Today on Malt, we bring you a family affair.
Australia’s modern whisky boom began around 30 years ago with the fabled Bill Lark. Indeed, it is often the vision and passion of one person that drives the creation of the distilleries behind our current whisky boom. I have sometimes wondered, though, what happens when that singular person has had enough? Perhaps they are ready to retire, or maybe the distillery has just grown beyond their own means to manage. Romantically, we would envision that distillery being passed down within a family, generation to generation, a lifeblood flowing like whisky off a still.
This brings us to Overeem, which followed this path – eventually. But there were some bumps and detours along the way.
I feel hesitant even starting to put pen to paper – or fingers to laptop – to talk about Tasmania’s Overeem distillery, such is their imposing reputation. The Overeem brand is held in the highest regard down in Australia, and mentally I’ve always placed them alongside the iconic staples Sullivan’s Cove and Lark.
Let’s hear more about the generational change from Jane Overeem.
Malt: Overeem goes a long way back – in fact your dad was there right at the start with Bill Lark! Can you tell us how he came to be interested in malt whisky distilling and Overeem’s beginnings?
Jane Overeem: Dad has been interested in whisky for over 40 years now. He’s always loved to drink it, but he decided he wanted to make it when he and my Mum were on their honeymoon in Norway (my Mum is Norwegian). One of Mum’s cousins had a small still in his basement and Dad was fascinated by the clean, high-quality spirit he was producing. It was that particular experience that led Dad to make a promise to himself: to one day make a single malt whisky that would stand alongside the best whiskies in the world! This was in his twenties!
Following this, he read many books and continued to experiment with small production. In the late 90’s Dad and Bill Lark went to Scotland to visit many distilleries – here they were given so much valuable information that they continue to honour to this day, and always tell people about how appreciative they were to receive it.
It wasn’t until Dad retired in 2005 that he knew it was time to start his “hobby-business. “Overeem Distillery (actually it was called Old Hobart Distillery at the time) was founded in 2007. He began production from a purpose-built Distillery in the front yard of our family home.
Malt: Tell us about your own interest in malt whisky and your role with Overeem in the early days?
Jane Overeem: Dad trained me how to distil in the early years (I was 20), and I shadowed him at various whisky shows and whisky conventions. It was a lot of fun, but not something I thought I’d end up doing for potentially the rest of my working career! My real (full-time) involvement began in 2012 with the launch of Overeem Single Malt Whisky.
I spent 2012-2014 marketing and selling Overeem Whisky across the states of Australia. I spent most of my time speaking to people in bars, restaurants and bottle shops about the family story, and convincing them that “Yes, we do make Single Malt Whisky in Tasmania!.” As you can appreciate, there were only a handful of Australian whisky brands on the market at this time. Wow, a lot has changed in the short period of 10 years!
Malt: Overeem was sold to Lark Distillery way back in 2014, but as of 2020 is now safely back in family hands. What prompted the decision to sell then and how did it come to pass that you’ve purchased back the enterprise?
Jane Overeem: It’s an amazing, fortuitous story really! Although Dad was reluctant to sell in 2014, he knew it was time for Overeem to be taken to the next level. All our barrels were selling out within minutes of releasing them and it was time to increase production for the future. At the same time, Bill Lark had just sold Lark Distillery to a group of local investors – and those same investors then approached Dad.
The two brands were then managed under the same umbrella and I was appointed the Sales & Marketing Manager for the company. I stayed with the company for 2 years, but it was during this time I realised it was the family-business that really inspired and motivated me, along with the passion I had to grow our own brand. So, after much discussion and planning, my husband (Mark Sawford) and I founded and commenced production at our own Distillery in 2016 under the watchful eye and close mentorship of Dad.
All of our product was quietly maturing when in 2019 we were presented with the opportunity to purchase Overeem back. The new CEO of Lark Distillery developed a new strategy to focus on Lark, and thought it made sense to offer Overeem back to its founding family. We of course accepted with arms wide open!
Malt: How did you keep engaged in the whisky business during the period Overeem was owned by Lark?
Jane Overeem: We’re whisky drinkers first and foremost! So, we continued to attend lots of shows, tastings, visited lots of distilleries and of course founded our own distillery where we worked really closely with Dad and adopted his entire philosophy and techniques surrounding whisky production. I was also a Sales Contractor for a new contract distillery and still fully immersed myself in the industry.
Malt: Can you tell us about your Head Distiller Nicole Harris, her background and distilling philosophy?
Jane Overeem: Nicky’s background is hospitality, she’s worked and managed some of the finest restaurants in Victoria and Tassie. She is very process driven, systematic, with an amazing palate and fantastic attitude to learning. We weren’t necessarily looking for someone with distilling experience – but rather someone who would specifically follow and adopt the Overeem distilling philosophy and its techniques. She’s incredibly passionate and respectful of the Overeem brand, wider Tasmanian whisky industry and understands the responsibility she inherited as the head distiller at Overeem. Her distilling philosophy is now the same as Casey’s, mine and Mark’s. “Near enough is awful,” “No cutting corners,” “Quality is Key,” “Follow the recipe.” I could go on for days. She even pulls Dad up now sometimes!
Malt: Can you give us some technical details around the distilling operation, such as fermentation times, barrel aging, and where your barley and yeast are sourced?
Jane Overeem: Under Dad’s instructions, we’re pretty protective of the Overeem recipe and techniques! But I can say we have an 1800 Litre Wash Still and an 800 Litre spirit still. These stills are all-copper hand-crafted stills from Knapp Lewer in Tasmania. We only use Tasmanian grown barley, allow a long fermentation period, provide a specific maturation environment for casks, and definitely don’t chill-filter! The entire Overeem process is a low, slow and calculated approach. It’s not commercially friendly, but Dad developed this process in retirement, with a purpose, where time was not an issue!
Malt: Can you run us through Overeem’s core offerings and any short term plans you might have to expand the range?
Jane Overeem: Our core range currently consists of two Port Cask matured expressions and two Sherry Cask matured expressions, both bottled at our distiller strength (43% ABV) and cask strength (60% ABV). These are all award-winning single cask, single malt whiskies, aged between 5-6 years in French-Oak, 100 litre casks, and consistently represent what Overeem Whisky stands for and our philosophies.
Late next year we’ll be introducing an American Oak, Bourbon cask matured whisky into our core range. We have released a number of bourbon cask matured whiskies at Overeem in the past (which have all sold out extremely quickly), which really allow our quality of spirit to shine, prompting us to include this expression in our core range of whiskies.
Malt: Now that Overeem is back in family hands, what are the future plans, and can visitors pop into the distillery in Hobart to visit?
Jane Overeem: Yes! We accommodate distillery visits by appointment only and we encourage whisky fans to get in touch with us if they’d like a private tour! The future is incredibly exciting for us, with lots of things in the pipeline, but fundamentally, we’re solely focused on remaining true to Dads original promise: “to create a single malt whisky that can be enjoyed among the best whiskies of the world.” After all, that’s really what matters!
My sincere thanks to Jane for taking the time to answer my questions. I will particularly look forward to one day sampling the bourbon barrel releases – if I can get my hands on them.
In the meantime, let’s put Overeem’s core range to the test. As noted by Jane above, these releases are all drawn from single casks and are released at either 43% or 60% ABV. These were all samples provided by Overeem; per Malt policy, this does not affect the notes or scores.
Overeem Sherry Cask Matured Cask Strength – Review
Colour: Deep gold
On the nose: Some sweet notes, despite the ABV not much in terms of alcohol. I get hints of strawberry lamingtons, oven roasted figs, sultanas, puddings from my childhood days visiting my grandparents’ farm. Caramel sauce poured over rum and raisin ice-cream and freshly cooked donuts sprinkled with cinnamon. The nose is consistent and contains no off-notes. To smell, this reminds me of Shene Elixir.
In the mouth: A light alcohol burn, but immediately also honeycomb, strawberries baked in a pie, red apples, pineapple caramelised on a grill, brandy cream. Later on, though the alcohol comes and goes, I get creaming soda, pumpkin pie and mixed spice. Candied pecans. A dash of water and there is vanilla bean and cardamom. I am not sure the water was needed to be honest. This was a cracking dram.
Overeem Sherry Cask Matured – Review
On the nose: More cohesive and smoother that the Port Cask at 43% ABV. Some of the edges and oomph are removed from the Sherry Cask at Cask Strength. Demerara sugar, a hint of creaky old leather, ham hock and olive oil. I dig around for some sweeter notes and get good quality tablet, malt milkshakes, a bit of fruitcake and jammy toast. A solid foundation but perhaps not worth spending too much time on.
In the mouth: This hits the ‘sweet’ spot for me – a better balance than the lower strength Port Cask. Warm jam donuts, welcome spiciness and pepperiness, then oranges and mandarins. Some hint of smoke, though I am not sure if this is intentional? Perhaps a happy accident. Anyway, a deal of waxiness and raisins, expensive muesli that I’d only buy on a special occasion, nuttiness. ANZAC biscuits to the fore. Is this as good as the Shery Cask at 60% ABV? A notch below.
Overeem Port Cask Matured Cask Strength – Review
Colour: Classic gold
On the nose: Ohhhh – full bodied, big, oily, rich malt whisky. If I wore a Panama hat, I might write something inappropriate, but Malt Review is better than that. Flintiness, metal shavings and some burned matchsticks. Smoky black tea. Pork crackling straight off a spit. Beef in black bean sauce, seaweed crackers and fresh oysters. Tobacco. Of the 4 whiskies this is my favourite nose – and it’s not close – but scents can be deceiving. Let’s hope not.
In the mouth: Pepperoni, salted pretzels, some of that waxiness from the nose. Earthiness with wet soil and cured meats. Not what I expected at all. Black olives, black pepper on the back palate, and vegetable soup. Then onto dark chocolate, bacon on a roll, crab meat, light smokiness and ongoing salinity. Very much a coastal dram.
Overeem Port Cask Matured – Review
Colour: Light gold, maybe beach sand in the right light
On the nose: This is a nose of contrasts but speaks to me of the Australian bush. For example, I get lightly charred firewood, spinifex plants, Australian grass trees, manuka honey. Something medicinal in the form of adolescent cough syrup. Then some light dashes of saltiness and perhaps red liquorice. Time and effort spent here is more rewarding than the cask strength options.
In the mouth: Fresh and light. Too light? Perhaps. Marshmallows on a campfire, some toffee, syrupy and plum flesh. Vanilla and butterscotch, but also milk chocolate. A strong hit of Café latte. Then more golden syrup. Not much complexity and probably too sweet for my tastes, I am not sure I’d want more than a glass of this on any given night. I recognise the market this is serving and the craft involved, but to me this is right about average
Overeem whisky doesn’t come cheaply. The higher ABV options sell for around $250 and the lower ABV choices sell for a little under $200. As a comparison, the higher ABV products from Limbeburners are around $230 but their 43% options usually sell for under $150.
So, priced as a premium product in a competitive market, the whisky had better be sure it delivers. I enjoyed all these samples to different degrees, but with single casks quality may vary. I wonder if adding a core release blended from multiple casks, in a “house style,” at a lower cost might be good business?
All I’ve inherited off my Dad is familial high cholesterol and an incomprehensible Polish surname. To have the distillery back in the hands of his family must be deeply satisfying for Casey Overeem and Jane and Mark have all the right intentions. With a young family of their own, Jane and Mark may one day have a handover of their own to do.
Images courtesy of Overeem.