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Old Hobart - The world's most improved whisky?

By Dominic Roskrow

They say that a prophet is never hailed in his own land. But in the case of Casey Overeem nothing could be further from the truth. Over 2012 Australia's whisky drinkers have taken his Old Hobart Distillery to their hearts.

And a year on from that first batch of 400 bottles launched under the Overeem name, Old Hobart Distillery has gone a long way towards joining Tasmanian distillers Sullivan's Cove, Lark and Hellyer's Road at the forefront of the Tasmanian whisky revolution.

Australian whisky is currently riding a wave of appreciation across the country and overseas

I was fortunate to taste the cask whiskies less than two months before they were bottled and can make claim to having the first home bottle of cask strength port matured Overeem. Both were good, well made and dripping in potential, but they were young and far from perfectly formed, and the port one in particular was the whisky equivalent of a bad hair day.

Imagine my surprise, then, when the most recent batch arrived, and I found that both cask strength bottlings had not only learned to walk on their own, but were out jogging and training for a marathon. The port version, in particular, has Tasmaania written all over it, and at four years old and 60% (up from the 55% last year) is another loud, brash slab of Aussiness.

Since the launch of the first batch and this one, Casey Overeem has put his distillery's name on the map, and then some. And halfway through the year the whisky went international, too, with the first exports heading over to the Netherlands, where there is surely a family link.

And the growing reputation of the distillery was cemented in 2012 with a flurry of awards, particularly from the Malt Whisky Society of Australia, which even went as far to select an Old Hobart barrel for the first bespoke bottling by the Society.

So where once only Scotch would do for Australians, now the public is on board with its home produced whisky as momentum for it builds worldwide?

"Australian whisky is currently riding a wave of appreciation across the country and overseas," Casey says. "Most distilleries are achieving domestic and international awards and recognition. This in itself has created a lot of interest by the Australian people."

Casey says that another reason for the success is that Australian whisky drinkers in particular are now becoming used to the distinctive style of whisky that Tasmania produces, and Overeem is recognisably of the island style.

"We are concentrating on full flavour, non-chill filtered, with the character that only Tasmanian small pot still whisky can achieve," he says. "We have a rich, fatty and oily barley in Tasmania giving a unique mouth feel to the whisky.

"Our water is very soft, pure and clean, following its long unadulterated journey across the oceans to our west. All the barley used is grown locally and malted by a local brewery. Our casks are sourced from Australian wineries by a cooperage in South Australia and are cut down to 100 litres. They are heavily charred for maximum filtration. It all effects the overall flavour." 

Much is made of the Tasmanian identity, but Casey says that it's important for Tasmanian distillers in particular and quality Australian whisky makers in general to work together.

"The Tasmanian group has recently formed the Whisky Producers Association of Tasmania. We are lobbying government as well as working together to promote tourism and trade.

"The perception of the industry appreciates the various distilleries working together. There is a big future for Australian made whisky and we believe our products being of the highest quality will create their own markets." After such a phenomenal few months behind him and so much to look forward to, Casey's aware that there is a great opportunity to take Old Hobart Distillery on to a world platform. With sales already made to The Netherlands there are opportunities in other European opportunities.

Already he's facing the time when he must decide if he's a whisky maker, the business ahead of the company or an ambassador for his whisky in trading markets. His choice? None of them.

"Im going to hand some responsibility to my daughter Jane so my wife and I can get a motorhome and drive out of here to enjoy our beautiful country" he says. And then adds "and work a little less!"

You can take the man out of Australia...