Tasmania’s reputation as a producer of high-quality, cool climate wines is well established, and we shared a post with you earlier in the year that detailed some of the wineries on Tasmania’s East Coast.
The island also has a strong reputation in several other areas of beverage production, notably beer, cider and spirits such as whisky and gin. In this post, we’ll provide you with an overview of the specialty drinks you should seek out during your time in Tasmania.
Whisky and Spirits
Tasmania’s pure, clean water makes it the perfect place for distilling spirits. There are more than twenty distilleries on the island, by far the most of any state in Australia, with more coming online all the time.
The closest one to Freycinet Resort is Ironhouse Distillery at White Sands Estate, but you’ll also find spirit-makers as far south at McHenry’s down on the Tasman Peninsula, and as far norther as Hellyer’s Road near Burnie. This map from the Tasmanian Whisky Academy gives a great overview of what you can find where, and will help you plan your trip around the state if you’re keen to taste what’s on offer. If you’re here in August, you might also like to check out Tasmanian Whisky Week, when there will be lots of special events taking place. There’s no better way to warm up in a Tasmanian winter than with a whisky tasting!
Whisky production in Tasmania has a fascinating history. From 1839 until 1992 it was illegal to distil whisky on the island. But in the years since Governor John Franklin’s law was overturned, the island has become home to almost half of Australia’s distilleries, and many of those are already producing world-class whiskies.
The first distillery to be established after the change in law was Lark, which has a popular cellar door venue near the waterfront in Hobart. In 1992, Bill Lark was trout fishing with his father-in-law in the highlands of Tasmania. The two men took a break in order to have a dram of single malt, and as Bill looked around, he realised that the peat bogs, clean water and climate of Tasmania made for a perfect whisky-making place.
Bill and his wife Lyn began making whisky at home with a tiny 20-litre still, before moving on to a 500-litre commercial still that they had to squeeze into in their hallway at home. These days, Lark produces 600 litres of spirit a week, or around 30,000 litres a year. Compared to most distilleries in Scotland or Japan, this is still a tiny amount, but their approach is to compete in terms of quality, not quantity and their whiskies have won countless awards around the world.
Most Tasmanian distilleries focus on gin and whisky, but if you head down the Huon Valley in the state’s south, you’ll find a real hub of innovation. Make time to try the sheep’s whey vodka at award-winning micro-distillery Hartshorn; apple brandy at the Charles Oates Distillery (based at Willie Smith’s Apple Shed); and the most uniquely Tasmanian spirit – Evoke – distilled from sassafras. That’s available from the Bakehouse Distillery in Dover.
In the north of the state, the must-visit distiller is Southern Wild Distillery in Devonport. Head distiller George Burgess has a background in food science, and he has developed three core gin products – Ocean, Mountain and Meadow – which all contain a trio of native Tasmanian ingredients. Their limited-edition gins include cherry, saffron, sloe and strawberry; the sloe and strawberry varieties have won more than a dozen medals worldwide.
Hops – the flowers used to flavour beer – were first introduced into Australia in Bushy Park, less than an hour’s drive up the Derwent Valley from Hobart and still home to the largest hop fields in the country.
It seems appropriate, then, that Tasmania’s craft beer scene has exploded over the last ten years, growing from just seven breweries to almost 40.
The Tasmanian Beer Trail is worth checking out: it provides information on where you can find some of those breweries, as well as sharing details of special events and festivals. One of the nice things about craft breweries is the opportunity to meet the brewers themselves, learn about their craft, and sample some locally-produced beers that you won’t find anywhere else.
As with the whisky and gin makers, you’ll find a big focus on using local produce and native ingredients. Bruny Island Brewing Company, for example, use local honey, pepperberries, and whey from the Bruny Island Cheese Company.
As well as individual brewers, you’ll find several great bars around the island that are proud to showcase local craft beers. They include St John’s in Launceston, Empress in Devonport, and Preachers, The Winston and Hobart Brewing Company in Hobart.
Given Tasmania’s long-standing reputation as ‘The Apple Isle’, it should come as no surprise that there are plenty of delicious ciders made here, too.
There are now only 20 major orchards on the island, down from over 2000 in the 1970s, but the apple industry is thriving, in no small part due to the increasing popularity of cider.
The two main cider-producing regions are the rolling orchards of the Huon Valley, and the fertile soils of the state’s north.
Perhaps the best-known producer is Willie Smith’s, who operate a bar and restaurant out of an old wooden packing shed at Grove, in Tasmania’s south. They also run an annual Mid-Winter Festival, a celebration of all things apple-related, and a chance to ‘wassail’ the orchards – an old English ritual to drive evil spirits out of the apple trees and ensure a good crop the following year.
Other makers down in the Huon Valley include Frank’s, Simple Cider, and Pagan. While in the north of the state, you’ll find Spreyton, Red Brick Road, and Brady’s Lookout Cider.
For an overview of all Tasmanian cider makers, and the latest news and information, check out the Tasmanian Cider Trail.
– Ruth Dawkins ( commissioned by Freycinet Resort)