new make

An Evening with the Tasmanian Moonshine Company

Posted by: Ted

Group shot Whisky Waffle

Moonshine, of the liquid rather than the lunar variety, tends to conjure up images of rough folk with an equal number of teeth, brain cells and chromosomes distilling liquor through an old tin can and a car radiator in the backwaters of America. Da-da-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding… can you hear the banjos duelling in the distance? Somehow then, it seems rather incongruous to find a product calling itself moonshine hailing not from the Appalachian hinterlands, but Tasmania, Australia, home to a burgeoning high-class craft distilling industry. According to Tasmanian Moonshine Company (TMC) manager John Jarvis however, there is a very good reason their product bears that epithet.

I met up with John at the Spirit Bar in Burnie, where a small but enthusiastic crowd had gathered to try the range of products offered by TMC. Produced at Devil’s Distillery (est 2015) in Moonah, TMC uses 100% Tasmanian malted barley to create their spirit. Now, malted barley is of course what you use to make single malt whisky, but because the spirit released by TMC is less than two years old it cannot legally be called that.

John Whisky Waffle (2)

While generally a very friendly bunch, Tasmanian whisky producers are also very protective of the world-class brand they have created. To keep relationships on a good keel between all parties, John and his colleagues decided to steer away branding that could be misconstrued as whisky-related and fittingly call their product moonshine, a traditional name for any unaged or underaged spirit.

TMC produces a range of products on their 1800l pot still and 380l reflux still, including Vodka and Tasmanian Mellifera (a spiced honey and citrus liqueur) as well as Cold Drip Espresso Coffee Liqueur, Tasmanian Midnight (a fennel based liqueur similar to ouzo or arak) and their frankenstein fusion child, the Licorice Infused Coffee Liqueur.

Of more interest to whisky drinkers is the Tasmanian Malt Barrel Aged New Make. After spending a relatively short time developing character under oak, the Barrel Aged New Make is released at around 18 months of age.  It’s youth actually works in its favour according to John; “we wanted to make something to fill a hole in the Tasmanian market, something that we don’t have to sit on, can release quite regularly and that is easily accessible. Prices in Tasmania for single malt can be crazy… I don’t think there’s really any other products at the price point we are aiming for.”

Moonshine Whisky Waffle (2)

John was also keen to talk about the interesting casking employed by the distillery: “My head distiller just wanted to do one cask type, but I like to experiment. As well as ex-bourbon American oak barrels, we also have other casks like sherry, port and tokay that are made from Hungarian oak sourced directly from Hungary by our cask maker. I definitely think there is an effect on the resulting flavour;  I’ve heard people are asking to get hold of Hungarian casks now too.”

When each 300l cask is deemed ready to release, around half the contents are decanted, with the remainder allowed time to develop further before leaving home. The casks are also tapped according to what the distillers feel is ready at the time, meaning that the character of the spirit changes from release to release. Interestingly the cask type is not actually mentioned on the bottle, so punters will be kept on their toes, but John is sanguine about this fact, commenting “we’ll never be able to make the same product indefinitely anyway, unless we move away from single barrel releases and start vatting, so I think it’s fine.”

On offer that evening was a Hungarian oak tokay cask release at 43% abv and a Hungarian oak port cask release at a rather sexy 67% abv. On the nose the tokay was smooth and sweet, with notes of leather and beeswax, while the port exuded caramel, rust, red meat and dark timber. On the palate the tokay was crisp, lively and herbal, while the boozy port delivered red wine tannins, pepper, honey glaze and oaky notes.

barrel aged Whisky Waffle (2)Barrel aged Whisky Waffle

As well as the depth of flavour, the colour was also pretty impressive for spirit of that age; “I’ve actually had arguments with people who think we colour our spirit,” remarked John “but of course we don’t, it’s all from the good quality casks we use.” While definitely young tasting, I can report that both Barrel Aged New Make releases had a surprising completeness of character that was very pleasing to the senses and left an impression of finished and polished product rather than an undercooked malt spirit just released as a cash grab.

Of course, this would suggest that Devil’s Distillery is able to produce a very high quality new make and fortunately John had some on hand for us to try. Even more exciting was the fact that he had two different cuts of the new make, one containing pure hearts and the other with a mixture of hearts and tails (this sentence probably sounds a bit disturbing to anyone who is not familiar with spirit production)!

Hearts or tails Whisky Waffle

The hearts were not for the, er, faint hearted, bottled off the still at an eye watering 73.5% abv, while the heart/tail mix was positively tame at ‘only’ 68.5% abv. On the nose the pure hearts were light, sweet and delicate, with a nice graininess. In comparison the heart/tail mix was rubbery and as someone commented, smelt like a barn floor, which if you’ve never experienced it is a mixture of sweet fermenting straw and an underlying tone of, ahem, cow business. On the palate, the hearts were sweet, with a crisp, crystalline feel, whereas the heart/tails were once again rubbery, with vegetably, fermented grain notes.

The amazing thing was that, according to John, there was only about 20% run difference between the two cuts, demonstrating how much the character of the spirit changes over the course of a distillation. You may be surprised to know, however, that those funky flavours in the tails can completely change when you add them to the hearts and can be vital for defining the character of the finished product.

While TMC will continue to release its current lineup of moonshine products (although maybe grab a bottle of Tasmanian Mellifera as John says he’s sick of grating orange peel), down the track the company will also be leaving some spirit to age for a bit longer under oak until it ticks over that legal line and magically transforms into whisky. The first release is slated to be a 3yo 20l bourbon cask finished in Hungarian sherry oak and will be released under the label of ‘Hobart Whisky’ (“I still can’t believe we scored the rights to that name,” says John with delight). If the barrel aged new make is anything to go by, then the whisky is likely to be a cracker.

John Whisky Waffle

As the night drew to a close, the guests were left contented by a healthy dose of good company and excellent moonshine. While we tend to focus on malted barley that has been transformed into whisky here at Whisky Waffle (it’s kinda in the name), the Tasmanian Moonshine Company proves that if you start with an excellent malt spirit and make good use of your barrels, then ‘young’ doesn’t necessarily have to equate to ‘bad’, or ‘rough’, or ‘unfinished’, or whatever other label you want to throw at it.

I still want them to learn the banjo though.

Thanks to Kirk and the Spirit Bar crew for hosting the event and providing tasty cheese platters. Thanks to John and the Tasmanian Moonshine Company for making the trek up to Burnie to entertain us.

 

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Having fun at Fannys Bay

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Whisky Waffle at Fannys Bay

Our favourite kind of shed

As self-styled whisky adventurers we get to meet some really fantastic people in the whisky business – case-in-point are Mathew and Julie Cooper, founders of the rather fabulously named Fannys Bay Distillery. Residing on Tasmania’s North coast they have brought whisky making to a region hitherto bereft of locally produced drams. As far as we (and they) know, Fannys Bay is Tasmania’s smallest distillery, but all indications suggest they will be punching well above their weight.

The Whisky Waffle boys travelled to the remote community of Tam O’Shanter to visit the Coopers on a sunny Sunday afternoon – or at least it would have been sunny if it were not for the thick smoke haze left by the bushfires. Mathew and Julie invited us into the shed to see where the magic happens, a location they both hope to spend a bit more time in this year as they have both recently retired. Mathew used to be a coordinator at the TAFE, though he has not quite left his teaching roots behind – regularly receiving visits from wannabe distillers (and semi-amateur whisky writers!).

Julie told us that Mathew first had the idea to make his own whisky after trying some dodgy homemade stuff at a friend’s place. He woke up the next day with a sore head and thought “there must be a better way”. Being a very hands-on type of person Mathew built much of the distillery himself, including the gristmill and the still.

Matt and Juls Cooper of Fannys Bay Whisky Waffle

Today in metalwork… Matt built a still.

“To make a product how you want it, it starts with the basics,” Mathew told us as he enthusiastically filled a couple of glasses with new-make spirit – one made with Gairdener barley, the other with Westminster. The difference between the two was subtle but noticeable, with the former being richer and more floral, whereas the latter was lighter and more herbal. Both left us curious and excited about what Fannys Bay whisky would be like when mature. Unfortunately the oldest spirit had only been in barrels for 12 months and therefore cannot be called whisky for another year. Of course that didn’t stop us from having a small sample – for purely education purposes, naturally.

We were presented with a pinot cask, a possible sherry cask, and a definite port cask, and were hard pressed to choose our favourite. Their aim to create an easy-drinking malt that appeals to a range of people is certainly looking on track. Take note people – in 12 months time Fannys Bay will be one to look out for.

While Julie is slowly (but happily) being converted into a whisky drinker, Mathew is more than happy to sample the odd dram. He loses no sleep about the success of the product, happily stating: “If people want to buy it, we sell it. If they don’t – then I have a lovely room full of whisky!”

Find out more about Fannys Bay via our links page

Flóki Icelandic Young Malt

Reviewed by: Ted

Floki

By all accounts Iceland is one of the most beautiful and beguiling places on earth, an ethereal land of glacial blue lakes, tumbling grasslands, rocky moonscapes, bubbling hot springs and ridiculously hard to pronounce volcanoes. Basically anywhere you look will create a feeling of awe and wonder at the raw majesty of it all. I myself once met an Inga from Iceland, which certainly left me with feelings of awe and wonder at the landscape…

Ahem… anyway, my Mum was in Iceland recently (lucky sod) so I convinced her to go on a mission for me. You see, apart from making you stumble over yet another lump of stunning wilderness with each step, Iceland also has another point of interest. Two of them in fact, as the island is home to two new whisky distilleries. The Scandiwegians are increasingly becoming known as avid makers (and drinkers) of whisky, with stills operating in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and now, with the opening of Thoran and Flóki, Iceland.

Fortunately, my Mum was able to locate a bottle of Flóki for me in the Iceland duty free. Eimverk Distillery, opened in just 2009, is currently the only Icelandic distillery with whisky available for purchase (Thoran has not yet entered full production at this point). It turns out that the team at Flóki are a crafty little bunch, hand making their own pot still. They also produce their whisky using 100% organic Icelandic-grown barley which, keeping with the craft approach, they malt by hand. Apparently, thanks to the Arctic climate, Icelandic barley is slow growing and low in sugars, meaning that the distillers have to use 50% more barley per bottle (compared more temperate climes I suppose), which they claim gives their product a unique taste.

Fortunately, thanks to my maternal benefactor, I have a bottle on hand to be able to verify said uniquity. The Flóki Young Malt, as its name hints at, is not their flagship release. The reason for this is a question of time rather than choice, as their spirit has not actually been under oak long enough for all systems go, with their Icelandic Single Malt to be unleashed later in 2016. Thankfully to get the ball rolling they released the Young Malt as a limited single barrel Iceland duty free exclusive.

The bottle is awesome (if too small. Curse you limited release!), with a wicked Viking-inspired crest and angular lettering on a textured black label. The liquid contained within is a rich amber-brown that catches your attention straight away. So no worries on the eye, but what does Iceland’s first whisky taste like?

Pretty good for such a young whisky it must be said. The nose is really curious; it’s really, really floral and fruity (pineapple, mandarin, pear) with a slightly salted caramel edge that keeps you sniffing. You know what, if you’ve ever had the chance to try some new-make spirit, then you’ll know what this smells like.

On the mouth the Flóki is sharp, slightly bitter and prickly. It pretty much jumps off its longship and starts jabbing away with its spear, although part of the reason for that is probably the 47% strength. The finish coats the tongue with that raw, grassy, hay-like quality that seems common amongst very young whiskies, followed by a lick of spicy fruitiness.

It’s certainly an interesting experience to try, but you can tell that the Young Malt is only the first step down the road for Flóki. It’s kind of like a teenager whisky, full of all sorts of raw, bubbling emotions and ideas, unsure about its place in life. Given time though it will gain maturity and understand what it really wants to be. Then again, we can’t judge it too harshly as it was never meant to be the be-all and end-all. This is but a glimpse of a whisky that I think will one day stand shoulder-to-shoulder with all the majesty of the Icelandic landscape.

★★