Spirit

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

Hector Musselwhite

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.”

Two Thieves

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.

Spirit Thief Temperanillo

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.

****

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

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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.” 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

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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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/

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.

 

Landing at Launceston Distillery

Posted by: Nick and Ted

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

The Big Black Cock Single Malt

Reviewed by: Nick

BBC

Crikey! Now I know whisky is made in some pretty far out places but leaning towards the more radical end of the scale would have to be Mt Uncle Distillery in North Queensland. Despite the immense heat and being located on the outskirts of woop-woop, they have managed to produce a grouse little drop.

The 5 Year Old single malt has one of the more dinky-di whisky names going around. The drinks menu I had a gander at when first sampling it read BBC. However, the large rooster on the front of the bottle makes it clear: this whisky is called the Big Black Cock. It is fair dinkum outback whisky. And strewth: it tastes the part.

On the nose there are faint hints of malty Arnotts biscuits – quickly drowned by whiffs of recently slashed sugar cane and double coat tim tams. On the palate there is vanilla – perhaps a little too much – accompanied by Anzac biscuits and cherry ripe. There are also some bitter fruit elements – possibly created by the ex-red wine barrels they were matured in: American oak staves with French oak lids. The finish is warm and a little rough with spicy meaty notes, like snags on a barbie.

If you ever come across the BBC in a whisky bar down under it is certainly worth ordering – if only to be forced to say the name out loud – but also because of the beaut, uniquely Australian flavours to be found. This is true blue outback whisky. It’s unrefined. But a ripper.

★★★