TASMANIA HOLDS a little-known distinction in the world of whisky production: it began legally crafting this coveted spirit two years before Scotland.
This remarkable fact, however, was overshadowed by a series of challenges that caused a 150-year suspension of regulated whisky-making. The fears of dwindling barley supplies, coupled with intricate colony politics, led to a period of prohibition.
The story shifted in 1822 when Governor Lachlan Macquarie of Van Diemen’s Land chose to acknowledge the inevitable reality of distillation within the colony. Regulating the practice became a strategy to bolster grain production and generate revenue through taxation.
The foothills of Hobart’s kunanyi/Mount Wellington saw the birth of Australia’s inaugural legal distillery, aptly named Sorell Distillery, likely in homage to William Sorell, the third-lieutenant governor of the region.
By 1830, the momentum was undeniable, with seven licensed distilleries thriving in Hobart. This flourishing industry capitalized on the island’s abundant freshwater, barley, and peat. A significant revelation emerged—Hobart boasted a robust whisky trade during the early colonial era, a fact often overlooked.
The high spirits of this period, however, proved ephemeral. Concerns arose as Sydney struggled to cultivate sufficient barley, heightening worries of a potential food scarcity.
The preference for whisky over beer exacerbated this issue, affecting the profitability of the newly-established Cascade Brewery (founded in 1825).
These circumstances prompted governmental intervention, leading to increased taxes and spelling doom for six distilleries. A lone survivor weathered the storm, the solitary distillery that persevered from 1830 to 1839, encapsulating the volatile rise and fall of Tasmania’s early whisky industry, a captivating chapter in the annals of colonial history.
Until next time… Happy Distilling!