“Making stuff up as we go along” was the subtitle of this Heartwood Whisky masterclass hosted at Sydney’s Oak Barrel, coinciding with the Sydney Whisky Fair. Tim Duckett, the boundary-pushing mad scientist from Tasmania who IS Mr Heartwood, was holding court at the front of the room and led us on an evening of tasting some back catalogue Heartwoods that aren’t easy to come by these days.
Six Heartwood whiskies (all 62% ABV or greater!) in one sitting? Less than two hours? This is going to be a sensory assault…
Whisky #491: Heartwood Mt Wellington Tasmanian Malt Whisky. Tasmania, Australia. ABV: 62.4%.
Colour: Apple juice.
Nose: Faint popcorn with a slight prickle.
Palate: Big and juicy – like a mouthful of blackcurrant pastilles.
Finish: Oily smoky notes, BBQ-charred chicken skewers.
Comments: It’s like dinner in reverse – sweet dessert followed by a savoury main.
Whisky #492: Heartwood The Beagle 5 Tasmanian Vatted Malt Whisky. Tasmania, Australia. ABV: 62.5%.
Colour: Deep amber.
Nose: Like a crème brûlée, all buttery caramelised toffee notes, with a gentle hint of smoke.
Palate: A huge dollop of golden syrup on hot buttered fresh white toast. Amazing.
Finish: Big and long, with a drying heat. Like putting your tongue close to a camp fire. Not that I’ve tried to do that…
Comments: A vatting of 7 casks – 5 malts from Lark Distillery, with another 2 from Tasmania Distillery – home of Sullivan’s Cove whisky.
Whisky #493: Heartwood @#$%^&. Tasmania, Australia. ABV: 62.5%.
Colour: Extremely similar hue to The Beagle 5 – a dark amber.
Nose: Smoke and sugar.
Palate: Butter and brown sugar. Tasting notes scant here as I had fallen one whisky behind the rest of the room…
Finish: Loooooooong (I could just repeat that for all the Heartwood whiskies), a nice counterbalance of savoury and sweet flavours. Think caramelised onions and a big, juicy char-grilled steak.
Comments: 7 years in a 2nd fill Port cask, then finished for 3 years in 2 x 1st fill Sherry casks.
Whisky #494: Heartwood Release the Beast Tasmanian Malt Whisky. Tasmania, Australia. ABV: 65.4%.
Colour: Purplish copper.
Nose: A slight prickle, then a wave of strawberries and cream, molasses, and a hint of smoke in the fade. Do noses even have a fade?
Palate: Black pepper, smoke and juicy cherries with loads of tingly warmth. Very satisfying.
Finish: Even the finish has a finish! Lots of smoke, liquorice and campfire heat. This whisky could warm up anything.
Comments: Whisky of the night for me – the nuances of the nose and finish were amazing, bookending the juicy and rich palate. Phenomenal. Matured for 3 years in two 100L port barrels and then married in a 200L Australian Sherry cask and matured for a further 4 years. However at first taste it feels more like a heavily sherried influence.
Whisky #495: Heartwood Any Port in a Storm Tasmanian Malt Whisky (Summer). Tasmania, Australia. ABV: 69.1%.
Colour: Deep gold.
Nose: This one’s a creeper – it starts off soft then rolls up the nostrils, lemon muffins and friands.
Palate: Sucking on a spicy butter menthol.
Finish: Mineralic. Like licking a salty yet sweet toffee.
Comments: Majority of the malt was distilled at Tasmania Distillery, with a touch of Lark. I tended to brush over this one as my sparse notes tend to indicate; I was still basking in the warm glow and intense flavours of the Release the Beast.
Whisky #496: Heartwood The Good Convict Tasmanian Malt Whisky. Tasmania, Australia. ABV: 71.3%.
Colour: Bronzed amber.
Nose: Another softer, more balanced nose. Less mongrel. Sultanas, musty bookshelves (unusual from such a young whisky), boiling toffee on the stovetop.
Palate: Shoots straight down the middle of the tongue – flavour-wise and literally. Liquorice meringue, salty hessian and straw notes.
Finish: Salted caramel, tingling madeira sugar crystals bursting as you crush them between your tongue and the roof of your mouth.
Comments: Port cask, distilled at Tasmania Distillery. Distilled in November 2000 and bottled in June 2015, it’s had a touch under 5 years on oak.
Overall comments: What an honour to once again taste some amazing Heartwood whiskies and hear from the man who made them, Tim Duckett. One of Tim’s observations from the night was that “variation is a form of entertainment.” He was referring to a few things, primarily the notion that many people these days (including whisky drinkers and collectors) are always searching for the next unusual thing (e.g. whisky), something different, something they haven’t tried before. Things that absolutely describe your typical Heartwood whisky.
They’re all so different from one another, yet ironically they all share some similar qualities – the deceptively smooth, oily mouthfeel; layer upon layer of flavour that seems to suck you into a vortex and make you forget about the world around you for a moment; and an incredibly loooooooong lingering finish. A Heartwood is a real thinker’s whisky, one that you don’t want to rush…so whilst trying six whiskies from Heartwood archives was an absolute privilege, over the course of only 2 hours it seemed a little rushed. Whisky like this deserves a less frenetic pace to truly savour what a special beast you’re enjoying.