I shouldn’t be reviewing this whisky.
It’s not that I think I am underqualified, or that Lark have obtained a cease and desist order to stop me. Lark Rising Tide was an exclusive release to Australia’s The Whisky Club, and I am not a member. I came to obtain a bottle via a gift from my wife for a recent birthday. I can guarantee she is not a member of the club, and I have not quizzed her about whatever subterfuge she implemented to acquire this generous gift; best I leave her to her mysterious ways so that they may be repeated.
The other reason I probably shouldn’t be reviewing this whisky is that as a rule I tend to avoid the “big boys” of Tasmanian distilling, Lark being the grand old daddy of the scene.
However, I will allow myself this indulgence as the bottle has fallen into my possession, and to be frank it’s almost comical that Malt does not to this point have even one review of Lark. No review for the OG of modern Australian distilling?
Bill Lark is widely credited as the founding father of Australian whisky as we know it today. In the early 1990s he famously lobbied the Federal Government to amend the 1901 Distillation Act to allow him to open the first distillery in Tasmania since 1839 and to produce Australia’s first single malt whisky in 154 years. Scores of distilleries have followed.
There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since Bill Lark blazed the trail 30 years ago. Lark Distillery has now been acquired by Australian Whisky Holdings, which later re-branded to Lark Distilling Co. (LDC), and Bill is now only involved in an ambassadorial capacity. I seem to see more of Bill than ever before, and there he was helping promote this release for The Whisky Club. The implication is clear: if Bill is giving his approval, everything is A-OK.
For the first review of Lark on Malt, I don’t have a single malt Lark release. Rising Tide was blended from six different Tasmanian single malts as a celebration of Tasmania’s whisky scene and Lark’s 30 year anniversary. To find out more about this release, I put some questions to Seamus Carroll, Whisky Buyer and Ambassador for The Whisky Club.
Malt: Rising Tide is a blend of 6 different Tasmanian single malts. Were they blended in fairly even proportions, or is there greater representation of certain distilleries based on blending requirements?
Seamus: It’s a great question and you guessed it, over 50% stock included was sourced from Lark’s Cambridge site, which served as an apt foundation for the celebration of 30 years of Tassie whisky making starting with Lark. The remaining five components make up the rest of the marriage. We worked closely with Chris to ensure the end result was a whisky that delivered on decadent drinking and presented the complexity of the single malts included within it.
While we’re not able to disclose the distilleries included thanks to commercial agreements, watching members pick apart the complexity of the whisky in tastings has actually been a highlight of this launch. As said by Bill in our initial sample review, “I’m enjoying the nose so much, I haven’t even tasted it yet. It’s one of those whiskies, you could sit here and nose for quite a while, just trying to understand what’s gone into making it.”
Malt: What was the outturn for this release?
Seamus: Pretty big! As the world’s largest whisky club, we have over 35,000 members and ensure every member who wants a bottle is able to secure one.
Malt: Where did the idea for the Rising Tide release originate? Please describe the progression towards being able to release it.
Seamus: The concept for “The Rising Tide” was born out of a celebration of 30 years of Tasmanian whisky making, and Bill and Lyn Lark’s influence on the industry. While Bill was out in the world representing Lark he didn’t shy away from championing every Tasmanian producer. From working at Sullivans Cove as manager to showing off Hellyers Road at Whisky Live Paris, Bill always championed the sentiment for Tassie whisky, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” The health of our expanding industry reflects that.
To celebrate that sentiment, we worked with Bill and his successor Head Distiller Chris Thompson to create a whisky that encapsulated Bill’s legacy. Predominantly matured in Australian port and sherry casks, The Rising Tide is a marriage of single malts from six Tasmanian distilleries close to Bill’s heart, and shows off the unique whisky character developed in the island’s distilleries. Featuring single malts that represent the sticky toffee plums, bright apple florals, and coastal malty honey notes we all love in Tasmanian whiskies. The result was a whisky that shows unique character at each layer of the glass. While we were drinking it with Bill and Chris, we all found ourselves finishing our glasses as we were digging through the layers of the dram.
Earlier in the year, Bill called our Lark 30th Anniversary release his “favourite ever Lark,” so it was an absolute treat to deliver again with this bottling.
Malt: The pricing, by Tasmanian single malt standards, is quite fair. Was this always a goal with Rising Tide?
Seamus: A great price and great value are always key to what we deliver to our members. It’s thanks to our amazing members we were able to ensure this Tasmanian whisky was no exception.
Thank you to Seamus for taking the time to answer my questions. There is real skill in blending different single malts into a coherent blended malt. An esteemed brand counts for nothing if the alchemy isn’t there. I am glad to see this has been bottled at either cask strength or close enough to it. With that in mind, let me see how good this blend is.
Lark Rising Tide Tasmanian Blended Malt Whisky – Review
51.7% ABV. Blended predominantly from Port and Sherry Casks. Available to members of Australia’s Whisky Club for $140
On the nose: Upon first impressions, this is lovely. I am unable to put the glass down for several minutes to start typing as I am just enjoying it so much. There’s honey and vanilla, strawberry jam, and honey roasted figs. There’s custard tarts and shaved coconut. More syrup notes and baked apple pie. I expect this will translate to the palate.
In the mouth: A little heat from the alcohol, those sweet notes emerge upon a second sip. But I think there’s something else working to balance it, some earthiness, or dense foliage. There’s some toffee in the mouth and treacle syrup. Caramel and perhaps coffee flavoured ice cream. Barley sugar and the finish is medium length. Water reveals milk chocolate and boiled lollies.
Is this Tasmania in a glass? Someone more familiar with Tasmania who has tried it will have to tell me because I’ve not been down there in nine years. I think this is a dram that would make Bill Lark proud and satisfied to be released in a bottle bearing his name. It is perhaps the best Australian whisky I have reviewed for the site, at least the equal of Shene’s Elixir of Life.
On the issue of pricing, the state of affairs Down Under is that $140 for a 500ml bottle (equivalent to around $200 for 700ml) of a whisky with Lark on the label is considered good value. For NAS, blended malt under almost any other label? I’d be deducting a point for price. Let’s call it the Lark Tax.
My only wish is – commercial considerations notwithstanding – that The Whisky Club and LDC had the ability to be fully transparent with this release. The cynic in me assumed that there would be an over-representation of ex-Nant stock to help shift along more remnants from that tainted distillery under the cover of the Lark name. I am very pleased to see from Seamus’s replies that the original Lark distillery makes up over 50% of the blend. There still may be a healthy portion of Nant in the remaining 40-odd percent.
Whisky consumers are increasingly demanding full disclosure. Take a leaf from Compass Box and tell us what is in the blend, the percentages from each distillery and ages of the malts. Put all that information on the labelling, providing full disclosure… then we’d have a true celebration of 30 years of Tasmanian whisky. Let’s celebrate those component parts, not leave them in the shadows.
Instead, I have a bottle prominently labelled as “Lark,” with “Blended Malt Whisky” (as they say in the newspaper business) below the fold. I might’ve have hoped LDC could’ve listened to the feedback around this topic.
Regardless, my wife chose well.