Let’s get it out there straight away, I’m not a whisky drinker and neither is Karen! It was also one of the first admissions we made to Brett, our guide for the day, and it appears we aren’t alone in our slightly strange desire to challenge this deficiency!
Like a fine wine, were we unsure what to look for in a wee dram? Was it because we’d always been drinking the cheap stuff? Perhaps it’s an acquired taste? There was only one way to find out, with a visit to four different whisky distilleries in one day.
We started at Lark Distillery, in the centre of Hobart, where we were educated on whisky’s history in Tasmania, and it’s position within the global market. I’d always thought Lady Jane Franklin to be a bonza chick; you know, ‘Lady’ and all that…
Turns out she would “…prefer barley to be fed to pigs than it be used to turn men into swine…“!!
With those words in 1838, in one fell swoop Tasmania’s whisky industry came grinding to a halt for more than 150 years!
It was in 1991 that Tasmania’s ‘father’ of whisky, Bill Lark, took it upon himself to challenge these archaic laws and move Tasmania, already known for its fine wine and produce, in a completely new direction. Fast forward 21 years and we find a Sullivan’s Cove whisky winning the gold medal at the World Whisky Masters, beating entries from Japan (also experiencing a whisky revolution), Ireland and even the Scotts themselves!! No longer the annoying young upstart, Tasmanian whisky had come of age!
Piling into the tour van, we trundled up the Lyell Highway, discussing the whisky we had just tasted at Lark and ruminating on what the day would bring. Brett provided the odd piece of commentary and before long we were pulling up at Redlands Estate.
One of only two ‘paddock to bottle’ single malt whisky distilleries in the world, Redlands Estate has moved from a history of convict labour, hemp and beer into the brave new world of whisky! While they are only new to the scene, Dean Jackson and the team (including the invaluable input of Bill Lark himself) have put in an inordinate amount of sweat, blood and tears in firstly rescuing Redlands Estate, and then developing the estate into a world class facility capable of competing on the global stage. We’ll be watching their development and ongoing growth with great interest!
After a fantastic lunch in the old stables, we spent some time wandering the estate before moving on to our next distillery, Belgrove.
While the differences between Belgrove and Redlands are vast in appearance, at their core they both have a commitment to quality and innovation. Located 45 minutes up the Midlands Highway, near the township of Kempton, Belgrove is the brainchild of local, Peter Bignell.
Farmer? Scientist? Entrepreneur? It’s difficult to label Peter, and all three descriptions apply equally well! The common thread is a desire to sustainably produce Australia’s only 100% rye whisky.
Fueling his enterprise is the waste oil from the local takeaway store, his grain kiln takes the shape of a reclaimed and heavily modified industrial clothes dryer, and spent mash is fed to his bevy of pigs. This is closed-loop agriculture at its finest!
Our last distillery visit for the day was down at the recently opened Brooke Street Pier in central Hobart.
McHenry and Sons are actually based over on the Tasman Peninsula near Port Arthur, producing not only whisky but gin (regular and sloe) and vodka as well. It’s a clever move opening a stall at Brooke St pier, as many tourists don’t have the time to make the pilgrimage to the source.
Bill was there in person and we spent a good half hour learning about his transition from corporate executive to Tasmanian whisky distiller, while sipping the numerous drops on offer!
And just like that we faded away into Hobart’s urban landscape, warm bellies and a happy little buzz evidence of a fantastic day out.
Am I a whisky convert? As hard as I tried, I can’t say yes. But what I have gained is a much better appreciation of what constitutes a world class whisky and the ability to tell the good from the bad. That bottle of Ardbeg that I picked up from the airport is going to take some time to finish, but thanks to Brett and the team at Tasmanian Whisky Tours, I’m going to have a lot more fun in the attempt!
For more information regarding the various offerings at Brooke St Pier – Brooke St Pier