Drinks Hobart Travel

Sullivans Cove Distillery Tour

Sullivans Cove whisky has won several coveted international awards catapulting the Tasmanian whisky into the world stage. Yet upon visiting the distillery in Tasmania, nothing can prepares you for the scale of what you’re about to see.

Sullivans Cove Distillery TourInside Sullivans Cove

Sullivans Cove Distillery

Standing amongst 700 barrels quietly maturing, with the unassuming still to one side, you breathe in the air depriving those greedy angels from their share, and you soon realise that this small scale operation produces some of the world’s best single malt.

Sullivans Cove Distillery Tour
Sullivans Cove Distillery

Sullivans Cove Distillery was established in 1994 at the heart of the Cove and has since moved to Cambridge in Tasmania, a short drive from Hobart Airport. With Master Distiller, Patrick Maguire (whom we interviewed in 2012) at the helm, the distillery produces three expressions Sullivans Cove Double Cask, Sullivans Cove American Oak Cask and Sullivans Cove French Oak Cask.

Distillation at Sullivans Cove

Sullivans Cove Distillery Tour
Wash Tank

Every 3 to 5 days, 12,000 litres of wash at approximately 7.5% ABV are delivered from Cascade Brewery or Moo Brew. The liquid is pumped through to the copper pot Brandy still that is modelled on the French alembic. The wash is divided by 2500 which is the still’s capacity before the wash run takes place. Distilling takes place seven days a week with the wash run taking up three days.

Sullivans Cove Distillery Tour
French Alembic Style Still

The second distillation, or the spirit run takes place along with the falls and feints of the previous run. 12,000 litres at around 7.5% ABV are reduced to approximately 1,100 litres at 63.4% which then go straight into the barrels. The entire process takes five days before the liquid is put into barrels and transferred onto racks.

Sullivans Cove Distillery Tour
Whisky Barrels

Sullivans Cove use three types of barrels, French oak barrels with a 300 litre capacity, 200 litre American oak bourbon barrels and port barrels where they are aged for the next 10 to 12 years. The spirit from the barrels is tasted on a monthly basis to choose the ones ready for bottling.

Once the barrels are selected and marked, in the case of single cask or double cask, they decanted into plastic tanks. The larger ones contain the French oak maturation while the smaller tanks are filled with spirit from the American oak cask.

Sullivans Cove Distillery Tour
Flocking of Spirit

The whisky is rested and allowed to flock – there is no chill filtration – and this is where the breakdown happens. The ABV is reduced from 63.4% down to 47.5% in slow steps with regular tastings. In the case of French oak and Double Cask, the process takes three months over the summer period and is much faster in winter. American oak takes five to six weeks, but sometimes it does not even flock and you see some fine residue.

Sullivans Cove Distillery Tour
Fine Residue, No Chill Filtration

Bottling is a labour intensive process all done by hand. The bottles are individually filled, the cap is placed on top, the label is rolled on, then the caps are sealed and shrunk around the neck. Next comes matching the boxes to the bottles. Once the neck label is put on, bottle is turned to the side and a matching sticker is added, the bottle is polished by hand and put in the corresponding box, which is then boxed into six packs.

Sullivans Cove Distillery Tour  Sullivans Cove Distillery Tour Sullivans Cove Distillery Tour
Bottling Done by Hand

In case you’re tempted to own a barrel of your own, you can purchase a 20 litre barrel and in 2 years’ time, it gets bottled and sent to you. And if you’re wondering the fate of the award-winning French oak barrel HH525, it has been refilled and re-labelled.

Sullivans Cove Whisky Tasting

Sullivans Cove Distillery Tour
Sullivans Cove Whisky

The distillery tour ends at the beautiful Cellar Door with a tasting of the latest releases in the Sullivans Cove Whisky expressions, Sullivans Cove Double Cask, Sullivans Cove American Oak Cask and Sullivans Cove French Oak Cask. Refer to our previous article for tasting notes.

Sullivans Cove Distillery Tour
Sullivans Cove Cellar Door

What’s New: Joint Tasmanian Bottling

Sullivans Cove Distillery Tour
New Make Spirits

In the tanks shown above, new make spirits from various Tasmanian distilleries are about to come together in a joint Tasmanian bottling. These include the triple distilled single malt from Mackey’s, McHenry’s, Lark, Overeem, Belgrove, Redlands and Sullivans Cove.

20 litres of new make spirit from each distillery will be blended together and each distillery will get back 20 litres of mixed new make spirit to be matured in a barrel of their choice. The whisky will be sold as a collection under the same label but bottled in various distilleries.

Tasmanian whisky enthusiasts can look forward to this joint Tasmanian bottling which will be available in 2 years’ time but can be pre-ordered in the coming months.

What’s Next for Sullivans Cove

According to Bertie Cason, marketing manager, Sullivans Cove whisky is in the next phase of development, and will increase production to 7 days a week, soon to be 24/7. The next step is to get a wash still that can do the wash in one run (3 days) and use the existing still for spirit runs (1 day) which means production could be quadrupled and only run on 5 days a week.

From a product perspective, we can expect more of the same whisky, though each year will see a variation in the proportion of all three expressions.

Sullivans Cove Distillery Tours

Sullivans Cove Distillery Tour
Sullivans Cove Sign

Sullivans Cove runs distillery tours ($30 per person) of the facility Mondays to Fridays from 10am to 4pm with tours taking place on the hour. As it is a working distillery, spaces and times may be limited so it is best to call ahead or book online. It is a well worth experience on your next visit to Tasmania.

Gourmantic travelled to Tasmania as guests of Lark Distillery. With thanks to Bertie Cason of Sullivans Cove for his time during our visit.

For more distilleries, visit the Australian Distillery Directory.

Sullivans Cove Distillery
1/10 Lamb Place, Cambridge, Tasmania, 7170
Telephone: +61 (03) 6248 5399

About the author

Corinne Mossati

Corinne Mossati is a drinks writer, author of GROW YOUR OWN COCKTAIL GARDEN, SHRUBS & BOTANICAL SODAS and founder/editor of Gourmantic, Cocktails & Bars and The Gourmantic Garden. She has been writing extensively about spirits, cocktails, bars and cocktail gardening in more recent years. She is a spirits and cocktail competition judge, Icons of Whisky Australia nominee, contributor to Diageo Bar Academy, cocktail developer and is named in Australian Bartender Magazine's Top 100 Most Influential List. Her cocktail garden was featured on ABC TV’s Gardening Australia and has won several awards. She is a contributor to Real World Gardener radio program and is featured in several publications including Pip Magazine, Organic Gardener, Australian Bartender and Breathe (UK). Read the full bio here.