Whisky Review: Sullivan’s Cove American Oak

While Tasmanian whisky is now rising on the global stage, for much of the island’s recent history, all distilled spirits were imported. In 1839, the Tasmanian government banned distilling outright, a position that was not reversed until the early 1990s. In 1994, Sullivan’s Cove Distillery in Hobart, Tasmania, became the first legal distillery on Tasmania in 150 years.

Isolated Tasmania is famous for the purity of its air, water, and soil—all factors Sullivan’s Cove is keen to credit for the success of its products. The distillery produces exclusively single malt whisky from Tasmanian-grown barley, malted at the nearby Cascade Brewery, one of the few remaining breweries that makes its own malt. Cascade Brewery also produces Sullivan’s Cove’s wash.

Modeled after the distilleries of Scotland, Sullivan’s Cove double-distills its whisky using copper pot stills, and uses a range of different cask types in its warehouse, including ex-bourbon casks and French oak casks. Distillation is to a relatively high proof—146—perhaps attributable to their stated distilling methodology: “The trick is to cut the run short, so that only the sweetest flavors and purest alcohol from the heart of the run is captured.” Digging deeper into the tails lowers the proof of the distillate, and can introduce some funky flavors that don’t taste great right off the bat, although some do undergo an ugly duckling-like transformation in the cask over the long term.

In any case, their strategy seems to be working. In 2014, their French Oak single malt won world’s best single malt at the World Whisky Awards. This particular release, Sullivan’s Cove American Oak, has been recognized with a bevy of awards, including Best Australian Single Malt and several “Liquid Gold” designations in various editions of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible. It’s aged entirely in used American oak cooperage, it’s not chill filtered, and it’s bottled, like all of Sullivan’s Cove releases, as a single barrel release. Mine came from Barrel number HH0330, bottle 14 of 180.

Sullivan's Cove American Oak

Tasting Notes: Sullivan’s Cove American Oak

Vital Stats: American oak cask, single cask, 100% malted barley, 11yo. 47.5% ABV.

Appearance: Clear gold

Nose: Wowza! This is fun—a strangely tropical bouquet. Dark chocolate, banana, lily, jackfruit, freshly turned earth. If you’ve ever smelled real baijiu, this isn’t really like that, but it’s in the same universe. More malt, intense and grainy, emerges as you dig in, like sticking your nose in a bag of Munich malt.

Palate: Rich and round, the entry is gentle, sweet, and earthy. There’s apple juice, mandarin, nectarine, and hay along with a hefty dose of pure, honeyed malt. A faintly juice-like tartness is discernible at the sides of the mouth, like biting into a slightly underripe apple. For all its freshness, I might have guessed it to be younger than it is—but maybe it’s just all that clean Tasmanian living.

The Takeaway

Yum! This isn’t a showy whisky, but it’s a deeply pleasurable one—robust yet balanced, complex yet easy to enjoy. It’s not the trendiest style—kind of a fruit-forward Speyside—but it’s unusual and distinctive all the same. Very nice.

4.5
User Rating 5 (1 vote)
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About the author

Margarett Waterbury

Margarett Waterbury is a food and drinks writer based in Portland, Oregon. She's the managing editor of The Whiskey Wash, the managing editor of Edible Portland, and a regular contributor to local and national publications.