tours

Spending Time at Sullivans Cove

Posted by: Nick

Sullivans Cove Whisky Waffle 1

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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Tasmanian Whisky Tours: a story worth telling

Posted by: Nick

Before there were convicts there was whisky.

But before there was Tasmanian Whisky Tours, there was a distinct lack of access to Tasmanian whisky distilleries.

Enter Brett Steel, a man with a vision. He realised that Tasmania was entering a “golden age” of whisky creation and wanted to give the public a chance to travel to these distilleries, meet the people that make the whisky and hear their stories. Thus Tasmanian Whisky Tours was born.

I caught up with Brett to find out a bit more about the tours.

WW1 TWT Brett

“From my first visit to Tasmania in 2008 I fell in love with the place”

Brett grew up, not among whisky makers, but instead with a strong wine background. This is hardly surprising, as he lived near the great wine region of McLaren Vale. He moved from South Australia to Hobart in 2011 with intentions of starting up a bar selling Tasmanian whisky, assuming that once he was in the state there would be easy access to the distilleries making the product he intended to sell. However, he quickly found this was not the case.

As more distilleries opened up, Tasmania rapidly became a join the dots puzzle. The state suddenly had a whisky trail! And Brett? Well he had a car! He realised that no one in their right mind wanted to drive themselves to distilleries and now there was a real touring opportunity. So Brett took the plunge and decided to become… a professional designated driver!

There is, of course, more to it than that. Brett is a man after our own hearts. He is a waffler. As well as tasting the flavours of the drink, he was passionate about hearing the tales told by the people behind the whisky.

WW2 TWT at Redlands

“I wanted this to be about storytelling, as much as whisky”

Brett’s aim for the tours is not so much to give an educational and scientific description of how whisky is made. Instead he is more interested engaging with the people who make the product and hearing about the struggles and adventures they have had along the way. After all, the whisky-makers are just ordinary people doing something they love and they certainly have a tale or two to tell. Brett believes that whisky and story-telling are “perfect bed-fellows” and his guests, after meeting the story-tellers themselves, cannot help but agree.

WW3 TWT at home base 2 bnw

“The trick is to try to cater to all levels and not to have anyone feel excluded”

Brett’s first tours began running in early 2014 and the business has been growing in popularity ever since. The rise in profile of whiskies made in the state has given the business a boost, and Brett has found himself chaperoning journalists, whisky experts, and even cartoonists!

The tours run on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays and visit a wide range of southern distilleries – and also get to taste some from further afield. Sessions begin at 9am at the Lark cellar door, and proceedings commence by reclining in comfortable chairs and chatting about the history of Tasmanian whisky. Guests are then loaded into the van and driven around the beautiful Derwent Valley or Tasman Peninsula.

There are many highlights on each tour for Brett: the picturesque setting at McHenry’s Distillery in Port Arthur, the paddock to bottle experience at Redlands Estate, and the unforgettable yarns spun by “renaissance moonshiner” and “champion sand-sculptor” Pete Bignell at Belgrove.

Of course, much like everyone has a favourite whisky (or gin, or brandy, or apple schnapps – which are also sampled on various tours) everyone has a favourite stop, and you won’t know which is yours until you travel there.

WW4 TWT at Nant

“To me whisky is the perfect social lubricant”

I absolutely adore this quote and cannot agree more wholeheartedly. Brett believes, as we do, that whisky is a very social experience, and when presented with context, such as the people who create it and the processes they use, guests will get so much more out of every sip.

He says that sharing the narrative of Tasmanian whisky, past, present and future, is half the experience of the tour. The characters that are met along the way and the real passion they exhibit, gives true meaning to the boutique hand-crafted product that we at Whisky Waffle love.

WW5 TWT at Bothwell

Brett, like all of us, confesses to loving Tasmanian whiskies and their rich flavour. But he is also fascinated by the history and stories behind each of the distilleries.

“When you put the two together and add the dynamic of a mix of different people, it’s pretty hard to beat that experience – no matter where in the world you travel.”

Find out more about Tasmanian Whisky Tours at their website.

Photos by Andy Wilson at  Everything Everything.