Tasmania Distillery

Spending Time at Sullivans Cove

Posted by: Nick

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If you’ve only heard of one Tasmanian distillery, chances are that distillery is Sullivans Cove. Based in Hobart and formerly known as Tasmania Distillery, this founding father of Tassie whisky has a chequered and yet ultimately inspiring past and, as we Waffle boys discovered when we visited their site recently, an extremely promising future.

Sullivans Cove is one of Tasmania’s most visitor-friendly distilleries. The viewing platform looking out across the bond store is a proper money-shot (see above!) and in keeping with the establishment’s status as Tassie’s poster-child distillery. This honour was thrust upon Sullivans Cove in 2014 when a bottle of their French Oak Cask won the prestigious World’s Best Single Malt at the World Whiskies Awards and changed the face of Tasmanian whisky forever. But as our generous host, Strategy Manager Fred Siggins, was keen to point out, there is so much more to Sullivans Cove than barrel HH525.

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Consistency in flavour is a difficult task for the fledgling Australian whisky scene. Due to the size of the industry (or rather the lack thereof) most releases are the product of one barrel and therefore the flavours vary from bottle to bottle. While some distilleries choose to conveniently sweep this issue under the carpet, Sullivans Cove embrace it, hand labelling each bottle with a sticker informing the purchaser exactly which cask or casks are contained within. The result is that a dram of one French or American Oak bottling will be unlikely to taste identical to a previous one.

While this approach ensures Fred is continually explaining to customers why their new bottle tastes slightly different to their old one, it also forms one of the most exciting aspects of the distillery. During our visit we were lucky enough to sample not one, but two of the French and American Oak expressions. Had they not featured the distinctive blue and black labels we may not have picked them as the same bottling.

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In each case one dram was smooth and easy drinking and the other vibrant, fresh and zingy. Excitingly, we could not work out which of each we considered to be the better drop – instead deciding that we would prefer one over the other depending on the mood we were in. Fred agreed and recommended that Sullivans Cove customers leave a small amount in one bottle before opening the next, to really appreciate the difference.

The other exciting aspect of the distillery is the age of the whisky in the bond store – and in their bottles. Sullivans Cove head distiller Patrick Maguire has been creating whisky since taking over the company in 1999 and giving it a much-needed new lease on life in the process. This means that some of the barrels are now pushing 18 years old, an incredible age for an Australian spirit.

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Both the French and American Oak releases are usually aged for anywhere between 10 and 17 years while the entry level Double Cask release, a marriage of 2 to 4 American Oak barrels and one French Oak barrel, contains a cross section of particularly mature whisky, unheard of in any other Tasmanian release.

The only drawback of this premium method of whisky creation is the premium price. Sullivans Cove make no bones though about the fact that they make a premium product and are not looking to change that any time soon. Fred did point out, however, that there is a lot of new Australian whisky coming into the market currently demanding a similar (or greater) price to the Sullivans Cove Double Cask. While this new stock is exciting, the whisky is likely to only be 2 to 3 years old. When compared with the potentially 17 year old whisky found in the Double Cask, it really paints the Sullivans Cove price point in a positive light.

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Sullivans Cove is now one of the most recognisable brands in the New World spirits scene, an achievement which is a true testament to the work put in by Patrick Maguire all those years ago. For a very long time, his whisky creation was a labour of love, an unprofitable venture fuelled by passion rather than profit. The rules have now changed, however, and currently there are over twenty distilleries in operation in Tasmania – with more on the way. It is certainly no overstatement to say that this reality may not have come to be if not for Sullivans Cove Distillery.

Sullivans Cove will be open for tours seven days a week, starting in September! Tours depart hourly and can be booked at the Sullivans Cove site.

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Heartwood Vat out of Hell

Reviewed by: Ted

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As I walked back through North Hobart to my hotel whilst on a work trip, I decided to stop into the Winston to rehydrate. Lo and behold, what did I find waiting on the shelf but a bottle of ‘Vat out of Hell’, one of Tim Duckett’s glorious cask-strength Heartwood creations.

Crafted from a delightful marriage of 10yo Lark sherry barrel and 13yo Tasmania Distillery bourbon barrel and bottled at a robust 67.4%, the Vat out of Hell, like most Heartwoods, is sadly no longer available for purchase. Therefore, stumbling across an open bottle constitutes a rare treat and a responsibility to try some for the betterment of humankind.

I gazed wistfully at the bottle on the shelf and thought ‘well… work’s covered the rest of my drinks tonight [I must admit that I had stopped for liquid sustenance at several other pubs along the way], so what the hell, I’ll treat myself.’

At this point I was feeling a little less analytical and in a bit more of a subjective frame of mind thanks to my nice warm beer coat, but I think that’s probably a good way to tackle a Heartwood. Ride the rush of emotions, don’t overthink it. So, without further ado, here’s what I thought (apparently. I’m glad I at least had the presence of mind to write this down):

The smell is… leathery, which is quite appropriate really… it’s like a box of sultanas left on the bench seat of an old Kingswood ute on a hot summer’s day… a walk through a meadow of spiked wildflowers… fruit leather made out of fruit cake… sun fermented orchard fruit… hot boat decking.

Tastes like timber should… if Easter eggs tasted like this, I’d probably eat them quicker… meat slow cooked for a looong time… dark brown as a flavour… attaches like a happy lamprey to your gums.

Yeah, so long story short, it was bloody good. Better than Meatloaf’s version… If you find some, think with your heart and not your wallet, and you’ll end up transcending to a higher plane of existence.

★★★★

Sullivans Cove French Oak Cask

Reviewed by: Nick and Ted

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This is it ladies and gentlemen, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: Whisky Waffle review the greatest whisky in the world.

But wait. Hold your horses there, Whisky Waffle. Due to the unique nature of single barrel releases, the French Oak bottle we tasted was not drawn from barrel HH525, the release that won 2014 World’s Best Single Malt at the World Whiskies Awards. Our bottle came from barrel HH595 (noted in case it wins next year!).

So then, the whisky we are drinking is not the best in the world. But it’s pretty damn close.

Sullivans Cove is the creation of Tasmanian Whisky pioneer Tasmania Distillery. Among their releases is a bourbon-matured American Oak expression and a blended Double Cask, but it is this one, matured in ex-European oak port casks, which is the most revered.

The nose is intriguing, with elements of caramel, cinnamon, overripe apples and the salt spray you may receive when standing on the stretch of coastline which bears this bottle’s name. The palate is light, but complex, with burnt toffee and leatherwood honey delicately balanced against earthy terracotta outdoorsy notes. The finish evaporates off the back of the palate and yet leaves a gentle caramelised linger.

Despite not being the exact bottle which received a plethora of honours all over the world, in tasting this edition it is easy to see where the judges were coming from. This is a superbly balanced drop and showcases all that is great about Tasmanian whisky.

★★★★

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Tasmanian whisky: One state. Three ingredients. Unlimited flavour.

#TasWhiskyWeek