Craft distilleries from Tasmania are wowing spirit drinkers

COMPETING ON THE WORLD STAGE: Ryan Hartshorn created the world's first vodka from sheep whey, which won Australia’s best varietal vodka at the World Drinks Awards earlier this month. Picture: Supplied

COMPETING ON THE WORLD STAGE: Ryan Hartshorn created the world's first vodka from sheep whey, which won Australia’s best varietal vodka at the World Drinks Awards earlier this month. Picture: Supplied

Already known for whisky, we are fast becoming the island where good spirits are distilled after Tasmanian vodka and gin won international awards this month.

Hartshorn Distillery’s sheep whey vodka was named Australia’s best varietal vodka at the World Drinks Awards and Shene Estate Distillery’s Poltergeist gin won a gold medal at the World Gin Awards.

As the only vodka of its kind in the world, the Hartshorn sheep whey vodka is already breaking new ground, but distiller Ryan Hartshorn also hand paints and writes each bottle, making each individual.

Tasmania is really becoming a hot spot for distilleries and making world-class spirits. - Damian Mackey, Shene Estate Distillery head distiller

Mr Hartshorn worked at his family’s Birchs Bay sheep cheesery, Grandvewe Cheeses, and wanted to find a way to use the whey produced.

“It all started after I saw a still on eBay and that triggered an idea. I was ready for a change, but you can’t just quit the family business,” Mr Hartshorn said.

“I used to work on cheese [through the day] and then came home to research distilling for two years. I read about a place in Ireland using cow whey, so figured it out myself,” he said.

Once he created his vodka recipe, Mr Hartshorn spent time working with a cheese laboratory to to perfect the enzymes and flavour.

”This is the first vodka in the world made from sheep whey, and the bonus is it tastes good and reduces waste,” he said.

Hartshorn Distillery produces around 100 bottles of vodka each week, with a gin using native botanicals in the works.

A “big taste profile” won Poltergeist gin gold in the London Dry category, head distiller Damian Mackey said.

Shene Estate Distillery produces filtered and unfiltered gins with 12 botanicals, but it was the latter that wowed judges.

“With the unfiltered gin people get the full benefit of the botanicals. I think it’s because it’s a bigger, more complex gin,” Mr Mackey said.

The unfiltered Poltergeist gin won gold in the International Spirits competition last year too.

“Tasmania is really becoming a hot spot for distilleries and making world-class spirits. [The state is] forging ahead in its own special brand of world-class products,” Mr Mackey said.

Irish-style whisky is also produced at Shene Estate.

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