Is there a more fittingly named distillery as A Small Concern, or Cradle Mountain? A seemingly wee short-lived enterprise that makes its MALT debut today and quite possibly the only appearance. Although, the name is being revived by its new owners with a debut release due later in 2019.
You see, there has only been two official releases as 16 and 17-year-old expressions bottled circa 2015 that represent a mighty age for a Tasmanian or Australian whisky. Snapped up by fortunate fans of the growing whisky vibe down under, the majority bottles were purchased by investors. These are now highly desirable and fetch remarkable prices when they do appear, as the market is manipulated by an oligopoly. However, this means diddly squat to me personally. Whisky is all about new experiences and liquid history; this means opening the stuff.
As potentially this is my only chance to delve into this distillery from a historical perspective, I’ll hope you’ll forgive me for revelling in a unique and sorry tale. Admittedly, not on the scale of despair as Banff, A Small Concern has more in common with the small distilleries within a distillery that was a brief fad in Scotland during the 1960s and 1970s. Cadenhead’s features prominently in the history of the remote producer, which seems apt given today’s bottle.
Tasmanian whiskies are in high demand and rarely reach our European shores. But this was not always the case and the forerunner was a tiny distillery in Ulverston, Northwest Tasmania. Originally founded as the Darwin distillery in 1989, by Brian Poke, before changing its name to the Franklin distillery. The inspiration for this name wasn’t statesmanship, but rather a newly developed local strain of barley. A crop that the Tasmanian Agricultural Department wanted to investigate for its suitability in whisky production. Throughout its lifespan, the distillery was very much a small concern and the name stuck.
To validate the barley experiment, just 2 casks were filled and only 1 of these remained at the distillery to mature on site. That might have been the end of the experiment except for a member of the team took a trip to Scotland armed with a sample from the cask. Where else do you go in the whisky country other than Campbeltown? The tale goes, eager to gauge opinion on the maturing spirit (which would have been approximately 15 months old at this point), the sample was shared and Cadenhead’s were impressed. So much so that they placed an order for 7 casks. An impressive feat but there was a fundamental problem in that the distillery had already been dismantled. In effect, the small concern had run its course; the experiment was a success, capital had long dried up and the project had shut down.
Cadenhead’s were not deterred and by all accounts, offering 25k to enable production to be revived and the initial order to be completed. This did the trick and the distillery restarted in early 1994, fulfilling the Scottish order and laying down their own barrels to mature. Production ceased once for all by the end of 1997. Blighted by the lack of demand for Tasmanian whisky and therefore revenue, this small concern joined the ranks of lost distilleries.
For Cadenhead’s, the 7th* and last cask was released as part of their May 2019 outturn. All of these casks were distilled in 1996, with the youngest being bottled in 2006 at 10 years of age. A trio of these, including today’s offering, were matured in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels, assembled by a local cooperage. As the last cask, this is the oldest of the 7 and will also be the oldest whisky ever bottled by this distillery. A sad realisation is that this 23-year-old is the last cask from this distillery anywhere. The aforementioned official releases with their own editions only being a couple of hundred, wiped out any maturing stock. For a small concern, this is now truly liquid history.
This single cask was bottled at 53.2%, resulting in an outturn of 198 bottles retailing for under £100. A perfect example of Cadenhead’s value ethic and needless to say snapped up at retail. Let’s embark on this voyage of discovery.
Cadenhead’s A Small Concern, Cradle Mountain, 23 year old – review
Colour: A well used conker.
On the nose: cherrywood, smoke, raspberry and resin. Rubbed brass, beef stock and cinder toffee. This is a distinctive whisky with a lovely balance. Cinnamon, hazelnuts, treacle, liquorice and rum fudge. Also appearing are varnish, rubber and fennel. With water, it becomes more malty, with popcorn.
In the mouth: a pleasing texture, unusual ashy and soil flavours with a dustiness. Chocolate, rust and a frankly weird middle section. A little dry on the finish with red fruits. Prior to this, there’s a tangy nature, tobacco, rubber, HP brown sauce and peanuts. Water showcases more dryness and a rounded nature with brown sugar, smoke and more woody focus. I prefer it this whisky at cask strength.
A perplexing, unique and rewarding experience, but not for everyone. Sulphur? Not for me, despite the rubber, other characteristics and flavours came through.
Overall, I enjoyed this rollercoaster that comes from a rare distillery and is well priced; a unique combination from Cadenhead’s. This would stand up well to a comparison with 1970’s whiskies matured in sherry casks. Such a shame we’ve lost this distillery, which was ahead of its time. Just a few years later and who knows what this small concern would have become?
Photograph kindly provided by the Cadenhead’s London shop. Thanks to David for the sample.
*note this could be the 6th cask as its unclear.