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Sunday, 7 May 2017

Heartwood Calm Before the Storm Whisky Review!

It's been far too long since I last reviewed a Heartwood! In fact the last one was tacked onto the end of this write-up of one incredible morning spent at Tim's bond store near Hobart. That was an amazing day, I learnt a heap and sampled a few mind-boggling casks, and I'm already hankering for another trip to the apple isle.

According to the man himself this latest bottling is his most complete whisky yet, and possibly also his best! Considering some of the monumental whiskies that have come before it, that's a big claim, but who could possibly argue with the man who made it! Named 'Calm Before the Storm', it's a 7-year old single malt from Lark Distillery, distilled from 100% peated malt (as in, only peated malt was used, no un-peated malt was mixed in) in November 2009. It was matured in a first-fill ex-Oloroso sherry cask, number LD588, before it was bottled at a Heartwood-esque cask strength of 66.4% in November 2016. The cask gave up a modest 292 500ml bottles, and as with most Heartwood releases, Calm Before the Storm was completely sold out within days.

Being from Lark Distillery, the peat involved here will have come from Lark's peat fields in the Tasmanian Highlands. Since it's already malted & dried before Lark receive it, the malted barley is lightly re-wet and dried in the peat smoker, and it does not absorb as much peat influence as it would have if it was actually dried using peat smoke during the malting process, so it weighs in at around 8 ppm, giving "just a touch" of peat influence, as the great Bill Lark would say. Quick digression, but Lark have recently released their first heavily peated whisky as one of their special release single cask bottlings. It's a single ex-bourbon cask (LD670) and is bottled at only 43%, and certainly isn't cheap, but it is still something of a first for a Tasmanian whisky made with local peat and local barley. Well, at least until the heavily peated Belgrove I reviewed here is finally released. Exciting times for Tassie whisky!

Calm Before the Storm is the latest in a recent series of 100% peated and 100% sherry-cask matured bottlings from Heartwood, with previous entries Mediocrity Be Damned and Dare to be Different being very popular, and the upcoming Heart of Darkness release promising to be more of the same (it sounds bloody delicious already). Although younger than the older 'first generation' Heartwoods, some of which were the oldest Australian whiskies around at the time, there's no drop in quality to be found here. And like all Heartwood releases they're only bottled when they're ready, and are often tortured with the "hot box" and are quite literally beaten into submission before the man himself is happy with the final result. As much as I loved the old port cask-matured bottlings, these recent sherry cask-matured releases are every bit as good, and they're definitely still Heartwoods!

Heartwood Calm Before the Storm, 66.4% cask strength, 7-years old. Tasmania, Australia.
Lark Distillery. Distilled November 2009, bottled November 2016. Matured in a single ex-Oloroso sherry cask, LD588. 292 bottles. Non-chill filtered, natural colour.

Colour: Rust red.

Nose: Whoa! Very rich and very sherried, and quite spicy. Is this Heartwood's take an Aberlour A'Bunadh? Stewed red fruits and stone fruit, buttered popcorn, some powdered ginger and mild aniseed. Furniture polish, lovely rich buttery oak, mocha coffee and a little soft leather.

Texture: Massive of course! Medium weight though, with some heat, but not 66.4% worth.

Taste: Big & spicy Lots of ginger and clove, still some stewed fruits, but the spice is king here. Meaty as well, plus some dark chocolate and burnt caramel.

Finish: Medium length, still quite hot & drying. Sultanas in syrup, hot ginger and aniseed again, and some burnt toffee.

Score: 3.5 out of 5.

Notes: Very nice as always from 'Mr. H'. Quite different to the previous sherry cask bottlings though, somehow less 'out there' and less crazy, but still big & powerful. Also much more spicy (just to be clear - spice notes, not spirit-y heat) than I remember the others being, and I also found less of that mild earthy Tasmanian peat influence in this one. The nose is absolutely gorgeous though, and you'd never suspect it was 66.4% ABV. Well, until you taste it that is! I must admit I preferred the previous sherry releases (Mediocrity be Damned and Dare to be Different) to this one, the spice on the palate in the Calm Before the Storm was just a little too much for my personal tastes. But that nose is just beautiful!

Personally I wouldn't say it was the best Heartwood yet, that award would have to go to Beagle 3 in my book, but that's purely subjective of course. The main point here is that we have yet another high quality whisky from our favourite independent bottler / slightly mad alchemist, and yet again it's totally different to those that came before it. Tim really is a genius, and we should all thank him for his hard work, and for staying grounded through his never-ending surge in popularity. I can't wait to try what he comes up with next!

Cheers!