Tasmanian Whisky and Overeem Single Malt.

“Tasmanian Whisky?”

It feels a little like a Peter Kay “Garlic Bread” moment (1).

I’m at the Whisky Lounge 2013 Liverpool WhiskyFest and am helping Toby and Jonah present Overeem Single Malt to the U.K. public for the very first time. These very affable young gents are responsible for importing and distributing this Tasmanian Single Malt into the U.K. It’s so new that it literally landed on these shores a fortnight ago and there are four expressions that are on pour today: a sherry matured cask bottled at 43% and 60% and a port matured cask also at 43% and 60%.


“Whisky. From Tasmanian?”

Truth is, is that wherever there is grain and water there will be someone, somewhere in the world distilling it into whisky. And Tasmania is no exception.

logo_header Logo.

Overeem comes from the Old Holbart Distillery in Blackman’s Bay, Tasmania. Founded in 2005 by Casey Overeem it’s a tiny distillery by Scottish standards. Production capacity is just 8000 bottles, equating to around 5,600 litres a year. Compare this to one of Scotland’s smallest distilleries Edradour which can produce up to 90,000 litres a year (2) and you realise the scale of this operation. The first release from the distillery was in 2011 so just a couple of years later it is both amazing and testament to the business bravery of these two gents that Overeem is now over ‘ere (3).

“Tasmania whisky, well that’s new!”

Well in away yes, and in a way no.

tasmap-1200 This is a map of Tasmania.

Geographically Tasmania lies about 150 miles south of the Australian mainland but politically is very much part of it having joined the commonwealth of Australia in 1901. A little bit smaller than Ireland (3a) and with a current population around the half million mark, it derives it’s name from Abel Tasman, a Dutch sailor who first sighted it on 24th Novemeber 1642 (4).

Distilling can be traced back as far as 1822 when Thomas Haigh Midwood set up the first legal distillery (one assumes that there were plenty of illegal ones before then) and by 1824, just two years later, there were 16 legally operating distilleries on the island. It was not to last; Governor John Franklin (5) prohibited distilling in 1838. Presumably 16 distilleries providing whisky for around 50,000 people (6), half of which were, or had been, convicts wasn’t working out for them.

John_FranklinGov. John Franklin – a non-liker of whisky distillers.

It stayed this way until the early 1990s when an enterprising man by the name of Bill Lark, whilst on a trout fishing trip, realised that Tasmania offered some of the purest water in the world, rather fertile barley and local home-grown peat and that together they should make some jolly good whisky. The big part was overturning the 1901 Distillation Act which included a stipulation stating that the minimum still size should be 2,700 litres: in comparison Scotland’s minimum still size is 1,800 litres (7).

issue96-bill-lark Bill Lark – a liker of whisky distillers.

Lark was granted a license in 1992 and became the first legal distillery to open on the island in 153 years. Small Concern (apparently now closed) opened soon after in Ulverstone and was actually the first Tasmanian distillery to release whisky named Cradle Mountain. Others soon followed; with the help of Bill Lark who, acting as a consultant, has had an influencing hand in most of the distilleries. In much the same way as the craft beer movement swept through America and the recent explosion of real ale breweries across the U.K., Tasmania is now experiencing it’s own distilling revolution with small-scale, craft distilleries opening at a rapid pace. With such development and such distance from our shores it’s kind of hard to keep up with exactly the state of play but by our reckoning there is something like 12 or so distilleries operating across Australia and Tasmania with another 5 that are about to start production (8). That’s more distilleries than countries like Canada, Ireland and Japan – the traditional big players in the whisky community. It means that the attention of the whisky world is looking at this emerging scene with interest.


Casey and Jane (daughter and distiller) looking like they’ve been trapped by some whisky casks. Who will save them?

So back to Overeem. It’s a family run business with Casey Overeem at the head. He got interested in distilling in the early 80s from playing around with Norwegian friends stills in their basement (apparently they all have mini-stills kicking around in their basements). After researching his craft further, visiting around 15 other distilleries and learning production techniques, he got a license to distil in 2005. With help from Bill Lark production started around 2007 and the first releases were in December 2011.

OldHobartDistillery Ten to 12 at the Old Hobart Distillery.

The actual mash and fermentation happens at Lark where Casey has his own washbacks and uses his own specific yeast. The wash is then transported to Old Holbart where it is double distilled, first on a 1,800 litre wash pot still and then in a 600 litre spirit pot still, both stills made by Knapp-Lewer who are based in Hobart. Jonah tells me that 50% of the malt is peated with local Tasmanian peat.

When you say peat in relation to whisky most people instantly have a pre-conceived idea of the Islay malts – tastes of iodine, hospitals, rubber, sea salt, TCP. If there is one thing that the growth of world whisky has done it is to re-focus our ideas of what a “peated” whisky should taste like. Peat doesn’t necessarily equate to those flavours – Mackmyra in Sweden have gone a long way in breaking down those assumptions. The peat of Tasmania is nothing like that of Islay or the Scottish Highlands. The flora and fauna are unique to its location. Gum-trees and eucalyptus are broken down over thousands of years to create the peat which imparts herbal, twiggy, moss and sharp juniper like notes when used in the creation of Tasmanian whisky.

water_cushionplant Tasmanian peat fields.

Another factor that instils a uniqueness about Antipodean whisky is the use of brewing yeast and barley. In Scotland both barley and yeast are selected to give maximum yields. The common view is held that barley type and yeast type contribute such a small percentage to the overall flavour that maximum and efficient returns are preferential. This has not stopped people experimenting with these variables. Famously both Macallan and Glengoyne held on to using Golden Promise barley for as long as possible, despite consistent lower yields, as they believed it imparted a different flavour to their whisky. Bruichladdich and Springbank have also used bere barley to create whisky (9)

In Tasmania they use local Franklin (5) Brewing Barley. It is bred to suit the Tasmania environmental conditions and adds body and oiliness to the spirit. Great Southern are know to use beer malt too. At Lark the yeast used is a combination of a Nottingham Ale Yeast and a distillers yeast.

whiskey1 Jane Overeem with some small casks.

Port casks (usually 600 litres) and Sherry Butts (usually 500 litres) are broken down and remade in a local cooperage to smaller 100 litre casks. New-make is also filled into 200 litre American Bourbon barrels although these have yet to be released, expected in 2016 or perhaps sooner Jonah informs.

The combined effect of ageing in these small casks and the, compared to Scotland, warmer climate (10) mean that the maturation process occurs a lot quicker. It takes a shorter time for the whisky to extract flavour and colour out of those casks than it would do if it were in Scotland. Meaning that within 5 to 7 years the whisky is deemed to be fully matured, the perfect balance between spirit and cask.

OveReem Post Cask Matured CS

As production capacity is so small Old Hobart bottles all of its whisky as single cask releases, meaning that there are subtle differences between each bottle. The 43% release yields around 180 bottles and the cask strength 60% around 125-135 bottles. Obviously these numbers change according to the cask. Neither are chill-filtered or have any colouring added. There are no age statements on the bottles, although the whisky ranges from between 5 to 7 years. Each bottle carries the cask number, is individually numbered and shows how many bottles came from that cask. Throughout the day I got to sample a couple of different single cask bottles and can report that there is a consistency throughout each one although each has its own particular nuance, sometimes the peat being a little more defined, the fruit being a little more upfront or the difference in the delivery of all the aspects.

The first thing that people noticed was just how different from Scottish single malt it was. Both kicked off sweetish, with the port showing red fruits, caramel and a kind of turkish delight note; the sherry a little more traditional with classic Christmas cake, rum and raisin and chocolate notes. Spice notes like clove and cinnamon took over, hand in hand with the occasionally almost juniper-like herbal edge provided from the peat, and the influence of the casks which gave it a touch of woodiness and fresh pine.

Of the two the port version was my particular favourite but throughout the day it was a close 50/50 between which people preferred. The delivery from the port cask was a little gentler than the sherry and it finished longer, whilst the delivery from the sherry cask was more intense, coming on as a huge tidal wave of fruit and spice.

The most impressive characteristic is how well all the elements are integrated so that they play off each other and arrive at different times on the palate giving it a beautiful complexity. The whisky displays a maturity that belies its age.

With there being such a small production run and each bottle coming from a single cask costs are high and availability is low. Put it this way these bottles are not cheap. In Tasmania the 43% retails from Overeem themselves at over £75 and the cask strength at over £100. They are available in the U.K. from on-line retailers including Master of Malt (11) and Whisky Exchange (12). Expect to pay between £140 -£170 for the 43% and £190 – £230 for the 60%. (13).



(1) Garlic bread!?!

(2) Malt Yearbook. Abhainn Dearg on the Outer Hebries is officially Scotland’s smallest at 20,000 litres but I use Edradour as it’s one that some people may have visited or drunk and it likes to claim it’s Scotland’s smallest distillery.

(3) Sorry too good an opportunity to not get that little bit of wordplay in.

(3a) Ireland = 70,273 km squared. Tasmania = 62,409 km squared.

(4) Abel originally named it Van Dieman’s Land after the Governor of the Dutch East Indies Company but obviously that’s not that snappy a title so they renamed it in 1856 after the British turned up. http://www.mcot.org.au/museum.htm

(5) Pay attention that name will “crop” up later.

(6) 1847 Census Population = 70,000 – 50% were or had been convicts. http://www.abs.gov.au/Ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/E743FE07252B0081CA256C3200241879

(7) There’s some really interesting stuff on the law regarding minimum still size. Have a read on Dominic Roskrow’s blog here -> http://thewhiskytastingclub.co.uk/Blogs/domblog/2012/07/24/distillery-rules/

and this is worth a look at too -> http://www.lochewedistillery.co.uk/distillery.htm


(8) Ok here’s our list. To be honest it took longer to compile this list than it did to write the original article. We should have made this a blog piece in itself, so don’t be surprised if we just cut and paste it put at a later date! There are probably a couple of mistakes so if you can correct or add please do:

Distillery name. Year founded. Location. Name of Whisky. Web Address.


Essendon Fields  (previously Victoria Valley) -2004 or 2008? –  Victoria, Australia  – STARWARD WHISKY – http://newworldwhisky.com.au/#/home 

Bakery Hill – 1998 – Melbourne, Australia – BAKERY HILL – http://www.bakeryhilldistillery.com.au/

Great Southern – 2004 – Albany, SW Australia – LIMEBURNERS – http://www.limeburners.com.au/

Timboon Railway Shed – 2007 – Timboon, Australia – TIMBOON – http://www.timboondistillery.com.au/

The Australian – ? – Illawarra –  STOCKMANS WHISKEY (triple distilled) / GUN ALLEY SOUR MASH  – http://theaustdistillery.com.au/

Hoochery – ? – Kununurra, Kimberly, Australia – RAYMOND B. WHISKEY (Corn mash, charcoal filtered) – http://www.hoochery.com.au/

Wild Swan – 2002 – Swan Valley, Western Australia – http://wildswandistillery.com.au/

Triptych – ? – Yarra Valley, Australia – http://www.triptychdistillery.com.au/

Black Gate – 2012 – Mendooran, New South Wales, Australia  – http://www.blackgatedistillery.com.au/

Bluestill – 1995  – Young, New South Wales – JAMES BENTLEY  WHISKY / BLACK WIDOW BOURBONhttp://www.bluestill.com.au/

Dobson – ? – Kentucky, New South Wales, Australia – DOBSON’S – http://www.eastviewestate.com/page17/page17.html

Castle Glen – 2009 – Queensland, Australia – CASTLE GLEN (so far only aged for 2 years so not recognised as a whisky by EU law )  – http://www.castleglenaustralia.com/

Corowa – 2009 – Corowa, New South Wales, Australia – chocolate makers that are PLANNING to distil – http://www.corowawhisky.com/

Yalumba Winery – 1930s? – Angaston, South Australia – SMITHS (no longer distills?)

Corio (closed) – http://www.nicks.com.au/index.aspx?link_id=76.1611

Booie Range (closed)

Tasman – ? – ? – GREAT OUTBACK? – from Jim Murray book. Here’s a brief write up > http://www.nicks.com.au/index.aspx?link_id=76.1620



Lark – 1992 – Hobart, Tasmania. LARK – http://www.larkdistillery.com.au/

Hellyers Road – 1999 – Burne, Tasmania. HELLYERS ROAD – http://www.hellyersroaddistillery.com.au/

Nant – 2007 – Bothwell, Tasmania. NANT – http://nant.com.au/

Old Hobart – 2005 – Blackmans Bay, Tasmania. OVEREEM – http://www.oldhobartdistillery.com/

Tasmania – 1996 – Cambridge, Tasmania. SULLIVANS COVE – http://www.tasmaniadistillery.com/

Belgrove – 2011 – Belgrove, Tasmania. BELGROVE RYE – uses waste cooking oil to heat still – 100% green?? – http://www.belgrovedistillery.com.au/

Redlands – ? – Redlands Estate, Tasmania – REDLANDS SINGLE MALT http://www.redlandsestate.com.au/distillery.html

Small Concern – ? – Ulvertsone, Tasmania – CRADLE MOUNTAIN – CLOSED -http://www.tasmanianwhisky.com.au/

Southern Coast Distillers – ? – ? – SOUTHERN COAST – CLOSED – http://southerncoastdistillers.com.au/index.php

Mackey’s – ? – Tasmania – MACKEY’S – Irish style triple distillation

William McHenry & Sons – ? – Port Arthur, Tasmania (at 43 degrees south – the worlds most southern family owned distillery). – THREE CAPES 10 YO – http://mchenrydistillery.com.au/

TRAPPERS HUT -? – Tasmania – Independent bottlers (Tasmania distillery) – http://www.trappershut.com.au/

HEARTWOOD – ? – Tasmania – Independent bottlers – http://www.heartwoodwhisky.com.au/


(9) – https://whiskysheffield.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/bere-barley/

(10) Compared to Australia though Tasmania is a little cooler. Hobart ranges from 8.3 degrees C to 16.9 degrees C and has 613mm of rain a year. http://www.weatherzone.com.au/climate/station.jsp?lt=site&lc=94029

Melbourne has similar rainfall but ranges from 6 degrees C to 26 degrees C http://www.visitmelbourne.com/Information/Melbourne-weather.aspx

(11) http://www.masterofmalt.com/distilleries/old-hobart-whisky-distillery/

(12) http://www.thewhiskyexchange.com/B-305-Overeem.aspx

(13)  You have to factor into this the extortionate costs of transportation and duty into these prices too. One way of looking at it, as I said to a couple of people at the show, is to compare it to a limited edition artwork. Now I’ve paid around the same amount for a limited edition print (which had a lot higher run than 180 copies) and I’ve stuck it on my wall and I walk past it everyday and don’t pay it a blind bit of attention anymore. It’s just filling up a blank space on a wall. Don’t get me wrong, I like it but it’s just “there”, I’m no longer actually getting any worth out of that picture. At least if you bought a bottle of Overeem (and people really, really liked it, many saying it was the best thing they had drunk that day) you’re going to crack it open, maybe on a special occasion, hopefully sharing it with some friends. Essentially you’re going to enjoy it and you’re going to get the maximum use out of it and you’re going to have a memory of that occasion that you’ll be able to come back to, to refer to with your friends. And that, as those adverts keep telling us, is priceless.

For the list of distilleries and other information the following book resources were used:
Malt Whisky Yearbook – various editions – ed. Ingvar Ronde
1001 Whiskies to try before you die – ed. Dominic Roskrow.
World Atlas of Whisky – Dave Broom
World’s Best Whiskies – Dominic Roskrow
Whisky Bible 2013 – Jim Murray
World Whisky – ed. Charles MacLean
There were a fair few, especially for some of the one-off details, but these are worth looking at for the casual reader!
http://www.twas.com.au/ – TASMANIAN WHISKY APPRECIATION SOCIETY – Particularly useful for the list of distilleries.
http://australiandrams.wordpress.com/ – AUSTRALIAN WHISKY BLOG
http://www.australianwhisky.com/whisky-distilleries.html – LIST OF AUSTRALIAN DISTILLERIES = 21 Active!
http://www.mcot.org.au/museum.htm – TASMANIA HISTORY AND POPULATION
http://www.lochewedistillery.co.uk/distillery.htm – SCOTLANDS SMALLEST DISTILLERY
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Booze Video of the Day – Addicted to Pleasure: Whisky

It's just the booze dancing...

Brian Cox

At around 1AM last night I stumbled upon the whisky episode of a four part documentary series produced by the BBC called Addicted to Pleasure which was hosted by the Professor of Scotch Pronunciation, Brian F#$@ing Cox! Here is what the BBC has to say about this series:

Actor Brian Cox reveals the rich and controversial past of sugar, alcohol, tobacco and opium to uncover how the commercial exploitation of these products hooked the world.

Unfortunately, I fell asleep before I could watch the entire episode, but I hope to pick up where I left off later today. I mean seriously, Brian Cox talking about the Water of Life? Sign me up!

Since the only thing better than stumbling upon something really interesting is sharing it with some friends, I thought I would post the video so that we can all share in the experience. Hope you enjoy it…

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Why I don’t write tasting notes and to contradict that, here’s some tasting notes!

Generally I don’t post tasting notes on whisky. The reason is that, first, there are lots of other people doing it already. Second, no two tasting notes ever sound the same. You could get a whole set of tasting notes for the same whisky and they will all read completely different. As an example I’ve got a copy of the Malt Whisky Yearbook beside me – it’s the 2012 edition (the others are just out of reach) let’s open it at a random page and compare:

GS: “The nose offers brown sugar, honey and sherry with a hint of grapefruit citrus.”

DR: “The nose combines horse chestnut casing then sweet melon and fresh spearmint.”

GS: “The palate is sweet, with buttery caramel, maple syrup and eating apples.”

DR: “The taste is beautifully fresh and clean, with mint and gentle fruit.” (1)

Both of these are for the same whisky. And this is from two professional whisky writers (Gavin Smith and Dominic Roskrow) who do this full time for a living. It goes to show that different people pick up different aromas and tastes. Let’s make it very clear that none of this is wrong. Just because I smell apple and you smell freshly cut grass doesn’t mean that one is either wrong or right or that one opinion is above or below the other. It just means it’s a personal experience.

And let’s also make it very clear that it’s great that different whiskies can evoke so many characteristics. And it’s great fun, either with friends or at a tasting, to share these experiences and try to pin down and define those different qualities. All this is magic. It’s what enjoying whisky is all about.

But when it comes to writing a blog or publishing these it’s just that, for me, I’m not all that interested in reading a long list of various fruits and spices. It’s not going to influence me to either try or avoid a particular whisky. Yes, it’s kind of impossible review a whisky without tasting notes but I’d rather read one persons honest opinion about if they enjoyed it or not, or rather when the best moment would be to consume this whisky, or maybe what type of food (or drink) it would work well with.

Whisky is like film or music, there’s so much diversity out there that we can all like and appreciate different things. Not all music is good, some music you like I may hate, even some music that I think is bad I actually, on occasions, may like – I think they’re called guilty pleasures. It’s the same for whisky.

Also why it’s rare you’ll find reviews and tasting notes here is that in terms of this whiskysheffield blog the aim is to relay news and other information – not really to evaluate the different expressions out there. That’s kind of your job really (that’s you, the reader). Whether that’s buying stuff across a bar or discussing it at a tasting event. I’d happily accommodate and publish other peoples views and reviews but I feel that if I start writing my own tasting notes it would diminish slightly the aims of the blog. I’ll just to stick to writing articles and relaying news. So that’s why I don’t (generally) write tasting notes on this blog.

And now to contradict everything I’ve wrote above (kind of).

Recently I was given the opportunity to raid the cellar of an individual who has been collecting whisky over the last 20 years and use these whiskies as a basis of a tasting. Instead of selling these whiskies on at an auction and making a healthy profit the very noble aim was to recoup the original outlay and so open up some bottles to share the experience of drinking some now very rare and hence expensive whisky. These were whiskies bought, at the time, as a collection NOT as an investment – the whisky investment market didn’t exist then – but as their value increased it became almost extravagant to actually crack one open to see how it’s contents tasted.

There was only one bottle available, which meant around 25 people for the tasting (as the owner obviously wanted a large dram of his own stock!). And it was priced at £30 a head. Which, as you’ll work out, was pretty reasonable for the drams on offer. Mainly as most of these are no longer available to purchase. And so with such a stellar cast it would be churlish of me not to offer some tasting notes on the assembled cast. These notes, however, were collated from the assembled audience and are not my personal ones – so it’s the shared collective insights of everyone at the tasting.


Forty Creek John’s Private Cask No.1 (40%) (Canada)

Aromas of Banana and Butterscotch. Hints of wine. Sweet to begin and very smooth. Soft and slightly floral. Integrated spice. Orange barley sweets. Grain notes were also detected. Very easy to drink.

Bushmills Millenium Malt 43% (Ireland)

Fresh and grassy. Cut grass. Green apple. Sweet to start with a dry and long finish. Quite direct on the palate, sharper delivery, slightly more aggressive than the Forty Creek. Oilier in the mouth and a longer finish. Perhaps a little thin from one individual.

Glenfarclas 30 Year Old (43%) (Scotland)

Obvious Sherry. Fruity red currant. Sour Cherry. Leather. Everso slight hint of smoke that runs though the whisky. Delivers all the flavours in one big hit. A beautiful end of the evening dram. One to mull over. Really well balanced.

Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year Old (47.8%) (North America)

A huge variety of aromas and flavours detected. Most complex dram of the night and unlike anything else tasted. Comments included intriguing and an odd flavour that was hard to pin down and not sure if I liked it or not but definitely want to drink more of it. Astringent at first then develops more fruity notes. Strawberry, fizzy sherbet, grassy and citrus. Common notes of palma-violets, liquorice, peppermint and peppery spice. Also ginger, caramel, burnt toffee, fenugreek and with a coconut coming very late on the finish. Reminds of Xmas day or Martinique Rhum Agricole.

Karuizawa 1990 Single Cask (56.1%) (Japan)

More like a traditional Scottish whisky. Strong and full bodied. Obvious sherry. Fruit like strawberry. Bookcases. Burnt orange, spiced cherry. Smoke. Bonfire toffee and demerara sugar. Slightly woody. A little bitter towards the end.


(1) Malt Whisky Yearbook 2012 – Ingvar Ronde – page 78 (it was for Aberlour 12 Year Old – and really was the first page I turned to.)

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Stop And Smell The Whisky: The Full Story of How Brenne Came to Be

An amazing and inspirational story…

The Whisky Woman

The title of this post could go in a few different directions, however, today it encapsulates the reflective feeling I have over these last few years and the birth of Brenne.

Stop and smell the Whisky.

This has been quite a crazy 3+ years of my life.  But I could say that about most periods of my life; I’m a very focused, all-in kind of person so there are times (like this “whisky” phase) that feel like I’ve been in it longer then I actually have.  3+ years you say? That’s all? (that’s how I feel when I think about my relatively short time here, I could have sworn I’ve been doing this for at least 7yrs).


Last week I was being interviewed by a talented journalist for a rather impressive piece of press (out this coming Sunday, fingers crossed it’s good!).  I’m not a person who gets nervous…

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A rare Glen Grant bottled by Hay & Son, Sheffield

We take it for granted these days that a distillery (in the main) makes a load of whisky, a big chunk of which is sold off to other companies to go into blended whisky (thus providing a healthy revenue stream to keep the distillery open) and then the rest is aged  and then finally bottled by the distilling company and released as a single malt. So most of the single malts we find on the shelves are “official” distillery bottles and with some also released by independent whisky companies too. Well back in the day it didn’t quite work the same as that. The concept of distillery own bottling really only began in the late 1960s, spear-headed by companies like Glenlivet. Before that whisky was generally sold in casks to individual wine and spirit merchants and they would bottle it them themselves for resale to the general public. With quality issues of consistency, bottling practices and the question of more unscrupulous merchants diluting or cutting whisky with other spirit you can see why the distilleries wanting to protecting their name this practise was eventually phased out by taking back control of these issues.

Wine and spirit merchants were very common up and down the country between the early 1800s to the mid 1900s and Sheffield was no exception. The 1851 Census lists over 10,000 Wine and Spirit Merchants and Sheffield had its fair share(1). Some would have been a simple retail outlet, much the same as a standard off-licence today (without selling beer), although others would have also been involved in importing, distributing and bottling wine and spirits. Some may have owned small parcels of land or vineyards from where they could import wine. Perhaps this country’s most famous existing example of a Wine and Spirit Merchant from those times is Berry Brothers and Rudd (2)

Right at the beginning of the year we were contacted by a lady called Jean Wright who was the executor of the estate of her friend Joan Galloway who had sadly passed away. Within her possessions was an unopened bottle of Glen Grant whisky which had been found in her drinks cabinet. What made this particular bottle interesting, and one of the reasons she got into contact with us, was that it had been bottled by a Sheffield Wine Merchant called Hay & Son. She was able to provide us a photograph of the bottle and it quite clearly says “Glen Grant Whisky – Pure Highland Malt – Bonded in 1926 – Hay & Son Ltd Sheffield”. Making it a very interesting, very rare and very old bottle of whisky. The 1829 on the label relates to the foundation of Hay & Son. There is no age statement on the bottle or date of bottling but it does say that the whisky was put into bond (stored without requiring to pay duty) so we can assume distilled in 1926.


Hay and Son were a Sheffield Wine and Spirit Merchant that were in business between 1829 and 1970. Although acquiring several locations throughout their history the main business was located at 97-101 Norfolk Street, practically opposite where the Crucible Theatre now stands. Other outlets included one at 274 London Road and operations in Deepcar, at 72 High Street in Eckington and 28 Sheffield Road in Tinsley in 1905 (Whites Directory of Sheffield & Rotherham). They are also listed as having offices at 15 Graeme St in Glasgow in 1905 (3) (Graeme St was off the High St and no longer exists).


Through looking at local Sheffield Archives, history societies and Sheffield Forum we managed to find some stories from people who had worked there as drivers (4) or retailers:

“Hay’s was next door/ or one to a pub called The Brown Bear?? on the right hand side as you looked down Norfolk street towards Pond Street. It is strange I worked there for 6 or so years but can’t remember the street number. Apart from selling wine & spirits we used to do DO’S at the Cutlers Hall.” (5)

We also managed to track down an employee to see if they could share their recollections of their time at the business.

Patrick Grubb (6) is a Master of Wine (one of the highest accolades anyone in the wine business can achieve) and was the manager of the chain of shops from 1961 to 1964. He replied:

“Thank you for your unusual enquiry! I had forgotten the dates that I was employed at Hays, but you are correct. We had 20 branches, including one each in Scunthorpe, Rotherham, Hull and Doncaster. The head office in Norfolk Street was above a wine and ale bar, behind which were the cellars where they bottled wine and beer at one time. No spirits while I was there. Among the board members were the Lee family. There was a large car park at the rear, where the Crucible was built later.”

We had a quick picture search and Ebay also brings up some interesting items that are for sale:


An old catalogue of goods.


An enamel advertising plate for Forres Blend. I assume that it was a blend created by Hay & Son, the below picture of an old invoice seems to suggest this. Forres is a small town in Speyside where the Benromach distillery is located, although this does not mean that the whisky in Forres blend would be from Benromach.


And some own label Soda Water. Nice artwork!


An old invoice for some cigars with Hays & Son mast-head. Note the Special Blends of finest Scotch whiskies – “Forres” 11 Year Old and “Red Rover” 7 Year Old.

The later history of Hays & Son is sketchy and only revealed through peoples recollections of the business on Norfolk Street. At some point the business of importing and blending would have no longer been viable and I would assume that the war years, rationing and the heavy bombing of the city would all have affected the business much like any others. Through talking to the people of Sheffield I gather that the Norfolk St site eventually became a fore-runner to the wine bar (not really an ale-house) but a place you could take a lady out when courting. People have reminisced about seeing old invoices, like the one above, used as wall decorations.

The building still stands and at one point housed an art gallery. The building is directly opposite the Coventry Building Society and is occupied by Hays who are a recruitment consultancy business (although they have no relation to Hay & Son – just one of those odd coincidences).

The whisky eventually went to auction at Bonhams on 12th June 2013. It was put in with an estimate of around £600-£800 but sold, on the day, for a very respectable £1250 including Bonham premiums and fees (7).

As to what the contents may be like. We contacted Glen Grant and Marilena at the Visitor Centre was kind enough to ask the General Manager Dennis Malcolm his thoughts:

“There were many independent bottlers who played about with bottling a single cask some 40 plus years ago and he doesn’t have any information about this one. He could not comment on the quality of the contents of the bottle because we had no control over the liquid after it was sold and this is why most whisky producers bottle their own product to make sure that it is what it says on the label and maintain the product quality at all times.”

Glen Grant distillery was founded in 1840 in Rothes in Banffshire by brothers James and John Grant and remained in the Grant family until 1953 when it merged with the Glenlivet distillery. So when this whisky was distilled it would have been under the watchful eye of Major James Grant (son of James Grant who inherited the distillery in 1872 and died in 1931). Interestingly a second Glen Grant distillery was built across the road from the original in 1897, named Glen Grant 2, but was mothballed in 1902. It later was revived in 1965 and renamed Caperdonich surviving until 2002. (8)

Without more research into Glen Grant and Hay & Son and without knowing the back-story of how this bottle came into the possession of Joan Galloway it will be hard to come up with what the liquid inside may be like. However it is worth noting that the invoice pictured above dates from 1911 and advertises the “Forres” and “Red Rover” blends with 11 Year and 7 Year age statements respectively. So even early on Hay & Son were using age statements as a indication of quality. Therefore it would not be out of the question then to assume that the Glen Grant bottle may have possibly undergone a similar range of ageing before being bottled.


(9) A bottle of Red Rover as found on the Whisky Exchange website (not in stock).

My thanks to both Jean and Colin who brought this bottle to our attention and allowing us to write about it and use their photograph too. It would be interesting to find out where the whisky went to and what the current owners plans were for it. However, we have highlighted a little of this bottles particular story and who knows we may be able to add to this article in the future.


(1) http://www.sheffieldhistory.co.uk/forums/index.php/topic/10070-hello/

(2) http://www.bbr.com/

(3) http://digital.nls.uk/directories/browse/pageturner.cfm?id=86424389&mode=transcription

(4) http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/92/a7187592.shtml

(5) http://www.sheffieldforum.co.uk/showthread.php?t=464475

(6) http://www.mastersofwine.org/en/about/meet-the-masters/profile/index.cfm/id/681F8F7F-06CF-4E00-8FB22D1E575D5CF1

(7) http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/20650/lot/52/?page_anchor=MR1_page_lots%3D6%26r1%3D10%26m1%3D1

(8) Malt Whisky Yearbook – Ingvar Ronde

(9) http://www.thewhiskyexchange.com/P-6171.aspx

Photographs of Hay & Son from


Sadly they are only thumbnails as the larger pictures are unavailable to copy and I’m probably infringing Sheffield Council’s copyright by having them on the site anyway.

Photographs of Hay & Son items from eBay and Google Images.

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Science and Whisky! Does caramel coloring make a difference?

Caramel in whisky. Does it make a difference? Well there’s been a world-wide internet experiment to see if it does. Here’s some of the results…

What Tastes Good

Single malt Scotch whisky comes in a beautiful range of colors: warm goldenrod, deep russet, bright dandelion. Thanks to the variety of casks used to age whisky, the length of time the spirit spends in them, and the various mixtures of different casks to create the final product, the palette available to Scotch drinkers makes a lovely sight. Check out this color bar with its whimsical, somewhat confusing names (I never realized there was a difference between yellow gold and old gold).

But did you know that some Scotch whisky contains an additive coloring called E150a? Many whisky lovers believe this so-called “caramel coloring” impacts the flavor of the spirit, but producers who use it insist it does not. A few months ago, in an effort to provide some evidence one way or another, Johanne McInnis, the Whisky Lassie and one of half of The Perfect Whisky Match, planned…

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Oban distillery.

A little while back I got round to visiting the Oban distillery. Sadly I didn’t have time to go on the extended tasting tour as this was just a stopping point on our journey further north.  Anyway….

A peaceful sunset greets us across the bay as we pull into Oban. There’s a man playing an accordion, behind a row of photographs depicting heroic sea adventures, in the foyer of the 1970s decorated sea-fronted Regent Hotel. The residents seem entertained but we opt for a quick explore of the town before turning in.

Whilst locals laden with bags of lager and salty sea-dogs wait for the sea-taxi to ferry them home we eat freshly made fish and chips on the harbour wall. It’s really good Fish and Chips. We’ve eaten from some of the best in the country and this is up there. Top Three. It’s only later that we find out that the Oban Fish and Chip Shop is one of Rick Stein’s faves. Surely a contender for the yearly National Fish and Chip awards. Almost worth the trip here itself.

The morning brings brilliant sunshine. Looking out, across the harbour and back into town, you can make out McCaigs Tower highlighted on the hillside. A Colleusum style monument to a local land owner and his family who kept the local builders in work in the awkward winter months. Below, tucked away from sight, nestles Oban distilery. It’s front is hidden from view by the shops along the harbour promenade.

Oban harbour

Oban was just a small fishing village when the brothers Stevenson, who had had a hand in the building of  Tobermory on Mull, founded the diatillery on the site of a former brewery and then set about expanding Oban by establishing a tannery, a boating yard and other house building schemes. The distillery, founded in 1794 predates the town. The town literally grew around the distillery, hemming it in and making any future expansion plans obsolete. Hence, the distillery is fairly small (in the Diageo group it’s the second smallest, the second most frequented, the fifth best selling single malt and their best selling malt in U.S.A. ). With such small production all of the make is destined for single malt bottling. Independent bottles are nigh-on non-existent and there are only two readily available distillery own bottles – the standard 14 year old and a Distillers Edition finished in a montilla fino sherry cask. The distillery exclusive bottle, released in 2010, was frustratingly sold out. However, we were treated to a very small taster (very small) at the end of the tour from a 9 year old single cask, distilled in 2003, that was maturing in the old filling room more-or-less directly below the stills.

Oban distillery

Oban malt is characterised by sea salt, honey, orange peel and a touch of smoke and each of these elements are created in the different stages of production.

According to our guide Katrine, the citrus and salt elements are created at the fermentation, the honey at the maturation and presumably the smoke comes from the peating of the malt.

Oban has a lauter stainless steel mash tun that holds 6.5 tonnes. They are capable of producing 6 mashes a week as the mash time runs from 8 to 10 hours. Where things slow down a bit is at the fermentation stage. Oban’s character relies heavily on their long fermentation times – around 96 to 110 hours. That’s around 4 days and that’s a particulatly long fermentation time in the whisky industry. It’s here that the citrus part of   Oban is made. The four washbacks are all made from larch and can hold up to 36,000 litres (although only filled to floor level at 30,000l, with switchers on the lids to keep the foamy head in check). The wash itself is a vivid lemon pastel yellow in colour and the citrus notes are fairly dominant in the room. Although the washbacks have wooden lids all the windows were open on our visit and the sea air permeates the room – this is where the salty notes of Oban are meant to derive from. (Seeing as the new make is shipped elsewhere to mature – common in most Diageo malt distilleries – the salt can’t really come from the maturation process).

The still room is fairly tiny with a layout that looks like it’s probably not been changed since the distillery opened. The wash still is larger at 18,880 litres capacity and lantern shaped. It is charged with 11,500 litres The spirit still is smaller at 8296 litres and is also lantern shaped (although more elongated) with a descending lynne arm. Both are heated by a steam coil. However, they are condensed by an unusual worm tub that is, instead of a traditional gradually smaller coil, is an”S” shape that runs along the roof space area of the still room (hidden from view) in a cold bath. Fairly unique to Oban.

The stills are operated Monday to Friday. The foreshots are run to 20 minutes. With a 2 hour spirit run at a 75%-60% middle cut, creating an average of a 68% new make spirit. The distillery is able to produce a million bottles a year, apparently. They employ 7 men to run the production part of the distillery.

Diageo really do not like you taking photographs around and in their distilleries. So sadly there are no photographs of the stills or washbacks (other distilleries are not bothered and I feel that the underlying excuse of alcohol in the air sparking off a fire is tenuous but possibly enforced by Health and Safety Protocol and it’s a lot easier to work a blanket ban than make exceptions so we’ll just have to give them that one). So here’s a sneaky outside picture instead!

Part of the warehousing.

Overall a beautifully situated distillery and a relatively small one at that. Oban’s a great stopping point if you’re journeying further north to places like Skye. A great fish and chip shop, a superb sea-food hut near the ferry terminal, a whisky shop, a picture postcard town and with a traditional distillery.

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