Tassie

King in the north: Fannys Bay Distillery launches its whisky

Posted by: Ted

Ted n Mat Whisky Waffle

Compared to the established distilleries of the south, the north of Tasmania has been something of a permafrost-covered wasteland, devoid of all but the hardiest specimens. Scratch the surface however and you will find new life growing vigorously, with a multitude of start-ups building stills and laying down spirit.

Now the first of this new cohort has come to fruition, with Fannys Bay Distillery officially launching its range. Owned and run by the lovely Mathew and Julie Cooper, Fannys Bay is based on the far north coast in the rather appropriately named hamlet of Tam O’Shanter.

Small scale, hand crafted and innovative could be the bywords of Fannys Bay. The small still that resides in the Cooper’s garage was hand built by Mathew and each 20L barrel that is filled is mothered like a flock of chickens until maturity.

The launch was held at the recently opened Kingsway Whisky Bar in Launceston. The venue turned out to be rather easy to find thanks to the live quartet of bagpipers stationed outside the doorway, deafening guests as they entered the bar.

Bagpipes whisky waffle

The long, narrow space was quickly filled with friends and fans of Fannys Bay, including luminaries of the Tassie whisky scene such as Casey and Jane Overeem, Craig Johnstone, Damien Mackey, Rex Burdon, George Burgess and Troy Trewin. Mathew and Julie were gracious hosts, warmly welcoming their well wishers and even finding time to carry around some of the excellent cheese platters that had been provided.

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Troy, Jane, George and some hipster

While the brie may have been rather fine, the real stars of the show were the three expressions of Fannys Bay being generously poured by Mathew. On offer were a pinot cask 43%, a port cask 62% and a sherry cask 63.4%. The pinot was light and smooth with notes of grapes and green apples. In comparison the sherry was robust and full of stewed fruits and spice, while the port was dark and rich, oozing raisins, sticky prunes and burnt toffee. Everybody who tried a dram came away with a satisfied look on their face and there was quite a long line to buy the flat, rectangular bottles with their vaguely Victorian inspired lettering and painted reverse.

Fannys Bay Bottle whisky waffle

The official part of the evening was conducted by Rex, Jane and Casey, who all spoke passionately about the warm, friendly and hospitable nature of the Coopers and their willingness to share their knowledge and experience with others. Jane noted that it was ‘exciting to see people who have such passion jumping into an industry with such a huge amount of opportunity’. After rather sheepishly admitting that he had been to see the distillery for the first time only a few hours before, Craig got up recited a poem to a rather amused crowd:

May you have shortbread when you’re hungry,

Whisky when you’re dry,

Pennies when you’re poor,

And heaven when you die.

Speeches whisky waffle

After the speeches were concluded, several bottles of the first barrel laid down by Mathew were put up for auction. Barrel #1 (Bourbon) Bottle #1 was claimed by Traralgon based whisky collector Shane Barbour, who remained calm under fire from competing bids to claim his prize (he mentioned that he also has a #1 bottle of Oveerem, lucky sod). Talking afterwards, Shane reflected that one of the reasons he keeps coming down is that everyone in the Tassie scene is so friendly and welcoming (plus the chance to collect unique whiskies).

The evening concluded in a relaxed fashion, with guests chatting away amicably in small groups and nibbling pieces of Fannys Bay pinot cask chocolate brownie. Mathew and Julie glowed with pride as they reflected on the success of the evening. When pressed, Mat said that he was “very, very pleased to be able to show that we have such a great Tasmanian product,” with Julie adding that “It’s been such a great journey.”

Mat n Julie Whisky Waffle

The last word comes from Troy (which I think would rather please him), who quite succinctly summed the evening up thus: “Tonight was a candlelight held up in the Tasmanian craft distilling scene, industry coming together to celebrate this nascent venture, a leader of the northern new wave. Patience has been worth it.”

Look out Southerners, the North is alive!

b n w Ted whisky waffle

 

Troubling revelations emerge about embattled Tasmanian distiller Nant

Posted by: Ted

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Things just got a little bit crazy in the Tasmanian distilling scene, with a new twist emerging in the furore surrounding embattled distillery Nant. Once a force to be reckoned with in the nascent Tassie whisky industry, the bottom appeared to fall out of the boat last year when Nant founder Keith Batt filed for bankruptcy and the distillery was taken on by Australian Whisky Holdings. At that time AWH promised that it would conduct a full audit and investigation of Nant’s finances and stock.

Now according to a bombshell article released today by national broadcaster ABC News, it is alleged that the audit has revealed that over 700 barrels purchased by investors were never actually filled. As part of its start up business model, Nant ran a barrel buy-back scheme where investors could purchase a number of barrels, with guaranteed yearly return of around 9%. After a period of around four years when the whisky had matured, Nant would buy back the barrels for bottling and sale. Happy days, drams all round.

However, in the period leading up to the crash there were worrying rumours going around about investors having trouble accessing the barrels that they had purchased or selling them back to the distillery. Once Nant passed into the hands of AWH, many investors were left unsure whether they would get anything back at all.

Now according to the ABC News article, while AWH have said that while many people will still get paid out, the owners of the non-existent barrels will have to take up the issue with Nant.

The tale gets ever twistier too, as apparently a large number of barrels have already been decanted and sold without the knowledge and remuneration of investors. Troublingly, many were also found to have their owner names and numbers sanded off. Weirdly, a significant number of barrels were found to be filled with new-make at an ABV of only 45%, well below the usual cask strength.

Where to from here remains to be seen, but hopefully investors left in the lurch will be able to find some sort of resolution to their plight. While this event may cause some concern for onlookers, they should rest assured that the Tasmanian whisky community as a whole is resilient and continues to be committed to crafting the highest quality, locally produced spirits.

The only question that remains at this time is whether to crack that unopened bottle of Nant still hiding on the shelf.

Delving into Dark Valley: the launch of Tassie’s latest dram

Posted by: Nick

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Independent bottling in Tasmania is a relatively rare thing. Sure, there’s the mighty Heartwood leading the way and a few others coming on board, but by and large, it’s an unexplored market. One person who realised this a long time ago is whisky fanatic and Whisky Waffle guest contributor, Alex ‘Moorsey’ Moores. Despite maintaining a fledgling full-time career in law, he has achieved what most whisky lovers can only dream about – he has created his own whisky: Dark Valley.

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Dark Valley was named after the area of Hobart in which Alex grew up, Glen Dhu. While the temptation was there to name his drams simply ‘Glen Dhu’, being a qualified solicitor he was aware of the legal dangers of such a Scottish sounding name. He instead opted to translate the Gaelic into English and name his bottles ‘Dark Valley’, setting the tone for the gothic labels and imagination-stirring individual release titles such as ‘Raven’s Roost’ and ‘Hunter’s Keep’. Importantly for Alex, he did not wish to tinker in any way with the whisky – he wanted to showcase it in as close to its natural form as possible. This meant no diluting, no blending, no finishing and no filtering. His aim was to create a whisky that was the next best thing to getting it straight from a barrel.

While the first releases from Dark Valley feature whisky distilled at Lark Distillery, it is Alex’s hope that one day all Tasmanian distilleries will contribute spirit for his range. He already has Redlands on board and northern-Tassie’s new boys Adams are next on the list. For now though, there are three different bottlings in existence, all of which I was lucky enough to try at Dark Valley’s Hobart launch.

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The first I tried was the 60.3% sherry matured ‘Raven’s Rest’. My initial reaction was “Yes. Yes yes yes. Yes. Yes.” It was like cooking raspberry jam – so warm and fruity. Next up was the ‘Widow’s Watch’ – bourbon matured and 65.8%, it was full of vanilla and baked goods. I decided on cupcakes, with orange icing and poppy seeds.  Finally was the port matured 62.7% ‘Hunter’s Keep’, and it was my favourite of the lot. It combined the flavours of the other two beautifully while adding hints of cinnamon and nutmeg, creating an effect I described as ‘mulled whisky’. It was superb.

The drawbacks of setting up a new whisky brand is, of course, the cost. Dark Valley will certainly not be going into mass-production any time soon. In fact, these releases came from tiny 20 litre casks, meaning just over 30 bottles of each were made. However, this doesn’t mean you’re unlikely ever to see sight nor sound or them. Alex’s very firm goal is to get Dark Valley into whisky bars – and not into the hands of collectors. He intends to get his product into various establishments in Melbourne and Tasmania, with a few in Hobart showing some interest after the successful launch. In the coming months, if you happen to be near a whisky bar in any of these locations, ask after Dark Valley, because once people discover how good it is it’s not going to last long.

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Finally, on a more personal note, I’d just like to offer my sincerest congratulations to Alex for achieving the spectacular feat of getting his whisky to bottling stage. Moorsey is a genuinely top bloke and I know he’ll be another wonderful torchbearer for Tasmanian whisky.

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

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

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!