Independent bottler of the Year: Heartwood, Tasmania, Australia
World Whisky Review has featured Heartwood and its irrepressible owner before and although it’s nearly impossible to get its whisky (due to the size of the company and the demand for the malt Down Under), I am a big fan. But Heartwood’s releases are the Mitchell Johnson of whisky and will take no prisoners – a love it or hate it whisky that doesn’t shirk from coming hard and heavy.
Heartwood started acquiring whisky barrels in 1999, and commenced bottling in 2012. At any one time it only holds between 7000 to 10,000 litres. It owns whisky from Tasmanian distillers only – Sullivan’s Cove (Convict Series) Lark (Release the Beast, and several peated Oloroso casks) and new additions for Redlands and Belgrove. Heartwood just pipped Berry Brothers & Rudd to the title. the London-based company was awarded a Highly Commended citation by the judges.
Interview with Heartwood owner Tim Duckett
Q. What is Heartwood trying to achieve?
More bam per dram
More throttle per bottle
More pleasure per measure.
Our aim is to produce whisky that is ‘tasty’. Simple really. Being a little self centred. we also produce whiskies I like.
Q. You go for big flavours. Why?
The big bold flavours are a characteristic of Tasmania conditions. We have massive fluctuation in temperature, humidity and pressure within 24 hours. The whisky and the wood interact in overdrive. Generally our barrels are exhausted after one use. We also lose water and our alcohol concentrate goes up from 63.4% to the low 70s in 10 to 12 years. We also lose between 4.5-seven per cent per year to the angels excluding constant sampling by the dark angel. Our spirit is really very good also.
Q. What’s special about Tasmania and how is the whisky shaping up overall?
Our industry, started by Bill and Lyn Lark, is in its infancy. We have 23 years experience, Scotland and Ireland have 400 years. There are more questions than answers, we are still learning about our conditions. However, isolation can lead to innovation. As we (the Tasmanian Industry) learn more, our whiskies should get better or at least more consistent.
Q.Where to the unusual and often amusing names come from?
Heartwood has a large social media following and they help with the names of our whiskies. We made some big whiskies such as Velvet Hammer and Vat out of Hell, named through Facebook. Convict Release : named with Brian Ritchie from Violent Femmes fame. We had had a couple of drinks, seemed funny at the time. The Beagle : the evolution of whisky and a voyage of discovery. The Four Corners of Ross, an old township in Tasmania with the pub , the Town Hall, the old Gaol and the Catholic church on the corners of the main street: Temptation, Recreation, Damnation and Salvation. Everything that goes into whisky consumption.
Q. So what is coming next?
We are aiming to make high strength delicate whiskies based on Australian muscat casks, though we still have several barrels of Lark 100 per cent peated whisky in oloroso barrels due in about three years. The delicate whiskies will be called Shot in the Dark (from a muscat barrel) and Smiling Assassin etc. We still will produce some big whiskies such as ‘Son of a Bitumen’ the first traditionally 100 per cent peat whisky from Redlands Estate and ‘The 72% Solution’ from Lark. We have also put down, through Belgrove distillery, a 100 per cent rye spirit into a muscat cask. All muscat , sherry and port barrels are sourced from Australia. Names may change if the whisky doesn’t work out the way we plan.
Q. Where are Australian whiskies headed next?
Australian whiskies are gaining a reputation throughout the world though recent awards to Sullivan’s Cove in the UK and Lark in the US. We will not compete with Scotland or Ireland and nor should we. We have had nothing but massive support from both countries. What we will do is produce something that is different and as the demographic for whisky continues to evolve, particularly younger professionals looking for variety, there will be a growing demand for Australian whisky. Unfortunately or fortunately we are unable to meet the demand for our whisky in Australia, let alone the rest of the world. Who knew 10 years ago?
Q. Given that you don’t need recognition up here, how much does this Wizard Award mean?
To be awarded Wizards of Whisky Independent Bottler of the Year 2015, is first of all, humbling, and secondly, helps identify Australia, particularly Tasmania, as a serious producer of high quality whisky. We will still make mistakes and produce some cr…., rubbish, however we will continue in our endeavours to produce and improve our whisky and our consistency. This award will encourage us to continue, where quality is our priority. Onward and upward. All good. Thank you to to the Whisky Tasting Club and Dominic and to all those that take an interest in and support Heartwood Malt Whisky.