Hellyers Road. The large Tas producer that's ready to make a statement in the US.
Hellyers Road Distillery was actually one of my last stops while in Tasmania. They are at the northern tip of the island almost two hours north west of Launceston. Definitely a bit of a hike to Burnie, where they are located, but a beautiful drive along the coast if you plan it right. I had heard bits and pieces about Hellyers Road throughout my travels. I knew going into this they were well above the boutique level of production that I had seen at many of my previous Tasmanian distillery visits. Hellyers whisky distillery was founded when a group of directors at Betta Milk decided they wanted to diversify and enter a completely new product category. Betta Milk is the largest locally owned dairy business in Tasmania. What I found ironic was the timing of this decision. They finally went forward and built the distillery in 1997 and this was actually quite a depressed time for the whisky industry. Slow and steady, they continued into production and filled their first cask in 2002, sold their first bottle in 2006 and are now are barely keeping up with demand.
You can feel the difference in the amount of investment and time that has gone into this distillery as you pull into the parking lot. There is a beautiful visitor’s center overlooking the river and valleys of where Mr. Hellyer, who the distillery is named after, actually explored. The distillery was named after Henry Hellyer because he was a surveyor of the area and named most of the local towns and landmarks. The trusted dog/sidekick next to him is a Kelpie. Kelpies are known to be great working dogs. Now on every label, you will see the infamous Mr. Hellyer and his Kelpie. The distillery mainly produces malt whisky along with three flavors of liqueurs and a few independent brands outsource their distillation to them as well. Their malted barley is sourced from the local Joe White Maltings in Devonport and most of their barley is harvested from the midlands of Tasmania. Most of their peated malt comes from the maltsters in Scotland. Since day one Hellyers has been doing their own mashes on site. The production process pretty much takes place in one large, two story room. Everything is stainless steel, which you can expect because it is owned by a milk company. Their fermentation lasts about three days and at that point they have about a 6% ABV beer.
This wash/beer is then moved into their one wash still that has a capacity of about 60,000 liters. This is where things clearly became unique, showcasing their dairy background. The wash and spirit still have copper lyne arms, but as far as the outside surface of the stills, those are stainless steel. In all of my distillery visits I have never seen this! They run a very slow distillation to allow more copper to spirit interaction in the lyne arm, but the look of this is slightly mind blowing compared to a typical whisky pot still. Clearly it is an effective process that they have developed for these stills, because the spirit is still of very high quality. After the wash run, the low wines are moved in to the 30,000 liter spirit still and from there the new make spirit can be put into casks. The bond store or warehouse is attached to the distillery room. It is a racked facility and has rows and rows of ex-bourbon casks along with port, sherry and pinot noir. There are a few experimental casks they are working on as well with different levels of charring and virgin oaks. There are about 1,500 casks in total located here and they have just purchased the adjacent property to build one new warehouse and a larger bottling facility. At the moment they are filling about 12-14 casks per week. They also bottle and label on site. Apparently their bottling facility is quite impressive. They can max out their bottling line at about 3,000 bottles filled and labeled per hour.
I tried a few drams in the middle of the tour while we overlooked their warehouse facility that they are clearly outgrowing. The two drams I tried are actually only available at the distillery. One was peated and the other was their classic single malt. I have only listed the classic single malt and the second and third tasting notes are for the Port and Pinot casks. Their port casks are only single barrel releases and hard to come by. There has been a 10 year old and a 12 year old released. I had the 12 year old and this dram was incredible. Here are a few of my tasting notes:
Hellyers Road Classic Single Malt- Non-Age Statement Cask Strength (one of the distillery only)
Holly’s Tasting Note..
Nose: Honey, oranges, peaches and very malty/creamy.
Palate: Ripe peach-wow! Sugar, honey, biscuit, graham cracker cookie, vanilla.
As you can probably tell from the notes, their classic casks are typically aged in ex-bourbon. Usually Jack Daniels.
Hellyers Road Pinot Noir Finish- Non Age Statement
Holly’s Tasting Note..
Nose: Almonds, tar, some cherry medicine (NyQuil), liquorice and citrus.
Palate: Grassy, oak, some very light vanilla and raspberry’s. Leafy, dry finish.
Hellyers Road Port Cask Finish- Aged 12 years
Holly’s Tasting Notes..
Nose: Toast, almonds, nuttiness, ripe plums.
Palate: Almonds, walnuts, dried plum finish. Tobacco, cinnamon & spices.
Amazing dram! Would order again if I see it again.
For a complete range of their products check out the link below.
Hellyers Road is one of the handful of brands that we can expect to see on the shelves of American retailers in the near future. They currently export to about 20 countries and from what I was told by a few of the employees, USA is at the top of their list for expansion. They are looking for the right import and distribution partners to start the process. They truly do make a high quality product and I am excited to have them be one of the first brands of Tasmanian Whisky that most American’s will ever taste. If you do head up to make a visit ask for Sharon, the visitor center manager. She was a great guide and lovely to speak with!