In Food + Drink

How Sullivans Cove – And Tasmanian Whisky – Won Over The World

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Go behind the scenery and discover some of Tasmania’s best-kept secrets.

Whether served neat, on the rocks, or part of a classic Manhattan, whisky has become the epitome of cool for a new generation of drinking connoisseurs. In Australia, Tasmania is leading the way in whisky production – and the world has taken notice.

For the second time in four years, Tasmanian distiller Sullivans Cove has received a major prize at the prestigious World Whiskies  Awards, this time taking the honour of ‘World’s Best Single Cask Single Malt’  for its American Oak  Single Cask, besting rivals from Scotland and Japan.

Presented by Whisky Magazine, the 2018 awards saw over a thousand whisky brands blind tasted and judged in London by an international panel of journalists, distillers, and spirit experts.

The recent award reinforced Sullivans Cove’s previous win of World’s Best Whisky in 2014.

So just how did a small distillery near Hobart achieve such a feat?

Patrick Maguire, Head Distiller for Sullivans Cove, says the award was a combination of the hard work the team put into their whisky production and Tasmania’s natural resources.

“For us quality is paramount, and we hold ourselves to very high standards,” Maguire says. “The combination of good grain and good water is the foundation of all quality whisky.”

“Tasmania has some of the cleanest water in world, as well as some of the best barley growing land in Australia. It’s also the quality of our raw ingredients, unique wash, careful distillation, cask selection and how we conduct our tastings.”

“Good ingredients, good brewing, attention to detail with the distilling process, maturing in the right oak cask, bottling only when the cask is ready to be bottled and treating the matured spirit with respect throughout the dilution and bottling process.”

Sullivans Cove Photo: Natalie Mendham

Patrick Maguire has been part of the Sullivans Cove family since 1999 and helped steer the distillery into the award-winning success story it is today. The biggest challenge for them at the moment, he says, is to produce enough whisky to meet demand. A recent change of ownership has seen the distillery boost production, yet this is unlikely to address shortfall in whiskies in the short term.

Unlike several other spirits, whisky is a long-term commitment to produce. It requires time and just the right conditions for aging, which, conveniently, Tasmania’s climate is perfectly suited to. Once the spirit is distilled it is filled into oak casks and allowed to mature over several years.

Sullivans Cove Photo: Natalie Mendham

“The oak casks are important as they provide all the colour and most of the flavour of the whisky and allow the spirit to soften and develop a creamy texture,” Maguire says.

The award-winning cask ‘HH0351’ was distilled in June 2000 and decanted in January 2017. It was then matured in a 200-litre American Oak ex-bourbon barrel and produced just 136 bottles, the majority of which are already in the hands of consumers.

The latest win for Sullivans Cove is also a win for the modern Tasmanian whisky industry which, rather surprisingly, has only been around since 1992.

Sullivans Cove derives its named from the site where, in 1804, military, settlers and convicts settled on the west bank of the Derwent River. That location would grow to become the vibrant port city of Hobart. Over the following decades, presented with fresh mountain water and prime barley growing conditions, a local whisky scene began to flourish, yet the good times wouldn’t last for long.

Sullivans Cove Photo: Natalie Mendham

In 1838, the new governor John Franklin deemed that spirits were a bad influence on the colony and banned distillation. The prohibition lasted for over 150 years until Bill Lark, known as the ‘godfather of Tasmanian whisky’, worked to overturn the law in 1991 and established Lark Distillery in 1992. Scotland recognised Lark’s contribution to the world of whisky in 2015, making him the seventh person outside of Scotland to be inducted into the Whisky Hall of Fame, and cementing his reputation as the Godfather of Australian Whisky.

Today Tasmania has the highest concentration of distilleries in the country, with around 30 distilleries, cellar doors and dedicated whisky bars operating and producing spirits on the island.

The Tasmanian Whisky Trail, which includes celebrated producers such as Lark Distillery, Old Kempton Distillery, and Hellyers Road Distillery, offers a great opportunity to not only meet the producers but to discover the hard work and passion that goes into every bottle.

The annual Tasmanian Whisky Week too, which sees a host of events held in distilleries, bars, barns, stables, restaurants and hotels across Tasmania, is testament to its growing popularity.

“Whisky is a journey,” Maguire says. “I suggest starting by trying whiskies with a lower ABV or unpeated (non-smoky) styles with lighter flavour profiles, gradually trying fuller flavoured and more robust whiskies as you go.”

“Make sure you smell the whisky first before taking a sip to enjoy the interesting aromas, then taste just a little at a time and move it around your mouth to get a sense of the textures and flavours, then wait a while before taking another sip to enjoy the finish.”

“There’s  nothing wrong with adding a little water, or a splash of soft drink until you get used to drinking neat spirits. Try a lot of different styles as well.”

Sullivans Cove Distillery offers bottle sales and tastings at their cellar door, along with in-depth tours of their facility. Tours start on the hour, every hour between 10am and 4pm seven days a week.

Published 23 May, 2018