Adams

Heartwood: striving for consistency

Posted by: Nick

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Adams Distillery Pinot Noir Slosh Cask 46%

Reviewed by: Nick

Adams Pinot Slosh WW

What is the most important aspect of a whisky?

a) The region it hails from;

b) The age statement;

c) The prettiness of the bottle; or

d) What it actually tastes like.

While there’s a lot to like in options a) to c) (I’m a sucker for a pretty bottle!), when it comes down to it, the best thing about whisky is that you can drink it and therefore flavour is by far the most important factor.

Which is what the Adams of Adams Distillery had in mind when trying to squeeze every last tasty morsel out of cask AD0086, a French oak ex-pinot noir barrel. But before we get to option d), let us discuss a) to c).

Adams Distillery is based in the North of Tasmania at Glen Ireh Estate in Perth, just outside Launceston. They’ve been expanding the distillery since… well, pretty much since day 1, and the first few of their releases are only just entering the market.

This whisky is in no way old – by Scottish standards at least – but the smaller casking and hotter conditions in Tasmania require an earlier release. To maximise the flavour in each bottle the Adams developed the ‘slosh-cask’ technique, which simply involves regularly rolling the barrel from one side of the bond store to the other – the idea being that the process encourages greater interaction with the wood of the cask, forcing more of the barrel influence into the spirit.

The bottle is particularly pretty as well and is sure to stand out on bars with its distinctly-shaped neck. However, the most beautiful aspect is the colour of the whisky itself: a rich brown which when held up to the light glows ruby red.

It is an appropriate colour when you consider the creation of the dram. Unlike most whisky-makers in Tasmania who stick to a fairly standard grain (usually pilsner malt), Adams has experimented with using a percentage of dark crystal malt in their mash. It could be the power of suggestion… but I can’t help but feel it imparts coffee notes throughout the dram’s flavour.

On the nose there is oodles of chocolate, vanilla and stewed fruits, alongside hints of green grapes. It’s all coated in a thick layer of toffee which continues onto the palate, and is vibrant and viscous, almost chewy. There are also notes of strawberries and chocolate orange, while the finish contains strong coffee fudge flavours. For my fellow North West Coast Tasmanians, Anvers do one that this strongly reminds me of.

This whisky is not subtle – not even a little. But that’s not the point of the dram. The Adams have put flavour first and this is the result. It couldn’t be described as easy drinking and does take some taming. But like a whisky-swilling St George, I’m happy to take on this dragon. It’s exciting and moreish and most importantly of all, something a little different for Tasmanian whisky.

★★★★

Adams Distillery: Go Big or Go Home

Posted by: Nick and Ted

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Luckily we made an appointment.

Let’s face it, in terms of global whisky production Tasmania is teeny tiny, a mere speck in the great amber ocean. The term ‘craft’ is synonymous with our local industry and it is often joked that Scotland spills more in a year than Tasmania produces. However, one distillery in Northern Tasmania has ambitious plans for the future and intends on making a big splash in that ocean.

The story of Adams Distillery starts as any good fairy tale does – one Adam meets another Adam and together they hatch an excellent plan to make whisky. Actually, that’s just one beginning, we need to go further back to understand how things really started.

A few years ago Adam Pinkard, paramedic and champion power-lifter, went on a tour of Scotland with his father. While they were there they visited a bunch of distilleries, which was great because his father offered to be des. Whilst sipping on the wares offered at Benromach Distillery, a relatively small establishment Scotland-wise, Adam P thought to himself “I could do this… after all, this whole place is controlled by just two guys.”

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Adam discusses the flavours of the whisky in Nick’s hand while our designated driver Harri looks on jealously

After Adam P returned to Tasmania, the idea kept ticking over in his mind. All he needed was a business partner, so he turned to his mate Adam Saunders, a builder by trade. Adam S was sceptical at first, but Adam P won him over with his vision and thus Adams’ Distillery was born.

The next challenge was to find a home to make their whisky. They initially thought that they had found a cosy location in the heart of Launceston, but were thwarted by a pernickety council and had to look further afield. The rejection, disheartening though it was at the time, actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. They eventually found a suitable location at Glen Ireh Estate in the neighbouring town of Perth. The big advantage of the site was that it had plenty of room for expansion, which two years after the formation of their original distillery is exactly what the Adams’ are doing. Big time.

We were fortunate to hear the motto of Adams Distillery from the lips of Adam P himself: ‘Go big or go home’. We had made the pilgrimage to Glen Ireh to catch up with the lads and check out what they were creating at the estate. When we arrived, we had time to say a brief hello to Adam S before he got back to work building the Adams’ gigantic new visitor centre/bond store, leaving us in the capable care of Adam P, who quipped “it’s nice having a builder as a business partner.”

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The new shed is just about big enough to fit the old one in twice over!

The Adams’ are rapidly becoming a big fish in the Tasmanian whisky pond, having recently upgraded the size of their stills massively, supplementing their already large shed with an even bigger one and drawing in a full time cooper to work on-site. Adam P mentioned an interesting view that he had come to, being that moving forward Tasmanian distilleries either need to be ultra-small-scale-boutique or the complete opposite. As we stood on the partly-constructed mezzanine and surveyed the Adams’ new empire, it was clear they are definitely taking the latter path.

As we all know, whisky making takes time, but the Adams have been patient for the last two years and will soon be taking their first release to market. To celebrate this milestone they will be holding a launch event in December at the newly completed visitor centre (no pressure Adam S). Tickets are available here, and considering how congenial and welcoming the Adams are it promises to be a great night.

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The Wafflers with the Adams team. Disclaimer: the dog isn’t also called Adam.

While Adams’ expansion may currently seem like something of an outlier in the craft-scale Tasmanian scene, it could actually be a sign of what lies ahead for the industry as a whole in the future. Potentially many other distilleries will follow the lead of the Adams’ team and upscale their operations, making a long-awaited entrance onto the broader world stage. If they do, their path will have been partly paved by two blokes called Adam who bravely decided to ‘go big or go home’.