Posted by: Nick and Ted
The Whisky Waffle boys watched with bated breath as Mark Littler, head distiller at Hellyers Road in Burnie, turned to the guest of honour. “What do you see in your glass?” He asked, offering a dram of Australia’s first 12 Year Old single malt.
“I see fluid!” came the rumbled reply.
When the guest of honour is Jeff Kennett, former premier of Victoria, recent president of Hawthorn Football Club, current chairman of beyondblue Australia, and whisky fanatic in general, you can be assured of an entertaining night of pithy banter, some of it directed at the crowd (we were dubbed the ‘Blue Ties’ for the striking colour of our neck adornments supporting beyondblue, as the charity was to be the beneficiary of the nights proceeds).
The Whisky Waffle boys were at Hellyers Road in an official capacity, though to be honest wild Celts could not have kept us from attending. On Tuesday the 28th of October 2014 we were both delighted and proud to have the opportunity to attend the official launch of the distillery’s new 12 Year Old single malt, a milestone achievement for Tasmanian whisky.
The night was hosted by Julian O’Brien, editor of local newspaper The Advocate, although he claimed not to be there as a reporter (Jeff: “But I’ve met journalists before.”). Guests were treated to a five course degustation menu pairing local produce with whisky (Hellyers Road of course!). We must admit to being slightly sceptical about the concept of deliberately pairing whisky with food (surely a good malt goes with anything!) but we were more than willing to be won over. Helping the meal to go down was the stunning view from the Hellyers Road visitors centre restaurant out across the Emu Valley.
First cab off the rank was Hellyers Road’s only previous age statement whisky, the 10 Year Old, a drop that Mark Littler referred to as “possibly Australia’s number one selling single malt”, and was matched with a delicate dish of natural Tasmanian oysters. On our first attempt at food and whisky pairing we decided that one did not overpower the other, and the saltiness in the oysters accentuated the sweetness in the whisky.
After the oyster course came the moment that we were all waiting for, the unveiling of the new 12 Year Old. Mark invited his guests to not just taste the whisky, but to ‘chew’ it, claiming they would find greater depths of flavour if they did so. “Are you with me?” he asked.
“Only out of sheer curiosity,” replied Jeff, who had joined him for the tasting.
We are delighted to say that we were very impressed by the excellent quality of the 12 Year Old. Ted thought he could detect a familiar flavour in the scent: “Macadamias?”
“Very astute,” returned Jeff “And most certainly wrong!”
The 12 was paired with a dish of Petuna hot-smoked ocean trout, the whisky’s natural oiliness working well with the fish.
The next course was the Hellyers Road Pinot Noir Finish coupled with a sumptuous dish of duck, however our pairing notes were cut short at this point because the guest speaker began his formal address.
Jeff Kennett began by praising the quality of the Tasmanian whisky industry. He revealed that he had a long time association with Hellyers Road and was pleased they had done so well and come so far, admitting that it was “a hell of a risk for a bunch of dairy farmers to start up a distillery.”
He also regaled us with a number of humorous tales, telling us of his ‘Man Cave’ which contains a large proportion of his 700-odd strong collection of single malt whiskies. Julian then commented that the Whisky Waffle boys might like to pay a visit to the ‘Man Cave’ to sample the wares. “Not wearing those ties!” retorted Jeff.
“beyondblue!” we protested.
“Well in that case you’re definitely invited.” We are pleased to say there were over 50 others present to witness this offer.
Jeff says that beyondblue is by far the thing that he is most proud of and will always be, unless (as he claims) he lives to 150 and something else overtakes it. His one wish is to end discrimination, and if we can do this he feels that we’d be much happier as a society.
Having spent much time in Tasmania he is passionate about the future direction of the state. Julian asked “If you were Premier for the day, what would you do?”
“Well, to be honest it would only take half a day!”
On a more serious note Jeff feels that if the Tasmanian whisky industry is properly supported then it could become a major drawcard for the state, helping to provide much needed money and jobs and raise its global profile.
The fourth course of the night was a curious combination of King Island Dairy triple-cream blue brie with quince paste on honey spice bread. For this dish Hellyers Road brought out their whisky best suited to complement the rich flavours on offer, the excellent Port Cask. We were both very impressed by this single-barrel release, which combined the typical Hellyers Road buttery notes with rich winter fruit flavours.
As we sipped our Hellyers Road whisky cream liqueur and nibbled on our final course: orange vodka fudge tartlets, we mused on our evening. The whisky was definitely a highlight, but perhaps even more so was meeting the people that made it, and the passion and delight they radiated when sharing their craft with others. We hope to continue this friendship, as we all share the same hopes for Tasmanian whisky, and are proud to have a local distillery producing drams of such quality.
At the end of the evening Mark Littler, and Hellyers Road visitor centre manager Sharon Deane, presented Jeff with a bottle of the 12 Year Old. “One to add to the collection Jeff?”
“Collection? No chance, I’ll have drunk it by the time I get home!”
You certainly couldn’t say fairer than that.