vodka

Launceston Distillery Land Their First Release

Posted by: Ted

LaunnieLogo

The old Ansett Hangar 17 at Launceston airport looked almost exactly the same as it had the last time I had visited a couple of years ago. The only real sign of time progressing was a new opaque glass and aluminium door grafted into the old corrugated iron wall, bearing the crest of Launceston Distillery, and a sandwich board in front of it declaring the place to be ‘open’.

Hangar17

Hangar 17, the home of Launceston Distillery

After crossing the threshold I was warmly greeted by distillery Director Chris Byrne, who commented “hopefully my sign holds up against the wind, I’ve given it a bit of angle, but we’ll see.” (It had disappeared by the time I left). Nestled in the foyer were a couple of old airline seats. I asked if they were Ansett, but Chris shook his head and replied “We had an old bloke drop in and say the pattern was 1960’s Qantas. It’s definitely from back then anyway, just look at the ashtrays.” We grabbed a cup of tea to ward against the cold, pausing a moment to admire the whiteboard still bearing operational notes left after Ansett collapsed in 2001, and then wandered out for a look at the distillery.

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Sorry Ansett diehards, these are just scummy old 60’s Qantas seats

The main hangar, once used to house aircraft, was as large as ever, but the floor space had diminished significantly since last time thanks to the appearance of several rows of 100L casks. Chris grinned at the sight and commented that “the original bond store off the side is full of 20L casks now, so we had to expand out here. We’re hoping that we have enough 20L casks stored now to get us through to when we start releasing our 100L’s in a few years time.”

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The history of Hangar 17 on display

Sitting next to the stacks was a board covered in posters documenting the history of the site, which Chris was more than happy to explain. During the lesson he pointed at the numbers and lines on the floor: “See those there? That’s where they used to line up the luggage crates. Apparently one was pushed into the wall by accident, but because they hadn’t secured it down when they extended the shed, the whole bottom of the wall got pushed out. We had to pull it back in with a ute when we were doing the place up.”

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Phwoar, check out the insulation on those

Eventually we wandered over for a look at the bond store, passing by the two Knapp-Lewer stills with their beautiful timber insulation. Last time I had seen the bond store there had only been a solitary row of casks huddled forlornly against the wall, but now the room was full to the brim of neatly racked 20L casks. While we were admiring the view, head distiller Chris Condon and Angus the distillery dog returned from the airport terminal, where they had just delivered the first order of whisky to the airport shop. “They’ve got some good advertising up, so hopefully people stop and pick up a bottle.”

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Angus the distillery dog travels in style

Chris B handed me over to Chris C and we made a beeline for the tasting bar, built from an old Ansett check-in desk and an in-flight drinks trolley, for a chat and some cheeky bevvies. The most notable feature of the bar was the row of bottles perched on top, thanks to Launceston Distillery releasing their first whisky just last month, a milestone that was very pleasing to Chris: “One of the problems with distilling is that because it takes so long to get to that first release, it can sometimes feel like you’re not making any progress, so it’s great to finally have something to show for all our hard work!”

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20L nirvana

The bottles on offer covered the first four batches laid down by the distillery, with each batch released as a marriage of 20L casks bottled at a standard 46% abv. Batch 1, the first edition, was an ex-Apera (the Australian version of sherry) casking, Batch 2 was an ex-tawny (Australian port) casking, Batch 3 was another Apera, although apparently with a different character to Batch 1 as the casks had been sourced from SA Cooperage rather than the Tas Cask Co, and finally Batch 4 was an ex-bourbon casking.

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L-R: Batch 1 (ex-Apera), Batch 2 (ex-Tawny), Batch 3 (ex-Apera), Batch 4 (ex-Bourbon)

On the nose Batch 4 was light, crisp and grainy, with notes of fresh apples and green grapes. In contrast, Batch 1 was sweet, sticky and rich, with dried fruits, orange syrup, red jubes and undertones of malt, wood shavings and bacon. Batch 2 was dark, with red berries, leather, wax, timber and a clean oiliness.

On tasting, Batch 4 was sharp and bright on the mouth, with acidic herbal notes and a clean finish. In complete contrast, Batch 1 was like an explosion from the aromatic end of the spice rack, with strong flavours of aniseed, cinnamon, cloves and star anise, as well as almonds, milk chocolate, mandarins and a tanninic finish. Finally, Batch 2 was dark, rich and sweet, with notes of dark chocolate and black cherries and a smooth, oaky finish.

Chris revealed that each batch was just over two years old and I asked whether he had toyed with the idea of leaving them longer under oak: “We didn’t just dump them out arbitrarily at two years obviously, it’s more considered that, but you start getting to a point where you have to ask yourself, ‘Am I doing more harm than good for the sake of a few months?’. That’s the tricky thing about 20L casks, there’s a real risk of over-oaking.”

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Head Distiller Chris Condon rocks the Ansett memorabilia

Chris was also keen to show me the boxes that had been designed for the bottles and explained the relevance of each design element: “The colour is actually the Ansett blue, while the clouds are from a photo taken of the sky above the airport. If you look closely, you can also see lines running across the box which are actually from an 1830 map of the region. All the surrounding towns and landmarks are there, which really grounds it in this place.”

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The author and Angus relax before the flight

After the tasting, I had a quick relax on some genuine Ansett airline seats with Angus the distillery dog (“Judging by the condition, we don’t think they were ever installed in a plane,” commented Chris), said a quick farewell to Chris B who was finishing labeling the last of the personalised pre-order bottles that had been offered as part of the 1st release and collected my own bottle of Batch 1 from Chris C.

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Chris Byrne, hand-labelling master

Before I left, I had one last question on my mind. Last time Whisky Waffle visited, the distillery team had been tossing up names for the whisky. At that time ‘Hangar 17’ had been a strong contender in tribute to the building that housed their distillery, so I asked Chris what had changed: “We ending up going that way in part because there was a legal issue with Hangar 1 in San Francisco, who are vodka makers and objected to us using the name. I’m actually really pleased that we went with Launceston Distillery though, because that’s who and what we are. It’s a really strong geographic name that people can connect with.”

He paused a moment then laughed and quipped “At the end of the day, Hangar 17 is still our physical address, so they can’t take that away from us. We’ll see how we go.” Well readers, if the quality of the whisky is anything to go by, then it’s no hard stretch to say that Launceston Distillery will go far.

Head over to the Launceston Distillery website to purchase a bottle or organise a tour: https://www.launcestondistillery.com.au/

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Happenings at Hellyers Road

Posted by: Nick and Ted

“Twelve months ago, we couldn’t have foreseen the growth that has occurred”.

Hellyers Road Distillery has always been a welcoming and friendly place to we Whisky Waffle boys, a fact that was abundantly apparent when we sat down to lunch with Master Distiller Mark Littler and media manager Don Jennings.

Whisky Waffle and Mark Littler

In 8 to 10 years these babies are gonna taste great!

2015 has been a busy year for the distillery with sales increasing by 50% in Australia, as well as expanding distribution throughout 30 European countries and tapping a new market in Japan. Due to demand, Mark has fired up the stills once more, originally planning a 30 week brewing program which has now been extended indefinitely. 

One of the new priorities of the distillery is exploring the connection to its namesake Henry Hellyer. With the limited release Henry’s Legacy range continuing to fly out the door, and future releases in the pipeline, Don envisages an interpretation centre telling Henry’s story and pointing out his discoveries.

New Henry’s Legacy bottlings are not the only future releases to look forward to, as Mark tells us his new sherry barrel stock, while young, tastes amazing. Within the core range consistency and value are the priority, although this has led to depletion of 12 Year Old stocks. The 12 will soon only be available at the cellar door and in travel retail, so if you see one in your local bottle shop snap it up fast!

Dave Warner and Mark Littler

Obligatory cricket reference: this whisky hit Dave Warner for 6! Photo courtesy of Hellyers Road

Whisky isn’t the only spirit being made by the Hellyers Road stills. In partnership with Dean Lucas, the distillery is producing 666 Pure Tasmanian Vodka, a premium spirit which is part owned by Australian cricket vice-captain David Warner. Dave apparently caused a stir recently when he dropped by in a helicopter to see how his investment is made.

What resonated the most with us was the humble and generous nature of our hosts. It is fascinating that despite their growing success and international awards, the biggest whisky distillery in the southern hemisphere still consider themselves to be small-town Burnie boys, just enjoying making a bit of good quality whisky.

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Mark doesn’t have any writing on the back of his shirt

Moseying on over to Mt Uncle: a visit to North Queensland’s only distillery

Posted by: Nick, photos by Paul Moran

1 Nick at Mt uncle

Any excuse to wear the shirt.

I’m not sure what I expected from an outback distillery. Certainly not a wood and stone hut surrounded by a banana plantation with native animals roaming freely over the site. But it turns out that the outback distillery Mt Uncle is exactly that: a distillery in Australia’s outback.

Mt Uncle can be found half an hour from Cairns and is North Queensland’s only distillery. This means that it is the only whisky producer for a nearly 2000 kilometre radius – but I wasn’t going to let a small detail like that deter me!

2 BBC

I am prepared to travel for my whisky

The business was founded fifteen years ago by farmer Mark Watkins, and originally produced banana liqueur – a more conventional business in this part of the world. But in 2006, he bravely made the switch to distilling barley and is now reaping the rewards. Mark, however, is not big on tradition, preferring to do things his own way. This is in evidence with the name of his yellow-wax-dipped five year old single malt: The Big Black Cock. The large dark-feathered rooster on the front of the bottle clarifies the source of the controversial name.

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Three big black cocks

And it’s a proper outback whisky. Buttery vanilla on the nose with dashes of various native vegetation. The palate is fruity and bitter, perhaps due to the ex-wine barrels it was matured in: American oak with French oak tops. The finish is long, and a little rough. Overall, an intriguing mix.

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Pot still, or column still? Or both?

The whisky was not the only product made at the distillery – Mt Uncle also produces a vast range of other spirits. This included an interesting vodka made from honey, and a light and a dark rum, both easy to drink. There was also a proper bush gin, made with botanicals such as wattle seed, peppermint gum, lemon myrtle and Lilly Pilly. Finally, a bright pink concoction claiming to be marshmallow liqueur, provocatively titled SexyCat. And it was delicious. Dangerously so. Perhaps also embarrassingly so. But certainly a memorable addition to the Mount Uncle range.

6 Sexy Cat trier

Perfectly acceptable for male drinkers everywhere… I’m telling myself…

Myself and my drinking-buddy-of-the-day Paul had a great time sampling the products, chatting with staff and wandering around the grounds. We kept remarking how nice the place was, though we had to keep reminding ourselves that it was a distillery. It was certainly not what we expected. But we were in tropical North Queensland surround by banana palms. How could we expect anything else?

4 the range

The range: and yes, the SexyCat is sitting in a high heel shoe!