Posted by: Ted
Strolling past the shabby brick warehouse on the outskirts of central Hobart, glancing briefly at the fading letters on the wall declaring ‘Tasmanian Egg Farms’, you would be forgiven for thinking that it was just another derelict industrial site. However, the warm scent of malt drifting out of the rear loading dock and along the street suggests all may not be as it seems. Spirits lurk inside… Devilry is afoot in Moonah.
I recently had the opportunity to drop by Devil’s Distillery and catch up with manager John Jarvis. We had last met in my home stomping ground of Burnie at an event showcasing their Tasmanian Moonshine Company brand. Mutterings of nearly mature whisky had reached my ears and piqued my curiosity. Now, like a member of Mystery, Inc., I had the chance to enter the Devil’s lair and unmask the truth.
Hidden inside the old warehouse is a burnished copper Knapp-Lewer pot still, a squat stainless Coffey still, some wash tuns made out of re-purposed milk vats and a small trove of casks nestled on brand new yellow pallet racking. Tending to the equipment are minions Ben and Gus. “Sorry about the chaos,” comments John “We’ve been sorting things out and doing some renovation.”
“It was worse when we didn’t have the racking,” chips in Gus “there were pallets of barrels stacked randomly all over the place.”
The barrels in question are a combination of 20L, 40L, 100L and 300L casks. Some are sourced from Australia, others interestingly hail from Hungary, but all will be left to rest until the contents have transmuted into whisky. John enjoys experimenting with the different cask types they have amassed, including port, sherry, bourbon, tokay and pinot. “Every release will be different. I’m still learning, but that’s all part of the challenge and it’s good fun being able to sit down and figure out what works best for a particular release.”
Down the far end of the building are some offices with a mezzanine space above. Ascending the stairs we find an angular wooden bar, a long wooden tasting table and handyman hard at work sanding the reclaimed timber floors. Once finished, the mezzanine area will form a private tasting bar for the distillery where guests can come by appointment, relax and try the products on offer. I notice that one patch of the cinder block wall looks different to elsewhere. “Rocky (Caccavo), the owner, decided that he was going to polish the blockwork, so he grabbed a grinder and started going at it,” laughs John “the dust was horrendous though, so I think we might just render it now.”
Looking out over the space, I can see that it is rapidly filling up with barrels and other paraphernalia. “We don’t have any immediate plans for expansion.” Explains John “We’ll need to get some off site bond space obviously, but at the end of the day we’re a small-scale craft distillery. Quality over quantity. It’s a great location though, just a stone’s throw from the city in one direction, and a stone’s throw from MONA in the other.”
We head downstairs to John’s office, where a shiny new bottle of whisky is waiting patiently for our attention on the desk. Devil’s Distillery is releasing its single malt under the label of ‘Hobart Whisky’, which is quite amazing for a relatively new distillery in the now well established Tassie scene. “When we were deciding on names, we were shocked to find that Hobart Whisky was still available for use. We’re really stoked to have it.”
The first release is a marriage of five 40l ex-Hill Rock Distillery bourbon casks aged for two years and seven months and bottled at 48.8%abv. The wash used in the release was sourced from local brewery Moo Brew, however future releases will contain wash made in-house at the distillery. When sourcing the casks, the cooper recommended that the staves be left intact without shaving or re-charring, allowing the new-make to fully interact with the original Hill Rock character.
This is evident in the whisky, with the spirit showing a much redder hue than you would necessarily associate with ex-bourbon casking, the white Hobart Whisky label contrasting nicely. On the nose the first release is sweet and creamy, with a bourbon-driven body of vanilla, butterscotch and light, dusty oak, as well as notes of maple, peach and lavender. The mouth is light, beginning with wood shavings, then transitioning to citrus, straw and the acidity of young stone fruit, before finishing with a delicate lingering sweetness.
Excitingly, the first release will make it’s debut during Tasmanian Whisky Week 2018, with the first public bottles available for purchase for $195. Most of the 430 bottle run will go directly to bars, so whisky fiends keen on securing one are advised to get in quick. As we wander out, John is excited for the future and how people will react to the whisky. “Everyone who has tried it has been really positive so far; the feedback has been encouraging.”
I came away feeling satisfied that I had unmasked the Moonah Devil as a young whisky of high quality and a promising future. Hopefully over time Hobart Whisky will grow into its name and become a flagship for the southern capital of whisky. John’s parting comment was encouraging in that respect: “At the end of the day I just want to be able to focus my attention on the whisky and make sure that everything we make is top notch.”
As they say, the devil is in the detail.
Limited bottles will be available for purchase during Tasmanian Whisky Week (13-19th August) at the Liquid Gold event on Thursday evening, Saturday afternoon at the Spirit Showcase and Sunday morning at the Farmgate Market.
Hobart Whisky 1st Release 48.8%: