Tasmanian

Waffling at Southern Wild: Tas Whisky Week comes to the North West

Posted by: Nick and Ted

TWW Logo

Who’d have thought 25 years ago that Tasmania would have over 20 distilleries and an entire week dedicated to whisky made in Australia’s southern-most state. Yet here we are in 2017, bearing down fast on nine days worth of events celebrating the art and craft of the Tasmanian distilling scene, with a host of tastings, tours and talks (not to mention lavish, decadent dinners) featuring the folk responsible for crafting Tasmania’s fine cask-aged grain spirits.

However, up here on the North-West Coast, we can’t help but feel a little left out. Tasmania is nothing if not parochial, with most events being held in Hobart and a few in Launceston. Even the dinner run by Burnie’s very own Hellyer’s Road Distillery is being held just outside Launnie.

Luckily, on Thursday the 10th of August, Devonport’s Southern Wild Distillery is stepping up to bring Tasmanian Whisky Week 2017 to the good, whisky loving folk of the North West. Rather excitingly for us, they asked the Tasmanian whisky blogging scene’s answer to Hamish and Andy to host their event (that’s us!).

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This photo is like ‘Where’s Wally’ for Wafflers

Southern Wild, founded by local lad George Burgess, may seem an incongruous venue for TWW’s first NW event, seeing as they are yet to release their own whisky. However, rather than being held back by this fact, Southern Wild have chosen to embrace it as the theme, entitling the event ‘The Birth of Tasmanian Whisky’.

Guests will be guided through a tasting of some of Tasmania’s most renowned drams, led by the witty banter of the Whisky Waffle lads and the industry know-how of George. Each whisky will be expertly paired with gourmet cheese provided by local fromager Euan Wiseman from the Devonport Hill Street Grocer. Additionally, guests will also be provided with two whisky-based cocktails and platters of canapés and light nibbles.

The mouth-watering whisky line-up for the evening will feature Lark Classic Cask, Sullivans Cove new-make spirit and Sullivans Cove Double Cask, Belgrove new-make spirit and Belgrove 100% Rye, and Hellyers Road Peated.

The event promises to be an unforgettable evening, full of laughter, fellowship, conviviality and most importantly of all, whisky (waffle?). Of course, these evenings don’t happen unless there are people coming along to support, so please help us to make it a roaring success and show the rest of the state that the North West coast is just as passionate about whisky as them.

See you there.

Tickets are available at: http://taswhiskyweek.com/events/southern-wild-distillery/

SW 6 Whisky Waffle

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Heartwood Dare to be Different

Reviewed by: Nick

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Yes, Tasmanian super-strength independent bottler Heartwood has come up with some fantastic names over the years: Vat Out of Hell, Release the Beast, Any Port in a Storm and Convict Resurrection. However, one of Tim Duckett’s most recent releases I think sums up the whisky producer better than all others: Dare to be Different.

Heartwood doesn’t do things by the book. If Tim doesn’t think it’s as good as it can be, he’ll beat it with a paddle, or stick it in the hot room, or transfer it to another barrel, or pour in a hundred litres of peated Lark new make! The goal here is not to create age statement or single cask releases. Tim simply aims to make the best darn tasting whisky he possibly can.

While Dare to be Different is one of the newer releases from Heartwood, chances are, by the time you read this, it’ll be sold out. That’s just the way Heartwood is, with only 200 or so bottles of each release available. Which is why whenever I visit the Lark whisky bar in Hobart, I can’t help but try what they’ve got.

Dare to Be Different is fittingly dissimilar from many other Heartwood bottlings. It’s darker, more savoury and meaty – and more complex, too. This is due, in no small part, to the 100% peated Lark spirit which has then spent eight years in ex-Oloroso sherry barrels.

The nose is lovely and… delicate? Is that even possible for a Heartwood? There are apples, flowers and a dash of… meat pie. Possibly. It might have been plums. The palate is unsurprisingly spicy and tangy (cheers 65.5%!) featuring tropical fruit flavours mixed with smoked meats and pate. The finish is long and punchy, and I mean this in multiple ways – it tastes like fruit punch and certainly packs a punch. Punchy punch. Enough said.

Across its entire history what the whisky industry simply cannot do without is innovators. People like Tim Duckett who really push the envelope and create peated sherry monsters one week and juicy port offerings the next, all between 60% and 75%. Heartwood dares to be different – and we’re all richer for it.

★★★★

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Kilchoman Machir Bay

Reviewed by: Nick

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2012 edition

Kilchoman is (was?) the first new distillery built on Islay in 120 years. The drawback of this is that it comes without centuries of tradition. But the positive – it comes without centuries of tradition! Meaning it can do whatever the hell it likes! This perspective can’t help but bring to mind a few producers closer to home which claim to be slices of Scotland in Tasmania. Well, I’m going to make a big call: Kilchoman Distillery is a slice of Tasmania – in Scotland!

Like Tasmanian distilleries such as Redlands, it attempts to keep the entire whisky making process on the one site, paddock-to-bottle style. While this is hard to achieve across their whole range, their lightly peated ‘100% Islay’ expression is created exactly as it sounds: entirely on Rockside Farm, home of Kilchoman.

Also like Tassie, Kilchoman can’t be bothered waiting for 12 years to release their product, so bottles its range under titles of various landmarks: heavily sherried Sanaig, entirely sherried Loch Gorm and the subject of today’s review, the Machir Bay, which is a marriage of some oloroso matured whisky with a greater amount of ex-bourbon whisky.

Often drinking younger whisky from Scotland can be likened to snuggling with a Pitt Bull, but for peated whisky it just seems to work. The smoke tames the beast and compliments its occasional snarling. The Machir Bay is no exception.

The smoke is clearly apparent on the nose, however there are also sweeter creamier notes of hazelnut and coffee. On the palate the Machir Bay takes a while to get going – initially gentle before building into a fiery roar, a clear sign of its young age. Flavours of vanilla and green grapes can be found, shrouded in huge gusts of smoke.

While this is a tremendously exciting dram, I get the impression that it’s still a work in progress and that when I check back on a later release in a few years time that it will have come on in leaps and bounds. However, just like Tasmanian whisky, it is one step on a journey – and one I’m very happy to have checked out.

★★★

#IslayWeek

#LetsGetPeaty

Reflections on a visit to Islay

Posted by: Nick

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It is no exaggeration when I say that the isle of Islay is, without a doubt, my favourite place that I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. The quaint lime washed houses of Port Ellen, the spectacular coastline and beaches, the stark peat bogs and the friendly locals waving as you drive by all combine to create a coastal utopia. And then there’s the whisky. Ah… the whisky…

There is a reason that drams made on this Hebridean isle are famous the world over: they taste like nothing else on earth. Smoky, salty, oily and fiery as hell itself. On my first (gloriously sunny!) day upon the island I visited Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig: the worlds’ ultimate pub crawl. In the evening I lay down on the sand at Kintra Beach and watched the sun go down with a belly full of South-Ileach whisky. There  was not a more content man on the planet.

The next day I stood beneath the distinctive Port Ellen lighthouse, looked across the bay and felt more connected to a place than I have ever experienced in my life. I would go back today. I would drop everything. Just for one more whiff of that peaty air. Just for one drop of that liquid aptly described as the water of life.

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#IslayWeek

#LetsGetPeaty

Welcome to the Southern Wild

Posted by: Nick and Ted

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Yes, Ted hit his thumb with a hammer

Compared to the glut of distilleries in the Southern region of Tasmania, the North West has been fairly light-on for dram making. To be accurate, hitherto there has actually been just the one producer (although they make up for that by being the largest in the Southern Hemisphere). Thankfully, that paucity is set to change with the opening of a new kid on the block – say hello to Southern Wild distillery.

Based in Devonport, Southern Wild is the brainchild and consuming passion of one George Burgess. We first met George at a dinner in 2014 where he confided to us his dream of establishing a distillery in his home town and “teaming up with other passionate specialist Tasmanian producers to create small batch varieties of unique hand-crafted and seasonal/rare finest quality distilled spirits and liqueurs”. Our response was ‘nice one, it’s good to have dreams’, but boy has he really followed through with that threat!

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George: one day this will be whisky!

A food technician by trade, George has already spent years developing the skills and know-how that has allowed him to dive deep into the world of distilling. He loves discovering new ingredients for his gin-making and tinkering about with different flavours and scents. In fact, the name Southern Wild was inspired by the raw natural beauty of the places he finds some of his botanicals. “I’ll be going down some rough bush track, no phone signal and a nagging feeling of lurking cannibals. Suddenly the bush will clear and you’ll find yourself in this beautiful location encircled by nature and meet the most friendly, down-to-earth folk tending this amazing locally-grown produce.”

Formerly known as Devonport Distillery, Southern Wild has moved about a bit over the years – and its shiny new venue is not even its final location! Devonport has been going through a bit of an identity crisis of late which has led to the creation of what is known as the ‘Living City’ project. In a nutshell, this venture aims to knock down chunks of an inefficient and spread out CBD and rebuild them with a focus on fresh local produce, performing arts spaces and, eventually, a foreshore precinct. The former will be housed in a glamourous farmers market known as Providore Place, with small pods for local producers such as Southern Wild Distillery to sell their wares. A brand new building will be created for the distilling as the current home is a converted loading bay at the back of the council building – however we must admit, for a loading bay it scrubs up rather nicely.

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Stills and suspended plants make for the best distilleries

The room is dominated by the shiny new still, while a gleaming bar is a hive of activity with recently hired bar staff making fancy cocktails. Overlooking the entire room is a mezzanine with space for a band to play – a highlight for George when he first sighted it, telling us his response was “you had me at mezzanine”. Behind the music/hangout area is what looks like a mad scientist’s laboratory, but in reality is the space where George creates and tinkers with his product.

While there are currently a few barrels maturing several intriguing varieties of what will one day be called whisky, George unfortunately doesn’t have any ready yet. Instead he is focusing on what is truly his pet project: his gin. Ever since we’ve known him, George has been raving about his passion for gin and now he’s created not one, but three, each uniquely Tasmanian. Named ‘Dasher & Fisher’ after the two rivers which flow into Devonport’s own waterway, the Mersey, he has created ‘Mountain’ gin, richly flavoured by Tasmanian pepperberries, ‘Meadow’ gin, containing a strong hint of lavender and ‘Ocean’ gin, intriguingly salty with notes of wakame seaweed. While Ted loved the London dry style of the Mountain, Nick was more into the coastal aromas of the Ocean.

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The Ocean gin, surrounded by its botanicals

While this is only the beginning for Southern Wild, it certainly has a bright future ahead of it. It will be fascinating to watch the evolution of the distillery as it transitions from its temporary residence to its permanent home and the inspiration that provides George in his creations. And of course, being Whisky Waffle, we are particularly looking forward to the moment when we can share a dram. From the sneak peak we’ve had though, we are confident that Southern Wild will be releasing whisky that truly speaks for the place it was made, just as its maker intended.

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The still-maker, the still-man, and two idiots who are still waffling

Sheltering at Shene Estate

Posted by: Nick and Ted

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Seeing that Christmas is nearly upon us, we thought we’d begin this review with a Christmas cracker joke: 

Q. What do you get if you cross a keen back-shed distiller with a passionate architectural restorationist?

A. Shene Estate Distillery. (Come on, it’s at least as funny as any other Christmas cracker joke!)

Whisky maker Damian Mackey met heritage building conservationist David Kernke nearly ten years ago – Damian was looking for a location to make his eponymous whisky, while David was looking for something to diversify his new acquisition, the 19th century property Shene Estate. It must have been fate which brought these two together because, along with their respective families, they have created one of the most stunning distilleries in the Southern Hemisphere, if not the world.

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Boys with their toys: L-R David Kernke and Damian Mackey

While the main building at Shene Estate looks like a grand mansion, it turns out that it was actually only built to keep horses in, making it one of the more expensive stables ever erected. It was constructed by English lawyer Gamaliel Butler who, as well as having an excellent name, also had a shrewd business sense. He used his wealth and social standing to begin work on a lavish country estate, but died before the main house was constructed, leaving only some outbuildings, including a Georgian Regency era homestead that David and Anne reside in, and the stables – and even that lacked the top of its central turret. Going by the grandiosity of the stables, one can only speculate as to what the main mansion would have looked like if it were ever finished.

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Proof that that magnificent building is, indeed, a stables

Whisky Waffle was lucky enough to be invited to visit Shene Estate earlier this year and meet the friendly team, consisting of head-distiller Damian Mackey, his wife Madeleine and the Kernke family – David, his wife Anne and daughter Myfanwy. While the reception we received was warm, the weather certainly wasn’t and we were nearly blown off the face of the earth while walking between the stables, the beautiful old barn and the distillery.

Speaking of the distillery, it is housed in a new purpose-built timber-clad shed that was designed to perfectly blend in with the existing 19th century architecture. Despite a third of the room being taken up by a truly epic stack of ex-sherry barrels, we still managed to clap our eyes on some beautiful distilling gear. A run was on the go while we were there, with David manning the still, and it seemed as good a place as any to ride out the storm.

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The still is eager to fill up all those barrels in the background

What the wind couldn’t achieve, the whisky certainly could – upon trying a dram we were totally blown away. Technically, we can’t officially call it whisky yet; what we were lucky enough to sample came from the first ever barrel produced at Shene Estate and was only 18 months old. We are apparently among the first in the world to try the matured spirit, a great honour for two whisky nerds. While the whisky is not yet the finished product, it shows a lot of potential to become one of the greats within the Tassie scene.

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Barrel number 1. The first of many.

The whisky is to be released under the name Mackey and its point of difference stems from Damian’s Irish heritage in that it is triple distilled. This produces a lighter and more refined spirit, although one certainly not lacking in depth; the style may be Irish, but the character is all Tasmanian. The new make is then transferred into ex-port barrels and stored in the loft of the stables. The solitary barrel currently looks rather lonely up there, but rest assured there are many more on the way.

In fact, the Shene Estate team revealed to us that there are big plans afoot for the future of the distillery. Things have been moving at an unexpectedly rapid pace and Damian told us with a mixture of pride and horror that they have skipped straight from year one to year five on their five year plan. The most exciting consequence of the expansion is the addition of two new stills to create a set of three – one for each distillation.

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And this still will be the smallest of the three!

While the architecture was stunning and the whisky exciting, the real highlight of our visit was meeting the wonderful people who have dedicated countless hours to making a pipedream into a reality. From Damian’s distilling, to Anne’s delicious Poltergeist gin, to Myf’s community engagement, to David straightening each and every piece of gravel in the courtyard, the team has created a unique and fascinating distillery. And even after a long afternoon showing Wafflers around the estate, they still had the energy to deliver us back to our lodgings and deliver David his chicken sandwich to see him through to the end of the distillation run. It’s that level of hospitality that ensures Shene Estate will always have a special place in our hearts.

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Selfies at Shene

Shene Estate Distillery has a road-side stall set up at the estate every Sunday between 10 and 4 which is staffed by friendly family members. Like to see more? You can also book a tour here.

Tasmanian Whisky Academy reveal their map of Tassie

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Our friends at the Tasmanian Whisky Academy have certainly been doing their homework. According to their calculations, Tasmania is now home to twenty two distilleries and two independent bottlers. Keen geography buffs, eager to achieve top of the class, they have created a detailed map showing the locations of each whisky-making establishment in the state. As exciting as it is to see each of them crammed onto a map, we Whisky Waffle boys still feel like we’re sitting on the naughty step. It seems we still have a lot of extracurricular study to go before we can say we’ve visited them all!

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The Tasmanian Whisky Academy offers education courses in Distilling and Brewing for enthusiasts, hospitality people, visitors and tourists, and for those interested in working in the distilling and brewing industries.

Find the full map on our links page.

Return to Redlands

Posted by: Nick and Ted

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They grow up so fast, don’t they? When we last visited paddock-to-bottle distillery Redlands in 2014, their spirit was still too young to be released and head distiller Dean Jackson was only just filling barrel number 42.

Fast forward two years and the shelves are stocked with elegant (cuboid) bottles of Redlands paddock-to-bottle Tasmanian single malt and Dean is busy filling bottle number 271. Oh, and did we mention that the distillery has moved 50km up the road to a new site?

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Knock knock! Wafflers at the door.

After the sale of the Redlands Estate property in late 2015, the distillery was faced with the challenge of finding a new home in just 21 days. After several weeks of stress-filled searching, they eventually settled on what they hoped would be the perfect venue: the heritage listed Dysart House in the small southern-midlands town of Kempton.

From the moment you push open the (heavy) front door you can tell that Redlands has fallen on its feet. The main house is built from beautiful sandstone blocks and the dark timbered interior houses the cellar door, kitchen, a sitting room with high backed leather chesterfields (careful not to slide off – Brigitte likes to keep them well polished) and a glorious blackwood table (which only made its way inside with help from Whisky Waffle’s muscle).

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The sitting (and drinking whisky) room

The distillery and bond store can be found in a red-bricked outbuilding off the side of the main house. Redlands’ continued growth is evidenced by the addition of a new still, with the (now) wash still, Heather, joined by new spirit still, affectionately known as the Mad Hatter. The bond store continues to expand, now housing hundreds of 20 and 100 litre barrels that once contained pinot noir, port, sherry and even Tokay.

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Heather and the Hatter

These days if you visit Redlands, you will be able to try some of the most elegant, drinkable and delicious whisky Tasmania has to offer. Redlands’ signature release is aged in Tasmanian ex-pinot noir barrels and is like drinking apricot jam. The unusual ex-tokay barrel release is broad and full across the palate, oozing with dark berries, while the ex-port barrel, which we tried at cask strength, offers marmalade, honey and vanilla.

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A wonderful room to drink wonderful whisky

Redlands has changed so much in the last two years, but they have even grander plans afoot for the near future. While the old brick outbuildings are charming and old-worldy, they simply don’t have any space for expansion as the distillery scales up production. The solution to this problem is the construction of a facility in the adjacent field, with work scheduled to begin in 2017. The new distillery will allow for a greater output, allowing the Redlands single malt to be enjoyed by a much larger audience.

The sale of the old Redlands estate could have easily spelled the doom of the distillery; instead it luckily seems to have made it stronger. Who knows what the future will bring, but you can be certain that Whisky Waffle will be back to find out.

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…and next time we’ll bring Dean a box to stand on in the photo!

Rye Reflections: my visit to Belgrove

Posted by: Nick

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While casually scanning through the many varied barrels in the bond store end of Pete Bignell’s converted stables, I asked him what he thought his signature expression was. It was a tricky question – I mean, it must be hard to settle on just one drop in a place of such experimentation, innovation and creation. And he looked at me with a grin and told me that his signature expression was exactly that. Not a barrel type, or even a grain; but creativity. I guess when you think about it, what else could possibly link a champion sand sculptor with a leading whisky maker – but creativity?

As we continued to waltz through different age statements, grains, barrel types and peat levels (north-east peated malt: phwoar!) I realised that no two barrels were alike. Each one had its own history and its own story – and Pete knew ‘em all. It’s clear now that embracing the lack of uniformity and instead pursuing creativity is what Belgrove is all about.

A Rye look at Belgrove

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The much-extended old stables which house Belgrove Distillery

In our review we jokingly referred to Belgrove Distillery’s Peter Bignell as the da Vinci of distilling. When we visited him, we discovered that we were actually bang on the mark. Case in point was his method for powering the pump that injected homemade biofuel into the burner for the still: an old Sunbeam Mixmaster (usually on ‘Whipped Cream’ setting!).

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Apparently meringue-setting heated the still too much!

Our arrival at the distillery was actually rather hampered by some pesky road workers, who decided to dig up the highway in front of Peter’s driveway half an hour before we arrived. We had to call over a massive grader to flatten the surface enough to get the Alfa over (the troubles with low sports cars).

Belgrove distillery takes its name from the property, which is also a working farm. This was apparent as soon as we opened the gate and spied a flock of freshly shorn sheep, which we later discovered Peter had taught to eat leftover rye mash. Scattered around the old stables building that houses the distillery were various contraptions cannibalised from old washing machines, scrap metal and Russian Typhoon-class nuclear submarines.

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This one is made from the parts of Apollo 11 which fell to earth

The distillery, located just outside the southern midlands town of Kempton, is unique in Tasmania in that it predominantly produces its spirit using rye instead of barley. The story goes that Peter had a spare paddock full of rye that needed using and so decided to turn it into whisky. Rather than buy expensive new equipment, and prescribing to a reuse and recycle ethos, he instead decided to build everything himself.

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Including this glorious piece of copper!

We need to stress that home-made doesn’t mean rubbish; the malter/peat smoker crafted out of an old tumble dryer is a work of genius, and the mash tun is perfectly functional – until it gets clogged up by the huskless rye that is. Peter quipped that when this happens he has to put the old wooden paddle appropriated from his kids’ dinghy to work to unclog it (he’s changed both the handle and the blade three times apiece, but maintains it’s still the same paddle).

Peter has been a farmer his whole life, only turning to distilling seven years ago. He said that his university degree in agricultural science has been invaluable, allowing him to exploit the science behind the art, although he doesn’t downplay the role of the natural yeasts and bacteria that inoculate the mash, which he refers to as Belgrove’s unique terroir. Peter is completely hands on with the whole process, from growing the grain, to the distilling, the bottling and especially the tasting.

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Peter is clearly a hands-on farmer

Luckily enough we were able to join him in tasting a variety of interesting spirits, including rye, barley, apple hatchet (distilled apple cider), ginger hammer (distilled ginger beer) and even an experimental batch of eau de vie that Peter was trialling for Tasmanian Cask Company’s master cooper Adam Bone, who dropped by to check on proceedings. The range was varied, exciting and specific to Belgrove, and it was inspiring to be able to taste such contrasting flavours produced in the one place.

We did however have our favourites; the rye at 47%, Pommeau (apple hatchet cut back with apple juice) and especially the Pinot Noir matured rye at cask strength, of which we took home bottles #1 and #2 of a new barrel. However, revelation of the day was the 100% malted barley smoked with peat from the previously untapped bogs in the north-east of the state. Good people of the world, are you ready for Tasmania’s answer to Scotland’s Islay? Well, it’s maturing in Peter Bignell’s bond store at this very moment.

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Nick filling bottle number one!

While Peter is expanding the old stables to house a new still and larger malting equipment, he still resolves to remain stubbornly small scale, championing the merits of a hands-on approach. He muses that “big distilleries only care about how much whisky per kilo of grain they can get. I’m trying to get the most flavour.” From our all too brief visit, it is clear that he is succeeding in that vision.

Tasmania is home to many distilleries, big and little, but perhaps none is more eclectic and fascinating to explore than Belgrove.

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Don’t worry, Ted. Someone has to have bottle number two!