“A spirit of so poisonous a nature”; “noxious and unwholesome”. These were the observations of illegal stills and bush distillation in the early 1800’s. We’ve come a long way since this embryonic time of colonisation and whisky production, as there is not a tourism booklet in the country that doesn’t sing the praises of this still-fledging, yet thriving, industry in Tasmania.
A wee dram on a cold, wind-swept day is a perfect scenario for many, so it makes sense that this timeless spirit is made in Tasmania - a rugged, ocean-dominated outpost with incredible natural beauty, and importantly, abundant natural resources. However perfect Tasmania is for whisky production, for over 150 years distilling in Tasmania was banned. It was Lark distillery, founded in 1992 by Bill and Lyn Lark, who fought to have the century-and-a-half ban overturned, that ignited the flame for Taswegian whisky production - and many, thankfully, are following their lead. More than 8 years ago the accolades for Lark, the pioneering distiller, began. Best Australian Single Malt 2009, Gold Medal whisky of the Year, Master Trophy at the Whisky Masters; the list is as long as it is impressive.
No more than a 20 minute drive from Lark distillery in the heart of Hobart is Sullivan’s Cove Distillery, established in 1994 in Cambridge. Sullivan’s Cove has helped cement the impression that Tasmanian whisky is closing the gap on their Scottish and Japanese rivals, taking out the award for World’s Best Single Malt at the World Whisky awards in 2014. Bottles of this unique, and now rare, spirit will set you back hundreds of dollars, if you can find it that is. They make three different single malts: an American Cask, a French Oak Cask and a Double Cask, a blend of the two main styles.
Old Hobart Distillery, who makes Overeem produce three different single malts from Bourbon, Sherry and Port Casks, have been in the market since 2007. Hellyers Road Distillery, based in Burnie, was awarded Best New World Whisky at the Whisky Live in Paris, and is now Tasmania’s largest distillery. And there are many more on the apple isle; Trapper’s Hut, Belgrove, Heartwood and William McHenry and Sons in Port Arthur, and Redlands in Plenty which is due for its eagerly awaited release in 2015.
It is more than just passion and a love for a drink that makes Tasmanian whisky the world-class spirit that it is. Tasmania is home to some of the purest air in the world and some of the purest water on earth. The water you used in distillation and the blending plays a pivotal role in the final product. The changes in daytime temperature, the diurnal range (which in Tasmania is very wide) allows optimum aging of the whisky as it rests in the barrels. And then there is the grain, the fields of gold that thrive in Tasmania which is at the heart of this timeless spirit. As we watch this industry flourish, we can only wonder what the future will hold.