Betta Milk

Hellyers Road Blind Tasting Challenge

Posted by: Nick and Ted

The Whisky Waffle boys are known to enjoy a glass of their local drop from time to time, although usually they know precisely what they are drinking! Hellyers Road create a range of different expressions that all have their own unique personalities that emerge from the overall Hellyers Road character. Nick and Ted are fairly confident at telling the drops apart when the bottles are sitting in front of them, but how well would they fare if this pretty big hint was removed?

Welcome to the Whisky Waffle Hellyers Road Blind Tasting Challenge (WWHRBTC)!

In the red corner: Nick ‘The Nose’ Turner and Ted ‘The Tongue’ Matthews, whisky critics of questionable renown.

In the blue corner:

– Hellyers Road Original

– Hellyers Road 10yo

– Hellyers Road 12yo

– Hellyers Road Pinot Noir Finish

– Hellyers Road Lightly Peated

– Hellyers Road Peated

The six drams were presented to us in a random order by the lovely Brea, numbered 1-6.

Hellyers Rd BTC Nick whisky waffle

Lets get ready to RUMBLE!!!

Round 1 – Colour

A quick eyeball revealed that while all were the expected amber colour (no greens or blues here), #1 and #5 were clearly darker than the others, while #4 was exceptionally light. Could #4 have the chardonnay tinted hue of the Original? Could the darkness of #1 or #5 suggest months spent in a Tamar Valley Pinot Noir barrel?

Round 2 – Smell

A prolonged nose indicated that while all smelled like whisky (no sneaky tea here), #3 packed a peaty punch. #1 and #2 both had classier bouquets, possibly hinting at more time spent in oak, whereas #4 had a rawer edge to it. Our suspicions narrowed. Hold on… was that a faint whiff of peat from #6?

Round 3 – Taste

Mmmmmm… whisky. A good start. Our peat detectors were turned up to ‘high’ for #6, and we were confident that we had a match, but they overloaded when we tasted the roar of smoke in #3. We decided that we had comfortably narrowed down the Lightly Peated and the Peated. #4 matched our previous assessment, with light herbal notes and something of a rough edge. We agreed that we had found the Original.

Here’s where the debate started. #1 and #2 were both exceptionally good, but each had their individual strengths and points of interest, causing much to-ing and fro-ing and scribbling outs. Eventually we made the decision that the full bodied character of #1 indicated the 10yo, whereas the the noticeable smoothness of #2 suggested the 12yo. The odd one out in flavour was #5, which seemed fitting for the drop that had the most unusual ageing process.

The verdict:

  1. 10yo
  2. 12yo
  3. Peated
  4. Original
  5. Pinot Noir Finish
  6. Lightly Peated

We invited Brea back to announce the results, and waited with bated breath as she revealed the true order. We were told straight away that we were correct with the Lightly Peated and the Peated, as with the Original and the Pinot Noir Finish. That just left the 10yo and the 12yo. Could we make it a clean sweep, validating hours spent waffling?

Nope.

Ahhhhh… so close, thwarted by a mere two years! We had stumbled at the last hurdle by mixing up the 10yo and the 12yo. In fairness to us, they were the hardest two to distinguish between. Our valiant attempt ended honourable defeat. So near, yet so far. Just wait though, in another three years they’ll bring out the 15yo!

If anyone finds themselves in Burnie and fancies a crack at beating our score, you can purchase the range of drams for an exceptional price. Just make sure you’re not driving. Let us know how you fare!

Hanging out at Hellyers Road: our trip to the North West Coast’s first distillery

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Waffling at the bond store whisky waffle

A bit of ‘bonding’ time for the Whisky Waffle boys

Hellyers Road is the ultimate modern distillery. You will find no creaky wooden washbacks or hand beaten copper stills here. It takes multiple glances to realise it is even a distillery at all. However, there is one tell-tale giveaway: the smell. As soon as the door separating the visitor centre and distillery is opened you are greeted with the unmistakable scent of the angel’s share escaping. There can be no doubt: whisky is made here.

Located in Burnie on the North West coast of Tasmania, the architecturally modern visitors’ centre is incongruously wedged between beautiful rural countryside and the looming industrial hulk of a dairy factory. You can guess which view Hellyers Road have made the most of, with large floor-to-ceiling windows looking out across the Emu Valley.

The good view whisky waffle

The better of the two view options

Our tour begins with a friendly introduction to the distillery by our guide Dianne, detailing the history of the establishment. Hellyers Road is owned by the Betta Milk Company next door and is the result of their desire to diversify their product range. Already possessing the production knowhow, they laid down their first barrel in 1999. Flash forward to today and the company proudly distributes to 26 countries, in particular supplying the major emerging market in Europe.

Ted checking out the milk factory... er I mean distillery whisky waffle

Ted checking out the milk factory… er… I mean distillery!

Hellyers Road have certainly used their knowledge of production lines to full effect, with the capacity to produce more whisky than any other Australian distillery. Indeed, their bottling machine, sourced from Italy, is capable of churning out up to 2000 bottles per hour. This is just one example of their ultra-modern approach to equipment. Elsewhere stainless steel takes the place of the traditional oak and copper, and the neck of the still follows an unusually horizontal angle. The entire distillation process can even be controlled remotely by head distiller Mark Littler, wherever in the world he happens to be.

The oddly shaped still neck whisky waffle

The oddly shaped still neck – Glenmorangie it is not

An excellent view of the bond store is provided by a balcony on the second floor, revealing hundreds of barrels quietly maturing thousands of litres of Hellyers Road whisky. Most are ex-American oak, although directly below our vantage point are a number of sherry butts, a recent addition to the Hellyers Road stable. We cannot wait to sample some of this whisky, though we are fully aware we may be waiting for some time!

Many barrels whisky waffle

We learned how to read the numbering system on the barrels – and instantly felt like we were part of a secret society!

Nestled on the second floor are two barrels that Hellyers Road are kind enough to allow their guests to sample a dram from. The varieties on offer are the Original and the Peated expressions, and as they come straight from the barrel they are of course at a powerful cask strength. Hellyers Road also offers those that do the tour the chance to fill their own bottle straight from the cask before sealing it with hot red wax. Both Wafflers will confess to each having a sealed bottle sitting at the back of their cabinets from an earlier visit.

Fill a cask whisky waffle

The dairy theme continues with a chance to milk a whisky cow!

We enjoyed sampling the Original cask strength expression, and after some prolonged prognostication can provide a panoptic portrayal of the product:

Hellyers Road Original 3219.03 Cask Strength 68.6%

Nose: fresh and caramelised apples, raisins, walnuts, orange and cherry ripe. Faint Hellyers Road buttery notes, but masked by spicy alcohol.

Mouth: Sour high strength alcohol notes, pan browned butter, oakiness and some slight briny seaside influences. Leaves the mouth quite dry.

Nick pondering the meaning of life over the cask strength whisky waffle

Nick enjoying the cask strength with all his friends

Hellyers Road is a thoroughly contemporary beast, combining state-of-the-art technology with ancient techniques to produce a whisky of the modern age. While the distillery itself may lack the rustic charm of the Old World, the friendly folk who inhabit it and the exceptional products they produce make it well worth your time to visit. As Jeff Kennett would say: “not bad for a bunch of dairy farmers!”

 

 

While at the distillery, the boys at whisky waffle also conducted a blind tasting of six different Hellyers Road expressions. Stay tuned to find out how they did!

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.

★★★★

 

An evening at Hellyers Road: 12 years in the making

Posted by: Nick and Ted

The Whisky Waffle boys watched with bated breath as Mark Littler, head distiller at Hellyers Road in Burnie, turned to the guest of honour. “What do you see in your glass?” He asked, offering a dram of Australia’s first 12 Year Old single malt.
“I see fluid!” came the rumbled reply.

When the guest of honour is Jeff Kennett, former premier of Victoria, recent president of Hawthorn Football Club, current chairman of beyondblue Australia, and whisky fanatic in general, you can be assured of an entertaining night of pithy banter, some of it directed at the crowd (we were dubbed the ‘Blue Ties’ for the striking colour of our neck adornments supporting beyondblue, as the charity was to be the beneficiary of the nights proceeds).

Mark Littler and Jeff Kennett investigating the "excellent leggings" in the glass

Mark Littler and Jeff Kennett investigating the “excellent leggings” in the glass

The Whisky Waffle boys were at Hellyers Road in an official capacity, though to be honest wild Celts could not have kept us from attending. On Tuesday the 28th of October 2014 we were both delighted and proud to have the opportunity to attend the official launch of the distillery’s new 12 Year Old single malt, a milestone achievement for Tasmanian whisky.

The night was hosted by Julian O’Brien, editor of local newspaper The Advocate, although he claimed not to be there as a reporter (Jeff: “But I’ve met journalists before.”). Guests were treated to a five course degustation menu pairing local produce with whisky (Hellyers Road of course!). We must admit to being slightly sceptical about the concept of deliberately pairing whisky with food (surely a good malt goes with anything!) but we were more than willing to be won over. Helping the meal to go down was the stunning view from the Hellyers Road visitors centre restaurant out across the Emu Valley.

First cab off the rank was Hellyers Road’s only previous age statement whisky, the 10 Year Old, a drop that Mark Littler referred to as “possibly Australia’s number one selling single malt”, and was matched with a delicate dish of natural Tasmanian oysters. On our first attempt at food and whisky pairing we decided that one did not overpower the other, and the saltiness in the oysters accentuated the sweetness in the whisky.

Course 1 whisky waffle

Tasmanian oysters usually come armed with a tiny fork. Naturally.

After the oyster course came the moment that we were all waiting for, the unveiling of the new 12 Year Old. Mark invited his guests to not just taste the whisky, but to ‘chew’ it, claiming they would find greater depths of flavour if they did so. “Are you with me?” he asked.
“Only out of sheer curiosity,” replied Jeff, who had joined him for the tasting.

We are delighted to say that we were very impressed by the excellent quality of the 12 Year Old. Ted thought he could detect a familiar flavour in the scent: “Macadamias?”
“Very astute,” returned Jeff “And most certainly wrong!”
The 12 was paired with a dish of Petuna hot-smoked ocean trout, the whisky’s natural oiliness working well with the fish.

Course 2 and Nick whisky waffle

Nick: a slightly fishy character

The next course was the Hellyers Road Pinot Noir Finish coupled with a sumptuous dish of duck, however our pairing notes were cut short at this point because the guest speaker began his formal address.

Course 3 whisky waffle

We took to this course like ducks to water

Jeff Kennett began by praising the quality of the Tasmanian whisky industry. He revealed that he had a long time association with Hellyers Road and was pleased they had done so well and come so far, admitting that it was “a hell of a risk for a bunch of dairy farmers to start up a distillery.”

He also regaled us with a number of humorous tales, telling us of his ‘Man Cave’ which contains a large proportion of his 700-odd strong collection of single malt whiskies. Julian then commented that the Whisky Waffle boys might like to pay a visit to the ‘Man Cave’ to sample the wares. “Not wearing those ties!” retorted Jeff.
“beyondblue!” we protested.
“Well in that case you’re definitely invited.” We are pleased to say there were over 50 others present to witness this offer.

Jeff says that beyondblue is by far the thing that he is most proud of and will always be, unless (as he claims) he lives to 150 and something else overtakes it. His one wish is to end discrimination, and if we can do this he feels that we’d be much happier as a society.

Having spent much time in Tasmania he is passionate about the future direction of the state. Julian asked “If you were Premier for the day, what would you do?”
“Well, to be honest it would only take half a day!”
On a more serious note Jeff feels that if the Tasmanian whisky industry is properly supported then it could become a major drawcard for the state, helping to provide much needed money and jobs and raise its global profile.

The fourth course of the night was a curious combination of King Island Dairy triple-cream blue brie with quince paste on honey spice bread. For this dish Hellyers Road brought out their whisky best suited to complement the rich flavours on offer, the excellent Port Cask. We were both very impressed by this single-barrel release, which combined the typical Hellyers Road buttery notes with rich winter fruit flavours.

Course 4 and Ted whisky waffle

Ted: a cheesy character

As we sipped our Hellyers Road whisky cream liqueur and nibbled on our final course: orange vodka fudge tartlets, we mused on our evening. The whisky was definitely a highlight, but perhaps even more so was meeting the people that made it, and the passion and delight they radiated when sharing their craft with others. We hope to continue this friendship, as we all share the same hopes for Tasmanian whisky, and are proud to have a local distillery producing drams of such quality.

course 5 whisky waffle

Cows with guns: at the end of the night, this stuff goes down dangerously smooth

At the end of the evening Mark Littler, and Hellyers Road visitor centre manager Sharon Deane, presented Jeff with a bottle of the 12 Year Old. “One to add to the collection Jeff?”
“Collection? No chance, I’ll have drunk it by the time I get home!”
You certainly couldn’t say fairer than that.

Hellyers Road Pinot Noir Finish

Reviewed by: Nick

Hellyers Road Pinot Finish whisky waffle

Tasmania is rapidly becoming known as the ‘Whisky Isle’ of Australia. Not only are distillers here in my home state creating award winning produce, they are also experimenting with new methods to create unique whisky. Hellyers Road Distillery is no exception to this, and perhaps their most interesting expression is their Pinot finish.

The Tasmanian wine industry is already thriving, with cool climate wines such as Pinot Noir being made exceptionally well, particularly in the Tamar Valley. It is from here that Hellyers road sources barrels to transfer previously bourbon-aged spirit into for the final six months of its maturation.

The difference this process makes is marked. One glance tells you that this is a very different whisky to the Original release. Its colour is no longer light and pale; instead it is enticingly golden. The nose is equally varied. There are still the typical buttery notes to be found, but now these are infused with fruits such as raisins and dates. The palate is rather light, but gone are some of the sharper, rougher flavours of the Original. Instead there are dry, almost sour notes, competing intriguingly with the more expected flavours of vanilla and toffee. The finish is spicy, the added kick from the alcohol percentage of 46.2% clearly apparent. Finally, you are left with the trademark Hellyers Road buttery notes that remind me of not so much a cake, but rather uncooked cake batter.

The Pinot Noir cask is a fascinating malt. Undoubtedly more interesting and complex than its cousin, the Original, it is also smoother and easier to drink. While not yet a perfect whisky, it certainly shows that experimentation has more than paid off for Mark Littler and Hellyers Road.

★★★

Hellyers Road Original

Reviewed by: Ted

Hellyers Road Original whisky waffle

We live in Burnie, a small town of around 20000 people on the North-West coast of Tasmania. A somewhat surprising, and pleasing, fact about our little town is that we have our own distillery: Hellyers Road.

Named after Henry Hellyer, one of the first Europeans to explore the NW coast, the distillery is slightly unusual in that it was purpose-built and is still wholly owned by the Betta Milk company located next door (best milk in the world!). The idea of dairy farmers setting up a whisky distillery is very NW Tasmanian. The distillery has certainly benefitted from the technical knowhow from the milk processing plant for setting up its own systems.

As the name suggests, the Hellyers Road Original was the first release from the company. A non-age statement release (Hellyers Road tells us that it is bottled between 7½ – 9 years age), the Original provided a platform for the distillery to build on while waiting for its whisky to come of age. The packaging and artwork is sensational, with a handmade look that is very much part of the ‘City of Makers’ arts-and-crafts vibe that exists in Burnie today.

Thanks to its relatively short time spent in American oak bourbon casks the Original is very light in colour, rather like the clear, crisp yellow of a white wine. The nose is all Hellyers Road, and is like nothing else around. You know it when you smell it. It oozes fat, creamy, buttery tones, very rich and comforting. Very befitting of a distillery that owes its existence to a milk factory.

The taste is where things get interesting for me. Unlike the warm, fuzzy nose, the palate is quite sharp and ‘green’ in flavour, with bitter herbal notes, and a not unpleasant hint of lightly burnt sugar underneath. The 46.2% strength that the Hellyers Road distillers have chosen to bottle at provides a nice sparkle across the tongue.

The Hellyers Road Original is a very curious whisky. Its disjunct nose and palate, and its somewhat sharp flavours suggest an unfinished, uncertain nature. But perhaps we can forgive it of this thanks to its young age and our knowledge that this is only the beginning, and that with time and maturity and experience a truly great whisky may emerge. This is no Scotch, but rather a creation of the new Tasmanian whisky landscape, one that speaks of the rolling green hills of Burnie and the enterprising people that abide there.

★★