WITH hints of Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer, honey and campfire smoke, it sounds like the archetypal Scottish dram.
But this single malt is lovingly made at a small distillery in Tasmania – and has been named best in the world at a prestigious awards ceremony.
Despite the team behind ullivans Cove French Oak Cask admitting to once making the “worst whisky in the world”, they have spent the last two decades perfecting their traditionally made tipple.
Now their malt has been recognised at the World Whiskies Awards in London, organised by Whisky magazine – exactly 20 years after the distillery opened in Hobart.
It is the first time a distillery outside Scotland or Japan has won the coveted prize of “world’s best single malt”.
The win represents a major coup for Sullivans Cove, which started out as a tourist attraction in a region of Australia where a 19th-century law prohibiting distilling was only overturned in the early 1990s. Now the area has its own whisky trail and nine distilleries, with two more due to open this year.
Bert Cason, marketing manager at Sullivans Cove, said the award was down to the “obsessive” desire of the distillery’s four-strong staff to create the best whisky after their humble beginnings.
“We think it’s hilarious that we used to make the worst whisky in the world and now it’s the best,” he said.
Patrick Maguire, the manager of Sullivans Cove, said the World Whiskies Awards would bring the Tasmanian operation to global attention.
“Part of the art of what we are doing is trying to find the right moment to bottle each cask,” he said. “It took a long time to get markets interested in us, but things are moving very quickly now. Talk to any of the Australian whisky makers and they are all in a good place. We are selling everything we can produce at the moment.”
Ed Bates, one of the judges at the awards who sampled the Sullivans Cove whisky, ruled it to be “excellently balanced”, combining Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer with a “touch of smoke”. Another judge, Jason Thomson, picked out a fusion of honey and haystacks combining with apples and caramel. The malt, he said, kept it simple “in a very good way”.
With Sullivans Cove fending off challenges from more than 300 other entrants – including Scots distilleries such as Glenlivet, Bunnahabhain, Aberfeldy and Glenkinchie – for the main prize at the London awards ceremony, Maguire believes the judges recognised his malt’s unique properties.
He said: “I think what the judges are enjoying with us is we don’t over-process our whiskies, and this is something the bigger distilleries have to do.
“The process of getting it into the bottle is something we do in a slow, old-fashioned way that retains all the natural flavours, colours and the viscosity of the whisky, and that’s something the judges don’t get the chance to taste all the time.”
Sullivans Cove has been on sale in the UK for just over a year. The award-winning malt was retailing for around £100 a bottle, but almost all of its suppliers have run out.
Rosemary Gallagher, spokeswoman for the Scotch Whisky Association, said: “It is a testament to Scotch whisky’s success that other countries are making whisky. It is good for Scotch when consumers try different whiskies as it increases interest in the whole category.”