Whisky Business Grows in Tasmania
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
TV PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT
Reporter: Judy Tierney
TRACY BOWDEN: If you're having a little tipple of single malt whisky over Christmas, chances are it's come from Scotland or Ireland. There are very few distilleries of single malt anywhere else in the world.
Essentially, whisky is a simple brew of barley, yeast and water and some brands have the distinctive flavour of peat dug from the ancient bog holes of the British Isle and smoked into the barley. Now, using two radically different methods, Tasmania has begun a whisky industry which promises to produce some of the finest single malt anywhere.
Judy Tierney reports:
JUDY TIERNEY: Here in Tasmania's highlands, you'll find some of the best trout fishing in the world.
But Bill Lark is after something more earthy.
This is beautiful, clean peat, and this stuff that you see here is just made for heaven.
For me, it's just exactly what I'm looking for to give me that clean, earthy, smoky taste in my whiskey.
JUDY TIERNEY: It is the high quality of the peat, the water and barley in Tasmania that is promising to provide just what it takes to make a premium single malt whiskey.
The first, at least legal, drop to be distilled in Australia for 150 years.
BILL LARK, WHISKEY DISTILLER: The only thing we had to do was convince the customs that we could produce a good, safe spirit, that we would keep records and that we would pay our excise.
JUDY TIERNEY: With excise at $58 for a litre of whiskey, the end product is going to be expensive.
The first bottling is still about four years away, but Bill Lark just can't resist checking on his brew every now and then.
BILL LARK: This is now quite a gutsy, smooth whiskey, no sharp elements at all about it.
It was probably one of our early, sort of full peating barrels that we put down, so the smokiness is just coming through very nicely.
Yeah, we're very excited about this.
JUDY TIERNEY: There's no obvious high-tech gear here.
It's simple and rustic.
The barley is smoked over peat before being processed in the still.
BILL LARK: I like to think our little, small still gives us a nice heavy, rich-flavoured malt spirit.
Some of the bigger distilleries and their sophistication means that they might produce a lighter style whiskey, but that's good because the great thing about whiskeys is they're all different.
JUDY TIERNEY: Of the four licensed whiskey distilleries in Australia, Bill Lark was the first to get a license.
Now, four hours drive to Burnie in the north-west of Tasmania, a flashier, more sophisticated operation is run by Mark Littler, who's had to learn about making whiskey from scratch.
MARK LITTLER, WHISKEY DISTILLER: The distillery operations fully are controlled by our computer system here with sequences in place for different parts of the process.
When we've entertained people from the whiskey industry, and particularly people out of Scotland, they're absolutely blown away by our level of automation that we have here at the distillery in Burnie, particularly when I tell them I can dial-in from home, from which is 30 minutes away, and just check on the process.
JUDY TIERNEY: This is a far cry from Bill Lark's distilling method and the money man behind it, a man who has poured $5 million into it, is Laurie House.
He set this up based on, of all things, his other business, a milk processing factory.
LAURIE HOUSE, WHISKEY DISTILLER: If we can get the production right, we've got all of the elements here, we've got the climate, we've got the water we've got the barley and we've got everything right here, surely to goodness we can produce a world-class article, and so we went ahead on that basis.
JUDY TIERNEY: This distillery has already produced 2,000 200 litre barrels.
It uses 300 tonnes of barley each year.
LAURIE HOUSE: At the moment, we have engaged an international consultant, based in London, who has told us that the spirit we are producing at the moment is world-class and when it matures in - we expect to launch it around 2006 - it won't have anything but a great effect on the Tasmanian economy.
JUDY TIERNEY: The Gaelic description of whisky is water of life, not bad for a brew that can have the kick of a horse and have connoisseurs rapt over the finer characteristics of this ancient spirit.
RICHARD HAMMOND, SCOTCH MALT WHISKEY SOCIETY: Most of your aroma senses are at the back of your throat, so if you really breathe it in, you'll pick up the aroma a lot better.
JUDY TIERNEY: The local president of the worldwide Scotch Malt Whiskey Society should know a thing or two about it.
Like all these whiskey lovers, though, he'll have to wait another four years to sample the Tasmanian drop.
It cannot be called scotch unless it's been in a barrel for at least eight years, and they're counting the days.
RICHARD HAMMOND: The society has barrels from a distillery in Japan, so we are buying scotch from around the world.
JUDY TIERNEY: So this one would be a prime one, you think?
RICHARD HAMMOND: This one, yes, yes.
JUDY TIERNEY: It may have taken 150 years, but interest in whiskey making is fast spreading to other States.
BILL LARK: We are now sort of helping other people throughout Australia that would like to produce whiskey.
I've got a couple of clients in WA that I'm helping to set up a distillery and some in NSW.
I think before long there will be quite a viable industry.
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