While driving down the hill along Rheban road on Tasmania’s spectacular east coast, you catch sight of Spring Beach; yet you would be excused for thinking you were approaching the Mediterranean. White sand and turquoise water stretches out towards a backdrop of the pristine Maria Island. Spring Bay is a beautiful place and Cam and Suzy Brett have chosen this stunning part of the world to not only raise their family, but to build and run their own craft distillery. I first visited Cam and Suzy way back in December 2016 and since I was going to be back in Tassie for my dad’s 80th birthday, I thought I would take the opportunity to visit them again.
Spring Bay Distillery occupies a nondescript shed with views of the Tasmania east coast, just a few hundred metres away. Inside is a typically compact Tasmania distillery complete with a Peter Bailey designed and made copper still, on site bond store and a bar made from Tasmanian hardwood; once processed by the now dormant saw mill, visible from the distillery on the opposite side of Spring Bay – itself currently part of a multi-million dollar tourism development.
Connection to the local area is important to Cam and Suzy and indeed it is this provenance that provides Spring Bay Distillery’s main point of difference, the water. Spring Bay Distillery uses only water collected from the roof of the distillery to make their gin and to reduce their whisky to bottling strength. What makes this water unique is the nightly salt spray that drifts up from the bay below which deposits a salty film on the distillery’s corrugated iron roof. This natural sea salt deposit is then washed from the roof during the next rain, giving the collected water a unique character. The filtration process employed by the distillery removes most impurities from the water but retains the slight saltiness. Obviously, this has no effect once distilled but it does plenty to enhance the flavours of the whisky when used to dilute the finished product. See my article on the effects of adding salt to whisky here.
When I visited Spring Bay Distillery nearly two years ago, they had only just started producing malt spirit and I sampled very young examples of both an ex-Marker’s Mark bourbon cask and an ex-Grant Burge port cask aged spirit. Even though both were only a few months old, I could tell they were on to something special.
This time however, both spirits had aged long enough to become whisky and had been bottled. Read about my thoughts soon.
I left Cam and Suzy and took the road south, stopping at the strip of white sand known as Rheban Beach which overlooks Carrickfergus Bay towards the Maria Island for a quick photo shoot. Next, I continued south along the logging roads towards Forcett to visit Rex Burden at Nonesuch Distillery.
It was also nearly two years since I last visited Nonesuch Distillery, which at the time were focusing on dry gin, sloe gin and sloe malt. Rex had just started experimenting with a corn-based mash, but now the single-shed distillery, even more compact that Spring Bay since Rex (and now his son, Chris) produce their own whisky wash, is full of small casks of ageing malt spirit the first of which are just coming of age. As luck would have it, I just so happened to visit Rex when Peter Bailey was there making a small adjustment to Rex’s still. This was a serendipitous meeting, since I had recently returned from visiting one of Peter’s stills that has travelled to the other side of the world for Cooper King Distillery (not to mention the Spring Bay Still from an hour earlier).
It was a pleasure to meet Peter and I was able to show him some photos of his still at home in York in the UK. Unfortunately, I only had time for a short visit to Nonesuch because I had plans to meet up with Anne Gigney, director of the Tasmanian Whisky Academy and the latest batch of her Foundations of Distilling course graduates. I headed into Hobart and met Anne at Hadley’s Orient Hotel, where the one-day introductory course both begins and ends. It was great to catch up with Anne again and meet some of the students from a diverse range of backgrounds. Who knows, I may be visiting one of their new distilleries in the future. Also present was Pat Maguire, Head Distiller at the famous Sullivans Cove distillery and Charlie, one of Sullivan Cove’s most experienced distillers. Both these men talked Anne’s course through the whisky and distilling processes at the distillery and were then nice enough to turn up at Hadley’s afterwards to share a drink and their considerable knowledge and experience.
My latest trip home concluded the following weekend with my dad’s 80th birthday. It was a great day and I am so grateful to have been able to travel Scotland with my dad and enjoyed sampling some of the whisky we brought home from our trip.