By Ben Kelly
In 1992, Australian federal legislation was relaxed to allow for whiskey distillation (previous legislation was enacted in the 1830s by people with no sense of humor to prevent Aussies from having any fun. Now there are nineteen such distilleries dotted across the Australia, with a good number of those existing in the island state of Tasmania.
Hellyers Road distillery is situated in the north west of Tasmania. They have only quite recently brought their ten year old whiskey to market and were kind enough to send me a bottle. I must say I was ready to be quite stern with this spirit. Pride at the success of fellow Aussies aside, I don’t play favorites. I was pleasantly surprised.
If I had to sum up the Hellyer’s Road 10 Year Old Original in a single word, it would most likely be “unpretentious.” It is a solid aperitif style whiskey that does not try to do too much. As you’d expect from a whiskey aged in bourbon casks only, it has a pale gold hue. Their barley and, of course, their water are sourced locally. The nose is sharp and a little estery, no doubt due in part to the 46.2% ABV. Behind that there’s a touch of lemongrass. Given a couple of hours to open up, you’ll find sweeter fruity notes lurking.
It initially feels thin on the tongue and as the alcohol comes through, there’s the warmth of toasted grains. The finish is warming and dry with the toasted grains hanging around, vanilla notes showing through and the faintest metallic tang at the back of the mouth.
With a few drops of water, the esters in the nose become more prominent, but behind them some vanilla creeps in. The palate is actually more viscous with a little water. It’s a little peppery up front, though the water takes the fight out of the alcohol. The warm, toasted grain flavors become more apparent and the finish is creamy and lingering, bringing buttered toast to mind.
I tried letting the spirit breathe for another 12 hours and found that taken neat, it does open up quite nicely. The nose doesn’t change all that much, but the toasty flavors come through much more strongly on the palate. The watered version didn’t stand up so well over the same time frame. Not much of a nose to speak of and while it retains the same creamy viscosity, the flavors are a shadow of their former selves.
When push comes to shove, I’d recommend this one neat rather than watered and if possible poured a couple of hours ahead of time. It would be a solid starter for an evening where a variety of whiskeys were to be poured and enjoyed. There’s enough in it to keep conversation running, but probably not enough to complement a meal of any substance, nor as an after dinner drink. No need to look for complexity in this one. It’s simply not there, nor do I think is it intended to be.
This is the first whiskey to come out of Tasmania in commercial quantities. By all reports a fair bit of it is heading to France. The distillery also does a peated version that I’m keen to get my hands on. If they’re using local peat, I’d be curious to see what characteristics the local flora adds. If this is any indication of what we can expect from Hellyers Road, then I look forward to what the next five to ten years will bring.
Hellyers Road Original 10 Year Old retails at $89.50 AUD (about $93) per bottle. To most whiskey drinkers, that makes it as expensive as it is exotic. The company’s website offers shipping options both domestically and internationally.