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Whiskies from Van Diemen’s Land: Waubs Harbour vs. Overeem vs. Callington Mill's Dark Secret.

Updated: Jun 26, 2023

When it comes to whisky, there is little doubt that Tasmania has never not been the mecca within the confines of terra australis, with the people and geographical context informing the crafting of a spirit that makes every bottle of Tasmanian whisky unique.


Both, Van Diemen’s land temperate climate and abundance of barley and peat have served as a foundation for a thriving distilling scene that keeps mushrooming with new small-batch distilleries emerging on a constant basis with no vestige of slowing down.


Given that we have yet to encounter a distillery from Tasmania that does not know how to convince with its uniqueness, quality, and dedication to provenance, it should go without saying that we find it difficult to contain our excitement every time a new entity pops up on our radar.


One of the more recently established Tasmanian distilleries is Waubs Harbour.


Centred around the vision of the brothers Tim and Rob Polmear, Waubs Harbour Distillery was concepted centred around the merging of Tasmania’s coastal area, a deeply felt bond to the land’s aboriginal heritage and the most innovative distilling techniques.


Evolved from a converted oyster breeding place and with the distillery’s name being an homage Tasmanian Aboriginal woman, i.e. Wauba Debar, Waubs' approach to the creation of its drops could be considered scientific in nature, as a forensic knowledge of how the respective elements of the spirit act the way they do:


With an in-house lab serving as a foundation for experimentations with fermentation and yeast cultures, distinct flavour profiles are deconstructed to craft Waubs unique DNA, which is further nuanced by the saline, naval terroir, the usage of immaculate Tasmanian water and the naturally oily and richly flavoured barley from around the island.


What sealed the deal for me apart from the aforementioned, Waubs Harbour experiments with local organic peat comprised of decayed coastal reeds, the local melaleuca tree and salt bush, thereby creating an authentic Australian equivalent to what we have grown to love about Islay whiskies in terms of honouring provenance and incorporating terroir.


Part of Waubs Harbour’s flagship single malt series is the recently released Batch 02.


We love how sweet, spicy aromas blend in with saline notes and given that Batch 02 has been distilled only metres from the ocean and covered in salty air, it is only befitting that it has been matured in American Oak ex-Bourbon casks in a bid to further accentuate the perfect sweet, lightly floral and salty taste, along with the use of French Oak Port cask to finesse the and juicy raisin-esque and buttery finish that artfully reverberates with cookie-doughy syrup and molasses.


Taking things to the next level is Waub Harbour’s Port Storm Batch 02. Clocking in at 48%, the nostrils are tickled by a wave of vanilla poached apples, which is then pierced by spicy sultana notes.


What the nose promised, seamlessly transitions to the palate with rich raisiny flavours, flanked by dried stone fruits and a buttery sweetness, which lingers and reverberates via a medium-length finish.


Clocking in at 62% ABV, Waubs Harbour’s ex-tawny port casks-based Founder's Reserve is a punchy little number, yet despite the high alcohol content, comes with a nuancefully subdued heat. Released earlier this year, Batch 02 reels one in with sweet raisins, prunes, and fruity tobacco notes on nose. On the top of the mouth decadent, soft and almost chewy caramel / toffee flavours unveil themselves via an oily texture, before the elongated finish trails off with oak, spicy ginger highlights and salted caramel.


As part of our whisk(e)y-centric series, we have covered a wide range of Tasmanian distilleries, most of which we have the privilege to visit and meet the torchbearers behind the still.


The one that almost got away has been Overeem.

Based in Hobart, this widely esteemed Tasmanian whisky distillery takes its name from founder Casey Overeem, who distilled his first batch at a relative’s house back in 1980.


The back story is complex: When the founder Casey Overeem nine years ago after seven years of producing excellent drops, the distillery continued under the umbrella of Lark before an acquisition through Australian Whisky Holdings.


Having since transitioned back into the hands of the family that founded it as Jane Overeem and her better half Mark Sawford have bought it back, Overeem Distillery has been on an upward trajectory ever since.


Given that Overeem was one of the founding distilleries in Tasmania, what gets us excited about its operations is that there is a commitment to not only heed but reimagine the nucleus that originally set Casey’s meticulous work apart from epigones.


While I am typing this, I am indulging in a dram of the alchemy that has been channelled in the creation of Overeem’s flagship Matured Port Cask expression:


A bouquet of aromas comprised of butterscotch, vanilla, ripe summer fruits (strawberry, plum, nectarine and redcurrant) and rum soaked raisins elicit a Pavlovian reaction from the get-go.


On the top of the mouth, the savoury sweetness the nose hinted at takes a welcomed left turn towards a deeper, darker rich fruitiness, highlighted by nuances of salted caramel, dark chocolate and a sweet maltiness.


Delicious.


An elongated complex finish is well-calibrated between the coordinates of tannic oak, the essence of sweet dark fruits, chocolate, sugar, and vanilla extract, which makes one lust to try the cask strength version variant as the balance between spirit and the character infused through the port cask treatment is nothing short of superb.


With Overeem Distillery’s expressions never not being in high demand, anyone remotely harbouring a weak spot for the finer end of Tasmanian whiskies would be well advised to jump on the unique, recently released 12-year-old Bourbon Cask single casks expressions, which add sophisticated back-ends and full palate finishes to Overeem’s trademark spirit and viscosity.


While we usually attend MONA’s annual Dark Mofo festivities to celebrate the southern hemisphere’s winter solstice and have done so ever since the festival’s inception, we unfortunately could not make it this year, which is particularly tragic as we are always excited about the local distilleries’ special release for the occasion.


Callington Mill’s head distiller Blair Whitehead has this year hand-picked something particularly special for his Dark Secret release:

Born out of a marriage of nine specifically sourced casks from the Triangle of Jerez in Spain, which have been re-coopered before the maturation process, the due to its hues aptly named Dark Secret expression is quintessentially Sherry bomb lover's dream, with notes of rich ripe fruits blending in with chewy dark toffee, mocha, and dark chocolate.


Notes of dried fruit, i.e. raisins and sultanas, are followed by a big dollop of heavy toffee and sherry lead into hints of dark chocolate and cocoa.


The reverberating finish benefits from the textural mouthfeel as creamy butterscotch, toffee and dark chocolate are set in scene by a delicate bitterness, oak spices and a distinctive peatiness.


The fact that Callington Mill’s limited edition Dark Secret project results in a convergence of art and distilling, i.e. a collaboration with urban artist Dscreet, whose

ghostly, vivid artistry evokes the narrative of the mill through a heavy screen print applied directly to the bottle and the accompanying canister subtly sharing the mill's manifesto via a black-on-black design, it only adds another dimension to the appeal.


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Words by AW.

Photos courtesy of the respective distilleries.






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