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Sunday, 16 August 2015

Tasmanian Whisky Adventure, Pt 2: Nant Distillery!

From a cracking Tasmanian independent bottler in part 1, to a cracking Tasmanian distillery in part 2!

Nant distillery is situated on the beautiful and historic estate, of the same name, in Bothwell, around an hour North of Hobart. We were shown around this picturesque distillery by the head distiller, James, on a beautiful snowy day. In fact the road conditions almost prevented them from opening, but thankfully the weather cleared later in the day. It certainly made for some amazing photo opportunities!

The estate was actually built by convicts in the 1820's, and the original buildings have been preserved where possible, and restored where not, at the low cost of around 5 million dollars. The site was originally a grain mill on a massive property, and the current estate owners have restored the original water-powered mill (partly pictured below) back to working order, for use by the distillery. In fact the distillery uses the same pristine water source, fed by the river Clyde, in the production of their whisky, as they do to power the mill. The word 'Nant' is actually Welsh for 'stream', hence the name of the estate, which was given by the original Welsh settlers in the area.

Speaking of the estate, the distillery also produces around one third of it's barley requirements itself, on the grounds. There are future plans to increase that yield, along with on-site floor malting, plus installing two more sets of stills, and building an extra bond store. This will result in the distillery being almost entirely self-sufficient, and will enable them to increase production capacity dramatically. At the moment, they cannot keep up with demand, even in their home state. These changes will also bring about the possibility of using local peat to dry their barley, which is very exciting. 

This distillery is, by design, a very traditional one. Aside from the aforementioned historic mill and natural water source, Nant also had the only traditional wooden wash-back (fermentation vat) I saw during my 'adventure'. The rest were all stainless steel, which has a longer life, and is easier to clean. 

This desire to be traditional also shows in their product range. While many young whisky distilleries resort to producing un-aged spirits, such as gin or vodka, to ease financial strain while their whisky matures, Nant took a different approach. They offer an investment / buy-back program, where private investors essentially buy casks of whisky, which are stored on-site, and the distillery buys the casks back after 3-4 years, plus a return of 10% interest per year. This interesting idea has proven very successful, bringing millions of dollars into the distillery, and allowing them to focus solely on whisky. They have since also opened the popular Nant whisky bars in Melbourne, Brisbane and Hobart.  

The still room is housed in another original convict-built building, located between the mill room, and the excellent 'atrium' restaurant & bar. The lovely smell of a working malt distillery wafts through the door while you're having lunch, which means you can't resist ordering a dram or two! The stills themselves were custom-built for the distillery, with the wash still (foreground in the above photo) featuring a wide, squat neck for extra barley/malty character, and the spirit still (background in the above photo) featuring an 'onion' or 'boil ball' in the neck (pictured below), for more reflux during distillation, slowing the process, and giving a lighter character to the spirit. After nosing some of their new make spirit, I can say it definitely works.

Nant use a wide variety of casks to mature their whisky in their bond store (pictured above), ranging from Australian sherry (Apera), to Australian Port, to Pinot-Noir wine. The casks are mostly re-coopered down to a size of 100L, for faster maturation and greater wood / spirit interaction, and are selected for bottling after 3-4 years, without age statements, for obvious reasons. Aside from the recently-introduced 'Old Mill' and 'Homestead' (exclusive to Dan Murphy's) expressions, which are a mix of different casks, all Nant bottling's are actually single-cask releases, which have not been blended or 'vatted' with other casks. There have been some limited 63% bottling's in the past, but most releases are now bottled at 43%, after being cut back with that same local water. 

My review is based on a nip from a bar in Hobart, so my notes are a little shorter than usual. Unfortunately I couldn't find a small bottle in time to review properly, so this'll have to do.

Nant 'Sherry Wood', NAS, 43%, Tasmania, Australia.
Single cask, aged 3-4 years in American Oak 100L ex-Australian Sherry casks. No added colouring, but I can't find any official word on chill filtration, so I can't be sure. Tasted at a bar in Hobart. 

Colour: Amber.

Nose: Sweet syrup, rock-melon / cantaloupe. Slightly nutty, light fruity sherry, slight spice, fresh malted barley. 

Texture: Good for the low strength, slightly oily, easy drinking. 

Taste: Drier than the nose, and a little more spice. Fruity sherry, and juicy malted barley.

Finish: Short. A dab of chilli heat, some dry oak, drying barley. 

Score: 3.5 out of 5. Dram reviewed at a bar. 

Notes: These guys are doing great work. It's a shame I couldn't spend some more time with this dram, but I did taste it a few times during the 'adventure'. It's a solid whisky, as were the 'bourbon wood' and 'old mill' expressions we also tasted at the distillery. They all have a great texture for just 43%, and a nice juicy barley character thanks to those special stills, and quality local ingredients. The fact that the distillery is in a beautiful and historic location, and is committed to being as traditional and authentic as possible in their processes and equipment, is also a big help. 

If you're headed to Tasmania, don't go home without taking the drive to Nant, and going on a tour. Don't forget the camera! I'd recommend having a meal in their restaurant, which has brilliant views, and great local fresh food. I'd also recommend grabbing a bottle of their whisky BBQ sauce, which is very good!

I would love to try one of Nant's 63% bottling's, just to see the difference between the two strength's, but they're very rare, and extremely expensive. That's mostly thanks to some Scottish guy, who once wrote a book or something, and never seems to remove his panama hat...

Unfortunately even the 43% standard versions are still quite expensive, and are only sold in 500mL bottles, but then they are single cask bottling's, which are always more costly, and they are all in very short supply. Once the distillery has completed the aforementioned plans, dramatically increasing their production capacity, we should see a standard / entry-level / core expression become available, which should bring the prices down a bit, and make Nant's whisky more widely available. And of course, I can't wait for their peated expression...