In times like these, we sometimes need the whisky-equivalent of a large serving of some naughty comfort food. Normally I’d be reaching for a cask strength Islay, but let’s keep it local: Heartwood to the rescue!
James Atkinson from Drinks Adventures interviews Tim Duckett:
Whisky fanatic Tim Duckett is founder of Tasmanian Independent Bottlers and Heartwood Malt Whisky, and he has developed something of a cult following among Australian whisky drinkers.
In this episode, Tim and I discuss his journey to date with these two companies, along with the role that independent bottlers play in the whisky industry more generally.
And as someone who has been closely involved with Australian whisky since the early years, the Tasmanian Independent Bottlers founder has some interesting views to share on its recent trajectory and future prospects.
The local Australian whisky scene continues to expand and self-cultivate. Between the many new distilleries starting up and the older distilleries bringing new and matured stock to market (plus a couple of larger enterprises starting to flex their muscles), there’s plenty to taste and get excited about. It also seems that the scene can now sustain the one last gap that remained to be filled: The Australian independent bottler. And TIB – Tasmanian Independent Bottlers – is going the whole hog.
TIB is not the first Australian independent bottler (Trappers Hut possibly took that honour over 10 years ago) and there are certainly other labels around – Dark Valley and Heartwood being obvious examples. But it’s no accident that we mention Heartwood here, for TIB is Heartwood’s younger cousin.
TIB is the brainchild and venture of Mr Tim Duckett – yes, the same man behind Heartwood. Heartwood is a very special label that produces some very special, groundbreaking whisky. But as big and incredible as Heartwood is (with emphasis on big), Duckett wisely identified that Heartwood is not everyone’s cup of tea. In truth, for some palates, Heartwood is too big.
The inspiration for TIB came after an article that was published in London in 2013 which stated, “Heartwood! You either love it or you hate it, but you won’t forget it”. Whilst this was a positive commentary, Duckett then decided to produce something more palatable with a broader spectrum of appeal.
TIB was thus formed in 2015 and is actually a completely separate company and entity, with three other business partners. Comparisons with Heartwood are thus arguably somewhat pointless, but for those that appreciate distinctions, the differences are fascinating in the context of Australian whisky. Heartwood whiskies are all matured to significant age in 200L, 220L and 300L casks and bottled at high ABV’s – typically between 65-72% ABV. In contrast to that, TIB purchases the spirit as new make directly from the distilleries (more on that in a moment) and fills it into 100L casks that are specifically chosen to complement the spirit. The whisky is then bottled at a younger age and at a lower ABV. This varies for each bottling, depending on the whisky’s “sweet spot”, but is typically between 47 and 51% ABV.
TIB currently sources its new make from 13 different distilleries from Australia and New Zealand, and has to-date obtained 17 different new make styles – and that’s not including the apple brandy, rum, and oat whisky that is also currently slumbering in TIB casks! And, whereas many Australian distilleries (particularly in Tasmania) rely on maturation in casks sourced from the Australian wine industry for their bread and butter, TIB is currently using 13 different barrel types – specifically excluding pinot, shiraz, malbec, and chardonnay. The casks are sourced from six different cooperages.
Those with a knowledgeable and keen eye will spot that the above is not merely trivia or the minutiae of detail: It all represents a stark difference to the production and maturation regimes of most Australian distilleries, and thus it guarantees that TIB releases will be very different to the official bottlings put out by the distilleries themselves. And isn’t that precisely what independent bottlings are all about?
As previous Heartwood releases have shown, Duckett is an alchemist and goes to great lengths to shape and style his whiskies. TIB whiskies are subjected to the same cask abuse and sweated out to remove the volatiles, much like their Heartwood cousins (read more about that here), but it’s the approach to bottling strength that is more interesting. Duckett elaborates: “Whiskies have what I call a “sweet spot” – it’s the ABV where they are at their best. Each whisky is different, and so setting a fixed ABV on a label and then blindly producing whisky at that concentration probably doesn’t give you the best result for each individual whisky. As such, we test and trial each pending TIB release at various strengths until we find its unique sweet spot.”
As Whisky & Wisdom outlined in a previous feature article, consistency is the most important and sought-after quality in whisky production. It’s particularly important in the context of Australian whisky: With so many distilleries electing to put out single cask releases (instead of vatting casks to produce a consistent house style), consumers have commented on and lamented the fact that a brilliant single cask release can often be followed up by a mediocre one. TIB read this feedback and set about its business accordingly. “It’s important that we’re consistent with the quality of our whiskies,” says Duckett. “Each release has to be good, and finding and bottling it at its sweet spot is merely one part of that endeavour. Not every cask will be great, and so occasionally we’ll blend to get a better result. That’s where there’s some fun to be had.”
But words are merely words, and we don’t judge a whisky by its vocabulary. Yet the above comprehensively corroborates what this palate already confirmed: TIB produces very good whisky. Whisky & Wisdom paid a visit to the TIB bond store in late 2016 and tasted some of the works in progress. Even at less than a year old (a particular six month-old Muscat cask from Redlands was exceptionally good), the TIB whiskies were better than many of the matured whiskies I’d tasted whilst visiting several Tasmanian distilleries during that trip.
As part of this feature piece on TIB, Whisky & Wisdom sat down with a bottle of TIB Cask ??005 “A Renowned NSW Distillery”. The question marks are inserted to protect the identity of the distillery involved, which requested anonymity as part of the deal. This is the second TIB bottling from this distillery, and is thus labelled “Renowned Release 2”. Bottled at 49.1% from an ex-sherry cask, it was a delight to nose and taste. Here’s the full wrap:
Nose: The first nosing gives an instant whiff of sherry. But – unlike some sherried whiskies where the wine is the only dimension – the sherry here has many facets. There’s that unmistakable Australian “zing”, together with a host of spice notes: Cardamom, fennel, and a faint musk fragrance. There’s also some fruit, particularly sweetened strawberries. It’s incredibly complex.
Palate: The sweet nose parts the curtains for a slightly drier palate, where the spices initially take the centre stage. Toasted coriander seeds and root licorice fuse with the barley malt. The mid-palate offers some sweetness (Greek baklawa with honey) before the finish kicks in and imparts…
Finish: …some oak and more toasted spices. It’s long, well-balanced, and is remarkably consistent.
Comments: An incredibly complex dram that offers an amazing interplay of sweet and savoury. The weight is near-perfect and both sides of the equation balance nicely, leaving your palate feeling as though it got the best of both worlds. For those who’ve tried a lot of Australian whisky, this whisky will seem simultaneously both familiar and foreign. The spirit’s DNA is a new player which few will have encountered, and yet the maturation in sherry in the Tasmanian environment – helped along by Mr Duckett – brings elements that Tassie whisky drinkers will immediately recognise. Is it the complete package? To be honest, it’s pretty damned close. Well done, Mr Duckett, and well done to the team at that renowned NSW distillery that clearly produced some mighty fine spirit.
Non Cask Strength Drinkers Need Not Apply…
When Tim Duckett dropped a sample over of his latest release,I just couldn’t stop swearing.
An Aussie malt that is so very dark,no caramel colouring, brooding and unbelievably massive.
And it works and as far as I can judge, this is the best Aussie whisky I’ve ever seen.
Hell Yeah!! I’ve said it.
In the immortal words of a close mate of mine whose name just escapes me…F*&#k Me Tommy!
Where the hell has this come from? Are you serious…Tasmania!?
I thought the last Heartwood release was the best Tassie malt I’ve seen, well I take it back as this monster takes the cake.
Christmas Cake that is.
This is one massive malt, and it is so dark, being fully matured in ex Aussie sherry casks. Initially I thought it just smelt lie a big, fat old fashioned Rutherglen muscat, but no, I’m now thinking of those old, old style Scottish sherried Speysiders.
Big, fat and rich, loads of dried fruits, honeycomb, cream caramel, lush malt, old Oloroso and muscat notes. Just a hint of furniture polish. Big and expressive, but enough allure to really drag your nose in.
You sure this is an Aussie? No pickled onion juice here.
Then you take a sip….and I do recommend a sip…Kaaaa -boom!
Get over it and concentrate: massively intensive, loads of honeycomb, creamy malt, died fruits and lush oak (just what I said above) but Wow! What attack.
But what balance, there’s a shit load of alcohol, but it’s not hot or burning…hell it is so f^%@king big! And so is the flavour behind it. It certainly needs it.
And did I mention how sweet it is? Massive again.
Second time around, the mouthfeel goes from narrow, rapier like to a bit more expansive. And one point of criticism, after the massive sweet entry, there’s mid palate fullness, but the end tails off a tad. But that honeyed, dried fruitiness and rich oak just lingers.
Bill Lark made the spirit, Tim Duckett nursed it to its brilliant maturity and yes it’s a youngster. I’m still tasting it after 5 or so minutes. In a word unbelievable… and if you’re thinking about adding water…just “bugga orf” and go buy a 40% Glen Nothing and scoff that, if this cask strength monster offends…
The Odd Whisky Coy
AGP readers may recall a rather glowing review I gave of the debut release from Heartwood Malt Whisky earlier this year – The Mount Wellington Release. That particular bottling was recently served blind at a gathering of·hardcore whisky enthusiasts, none of whom picked it was an Australian whisky, and all of whom gave it the highest score of the night in a line up against some very formidable cask-strength Scottish releases.
Tim Duckett, the man behind Heartwood, contacted me recently to tempt and tease that he’d found another incredible cask amongst his inventory – one that, after years of slumber, had suddenly hit its straps and was pushing his buttons. Perhaps giving an insight into the whisky’s character, he’s coined this new offering “Beast”. It is yet to be bottled and made ready for commercial release, but the good man was kind enough to send me a sample.
Okay, so the truth is, I know a bit about this whisky, i.e. where it was distilled, who distilled it, what sort of cask treatment and maturation it had (this is a fascinating story in itself), and what little tricks and experiments Tim pulled to get it to this particular flavour profile and point of readiness for release. However, I’ve been sworn to secrecy at this stage, and all will be revealed when the cask is actually released commercially. Let’s just say that there’s a twist in the maturation process that I don’t think the Scots will be copying anytime soon! For the time being, all you need to know is that the whisky was distilled in Tasmania.
The first thing you notice is the colour – it’s incredibly dark. Such is the authenticity of my cask sample, it’s actually still got rather large chunks of charcoal flakes floating in the spirit that were drawn up by the pipette. If we taste with our eyes, this one’s already off to a flying start. The second thing you notice is that the darkness has a colour – a wonderful reddish tinge, like the darkest jarrah. The whisky is a marriage of two 100 litre casks (a particular type and with a particular past history) that were combined and re-racked into a 200 litre cask of a different type and with a different past history. And you can certainly read those histories in the colour.
My sample has been bottled at 64.2% ABV which – in fairness – is pretty bloody high for a whisky bottling. However, I’m probably not the best person to comment on this, since the vast majority of whisky I drink is cask-strength, and I’m not even sure I could taste a whisky if it was less than 50%. So whether it was actually the whisky, or just my immunity to high-strength spirit, I have to say that the nose was surprisingly genteel, and certainly didn’t betray that this was a high-octane affair. Similarly, the palate, whilst obviously powerful and “over proof”, was neither hot nor aggressive. All good so far!
Whereas the first Heartwood release fooled many people into thinking it was a Scottish malt, this second Heartwood offering is unmistakably Australian. The spicy honey, eucalyptus, marzipan, hazelnuts, pollen, and wild bush flowers are all here. Where this whisky stands out though, is the balance and the power. I don’t mean power from the alcohol, but power from the unity and integration of the flavours. It delivers on a uniform front, and there’s no weak component or poor ingredient in the make-up. And the oak doesn’t miss you either, with some healthy tannins thrown in for good measure.
Given I’m critiquing this, I elected to add water – and was amply rewarded by a surpisingly wider and more floral nose. Hard toffee also came into the picture, as well as peanut brittle, bush honey, and even some coffee notes. With water, the palate softened and was suddenly sweeter, with hints of cream, berry coulis, and danish pastries. Then, with a bit of time in the glass, came some real “toasted and roasted” notes – porter beer, dark chocolate, and mocha coffee. The finish, I have to say, turned a little bitter in the dying aftertaste, and so judicious use of water is needed to find this one’s optimum sweet spot. However, with a starting point of 64.2%, there were only so many times I could try this on the fly on the one night and still be able to type!
The verdict? It’s powerful, vibrant, fascinating and – above all else – extremely tasty! If it’s a Beast, then there’s a touch of Beauty in there as well, because this is worth seeking out for all the right reasons! As the Australian whisky landscape changes and grows with more and more new distilleries coming on stream, the independent offerings from Heartwood look like they’ll continue to pave the way for new and exciting flavours – not to mention some fascinating new maturation techniques!
Heartwood Malt Whisky – The Beast
By Andrew Derbidge
Australian Gourmet Pages
Back in July I was lucky enough to attend a tasting at The Oak Barrel in Sydney hosted by none other than Tim Duckett of Heartwood fame. The evening was to launch Heartwood’s latest whisky “Four Corners of Ross”. It was a fantastic event. Later in the evening Tim shared a birthday present with us that he had received from Lark containing 100% peated spirit from a sherry cask. It was fantastic!
So how is the Four Corners of Ross? It’s a whisky with a huge flavour profile. Something we should come to expect from Heartwood by now. Nothing shy going on here on the palate. The nose on this whisky is one of the most complex I think I have ever encountered. Layer after layer of aromas, constantly changing.
Nose: Iodine meets rubbing alcohol, clean computer parts, static free “areas”, cherry, jelly babies, alcohol starburst, womens perfume, port? With time some cream.
Mouth: Amazing espresso cream, massive palate, spicy but wow! Peat is noticeable and very nice. Very big on flavour.
Finish: Long, chestnut, rich and malty, very oily, cream, vanilla. Oak interaction is nice.
Distilleries: Tasmania Distillery (Sullivans Cove) & Lark
Age: “Could’ve been a 14 year old”
Region: Tasmania, Australia
Distillation Date: HH0174 (2000) & LD0323 (2007)
Bottling Date: June 2014
Cask: HH0174 (95%) & LD0323 (5%)
I would say buy yourself a bottle stat, but you won’t find one. They were sold out by product launch, and I can understand why. Brilliant stuff.
I asked Tim if he would choose a song to go with this whisky and he has kindly offered Bad to the Bone by George Thorogood. When asked why he had chosen this song: “Dirty with a bit of mongrel, Kings and Queens step aside. Might relate to all Heartwood whiskies. Not easily forgotten.”
George Thorogood – Bad to the Bone
Dominic Roskrow @WhiskyTasting 14h
@ifotou @heartwoodtas hi mate! Yes sir, it is. 12 year old, bottled in Dec at 71.9% and stunning! @heartwoodtas
The Odd Whisky Coy @todaysoddwhisky 14h
New @heartwoodtas Convict Redemption Batch 2 71.9% Is this Tim Ducket’s best yet? I reckon it might be. In a word: awesome. Very limited
“I sat down with a proper dram of Beast at Chez Regine last week. Quite simply one of the most memorable drinking experiences of my life (and to put that in perspective, knocked the 82 Laffite into second place).”
NICKS WINE MERCHANTS
“Four Corners of Ross” – a sneak preview
Just wow – Tims advice to try it in stages works – I tried it immediately, after 10 minutes, and then 10 minutes later…
Starts off very calm – not like previous Heartwoods at all… milder than I’m used to, but then the alcohol content is down to a mere mid-to high 60s…
The bourbon is there, but muted…
Ten minutes later, hello dirty dog!
We’ve got an entirely new drink – if I didn’t have the glass in my hand the whole time, I would’ve sworn it was a new drink… it’s mouthwatering, “juicy”, the peat giving just enough to let you know something is going on… I got a hint of green apples and tea (not normally something I find in bourbon maturation)
The finish long long long… the woody oak is coming out, drying… on and on and on… lovely!!
Gonna need to do some more, umm, ‘studying’, on this one – yes, that’s it… studying…
Anyway, that’s my first tasting of the Four Corners – it’s going to be a glorious expression…
Tasmanian Whisky Appreciation Society