Known as the ‘Godfather of Australian whisky’, Bill Lark, founder and global brand ambassador of Lark Distillery sheds light on the unique whiskies of Australia’s island state, Tasmania By Mohit Rathod
Tasmania, an island state off Australia’s south coast, is known to offer ideal conditions to make malt whisky. Following 150 years of the closure of the last Tasmanian distillery, Bill Lark, founder and global brand ambassador of Lark Distillery, identified the true potential of the region for producing world-class whisky. Tasmania is blessed with rich fields of barley, an abundance of pure and soft water, highland peat bogs and the perfect climate to bring all the ingredients together in crafting whisky. The vision of producing Tasmanian malt whisky was born on a trout fishing trip in the highlands of Tasmania. Lark’s father-in-law Max produced a bottle of single malt, and as they enjoyed a drink in the park at Bothwell, surrounded by Georgian buildings, barley fields and the gentle flowing of the Clyde River, Lark remarked to Max, “I wonder why there isn’t anyone making malt whisky in Tasmania.”
In 1985, Lark who is also popularly known as ‘the Godfather of Australian whisky’, built and operated a pub with his wife in Tasmania’s northern ski field with three other families, until they sold it in 2005 when the Lark Distillery had truly taken over their lives. In 1992, Lark Distillery commenced operations at Kingston where they started distilling whisky and developing other products. Today the Lark Distillery is one of Australia’s leading distilleries, producing high quality, premium spirits using traditional methods. The range of distilled products includes the flagship Lark Single Malt Whisky and Forty Spotted Rare Tasmanian Gin. The range of whisky produced at Lark Distillery also includes some limited releases such as Apple Brandy Cask 43%, Bill Lark’s Hall of Fame and Bourbon Cask 43%. It also features a range of spirits such as Quiet Cannon Rum, Slainte Whisky Liqueur and 60 ml Trio Gift Box. Lark Distillery currently produces 50,000 litres a year, but aims to build that upto 200,000 litres in the coming years.
A founding member of the Australian Distillers Association and the Tasmanian Whisky Producers Association, Lark has been active in promoting and creating an awareness about Tasmanian whisky in general, rather than just marketing Lark Distillery. Apart from Lark Distillery, there are around 15 other distilleries in Tasmania making single malts. He says, “I think that by creating an awareness of the Tasmanian whisky first, then promoting individual brands will help us tap markets even better. What makes Tasmanian whisky different from others is that, in Tasmania, we have a brewing bowl, which gives an oily and rich malt character; Tasmanian whisky is always defined by this finish and flavour.” Speaking specifically about Lark Distillery’s USP, he continues, “When we started making whisky, Scotland used to use big 200-litre barrels; but we found that small barrels help to highlight the intense flavours of the whisky. Our USP is small cask aging.”
Alongside the whisky production business, Lark Distilley offers an array of experiences to tourists. Situated on the Hobart waterfront, Lark Cellar Door and Whisky Bar offers the opportunity to taste Tasmania’s finest whisky and other distilled spirits in a warm atmosphere. The bar offers over 150 premium malt whiskies. Visitors can also choose from a selection of Tasmanian beer, wine and cider as well as coffees and cheese platters. Tasmanian Government has realised that whisky is becoming an iconic industry in the state. A lot of people come to Tasmania who, among other things, want to experience the region’s whisky. The government has also put together a whisky trail website and Lark Distillery is a part of this. Lark shares, “Through tourism, we find the people who come for the whisky tour and learn about the product; they later become the brand ambassadors for our whisky. So the best marketing tool we can have is tourism.”
The Lark Distillery Tour allows tourists to discover the process, ingredients and art that goes into creating its single malt whisky. A more immersive experience, The Premium Lark Experience offers a full day of learning and hands-on production at the Lark Distillery.
Lark Distillery’s plans to debut into the India market includes a large part of awareness activities. Lark had recently visited India to understand the F&B culture. He remarks, “I have good experiences of Indian whiskies in Australia, and I have heard the palate for whisky in the India market is changing. Some years ago, the market was defined by blended whiskies, but things are rapidly changing in India, especially in Bengaluru. Being the IT capital, a lot of young people in the industry are travelling across the world. They are very much exposed to the different types of whiskies, like the ones that we make in Tasmania – single malts.”
Lark is looking at targeting Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, which possess a good potential due to their evolved cultures. As part of its strategy in India, Lark Distillery will interact with HORECA players and also conduct events such as whisky tasting for the public and the F&B industry. “We heard that in India there is a high tariff on whisky import, which is one of the barriers for us. However, even with that, there is a market which is prepared to pay extra to explore some of the international brands. I am surprised that many people in India have heard about Tasmanian whisky and Lark whisky, so I think there is enormous potential for us to enter the India market.”
One of the things becoming widespread in the F&B trends in Australia is pairing whisky with food. Lark highlights, “It is a very common experience in Australia to have meal with whisky, rather than with wine. To promote this culture in India, we will work with various venues to host dinners, and with chefs to prepare a menu that matches with whiskies. Tasmania has various types and characteristics in whiskies, which can be paried with different types of food. Once we get ourselves established here, I think we can also work on certain whiskies which may appeal to the India market.”
The future strategy for Tasmanian whisky in India, especially the next five years, is to enter the market softly, introducing whiskies in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru and having whisky events and getting to know Indian customers. “Within the next six to nine months, we would certainly be able to find a marketplace in India for our gin and certain whiskies,” asserts Lark.