Opinion: Chatting away with Mr. Ian Schmidt of Tin Shed Distillery

On a random Tuesday morning, I was dropped off at an industrial suburb just outside of Adelaide CBD where I spent the next four hours with Mr. Ian Schmidt, the co-founder and distiller of Tin Shed distillery, producer of Iniquity.

The first thing I got shown were a couple trays of 200ml whiskies neatly arranged on the work table.

It was quite an impressive sight.

For a while now I have been pushing for some of my distiller friends to try bottling miniatures.

The prices for Australian whiskies have quite noticeably soared in the past couple of years, posing quite a challenge for your average Australian family bloke/miss to justify their latest purchase of the limited single cask releases.

Ian explained that the decision to bottle at 200ml was made with Iniquity’s existing fanbase in mind, despite that the smaller bottles added additional costs.

We have built up a cult following here and we want to make it more affordable for our friends and fans to get their hands on our releases.

We got a customer that bought our first 6 releases and had since stopped buying.  We were wondering if we had for some reasons upsetter him but it turned out his missus had banned him from buying more whiskies until he finishes some of the bottles!

Unlike the poor Laddie tragics, Australian whisky fans could still collect every single release from most of their favourite Australian distilleries.

But even still, as distilleries increase their production capacities, the bottles do pile up.

So in a way, bottling at 200ml at say about $50 does allow fans to keep track of Iniquity’s growth whilst not hurting their wallets too much bearing in mind plenty of casks were put away in the past two years.

Ian also shared his vision to establish the Den.

We are starting our own whisky subscription service.  It will allow our fans to receive new releases when they are announced.

In my opinion, this creates a win-win situation.

Fans will be pleased to taste every latest Iniquity release and Tin Shed is guaranteed that a bulk number of bottles will be sold instantaneously.

The latter will be particularly crucial in the next couple of years to come.

We are just over three years removed from Sullivans Cove’s historic win at WWA in 2014 (just over two for those who remember when the general public caught up with the news).

Aspiring distillers have since made the plunge to the industry and in the next 12 months or so we will see the first crops being released, from distilleries like Archie Rose, Joadja and Corowa for example that have been diligently filling casks in the past couple of years.

As spirit maturing in wood can now legally be called whiskies, the influx of young Australian drops perhaps will pose too much of a supply for the small Australian market to digest; not to mention there will be many new independent bottlers and private cask owners hoping to test their lucks on the open market.

That’s why we are looking to export, it is hard to get 10% of the market share in Australia but it is relatively easy to get half of 1% in America.  Their market is much bigger.

We just gave the guy a taster bottle for people to sample at his shop and next thing we received an order!

It would appear that the Americans just love big, bold, cask driven flavours in their whiskies, I jokingly asked Ian if this could be boiled down to cask provenances, whether it’s because Australian distilleries have been using these decades old casks as promoted quite widely in online whisky groups forums..

100 year old port casks are past their prime!  They leak and have seen better days!

Casks make a difference but they just form a part of whisky making.

Indeed a special cask does not guarantee a great dram. A well seasoned cask only plays a role amidst a tun of variables. One of the more telling illustrations would be the recent first-fill-20-litre-single-cask-releases from various Australian distilleries, in my experience they have largely been disappointing despite being full of huge cask influences..

And there are signs that things are about to change quite drastically (if they haven’t already) with whispers that there is a shortage of prestigious, well-seasoned Australian Port casks.

There are also murmurs that the costs for casks have risen dramatically.

Of course, there is no indication that the inflation was due to the recently forged “formalised relationship through joint private ownership” of Tasmanian Cask Company, SA Cooperage, Master Cask.  The fact that there have been so many new comers joining the industry probably explained the phenomenon.

We have started to fill rum casks, along with some wine casks, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for example.

It seems inevitable that in a few years time there will be quite change stylistically for Australian whiskies. It’s hard to tell whether consumers would adjust well to their favourite distilleries departing from their heavily Sherried/Ported beginnings.

It can be worrying, as I see some new comers starting their distilleries and they are in for a struggle.

Indeed, the struggle is real not just due to capital and cask shortage, but also in terms of production knowledge, skills and techniques and the consumers’ increasingly cynical reading of the perhaps over-exploited word of craft.

The great Australian whisky boom has been great for young distilleries like Iniquity, TimBoon, Black Gate, Bellwether and Fleurieu etc.

Perhaps Sullivans Cove’s latest “World’s Best Single Cask Single Malt” win at the World Whisky Awards 2018 will push the industry to new heights. However, it is also quite possible that the spike in supply in the near future will gradually ease the fever and affect many players in years to come.

One thing is for sure though, Tin Shed is built to weather the storm and to rise from the ashes.

Thank you Mr. Ian Schmidt for your time, candidness and wisdom.

-Nicholas