On tasting: Heartwood Release the Beast, Heartwood The Beast is Back
I first tasted Heartwood Release the Beast on a Tasmanian staff trip with Brooke, Jules and Ev Liong in 2012, just as Tim Duckett was deciding whether or not to bottle it. Since then, ‘the Beast’ has enthralled, confused, haunted, won awards and become a watershed bottling for the Australian whisky industry. Heartwood’s recent The Beast is Back, a continuation on the theme, brought to mind some encounters I’ve had with the original bottling over the years. Reviews of both whiskies below.
Monday July 16, 2012. Morning. Hobart hotel.
Fetal position. Head on the cold window pane. That’ll be the mezcal shots. Goddamn sailors.
Ev effortlessly cooks us breakfast: pork sausages, purple potato hash, Berkshire bacon. I can’t do the kale, but more bacon please. Thank you Farm Gate. A hurry up from Brooke – always hurrying. There’s too much to see in Tassie.
We ferry up the Derwent and it ferries away the haze. Then MONA, which breaks my brain a little, makes it new. What’s happening to this city?
I have a pilsner on the ferry back and the ship’s steadying. Nap in the hotel. Walk to Lark cellar door, inhaling the sea and the salt from the cove. The clouds clear and we finally see Mt Wellington.
Game on! It’s the TWAS blind tasting and trivia night. The four of us get split up across tables. Brooke and Ev in Lyn Lark’s group, Jules with some oddballs, and I get the distillers table. We’re a decade younger than anyone else here.
Pat Maguire’s to my right, Bill McHenry to my left, and Peter Bignell’s across from us.
The first blind whisky round – it’s Ardbeg 10, I tell Pat under my breath. A loud, older gent at the end of our table declares it’s Lagavulin Triple Wood. Ah, what? We go with… Lagavulin Triple Wood (it was Ardbeg 10).
Lyn’s table wins, comfortably. We chat to Bill Lark and meet the Duckett, says he’ll pick us up tomorrow. He’s got a whisky causing him grief and wants to know what we make of it. No mezcal tonight.
Tuesday July 17, 2012. Morning. Lark Cellar Door and Distillery.
Exhausted. Coffee with Bill Lark, waiting for Duckett, then we drive to the distillery. Chris Thomson shows us the Lark shed, the malt smoker (hilarious), everything’s easy, simple. Humble.
The Lark new make’s brilliant, and the single casks – wow – that ancient Seppeltsfield tawny.
‘Right, let’s have a look at this,’ says Duckett.
The Beast rolls across the concrete. Duckett spins the cask, plays with it like it’s a game he’s just invented. Hammers the bung, vapour rushes out, see it in the sunlight. A dark syrup drips into our glasses.
‘Think it’s ready?’
Christ! Spine’s tingling, palate’s numb, but somehow there’s balance, structure. What is this alien liquid? Bottle it.
Release the Beast in the wild – Oz Whisky Review
June, 2016. Whisky & Alement.
David Hayman, the Scottish actor, sits at the bar. He’s on his way to Tassie, filming Scotch: The Story of Whisky.
‘Show me Australian whisky in four glasses,’ he orders.
I pour him Sullivans French oak, a Lark, Belgrove rye and Starward wine cask. He likes the Sullivans. ‘Now show me something totally out there.’
I pour him some Beast. We’ve just cracked a new bottle. I could’ve bought it, Brooke and Jules could’ve sold it, but they want people to try it, experience it.
The actor’s face contorts, horrified. ‘65.4%! Is that even legal? That’s not whisky.’
It’s offended him. He doesn’t finish it. I pour a rejected Beast into the hot sink – the smell as it mixes with the soap and the beer.
Rare Whisky Auction, Tasmanian Whisky Week, August, 2019.
Mark Nicholson, auction emcee, orator of Tasmanian whisky, introduces the Beast. It starts at $1600. A hand rises, gets it rolling. ‘Anyone else?’
The most expensive thing I own is a Gibson ES-125, a 1958 . I bought it in London for a bit more than this one bottle of Beast. Think about the hands that made that guitar in Kalamazoo. All the hands that have played it. The smell of the rosewood fret (I find it in some Tassie whiskies). The hours, days I’ve spent with it. The hours to come. Worth every dollar.
It’s dumb. Why own a Beast? What would I even do with it? Raise your hand then, raise your credit.
September, 2020. Melbourne. Lockdown.
The Beast is Back. I get a text from Jules, he’s just tasted it: ‘I feel like the old Beast set the style for independently bottled Aussie whisky, became the aim for a lot of Aussie micro-distillers… What do you think of the new one?’