Tasmanian whisky has been smashing gongs on the world stage again. The winners at the World Whisky Awards in London, widely recognised as the pinnacle for the industry, have just been announced and little ol’ Tassie has strutted it’s stuff in style. Repeat offenders Sullivans Cove, widely lauded for picking up Best Whisky in the World in 2014 and launching our little state squarely into the spotlight, has picked up the award for Best Single Cask Single Malt for the second year running. The drop that seduced the judges this year was TD0217, a rich, spicy, fruity French Oak cask release.
Even closer to home for Whisky Waffle was the winner of the Best Australia Single Malt, with Burnie locals Hellyers Road taking home the award for their Slightly Peated 10yo. When I congratulated Master Distiller Mark Littler and his team on the win he told me that “all of us at the distillery are very excited about receiving this global gong for the Slightly Peated 10YO. It is a London seal of approval supporting not only the quality of our whisky, but also our vision to create a world class whisky business from the North West Coast of Tassie”.
Congrats to Mark Littler and the Hellyers Road team!
Also worthy of mention is the winner of the World’s Best Single Malt (aka, the best of the best), the Teeling Whiskey 24yo Vintage Reserve, the first time an Irish drop has picked up the prestigious award.
On the twenty-fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Iniquity Batch 11 whisky. Christmas day is here and it’s back to South Australia for the final day of the advent calendar and another drop from Tin Shed Distilling Co.! Christmas is definitely the day for being a bit naughty and over-indulging in a few glasses of the good stuff and the Tin Shed team agree, saying that we all deserve ‘one of life’s wicked pleasures’.
The Iniquity is made with local grain and uses local peat and Mallee stumps for smoking, as well as tapping into South Australia’s experienced coopering industry to source high-grade barrels for their small-batch releases. Batch 11 was aged in American Oak ex-sherry casks and has quite a meaty, oaky nose, with leather, tobacco, walnut and ginger, while the mouth is dry and chewy, with candied citrus peel and a finish that is spicy and rubbery with a dash of hot metal at the end. The Iniquity Batch 11 is laid back and decadent and is going down well on this lazy Christmas afternoon.
On the twenty-fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Joadja Distillery Single Malt Release No. 2 whisky. Joadja is a historic ruined mining town in New South Wales Southern Highlands. Once abandoned, the town is now owned by Spanish ex-pats Valero and Elisa Jimenez who, along with running hertitage tours of the site, also founded and operate Joadja Distillery. The distillery is one of a rare breed of ‘paddock-to-bottle’ producers that uses barley grown on site and draws water from their own spring, imbuing the spirit with the unique terroir of their locale.
The Jimenez’s like to use their Spanish heritage to put their own spin on the whisky, using hand-picked ex-Oloroso and ex-Pedro Ximenez sherry butts from Spain to age their whisky. Release No. 2 uses the drier Oloroso style for the casking, giving it a rich, chocolate fudge, apricot, raisin, date and oak nose, while the mouth is spicy, with a green, fruity, citrusy character and a coppery finish that reflects the youthful nature of the spirit. An interesting drop that I think could use a tad more age to really shine, but shows great promise all the same.
On the twenty-third day if Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Launceston Distillery Tawny Cask whisky. Ansett was once one of Australia’s premiere airlines, but it all went belly-up in 2001 when the company collapsed. It was one of those weird situations where the doors shut and everyone just walked away, leaving buildings and assets frozen in a moment in time. This was the fate of Ansett’s Hanger 17 facility at Launceston Airport, until a few years ago when a team of like-minded individuals decided to shovel out the mounds of stratified pigeon-poo and set up a premium whisky distillery. Under the guidance of head distiller Chris Condon, the distillery has taken off and the crew have recently celebrated their first string of releases, including the Tawny Cask.
Tawny is the Australian name for Port, as Port is now appelated exclusively to Portugal, and this release has been aged for 2.5 years years in 20L casks. The nose is fat and rich, with dark chocolate, blackberries, hazelnuts and toffee, while the mouth is dark and dripping with blackcurrants, prunes and spicy, meaty finish. Launceston Distillery is soaring high and is well worth spending your millions of defunct Ansett frequent flyer points on.
On the twenty-second day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Dobson’s Distillery Empire 8 whiskey. More Victorian (as in the period, not the place) style funkiness from the New South Wales highlands ahoy! Dobson’s returns to the advent calendar, this time with a cask-strength creation. Stephen Dobson is not one to do things by halves or even multi-dimensional quarters, so the Empire 8 starts its life in stainless-steel vats with oak staves for four months before being transferred to a Shiraz cask for two years… then gets turfed into a Madeira casks for two years… aaannnddd then finally spending a couple of years in a Chardonnay cask! Phew!
The Empire 8 is triple-distilled in the Irish style (hence the whisk’e’y), which means that it is pretty smooth in spite of the cask-strengthing. The nose is soft and full of vanilla, caramel fudge and butter, while in comparison the mouth is narrow and sharp, with a definite note of vanilla topping and a hot, vapoury finish. It’s a really hard one to pick apart in terms of the multiple casking, which I think is modified by the effect of the triple-distillation and the strength. Another curious drop from the Dobson’s stable.
On the twenty-first day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Nant Distillery Sherry Cask whisky. The mention of the name Nant will inevitably invite dark mutterings amongst observers of the Tasmanian whisky scene, having been the focus of a bit of an ugly episode in the recent history of the industry. The distillery and it’s owner, Keith Batt, always had a bit of a reputation for not playing nicely with the rest of the generally egalitarian Tassie distillers, but things really came to a head with the uncovering of a dodgy barrel scheme that left furious investors out of pocket with hundreds of barrels that were never filled. Consortium Australia Whisky Holdings swooped down on the dying carcass of Nant and have spent the past few years stocktaking, revitalising the distilling and generally trying to repair the distillery’s tarnished reputation.
Nant, under the stewardship of AWH, has recently released new stock, but this one would have come from the old gear. ‘Tasmania’s only highland distillery’ always had a bit of a thing for the heavier, richer barrel types and the sherry cask is no exception. The nose has brown sugar, ginger bread and caramelised apples, while the mouth sports rum’n’raisin and muscats, with a soft caramel and spice finish. Hopefully these days Nant’s fortunes are on the up and the new generation of whisky will impress. If you happen to have a bottle of old stock lying around, well worth your time to crack it for a cheeky dram.
On the twentieth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Belgrove Rye whisky. And now for something a bit different from Tasmania. Peter Bignell is a top bloke and a bit of a mad tinkerer (as well as a sandcastle sculptor). He builds all of his own distillery gear, coopers his own barrels, converts chip oil into bio-diesel to fire his still, dries grain in old industrial tumble-driers, smokes experimental spirit with sheep poo and makes whisky using rye instead of the usual malted barley. If you ever get a chance to visit his Kempton digs then it is well worth the experience.
Rye is a trickier grain to work with than barley due to the way it goes gluggy during mashing and can get stuck during fermentation, but the effort is worth it thanks to the flavours that eventuate in the spirit. The nose has rhubarb, strawberry, apple and pear crumble as well as some marzipan, while the mouth brings stewed peaches and nectarines, pear drops, caramel and an ashy finish. If you’re bored with single malts and want to experience something different that is ethically crafted and special, start here.
On the nineteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Fleurieu Distillery Atlantic Crossing whisky. The South Australian coastal distillery is back on the advent calendar again, with a nautically-themed drop. While the distillery actually sits on the edge of the Southern Ocean, the Atlantic Crossing name is meant to represent Fleurieu’s voyage into the unknown in search of the ‘promised land’, transitioning from brewery to distillery and tapping into new markets.
The lightly-peated cask-strength expression was aged in six 100L port casks before being released as a limited run of 800 bottles. The nose is deliciously rich and perfumed, with sandalwood, musk, salted caramel, chocolate orange and a delicate ashiness. The mouth is dry and hot, with cinnamon bark, allspice, orange liqueur, red apple, cocoa powder and a meatiness on the finish. A very sexy Australia cask-strength dram that is well worth a look if you can find it.
On the eighteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Limeburners American Oak whisky. Western Australia is certainly getting good representation on the advent calendar, which suggests that a) they’re pretty passionate about whisky on the west coast and b) they’re perhaps producing more reasonably priced drams than some of their eastern cousins. Limeburners is back in the hot seat again, this time with their American Oak expression.
As the name suggests, the American Oak is aged in ex-bourbon barrels, bestowing it with a delicate, straw-like hue. The nose is light, sporting caramel, rose-water and fresh barley, with zesty overtones, while the mouth is crisp and chewy, with a dusty, grain-driven body and a hazelnut toffee finish. A light, breezy, acidic number that would go well with some locally caught fish.
On the seventeenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Hellyers Road Distillery Pinot Cask Finish whisky. Globally, the most common barrels used for aging whisky are virgin oak, ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and ex-port. Here in Australia, however, we seem to have developed a bit of a penchant for using ex-wine casks thanks to our thriving local wine industry and ease of access to the barrels. In Tasmania, due to our cooler climate, the red wine grape of choice is Pinot Noir, making it a popular cask type amongst the local distillers. Burnie-based Hellyers Road was one of the early adopters of the style and I reckon theirs was probably the first Pinot-barreled whisky I ever tried.
The Pinot Finish starts off life in American oak ex-bourbon casks before being transferred into French oak ex-Pinot casks for six months for finishing. The nose is smooth, with a cool, damp, earthiness to it. The mouth on the other hand is very dry, with a strong tanninic quality and finish of grapes, almonds and toffee. The Hellyers Road Pinot Noir Finish is a great example of how the addition of certain cask types can completely change the character of a whisky, creating complex and interesting new flavours.