Christmas

Heartwood: striving for consistency

Posted by: Nick

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Heartwood, Australia’s most famous independent bottler, is striving for consistency. However, with new-make spirit arriving from different distilleries, a varied range of barrel types and never-to-be-repeated combinations of spirits, how on earth can it be considered consistent? Simple. Heartwood is not striving for consistency of flavour – it is striving for consistency of quality.

Heartwood is the creation of the Tasmanian whisky industry’s very own mad scientist: Tim Duckett. Tim has produced his remarkable whisky alongside his day job as an environmental consultant, deciding to dip his toe into the infant Tasmanian whisky scene after meeting Bill Lark in the late nineties. He purchased his first barrel of Lark spirit in 1999, but cannily didn’t rush it out the door before it was ready. The first bottling, Mt Wellington, was released in 2012 and things escalated rather quickly from there.

While there are other independent bottlers in Australia, including TIB, Tim’s other project, there is nothing on earth quite like Heartwood. Regularly bottled at unheard of ABVs, some of which nudge the mid 70% range, each release is limited to several hundred bottles, meaning it sells like hotcakes and has developed somewhat of a cult following.

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We visited Tim at Heartwood’s Blackmans Bay bond store where he gave us a peek behind the curtain at the type of flavour profile he values: that which pleases the palate – specifically his palate. Tim seeks to create whiskies which are thick, flavourful and with a finish as long as any whisky on the planet. How does he do this? By pairing good quality spirit with good quality barrels.

It sounds simple, but it is actually far from it; consistently creating high quality whisky is not just the passive process of sticking spirit into barrels and waiting. Tim employs all manner of tricks to get the most out of his whisky, as we found out during our visit. These include intricate blending, either whole casks or simply a few litres here or there, deciding when the oak influence is done and decanting it into vats before beating it with a paddle to drive off volatiles, as well as moving spirit into a warm office to “syrup up”.

When we visited Heartwood HQ the north-facing wall had a number of nearly-ready casks sitting up against it, which Tim explained was the “finishing wall”. He also confessed that he refuses to reuse casks 100 litres or larger unless they have been repurposed with Heartwood witchcraft, and even then, he will only use peated spirit in them… and this is just the tip of the iceberg of strategies Tim uses to create some of the most impressive and sought-after whisky Tasmania has to offer.

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Of course, it helps when there is no agenda to meet; no shareholders to appease. Despite its fame, Heartwood is small-scale, a project born out of passion. Therefore, the whisky is released only when it’s truly ready and never to meet a specific profile or timeframe. Age is somewhat irrelevant in Tasmania anyway, with our varied weather conditions and small barrels. Tim claims that the age of 20 litre casks should be measured in seasons, not years, as the Australian summer will age a whisky faster than autumn, winter and spring combined.

During our visit we were lucky to try a few impressive Heartwood and TIB drams which were nearing completion, including spirit distilled at Redlands, Adams and a ‘Renowned New South Wales Distillery’. Most spectacularly, however, we were able to sample the first Heartwood/Belgrove collaboration (which at the date of publication has just been released – and sold out within hours). The ‘Heartgrove’ was a clash of the titans: a coming together of earthy, almost smoky rye notes with a thick fruit layer from the muscat and sherry casks it had been matured in. It was a wild beast, but Tim had tamed it, creating an intriguing rye that went down almost too easily for a 55% drop. If pressed we would have probably claimed it as our favourite, though it certainly faced some stiff competition.

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Fascinatingly, none of the drams we tried tasted the same; they weren’t even in the same ballpark. The only thing that linked them was the fact that each one was delicious. As Tim told us, Heartwood has never claimed to produce a consistent flavour profile. Instead he focuses on producing consistently great whisky – and so far he’s achieved it every time.

Heartwood is not only unique among Tasmanian whisky producers: there is nothing on the entire planet quite like it. By refusing to release anything below his expected standard, Tim has ensured a whisky-legacy that will live on even when the last of the Heartwood barrels is empty.

Starward Two Fold Double Grain Australian Whisky

Reviewed by: Ted

It used to be that if you wanted to buy an Australian whisky, your choice was pretty much from a never-ending cavalcade of single cask, single malt releases that cost more kidneys than you could really afford on a regular basis. To be honest, it’s still like that, but these days the scene is starting to get a lot more diverse as more players enter the game and start to experiment with different styles.

People are prepared to pay for quality of course, but on the whole, prices for the Aussie amber still remain prohibitively high for the general market who want a decent local dram that isn’t going to eviscerate their wallets. Starward Distillery in Melbourne is trying to change that with a zesty little number pitched squarely at the average punter.

A bottle of Starward Two Fold Double Grain Australian Whisky sitting in front of a Christmas tree

Starward’s Two Fold Australian Whisky has an interesting trick up it’s sleeve that helps them to keep the price point well below $100AUD, which is a rare for a local drop (it’s currently $65AUD on their website). As well as using the standard malted barley, Starward have added wheat into the mix, making a ‘double grain’ whisky that ‘marries two quintessentially Australian grains’ together.

This is quite a clever move for a number of reasons. For one, Australia grows a lot of wheat – around 18.5million tonnes in 2018-19 in fact (which is actually down from previous years). In comparison, barley only managed about half that amount in the same period.

In terms of spirit production costs, wheat makes a lot more sense. In comparison to barley, which has to go through the whole malting process and then get distilled in fairly inefficient pot-stills, wheat spririt is generally produced on giant industrial column stills that allow for continuous production. In fact, Manildra Group’s Shoalhaven plant in Nowra, where Starward sources its wheat spirit from, is the largest grain neutral spirit (GNS) distillery in the South East Asia region.

Flavour-wise though, that’s where things start to get a bit more competitive. Neutral spirits made from grains such as wheat are much lighter and take far less influence from the cask compared to the heavier, oilier pot still-made malts. Hence why they have traditionally been used as the ‘silent’ base for Scottish blends, with small amounts of single malts added in on top to provide the flavour.

Starward’s ‘thing’ has always been Australian wine cask maturation and the Two Fold is no exception to that rule, in this case doubling-down on it. According to Starward they use [sic] “Lightly charred or steamed barrels. Sourced from Australian wineries that make great shiraz, cabernets and pinot noirs. Often filled fresh when the barrel is still wet with wine.” Starward’s own malt spirit and the wheat spirit are aged separately before being blended at a ratio of about 2:3 before being bottled at 40%abv.

A bottle of Starward whisky wearing a christmas jumper and santa hat sitting on a red brick in a herb garden. Yes, that is a bit random I know

Getting into the Christmas spirit

Speaking of the bottle, Starward has always killed it with their label art and the Two Fold is no exception, with a gorgeous blue, black and gold label with an unusual shape that stands out from the pack. Colour-wise, there is no mistaking that the spirit has spent its life in ex-wine casks, sporting a ruddy copper hue.

Flavour-wise, the Two Fold is a certified drinker. The nose is creamy and fruit-driven, with peaches, red grapes and banana mixed with a generous hit of vanilla with chocolate/cereal notes that make me think of Weetbix slice. There’s also an interesting nutty, meaty quality that sits underneath.

The mouth is relatively spicy, thanks to the wheat, and dry from the wine. The body is light and creamy across the mid-palate with a relatively short, tannin-driven finish, although there’s enough linger to make you keep wanting to come back for another go.

David Vitale and the Starward team have really pulled it off with the Two Fold. Low price certainly doesn’t equal cheap whisky in this case. Even better, it comes in a 700ml bottle. I think that the Two Fold is an excellent dram for the Aussie summer – the wine-driven flavours would pair perfectly at a BBQ, it’s light enough in the heat and the price means that it’s ideal to casually share amongst friends. If you’re looking for a solid local dram this festive season, the Starward Two Fold is a no-brainer.

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PS. It’s nearly Christmas, so it’s about time for a dodgy cracker joke –

Q: What’s a grain spirit’s favourite Christmas carol
A: Silent Night

Whisky Waffle Summer Drams

Posted by: Ted

Summer Drams

December is upon us, which means that for Australians, summer is here. Long days, beautiful weather and BBQ’s with the fam… Although in reality, the whole of the mainland seems to be on fire at the moment, while down here in Tassie we’re still shivering miserably (and snow is forecast for next week!).

For Whisky Waffle, December means a couple of things. For one, we have to start racking our whisky-addled memories for some outstanding drams that we’ve tried over the past year to go into the upcoming Waffle Awards. The other thing is – it’s about bloody time we held another whisky event!

It’s been a little while since we’ve done one of our live gigs, in no small part due to some idiot breaking his leg! Anyway, we’re back on our full compliment of feet again and ready to get legless with the crew.

This time around our theme is Summer Drams and we have a cracking line-up of summertime whisky to share with you. Featuring six whiskies, including some curios from the motherland and a few home-grown heroes, as well as festive nibbles and our usual hi-jinks, the evening is set to be a (Christmas) cracker.

Big thanks as always to the crew at The Chapel for hosting (aka putting up with) us, and to Ariel, our artist, for the excellent poster art.

WHEN: Sunday 15th Dec @ 5:30pm
WHERE: The Chapel, Burnie
WHAT: Six whiskies + festive nibbles
RSVP: www.trybooking.com/BHCOI, or tickets at the venue

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 25: Iniquity Batch 11 46%

Posted by: Ted

On the twenty-fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Iniquity Batch 11 whisky. Christmas day is here and it’s back to South Australia for the final day of the advent calendar and another drop from Tin Shed Distilling Co.! Christmas is definitely the day for being a bit naughty and over-indulging in a few glasses of the good stuff and the Tin Shed team agree, saying that we all deserve ‘one of life’s wicked pleasures’.

The Iniquity is made with local grain and uses local peat and Mallee stumps for smoking, as well as tapping into South Australia’s experienced coopering industry to source high-grade barrels for their small-batch releases. Batch 11 was aged in American Oak ex-sherry casks and has quite a meaty, oaky nose, with leather, tobacco, walnut and ginger, while the mouth is dry and chewy, with candied citrus peel and a finish that is spicy and rubbery with a dash of hot metal at the end. The Iniquity Batch 11 is laid back and decadent and is going down well on this lazy Christmas afternoon.

#whitepossumspirits

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 18: Limeburners American Oak 43%

Posted by: Ted

On the eighteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Limeburners American Oak whisky. Western Australia is certainly getting good representation on the advent calendar, which suggests that a) they’re pretty passionate about whisky on the west coast and b) they’re perhaps producing more reasonably priced drams than some of their eastern cousins. Limeburners is back in the hot seat again, this time with their American Oak expression.

As the name suggests, the American Oak is aged in ex-bourbon barrels, bestowing it with a delicate, straw-like hue. The nose is light, sporting caramel, rose-water and fresh barley, with zesty overtones, while the mouth is crisp and chewy, with a dusty, grain-driven body and a hazelnut toffee finish. A light, breezy, acidic number that would go well with some locally caught fish.


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The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 14: Timboon Distillery Port Expression 41%

Posted by: Ted

On the fourteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Timboon Distillery Port Expression whisky. Cruise down the Great Ocean Road on Victoria’s south coast, head inland a bit and you’ll come across an old railway shed that’s home to an excellent little craft distillery. Founded by local lad Josh Walker, who m’colleague assures me is a top bloke, Timboon is actually only the latest (and most legal) distilling outfit in the region. Turns out that back in the day bootleggers and moonshiners used to haunt the bush around the town, which along with travels in Scotland and America, was part of the inspiration for Josh to start his own distillery.

You’ll be pleased to know that the modern Timboon whisky is made and aged rather more carefully than whatever rocket fuel they were cooking up in the bush. On the nose the Port Expression is rich and clean, with raisins, nectarines and dark chocolate, while the mouth has a smooth oakiness and a pleasantly spicey finish with a curl of orange. The Timboon Port Expression is a classic, easy drinking Aussie dram that would be at home in any company (such as the bbq that I’m currently at).


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The 25 days of Aussie Whisky – Day 13: The Grove Distillery American Style Spirit 40%

Posted by: Ted

On the thirteenth day of Christmas (yes, Whiskymas has more than twelve days) my true love gave to me… a glass of The Grove Distillery American Style Spirit (whiskey). It’s official, Western Australia has a weird penchant for American-style corn spirits, there having now been three versions in the advent calendar. I must admit, I’ve never actually heard of The Grove before, but apparently it started as a winery in the Margaret River region before branching out into spirit making. The American bent is not really surprising in this case as James Reed, one of the distillers, was born in Alaska and has worked in the Whiskey industry all over the USA before emigrating to Australia.

The American Style Spirit (there’s a few different versions, not actually sure which one this is) uses a mash bill of 70% corn, 20% rye and 10% barley and is aged in 50l virgin American white oak casks for 3yrs. The nose is rubbery and has a feeling of YoGo mixed with mashed banana, while underneath sits that sweet, rose-like smell that you get from bourbon. The mouth feel is soft and wobbly around the edges while the centre has that sharp caramelised timber flavour that comes from virgin oak. The finish provides red frogs and purple grape jelly lollies. It’s a pretty random one for sure, but to be honest, it’s also the closest I’ve felt to true bourbon so far.

#whitepossumspirits

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 12: Tasmanian Independent Bottlers TIB??005

Posted by: Ted

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Tasmanian Independent Bottlers TIB??005 whisky. Tim Duckett is a man who likes his whisky strong. Chances are that if you have been paying even the slightest attention to the Tassie whisky scene, you will have heard of his bonkers Heartwood label, which releases independently-aged whisky at an average ABV% of somewhere in the mid-sixties (the strongest was 72.5%!). Apart from being totally amazing, the Heartwoods also all cost an arm and a leg (and a liver), so to make things more accessible Mr Duckett created Tasmanian Independent Bottlers as the baby brother to Heartwood. TIBs are still independently aged, but ‘only’ range in the high 40’s-low 50’s percentage wise, so the price is much friendlier.

The spirit for TIB??005 was sourced from an undisclosed ‘Renowned NSW Distillery’ (hence the ‘??’ in the batch code. Potential contenders include Archie Rose, Blackgate and Corowa) and then aged in ex-sherry casks in Hobart. The nose is tremendously citrusy, almost gin-like in nature, with citronella/lemon myrtle, pepper-berry and coriander seed as botanicals. It’s lighter on the mouth than you would expect considering the 49.1% strength and has an odd earthy, ashy quality which make me suspect that some sort of peating has occured. The TIB??005 is a super quirky whisky and one that will give the experienced dramist an interesting conundrum to puzzle over.

#whitepossumspirits

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 11: Deviant Distillery Anthology Batch 12 44%

Posted by: Ted

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Deviant Distillery Anthology Batch 12 single-malt spirit (nope, not a whisky). The brain-child of Tasmanian industrial chemist John Hyslop, Deviant Distillery is a bit of a rebel outfit in the local industry. John’s philosophy is that traditional distilling and aging practices are unfriendly to both the environment and the pocket through wastage in resources and product. His solution was to develop a proprietary reactor technology that allows him to artificially age malt spirit in 10-weeks to develop, what he claims to be, the character of a 10yo whisky.

Needless to say, the use of rapid aging technology has not been without some controversy within the local establishment. In Australia spirit must be aged under oak for at least two years to legally be called whisky, which is why Deviant has been careful to use the term single-malt spirit and avoid any reference to whisky, however opinions have still been divided. Because the process is secret I have no idea what timber has been used for the Anthology Batch 12, but what I do know is that it has been heavily peated (at least by Australian standards), which certainly plays out on the nose, but then underneath sits a young, raw grassy and melony note. The mouth is similarly youthful, with a Lisbon lemon peel body and an ashy, graphitey finish, a profile m’colleague suggests is a bit like a dirty limoncello. Look, it’s not whisky and might not be to everyone’s taste, but it is definitely worth a try for something different.


#whitepossumspirit

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 10: Iniquity Batch 10 46%

Posted by: Ted

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Iniquity Batch 10 whisky. Iniquity (noun): immoral or grossly unfair behaviour. With a name like that you would expect it to be in federal politics, but instead makers Tin Shed Distillery claim that it’s because it is wickedly good. The double-headed bird logo has a rather Germanic feel to it, but in fact represents the piping shrike, which appears on the flag of Tin Shed’s home state of South Australia.

Like most Australian distilleries, Tin Shed only has enough spirit to bottle a relatively small quantity of spirit at a time, so their releases tend to sell out quickly. Iniquity Batch 10 was aged in American oak ex-port casks, which certainly explains the dark colour. The nose is rich and gingery, with melted brown sugar, vanilla and spice on the back, while the mouth is so thick and full it’s almost syrupy, with a flavour full of raisins, dates and prunes. The Inqiuity Batch 10 is a bloody good dram and would make a worthy companion to your pudding this Christmas.

#whitepossumspirits