When you consider it, Australia is about as unlikely to produce the best whisky in the world as Scotland is to win the award for “2016’s best beach-holiday getaway”. But down under the land down under lies a little slice of Scotland itself, complete with highlands, naturally formed peat, and equally drizzly weather. I am of course referring to Tasmania, the state I am lucky enough to call home.
While the whisky industry here is really only just getting started, most people are surprised to hear that it has a history as nearly as long as it’s Scottish counterparts. Around about the time Ardbeg and Laphroaig were going straight, Tasmania was home to numerous whisky-making facilities. The issue was, as well as knowing how to make the stuff, the locals also knew how to put it away. The ensuing drunken and disorderly behaviour that followed led to a blanket ban on small scale distilling which remained in place for over one hundred and fifty years.
It took a fishing trip by a man by the name of Bill Lark to ask the question: when the barley is so plentiful and the water so pure – why is whisky not being made here? The eventual response from the government was “good question” and before long laws were changed and Bill founded the first Tasmanian Distillery: Lark.
Others quickly joined in on the act. Old Hobart and Tasmania Distilleries down south. Small Concern and Hellyers Road on the north west. Nant up in the highlands. Of course the burning question was: would this Australian-made whisky taste any good? Early indications were a resounding no. But the distillers knew that good whisky takes good time so they waited. And their patience paid off. Before too long, Lark was getting rave reviews. Hellyers Road was releasing high selling age-statements. Nant was receiving regular visits from Jim Murray. And most impressively of all, the Sullivans Cove French oak cask HH525 was crowned the World’s Best dram at the 2014 World Whiskies Awards.
However, it’s not all about the accolades. Perhaps Tasmanian whisky’s greatest accomplishment is the creation of a whisky community. With few exceptions the growing number of whisky establishments in the state are always looking out to help one another and get together to share a dram. They are generous with their time (and their products) and will welcome any whisky fan with open arms.
While the whisky scene here in Tasmania is relatively young there is a lot to like about it. Not least the product themselves, which anyone who tries drams made by Lark, Overeem, Hellyers Road and Heartwood will attest to. It will certainly interest you enough to come back for another. And another. And another. Keep an eye out for it – Tasmanian whisky is on the up.
Keep on waffling.