Tasmania

Taking it slow at Sandy Gray Distillery

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Sandy Gray Logo

Neil Gray and Bob Connor are getting the band back together, but this time instead of sweet 70’s tunes their new gig is turning out some fine Tasmanian whisky. The two guys met in their youth in Launceston through a shared passion for playing the guitar and are now continuing their friendship into retirement by founding Sandy Gray Distillery, currently Tasmania’s smallest distillery (until their new still arrives part way through this year that is).

The distillery takes its name from Neil’s father, Alexander ‘Sandy’ Gray, a Scottish physician who emigrated with his family to Tasmania in the 60’s. It was actually Bob who suggested using the name as Sandy had played an instrumental part in saving his finger, which was injured during a guitar-carpentry incident. After being shrugged off by one doctor and told to come back in a week, Neil asked Sandy to take a look and Bob was immediately referred onto finger-saving surgery. The recovered use of his digit meant that Bob was able to finish making the guitar which, through further good fortune, will one day adorn the distillery wall (if Neil ever gets around to expanding the shed).

Sandy Gray lads

Our two heroes: Bob (left) and Neil

The goal of the two distillers is to make the best whisky that they can on their own terms. Neil and Bob are not driven by profit margins or shareholder demands, they’re just two mates messing about in a shed and taking as long as they damn well please to fill some barrels using their tiny still. It’s all about the joy of the act, rather than any delusions of world domination.

They’ve currently filled four 20L ex-tawny casks, which is quite an impressive feat considering the fact that they have hitherto been working on a teensy 25L still. The barrels are all at various stages of maturity, but the oldest tastes like it is nearly ready, offering a hot, rich, spicy profile at cask strength and developing further caramel and stewed fruit notes when a splash of water is added, with a cheeky dash of elderflower on the finish (or is that sour plums?). It’s an exciting drop and a testament to the care that the boys have taken in crafting their spirit.

Sandy Gray barrel

What sorta wood do this think this is made out of? Answers on the back of a postcard.

The story of Sandy Gray is very Tasmanian, chance meetings and happenings bringing people together – Neil and Bob met at a gig and went from starting bands to starting distilleries, Neil’s dad saved Bob’s finger meaning that he was eventually able to continue building a guitar which was then given to a girlfriend. Years later the same guitar was amazingly rescued from a tip and returned across the state lines to Bob, and will eventually adorn the wall of the distillery. Even this article is the product of sheer random luck – 40 years after playing in a band with Bob, Neil found himself playing a gig with Whisky Waffle’s very own Nick (also, turns out he was at school with Nick’s mum). It’s a small world sometimes, which seems only appropriate for a small Tassie distillery.

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Return to the Southern Wild

Posted by: Nick

southern wild bar

Good news for fans of Tassie spirits on the North West Coast of Tasmania: Southern Wild Distillery has reopened their doors to the people! The makers of Dasher and Fisher Gin have been shut for over six months preparing to the make the move into their new Providore Place location – a more central and spacious premise than their old home. No longer will vats and racks of bottles encroach on customer elbow room – and the fabulous Southern Wild still fits the space nicely, rather than dominating.

sw goerge and still

The opening was celebrated with a launch on Sunday night and founder George Burgess paid tribute to the people that made it possible, in particular the Tasmanian local growers of the botanicals used in the gins. As the doors were opened, he took groups through, introducing the bar, the still and, excitingly, the laboratory upstairs where enthusiasts can book into gin-making sessions to create their own personalised product with their chosen list of botanicals. The new setting looked resplendent under lights, and the last-minute quest to find replacement plants for the replacement plants paid off superbly.

sw dasher and fisher

Bad news for whisky fans, however, as George confirmed that despite the extra space in his new venue, there is still no room for mash tuns, fermenters and other barley-based spirit making equipment. Sadly, it seems the wait for a new North West Coast dram must continue… Hopefully a couple of lads up the road in Spreyton might just be able to help with this! Stay tuned for our next article to find out more…

sw nick and still

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 23: Launceston Distillery Tawny Cask 46%

Posted by: Ted

On the twenty-third day if Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Launceston Distillery Tawny Cask whisky. Ansett was once one of Australia’s premiere airlines, but it all went belly-up in 2001 when the company collapsed. It was one of those weird situations where the doors shut and everyone just walked away, leaving buildings and assets frozen in a moment in time. This was the fate of Ansett’s Hanger 17 facility at Launceston Airport, until a few years ago when a team of like-minded individuals decided to shovel out the mounds of stratified pigeon-poo and set up a premium whisky distillery. Under the guidance of head distiller Chris Condon, the distillery has taken off and the crew have recently celebrated their first string of releases, including the Tawny Cask.

Tawny is the Australian name for Port, as Port is now appelated exclusively to Portugal, and this release has been aged for 2.5 years years in 20L casks. The nose is fat and rich, with dark chocolate, blackberries, hazelnuts and toffee, while the mouth is dark and dripping with blackcurrants, prunes and spicy, meaty finish. Launceston Distillery is soaring high and is well worth spending your millions of defunct Ansett frequent flyer points on.

#whitepossumspirits

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 21: Nant Distillery Sherry Cask 43%

Posted by: Ted

On the twenty-first day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Nant Distillery Sherry Cask whisky. The mention of the name Nant will inevitably invite dark mutterings amongst observers of the Tasmanian whisky scene, having been the focus of a bit of an ugly episode in the recent history of the industry. The distillery and it’s owner, Keith Batt, always had a bit of a reputation for not playing nicely with the rest of the generally egalitarian Tassie distillers, but things really came to a head with the uncovering of a dodgy barrel scheme that left furious investors out of pocket with hundreds of barrels that were never filled. Consortium Australia Whisky Holdings swooped down on the dying carcass of Nant and have spent the past few years stocktaking, revitalising the distilling and generally trying to repair the distillery’s tarnished reputation.

Nant, under the stewardship of AWH, has recently released new stock, but this one would have come from the old gear. ‘Tasmania’s only highland distillery’ always had a bit of a thing for the heavier, richer barrel types and the sherry cask is no exception. The nose has brown sugar, ginger bread and caramelised apples, while the mouth sports rum’n’raisin and muscats, with a soft caramel and spice finish. Hopefully these days Nant’s fortunes are on the up and the new generation of whisky will impress. If you happen to have a bottle of old stock lying around, well worth your time to crack it for a cheeky dram.

#whitepossumspirits

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 20: Belgrove Rye Whisky 42%

Posted by: Ted

On the twentieth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Belgrove Rye whisky. And now for something a bit different from Tasmania. Peter Bignell is a top bloke and a bit of a mad tinkerer (as well as a sandcastle sculptor). He builds all of his own distillery gear, coopers his own barrels, converts chip oil into bio-diesel to fire his still, dries grain in old industrial tumble-driers, smokes experimental spirit with sheep poo and makes whisky using rye instead of the usual malted barley. If you ever get a chance to visit his Kempton digs then it is well worth the experience.

Rye is a trickier grain to work with than barley due to the way it goes gluggy during mashing and can get stuck during fermentation, but the effort is worth it thanks to the flavours that eventuate in the spirit. The nose has rhubarb, strawberry, apple and pear crumble as well as some marzipan, while the mouth brings stewed peaches and nectarines, pear drops, caramel and an ashy finish. If you’re bored with single malts and want to experience something different that is ethically crafted and special, start here.


#whitepossumspirits

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 17: Hellyers Road Distillery Pinot Noir Cask Finish 46.2%

Posted by: Ted

On the seventeenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Hellyers Road Distillery Pinot Cask Finish whisky. Globally, the most common barrels used for aging whisky are virgin oak, ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and ex-port. Here in Australia, however, we seem to have developed a bit of a penchant for using ex-wine casks thanks to our thriving local wine industry and ease of access to the barrels. In Tasmania, due to our cooler climate, the red wine grape of choice is Pinot Noir, making it a popular cask type amongst the local distillers. Burnie-based Hellyers Road was one of the early adopters of the style and I reckon theirs was probably the first Pinot-barreled whisky I ever tried.

The Pinot Finish starts off life in American oak ex-bourbon casks before being transferred into French oak ex-Pinot casks for six months for finishing. The nose is smooth, with a cool, damp, earthiness to it. The mouth on the other hand is very dry, with a strong tanninic quality and finish of grapes, almonds and toffee. The Hellyers Road Pinot Noir Finish is a great example of how the addition of certain cask types can completely change the character of a whisky, creating complex and interesting new flavours.

#whitepossumspirits

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 12: Tasmanian Independent Bottlers TIB??005

Posted by: Ted

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Tasmanian Independent Bottlers TIB??005 whisky. Tim Duckett is a man who likes his whisky strong. Chances are that if you have been paying even the slightest attention to the Tassie whisky scene, you will have heard of his bonkers Heartwood label, which releases independently-aged whisky at an average ABV% of somewhere in the mid-sixties (the strongest was 72.5%!). Apart from being totally amazing, the Heartwoods also all cost an arm and a leg (and a liver), so to make things more accessible Mr Duckett created Tasmanian Independent Bottlers as the baby brother to Heartwood. TIBs are still independently aged, but ‘only’ range in the high 40’s-low 50’s percentage wise, so the price is much friendlier.

The spirit for TIB??005 was sourced from an undisclosed ‘Renowned NSW Distillery’ (hence the ‘??’ in the batch code. Potential contenders include Archie Rose, Blackgate and Corowa) and then aged in ex-sherry casks in Hobart. The nose is tremendously citrusy, almost gin-like in nature, with citronella/lemon myrtle, pepper-berry and coriander seed as botanicals. It’s lighter on the mouth than you would expect considering the 49.1% strength and has an odd earthy, ashy quality which make me suspect that some sort of peating has occured. The TIB??005 is a super quirky whisky and one that will give the experienced dramist an interesting conundrum to puzzle over.

#whitepossumspirits

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 11: Deviant Distillery Anthology Batch 12 44%

Posted by: Ted

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Deviant Distillery Anthology Batch 12 single-malt spirit (nope, not a whisky). The brain-child of Tasmanian industrial chemist John Hyslop, Deviant Distillery is a bit of a rebel outfit in the local industry. John’s philosophy is that traditional distilling and aging practices are unfriendly to both the environment and the pocket through wastage in resources and product. His solution was to develop a proprietary reactor technology that allows him to artificially age malt spirit in 10-weeks to develop, what he claims to be, the character of a 10yo whisky.

Needless to say, the use of rapid aging technology has not been without some controversy within the local establishment. In Australia spirit must be aged under oak for at least two years to legally be called whisky, which is why Deviant has been careful to use the term single-malt spirit and avoid any reference to whisky, however opinions have still been divided. Because the process is secret I have no idea what timber has been used for the Anthology Batch 12, but what I do know is that it has been heavily peated (at least by Australian standards), which certainly plays out on the nose, but then underneath sits a young, raw grassy and melony note. The mouth is similarly youthful, with a Lisbon lemon peel body and an ashy, graphitey finish, a profile m’colleague suggests is a bit like a dirty limoncello. Look, it’s not whisky and might not be to everyone’s taste, but it is definitely worth a try for something different.


#whitepossumspirit

The 25 days of Aussie whisky – Day 2: Hellyers Road Distillery 10yo Original Whisky 46.2%

Posted by: Ted

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me… a glass of Hellyers Road Distillery 10yo Original whisky. Made at the largest craft distillery in Australia, which happens to be just up the road in my hometown of Burnie, the 10yo is now something of an endangered breed. Why? Because head distiller Mark Littler and his crew have decided to take the curious step of replacing it with a 15yo!

Distilled in giant stainless-steel stills and aged in ex-bourbon casks, the nose has that classic sweet, buttery, nutty Hellyers Road profile, while the palate is sharp and peppery with a toffee and rose-water base. The 10yo shows that dairy farmers also know a thing or two about making single malt whisky.

#whitepossumspirits

Adams Distillery: Go Big or Go Home

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Adams WW and Kombi

Luckily we made an appointment.

Let’s face it, in terms of global whisky production Tasmania is teeny tiny, a mere speck in the great amber ocean. The term ‘craft’ is synonymous with our local industry and it is often joked that Scotland spills more in a year than Tasmania produces. However, one distillery in Northern Tasmania has ambitious plans for the future and intends on making a big splash in that ocean.

The story of Adams Distillery starts as any good fairy tale does – one Adam meets another Adam and together they hatch an excellent plan to make whisky. Actually, that’s just one beginning, we need to go further back to understand how things really started.

A few years ago Adam Pinkard, paramedic and champion power-lifter, went on a tour of Scotland with his father. While they were there they visited a bunch of distilleries, which was great because his father offered to be des. Whilst sipping on the wares offered at Benromach Distillery, a relatively small establishment Scotland-wise, Adam P thought to himself “I could do this… after all, this whole place is controlled by just two guys.”

Adam P and Nick and Harri

Adam discusses the flavours of the whisky in Nick’s hand while our designated driver Harri looks on jealously

After Adam P returned to Tasmania, the idea kept ticking over in his mind. All he needed was a business partner, so he turned to his mate Adam Saunders, a builder by trade. Adam S was sceptical at first, but Adam P won him over with his vision and thus Adams’ Distillery was born.

The next challenge was to find a home to make their whisky. They initially thought that they had found a cosy location in the heart of Launceston, but were thwarted by a pernickety council and had to look further afield. The rejection, disheartening though it was at the time, actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. They eventually found a suitable location at Glen Ireh Estate in the neighbouring town of Perth. The big advantage of the site was that it had plenty of room for expansion, which two years after the formation of their original distillery is exactly what the Adams’ are doing. Big time.

We were fortunate to hear the motto of Adams Distillery from the lips of Adam P himself: ‘Go big or go home’. We had made the pilgrimage to Glen Ireh to catch up with the lads and check out what they were creating at the estate. When we arrived, we had time to say a brief hello to Adam S before he got back to work building the Adams’ gigantic new visitor centre/bond store, leaving us in the capable care of Adam P, who quipped “it’s nice having a builder as a business partner.”

Adams shed

The new shed is just about big enough to fit the old one in twice over!

The Adams’ are rapidly becoming a big fish in the Tasmanian whisky pond, having recently upgraded the size of their stills massively, supplementing their already large shed with an even bigger one and drawing in a full time cooper to work on-site. Adam P mentioned an interesting view that he had come to, being that moving forward Tasmanian distilleries either need to be ultra-small-scale-boutique or the complete opposite. As we stood on the partly-constructed mezzanine and surveyed the Adams’ new empire, it was clear they are definitely taking the latter path.

As we all know, whisky making takes time, but the Adams have been patient for the last two years and will soon be taking their first release to market. To celebrate this milestone they will be holding a launch event in December at the newly completed visitor centre (no pressure Adam S). Tickets are available here, and considering how congenial and welcoming the Adams are it promises to be a great night.

Adams out front

The Wafflers with the Adams team. Disclaimer: the dog isn’t also called Adam.

While Adams’ expansion may currently seem like something of an outlier in the craft-scale Tasmanian scene, it could actually be a sign of what lies ahead for the industry as a whole in the future. Potentially many other distilleries will follow the lead of the Adams’ team and upscale their operations, making a long-awaited entrance onto the broader world stage. If they do, their path will have been partly paved by two blokes called Adam who bravely decided to ‘go big or go home’.