Whisky review: Spring Bay single malt whisky – the east coast in a glass

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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 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 about their particular 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.

 

  • Spring Bay Bourbon Cask (Cask #99)
    The Stats
    • ABV: 46%
    • Price Band: $ $ $ $ $
    • Style: Single malt whisky
    • Production Story: Distilled in 2017 and matured in an ex-Bourbon cask at Spring Bay Distillery.
    • Location: Spring Bay, TAS
    • Score: 89
    Nose
    Some prickle upfront, followed by vanilla and lots of fruit: peaches and pineapple. That peculiar sea salt character emerges – like walking through bush next to the beach. With time in glass, a slightly herbal, floral note pokes through, and then banana lollies, honey and Frosties cereal.
    Palate
    Again, a little tingle and prickle (is it youth or the drive from the malt and spirit?), then it just gets silky and creamy. An intriguing balance between sweet and savoury. The savoury leans towards that sea spray, nutty, almost hot sand character, and the slight lick of oak and tannin comes on like sponge cake and vanilla fudge.
    Finish
    Medium-bodied, luscious, refined.
    Comments
    I've always been deeply impressed by the Bourbon cask whiskies from Spring Bay. The marriage of maritime sea spray elements with that tropical fruit/sweet cereal character is just delicious, and seriously unique in Australia. More of this, please.
  • Spring Bay Sherry Cask (Cask #83)
    The Stats
    • ABV: 46%
    • Price Band: $ $ $ $ $
    • Style: Single malt whisky
    • Production Story: Distilled in 2017 and matured in an ex-apera cask at Spring Bay Distillery.
    • Location: Spring Beach, TAS
    • Score: 84
    Nose
    Spicy, herbal and then the fruitcake. Again, slightly salty, but here it's salted caramel and Crunchy Nut Cornflakes with just a hint of prosciutto. Opens up into cloves, wood shavings and cinnamon.
    Palate
    Much more grip and attack compared to the Bourbon cask. Quite woody, and a heat follows that more pronounced oak. On the mid-palate, mince pie (lots of it), sweet vermouth, toffee and caramelised bananas.
    Finish
    Long, spicy, persistent oak, and lingering apera.
    Comments
    The way the spicy woodiness intermingles with the sweet, salty notes is really satisfying. But I often find myself wanting just a little less influence from the cask with this expression. Just takes on a bit too much grip (I wonder how a larger cask, or even refill apera casks would go?).
  • Spring Bay The Rheban Port Cask (Cask #15)
    The Stats
    • ABV: 58%
    • Price Band: $ $ $ $ $
    • Style: Single malt whisky
    • Production Story: Distilled in 2016 and matured in an ex-tawny cask at Spring Bay Distillery.
    • Location: Spring Beach, TAS
    • Score: 87
    Nose
    A little closed at first. With time, the ruby port characters reveal themselves: strawberry balsamic, cinnamon, and that herbal, star anise note again.
    Palate
    Instantly more sugary and sweet than the apera. Whack of flavour on the mid-palate: nougat, glazed pork, pears and toffee, but the cask is nicely held in check here. With water, slightly tart, stewed rhubarb, and a really well-made Rob Roy – can't kick that sweet vermouth vibe.
    Finish
    Subtle, but just keeps going and going.
    Comments
    The more you dive into this, the more you're rewarded. Great drinking and great choice of ABV. It's fascinating how the fortifieds bring out this herbal, sweet vermouth note in the Spring Bay spirit. This would make one of the greatest Rob Roy's in history.
Luke McCarthy
Luke McCarthy is the editor and publisher of Oz Whisky Review. A freelance writer and author, Luke's the chief judge of the Perth Royal Distilled Spirits Awards, a judge at the Australian Distilled Spirits Awards, and his book, The Australian Spirits Guide, the first to tackle the history and resurgence of the Australian spirits industry, was published in 2016 by Hardie Grant Books.