my Japan-Tassie ménage
by PHILIP WHITE
Bailey's Irish Cream liqueur is Ireland's largest buyer of its milk. It's a mix of whisky and cream or something along those milky lines.
I presume this had something to do with Betta Milk Co-operative Ltd., set up by Tasmanian dairy farmers in 1956, eventually deciding to set up a subsidiary, Whisky Tasmania Pty Ltd, in 1997. They built a distillery, and filled their first whisky barrel in 1999. They sell cream liqueurs made with their own whisky. They make that pristine unoaked whisky we call grain vodka, which they call Southern Lights, which I have not tried. And fortunately, they make very good malt whisky.
I discovered my first bottle during the chilliest stretch of the winter. The skinny old bloke with the scythe had come by on a public relations visit and I was looking for an antidote when this bottle winked at me from the counter of the exciting new East End Cellars. This fine Tasmanian tincture has since worked alongside the brilliant Suntory Yamazuki 12 year old to steer me further from Scotland whenever whisky comes to mind.
It's not cheap up here at the pointiest end of the world's malt whiskies. but you'll find yourself being satisfied earlier in the sesh whether you brood or joke through it. If you want to guzzle follow the mob down into the new caramel-thick malt specials at half the price.
That first Tasmanian bottle, a 10 year old, had a comforting painting of a bloke taking a leak on a bush track while his dog waited respectfully at his side. Nice reflection on Tasmania's new luxury goods audacity viv a vis Old World whisky/whiskey, I presumed: somebody pissing quietly on Hellyer's Road, as that was their own brand name. Perfect antipodean self-effacement as direct in-your-face marketing aggression.
Dig a little, and it's not, of course. It's all a bit more Tassie-fractal. The road was pushed through in the 1820s by Henry Hellyer, an architect, surveyor and explorer who sought to connect the remote white hillbilly settlements in the Tasmanian hinterland with the north-western coastal port of Emu Bay. Then Emu Bay became Burnie and Hellyer's road became Old Surrey Road and the dairy farmers started a distillery there and named it after the road's previous name.
It is said that Scotland makes malt whisky by default while the Japanese make it by design. As far as design goes, this Hellyers Road Distillery Tasmania Single Malt Whisky Aged 10 Years is a beautiful work of design, closer to the Yamazaki than the Highlands. Tassie barley, rain, yeast and used American oak whiskey barrels are the ingredients. That wood is very American, but it's as clean as a whistle and smells more like paper-dry coconut husks than the sweet dessicated stuff you expect in Bourbon. Its selection indicates a lot more astute approach to quality than many Scots are showing in the delerium of their current export boom. When it's time to pillage the stacks to feed such fortune, the big Scotsmen tend to accept any sodden old barrel in their blends, expecting to dilute its influence and mask its faults with a whack of caramel. In contrast to that mentality, this is a clean, ultra-light sprint car rather than a rolling oak-and-leather limo reeking of stale cigars. It's a racy, bracing whisky of very high finesse. If I must make a scotch comparison, it's like the very finest of Campbelltown. ($90; 700ml., 46.2% alcohol; screw cap; 94 points)
East End Cellars also sells, for $125, a boxed set of three 250ml bottles, including the Original, which seems a slightly more husky and abrupt assemblage than the 10YO. At one end it has more burlap and hemp, at the other a tiny dab more honey. It's fluffy of texture, and while it's still 46.2% burnies, it seems a little hotter (89 points). Then there's the Slightly Peated, which adds a bit of real Scotland bog. This twist of smoke is neither particularly floral, as in shallow heathery peat, or iodine sharp and kelpy, as in older, deeper, more decayed peat. Its middlin form makes a cheeky, salacious whisky with a lick of lipstick or cheek cream about it: some freckles and a giggle (93 points).
Then comes the model simply called Peated. This peat seems to come from a bit further up the lug, where you scrape out the darker ooze to die the real deep tan tweed. It's more chimney than bog. There's no florals in this peat: it's closer to the younger Laphroaig than Lagavulin, but more clean and slender and a little lighter than both of those. These young peaty Hellyers Road whiskies really are bold and brash if a wee tweak hot. Even if you put a bit of rain back in them, they make that bloke pissing on the road look a tad slow and agricultural. (91 points).
Is that dog laying cable?