Score: 85/100 (neat); 93/100 (matched with a cigar/food)
Reaction (neat): :/ (overwhelmed)
Reaction (matched): :D (delighted)
Origin: Tasmania, Australia
Price: $99.50 (Aus)
Match with: This is an intense and flavourful whisky with lots of love from the wood in which it matured, I found it absolutely delicious with a medium-full strength cigar offering woody notes (Arturo Fuente Hemingway), blue cheese, cheddar, goats cheese and zesty grilled red meats (lamb marinated with lemon and rosemary).
Australian whisky has always struck me as overpriced, the only exception being whisky from Hellyer’s Road. With most of its whiskies priced between $80 to $90, Hellyer’s Road produce what is in my opinion the best value Australian whisky on the market. Its newest release is a 12 year old single malt and that currently sells for $99.50, an eye catching price for an Australian whisky that has been aged in wood for 12 years (good luck finding a quality Aussie whisky for less than $100, especially one that has an age statement of 12 years!).
The Hellyer’s Road 12 year old is matured in American oak casks and vatted in timber. It is bottled at 46.2% alcohol volume after it has matured for 12 years. This is a long time; despite the fact that most commercially available single malt Scotch whiskies are, at their youngest, 12 years old. Whisky matured in Tasmania tends to draw out more wood flavours more quickly than whisky that has matured in Scotland, and this is thought to occur because Tasmania tends to have warmer and more volatile weather than Scotland and so the pores in oak casks holding whisky are more prone to expand and contract (thereby soaking up and spitting out more whisky more often, and as a result giving the whisky more flavour more quickly). This is not necessarily a good thing, because a whisky can become overly woody by spending too much time in oak. As the Godfather of Australian whisky Bill Lark once told me during a chat in Melbourne’s Southbank, Australian whisky does not tend to be matured decades on end because the wood might take over the whisky.
Hellyer’s Road 12 year old is definitely very woody. The first time I tried this whisky, it simply tasted too woody – almost immediately the tannins pierced my taste buds with a strong woody twang, and in all honesty it gave me a lemon face. My palate then adjusted and with each sip the whisky became more palatable and enjoyable. It soon become blatantly obvious that this whisky would beautifully match a cigar, so an Arturo Fuente Hemingway (natural wrapper) was taken from my humidor and lit after being carefully cut. A few puffs of the cigar followed, and then as the smooth cedar notes of the cigar sat on my palate I sipped the Hellyer’s Road 12 year old – magic. It is one of the best whiskies I’ve had matched with a cigar. Then, my next love after whisky and cigars came to mind – cheese!
It may seem quite cliche but this whisky – which is produced by a distiller that is owned by a milk farm – goes remarkably well with rich cheeses. From Gorgonzola to Bavarian Blu, or perhaps more appropriately a nice creamy Tasmanian brie with blue vein or an Australian cheddar. Now we’re talking. It offers a spice and a woody kick that rivals some food friendly wines, and in my view it is a shining example of an Australian whisky that might just compete with the iconic Shiraz for a place by the cheese board.
The nose immediately presents with vanilla and chocolate notes underlying cherry cough syrup over wood, as an unlit floral scented candle develops into more natural floral notes – Dandelion, sunflower, freshly cut flowers, dewy stalks and the sourness of a chewed yellow wood sorrel. There is also a muddy smell, similar to a Melbourne football pitch in summer, with bone dry yellowed grass as well as sour lollies, hints of dusty cocoa, nutmeg, fresh bunched oregano and rosemary, undertones of sharp citrus peel and gluey wood chipboard stained with old wine. On the palate the whisky offers a strong woody twang with notes of citrus and lavender, dried herbs with undertones of honey and the astringent but tangy taste of an old cork infused wine and vinegar that proceeds into the finish. The finish is peppery and spicy with some hints of sourness, as potpourri lingers on the tip of the tongue with tobacco and hints of dark chocolate with ground coffee.
On its own Hellyer’s Road 12 year old is quite good once you get to know it, but matched with the right cigar or food it takes on a whole new level – its heavy woody twang is softened by the matched cigar or food, but necessary so the whisky does not get lost in the food or smoke. Hellyer’s Road 12 year old is now one of the first whiskies that comes to my mind when a nice rich creamy block of cheese calls my name, or a good quality cigar whispers ‘smoke me’. This is a whisky that makes life’s other pleasure’s (especially cheese and cigars) even better – now that is a great achievement, especially by a distillery that is owned by a milk farm!