Posted by: Ted
Compared to the established distilleries of the south, the north of Tasmania has been something of a permafrost-covered wasteland, devoid of all but the hardiest specimens. Scratch the surface however and you will find new life growing vigorously, with a multitude of start-ups building stills and laying down spirit.
Now the first of this new cohort has come to fruition, with Fannys Bay Distillery officially launching its range. Owned and run by the lovely Mathew and Julie Cooper, Fannys Bay is based on the far north coast in the rather appropriately named hamlet of Tam O’Shanter.
Small scale, hand crafted and innovative could be the bywords of Fannys Bay. The small still that resides in the Cooper’s garage was hand built by Mathew and each 20L barrel that is filled is mothered like a flock of chickens until maturity.
The launch was held at the recently opened Kingsway Whisky Bar in Launceston. The venue turned out to be rather easy to find thanks to the live quartet of bagpipers stationed outside the doorway, deafening guests as they entered the bar.
The long, narrow space was quickly filled with friends and fans of Fannys Bay, including luminaries of the Tassie whisky scene such as Casey and Jane Overeem, Craig Johnstone, Damien Mackey, Rex Burdon, George Burgess and Troy Trewin. Mathew and Julie were gracious hosts, warmly welcoming their well wishers and even finding time to carry around some of the excellent cheese platters that had been provided.
Troy, Jane, George and some hipster
While the brie may have been rather fine, the real stars of the show were the three expressions of Fannys Bay being generously poured by Mathew. On offer were a pinot cask 43%, a port cask 62% and a sherry cask 63.4%. The pinot was light and smooth with notes of grapes and green apples. In comparison the sherry was robust and full of stewed fruits and spice, while the port was dark and rich, oozing raisins, sticky prunes and burnt toffee. Everybody who tried a dram came away with a satisfied look on their face and there was quite a long line to buy the flat, rectangular bottles with their vaguely Victorian inspired lettering and painted reverse.
The official part of the evening was conducted by Rex, Jane and Casey, who all spoke passionately about the warm, friendly and hospitable nature of the Coopers and their willingness to share their knowledge and experience with others. Jane noted that it was ‘exciting to see people who have such passion jumping into an industry with such a huge amount of opportunity’. After rather sheepishly admitting that he had been to see the distillery for the first time only a few hours before, Craig got up recited a poem to a rather amused crowd:
May you have shortbread when you’re hungry,
Whisky when you’re dry,
Pennies when you’re poor,
And heaven when you die.
After the speeches were concluded, several bottles of the first barrel laid down by Mathew were put up for auction. Barrel #1 (Bourbon) Bottle #1 was claimed by Traralgon based whisky collector Shane Barbour, who remained calm under fire from competing bids to claim his prize (he mentioned that he also has a #1 bottle of Oveerem, lucky sod). Talking afterwards, Shane reflected that one of the reasons he keeps coming down is that everyone in the Tassie scene is so friendly and welcoming (plus the chance to collect unique whiskies).
The evening concluded in a relaxed fashion, with guests chatting away amicably in small groups and nibbling pieces of Fannys Bay pinot cask chocolate brownie. Mathew and Julie glowed with pride as they reflected on the success of the evening. When pressed, Mat said that he was “very, very pleased to be able to show that we have such a great Tasmanian product,” with Julie adding that “It’s been such a great journey.”
The last word comes from Troy (which I think would rather please him), who quite succinctly summed the evening up thus: “Tonight was a candlelight held up in the Tasmanian craft distilling scene, industry coming together to celebrate this nascent venture, a leader of the northern new wave. Patience has been worth it.”
Look out Southerners, the North is alive!