Whisky From Tasmania! Introducing Hellyers Road

barrels at Hellyers
barrels at Hellyers

All images courtesy Hellyers Road. 

Think of the word whisky and your mind will almost certainly drift towards Scotland or Ireland – those powerhouse nations that have been producing it for much more than a century. Now, if you're into your whiskies, you may also think of Japan – a long-time dabbler in this industry, becoming recognized more and more for the fine drams its distilleries are selling.

But if you look even further afield, you'll see the category experiencing great expansion to all corners of the globe, places that you may not have considered before.

As a whisky lover myself, I am constantly amazed by just how many nations are now producing the 'water of life'. Every time I go to a festival, I come across yet another distillery that's throwing its hat into the ring.

And that's just what happened when I headed to Whisky Live Paris – one of the biggest whisky shows in Europe.

There I met the team behind Hellyers Road Distillery. In Tasmania. Yes, that's right – it turns out that Tasmania has a fair share of whisky distilleries, even if it isn't the first place you would think of when it comes to whisky production.

Hellyers was established in 1997 and has a most interesting start to things, as Mark Littler – the distillery's GM and distiller – explained to me. “The distillery was established following deregulation of Australia’s Dairy Industry in 1994. This allowed [our dairy] cooperative to divest its interests into areas other than dairy and through the foresight of then general manager, Laurie House, we identified the potential for a single malt whisky distillery,” he said.

The idea of a dairy co-op starting up a whisky distillery seems quite novel, even bordering on slightly eccentric. But, according to Littler, there were tie-ins. “Milk production and whisky distilling have definite synergies so the concept was not as strange as it seemed. The resurgence of spirit consumption throughout the world over the last decade has fully vindicated the company’s vision of 20 years ago,” he explained.

Master Distiller Mark Littler teaching a whisky master class at the distillery bond store.
Master Distiller Mark Littler teaching a whisky master class at the distillery bond store.

Even more strange is the distillery set-up, which I badgered Littler about due to my continuing path to being a full-on geek about whisky making. The distillery only produces around 100,000 litres per annum of whisky – which is tiny. I mean, compared to the big boys of Scotland, it's microscopic.

But part of that is due to the fact the team at Hellyers really takes its time making the product. The mash spends 72 hours fermenting, helping to create the unique flavour profile that the distillery's eventual whisky has. That resulting wash (40,000 litres) is then filled into a giant 60,000 litre wash still and run for a whopping 72 hours. Most distilleries take six to eight hours for the first run, so this is phenomenally slow, even accounting for the large capacity. Once the first still has run, the approximately 12,500 litres of low wines are then put into the spirit still to run for another 72 hours.

So, what does all of this mean? Well, in short: loads of copper contact. Copper helps to strip out flavours that some people may not like (sulphur, for instance) and create a lighter, gentler spirit for casking.

The spirit is mainly matured in American oak ex-bourbon casks and, since the company released its first single malt to market in 2006 called Original, it has added to the portfolio with three other expressions: a 10 year old, a peated version and a Pinot Noir finish.

Viewing platform at Hellyers Road distillery.
Viewing platform at Hellyers Road distillery.

Littler told me that seeing the distillery evolve and seeing his small team receive positive feedback for their endeavours has been inspiring. “I love the fact that we are a fledgling distillery operating from a small island state that is producing world-class single malts. While it has been a long battle to gain distribution and recognition for our products, this is now starting to occur and it excites me greatly. In the last 12 months our business has doubled and we are on the cusp of releasing our second age-statement whisky. These are exciting times for Hellyers Road and I feel privileged to be part of our recent successes,” he added.

The company currently has distribution in Europe and is also in talks to distribute the product to the US, which Littler said “would be massive”.

It'll be interesting to see how Hellyers – and the other distilleries in Tasmania – develop with time; after all, they're still quite a few decades behind those in the 'Old World'. But it's great to witness the opening up of the category – and to know that even dairy farmers can get in on the trade.