Old Kempton

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.

Old Kempton First Release Solera Cask

Reviewed by: Nick

Old Kempton Solera WW

There are many positive, glowing and indeed, highly complimentary words you can use to describe the Tasmanian whisky industry: flavourful, innovative, even simply: delicious. However, the word ‘consistent’ is not one that leaps to the top of that list. Due to the single cask nature of most of Tasmania’s small distilleries, it is highly likely that a bottle released by a producer this year is going to be vastly different to one released in two years’ time… or even one the next month. This is ok; most distilleries embrace the variety, although the approach can sometimes confuse return customers.

Old Kempton Distillery in Tasmania’s Southern Midlands is one such keen subscriber to the single barrel release method. Recently however, they have started trialling a Solera system in a huge 500L port puncheon. The contents of 24 smaller barrels have been emptied into this 100-year-old behemoth and left to mix and mingle until the tasting team at Old Kempton determine it to be ready. Crucially though, not all of the barrel’s contents will be emptied: half will remain to marry with the next batch of premium Old Kempton whisky added, before the process is repeated time and time again, creating a reliable flavour profile (and the intriguing premise that the finished product will include an amount of whisky, however infinitesimally small, which is very old indeed).

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The first bottles out of the tun are about to be released exclusively to Old Kempton whisky club members and with it they have created something unique to not only their own distillery, but to the whole of the Tasmanian whisky industry.

Upon first inspection, you can tell there’s something different about it. It’s so obvious: the colour! It’s far darker and redder than any Old Kempton release I have ever seen, no mean feat considering its (relatively) modest bottling strength of 49%. The colour is surely due to the maturation time in the giant ex-port reciprocal being used to facilitate the Solera process. One sniff indicates the cask has affected the flavour, too.

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The nose is full of juicy fig notes with large dollops of ripe plums, glace cherries and stewed fruit. It’s rich and dark and features subtle flavours of nutmeg, pears and vanilla custard. The palate continues this theme: rich and broad across the mouth with sweet gooey notes halfway between sticky date pudding and thick gingerbread. The finish is long but without a single note of spicy astringency or over-oaking.  Instead it is sweet and fat, like a ganache where the chef has gone rather easy on the cream.

This is a fascinating whisky. Comparing it to other releases from the same distillery is an experience that is confusing in the best possible way. You find yourself speculating on important questions such as ‘how do they do it?’, ‘what will the solera be like in few years?’ and ‘with a colour like this, why are they not called Redlands anymore?’. While we might not be able to provide satisfactory answers to these ponderances, at least we have a delicious dram to mull them over with.

★★★★

Join the Old Kempton Whisky Club before November 5 and you will go into the draw to win a free bottle of Old Kempton First Release Solera Cask!

Spirit Thief First Release French Oak Temperanillo Cask Batch 001 48.3%

Posted by: Ted

Name: Hector Musselwhite
Charges: False Pretence (6 Charges)
Sentence: 1 Month each charge

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Hector Musselwhite’s charge sheet. Image courtesy of Spirit Thief

Only a century ago, Tasmania could be quite a hard place, especially if you were not well off. Many people turned to petty crime to earn a crust, but even minor misdemeanors were harshly dealt with. Just take our friend above; Mr Musselwhite dabbled in a spot of fraud, nuffin’ serious guvnor, and ended up cooling his heels for six months. Now, three modern-day Tasmanian thieves are busy spiriting away fine distilled malt liquor and transforming it into whisky in tribute to these men and women of old, who they consider to have been dealt a raw hand.

Spirit Thief is a new independent outfit, focused on sourcing the finest Tasmanian spirit and aging it in high quality barrels to create unique limited releases of superlative whisky. The team consists of Brett Steel (founder of Tasmanian Whisky Tours), Jarrod Brown (ex Lark, now assistant distiller at Belgrove) and Ian Reed (ex Sullivans Cove, Lark and now owner of Gold Bar, Hobart).

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The Spirit Thief crest contains a pair of crossed valinches, devices that are used for drawing whisky from a barrel. The alternative name for them is ‘spirit thief’

The Thieves recently came out of hiding to deliver their first release. When I caught up with Ian at Gold Bar to obtain a bottle for myself (totally legally may I add), I asked him what started them on their path of crime. “To be honest, we sat down one day and decided to make whisky. The difference this time was that we actually followed through.”

The team has selected wine casking as their chosen medium, with the barrels used for the first release sourced from Main & Cherry Vineyard in South Australia then re-coopered at SA Cooperage with a heavy char. Two cask types were selected, the first being Shiraz. The second cask type is of particular interest though: “We think that we possibly have the first single malt whisky fully aged in ex-Temperanillo casks in the world,” commented Ian conspiratorially. “We just wanted to do something different.”

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French Oak Temperanillo Cask (L) and American Oak Shiraz Cask (R). Image courtesy of Spirit Thief

The spirit for the first release was sourced from Redlands Distillery (now Old Kempton), but since then the boys have been working on putting their own mark on the new make. “We’ve been stealing time on people’s equipment to do our own runs. For example, we’ve recently been doing some stuff at Belgrove. It’s gypsy distillation.” Ian also said they’ve been experimenting with other elements of the process too: “We’ve been looking at different brews and playing around with things like different malts. We’ve already got some heavily peated stuff underway, so that’ll be pretty awesome.”

The Temperanillo Batch 001 started life as a 225L French oak barrique that was then cut down into three 20L casks and each filled with spirit. After about 2.5yrs the three casks were vatted together and then bottled at 48.3% abv.

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Spirit Thief First Release French Oak Temperanillo Cask Batch 001 Bottle# 048

Coming from a cask that once contained a medium bodied red wine like Temperanillo, the colour of the whisky is a deep, rich amber. The scent is hot, oily and languid, like an old polished timber table in the sun. Notes of beeswax, caramel, dark honey, musk, pears, orange, chestnut, almond, nutmeg, rose, leather and hay play across the senses.

The mouth is dry and spicy with plenty of heat thanks to the decent alcohol percentage, while the mid-palate is oaky with an edge of walnut and a slight sharpness. The finish is long, with a twisted curl of bitter citrus closing out the experience.

Only 110 bottles of the Temperanillo Batch 001 were filled, so for most people the only option will be tracking down some in a bar (Gold Bar is a good place to start, hint hint), however Ian is hopeful this will work in their favour. “We’re super small, so unless people are talking about us everyone will forget us. Because we have such a limited release, having bottles out in bars means that plenty of people will have a chance to try our gear.”

Being one of the reprobates that actually managed to scam a whole bottle for himself, I can say with authority that this rare whisky is one well worth tracking down. If the Temperanillo Batch 001 is anything to go by, hopefully more Spirit Thieves are reformed in their oaken cells and released back into society very soon.

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Head over to the official Spirit Thief site for more info: https://spiritthief.com.au/

Tasmanian Whisky Week 2018

Posted by: Ted

 

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Good news wafflers, Tasmanian Whisky Week is returning once again in 2018 with a jam packed lineup of fantastic whisky related events! As the industry expands, so does the scope for celebrating the achievements of this home-grown success story. From the seed planted by Bill Lark’s epiphany-on-the-lake in the 90’s, the Tassie scene has blossomed ever since, with over 20 distilleries, as well as several independent bottlers, now in operation.

The 2018 edition of Tasmanian Whisky Week runs from Monday the 13th to Sunday the 19th of August. During the week, whisky fanatics and novices alike will have the chance to attend nearly 20 events all over the state (although thanks to high demand some of these are now sold out). Some highlights of the week include:

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Northern NightEnjoy a night in the North with Adam’s Distillery, Corra Linn Distillery, Fanny’s Bay Distillery, Launceston Distillery and Ironhouse Distillery as they share their journeys and their whiskies at Saint John’s Craft Beer Bar.
Midlands MasterclassMeet the makers from the midlands! Enjoy a night of tastings from Belgrove Distillery, Old Kempton Distillery, Shene Estate and Nant Distillery in the beautiful sandstone surroundings of The Den in Salamanca.‘ (Sold out)
Liquid Gold at Gold BarIndulge in the liquid gold of Lark Distillery, Spring Bay Distillery, McHenry Distillery and Devil’s Distillery under the lights of the Gold Bar atrium.‘ (Sold out)
Tasmanian Spirits ShowcaseThe … Showcase brings together 20 Tasmanian craft distilleries for tastings, food, entertainment, and coopering demonstrations from Tasmanian Cask Company! The perfect event for fans of all and any spirits, this is not just a whisky-lovers showcase.
New Make NightThe Tasmanian Spirits Showcase brings together 20 Tasmanian craft distilleries for tastings, food, entertainment, and coopering demonstrations from Tasmanian Cask Company! The perfect event for fans of all and any spirits, this is not just a whisky-lovers showcase.
Founders NightSpend an evening with the founding distilleries of the Tasmanian Whisky Industry, and hear stories and experiences from the founding fathers themselves, … savouring whiskies from Lark Distillery, Overeem Distillery, Sullivans Cove Distillery and Hellyers Road Distillery.‘ (Sold out)

Whisky Waffle will be getting into the spirit (ahem) of the week by showcasing a few of the newer distilleries that have recently celebrated their first releases (including one that is making its debut during Whisky Week!), so keep an eye out on the blog.

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Head over to the Tas Whisky Week website to get all the details of all the events and participants and make sure you find some time this week to celebrate one of the finest whisky industries in the world. Even if you can’t make it along due to geographical distance or lack of time, make sure you raise a glass of fine southern single malt and give a hearty toast to Tasmanian whisky!

Visit https://taswhiskyweek.com/