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Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Ho Ho Hobart...Overeem Australian Whisky

Continuing our theme of interesting world whiskies you probably haven't heard of this month, we bring you news of a brace of new Aussie whiskies about to hit these shores, from The Old Hobart Distillery in Tasmania.  Australian whisky making has really begun to attract the sort of feverish attention it deserves thanks to a number of recent award successes and better distribution outside of Australia and the Old Hobart Distillery located to the south of Tasmania, is the latest to capitalise on this interest.  

Casey and Jane Overeem
The story begins back in 2005 when Casey Overeem, owner and head distiller was granted a distillers licence, with production beginning in earnest in 2007.  The small batch operation was producing around 5000 bottles of whisky a year, mostly matured in a mixture of cut down 100 litre quarter cask port and sherry casks and today the distillery is now running at a capacity of 8000 bottles a year.  

It's a remarkable testament to the explosion of craft distillation in Australia, which can really be traced back to Bill Lark, owner of the Lark Distillery, who first helped change Australian legislation concerning the minimum size of stills allowed in the production of craft spirits.  Since the landmark date in 1992, when Lark was established, Tasmania now boasts at least nine working distilleries (making whisky) with another couple in the planning stages -  heady times indeed.  

So what of the whisky itself?  Well, we've been sent four different expressions: two matured in sherry casks and two matured in port influenced French oak casks.  The differing strengths (two at 60% and two at 43%)  will give us a rough idea of where this spirit is heading. We're told that the casks selected here are between five and seven years old and judging by Casey Overeem's steady hand on the tiller, he's selecting what works best and when.  

Overeem Single Malt Whisky -  Old Hobart Distillery -  Sherry Cask Matured - 43%

Nose: Immediately, this is very inviting and open, with notes of spiced apple pie, vanilla ice cream some perfumed notes and a slight vegetative note (boiled sweet potato.) Given time some sweet, plump raisins come to the fore, alongside a little dustiness and some cracked black pepper. Extremely rich and complex, all said and done.  

Palate: Wonderfully spicy and sweet, with star anise, clove and cinnamon dusted apples coating the palate, alongside some dried fruits (apricot and date), soft caramel and some vibrant blood orange notes.  Balanced and very impressive indeed for a youthful whisky. 

Finish: Lingering notes of dark chocolate, orange zest and toasted malt give this a luxurious and very lengthy finish.

Overall:  What a flying start.  Make no mistake, this is high quality whisky making and what's clear is the care and attention that has gone into pulling this expression together.  Highly recommended if you're a fan of big, bold sherry monsters. 

Overeem Single Malt Whisky -  Old Hobart Distillery -  Sherry Cask Matured - 60%

Nose: Wallop.  This is a big hitter.  Wonderful wafts of classic sherry wood hit first, with juicy raisins, dates and prunes, coupled with woody spices, stewed Bramley apple and perhaps just a faint whiff of some smoky embers from a long forgotten fire.  With water (just a touch, mind) the lighter fruits come through with more precision, alongside a creamy vanilla.  

Palate: At 60%, this is clearly going to be a powerful experience, but extremely pleasing nonetheless. Bold sherry notes (oloroso and PX sweetness) sit alongside a sharp burnt orange zest note, some menthol tones, a blast of anise and high quality cocoa enriched chocolate.  With a dash of water, the fires are tempered slightly, but none of the resonance is lost: a touch of woody smoke can be found if you look hard enough, alongside some toasted nuts, celery hearts, flat cola syrup and vanilla. Superb stuff. 

Finish: Lengthy, with drying notes of moist raisins and orange peel.

Overall: Consider us mightily impressed, Mr Overeem. At this stage of the distillery's production I doubt many people would have expected what has been achieved here, which all points to further greatness in the future.  

With the sherry expressions working far beyond our expectations, let's delve into the port expressions...

Overeem Single Malt Whisky -  Old Hobart Distillery -  Port Cask Matured - 43%

Nose: Distinctly more perfumed than its tempestuous sherried sibling, this is calmer, more restrained and less bombastic.  It has a delicate balance of white flowers, vanilla, ripe summer fruits (strawberry, plum, nectarine and redcurrant) with a sweetened cream drizzled over the top.  Dig a little deeper and some polished wood begins to emerge with some tinned peaches popping in for good measure, but not enough to trouble the fresh and fruity frisson that works so well.  About as summery a whisky as you could hope for. 

Palate: The sweetness of the first sip gives way to notes of liquorice, lemon grass, some toasted oak and a darker, richer fruitiness, one can only assume is derived from a ruby port:  think blackcurrant, toasted vanilla, dark chocolate, a touch of spice and notes of leather and lemon zest.  

Finish: Subtle and balanced, with a few drying notes of tannic oak and cigar leaf. 

Overall: A start contrast to the sherry matured expressions, but no less exciting. This is a superb example of getting the balance between spirit and wood character absolutely spot on.  

Finally, the more shouty port expression... could this be a clean sweep?

Overeem Single Malt Whisky -  Old Hobart Distillery -  Port Cask Matured - 60%

Nose: A very different aroma meets the nose than from the lower ABV version. This time around, it's cracked hard caramel, a touch of butterscotch sauce, roasted walnuts and freshly turned earth, alongside wafts of fresh pine smoke.  The lighter fragranced notes are probably in there, waiting to be set free from the spirit, but this is an altogether more grown up affair.  

Palate: The higher strength brings an explosion of bold flavours:  a distinct toasted nuttiness, some bitter dark chocolate, a touch of espresso coffee, liquorice root, flambeed orange peel and creme brûlée topping.  Think after dinner complexity, from that of an XO Cognac or Armagnac and you're in the same ballpark.  With water, the perfume notes and a lighter orchard fruit note balance with the bolder flavours from above and you're left with something altogether exceptional.  

Finish: Lingering notes of liquorice, orange zest and toasted chocolate malt.  

Overall: What can we say... four outstanding whiskies from this fledgling distillery. With the growth in craft distillation, it would be easy to say that anyone with enough time, financial backing and vision could turn in a drinkable whisky, but to get to this level of finesse in such a short space of time is very unique and requires something extra, unobtainable by conventional means.  It's clear to us that Casey Overeem has a bag full of this fairy dust at his disposal and we very much look forward to trying the next whiskies he decides to give a sprinkling to.

Follow Overeem on Twitter:  @OvereemWhisky