Mention the word whisky and you associate the amber spirit with images of Scottish highlands, verdant spaces and rolling hills. Terms like Single Malt, smoky finish and lengthy warmth roll off the tongue.
But little does one relate it to an Australian spirit.
Lark Distillery is an Australian whisky producer located in Tasmania. They have been producing Single Malt whisky since 1992.
We’re fortunate to meet Bill Lark for a brief chat before the Lark Whisky Masterclass commences at the Oak Barrel in Sydney.
The Oak Barrel Liquor Store is one of Australia’s oldest bottle shops and dates back to 1956. Through the sandstone façade, lies an extensive range of wine, craft beer and spirits.
The Cellar Room at the rear of the shop is a spacious cave with subdued lighting, wine plaques, vintage bottles and other drink paraphernalia that set the ambience for the tasting.
Bill Lark of Lark Distillery
The masterclass begins with a welcome by Simon Clarke of the Oak Barrel and an introductory video which can be viewed here. Lark is the first distillery to be licensed in Tasmania since 1838 and the only one that has its own peat bog in the centre of the Apple Isle, which is also used to smoke their barley.
Listening to Bill Lark recount the story of what led him to produce whisky leaves you feeling inspired. While out fly fishing with his father-in-law and enjoying a few nips, he looked around and noticed that they were surrounded by fields of barley, pure water and peat bogs in the Central Tasmanian Highlands. And in an epiphany-like moment, he questioned why anyone isn’t producing whisky.
The reason soon became apparent. The Distillation Act of 1901 ensured that licenses were only available if large quantities were made. With the help of politicians who saw potential in this industry, Bill was successful in getting the law changed in 1992.
Lark Pepperberry Gin
The tasting begins with Lark Pepperberry Gin, a traditional London style gin and one of Lark’s bigger exports. Made with the usual botanicals including juniper, coriander and lemon peel, Lark Gin is also distilled with the native mountain pepper.
The purpose of the gin starter is to prepare the palate for the whisky tasting. Sipped neat, the gin has a little spice on the nose and a gentle peppery taste. This is a gin I would be keen to try in a Vesper Martini.
Lark Single Malt Single Cask Whisky 43%
The first whisky on taste is Lark’s flagship product. At 43%, the Lark Single Malt Single Cask Whisky has a good balance of Franklin barley, floral notes, port barrels with rich plum pudding on the nose and front palate with a little peat smoke on the back palate.
Lark use ale yeast which picks up floral barley notes and get their malt from Cascade Brewery. Copper stills with short fat neck are used in the distillation process to ensure little reflux. Released at 6 years after maturing in 100L casks, this is when the whisky is at its optimum.
Bill explains how adding a little water opens up the floral notes. We add just a few drops and an explosion of flavours follows.
Lark Distiller’s Selection Single Cask Release Whisky 46%
The second tasting is the 46%Lark Single Malt Single Cask Whisky, delivering less floral notes than the 43%, more malt and a rich plum pudding on the nose. The higher alcohol content is evident, and much like the 43% Single Malt, a few drops of water release the flavours.
Lark Single Malt Cask Strength Whisky 58%
At 58%, the Lark Single Malt Cask Strength Whisky slaps you around with it high alcohol content, rich colour and well-balanced flavours. Again, you can cut it with a little water and you have yourself a good range of flavours. This is my favourite Single Malt on taste, and since I can only drink whisky in small quantities, I prefer it neat.
Bill’s passion for his work is evident in the masterclass. He is an enthusiastic speaker, an entertaining raconteur and a man with an affable personality who encourages questions and participation.
Lark Slainté – Malt Whisky Liqueur 37%
Slainté (pronounced “slon-jay”) is Gaelic for “Good Health” and a malt whisky liqueur created by Lynne Lark, Bill’s wife, from a recipe that is a well-guarded secret. Made in 80L copper stills, it is distilled with botanicals and spices married with 5 year old whisky.
This is a luscious liqueur with sweet aromatic notes that leave a long finish. Although it has honey characteristics, Bill reveals that it has no honey or pepperberry but a little Star Anise. The taste reminded me of a sweeter version of the yellow Chartreuse.
The liqueur a good accompaniment to cheese, particularly blue cheese and it can also be used in affogato. By far, my favourite drop on the night.
Lark Bush Liqueur
We finish with the Lark Bush Liqueur, one that can be coined an iconic Australian spirit. Also created by Lynne Lark in 1996 using native mountain pepperberry which gives the drink a spicy character, it is not as sweet as the Slainté.
The Bush Liqueur is good on its own, or with crushed ice and fresh lime and is making an appearance in cocktails. The aromatic flavours with citrus highlights also complement King Island cheese. This is a genuine Australian gift that you can take to friends and family abroad.
Food and Whisky Matching
Bill takes us on an imaginary culinary journey with food and whisky matching. Admittedly, we haven’t enjoyed such pairings but the concept sounds intriguing enough to try.
For the 43% Single Malt, Bill recommends crispy skin salmon or trout, or any fish with the subtlety of the sea that matches floral notes. For the higher alcohol spirits, venison, Angus beef, roast and haggis are a good match. The sweet whisky liqueurs complement rich chocolate desserts. I ask how the whisky was served during those dinners and they can be cut by a little water if that is one’s preference.
The range of Lark products on taste
Chatting with Bill after the class, we soon learn that talent grows in the family. Aside from his wife Lynne which he acknowledge for her contribution to the whisky liqueurs, his daughter Kristy was head distiller, and his young son Jack was the runner up in Junior Masterchef.
Simon Clarke (L) of The Oak Barrel and Bill Lark (R) of Lark Distillery in Tasmania
The Lark Whisky Masterclass was an informative and enlightening session conducted in a relaxed setting. As long-term fans of single malt whisky, the Lark story has educated us that if a spirit is made with passion, respect for the ingredients and processes and a little fun, the result is a first-class whisky of which the world is taking note.
Gourmantic attended the Lark Whisky Masterclass on Thursday 10th March 2011 as media guests.
The Oak Barrel
152 Elizabeth Street
Sydney NSW 2000
14 Davey Street
Hobart Tasmania 7000
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