Friday, July 4, 2014

Knockin on heavens door - On Tour with Tasmanian Whisky Tours

A rock star moment on the Tasmanian Whisky Tours. All we needed was some groupies.
Want to go touring Australian Whisky distilleries in Tasmania but don't know where to start? Regardless if you an Australian resident or overseas tourist Tasmanian Whisky Tours is a solution to the problem.

These days it is pretty much impossible to not think of whisky when someone speaks of Tasmania. Over the years we have all, at one time I am sure, considered hitting up the distilleries. Where to start though? Drive to Melbourne then hope a boat to Tassie? Fly in to Hobart, rent a car then drive around? Who is the designated drive, you? NO way we are here to taste whisky not sniff it! Then there is what to expect when you get to a distillery? Can you even get your foot in the door? All this is a bit of minefield with disasters or disappointments bound to happen. Without a hell of a lot of forward planning your going to find it a waste of time. Remember most of these Tassie distilleries are not much bigger than a large back yard sheds with very few even prepared for guests to just rock up. Visitors centres are more or less non-existant These are all the problems I had to sort through over the years and is what has held me back... until now. Enter The Tasmanian Whisky Tours (TWT). On a whim I got the bug to just go recently, and thanks to TWT I could literally just do it. True to the word I booked a room, booked a flight, book some tours all within 15 min. 2 weeks later I was off for rock star treatment whisky distillery touring.

Kicking off with a breakfast dram at the Lark Cellar Door.
Before going further it is worth noting there is an initiative by Discover Tasmania called The Tasmanian Whisky Trail. A trail it is not and the naming of the site is going to add further confusion. A great site and if your looking to do more than a few days in Tasmania and or wanting to get a good overview of the island state then both (especially over seas travellers) then the Discover Tasmania & The Tasmanian Whisky Trail sites are worth a look in. Be aware there is NO 'trail' so to speak of unlike what you will find in the US such as The Kentucky Bourbon Trail program.

TWT is the brain child of Brett Steel tour operator. Barely running 6 months when I took the tours Brett has a plan to get you around to as many distilleries in a day as is possible while considering the distance that must be travelled and fitting in a gourmet lunch. There is nothing else like this in Tasmania at this time but that is not a bad thing. Brett does it right and there is little else you can ask for that is not all ready factored in. Possibly a whisky bar in the back of a stretched Hummer is the next step?

Tearing it up through the highlands the scenery just got better and better.
TWT focuses much more on a general view of Tasmanian distillery history with tours accessing behind the scenes action where possible while giving a pretty good geographic talk through the whole trip. With groups of anything from 3 to 12 individuals the tours are lively, comfortable, and just plain good fun. Brett's relationship with the distilleries is clearly close with the Tasmanian distilleries very open and willing to accept TWT as one of their own. Brett's knowledge is not just of whisky and the educational aspects of local culture and environment are there every step of the way.

1st leg of the tour The Nant distillery. 
Noting all the work Brett puts in, TWT still is at the mercy of the distilleries. If they choose not to open then that is what happens but Brett's communication with the distilleries is solid so Brett will always do what he can to fit something else in instead. As an example, to pack in as much as I could on my trip, I had booked 2 days of tours to get to as many distilleries as possible. When Overeem needed to close it's doors for another event on the Friday I was booked in for, Brett gave me a call discussed my options and still hooked me up for a half day Lark Distillery tour guided with the always jovial Mark Nicolson and his Drambulance. The half day Lark Distillery tour was just fantastic and so glad he could get this fixed for me but lets leave that post for another day.

New distilleries are coming online in Tasmania soon while others like Overeem and Lark have merged, this will mean what you maybe reading here now for distillery access will change soon. Currently TWT gains you behind the scenes access to: Lark Cellar Door; Lark Distillery; Redlands Estate; Old Hobart Distillery / Overeem; Belgrove Distillery; Nant Distillery; Tasmanian Distillery / Sullivans Cove; William McHenry and Sons Distillery; Shene Estate. TWT tours groups / public tours cost $185.00AU and currently run on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. Private 2 person tours cost $495.00 in total that run almost any day of the week on booking request.

Lunch at Redlands Estate before starting the 2nd leg of the distillery tours.
For my Sunday tour we set out at a sparrows fart with a breakfast dram at Lark Cellar door doing a meet and greet with other fellow tourers. There was 6 of us all up + Brett. Climbing into the bus we set off for a first stop at the Nant Distillery doing a full tour of the facilities and grounds before a sampling of various Nant whiskies. Following was a drive up into the Tasmanian highlands for a gourmet lunch in front of open fireplace on the Redlands distillery site coupled with a complete tour of Redlands Estate distillery chatting and sampling with head distiller Dean Jackson. Following we headed off for an all access pass to Belgrove distillery to have an intimate tastings and unique barrel samplings with Peter Bignall, the Australia's Renaissance Distiller. Break downs on each tour in following posts.

The 3rd leg and last distillery on the days tours was Belgrove Distillery.
My recommendation is to use Hobart as your beachhead to stage gourmet assaults on the country side. Schedule 2 days of tours so you can access as many distilleries as possible. If your not completely keen on visiting some of the same distilleries twice then organise a half or full day tour with Lark Distillery on the alternate day so you can really dig into the grain to barrel experience. Also keep in mind Tasmania is cider country and a gourmet travellers delight so be sure to make time in-between tours to get some of the local food, wine, beer and cider action. You won't be lost for activities in Hobart either and if you need a whisky fix daily the Lark cellar door has a range of whiskies that beat most Sydney whisky bars while the Nant Bar is also only a extra long stones through away.

A cold brew back at the Lark Cellar Door before rounding off the days activities.
In perspective what did this trip cost me? All up I managed to get 4 nights accommodation at The Montacute Boutique Bunkhouse (cannot recommend these guys enough) right in the heart of the Hobart action and within walking distance of the Lark Cellar Door (review to come), flights return to Sydney on Jetstar, and 2 days of tours for the bargain price of $650 AU (food not included). That rocks! I have been so impressed with what I have gotten out of these toursplus what can be achieved in Hobart in so few days I have already booked by accommodation for next year 2015. Oh yes I will be back and I will be knocking on Tasmanian Whisky Tours door again for sure. Or should I say knock knock knockin on heavens door.

If I was to give a dram then it would be a solid 7 our of 7. Tasmanian whisky tours does it all so sit back and enjoy the ride as Brett will fix you access most won't get. If Brett is not running Cider, Cheese, and Oyster tours by the time I get there next year there is going to be words had. Please sir can I have some more…?

The Baron