Sullivans Cove Distillery is a multi-award-winning Australian distillery that has been producing single malt whisky in Tasmania for nearly three decades. Using locally sourced ingredients, an unusual still, and a worm tub condenser (see Distillation Process below), Sullivans Cove Distillery has become one of the most respected whisky producers in the world. Sullivans Cove French Oak Cask has been named "World's Best Single Malt Whisky" twice at the World Whiskies Awards, first in 2014, then again in 2019, while their American Oak won "World's Best Single Cask Single Malt" in 2018, cementing their status as a leading distillery and putting Tasmanian whisky firmly on the map.
Sullivans Cove Distillation Process
Sullivans Cove currently produce around 15,000 bottles per year from their single still Myrtle. This is around 6-8 barrels filled per week. Sullivans Cove have been producing whisky using only one still since 1994 - in 2023 they are adding two additional stills to help increase production capabilities.
There are roughly 300 barrels in the small warehouse on site (see photo below) though the total number of Sullivans Cove casks is around 3000.
Sullivans Cove utilises wash (un-hopped beer) obtained from Last Rights Brewery, produced using 100% Tasmanian-grown barley. Earlier releases of Sullivans Cove used wash from Cascade Brewery. Drifters End also use Last Rights for their wash, as did Spring Bay Distillery before they added their own brewing equipment in 2019.
Distillery Manager Heather Tillott attributes the type of barley commonly used in Tasmanian whisky as a point of difference to say, Scotch whisky. "Tasmanian barley, is a really, really interesting one because of the strains that we use in Tasmania, historically brewing strains ... they’ve got less carbohydrate more protein in the actual grain, so there’s less alcohol yield. Still enough obviously to make it viable to distill and use as an industry, of course. But there’s less carbohydrate, and there’s more flavour. There’s a lot more fat content in them. So, we’re dealing with a very fatty flavoursome base ingredient". [Source: Drinks Adventures]
Most Tasmanian distilleries use Tasmanian brewing barley though. What makes Sullivans Cove's spirit so different is their distillation process. Myrtle is a replica Charentais alembic still - these are usually used in the production of Cognac (and Sullivans Cove has made some excellent brandies with her! see image gallery below) and she has a worm tub condenser.
"Our spirit is really robust, and its got a really rich, thick, oily nature, which in part is to do with our ingredients and our process, but also to do with our still. On the one hand, we have this really light spirit because we're working it hard - it's a really low, slow distillation with a lot of reflux - a big onion and tall neck before the lyne ... and on the other hand, you've got a worm tub, which gives you this really meaty, robust spirit. It creates a yin-yang effect." [Source: SMWS Australia]
Myrtle runs 12,000 litres of wash per week, which results in 1,200 litres of spirit per week.
Sullivans Cove casks are filled at 63.5% a.b.v and generally bottled at 47.5% a.b.v after 10-15 years of maturation. Most Sullivans Cove whisky is matured in 200L American oak ex-bourbon barrels or 300L French oak ex-tawny barrels. Former Head Distiller Patrick Maguire says that "you can mature a lot faster in smaller barrels, but the larger [200 to 300L] barrels do more justice to the whisky". [Source: cocktailsandbars.com]
Bourbon barrels are sourced from various brands, including Heaven Hill, Jim Beam and Wild Turkey. American Oak became a signature style for Sullivans Cove after a visit from Jim Murray in 2004 - he tasted a high-proof single-cask whisky (Old Hobart Cask Strength) that had been matured for 3-5 years in American Oak. He declared that then-head distiller Patrick Maguire should focus on this style of whisky.
Most Sullivans Cove whisky releases are single cask, making each release unique, and limited in the number of bottles available. However, there are also several double cask bottlings, where 6 to 8 barrels of two maturation types (e.g. bourbon and muscat or tawny) are combined to create one 'batch'.
Sullivans Cove Distillery Tours and Tastings
Sullivans Cove are open to visitors 7 days (Monday to Sunday). Advanced bookings are essential.
Please note: as at 24 September 2023 the production area is undergoing a refit (they are installing two additional stills, which will bring the total to three) and tours will not be available until the reconstruction process is completed early 2024. Tastings are still available during this time.
Sullivans Cove are a very popular distillery with only a small tasting area, so they book up very quickly, especially during the summer months and on weekends. Tastings are available every half hour from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm and should be booked online.
There are three Sulivans Cove Tasting Flights available:
- $30 AUD whisky flight (at the time of our visit these included a 16 year old 1st fill american virgin oak cask, a 1st fill ex-bourbon 16 year old, and an 11 year old ex-muscat cask whisky at cask strength),
- $65 AUD premium whisky flight of rare Sullivans Cove releases,
- $20 AUD brandy flight.
Each flight includes 3 x 10ml samples (approx. 1.2 standard drinks).
Thank you to Cam and Ash for a wonderful tour.
Where Is Sullivans Cove Distillery
Sullivans Cove Distillery is located near Hobart Airport, in an industrial estate in the suburb of Cambridge (10 Lamb Place).
Other distilleries worth visiting near Sullivans Cove include
We recommend having your own vehicle, or hiring a private tour vehicle (or Uber) when visiting distilleries as they are not readily accessible by public transport. We booked our vehicle via DiscoverCars.com (affiliate link). Please note, Sullivans Cove do not have takeaway samples/drivers drams.
Sullivans Cove Distillery History and Awards
Sullivans Cove Distillery was established in 1994, making it the second oldest distillery in Tasmania (behind Lark). Sullivans Cove, which originated as 'Tasmania Distillery' at the Old Gasworks in Sullivans Cove, released its first Sullivans Cove-branded whiskies in 1994. The first few bottles were not distilled at/by Sullivans Cove though - while their own whisky was maturing, they independently bottled imported blended Scotch whisky. Their first 'own' whisky was released in 1997, having been distilled in March 1995. They moved to their current Cambridge site in 2003.
- In 2004, Patrick Maguire took over the management of Sullivans Cove. He started working at the distillery in 1999 (as a distiller, at then named Tasmanian Distillery). His goal was to produce something unique to Tasmania, not to copy an Irish or Scottish whisky, and to be a small producer, not a giant company producing millions of bottles per year.
- In 2007, they were awarded "Best Other Malt" (aka Best Non-Scotch/Rest of World Malt) by the World Whiskies Awards
- In 2014, Sullivans Cove Distillery was resoundingly placed on the world whiskies map when they won "World's Best Single Malt Whisky" at the World Whiskies Awards with French Oak Single Cask HH0525.
- In 2018, former Head Distiller Patrick Maguire was inducted into the global Icons of Whisky Hall of Fame and Sullivans Cove American Oak Single Cask won “World’s Best Single Cask Single Malt”.
- In 2019, Sullivans Cove again won "World's Best Single Cask Single Malt", again with a French Oak Cask (TD0217), making them the first distillery to win the award twice.
- in 2020, Sullivans Cove 25th Anniversary Release, Special Edition 21-year-old won "Best Australian Single Malt" at the World Whiskies Awards.
- In 2022, they won "Best Australian Single Cask Single Malt" for the Sullivans Cove Old & Rare 19-Year American Oak ex-Bourbon HH0609.
Current Distillery Manager/Head Distiller Heather Tillott started out in the NSW wine industry. A move to Tasmania resulted in a change of industry, and she took a job in the Sullivans Cove bottling hall and visitor centre in 2016 before joining the distilling team.