Tasmanian Devils

Tasmanian Devils

To avoid confusion, this article has nothing to do with the four-legged Tasmanian devils.  It does have a lot do with some devilishly good Tasmanian whisky.

The growth of the Tasmanian whisky industry

According to Wikipedia, there were nine whisky distilleries in Tasmania in 2014.  There are now 31, with more planned!

Which makes Tasmania an attractive destination for the whiskian (be-whiskered?)

The obvious distilleries are Hobart’s Lark, Hellyer’s Rd in the northwest, and the picturesque Nant distillery south of Launceston.

Planning a short holiday in Tasmanian with Evelyn, I looked for distilleries we could conveniently visit.

Uncle Google (bless him) lit up Fannys Bay Distillery.

An hour and a half’s drive from our accommodation base, via selected Tamar Valley wineries.  And the website detail really whets my interest: small batch, hand-made drams.  Sherry and bourbon expressions, obviously, but also a strong wine cask series of whiskies from port, shiraz and pinot.

Fannys Bay Distillery has a view of Bass Strait restricted only by some sandhills and a few seaside plants.  The local wind blows the salt spray about.  It gets onto the house roofs and – by extension – the tank water supply.  Which adds a slightly maritime note to the drams.

The distillery is owner-operated by husband and wife, Mathew and Julie Cooper.

Mathew is largely a self-taught distiller, but I suspect that knowledge-gathering is something he is very practiced at!  There are some innovative ideas in the distillery – the gas hot water boiler being a major one, which Mathew says allows him better heat control.

Julie and Mathew are the most engaging of hosts.  They are very proud to talk about their drams, their production methods and whisky in general.  During an extremely pleasurable (and educative) couple hours in their company I tasted my way through four whiskies and a cup of coffee.  Then, as a “leaving present”, they gave me a large sample of their latest, magnificent, pinot-matured whisky.

Fannys Bay product is matured in 20 litre barrels.  When I first saw the racks, I was a little surprised, but if you think about the increased wood contact of small casks it makes sense.  The whiskies come in attractive squared bottles, with Julie adding a hand-completed label to each one.

The racks.  20 litre casks.

The tastings.

Sherry Cask
Barrel 48, First fill French Oak.  2.5 years.  Bottled 8 April 2019 at 62.3%
Appearance: holds well on the glass. Colour 1.3
Nose:  marine, dried fruit and brown sugar
Palette: Pepper, fruit, smooth.
Finish: slightly tannic, and slightly sour (possibly from the European oak?)
Comment: Very nice, how I expect a sherried whisky to taste.  The effect of the small casks is apparent, as is the salt air.
Score: 8.4

Port Cask
Barrel 61.  First fill French Oak, bottled 12 July 2019 at 62.5%
Appearance: hangs on well, good legs. Colour 1.5
Nose: Fruit (dried apricots), vine, brown sugar
Palette: soft and rich.  Mouth filling
Finish: long
Comment: want one, got one!

Shiraz Cask
Barrel 61, First fill French Oak, bottled September 2019 at 63%
Appearance: hangs on well. Colour 1.8 (dark!)
Nose: Dark chocolate, red wine
Palette: back of the nose, pepper, shiraz (the dark chocolate), cranberries.
Finish: a late delicious nutmeg-flavoured steamed pud!
Comment: Evelyn’s favourite.  She wanted one, we got one (she may not get to drink a lot of it though).
Score: 8.7

Bourbon Cask

Two bourbon cask bottles, different cask numbers

Barrel 50, First fill American Oak, bottled 6 July 2019 at 62.5%
Colour: 0.7
Appearance: great legs.
Nose: nutty, sacking, vanilla (as you would expect)
Palette: Hot (from the alcohol), tastes of pepper, no bourbon sourness, some wood.
Finish: long, slightly tannic, bourbon sourness.
Score: 8.8

And then my “take-home” drop, the Pinot.

Pinot Cask
Barrel 20, bottled at 62%
Appearance: Rich colour, dark amber, stays on the glass.  Colour 1.1.
Nose: dried apricot, dark Rum & Raisin chocolate, cooked Black Doris plums.  No direct wine nose, which Is odd considering the cask provenance.  Hint of vanilla when the glass is hand-warmed.
Palette: chilli hot, pinot, BITEY.  Big mouth, dry + heat on tongue.  Slight sour (from wood?).
Finish: heat stays around, affecting my gums.  Long finish, warming my thorax.  Nice sour note, tannic.
Score: 8.9
Comment: With reduction, the nose is more vanilla, Christmas cake fruit & figs.  Brown sugar, but still no red wine!
The palette softens, with no harsh heat and less chilli.  Banana/Eskimo lollies.
The finish shortens a little, drying, sour like a bourbon cask.

My “take homes”.
Port on the right, Shiraz on the left.

Visit the Fannys Bay distillery website – it’s worth it!

Some personal thoughts on “young” whiskies

Now here is something I did not know – Tasmanian law requires only a 2-year maturation before the product is able to be called whisky.

I have read articles recently by whisky scribes far more learned than me.  They seem to decry the practice of drinking just-legal whiskies, saying they really should be kept in the wood for longer to develop “character”.

They may be right, but I have recently tried and written about Cardrona’s output (bottled at 3 years and 1 day) and now the Fannys Bay whiskies (coming out at not much over the 2-year mark).  In India the maturation rate is so impacted by humidity that the whisky needs to be bottled early to avoid it disappearing from the cask totally – if it were left in the barrel for 20 years the Angel’s Share could quickly become the Lion’s Share.  There would be nothing left to bottle!  And who can go past Amrut Spectrum?

Yes, it would be interesting to see how these whiskies would turn out if they were allowed to run on to 10 or 12 years, but they are by no means short on character now!

And I will happily go back to Tasmania for some more Devils.

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