Water of Life
If you are remotely anything whisky related, the name Sullivans Cove alone will probably give you goose bumps make your hair raise in the best way possible with the World Whisky Awards having awarded the distillery an array of well-deserved accolades
Sullivans Cove's French Oak variety has been repeatedly named the world's best single malt and thereby not only lifted the profile of Tasmanian whiskies and its perception on this earthround but catapulted it into the stratosphere – a feat that has been achieved by the relatively small team manning the operation behind it.
Located a stone’s throw from Hobart’s airport at Cambridge, Sullivans Cove first incarnated three years after Lark Distillery in 1995 – peep our feature on Lark Distillery in a previous instalment of “Water of Life”.
Not unlike Lark Distillery, Sullivans Cove entertains a close relationship with Hobart’s Cascade Brewery, which produces Sullivan’s Cove’s wash. An ingredient that along with exclusively using Tasmanian barley cements Sullivans Cove being proudly ingrained into the local DNA.
Sullivans Cove’s emission of its locally built copper double-distil – she goes by the name of Myrtle - eventually find their way into different cask variants, with Bourbon and French oak cask being among the more popular ones after they undergo minimum aging process of eleven years enhanced by Tasmania’s dynamic climate:
A trademark of Sullivans Cove, apart from using Tasmania’s pure waters from the surrounding rainforests, is their short distilling cycle, which allows for purer flavours at the sweeter end of the spectrum to be captured and results in a relatively high proof of 146.
Sullivans Cove whiskies have character.
Character that if you forced me to find a common denominators, I’d be happy to define it as one of rustic complexity. The je ne sais quoi factor that enters the equation with Sullivans Cove is that they have never limit themselves to merely superficial age statements: They only release whiskies when they feel that they are ready. For the more inquisitive whisky aficionado information about the alchemy that was channelled in the making of each bottle can be found on a small side tag – information that is further elaborated on with more meticulous info on their website. A testament to their curated, carefully considered production process with each bottle leaving the distillery becoming a unique release.
If you like whisky and have not at least heard of Sullivans Cove’s French Oak Single Malt, you must be in the wrong game: A rich, darkly intense, extraordinary nutty, citrusy whisky that culminates in a finish reminiscent of an amalgamation of cereal oats and grains bedded on a foundation of vanilla. Aged in 300 litre ex-tawny barrels, this one is the cherry on top of each annual Winter Feast visit, the decadent banquet which forms the backbone of the Dark Mofo Winter Festivals, where Sullivans Cove holds court on a regular basis.
While it proves hard to find something faulty with the French Oak Single Cask, even though I am usually more into peated varieties, I have to admit that I prefer the American Oak and concur with Bill Murray, author of the renowned reference Whisky Bible, when he referred to it as “liquid gold”, a label that is mirrored by its matching golden appearance.
Bottled not unlike all of Sullivans Cover’s drops in single barrel releases, its malted barley is aged entirely in used American oak cooperage and the bouquet it offers is something else: A universe in itself – tropical, yet earthy and an array of nuances that form a unique symbiosis: The palate experiences an extension of Sullivans Cove classic and fresh French Oak Single Malt, taking fruity, sweet and juicy flavours a step up with a dominant nuance of honey based on a foundation of malt.
A thing of beauty that is well-balanced and complex to the extent that each sips offers new revelations yet still robust and distinctive.
So far, so good, yet it was not until the (I shall remember the date) at Sullivans Cove’s pop-up incarnation at one of Hobart’s best cocktail lounges, i.e. the gourmet bistro and European inspired Ettie Bar, where Whisky luminary extraordinaire Fred Siggins and his partner-in-crime Daniel Gregory, the Australian bar keeper of the year 2017 who is a delight to watch in action, not only proffered specifically designed concoctions with their own twist, but also had Sullivans Cove’s Special Single Casks in the line-up.
Their Special Single Cask undergo a stringent quality assurance process and only a consensus of their internal tasting panel decides if one will see the light of day outside the confines of the distillery.
Whisky porn par excellence with the side-effect that every time I see a green label on a bottle in a bar, it evokes a Pavlovian reactions and the urge to zoom in to see if one of the few hundred bottles has made it outside Tasmania. If you come across one, treat yourself to this experience (and let me know where to find it).
Oh, Freude schöner Götterfunken – what delight with a finish that leaves you lusting for another sip! Not usually the biggest advocate of exclamation marks in texts, but this one is heartfelt and warranted.
Needless to say that due to the very limited quantities, Sullivans Cove does not come cheap and whatever is adorned by their label and sign of approval is usually instantly bought up by connoisseurs and aficionados around the world, which warrants a visit to Hobart either to their distillery or whenever Sullivans Cove holds court, be it as part of Dark Mofo’s Winter Feast, where they occupy a designed booth manned by their knowledgeable and charming team and offer an annual limited edition Dark Mofo exclusive Winterfeast bottling, which at times explores some more experimental territory.
Word around the campfire has that Sullivans Cove is launching a Pilot Cask programme for experimental distillery only bottling, for which we have already planned a visit for a future instalment of our “Water of Life” series, which will elaborate on why Sullivans Cove has become known for one of the best whiskies in the world: The fact that all their accolades and successes keep them doing things the slow and hand-made way underpinned by their credo that to create what you would want to drink yourself.
Read more Water of Life entries here.
Photos by @k.a.vv