Being fifty-something, I know that a great whisky tour begins with a great dram. It sets the mood. Warms the cockles. Gladdens the heart.
And so it is that we begin the Lark Distillery half-day tour … with a goody bag boasting a bottle of water and a tasting glass. Said glass is soon topped with a dram of “breakfast” whisky to savour while our guide Rob shares the Lark story and we (a cosy party of eight) lounge in comfy club chairs in Lark’s Hobart bar and cellar door.
In whisky years, Lark is a fledgling. Still, the story smacks of tenacity and grassgroots grit aplenty. We’re hooked (as if we weren’t already).
Rob ushers us out to the Drambulance, our transport to the distillery itself. We board for the 25-minute drive during which Rob regales us with the local sights, peppered with some whisky titbits and tales.
We arrive at the distillery, a cluster of colorbond sheds nestled in the beautiful Coal River Valley.
Rob hands out hi-vis vests and we wander into the belly of the beast, past a couple of cheerful staff who are hand labelling bottles. Yes, hand labelling. I said grassroots.
The distillery is much smaller than I expect, but friendlier and more accessible than others I’ve visited. We mill around wash tanks and stills, stepping over pipes and hoses, with Rob dipping in with plastic jugs so we can taste the Lark product as it moves through its complex process.
The distiller Craig Johnstone is on hand to field our curliest of questions. It’s intimate, unscripted. It feels like secret whisky business. As if someone accidentally admitted us to the inner sanctum and forgot that the unclassified recipes and batch metrics are writ large, scratched on the whiteboard above the sink. But that’s the vibe … Lark is not about mystery and history, it’s about craft and experimentation and an uncompromising hands-on approach to making the best single malts possible.
In an adjacent “shed” we crowd into Lark’s bond store. It’s 10 years of Lark whisky heritage, in row-upon-row of barrels, in one “shed”.
“It’s all that we are, right here,” says Rob.
The air is thick with the “angel’s share” and Rob skilfully infuses it with more whisky yarns and facts and snippets. It’s a conversation (not a dissertation) and, with any reservations unbridled by generous tastings, our little party of eight has evolved into a chatty, effusive troop.
Rob suggests a barrel tasting and we urge him to the back of the shed where the oldest barrels lurk. He tumbles up and over the barrels into the dark, clutching a spirit thief. He fills the glass of the nearest of our troop and we form a human chain, decanting it down the line until we each have a dram to revel in. Collective sigh.
Outside, sun-squinting, we sense the tour is near ending. But wait. There’s more. Rob produces a small liquid-filled plastic bottle from his trouser pocket. It’s one of the testing samples. I really have no idea what it is, but I trust Rob by now and proffer my tasting glass for a share. It’s lovely.
Our little troop has formed a circle, naturally, as if around a campfire.
Eventually, Rob breaks rank and leads us back to the Drambulance, where we settle in for a sleepy drive back to Hobart.
Back at the Lark bar and cellar door, we peruse a remarkable array of local and international whiskies on offer. Those on the tour are offered a discount on purchases and we exploit it as much as we can given we only have carry-on bags for our flight home.
It’s late afternoon and the time is right for a G & T (yes, Lark also makes gin) and a local beer. We step outside into the alfresco zone overlooking Hobart’s Constitution Dock.
The mood is casual and convivial, with locals and tourists mingling. It feels right; it’s a perfect reflection of the Lark culture.
We’ve been on some of the world’s big whisky tours (no, I’m not dropping names). We agree that this Lark tour is up there with the best of them. Lark doesn’t pretend to have centuries-old heritage or generations of single malt know-how. It’s a young, brave single malt distillery that’s treading (relatively) new territory in Tassie. By the awards and acclamations it’s attracting, Lark is punching well above its weight. What the tour lacks in history, it makes up for in spades with intimacy, generosity and accessibility … and damned fine single malts.
14 Davey St, Hobart, Tasmania Half Day
Whisky Tour: $75
NOTE: We came, we saw, we conquered and we drammed at our own expense. This is NOT a sponsored post.