The Grand Finale of the Great “Down Under” Tasting Tour
After an adventurous trek back and forth across the Australian and New Zealand whisky-scape, we make a final stop back at Tasmania for the Hellyers Road Original Single Malt Whisky, a No Age Statement release described as the distillery’s flagship whisky. The Hellyers Road Original Single Malt is distilled from Tasmanian grown malted barley, matured in American white oak barrels and bottled at 46.2% abv. The whisky has no artificial coloring and is non-chill filtered.
About Hellyers Road Distillery
Located on the northwest coast of Tasmania, in the town of Burnie, Hellyers Road Distillery is the operating name for Whisky Tasmania Pty Ltd. Established in 1997, Hellyers Road is a wholly owned subsidiary of Betta Milk Cooperative Ltd. Yes, a milk cooperative. Following deregulation of the Milk Industry in 1994, the Cooperative looked for opportunities to divest its interests into other business lines and identified the whisky industry as one offering potential – either fortuitous foresight or an example of visionary business insight, the founding of Hellyers Road Distillery hit the market with exceptionally good timing, coinciding with the resurgence of brown spirits.
Now considered one of the largest distilleries in Australia, Hellyers Road still remains a relatively small-scale operation, producing approximately 100,000 liters per year with just one pair of stills that are, interestingly, made with a combination of stainless steel for the pots and copper for the heads, necks and lyne arms. Using a very large (60,000 liter) wash still, Hellyers runs the wash at approximately 40,000 liters with a very slow distillation; the middle cut takes as much as 24 hours, substantially longer than their Scottish compatriots.
In 2014, Hellyers Road released its first 12 year-old whisky to complement the Hellyers Road Original Single Malt Whisky, a 10 year-old bottling of the Original, a Slightly Peated release, a Pinot Noir finished release, and their first cask strength single cask release. Hellyers Road whiskies are now marketed in 21 countries throughout Europe and is hoping to enter the US market in the near future.
Review: Hellyers Road Original Single Malt Whisky
Color: Chardonnay, white wine with subtle yellowish cast.
Nose: Earthy, very grassy, mineral – wet granite, oak, swamp oak (if you’ve ever smelled fresh-cut swamp oak, you know what I am talking about; something slightly sour and musty), damp vegetation. Rather “monochromatic” on the nose. With water, burnt grass, nail polish remover, white pepper.
Taste: A soft vanilla sweetness does manage to show up on the arrival, followed by quite a strong burst of lemon juice – bottled lemon juice, not fresh squeezed. Softly vegetal, mineral, and almost a hint of sulphur, which I wouldn’t normally expect in an American white oak barrel, unless it had been used to mature something else.
Finish: This is possibly one of the worst finishes that I’ve come across. Swallow – there’s a brief pause – and then this unpleasant flavor hits. I’m not sure how to describe it; it is this burst of awful, sour, bitter, damp grass. The best aspect of the finish is that it is mercifully short.
Overall: I wish I could say that I’d saved the best of our Australian, New Zealand, Tasmanian whiskies for last, but I just didn’t find this whisky very good. And I wasn’t alone; almost everyone who tried this back in January felt the same, with only two of our tasters even finding it marginally interesting – not exactly a ringing endorsement. To make it almost unanimous, in a completely separate result, Mike D. took his bottle to a friend’s for a tasting and then left the bottle!
This is a NAS whisky and I suspect there is some very young, very immature whisky as a component. Despite aging in American white oak, there is almost no vanilla sweetness, no sweet spice notes, rather this remains grassy, spirity and, frankly, quite unappealing. In some ways, the notes remind me of the Old Portrero 18th Century whisky that was matured in un-charred white oak barrels; that one had similar and very off-putting aromas for me.
Re-tasting this whisky didn’t change my mind, either. What is somewhat bizarre is that the Distillery’s own tasting notes describe this whisky as follows:
Our distilling process ensures an enhanced single malt flavour delivering a well-balanced and very smooth spirit. The nose shows fresh fruit on cereal, a touch of vanilla, coconut oil with a hint of spice evident in the background. The warming palate is almost creamy in texture, and delivers the generous malty flavours promised by the nose in a most distinguished fashion. Our original is destined to become a benchmark Australian single malt.
The distillery’s description makes me wonder if their notes are for an entirely different whisky because I didn’t find those notes in this one. Or else I got a bad batch/sample.
Now, I will be fair and not completely write off Hellyers Road yet. The Hellyers Road Original Single Malt is their entry-level NAS release, and sometimes these NAS bottlings don’t show off the distillery’s best characteristics. Maybe, their age-stated releases or as their whiskies continue to develop, things will improve. After all, my first Kavalan whisky was nothing special and if I had written off that distillery after that first sample, I might never have bothered to explore the exceptional Solist releases that they produce. Let’s face it, everyone is entitled to a mistake, so we’ll just have to hope that this is Hellyers Road’s mistake and that things will get better!
Distillery: Hellyers Road, Burnie, Tasmania
Type: Single Malt
Maturation: American white oak, ex-bourbon
Price:~ $90 (AUS)
Availability: Available in Australia or Europe
Sample Source: Mike D.
Malt Whisky Yearbook 2014, Ingvar Ronde, MagDig Media, Ltd.