London Whisky Club: Sullivans Cove

Hosted by Steven Czarny of The London Whisky Club, this tasting was presented by Heather Tillott, head distiller of Sullivan’s Cove.


Originally a penal colony, Tasmania has a strong brewing heritage going back to the 1800s, so there’s plenty of barley around. Indeed, some of the country’s oldest established breweries are still running – Cascade for example, established 1824 – and are familiar with old barley strains and the Tasmanian conditions. It’s a good starting place for a whisky distillery. However, excessive over-use of grain for brewing & distilling at this time brought critical food shortages. As a result, Tasmania experienced a prohibition on distilling that lasted for around 150 years until late 1990’s. Cue Sullivans Cove:

  • Operating for 25 years [Distilling since 1999: Malt Year Book].
  • They produce just 30 casks a year, so rare whisky indeed – more so than even Daftmill [approx. 100 casks a year].
  • From nowhere, Jim Murray’s 2014 Whisky Bible award catapulted Sullivans Cove onto the World stage.


  • Made from 100% malted barley grown approximately 100 miles from Hobart.
  • With little focus around yield, Sullivans Cove [SC] use old-skool strains of barley that promote fats, oils,… Perceived “inefficiencies” are deliberately celebrated.
  • They’ve generally used four strains in the last 25 years. Mostly Franklin, Dedner?, and Westminster – and of late – a little Planet, but it’s mostly the first three. They like to mix it up [not sticking to one all the time] to avoid promoting mono-cultural activities.
  • Using a secret yeast recipe, brewing occurs “two minutes down the road,….. in effect, in-house brewing”, says Heather. The distillery shares a kit with the local brewery which is crucial to give SC the right “chemical makeup” of the spirit later on.
  • 120 hour fermentation. 
  • Like the wine industry, they use full sized casks – ASBs as well as 300 litre French oak/ex-tawny casks


From The Malt Year Book: The core range includes American Oak, French Oak and Double Wood [including port casks], Double Cask, and occasionally, Special Cask. Then there’s Old & Rare. We shall try a selection of all of these tonight.


I’ve, randomly, only tried one Sullivans Cove before. It was this:

Sullivans Cove [21/06/11] Ob. American oak cask #HH0182 47.5% WB0

  • N: Burned homemade popcorn – as clear as day – with honey, butter, and cracked pepper. This has had an hour to open up yet the popcorn remains absolute. Also, buckwheat flour, stewed rhubarb, and burned toast.
  • T: Honeyed buttery arrival becoming chewy and malty – building. Some wood spices develop with a hint of swede? or maybe it’s more stewed rhubarb, yet the scorched popcorn is ever present. 
  • F: There’s a little prickly ground black peppery heat into a light bubblegum and malty/honey finish with a touch of fennel toothpaste.
  • C: Was burned popcorn a profile target? If so, job done! Scores well [low-mid 80s]. Simple yet characterful.


Let the tasting begin!


Sullivans Cove Fire Drum Vodka [2020] Ob. 40%

Made from 100% local barley, this is essential Sullivans Cove’s new make spirit which has been reduced to 40% [import issues?]. Light filtration polishes it whilst retaining fats oils and textures.

  • N: Pleasingly sweet, creamy/milky confectionary-sweet “Milk bottles” says Heather, yep!
  • T: Oh yeah, more milk bottles,…. “fairly classic for the type of barley we use”, says Heather, into a textural creamy milky barley juice which hints at coppery Caramac,…liquorice,….
  • F: ,… into slight citrusy Mini Milk vibes and a light yet lingering waxy fruitiness.
  • C: Simple to the sublime=accomplished, thumbs up for a tasting that starts with the base spirit.

Scores 77 points


Sullivans Cove 2008/2019 11yo [2020] Ob. Double Cask #DC107 [969 bts] 44.9% WB85[1]

This is a vatted small-batch expression from two oak types: American oak and French oak [ex-tawny in the main], first and/or refill casks.

  • N: Rather ‘New World’ [sorry world and indigenous peoples]. With some of that base milkiness, we’ve a confectionary fruitiness [red fruits: pomegranate and strawberry were noted], bananas,…
  • T: Like the new make, now with savoury earthy and nutty hues. Arrives slightly unusually – as in, not like Scotch – with a surprisingly delightful release surge into a malty and complex journey: nutty “dark brown sugars, orange peel” – Heather spot on again – and with a mouthfeel to boot over a savoury slightly [Mini Milk] milky vanilla chew once again.
  • F: Nutty light coppery savoury barley sugars. Unusually, the cask resinousness is utterly pleasing. Despite a more deliberate US vanilla malty profile towards the tail, it’s a refreshing alternative to bourbon or Scotch.
  • C: Very nice. It doesn’t seem to want a great deal more ex-tawny influence here, but perhaps we shall understand that more against the spirit in a single cask version later on?

Scores 86 points


There’s talk/questions about Sullivans Cove’s abv’s and whether the [single cask] expressions are bottled at cask strength. In Hobart, they receive only 300mm of rain a year. A dry climate means that the alcohol actually goes up with maturation. Heather has seen a 16yo whisky at 85% abv. All of Sullivans Cove whiskies are diluted to some extent. The ‘sweet spot’ is generally around 47-48%, they’ve found out, through a slow dilution process that takes many weeks.


Sullivans Cove 13yo [2020] Ob. American Oak single cask #TD165 [203 bts] 47.5%

Heather says this is “,… more modern-era spirit,…. very typical of what you can expect” [at Sullivans Cove].

  • N: There’s more of that savoury [tawny-illusion?] sweet milky waxy-fattiness I’m beginning to tune into now, with some ease – a style the distillery are deliberately searching for. Much like the Double Cask, perhaps this lands somewhere in-between Scotch and bourbon?
  • T: Same again. This is most alluring to my palate, a complex, firmly-savoury, biscuity, barley-heart,….
  • F: ,….. with decent-length unravel. Clear vanilla ice-cream finish, yet there’s nothing garish about the vanillins nor the resins which are, just so.
  • C: Being more one-dimensional than the double cask expression, you can see why the distillery would be adding another maturation ingredient [tawny] to the process.

Scores 83 points


Sullivans Cove 18yo [2020] Ob. Old & Rare American Oak cask HH0296 [150 bts] 49.2%

In comparison to the last dram, this is a Sullivans Cove ‘previous era’ whisky. We are told the distillery have plenty of old stock: 21 & 22 yo’s and then more in the 17-19yo range.

  • N: Heather offers “tequila,.. and agave roasted pineapple” notes – again, spot on! This is decidedly fruitier on greener ripe orchard fruits, a light huskiness, and overall, a nose that speaks of way more years than even 18.
  • T: With a resinousness that brings us down to earth, there’s a denseness to this into chewy thick malt chocolate, Ovaltine,…. This ‘denseness’, Heather explains, comes from the distillery’s older regime where the cut points were wider.
  • F: Shorter finish than the previous three on a slight musty mashiness, honeycomb and light vanillins.
  • C: A fabulously fun whisky, and what a nose!

Scores 85 points


A virtual distillery walk-around reveals a modern unit except for Myrtle, a 2500-litre replica of an alembic brandy still commonly used for making armagnac. Note [see pic] the vertical lyne arm out from the still for high reflux and copper contact.


Sullivans Cove 2007/2019 11yo  Ob. Special Single Cask #TD0214 [281 bts] 45.8%

Casks that don’t fit into the core range [i.e. different/idiosyncratic], may find their way into the Special Single Cask series, if stunning enough – perhaps just two releases a year. According to WoW, the exact dates for this single cask are: filled 7/11/2007, bottled 15/10/19. This came from a first-fill US oak ex-apera cask. Apera relates to “fortified and sherried” says heather – a bit like tawny port casks.

  • N: Light red fruits on chewed printer paper, aromatic rice, “dandelion” [great call], savoury malty toffee-beer,…. One could go on.
  • T: More dandelion, and burdock [> “tomato leaves”, Heather],… Stauning distillery vibes,…. light chew,….plenty of subtle mixed savoury-sweet action – bready doughy,…. 
  • F: ,… orange zest, savoury-toffee-sweet milky > honey > light vanilla chew,… Long finish, the textural element remains to the last. Tobacco – pre-mentioned – occurs most prominently at the tail, for me.
  • C: Rightly popular, special whisky. 

Scores 87 points


Most new distilleries will spend much time promoting, creating exposure and inevitably boosting sales, says Samuel Cumming – Global Sales Manager – who spends much of his time trying to spread out distribution as carefully as possible to a small high-demand group that significantly out-weigh supply. Viable ‘sob stories’ or interesting tales via email are welcomed. Moving on.


Sullivans Cove 12yo [2020] Ob. Tawny single cask #TD0324 [501 bts] 47.5%

US oak and ex-tawny cask maturation.

  • N: Auchentoshan-esque, creamy light quince floral apple fruitiness, and gravy?!
  • T: Oh yeah, that’s the modern engineered cask-finish taste. Rather predictable ‘pop’ whisky at this time,…
  • F: ,… yet the more idiosyncratic underlying barley-led milky vanilla-ey spirit does play through, finishing with that pleasing milky savoury-sweet chew.
  • C: Not quite my style, which is in overload/abundance in the industry right now. Still, very competent and no doubt popular.

Scores 82 points


Sullivans Cove 2007 XO Brandy Ob. cask #TDB009 [285 bts] 50.5%

Sullivans Cove XO brandy is made from single varietal wines, namely Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This one is based on chardonnay, aged in an ex-tawny cask and fortified further with tawny port.

  • N: Not realising this was actually brandy before I tried it,…. crikey! I’m glad this is at the end as it smells like a palate cruncher, but that’s because it’s so left-field with a fruity minerality, creamy, gritty, dirty heavily-dusty nose reminiscent of very old blends, and even tequila or cachaca. Heavy old sugars, molasses, “petricore” [Heather], nutty pine needles, hints of garden sprays [more tomato leaf], more molasses,… into Nocino, PX sherry,….. plum sauce > BBQ, smoked bacon, a burning match box, warm ashes, burnt sticks, burning painted & Creosote-d wood,.. This would pass as an old yet vibrant rum on the nose – Wedderburn, Vale Royal,… PX sherry. Wow, is this even whisky?!!!!!
  • T: Whoa, this IS like mental rum! One can conjure a very dark old molasses/agricole-blended rum with savoury herbal earthy qualities, more plum sauce,… perfectly thick body and perfect savoury >= sweetness again, so curious. Amazing dynamics!
  • F: Earthy. almost medicinal [= the worm tub influence, Heather], becoming sweeter at times, more Nocino-sweet savoury liqueur-like,… Dry yet sweet, luscious,…
  • C: Mad!! Completely unexpected. A must-have bottle to confuse everyone at any [whisky] spirits tasting. What a result. From a wine-making nation, let’s hope we see more brandy from ‘daan under’.

Scores 90 points


Tonight’s tasting has been an eye-opener: a distillery making whisky low & slow/quality over quantity/inefficiencies=positive. Aside from the extraordinary brandy, the bottles I regarded the most were the double cask and the 11yo single cask, but where to buy. who supply? Suggestions included Amathus in London [> Brighton], and the Artful Dodger, but either way, I’d need a hefty wedge of cash. Let’s not get carried away. The rrp is already hefty – reflecting supply – so to pay closer to four figures on the secondary market for a single bottle is way off. Hence, what a privilege this tasting was.

Thanks to the Foz for sacrificing precious drops, to The London Whisky Club for organising, and to Sullivans Cove for presenting.





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