Beginning with a small five litre still at their family home, Lyn experimented with the distilling process, producing and testing small samples with the ambition to eventually produce premium single malt whisky. Bill and Lyn’s daughter, Kristy, now Chief Distiller, recalls the business’ early days, “The 500 litre still outside my bedroom for a few years probably sparked my interest in distilling.”
The Lark Distillery quickly began to outgrow its modest setup. In order to cater for a flood of orders and the possibility of commercial trade, the distillery moved to a more suitable site in the historic town of Richmond. With the first of Tasmania’s malt whisky maturing in oak barrels, the Larks pursued the idea of diversifying their product range. Kristy explains, “Our main focus was the single malt but to keep the business afloat while we waited for it to mature, we decided to do other products as well.”
The Tasmanian mountain pepper berry proved a compelling point of differentiation; it is now used in the production of the Lark Distillery’s signature product, Bush Liqueur, as well as their Pepperberry Vodka and Gin. The success of these products led to experiments with other local ingredients, resulting in exclusive spirits such as Sweet Apple Liqueur, made from Sturmur Apples, and Cherry Max Liqueur, made from Coal River Cherries.
Competition, however, is limited, with only two other distilleries operating in Tasmania. Kristy doesn’t feel that they pose a threat to the business, but instead acknowledges their presence as an advantage for the industry as a whole, “We each produce different things and are aimed towards different markets. The bigger the industry gets, the more well known the Tasmanian and indeed the Australian industry of single malt becomes. It’s better for everyone involved.” In any case, competitor reaction is not a pressing issue, as the protracted distillation process bides the Larks another five-to-ten years before their competitors’ products hit the market.
The Lark Distillery has recently moved from Richmond to new premises on Hobart’s waterfront. Kristy believes that their new location provides greater scope to capture Tasmania’s growing tourist market. The new location also provides an enhanced visitor experience.
Distillery tours and a specialised whisky bar are currently on offer and Kristy is working on the development of a complete whisky tour. She admits that continual growth in the business is not always easy to deal with. “The biggest problem is the transition between being a small boutique distillery and growing to a bigger distillery and how people’s jobs interact differently, change and overlap.” As the business moves into a new phase, a business development manager has been employed to help devise processes to anticipate and overcome problems.
Some problems, however, are inevitable in a family business environment. “My parents sometimes expect me to mind-read a bit and I expect them to be able to know what’s going on without having fully explained a situation. I guess because I am family, I get called on first if something happens or if someone’s needed in the shop. But I don’t mind.” Kristy outlines the importance of open communication and organisation to overcome such issues; “We have morning meetings so we’re all aware of what the others are doing for the day and for the week and so we can prioritise tasks.”
Kristy attributes the Lark Distillery’s unique and innovative product range to Lyn’s creativity and drive, “She is really creative and understands liqueur-making really well. She is the one who comes up with all our non-whisky products.” Kristy’s husband is involved on a part-time basis in the distillery also, coopering (making barrels) on his days off. Kristy is intent on staying closely involved with the production side of things, but has just employed an assistant production manager to help ease the burden of early mornings and manual labour.
Kristy has high hopes for the business. “Personally I’d like to see it expand and become better known. We’re just starting to export at the moment but I’d like the Australian public to realise that there is an industry.” While she puts their success down to hard work and having a well differentiated product, Kristy asserts that only occasionally does she take quality control into her own hands, or perhaps more accurately, into her own tumbler. “I do enjoy a good single malt but I can’t say that I would drink it every day!”