Casey Overeem

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.

Tasmania and Whisky Waffle launch Tasmanian Whisky Week

Posted by: Nick

It seems we Wafflers are not the only ones who love Tasmanian Whisky! We reported recently that Whisky Live is coming to Tasmania for the first time. But, why stop there? The Tasmanian whisky community has decided to crash the party and create the inaugural Tasmanian Whisky Week.

TWW Logo

While we say ‘week’, it will in fact last for nine days between Friday July 22 and Sunday July 31 and will feature a number of industry events at Tasmanian distilleries, bars, restaurants – even barns! Throughout the week a number of distilleries will open their doors to host tours, rare whisky tastings, gourmet meals and more. You’d better hurry, though – tickets are selling fast!

Of course, Whisky Waffle will also be taking part in this week of festivities. Throughout the seven days leading up to Whisky Live we will be releasing a series of articles and reviews celebrating some of our favourite Tassie drops. Even if you are from another part of the world, log on to Whisky Waffle throughout the week to celebrate along with us.

Hellyers Road Whisky Waffle

Two Hellyers Road Whisky Walks for the price of one!

Among the many events taking place are exclusive tours of Lark, Overeem, Sullivans Cove and Hellyers Road, or a combination of the above, with Drink Tasmania.

For something more extravagant why not check out the whisky and cheese afternoon at Redlands, a whisky and food matching masterclass at Launceston Distillery, or the Shene Estate after dark tour.

Mackey Shene photo Paul County

Mackey AND Shene Estate! Wait… they’re the same thing? Picture courtesy of Paul County Photography

Perhaps you’re after something a little stronger, such as trying a range of amazing Heartwood products – or maybe you’d like to try some boilermakers with Belgrove’s Pete Bignell and his son, brewer Tom Bignell. Nant are not missing out either, hosting a meet-the-distiller two course lunch.

For those looking for something even more special, there is the Founders Dinner, a three course meal complete with rare Tasmanian whiskies and four of the most important men in the business: Bill Lark, Casey Overeem, Patrick Maguire (Sullivans Cove) and Mark Littler (Hellyers Road). If you have a little more time and money, there is the option of a two day jaunt around the Tasmanian highlands, visiting multiple distilleries and the very location of Bill Lark’s epiphany.

Drink Tas tour

Brett Steel, Pete Bignell and some happy whisky drinkers on a Drinks Tas tour

Finally, there is Whisky Live, the catalyst of the week and a compulsory visit for fans of Tasmanian and Scottish whisky alike.

It’s going to be a huge week. Our only regret is not being able to attend each and every event. One thing is for sure however – when it comes to Tasmanian whisky, there is a lot worth celebrating!

Wafflers and Brett

Cheers Brett! Tas Whisky Week. Let’s do this!

Overeem Port Cask Matured

Barrel Number: OHD-067

Reviewed by: Nick

Overeem Port Cask

Whiskies so often seem to reflect their creator. Bruichladdich whiskies display the passion and local ethos displayed by Jim McEwan. Variously finished Glenmorangie drams showcase that experimentation possessed by scientist Dr Bill Lumsden. Whiskies made at the Old Hobart Distillery, much like their creator, Casey Overeem, have true character. And much like Casey, this character is very likeable.

Old Hobart Distillery releases their whisky under the label ‘Overeem’ and is part of a growing collective of whisky makers from southern Tasmania consistently churning out a high standard of products. Overeem, like Lark and Sullivan’s Cove, use French Oak ex-port barrels cut down to 100 litres to mature a percentage of their whisky. The flavours created by this process, similarly to its contemporaries, are equally extraordinary. But there’s something a little extra special about the Overeem. It has an element of ‘handmade’ about it, something that suggests this whisky is crafted instead of distilled.

The nose is light but enticing. There are notes of berries and stewed apricots alongside faint traces of ginger and fennel. There are also some gloriously Tasmanian woody notes which call to mind a home-workshop stocked with Huon Pine.

The palate is richly flavoursome and offers many layers to discover. It is initially sweet and spicy, offering fizzy orange sherbet notes with a dash of pepper preventing it from becoming too sweet. There is also a degree of citrus and maltiness, combining to give the impression of a freshly baked sponge cake with lemon curd. The finish is lengthy and contains faint raisiny and caramel notes: finally, the much-vaunted fruitcake has made a subtle appearance!

This is a fantastic example of a Tasmanian Whisky in more ways than just flavour. It is the perfect illustration of a micro-distillery whose focus is on creating a well-crafted product. This is not done simply as a business venture, but instead as a way for one man to create the spirit that he loves. And Casey Overeem’s intent is certainly apparent when drinking the whisky which bears his name.

★★★★

Overeem Sherry Cask Matured

Barrel Number: OHD-067

Reviewed by: Ted

Overeem Sherry Cask whisky waffle

Norway. Not the first place you might guess for providing the spiritual origins of a whisky hand-crafted in southern Tasmania. Yet it was in the home of the Vikings that inspiration first struck the hero of this tale. Casey Overeem was introduced to the art of distilling in the early 1980’s while visiting relatives in Norway who happened to have a still in their cellar. Impressed by what he saw, Casey was driven to experiment back in Tasmania over the following years, culminating in the founding of Old Hobart Distillery in 2005.

Casey’s main partner in crime at Old Hobart Distillery is his daughter Jane, who has become a well-known face in the Tasmanian whisky scene and an inspirational figure for women in a largely male dominated industry. Together with their crew they fuse fine Tasmanian ingredients together with their passion for the art to create the eponymous Overeem whisky.

Old Hobart Distillery cuts down its barrels (in this case French oak sherry barrels) to create quarter casks, which allows their spirit to develop far more character over a short timeframe. Once the distillers are satisfied with the level of maturation (min. four years) single barrels are selected for bottling, meaning that each release is unique.

The Overeem Sherry Cask sampled for this review comes from barrel OHD-067. The view in the beautifully shaped bottle is pleasing, with the 43% spirit glowing a bright syrupy ginger in colour. The nose is rich and relatively intense, oozing with delicious sun dried raisins, vanilla, mixed peel and candied ginger. The tastebuds are engaged by a sensation of mulled wine, like hot oranges and shiraz, followed by a faint tang of bitterness and burnt sugar. The spirit is dry and very smooth, and the flavours are level and constant throughout the experience.

The Overeem Sherry Cask is a triumph of the exciting new whiskies making their way out of Tasmania, one that is well worth jumping into your longship and questing across the windswept oceans to find. Come to think of it, Casey Overeem’s own journeys in Norway seem to have added a certain something to his dram, as it is no great stretch to imagine mighty Viking warriors feasting in their long halls and supping on rich, warming Overeem to keep away the chill of a cold northern winter. Skål!

★★★