A winter nip in Tassie

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On the outskirts of Launceston, overlooking the picturesque and mist-covered valley of the North Esk River, Adam Liaw rugs up and sets out on a crisp winter morning to discover a boutique whisky distillery and it's proud owner and maker, John Wielstra.

Fittingly named after the gorge some 400-metres from the property, that was itself named after a location in Scotland by Launceston's first settlers, Corra Linn Distillery is a relative newcomer to Tasmania's whisky distilling boom.

"If you had to look for the picture-perfect vista for a small batch single malt whisky distillery, this would be it," says celebrity cook and TV host, Adam Liaw. "You've got the rolling hills behind you, John rolling the barrels up the hill by hand. It's exactly what you'd want it to be."

While Corra Linn owes a lot to the pristine water that flows from the region's mountain reserves, it's the carefully selected ingredients and time-honoured process put into place by its passionate master distiller, John, that makes his whisky sing.

Adam Liaw in conversation with Corra Linn's master distiller. 

John came into distilling thanks to his wife, Karen, and daughters, Emily and Claire, who gifted him a still after he packed in his former job in the outdoor power equipment industry. Experimenting in his kitchen, he soon learnt about the process of distilling, ageing and improving whisky. His devotion has now found him professionally producing some of not only Tasmania's, but the world's most sought-after amber spirit.

A master at selecting the finest of ingredients from barley and malt to molasses and various yeasts, John creates precision, small batch whisky with flavours as diverse as banana, raisin and stone fruit.

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"If you've got even a passing interest in whisky, you would've heard of the amazing things that are happening in Tasmania over the past five to 10 years," says Adam, who on this crisp and clear winter day has had the chance to warm his soul with a drop from the premier barrel of Corra Linn whisky. "To come here and see it happening on the ground is what I'd hoped it would be. Really involved individuals doing what they love, producing an amazing product."

Shiny machinery produces boutique Whisky at Corral Linn Distillery.
Boutique whisky production at Corra Linn Distillery in Tasmania.

While boutique in size, snug and comfortable like Tassie itself, the machinery that shines from within John's distilling shed is serious business. "There's a lot in it," agrees John, revealing that as opposed to a traditional Scottish still that works with a pot and a condenser and requires two or three runs to produce the desired alcohol level, his system can do it in one. "It's more efficient, plus, it's got a bit of theatre to it, with the glass pieces you can see what's going on as it's bubbling away."

While journeying the world, Good Food columnist Adam has been to quite a few distilleries, but he says what's lovely about Corra Linn is how personal it is to John. "It's a fantastic whisky, but you can see that every step of the process is something that John gets pleasure from," says Adam. "He loves the intricacies of how it was produced, not just what was produced."

There's an intimacy to visiting Corra Linn that evokes a certain closeness you feel to Tasmania's soul during the frosty winter months. Perhaps because it's in John's rather large backyard, but more likely it's due to the connection and relationships the local community thrives on. As a visitor, you get an innate sense of that.

Take a tour and sample premium whisky.

Take a tour and sample premium whisky.

"If you were sitting at home tasting the whisky, you'd taste a great whisky," agrees Adam. "But if you come here and taste it with John, you see the glint in his eye. That's the experience. It's not just having a drink; it's being a part of the story."

Local Tassie whiskies are currently selling at a premium. Lark Distillery on the Hobart waterfront has bottles ranging from $185 upwards, while Sullivans Cove in Cambridge sells bottles for extravagant prices, up to $1500 a bottle. "They'll release 200 bottles and sell it in three days," tells John, who's currently selling his exclusive amber drop, described by Adam as "smooth as anything, with a lovely vanilla from the oak and not too smoky", for $239 a bottle.

"It's not like you'd buy a bottle and drink it every night; it's for special occasions, events, [when] a baby is born," says John. Memories are made while sipping this fine drink, and it's his hope that people come to Tassie, buy themselves a gift of whisky and sip it when back in the warm comforts of home.

Don't miss out on Tasmanian Whisky Week, Monday 12- Sunday 18 August. Industry events held across seven days in Tasmanian distilleries, barns, stables, restaurants and bars.
Distilleries open their doors to the public to host behind-the-scenes tours to meet the distillers in person, try unreleased whiskies and attend dining events.

Come thrive on winter in Tasmania

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