A fledgling distillery in Tasmania, Belgrove was set up by Peter Bignell, a farmer in the tiny town of Bothwell. The distillery is rather tucked away off a seemingly endless road through the centre of the island. Arrive and you’ll find an unimposing white-wash outbuilding at the back of a farm – home to the Belgrove’s sole still.
Quite unlike most distilleries on Tasmania, Peter’s is one born of chance and circumstance rather than to satisfy a desire. In fact, it all started in 2009 when his farm had a surplus of rye. Peter, being a keen recycler with an interest in sustainability, decided to reuse the extra grain for whisky production, so he built himself a 600-litre copper still for both wash and spirit runs – quite a feat for a man with no previous experience in the whisky industry.
In many ways, Lark was the flagship behind the burgeoning whisky scene in Tasmania. Established in 1992, it was the first fully licensed commercial distillery on the island since the ban of 1839, and it all began when distillery founder, Bill Lark, started speaking to a political friend of his, asking why small-scale distillation was still illegal. This set in motion a series of calls, letters and discussions, and the end result was legal distillation on Tasmania. For technical accuracy, it’s worth mentioning that Tasmanian Prohibition was partially lifted in 1901, but only for stills of 40,000 litres and over, making any kind of startup nigh on impossible.
In a quiet residential neighbourhood in Tasmania’s charming capital city, you’ll find Casey Overeem’s house, and next to it, his garage.
Got yourself a good garage have you? Bought some nice workbenches have you? Maybe a pressure washer? Built yourself a little toolrack?
Well this chap’s got a whisky distillery in his garage, and that whisky distillery is none other than Tasmania’s critically acclaimed Old Hobart.
We sent our man in Havana on a fact-hunting mission to Tasmania. Facing all manner of perils, from killer ants to the ferocious Tasmanian devil, he went boldly to every distillery on the island. In this series, we’ll detail his findings and give you everything you need to know about Tasmanian whisky, starting things off with Sullivans Cove from the aptly named Tasmania Distillery – recent winner of the World’s Best Single Malt at the 2014 World Whiskies Awards.
Located at the southeast of the island, Sullivans Cove is where the British first established the settlement which would one day become Tasmania’s capital, Hobart. Starting out as a penal colony, one can only imagine what the inhabitants got up to. By 1824 there were sixteen legal distilleries, and a metric slew of illicit stills. In short, it was party-time in Tasmania. I’d even speculate the residents used the word party as a verb. History hasn’t recorded whether or not this is true.
In 1920, Berry’s was joined by Hugh Rudd, a lover of Bordeaux and German wines. Such an essential part of the business, Hugh Rudd’s name was officially added to the door when the firm became a limited company in the 1940s.
The Second World War raged on, and tragedy struck when two of the partners lost their sons: Francis Berry’s son George Gilbert died leading a charge against in the enemy in North Africa; and Hugh Rudd’s son Brian was killed in action in Italy at just 20 years of age.
No. 3 was never hit directly during the London bombings, though the top floors were badly burnt. The shop itself escaped too much damage thanks to the old wooden shutters which protected the shopfront. Years later, during the 2011 London Riots, these shutters were put to use for a second time (though, in my opinion, Pomerol probably wasn’t on the agenda).
The first George Berry was born in 1787 and, at the impressionable age of 16, made the two-day journey from Exeter to London, in which city he remained. He would become an extremely successful merchant, maintaining a clear focus on wine and spirits – a tradition continued by his sons George Jr. and Henry – the original “Berry Brothers” who took the helm in 1845.
Berry’s young life was not without event. In 1838, he signed up as a special constable during the Chartist riots, alongside his friend, the future Napoleon III. Years later, whilst in exile in London, Napoleon used the very cellars at No. 3 to hold secret meetings. Two storeys below terra, the marvellous stone-walled chamber bears his name, and is home to a collection of ancient bottles from centuries ago, back when a member of the gentry would have his own glass bottle stamped with his seal. The sealed bottles would be taken to No.3 to be filled with wine or spirit, and returned when they were empty. Napoleon’s own bottle still stands in one corner.
Earlier this year, I became rather enamoured with what is arguably the drinks world’s most prestigious address – No. 3 St James’s – home to the wine and spirits merchant, Berry Brothers and Rudd (known henceforth variously as BBR or Berry’s).
This springtime love affair all started with a ‘three martini lunch’ on a surprisingly balmy day in February. I arrived fashionably late at No. 3 and climbed a steep wooden staircase through a locked door at the back of the shop to meet a group of familiar faces from spirits retail. The event’s hosts were BBR’s charming spirits man, Doug McIvor, and Glenrothes’ brand ambassador and gifted raconteur, Ronnie Cox.
The streets of Shoreditch are roamed by tight-chino’d packs of hip London youth, gyring and gimbling in the wabe like those slithy toves in Lewis Caroll’s brilliant work of nonsense, Jabberwocky. Fitting, it will transpire, that cobbly little Rivington Street’s Callooh Callay should be named after the poem. I must confess I remember little of my first visit (an ill-fated absinthe tasting some years ago), and thinking up preconceptions at Callooh Callay is nigh-on impossible.
In the main bar there’s that kind of Victorian chic thing that a lot of cocktail bars go in for, only, not quite. And then you walk through the wardrobe at the far end (I promised myself I wouldn’t use the term “Narnia-esque”), and you’ll find a hidden secondary lounge area, replete with gaudy Vegas-style leafy centrepiece, barbershop sign, and bathroom bedecked with old tape cassettes. And then there’s the Oyster Card-themed menu, which is something else entirely.
Imagine a world where you could taste any whisky you wanted, instantly, for free, and in the comfort of your own multi-million-pound caravan-home or luxury yachts-vessel. And just picture yourself, if you will, browsing an immense digital library with fine single malts flashing majestically before your very eyes like that bit in Minority Report.
The time is 9pm, the day is today, and you’re sitting in a wingback chesterfield armchair. It’s slightly old – still maintains its shape, but the burgundy leather has become softer and more forgiving. In essence, you’re the mayor of comfort city. It’s liquor o’clock, and Mrs Hammersworth, the nice lady who looks after you, is strapping a slightly cumbersome though thoroughly modern-looking headset onto your face. The device, pictured below, is the groundbreaking “Joculus Snift” – a unique multi-sensory media experience which stimulates four of the five senses with state-of-the-art (SOTA) technology.
The Whip at The Running Horse Pub
50 Davies Street, London, W1K 5JE
Tel: 020 7493 1275
Nearest Tube: Bond Street
Monday to Saturday, 12-11pm
Hunter S Thompson’s famous Kentucky Derby inkings were in my mind last Saturday as I climbed the stairs to The Whip in Mayfair – a newly opened bar which carries on the equestrian theme of partner operation, The Running Horse (located downstairs). Brandishing some serious bourbons, the menu is a mouthwatering selection of Derby classics – Mint Juleps were in order, and The Whip’s elegantly styled confines were a suitable location.