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Meet the Tassie small business which has won the world’s best whisky award

Yolanda Redrup /

A Tasmanian whisky has won the title of world’s best single malt at the renowned World Whisky Awards in London.

On Friday, Tasmania Distillery’s Sullivans Cove French Oak took out the award, after being judged against more than 300 other whiskies from across the globe.

The award has previously been dominated by Scottish and Japanese distilleries, although since the Awards began in 2007, Sullivans Cove whiskies have consistently ranked near the top.

Sullivans Cove marketing manager Bertie Cason told SmartCompany following the award win the company’s website crashed on Friday from the increase in traffic, although it’s now back up and running.

“We sell about 18,000 bottles a year and we’re making about 25,000 bottles at the moment, so it’s not a large number,” he says.

“We have three lines currently on sale – our double cask is entry level at $110, then the American oak sells for $150, and then the French oak, which is the award winner, is $165 a bottle.”

At these prices, Sullivans Cove turns over more than $2 million.

The award-winning whisky was made between 1999 and 2001 and Carson says it’s the Tasmanian ingredients and environment which boosts its quality.

“It’s what makes all Tasmanian whiskies good – we have great ingredients, specifically fantastic barley,” Cason says.

“Where Tasmania is a bit different to the rest of the world is the kind of barley we have. There is brewing barley and distilled barley. Most of the world uses the distilled barley because it’s a higher alcohol concentration and is more cost effective, but we use the brewing barley because it’s more flavoursome.”

Cason says Sullivans Cove whisky is made from barley sourced from the local Cascade Brewery, world-class water and a climate appropriate for maturing whisky.

“It has to sit for 10 years… we import the wood [for the casks], but it’s the climate that really does it. We have lots of temperature and air fluctuations, which makes the liquid in the barrel move a lot,” he says.

“You want it to go in and out of the wood constantly to absorb the flavours. The flavour of the wood mellows the alcohol, so while it’s 47% alcohol, you wouldn’t think so.”

The whisky is also made using traditional methods by hand, with fewer automated processes than larger distilleries.

“We make it using craft principles, but that wasn’t a choice for use, we’re just so small we don’t have another option,” Cason says.

“We were making whisky long before craft brews became popular; we just happened to then be branded with that label.”

 The business has been going since 1994, but it wasn’t until new management came on board in 1999 that it really started making top-class whisky.

“From 1999 we got things right and all the whisky we’ve made since then we consider good whisky,” Cason says.

Determining when a whisky is ready to bottle isn’t a scientific process – instead it’s done by taste.

“Once a month we’ll taste 20-30 barrels and simply ask if we can see ourselves drinking it for the rest of the day,” Cason says.

“We’re looking for imperfections and if you couldn’t drink it all day it’s not ready to bottle. While it’s not overly scientific, this is why all our whiskies are doing well in competitions.”

Sullivans Cove achieved another milestone over the weekend, a bottle of its high-quality whisky (which was last year named in the top six in the world by ‘whisky god’ Jim Murray) sold for a record price of $1265, making it the most expensive bottle of Australian whisky ever sold.

“It’s just about not compromising on anything we do and making sure the quality of the whisky doesn’t change,” Cason says.

“We might not be the world’s best every year, but we’ll stay in the top per cent each year.”

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