gin

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.”

Turner Stillhouse nears completion

Posted by: Ted

The Tamar Region of Tasmania has always been known for its wineries, but recently the distilling industry has been making a spirited push into the area. In fact, one of the biggest wineries in Tassie has a new next-door neighbour just a stone’s throw from their cellar door.

Visitors to Tamar Ridge Winery will soon be able to wander over to meet the crew at Turner Stillhouse. The outfit was founded by Justin Turner, a Northern Californian hailing from a wine-making family, who made the trek down under after meeting his Tasmanian-born wife. Also on the team is Tassie lad and distiller Brett Coulson, who used to work for the State’s biggest brewery before jumping aboard the good ship Turner.

The site was a hive of activity when we dropped by recently for a visit, with a team of builders working hard to transform the old Gunns Ltd building into a functioning distillery. As well as the production floor with the still, fermenters and bond area, the site will also include a cellar door and bar area where visitors can sample the products and check out the action. “We just want it done by summer!” exclaimed Brett as we surveyed the organised chaos in front of us.

Taking pride of place in the space is the towering 3000l hybrid pot/column still, a synergy of stainless-steel and copper. “It’s probably one of the only American-designed and -made stills in Australia,” commented Justin proudly. The lads are hoping that they can fire it up by the end of the year and start pumping out some spirit.

As well as a ‘traditional’ Tassie single malt, Justin is keen to showcase the whisky from his own part of the world, with plans for American-style corn and grain whiskies, noting that “because of the column, the still will make a lighter spirit, which will work really well with that style of whiskey.”

Justin and Brett will use virgin oak and ex-bourbon casks sourced from America for aging, but are also hoping to make use of the plentiful supply of wine barrels from next door. “It will be cool for people to come along this road and go to the Tamar Ridge cellar door and try the wine, then walk over here and try a whisky from the same barrel the wine was aged in.”

Justin (L) and Brett looking forward to when the construction is finished so they can do some distilling

While the whisky is still a few years off, Turner Stillhouse currently produces a couple of gins which are available for purchase. Hopefully by the end of the year visitors will be able to kick back at the bar with some cheeky drinks and take in the view over the Tamar Valley. Watch this space!

Fossey’s Single Malt Whisky: Port Cask F1 49.3% & Peated Sherry Cask FP1 57.6%

Reviewed by: Ted

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It’s always cool dropping by a whisky bar and finding something interesting that you’ve never tried before. Recently while I was in Melbourne, I stopped by Whisky Den on Russell St for a nightcap after a trip to the theatre.

After I’d spent a good amount of time polishing the bottles with my eyes (and probably corroding the text away by the end), the barmen started throwing around some potential choices. Most I’d had before, until: “Have you tried the Fossey’s stuff yet?” “Nope! Never heard of them?” “Really new stuff from a crew in Mildura. Well worth a try. Keen?”

“Sure, lets do it!”

I was presented with two single cask bottlings, F1, a port casking at 49.3% and FP1, a curious peated sherry casking at 57.6%, both aged between 2-4yrs. Putting my body on the line in the name of scientific inquiry, I bravely made the decision to sample both (what a hero, I know).

Good decision – the Fossey’s are great! Both were very Australian in their character, that hot, rich small-cask/high-temp/short-aging profile you get in a lot of our new world whiskies.

On the nose the port cask is meaty and fruity, with stewed apricots and peaches topped with buttery crumble, followed by prunes, muscats, orange rind, cocoa nibs, leather and old timber polished with beeswax. It’s a satisfyingly dark and rich smell. In comparison, the peated sherry starts with a note that I have coined as ‘peat-nut butter’, a smoky, oily, nutty sort of vibe. The peating is fairly light and nicely balanced, sitting over warm honey and raisins. There’s also a feeling of hot, ash-coated chimney bricks and smoked fish.

On the mouth, the port cask is dry and spicy, with honeycomb and cinnamon wandering through. The body starts meaty and low before getting warm and crackly on the finish. All in all a very savoury dram. Unsurprisingly, the sherry cask starts off ashy, before launching into this funky cherry syrup taste and ending with a relatively thin, lingering finish.

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Later I decided to go looking for some more info about the distillery and what I had been drinking, but the Fossey’s website is currently devoted to their well-established gin brand, so I got in touch with Steve Timmis Esq, Master Ginnovator at Fossey’s Distillery.

Turns out the whisky is a collaboration between Steve and long-time mate Brian Hollingsworth, of Black Gate Distillery fame (whose name appears as the distiller on the Fossey’s Whisky bottles). While based in Mendooran these days, Brian used to live a mere 300km up the road from Steve in Broken Hill (as opposed to over 800km away now). The two guys bonded over racing Harleys against each other back in the day and have been friends now for over 30 years.

Currently they have been using 100L barrels cut down at Andrew Stiller Cooperage in Tanunda from externally sourced casks, but due to the expansion of the industry it is becoming increasing difficult and expensive to acquire high quality casks in Australia. In response to this problem, Steve says they have taken the bold step of laying down thousands of litres of their own port, allowing vertical integration of supply within the business and enabling consistency of flavour and style moving forward.

Another problem with aging spirit in Australia, particularly when you get to inland areas like Mildura, is the high summer heat. Steve says that winter is perfect, down to low single digits most nights and up over late teens to low 20s during the day, allowing the barrels to do plenty of breathing. In summer however it gets pretty hot, meaning they need to insulate the cellar and try to protect it as much as they can from the extreme heat, otherwise the angels can get pretty greedy and drink most of the whisky.

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When I asked Steve about the Fossey’s philosophy and the meaning of the tagline on the bottle, “Mellowed to perfection”, he responded that it’s all about doing things your own way and having a crack: “We mellow [the whisky] until its perfect (in our view) – maturing whisky in the Australian outback has its challenges, but like all of the things we do, Gin etc, we do it to satisfy our own palates, and not too much by the rule book. For example, whisky matured here is exceptionally good at 2.5 – 3 years, if it wasn’t, we would leave it in [for longer]. You’ll never never know if you never have a go. Our guiding philosophy is old school quality, the best we can produce, use local stuff wherever we can.”

While the whisky is hot off the press, Steve tells me the ‘jump’ from gin to whisky was about five years in the planning and he has plenty more good stuff to come. Australian whisky fans should keep an eye out over the next 18 months for more straight and peated single malt Fossey’s releases, as well as a solera-cask single malt. Apparently there are also plans for a sub $100AUD 40% ABV blend, as well as some interesting experimentation with locally grown barley and red-gum coal smoking instead of peat… watch this space!

Moral of the story here I think is, get into a decent whisky bar from time-to-time, you never know what you’ll find!

Thanks to Steve and Brian for making the whisky and the staff at Whisky Den for the solid recommendation. Alice, if you’re reading this, I hope you figured it all out.

Peated Sherry ***

Port ***

Return to the Southern Wild

Posted by: Nick

southern wild bar

Good news for fans of Tassie spirits on the North West Coast of Tasmania: Southern Wild Distillery has reopened their doors to the people! The makers of Dasher and Fisher Gin have been shut for over six months preparing to the make the move into their new Providore Place location – a more central and spacious premise than their old home. No longer will vats and racks of bottles encroach on customer elbow room – and the fabulous Southern Wild still fits the space nicely, rather than dominating.

sw goerge and still

The opening was celebrated with a launch on Sunday night and founder George Burgess paid tribute to the people that made it possible, in particular the Tasmanian local growers of the botanicals used in the gins. As the doors were opened, he took groups through, introducing the bar, the still and, excitingly, the laboratory upstairs where enthusiasts can book into gin-making sessions to create their own personalised product with their chosen list of botanicals. The new setting looked resplendent under lights, and the last-minute quest to find replacement plants for the replacement plants paid off superbly.

sw dasher and fisher

Bad news for whisky fans, however, as George confirmed that despite the extra space in his new venue, there is still no room for mash tuns, fermenters and other barley-based spirit making equipment. Sadly, it seems the wait for a new North West Coast dram must continue… Hopefully a couple of lads up the road in Spreyton might just be able to help with this! Stay tuned for our next article to find out more…

sw nick and still

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 12: Tasmanian Independent Bottlers TIB??005

Posted by: Ted

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Tasmanian Independent Bottlers TIB??005 whisky. Tim Duckett is a man who likes his whisky strong. Chances are that if you have been paying even the slightest attention to the Tassie whisky scene, you will have heard of his bonkers Heartwood label, which releases independently-aged whisky at an average ABV% of somewhere in the mid-sixties (the strongest was 72.5%!). Apart from being totally amazing, the Heartwoods also all cost an arm and a leg (and a liver), so to make things more accessible Mr Duckett created Tasmanian Independent Bottlers as the baby brother to Heartwood. TIBs are still independently aged, but ‘only’ range in the high 40’s-low 50’s percentage wise, so the price is much friendlier.

The spirit for TIB??005 was sourced from an undisclosed ‘Renowned NSW Distillery’ (hence the ‘??’ in the batch code. Potential contenders include Archie Rose, Blackgate and Corowa) and then aged in ex-sherry casks in Hobart. The nose is tremendously citrusy, almost gin-like in nature, with citronella/lemon myrtle, pepper-berry and coriander seed as botanicals. It’s lighter on the mouth than you would expect considering the 49.1% strength and has an odd earthy, ashy quality which make me suspect that some sort of peating has occured. The TIB??005 is a super quirky whisky and one that will give the experienced dramist an interesting conundrum to puzzle over.

#whitepossumspirits

Welcome to the Southern Wild

Posted by: Nick and Ted

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Yes, Ted hit his thumb with a hammer

Compared to the glut of distilleries in the Southern region of Tasmania, the North West has been fairly light-on for dram making. To be accurate, hitherto there has actually been just the one producer (although they make up for that by being the largest in the Southern Hemisphere). Thankfully, that paucity is set to change with the opening of a new kid on the block – say hello to Southern Wild distillery.

Based in Devonport, Southern Wild is the brainchild and consuming passion of one George Burgess. We first met George at a dinner in 2014 where he confided to us his dream of establishing a distillery in his home town and “teaming up with other passionate specialist Tasmanian producers to create small batch varieties of unique hand-crafted and seasonal/rare finest quality distilled spirits and liqueurs”. Our response was ‘nice one, it’s good to have dreams’, but boy has he really followed through with that threat!

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George: one day this will be whisky!

A food technician by trade, George has already spent years developing the skills and know-how that has allowed him to dive deep into the world of distilling. He loves discovering new ingredients for his gin-making and tinkering about with different flavours and scents. In fact, the name Southern Wild was inspired by the raw natural beauty of the places he finds some of his botanicals. “I’ll be going down some rough bush track, no phone signal and a nagging feeling of lurking cannibals. Suddenly the bush will clear and you’ll find yourself in this beautiful location encircled by nature and meet the most friendly, down-to-earth folk tending this amazing locally-grown produce.”

Formerly known as Devonport Distillery, Southern Wild has moved about a bit over the years – and its shiny new venue is not even its final location! Devonport has been going through a bit of an identity crisis of late which has led to the creation of what is known as the ‘Living City’ project. In a nutshell, this venture aims to knock down chunks of an inefficient and spread out CBD and rebuild them with a focus on fresh local produce, performing arts spaces and, eventually, a foreshore precinct. The former will be housed in a glamourous farmers market known as Providore Place, with small pods for local producers such as Southern Wild Distillery to sell their wares. A brand new building will be created for the distilling as the current home is a converted loading bay at the back of the council building – however we must admit, for a loading bay it scrubs up rather nicely.

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Stills and suspended plants make for the best distilleries

The room is dominated by the shiny new still, while a gleaming bar is a hive of activity with recently hired bar staff making fancy cocktails. Overlooking the entire room is a mezzanine with space for a band to play – a highlight for George when he first sighted it, telling us his response was “you had me at mezzanine”. Behind the music/hangout area is what looks like a mad scientist’s laboratory, but in reality is the space where George creates and tinkers with his product.

While there are currently a few barrels maturing several intriguing varieties of what will one day be called whisky, George unfortunately doesn’t have any ready yet. Instead he is focusing on what is truly his pet project: his gin. Ever since we’ve known him, George has been raving about his passion for gin and now he’s created not one, but three, each uniquely Tasmanian. Named ‘Dasher & Fisher’ after the two rivers which flow into Devonport’s own waterway, the Mersey, he has created ‘Mountain’ gin, richly flavoured by Tasmanian pepperberries, ‘Meadow’ gin, containing a strong hint of lavender and ‘Ocean’ gin, intriguingly salty with notes of wakame seaweed. While Ted loved the London dry style of the Mountain, Nick was more into the coastal aromas of the Ocean.

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The Ocean gin, surrounded by its botanicals

While this is only the beginning for Southern Wild, it certainly has a bright future ahead of it. It will be fascinating to watch the evolution of the distillery as it transitions from its temporary residence to its permanent home and the inspiration that provides George in his creations. And of course, being Whisky Waffle, we are particularly looking forward to the moment when we can share a dram. From the sneak peak we’ve had though, we are confident that Southern Wild will be releasing whisky that truly speaks for the place it was made, just as its maker intended.

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The still-maker, the still-man, and two idiots who are still waffling

Moseying on over to Mt Uncle: a visit to North Queensland’s only distillery

Posted by: Nick, photos by Paul Moran

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Any excuse to wear the shirt.

I’m not sure what I expected from an outback distillery. Certainly not a wood and stone hut surrounded by a banana plantation with native animals roaming freely over the site. But it turns out that the outback distillery Mt Uncle is exactly that: a distillery in Australia’s outback.

Mt Uncle can be found half an hour from Cairns and is North Queensland’s only distillery. This means that it is the only whisky producer for a nearly 2000 kilometre radius – but I wasn’t going to let a small detail like that deter me!

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I am prepared to travel for my whisky

The business was founded fifteen years ago by farmer Mark Watkins, and originally produced banana liqueur – a more conventional business in this part of the world. But in 2006, he bravely made the switch to distilling barley and is now reaping the rewards. Mark, however, is not big on tradition, preferring to do things his own way. This is in evidence with the name of his yellow-wax-dipped five year old single malt: The Big Black Cock. The large dark-feathered rooster on the front of the bottle clarifies the source of the controversial name.

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Three big black cocks

And it’s a proper outback whisky. Buttery vanilla on the nose with dashes of various native vegetation. The palate is fruity and bitter, perhaps due to the ex-wine barrels it was matured in: American oak with French oak tops. The finish is long, and a little rough. Overall, an intriguing mix.

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Pot still, or column still? Or both?

The whisky was not the only product made at the distillery – Mt Uncle also produces a vast range of other spirits. This included an interesting vodka made from honey, and a light and a dark rum, both easy to drink. There was also a proper bush gin, made with botanicals such as wattle seed, peppermint gum, lemon myrtle and Lilly Pilly. Finally, a bright pink concoction claiming to be marshmallow liqueur, provocatively titled SexyCat. And it was delicious. Dangerously so. Perhaps also embarrassingly so. But certainly a memorable addition to the Mount Uncle range.

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Perfectly acceptable for male drinkers everywhere… I’m telling myself…

Myself and my drinking-buddy-of-the-day Paul had a great time sampling the products, chatting with staff and wandering around the grounds. We kept remarking how nice the place was, though we had to keep reminding ourselves that it was a distillery. It was certainly not what we expected. But we were in tropical North Queensland surround by banana palms. How could we expect anything else?

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The range: and yes, the SexyCat is sitting in a high heel shoe!