Airport

Launceston Distillery Land Their First Release

Posted by: Ted

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The old Ansett Hangar 17 at Launceston airport looked almost exactly the same as it had the last time I had visited a couple of years ago. The only real sign of time progressing was a new opaque glass and aluminium door grafted into the old corrugated iron wall, bearing the crest of Launceston Distillery, and a sandwich board in front of it declaring the place to be ‘open’.

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Hangar 17, the home of Launceston Distillery

After crossing the threshold I was warmly greeted by distillery Director Chris Byrne, who commented “hopefully my sign holds up against the wind, I’ve given it a bit of angle, but we’ll see.” (It had disappeared by the time I left). Nestled in the foyer were a couple of old airline seats. I asked if they were Ansett, but Chris shook his head and replied “We had an old bloke drop in and say the pattern was 1960’s Qantas. It’s definitely from back then anyway, just look at the ashtrays.” We grabbed a cup of tea to ward against the cold, pausing a moment to admire the whiteboard still bearing operational notes left after Ansett collapsed in 2001, and then wandered out for a look at the distillery.

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Sorry Ansett diehards, these are just scummy old 60’s Qantas seats

The main hangar, once used to house aircraft, was as large as ever, but the floor space had diminished significantly since last time thanks to the appearance of several rows of 100L casks. Chris grinned at the sight and commented that “the original bond store off the side is full of 20L casks now, so we had to expand out here. We’re hoping that we have enough 20L casks stored now to get us through to when we start releasing our 100L’s in a few years time.”

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The history of Hangar 17 on display

Sitting next to the stacks was a board covered in posters documenting the history of the site, which Chris was more than happy to explain. During the lesson he pointed at the numbers and lines on the floor: “See those there? That’s where they used to line up the luggage crates. Apparently one was pushed into the wall by accident, but because they hadn’t secured it down when they extended the shed, the whole bottom of the wall got pushed out. We had to pull it back in with a ute when we were doing the place up.”

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Phwoar, check out the insulation on those

Eventually we wandered over for a look at the bond store, passing by the two Knapp-Lewer stills with their beautiful timber insulation. Last time I had seen the bond store there had only been a solitary row of casks huddled forlornly against the wall, but now the room was full to the brim of neatly racked 20L casks. While we were admiring the view, head distiller Chris Condon and Angus the distillery dog returned from the airport terminal, where they had just delivered the first order of whisky to the airport shop. “They’ve got some good advertising up, so hopefully people stop and pick up a bottle.”

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Angus the distillery dog travels in style

Chris B handed me over to Chris C and we made a beeline for the tasting bar, built from an old Ansett check-in desk and an in-flight drinks trolley, for a chat and some cheeky bevvies. The most notable feature of the bar was the row of bottles perched on top, thanks to Launceston Distillery releasing their first whisky just last month, a milestone that was very pleasing to Chris: “One of the problems with distilling is that because it takes so long to get to that first release, it can sometimes feel like you’re not making any progress, so it’s great to finally have something to show for all our hard work!”

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20L nirvana

The bottles on offer covered the first four batches laid down by the distillery, with each batch released as a marriage of 20L casks bottled at a standard 46% abv. Batch 1, the first edition, was an ex-Apera (the Australian version of sherry) casking, Batch 2 was an ex-tawny (Australian port) casking, Batch 3 was another Apera, although apparently with a different character to Batch 1 as the casks had been sourced from SA Cooperage rather than the Tas Cask Co, and finally Batch 4 was an ex-bourbon casking.

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L-R: Batch 1 (ex-Apera), Batch 2 (ex-Tawny), Batch 3 (ex-Apera), Batch 4 (ex-Bourbon)

On the nose Batch 4 was light, crisp and grainy, with notes of fresh apples and green grapes. In contrast, Batch 1 was sweet, sticky and rich, with dried fruits, orange syrup, red jubes and undertones of malt, wood shavings and bacon. Batch 2 was dark, with red berries, leather, wax, timber and a clean oiliness.

On tasting, Batch 4 was sharp and bright on the mouth, with acidic herbal notes and a clean finish. In complete contrast, Batch 1 was like an explosion from the aromatic end of the spice rack, with strong flavours of aniseed, cinnamon, cloves and star anise, as well as almonds, milk chocolate, mandarins and a tanninic finish. Finally, Batch 2 was dark, rich and sweet, with notes of dark chocolate and black cherries and a smooth, oaky finish.

Chris revealed that each batch was just over two years old and I asked whether he had toyed with the idea of leaving them longer under oak: “We didn’t just dump them out arbitrarily at two years obviously, it’s more considered that, but you start getting to a point where you have to ask yourself, ‘Am I doing more harm than good for the sake of a few months?’. That’s the tricky thing about 20L casks, there’s a real risk of over-oaking.”

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Head Distiller Chris Condon rocks the Ansett memorabilia

Chris was also keen to show me the boxes that had been designed for the bottles and explained the relevance of each design element: “The colour is actually the Ansett blue, while the clouds are from a photo taken of the sky above the airport. If you look closely, you can also see lines running across the box which are actually from an 1830 map of the region. All the surrounding towns and landmarks are there, which really grounds it in this place.”

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The author and Angus relax before the flight

After the tasting, I had a quick relax on some genuine Ansett airline seats with Angus the distillery dog (“Judging by the condition, we don’t think they were ever installed in a plane,” commented Chris), said a quick farewell to Chris B who was finishing labeling the last of the personalised pre-order bottles that had been offered as part of the 1st release and collected my own bottle of Batch 1 from Chris C.

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Chris Byrne, hand-labelling master

Before I left, I had one last question on my mind. Last time Whisky Waffle visited, the distillery team had been tossing up names for the whisky. At that time ‘Hangar 17’ had been a strong contender in tribute to the building that housed their distillery, so I asked Chris what had changed: “We ending up going that way in part because there was a legal issue with Hangar 1 in San Francisco, who are vodka makers and objected to us using the name. I’m actually really pleased that we went with Launceston Distillery though, because that’s who and what we are. It’s a really strong geographic name that people can connect with.”

He paused a moment then laughed and quipped “At the end of the day, Hangar 17 is still our physical address, so they can’t take that away from us. We’ll see how we go.” Well readers, if the quality of the whisky is anything to go by, then it’s no hard stretch to say that Launceston Distillery will go far.

Head over to the Launceston Distillery website to purchase a bottle or organise a tour: https://www.launcestondistillery.com.au/

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Landing at Launceston Distillery

Posted by: Nick and Ted

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A great place to hang(ar) out

It’s certainly an awe-inspiring sight the first time you enter the great expanse of Hangar 17 at Launceston Airport and behold the gleaming distilling equipment laid out on the floor. It’s certainly not what you’d expect to find in Ansett Airlines’ long-neglected freight facility, until recently a lair for birds and dust. Thankfully the birds have been evicted and the dust laboriously scoured from the exposed metal girders to provide a home for Launceston’s first distillery in 175 years.

On a recent trip to Launceston the Whisky Waffle boys had the great pleasure of meeting Ilya, Peta and Chris, three members of the team, and checking out their state of the art distillery. Their set up is certainly impressive: the stunningly beautiful Tasmanian-built stills stand proudly in the centre of the gigantic room. This is no small-scale operation – you can tell these guys are serious about their whisky-making, in part evidenced by the fact that they have both a wash still and a spirit still, often not the norm for smaller-scale ventures.

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Two stills. Count em!

“We wanted to make a premium product,” said distiller Chris “so after much debate we came to an agreement and decided to take the plunge and build both stills.” Premium is certainly the goal they have set themselves and we think that they are well on their way to achieving it. This was made abundantly clear when we tried their new make – an elegant and dangerously drinkable spirit.

As the team has only recently started filling barrels there was no whisky mature enough for us to try, though we did get to take a ‘flying visit’ through their bond store. Chris had three different casks on a table, an ex-bourbon, an ex-sherry and an ex-port and invited us to have a nose and see if we could guess which was which. We were unanimous about the bourbon but disagreed about the other two, with Nick’s nose reigning supreme on this occasion.

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Two good-looking pieces of equipment. And some stills.

The Launceston Distillery crew are excited about being able to showcase their hometown and promote the northern part of the state. They are looking to capitalise on the success experienced by their southern counterparts and pave the way for a whisky trail in the north. Who knows, perhaps one day there will be a north-south rivalry develop in the whisky industry to mirror the Boags vs Cascade beer-battle.

While the name has yet to be confirmed, Launceston Distillery is looking to make the most of their aviation surroundings and release their whisky under the moniker of Hangar 17. While we’re not sure if our idea of a bar in an old aircraft will come to fruition, their location is definitely advantageous for luring in curious customers. As Peta told us: “1.5 million people pour through the airport every year, so it would be wonderful to capture just a portion of them.”

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The dream team. Doing it for the North. L-R Chris, Peta, Ilya.

While at the moment the distillery is flying under the radar, and according to Ilya being consciously relaxed about publicity, they are certainly one to keep on the scanner in the future. We at Whisky Waffle are excited to discover the lofty heights they reach and will be booking our ticket when Hangar 17 is ready to lift off.

Find out more about Launceston Distillery at our links page. The distillery is not yet open to the public but appointments can be made to visit.

Navigating to the New World Distillery: meet the purveyors of Starward

Posted by: Nick

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Behold, the New World of whisky!

The New World Distillery is a whisky-making establishment like no other. Equal parts industrial warehouse, hipster bar and mad scientist’s laboratory, stepping through the door I felt like I had slipped down my very own rabbit hole into whisky-wonderland.

Located in Melbourne’s north, the distillery is just a stone’s throw away from the bustling international airport. This is appropriate as the building is a vast refurbished aircraft hangar. The huge room is separated into partitions by rows of whisky barrels – a particularly novel bond store! In one corner of the room is a classy-looking bar with shelves bearing a massive range of the whiskies made on site – each with a premise more curious than the last. It was clearly going to be a good evening.

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Is that a pumpkin spiced gin amongst that lot?

Before settling in at the bar for an extended tasting session, there was the small matter of the tour. My guide on this adventure around the immense room was Paul, a man who I discovered was no stranger to a bit of whisky waffling. While the whisky production at his distillery was covered in detail, we also got sidetracked with conversations about peat, barley farming, excise tax and wood-smoked barley.

New World Distillery has been operating since 2010, releasing their main product under the label Starward. While Starward was originally exclusively Apera matured spirit, they have recently released a second variety aged in ex-Barossa Valley Shiraz casks. These aren’t the only bottles being created here however. The people at New World enjoy pushing boundaries; if not breaking the rules, certainly bending them a little. The most successful of these are released as a special range known as ‘New World Projects’ and well worth checking out.

The tour is engaging and informative: in particular Paul’s analogies likening making wort to brewing a cup of tea and charring barrels to burning sugar, explaining these obscure concepts effectively. I also got a generous swig of the new make spirit which I found light and fruity without losing its typical high-alcohol warmth. All in all it was one of the more (dangerously) easy-drinking new makes I’ve tried.

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Whisky always tastes better when wearing a high-vis vest

New World also came across as one of the hardest working distilleries going around. With a staff of only five on the floor and three behind the scenes (and Dan), they still manage to conduct three distillations a day. This is achieved by long shifts, late finishes and shared responsibilities, as well as a basketball hoop to keep the staff sane. This hard working approach is one of the biggest factors in ensuring their product is one of the most affordable Australian whiskies going around.

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Starward score a three pointer!

After the tour I took a seat at the bar near a toasty gas heater and sampled the products I had just learned about. First was a comparison between the two Starward bottlings: the Apera cask and the wine cask varieties. While the Apera matured whisky was syrupy and raisiny, the Shiraz aged drop was more savoury with oaky tannins. I still confess to preferring the original Starward release, but my friends who accompanied me on my visit unanimously favoured the wine cask.

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Different constellations for different casks

From here I moved onto the bar’s extensive range of New World Projects bottles. These ranged from the sublime – two magnificent port matured whiskies – to the ridiculous – a perfectly clear three year old whisky with all the coloured components of the drop removed. There was also a wonderful 56.3% ‘doublewood’ bottle which had been matured in both the wine and Apera barrels, and a Heartwood-esque whisky with an alcohol percentage in the sixties known as the ‘Smoke and Mirrors’.

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One day all this will be mine… if I save up enough money to buy every barrel.

I left the giant hangar at the end of the night inspired by the products made in my home country. I was once again amazed by the vast contrast in flavours that can be created within a drink which only contains three ingredients. There are some great things happening in the Australian whisky industry and the guys at New World Distillery are right at the forefront.

The New World Distillery is open for tastings and tours at their site at Essendon Fields on Fridays from 6pm and on Saturdays between 2pm and 6pm.