Michael Briggs

Ironhouse Release Tasman Whisky

Posted by: Ted

Whisky Waffle IH Launch book

With Tasmanian Whisky Week just around the corner, it is only fitting that another distillery has joined that ever-growing band of Tassie producers offering mature whisky to the people. East Coast outfit Ironhouse Brewery & Distillery recently launched into the scene with the first release of their ‘Tasman Whisky’ label.

Better known (currently) for their Ironhouse beer range, the brewery and distillery (brewstillery?) is located at White Sands Estate, just north of Bicheno. Brainchild of head brewer and distiller Michael “Briggsy” Briggs, the distillery came into existence as a way to utilise excess wash generated by the brewery. According to Briggsy “we had a plan to sell our excess wash to whisky producers, but we hit a load of roadblocks along the way, so in the end we said ‘bugger it, we’ll just make our own!'”

Whisky Waffle IH Launch Briggsy

Whisky Waffle recently had the chance to sample the fruits of that decision at the North West leg of the official launch series, luckily held in our hometown of Burnie. Burnie might seem an odd place to host a whisky launch for an East Coast outfit, but this is Tasmania, and there is always a local connection to be found.

Craig ‘Spilsy’ Spilsbury, Ironhouse Brand Ambassador and Briggsy’s right-hand man, grew up in Burnie and was excited to be able bring his new baby back to his old stomping grounds. “I got most of the scars on my head working at the Beach Hotel in Burnie back in the 80’s,” he quipped to the crowd assembled upstairs at the historic APPM paper mill building at South Beach. The venue was fitting in the context of local connections, as Briggsy revealed that his in-laws had met at the paper mill, while both fathers of the Whisky Waffle lads were employed there in the past too (and no doubt a good chunk of the audience could claim similar connections).

Whisky Waffle IH Launch crowd

Our hosts were keen not to waffle on too long though (good thing we weren’t hosting) and instead let the whisky speak for itself. Briggsy revealed that the decision to brand the spirit as ‘Tasman Whisky’ rather than Ironhouse came from the intimate connection they share with the Tasman Sea, which provides the spectacular coastal setting for the brewstillery.

The Tasman Whisky first release consists of three different vatted cask expressions: bourbon, sherry and port, all bottled at roughly 47% ABV. We agreed that the bourbon cask, a light, sweet drop with a bit of a spearmint/menthol prickle, was quite Scottish in nature, with hints of its American heritage popping through occasionally.

The quirky sherry cask would have been at home in a sweet shop, sporting a fruit, malt and dark Lindt chocolate nose (milkshakes anyone?) and a fruity mouth reminiscent of red snakes and wine jelly. The winner for us, and most others too when a vote was held at the end, was the port cask. Much more classically Tasmanian in nature, the port was robust and spicy with fat fruity jam notes across the palate.

Not only does the Tasman Whisky range taste good, but it also looks good, thanks to the use of some rather *ahem* novel packaging. The box has been designed to look like a book, complete with first page, and will make an elegant addition to any collection. A rightfully smug Briggsy informed us that “it’s all about the story, about where we came from, hence the packaging looking like a book.” Spilsy chipped in with a useful bit of advice, noting that “it’s also useful for sneaking it past the trouble & strife”.

The evening concluded in a somewhat dramatic fashion, with Whisky Waffle’s own Ted trying to execute a dance move, in memory of attending a paper mill dance at the venue with his dad when he was 5, and instead managing to do a pretty comprehensive job of breaking his leg. Luckily the Tasman Whisky proved to be an excellent source of pain relief and kept spirits buoyed as the hours spent in the emergency department wore on.

For those looking to use Tasman Whisky recreationally rather than medicinally, bottles will begin to be released to the public in the next few weeks. Briggsy and Spilsy have always intended their whisky to drunk by humans rather than hidden away within the glass cabinets of collectors, and the price is therefore thankfully within reach of we regular people.

Tasmania’s whisky history is becoming richer and more storied with every passing year. It is with great pleasure that we officially welcome Tasman Whisky: the start of a brand-new chapter.

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Investigating Iron House Distillery

Posted by: Nick

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Michael Briggs, head distiller of Iron House Distillery is the most relaxed empire builder you are ever likely to meet. This is because he’s not an empire builder. He’s a bloke – who has just happened to build an empire.

Iron House is more than a whisky distillery. It is also a brewery and a vineyard, while the still is also used to create various styles of gin, vodka and brandy. With all these products on the go you’d be forgiven for thinking Iron House was an overly complicated business. Michael (or ‘Briggsy’ as he’s known to one and all) avoids this by sticking to one overarching philosophy: KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid.

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Iron House is located at the majestic White Sands Resort on the East Coast of Tasmania. The resort was purchased by Briggsy’s father-in-law some 15 years ago. The place was slightly run down and frayed at the edges but fell into hands willing to turn it into something special (although it is said by some that it may have been bought just to get access to the boat ramp!). Once the premise was secured the next phase in the plan was to create something to sell on the taps – which is where Briggsy stepped in, forming Iron House Brewery.

The name was derived from the location – the area was once a 19th century camp ground for those travelling from the south and allegedly became home to the first tin-roofed building on the east coast, or as the locals referred to it: the Iron House.

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Once the brewery was up and running the next logical step was (of course) to make whisky. While this was always part of Briggsy’s plans, the creation of the distillery was borne out of necessity. The amount of beer production per year was exceeding their current market – and rather than expanding to the mainland or overseas, Briggsy decided the left over wash could be put to better use.

A still was duly purchased – from Germany via the USA – and it arrived in pieces with absolutely no instructions. Like a complicated box of LEGOTM, Iron House’s mechanical engineer Michael Aulich assembled it, guided by pictures he found online, and eventually Iron House became the proud owners of a copper column still and an oddly shaped pot still.

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While Iron House has yet to release its first whisky, I was able to try some new make spirit (or, to quote Briggsy: “white dog”) fresh from the still. On the nose it packed that fruity high-alcohol punch, though on the palate it was grainy and cerealy (Weet-bixy, for my fellow Australians). It was full of character and intrigued me as to what it would become.

I got a small preview of this downstairs in the bond store. There are multiple barrels within that have been filled for more than 2 years, the minimum age for a whisky. However Briggsy labelled them “legally ready, but not Iron House ready”. His plan is to blend multiple barrels in a Solera system to create a consistent, accessible product. He is a big believer that Tasmanian whisky should not be out of the reach of regular people – from the perspective of both flavour and price. Thus we can expect to have to wait until mid 2019 at the earliest to see an Iron House single malt release (however to tie you over there is some delicious virgin-oak-matured brandy which is nearly ready!).

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Briggsy admitted the biggest strength of Iron House is also its biggest weakness. White Sands Resort is found at the most spectacular coastal site and yet this location is over two hours drive from either of the state’s biggest cities: Hobart and Launceston. However, if you find yourself cruising Tasmania’s beautiful East Coast then a stop into White Sands and the Brewhaus Cafe & Bar is a must. The distillery and brewery are separated from the cafe by many large glass walls, through which you can witness the entire whisky making process. It is a truly memorable and worthy addition to the Tasmanian distilling community – and well worth a visit.

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