The spirits of Tasmania
A guide to Tasmania's best whisky bars and distilleries, plus five unmissable Tasmanian Whisky Week events.
Pure, soft river water free from heavy minerals, clean air, a temperate climate and plenty of sunshine make Tasmania the perfect environment for producing quality whisky. And the national and international awards claimed by the state’s whisky distilleries over the past decade provide, well, proof.
Slides: IXL Atrium at Henry Jones Art Hotel, Whisky tasting at The Den, The Story Bar, Society Bar, Flights of Whisky at Story Bar, Pouring over whisky at The Glasshouse
Although each distillery has its own unique method, whisky is essentially produced by malting, mashing, fermenting and distilling barley. Single-malt whisky must be made with 100 per cent barley, while other whiskies use wheat, rye, corn or oats. Smoked peat is traditionally used to impart flavour.
Tassie’s whisky industry dates back to the early 1800s but was outlawed in 1838 by Governor John Franklin after his wife, Lady Jane Franklin, remarked that she would rather the state’s barley be fed to the pigs than used to make whisky that turned men into swine. It was more than 150 years before the law was overturned, thanks to the efforts of Bill Lark, a local whisky lover who realised that his home state had the clean water, the climate, the fields of barley, even the highland peat bogs needed to make world-class single malts.
In 1992, Bill bought an old copper pot still for $65, sourced some barley and yeast from nearby Cascade Brewery, and began making a craft single malt spirit that would kickstart an internationally recognised industry. A quarter of a century later, fuelled by growing international demand for premium spirits, Lark Distillery is one of 25 whisky producers around the state.
This month (12 to 18 August) RACV is one of the lead sponsors of Tasmanian Whisky Week, a seven-day celebration of the flourishing local industry held across the state’s distilleries, bars, restaurants and hotels. Whisky lovers will be able to venture behind the scenes to meet distillers, taste unreleased drops, and learn about the history and future direction of the state’s whisky industry at special dinners. RACV/RACT Apartment Hotel is in the centre of the action and offering a special package for members.
Five Tasmanian Whisky Week events worth crossing Bass Strait for
New Kids On The Block
12 August, Hobart: Discover industry up-and-comers and sample their wares.
13 August, Launceston: Hear the secrets of the northern producers and sample a selection of canapes and regional single malt whiskies.
Rare Whisky Auction
15 August, Hobart : Distilleries open their vaults to give collectors a chance to buy their most prized bottles.
17 August, RACV/RACT Hobart Apartment Hotel: Sample fine drops from more than 20 craft distilleries and buy special releases direct from the makers.
For the full list of whisky-soaked events visit taswhiskyweek.com.
Bars where you can sample the state's best drops
11 Morrison Street, Hobart: Perfect for the cocktail curious.
Evolve Spirits Bar
18 Hunter Street, Hobart: A sophisticated premium spirit dispensary.
Spirit Bar Tasmania
2/23 Cattley Street, Burnie: Proudly parochial, with a historical twist.
17 Paterson Street, Launceston: Top tipples and bagpipes to boot.
You won't want to fly this coop.
While you're there, visit these distilleries
Lark Distillery, in Davey Street, Hobart, kicked off the boom in Tasmanian whisky of the modern era, sourcing its first barley from the Cascade Brewery in 1992. Owner Bill Lark was inducted into the World Whiskies Awards hall of fame in 2015.
Belgrove Distillery is a 10-year-old sustainable rye whisky operation in Kempton, about 45 minutes’ drive north of Hobart. In the spirt of closed-loop production, its 2019 Wholly Shit whisky was smoked using burning sheep’s manure. The distillery received Whisky Magazine’s Icons of Whisky Australia 2019 craft producer of the year award and has been named in the Jim Murray Whisky Bible’s Liquid Gold awards.
Open by appointment only
Sullivans Cove Distillery, just 15 minutes’ drive across the Derwent from Hobart’s city centre, is Tasmania’s second-oldest distillery. Bottles of its innovative 2017 French oak ex-chardonnay cask whisky sold for $750 a pop. This year, the distillery’s French oak single cask whisky was named the world’s best single cask single malt award at the World Whiskies Awards.
Old Kempton Distillery’s 2018 Red Gum Single Malt Whisky was Australia’s first redgum barrel whisky release and the resulting 20 bottles were sold rapidly at auction. Order your own 20-litre oak barrel, matured for two years and expected to produce up to 30 bottles.
Hobart Whisky (Devils Distillery) in Moonah, just outside the city centre, launched its 2019 Winter Feast whisky earlier this year. The single malt, which was matured for three years in 40-litre American oak ex-bourbon casks and transferred to a finishing cask that had held Guatemala rum and maple syrup, was quite a show of Tassie-style ingenuity.
Open by appointment
Legally, Australian whiskies must be matured for more than two years.