distillery tour

Spending Time at Sullivans Cove

Posted by: Nick

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If you’ve only heard of one Tasmanian distillery, chances are that distillery is Sullivans Cove. Based in Hobart and formerly known as Tasmania Distillery, this founding father of Tassie whisky has a chequered and yet ultimately inspiring past and, as we Waffle boys discovered when we visited their site recently, an extremely promising future.

Sullivans Cove is one of Tasmania’s most visitor-friendly distilleries. The viewing platform looking out across the bond store is a proper money-shot (see above!) and in keeping with the establishment’s status as Tassie’s poster-child distillery. This honour was thrust upon Sullivans Cove in 2014 when a bottle of their French Oak Cask won the prestigious World’s Best Single Malt at the World Whiskies Awards and changed the face of Tasmanian whisky forever. But as our generous host, Strategy Manager Fred Siggins, was keen to point out, there is so much more to Sullivans Cove than barrel HH525.

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Consistency in flavour is a difficult task for the fledgling Australian whisky scene. Due to the size of the industry (or rather the lack thereof) most releases are the product of one barrel and therefore the flavours vary from bottle to bottle. While some distilleries choose to conveniently sweep this issue under the carpet, Sullivans Cove embrace it, hand labelling each bottle with a sticker informing the purchaser exactly which cask or casks are contained within. The result is that a dram of one French or American Oak bottling will be unlikely to taste identical to a previous one.

While this approach ensures Fred is continually explaining to customers why their new bottle tastes slightly different to their old one, it also forms one of the most exciting aspects of the distillery. During our visit we were lucky enough to sample not one, but two of the French and American Oak expressions. Had they not featured the distinctive blue and black labels we may not have picked them as the same bottling.

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In each case one dram was smooth and easy drinking and the other vibrant, fresh and zingy. Excitingly, we could not work out which of each we considered to be the better drop – instead deciding that we would prefer one over the other depending on the mood we were in. Fred agreed and recommended that Sullivans Cove customers leave a small amount in one bottle before opening the next, to really appreciate the difference.

The other exciting aspect of the distillery is the age of the whisky in the bond store – and in their bottles. Sullivans Cove head distiller Patrick Maguire has been creating whisky since taking over the company in 1999 and giving it a much-needed new lease on life in the process. This means that some of the barrels are now pushing 18 years old, an incredible age for an Australian spirit.

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Both the French and American Oak releases are usually aged for anywhere between 10 and 17 years while the entry level Double Cask release, a marriage of 2 to 4 American Oak barrels and one French Oak barrel, contains a cross section of particularly mature whisky, unheard of in any other Tasmanian release.

The only drawback of this premium method of whisky creation is the premium price. Sullivans Cove make no bones though about the fact that they make a premium product and are not looking to change that any time soon. Fred did point out, however, that there is a lot of new Australian whisky coming into the market currently demanding a similar (or greater) price to the Sullivans Cove Double Cask. While this new stock is exciting, the whisky is likely to only be 2 to 3 years old. When compared with the potentially 17 year old whisky found in the Double Cask, it really paints the Sullivans Cove price point in a positive light.

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Sullivans Cove is now one of the most recognisable brands in the New World spirits scene, an achievement which is a true testament to the work put in by Patrick Maguire all those years ago. For a very long time, his whisky creation was a labour of love, an unprofitable venture fuelled by passion rather than profit. The rules have now changed, however, and currently there are over twenty distilleries in operation in Tasmania – with more on the way. It is certainly no overstatement to say that this reality may not have come to be if not for Sullivans Cove Distillery.

Sullivans Cove will be open for tours seven days a week, starting in September! Tours depart hourly and can be booked at the Sullivans Cove site.

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Larking about at Lark

Posted by: Nick and Ted

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Fact: the modern Tasmanian distilling scene was founded by Bill Lark.

Fact: the foundations for Whisky Waffle were laid down at the Lark bar.

Fact: it is rather shameful that we have never found the time to visit the Lark distillery

Recently the Whisky Waffle boys were down in Hobart with a rare free day to spend on whisky business, so we decided to take the opportunity to rectify an embarrassing gap in our Tasmanian distillery bucket list and tag along on an official Lark distillery tour.

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We were about to run away with the barrels when we discovered they were empty.

Lark offers a two-hour daily guided tour of their distillery facility out at Cambridge, 15min east of Hobart. Our tour started at the Lark bar in Hobart where we met Guy, our guide, and the rest of the group. To work out in what order to hand out the complimentary Lark tasting glasses, Guy started off by asking how close everyone lived to the distillery. Surprisingly it turned out that we North West coasters were the only true locals, with the other guests ranging from Melbourne and Sydney to Alabama.

After introductions we all piled into the tour van, affectionately known as the ‘Drambulance’. On the way out to Cambridge Guy regaled us with tales of the history of the Australian whisky scene and the part Bill Lark played in its resurrection. The road into the distillery passes through the grounds of Frogmore Creek winery, the vines providing wild yeast that is encouraged into the Lark fermentation vats to help create the unique Lark flavour.

The distillery itself, in true Australian fashion, is in a large tin shed that overlooks the Coal River Valley. Upon arrival we donned fluoro vests and met Chris Thomson, the self-proclaimed ‘most experienced distiller in Australia’ (and who are we to argue with him).

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Chris Thomson was also thrilled to meet the two most experienced Tasmanian whisky bloggers in Australia! (again self-proclaimed)

To lubricate our minds before starting the tour we were provided with a dram of the Lark Classic Cask, a perfect breakfast whisky (or at any other time of the day for that matter). Guy and Chris took us through the distilling process at Lark, from the Bill Lark-designed peat smoker, to the fermentation and the distillation.

Along the way the way we were able to try wort (aka sweet barley juice), wash (aka unhopped beer) and new-make spirit, which was fruity and soft. Chris gave us some handy nuggets of distilling advice such as “when going from the fores to the heart we smell and smell and smell and smell and smell and smell” and “using our amazing distillers skills we make the first cut,” *moves hose casually from one vat to another* “Very technical”.

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Those are some niiiiice sparge arms!

The final part of the tour was spent in the bond store (also a large tin shed) where Guy told us about barrel making and aging. We were also able to try some Lark straight from the barrel, which Guy fished out with a spirit thief, as well as some whisky from sister-distillery Overeem. Also on offer were Lark’s whisky liqueur, Sláinte, and several variants of their Forty Spotted gin.

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Every Lark tour is a barrel of laughs.

At the end of the sampling session our merry band of tourers re-embarked the Drambulance and headed back to the Lark bar. The tour had been a pleasant and informative mix of whisky stories, hands-on experience, technical information and waffling. Most importantly, we Waffle boys were finally able to show our faces in public again and proudly say that we had been to the distillery that started it all.

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The best thing about whisky tour groups is that you all end up best mates at the end!