Homecoming – Sullivans Cove Distillery

Artists impression of the new Sullivans Cove distillery location at the former HMAS Huon Naval Base on the City of Hobart's waterfront

In the mid-90s, not long after commercial distilling was legalised in Tasmania for the first time in over 150 years, it might have been hard to imagine that the state would become home to the “World’s Best Single Malt.”

That’s exactly what happened in 2014, though, when the Sullivans Cove French Oak became the first – and to date only – Australian whisky to win the title at the World Whiskies Awards.

Established in 1994 and operating out of the Gasworks at the entry of the Hobart CBD, Sullivans Cove distillery wasn’t an overnight success.

“I really have a lot of respect for the people who started the distillery and ran it before the current ownership,” Sullivans Cove Marketing Jerome Lebel-Jones said.

Through those trying early days, Sullivans Cove persevered, outgrowing the Gasworks and relocating to a more spacious location in Cambridge, where the company has been based now for almost twenty years.

“It’s worked up until now,” Mr Lebel-Jones said. “But it’s not the experience we want to give people. The way we make whisky is so sensory, and such a small-scale, hands-on approach to making whisky, we want people to be able to see the whisky being made while they’re enjoying our whisky.

In light of this desire to share the full Sullivans Cove experience with patrons, Sullivans Cove began looking for an opportunity to return to their roots in Hobart, close to where things began almost 30 years ago.

Sullivans Cove Distillery will be located on the Hobart Waterfront, bringing new life to the old HMAS Huon Naval Base (Image: Artist's Impression) Established as a naval base on the banks of the Derwent in the 1910s, HMAS Huon operated under the control of the Royal Australian Navy until it was decommissioned in 1994. The site was purchased by TasPorts in 2014, who sought interest from parties in 2020, and selected Sullivans Cove as the preferred party.

“Tasmania is now well known as the home of the world’s best whisky,” Tasports Chief Operating Officer Stephen Casey said at the time. “It makes sense for Sullivans Cove to be housed in a landmark site on the Hobart waterfront.”

The proposed development includes a renovation of the 100-year-old heritage-listed drill hall on the site, as well as construction of a new distillery alongside, providing patrons with the opportunity to bear witness to the Sullivans Cove processes while enjoying the end product on the banks of the Derwent River.

“The way we make whisky is so sensory, and so hands-on that we really want to give people that experience, because it defines who we are,” Mr Lebel-Jones said. “This is a great opportunity to give people this experience where they can have a beautiful view of the Derwent while enjoying our whisky, and then turn around and see the distillery and people going about their trade.”

The project is being designed by one of Australia’s leading architectural firms, John Wardle Architects, whose previous projects in Tasmania include the Bruny Island Community Hall, and the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies on Hobart’s waterfront.

“JWA is pleased to be part of developing a new home for Sullivans Cove Distillery. We’ve taken an approach that is not unlike the way that they make their whiskey. Their process of making has been a constant reference throughout all of our design discussions. Many fascinating conversations that have caused us to know much more about whiskey and the wonderful group at Sullivans Cove to become entertained by architecture,” Founder and Partner at John Wardle Architects John Wardle said.

“We were presented with an exciting proposition in a remarkable location – boasting history, landscape and expansive river frontage. The historic Drill Hall will contain the many visitor experiences while a new companion hall of innovative timber construction will house all of the distillery processes. We imagine that this will bring new life to Huon Quays.”

Sullivans Cove are hopeful to have the relocation completed by the end of 2023.

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