Breaking all the rules


In conversation with Tim Duckett of innovative Heartwood Whiskies

Franz Scheurer
14 January 2014

Considering Australia is such a latecomer to whisky production, the country produces some serious drams. It does, however, seem a pity that everyone still follows the old-fashioned, proven methods, that no one has tried to find an Australian style. But wait – enter stage right, Tim Duckett and Heartwood Whiskies.

Tim Duckett is Australia’s first independent bottler, and although he doesn’t distil but rather buys new-make that he likes, he breaks all the rules of ageing and storing whisky, with the result that he produces what is easily the best Australian drams out there. And he’s incredibly consistent, too.

CENTURION: When and how did you start on this experiment?

Tim Duckett: I used to sit at the end of the university bar and drink a whisky then a glass of water and repeated that process all night, which meant I was drinking as much as everyone else, but managed to graduate. I always liked whisky, and when I was appointed to the Ben Lomond Advisory Committee (as I am an environmental scientist). Bill and Lyn Lark were involved as well, and they said they would make whisky – that’s when I said I would drink it. And that’s how we became friends. In 1999, several whisky barrels became available from Lark Distillery, and also the original Tasmanian Distillery, and I bought them as I could afford them. I only started producing my own whisky last year.

What makes yours different?

It’s the age of the whisky, it’s the strength of the whisky and we mature our whisky rather differently. I break all the rules, for instance, I will position the barrels next to a warm wall and some of my barrels are actually exposed to hours of sunlight each day. We use this method to drive off some of the aldehydes and volatile esters. They are not desirable, and we drive them off.

Then when we decant, we do this differently again: we pour the whisky into large stainless steel vats. They do have a lid, but it’s not tightly fitting and the whisky can breathe. We then leave it in there and go and check it every few days, and one day, usually after a couple of months, when you lift the lids all the volatiles will be gone. The nose is lovely and alluring, and that’s when you know the whisky is ready for bottling.

How would you describe your philosophy on whisky making?

A lot of the heavyweights in the industry describe whisky by mouth feel and mouth presence, not flavour. So I would like to think of my whisky as a Brontosaurus. It builds and builds, gets bigger and bigger, until it ends with a very long tail. So it’s that body shape I try to achieve when we produce my whiskies.

Where do you sell your whiskies?

Through specialist outlets, as there isn’t enough to go around and we have some rather obscure names (the people on our social media pages help us name some of the whiskies). If you want a bottle, you will find it.

Footnote by Franz Scheurer:

Let me say more or less diplomatically that I am no friend of Australian whiskies and have never found a dram worth drinking. This changed with Heartwood’s Mt. Wellington Release about 2 years ago, which convinced me that we finally had a world-class whisky in Australia. This release was subsequently followed by more releases and each and every one a cracker. I would now rate Heartwood amongst the world’s best and I love the fact that we finally have not only a great whisky, but a definite style.