McHenry Distillery. You may have heard this distillery called “McHenry and Sons” before, but drop the “and Sons” because while I was there his youngest daughter was hard at work! This is truly a family business and anyone with daughters knows they shouldn’t be ruled out. As my family quickly found out, I would be the whisky loving, can hold her liquor kind of girl they never imagined! This of course isn't really the reason they dropped the son's part, but I do think it is cleaner just as McHenry Distillery. McHenry Distillery is growing quickly but still very much a family run company. As William McHenry mentioned many times throughout the visit, he has a lot of ideas, but they haven’t been approved yet by Mrs. McHenry. If you look back at the history of many successful distilleries, turned global brands, this is how they start. Although, this family is unique compared to most local Tasmanian Distillers. Bill did not grow up in Tasmania and spent much of his career in the pharmaceutical business world, even working in NYC for a few years. You can sense this business and growth acumen when you speak with him about where he would like his business to be in even just a few years’ time. In 2010 he chose this location due to the overall climate and humidity along with the natural spring water.
The distillery is located about an hour and a half east of Hobart and it’s a stunning drive. When you arrive to the small town of Port Arthur, you will follow a long dirt road up to the top of a local hill that overlooks the bays and peninsulas of southern Tasmania. They make quite a range of products here including malt whisky, barrel aged gin and multiple other gins. We started the tour of the facility at the top of the McHenry Distillery hill. At the top of this hill runs their natural spring water source. We watched it bubbling away and this water runs through sandstone and then dolerite to create the soft, almost seemingly unlimited amount of natural spring water. There are five springs on site and just this one produces about 5 million liters of water per year. The water is gravity fed down to the distillery building where it is used for mashing, watering down from cask strength and even for the cold water needed in heat exchanging and condensing. They use the flexible method of plastic container cubes for their fermentation and holding tank needs. Each plastic cube holding about 1,000 liters of beer. When and if they do ferment, they are letting the fermentation period run about five full days and use a brewing yeast. The wash is then moved into their 1,500 liter capacity copper pot still. The pot still was manufactured by
Knapp Lewer, who has made quite a local name for himself in the Tas whisky scene. Just as in Scotland where most stills bear the name Forsyth and in the USA it is Vendome. Here in Tasmania you will see this German engineer’s name. After running the wash and spirit run through the one pot still, the new make spirit is then put into oak casks. They use a variety of different casks for the aging of their whisky. They use a variety of sizes as well including 20, 100 and 200 liter casks. You will find everything from ex-bourbon, wine and sherry casks in their bond warehouse. In regards to capacity they are filling about the equivalent of a 200 liter barrel per week and last year ran about 100,000 liters of new make off of the still. Bottling and labeling is all done on site.
I was able to try a few of their gins and their single malt whisky. I must say, their barrel aged gin and damson gin were incredible. The barrel aged gin could be seen as a gateway drink into the whisky world. They age the gin in ex-bourbon casks and rotate the spirit similar to the solera vat system/fractional blending. The damson gin is similar to the sloe gin I have talked about in previous write ups. McHenry Distillery makes sloe gin too, but the damson is fantastic. It will be released in the next few weeks and I was lucky enough to walk away with one of the first bottles. It is only 20% ABV and has the flavors of the damson plum that the gin was infused with. It is an incredible beach, summer dram. Here are my tasting notes for the malt whisky:
McHenry Single Malt Whisky- NAS
Holly’s Tasting Note..
Nose: Apples, oaky, vanilla cream, can smell the bourbon barrel influence.
Palate: Honey, oak, apple juice and a clean, wisp of a finish. Super easy to drink.
There is one thing I want to note about the bottle and branding of the whisky that I found to be unique and a great idea. Bill calls it the “whisky passport”. This is where all the information you could want about that particular batch or bottling can be found. I really like this idea of complete transparency.
The main goal of William is to create a legacy for his family. With a name like McHenry it does make sense to be in the whisky business, but it goes much deeper than that. William knows that what he has created with this distillery will take years to develop and nurture as a brand and that is something he couldn’t do if he stayed in the pharma world. Other ways he plans to build this legacy is by having small cottages at the top of the hill for guests and for their gin/distillation school students. They are also currently finishing another building that will be the new distillation and education center at the top of the McHenry Distillery hill. If you can brave the winds, with these views, you will never leave this distillery.