The whiskey isle: Tasmania's liquor revival

The whiskey isle: Tasmania's liquor revival

Whiskey distilling has boomed in Tasmania since becoming legal

Tasmanian whiskeySalamanca on the Derwent River -- a world-class whiskey haven.The first colonials who traveled to Van Diemen's Land brought the worst convicts with them. It was a convict-island weaned on booze. Tasmanian liquor made from the isle's grain was a much sought-after tipple.

In the 1830s, it worried Governor John Franklin so much he banned the distilling of alcohol on the island. The locals were so drunk, it was said, that too much of the colony’s grain was being distilled rather than being turned into food.

Undercover, the island’s fascination with whiskey distilling continued to create homegrown secrets. It wasn’t until the 1990s that Franklin’s edict was repealed by Tasmanian Parliament. Since then, it’s fair to say, the whiskey scene has boomed.

More recently, there’s been a small and highly spendthrift niche of travelers making their way to Tasmania –- whiskey aficionados. These mainly male travelers fly to the end of the world in search of the perfect single malt. Tasmania, with its unique, flavoursome barley, artesian waters and plentiful bogs has become their holy grail.

And the island state is one of the few places in the world where whiskey is still made the old-fashioned way, just like in the 1830s. It’s crafted slowly, by hand and in copper stills. There’s certainly a bit of fuss about Tasmania’s whiskey. On a journey to three of the state’s best-known whiskey distilleries, it’s possible to discover the secret to their success.

Tasmania Distillery

Tasmanian whiskeyPatrick Maguire at shows off his whiskey at Tasmanian Distillery.Set in an industrial estate on a dry flat near Hobart Airport, the Tasmania Distillery is the evolved version of Sullivan's Cove – an iconic Hobart whiskey-maker that began trading in the dockside precinct of Salamanca in 1822.

When it closed down in 1837 due to Franklin’s distilling ban, it continued on the sly. The Tasmanian Distillery re-opened for business in a hanger with the look and feel of biohazard laboratory.

But despite the lack of warmth and charm, whiskey lovers from near and far turn up here every day to talk shop with Patrick Maguire. “People who are really interested in whiskey like to visit distilleries and meet the people behind them,” he says. “They want to flesh out any little secrets that may be there. It’s part of the fascination of drinking a single malt, part of the beauty and camaraderie of it all.”

Tasmania Distillery, 1/14 Lamb Place, Cambridge, Monday – Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m., +61 (3) 6248 5399, www.tasmaniadistillery.com.au.

Lark Distillery

Tasmanian whiskeyBill Lark (right) and Ross Dinsmoor at Lark Distillery.Salamanca lies on of the far side of the Derwent River, where Bill Lark of Lark Distillery makes and sells handcrafted whiskeys, vodka, schnapps and rum.

When CNNGo visits, he sits at a table littered with dozens of empty tumblers, deep in discussion with a whiskey aficionado from Chicago and a local hanger-on collecting free drinks. Veteran Olympic boxer Ron Gower holds court at the bar, while a group of Thai tourists debates the taste of pepperberry vodka.

Every year, Lark produces about 200 barrels of some of the best single malts in the world -– liquor that consistently wins blind-taste tests against Scotland’s best. “In the beginning, Scottish whiskies were famous because they were all handmade,” says manger Ross Dinsmoor. “But now all their distilleries have been bought out by multinational corporations and are run by bean-counters –- all they care about is making money.”

“We’re much less restricted by that," he says. "All we have to do is make great whiskey.”

Lark Distillery, 14 Davey St., Hobart, Monday – Sunday 10 a.m.-late, +61 (3) 6231 9088, www.larkdistillery.com.au


Nant Distillery

Tasmanian whiskeyThe old barrels at Nant Distillery.An hour’s drive north from Hobart is the town of Bothwell, a quaint little place with antique shops, cafés and bed-and-breakfasts. It’s also home to Nant Estate – a colonial-era flour mill converted into a distillery, fine dining restaurant and boutique hotel.

Nant boasts the largest collection of heritage-listed buildings on any one site in Australia, a hydro-powered mill, ornate rooms crammed with art and fastidiously maintained grounds that evoke all the romance of a Jane Austen novel.

Nant holds regular food and whiskey dinners that sell out months in advance. Sunday lunches on the lawn with jazz bands and croquet are popular –- as are weddings, parties or anything else. They also put on the "ultimate buck’s party"; guests don riding jackets and charge off on horseback on simulated fox hunts before retiring to the cellar door for a wee tipple before supper.

It’s the whiskey that keeps bringing them back.

“In this business, you’ve got to have an intimate relationship with each barrel,” says manager John Rochfort. “See this one: it’s got a small crack on the side and some air has got inside it, so it’s already portraying aromas of a whiskey double its age. I think it will be a bit syrupy with hints of raisin or Christmas pudding. Want a taste?”

Nant Distillery, Nant Lane, Bothwell, Monday-Sunday 10 a.m-late, +61 (3) 6259 5790, www.nantdistillery.com.au