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.
Perhaps 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.
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.