business

Troubling revelations emerge about embattled Tasmanian distiller Nant

Posted by: Ted

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Things just got a little bit crazy in the Tasmanian distilling scene, with a new twist emerging in the furore surrounding embattled distillery Nant. Once a force to be reckoned with in the nascent Tassie whisky industry, the bottom appeared to fall out of the boat last year when Nant founder Keith Batt filed for bankruptcy and the distillery was taken on by Australian Whisky Holdings. At that time AWH promised that it would conduct a full audit and investigation of Nant’s finances and stock.

Now according to a bombshell article released today by national broadcaster ABC News, it is alleged that the audit has revealed that over 700 barrels purchased by investors were never actually filled. As part of its start up business model, Nant ran a barrel buy-back scheme where investors could purchase a number of barrels, with guaranteed yearly return of around 9%. After a period of around four years when the whisky had matured, Nant would buy back the barrels for bottling and sale. Happy days, drams all round.

However, in the period leading up to the crash there were worrying rumours going around about investors having trouble accessing the barrels that they had purchased or selling them back to the distillery. Once Nant passed into the hands of AWH, many investors were left unsure whether they would get anything back at all.

Now according to the ABC News article, while AWH have said that while many people will still get paid out, the owners of the non-existent barrels will have to take up the issue with Nant.

The tale gets ever twistier too, as apparently a large number of barrels have already been decanted and sold without the knowledge and remuneration of investors. Troublingly, many were also found to have their owner names and numbers sanded off. Weirdly, a significant number of barrels were found to be filled with new-make at an ABV of only 45%, well below the usual cask strength.

Where to from here remains to be seen, but hopefully investors left in the lurch will be able to find some sort of resolution to their plight. While this event may cause some concern for onlookers, they should rest assured that the Tasmanian whisky community as a whole is resilient and continues to be committed to crafting the highest quality, locally produced spirits.

The only question that remains at this time is whether to crack that unopened bottle of Nant still hiding on the shelf.

Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

bunna-18

I would like to start out by saying that I am a big fan of Bunnahabhain (so this review is not going to be biased in the slightest). Yes, we all know that Islay is famous for its heavily peated drams, but I have a definite soft spot for this gentle islander.

I’ve actually been to the distillery, a few miles up the coast from Port Askaig, but to my eternal discontent I haven’t actually done the tour as we were pressed for time and had several other tours booked that day. The buildings may look rather grey and foreboding, but the people are so friendly and warm. Please pop by and say hello to them if you get a chance.

I really got a taste for Bunna on the ferry on the way over to Islay because it was the dram of the month and they were pouring doubles. Standing on deck in the blasting wind and watching the islands of Islay and Jura hove into view with a warming glass of Bunnahabhain in hand definitely leaves a lasting impression on a lad.

While I may have cut my teeth on the Bunna 12 Year Old, I recently acquired a bottle of the 18 Year Old and tell you what, it’s pretty exceptional. Bunnahabhain dials back the peat hit in favour of softer, earthier flavours. The nose is rather like tramping around the rolling interior of the island, bringing forth moss, springy peat-laden soil, wind-twisted woods and the occasional gust of salty sea breeze (plus the colour is like the dark waters of the lochs that stud the landscape).

Other flavours floating through the air include roasted chestnuts, dark chocolate, spit roasted lamb with salt and rosemary, stewed quinces and brandy-soaked raisins (sherry casking par excellence).

The mouth is quite salty, but strikes an elegant balance, like a high quality piece of salted caramel served with delicate slices of pear poached in butter and sprinkled with brown sugar. The finish is rounded, warm and comforting, like curling up on a squishy couch in front of a glowing fire on a cold night.

While I rather enjoy getting smacked in the face with a massive slab of Ileach peat, there’s something about the softer side of Islay that keeps drawing me back again and again. One day I will return to Bunnahabhain and explore it properly, but until then I will sit back with a glass of the 18 Year Old, close my eyes and be transported back to one of the most magical places in the world.

★★★★

#IslayWeek

#LetsGetPeaty

Trouble at Old Mill: Tasmanian distillery rocked by bankruptcy

Posted by: Nick

Angels Share Trip (6)

Over the duration of co-running this blog, I have waffled at length about the friendly and supportive whisky community in my home state of Tasmania. Well, forget all that – because a Tasmanian distillery is in trouble and no one seems to care.

It was recently revealed that the founder, figurehead and all-round head honcho of Nant Distillery, Keith Batt, has filed for bankruptcy. Batt, a Queensland businessman, built Nant distillery up from nothing, restoring the old water mill and establishing Nant whisky bars across the globe; not to mention claiming several liquid gold prizes along the way for his wares. He’s done amazing things for Tasmanian whisky – so why are people not more concerned for his distillery?

I’ll admit that I am exaggerating a touch in saying that no one cares – I for one certainly care. Over the years I’ve experienced many pleasant evenings sampling drams at the Nant Whisky Bar in Hobart, enhanced immeasurably by their wonderful staff members who are always happy to indulge my whisky curiosity. I have visited the picturesque distillery in Bothwell and enjoyed wandering their grounds on a near perfect summers day. I own a bottle of their port matured single malt and will be sad when the last drop disappears. I will forever stand by the product and the staff. But Nant Distillery itself is a hard one to like.

I love being part of this little whisky business here in Tassie so much so that I sometimes forget that it is exactly that – a business. Nant’s management have not lost sight of this. Keith Batt has not set out to make friends, but to create a whisky empire bent on global domination. Taking part in local Tasmanian tasting events is not part of this vision. Nor is pooling resources and sharing promotion. Other distilleries are not co-creators, but competitors. This outlook is both business savvy and totally opposite to the remainder of Tasmania’s close-knit distilling community. I agree with Batt’s motives, but not his means.

Nant by Whisky Waffle

Say what you will about the man – but he sure builds a pretty distillery

So how exactly will Keith Batt’s bankruptcy affect the distillery? According to the man himself, not at all. Batt is understandably keen to calm the waters, pointing out to The Mercury in Hobart last week that as of August last year he is “not a director, a shareholder or a beneficiary of that trust”. This role was recently (and conveniently) reappointed to his wife, Margaret Letizia. And yes, it does all sound rather dodgy, although it can be said that his financial problems were not in fact due to distillery-related debts, but issues for his property development business which is still experiencing a hangover from the global financial crisis of six years ago.

There are a number of people waiting with baited breath for the smoke to clear over Batt’s financial problems. For a start there are the thousands of investors who have pledged over 18 million dollars into barrels of whisky that they may never see. I caught up with one such investor who told me:

“As a whisky barrel owner, you start to wonder how much substance is contained within the creamy embossed paper of the share certificates. I don’t own the barrels, only what is in them and should the business go under I don’t know what I’m going to do with four hundred and fifty litres of half finished whisky or even how I’d get it home. Can you just turn up with a boot load of jerry cans? Guaranteed buy back? Nothing is guaranteed.”

While most seek only to see their money returned, others have attempted to claim their barrel with little success. However, for a man so protective of his brand, I can understand his hesitancy in seeing his product in other bottlers’ hands. Referring to them as “inferior brands” however is an unkind assumption and further evidence of why he is far from popular among the Tasmanian distillers community.

Chilling at Nant

Photographic evidence of a great afternoon at Nant. Yep, isn’t my beard awesome.

It’s hard to fully sympathise with the struggling Keith Batt and his business-first methodology. However, I prefer to make my best effort to differentiate the distillery from its management. For the sake of their investors, their staff and heck, let’s not forget their high-quality whisky, I hope that Nant Distillery is not adversely affected by their founder’s financial predicament.

Whisky Business: a perfect pair…ing night

Posted by: Nick

It must be the time of year. My usual whisky-dominated musings are competing for attention with another glorious consumable: chocolate.

Whisky Easter

Imagine my delight when I discovered that the upcoming Whisky Business night was going to pair these very ingredients: a quest to find the finest whisky and chocolate combination on the planet! I quickly decided that I was up to this challenge.

Of course, if you find yourself in Hobart on Tuesday the 7th of April then you too can take on this most scientific of missions! Just get yourself along to the Lark cellar door at 7pm with $30 to cover (at least) five different drams throughout the evening. Also, if you are prepared to bring along some of your Easter stash to share around as part of the pairing-quest, please do. It’s all in the name of science, you understand.

Until then, have a great Easter and keep on waffling, even with mouthfuls of chocolate!