Diageo, for those who don’t know, is the largest spirit producer in the western world. Their whisky makers include heavy hitters such as Lagavulin, Dalwhinnie, Talisker and Caol Ila. However, these ‘classic malts’ only constitute part of their collection – there are a number of other distilleries whose spirit you probably would have only tasted mixed into a dram of Johnnie Walker.
Dailuaine is one such distillery, a Speyside establishment known for its heavily sherried style. While you won’t find it in many mainstream bottle shops, it is not impossible to track down an independently aged version and if you find some hidden upon a dusty shelf, then it is well worth picking up. This particular Flora & Fauna bottling is bottled at 43% after aging for 16 years in ex-oloroso barrels, a maturation that has contributed significantly to its flavour.
On the nose, the taster is immediately presented with the classic fruitcake aromas typical of its cask type. Hints of cinnamon doughnuts follow, alongside fresh fruit such as apples and melon. On the palate there are tangy orange juice flavours alongside buttery shortbread and chocolate coated raisins. The finish is long and chewy with toffee-almonds and a hint of lingering oak.
While Dailuaine may not be the most famous of Diageo’s stable, it proves that there’s a lot of exciting whiskies to try if you stray from the well-worn path. Next time it might be a Strathmill or an Inchgower, or perhaps a Blair Athol or a Mannochmore…
So, acting on a whim, I popped over to sunny Tel Aviv in Israel the other day to do a spot of whisky tasting and a distillery tour.
Actually, that’s a lie. The government won’t let us leave Australia yet and I was sitting around freezing my tits off on a wintry Tasmanian evening. But, through the magic of the internet, I was still able to go venturing off into distant exotic lands to partake in a dram and a tour of Milk & Honey Distillery (M&H), Israel’s first whisky producer.
The Spirit Safe and Alba Whisky, the local distributor for M&H, were kind enough to send us a sample pack and an invite to join the Australian (digital) launch of M&H. Zooming in from my rather messy back room, I joined a group of fellow digital denizens to land in the rather more well appointed office of Ian McKinlay, Managing Director and highly knowledgeable chap at The Spirit Safe.
Greeting us with a Scottish brogue, softened by many years spent in the Antipodes, Ian made sure we were seated comfortably and then hit the magic button to beam us half-way across the globe to the shores of the Med Sea. Landing in Jaffa, the ancient port city from which Tel Aviv grew, we were met by the beaming faces of Tal Chotiner (International Sales) and Tomer Goren (Master Distiller) at M&H.
They were probably happy because it was 30°C and humid in Tel Aviv that day (like most days there during summer). Tal previously worked in various roles for Diageo, while Tomer worked at Tomintoul and Springbank, as well as completing his Master Distiller degree two years ago. After introductions, sitting in front of a webcam in an office, the lads leapt up to take us on a tour of the facility, Tal trailing Tomer with a smartphone. Technology eh!?
We wandered through the small visitor centre/bar, taking in the striking black and yellow colour scheme of M&H, before stumbling out into a sprawling, maze-like facility that used to be home to a bakery. Tal remembered visiting it when he was young and the pervasive aroma of the baking bread – “One good smell traded for another!” quipped Ian.
We visited the backyard, where water from the municipal supply arrives and is mixed with salts, the grain mill, the locally made one-tonne mash tun and the four large washbacks (two more are already in the pipeline). The usual fermentation time is 72hrs, but this drops to about 68hrs during summer. Interestingly, at least from an Australian perspective, the distillery doesn’t operate on the weekend because it is kosher, observing the Jewish Shabbat.
Next up were the stills, a 9000L beauty of a copper wash still that the team found in a shed in Romania, but probably originated in Spain, and a custom-built 3000L copper spirit still from Germany. Apparently they thought the wash still was rather smaller based on it’s picture, but it turns out the door it was sitting next to was actually a massive barn door. The lyne arms slope down at 45° angle to produce a very oily newmake that holds up well under fast maturation. Nearby was a small 250L copper pot belly/onion head still used for gin production.
For the final part of the tour we were taken into the warehouses. #1 housed 200 or so privately owned casks, while #2 and #3 were home to a further 2000-odd production casks, looking very spiffy in M&H livery, with their black heads and yellow lettering. Most were ex-bourbon, but there were some other very curious editions that we’ll come back to shortly.
Back in the office, Tal and Tomer took us through a screen-shared presentation that delved further into the brand. The name of the distillery comes from the description of the Jewish promised land in the Bible as “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3). The logo, a bull with black and yellow stripes, further references this (apparently they tried a cow first, but it just didn’t look as cool).
Climate plays a massive role for whisky maturation in Israel. For a country that is only 420km long and 115km wide, there are actually five distinct climate zones: Upper Galilee, Jerusalem Mountains, Mediterranean Coast, Desert and the Dead Sea, a collective described by M&H’s late mentor, Dr Jim Swan, as the ‘Climate Playground’. M&H make use of this and age barrels in various locations around the country, with interesting results.
For example, we were shown two bottles of whisky that were produced at the same time using identical spirit and barrels, but one aged in Tel Aviv on the coast and the other at the Dead Sea (which is 430m below sea level but very dry). The results were incredible, with the Dead Sea dram markedly darker than the Tel Aviv one. Even Jerusalem, which is only “45 minutes and 3000 years” away from Tel Aviv according to Tal, produces noticeably distinct results due to the difference in altitude (754m).
In terms of barrelling, the majority are ex-bourbon and STR (‘shaved, toasted and re-charred’, a technique developed by Dr Jim Swan), which develop lots of character in the first year before balancing out. Beyond this, more interesting casks such as locally produced kosher wine barrels are used, which is fitting, as according to Tomer “we have a 4000yr old wine culture, so it’s part of our DNA.”
They also have a seasoning project running in Spain with a Bodega that is able to produce kosher Pedro Ximenez and Olorosso sherry. Probably the most interesting barrels in use have previously held pomegranate wine, which according to Tomer is a signature Israeli flavour.
The whisky we were sent with our tasting pack was M&H’s ‘Classic Cask’, a 3yo aged in 75% ex-bourbon, 20% ex-red wine STR and 5% virgin oak and bottled at the magical 46% ABV. To me the nose was oily, creamy and gooey, with peach, apricot, custard, butterscotch and marshmallow, while the mouth was dry, with toasted timber and wine. It was really different to anything I could think of, which I suspect was a product of the unique Israeli terroir and climate, but I really liked it.
Speaking of the climate, the high daily temperatures and humidity and cool night develop huge amounts of action in the barrels, meaning that maturity is reached very quickly. There is a price to be paid though, as the angels’ share is around 9-11% annually (and can even be as high as 25% in areas like the Dead Sea!!!). Ideally Tal and Tomer would like to see their larger barrels reaching around 4-7 years in Tel Aviv and 4 years in other areas.
As well as the Classic Cask, the other drams in the core range will include ex-sherry, ex-wine and peated (using peated barley from the Czech Republic). Additionally, there will also be a revolving special edition range featuring interesting editions such as the ex-pomegranate casks and Israeli ex-chardonnay casks from the Jerusalem mountains.
The tour ended with a tasting of M&H’s Levantine gin, made using za’atar (a ancient native oregano), and their barrel aged gin under the cheerful gaze of Oded Weiss, M&H’s gin specialist. While Tal rustled up some G&T’s garnished with orange peel and fresh thyme, the team took some questions and reflected on the nature of their operation.
According to Tal and Tomer, in general Israeli consumption of alcohol is quite low, so M&H was founded with export in mind (which is lucky for Australia). “There aren’t really any rules in Israel around whisky production, so we decided to follow the most respected model out there, Scotland. That’s the reason we went for a whisky that was at least 3yo, as the international market would accept that more easily and allow us to build a solid reputation based on our quality.”
In Tal’s eyes, one of the major benefits of being a craft distillery, particularly in Israel, is the flexibility: “We throw ideas around as a team, like ‘wanna do a rum cask? Yeah, let’s do that!’. It’s about running ahead and thinking outside the box.” Tomer agrees: “Where we live is the culture capital of Israel and we’re able to draw influence from all over the world. Tel Aviv itself means ‘old ruins’ and ‘spring’, which I think is a reflection on how we make our whisky. It’s traditional ways with crazy new ideas.”
As Ian brought the session to a close, I reflected on the experience I had just had. I’ve been to internet tastings before, but I still think it was pretty amazing that I was able to sit here in Tassie, with everything that’s been going on in the world lately, and ‘visit’ a distillery in Tel Aviv in real time, something that I would probably never have a chance to experience otherwise (you never know though…). I suspect that live online events will become a staple in the future and allow the whisky community to connect with each other and share their passion in new and creative ways.
If there’s a silver lining to come out of COVID-19, it’s that what’s keeping us apart might just bring us together across the world like never before. And these days, that can only be a good thing, right?
You can purchase Milk & Honey Distillery’s products in Australia from The Spirit Safe
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…
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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 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…)
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.
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.”
The South of Tasmania has traditionally been the heartland of its whisky industry. Lark. Overeem. Sullivans Cove. Redlands Old Kempton (and more). Big names that have dominated the stage since the early days.
In comparison, the north of the state has been something of a wasteland whisky-wise, with Hellyers Road the sole torch-bearer for far too many years. But no more! In 2019 the North is fighting back and has assembled a heroic band of new distilleries, each armed with a grain-based spirit that has spent at least two years in a barrel!
These Northern warriors will join forces, alongside new-kid-on-the-block Turners Stillhouse, on Tuesday 13th of August as part of Tasmanian Whisky Week festivities. The event will be held at Cataract on Paterson in Launceston, commencing at 6:30pm.
The evening will feature tastings from each distillery, probably the first time in history that such a range of whisky produced north of Campbell Town will be on offer at one event, with each dram presented by the team that created it. The ticket price includes a superb menu of canapés designed by the venue featuring fine local Tasmanian produce. The evening will be hosted by yours truly, the Whisky Waffle boys, so we’d love to see a big turn-out of fellow Wafflers!
Mama, just killed a dram, Put a glencairn against its neck, Poured it out, now the bottle’s dead…
Avid Whisky Waffle followers may remember that I was recently musing about how I needed to bite the bullet and finish off a bottle of Dalwhinnie that I’d had sitting around for far too long. Well, you’ll be pleased to know that the world is now minus one bottle of Highland single malt. Just not my bottle…
So, I was visiting friends last night and at the end of the evening the host whipped out a bottle of Dalwhinnie he bought in Scotland recently-ish and declared an intent to finish it off between the group. Naturally, everyone declined (you’ll need to install a sarcasm filter to read that properly).
The bottle in question was the interestingly named Lizzie’s Dram, a limited edition distillery exclusive non age statement release. No, the Lizzie in question is not the Queen, but instead one Elizabeth Stewart. Working at Dalwhinnie for over 30 years, she was apparently a trailblazer for women in an historically male-dominated industry as one of the first female Scottish malt distillery operators. After her retirement in 2018, Diageo, owners of Dalwhinnie, chose to honour her contributions to the whisky industry by creating a special release in her name.
Lizzie’s Dram is aged exclusively in selected refill American white oak bourbon cask and released at 48% as a limited run of 7500 bottles. The colour is darker than you’d perhaps expect for refill bourbon casks, but then this is Diageo we’re talking about, who are quite fond of going to town with the E150a caramel colouring.
The nose is pure Dalwhinnie – very first thing I detected was that classic smell of apples. My companions at the table, more casual whisky drinkers than me, were quite effusive in their agreement and thankfully I was backed up by the bottle notes. See? We don’t always talk rubbish (mostly). Also to be found are lemons, straw, vanilla and green sapwood. The addition of a couple of drops of water also draws out some caramel. All in all quite a pleasant olfactory experience.
The mouth is a different kettle of fish. It’s very sharp for some reason, with a metallic, Myer lemon body going on. The whole effect is very bright across the palate, with a lingering finish. I think it’s kind of like sword swallowing – it’s pretty difficult and can impress your friends who don’t know the trick, but in reality it’s uncomfortable in the mouth and you’re glad when it’s over. A couple of drops of water soften the blow, but then annoyingly a bit of the pizzaz and drama disappears. A difficult dram indeed.
Look, this is a NAS we’re talking about, so it’s likely that a good chunk of the release is made with relatively young whisky. I suspect that some of the jaggy edges on the mouth would have been smoothed out if the barrels had been allowed to work their magic for a bit longer. It’s a shame really, because I enjoyed what was going on with the nose and wish it could have translated across the entire experience.
Thumbs up to Diageo and Dalwhinnie for celebrating the undeniable achievements of one of their own, thumbs down for not backing it up with an entirely worthy dram. Of course, this is just me grouching with my Whisky Waffle hat on. In the moment, with good company and a dram in hand, we killed that bottle like a cadre of smiling assassins. When it’s someone else’s bottle and they’re pouring generously, one should not protest too hard.
What does a South American superfood with a weird name have to do with WWII bomber pilots? Well, in a round-about way: whiskey. Before we get into why though, let’s take a slight tangent.
Project Q is part of the new Dalek masterplan
By definition, whisk(e)y is a grain based spirit. In terms of the most common grains that are used, the holy quaternity is barley, corn, rye and wheat. Alone or in combination, these four star in the vast majority of whiskies. Beyond that, there is a whole panoply of random grains that rarely (if ever) get a look-in due to reasons such as rarity, expense and difficulty of use.
One such grain is quinoa. You know, the one that you think is pronounced ‘kwinoa’ until some posh git swans by and says “no no, it’s ‘keeen-wah’ daahling”. A staple native grain in South American, quinoa can now be found lurking in expensive salads in the West. To be fair, it is very good for you. Turns out it has other uses beyond feeding hipsters though.
Most of the established whisk(e)y distilling cultures wouldn’t dream of going anywhere near something like quinoa. Tradition is tradition after all. You need to go somewhere where the industry is fresh and young and willing to experiment with new things. Like Australia for example.
Whipper Snapper Distillery, based in Perth, Western Australia (WA), is an outfit that is not afraid to mess around. The roots of the distillery go back to WWII, where an Aussie and a US pilot bonded over a love of bombers and making whiskey. Vic, the Aussie half of the duo, took the recipe they had developed home and continued to distil in his back shed. The recipe was eventually passed onto his young neighbour Al and his mate Jimmy and thus Whipper Snapper was born. Keeping with the American connection, the distillery’s flagship release is the Upshot, a bourbon-style whiskey with an Aussie twist.
Sounding rather like a top-secret WWII program, Project Q is Whipper Snapper’s experimental quinoa-based whisky, only the second ever quinoa release world wide (the other is from Corsair Distillery in America). We first heard about it here at Whisky Waffle HQ a few years ago when they released an early test version, but sadly we were never able to get our mitts on a sample. Fast forward to 2019 and the lads have refined their process and unleashed their first official batch on an unsuspecting world.
Made using a mash bill of 65% quinoa, 25% corn and 10% malted barley, all the grains are locally sourced from WA. The Project Q is aged for just under three years in the distillery’s own ex-Upshot barrels and bottled at (at least for Batch 1) 46.5%.
Flavour-wise, the Project Q is like no other whisk(e)y I have ever tried. I sprang it on m’colleague blind and he almost broke his brain trying to work it out. The first guess was rye, which actually wasn’t entirely ridiculous as there is an earthy, nutty (quinoa-y?) quality to the nose that remindes me a bit of Belgrove’s Brown Rye. Beyond that though, there’s this weird combo of rose-water and what I can only describe as tobacco-infused old car. It’s like leather and oil and ciggies and sun-aged dash. My dad’s old MKII Jag or my 1985 BMW 325i.
The mouth has tannic sweetness underneath that I reckon comes from the corn, while over the top sits this ashy, spicy grain layer. The finish is fruity, a distilled cherry/plums/grapes feel that kind of brings to mind brandy or cognac. There is a lingering wisp of incense that coils around the tongue for a little while after.
Batch 1 people, get in quick for some quirky quinoa action
To be honest I’m not really sure what to make of it. The Project Q is definitely not a beginner’s whiskey, that’s for sure, with its complex melange of flavours. Due to the high cost and relatively low local production levels of quinoa, the Project Q is unlikely to be anything more than a quirky rarity, but one I think is worth tracking down to experience something unusual. It won’t be to everyone’s taste for sure, but I certainly think it still deserves its moment in the sun. I hope Whipper Snapper, and others, continue to experiment with new grains and flavours that challenge our palates and minds.
Ok, I know, technically it’s no longer March, but Whisky’s greatest elimination challenge continues unabated, pitting distillers from around the world in a series of tense and often unfair head to head bouts. Round 1 has been run and won and the results are as follows:
There were a number of tense tussles throughout the initial qualifying round – several of which involved local drams. In an all-Australian affair, Starward narrowly defeated recent award winner Hellyers Road by claiming 54% of the vote. Whisky Waffle also bid a tearful adieu to Bunnahabhain, defeated by Tassie champion Sullivans Cove which enjoyed 58% success. The other Tassie dram to bow out was Nant, defeated by regular pocket-pleaser Glen Moray.
However the fun does not stop there; as we fondly farewell 32 grand drams, we turn our attention to the subsequent 32. And my, what decisions we will have to make! The round is headlined by some all Australian bouts: Limeburners take on Overeem and Belgrove come face to face against the godfather himself! Elsewhere, the salty kings Laphroaig and Springbank go head to head and there is a battle of the Glens: Glenrothes vs Glenfarclas. A battle sneaking under the radar, but causing me much grief, is the number 3 seed Lagavulin taking on another favourite of mine: Glendromach. Holy. Crap.
How will it end? Who will triumph? YOU DECIDE! As with the previous round, leave your votes in a comment or on social media – or in an email to email@example.com
Vote for as many as you like, but feel free to leave any you’ve not tried. The more people who vote the better – and drumming up support for your personal favourite is most definitely allowed. Happy voting fellow Wafflers. Lets see who comes out on top!
For many years now, Bill Lark has been the public face of Tasmanian whisky – for good reason too, as he is rightly credited with kickstarting the modern Tasmanian whisky industry. However, while he may be the most visible member of the Lark clan, Bill certainly isn’t the only distiller in the family; wife Lyn shares as much DNA in the original distillery as he does, son Jack has worked with several other whisky makers and daughter Kristy (now Booth-Lark) was Lark head distiller for a time, helping lead the way for female distillers in a historically male dominated industry.
After leaving Lark, Kristy has continued to forge ahead, starting her own distillery, Killara. Named after the street where she grew up, Killara is not only the first second-generation whisky distillery in Australia, but also the first to be fully owned and operated by a female – as Kristy would say, “it’s a one woman show”.
As well as producing a vodka and the acclaimed Apothecary gin range, Kristy is following in the family tradition by crafting single cask whisky. One of the first barrels to be bottled is KD03, a 20L ex-Apera (Australian sherry) cask. Presented in a dark green/black bottle with blue and silver livery and a Gaelic-knotwork style font, the release would almost look more at home on Islay than in Tasmania.
That’s where the similarities with the old country end however, as the spirit is distinctly Tasmania in character. The nose speaks of the small cask size and the Apera origin, with zesty oranges, cherry, nutmeg and glacé ginger. The mouth is savoury and meaty, with marzipan, aromatic spices and an earthy finish that has a subtle smokiness reminiscent of burnt brown sugar.
Having said that, we must remember that KD03 is only the product of one single 20L cask and that each successive Killara release will have its own unique and intriguing nature. This unpredictability doesn’t faze Kristy in the slightest however: “There’s so much variability in the process. That’s what I love about it, there’s a bit of science, a bit of passion and a bit of what we don’t know.” Considering what the Larks have already achieved so far in the short history of our local industry, it will be exciting to see where the new generation of the family takes Tasmanian whisky making next.
The Whisky Waffle boys with Killara distiller Kristy and her husband Joe
Let’s face it, in terms of global whisky production Tasmania is teeny tiny, a mere speck in the great amber ocean. The term ‘craft’ is synonymous with our local industry and it is often joked that Scotland spills more in a year than Tasmania produces. However, one distillery in Northern Tasmania has ambitious plans for the future and intends on making a big splash in that ocean.
The story of Adams Distillery starts as any good fairy tale does – one Adam meets another Adam and together they hatch an excellent plan to make whisky. Actually, that’s just one beginning, we need to go further back to understand how things really started.
A few years ago Adam Pinkard, paramedic and champion power-lifter, went on a tour of Scotland with his father. While they were there they visited a bunch of distilleries, which was great because his father offered to be des. Whilst sipping on the wares offered at Benromach Distillery, a relatively small establishment Scotland-wise, Adam P thought to himself “I could do this… after all, this whole place is controlled by just two guys.”
Adam discusses the flavours of the whisky in Nick’s hand while our designated driver Harri looks on jealously
After Adam P returned to Tasmania, the idea kept ticking over in his mind. All he needed was a business partner, so he turned to his mate Adam Saunders, a builder by trade. Adam S was sceptical at first, but Adam P won him over with his vision and thus Adams’ Distillery was born.
The next challenge was to find a home to make their whisky. They initially thought that they had found a cosy location in the heart of Launceston, but were thwarted by a pernickety council and had to look further afield. The rejection, disheartening though it was at the time, actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. They eventually found a suitable location at Glen Ireh Estate in the neighbouring town of Perth. The big advantage of the site was that it had plenty of room for expansion, which two years after the formation of their original distillery is exactly what the Adams’ are doing. Big time.
We were fortunate to hear the motto of Adams Distillery from the lips of Adam P himself: ‘Go big or go home’. We had made the pilgrimage to Glen Ireh to catch up with the lads and check out what they were creating at the estate. When we arrived, we had time to say a brief hello to Adam S before he got back to work building the Adams’ gigantic new visitor centre/bond store, leaving us in the capable care of Adam P, who quipped “it’s nice having a builder as a business partner.”
The new shed is just about big enough to fit the old one in twice over!
The Adams’ are rapidly becoming a big fish in the Tasmanian whisky pond, having recently upgraded the size of their stills massively, supplementing their already large shed with an even bigger one and drawing in a full time cooper to work on-site. Adam P mentioned an interesting view that he had come to, being that moving forward Tasmanian distilleries either need to be ultra-small-scale-boutique or the complete opposite. As we stood on the partly-constructed mezzanine and surveyed the Adams’ new empire, it was clear they are definitely taking the latter path.
As we all know, whisky making takes time, but the Adams have been patient for the last two years and will soon be taking their first release to market. To celebrate this milestone they will be holding a launch event in December at the newly completed visitor centre (no pressure Adam S). Tickets are available here, and considering how congenial and welcoming the Adams are it promises to be a great night.
The Wafflers with the Adams team. Disclaimer: the dog isn’t also called Adam.
While Adams’ expansion may currently seem like something of an outlier in the craft-scale Tasmanian scene, it could actually be a sign of what lies ahead for the industry as a whole in the future. Potentially many other distilleries will follow the lead of the Adams’ team and upscale their operations, making a long-awaited entrance onto the broader world stage. If they do, their path will have been partly paved by two blokes called Adam who bravely decided to ‘go big or go home’.
In July 2018 I realised the ultimate Waffler’s dream and spent nine days travelling whisky’s motherland. I did not waste a moment.
9 days: 20 distilleries.
PART ONE: Speyside
The world is a big and exciting place full of incredible natural wilderness, mind blowing ancient structures and miraculous modern marvels. However, for a Waffler, there is no greater sight than a smoking pagoda, rising up over a craggy moor. For this view I needed to cross the entire planet, enduring four long flights (and a train ride with no wifi) to finally set foot in the motherland of whisky: Scotland.
So many distilleries, so little time. How could I possibly cover all I wanted to in nine days? The short answer is: I couldn’t – but I could give it my best shot. The first important decision to make was which direction to travel? I finally decided upon: anticlockwise. This catapulted me headfirst into the heart of whisky production in Scotland: Speyside.
While Speyside is known for light, smooth and elegant drams, it is also home to the world’s biggest sherry bombs. And it is with the latter in mind that I begun my journey with a tour booked for a favourite of mine: Glendronach.
I can thoroughly recommend being the only one on a distillery tour – even more so if your guide is the ex-general manager of the distillery. And I was lucky enough to experience exactly that at Glendronach; hearing a range of the best stories from Frank Massie – a wonderful ambassador for the distillery and a top bloke. It summed up my experience perfectly: there’s a lovely touch of the old school about Glendronach. From the big old kiln to the creaky old washbacks to the fact the tasting started with the 18 Year Old… and got better from there! It was a dream come true and did not disappoint.
I settled into my accommodation at Speydie’s whisky capital Dufftown, thrilled at the start to my travels and recalling the 25 Year Old cask strength I’d just consumed. It was a quiet night – as the next day was shaping up to be a big one.
It began with the tour of tours: Balvenie Distillery. This experience is widely recognised as a must for Wafflers everywhere and three hours in I could see why. It was the most detailed – and hands on – tour I’ve ever experienced. I risked a dose of monkey shoulder by turning the malting barley and visited the cooperage where a team were working hard to create barrels exactly to Balvenie’s specifications and finish in time for an early Friday knock off. And then I did the the tasting. Wow. How many tours conclude by pouring you a full nip of 30 year old whisky?
I had no time to dwell on it, however. I was out the door to visit Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Glenfarclas and GlenCraggonmore. There was no time for a tour at these classic establishments but all came with tasty distillery exclusive drams. The highlight was Glenfarclas – not in the least because their stunning tasting room is the converted interior of an old Australian ship. The drams were superb as well – a 2004 distilled bottling which was like a refined version of the 105 and a port finish which was sweet and juicy and almost certainly all gone by the time you read this, sadly.
I finished my day by joining a tour at Aberlour Distillery. The tour itself was fairly standard and I was part of a large group of non-whisky drinkers talking over the top of our guide and asking questions about Johnnie Walker (possibly the most whisky-snobbish thing I’ve ever written – but come on… you know how annoying that would be!). The tasting, though, made it all worth it. After first trying a firey new make spirit, we sampled a straight bourbon cask and straight sherry cask Aberlour whisky – both unavailable as regular bottlings. I loved precisely neither of them; they tasted like ingredients – which is exactly what they were. It was when they combined together that the magic occurred. The 16 Year Old and the (brand new) Casg Annamh were both balanced, full bodied, complex and oh so drinkable. The tasting concluded with the A’bunadh – as classic a cask strength sherry bomb as you’ll find anywhere.
The A’bunadh kept me warm as I made it back to Dufftown for my second and final night in Speyside. The seemingly eternal summer sun cast an orange glow over the harvested barley fields and I could truly see: this place is the warm beating heart of Scottish whisky.