Overeem Whisky, the Hobart company that is one of Tasmania’s earliest single malt distilleries, has recently returned to family ownership.
Casey Overeem founded Overeem Whisky in 2007, at which time it was the fourth distillery in Tasmania.
He sold the company to Lark Distillery in 2014, whereby it subsequently became part of the Australian Whisky Holdings (AWH) portfolio.
But in late 2019, Lark Distilling Co (formerly AWH) announced it would sell the Overeem brand to Casey Overeem’s daughter Jane Overeem and her husband Mark Sawford.
“They are such good people… I felt that treating their brand as something lesser than Casey Overeem would have, would have caused us more damage in the end than it would good,” Lark MD Geoff Bainbridge told Drinks Adventures.
That sale of the Overeem brand and inventory has now settled, which is exciting news for all concerned.
So this episode, we catch up with Jane Overeem for a chat about this development and what the future holds for the Overeem Whisky brand.
Overeem Whisky reborn: Full transcript
JAMES ATKINSON: Jane Overeem, congratulations firstly on what is some pretty exciting news that Overeem single malt whisky is now back in family hands.
JANE OVEREEM: Thank you very much. Yep, we are so over the moon.
JAMES ATKINSON: Maybe you could explain how it was that your father Casey came to sell the business in the first place?
JANE OVEREEM: Sure, sure. So it was around 2013 when he was approached to sell Overeem. He wasn’t quite ready to do it at the time when he was approached. But the business had really grown quite quickly and it was still a bit of a two man team, dad and myself. And we knew it was at that stage where we needed to scale up. One in production and two, in staff. And dad wasn’t really ready at that time to, to go full throttle and do that next stage. And nor was I to be honest. So I wasn’t ready to take over the distillery, dad wasn’t ready to turn it into a big business. So that was I guess the end decision for him to say yep, it is the right time to sell.
JAMES ATKINSON: And in the interim you and your husband Mark set up a distilling business of your own?
JANE OVEREEM: Yeah that’s right. So I’ll go a little step before that. So when dad actually sold, that was to some local Tasmanian investors that also purchased Lark Distillery. And Lark and Overeem then merged under the one company umbrella. And I actually started working, yeah I sort of came with the sale I guess, of Overeem. I started working at, at that new company and still managing Overeem Distillery for a good three years. I actually was doing a fair bit of work for Lark as well. So I launched 40 Spotted gin at the time as well. So I think that’s probably, it was great learning experience for me but I wasn’t as interested in gin as I was Overeem whisky. So that was part of the reason I thought my career, my career is changing and that’s when I thought it’s time to go back out and focus on family business again and, and starting a distillery from scratch, was the plan.
JAMES ATKINSON: Now I did see that you, you launched Sawford Distillery, but I didn’t really know much about what, what that distillery was all about. Is that going to continue on under the Sawford brand?
JANE OVEREEM: No so now we’ve changed the name to Overeem Distillery. It was never the plan to buy Overeem Distillery. This was only seven months ago. So Mark and I, we registered Sawford Distillery. In which we worked hard producing single malt whisky, a recipe very similar to Overeem, I guess you could say. And then yeah, two and a half years into production at Sawford Distillery we were approached to buy Overeem. So we’ve changed the Sawford Distillery company name now to Overeem Distillery.
JAMES ATKINSON: And does that sort of mean that having bought the Overeem brand back under your control, that you’ve already got these existing stocks of whisky that you can basically release as Overeem whiskies?
JANE OVEREEM: Yeah, that’s right. Yep, so all of that stock was due to be released middle of 2022. We’re still a little undecided as to whether we’ll release something different to Overeem, I guess under the Sawford brand. We’ll wait and see. That, that’s something we need to give a bit more thought.
Australian Whisky Holdings Hobart
JAMES ATKINSON: What was the circumstances under which you were approached? I did actually interview Geoff Bainbridge from Australian Whisky Holdings. Which is now of course Lark Distilling company. And sort of heard his side of the story of why they decided that maybe Overeem would be best in family hands. But what were the circumstances from your perspective?
JANE OVEREEM: Oh look, we were just really pleased that they’d made that decision. That it was better to go back to the family, so that they could really focus on Lark. And for us when they approached us we just, I mean yeah I could say it was a no brainer. We were so excited, we just thought you know we, this is definitely the way we want to go. We had no hesitations when we were approached. And yeah, we just went for it. We had yeah, very easy sort of heads of agreement in order back in December. And then from yeah, say January to now we just, we’re working out logistics and, and yeah. They were excellent to deal with Australian Whisky Holdings, I must say. It was, it was very easy and yeah, the whole settlement process was very straightforward.
JAMES ATKINSON: What are your plans for the brand?
JANE OVEREEM: For Overeem yeah, we’ve got lots of plans. And that’s, that’s what Mark and I have been working on for the last six months. Sort of reviewing where we want to take Overeem into the future. I guess the initial plans that we have for Overeem right now is to just get to know our customers again. It’s been you know, six years since I was selling Overeem. So I really just want to get to know who our customers are, where it’s selling, who it’s selling to. And really yeah maintain or sustain these relationships once again. So that’s the initial plan. Long term plans, we’d love to, once we’re sorted out and we’re comfortable with where it’s at in Australia, we do really want to look international and where we can start placing Overeem and, and build relationships overseas.
JAMES ATKINSON: For people who don’t sort of know the full background to Overeem. What was your dad Casey’s background and you know, how did he get into distilling?
JANE OVEREEM: So dad had had various businesses prior to starting the distillery. He was actually a fitter and turner by trade. He’d done shopping centre management, he was a property developer, gosh he had a caravan park in Queensland at one stage. He’d done all sorts of things. And he’d actually retired at 49 years of age. And that’s when he decided he needed a hobby I guess, to occupy his time in retirement. Dad’s not good at being retired. And he’d actually travelled to Scotland a number of years before. Actually, in the late 1980’s he was in a relatives house in Norway and one of his cousins had been just playing around with a little still under their house. And that’s sort of when dad’s interest really sparked. He’s always loved whisky and he’s always been interested in distilling. He’s read a lot of books over the years. He actually went to Scotland and visited all of the distilleries with Bill Lark. And he and Bill Lark actually experimented with their first still in the late 1980’s. And then Bill went on to then really make a career out of it; had the law changed in Tasmania so that you could own, or could have small distillery production. And it wasn’t until dad had retired that he actually thought I might give this a go as a bit of a hobby. But as you can see it turned into more than just a hobby and I’m grateful for that.
JAMES ATKINSON: Whisky’s been a part of your life from a pretty young age?
JANE OVEREEM: Yeah when I was 18 actually was the first time I got exposed to whisky I guess. I went on a trip with dad to South Australia. We went to the malt whisky convention in Adelaide and yeah, I had my first whisky morning tea. Where we sat down to four or five different whiskies to taste. So that was my first experience of really understanding how to nose and taste. And I think that was the start of it and yeah, the rest is history.
JAMES ATKINSON: There would have been plenty of 18-year olds that might have been turned off and might not have been sucked in by that experience.
JANE OVEREEM: Yep, no I’m glad I got to sit down with quality whisky because it’s interesting isn’t it. A lot of 18-year olds would taste bad whisky, you know, whiskies that aren’t as palatable. Whereas I sort of learned from that age that when you taste the good ones you can really accept them and learn to love them.
JAMES ATKINSON: What is the Overeem whisky style? Are there any particular aspects of it that separate it from other Tassie distilleries?
JANE OVEREEM: Look I think we, what we love about Overeem is it’s very consistent in its quality. We’re maturing in majority 100 litre French oak casks. Port, sherry and bourbon. And we’re actually putting a lot of 200 litre casks down now too. But look, the Overeem style, it’s very refined and delicate. And I think that really comes from yeah, the barrels we’re using. We’re toasting and charring them and we’re leaving them to rest you know, five years plus. So we’re getting a really nice, delicate, refined spirit where the wood isn’t taking over in that maturation time. So, ex-port, ex-bourbon, ex-sherry. We released them all as 43% standard strength and also at 60% cask strength.
JAMES ATKINSON: And tell me about the barrel sourcing. They’re called ex-port and ex-sherry. Are they in fact Australian ex-fortified wine casks?
JANE OVEREEM: Yes that’s right they are, yeah. So our cooperage, SA cooperage. They’ve changed their name to Australian Coopers now. And they also have Tasmanian Cask Co., under the cooperage banner. And they are selecting from local wineries – Penfolds, McWilliam’s and Seppeltsfield. And we’re also importing our bourbon barrels.
JAMES ATKINSON: One of the details that I’ve seen you announce is that you’ve put the price down slightly on the core range of single malts. Tell me about that decision?
JANE OVEREEM: We thought about it for a long time. We really listed all the pros and cons and we really wanted to better reflect the original vision and intention that Casey had when he started Overeem. And look, price point was just one of the aspects. And that was what we’ve recently communicated to our customers. We’ve always wanted Overeem to be drunk regularly and more often and shared often among friends and family. And just lowering that price point to sort of help that happen a little bit, was really where the decision was made.
JAMES ATKINSON: And so that’s $195 recommended retail. When it would have around about $220 or something like that?
JANE OVEREEM: $230, it was $230 yep.
JAMES ATKINSON: I guess in the last few years since you and I probably last spoke, the Australian whisky segment has evolved incredibly quickly. You know, with the likes of Starwood and Archie Rose and these quite big, by Australian whisky standards, and well-resourced businesses that are able to bring whisky to market at a much more affordable price point. You know, is that a direction that you think Overeem will have to move in over time?
JANE OVEREEM: Yeah I’m not sure if we’ll be able to go that far. Depending on the amount of stock we lay down. But I think the amount of stock that we’ve got down at the moment, really reflects the price point and what we need for our business and what we can pass on then to the customer. So I think where the price point is at right now is a very fair price, it’s sustainable for our distillery and hopefully it’s sustainable for customers to purchase the product. But that price, we’re also ageing for five plus years. It’s all single cask releases for Overeem and we’re going to be continuing with the 700mL bottle.
JAMES ATKINSON: Is there any plan to release vatted malts at any stage in the future, or will you stick to single cask?
JANE OVEREEM: Yeah so that was the other reason behind potentially having a second brand. Whether that’s a standalone brand that’s more around Sawford. Or another product I guess under the Overeem brand in 2022, when the old Sawford Distillery stock comes on board. I hope I’m not confusing you here… Our actual intention for that brand was to change things up a little bit. So although our production processes were very similar to Overeem, it was actually in the finishing that we were going to be doing a bit more experimenting. Marrying casks, finishes, like you say. And we still may do that. So that’s definitely something that we’re going to give a lot more thought to and as we taste those casks over the next couple of years, we will be able to determine what it is that we want to do with that.
JAMES ATKINSON: Can you tell me anything about what sort of different kind of casks you’re working with there?
JANE OVEREEM: Yeah sure. So we’ve put some PX casks down, some Muscat casks. So these are casks that you haven’t seen for Overeem before. So whether they are released as single casks or we marry them together, or we choose some to finish in other casks. That’s all still undetermined. But it is exciting because whether it’s under a separate brand or under the Overeem brand, I just can’t wait to release them regardless. But we do have some very exciting stock to release next year for Overeem. And that is the Overeem 12-year old bourbon.
JAMES ATKINSON: 12-year old bourbon cask?
JANE OVEREEM: Yep so that’ll be next year, which I’m very much looking forward to.
JAMES ATKINSON: Will that be your first age statement product, or?
JANE OVEREEM: Yeah, all the barrels that dad made 12-years ago. Which is so great that it’s now come back to us and we’re able to release them.
Tasmanian single malt whisky evolution
JAMES ATKINSON: What are your thoughts on how the Australian whisky industry is evolving at the moment and you know, there’s obviously a lot of new entrants.
JANE OVEREEM: Yeah, yeah there’s so many now. I can’t keep up. In Tasmania we were the fourth distillery, Overeem was the fourth distillery and I think there’s now 50-plus. I don’t actually know all of the distilleries yet, I haven’t been to visit even half of them, so. Let alone the rest in Australia. I need to increase my knowledge on what’s out there, I think.
JAMES ATKINSON: Now I’ve actually visited the Overeem Distillery quite a while ago now, at which stage the still as on the family property.
JANE OVEREEM: Yep, I remember you coming to visit.
JAMES ATKINSON: Yeah, where is the distillery now?
Overeem Whisky distillery Hobart
JANE OVEREEM: So we’re, we’re not too far from where it began. We’re about five minutes away in Huntingfield. So we built some warehouses here which are yeah, excellent. We’ve got a lot more space than you would probably remember. It was quite small. That was purpose built for literally just the stills and a little desk and a little bathroom. Whereas now we’ve got a lot more storage space, we’ve got a lot more room to move which is great. Office upstairs and we’ve got four bond stores attached to the distilling warehouse.
JAMES ATKINSON: Does the distillery have a cellar door that people can visit?
JANE OVEREEM: Yeah we’ve set up a little cellar door here. We’d love to start seeing visitors. We will start promoting that down the track in the near future once we’re completely ready. Look it is a warehouse, but we’ve definitely prettied it up and we’ve got all the stock available for sale here. And we’ve got a really nice tasting table set up. And we will do some things here, yeah.
JAMES ATKINSON: Where is Overeem currently distributed? Where can people find your products?
JANE OVEREEM: We are going to be doing all of the distribution ourselves. And obviously we’ve only just taken that over, literally last week. But I do believe, look there’s a number of independent bottle shops around the country that are stocking Overeem. I think Dan Murphy’s have a limited amount. You know, we’re still working on where it’s all going and that. You can buy it online of course with us, at overeemwhisky.com. If anyone isn’t on there yet, just jump on our website. We’ve brought back the old Malt Vault club, which was something I launched years ago. So that’s the name of the club, but that’s the mailing list. And we hope to do some nice special events around the country once COVID isn’t affecting us all as much.
JAMES ATKINSON: How have the last few months been for you? Obviously you’ve been pretty focused on getting this deal across the line. But how has the last few months been as a result of COVID?
JANE OVEREEM: Yeah look I mean, we’ve been very lucky. We’ve got, it’s normally just Mark, myself and our distiller here at the distillery. So the big difference for us was that our children were home. We’ve got two small children – a two-year-old and a four-year-old, so having them home, that was still, it was a lovely time actually to have them home. And Mark and I just sort of tag teamed. One of us was at home and one of was at the distillery. So look we weren’t really impacted from a distillery side of things. But we also own some venues down on Kingston beach. We’ve got a restaurant and a bar, Robbie Brown’s. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of that. And they were definitely impacted. So we were closed for quite some time down there and it was a very quiet time. But we used that time to renovate the restaurant, which was good. But it’s now open again and customers are back in, which is really, really nice to see. So no look, it hasn’t all been bad and we’re doing just fine.
JAMES ATKINSON: Good to hear. Well look Jane I’ll let you go. Thanks so much for the chat about this really exciting news for Overeem and I know I’m really pleased for you and can’t wait to see some of these exciting new whiskies becoming available.
JANE OVEREEM: Fantastic, thank you so much for having me.