Food and drink

Sullivans Cove, the Tasmanian distillery that’s won world’s best whisky 3 times, is releasing Australia’s oldest dram

- March 3, 2023 3 MIN READ
Sullivans Cove whisky
The Sullivans Cove 21-year-old whisky. Photo: Natalie Mendham
Tasmanian distillery Sullivans Cove is one of the pioneers of modern Australian whisky (Australia’s first legal distillery opened in Tassie in 1822) setting up shop down on Hobart’s waterfront in 1994.

Its early years were a bit of a struggle, not without controversy, and the business changing hands twice. Then Patrick Maguire, who’d learnt the craft of distilling alongside the godparents of Australian whisky, Bill and Lyn Lark, took on the business in 2004 with UK and US investors. His smartest move was also acquiring more than 600 barrels of whisky, made with the involvement of the Larks, from the liquidators.

That decision paid off big time a decade later when Sullivans Cove was named the World’s Best Whisky in 2014. Unlike many Scotch whiskies, including single malts, Sullivan Cove produces whiskies from a single cask – which means you get between 150 and 450 bottles, from 200 litre and 300 litre French oak casks (the older the whisky, the less you get due to evaporation referred to as “the angel’s share”.)

When the distillery won best whisky, they had just a couple of bottles on hand from Cask HH525, and bottles out in the wider world were suddenly changing hands for up to $10,000.

More fancied whisky makers and fans in long-established regions such as Scotland, the US and Japan thought Sullivans Cove had pulled of something of a Bradbury (the Australian speed skater who won an Olympic gold), but then at the 2018 World Whiskies Awards, Cask HH0351 was named World’s Best Single Cask Single Malt. It was 16-years-old, matured in an American oak ex-bourbon cask, with just 136 bottles produced at 47.5%.

And it happened again in 2019 with TD0217, matured in French oak.

Last year the American Oak Old & Rare HH0609 was named Best Australian Single Cask Single Malt.

Sullivans Cove had truly earned its place on the global stage.

Nearly 30 years on, and now based in Cambridge near Hobart Airport, the distillery is once again trailblazing, releasing Australia’s oldest whisky later this month.

There are just 209 bottles of the 21-year-old American Oak ex-bourbon cask whisky, which was laid down in March 2000 – six months before Sydney hosted the Olympics.

It was bottled at 48.3% in May 2021, and goes on sale on March 20 via online ballot. At $2,250 a bottle, it’s best paired with a Series A investor on their second 10x exit or who sold their BNPL shares at the top of the market.

Sullivans Cove Heather Tillott

Sullivans Cove distillery manager Heather Tillott. Photo: Natalie Mendham

One thing Startup Daily loves about Sullivans Cove is their tasting notes, co-written by former-winemaker turned distiller manager Heather Tillott.

The 21 is described thus:

Very gentle entry into very pleasant territory: sweet coconut, ripe apple, light raspberry jam and pineapple juice atop chocolate, earthy nougat and carob. Yum Cha mango pancakes, crème caramel and rice pudding. Somewhere between the mid and top notes a lovely floral medley marries in well; a hint of rose and a good dose of frangipani/mystery waxy tropical flower. A deep herbal element of rooibos tea and wormwood in the corners.”

Startup Daily tasted the 21-year-old and described as “like a pine-lime Splice before you strip off and dive naked into the Derwent at Dark Mofo”. It’s also has an incredibly pretty, delicate and floral nose that evolves over time.

The point is how unique it is. Tillott said single cask whisky is a very pure expression of their craft.

“One cask – with all of its nuance, gloriously and transparently on display. At Sullivans Cove we are only going to decant our whisky and sell a cask when we think it has found its peak, its moment of absolute harmony,” she said

“This 21 year old whisky we have bottled is the oldest ever to be produced by an Australian distillery and is a superb example of this era of Sullivans Cove production in its tropical-sweet earth-textural nature. But, aside from ticking all the boxes of being true to type, it’s absolutely delicious. The transitions between aspects are spot on, and the spirit has plenty of room to express itself.”

If you miss out on a bottle, it is available by the dram at: Whisky & Alement, Melbourne; BurrowBar, Sydney; and the Sullivans Cove cellar door in Hobart.

Failing that, if you’d like to taste what all the fuss is about, Sullivan Cove whiskies start at about $250 a bottle, and because they don’t produce that much, often sell out.

But keep an eye out for the 15-year-old, matured in casks used to make Australian tawny fortified wine (we used to call it port), coming out soon at $550 a bottle.


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