Monday, July 28, 2014

Copper Giraffes & Naked Twister - Touring Old Hobart Distillery

Casey & Jane Overeem
On my recent Tasmanian Whisky Extravaganza I made it out to the Old Hobart Distillery, aka the Overeem family shed. And what a nice shed it was too. Unbeknown to me at the time it was to be one of the very last public tours Old Hobart Ditillery was to be running at its current standing facilities. In the coming week following my visit the stills were to be broken down and moved to their new home over at Lark Distillery's Mt Pleasant site. I am so glad I got to meet the original makers of Overeem Whisky while catching a glimpse room this famous whisky was born out.

Waking early from a previous evenings impromptu cider tasting, I hopped a bus to shoot out to the Old Hobart Distillery in Blackmans Bay from Hobart with an approximation of where to be. Old Hobart Distillery was not on the map, it made sense, it literally was a purpose built distillation shed on the Overeem family property. Really who wants crazy whisky aficionados rocking up for a tour and a cup of coffee at the family diner table? Calling Jane Overeem (head of Marketing & Distribution, sometimes distiller, and always daughter to Casey Overeem) I noted exactly where I was on the map right down to the house number. Curiously only moments before this call I swear I could hear Janes voice in close proximity. "Keep going up the road to number X, we have a long driveway. It was to be a classic case of accidental misdirection (or was it). I kept walking up the hill, I kept walking along the road, I walked until the houses stopped and the paddocks began. When horses started appearing out of the scrub I thought it was time to call Jane just to make sure where I was. "I think I sent you the wrong way, I'll send mum up to get you "Janes says. "...he's just laughing" was one of the last comments from Jane to an obvious listening audience before the sound of the phone clicked. So that is how my tour at Old Hobart Distillery began: local fauna and flora; horse paddocks; and a ride in the family car. "She's so blonde sometimes" quoted Jane's mother as we trundeled back down the road an up the drive way I was literally standing in front of when I made the initial call. Thanks Jane your the best! I needed a work out. Really it could not have been a better start for the day as the ice was broken and morning atmosphere was relaxed while chatting over coffee at the Overeem kitchen table. Other guests had arrived by the time I made my appearance, all of whom I would later see that night at the Overeem Malt Vault event.

As mentioned, what was the Old Hobart Distillery, was in fact Casey's shed on the family property. Purpose built for the task it was painted typical Australian generic garden green with 2 large burgundy doors, with a foot print at a maximum size of 35sqm that was legal for a hobby distiller. As small as the space was in turn this dictated the size and height of the stills to be installed which ultimately has influenced the flavours we so admired from an Overeem whisky.

Upclose with the copper giraffes
Walking into the distillery was like discovering 2 giraffes in an awkward moment of naked twister. Standing silent with necks craning to the roof, the wash and spirt stills were intertwined to make the most of the small space. Around the room were all Casey's tools of the trade creating an extremely lived in ambience. I found it to be a pretty typical view of Australian's current golden golden era in whisky distilling. Something to be cherished. Casey and Jane were clearly proud of their space making us all feel like part of the family. With space at a premium the chairs that could be found offered some seating, where benches cleared some leant or like me stood amounst the dwarf copper wildlife. Cosily crammed in Casey and Jane then took us through a run down of the ins and out of Old Hobart Distilley.

As the tour progressed, we turned our heads left, we turned our heads right (because if you swung a cat you would probably break something), drams from various Overeen expressions were offered for tasting including some exciting new make spirit. Casey was all to open to discuss any questions posed and we found our discussions diverging into all manner of discussion about whisky production. Probably one of the more interesting items of discussion related to how Casey mentioned he add a lot of water to the spirit run to slow down the distillation process noting that this was one of the characteristics that improves the spirit. At this point of the tour now knowing the distillery was moving I asked about water source. Casey simply pointed to the filters on the wall noting that it did not mater too much about the source on this site as their water was getting filtered prior to the distillation run. Also you should note Lark Distillery has always done the mashing of the malted barley for Old Hobart Distillery. This basically means there is no change to the malting and mashing for Overeem Whisky even with the site merger. Good news indeed.

The ins and outs of Old Hobart distillery
In the corner of the room was a steal drum containing the fores and faints of the distillation process. This is cuts before and after the pure spirit has completed distillation. It is an important part of the distillation process as this is the stuff that makes you go blind, poisons the blood stream, causes comas, and ultimately death if you drink it in any considerable enough quantities. It needs to be cut out of the process. The contents of the barrel was green from the copper stills and smelt somewhat harsh and astringent. Casey asked if anyone wanted to taste it. "I will" was my reply with just a finger dip at that. I still recall a bit of a look of horror on Jane's face as she questioned Casey about should we really be doing this. I can confirm it was pretty nasty stuff with a nose and taste of heavy copper, apples, and barley. Rub an old penny or 2 cent coin on your fingers then lick your fingers as they is pretty much what it tasted like. I won't be doing that again any time soon as it left the mouth instantly dry and metalic. I had always thought these cuts were simply dumped but amazingly it goes back into the still on the next run and will continue to be recycled several times until it gets a bit too nasty.

Proud parent Casey Overeem and going into details about his product  
In finishing up a few photos were posed for before Jane had said this was the last official tour. Was there a tear in the eye and sob in the voice? I think there was. Casey seemed nonchalant to the moment which to me simply says they have achieved what they set out to do and proud of the fact. I am so glad to have been there for this tour as I really do believe that these kinds of 'hobby' distilleries (as Casey called it) are going to be a thing of the past very soon for Australia. Money, tourism and investment are key words when talking about the growing whisky industry Australia wide. As the newer distilleries come online it is clear they are being built for the tourism factor as much as to make whisky. The same thing happened with the Australian wine industry back in the 80's as interest grew in discoveringand visiting the source of what was in the bottle. It is a natural progression for whisky to do the same thing. Still these are the places were legends are born and dreams come true. Old Hobart Distillery is proof that great things really do come from small things.

It was not the last I would see of the Overeem's that day, the Malt Vault Bourbon in the Bond Store event was only hours away, but let us leave that post for another day.

Thanks so much to Casey and Jane for the time. It was a swell time.

The Baron