I’d wandered over to the company’s table in the World of Whiskies section and – as their stand seemed quite quiet – thought I’d get a proper chance to chat with them about their products.
Luckily for me, Mark Littler – the GM and distiller – was there so I could get geeky and ask loads of questions. What he told me was most interesting indeed.
To start, the company was actually formed by a group of dairy farmers, looking to diversify their product range and earn more money so they wouldn’t be bought up by one of the big dairy conglomerates. They formed their company in 1997 and launched whisky to market in 2006.
But what was most fascinating was the company’s distilling procedures. Hellyers only produces 100,000 litres a year, so has a very slow production schedule. And by that I mean very slow. The fermentation takes 72 hours. Then the wash still (which has a massive 60k litre capacity) runs over the weekend, and does a 72 hour wash distillation. This produces around 12.5k litres of low wines, and the feints and foreshots are reused in the next batch, making part of the spirit triple distilled. The spirit still, meanwhile, has a 20k litre capacity and the run also lasts for 72 hours.
The spirit is mainly matured in american oak, ex-bourbon casks and the company currently has four products on the market. Its Original is a non-age statement whisky, which was the first the company launched, while its first age-statement whisky – the 10 year old – hit shelves in 2012. Both are bottled at a nicely strong 46.2% ABV. The company also has its Peated (which is made using malt peated to 35ppm near Inverness in Scotland) and a Pinot Noir finish version, which was voted ‘Best world whisky’ in a blind tasting by festival organisers at Whisky Live Paris.
So what was the whisky like? Across the board, it is very light – even at the 46.2% all were delicate. However, amongst the white fleshy fruit and apple notes that were most present on the Original and 10-year old, I also picked up an amount of dryness that for me manifested itself as a slight coffee note. The Pinot Noir finish was the most interesting, with a lovely additional winey sharpness to the nose and loads of warming chocolate and cherry notes on the palate.
The company currently has distribution in Europe (La Maison du Whisky bought a whole container load this year), Canada, Asia and – possibly soon – the US too.
After much discussion with Mark, it was clear he was not only passionate about what he does but that he was glad the dairy co-op had chosen to diversify into whisky making all those years back. While the whisky is certainly different than a regular Scotch, it definitely shows that Tasmania is yet another place us whisky lovers need to be looking towards when it comes to dramming options. And I’m all the happier for it!