whisky on earth;
– Mystery Whisky, where Ted effectively cheats by bringing a bottle which is not made from barley, corn or rye; and
– Whisky Would You Rather, where the cream of the Tasmanian crop goes head to head
Posted by: Ted
“Sorry I’m a bit late!” exclaims Jane as she sweeps into Sawford Distillery, “The kids have just had their nap and are now at the park with my sister.”
“Everything revolves around nap time these days” laughs husband and head distiller Mark, chipping in on the conversation as he checks the stills.
Family is core to everything at Sawford Distillery, but that idea isn’t just limited to blood relatives. It also extends to the relationships and community that Mark and Jane Sawford want to create around their distillery.
Jane herself is the scion of a famous Tasmanian whisky family. Most people would know her as Jane Overeem, the daughter of one of the founding fathers of the modern scene, Casey Overeem. During Whisky Waffle’s recent visit to Sawford, we are immediately struck by that rich sense of heritage and connection as soon as we enter the bond store.
Sporting something of a Cold War chic (one can imagine secret agents hurrying through, clutching top-secret counter-espionage dossiers), the bond store has an important place in Tasmanian whisky history: “This was originally Bill Lark’s back in the very early days,” Jane tells us, “But after he left, my dad was quick to snap it up. This room is where we used to bottle the Overeem. Mum used to do the bottling, Dad did the labelling and I did the packing. Then I had to take the boxes down to the local post office to send off. It was all part of building the Overeem brand!”
While the bench may still be covered in Overeem bottles, these days all the barrels in the next room are filled with Sawford spirit, meaning that one day in the near future it might be Jane’s kids helping to pack their own namesake whisky. That day is still a little way off though as, unlike a lot of Tassie distilleries, the Sawfords are taking the slow approach.
“This place is quite cool and has a very stable climate, allowing for a much longer, gentler maturation” comments Mark as he clambers up onto the top of the racks to thieve some whisky.
“Dad always said that he wanted his spirit to taste like whisky and not oak,” adds Jane, “And we’ve really taken that on board. That’s why we’re mostly using l00L-plus barrels and playing the long game to get the best out of the spirit.”
While we’re down in the bond store, Mark and Jane are kind enough to share some of the fruits of their labour with us (when in Rome, eh?). Mark taps barrel #002, a 100l port cask that’s been down for about 2.5yrs (#001 is off limits as it’s been “getting sampled a bit too often”) and it’s good. Like, really good. Unfortunately we get a bit distracted drinking the whisky and forget to write down any tasting notes, but I remember thinking at the time that if this stuff is cracking after only 2.5yrs, imagine what it’s going to be like on its release around 2022.
Back when Mark and Jane were first toying with the idea of starting their own distillery, there was some resistance from a surprising source, with Jane revealing “Dad strongly encouraged us to put up a solid business plan first, as it’s very expensive – and a long time before you see any return. But we worked through it all, and now he’s very supportive and excited for us!”
Mark has been grateful for the support and whisky making know-how of his father-in-law, having come into the Overeem family past-time as an outsider. “When Jane and I first got together Casey kept an eye on me, as prospective father-in-laws do. But we get along really well, we like to have a beer together. Casey mentored me when we started Sawford. He was there to help me in the first few months and then slowly stepped back as I started to get a good grip on things.”
Mark’s own background is in hospitality, with several properties in the Kingston Beach area, but these days he spends a lot of his time running the stills at his distillery. “The reason I can spend five days a week here at the same time as running three businesses is because I have a good team around me.” Putting in that effort means that Mark is currently able to coax around 40 000L of spirit a year out of the stills and after 2.5 years, already has a couple-of-hundred barrels down. “I don’t want to have the same problem as Casey did back in the day and be saying ‘I wish I put down more spirit down’.”
Back out on the distillery floor, the digs are modern and airy, sharing a wall with the White Label contract distillery, which Sawford helps source barrels for and for which Jane is the sales manager. Taking pride of place on the Sawford side are the Knapp Lewer-built 1800L wash still and 800L spirit still, inspired by the original Overeem stills. “We’re very sensory with our cuts,” comments Mark, “I’m always trying to improve instead of just going through the motions.”
The stills themselves are brightly burnished, almost purple, and rippling with a rainbow sheen; keen Instagram followers will know that this gleam is the result of a ‘family still polishing day’ a few months ago. “We like to think that the way we present our stills and our distillery is a representation of who we are,” Mark tells us proudly as we gaze at our reflections.
Another representation of who Mark and Jane are is the large silver monogram adorning the back wall in the distillery. According to Jane, ‘S&O’ (Mark Sawford & Jane Overeem) stands as a symbol for “who we are as a couple – two families coming together to make something beautiful.”
Being based in the ‘romantic’ Huntingfield industrial estate means that Sawford is unlikely to pick up any location awards, but Mark isn’t fazed: “We didn’t want to go down the location bent, we want to celebrate the people instead. We wanted our brand to be real, not to pretend that we’re something that we’re not. What we really value is building relationships.”
Jane backs him up on that idea all the way: “Back in the day we had to go knocking on everyone’s doors to try to sell the Overeem and convince them to take a chance on Tassie whisky. We’re going to have to go through all that again with Sawford, not necessarily because people need convincing these days, but because we want to build that personal relationship up with all the bars and businesses and the community. Having those connections with people is something that is really important to us.”
“Oops, sorry guys, I’ve got to go, the kids need picking up!” exclaims Jane apologetically as she hurries out the door again. Our time is up as well as we have an appointment to keep on the other side of the wall, so we say our goodbyes to Mark and ride off into the sunset (aka, around the corner to White Label).
You know, despite their hectic lives, the Sawfords really do walk the talk and go out of their way to make you feel like part of the community that they’re trying to build. Which is lucky, because at a time when the Tassie whisky industry feels like it’s growing by the minute and the big sharks are starting to circle, hopefully it’s people like Mark and Jane who will ensure that we never lose that sense of family.