Tasmania is a 26,410 square mile island (about the size of West Virginia) off the southern coast of Australia. Its home to Actor Errol Flynn, the carnivorous marsupial Tasmanian devil and craft spirits maker Nonesuch Distillery where things happen sloe-ly but sure-ly.
Trying to schedule a visit to this working distillery was no easy task but we worked out the details and scheduled my arrival for 9:00am sharp on a Monday morning. I had to be there at this time because they were doing a Whisky run! (In Tasmania they spell whiskey without the E so we’ll stick with the local spelling for this story.) The rest of the week would be Gin. When I arrived Rex and fellow distiller, Brian were already hand milling the malted barley. As I introduced myself and Rex began showing me around the place, I could tell this was going to be a great day of whisky making.
A Bit of Background on Nonesuch
Nonesuch Distillery Founder and Distiller Rex Burdon
The first thing you probably want to know is where the name came from. You feel like you might be mispronouncing it, but it is exactly as it seems – “none-such”.
none·such – /ˈnənˌsəCH/
noun – A person or thing without equal; paragon.
Rex Burdon, the distillery owner and head distiller, has roots back to the immigration to Tasmania. He found out that his family used to own a farm not that far away from where he distills called Nonesuch. Nonesuch was a word meaning something without equal, a paragon. Basically their farm and family were above and better than anyone else. Great name! Rex is distilling in a small warehouse on a friend’s farm and hasn’t looked back since his first craft spirit ran in 2014.
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A Gin Forward Distillery
Rex and his team pride themselves on starting this distillery to make gin. The whisky being made here is a secondary product. Many new distilleries are established to only produce whisky and while they wait for that spirit to come of age, will produce a few different gins or vodkas.
Making a Sloe Gin
When starting Nonesuch Distillery, Rex specifically wanted to make a gin, a sloe gin. I had no idea what a sloe was. It is a fruit and basically looks like a very sweet blueberry.
The sloe is a berry brought to Tasmania by the early settlers from England. Tasmanian Sloes that are grown on Blackthorn trees, many of which are over 200 years old. Sloes can only really be picked during Autumn and early Winter. If picked too early they are bitter versus too late and they are too tart and not good for making the sloe gin. If left too late on the tree they can also get too soft and difficult to work with since it sits in containers with the gin. It is a balance of ripeness and structure of the berry that makes them work. Once they are picked they can be stored in the freezer and maintained. Apparently this kind of flavored/sweetened gin is quite popular in England and throughout Australia. I knew the English liked their gin, but I didn’t know they had all of these different additives for it.
To make this special gin, you produce dry gin as usual with the botanicals you desire and then let the spirit sit in containers with these berries. In the case of Nonesuch gin, they use a combination of Juniper, Coriander, Cardamon, Lemon and Orange Zest, Lemon Myrtle, Liquorice Root, Cassia Bark, Angelica, Orris Root, Wattle Seed. Every few days they roll the containers back and forth so the berries can share their flavors and not sit at the bottom. The gin and sloe marriage will continue for about 8 months and is then bottled at about 26.6% ABV.
Making a Sloe Malt (Technically Not a Whisky)
Now this is where we can get into the whisky side of things. Rex then decided to use the same process, but instead of gin he would have malt whisky new make spirit and add the berries to that. This is how we get the bottling, Nonesuch Sloe Malt. It cannot be called whisky, because after sitting with the berries in the same way the gin does, it will end up at about 28% ABV. This sloe malt never touches oak or wood. They have found that the berries sweet flavors combined with oak flavors is too overwhelming. The sloe malt was super creamy with all sorts of different red berry flavors including blueberries and raspberries along with vanilla. It would be incredible with ice cream or over ice on a hot day. Unfortunately it is extremely popular and is currently sold out.
Now in regards to capacity and what we can expect from Nonesuch in the future. I will only discuss their process for whisky production. Whether it is for their sloe malt or for their actual aging whisky. They bring in most of their malt from a malting facility in the north of Tasmania called Devonport. We worked on a mash while I was there and they actually mill the malted barley to grist with a hand mill. They then take the grist into their handmade, alternative mash tun. They created the mash tun themselves by taking a stainless steel vat and insulating it to keep the heat in. Rex and Brian work together by running the hot water’s into the vessel and literally scooping in the grist by hand, slowly stirring it in. They then run the wort directly to the one washback (fermenter). The fermenter has a capacity of 500 liters, but they run about 300 liters of wort into this stainless steel vat. They use a dry powder yeast and let it ferment and turn to wash over a seven day period. The wash is then moved over to their one pot still called “Pandora”. The distillation part of the process for Nonesuch takes quite a long time because they are using Pandora for both the wash and spirit distillation.
A Variety of New and Used Barrels
Once they finally have their cut of hearts from the spirit run they are ready to put it into casks. They get their casks from the Tasmanian Cask Company and are using a variety of casks such as ex-bourbon and sherry, but they are all 20 liters barrels. By law they still have to age the spirit at least two years to call it whisky. This is why their one malt bottling on the market is called “Sloe Malt”. It legally can’t be called whisky, because they took the new make spirit from the whisky distillation and mixed it with those sloes. There is no contact with wood whatsoever so it can only be called malt. It is supposed to be the entry drink for potential whisky drinkers. Aging is done right in the same facility as distillation and they bottle and label on site as well.
Nonesuch may be small, but this has allowed them to create a unique entry point into the market with sloe malt’s and gin’s and still create and experiment with their whisky. They will always be gin distillers at heart, but I am excited to see how their whisky turns out. We will have to wait a few more years, but it is in good hands with Rex, Brian and Annette Lodewikus.
Visit the Nonesuch Distillery When in the Neighborhood
Rex boasts about how the Tasmanian Whisky industry is still defining itself, but he has always been supported by his peers. Other distillery owners have helped him and he hopes to help other startup Tasmanian distillers in the future. This is one of the reasons he offers distillation schools and visitors to come work with him.
Definitely check out their facility at 491 Arthur Hwy, Forcett Tasmania and meet Rex and Brian in Sorell. You won’t’ regret it!