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Interview with Jane Overeem

Australian whisky is in full swing. As global whisky continues to be of fascination for the malt whisky consumer, the market down-under has seen good growth. Initially there were more sales abroad than within Australia itself, but now the domestic market is booming too. And Australian whiskies are winning tons of prestigious awards as well.

Overeem logoPerhaps the Australian equivalent of Islay – in so far as that it’s a whisky isle – is Tasmania, where Overeem Whisky comes from. Made at the Old Hobart distillery, in Blackmans Bay, Tasmania – and now under ownership of the Lark Distillery – Overeem’s brand is greatly respected across the world – not bad for a small operation. Set up by Casey Overeem in 2007, Overeem is a boutique, hand-crafted operation that produces three kinds of whisky matured in Port, Bourbon or Sherry casks for a minimum of 5 years.

Casey has since moved into ‘semi-retirement’ and the family tradition continues with his daughter Jane Overeem, who was very much part of the set-up and early years. I was lucky enough to get in touch with Jane to find out more about the Tasmanian whisky scene, as well as what’s happening at the moment with Overeem since they were acquired by Lark Distillery.

Malt: Production of Overeem whisky at the Old Hobart distillery began in 2007. You’re in your eighth year now, which given the recent boom of craft distilleries makes you pretty experienced! What have been some of the biggest challenges for the distillery since you started?

Jane: You mention the recent boom of craft distilleries, this is exactly right – it has been very recent. A challenge in the early days, was making people aware that great whisky was also made in Tasmania, and not solely in Scotland.

Another early challenge was knowing how much whisky to produce. And as you know, whisky takes a long time to mature. Unfortunately you can’t just wake up one day and say “let’s double production today and meet the demand tomorrow”. If only!

You’ve won some pretty big accolades in that time. What’s been the highlight for the distillery so far?

A highlight for me in particular was sending our ‘First Release’ of Overeem Single Malt Whisky to Jim Murray (as it was our first competition ever), and both our Port Matured 60% and Sherry Matured 60% whiskies received Liquid Gold (95.0). It was pretty exciting to know that we received scores placing us in the top 2% of the best whiskies in the world.

Overeem distillery stillsHave you refined your process or changed your production methods since you first started, or have you always stuck to the original vision?

We’ve always stuck to Casey’s (a.k.a Dad’s) original vision. Anyone that meets my dad will know that he is very ‘particular’ and very good at making whisky. The only thing we’ve changed is the fact that we make a lot more now.

Can you share a little more about who else is involved in the whisky production process at Old Hobart?

We are very lucky to have the brewers at Lark Distillery (also in Tasmania) produce our ‘wash’. They have always done this for Overeem (since 2007). They continue to do a great job in producing our wash just the way we have requested it. In the past few years we’ve also had various fantastic distillers trained by Casey, including Nick Marchioli, Wim DePuit and more recently Robert Polmear.

There are three main cask strength whiskies that form the core of your range – Port Cask, Bourbon Cask, and Sherry Cask. Have you plans to experiment further in future?

Our strength is in our simplicity. We focus on what we know. Whilst we want to maintain that focus, partnerships are also important to us. For example, we recently worked with Ben Barranow, the owner of a whisky and cigar lounge in Melbourne. He finished some Overeem Port Matured Whisky in a 20 litre Tokay barrel. He sent us a sample after 6 months and it was divine!

The Old Hobart distillery, and therefore Overeem, was sold to the Lark Distillery group early last year. What was the reason behind such a move – that must have been quite a bold decision for a family operation?

A bold decision yes and a pretty tough one at the same time. As you can imagine, there are a lot of emotions tied to a family business. The entire family love the brand (and the whisky!) but ultimately it was Casey’s decision. Casey is an experienced businessman – he knew growth was inevitable, and it was not the right time in his life nor his desire to undertake another business venture like this one.

I recently read this quote: ‘This is not done simply as a business venture, but instead as a way for one man to create the spirit that he loves. And Casey Overeem’s intent is certainly apparent when drinking the whisky which bears his name.’ Nick, Whisky Waffle

Have things changed much since the deal was struck? I noticed that your father, Casey Overeem, has stepped into semi-retirement, which presumably was always part of the plan. How much is he still involved in the process, and have you taken over directly from his role?

Semi-retirement!? Casey was semi-retired when he started the Old Hobart Distillery! All jokes aside, Casey has actually retired now but still has a keen interest and oversees the distilling processes. He is also the first to be on the Overeem tasting panels when product testing. I am heavily involved in the business – as the Marketing Manager for Lark and Overeem as well as an Overeem Brand Ambassador (along with Casey). I also look after the Overeem Sales, participate in the tasting panels and am involved in production planning.

There are 12 distilleries in Tasmania now – making it a little like Australian whisky’s version of Islay to Scotch. Is there a significant whisky culture on the island and what does the future hold for it?

There definitely is. There is a real spirit of friendship between the Tas Distilleries. The ‘Tasmanian Whisky Producers’ Association’ was formed several years ago. We all get together every few months to discuss plans and actions that we can implement (as a group) for the future. The future for Tasmanian whisky is extremely positive. While the distilleries continue to expand and our products reach more corners of the world, I expect the global recognition of Tasmanian whisky will continue to grow. It’s all very exciting.

Speaking of Tasmania, how would you describe the Tasmanian whisky style – does it differ from other Australian whiskies? In fact, would you say Overeem typical of the Tasmanian style?

A lot of people say that Tasmanian whisky has a certain style. We believe this is due to our rich, oily Tasmanian barley and soft, pure water which makes for a beautiful mouthfeel. Overeem is certainly typical of the Tasmanian style.

Malt: Thanks, Jane! Really appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule.

If you’d like to find out where to get a bottle of Overeem whisky, you can check their lists of stockists.

Bottles of overeem

Mark

I've written about (and reviewed) whisky for Whisky Magazine and The Scottish Sporting Gazette among other publications. I do other writing too: several mass market genre novels, a few short stories, including for BBC Radio 4. For my day job (I know, I don't get out much) I work in digital content. Follow me on Instagram.com/maltreview/ or Twitter.com/MaltReview.

  1. Nick says:

    A great interview! Jane is doing some amazing things for the Tasmanian whisky scene and it’s great to hear that things are still going strong. And a direct quote! Wow, I am honoured!
    Keep on waffling,
    Nick

  2. David taylor says:

    Great story ,as I live in Tasmania it’s amazing how this little part of Australia is taking the world by storm

  3. Annelies Smeekes says:

    Great Interview Jane, I am very proud of the Overeem’s name and I must say it is one of the best whiskys I have had. It’s very soft and smooth. Well done to my brother Casey Overeem for the vision he had many years ago and fulfilled his dream.

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  7. Jim Smith says:

    A recent trip to Tasmania introduced be to its breadth of whiskys. I was amazed at the quality. What are the other Australian whiskys mentioned?

  8. Rick says:

    Hi Mark

    it’s always good to see our Aussies getting good press for what I think is the most progressive industry in our country.

    From the Atherton Tablelands through NSW, Victoria to Tasmania and on to Albany and recently Margaret River in the south west of WA some pretty awesome people are making fine spirit and winning accolades all over the world for what they are doing. We also have some of the most amazing independent bottlers performing miracles of alchemy with other peoples spirits, Tim Duckett for example making some of Bill lark’s spirits into quite possibly the strongest single malt in the world with ABV’s in the low 70’s straight out of the barrel. And what superb results they are, smooth and dark, rich and complex, with or without a touch of water to release even more aromas and flavours.

    As I travel around Australia, more and more refined watering holes are at last starting to stock some Aussie producers, but they could do better and help to educate the Australian whisky drinking public about the treats they are missing out on. I am still surprised by the number of bar owners and apparently well educated bar service people who know very little if anything of the quality and sophistication of our very own whisky. It’s time for a revolution, evolution will take too long, let’s all do our best to make our local watering hole sit up and take notice. Start asking your locals to stock more locals and support our superb spirit industry. Take a bottle of Casey and Jane’s beautiful liquor along to your local fine restaurant and share a little with the chef, she’ll love you for it and soon you’ll be able to get it with your dinner or an aperitif, how could anyone resist?

    Slainte

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