Hangar 17

Launceston Distillery Land Their First Release

Posted by: Ted

LaunnieLogo

The old Ansett Hangar 17 at Launceston airport looked almost exactly the same as it had the last time I had visited a couple of years ago. The only real sign of time progressing was a new opaque glass and aluminium door grafted into the old corrugated iron wall, bearing the crest of Launceston Distillery, and a sandwich board in front of it declaring the place to be ‘open’.

Hangar17

Hangar 17, the home of Launceston Distillery

After crossing the threshold I was warmly greeted by distillery Director Chris Byrne, who commented “hopefully my sign holds up against the wind, I’ve given it a bit of angle, but we’ll see.” (It had disappeared by the time I left). Nestled in the foyer were a couple of old airline seats. I asked if they were Ansett, but Chris shook his head and replied “We had an old bloke drop in and say the pattern was 1960’s Qantas. It’s definitely from back then anyway, just look at the ashtrays.” [Correction: the guy who sold the seats to the distillery has been in touch and they are definitely Ansett. He said he will be having stern words with Chris about listening to old blokes who walk in off the street]. We grabbed a cup of tea to ward against the cold, pausing a moment to admire the whiteboard still bearing operational notes left after Ansett collapsed in 2001, and then wandered out for a look at the distillery.

QantasChairs

Sorry Ansett diehards, these are just scummy old 60’s Qantas seats… Plot twist! Turns out they are actually Ansett and the old bloke didn’t know what he was talking about!

The main hangar, once used to house aircraft, was as large as ever, but the floor space had diminished significantly since last time thanks to the appearance of several rows of 100L casks. Chris grinned at the sight and commented that “the original bond store off the side is full of 20L casks now, so we had to expand out here. We’re hoping that we have enough 20L casks stored now to get us through to when we start releasing our 100L’s in a few years time.”

LaunnieHistory

The history of Hangar 17 on display

Sitting next to the stacks was a board covered in posters documenting the history of the site, which Chris was more than happy to explain. During the lesson he pointed at the numbers and lines on the floor: “See those there? That’s where they used to line up the luggage crates. Apparently one was pushed into the wall by accident, but because they hadn’t secured it down when they extended the shed, the whole bottom of the wall got pushed out. We had to pull it back in with a ute when we were doing the place up.”

Hanagar 17 3

Phwoar, check out the insulation on those

Eventually we wandered over for a look at the bond store, passing by the two Knapp-Lewer stills with their beautiful timber insulation. Last time I had seen the bond store there had only been a solitary row of casks huddled forlornly against the wall, but now the room was full to the brim of neatly racked 20L casks. While we were admiring the view, head distiller Chris Condon and Angus the distillery dog returned from the airport terminal, where they had just delivered the first order of whisky to the airport shop. “They’ve got some good advertising up, so hopefully people stop and pick up a bottle.”

AngusAnsett

Angus the distillery dog travels in style

Chris B handed me over to Chris C and we made a beeline for the tasting bar, built from an old Ansett check-in desk and an in-flight drinks trolley, for a chat and some cheeky bevvies. The most notable feature of the bar was the row of bottles perched on top, thanks to Launceston Distillery releasing their first whisky just last month, a milestone that was very pleasing to Chris: “One of the problems with distilling is that because it takes so long to get to that first release, it can sometimes feel like you’re not making any progress, so it’s great to finally have something to show for all our hard work!”

LaunnieBond

20L nirvana

The bottles on offer covered the first four batches laid down by the distillery, with each batch released as a marriage of 20L casks bottled at a standard 46% abv. Batch 1, the first edition, was an ex-Apera (the Australian version of sherry) casking, Batch 2 was an ex-tawny (Australian port) casking, Batch 3 was another Apera, although apparently with a different character to Batch 1 as the casks had been sourced from SA Cooperage rather than the Tas Cask Co, and finally Batch 4 was an ex-bourbon casking.

LaunnieBatches

L-R: Batch 1 (ex-Apera), Batch 2 (ex-Tawny), Batch 3 (ex-Apera), Batch 4 (ex-Bourbon)

On the nose Batch 4 was light, crisp and grainy, with notes of fresh apples and green grapes. In contrast, Batch 1 was sweet, sticky and rich, with dried fruits, orange syrup, red jubes and undertones of malt, wood shavings and bacon. Batch 2 was dark, with red berries, leather, wax, timber and a clean oiliness.

On tasting, Batch 4 was sharp and bright on the mouth, with acidic herbal notes and a clean finish. In complete contrast, Batch 1 was like an explosion from the aromatic end of the spice rack, with strong flavours of aniseed, cinnamon, cloves and star anise, as well as almonds, milk chocolate, mandarins and a tanninic finish. Finally, Batch 2 was dark, rich and sweet, with notes of dark chocolate and black cherries and a smooth, oaky finish.

Chris revealed that each batch was just over two years old and I asked whether he had toyed with the idea of leaving them longer under oak: “We didn’t just dump them out arbitrarily at two years obviously, it’s more considered that, but you start getting to a point where you have to ask yourself, ‘Am I doing more harm than good for the sake of a few months?’. That’s the tricky thing about 20L casks, there’s a real risk of over-oaking.”

LaunnieTasting

Head Distiller Chris Condon rocks the Ansett memorabilia

Chris was also keen to show me the boxes that had been designed for the bottles and explained the relevance of each design element: “The colour is actually the Ansett blue, while the clouds are from a photo taken of the sky above the airport. If you look closely, you can also see lines running across the box which are actually from an 1830 map of the region. All the surrounding towns and landmarks are there, which really grounds it in this place.”

AngusAuthor

The author and Angus relax before the flight

After the tasting, I had a quick relax on some genuine Ansett airline seats with Angus the distillery dog (“Judging by the condition, we don’t think they were ever installed in a plane,” commented Chris), said a quick farewell to Chris B who was finishing labeling the last of the personalised pre-order bottles that had been offered as part of the 1st release and collected my own bottle of Batch 1 from Chris C.

LaunnieLabels

Chris Byrne, hand-labelling master

Before I left, I had one last question on my mind. Last time Whisky Waffle visited, the distillery team had been tossing up names for the whisky. At that time ‘Hangar 17’ had been a strong contender in tribute to the building that housed their distillery, so I asked Chris what had changed: “We ending up going that way in part because there was a legal issue with Hangar 1 in San Francisco, who are vodka makers and objected to us using the name. I’m actually really pleased that we went with Launceston Distillery though, because that’s who and what we are. It’s a really strong geographic name that people can connect with.”

He paused a moment then laughed and quipped “At the end of the day, Hangar 17 is still our physical address, so they can’t take that away from us. We’ll see how we go.” Well readers, if the quality of the whisky is anything to go by, then it’s no hard stretch to say that Launceston Distillery will go far.

Head over to the Launceston Distillery website to purchase a bottle or organise a tour: https://www.launcestondistillery.com.au/

Advertisements

Whisky Waffle Podcast Episode 4

Posted by: Nick

Welcome to the Whisky Waffle Podcast: Tasmania Special! Where we waffle about Tassie whisky while drinking Tassie whisky! In this exciting episode we include:

– The Waffle, where we ramble about the merits and history of the Tasmanian distilling scene
– The Whisky, where we sample some high strength Tassie drams: Overeem bourbon cask and Heartwood Convict Resurrection
– Smash, Session or Savour, where Ted makes a difficult coastal decision; and
– Whisky Would You Rather, where Tasmania goes head to head against Scotland

Whisky Waffle celebrate Tasmanian whisky

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Tasmanian whisky: One state. Three ingredients. Unlimited flavour.

Wafflers with waffles

Whisky Waffle are thrilled to help kick off the inaugural Tasmanian Whisky Week, an event we are sure will capture the hearts and minds of the whisky loving public. Throughout the week we will be showcasing a different Tasmanian drop each day and exploring the huge variety of flavours on offer in our small state.

From Hobart to Burnie, the week will be a celebration of the history, the people and of course, the amazing whisky itself. But what is it exactly that makes Tasmanian whisky worth celebrating? To answer that, we asked the people who know best, the folk working in and contributing to the whisky industry in our home state.

We turned first to the (designated) drivers and organisers of Tas Whisky Week, the beautiful Jane Overeem and the beautifully bearded Brett Steel:

Jane Overeem

Jane Overeem

Jane Overeem, Overeem brand ambassador and coordinator of Tas Whisky Week:
The authenticity, love and passion behind every brand – which results in amazing quality products!

Brett Steel, Drink Tas founder and coordinator of Tas Whisky Week:
The stories and the people! Whisky is being made all over the country now, but Tasmania is and always will be the homeland of Australian whisky. When Bill Lark got the laws changed in 1992 it ignited something in many of the island folk. Whisky production with the old-world techniques is a passionate affair and a patience game. I think Tasmanians value both of these elements; we are in no rush. Great whisky can’t be hurried, and where others may be focusing on scale and technology, I think the execution of Tasmanian whisky-craft is down to the pioneers in Tasmania who were hungry enough to make it happen in the first instance, and generous enough to teach others their technique. And because of that drive, that’s why Tasmania produces exceptional whisky, time and time again. I hope Tasmanian Whisky Week becomes a celebration of their story.

Next we spoke to the head distillers from two of Tasmania’s most influential distilleries, Lark and Hellyers Road, about their aspirations to be the next James Bond… and about whisky:

Chris from Lark

Chris Thomson

Chris Thomson, Lark head distiller:
Ask anyone who works in the industry and you will always come back to the people. Tasmanian whisky is built on an incredible brother and sisterhood where we are all just celebrating whisky, enjoying it with friends and family and trying to make each dram better.  As an industry we help each other out and share in each other’s success, usually with a whisky in hand! The thing I love about Tasmania’s distilleries is we are all just small enough that you might see this relationship in action. So what is it that makes Tasmanian whisky worth celebrating? It’s the same thing that makes whisky worth celebrating; the great people you meet over a dram.

Mark Littler

Mark Littler

Mark Littler, Hellyers Road head distiller:
Tasmanian whisky has come so far in such a short period of time and to be having our single malts recognised and distributed globally is certainly something to celebrate!

Tasmania’s down-to-earth whisky alchemist, champion sand sculptor and 2015 Bill Lark Award recipient provided some sage advice about our local industry’s lo-fi nature:

Pete Bignell

Peter Bignell

Peter Bignell, Belgrove head distiller and whisky alchemist:
It is all hand made in small batches. We don’t rely on computers to tell us when to make the ‘cuts’; it is all done by nose and taste. If it doesn’t smell or taste right then it does not go into a barrel – or come out of the barrel. We all use alembic pot stills that are inefficient at separating alcohol from the vapours in the still, but we exploit that inefficiency to bring exciting flavours along with the alcohol. It is all about flavour, not volume.

Two of Tassie’s newest members to the family got straight to the point about what goes into making a good Tasmanian whisky… literally:

Chris Condon, Launceston Distillery head distiller:
It’s a little bit of Tassie in a glass. Local grain and water, crafted into full flavoured whiskies by passionate people.

Damien Mackey by Paul County

Damien Mackey (photo by Paul County)

Damien Mackey, Shene Estate head distiller:
Tasmanian Whisky is a perfect storm: world-class barley and water, an ideal climate, time-tested methodology, passionate people and the steady hand of an intrepid leader, Bill Lark.’

Fifth Beatle and third Waffler, Alex ‘Moorsey’ Moores gave us a Braveheart-esque speech on the merits of the Tassie drop:

Alex Moores, founder of Dramatic Drams and Whisky Waffle guest reviewer:

Tasmanian whisky is all about the craft. Nowhere else did any anyone have the bravery and foresight to do something so momentous on such a small scale. You don’t do that because you want to take people’s money. You do it because you think those people are missing out on something truly great. Every detail matters to Tasmanian whisky distillers. Other distilleries in the world are built to even out the crinkles in their product; make a lot and hide its imperfections. Tasmanian whisky finds beauty in the chaos of variation; it makes something delicious, then breaks the mould and does it all over again.

Finally, the co-presidents of the Tasmanian Whisky Appreciation Society gave us vastly different (but equally accurate) responses about why Tasmanian whisky is worth celebrating:

Richard

Richard Stewart

Richard Stewart, TWAS co-president and Whisky Waffle guest reviewer:
In my opinion – the people! I mean everyone knows Tassie is the best place on earth, and everyone knows we’re blessed with the perfect climate, soil, water, animals, peat, foliage, moss, sunlight, ecosystem, etc etc  for growing grain, distilling, and aging whisky.

But to do any of this you have to have the right people – smart people, friendly people and a welcoming and supportive community behind them. People not afraid to step outside the box, take big risks, do unimaginable, amazing and sometimes weird things with water, yeast, grain and wood. And these people have placed their trust and faith in us, the locals, and given their all, asked us what we think – what they can do to improve and change what works and what doesn’t.

I think Tasmanian whisky is worth celebrating because it’s a nexus of harmony – perfect ingredients, perfect location, perfect people and a perfect community supporting all of this. Everyone in Tassie should be proud of the distillers, distilleries and the whisky produced, but the fact that the Tassie community is helping as well means we’re all a part of one big whisky family…  now that’s worth celebrating!

Tim

Tim Duckett

Tim Duckett, Heartwood founder, TWAS co-president and whisky palaeontologist :
You answered your own question. The whisky is ‘Tasmanian’.

We would like to thank everyone in our extended Tasmanian whisky family for embracing us (and putting up with us) and sharing their passion and wisdom with us. We are privileged to be a part of this celebration and wish it all the success in the world. Tasmania, keep on waffling.

Lads

Nick and Ted. Wafflers at large.

Tasmanian whisky: One state. Three ingredients. Unlimited flavour.

#TasWhiskyWeek

Tasmania and Whisky Waffle launch Tasmanian Whisky Week

Posted by: Nick

It seems we Wafflers are not the only ones who love Tasmanian Whisky! We reported recently that Whisky Live is coming to Tasmania for the first time. But, why stop there? The Tasmanian whisky community has decided to crash the party and create the inaugural Tasmanian Whisky Week.

TWW Logo

While we say ‘week’, it will in fact last for nine days between Friday July 22 and Sunday July 31 and will feature a number of industry events at Tasmanian distilleries, bars, restaurants – even barns! Throughout the week a number of distilleries will open their doors to host tours, rare whisky tastings, gourmet meals and more. You’d better hurry, though – tickets are selling fast!

Of course, Whisky Waffle will also be taking part in this week of festivities. Throughout the seven days leading up to Whisky Live we will be releasing a series of articles and reviews celebrating some of our favourite Tassie drops. Even if you are from another part of the world, log on to Whisky Waffle throughout the week to celebrate along with us.

Hellyers Road Whisky Waffle

Two Hellyers Road Whisky Walks for the price of one!

Among the many events taking place are exclusive tours of Lark, Overeem, Sullivans Cove and Hellyers Road, or a combination of the above, with Drink Tasmania.

For something more extravagant why not check out the whisky and cheese afternoon at Redlands, a whisky and food matching masterclass at Launceston Distillery, or the Shene Estate after dark tour.

Mackey Shene photo Paul County

Mackey AND Shene Estate! Wait… they’re the same thing? Picture courtesy of Paul County Photography

Perhaps you’re after something a little stronger, such as trying a range of amazing Heartwood products – or maybe you’d like to try some boilermakers with Belgrove’s Pete Bignell and his son, brewer Tom Bignell. Nant are not missing out either, hosting a meet-the-distiller two course lunch.

For those looking for something even more special, there is the Founders Dinner, a three course meal complete with rare Tasmanian whiskies and four of the most important men in the business: Bill Lark, Casey Overeem, Patrick Maguire (Sullivans Cove) and Mark Littler (Hellyers Road). If you have a little more time and money, there is the option of a two day jaunt around the Tasmanian highlands, visiting multiple distilleries and the very location of Bill Lark’s epiphany.

Drink Tas tour

Brett Steel, Pete Bignell and some happy whisky drinkers on a Drinks Tas tour

Finally, there is Whisky Live, the catalyst of the week and a compulsory visit for fans of Tasmanian and Scottish whisky alike.

It’s going to be a huge week. Our only regret is not being able to attend each and every event. One thing is for sure however – when it comes to Tasmanian whisky, there is a lot worth celebrating!

Wafflers and Brett

Cheers Brett! Tas Whisky Week. Let’s do this!

Landing at Launceston Distillery

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Hanagar 17 1

A great place to hang(ar) out

It’s certainly an awe-inspiring sight the first time you enter the great expanse of Hangar 17 at Launceston Airport and behold the gleaming distilling equipment laid out on the floor. It’s certainly not what you’d expect to find in Ansett Airlines’ long-neglected freight facility, until recently a lair for birds and dust. Thankfully the birds have been evicted and the dust laboriously scoured from the exposed metal girders to provide a home for Launceston’s first distillery in 175 years.

On a recent trip to Launceston the Whisky Waffle boys had the great pleasure of meeting Ilya, Peta and Chris, three members of the team, and checking out their state of the art distillery. Their set up is certainly impressive: the stunningly beautiful Tasmanian-built stills stand proudly in the centre of the gigantic room. This is no small-scale operation – you can tell these guys are serious about their whisky-making, in part evidenced by the fact that they have both a wash still and a spirit still, often not the norm for smaller-scale ventures.

Hanagar 17 3

Two stills. Count em!

“We wanted to make a premium product,” said distiller Chris “so after much debate we came to an agreement and decided to take the plunge and build both stills.” Premium is certainly the goal they have set themselves and we think that they are well on their way to achieving it. This was made abundantly clear when we tried their new make – an elegant and dangerously drinkable spirit.

As the team has only recently started filling barrels there was no whisky mature enough for us to try, though we did get to take a ‘flying visit’ through their bond store. Chris had three different casks on a table, an ex-bourbon, an ex-sherry and an ex-port and invited us to have a nose and see if we could guess which was which. We were unanimous about the bourbon but disagreed about the other two, with Nick’s nose reigning supreme on this occasion.

Hanagar 17 2

Two good-looking pieces of equipment. And some stills.

The Launceston Distillery crew are excited about being able to showcase their hometown and promote the northern part of the state. They are looking to capitalise on the success experienced by their southern counterparts and pave the way for a whisky trail in the north. Who knows, perhaps one day there will be a north-south rivalry develop in the whisky industry to mirror the Boags vs Cascade beer-battle.

While the name has yet to be confirmed, Launceston Distillery is looking to make the most of their aviation surroundings and release their whisky under the moniker of Hangar 17. While we’re not sure if our idea of a bar in an old aircraft will come to fruition, their location is definitely advantageous for luring in curious customers. As Peta told us: “1.5 million people pour through the airport every year, so it would be wonderful to capture just a portion of them.”

Hanagar 17 4

The dream team. Doing it for the North. L-R Chris, Peta, Ilya.

While at the moment the distillery is flying under the radar, and according to Ilya being consciously relaxed about publicity, they are certainly one to keep on the scanner in the future. We at Whisky Waffle are excited to discover the lofty heights they reach and will be booking our ticket when Hangar 17 is ready to lift off.

Find out more about Launceston Distillery at our links page. The distillery is not yet open to the public but appointments can be made to visit.