Heartwood. At first I was calling Heartwood an “Independent Bottler”. I guess this is somewhat fitting, but it doesn’t explain what Tim Duckett is truly doing to create his special edition, limited bottle, whisky releases. Independent bottler seems like a straight forward term, but can actually mean a few things. Through my education and travels I have come across these two main kinds of non-producers/bottlers:
--You buy already aged barrels. You taste them and purchase them per what you like and then bottle pretty much immediately.
--You buy new make spirit from your distillery of choice and choose what it should be aged in. You also decide how long it should age and mature it in your own or chosen warehouses. You have more control over the final products age and style with this method.
Tim Duckett is through and through the second style, if not even more in-depth for his bottling decisions. His office is located in North Hobart, which is the young, hip area of the city. Just right down the street from all of the top bars and brew scene. When I showed up he already had a few bottles out and it was officially time to drink. I decided to have an unstructured dialogue with Tim, because we were bouncing around to many different topics and Tim’s business is anything but typical. He is clearly a proud Tasmanian and even more proud of the Tas whisky that is being produced. He decided to take advantage of the rapid Tasmanian whisky scene and filled his first barrel in 1999. He is also involved in Lark Distillery leadership and is a client to over 10 of the other current Tasmanian distilleries. He works with them to buy their new make spirit and then age it in whatever cask he deems will be the best fit for that spirit. This is a great set up for startups and boutiques to earn cash up front. This has also lead to Tim holding some of the oldest Tas whisky available in his warehouse in Kingston, Tasmania.
Tim went on to discuss his warehouse and how he ages his whisky. He purchases all different kinds of empty and re-used casks. Everything from ex-bourbon, sherry butts, wine casks such as local Muscat and Pinot Noir along with many others. Once he has made the decision on what the new make spirit should be aged in, it then goes to Kingston to mature. It is here that he has a unique method of moving certain casks in and out of heat. He finds this creates more interaction with wood and spirit along with swelling and contracting. He is continuously sampling casks and everything he releases is single cask and always at cask strength. I would say that’s what Heartwood is most infamous for, is the exclusively cask strength releases. He also is very well known for his “dinosaur” talk. The dinosaur shape is in regards to how the spirit fills the palate and flows through the mouth. If you imagine, a dinosaur typically has many shapes and curves including long necks, rough scales, long tails, horns etc. These are all different flavor experiences you should have on your pallet with a sip of whisky. He also compares it to the difference of drinking a "fat snake" versus a dinosaur. Fat snakes are simple drams that go from the front of the mouth to the back. You never want a fat snake whisky! There is more to sipping whisky than just flavors entering and leaving the palate immediately and it’s the blenders’ job to develop on this. It is not just taste and finish that we should be examining. All of his new make spirit and barrel picks are based off of creating these new “dinosaur” experiences. Cask strength is an important part of this experience- no dilution with water. His strongest release was 73.5% ABV! Glassware is also very important. He uses very large sniffer glasses which really did improve the nose immensely compared to Glencairn glasses.
I know everyone is now craving and anxious to get releases of Heartwood Cask Strength Single Malt Bottlings, but unfortunately the odds are against you. He only gets a few hundred bottles depending on the cask size and his social media presence and local following is enough to usually have him sell out. I even asked how I can get to the top of this waiting list, but I don’t think I even made the bottom! In the meantime I am thankful for what Tim offered me to try during my visit. Below is a list of what drams I tasted and I have listed my tasting notes for my favorite one.
-We Are Cousins—62.4% ABV. Filled 2007, bottled 2016. Primarily bourbon casks.
-Dare to be different – 65.5% ABV. Filled 2008, bottled 2016. Primarily Oloroso Sherry Casks.
-3/of 3—67.5% ABV. Filled (unsure), bottled Jan. 2017. This was the newest release for Tim.
Heartwood We are Brothers – Bottle 354/450 @ 65.6% ABV – Aged in ex-bourbon and port casks.
Holly’s Tasting Note..
Nose: Vanilla ice cream, blueberries and caramel.
Palate: Oaky, caramel chew, toffee, some smoke at the back of the tongue and the peat keeps coming through at the end.
To learn about the new releases follow Heartwood on social media. I follow him on Instagram at @heartwoodtas . Best of luck in catching one of these in retail. I actually did see the We Are Brothers bottle at the MONA Museum in Hobart. Even if you don’t ever get a bottle of a Heartwood release, Tim is blazing a trail for a different kind of “independent bottler” and making it an art form. Something I think we could use in other whisky markets to keep the flavor profiles unique and interesting.