Whisky's Next Stop: Tasmania
On the day I arrived in Hobart, Tasmania's harbor-side capital, I was not expecting to hear much about Scotland and whisky.
After all, I'd just traveled about 10,000 miles from New York to Australia, and Scotland is just about the same distance in the other direction; if anything, I was prepared to hear about France because Tasmania has vineyards, and as every luxury traveler knows, wherever grapes grow, conversations about France flourish. But that evening, I gamely battled jet-lag to visit Lark Distillery's cozy downtown bar, and had a chat with owner Bill Lark, it was Scotland that we discussed the most.
Lark, a former land surveyor who bears an eerie resemblance to Kris Kringle, is Australia's patron saint of whisky. A decade or so ago, he realized that Tasmania had what it needed for whisky -- pure water, barley, even its own peat bogs. (If you're Australian, you'd giggle at this, since "bog" is slang for a toilet.) Anyway, the only trouble Lark faced was the law: a 1901 distillery law mandated very large stills, and he didn't want to run a giant whisky operation. So he successfully lobbied the Australian legislature to change its 1901 distillery law, and when he opened in 1996, became the first to open a licensed whisky distillery in 153 years. After that, Lark traveled to Scotland to learn the craft, returned to Tasmania, found a still-maker who could make one small enough for his purposes, and got cranking.
It all worked: the whisky's award-winning (more on that in a moment), Lark now runs a distillery school and is a distillery consultant. There are now five other whisky makers who have opened in Lark's wake, and another two getting started in Tasmania, which would very much like to be known as "Australia's Whisky Isle".
In an example of things going full circle, Lark's now a consultant to and an investor in a Kingsbarns Farm Distillery in Scotland, in the beginning phases of start up, just a few miles from St. Andrew's . "I can't teach the Scots how to make whisky, they taught me," Lark says. But Scotch tends to be brewed on a large scale, and Lark's developed expertise in distilling on a smaller scale. In fact, Kingsbarns is buying its stills from Lark's Tasmanian supplier. More on Lark and Scotland here.
Want to taste Lark's whisky for yourself?
In the meantime, the way to taste Lark's work is to plan a whisky itinerary to Tasmania.
Might as well book Lark's four-day tour, visit Tasmania's highlands, dig peat, and make your own barrel of single malt whisky in the process. While you're there you can visit some of the other whisky distillers, perhaps take part in Hellyer's Road Whisky Walk, and book a stay at Tarraleah Lodge, which has a whisky library that includes more than 200 bottles.