Posted by: Nick and Ted
Neil Gray and Bob Connor are getting the band back together, but this time instead of sweet 70’s tunes their new gig is turning out some fine Tasmanian whisky. The two guys met in their youth in Launceston through a shared passion for playing the guitar and are now continuing their friendship into retirement by founding Sandy Gray Distillery, currently Tasmania’s smallest distillery (until their new still arrives part way through this year that is).
The distillery takes its name from Neil’s father, Alexander ‘Sandy’ Gray, a Scottish physician who emigrated with his family to Tasmania in the 60’s. It was actually Bob who suggested using the name as Sandy had played an instrumental part in saving his finger, which was injured during a guitar-carpentry incident. After being shrugged off by one doctor and told to come back in a week, Neil asked Sandy to take a look and Bob was immediately referred onto finger-saving surgery. The recovered use of his digit meant that Bob was able to finish making the guitar which, through further good fortune, will one day adorn the distillery wall (if Neil ever gets around to expanding the shed).
The goal of the two distillers is to make the best whisky that they can on their own terms. Neil and Bob are not driven by profit margins or shareholder demands, they’re just two mates messing about in a shed and taking as long as they damn well please to fill some barrels using their tiny still. It’s all about the joy of the act, rather than any delusions of world domination.
They’ve currently filled four 20L ex-tawny casks, which is quite an impressive feat considering the fact that they have hitherto been working on a teensy 25L still. The barrels are all at various stages of maturity, but the oldest tastes like it is nearly ready, offering a hot, rich, spicy profile at cask strength and developing further caramel and stewed fruit notes when a splash of water is added, with a cheeky dash of elderflower on the finish (or is that sour plums?). It’s an exciting drop and a testament to the care that the boys have taken in crafting their spirit.
The story of Sandy Gray is very Tasmanian, chance meetings and happenings bringing people together – Neil and Bob met at a gig and went from starting bands to starting distilleries, Neil’s dad saved Bob’s finger meaning that he was eventually able to continue building a guitar which was then given to a girlfriend. Years later the same guitar was amazingly rescued from a tip and returned across the state lines to Bob, and will eventually adorn the wall of the distillery. Even this article is the product of sheer random luck – 40 years after playing in a band with Bob, Neil found himself playing a gig with Whisky Waffle’s very own Nick (also, turns out he was at school with Nick’s mum). It’s a small world sometimes, which seems only appropriate for a small Tassie distillery.