23 October 2010

Whisky Insiders Interview - Bill Lark

Lark Distillery

Managing Director


How long have you been working in the whisky industry?
I started Lark Distillery with my wife in 1992, the first in Tasmania since 1839. We had no prior experience working in the industry except that we both enjoyed a good malt.

Together we gained experience from the local brewing industry and also received a great helping hand from the Scottish industry. We spent about 6 years learning the craft before releasing our first whisky in 1998, matured in very small casks.

What has been your biggest career highlight to date?
Career highlights have been many and exciting because we were the first ones to produce a single malt whisky in the modern whisky era in Australia. I guess the most significant event has been to be when I was asked to help establish a new Distillery in Kingsbarns, Scotland and work with the Kingsbarns team.

As a result of that and un-be-known to me, my image was displayed in a 100 foot high laser light show in Edinburgh last June, to promote a paper entitled Glenfiddich to Hobart. My image was alongside that of William Grant, founder of Glenfiddich and Masataka Taktsuru, forefather of the Japanese whisky industry. The image was later shown and written up in the Scotsman Newspaper. I saw this as a fantastic recognition of the emerging Australian Whisky industry which Lyn and I can be proud to have helped establish.

Can you remember your first dram, and indeed what it was?
I do remember my first dram. It was offered to me by my father-in-law, Max Stewart, a canny old Scotsman who in some ways was responsible for Lyn and myself being encouraged to have a go at making Tasmania’s first malt whisky. The whisky incidentally was a Glenfiddich and would have been in about 1973 and was probably the only single malt available in the Sydney bottle shops at the time. I still love the 15yo Solera Cask from Glenfiddich.

What does whisky mean to you?
Whisky is now our whole life. Both Lyn and myself work tirelessly in the Lark Distillery and our daughter is our General Manager. Our whisky is now rapidly gaining popularity throughout the broader whisky world and this requires me to present myself as the “global brand ambassador”, a job which I am enjoying immensely.

When we first started making whisky I assumed the Scottish industry would shake their heads at us stupid colonials but wonderfully they instead, encouraged us and invited us into their exciting world. It is marvelous to visit Scotland and the USA and to be immediately welcomed as a relevant whisky maker in the global industry. Everyone in the industry is genuinely keen to assist others to ensure that all whisky is of the highest standard for consumers.

Where would you like to see yourself in five years time?
As much as I like making whisky I have to be honest and say that Lyn and I are getting a little tired of running a business and we hope that our daughter is ready to step up to the mark and steer the distillery forward as we take a slightly more background direction in global ambassadoring, of course keeping an eye on things to make sure the tradition and culture we created is continuing on.

The industry is really one big family and we enjoy being part of that and we hope to visit more of the industry, certainly within the next five years. The Australian industry and indeed the world industry is growing rapidly through small “boutique” distilleries producing handcrafted whiskies and an enjoyable result of that is that I have been asked to consult to new distilleries which is an area I would like to pursue more so.

What was your last dram?
My last dram was last night at the end of judging the First Australian National Spirit Competition. The judges relaxed together with a 20yo Glendronach, which is a wonderfully well balanced big Sherry cask whisky. It was a great moment as we were sitting back listening to some of the best local bluegrass music by Coyote Serenade in our cellar door, a Friday night treat.

Do you have a favourite whisky and food pairing combination?
Whisky and food matching is proving to be more and more popular and it is easy to match a whisky with just about any food. Some memorable matchings have been Scapa 14yo with Crispy Skin Tasmanian Atlantic Salmon, Laphroaig 18yo with Scottish Highland Angus beef and Ardbeg 10yo always goes very well with any chocolate desert.

I have just attended a sensational whisky and food matching evening at Leaning Church Vineyard in Northern Tasmania where their chef superbly matched our Lark Cask Strength single malt with a delicious “slow cooked mushroom and game pie served with a rosemary skewer of roasted vegetables”.

They matched our Lark Single Cask malt whisky with a trio of “King prawn lightly grilled with a shot of whisky mao, Tasmanian salmon cake with crème fraiche and salmon roe and then a Tasmanian tuna sashimi with wasabi:”. This was a very memorable night and everyone in attendance agreed we need to do more of them.

What’s your favourite time and place to enjoy a dram?
Last thing at night when our youngest son has gone to bed, Lyn will say she’ll get the chocolate while I choose the whisky. I could be anywhere in the world but these moments with my wife are just fantastic as Lyn enjoys a good malt as much as I do, and it really is a perfect way to end the day.

What do you think is going to be the next big thing on the whisky horizon?
As the big industry gets bigger we are seeing a situation where smaller distilleries around the world, producing hand crafted whiskies, are not just emerging onto the scene but I believe they will be the most prominent feature on the whisky horizon into the future.

I don’t see this as a conflict because small distilleries will never be able to cater for the huge markets opening up in places like India and China, but they are certainly able to offer the whisky enthusiast an opportunity to rediscover traditional handcrafted whiskies which by the way are winning significant awards and recognition in all the whisky competitions and whisky shows around the world. Very exciting times indeed for both maker and consumer.

What’s the one dram you couldn’t live without?
I don’t think I could live without a bottle or two of Ardbeg “beastie” tucked away in the cupboard for those moments when a deliciously, downright dirty old peaty whisky fits the bill.

Many thanks to the fabulous and inspiring Bill Lark. Who will be the next Whisky Insider? Click back soon to find out!