Tamar Valley

I recently spent a couple of nights in Launceston, catching up with a special friend from W.A. who was travelling around Tasmania with another two friends. They had booked accommodation at Armalong Chalets and fortunately, there was room for me. I arrived on a very inclement afternoon and we wasted no time seeking a beverage at Stillwater Restaurant, overlooking the Tamar Basin. Across the water, four large grain silos from the 1960s are now Peppers Silo Hotel. Deserted for decades, the Kings Wharf grain silos were rescued and transformed into a stunning $25 million hotel with many of the facilities constructed inside the original barrels. (A weekend stay is still on the bucket list).

After a fabulous meal at The Grain of the Silos Restaurant and a good night’s sleep, I awoke to a glorious sunny day and the most spectacular view through the floor to ceiling windows.

The chalets are situated at Tamar Ridge Cellar Door, perched high in the trees overlooking vineyards and the ever changing Tamar River.

We set off for a day discovering the Tamar Valley and a short drive down the West Tamar Highway, stopped at Brady’s Lookout, once the hideout for bushranger Mathew Brady. A gentleman’s servant in England, he was convicted of stealing a basket with some butter, bacon, sugar and rice and received a seven-year sentence of transportation to Australia. Arriving in December 1820, he wasn’t the most exemplary prisoner and escaped with a group of fifteen in June 1824, spending the next two years on the run before being captured and hanged on 4th May 1826.

The Tamar River isn’t actually a river, it is a tidal estuary into which the North and South Esk Rivers empty, that stretches 70km from Launceston to Bass Strait.

After investigating a couple of wineries and the former gold mining town of Beaconsfield, we arrived at Beauty Point to enjoy a relaxing lunch by the water.

The first deep-water port on the Tamar River was established to service the nearby gold mine and then, after the gold rush, it became the centre for the export of apples. It is now home to the Australian Maritime College training ship, Stephen Brown, a permanently moored neighbour of the Tamar Yacht Club.

We wended our way back to Tamar Ridge where, not only is there a cellar door on site but also a gin distillery, Turner Stillhouse. Arriving within a few minutes of closing time, we were treated to a tasting session of the award-winning Three Cuts Gin with distiller, Brett Coulsen. The unusual name refers to the three cuts of Tasmanian rose that are added to the gin, including some grown near the distillery.

Returning to the chalet as the shadows lengthened, we settled on the deck with a beverage and platter to absorb the breathtaking vista over vineyards and river.

Sadly, the next morning we went our separate ways but not before another magnificent sunrise.

Hellyers Road Distillery

With our favourite restaurant, Bayviews, closed for annual holiday, we chose an alternative venue for a mid-week lunch with a very special friend. Hellyers Road Distillery is located in the hinterland behind Burnie with fabulous views across the Emu Valley to the Dial Range beyond.

Behind the walls of the architecturally designed visitor’s centre, interactive tours inform visitors about the origins of the brand and provide guests with the opportunity to pour and wax seal their own bottle of whisky. We have yet to experience the Whisky Walk, something to pencil in for the not too distant future.

We were met in the lobby by a wonderful paper sculpture of namesake, Henry Hellyer and his dog. Hellyer came to Tasmania in 1826 as architect and surveyor for the Van Diemen’s Land Company. He is credited with opening up much of the northwest to settlement and the road we find the distillery on was, at one time, named in his honour.

There is opportunity to relax for a casual whisky tasting treat

and a retail area for those tempted to continue the indulgence at home.

Expansive windows make the most of the rural panorama

and landscaped gardens surrounding the restaurant.

Our meal choice took a while, with so many enticing options on offer but our wine selection was easy, Josef Chromy is always a winner. I finally decided on Five Spice Roasted Pork Belly; Scottsdale pork belly rubbed with five spice, soy, and garlic, roasted and served on buckwheat soba noodles and shredded Asian greens. Finished with tempura mushrooms and an aromatic ginger and chilli broth.

Michael wisely chose something else in fear of random coriander (he was right but I love coriander) and went for The House Special; potted pie of north-west coast beef, braised in Hellyers Road Original Whisky, caramelised onion, and aromatic vegetables, topped with flaky pastry and served with thick cut rosemary scented potato wedges, crusty sourdough and butter. Our lovely friend was happy with Braised Duck Leg with Chorizo Fettuccine; duck leg slow cooked in tomato, onion and herbs, roasted and served with house made fettuccine tossed in tomato sugo with olives, capers, chorizo, chilli and preserved lemon. Finished with parmesan and fresh herbs.

A magnificent rainbow brightened the landscape outside

as our desserts had a similar effect inside. I couldn’t resist the Lemon Delicious Pudding with blueberry compote, served with a rolled up brandy snap filled with lemon mascarpone cream.

My accomplices indulged in a Mini Apple & Raspberry Cake; sautéed Tasmanian apples topped with raspberries, baked in a light fluffy sweet pastry and served with pouring cream and raspberry coulis and a Warm Whisky Raisin Brownie served with Anvers dark chocolate mousse, double cream and VDL cookies and cream ice cream.

I was especially surprised to discover, on paying the bill, a complementary bottle of coffee cream liqueur. Along with a jar of Whisky Relish (a must in any pantry) and a branded whisky tumbler, my collection is complete …. for now.

Four Pillars

There was no better way to cap off our rainy day out than a visit to Four Pillars Distillery, just a kilometre up the road from our accommodation.

1.Four Pillars Distillery

The gin distillery started in late 2013 when three farsighted Aussie blokes, Cameron, Matt and Stuart, launched a crowdfunding campaign on Pozible, offering their first batch of Rare Dry Gin as incentive. Two years later, they completed a purpose built distillery in a former timber yard in the heart of Healesville. We couldn’t wait to get inside.

2.Four Pillars distillery door

The first thing we noticed was the enticing tasting table, all set up and ready to go.

3.tasting table

The light, airy space was warm and welcoming

4.distillery door5.retail

with plenty on offer for something to take home.

6.retail

The name Four Pillars relates to the four building blocks that are the foundation of successful distilling; the magnificent copper stills, pure triple filtered Yarra Valley water, a mixture of ten local and exotic botanicals and finally, a hearty helping of love.

7.spices

We didn’t have long to wait to join in a tasting, opting to share the samples between the two of us when we discovered we would otherwise be consuming 2.5 standard drinks during the 45 minute session.

8.tasting table

We learned the history of the distillery, including the purchase of the custom built stills from CARL, the oldest distillery fabricator in Germany, producing only twenty five stills a year. They really are a work of art. The first still was named Wilma after Cameron’s late mother who, apparently, enjoyed her gin. She was joined by Jude (Stuart’s mum) and Eileen (Matt’s mum) and finally, Beth (first full time employee Scott’s mum). Our vision of the distilling room was limited but I’m sure any mother would be proud to have such beauty stand in her name.

11.distillery

The five gins we tasted each had their own unique characteristics and in the past two years, they have all won multiple gold medals at international competitions. In 2015, Yarra Valley Shiraz grapes were added to the tanks of Rare Dry Gin, stirred daily for eight weeks, then pressed before blending with more Rare Dry Gin. A brilliant concept and very drinkable drop, three bottles of 2019 Bloody Shiraz Gin came home with us.

12.Bloody Shiraz Gin