Australian

Waffling at Southern Wild: Tas Whisky Week comes to the North West

Posted by: Nick and Ted

TWW Logo

Who’d have thought 25 years ago that Tasmania would have over 20 distilleries and an entire week dedicated to whisky made in Australia’s southern-most state. Yet here we are in 2017, bearing down fast on nine days worth of events celebrating the art and craft of the Tasmanian distilling scene, with a host of tastings, tours and talks (not to mention lavish, decadent dinners) featuring the folk responsible for crafting Tasmania’s fine cask-aged grain spirits.

However, up here on the North-West Coast, we can’t help but feel a little left out. Tasmania is nothing if not parochial, with most events being held in Hobart and a few in Launceston. Even the dinner run by Burnie’s very own Hellyer’s Road Distillery is being held just outside Launnie.

Luckily, on Thursday the 10th of August, Devonport’s Southern Wild Distillery is stepping up to bring Tasmanian Whisky Week 2017 to the good, whisky loving folk of the North West. Rather excitingly for us, they asked the Tasmanian whisky blogging scene’s answer to Hamish and Andy to host their event (that’s us!).

SW 5

This photo is like ‘Where’s Wally’ for Wafflers

Southern Wild, founded by local lad George Burgess, may seem an incongruous venue for TWW’s first NW event, seeing as they are yet to release their own whisky. However, rather than being held back by this fact, Southern Wild have chosen to embrace it as the theme, entitling the event ‘The Birth of Tasmanian Whisky’.

Guests will be guided through a tasting of some of Tasmania’s most renowned drams, led by the witty banter of the Whisky Waffle lads and the industry know-how of George. Each whisky will be expertly paired with gourmet cheese provided by local fromager Euan Wiseman from the Devonport Hill Street Grocer. Additionally, guests will also be provided with two whisky-based cocktails and platters of canapés and light nibbles.

The mouth-watering whisky line-up for the evening will feature Lark Classic Cask, Sullivans Cove new-make spirit and Sullivans Cove Double Cask, Belgrove new-make spirit and Belgrove 100% Rye, and Hellyers Road Peated.

The event promises to be an unforgettable evening, full of laughter, fellowship, conviviality and most importantly of all, whisky (waffle?). Of course, these evenings don’t happen unless there are people coming along to support, so please help us to make it a roaring success and show the rest of the state that the North West coast is just as passionate about whisky as them.

See you there.

Tickets are available at: http://taswhiskyweek.com/events/southern-wild-distillery/

SW 6 Whisky Waffle

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Welcome to the Southern Wild

Posted by: Nick and Ted

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Yes, Ted hit his thumb with a hammer

Compared to the glut of distilleries in the Southern region of Tasmania, the North West has been fairly light-on for dram making. To be accurate, hitherto there has actually been just the one producer (although they make up for that by being the largest in the Southern Hemisphere). Thankfully, that paucity is set to change with the opening of a new kid on the block – say hello to Southern Wild distillery.

Based in Devonport, Southern Wild is the brainchild and consuming passion of one George Burgess. We first met George at a dinner in 2014 where he confided to us his dream of establishing a distillery in his home town and “teaming up with other passionate specialist Tasmanian producers to create small batch varieties of unique hand-crafted and seasonal/rare finest quality distilled spirits and liqueurs”. Our response was ‘nice one, it’s good to have dreams’, but boy has he really followed through with that threat!

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George: one day this will be whisky!

A food technician by trade, George has already spent years developing the skills and know-how that has allowed him to dive deep into the world of distilling. He loves discovering new ingredients for his gin-making and tinkering about with different flavours and scents. In fact, the name Southern Wild was inspired by the raw natural beauty of the places he finds some of his botanicals. “I’ll be going down some rough bush track, no phone signal and a nagging feeling of lurking cannibals. Suddenly the bush will clear and you’ll find yourself in this beautiful location encircled by nature and meet the most friendly, down-to-earth folk tending this amazing locally-grown produce.”

Formerly known as Devonport Distillery, Southern Wild has moved about a bit over the years – and its shiny new venue is not even its final location! Devonport has been going through a bit of an identity crisis of late which has led to the creation of what is known as the ‘Living City’ project. In a nutshell, this venture aims to knock down chunks of an inefficient and spread out CBD and rebuild them with a focus on fresh local produce, performing arts spaces and, eventually, a foreshore precinct. The former will be housed in a glamourous farmers market known as Providore Place, with small pods for local producers such as Southern Wild Distillery to sell their wares. A brand new building will be created for the distilling as the current home is a converted loading bay at the back of the council building – however we must admit, for a loading bay it scrubs up rather nicely.

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Stills and suspended plants make for the best distilleries

The room is dominated by the shiny new still, while a gleaming bar is a hive of activity with recently hired bar staff making fancy cocktails. Overlooking the entire room is a mezzanine with space for a band to play – a highlight for George when he first sighted it, telling us his response was “you had me at mezzanine”. Behind the music/hangout area is what looks like a mad scientist’s laboratory, but in reality is the space where George creates and tinkers with his product.

While there are currently a few barrels maturing several intriguing varieties of what will one day be called whisky, George unfortunately doesn’t have any ready yet. Instead he is focusing on what is truly his pet project: his gin. Ever since we’ve known him, George has been raving about his passion for gin and now he’s created not one, but three, each uniquely Tasmanian. Named ‘Dasher & Fisher’ after the two rivers which flow into Devonport’s own waterway, the Mersey, he has created ‘Mountain’ gin, richly flavoured by Tasmanian pepperberries, ‘Meadow’ gin, containing a strong hint of lavender and ‘Ocean’ gin, intriguingly salty with notes of wakame seaweed. While Ted loved the London dry style of the Mountain, Nick was more into the coastal aromas of the Ocean.

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The Ocean gin, surrounded by its botanicals

While this is only the beginning for Southern Wild, it certainly has a bright future ahead of it. It will be fascinating to watch the evolution of the distillery as it transitions from its temporary residence to its permanent home and the inspiration that provides George in his creations. And of course, being Whisky Waffle, we are particularly looking forward to the moment when we can share a dram. From the sneak peak we’ve had though, we are confident that Southern Wild will be releasing whisky that truly speaks for the place it was made, just as its maker intended.

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The still-maker, the still-man, and two idiots who are still waffling

Great Outback Rare Old Australian Single Malt

Reviewed by: Mooresy

Great Outback Rare Old

This is weird story worthy of a waffle. Australian whisky has a generally agreed history, the modern chapter of which begins in the 1980s with the Lark family overturning a century and a half of legislative prohibition on distilling in Tasmania. This led to a resurgence of distillers and, as a very appropriate homage to whisky’s very beginnings, some people who had no doubt been fooling around as bootleggers went legitimate. The Great Outback Rare Old Australian Single Malt – a mouthful of descriptors, almost as if someone took all the best buzzwords that make whisky seem exclusive and put them all into the name – is a mystery in that history.

From what I can gather from my Poirot-esque deductions is that it was distilled somewhere between 1960 and 1985, that it is either from a now forgotten Tasmanian still (the bottle indicates it was produced at the Tasman Distillery, which no-one can find) or a Western Australian still pretending to be Tasmanian, and that it is pretty rare. Some rumours include that it is the reject stock of the closed Corio Distillery or that it is not Australian and was just labelled that way to hide an origin that would have been less palatable. It is a confirmed fact, however, that this single malt has a blended variety that can still be found so maybe these rumours of reject stock and foreign distillation are accurate for the blended version.

Something that is more than rumour is that this whisky is actually very good. With a label that looks like a knock-off product sold by some people who’ve refilled an empty bottle with some water and caramel colour, it is about as far from that as you can imagine. The colour is a nice pale gold suggesting there is a straight bourbon cask maturation and on the nose I think that is correct but there is also a vivid complexity I was not expecting. It’s fresh and grassy, with a little toffee and vanilla, but also a lovely tropical fruit and pineapple citrus alongside an orange smell that is actually reminiscent of Lark. Not only that, but there are some interesting botanicals with fresh thyme and something peppery thrown into the mix.

The other brilliant thing about it, which transfers over to the palate, is it is devoid of the ethanol kick that can permeate and drown out the subtleties. The relatively low alcohol content helps this, but it is also just a very clean and crisp spirit. There is certainly some tropical fruit – brilliant passion fruit – and the malty vanilla really comes out to balance against the toasted oak flavours. It is unsurprising that it is not peated, as this was presumably created before peat bogs were officially uncovered in Tasmania or peated barley was imported. Or before peat even existed anywhere in the world, who knows.

This is not a whisky for people who are looking for a heavy hitter, a peaty belter, or an oak punch. It is certainly not for anyone who wants to be able to sit down with book and look up the dram as they drink it. This one for those who like a crisp and complex confectioner’s creation with a side of Conan-Doyle intrigue to keep them guessing.

If you are the distiller of this fine drop, get in touch. Partly because there are several questions I have for you, but mainly because I am hoping you still have a few bottles of the stuff kicking around the attic you might be willing to offload.

★★★★

Storm in a Glencairn glass: Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2015

Posted by: Ted

The high priest of whisky tasting, Jim Murray, has just brought his newest amber gospel down from the mountain, Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2015. This year’s edition has created somewhat of a stir in the whisky world, as in a surprising turn of events there is nary a Scotch whisky to be found in Jim’s pick of the top five whiskies in the world!

Jim Murray: single handedly keeping Panama hat making companies in business since 2004

Jim Murray: single handedly keeping Panama hat companies in business since 2004

The number one spot in this edition goes to a Japanese whisky, The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013, a drop that has certainly proved popular since its release last year. Now that Jim has placed it on the top of the pile stocks will undoubtedly deplete faster than a packet of Tim Tams at a kids birthday party, so the discerning collector should act quickly to secure a bottle. Yamazaki is no stranger to high accolades, with the 18yo picking up a slew of gold medals at the prestigious San Francisco Spirits Competition in recent years and the 25yo placing first in the World Whisky Awards in 2012.

The winning whisky! Now being sold for extortionate prices everywhere!

The winning whisky! Now being sold for extortionate prices everywhere!

The number two and three rated whiskes come out of the Americas, with Jim selecting the William Larue Weller 2013 bourbon and the Sazerac Rye 18yo respectively. As with the Yamazaki, bottles of these are already quite hard to come by apparently, so you will be one of a lucky few if you do happen to locate them after this.

In the Scotch category the dram of the year goes to a blend, The Last Drop 1965, which as you can probably imagine based on the age is rather expensive. For the rest of us mere mortals the winners of the more reasonably priced sub-categories of blends, non-age statements, and ages up to 21 years included drops from well known distilleries such as Highland Park, Glen Grant, Glenmorangie, Ardbeg, anCnoc, Balvenie and Ballantines.

Something that is likely to bring a few pained tears to Scottish eyes is the fact that the winner of the Best European Whisky section was an English distiller! Yes, that’s right folks, The English Whisky Co.’s Chapter 14 Unpeated is rated by Jim as the current pinnacle of European whisky. This is a huge moment for English whisky and a turn of events that will likely have Scottish whisky boffins racing back to their drawing boards

In a category closer to home, the trans-Tasman war between the Aussies and the Kiwis will likely heat up, as a New Zealand drop has been named as the Southern Hemisphere Whisky of the Year: The New Zealand Willowbank 1988 25yo.  Fortunately for the Aussies, the Willowbank distillery in Dunedin closed down in 1997, meaning stocks of this champion dram will dwindle ever lower while the new Australian boom will continue to take the world by storm. In fact, Jim is rather fond of the whisky coming out of Australia and generally rates it quite highly .

The Whisky Bible is always worth a look if you want a great overview of the hundreds of whiskies available around the world, and can be ordered online at the official Whisky Bible website: here.

A full run down of the winners of each category can be found here.

Hellyers Road 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick and Ted

Hellyers Road 12 Year Old whisky waffle

Hobart vs Launceston. Cascade vs Boags. Mount Wellington vs Cradle Mountain. Gagebrook bogans vs Ravenswood bogans. Tasmania is often spoken about by locals as being a very parochial state. We have the North/South divide, with each half of the state engaged in a long running battle about who has the best stuff. In the new game of Tasmanian whisky, the cards are very much stacked on the side of the South, with eight of the nine distilleries in the state residing there.

However, the North cannot be swept off the board that easily, as it has a very impressive golden ace up its sleeve. Hellyers Road, located in the North-West city of Burnie, has officially launched its 12 Year Old whisky, making it the first distillery in Australia to release an expression of this age. In 2012 the company released a 10 Year Old single malt which showed promise of greatness, and now two years later that potential is being realised. Pleasingly the extra years spent sleeping in oak have helped smooth out the edges without compromising the creamy, buttery flavours unique to Hellyers Road.

Compared to the white wine colour palate of the Hellyers Road Original, the longer time in the barrels has imparted a rich golden hue to the 12. The nose opens with vanilla from the American bourbon oak, followed by the creamy nuttiness of macadamias, cashews and almonds. There are also elements of candied citrus peel and melted butter to be found. The overall effect is of vanilla cupcakes coated in orange and poppy seed icing.

On the palate the 12 is smoother and yet more complex than other Hellyers Road expressions, with delicate honeyed undertones that are reminiscent of the lightly burnt sugar on top of a crème brulee. Complementing the sweetness are subtle herbal notes and spice that bring to mind the leaves of the Tasmanian native pepper berry bush. The finish is light and imparts a soft warmth to the back of the throat.

When we asked Hellyers Road head distiller Mark Littler if the 12 was everything he intended it to be, his simple reply was that “it’s more”. Two years may not seem a long time to us, but to this whisky that short period is incredibly significant and adds a high class edge of silk into the mix. The 12 year old is the defining expression of Hellyers Road, and an exciting move forward for Tasmanian whisky. As Northern boys we’re proud to say that the golden ace has been played with style in our end of the state, and taken the game to a whole new level.

★★★★

 

Nant Port Wood 43%

Reviewed by: Nick

Nant Port Wood 43% whisky waffle

One day, Nant is going to take over the world.

It started out as a fairly innocuous venture. Queensland businessman buys small country estate in the tiny country town of Bothwell, Tasmania. But all is not what is seems.

Bothwell as a town is in fact a tribute to Scotland; it is built on the ‘Clyde’ River and, heart-warmingly, features tartan street signs. The Estate’s new owner is the business-savvy Keith Batt, and only ten years after purchasing the property, he has built a distillery, exponentially expanded its output, opened a successful chain of Whisky Bars around the world, and along the way, produced some truly wonderful whisky. This was never going to be a small-scale boutique distillery…

Fortunately for Nant, in this quest for success and recognition they have not compromised the quality of their product; instead producing batches of frequently excellent whisky. While they may not yet be a truly worldwide product, they can count among their fans one Jim Murray, author of the iconic (and egotistically titled) yearly publication: ‘The Whisky Bible’. Surely it is only a matter of time before Nant goes global.

Nant mature their whisky in various cask types, though there is something special about the ‘Port Wood 43%’ release. Lightly amber in colour, it is sweet on the nose with hints of raisins coated in white chocolate. It is gloriously rich on the palate, featuring cloves, nutmeg and other spices. It is still sweet, but also creamy, and has strong notes of citrus fruit; particularly oranges. The finish is warm, pleasant and creamy. The fruit cake characteristics remain, along with cherries and maple syrup. When you drink this whisky not only do you get flavours of Christmas pudding, but brandy butter, too.

While this whisky is complex and interesting, it is also smooth enough to be enjoyed by non-whisky drinkers. It is unique, memorable, and well worth seeking out.

Of course, it is also built upon the most successful business model seen within the Tasmanian Whisky industry. When trying a drop of Nant, you are not only drinking a whisky – you are drinking an empire.

★★★★