spirits

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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Southern Wild: open for business

Posted by: Nick

southern-wild-distillery-whisky-waffle

Devonport nightlife getting a little dull? Looking for a bar with a real connection to its location? Have a thing for ceiling-hung pot plants? Well good news folks: Southern Wild Distillery is open for business.

George Burgess, with support from the Devonport Council, has been very canny in its creation. By day, Southern Wild is a working distillery where visitors can drop by to taste the wares and even organise a tour with the man himself if they enquire beforehand (enquiries@southernwilddistillery.com).

By night, Southern Wild is a classy and welcoming bar, the likes of which Devonport has not seen before. Available are a number of exciting cocktails featuring George’s own Dasher and Fisher gin as well as a range of Tassie wine, beers and spirits. Hungry? You can also find a superb range of bar food designed by Masterchef’s own Ben Milbourne.

Southern Wild Distillery is another exciting chapter in the ongoing story that is Tasmanian spirits – and one that Devonport is privileged to be able to host. If you’re interested in locally produced spirits, or looking for an alternative to Tapas Lounge Bar on a Friday night, call into Southern Wild and say Whisky Waffle sent you.

Southern Wild is located at 17 Fenton Way Devonport and is open Monday to Wednesday 10 until 5 and Thursday to Sunday 10 until late!

A whisky book review: Kudelka and First Dog’s Spiritual Journey

Posted by: Nick and Ted

A day at the Whisky Waffle office usually involves drifting about sipping rare and expensive whiskies and confabulating to each other about them (that’s the story we’re sticking to at any rate). Well, for once we’ve actually sobered up and stopped rambling long enough to read a book. Not just a distillery booklet from out of a whisky tube either, but a whole volume on one of our most favourite subjects in the entire world. Luckily for us there were pictures too…

Bikie Book

“This is a ridiculous book,” Jon Kudelka firmly states with the opening sentence of the tome. He’s not wrong either. But when the story is about the odyssey undertaken by two cartoonists on electric pushbikes as they travel around Tasmania’s nine operating distilleries, what do you expect?

Kudelka and First Dog’s Spiritual Journey is a mad tale of discovery and comradeship, of long hill climbs and aching thighs, and of spotting local wildlife (or in Dog’s case, not spotting local wildlife). Firstly and foremostly however, it is a tale of whisky. The quest begins when two Walkley Award-winning cartoonists, Jon Kudelka and First Dog on the Moon decide they want to drink lots of Tasmanian whisky and get the internet to pay for it. One successful crowd-funding campaign later, the intrepid duo set off from Hobart on their electric bicycles, puncture repair kit at the ready.

Kudelka and First Dog’s chosen mode of transport turns out to be perfect for drinking in the beautiful Tasmanian scenery as the duo meander between distilleries, although they also learn the hard way about what happens when your electric bike runs out of juice (and we’re not talking about whisky – that stuff flows freely).

Over the course of two weeks they learn about whisky making from the horse’s mouth, spending quality time with industry greats such as Tim Duckett, Pete Bignell and Bill Lark, who personally cooks them a meal at his peat bog. As well as hanging out with the Tasmanian distilling pantheon, the boys also meet a lively cast of characters who variously offer them angry cheddar, yacht rides, stuffed foxes and advice on why you should always run over a Tasmanian Tiger if given the chance.

As well as being a rollicking yarn, the book is also highly educational. With the aid of informative cartoon infographics, Kudelka and First Dog give some valuable advice on how to drink whisky: “Step 1: put a bit of whisky in a glass. Step 2: Drink it. The end.” First Dog also offers a lengthy discourse on his theory about why all goat based products, or indeed anything to do with goats full stop, should be avoided at all costs. This is life changing stuff people; take heed fellow wafflers.

If you are interested in Tasmanian whisky, then this is the book for you. If you are interested in the drunken ramblings of two cartoonists, this is also the book for you. The hilarious anecdotes, friendly banter and whimsical illustrations are a truly laugh-out-loud combination.

Bike Waffle

We imagine the trip went a little like this…

We’d thoroughly recommend checking it out – the only real question is whether to buy it from Kudelka:  http://www.kudelka.com.au/kudelka-and-first-dogs-spiritual-journey/ or from First Dog: http://firstshoponthemoon.com/products/first-dog-and-kudelkas-spiritual-journey

Either way, you should look it up. After all, it’s recommended by two out of two cartoonists surveyed. And two out of two whisky bloggers as well.

Laphroaig Quarter Cask

Reviewed by: Nick

Laphroaig Quarter Cask whisky waffle

At the time, this was the most expensive bottle of whisky I had ever bought. My best friend, co-writer and co-drinker Ted, had just bought a bottle of Lagavulin 16 and I convinced myself I needed to follow suit with something equally special. So I parted with more money than a uni student like me would normally spend in a month, and took the plunge into the world of Islay whiskies. I was not disappointed.

While this whisky may be younger than 10 years (no age statement is provided, so it’s hard to be sure) it has been matured in smaller ‘quarter’ casks, hence the name of the expression. The reduction in barrel size ensures the spirit has had more contact with the wood than it would usually be allowed (Laphroaig claim 30% more!) and suddenly a more complex, more dynamic whisky is born.

There is still plenty of peat on offer here. However, while the 10 Year Old is merely smouldering, the Quarter Cask is burning intensely: it is the whisky equivalent of a blazing bonfire.

Coastal elements are present on the nose; a sea breeze of salt, brine and seaweed. The fire transfers to the palate: the increased bottling level of 48% gives this whisky the kick and spice that the 10 Year Old lacks. Sweeter flavours come through: toffee, treacle, cocoa, even caramel. The finish is lengthy and memorable. Huge gusts of smoke roll across the palate, and linger for minutes afterwards.

Peated whisky is made by many distilleries. But rarely has one got it as right as this. There is without doubt still a sense of rawness about it. In no way can it be described as the smoothest, most elegant, or even the best whisky you will taste. But all these elements, remarkably, work in its favour. This is peated whisky. This is Islay.

★★★★