17 Year Old

Spending Time at Sullivans Cove

Posted by: Nick

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If you’ve only heard of one Tasmanian distillery, chances are that distillery is Sullivans Cove. Based in Hobart and formerly known as Tasmania Distillery, this founding father of Tassie whisky has a chequered and yet ultimately inspiring past and, as we Waffle boys discovered when we visited their site recently, an extremely promising future.

Sullivans Cove is one of Tasmania’s most visitor-friendly distilleries. The viewing platform looking out across the bond store is a proper money-shot (see above!) and in keeping with the establishment’s status as Tassie’s poster-child distillery. This honour was thrust upon Sullivans Cove in 2014 when a bottle of their French Oak Cask won the prestigious World’s Best Single Malt at the World Whiskies Awards and changed the face of Tasmanian whisky forever. But as our generous host, Strategy Manager Fred Siggins, was keen to point out, there is so much more to Sullivans Cove than barrel HH525.

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Consistency in flavour is a difficult task for the fledgling Australian whisky scene. Due to the size of the industry (or rather the lack thereof) most releases are the product of one barrel and therefore the flavours vary from bottle to bottle. While some distilleries choose to conveniently sweep this issue under the carpet, Sullivans Cove embrace it, hand labelling each bottle with a sticker informing the purchaser exactly which cask or casks are contained within. The result is that a dram of one French or American Oak bottling will be unlikely to taste identical to a previous one.

While this approach ensures Fred is continually explaining to customers why their new bottle tastes slightly different to their old one, it also forms one of the most exciting aspects of the distillery. During our visit we were lucky enough to sample not one, but two of the French and American Oak expressions. Had they not featured the distinctive blue and black labels we may not have picked them as the same bottling.

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In each case one dram was smooth and easy drinking and the other vibrant, fresh and zingy. Excitingly, we could not work out which of each we considered to be the better drop – instead deciding that we would prefer one over the other depending on the mood we were in. Fred agreed and recommended that Sullivans Cove customers leave a small amount in one bottle before opening the next, to really appreciate the difference.

The other exciting aspect of the distillery is the age of the whisky in the bond store – and in their bottles. Sullivans Cove head distiller Patrick Maguire has been creating whisky since taking over the company in 1999 and giving it a much-needed new lease on life in the process. This means that some of the barrels are now pushing 18 years old, an incredible age for an Australian spirit.

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Both the French and American Oak releases are usually aged for anywhere between 10 and 17 years while the entry level Double Cask release, a marriage of 2 to 4 American Oak barrels and one French Oak barrel, contains a cross section of particularly mature whisky, unheard of in any other Tasmanian release.

The only drawback of this premium method of whisky creation is the premium price. Sullivans Cove make no bones though about the fact that they make a premium product and are not looking to change that any time soon. Fred did point out, however, that there is a lot of new Australian whisky coming into the market currently demanding a similar (or greater) price to the Sullivans Cove Double Cask. While this new stock is exciting, the whisky is likely to only be 2 to 3 years old. When compared with the potentially 17 year old whisky found in the Double Cask, it really paints the Sullivans Cove price point in a positive light.

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Sullivans Cove is now one of the most recognisable brands in the New World spirits scene, an achievement which is a true testament to the work put in by Patrick Maguire all those years ago. For a very long time, his whisky creation was a labour of love, an unprofitable venture fuelled by passion rather than profit. The rules have now changed, however, and currently there are over twenty distilleries in operation in Tasmania – with more on the way. It is certainly no overstatement to say that this reality may not have come to be if not for Sullivans Cove Distillery.

Sullivans Cove will be open for tours seven days a week, starting in September! Tours depart hourly and can be booked at the Sullivans Cove site.

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William Grant & Sons come to Burnie

Posted by: Nick

William Grant & Sons logoI could be forgiven for thinking I’d come along to the ‘Burnie’s Best Beards’ convention, as upon arrival I was met with some of the most impressive facial hair this side of Ulverstone. This could only be a whisky tasting!

But it was no ordinary tasting. We were sampling drams created by the third largest producer of whisky in the world: William Grant & Sons; guided through the evening by Rich Blanchard whose job title literally was ‘Whisky Specialist’. Unfortunately this qualification does not teach him which way round the 1 and the 2 go on the tasting notes, and we discovered that we would be beginning with a 12 year old whisky, not a 21 year old!

Grants in Burnie editied whisky waffle

Rich: “And then you pour it down your throat. I told you this tasting business was easy!”

The tasting consisted of many drops I had sampled before, although never in quite so meticulous an order. Being a Grant’s night we began with the self-proclaimed saviour of single malts: the Glenfiddich. We tasted a range of ages: the famous 12 Year Old (where the pear cliché was immediately rolled out), the 14 Year Old Rich Oak (which, true to its name was distinctly oaky: akin to tasting old furniture), the 15 Year Old Solera Vat (still a favourite) and the 18 Year Old (undoubtedly the smoothest).

We then paused to refill our glasses, and Rich delivered his two minute spiel about how whisky is made – in five minutes. He also told us a little of the history of William Grant, detailing his purchase of stills from Cardhu for his own distillery, which was family built – literally. School holiday projects for the Grant family were a little more serious than building a cubby-house.

Rich then mentioned the mastery of recently retired Grant’s head distiller David Stewart, highly regarded still-man, double-maturation pioneer and generous whisky pourer. I made a metal note to try and meet this man one day.

This brought us nicely to Grant’s other crown jewel: The Balvenie. Again beginning with the 12 Year Old (not the 21) before moving onto the 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask (with no reveal as to the source of the barrels – though we ruled out Cuba!).

The final two drops were undoubtedly the highlights. The 17 Year Old DoubleWood I regard highly, so much so to award it the prestigious ‘Tartan Slipper’ in the 2014 Waffle Awards. Finally was the 15 Year Old Single Barrel: sherry cask. I’d had the bourbon equivalent of this drop before but it had not prepared me for what I found in this one. Could it be… peat?

Rich revealed that, yes, the Balvenie did peat their barley, albeit slightly. It was an intriguing drop and a perfect way to finish the night.

As I left to commence my walk up the hill (always easier after eight drams) I could not help but feel a little bit pleased. A proper whisky tasting in my little home town! A massive thanks must go out to Steve Kons for organising the night and to the people at William Grant & Sons for making the journey to the North West.