The judges’ comments read like an appreciation of Scotland’s finest: they identify hints of caramel and honey, a whiff of campfire smoke, a smooth, buttery feel in the mouth and a peppery finish. Yet Sullivan’s Cove single malt French Oak Cask comes not from Scotland but from Tasmania. And in the World Whiskies Awards last year, it was judged the best whisky on Earth.
Surprised a small Aussie state half a world away from the Old Country could snatch the accolade from Scotland or Japan? Don’t be. The wonder is it took so long.
A sparsely populated island in the Roaring Forties, Tasmania is a sort of Scotland max. It has officially the purest air in the world – the next landmasses upwind are Patagonia and Antarctica – so some of its purest rainwater, which flows in soft mountain streams. Add highland peat bogs and a cool climate, and you have a terroir tailor-made for whisky.
Bill Lark thought so as he sat with a dram while trout fishing in the Tasmanian highlands in 1988. Puzzled by the lack of home-grown whisky, he discovered that the distilling of spirits was banned in the young colony by puritanical state governor Sir John Franklin in 1838, prompted by his wife Lady Jane’s comment that “I would prefer barley be fed to pigs than it be used to turn men into swine”.
Thanks to Bill’s legal challenge 150 years later, Lark Distilleries opened in 1992.
Since then, eight more have followed. Most are in southern Tasmania, and all are open for tastings and a yarn about whisky. Some, like Overeem or Belgrove – which distils rye harvested outside the back door – are tiny family affairs. Others, such as Sullivan’s Cove or Hellyer’s Road near Launceston, are rising international stars.
What unites them is the use of quality island ingredients and a hand-crafted approach that’s refreshing given the corporate creep of Scottish whisky. At around A$130 (£72) for a typical bottle – and over A$1000 (£580) for French Oak Cask – Tassie whiskies aren’t cheap. Given their sublime taste, however, it’s money well spent.
Find distillery locations and hours at taswhiskytrail.com. Tasmanian Whisky Tours runs day tours from Hobart to three or four distilleries. For more unforgettable experiences around the world, check out the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.