On tasting: Spring Bay Bourbon Cask, Spring Bay Sherry Cask, Spring The Rheban Port Cask
Many of the Australian whisky folk I know remember the first time they encountered Spring Bay Distillery’s Bourbon Cask. I first tried it at a tasting near Hobart and was instantly intrigued: I found a salty sea spray note without any knowledge of what the whisky was or where it was from. The Bourbon cask maturation also stood out. At the time, I couldn’t recall a Tasmanian single malt, outside Sullivans Cove, that used a Bourbon cask so successfully.
When, later on, I got chatting to Cam and Suzy Brett (Spring Bay’s founders and distillers), I was struck by how clear and specific their approach to making whisky was. Springbank was one of the first whiskies Cam mentioned (I internally fist-pumped when I heard this). He talked about that unique maritime funk you get with Springbank whiskies. He then told me he was hoping to achieve something similar with Spring Bay, something that spoke to their location on the east coast of Tasmania.
Comparisons between Scottish and Tasmanian whisky are always fraught, but here it’s worth pondering. Scotland has a far more uniform climate compared to Tasmania’s remarkably diverse landscapes and micro-climates. Obviously, it’s the history, culture, landscape, distillery design, and plenty more, that’s created such a vast array of Scottish whisky styles.
And sure, there’s a Tasmanian single malt profile you could point to – cask-forward whisky that’s malty and viscous from local brewing barley. But could Tasmanian single malt whiskies display more individual distillery character? More ethos and micro-climate? I suppose the larger question is, do they need to?
The distinctiveness of Spring Bay single malt is even more remarkable because of the nature of their production. Mashing and fermentation occurs off-site, and wash is then trucked to the distillery for distillation and maturation (in recent times, wash and spirit runs have also been performed in different locations). So, all of the Spring Bay ‘east coast’ character is achieved in these final, albeit very important, phases (the Brett’s also talk up the influence of local water, and it’s surprisingly convincing).
Much of this came up in a recent chat with Dave Broom. In fact, Spring Bay frequently came to mind the more we talked about Tasmanian whisky. What does single malt whisky actually stand for? Is it about the process all happening in one place? (For Dave that’s still incredibly important). Or is it more about the people, the history, the stories and the place – is that what creates unique single malt whisky?
They’re not simple questions, the more you think about them. What I do know is that Cam and Suzy have done a brilliant job in bringing these questions to the fore with the whisky they create. That it also tastes bloody delicious, well, I’ll raise a glass to that.