Malt Mileage interviews Sullivan’s Cove about its whisky

Sullivan’s Cove is a brand of Australian whisky produced by the Tasmania Distillery in Hobart, Australia. Once the whisky has served its time after being “distilled with conviction”, it is released from the confines of its oak cask and bottled for us incredibly thirsty mainland Australians. Some of it escapes our clutches and it finds its way to the United Kingdom, Europe, US and Canada but, the truth is, we don’t let much escape. We know a good thing when we taste it, and Sullivan’s Cove make some spectacular whisky – my favourite Sullivan’s Cove (and Australian whisky!) is the French Oak HH0423

With this most recent taste of liquid heaven, Malt Mileage set out to ask the distillers at Sullivan’s Cove a few questions about its whisky. Thanks very much to Bert at Sullivan’s Cove for taking the time to answer our questions. 

1.    Why did you start production? Did you see a gap in the market or was it to fulfill some passion? Bit of both. 

The market was growing and making whisky in Tasmania seemed like a hell of a good idea at the time!

2.    How long has Sullivan’s Cove been producing whisky? 

Since 1994

3.    Do you think that your product is distinctive? If so, what makes it distinctive from other whiskies on the market? 

As a Tassie malt it is already different from any other malts on the market, given that it is made in Tasmania from Tasmanian ingredients including Tasmanian barley and water. It is different from the other Tasmanian malts in that Sullivans Cove has the oldest whiskies on the market due to using 200 and 300 litre barrels. Most 2014 bottling will be between 12 and 14 year old with the odd 15 and 11 year old.

4.    Sullivan’s Cove has won a number of prestigious awards for some of its expressions, including Jim Murray’s Southern Hemisphere Whisky of the Year in the 2013 Whisky Bible. What processes do you follow to ensure that your whisky is high quality?

Cascade and Moo Brew are highly experienced breweries that make our wash to a specified recipe and this ensures consistence of the wash. In the distillery, the run is cut very short to ensure that we only keep the cleanest and sweetest ethanols in the heart of the run. We make sure that our barrels are of high quality and finally, we taste every single barrel that gets bottled and nothing makes it into a bottle if we believe that it is not of the right quality.

5.    Is there a flavour profile that you aim to achieve when distilling? Do you select casks to achieve this flavour profile? Do you tailor different products for different palates?

Not really, we simply aim to keep the cleanest part of the run and make sure that the wash from the brewery is of the correct standard. This translates into the typical sweet, complex, malty Sullivans Cove flavour.

6.    Why do you bottle the American Oak and French Oak expressions at 47.5%? 

Over many months of testing, we found that this strength was the best over all for enjoying our single casks neat.

7.    What do you look for when “hand selecting” (as noted on your bottles) oak casks? Can you let us know where you source your French and American Oak casks? 

For French oak we look for the following: 200-300 litre barrels, emptied most recently to avoid mould build up. French or European Oak, we look at the general quality of the build, no leaks etc. and importantly we look at the smell, no off notes to the nose etc. American Oak: 200-225 litre, well built, ex-bourbon, and again no off notes, good smelling. French oak we get from McWilliams in NSW and American oak from a variety of distillers. The current AO barrels are from Jim Beam and we have some Jack Daniels and Heaven Hill in the background, waiting.

8.    Sullivan’s Cove is known for offering whiskies from single casks, which in turn means that the character of your whisky depends on the cask from which it is taken. Why not blend casks for a (more) consistent product?

It is more interesting to have a different whisky every time. The FO and AO both have a distinct flavour profile, and the single casks allow us to have a breadth within that.

9.    Why do you think people choose to buy Tasmanian whisky, including Sullivan’s Cove? 

Because it tastes damn good.

10. What is your biggest export market? Can you give us an idea how much whisky you export and to where? 

Mainland Australia gets about 90% of our product and about 7% goes to the rest of the world. Mainly to Europe and the UK, then USA and Canada.

11. Can you give us an idea of how much whisky you produce per year at Sullivan’s Cove? 

Currently enough for about 20’000 bottles per year

12. Are there any plans for any new expressions in the pipeline? 

Yes, very limited release full cask strength called the Ballbreaker.

13. Do you have any other comments for our readers? 

Thanks for the support and drink Tassie whisky, doesn’t matter which one, just support the locals. All of your support has meant we now have a proper industry with a tourism trail.

14. Do you have an official AFL team down there in Tasmania? (is it still the Hawks?)

The Tasmanian Government sponsors the Hawks, but people down here support a variety, mainly Hawks, Collingwood and Carlton.

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