In 1989, a Hobart land surveyor named Bill Lark took a fishing trip to Tasmania’s Central Highlands with his father-in-law Max. When Max produced a bottle of single malt whisky, Bill posed a fateful question: why wasn’t anyone making malt whisky in Tasmania?
Three years later, Bill and his wife, Lyn, started Lark Distillery, the first whisky distillery in Tasmania since the distilling of spirits was banned by Governor John Franklin more than 150 years earlier.
The patriarch of the Tasmanian whisky industry, Lark sold Lark Distillery in 2013, and has since helped establish numerous distilleries across the state.
Here are Lark’s insider tips for a spirited journey through Tasmania.
What makes Tasmanian whisky special… is the people and the place. Tasmania has wonderful barley, pure water and a great climate for maturing whisky. But just as essential is the passion of the people crafting a drink that invokes a sense of sharing and storytelling while also reflecting Tasmania.
The ultimate whisky-inspired road trip of Tasmania would…combine Tasmania’s stunning landscape with its sensational produce and many iconic whiskies. You could explore the whole of Tasmania, with its 70-plus distilleries, on such a drive.
If you’re leaving from Hobart, it’s going to take you a while to get far because you’ll want to visit local distilleries such as Sullivans Cove and Killara. From there, you’re on your way to the whisky heartland of Tasmania, passing the spectacular Lark Distillery (formerly Shene Estate) at Pontville, Old Kempton and Belgrove, home of the lovable gadget man of distilling, Peter Bignell.
Just north is the town of Oatlands, with a working 19th-century windmill in the grounds of Tasmania’s newest distillery. Grander in scale than most distilleries, Callington Mill Distillery will become a must-visit stop for whisky lovers.
This drive through the Midlands leads to Launceston and Adams Distillery, which boasts a working cooperage that’s vital to all our whisky producers. From there, it’s a short jump to Launceston Distillery, located in an historic hangar – the state's oldest commercial aviation building – at the airport.
The best accompaniments to Tasmanian whisky are… places where you can sit and do justice to both Tasmania’s fine food and exceptional whiskies. Stillwater in Launceston is one of my favourites. For something a little special, I like to head to Bruny Island, stopping at the amazing Bruny Island House of Whisky to pick up a bottle of my favourite Tassie drop and then heading to Adventure Bay for a beach picnic - but not before stopping at Bruny Island Cheese Co. to pick up the perfect accompaniments for the picnic.
Hobart is lucky to have the new Mary Mary whisky and cocktail bar in The Tasman, an exciting new hotel complex.
Whisky and highlands go hand in hand … so it was inevitable that the recently opened Miena Distillery, in the Central Highlands, would make a stunning Highlands-influenced gin and, very soon, a truly Highland whisky. Miena is in the heart of our famous highland lakes trout fishery, so well worth a visit. For a special treat, I like to head to Pedder Wilderness Lodge, on the shores of Lake Pedder. It has a wonderful selection of Tasmania’s whisky, best enjoyed on its deck, watching the sunset over the spectacularly rugged landscape.
First came the distilleries and then the bars… Hobart’s Gold Bar specialises in all Tasmanian spirits, especially whiskies and whisky cocktails. The Glass House is a Hobart restaurant but it's also a sensational whisky and spirit bar in a building atop the River Derwent. Evolve at MACq01 is a lovely whisky bar filled with fossils, and it has a whisky keep, so you can buy a bottle and store it under lock and key for your next visit. There’s also the new Lark bar in Hobart, The Still, where any Tasmanian distillery can showcase its whisky, whether in bottles for sale or over the counter.
There are so many little distilling gems around Tasmania… The state’s leading maker of stills has opened its own distillery and restaurant: the Western Tiers Distillery in Westbury. Lawrenny Estate Distillery is on the banks of the River Derwent, and was established by the Mace family, who were getting tired of chasing cows all over their property. They decided to grow barley instead, malting it to make whisky.
Family connections run deep… My daughter Kristy has started her own distillery, Killara. She bought a little farm out in the Coal River Valley and built a beautiful distillery. She’s keen to establish a gin garden – a full botanical garden with all the botanicals that are used in food and drink preparation.
My son Jack was asked to set up the Battery Point Distillery at the Lenna Hotel. Not only does the distillery make a really good gin, but they’ve just released their first single-malt whisky. Jack’s also producing Tasmania’s first absinthe.
Whisky is just the start… There are some other really interesting spirits being produced in Tasmania. A lot of friends who are fussy martini drinkers won’t use any vodka other than Hartshorn whey vodka. It’s made from sheep’s whey, and was named the world’s best vodka in 2018.
Another interesting vodka is Hellfire Bluff Distillery, on a potato farm at Boomer Bay. They were wondering what to do with their seconds potatoes, and explored making vodka from potatoes in the traditional way. They’ve done a wonderful job with that.