independent bottling

Heartwood: striving for consistency

Posted by: Nick

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Heartwood, Australia’s most famous independent bottler, is striving for consistency. However, with new-make spirit arriving from different distilleries, a varied range of barrel types and never-to-be-repeated combinations of spirits, how on earth can it be considered consistent? Simple. Heartwood is not striving for consistency of flavour – it is striving for consistency of quality.

Heartwood is the creation of the Tasmanian whisky industry’s very own mad scientist: Tim Duckett. Tim has produced his remarkable whisky alongside his day job as an environmental consultant, deciding to dip his toe into the infant Tasmanian whisky scene after meeting Bill Lark in the late nineties. He purchased his first barrel of Lark spirit in 1999, but cannily didn’t rush it out the door before it was ready. The first bottling, Mt Wellington, was released in 2012 and things escalated rather quickly from there.

While there are other independent bottlers in Australia, including TIB, Tim’s other project, there is nothing on earth quite like Heartwood. Regularly bottled at unheard of ABVs, some of which nudge the mid 70% range, each release is limited to several hundred bottles, meaning it sells like hotcakes and has developed somewhat of a cult following.

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We visited Tim at Heartwood’s Blackmans Bay bond store where he gave us a peek behind the curtain at the type of flavour profile he values: that which pleases the palate – specifically his palate. Tim seeks to create whiskies which are thick, flavourful and with a finish as long as any whisky on the planet. How does he do this? By pairing good quality spirit with good quality barrels.

It sounds simple, but it is actually far from it; consistently creating high quality whisky is not just the passive process of sticking spirit into barrels and waiting. Tim employs all manner of tricks to get the most out of his whisky, as we found out during our visit. These include intricate blending, either whole casks or simply a few litres here or there, deciding when the oak influence is done and decanting it into vats before beating it with a paddle to drive off volatiles, as well as moving spirit into a warm office to “syrup up”.

When we visited Heartwood HQ the north-facing wall had a number of nearly-ready casks sitting up against it, which Tim explained was the “finishing wall”. He also confessed that he refuses to reuse casks 100 litres or larger unless they have been repurposed with Heartwood witchcraft, and even then, he will only use peated spirit in them… and this is just the tip of the iceberg of strategies Tim uses to create some of the most impressive and sought-after whisky Tasmania has to offer.

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Of course, it helps when there is no agenda to meet; no shareholders to appease. Despite its fame, Heartwood is small-scale, a project born out of passion. Therefore, the whisky is released only when it’s truly ready and never to meet a specific profile or timeframe. Age is somewhat irrelevant in Tasmania anyway, with our varied weather conditions and small barrels. Tim claims that the age of 20 litre casks should be measured in seasons, not years, as the Australian summer will age a whisky faster than autumn, winter and spring combined.

During our visit we were lucky to try a few impressive Heartwood and TIB drams which were nearing completion, including spirit distilled at Redlands, Adams and a ‘Renowned New South Wales Distillery’. Most spectacularly, however, we were able to sample the first Heartwood/Belgrove collaboration (which at the date of publication has just been released – and sold out within hours). The ‘Heartgrove’ was a clash of the titans: a coming together of earthy, almost smoky rye notes with a thick fruit layer from the muscat and sherry casks it had been matured in. It was a wild beast, but Tim had tamed it, creating an intriguing rye that went down almost too easily for a 55% drop. If pressed we would have probably claimed it as our favourite, though it certainly faced some stiff competition.

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Fascinatingly, none of the drams we tried tasted the same; they weren’t even in the same ballpark. The only thing that linked them was the fact that each one was delicious. As Tim told us, Heartwood has never claimed to produce a consistent flavour profile. Instead he focuses on producing consistently great whisky – and so far he’s achieved it every time.

Heartwood is not only unique among Tasmanian whisky producers: there is nothing on the entire planet quite like it. By refusing to release anything below his expected standard, Tim has ensured a whisky-legacy that will live on even when the last of the Heartwood barrels is empty.

Signatory Vintage Tormore 1995

Reviewed by: Nick

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So, you’ve tried a single malt from every Scottish distillery you can get your grubby little mitts on and are now feeling slightly deflated and wondering what to do next? Good news, the answer is at hand: you can find some independent releases and go around again!

Independent bottlings are a wonderful x-factor in the whisky world – they amuse whisky nerds and confuse whisky noobs in equal measure – from a dusty old ‘Douglas Laing’ bottle right through to some ‘That Boutique-y Whisky Company’ with a comical and yet fitting label. Additionally, they also provide an opportunity to access some of the whisky made at lesser known distilleries; in this instance: Tormore.

Tormore is a vast monolithic-looking distillery a kilometre south of the river Spey, and is known mostly for providing spirit for Chivas-related blends. It was one of the very few distilleries built in the mid-20th century and is tricky to find iterations of outside of duty free. Unless, of course, it’s been independently bottled!

My particular independent bottler is Signatory Vintage, which I know next-to-nothing about – and freely confuse its logo with a bottle of Springbank. It would certainly fail to stand out on a shelf in a bar, which is why I think I have unearthed a bit of a hidden gem.

Stats! Something every whisky nerd can’t live without (no wonder we haven’t handled the transition to NAS releases particularly well)! This bottle of Tormore sat in ex-bourbon hogsheads between 1995 and 2016, making it 20 years old and is a marriage of cask 3907 and 3908. My particular bottle is number 394 and sits at a gentle 43%. And it’s rather tasty.

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The nose is oozing with sweet caramel alongside barley sugar and stewed figs. It subtly hints at oak, along citrus and melon notes. The palate is as surprising as it is delicious, full of tropical fruit characteristics. Banana stands out the most, as well as creamy vanilla and chopped nuts – it’s basically a banana split in whisky form! The finish is medium in length and gently earthy – not smoky but at least slightly cured – while vanilla custard flavours delicately linger.

This is a lovely little drop; one that perfectly accompanied the Tasmanian summer and BBQs that ensued and if it were not for an independent bottler setting aside a cask here or there, it’s not one many of us would be able to enjoy. So, if you’ve been holding back and sticking to the distillery’s own releases – well, maybe it’s time to give something independent a try.

★★★★

Delving into Dark Valley: the launch of Tassie’s latest dram

Posted by: Nick

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Independent bottling in Tasmania is a relatively rare thing. Sure, there’s the mighty Heartwood leading the way and a few others coming on board, but by and large, it’s an unexplored market. One person who realised this a long time ago is whisky fanatic and Whisky Waffle guest contributor, Alex ‘Moorsey’ Moores. Despite maintaining a fledgling full-time career in law, he has achieved what most whisky lovers can only dream about – he has created his own whisky: Dark Valley.

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Dark Valley was named after the area of Hobart in which Alex grew up, Glen Dhu. While the temptation was there to name his drams simply ‘Glen Dhu’, being a qualified solicitor he was aware of the legal dangers of such a Scottish sounding name. He instead opted to translate the Gaelic into English and name his bottles ‘Dark Valley’, setting the tone for the gothic labels and imagination-stirring individual release titles such as ‘Raven’s Roost’ and ‘Hunter’s Keep’. Importantly for Alex, he did not wish to tinker in any way with the whisky – he wanted to showcase it in as close to its natural form as possible. This meant no diluting, no blending, no finishing and no filtering. His aim was to create a whisky that was the next best thing to getting it straight from a barrel.

While the first releases from Dark Valley feature whisky distilled at Lark Distillery, it is Alex’s hope that one day all Tasmanian distilleries will contribute spirit for his range. He already has Redlands on board and northern-Tassie’s new boys Adams are next on the list. For now though, there are three different bottlings in existence, all of which I was lucky enough to try at Dark Valley’s Hobart launch.

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The first I tried was the 60.3% sherry matured ‘Raven’s Rest’. My initial reaction was “Yes. Yes yes yes. Yes. Yes.” It was like cooking raspberry jam – so warm and fruity. Next up was the ‘Widow’s Watch’ – bourbon matured and 65.8%, it was full of vanilla and baked goods. I decided on cupcakes, with orange icing and poppy seeds.  Finally was the port matured 62.7% ‘Hunter’s Keep’, and it was my favourite of the lot. It combined the flavours of the other two beautifully while adding hints of cinnamon and nutmeg, creating an effect I described as ‘mulled whisky’. It was superb.

The drawbacks of setting up a new whisky brand is, of course, the cost. Dark Valley will certainly not be going into mass-production any time soon. In fact, these releases came from tiny 20 litre casks, meaning just over 30 bottles of each were made. However, this doesn’t mean you’re unlikely ever to see sight nor sound or them. Alex’s very firm goal is to get Dark Valley into whisky bars – and not into the hands of collectors. He intends to get his product into various establishments in Melbourne and Tasmania, with a few in Hobart showing some interest after the successful launch. In the coming months, if you happen to be near a whisky bar in any of these locations, ask after Dark Valley, because once people discover how good it is it’s not going to last long.

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Finally, on a more personal note, I’d just like to offer my sincerest congratulations to Alex for achieving the spectacular feat of getting his whisky to bottling stage. Moorsey is a genuinely top bloke and I know he’ll be another wonderful torchbearer for Tasmanian whisky.

Heartwood Convict Resurrection

Reviewed by: Nick

Heartwood Convict Resurrection

In Scotland, independent bottling of whisky is commonplace. Companies such as Gordon & MacPhail, Berry Brothers & Rudd, Flora & Fauna – basically anything with an ‘&’ in it – run successful businesses and produce some fine drams. In Tassie, well, it’s a little rarer. While Trappers Hut and Tasmanian Independent Bottlers are coming along nicely, there’s one name leading the way: Heartwood.

Heartwood was created by Tasmania’s own mad scientist of whisky, Tim Duckett, whom I imagine spends his days bent over a steaming cauldron of luminous Tasmanian whisky, stirring it with a wooden oar and chanting “double double toil and trouble”.

If you’ve ever come across a bottle of Heartwood, you’ll attest that it was unquestionably a memorable drop. There’s certainly a lot to remember, from the wonderful designs on the labels to the distinctive names: ‘Vat Out of Hell’, ‘Release the beast’ and ‘Any Port in a Storm’ to name a few. However, the most memorable aspect of any Heartwood bottling – by far – is the strength. The ABV of all releases ranges from percentages in the mid 60s to percentages in the mid 70s. That’s right – mid 70s!!!

The bottle I decided to purchase sits at an eye watering 72% and is called the ‘Convict Resurrection’, part of a series of convict-inspired bottlings referring to Tasmania’s original function as a penal colony. The whisky comes from Sullivans Cove barrel HH0239, which was an American oak ex-port cask. And boy, is it something.

Every aspect of this whisky is massive. The nose hits you like a boxing glove wielded by Sugar Ray Leonard, teeming with creamy fruit flavours like plum jam spread on rich brie. As is to be expected, the palate also packs a punch – taking a sip is like wrestling a crocodile – and yet there are so many flavours to be found: raisins, nutmeg, pinecones and blackberries – perhaps with the thorns still attached!

The finish is the most surprising element of the whole dram as it is incredibly smooth. It seems to evaporate at the back of your throat, leaving the most glorious lingering warmth with notes of jam and honey.

If you ever see a nip of Heartwood available anywhere – don’t think – just buy it. Sure, it’ll be pricey, but only 200 or so of each bottle is made and once they’re gone, they’re actually gone. Heartwood fans don’t buy the stuff to leave it sitting on a shelf.

Seriously, try it if you can. I promise it will be memorable – in the best possible way.

★★★★★

Heartwood n Nick

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

#TasWhiskyWeek

William Cadenhead Single Speyside Malt Scotch Whisky Aged 40 Years

Reviewed by: Ted

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The art of independent bottling is a fascinating one, taking the product of a distillery and aging it oneself in a new and interesting way. If performed successfully, the end product should hark back to it’s origins and yet metamorphose into something beguiling and delightful. A whisky butterfly if you will.

WM Cadenhead Ltd is Scotland’s oldest independent bottler, established in 1842. As such, they have had some time to perfect the art and their releases tend to command considerable respect.

The William Cadenhead Single Speyside Scotch Whisky that I was fortunate enough to try was a mere 40 years old! While the bottle did not reveal the origin of the spirit, I have been told that it allegedly contains spirit from Glenfarclas, a family-owned distillery steeped in tradition.

On the nose the William Cadenhead 40yo is like timber polished to the smoothness of glass using the finest vanilla and caramel scented beeswax.

In the mouth the spirit is what I imagine drinking satin would be like, rippling folds of cool smoothness sliding over the tongue and susurrating down the throat. The flavour is the lightest touch of honey, tree spices and dried fruits.

If you are ever fortunate enough to come across the William Cadenhead 40yo I would highly recommend taking the opportunity to try it. This is independent bottling at its most elegant.

★★★★★