Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Hellyer's Road (Peated)

Hellyer’s Road is a distillery in Tasmania, the apple island off the south coast of Victoria. It is the most southern state in Australia, very lush and beautiful. I have been fortunate enough to work in Hobart and attend a conference in Launceston, both of which are in Tasmania. 

Tasmania is famous for many things, and very slowly whisky is creeping into that list. It produces oysters, salmon and beer, so this might allow for good whisky because Tasmania has access to crisp clean water and high quality barley. 

I purchased a sample bottle of Hellyer’s Road (Peated). I am not sure what kind of peat was used by Hellyer’s Road, but blind tasting this alongside Talisker made it clear that while Tasmania may have some wonderful lush peat Hellyer's Road have not found the sweet stuff. Something seems to have gone wrong with this batch, especially because reviewers from the UK describe this whisky as one with a barely noticeable peat. Barely noticeable? Tasting this whisky is like a boxing match with a grass monster. In contrast, the whisky I am tasting is overpowered with peat, and not a very pleasant peat either.

You might conclude from this that I do not much like peated whisky. Wrong. Among my favourite whiskies are Laphroaig 18 and 10 Year Old, Lagavulin 16 Year Old and Sheep Dip Old Hebridean, all peated whiskies. The Hellyer's Road (Peated) whisky I tasted was harsh with a surge of unpleasant dry grass. Try these Islay malts alongside the Hellyer's Road if you have a chance, you'll see what I mean (that is, if you get the same batch). This whisky/batch is not a good example of peated Australian whisky.


On this nose this whisky smells like dry grass, hay, burnt twigs and it is very earthy. It is a little overpowering for a beginner, so if you’ve just started a whisky journey and you want to try Australian whisky go for the lighter unpeated styles. 


No surprises here, the strange peat hits my tongue like an angry Tassie Devil. It is almost like a bushfire in my mouth; I can swear I taste notes of eucalyptus. That earthiness I identified on the nose comes through, like being the recipient of a good rugby tackle and landing face first in the dry grass.  


With quite a strong finish, this whisky has lots of fire and smoke but the vibrancy and energy of a koala (for those unfamiliar with our furry friends down under, koala’s like to sleep most of the day!). 


This whisky offers lots of fire and a strange style peat, but it is a little overpowering. With some water it mellows down a little, but this whisky does not have much variety of flavours or complexity. Smoke and peat… some twigs, wood… not much sweetness. I think this whisky may only please "peat heads", and even they may disappointed after comparing this whisky with other peated whiskies. 

I am left scratching my head, and wondering, what all the fuss is about concerning Hellyer's Road in overseas markets. Why is it everywhere I look? It may be - and I could be wrong - pure economics. Hellyer's Road is the cheapest Australian whisky around. It is not "cheap" by any standard, but it is the cheapest option. Most consumers want the least costly option, and sometimes quality takes a back seat... so long as the product is Australian whisky, Colombian coffee or an Italian suit.

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