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Sawford Distillery: Welcome to the family

Posted by: Ted

“Sorry I’m a bit late!” exclaims Jane as she sweeps into Sawford Distillery, “The kids have just had their nap and are now at the park with my sister.”
“Everything revolves around nap time these days” laughs husband and head distiller Mark, chipping in on the conversation as he checks the stills.

Family is core to everything at Sawford Distillery, but that idea isn’t just limited to blood relatives. It also extends to the relationships and community that Mark and Jane Sawford want to create around their distillery.

Mark and Jane Sawford relaxing in front of their shiny stills

Jane herself is the scion of a famous Tasmanian whisky family. Most people would know her as Jane Overeem, the daughter of one of the founding fathers of the modern scene, Casey Overeem. During Whisky Waffle’s recent visit to Sawford, we are immediately struck by that rich sense of heritage and connection as soon as we enter the bond store.

Sporting something of a Cold War chic (one can imagine secret agents hurrying through, clutching top-secret counter-espionage dossiers), the bond store has an important place in Tasmanian whisky history: “This was originally Bill Lark’s back in the very early days,” Jane tells us, “But after he left, my dad was quick to snap it up. This room is where we used to bottle the Overeem. Mum used to do the bottling, Dad did the labelling and I did the packing. Then I had to take the boxes down to the local post office to send off. It was all part of building the Overeem brand!”

The old Overeem bottling bench. In a few years time it’ll be Sawford’s turn.

While the bench may still be covered in Overeem bottles, these days all the barrels in the next room are filled with Sawford spirit, meaning that one day in the near future it might be Jane’s kids helping to pack their own namesake whisky. That day is still a little way off though as, unlike a lot of Tassie distilleries, the Sawfords are taking the slow approach.

“This place is quite cool and has a very stable climate, allowing for a much longer, gentler maturation” comments Mark as he clambers up onto the top of the racks to thieve some whisky.
“Dad always said that he wanted his spirit to taste like whisky and not oak,” adds Jane, “And we’ve really taken that on board. That’s why we’re mostly using l00L-plus barrels and playing the long game to get the best out of the spirit.”

While we’re down in the bond store, Mark and Jane are kind enough to share some of the fruits of their labour with us (when in Rome, eh?). Mark taps barrel #002, a 100l port cask that’s been down for about 2.5yrs (#001 is off limits as it’s been “getting sampled a bit too often”) and it’s good. Like, really good. Unfortunately we get a bit distracted drinking the whisky and forget to write down any tasting notes, but I remember thinking at the time that if this stuff is cracking after only 2.5yrs, imagine what it’s going to be like on its release around 2022.

Back when Mark and Jane were first toying with the idea of starting their own distillery, there was some resistance from a surprising source, with Jane revealing “Dad strongly encouraged us to put up a solid business plan first, as it’s very expensive – and a long time before you see any return. But we worked through it all, and now he’s very supportive and excited for us!”

Mark has been grateful for the support and whisky making know-how of his father-in-law, having come into the Overeem family past-time as an outsider. “When Jane and I first got together Casey kept an eye on me, as prospective father-in-laws do. But we get along really well, we like to have a beer together. Casey mentored me when we started Sawford. He was there to help me in the first few months and then slowly stepped back as I started to get a good grip on things.”

Mark’s own background is in hospitality, with several properties in the Kingston Beach area, but these days he spends a lot of his time running the stills at his distillery. “The reason I can spend five days a week here at the same time as running three businesses is because I have a good team around me.” Putting in that effort means that Mark is currently able to coax around 40 000L of spirit a year out of the stills and after 2.5 years, already has a couple-of-hundred barrels down. “I don’t want to have the same problem as Casey did back in the day and be saying ‘I wish I put down more spirit down’.”

Back out on the distillery floor, the digs are modern and airy, sharing a wall with the White Label contract distillery, which Sawford helps source barrels for and for which Jane is the sales manager. Taking pride of place on the Sawford side are the Knapp Lewer-built 1800L wash still and 800L spirit still, inspired by the original Overeem stills. “We’re very sensory with our cuts,” comments Mark, “I’m always trying to improve instead of just going through the motions.”

Mark getting ‘sensory’ with the cuts

The stills themselves are brightly burnished, almost purple, and rippling with a rainbow sheen; keen Instagram followers will know that this gleam is the result of a ‘family still polishing day’ a few months ago. “We like to think that the way we present our stills and our distillery is a representation of who we are,” Mark tells us proudly as we gaze at our reflections.

Another representation of who Mark and Jane are is the large silver monogram adorning the back wall in the distillery. According to Jane, ‘S&O’ (Mark Sawford & Jane Overeem) stands as a symbol for “who we are as a couple – two families coming together to make something beautiful.”

Being based in the ‘romantic’ Huntingfield industrial estate means that Sawford is unlikely to pick up any location awards, but Mark isn’t fazed: “We didn’t want to go down the location bent, we want to celebrate the people instead. We wanted our brand to be real, not to pretend that we’re something that we’re not. What we really value is building relationships.”

Jane backs him up on that idea all the way: “Back in the day we had to go knocking on everyone’s doors to try to sell the Overeem and convince them to take a chance on Tassie whisky. We’re going to have to go through all that again with Sawford, not necessarily because people need convincing these days, but because we want to build that personal relationship up with all the bars and businesses and the community. Having those connections with people is something that is really important to us.”

“Oops, sorry guys, I’ve got to go, the kids need picking up!” exclaims Jane apologetically as she hurries out the door again. Our time is up as well as we have an appointment to keep on the other side of the wall, so we say our goodbyes to Mark and ride off into the sunset (aka, around the corner to White Label).

You know, despite their hectic lives, the Sawfords really do walk the talk and go out of their way to make you feel like part of the community that they’re trying to build. Which is lucky, because at a time when the Tassie whisky industry feels like it’s growing by the minute and the big sharks are starting to circle, hopefully it’s people like Mark and Jane who will ensure that we never lose that sense of family.

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.

★★★★

Overeem Red Wine Cask Matured

Reviewed by: Nick

Overeem Red WW

Just when you think you know someone… they go and do this!

I love Overeem. It’s one of my favourite Tassie drops and one I would recommend to anyone trying Tasmanian whisky for the first time (especially the cask strength port cask – phwoar!). The thing is you see, over the years (and multiple tastings) I had come to know what to expect from each Overeem release: a hit of spice and oranges followed by oozing caramel – basically, whisky deliciousness. So upon discovering barrel OHD100 – Old Hobart Distillery’s hundredth cask filled – was fully matured in red wine casks, I expected a grapey take on a familiar flavour. And I could not have been more wrong.

“What is going on here?” I do believe I remarked to m’colleague Ted as I brought this within range of my nostrils. It was a big meaty nose with strawberries and cherries taking centre stage alongside leafy, forresty notes. My best description is simply: intriguing.

And the palate? Well it’s definitely a wine cask. I’m up and down with such maturation and this bottle showcases the good with the bad. It brings to mind mulled wine with oodles of cinnamon and orange notes but competing for space in the mix are sour vinegary elements. And it’s dry – man it’s dry! Oaky oaky tannins leave you with the impression you’ve been sucking on the armrest of an old rocking chair. The finish is long and a little sweet with flavours of black current and aniseed.

This whisky is in no way rough – though at the same time it’s not easy to drink. Its time in a little red wine barrel has smoothed off the coarse edges and packed it with flavour, flavour and more flavour. While the flavours may not always go perfectly together – think of a meal of Atlantic salmon, marshmallows and vegemite – it’s a fascinating mix. This is a whisky that needs talking about as much as it needs drinking! And Whisky Waffle are only too happy to oblige…

★★★

Spirit Thief First Release French Oak Temperanillo Cask Batch 001 48.3%

Posted by: Ted

Name: Hector Musselwhite
Charges: False Pretence (6 Charges)
Sentence: 1 Month each charge

Hector Musselwhite

Hector Musselwhite’s charge sheet. Image courtesy of Spirit Thief

Only a century ago, Tasmania could be quite a hard place, especially if you were not well off. Many people turned to petty crime to earn a crust, but even minor misdemeanors were harshly dealt with. Just take our friend above; Mr Musselwhite dabbled in a spot of fraud, nuffin’ serious guvnor, and ended up cooling his heels for six months. Now, three modern-day Tasmanian thieves are busy spiriting away fine distilled malt liquor and transforming it into whisky in tribute to these men and women of old, who they consider to have been dealt a raw hand.

Spirit Thief is a new independent outfit, focused on sourcing the finest Tasmanian spirit and aging it in high quality barrels to create unique limited releases of superlative whisky. The team consists of Brett Steel (founder of Tasmanian Whisky Tours), Jarrod Brown (ex Lark, now assistant distiller at Belgrove) and Ian Reed (ex Sullivans Cove, Lark and now owner of Gold Bar, Hobart).

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The Spirit Thief crest contains a pair of crossed valinches, devices that are used for drawing whisky from a barrel. The alternative name for them is ‘spirit thief’

The Thieves recently came out of hiding to deliver their first release. When I caught up with Ian at Gold Bar to obtain a bottle for myself (totally legally may I add), I asked him what started them on their path of crime. “To be honest, we sat down one day and decided to make whisky. The difference this time was that we actually followed through.”

The team has selected wine casking as their chosen medium, with the barrels used for the first release sourced from Main & Cherry Vineyard in South Australia then re-coopered at SA Cooperage with a heavy char. Two cask types were selected, the first being Shiraz. The second cask type is of particular interest though: “We think that we possibly have the first single malt whisky fully aged in ex-Temperanillo casks in the world,” commented Ian conspiratorially. “We just wanted to do something different.”

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French Oak Temperanillo Cask (L) and American Oak Shiraz Cask (R). Image courtesy of Spirit Thief

The spirit for the first release was sourced from Redlands Distillery (now Old Kempton), but since then the boys have been working on putting their own mark on the new make. “We’ve been stealing time on people’s equipment to do our own runs. For example, we’ve recently been doing some stuff at Belgrove. It’s gypsy distillation.” Ian also said they’ve been experimenting with other elements of the process too: “We’ve been looking at different brews and playing around with things like different malts. We’ve already got some heavily peated stuff underway, so that’ll be pretty awesome.”

The Temperanillo Batch 001 started life as a 225L French oak barrique that was then cut down into three 20L casks and each filled with spirit. After about 2.5yrs the three casks were vatted together and then bottled at 48.3% abv.

Spirit Thief Temperanillo

Spirit Thief First Release French Oak Temperanillo Cask Batch 001 Bottle# 048

Coming from a cask that once contained a medium bodied red wine like Temperanillo, the colour of the whisky is a deep, rich amber. The scent is hot, oily and languid, like an old polished timber table in the sun. Notes of beeswax, caramel, dark honey, musk, pears, orange, chestnut, almond, nutmeg, rose, leather and hay play across the senses.

The mouth is dry and spicy with plenty of heat thanks to the decent alcohol percentage, while the mid-palate is oaky with an edge of walnut and a slight sharpness. The finish is long, with a twisted curl of bitter citrus closing out the experience.

Only 110 bottles of the Temperanillo Batch 001 were filled, so for most people the only option will be tracking down some in a bar (Gold Bar is a good place to start, hint hint), however Ian is hopeful this will work in their favour. “We’re super small, so unless people are talking about us everyone will forget us. Because we have such a limited release, having bottles out in bars means that plenty of people will have a chance to try our gear.”

Being one of the reprobates that actually managed to scam a whole bottle for himself, I can say with authority that this rare whisky is one well worth tracking down. If the Temperanillo Batch 001 is anything to go by, hopefully more Spirit Thieves are reformed in their oaken cells and released back into society very soon.

****

Head over to the official Spirit Thief site for more info: https://spiritthief.com.au/

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.” [Correction: the guy who sold the seats to the distillery has been in touch and they are definitely Ansett. He said he will be having stern words with Chris about listening to old blokes who walk in off the street]. 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… Plot twist! Turns out they are actually Ansett and the old bloke didn’t know what he was talking about!

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/

GlenDronach Peated

Reviewed by: Ted

Glendronach Peated

You know when you take one thing that is really good (like heavily sherried whisky) and combine it with another really good thing (like peated whisky) and the result is a winner? Well, strap yourselves in then, because you’re going to love The GlenDronach Peated Single Malt Whisky.

The GlenDronach distillery, nestled in the NE highlands of Scotland, is famous for its heavily sherried style of whisky, utilising Pedro Ximenez and Olorosso casks in all of its core range. These whiskies are rich, fruity and sumptuous, but one element they do not usually feature is smokiness.

This lack of smoke was not always the case though. Like many other old highland distilleries, The GlenDronach (founded 1826) originally used peat to dry its malt, however over the years the practise fell out of favour through a succession of owners and the rise of cheap coal. Indeed, the distillery was one of the last in Scotland to use coal power for its stills, right up until 2005 when it converted to steam.

Bucking the current The GlenDronach flavour profile and harking back to its roots is the Peated expression. Unusually for The GlenDronach, the Peated actually starts its life in ex-bourbon barrels before being transferred into the usual ex-PX and ex-Olorosso casks for finishing.

As such, while still being full of the warm, rounded, fruity characteristics usually associated with The GlenDronach, the Peated is perhaps a touch lighter in feel than usual. The nose evokes burnt marmalade, stone fruit, leather, almond and walnut. The smoke is soft, toasty and earthy, with none of the strong coastal elements that drive Ileach and Island peated whiskies.

The mouth presents a mixture of juicy sweet yellow and white stone fruits, honey, Turkish delight and toffee. The lighter flavours likely derive from the bourbon casking while the heavier ones draw from the sherry casking. The smoke lingers gently at the back of the throat on the finish.

The GlenDronach is an excellent example of how well peating can complement the rich flavours of sherried whiskies, particularly because the smokiness is well balanced in the dram. Peat-heads and sherry-bombers alike will find something to entertain and interest them and will likely keep being drawn back to sup from this particular fruit’n’smoke chalice time and time again.

★★★

Sheltering at Shene Estate

Posted by: Nick and Ted

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Seeing that Christmas is nearly upon us, we thought we’d begin this review with a Christmas cracker joke: 

Q. What do you get if you cross a keen back-shed distiller with a passionate architectural restorationist?

A. Shene Estate Distillery. (Come on, it’s at least as funny as any other Christmas cracker joke!)

Whisky maker Damian Mackey met heritage building conservationist David Kernke nearly ten years ago – Damian was looking for a location to make his eponymous whisky, while David was looking for something to diversify his new acquisition, the 19th century property Shene Estate. It must have been fate which brought these two together because, along with their respective families, they have created one of the most stunning distilleries in the Southern Hemisphere, if not the world.

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Boys with their toys: L-R David Kernke and Damian Mackey

While the main building at Shene Estate looks like a grand mansion, it turns out that it was actually only built to keep horses in, making it one of the more expensive stables ever erected. It was constructed by English lawyer Gamaliel Butler who, as well as having an excellent name, also had a shrewd business sense. He used his wealth and social standing to begin work on a lavish country estate, but died before the main house was constructed, leaving only some outbuildings, including a Georgian Regency era homestead that David and Anne reside in, and the stables – and even that lacked the top of its central turret. Going by the grandiosity of the stables, one can only speculate as to what the main mansion would have looked like if it were ever finished.

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Proof that that magnificent building is, indeed, a stables

Whisky Waffle was lucky enough to be invited to visit Shene Estate earlier this year and meet the friendly team, consisting of head-distiller Damian Mackey, his wife Madeleine and the Kernke family – David, his wife Anne and daughter Myfanwy. While the reception we received was warm, the weather certainly wasn’t and we were nearly blown off the face of the earth while walking between the stables, the beautiful old barn and the distillery.

Speaking of the distillery, it is housed in a new purpose-built timber-clad shed that was designed to perfectly blend in with the existing 19th century architecture. Despite a third of the room being taken up by a truly epic stack of ex-sherry barrels, we still managed to clap our eyes on some beautiful distilling gear. A run was on the go while we were there, with David manning the still, and it seemed as good a place as any to ride out the storm.

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The still is eager to fill up all those barrels in the background

What the wind couldn’t achieve, the whisky certainly could – upon trying a dram we were totally blown away. Technically, we can’t officially call it whisky yet; what we were lucky enough to sample came from the first ever barrel produced at Shene Estate and was only 18 months old. We are apparently among the first in the world to try the matured spirit, a great honour for two whisky nerds. While the whisky is not yet the finished product, it shows a lot of potential to become one of the greats within the Tassie scene.

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Barrel number 1. The first of many.

The whisky is to be released under the name Mackey and its point of difference stems from Damian’s Irish heritage in that it is triple distilled. This produces a lighter and more refined spirit, although one certainly not lacking in depth; the style may be Irish, but the character is all Tasmanian. The new make is then transferred into ex-port barrels and stored in the loft of the stables. The solitary barrel currently looks rather lonely up there, but rest assured there are many more on the way.

In fact, the Shene Estate team revealed to us that there are big plans afoot for the future of the distillery. Things have been moving at an unexpectedly rapid pace and Damian told us with a mixture of pride and horror that they have skipped straight from year one to year five on their five year plan. The most exciting consequence of the expansion is the addition of two new stills to create a set of three – one for each distillation.

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And this still will be the smallest of the three!

While the architecture was stunning and the whisky exciting, the real highlight of our visit was meeting the wonderful people who have dedicated countless hours to making a pipedream into a reality. From Damian’s distilling, to Anne’s delicious Poltergeist gin, to Myf’s community engagement, to David straightening each and every piece of gravel in the courtyard, the team has created a unique and fascinating distillery. And even after a long afternoon showing Wafflers around the estate, they still had the energy to deliver us back to our lodgings and deliver David his chicken sandwich to see him through to the end of the distillation run. It’s that level of hospitality that ensures Shene Estate will always have a special place in our hearts.

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Selfies at Shene

Shene Estate Distillery has a road-side stall set up at the estate every Sunday between 10 and 4 which is staffed by friendly family members. Like to see more? You can also book a tour here.

Rye Reflections: my visit to Belgrove

Posted by: Nick

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While casually scanning through the many varied barrels in the bond store end of Pete Bignell’s converted stables, I asked him what he thought his signature expression was. It was a tricky question – I mean, it must be hard to settle on just one drop in a place of such experimentation, innovation and creation. And he looked at me with a grin and told me that his signature expression was exactly that. Not a barrel type, or even a grain; but creativity. I guess when you think about it, what else could possibly link a champion sand sculptor with a leading whisky maker – but creativity?

As we continued to waltz through different age statements, grains, barrel types and peat levels (north-east peated malt: phwoar!) I realised that no two barrels were alike. Each one had its own history and its own story – and Pete knew ‘em all. It’s clear now that embracing the lack of uniformity and instead pursuing creativity is what Belgrove is all about.

Booker Noe’s Special Barrel Bourbon

Reviewed by: Ted

Booker Noe's

Ok people, tread carefully, we’re hunting a pretty dangerous lil’ beastie today and I wouldn’t like to see anyone lose a leg. It’s got a strong nose, a powerful kick and a bite worse than the biggest, meanest black bear you ever did see. What am I talking about? Why, Booker Noe’s Special Barrel Bourbon of course…. Look out! *crunch*

This big hitting bourbon takes it’s name from one of Kentucky’s most beloved sons, Booker Noe, grandson of the great Jim Beam himself. As master distiller at Jim Beam for many years, and a child of one of America’s greatest whiskey dynasties, Booker had an innate knowledge of the spirit he crafted. As a testament to his skill he selected barrels of special character to create an expression bearing his name and personal taste.

According to Booker’s note on the bottle label, his grandfather preferred his whiskey to be aged between 6-8yrs. My bottle, containing batch C04-A-28, hits that mark perfectly, being aged for 7yrs and 4months precisely. What really gives the Booker Noe its teeth is that fact that it’s bottled straight from the barrel. Therefore the bottle of dark, uncut Kentucky spirit sitting before me is a hefty 64.55% abv, or 129.1 proof in the American money.

I make no joke about the potency of this stuff, as it’s responsible for some of the few alcohol induced blank spots in my memory. Just to hammer the point home, our women folk are generally pretty indulgent and tolerant of our whisk(e)y drinking proclivities. Yet when the Booker comes out, or even if there’s vague hints of it, stern looks and muttering along the lines of ‘Oh God, you’re not drinking that stuff again are you? Remember what happened last time?’ occurs. Suffice to say, m’colleague and I have not been found in the best shape afterwards.

Yet, even after all that, there is something about the Booker Noe that keeps drawing us back. It’s the bold, gutsy, manly nature of it I think. Bourbon in the raw. The nose is solid, a big slab of dusty corn sweetness that drops down on you like a sack of, well, corn. Of course, because of the strength there’s an undertone of nail polish remover, but it blends well with the sweetness, only frying the occasional unsuspecting nose hair.

The taste is bold, taking a big, sharp, sweet, fruity swipe at your palate. The spirit fills the mouth, making your cheeks tingle and the blood rise. The finish is oaky and sour, and keeps you pinned down until it finishes punching you in the face.

Booker Noe’s Special Barrel bourbon is the American spirit at its brawniest. It’s creator was a larger-than-life figure and his bourbon certainly lives up to that legacy. Hunt the wild Kentucky beast if you dare, but be careful it doesn’t bite you too hard. But maybe it’s just like the note I stuck on the box says: “Because I like to live… dangerously.”

★★★

Limeburners Infinity Solera Cask

Reviewed by: Nick

Limeburners Infinity Solera

The thing about the Australian Whisky scene is that we are unquestionably small-fry. It is a quantifiable fact that we produce less whisky per annum than Glenfiddich sloshes from its barrels. Size, or rather lack thereof, is the overriding factor in most Aussie distilleries’ tendencies to release single barrel expressions – they simply don’t produce enough product to have an alternative. This is great if you happened to own an unopened bottle of HH525 Sullivans Cove in 2014. If you did, I hope your new private yacht is treating you well.

Single barrels are not as good however, when the aim of your whisky game is consistency of flavour. You know, that old chestnut of getting one bottle of your standard release to mildly resemble the taste of another one. The best way to achieve this is to blend (or more romantically, ‘marry’) a range of casks together – thus ironing out any ‘bumps’ in flavour. Even better still, is if you can use a Solera vat, which are only ever half empty (or full. Not sure which is the most optimistic phrasing in this case.)

With this groundbreaking new technology (invented c.1790), distilleries are suddenly able to better define their flavour and ensure that a bottle you buy this year is (pretty much) the same as the one you purchase at a later date.

One of the first distilleries in Australia to adopt the Solera technique is the wonderfully-named Great Southern Distilling Company based in Albany, Western Australia. They market their wares under the label ‘Limeburners’ and in their short history, have released some stellar drams.

While director/distiller Cameron Syme is a huge fan of the variety found in single barrel releases, he acknowledges the need for a consistent product and an entry level into the Limeburners range, resulting in the creation of the Limeburners Infinity. Cameron says that his distillery’s key commitment is “to make Australian whisky which can compete and hold its own at the highest international levels. Infinity is certainly capable of that.”

This particular release contains 8 year old whisky matured in several 500L South Australian port puncheons. The infinity name is appropriate, as the Solera system will always leave at least a teeny tiny fraction of these original whiskies in the mix.

Eager to support the distillery, I stumbled upon this bottle’s first release on Dan Murphys and promptly blew my savings for the week. So what exactly is the Infinity Solera Reserve like?

On the nose there are immediate traces of the port influence – ripe oranges dominate alongside zesty citrus and vanilla, bringing to mind cupcakes with lemon icing. The palate is complex – certainly not smooth, but well balanced with flavours of strawberry jam, honey and malt biscuits. In the finish I spotted hints of the bitter soapiness I sometimes detect in wine-matured whisky (yes, I know, this is port matured and therefore I sound crazy). However, this vague disagreeable note dissipates quickly and is replaced by an intriguing dryness which contrasts pleasantly with the initial flavours.

Usually I find it pretty counterintuitive adding water to my whisky, but in the case of this one, it takes on a whole new character with a splash of H20. Suddenly, large dollops of gooey caramel dominate the palate and the flavours morph from undeniably Australian to slightly Speysidey.

This whisky is a significant step for Australian whisky. Lack of consistency is one argument the Cynical Scot has always held over me in our heated whisky-fuelled debates about the validity of non-Scottish drams. It seems that, at least in Limeburners’ case, I will be able to return to the bottle shop in a year, in two years, or even in ten and get this same drop. Or alternatively, I could save my pennies and buy one of their delicious cask strengths…

★★★