Hunter Island Whisky
Renowned Tasmanian distillers Damian and Madeleine Mackey are set to launch Hunter Island Pot Still Whisky this weekend in Hobart.
The new project, inspired by Ireland’s famed single pot still whiskies, became the first Australian whisky made in the style for a number of decades when the Mackey’s started production in January 2020.
The Hunter Island Pot Still Whisky follows the release of John Halton’s Transportation Whiskey brand in July 2022, which was also produced at the Mackey’s inner-city home distillery in Hobart.
The Mackey’s are no strangers to the Tasmanian whisky scene (read our full interview for their story). Damian’s interest in whisky distilling was first ignited while working as a graduate surveyor for Bill and Lyn Lark back in the 1990s. He caught the whisky bug then and went on to build a distillery in his home garage in 2007, performing the entire whisky making process under the one roof.
Madeleine and Damian Mackey – Hunter Island Whisky
But unlike the handful of Tasmanian distillers who’d released whisky at that point, Mackey decided to triple distil his single malt in a nod to his Irish heritage.
He then unveiled his Mackey Whisky brand in 2015 drawing on stocks that were produced at his home distillery. The triple-distilled, richly flavoured port-aged whiskies quickly garnered a devoted following, but Mackey had barely enough stock to satisfy demand and needed to expand to a larger premise.
He was then asked by Anne and David Kernke, owners of Shene Estate, to create a gin (Poltergeist) and take the reins of their new distillery, which would greatly expand the output for both Mackey Whisky and the eventual Shene whisky brand. The distillery was quickly upscaled with outside investment from John Ibrahim, now the owner of Callington Mill Distillery, and Shene was shaping up to become one of Tasmania’s major whisky enterprises.
But Damian and Madeleine then sold the Mackey Whisky brand and their shareholding in the distillery to one of the other Shene partners in 2018. Two years later, Lark Distilling Co. acquired Shene Estate & Distillery. The new home of Lark is now being constructed at the former Shene site.
The discontinued Shene and Mackey whisky range, 2021
Not long after selling their shareholding, the Mackey’s started planning a new venture that would dive deeper into Ireland’s whisky distilling roots. The recently revived single pot still style seemed like the perfect next step.
‘If we think back 20 years ago, when we started off developing Mackey Whisky, Irish pot still whiskey was still a little bit in the doldrums,’ says Mackey. ‘But when we were ready to go again, Irish pot still whiskey started having this big resurgence and we thought, let’s go for it.’
What is Irish single pot still whiskey? The basic definition describes a whisky made at a single distillery from a mixture of malted and unmalted barley and other unmalted cereals like oats, wheat and rye. This is Ireland’s signature style, and while its closest relative is single malt, the exact definition of Irish single pot still has undergone changes in recent times with updates to the Technical File that governs whisky production in Ireland.
Recent amendments proposed by the Irish Whiskey Association in 2021 will see the percentage of ‘other unmalted cereals’ allowed in the mash like rye, oats and wheat expand to 30%. The maximum malted barley requirement (30%) will also be changed under the proposals, which were instigated to provide greater clarity and flexibility to Irish whiskey producers and allow for further innovation in line with the heritage of the pot still style.
Hunter Island Whisky
Mackey’s Hunter Island Pot Still Whisky was produced along the lines of the previous definition controversially adopted in 2014, which stated that the initial mash should contain a minimum of 30% malted barley, a minimum of 30% unmalted barley and 5% of other cereals.
‘Our mash bill is 65% malted barley, 30% unmalted barley and 5% oats,’ says Mackey. ‘But that’s the great thing about pot still whisky. As well as all the other factors you can vary for single malt whisky, you’ve suddenly got the mash bill to play with, and we’re really happy with the new make spirit.’
For anyone interested in getting a taste of that spirit, and how the mash bill influences the overall flavour, the Mackey’s are also releasing Tasmanian Poitín. The Hunter Island poitín is a riff on the infamous Irish spirit, which has recently become a lot more mainstream and is now even governed by its own technical file to boot.
‘If people want to see what our new make spirit is actually like, that’s what our poitín is. We’ve cut that to 50% ABV and we’ll have that ready to go this coming week as well.’
Hunter Island Tasmanian Poitín
The inaugural Hunter Island Pot Still Whisky will also be ready to go this week. The first release was triple-distilled from the mash bill mentioned above and initially matured in small 30 litre casks. These were decanted, married together and then finished in 125 litre ex-Bourbon barrels, taking the total age of the whisky to around 2.5 years.
‘With the first release, we’ve also married in some of our oloroso sherry cask matured pot still whisky, which just makes it a bit more special. The rest of that oloroso cask whisky will form our first special release which will come out later this year,’ says Mackey.
Following the first bottling, a standard release Hunter Island Pot Still Whisky will be more consistently available, and comprise of port and Bourbon cask matured whisky.
The Mackey’s are also hoping to find a new permanent home for Hunter Island Distillery, possibly within the new Macquarie Point development, and open to the public as soon as the right site is found.
The Hunter Island Whisky first release, limited to 110 bottles, is housed in a hand-crafted Tasmanian oak box made by traditional Tasmanian boat builder Adrian Phillips. Each bottle is signed, numbered and accompanied by an information booklet. It will go live to the public Monday 27 February and retail for $650.
The follow-up standard release Hunter Island Pot Still Whisky will retail for $189 (7ooml) and the Tasmanian Poitín for $85. All will be available on the Hunter Island Whisky website.