Derwent Valley

7K Distillery: Thinking outside (and in) the box

Posted by: Ted

I have a bit of a weird confession to make: I have a thing for shipping containers. Having worked for nearly a decade in an industry where I have spent a lot of time around (and in) these standardised marvels of modern global transport, I rather enjoy seeing all the different colours, company logos and algorithmically-derived alpha-numeric serial numbers. So what’s this got to do with whisky? Well…

A geometric flower shape that is the logo of 7K Distillery

Traditional distillery design tends to veer along stone-and-timber lines, usually with a lick of white lime wash for good measure if you’re in Scotland. In Tasmania things tend to be split between restored heritage buildings, à la Scotland, or modern pre-fab steel sheds, which are easy to erect, relatively cheap to build and a breeze fit a still into. Tyler Clark of 7K Distillery had other ideas though and decided to go down a rather more… modular, route.

7K Distillery is perched half-way up a hill on the outskirts of Brighton, north of Hobart. One of the first things you notice as you head up the gravel driveway and past the brick farmhouse is that it has an absolutely epic view across the Derwent Valley to kunanyi/Mt Wellington. Behind the house sits a cluster of three shipping containers, a 20ft and a couple of 40ft units, which isn’t that unusual for a paddock in Tassie. What is unusual is that fact that an entire distillery is hidden inside.

A cluster of white modified shipping containers that house 7K Distillery. The containers sit on a hill overlooking the Derwent Valley north of Hobart. Mt Wellington/kunanyi is visible in the background. There is a bright blue sky with whispy white clouds. A tall rusty fire pot sits near the containers

Amazing what you can fit in a shipping container

“The property, Lodge Hill, is my Nan’s,” Tyler revealed to Whisky Waffle when we dropped by for a visit in late 2019. “I’d been over to the States and had a look around what was going on over there, and decided that I wanted to start my own distillery. It can be hard when you’re in your 20’s, with the start-up costs and finding a space, but I thought to myself ‘If I don’t do this shit when I’m young I’ll probably never do it'”.

Luckily Tyler was a man with a plan: “I’ve always liked the idea of building with shipping containers. My original concept was that I’d be able to move them to a new site a few years down the track if I decided to expand. At first I thought I might have some trouble with the ATO… you know, some dodgy guy distilling out of a shipping container, but they were fine with it. I suppose as long as they get their excise, they’re happy.”

A laboratory style bench inside the shipping container that houses 7K Distillery. Clusters over brightly coloured Aqua Vitae gin bottles sit on the bench and shelving above. Dead tree branches covered in moss are artfully arranged to hang over the bench

It looks like a wizard’s laboratory

The problem of what to put the distillery in had been solved, but Tyler still needed somewhere to plonk his containers down: “One of the biggest challenges was finding a site. I eventually I thought of asking my Nan if I could put them out the back of her place at Lodge Hill and thankfully she was really cool with it.” Tyler paused, glanced over to the house and then laughed ruefully, “The only downside is that she can’t have a shower or bake a cake while I’m running the still because it takes up all the power. Sorry Nan!”

Speaking of the still, the shape is rather different to your ‘standard’ Tassie ‘Knapp Lewer-style’ unit, having been entirely designed and built by Tyler himself (“with a bit of help”). A sparky by trade and handy on the tools, Tyler was able to put his skills to good use throughout the project: “Half of my interest was building the still in the first place. I wanted to design something that I could do multiple things in.”

A copper still with black cladding sits next to a stainless steel gin column inside a shipping container

The cylindrical copper pot, about the height of a person and mostly clad in black insulation, is topped by an elegant tear drop-shaped onion and a very neutral lyne-arm. Taken in concert, you can tell the 1100L 7K still is designed to generate a lot of reflux. “I just wanted to make a lighter style of spirit,” was Tyler’s simple response when we grilled him about his design choices.

Connected to the still via a series of bypass valves is a stainless-steel vapour chamber used for infusing botanicals for Tyler’s ‘Aqua Vitae’ gin range. “I still do the juniper in the main pot, but it’s a pain in the arse to clean out again so I’m going to get the little stainless-steel keg-still, which I built as a test back when I first started, up and running again to do that separately.”

A small stainless steel still built out of a beer keg

The keg still is ready to kick juniper arse

Delicious as the gin is (the ‘Tasmanian Raspberry Gin’ is sticky-pink goodness and the ‘Winter Edition Carolina Reaper’ chilli-infused gin will put hairs on your chest (if you can find a bottle)), we ain’t called Gin Jargon, so we were keen to check out progress on the amber stuff.

The first batch of single malt spirit was laid down in November 2017, meaning that by the time you read this it will officially be able to be called whisky. The wash is produced further down the river at Last Rites Brewery in Cambridge. In terms of barreling, Tyler has used a variety of casks, including bourbon, sherry and pinot, sourced from various Tassie cooperages.

Tyler Clark of 7K Distillerty poses next to the still that he built

Tyler Clark and his copper creation

An ex-sherry number that we got to have a cheeky nibble at was delicate and creamy, with a splash of vanilla on the nose, while the mouth was light and dry with a hint of citrus. All in all, a very promising start. (There was also a very unusual ‘smoked’ spirit in a virgin oak cask that might be a story for another day…).

While the Aqua Vitae gin range has a botanical watercolour aesthetic, Tyler wants to go down a different route for the whisky: “The demographic who are buying the gin, which to be honest is mostly women of a certain age, are going to be completely different to the people who will buy the whisky. I feel like I want to make a statement with the bottle, something that speaks really about quality, rather than just having the same old cheap 500ml glass bottle as everyone else, which is why I’m leaning towards ceramics at the moment.” (Watch this space…)

An idyllic view over the Derwent Valley near Brighton. A large gum tree is in the foreground. Paddocks and low hills covered in trees extend into the distance

The view from Lodge Hill over the Derwent Valley

There is no official name for the whisky yet, but according to Tyler “The name of the distillery itself, 7K, refers to the postcode of the region and connects it to that sense of place, where I live. When it comes to the whisky I want it to have that same sort of feeling, something that has meaning to me.”

The tour eventually came to an end as Tyler was heading up the bush to be manly and cut up some trees. As we trundled down the drive to set out on our long journey home, I glanced back at the neat white containers (they used to be painted bright orange, which I rather liked as they gave me Hapag-Lloyd vibes. Yes, I’m sad, I know), I reflected on the fact that they are something of a symbol for the young, adaptable industry that is growing up in Tasmania, largely unshackled from the weight of tradition in the old country.

Three men standing in front of a whisky still. Two of them are Nick and Ted, world famous whisky writers from the blog Whisky Waffle. The other man is Tyler Clark, the owner of 7K Distillery

The future of 7K distillery is looking bright (particularly if the container colours keep changing) and to quote Tyler himself: “I think it’s going to be exciting.”

Tasmanian Whisky Tours: a story worth telling

Posted by: Nick

Before there were convicts there was whisky.

But before there was Tasmanian Whisky Tours, there was a distinct lack of access to Tasmanian whisky distilleries.

Enter Brett Steel, a man with a vision. He realised that Tasmania was entering a “golden age” of whisky creation and wanted to give the public a chance to travel to these distilleries, meet the people that make the whisky and hear their stories. Thus Tasmanian Whisky Tours was born.

I caught up with Brett to find out a bit more about the tours.

WW1 TWT Brett

“From my first visit to Tasmania in 2008 I fell in love with the place”

Brett grew up, not among whisky makers, but instead with a strong wine background. This is hardly surprising, as he lived near the great wine region of McLaren Vale. He moved from South Australia to Hobart in 2011 with intentions of starting up a bar selling Tasmanian whisky, assuming that once he was in the state there would be easy access to the distilleries making the product he intended to sell. However, he quickly found this was not the case.

As more distilleries opened up, Tasmania rapidly became a join the dots puzzle. The state suddenly had a whisky trail! And Brett? Well he had a car! He realised that no one in their right mind wanted to drive themselves to distilleries and now there was a real touring opportunity. So Brett took the plunge and decided to become… a professional designated driver!

There is, of course, more to it than that. Brett is a man after our own hearts. He is a waffler. As well as tasting the flavours of the drink, he was passionate about hearing the tales told by the people behind the whisky.

WW2 TWT at Redlands

“I wanted this to be about storytelling, as much as whisky”

Brett’s aim for the tours is not so much to give an educational and scientific description of how whisky is made. Instead he is more interested engaging with the people who make the product and hearing about the struggles and adventures they have had along the way. After all, the whisky-makers are just ordinary people doing something they love and they certainly have a tale or two to tell. Brett believes that whisky and story-telling are “perfect bed-fellows” and his guests, after meeting the story-tellers themselves, cannot help but agree.

WW3 TWT at home base 2 bnw

“The trick is to try to cater to all levels and not to have anyone feel excluded”

Brett’s first tours began running in early 2014 and the business has been growing in popularity ever since. The rise in profile of whiskies made in the state has given the business a boost, and Brett has found himself chaperoning journalists, whisky experts, and even cartoonists!

The tours run on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays and visit a wide range of southern distilleries – and also get to taste some from further afield. Sessions begin at 9am at the Lark cellar door, and proceedings commence by reclining in comfortable chairs and chatting about the history of Tasmanian whisky. Guests are then loaded into the van and driven around the beautiful Derwent Valley or Tasman Peninsula.

There are many highlights on each tour for Brett: the picturesque setting at McHenry’s Distillery in Port Arthur, the paddock to bottle experience at Redlands Estate, and the unforgettable yarns spun by “renaissance moonshiner” and “champion sand-sculptor” Pete Bignell at Belgrove.

Of course, much like everyone has a favourite whisky (or gin, or brandy, or apple schnapps – which are also sampled on various tours) everyone has a favourite stop, and you won’t know which is yours until you travel there.

WW4 TWT at Nant

“To me whisky is the perfect social lubricant”

I absolutely adore this quote and cannot agree more wholeheartedly. Brett believes, as we do, that whisky is a very social experience, and when presented with context, such as the people who create it and the processes they use, guests will get so much more out of every sip.

He says that sharing the narrative of Tasmanian whisky, past, present and future, is half the experience of the tour. The characters that are met along the way and the real passion they exhibit, gives true meaning to the boutique hand-crafted product that we at Whisky Waffle love.

WW5 TWT at Bothwell

Brett, like all of us, confesses to loving Tasmanian whiskies and their rich flavour. But he is also fascinated by the history and stories behind each of the distilleries.

“When you put the two together and add the dynamic of a mix of different people, it’s pretty hard to beat that experience – no matter where in the world you travel.”

Find out more about Tasmanian Whisky Tours at their website.

Photos by Andy Wilson at  Everything Everything.